Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Rips Sessions Again; Obamacare Repeal Vote; Trump Tweets About Transgender and the Military. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 26, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:14] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.

Breaking news on multiple fronts this afternoon.

One, news that the White House is moments away from answering for, once again, President Trump unleashing on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, despite multiple Republicans saying, essentially, cut it out.

The president is also facing backlash for announcing a ban on all transgender people in the military. So we need to talk about that, number two.

And just a short time from now, the Senate will vote on Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare without a replacement, and then different iterations follow that. The voting starts live during the show.

So, let's start with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, though. For the fifth time in to week, President Trump has insulted him.

Here's the latest. Quote, why didn't A.G. Sessions replace acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of the Clinton investigation but got big dollars, $700,000, for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the swamp.

So as we wait for that White House briefing to begin on camera, thank goodness, today with, you know, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, we've got Jeff Zeleny there in the room.

And where to begin. I understand that Jeff Sessions was actually at the White House when the president tweeted against him.


He was indeed. It's not uncommon for the attorney general to be here at the White House. He has routine meetings in the Situation Room and other places. So he was here again today around 9:00 or so simply going about his business. He was having meetings with officials, other members of the cabinet as well. What was unusual, that he still has not spoken with the president. The

president is still not requested a meeting. You know, he simply has chosen to talk at him, talk about him, but not to him. So that pattern continued this morning here, Brooke, at the West Wing.

And all indications we are getting from people who are close to the attorney general that he is simply keeping his head down and he is simply staying on the job. He is simply doing the things that he believes in this agenda, he believes in this from immigration to other matters, and he simply is trying to ignore as best he can the very unusual, extraordinary fight between the White House and the Justice Department.

But I can tell you, Brooke, I don't recall, in all the fights we've seen over the last six months or so and certainly before that, one where Republicans were as willing to speak out against the president as they are here in the Jeff Sessions matter. Our Manu Raju on Capitol Hill has been talking to so many Republican senators who simply say that, look, the president is doing the wrong thing here, that they stand with Jeff Sessions.

Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, a long-time friend and colleague of Jeff Sessions, who served with him from Alabama, said, look, he is the -- not the president's lawyer, he is the attorney general of the United States. The president needs to treat him better.

So, Brooke, we'll see how this escalates. Of course, Sarah Huckabee Sanders will likely be asked about this today. The president yesterday in the Rose Garden said time will tell, time will tell. He did not say he was going to fire the attorney general.

The real difficulty here, Brooke, and the reason that he probably hasn't fired him yet, a confirmation process would be very difficult in this climate here. So, for now, a week into this withering assault of the attorney general, he continues to be in limbo. But he is at the Justice Department at this hour. He's at work, Brooke.

BALDWIN: As you says, head down, doing his job as a cabinet secretary for the president.

Jeff Zeleny, stand by. We'll take you and the press briefing the second that starts.

Let me broaden this out. I've got CNN political director David Chalian, CNN national political reporter Maeve Reston kicking off the discussion here.

David Chalian, listen, we can't begin to understand or explain why the president, over and over, is publicly belittling his attorney general, this loyal soldier and first senator to sign on for team Trump. But what are we -- what more reporting do we have on how Jeff Sessions is feeling and his next moves?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, we can explain a little bit of why the president is doing this, because the president has explained it. It is all due to being upset that Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation. I mean that's what's -- that is what's so astonishing about what's going on. Not just that the president is letting a cabinet member sort of twist in the wind like this for a week going on. It's that he stated initially in that "New York Times" interview, and since --


CHALIAN: That he's so disappointed that Sessions removed himself from the Russia investigation. So that --

BALDWIN: But should he be surprise by that?

CHALIAN: Well, I don't understand why he should be except --


CHALIAN: He may not have like looked detailed into the recusal guidelines. But Jeff Sessions said as soon as he started at the DOJ, the moment he was starting there, he had a team of lawyers looking at this issue. He was very involved in the campaign last year. And he came to this conclusion. Nobody else seems to be surprised that Jeff Sessions recused himself except Donald Trump.

[14:05:15] BALDWIN: Well and even, Maeve, listening to President Trump in the Rose Garden with the, you know, Lebanese PM yesterday, again reiterating the point that he made in "The New York Times" piece just about how had he known Jeff Sessions would recuse himself, he said, he should have told me when I was thinking about him for the job and I wouldn't have picked him. But is that right?

RESTON: Well, it just shows you how much respect Donald Trump has for our American institutions and the Department of Justice. I mean it's such a self-serving statement. It's very transparent about what he's doing and, you know, that this feeling that he is having that he doesn't have control over the Mueller investigation and his feeling that that's all a farce and should not be swallowing up so much of our attention.

So I just think that in this way, leaving Sessions twisting in the wind out there, he is starting to endanger himself somewhat. Not only are people alarmed that, you know, there may not be enough checks and balances on this president and what he'd like to do with his power, but you also do see this ground swell from conservatives and Republican senators saying, wait a minute, back off, this guy is carrying out your agenda, and there's no reason for him to leave the administration at this point. And that could really start to harm Donald Trump.

I mean going back to the Nixon years, it was, you know, when the Saturday Night Massacre happened that you really started to see cracks in Nixon's support. So, if Trump is trying to start a chain of events like that, that's a huge risk to the way that even his own supporters look at him.

BALDWIN: Stand by, you two. Let me bring in two more voices. Chris Quinn, Christine Quinn, vice chairwoman of the New York Democratic Party and former speaker of the New York City Council is here. Matt Schlapp is with us, the chairman of the American Conservative Union and former political director for President George W. Bush.

Welcome to both of you.



BALDWIN: And, Matt Schlapp, I want to hear from you first. Just --


BALDWIN: I just want to give you the opportunity. Yo know, you've been this loyal Trump supporter. And you -- we've heard the reporting that even some of these Republican senators are really standing by Jeff Sessions and don't quite understand what the president's doing by publicly belittling him. Can you defend the president?

SCHLAPP: Yes. I mean, I can understand why the president's frustrated. I mean I'm frustrated. There's a lot of Republicans and conservatives who are frustrated that the first six months of the Trump administration has been kind of overshadowed by all this Russia talk. And I think after we saw the ten-page testimony that Jared Kushner gave the other day, that it's pretty clear that there's not a lot to this Russia story at all, and certainly no collusion, and -- but yet we're going to be talking about this. And the problem with special counsels --

BALDWIN: Well, let's -- let's just -- let's be fair. Let's be fair.

SCHLAPP: I'll be fair.

BALDWIN: We -- because we don't know the conclusion. We don't know how the investigation's going to play out.

SCHLAPP: But you know we're not talking about --

BALDWIN: Yes, Jared Kushner said that they were -- he wasn't colluding --

SCHLAPP: Yes, but --

BALDWIN: And he said to the best of his knowledge that others have not. But let's let it play out first.

SCHLAPP: Yes, but -- yes, but, Brooke, let's be fair. There's a reason why we're not talking about it today and it's not dominating the news because it didn't have any tantalizing details for the press to talk about, so they quickly changed the topic. I mean I was supposed to be on a conversation on the Jared Kushner topic the other day and they changed the topic because there was no "there" there in his testimony. So my point is this, which is, Republicans are frustrated that we have a special counsel at all.

The only thing that's kind of ironic here is that Jeff Sessions didn't pick the special counsel. Yes, he recused himself, but in recusing himself it was his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who, without even talking to Jeff Sessions, picked this special counsel. He's the one who got us going on all this. And if -- if Sessions were to leave as the attorney general, it would be that very same deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who would then be the acting attorney general.

So it is a little -- if you look at how the dominos would fall on this, I don't exactly think it would (INAUDIBLE) to the president's benefit.

BALDWIN: OK, let -- Chris Quinn, I see you out of the corner of my eye shaking your head. I want to give you ample time as well to respond.

But let me just say, I can't speak for that show and whatever guest opportunity you were supposed to have in talking about the testimony or the Russia investigation, but, listen, we're going to talk about -- we wanted to have you on, Matt, and I love talking to you, and we're going to talk about anything that is pertinent to the news of the day, including whatever comes out of Sarah Huckabee Sander's mouth.

That said, Chris Quinn, go for it.

QUINN: First of all, he's the president of the United States. If he doesn't want this man to be attorney general for any reason, fire him. You know, I don't often quote Senator Lindsey Graham, but he had it right today. It's a sign of weakness that the president is torturing Jeff Sessions on Twitter. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, strong people make a decision, and they implement their decision. If he doesn't thin --

BALDWIN: Meaning, if he wants to fire him, fire him. Don't let him flap in the breeze.

QUINN: He should just fire him, not humiliate him. That's, you know, exactly the wrong thing. And just untoward and bad behavior from the president of the United States. If he doesn't want him, fire him.

[14:10:07] But also the president has said, if I knew he would recuse himself, I wouldn't have hired him. So you're saying, if your attorney general follows the law and the protocols, you wouldn't have hired him. That doesn't make any sense.

Second, if there's no "there" there to the Russian investigation, why do you care if the attorney general had to recuse himself?

And on the special counsel, the president basically brought that upon himself saying, we'll take a special counsel at different times to paraphrase. So with all due respect, I think most of the argument we just heard from Matt doesn't hold up.

And beyond that, right before Jared Kushner began to testify, and in his testimony we know he said he had no financial dealings with the Russians. "The Guardian" reported a long documentation of interactions financially with the Russians, including a real estate deal with a Russian tycoon who was a known money launderer. And the family that was involved in setting up the meeting is also one that the Trump family has had financial dealings with in the past. So there is a lot of "there" there and it's not as if the testimony hasn't already -- doesn't already have bullet holes in it.

BALDWIN: I think you're referring to the -- I don't -- I'm not -- "The Guardian" piece, the eighth person in the room, the money laundering. Someone recently called him the poster child -- it was then Senator Carl Levin who was working at the time to investigate. We should say, he wasn't prosecuted.

QUINN: Correct.

BALDWIN: But, yes, there are questions about that person.

QUINN: Right, and that's not no interactions.

BALDWIN: You made multiple points. Let's stick with just even the first one.

And, Matt Schlapp, I just want you to respond to why -- why doesn't the president -- I mean, clearly -- at least it seems to be clear how he feels about the man. Why doesn't he just fire him?

SCHLAPP: Because I think what we're missing here is that I actually think the president's very fond of Jeff Sessions, and he's frustrated that what has happened is the Democrats have been able to repeat all these false claims about Russian collusion, interaction with the Russians, when there's really no evidence of anything because nobody can cite any evidence over and over again. That's really the standard, what's your evidence.

And I think what he's saying is the evidence we actually do have is the DNC actually had an operative that was colluding with the government of Ukraine. We actually know that there have been illegal leaks, both from Comey and others, Obama holdovers who have been going after this Trump administration. And I know the press enjoys the leaks, but some of these are criminal leaks. There's all kinds of questions around this -- where the --

BALDWIN: But then why take the A.G. to task publicly? If you're pointing out the DNC and all of that, why then take the A.G. to task so publicly if he really likes the guy?

SCHLAPP: I will tell you, Brooke, I will admit to you that it's -- it is unconventional. I will tell you, having worked for a president -- having worked for a president that their -- it's not uncommon for a president to be kind of PO'd at one of his staffers, including a cabinet secretary. The difference is, with Donald Trump, is when he does -- when he is disappointed or upset, we all get to know about it. I can't believe anybody in the press is complaining about that because it sure gives you a lot to talk about.


Let's hit pause on unconventional, Matt Schlapp. Matt and Chris, stay with me.

We're going to take a quick commercial break.

Just a reminder, we're watching and waiting for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new press secretary, to take the helm there and answer questions on all things Jeff Sessions, the news the president made on transgender men and women serving in the U.S. military, and, of course, the health care votes that are happening next hour.

Lots happening on this Wednesday. Quick break. We're back in a moment.


[14:17:18] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Lots to walk you through for the next two hours or so. Again, live pictures inside the press room there at the White House where we're just a couple of minutes away from Sarah Huckabee Sanders briefing the press on all things Jeff Sessions, health care, and this Twitter missive from the president on transgender men and women in the military and lots of questions and surprises swirling from the Pentagon and beyond.

But let me bring David Chalian and Maeve Reston back in because I really want to hone in now on health care.

And it was right around this time yesterday when we were all watching the Senate floor very closely, the chamber and the vote to open the debate.

And so, David Chalian, explain to our viewers what we will see with these three different votes upcoming this hour on, how do you want to describe it, just different versions of votes?

CHALIAN: Yes. Well, there will be some procedural votes. But what you see there on that graphic up next, repeal and delay. This is -- this is the repeal only option. You may have heard Rand Paul or Ted Cruz or others really demanding that they have a chance to vote on a repeal only. It puts in a two-year transition period where basically it's so that people don't have the rug pulled out from underneath them, that it instantly repeals and disappears.


CHALIAN: But that there's a two-year time window in which to fully put in place and implement a replacement plan.

This is key because this is going to be a vote that is likely to fail because this is not something a lot of the moderates in the Republican conference in the Senate are eager to support, to get out there and just vote for repeal only without a replacement plan. And this is going to be the moment where Mitch McConnell then can go back to the conservatives, if it does indeed fail and say, that repeal only doesn't work, so now we've got to move on to the next step, which is what you see there, the skinny repeal, the Graham/Cassidy amendment. These are other options at looking at how you can get to repealing and replacing with the number of votes that they need.

BALDWIN: Now, this is what we'll be looking for upcoming and we're actually going to be talking to Senator Cassidy, whose name is on that Graham/Cassidy amendment, next hour.

But, Maeve, you know, the -- it was a win for Republicans yesterday in the sense that they got to the 51 votes, the vice president being the tie breaker and this opening up to debate.

The president last night in Ohio, you know, touting that as a victory and then promptly woke up this morning and insulted one of his own Republicans being, you know, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, tweeting, Senator Lisa Murkowski of the great state of Alaska really let the Republicans and our country down yesterday. Too bad.

[14:20:01] Is this -- is this how he woos senators?

RESTON: Well, we have more and more questions as this goes along, right, about how effective his negotiating tactics are. I don't think that was particularly wise at the beginning of this whole process, you know, as McConnell is trying to find a vehicle that could actually get through for the president to be bullying the senator from Alaska.

But, you know, I mean I think that his comments also have been confusing to people. You know, earlier on he talked about the House version of the bill being mean and then he was making comments in "The Wall Street Journal" interview, I believe, about how, you know, he didn't want the rug pulled out from under people.

So, Trump has really been all over the place on what he actually wants. And what he actually wants, it seems, is just a win here. And we'll see this all play out over the next few days. It is an interesting time to watch the great diversity of opinions within the Republican Party on all of these issues. It's just completely unclear what we're going to end up with, particularly if the skinny repeal -- the skinny option gets anywhere, and then what the House will do with that eventually.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. And --

CHALIAN: And, Brooke, just -- just so you --

BALDWIN: Yes, go ahead, David.

CHALIAN: The president got some positive feedback about this kind of bullying tactic, right? He took on Dean Heller --

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

CHALIAN: You remember a couple weeks ago, and a super PAC allied with him was threatening these ads, going up against him, sort of picking on his own. You remember the moment when Dean Heller was sitting next to the president and all the Republican senators there were saying --

BALDWIN: Uncomfortable.

CHALIAN: And he said, hey, you want to -- he wants to keep his job, right?


CHALIAN: Well, Dean Heller voted with the president to actually start debating this bill. So he, from the president's point of view, just got a little bit of a positive impact. He got what he wanted out of Dean Heller initially. We'll see where Dean Heller ends up in this process. He's still going to be a vote that they have to woo. But it therefore I guess is not terribly surprising that, you know, he wakes up and says, it's time to take on Lisa Murkowski. Let's see if I can get her on board.

RESTON: Well, but on the vote yesterday was such a, you know, just an important but just a procedural maneuver. You know, it wasn't for Heller and others who agreed to go along with this plan, it was basically saying, all right, let's tear this thing open and see what we end up with.

CHALIAN: But if Heller went the other way, Maeve, we'd be in a whole different world today because --

RESTON: I -- that's -- that's true.

CHALIAN: So that's -- that is the only thing. I'm not saying that Heller is necessarily going to suffer huge political consequences for this, but the president sort of was on his case and the most immediate goal that the president wanted was to avoid complete implosion and Heller helped him avoid that yesterday.

RESTON: Right, and the Democrats certainly are coming after Heller already for taking that vote and will continue to do so as he faces his own tough race.

BALDWIN: But -- so, quickly, and then we want to take a break and move on to this other tweet from the president on transgender members in the military.

But, David, I mean what if all of these votes you outlined, none of which hit that magic number, then what?

CHALIAN: I mean this is the reality that we're in, and this is what Maeve was just describing so well about inside the Republican Party, the ideological divide. There is nothing -- there is no plan yet that has been presented on the table as a plan that can garner 50 votes out of the Senate. So they -- that's why you hear this term skinny repeal.

So what may end up happening here is that McConnell has to adjust to come up with the bare minimum of what he could possibly pass out of the Senate that repeals it, but that the real goal, then is just to punt the ball a little bit here and kick the can down the road to just get something out of the Senate, a vehicle, as Maeve said, so that a negotiation can happen between the House and the Senate to try to come up with a package that the president can sign.

BALDWIN: OK. Got it. Got it. We'll take those votes, we'll see how they go, coming up within the next hour or so. Thanks to both of you. Stand by.

And, again, we're watching and waiting for this White House press briefing to begin. Lots of questions for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to answer, including the tweets this morning from the president on transgender members of the military serving or not. We'll have that debate coming up.


[14:28:39] BALDWIN: Welcome back.

Here's more breaking news today as we're waiting for that White House briefing to get going.

The president today, in a multitude of tweets, essentially reinstating the ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military, which would then reverse the course of the ban that was lifted by President Obama and the DOD about a year ago.

This is what the president tweeted. Quote, after consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.

Chris Quinn, Matt Schlapp, back with me on this one.

Chris Quinn, you are appalled by this.

QUINN: I think it's just -- actually, I think it's disgusting. We have 4,000 transgender individuals in the military right now who have caused no burden or distraction from service, who are willing to die for our country. And a man who was not willing to serve in the military, who got released, if you will, through an ability that many in resource people think was totally bogus. Some call him a draft dodger. I would agree. He's going to say these 4,000 Americans are not up to the job. It is outrageous.

[14:30:04] And how did he check with his generals and his military advisers when Department of Defense secretary is on vacation and the Pentagon is saying they were not spoken to.

And beyond that --