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Podesta to "Whack Job" Trump: "Get a Grip"; Trump/Putin Meeting at G-20; McConnell: Will Work with Dems If GOP Can't Agree on Obamacare; Promising New Jobs Numbers. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired July 7, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Susan, your reaction to this?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY & LEGAL ANALYST: I think the harsh words are somewhat merited, particularly the "get a grip" part. Remember the Trump/Putin meeting is not the only thing at the G-20 meeting -- climate change, Syria, North Korea. We need a president whose focus, at the top of his game, representing the United States on the issues that are important to us. Sort of his tweets about John Podesta and the DNC doesn't evidence an individual who is taking the threats really, really seriously, who is representing the United States in a way that really is going to be advocating for our interests. I think it's unsurprising. But he's going to get substantial pushback on this stuff.

CABRERA: Douglas, what do you make about the president tweeting about internal politics while on the world stage, and seeing now this back and forth, what seems to be, all in all, juvenile, no?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Extremely juvenile. You know, I did my doctorate at Georgetown in diplomatic history. The first thing you learn when you study diplomacy is an American president or Senator, congressman doesn't diss their own country when they go abroad. That's what Donald Trump has done on this trip.

This whole visit has been embarrassing. When you think about a president of the United States coming to Europe, Great Britain doesn't want Trump there. France doesn't want him. Only Poland took him. Now in Germany, where only about 8 percent of the German people like Donald Trump. You have massive protests. A lot of it aimed not just at the G-20, but at Donald Trump, himself. Our first lady is holed up in a hotel. She's not able to go and meet the other wives of the G- 20.

Meanwhile, you know Putin is going to be getting a benefit out of this meeting with Trump. Here, we have the president of the United States sending crazy tweets about Podesta. It's not a good scenario. We're seeing the shrinking of American prestige in the world before our very eyes.

CABRERA: Do you see any way that, after this meeting, this isn't a win/win for Putin?

BRINKLEY: I think he wins. He's already been called -- Donald Trump -- the guy who hacked our elections in 2016, who ransacked our sacred institutions of free and fair elections, Donald Trump is calling it an honor to see him. He's already kissing the ring of Putin. Putin is going to go back already a champion. If Donald Trump doesn't confront him on election hacking, then Putin got everything that he wanted out of it. We were the world's leader in climate change and climate activism just a year ago. Now, Putin is going, meeting all the Europeans, saying I'm on your side and the United States isn't. So Putin gains automatically by this private time with our president.

CABRERA: Stand by, everyone.

Right now, we are awaiting the readout by Vladimir Putin and President Trump meeting behind closed doors. We are about to get the details about what they are talking about any moment now. We will bring that just ahead.

Plus, a big development in the Republican Party's struggle to pass its health care bill. Hear why the Senate leader concedes he may have to work with Democrats.

This is CNN, special live coverage.


[11:37:50] CABRERA: Breaking news this hour. President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in their first face-to-face meeting right now at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. We saw them and brought it to you live as they exchanged pleasantries before the cameras a short time ago. Then they began their closed-door meeting with their top diplomats. We are waiting for details on what they discussed and if the meeting is still going.

The outcome could shape U.S/ Russian relations and global politics for years to come.

Joining us now, former ambassador to Russia and former ambassador to the United Nations, Thomas Pickering. He's now with the Brookings Institution.

Thank you so much, Ambassador, for joining us.


CABRERA: There's a lot said about the men in the room and how few there are. What's interesting about Tillerson, Putin and Lavrov, they have a relationship that goes years back. How does that play?

PICKERING: I think it plays well for the idea that they may actually find some agreement here. The fact that the meeting is going on so long would seem to me to be a reasonably useful and helpful sign. Predicting about President Trump is a dangerous pursuit and I would want to be careful about that. We are waiting to hear what happened at the meeting. We are in a wonderful position where almost everything has been said by everybody, but not quite. I'm not sure I want to join the crowd in repeating, again, exactly what's been said. But it does seem to me this meeting is a very important one. It could

help to settle what is clearly a problem that has been deteriorating, U.S./Russian relationships. Putin and Trump tried, despite the fact they have differences and they have begun to emerge, to pull themselves together. So, we have to wait and see whether, in fact, this is a meeting in which there will be some kind of agreement or some kind of accord.

I think it's clear, and has been said before, each of them will come out of this meeting, giving their own interpretation. For President Trump, it means he wants to be the centerpiece of the meeting. It's important for him to show that he, in fact, dominated the conversation and helped to lead it. President Putin will have exactly the same. What will happen in Russian may not be what will happen in English. We have seen that before. That's an old diplomatic game. It will be useful to watch.

The most interesting thing will be will there be specifics that take us forward, or will it really be, we had a great conversation, we understand each other very, very well, things are moving along OK, trust us.

[11:40:26] CABRERA: What do you suppose we learn of what happens in this meeting? Is there somebody that takes notes that would give us an altered assessment of what this is or assessment without the spin or whatever we hear from the president and his secretary of state themselves? Is there a recording we would expect to be happening as well?

PICKERING: Ana, look at the two people standing or sitting behind the two principles. They are the interpreters. They are the primary source of notes because they make the notes as they go along in order to convey to each of the parties in whatever is being said in one language, exactly how it should be translated into the other language. They are a useful source. There may be people not in the picture, sometimes there are, who are also taking notes. They're professionals, diplomats, who know the subject matter. Perhaps even better than they interpreters. But the interpreters are very good for a meeting like that. We could depend upon a record. I don't think their recording but somebody else may be in the room and be recording. It would be an interesting to know. Sometimes that happens, too, in diplomacy. And it's something we have to live with. That's only conjecture on my part.

CABRERA: I can't help but be curious. There's a pot of flowers between the two men. Makes you wonder.

Ambassador Thomas Pickering, I wish we had more time. Thank you for your expertise here.

PICKERING: Thank you, Ana, very much. Good to be with you.

CABRERA: Happy Friday.

PICKERING: Same to you. Thank you.

CABRERA: Thank you.

Up next, did Senator Mitch McConnell make a huge concession in the health care fight? His Democratic colleagues seem to think so. Details ahead.


[11:46:15] CABRERA: Continuing to follow the breaking news of President Trump and President Putin meeting on the sidelines of the G- 20 summit in their first face-to-face. A bilateral meeting that was supposed to last 30-40 minutes. It is still going on, we have just confirmed. We are going on 90 minutes they have been meeting behind closed doors. We expect an off-camera briefing by Rex Tillerson, who is inside that meeting with the two presidents. Much anticipated to hear what the content is that they are discussing coming out of their meeting. We expect that to happen shortly after. We will bring the remarks, as much as we get, to you.

Meantime, here at home, domestically, health care is a big topic of discussion as Senator Mitch McConnell tries to get the votes he needs to pass the Republican version of the health care plan. He has a new solution he's throwing out there: "If we can't repeal Obamacare, we'll fix it." He said, "If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur." Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer called this encouraging. In a written statement, he said, McConnell had, quote, "opened the door to bipartisan solution."

Let's discuss. Joining us, Alex Burns, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times."

Alex, what do you make of this suggestion by McConnell? Is he saying it to threaten Republican colleagues or is this really where he thinks things are headed?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's the key question right now because we've heard him say before that the reason Republicans need to take action on their own is because nobody wants to work with Chuck Schumer. That's the other path. You are at a point where you are hearing folks on the right, people like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, even the president, floating this alternative of let's just do repeal and then do replace later, if the talks don't work out. McConnell is signaling in an increasingly pointed way that that's not really an option.

CABRERA: He's almost siding with Democrats versus some of the conservatives --


BURNS: He would not put it that way. He would not put it that way.


BURNS: In some ways, I don't think he would recommend, necessarily, the same solution as Democrats. But if he is trying to strengthen his hand in corralling votes from his own side, this is a way to do that.

CABRERA: We know he didn't want to wait for the vote after the Fourth of July recess, because that would give people at home a chance to voice opposition even more so. That's what we are hearing from Senators like Susan Collins, who went home, heard from constituents. She said it was really across the board, we support you not voting yes on this Republican plan. Are you hearing otherwise? Any chance that other Republicans who were on the fence or in the no column may have switched the other way?

BURNS: If that's happening, I'm not aware of it. I don't think we are seeing public evidence of that.

The reason Mitch McConnell wanted that vote at that time was so we wouldn't end up in a situation where this unpopular bill is dangling out there, a target for everyone on the left and the right. That's the situation we are in now.

I do think that, you know, if you are Mitch McConnell and you want to get to other things on your agenda, you are pretty rapidly approaching the, you know, cut moment here on health care. There is a sense among folks in the party that we could kick this down the road even further. The idea of repeal now, replace later, from the perspective of people in the Republican Party, who want to do tax reform, also want to address other conservative priorities, the idea of replace later is a good way to burn up the rest of the year and maybe the rest of the Congress.

CABRERA: Let's talk about jobs. Promising numbers, if you are in the Trump administration and for America. New jobs reports numbers today, 222,000 new jobs added in June. That's more than they were expecting. And for most Americans, is this the more important thing to discuss, to be looking at versus Putin and Trump right now?

[11:50:12] BURNS: I think economic issues at home, including health care, are much more politically sailing into the average voter than what's going on with Russia. The Russia story is incredibly important for substantive reasons. But I don't know if it has the same political resonance on the group. When you at where the president's approval rating is, where the relative position of the two parties, one of the reasons the president is -- he's not popular but he is stable in the mid to high 30s, maybe around 40 percent --


CABRERA: Hasn't gone down.

BURNS: It hasn't gone down too much.


BURNS: The economy is OK, right? As long as the job market keeps on chugging along, essentially, in the way we've seen it, you're probably not going to see the president get that much less popular than he already is.

CABRERA: Wall Street and the markets responding to the good numbers.

BURNS: One of the favorite president's things to bring up, why won't the media cover this.

CABRERA: We are. He's just not here to see it.

Thank you so much.

BURNS: Thanks.

CABRERA: Nice to see you, Alex Burns.

Much more on breaking news still ahead. President Trump and Vladimir Putin still meeting behind closed doors. Which means they've been meeting more than 90 minutes. Much longer than scheduled. Initially, suggested at least. Much more on this, just ahead.


[11:55:20] CABRERA: Continuing to follow the breaking news. President Trump and President Vladimir Putin meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit right now. Meeting over 90 minutes, in a meeting that was supposed to last at least half that time.

The comments just before their meeting pointed to wanting to work together and having a positive interaction.

Let me just quote from what the president said, the few comments we had. He says: "We look forward to a lot of very positive happenings for Russia and for the United States, and for everyone concerned. It's an honor to be with you." And the Russian president also responding with, "I'm delighted to be able to meet you in person, Mr. President, and I hope, as you have said, our meeting will yield positive results."

What could they be talking about? What can we take away from how long this meeting is lasting?

Joining us to discuss, CNN's Fareed Zakaria is here with me.

Thanks so much for being here, Fareed.


CABRERA: What's your takeaway on the duration of this meeting, what was supposed to be rather brief, initially, turning into a lengthy, substantial meeting, hopefully.

FAREED: The United States and Russia have many, many things to discuss. They are two major powers. There are particularly the issues on, for example, with regard to Syria, with regard to Ukraine. So there's lots of material. Don't forget, they do it in translation. So it's about half as long in terms of real time compared with a meeting with Angela Merkel, who generally, in these meetings, will speak in English, privately, or, of course, the British prime minister. But it's encouraging, because, look, we do have -- the United States

has serious business to conduct with Russia. The Trump administration has been frozen on Russia policy. They really have no Russia policy. Because they came in, President Trump came in praising Russia to the skies, but then when the -- the election interference was revealed, it became clear that, you know, it would look very bad if he suddenly had a very cordial relationship with Russia, made lots of concessions, so he didn't do that. The result is, he's done nothing. American policy towards Russia has been frozen for three months. This might be the beginning of the thaw.

CABRERA: They certainly set the stage for that in the opening remarks they made. Both respecting each other, talking about the positive side, being optimistic going in. It's an honor, I'm delighted. Saying the right thing, smiling, shaking hands.

If the president doesn't bring up Russia's election meddling, is it a missed opportunity, or do you think, in some respects, from what you're saying, being able to focus on other issues, it might be in his best interests not to talk about that?

ZAKARIA: I think it would be a mistake. It's important, it seems to me, for the president of Russia to understand that the United States does not want interference in its elections. It does not want interference in its political system. And no matter who it benefits. I think what Trump could really take the high road and say, look, I know I may have benefitted from it, but I'm telling you, you've got to cut it out, because we don't -- we don't want foreign governments involved in our elections.

CABRERA: So it's important for him to take a stand?

ZAKARIA: I think it would important for him to take a stand. I think, the odd thing about this, I've always felt, is it would help Donald Trump politically. Imagine the way in which the media would have to report this? Donald Trump raises the issue of Russia's interference with Vladimir Putin to his face, even though this was interference that might have helped him win the presidency. He took the high road, he was statesman-like, represented America and its institutions, not just himself and his political fortunes. So I don't see a down side. But he is clearly -- there is a personal issue here. He's in something of a defensive crouch. It means a lot to him that he won -- he wants to believe he won fair and square. The way I look at it, he won. It's over. Now he has to represent the United States. And so it would be a mistake and missed opportunity. And I think Putin would interpret it as a sign of weakness. As a sign that he has complicated the relationship between the United States and Russia when he can -- he gets to do this kind of thing --

CABRERA: Well --

ZAKARIA: -- and the Americans can't respond.

CABRERA: -- it sounds like you're saying Americans need to set the boundary, and do so face-to-face.

ZAKARIA: Exactly.

CABRERA: That could have an impact.

And Fareed Zakaria, I wanted to also ask you about your op-ed on North Korea, another topic to discuss. There's no time to do it today. We'll have you back. Thank you.

ZAKARIA: Thanks.

CABRERA: Do read Fareed's op-ed on "The Washington Post."

Thank you for joining us AT THIS HOUR on a Friday.

"Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.