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Interview With New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice; Health Care Confusion; Trump Praises North Korean Dictator; Administration Defends New Trump Outreach to Brutal Strongmen. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 1, 2017 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Preexisting confusion. Tonight, Republicans are struggling to lock up support for a new health care compromise, as the president insists that coverage for preexisting conditions is guaranteed. Is this new attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare in danger right now of falling apart?

And running for reelection. His term has barely started, but the president is out with a brand-new campaign ad, as some of the biggest aides in the Democratic Party are also trying to grab the political spotlight.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including the president's new outreach to brutal leaders with blood on their hands. Mr. Trump now declaring that he would be "honored" to meet with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances, even as the North Korean strongman threatens nuclear war with the United States, this just hours after the president invited the leader of the Philippines to meet with him at the White House, despite Rodrigo Duterte's horrendous human rights record and allegations of mass murder.

Also breaking, Vice President Pence goes to Capitol Hill as the new GOP to repeal and replace Obamacare appears to be in serious jeopardy right now. Multiple Republicans have come out against the new health care confidence, with at least a total of 21 lawmakers now publicly opposed, that by CNN's account.

House leaders now at risk of failing once again to secure enough votes to pass a health care bill. The Trump White House facing new challenges and controversy, as the president continues to tout his first 100 days as a success. In one of several head-scratching interviews, Mr. Trump insisted his unsubstantiated wiretap claim had been proven very strongly, while also saying he doesn't stand by anything. Then, chafing at the question, he cut short the interview.

We are covering all of that, much more this hour, with our guests, including Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, a Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN's Brian Todd with more on the president's rather surprising remarks about Kim Jong-un and the North Korean threat.

Brian, what the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president's comments are causing concern tonight, not only here in Washington, but also in Seoul and in Tokyo. Many observers warning tonight that just talking about meeting with the North Korean leader could undermine Mr. Trump's relationships with his South Korean and Japanese allies at a time when tensions have rarely been higher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-un's never met face-to-face with any foreign head of state since taking power. The only high-profile American he met with, former NBA star Dennis Rodman.

DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER (through translator): Happy birthday to you.

TODD: Kim's never even left his country since taking power. But, tonight, President Trump is opening the door to a meeting with the violent, erratic North Korean dictator.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, the president says -- quote -- "If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would, absolutely. I would be honored to do it, if it is under the -- again, under the right circumstances."

What circumstances would be appropriate for the president to meet with Kim?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If North Korea were ever serious about completely dismantling its nuclear capability and taking away the threat that they pose both to the region and to us, that there's always going to be a possibility of that occurring. That possibility is not there at this time.

TODD: Tonight, analyst warn a Trump meeting with Kim Jong-un risks legitimizing a leader who has killed, imprisoned and starved his own people, while building a nuclear arsenal that threatens the region and the U.S.

THOMAS WRIGHT, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: That definitely helps him consolidate his power furthermore -- further in North Korean. It strengthens him, possibly vis-a-vis China, and will damage morale, I think, in South Korea, will really treat this with dismay.

TODD: While Mr. Trump presents the jarring possibility of a face-to- face meeting, he says in an interview with FOX News how much danger Kim Jong-un has placed American troops in the region in.

TRUMP: Well, nobody's safe. I mean, who's safe? The guy's got nuclear weapons. I would like to say they are very safe. These are great, brave soldiers. These are great troops. And they know this situation.

We have 28,000 troops on the line. And they are right there, and so nobody is safe. We're probably not safe over here. If he gets the long-range missiles, we're not safe either.

TODD: In fact, several conflicting messages on North Korea have come from the president over the past few days. He said he -- quote -- "wouldn't be happy" with another nuclear test from the regime. He left open the possibility of military action, but in an interview with CBS, he praised Kim.

TRUMP: He's dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others.

And, at a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So, obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie.

[18:05:10]

TODD: Tonight, another warning for the president of what could go wrong in a meeting with the young tyrant he seems to admire.

VICTOR CHA, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Because, if that negotiation fails, there's nowhere else to go. And that's a very dangerous place to put any president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Not to mention the history involved. Analysts say President Trump in any negotiation with Kim Jong-un has to realize the North Koreans have reneged on just about every agreement they've made with the West over their nuclear program for the past 23 years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you.

Tonight, the White House says President Trump stands by his widely debunked claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama. Mr. Trump clearly getting upset, peeved, shall we say, when he was asked about this ongoing controversy.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president seemed to be thrown by this subject coming up in a new interview to mark his 100 days.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

It was a puzzling exchange that President Trump had over his still unfounded claim that former President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. The president appeared to defend his allegation in an interview with CBS, but almost in the same breath, he seems to say he doesn't stand by the comment. What makes the exchange even more baffling is that the president also appears to describe the accusation as his opinion. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, he was very nice to me, but after that, we have had some difficulties. So, it doesn't matter.

You know, words are less important to me than deeds. And you saw what happened with surveillance. And everybody saw what happened with surveillance.

JOHN DICKERSON, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Difficulties how?

TRUMP: I thought that -- well, you saw what happened with surveillance, and I think that was inappropriate.

DICKERSON: What does that mean, sir?

TRUMP: You can figure that out yourself.

DICKERSON: Well, the reason I ask is you said he -- you called him sick and bad.

TRUMP: Look, you can figure it out yourself. He was very nice to me with words, but -- and when I was with him -- but after that, there has been no relationship.

DICKERSON: But you stand by that claim about...

TRUMP: I don't stand by anything. I just -- you can take it the way you want.

I think our side has been proven very strongly, and everybody is talking about it, and, frankly, it should be discussed. I think that is a very big -- surveillance of our citizens, I think it's a very big topic, and it's a topic that should be number one. And we should find out what the hell is going on.

DICKERSON: I just wanted to find out, though. You're the president of the United States. You said he was sick and bad because he...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You can take any way -- you can take it any way you want.

DICKERSON: But I'm asking you, because you don't want it to be fake news. I want to hear it from President Trump.

TRUMP: You don't have to ask me. You don't have to ask me.

DICKERSON: Why not?

TRUMP: Because I have my own opinions. You can have your own opinions. DICKERSON: But I want to know your opinions. You're the president of

the United States.

TRUMP: OK. OK. It's enough. Thank you. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, at the daily briefing, today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about all of this, about the president's comments. Spicer very quickly said the president continues to defend this accusation. Here is what he had to say very briefly today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: Clearly stands by that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And that's it, clearly stands by that. That's what Spicer said about those comments.

But, Wolf, we should point out, to date, the president and the White House have not provided any evidence whatsoever to back up the president's wiretapping allegation. They have since broadened that accusation to mean overall surveillance at Trump Tower.

But even Republican leaders on Capitol Hill say there is no proof of that either -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and the FBI director says there is no proof, no evidence of that either.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this from Congresswoman Kathleen Rice. She's a Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you believe that being open to a direct meeting with Kim Jong-un is a good idea?

RICE: No.

And I think most people feel the same way. It's baffling to me how the president of the United States can use the word "honored" in talking about meeting with a dictator who kills members of his own family to assure his power.

But the international community all agree that, right now, the facts are just not there to support any kind of in-person meeting at all. In fact, until Kim Jong-un stops with the testing and shows that he ratchets down all the actions that he is taking now to show his force, until he stops doing that, I don't see how there is any way to have any kind of meeting at all.

It is important to have diplomatic conversations to get conversations going. But, at this point, Kim Jong-un has shown absolutely no desire to engage in those talks at all.

BLITZER: Because the argument is it potentially could help ease some of the tensions. And these tensions are enormous right now. And in the process, the U.S. would know more about this closed-off nation.

RICE: Well, but this is the problem, Wolf.

We have a president who shows a disturbing penchant for authoritarian figures, for dictators, for any world leader who will compliment him, whether that's Vladimir Putin, Duterte, Kim Jong-un. And that's really disturbing.

[18:10:10]

This is the president of the United States, you know, talking about being flattered, having his ego stroked by people who engage in such violent, terrible behavior and want to do harm to us.

So, I just don't understand. When is he -- when is the president going to learn that every single word he says has meaning, and it affects how our allies abroad see our commitment to them, to protecting them? And this is just a perfect example of that.

How do you think people in Japan and South Korea feel when the president of the United States says he would be honored to meet with a man who wants to kill them, who wants to destroy them?

So, I just -- it is so disturbing. What other word can you use to describe it?

BLITZER: The White House press secretary said a meeting -- a presidential meeting with the Philippine President Duterte is in the national interest precisely because of North Korea.

Do you believe that President Duterte could help when it comes to dealing with North Korea? As you know, the president in that interview over the weekend invited -- in that phone conversation he held with Duterte, invited him to come to the White House.

RICE: It's possible that it might be able to help. I think, right now, what we need to do is reach out to allies, allies first and foremost.

Duterte may be able to help, but he has a disturbing record of extrajudicial killings of drug dealers. Actually, Donald Trump has lauded the way that he is dealing with the drug problem in his country, which, again, is just a disturbing feeling of thought that the president expressed once again.

But -- so, I think you would have to acknowledge that he is doing the -- Duterte is doing bad things in his country. But, look, we need a broad coalition of international people to help with this issue of Kim Jong-un, and if this particular leader might be able to do that, then I guess it might be worth it. But acknowledge him for what he is and who he is.

BLITZER: I want you to react, Congresswoman, to what President Trump said about the wiretapping allegations he has leveled against President Obama, that he -- in this interview, President Trump said he doesn't stand by anything, that he thinks his side's been proven very strongly on these allegations.

What more would you like to hear from him on his own claims that his campaign has been wiretapped by the Obama administration? Does an answer like that hurt U.S. credibility?

RICE: So, here's my theory on that, Wolf.

It seems that any time Donald Trump's mouth get him into trouble, he says outrageous things, he said the 100 days matter -- now it doesn't. Yes, they do. No, they don't.

It seems that he likes to go to his failsafe. Right? What can I say now that might -- you know, what's the next shiny object that might be able to take people's attention away from these crazy and outrageous things that I'm saying?

And he brings up a claim that every single person, every single person in the intelligence community, on both sides of the aisle here in Washington have said, it's not true. There was no wiretapping.

But I think he just -- the president has a disturbing penchant for repeating things that he knows are not true, that everyone knows are not true, in the hope that maybe people will just say, OK, well, maybe it is, even though the facts show that they're not.

So, I have no idea why he is bringing this up. This is a claim that has been debunked since the first time he said it. So, I just -- my -- again, my theory is that he's just trying to distract people away from some of these other outrageous things that he is saying.

BLITZER: Yes, on the issue of Russia's interfering in the U.S. presidential election, now, in this last interview, the president said, it could have been Russia, could have been China, could have been others.

He is apparently not convinced what the U.S. intelligence community is convinced of, what the FBI director is convinced of, the director of the National Security Agency, and the Republican leadership, as well as the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate. What do you say to that?

RICE: Well, he happens to be the only human being on the planet who has questions about that issue.

I mean, I don't even know how to explain that. This is well- documented. Everyone accepts it. This is stuff that Russia is doing all over Europe. And we're the latest victim of it. So, literally, I think he is the only person on the planet who doesn't accept that fact.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, there is more to discuss. There are developments happening in the latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. We will continue our conversation right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:19:00]

BLITZER: We're back with Congresswoman Katrina, a Democrat on the house Homeland Security Committee.

We're following breaking news, Congresswoman.

I want you to stand by for a moment. We're getting the latest on the GOP effort to pass a health care bill, that effort now apparently in serious jeopardy.

Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is up on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, the vice president, Mike Pence, he was there trying to muster some support. But it is not clear at all if they have the votes they need.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf.

And Vice President Pence is still up right here right now on Capitol Hill meeting with members, trying to save this bill. That's after they saw just a slew of House Republican members come out today publicly opposing this bill, not only splashing some cold water on the optimism that the White House today was trying to project, predicting that they had the votes and they could hold a vote and get it passed through the House this week, but importantly now pushing this just a few votes away from potentially failing.

[18:20:07]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): The White House is ratcheting up its push for a vote on health care this week.

SPICER: We know that, when the vote gets called, we will feel confident that it is going to be able to pass.

SERFATY: And the pressure is on for Republicans to deliver.

GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Do we have the votes for health care? I think we do. This is going to be a great week. We're going to get health care down into the floor of the House. We're convinced we have got the votes, and we're going to keep moving on with our agenda.

SERFATY: But despite that public show of confidence, it appears the latest repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is in jeopardy.

According to the latest CNN vote count, 21 House Republicans say they will vote against the bill, meaning the GOP can only afford to lose one more Republican vote. House moderates say they are concerned about how patients with preexisting conditions would be treated under the new GOP plan.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The amendment that has been offered does weaken protections for people with preexisting conditions, because states will be able to opt out or waive out of it. So I think that is a very big concern for many of the center-right members with whom I'm affiliated with.

SERFATY: Even asked, President Trump insists people with preexisting conditions will not be worse off.

TRUMP: Preexisting conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said has to be. We actually have a clause that guarantees.

SERFATY: Adding in an interview with Bloomberg news, "It will be every bit as good on preexisting conditions as Obamacare," that claim seemingly at odds with the House Republican bill.

An amendment unveiled last week to help attract conservative lawmakers would allow states to opt out of Obamacare's community ratings provision, which prohibits insurers from charging people more based on their medical history and age, all this after lawmakers reached their first major bipartisan agreement under the Trump administration, agreeing on a spending bill Sunday night to keep the government funded until December.

But the bill, which increases defense spending and border security, includes some major concessions from the White House, including leaving Planned Parenthood funding in place and gives no money for the proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And back on health are, the Republican whip, they are meeting right now to really give an indication of where this is all heading.

They are meeting now. And going into the meeting, the chief deputy whip telling our CNN's Lauren Fox that he has no predictions at all as to when and if a bill would come up with week. And certainly also notable, some whips heading into that meeting tonight say they don't even know how they will vote on this bill if it potentially goes to a House vote this week, Wolf, what certainly seems to indicate and speak volumes about where this is all headed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of uncertainty even with the folks who are responsible for keeping tabs on how individual Republicans will vote. They're not sure what the status is right now. All right, thanks very much, Sunlen, for that report.

Let's get back to Congresswoman Kathleen Rice. Congresswoman, do you think Republicans can stem any further no votes

on health care?

RICE: No, actually, they can't.

They are coming right up against -- they can't afford to lose more than 22 votes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But do you believe they will lose some more?

RICE: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: And this whole effort will be derailed, at least for the time being?

RICE: There's no question, because I know -- look, I speak to a lot of my moderate Republican friends. And they just can't support this bill, especially when they know, when it gets to the Senate, it is not going to pass there.

And so they are being asked to walk the plank on a bill that they know is not going to survive once it gets sent over to Senate. And, you know, when President Trump says I'm mandating that preexisting conditions be covered, it really begs the question, has he read the bill?

Because, if you read the bill, it is very clear that insurance companies are going to have the ability to charge people with preexisting conditions more money. And that's very clear. And that's why I think a lot of moderate Republicans are not supporting it.

BLITZER: All right, let's get through other issues while I have you, Congresswoman.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said today that the government on this temporary funding bill that keeps the government operating through the fiscal year until the end of September will include a $1.5 billion down payment for the border security, referring to border security money that wasn't allocated for the wall, specifically for the border wall in the bill.

Do you see that as a down payment potentially for the wall?

RICE: No, it can't be.

And the language is actually very specific, Wolf, that it is not to be used to build a wall. It is to be used to invest in technology, better uses of technology like drones and things like that, and also to fix parts of the wall that actually already exist.

So there's -- and it was very specific that the language be written that way, and so there's no way that they can use it to build a wall. And guess what? Most Americans don't want their tax dollars to go to build a wall. It sounds -- it was a great campaign -- campaign speak, rhetoric, but now that it is coming to governing, the support is just not there.

[18:25:00]

BLITZER: Just last week -- and you're on the Homeland Security Committee -- the homeland security secretary, Secretary Kelly, said that the electronics ban keeps him awake at night and the threat is real.

He said the ban could expand everywhere. It is only a limited number of countries right now where this ban on electronics on flights to the United States have been implemented. Have you seen intelligence supporting this? Do you think it should go everywhere, the ban?

RICE: So, we were briefed -- the members of the Homeland Security Committee were briefed by Secretary Kelly.

I tell you, I think he is a really impressive guy. And, believe me, when he says he -- it keeps him awake at night, it keeps a bunch of us awake at night. I think he made the right decision, given the intelligence that he has right now. Whether or not that's going to be expanded, that's going to be up to him to decide.

And I'm sure he will, as he has in the past, come and brief us here in Congress.

But, look, I think that Donald Trump had some good picks, and I think that Secretary Kelly was one of them.

BLITZER: Always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York. Thanks very much.

RICE: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the president shuts down questions about his controversial wiretap claims against the former president, after giving several confusing responses. So, what was he thinking?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You don't have to ask me.

DICKERSON: Why not?

TRUMP: Because I have my own opinions. You can have your own opinions.

DICKERSON: But I want to know your opinions. You're the president of the United States.

TRUMP: OK. OK. It's enough. Thank you. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a dubious claim with no evidence backing it up. But President Trump says his allegation that he was wiretapped by President Obama has, quote, "been proven very strongly."

[18:31:25] Listen to this exchange with CBS News correspondent John Dickerson during an Oval Office interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, he was very nice to me, but after that we've had some difficulties, so it doesn't matter. You know, words are less important to me than deeds, and you saw what happened with surveillance, and everybody saw what happened with surveillance.

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS NEWS: Difficulties how?

TRUMP: I thought that -- well, you saw what happened with surveillance, and -- I think that was inappropriate.

DICKERSON: What does that mean, sir?

TRUMP: You can figure that out yourself.

DICKERSON: Well, the reason I ask is you said -- you called him sick and bad.

TRUMP: Look. You can figure it out yourself. He was very nice to me with words, but -- and when I was with him, but after that there has been no relationship.

DICKERSON: But you stand by that claim about him?

TRUMP: I don't stand by anything. I just -- you can take it the way you want. I think our side has been proven very strongly, and everybody is talking about it, and frankly, it should be discussed.

I think that is a very big -- surveillance of our citizens. I think that's a very big topic, and it's a topic that should be No. 1, and we should find out what the hell is going on.

DICKERSON: I just wanted to find out, though. You're the president of the United States. You said he was sick and bad because he...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You can take it any way -- you should take it any way you want.

DICKERSON: But I'm asking you, because you don't want it to be fake nuts. I want to hear it from President Trump

TRUMP: You don't have to ask me. You don't have to ask me.

DICKERSON: Why not?

TRUMP: Because I have my own opinions and can you have your own opinions.

DICKERSON: But I want to know your opinions. You're the president of the United States.

TRUMP: OK. That's enough. Thank you. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's get some more with our specialists and analysts. Chris Cillizza, what stood out in your mind from that extraordinary exchange?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, I mean, he's wrong on the -- "my view has been proven out and everyone is talking about it."

The facts are this. Donald Trump is on one side, saying, "I was wiretapped by President Obama during the 2016 election." OK, on the other side of that ledger are FBI Director James Comey; former director of national intelligence James Clapper; President Obama, who has denied it; the head -- the Republican chairman of the House Senate [SIC] -- House and Senate Intelligence Committees; Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House. So it's not...

BLITZER: Mitch McConnell.

CILLIZZA: Right. I mean, literally, name any politician and they -- Republican or Democrat, and they're likely to appear. The problem is you -- he just says things, and he conflates opinion with fact. His opinion is that lots of people are talking about it and that he has been somehow justified in his attack. The facts, simply, on this do not bear that out.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, you worked not only at the CIA; at the FBI. What does it say to you that James Comey, the FBI director, publicly said there's no evidence to back up the president's assertion against the former president? Does it suggest to you that this president doesn't trust his FBI director?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, you've got to look at a couple pieces. First, let's remember: think about how he characterizes the secretary of defense. Very positive. That's his nominee. James Comey is not.

I think one of the pieces here is he doesn't have to side with James Comey, because he doesn't have to say, "This is my guy and, therefore, he can do no wrong."

I think the second thing you have to look at is if the president has to make a choice between facts, as Chris was talking about and the government of bureaucracy, and what he views as an attack on his own integrity with his base, he's going to make a choice. And that choice is what the fourth-grade nuns would have told me you can't do. Humility goes out the window, and he's going to say, "I'm right regardless of what the facts are."

Let's remember, he said, "Our side has been proven right." As Chris said, yes, except for the people who actually do this. And that's the FBI and the Department of Justice, who said publicly, "You're wrong." BLITZER: Yes, it's a very important point.

And Abby Phillip, you heard the president say, when he was challenged on all of this, he said, "You figure it out yourself." When he's often challenged on the facts, he says something like that. Does he grasp -- do you appreciate, does he grasp the weight of his words as president of the United States, as opposed to a private citizen or even a candidate?

[18:35:15] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought it was telling how really vague he was in responding to these questions. He kept using buzz words like "surveillance" and just using them almost indiscriminately. And that's a -- that's sort of a symptom of a larger problem, which is that, as president of the United States, he doesn't -- he hasn't really fully grasped that every single word matters.

When you use the word "surveillance," it actually means something. And when he -- when he tweeted those things out in the first place, it triggered so much activity in the federal government, as a result of the fact that he is the president of the United States.

So we're clearly seeing someone who, on some -- on some level, I wonder how much he grasps the sort of technicality of the surveillance state, as it were, which is something that he's right, we probably need to talk about. But -- but was he surveilled? Probably not.

And if there were people within his circle who were being -- whose information was being incidentally collected, there's no evidence that it was illegal.

So we don't get much fact when the president talks, and that's a real problem, because people are listening; and his words are much more consequential now than they were on the campaign trail.

BLITZER: And a lot of eyebrows, David Swerdlick, were raised in this exchange the president had, once again, with John Dickerson on the complexities of the second version of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Preexisting conditions are in the bill, and I mandated it. I said it has to be.

DICKERSON: In one of the fixes that was discussed, preexisting was optional for the states.

TRUMP: Sure. In one of the fixes. And they're changing it and changing it.

DICKERSON: So it would be permanent?

TRUMP: Of course.

DICKERSON: OK. This is a development, sir. A crucial question: it's not going to be left up to the states? Everybody gets preexisting, no matter where they live?

TRUMP: No, but the states are also going to have a lot to do with it.

DICKERSON: OK.

TRUMP: Because we ultimately want to get it back down to the states.

DICKERSON: So this would be guaranteed?

TRUMP: The state is going to be in a much better position to take care, because it's smaller.

DICKERSON: So I'm not hearing you, Mr. President, say there's a guarantee of pre-existing conditions?

TRUMP: We actually have -- we actually have a clause that guarantees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So when he says that, does it have a dramatic impact on Republican members who are undecided right now?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, a couple things, Wolf. First, to Abby's point about the other issue, right, I mean, again, this is some generalized buzz words that the president is giving out in this interview and expecting that either we in the media or the American people are not going to follow up and look into the particulars, at least when you look at these couple of statements.

In terms of, you know, were I a Republican member of the House right now, I would take those statements as saying, look, if this thing somehow passes and it somehow works out, then maybe President Trump will take the lion's share of the credit. And if it doesn't work out or it doesn't pass, he's going to lay the blame on Congress and say, "I didn't really know everything that was in the bill."

CILLIZZA: The danger -- I think David Trump prizes unpredictability. He's said it a million times, chaos. The danger is, if you're a House Republican who's on the fence, you don't have any assurances -- in fact, I think you might conclude the opposite -- that Donald Trump will stand by you once this bill goes to Senate, if they can get it passed through the Senate,, it goes to Congress committee. That's the problem here, is that you vote for something; the next day the president of the United States can say, "Oh, I didn't like that. These House Republicans are screwing it up."

I mean, he does the good cop to bad cop turn faster than almost anyone. It cannot be a reassuring thing. Because I'm not clear from that clip, Wolf, whether he knows what the bill says.

BLITZER: He's given about a dozen interviews over these past few days. And among other things, Phil Mudd, in one of the interviews, he said he's not sure that Russia actually interfered in the U.S. presidential election, suggesting it could have been China. It could have been somewhere else.

What does that say about his relationship with the intelligence community, which has come out and said there's no doubt that Russia did it?

MUDD: We ought to be careful for the future, because this puts a lot of pressure on the leadership in the intelligence community in the years ahead.

Let's say we have an impasse with North Korea, where there's a supposition or a claim about nuclear activity or there's a claim from the president's office about Iran. Or there's a claim about Russian activity, or lack of activity, in Syria. What are we supposed to say? What are we -- are we supposed to say the president is right, when he's proven repeatedly he'll just make stuff up on the fly?

I mentioned leadership before, because I think he's putting people like the FBI director, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the CIA director, in the future, in the position of coming out periodically in high-stress situations, saying, "You know what president just said? I've got to come out and say that's not correct." Jim Comey has already done that. The other guys might have to do the same.

BLITZER: Yes. Admiral Rogers, Mike Rogers of the National Security Agency also has...

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: ... corrected the president during that open testimony.

Guys, stand by. Just ahead, President Trump's controversial invitation to an authoritarian leader accused of killing thousands of his own people. We'll update you on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:37] BLITZER: The Trump administration is defending the president's new outreach to two of the world's most -- most ruthless leaders, each blamed for the deaths of so many of their own citizens.

Our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the nuclear threat looming and tensions rising, President Trump declaring today that he would be honored to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. "If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him," the president telling Bloomberg News, "I would absolutely. I would be honored to do it."

The president's choice of words raising eyebrows after praising the regime's rogue leader in a weekend CBS News interview.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people I'm sure tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So, obviously, he is a pretty smart cookie.

ZELENY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer sought to temper those kind words, saying that conditions do not exist right now for the president to hold talks with North Korea.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down immediately. There's a lot of conditions that I think would have to happen with respect to its behavior and to show signs of good faith.

ZELENY: The president also stirring controversy after extending his hand to the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. He invited him to the White House despite a brutal human rights record.

The authoritarian leader is accused of killing thousands of his own people in his war on drugs. He also once called President Obama an expletive. One senior administration told CNN the White House invitation was neither expected nor planned. It came during a phone call between Trump and Duterte which the White House described in a statement as "very friendly conversation".

Democrats seized on the call saying an invitation to the White House amounted to an endorsement of the Philippine leader. Senator Chris Coons saying, "Trump risks giving Duterte's actions and his brutal human rights violations an American stamp of approval."

The president defended his decision, saying in an interview with "Bloomberg News", "You know, he's very popular in the Philippines. He has a very high approval rating in the Philippines."

Spicer said improved relations with the Philippines were needed because of U.S. interests in the region.

SPICER: It is an opportunity for us to work with countries in that region that can help play a role in diplomatically and economically isolating North Korea.

ZELENY: Yet it's also the latest sign of the president's affinity of strong men.

TRUMP: It's great to be with the president of Egypt.

ZELENY: From inviting Egyptian President al Sisi to the White House, to praising the leaders of Russia and Turkey, Mr. Trump's words for authoritarian leaders drawing fire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That was Jeff Zeleny reporting for us, our senior White House correspondent.

Let's get back to our panel.

Chris Cillizza, why would the president of the United States extend an invitation to President Duterte to come to the White House, given this extra -- this record that he has, killing his own people?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITCS EDITOR AT LARGE: Seven thousand people, according to Human Rights Watch, killed in this anti-drug initiative by Duterte.

The short answer is, Wolf, is I don't know why he would do this. The slightly longer answer is I think that Donald Trump revels in sticking his finger in the faces of the establishment, of the way things are traditionally done.

He likes -- in the same interview where he is praising Kim Jong-un, he says, "and that is breaking news." He likes making a splash. He likes doing things that are unorthodox.

He believes that the people who voted for him likes him to do these things even if it is breaking with tradition, even if it doesn't make any either geopolitical or just plain old political sense, he does it because it's provocative at some level. And I think he revels in that provocation, he revels in us saying "I don't know why he is doing it."

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting because the president, we're told, was given briefing papers by the State Department before that phone conversation with President Duterte. So, the question is, what went wrong?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, first, he put the briefing papers in the shredder. I have -- I doubt that he read it.

But let's look at this. First, we're not stating one of the clearest points here, I believe most of his supporters, let's talk about geography ignorance of the United States, don't know where the Philippines is. The president can say whatever the heck he wants about the Philippines, because I don't think his core constituents are going to care. But on Duterte, he's clearly repeatedly, I like strong men over people who respect human rights. Sisi in Egypt, Putin, the Chinese leader, North Korea leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Erdogan.

MUDD: He's also said he's got incredible faith, incredible confidence in his ability to persuade people to change.

I had the Egyptian leader here. I sat him down. I said you've got to release our American citizen. It happened. I'm a great deal maker.

I think he realizes there is not a lot of cost to this one, and as Chris said, he tells the establishment, you may say what you want, State Department, say what you want, I'm going to do whatever the heck I want.

BLITZER: Abby, what are the global implications when the president appears, at least occasionally, in these circumstances, to be abandoning the traditional human rights interest of the United States?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, one of the reasons why for such a long time the American government has at least tried -- at least made the appearance of wanting to spread American values a broad because it keeps Americans safe at home and it keeps Americans safe abroad. The potential downside here is that people like Kim Jong-un and the Philippines president take from this that the way to get a sit-down with the president of the United States is to be basically provocative and to do things that are outside the norms of human rights and international law.

[18:50:11] And that's a huge risk for this president because it has longer term implications. And whatever near term solution ordeal deal he is trying to make in the very present.

BLITZER: Let me read to you, David Swerdlick, the quote from the president on this overture to Kim Jong-un. "If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him I would absolutely. I would be honored to do it. If it's under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that."

Sean Spicer, his press secretary, later seemed to walk that back a bit. But still, the president using the word "honored" to meet with him.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, two quick points, Wolf. One, you know, the idea of if it were appropriate, that's why we hire presidents, to decide if it's appropriate to meet with these kinds of world leaders. But, fundamentally, I think what the president sees is that he sees these interactions with the strong men in human terms rather than in terms of national interests, one country to another. And he can sort of wind and down the account and get the deal points on the table ultimately and get some agreement regardless of human rights or any other --

CILLIZZA: And in that quote, Wolf, just briefly, under the right circumstances, doing a lot of work in that sentence because the truth of the matter is, well, if North Korea isn't North Korea and Kim Jong- un suddenly becomes something other than who he has been his entire life, well, then maybe we'll meet with him. I mean, sure --

BLITZER: And if he gives up his ambitions for nuclear weapons.

SWERDLICK: Yes, that would be an honor.

BLITZER: Then he'd be a great guy.

All right. Everybody, stand by. Much more coming up.

President Trump speaks out about the civil war and the one man he believes could have prevented it, even though that one man died 16 years before it started.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:07] BLITZER: An unusual take on American history by the commander in chief. Listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) TRUMP: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later you would not have had the civil war. He was -- he was a very tough person. But he had a big heart.

And he was -- he was really angry, he saw what was happening with regard to the civil war. He said there is no reason for this. People don't realize, the civil war -- you think about it, why? People don't ask that question, but why was there the civil war? Why could that one not have been worked out?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's get some reaction. Go ahead, Abby.

PHILLIP: People don't ask that question? I think people do actually ask that question.

I was with Trump the day he went to Andrew Jackson's childhood home and he was reading a speech and talking about Andrew Jackson as if he had really heard many of the things for the first time so some of this does not actually surprise me.

CILLIZZA: There is a great scene in "Revenge of the Nerds," where he says what if CAT really spells dog? That's what I thought out here. Like, yes, I mean, OK, sure.

But I think to Abby's point, Phil made this point earlier about Duterte, the idea that he is reading up on these things, whether it's the Philippine president or Andrew Jackson is just not right. He gets in these situations and doesn't prepare. We know that over and over. And he just -- you hear the reporter, Salena Zito, CNN contributor there, saying, yeah, like sort of trying to moving along because he's obviously stalled and then he goes into the rift on you know, the civil war, which to Abby's point, is nonsensical.

You know, he does -- this is what happens when you do not prepare, you're the president of the United States, and every word you say rightly is analyzed.

BLITZER: David?

SWERDLICK: He described Andrew Jackson as very tough, big heart -- sounds like he's describing how he wants himself to be perceived.

BLITZER: And Andrew Jackson died 16 years before the civil war.

Go ahead.

MUDD: Boy, you want presidents to learn from history. He could learn from Bush in dealing with 9/11. He could learn from President Clinton in dealing with Bosnia. He could learn from President Trump in dealing with the issues he dealt with ISIS, and Libya, and this president doesn't learn. It's painful, but we're realizing that what he says suggest to you he is no student of history.

BLITZER: He does have a big picture of Andrew Jackson hanging up now in the Oval Office. So, he's clearly an admirer of that president.

MUDD: Well, I've got a big picture for Lincoln, I voted for his third term. So, I'm in the same level with the president. My sense of history is about the same.

CILLIZZA: A lot of social media influence in the Lincoln election.

BLITZER: Yes. But what does it say you know about this president when he makes a comment like that?

PHILLIP: Well, you know, I mean I think that he -- to Phil's point, he has a very limited grasp of history and precedent. And, unfortunately, actually, when you are president, it's actually kind of the worst time to go back and do that kind of homework. There is a lot to the job in the moment. So, in some of these cases, you know, it's probably best to take the shovel away and stop digging when you're going down a rabbit hole where you're saying things that are just, frankly, completely untrue.

SWERDLICK: But on the question of whether or not the civil war, what the civil war was about, you shouldn't need to do the homework. It was about slavery. I looked at South Carolina's Declaration of Independence, they were the first state to declare independence, I counted 18 references to slavery in that document.

CILLIZZA: It's third grade or fourth grade -- I mean, that's the stuff you would think you would pick up. Again, I'm not sure he doesn't know. It's just that he freelances so much and has such an investment in his willingness to just talk off the cuff that he says he does stuff like this that certainly makes it look to the naked eye like he does do not know what he is talking about on a subject that a history buff of any sort would know.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Tank you very much. Good conversation.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.