Return to Transcripts main page
STATE OF THE UNION
Special Counsel Targets Trump-Russia Ties; Interview With Florida Senator Marco Rubio; President Trump Set to Deliver Speech in Saudi Arabia; The Arab Islamic American Summit. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired May 21, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.
We are awaiting a major speech by President Trump on his very first overseas visit as president.
He was, of course, elected after calling for a temporary ban on Muslims coming into the United States. He's now hoping to reset relations with the Muslim world.
In his speech in Saudi Arabia this morning, the president will ask Arab nations for their help in battling extremism. And he casts the fight against terrorism a battle between good and evil.
President Trump has so far been greeted very warmly in Saudi Arabia.
Here he is joining in a ceremonial sword dance welcoming him. The Saudis even projected his image onto the hotel where he's staying, the next best thing to having his name on the building, I suppose.
And the flattery did not stop there.
Here he is with Egyptian President El-Sisi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABDEL FATTAH EL-SISI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Mr. President, we express our appreciation and -- and respect. And let me say that you have a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
TRUMP: I agree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Certainly friendlier confines than Washington, D.C., where the president left behind the most devastating week of his young presidency, which capped with the bombshell report that he told the Russians inside the Oval Office that firing FBI Director James Comey greatly relieved the pressure he was facing because of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between Russia and his campaign team.
The news came just after the Justice Department appointed another former FBI director, Robert Mueller, to serve as special counsel to oversee the investigation.
There's so much to talk about.
And while we await President Trump's speech, I want to get to Republican Senator Marco Rubio. He's on the intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Good morning.
TAPPER: I'm really interested in hearing your response to a specific excerpt from President Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia this morning, specifically this part -- quote -- "We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values to pursue a better future for us all" -- unquote.
Senator, frankly, I cannot imagine you ever saying anything like that when standing in a country like Saudi Arabia. Are you concerned at all about the president seemingly abdicating the very public role of the United States in standing up to for democracy and human rights?
RUBIO: Well, I mean, yes, that would not have been a part of a speech that I would have delivered, for the reason that I think it's in our national security interest to advocate for democracy and freedom and human rights, now, with a recognition that you may not get it overnight.
There needs to be a period of transition. And I think, further in that speech, they talk about gradual improvements in places, which I think is wise and pragmatic.
That said, I would tell you that the White House and I have a different approach on the issue of human rights. I'm much more forceful and open and vocal about criticizing whether it's Egypt or Saudi Arabia for its human rights record.
The White House is convinced they can get better results by addressing those issues in private one on one. And, in fairness, there are issues we have raised with the White House. They have then raised it with foreign leaders and have gotten results. Aya Hijazi was released from Egypt, and Sandy Phan-Gillis was released from China. But those are, you know, one case. There are thousands of these cases
around the world. And so we just have a disagreement on the right way to approach it. And they have their approach, and I have mine.
But he's the president. And so our hope is that they will at least continue to raise these issues in private, as I am told they will do with El-Sisi today and raising the -- or did with El-Sisi on the NGO law that he has to -- looks like there's a lot of pressure internally to impose on NGOs operating in Egypt, and likewise in Saudi Arabia, the pastor there -- Raul -- Raif Badawi and others who are being held unjustly, that those issues are going to be raised as well.
But we just have a difference in approach, there's no doubt.
TAPPER: Let's turn to the issue consuming domestic policies here.
You're a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Former FBI Director James Comey has agreed to testify publicly before your panel after Memorial Day. What are you going to ask him?
RUBIO: Well, I think the gist of the inquiry is going to be obviously about the things that have been reported on.
And that is, did he keep these memos? What do those memos say? And why did he write it? And how did he feel? Did he ever feel like he was being put in a position where he couldn't do his job? There's no doubt that that's the questions that are going to get asked, and asked repeatedly.
And the American people deserve to have an answer to that. And I'm happy that Director -- or former Director Comey is going to appear publicly before the Intelligence Committee to answer these questions, so we can get it directly from him, and not simply have to rely on a third-hand account of how he felt and/or what was in those memos.
TAPPER: The White House has made it very clear they're going to attack James Comey's credibility. Do you think he's a credible person?
RUBIO: Well, my -- I don't know him personally very well. I have interacted with him over a number of years on the Intelligence Committee.
I have always found him to be respectful and forthcoming, particularly in closed settings, very good at explaining what it is he was working on. I know others have differences with him. But I have never had any quarrel with James Comey. I always found him to be a patriotic, hardworking American who loved the country.
Was he perfect? No. I imagine he would acknowledge that, too. But I -- I certainly have always had a lot of respect for him, and -- but we're going to have that testimony. And people will be able to make their own judgment.
TAPPER: President Trump, of course, calls all of this a witch-hunt. What do you think of that?
RUBIO: Well, I wouldn't use the term witch-hunt.
Look, these issues are being raised in the press. OK? People are going to the press who appear to be in the know, or at least pretend to be in the know. They leak information. The press reports on it. These questions need to be answered.
Unlike some other people, I am one of the 15 people in the Senate that serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. A lot of people say, well, you're being very cautious about this. I am. And here's why, because the credibility of our investigation depends on every single one of us in that committee going in without any preconceived notions.
I have told everybody, I want to know the truth. I want to know the entire truth. I want to us to put it in a report, and I want it -- to share it with you and the whole country, so people can reach their own conclusion.
But the reason why the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who is a good guy, had to recuse himself is because he was taking hard positions in one direction or another on these issues. And so I don't want to prejudge any of this.
I acknowledge the media reports raise questions that need answers. But let's get to the facts. Let's establish the facts. And then people can make their concrete opinion or take a concrete opinion on these matters.
But, until then, it's my obligation to reserve judgment on all of this until all the information is in, and we have analyzed it together, and not just in -- based on media reports. I think that's the right thing to do for the country, because we need an Intelligence Committee report that people have confidence in.
We're not going to have that if the members of the committee are out there in front of the press already having made up their mind before the whole report is together.
TAPPER: I want to play something you said on the campaign trail back in November, when Hillary Clinton was running for president. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUBIO: And I would just ask everybody this. Can this country afford to have a president under investigation by the FBI?
RUBIO: Think of the trauma that would do to this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: "Can this country afford to have a president under investigation by the FBI?"
Obviously, it's Trump's campaign team, not necessarily him that's under investigation by the FBI. But do you think that this is causing trauma to the country?
RUBIO: Well, let's be clear. Number one, the FBI has not said that the president is under investigation.
RUBIO: They don't discuss those things, so let's be clear about that.
Second, I would say to you that if, in fact, he ever becomes or any president, for that matter, of course that's not good for the country. And that's why I think it's important that we finish our work in a way that's credible.
So, the Intelligence Committee is going to review it, with a primary focus on counterintelligence. But I imagine, in the process, we may discover facts that are relevant to former Director Mueller's look at this. I think Mueller's appointment is going to look at this in a way that's thorough. And I hope everybody cooperates with his efforts, so he can quickly reach a conclusion and make a decision about moving forward or not moving forward.
That's in the best interest in the country. Quite frankly, it's in the best interest of the Trump administration to have something that is thorough and fair and above reproach, and as quickly as possible, so the country can move on in one way or another.
But there's no doubt that this cloud is impacting everything else. And I think the White House would acknowledge that. So, we need to get over this once and for all. And the best way to do it is to have a process in place to arrive the at the facts, no matter what they are. And whatever those facts are, that's what we need to make our decisions on.
TAPPER: But it seems as though the White House is standing in the way of the process to get to the facts.
Look at the new bombshell from "The New York Times," the newspaper reporting that, when President Trump went behind closed doors in the Oval Office with Russian officials, he told them that firing FBI Director James Comey had relieved great pressure on him.
Let me go over the words with you -- quote -- "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nutjob. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
What was your response when you read the comments?
RUBIO: Well, again, those response are based on notes that I haven't seen, and neither have you. I'm not denying that they're -- I'm not admitting that they are. We don't know.
And that's why we need to have an inquiry that looks at all that. That's why I asked the White House to produce those notes to the Intelligence Committee, so we could review it. And I thought that was important. And I continue to believe it is important for them to do.
But, again, I go back to the point that I made. And that is, irrespective of all those reports, Director Mueller is going to do his thing with regards to the work that he now has. The Intelligence Committee is going to continue to do its work. You will have now at least two separate places that I hope will reach conclusions based on facts that people can trust.
And that's what I am investing my time and energy in. And so, when I don't -- when I'm cautious about commenting on these things, it's because I do not want to undermine the credibility of this effort in one direction or another. It is in the best interests of this country for the Senate Intelligence Committee to produce a report based on facts that everyone has confidence in, and not some sort of open-ended thing that continues to, you know, spiral this thing out of control.
TAPPER: Of course, the White House is not disputing those comments as reported in "The New York Times."
And I guess there are a lot of Americans who are looking at this growing body of information, and wondering what exactly is going on here.
We have the comments that he made to the Russian officials, according to that document. President Trump recently told NBC's Lester Holt that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the decision to fire Director Comey.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: But, regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.
And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, we have that. We have what he told the Russians, according to that document.
A source close to Comey tells us that President Trump urged the FBI director to back off investigating Michael Flynn -- this is in a Comey memo -- saying, "I hope you can let this go."
As an attorney, as a U.S. senator, do you consider this to be a growing body of evidence that the president might have attempted to obstruct justice? RUBIO: We don't know yet.
Number one, I haven't seen those notes. Number two, we have yet to take the testimony from Director Comey. You say someone who knows him says. Well, we're going to have him in two weeks in front of the Intelligence Committee. He will be asked that question.
So, in two weeks, we will a lot know more, based on the testimony that he gives under oath before the committee and the country publicly. Until then, we won't know.
As far as the president's comment, that's always been the White House's position, that this whole thing is a farce. That's their position.
Our job in the Intelligence Committee has been to look at this entire episode for on -- for the purposes of counterintelligence in particular, and -- and then arrive at the facts, put them out in a report, and move on from there. And that's what we're endeavoring to do in a bipartisan way.
And, again, the best way to do that is not to litigate it in the press, but to do our work and put the report in a way that is credible, so no one can deny its credibility and no one can say that we went into it already having made up our minds.
This, I can tell you for a fact. No matter what the facts are, I'm going to -- I'm going to -- I want them to go wherever they take us, irrespective of what -- what outcome it reaches, one way or the other.
My interests here are clear. And I don't think anyone has ever doubted the concern that I have about Russian interference. Back in October, I was running for reelection and it looked like my race was going to be very close. I may have been the only Republican in the country running for Congress who refused to discuss WikiLeaks, use it against my opponent, or use it against Secretary Clinton, because I said it was the work of a foreign intelligence agency.
I said it then. I believe it now. I think our report will lay that out and any other facts pertinent to that.
TAPPER: When you're looking for these facts, let me just ask you, if it -- if you come to the conclusion that President Trump fired James Comey because he wanted to relieve the pressure of the FBI investigation into his campaign team, would that disturb you? Would that be obstruction of justice?
RUBIO: Well, again, I think -- let me say it this way.
If any president tries to impede an investigation, any president, no matter who it is, by interfering with the FBI, yes, that would be problematic. It would be not just problematic. It would be, you know, obviously potential obstruction of justice that people have to make a decision on, any president.
That said, we don't know if that's what happened here. And we can't make that decision, and I'm certainly not going to make pronouncements at this level of magnitude, solely on the basis of what an anonymous source told the press.
I am not disputing the press accounts, but I am also not going to accept them, especially being in the position that I'm in, where we're going to have access to Director Comey, hopefully to the notes, and to all sorts of other information that will give us true, complete insight into all of this.
That's only fair to the president. That's only fair to the country. And -- but we need to go through the steps to get there. Otherwise, this appears political and partisan, and there will be ongoing doubts about whatever we find if we don't do that way.
TAPPER: There are a lot of Democrats and independents who liked you, Senator Rubio, when you were running for the Republican nomination. And a number of them voted for you when you ran for Senate.
What is your message to them when they say at home, you know what? If this was a Democratic president doing all the things that President Trump is doing, Republicans like Marco Rubio would be very, very vocal and very, very critical, more so than they are now?
RUBIO: That -- that wouldn't be accurate.
I would encourage them to talk to my Democratic colleagues on the Intelligence Committee and ask them. Ask them, do I take my role in that committee seriously? Am I in that committee acting as a partisan or am I in that committee acting as an American? Ask them.
I don't -- I think a lot -- everybody on that committee, in my view, is approaching this as an American, not as a partisan. It's one of the reasons why the Select Committee on Intelligence is so unique.
It doesn't -- most of our hearings are not in front of cameras. And, therefore, some of that partisan -- you know, some of that incentive to perhaps act in a partisan way is taken away, but also because we understand we're -- there are only 15 people in the Senate that have access to this information. We have an important job to do for the 85 of our other colleagues.
So, I'm doing this in what's in the best interests of the country. And the bottom line is, unlike the other 85 senators, I am actively involved in looking at this. And if I'm out there right now taking a position defending the president or attacking the president, it undermines my credibility and my opinion and my work on this investigation.
Let us finish our work, let us collect the facts, let us document them, let us put it out in a report. And then, based on that, I will take a firm position. And then people could say one -- whatever they want to say.
But we have got to finish our work. That's my job. And that's what I'm going to do.
TAPPER: For the record, it is true, for anybody watching at home, that Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee do say that about Senator Rubio.
I want to turn to the dire situation in Venezuela. I know this is an issue you care quite a bit about and you have spoken quite a bit about.
The country's president, Nicolas Maduro, delivered a scathing critique of President Trump on Friday. He told him to stop intervening. He said -- quote -- "Get your pig hands out of here."
What is your response to President Maduro, and what else needs to be done to stop the suffering of the people of Venezuela?
RUBIO: Well, Maduro is not a president. He's a dictator right now. He has canceled the constitution. They have basically tried to nullify the National Assembly.
And what solves the situation of Venezuela is not problematic. They have to follow their own constitution. That's it. Follow the constitution that Chavez put in place. Hold an election. They are scheduled to hold elections this year. Hold an election.
I believe that there isn't an election -- any free and fair election in Venezuela, there's no way that Maduro's group wins. Hold an election. That's what needs to happen. That's the solution. And that's what he's standing in the way of and that's what he refuses to do.
And in the process, he's destabilizing the entire region. And, luckily, you are starting to see breaks in there. The attorney general of Venezuela is repeatedly breaking from the Maduro regime and the things that they're doing. I think, hopefully, there will be people in the military that refuse to continue to cooperate with the human rights violations that are occurring.
And I thank the White House. We worked on it for weeks with them. And I thank for coming forward and sanctioning these fraudulent puppets on the Supreme Court of Venezuela who basically are just rubber stamps for whatever Maduro tells them to do.
They should be sanctioned. And there are more people to come, because they are stealing the money of the Venezuelan nation to enrich themselves and they're spending it here in the United States to buy homes in Florida and invest in properties and private jets in the state of Florida and in the United States.
We should sanction and seize those properties that they are purchasing with the treasure of Venezuela's people.
TAPPER: Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, thank you so much for your time, sir.
RUBIO: Thank you. TAPPER: We always appreciate it.
RUBIO: Thank you very much.
TAPPER: When we come back, we will go back to Saudi Arabia for President Trump's first major speech abroad.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back.
We're awaiting President Trump in Saudi Arabia as he prepares to deliver what's being billed as a major address to the Muslim world, asking for help in fighting terrorism.
This is President Trump's first official trip abroad. It comes following the appointment of a special counsel to investigate whether the Trump team in any way colluded with the Russian government.
Let's go now to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who is traveling with President Trump in Riyadh.
And, Jeff, what are we expected -- what are we expecting to hear from President Trump today?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we are expecting to hear new words that this president has not yet said about the Muslim world, about the Islam faith.
He is going to be delivering a speech against extremism. We're told that he is going to say that this is not a battle of religions. It's going to be more of a unifying speech. At least that's what we're led to believe from the White House.
And, boy, Jake, this will be a completely different message from this president, certainly from when he ran for president to now once in the office. This may be the biggest distinction yet. We have been sort of watching him grow, evolve in office.
But the excerpts at least provided by the White House and our reporting talking to aides behind the scenes show that this speech has gone through several drafts, several revisions, but all of them have more of a unifying tone and a nature to them, which is something he has not often done in office.
But it is a fight against extremism. And he's delivering it to not average citizens. He's delivering it to leaders of more -- more than 51 Muslim countries who have gathered here for a summit. So, it's certainly a different moment for him, a different audience for him, that we have not seen him in this setting before, Jake.
TAPPER: Of course, Jeff, Trump said during the campaign -- quote -- "Islam hates us."
But he has received an extremely warm welcome in Saudi Arabia, much warmer than President Obama's last trip to Saudi Arabia, where the king wouldn't even meet him. Why is that?
ZELENY: Jake, it's so interesting.
I mean, the rhetoric that he used and, in fact, used to win the Republican primary campaign, and then when he was running in the general election was so divisive, that it's almost as though that has either been forgotten or forgiven, largely because of the interest in resetting relations.
The leaders here, the government here likes the idea of his policies at least, largely how he has spoken out against the nuclear agreement in Iran, largely what they hope his policies will be.
But, Jake, so interesting, he's not delivered on any of that. He said he was going to erase it on day one. That hasn't happened. But they are embracing him here and indeed rolling out the red carpet, unlike President Obama had, even eight years ago during his first visit here in June of '09.
As we were driving through the streets of Riyadh, Jake, just the billboards of giant pictures of this president, a giant image of Trump on his hotel last night, he loves all of this, of course. And many of the foreign leaders he's been meeting with are showering him, you know, with congratulations.
It is, of course, an attempt to reset the relationship. The question is, can President Trump take back all that rhetoric or make them forget? I think it's very much an open question.
TAPPER: And then, of course, President Trump, in running for office, was very, very critical of both President Obama and Hillary Clinton for not using the term radical Islamic terrorism.
He's not expected to use that term, though, in Saudi Arabia today.
ZELENY: He's not expected to. At least that's what we're led to believe by his senior advisers.
And there's been quite a debate about this. But at least, as of now, the early sort of versions of the speech and the excerpts released say he's going to use the word Islamist, which is different than Islamic, in the sense that it's going after the politics more specifically than the faith.
But, again, it's a very fine line.
Jake, one thing I am watching and waiting to see if he says, something that President George W. Bush said, something that President Obama said: Our war is not against Islam. Will he make that type of overture here? We will have to wait and find out here, but this speech, in terms of
all the ones this president has given, certainly the biggest on the foreign stage. I would argue it's the biggest speech he's given overall since taking office.
It allows him a bit of reprieve from what's happening back in Washington, Jake, but this is so important as he sets out for the rest of his journey here for the next week.
TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny in Riyadh, thank you so much.
When we come back: Will Trump supporters like what they see of President Trump on his first trip abroad? We will discuss with the panel next.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: We are awaiting President Trump's speech before leaders at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Saudi Arabia.
And excerpts released by the White House the president is expected to tell the 50-plus leaders he is not there to lecture him. There's also a line in the speech calling for -- quote -- "Confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires" -- unquote.
As we await the president let's bring in our panel. We have with us former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Farah Pandith former State Department representative to the Muslim World, Jen Psaki former White House communications director for President Obama, and Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and much more.
Senator Santorum, let me start with you. Take a listen to President Trump December 2015 talking about the phrase radical Islamic terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Radical Islamic terrorism and I'll tell you what, we have a president that refuses to use the term. He refuses to say it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Today we're going to get this from President Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia at least according to these early excerpts. He plans to say -- quote "That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires."
Isn't this kind of the same word play that President Trump was critical of Democrats for doing? RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, one of the most common criticisms of President Trump is he doesn't listen to anybody. That he just is hard-headed and does his own thing. This is pretty clear. He's listening to somebody.
I don't necessarily agree with this, but the idea that Donald Trump isn't listening, you read this speech at least the excerpts that we have, he's listening to someone because this is not what Donald Trump talked about. This is not who he has been throughout the course of the campaign, and even early in his presidency. And so he's actually listening.
And so what sort of makes me step back and say, well, he actually is listening on this, I think he listened on health care. On policy, it looks to me like Donald Trump is actually listening to his advisers, accepting some recommendations, and changing who he is and his persona.
So my question is, why can't he do the same thing when it comes to his personal habits? I mean, it -- no, I'm serious.
SANTORUM: I mean, this -- you see a man who seems to have some flexibility here. Seems to solicit and to accept recommendations.
TAPPER: When it comes to important policies.
SANTORUM: When it comes to policy.
SANTORUM: And -- I agree with, you know, some of the things he's done to change. I don't agree, like this one, I don't agree necessarily with what he's done here but he's showing the flexibility there at least to my fellow Republicans who may be out there thinking, what are we in for here for the next few years, maybe there's a sign of hope that there is more flexibility in Donald Trump than we think there is.
TAPPER: Congressman, what do you think?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I actually agree. You know, there's something interesting that happens as a member of Congress in the foreign affairs committee. You travel a lot and you do in essence kind of fact-finding/diplomacy. A member of Congress obviously it's nothing like the president coming to a country but the second you land and you get off that plane and you meet with government leaders -- you -- what -- the reality of what you're doing sets in.
You know, like, wow, everything I say here has an impact. This has a real impact on the future in the war on terror for instance, the future of our alliances, and, you know, with that impressive show that the Saudis gave President Trump, I'm actually really proud of that, as an American exceptionalism that believes in America's strength around the globe to see that level of respect for - it's not just President Trump, it's for the American people from Saudi Arabia, I think that's fantastic.
And then with this word change I agree. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying Islamic terrorism, but if this is going to create less controversy and unify everybody behind kind of American leadership, great, and I think we need to recognize that.
TAPPER: Farah, what do you think?
FARAH PANDITH, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT REPRESENTATIVE TO MUSLIM COMMUNITY: Well, this is a remarkable and unforeseen opportunity. Who would have imagined this president would pick Saudi Arabia as his first stop and decide that his first major address is to Muslims based on what he did during the campaign and in first few days as president.
I think the president has two opportunities here in this speech. The first opportunity is to cut a deal with Saudi Arabia that's good for America and I don't just mean an economic deal. I mean an ideological deal. Get them to stop inciting hate around the world. He says that he wants to defeat ISIS so let's use his influence to do that.
The second goes to the points that were just made, the president has a credibility problem with Muslims. And so he has to convince Muslims in this speech not just American Muslims but Muslims in the room and Muslims around the world who are watching, that he can distinguish between violent extremism and the religion of Islam, and that is going to be very hard to do.
Lexicon is going to matter, his tone is going to matter but he has to back it up not just with words but in deeds. So I look to what happens after this speech. I look to how he addresses issues of anti- Muslim hate in our country, does he speak out. We are all -- all of us, regardless of whether you're a Democrat or a Republican or anybody in between, wants the president to be successful in defeating ISIS.
TAPPER: Jen, what do you think President Trump, for all the Muslim baggage he brings with him, that I don't need to rehash I don't think again, is being greeted so much more warmly than President Obama, whose father was actually a lapsed Muslim and who certainly didn't bring anything along those lines when he went on his first trip to the Muslim world to Saudi Arabia, you and I were both on that trip.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Mm-hmm. Well, I think we're also seeing how he's being greeted by the Saudi government, which isn't necessarily representative of all the people in Saudi Arabia or all the people in the Middle East who will be closely watching the speech today. And there are a couple of reasons I think the government greeted him so warmly.
One, they see him more hard line on Iran. Two he completed a deal that was actually started during the Obama administration, and is giving them weapons for -- that they will be probably use in Yemen and the proxy war that we were not willing to give them because we were concerned about that. And three, he's not raising a lot of the issues that are thorns in their side. We'll see what happens in the speech today related to human rights and women's rights. We haven't seen that debate. Maybe he'll do more in the speech today. So to them it's a very transactional relationship in some ways, it's very practical and they're not raising a lot of the issues that past administrations, Obama, Bush, have raised that have annoyed them frankly.
TAPPER: And, Senator Santorum, let me -- let me go to you because I would say that you and Marco Rubio when it comes to raising the issues of human rights, when it comes to countries like Saudi Arabia are on the same page, do you think that's fair to say?
SANTORUM: It is fair to say.
TAPPER: OK. So let me just -- I just want to read this to you. This is President Trump before he was president, June 13th, 2016, talking -- writing on Facebook about the Clinton Foundation taking money from Saudi Arabia -- quote -- "Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries."
That is very different from what President Trump is saying at least according to excerpts today, when he says, we're not here to lecture you. You do your faith. You run your country the way you want to run it.
SANTORUM: Yes. Well, this is where I think Farah is right and that maybe publicly he says that but privately he better be talking to the Saudis about exactly what Farah talked about, which is spewing through their madrassas (ph) and through all of their educational opportunities all around the world, hate, a violent and radical form of Islam and -- that does those very things that Donald Trump talked about.
So there may be a public conversation which would show some nuance in Donald Trump that I don't think most people would have expected, that would be fine from my perspective, as long as it's being followed up by saying, look, the reason we're having problems with Islamists is because we have this country spreading Islamism all throughout the world, and you have to stop this. You have -- you have to start to change the message coming out of here, and I understand you need to do that to contain the masses who are, you know, there's that friction between the royal family and the masses, but this is undermining our national security, and we are not going to continue a relationship that does -- that allows this is to continue.
TAPPER But one of the things that Senator Rubio said that I think is an astute analysis is, President Trump they talked about how they want to bring up these human rights issues privately. When they do, they seem to focus on important but singular stories, freeing Aya from Egypt et cetera. Those are important stories obviously but they are nowhere near as significant in terms of how many people are affected is the larger issue Senator Santorum is talking about.
KINZINGER: Yes, I agree. When I was in Saudi Arabia we saw their kind of anti-radical center, you know, where they're fighting ISIS on social media. It will be interesting to see how close it is to the same one that President Trump is cutting the ribbon on. You see that -- so, I think, bringing it up is important.
The one thing I do want to say, though, in the near term, that's long- term goals that are very important with Saudi Arabia. In the near term, we need to bring the coalition together to fight ISIS, to fight Al Qaeda, to fight our enemies there but also take care of Syria.
The thing that people aren't realizing, a lot of people do, is right now Syria is creating a next generation of either terrorist or it's going to be the folks who can win this war within Islam. It's the 7- year-old or 8-year-olds that are in refugee camps that if they don't get an education, they don't learn how to read or write they're going to be fertile recruiting ground in five years for the next generation of ISIS. Or if they have an opportunity these are going to be the young people that actually win the war within Islam.
And I think that's really important to bring that coalition together now.
TAPPER: We're going to squeeze in a quick commercial and we'll come back and continue this conversation. President Trump is about to speak to the Muslim world in his first major address abroad. We'll take you there live next. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Mr. Trump, let me start with you. Last night you told CNN -- quote -- "Islam hates us." Did you mean all 1.6 billion Muslims?
TRUMP: I mean a lot of them. I mean a lot of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That was President Trump as a candidate on the debate stage, March 2016.
Times have changed. Now he is in the heart of the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia, on his first foreign trip. We're back with our panel as we await his major speech there to the leaders of Muslim nations who have gathered in Saudi Arabia.
That's quite different from what we're hearing today. I can't imagine that in March 2016 if somebody had said after that debate by the way, the president -- he's going to be president and his first speech will be in Saudi Arabia where he offers a note of reconciliation and partnership with the Muslim world.
PANDITH: I don't think anybody could have predicted it. But I think one of things that's most shocking to me having watched this in both the Bush administration and in the Obama administration is that the United States needs to be really smart about Saudi Arabia in terms how we couch their role vis-a-vis Islam.
The Saudis want you to believe that they are the custodians of Islam and that their kind of Islam is the kind of Islam everybody should be practicing around the world. And what we have done here is gone to the heart of this issue. We are validating that position by moving our speech, the first thing the president does is to go to the Saudi capital. That is a very dangerous optic and it also sends the message to a roomful of Muslim majority nation states, more than 50 that we, the Americans, are supporting that idea.
There are more Muslims, Jake, that live outside of the Middle East than in it. And while we have some very significant issues going on in the Middle East that he is addressing on this trip he's making a larger point in this speech about fighting violent extremist ideology, and for that, he needs to be engaging Muslims all over the world, not just putting you the Saudis out on the pedestal as the end-all and be- all of Islam.
TAPPER: And then -- there's a -- here's a family photo being taken of -- when I say family photo these are all the nations that are -- that are gathering in Riyadh for this conference. The picture is coming in now from Saudi Arabia.
And Jen, Farah raises an important point. The Saudis like to think of themselves because they are the custodians of Mecca and Medina that they are the ones who have -- the official position of Islam but their version of Islam is one that according to human rights groups and according to the U.S. State Department oppresses minorities, suppresses gays, suppresses women, engages in torture regularly. Do you worry that President Trump is validating that version and what is -- how did President Obama try to avoid that trap or did he fall into it, too?
PSAKI: Yes, they were. I think Farah made some important points. And I think -- you know, the question is does Trump realize that? And I hope somebody is conveying that to him. You assume somebody in the government is conveying that to him but people will be watching this speech closely.
Obviously we're all talking about it now and a lot of these issues about human rights and oppression are ones that the president of the United States historically has a unique platform to speak about. Was Obama perfect in addressing them? No. There were times where we could have done things better, I'm certain, looking back.
But in his speech he gave in Cairo he did raised a lot of these issues. A good chunk of his speech was actually about human rights and about women's rights because he felt it was so important to raise them and to send the message that we want to be your partner, we have more in common than we have apart but there's a lot that you need to also do as well to address the extremism that's rising, you know, within your country and within your ranks. So that's how we addressed it. It was imperfect, but Trump could really get himself into a challenging hole here by kind of succumbing to the flattery of the Saudi government.
SANTORUM: I don't think he had any choice but to go to the Middle East to talk to the Muslim world. That's where the -- that's where the cauldron (ph) is. That's where the -- that's where ISIS, you know, is based. That's where the Syria problem is.
I mean, if he'd gone to Indonesia or another Muslim country, I think it would have been tone deaf to the problems we create. So I don't criticize them. I understand, and Farah makes a good point. And I'm very concerned about the point she makes.
I don't think he had a choice. He also understands that there's a strategic relationship being developed between the Israelis and the Saudis and the Jordanians and Egyptians. That is very promising and to align against Iran and to align against ISIS and you want to foster that and be a part of that.
So I understand the long game that you -- that you mentioned, Farah, which is legitimate that Wahhabism and what -- and what Saudi practices is deplorable and needs to be condemned and needs to be changed, if we're going to have any hope of bridging the gap with Islam. But the short-term goal of this trip was to form these alliances and align against ISIS for the short-term gains that the administration has in mind.
TAPPER: Congressman, let me -- there is something that is kind of a bee in my bonnet about this trip so far, there's a lot of bees in there, but one of them specifically has to do with this men's-only concert. This is not a criticism of President Trump. He did not organize this concert. There's a men's-only concert.
Toby Keith and others performed.
TAPPER: I mean are we supposed to as Americans just sit back and look at this and say, sure, just half the population is not allowed because this extreme version of Islam says that men and women cannot co-mingle and, therefore, women can just not attend this music concert. It is just very like 11th century. And I'm having a tough time -- like I think we kind of just take for granted, oh, that's how they do things there. That is just rampant discrimination against half the population.
KINZINGER: It is. But I think when you look at the huge challenges -- so I'm kind of a mix between a liberalist and a realist on foreign policy.
TAPPER: Well, that's a tough thing to be mix though.
KINZINGER: It is. It is.
The liberalist side of me says, you know, look any time we can confront human rights issues, inequality issues we have to do it. The realist side of me says, but when you're dealing with Saudi Arabia and you see a deputy crown prince who has a very aggressive agenda for social change, which is, you know, pretty serious. Women can drive. We're aghast at the idea women can't drive there. But in Saudi Arabia that's a big deal that they're doing that or that they're moving to that.
TAPPER: Or letting them vote in anything other than very local elections.
KINZINGER: Right. But on the broader -- so the more realist side of me says, we have to confront the issues of Islamic extremism. We have to confront the issue of Syria. Syria is a human tragedy that's not going to get better on its own. It's only going to get worse. It's being destabilized by Russia and Iran. And if we can bring these folks together, as the senator said, with Israel and Jordan, these are the kind of alliances we never would have imagined to confront these challenges.
Let's do that while mentioning the fact that an all men's concert really is stupid and dumb but I don't think that's the biggest issue we need to be concerned with.
TAPPER: I mean -- maybe that's where we are. We have to make a list of priorities and if Toby Keith giving an all male concert is, you know, not even top 100 on that list, then we just move on.
PANDITH: Jake, our president is commander in chief and he's doing it for now and he's setting the stage for our relationship long term. We have to be looking at this, because the ideology of these extremist groups are not just in the Middle East. They are percolating around the world.
Muslims are listening to everything this president says and the actions that we do. So he has to, he must make sure that he's not taking a risk and just appeasing his hosts by not saying things and embarrassing them. He must find a way to make sure that our values as Americans are put forward so the world can see them.
I also want to say on this issue of whether or not Saudi Arabia is the right place to do it, I do hear you, but they aren't the Vatican. There is no Vatican in Islam. And I think America has put Saudi Arabia out there in an equal state in this way.
McMaster, as he was talking about this speech, said that this was going to be the three faiths that went forward. It actually checks the box for Saudi Arabia to be able to do that. The terminology, custodian of the holy sites is a term that is a very recent term that one of the kings referred to himself as and we are using it over and over again.
What's the message it's sending to Muslims around the world? We have to talk about the diversity of Islam. That is the only way you're going to get Muslims to fight the ideology of extremists.
SANTORUM: I 100 percent agree with you. This is where Trump is listening that I wish he was not listening. He's listening on a lot of these cultural indicators that are really problematic. And he needed to go to the Middle East. Frankly -- and I understand because of our relationship with the prior administration with Egypt, that would be difficult, and the persecution that's going on there. Jordan would have been a much nicer place to go. I would have recommended that over Saudi Arabia.
It's a different form of Islam that is being practiced there. You've got a -- you've got a king who's a rock star in my opinion who really is potentially the vanguard of a new version of Islam in the Middle East. So I would have preferred that, but, you know, here we are.
TAPPER: And the president's position seems to be when it comes to this, one, Saudi Arabia will be our partner against ISIS and also against Iran. And, two, they're buying a whole bunch of our stuff and that's great for America and that will be jobs, jobs, jobs -- and to quote him.
But these ideas, these nuanced discussions we're having about ways to encourage more moderate Islam, whether in Indonesia or Jordan, the importance of standing up for human rights, they do seem, and again we'll hear the speech in a few minutes, but they do seem to be falling by the wayside.
PSAKI: That's right. And that's where we're all expressing different levels of concern.
And, you know, if you're the White House and you're thinking about where to do a speech, you could argue, you go to Saudi Arabia because that's where there's a heart of a problem and I want to address that and go into the belly of the beast. I don't know that this speech is going to meet that bar, or not from the excerpts that we've seen at this point in time.
I think this is a struggle for many presidents. This president, I think, has a different challenge than past in that he is digging out of a big hole of concern that has been in the Muslim world, not just in the Middle East but around the world, about comments he's made, about the travel ban that, you know, we shouldn't lose the not irony, that's a terrible way of saying it, that at home his administration is fighting to reinstate the travel ban, even while he is trying to reset his relationship with the Muslim world.
And so speeches, they are opportunities to reset. They don't heal all wounds. And I think what everybody will be closely watching in the Muslim world is what actions he takes.
Does his administration keep pursuing the travel ban? Does he change the rhetoric at home? He changes the rhetoric in his speech in a little bit, what does he say when he's doing a rally in Ohio in two weeks? And that's I think what people will watch. So I don't know that we will know exactly how this plays for a bit of time past the speech today.
TAPPER: Congressman Kinzinger, one thing that we haven't said today that I think is probably the elephant in the room is oil.
TAPPER: One of the reasons the United States, this started long before Donald Trump, one of the reasons the United States has such a close relationship with Saudi Arabia is because of all of the petroleum that we consume from that part of the world.
KINZINGER: Yes, it's fact. I mean, the United States is now becoming the world leader in energy production and the Saudis aren't happy about that. That's a great thing. But, yes, it's a reality.
When you figure who your alliances are, in many cases it's based on who's going to be who is a benefit to us and who's actually a thorn in our side. If you look too -- I think, an important thing about this, under the prior administration, Saudi Arabia really felt abandoned and had actually started having talks with the Russians about creating a stronger alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia. Russia now has the first role in the Middle East in 20-some years because of Syria.
So us doing this, I get the concern, and I agree with the concern about what message it sends. But this is part of America saying, we are back, we're in charge in the Middle East in terms of when you talk about spheres of influence, and Saudi Arabia, we've got your back but there's some things we need from you too.
TAPPER: Let's talk about that if we can for a second. Senator Santorum, the idea that this is a big, big moment for President Trump. And it's true, there are a lot of individuals, a lot of leaders in the Arab world who were critical of the Obama administration and are welcoming this opportunity to reset or welcoming somebody who is focused on countering Iran and the war against ISIS and with a focus on those two issues.
SANTORUM: Yes. I just wish the president hadn't signed up for more of the Iranian deal -- nuclear deal that was put in place. Again, that's sort of a juxtaposition to what he talked about in the campaign. I think one of the reasons that he did get such a great welcome in Saudi Arabia was because of this hard line stance against Iran that the Saudis very much care about. And he seems to at least here in home be backing away.
We'll see what he says here in this speech. Hopefully he'll talk about Iran, maybe toughen things up a little bit, I don't know, but it is -- it is a concern to me that we have a president who I think had it right when it came to Iran, had it right when it came to the problems within Islam, and because of listening to these advisers, he seems to be backing away from those things.
And -- so I'm glad he's there. I think it's a positive -- it's a positive thing, but the policy change that he's making are very concerning to me.
TAPPER: If you could tell President Trump, who we know is an avid consumer of cable news, and CNN being the only network or one of the only networks that can be broadcast in the Middle East, if he's watching right now as he prepares for the speech, what do you want him to say?
PANDITH: I need him to follow up his words with deeds. So there needs to be durability in terms of what he's saying. If he wants to fight extremism, put money in the state department budget so they can do that on the ideological side.
In addition to that, the president absolutely must do more in the homeland to make sure he doesn't make a distinction between American Muslims and the rest of America. And I think if he can do those two things, he's on his way to showing that he can be credible. There's a credibility problem, of course, but this durability piece is really key.
You talked about him going to the center for extremism that he will talk about no doubt in his speech when he cuts the ribbon and speaks about Saudi Arabia taking a role there. What kind of actions on the ground will America expect to see from Saudi Arabia with regard to this. It's far beyond messaging. It has to do with a lot of things that move kids towards recruitment.
TAPPER: Thirty seconds. What would you like to hear from him, Jen Psaki?
PSAKI: I think he needs to use this as an opportunity to convey the United States is not anti-Islam, the United States is not anti-Muslim and here are specific steps, action that I'm going to take.
What President Obama did in 2009 was try to use his personal background and his personal views to convey the message that we're closer together than we are apart. And I think a lot of people need to hear that message from President Trump.
TAPPER: "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" picks up right now as we await President Trump in Saudi Arabia and we'll be back here at noon Eastern for a live edition of STATE OF THE UNION as the world reacts to President Trump's speech.