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Report: Trump Bans Transgender People from Military; White House Won't Say What Happens to Transgender Service Members; Trump and Sessions Have Not Spoken Amid Trump's Attacks. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired July 26, 2017 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The president has not indicated exactly how this will affect the thousands of active duty transgender service members currently enlisted. The White House did respond to some questions about this just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happens to transgender service members now? Are they immediately thrown out of the military?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's something that the department of defense and the White House will have to work together as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: This decision today reverses a defense department policy that's just a year old, which lifted the ban under President Obama, allowing transgender military members to serve openly, and one person knows better than most the affect this will have on the military. A retired U.S. Navy SEAL., part of the elite SEAL. team 6, a 20-year combat veteran, recipient of a purple heart and a bronze star, and the first former see former SEAL. to become an openly transgender woman.

Kristen Beck shared her story in this CNN film "Lady Valor" and now under the president's newly announced policy, if she wanted to enlist and serve, she would not be allowed. I talked to Kristen today about the president's announcement.

KRISTEN BECK, TRANSGENDER FORMER NAVY SEAL: I was shocked. I can't believe he came out with it on Twitter, first of all. How about a press release, a little respect? I just think it's -- he's citing that money is the issue. I think that the lawsuits and all the contracts that he's going to break and everything else will wind up being more expensive than paying for, you know, someone like me who has cost the taxpayers $0. So, transgender doesn't always entail surgery. Sometimes transgender is just a frame of thought. It's that I can go out on weekends, I can say the word transgender without being afraid of a witch hunt. Not all transgender people get surgeries. Maybe I just want to have the freedom to be able to say, I'm transgender. Take that into account.

BALDWIN: I'm listening to you. I'm also listening to, you know, some Republicans, one congresswoman who was just on the air today, you know, reinforcing the president's point about cost. Let me play her side of this and then I want your response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. VICKY HARTZLER, (R), MISSOURI: It's a totally different policy change here. These are individuals that have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which could require very costly medical treatment. I had an intern that was denied the ability to go into the military because she had a bunion on her foot and the argument was that this may cost the military, and she may have to go through surgery. Right now, we have people who cannot serve in the military with asthma or with flat feet, so why would we allow individuals to come in, although they're very patriotic and we appreciate their desire to serve, but who have these medical issues that could be very, very costly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Kristen, let me point out, when Wolf pressed her, she had other numbers. Her numbers weren't from some formal study. She later said it was from her office. But on the cost side of this, what do you make of the financial argument against this.

BECK: The thing is, you're talking about cost and you're talking about recruitment and that's something that we have to consider also. This is two different lines of effort. There is recruitment and there is retention. And that's something that needs to be clarified. Now, were they talking about recruitment or retention? A lot of people already serving in uniform who are serving with honor. Are you going to break those contracts? And make them leave the military? Going to kick them out? Are you going to witch hunt those folks or are you talking about recruitment? That needs to be clarified and I don't think that was clear with President Trump's tweet.

BALDWIN: Right. I don't think it is clear yet and that's why the question is precisely the one you pose. We also read this tweet from California Democrat Mark Takano, the president just went on Twitter to attack 15,000 trans service members who are risking their lives to protect our freedom.

How brave, he says. Sarcastically, obviously. I mean, obviously, you have friends who are serving actively and also who are transitioning. Have you talked to any of them? How are they feeling?

BECK: Everybody's upset. I mean, we're confused. I mean, for him to come out with a tweet first. How about a press conference? How about having the department of defense come out with some of the policy and let us know this is happening before it's just blasted out on Twitter? It's upsetting. I don't understand the leadership problem, you know, President Trump has using Twitter as his primary communications. There's a lot of other ways to do it that would have been a lot more respectful to the people in uniform and to the American people. You know, how about a little information, more than just a tweet?

BALDWIN: So just even the way in which he did it, Kristen, you're saying that lacked --

BECK: Disrespectful. BALDWIN: Disrespectful.

BECK: Yes.

BALDWIN: Not a lot of people may realize, but on this same day in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that desegregated the armed forces. Historically, America expands rights, doesn't take them away. During the campaign, the president vowed to be more progressive and supportive of LGBTQ rights. Remember, he talked about this even at the RNC. What more does the community need from him?

[15:35:00] BECK: Well, we don't want anything extra. I don't want any extra money, extra rights. I don't want anything extra. I just want what any other American citizen would be offered. Dignity and respect. And the ability to serve my country. That's all we're asking for. I don't want anything extra and to people in uniform, yes, we're upset. A lot of them are calling me, asking me what's going on and I'm still -- we're all blind-sided. And I want those folks who are in uniform to understand that there's a lot of people behind you, you know, take it easy. Just chill out. We're going to see if we can fix this. Easy clarification from a president would be this is talking about recruitment only, and then we'll talk about retention later on for the folks who are serving right now.

BALDWIN: You had said also from what I understand that the president has no idea that the can of worms he just opened. I mean, what realistically, Kristen, can you do about this?

BECK: Well, realistically, we can go to our congress people and we can vote in 2018 midterms. I mean, oh my god, the biggest power we have as American people is our vote, the ability to vote. If we have less than half the country going out to the polling, the polls every year, you know, that's terrible. So, get out and vote. Everybody get up off your feet, start acting, start doing something and vote. We're going to make this change. I just feel that this is upsetting to a lot of folks. I think hundreds of thousands, millions of people in America, this will affect directly in some way or the other. You just organized and empowered one of the largest grassroots lobbies you ever could have, president Trump, and we're going to vote. So, we can fix this.

BALDWIN: Kristen Beck, thank you for your years of serving this beautiful country, and just thank you so much for your voice.

BECK: Thank you.

BALDWIN: On the heels of that interview, let me bring in Margaret Hoover, CNN political commentator who is also the president of the American Unity Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing conservative support for LGBTQ Americans. Margaret, as long as I have known you, you are a Republican who makes it your business to stand up for LGBTQ rights. What do you make of just the timing or the motivation of the president today?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's frankly been very mysterious. If you look at it in a vacuum. But there are many, many Republicans in the house of representatives and the senate who have come out decisively this morning and said this shouldn't be the policy of the United States military. Ken Buck, John McCain, Richard Shelby Steele, Orrin Hatch, Joni Ernst, a senator from Iowa and former military woman. Recently in the house of representatives this was representative Vicky Hartzler who was on this program this morning.

It is her efforts and her singular efforts with a very small cabal in the house of representatives who have been trying to strip funding to transgender military service members since the defense authorization act has been passing through congress. Twenty-four Republicans along with all the Democrats on house of representatives defeated that effort on the house floor two weeks ago. Then she went to the defense department to try to get Secretary Mattis to support this bullying policy towards transgender service members.

She that had no luck there. Somehow, she got to the White House very quickly, somehow in the last 24 hours and President Trump or somebody crafted these tweets -- I actually don't think President Trump crafted these tweets -- and he put them out this morning. What this demonstrates again is a totally haphazard policymaking process.

BALDWIN: Listing off all those Republicans, you don't see this as throwing them a bone because a lot of them are frustrated with the president because they're standing by their former Senator Jeff Sessions in what he's done there.

HOOVER: Politico has a piece out this afternoon saying those representatives in the house of representatives who are adamant about stripping funding went to President Trump and said, if you want funding for your wall, we're fiscal conservatives, we won't fund your wall if you continue to fund transgender military service members. And so, this is, I think, a very small effort from the religious right in the house of representatives that is not reflective of the Republican party writ large or, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, in consultation with military leadership.

BALDWIN: She just kept putting this on readiness and I go back to Kristen Beck and others in the community, they're concerned, what does this really mean. I think the White House does have some explaining to do on that one. Stick around. I have more for you. We are moments away from a senate vote on a repeal only. They're calling this a repeal, replace later, replace delayed version of the health care proposal. We're going to take you live to Capitol Hill and talk about health care which I know affects tens of millions of Americans. Stay with me.

[15:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Again, watching, waiting, I see the small box on your screen, waiting for votes on all things health care there on the senate side. So, stay with me as that is about to begin. But let's talk first about this ongoing presidential putdown of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. For the fifth time in a week, President Trump has insulted him, very publicly. Here's the latest tweet from today. "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."

[15:45:00] And the president sent this while A.G. Sessions was at the White House this morning. The two, though, as we've learned, did not meet. I want you to listen to Republican lawmakers defend Sessions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), South Carolina: The weaknesses is that the president is trying to not use his power. He's trying to get Sessions to quit. And I hope Sessions doesn't quit. And if the president wants to fire him, fire him.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, (R), ALABAMA: We don't have to sit around and say we like what's going on, that we like somebody that obviously is being brutalized when he shouldn't be and he doesn't deserve it.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R), MAJORITY WHIP, TEXAS: And I think it would be incredibly disruptive and make it more difficult for the president to accomplish his agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Margaret Hoover is back with me. Kurt is back, former Breitbart spokesman and thank you so much for being with me. Kurt, let me start with you because we wanted to talk to you. In addition to those Republican senators coming to the A.G.'s defense, you have conservative media doing the same. Rush Limbaugh, Drudge, Breitbart. How do you see this with regard to the conservative media, which we know the president pays very close attention to, is this a war with the president yet?

KURT BARDELLA, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, BREITBART NEWS: Well, we're not quite at a critical mass yet, but it does show just how revered and important Jeff Sessions has been as a figure in the conservative movement, particularly at Breitbart. I mean, it's been talked about how Steve Bannon at the time that he was running Breitbart, who was now in the White House, tried to recruit Jeff Sessions to run for president. And when Jeff Sessions eventually endorsed Donald Trump, Breitbart called it the most meaningful endorsement that Trump had gotten to that point. So, this is a very revered, central character to the conservative movement, and the fact that he is coming under assault from the president has really put everybody kind of in the middle of it, whether it's Rush Limbaugh or commentators like Ann Coulter or organizations like Breitbart, they don't know what to make of it but it shows the painstaking lengths they're taking in trying not to go overboard with their criticism of the president. They're not going all out. If this were anybody else, anybody else criticizing Jeff Sessions this way, Breitbart would declare all-out war. There would be 45 stories, they would be calling for apologies, resignations. It would be all out warfare.

BALDWIN: But it's not because it's Jeff Sessions, and we heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Margaret, in the briefing and again reiterating the president's words, disappointed in his A.G. but still someone he wants on the job. How do you see that? I mean, the two men were in the White House together this morning and didn't even talk about.

HOOVER: Trump is clearly acting on his own and not listening to anybody and we know that and that's fine. The tone that Sarah Huckabee Sanders uses is that there are many, many people trying to intervene on behalf of Jeff Sessions with the president, maybe trying to speak to him, to deescalate this situation because they believe that it will be very damaging to a lot of the movement conservatives who have tried to support the president because they believed in some way he would be their Manchurian conservative candidate, he would be the guy who got the conservative policies done and evidence of that is that Jeff Sessions is appointed as his A.G. and others pointedly who have been appointed to cabinet level positions from the movement conservatives, but who have decided to swallow the bitter pill and support somebody who isn't really one of them. Donald Trump isn't one of them. So, there is this tension. And that's what you're seeing in the fact that Breitbart won't just totally go after Sessions.

BALDWIN: Isn't one of the questions, though, Kurt, just this notion, does the president truly understand or respect the boundaries between the executive branch and the D.O.J. with the top cop being the A.G.? It seems like if we hear the president saying he maybe wouldn't have picked Sessions had he known he'd recuse himself, which is the whole reason he's irked with him in the first place over the Russia investigation, it leaves one to wonder, you know, just -- there was a Dem sitting in this seat earlier today saying if there's no "there" there, then why the issue with Jeff Sessions.

BARDELLA: I think it shows and illustrates that this president doesn't care about boundaries. In fact, he's upset that his attorney general created boundaries appropriately in recusing himself in the first place. He wants an attorney general who can make this Russia investigation go away, whether it's appropriate or not, whether the facts say so or not, and that's really the thing. All of this really highlights, I think, how much this investigation's really touching Donald Trump. [15:50:00] The fact that it's ensnarled his son, Donald Junior, the

fact that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been entrapped in this. It's completely dominated his presidency and he is so irate this has happened that he has convinced himself that it's all because of Jeff Sessions. He's put the blame right there on the attorney general. He wants people who will just make these problems go away, regardless of what the law is, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not. He just doesn't care about boundaries.

BALDWIN: Despite the public belittling, apparently Jeff Sessions is going to keep on keeping on, keeping his head down and doing his job. We will just have to see where the president stands in all -- the word so publicly. Thank you so much, Kurt and Margaret. Also happening right now the senate is voting on the Republican repeal only plan over Obamacare. With me now, Nia Malika Henderson, CNN political reporter, Julie

Chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, and MJ Lee on Capitol Hill. MJ, tell what is happening right now. MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: So, what is happening right now is they are going to vote on this 2015 repeal only bill. Remember, this is a bill that the senate and the house passed back in 2015, but president Obama was in the White House at the time and he vetoed this. This is a bill that would get rid of the individual and employer mandates. It would phase out Medicaid expansion. It would get rid of a lot of the taxes in Obamacare, but what is different now is that it is the year 2017 and this is not expected to pass this afternoon. And that is because too many senate Republicans believe today that voting on something to repeal Obamacare, to gut many a replacement plan in place simply is not viable. I think this is a really, really key thing to talk about. I know in the next couple days we'll spend time talking about individual votes, individual amendments and the nitty-gritty details of what's happening on the senate floor.

Keep in mind seven years ago and for the last seven years, a campaign repealing on Obamacare. They knew there was a Republican president in the White House and it would not become law. Now you fast forward and president Donald Trump is the person in the White House, it is a Republican president and Republicans are now having to face the reality that they cannot actually stomach or justify to their constituents, frankly, that they have voted on something to repeal the current health care law without a replacement in place.

BALDWIN: Nia, how do you see it? MJ perfectly laid it all out, but with these upcoming votes this afternoon, is there any chance that any of them can cross the finish line?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: There is certainly Mitch McConnell's hope. You need a scorecard to keep track of all this. You have people like Rand Paul on this repeal and delay saying, listen, all of you guys voted on this, all of them except Senator Collins back in 2017. Surely, you'll be a person of your word and not be accused of flip-flopping. That was a show vote. Essentially it was a political messaging vote, so you're going to have people flip-flop, essentially people like Shelly Moore Capito out of West Virginia. This is about governing and seeing what they need going forward. They said circumstances have changed, and that main circumstance at this point is that Donald Trump is in the White House, sort of the politics and the reality of this are very, very different.

BALDWIN: Julie, we were talking this time yesterday during the procedural vote reminding how many years has health care, health legislation been your beat?

JULIE ROVNER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT FOR KAISER HEALTH NEWS: Thirty-one. I was really young.

BALDWIN: Thirty-one years. So, with your great perspective, again, have you ever seen something like this?

ROVNER: No, this is just completely crazy. It's expected, as we heard, that this will go down, that even in 2015 it was difficult to get senators Capito and Murkowski to go for this. They're not going to vote for it now. The question is what's next? If they do this skinny bill, this small bill, will the house take that bill? Will they go into conference and chew up even more time? They wanted to be done with this months ago. Where we go from here, staff members, reporters all saying it's really anybody's guess.

BALDWIN: Skinny bill? They're going to need some skinny margaritas when this whole thing is done after these past couple weeks. Ladies, stay with me. This is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responding to rumors that he's planning his exit. Many the term coined the Rexit? This is what he's said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you planning to retain your position as secretary of state?

[15:55:00] REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm not going anywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long will you stay?

TILLERSON: As long as the president lets me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your relationship with the president right now?

TILLERSON: It's good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Nia, let me pick on you and just ask you about the whole Rexit quandary that has confused some people. Apparently, the man wanted to take a vacation, and that sent a chill through the state department, now he's responding to rumors that maybe he's leaving? Set us straight.

HENDERSON: I think that's right. You had a state department spokesman essentially say, oh, he's taking a few days off, which was kind of weird language. It came as John King was coining his phrase Rexit and saying people around Rex Tillerson were saying he was extremely disenchanted with his job, and that he may have thought Rexit -- Rex, sorry -- may end his term at the end of the year, essentially saying he gave it a year and then would move on.

I think in that clip there, he's trying to tamp down on some of those rumors. The striking thing about that is what else is he going to say, right? He's not going to announce his resignation right there, but it's widely known that a lot of cabinet secretaries are frustrated with this White House, in particular now. You have the president of the United States, a trash-talking attorney on General Sessions, someone who has been a loyal soldier and certainly working on the president's agenda. The president is really publicly trying to humiliate him. So, he, I think it sends a chill around these cabinet officials.

BALDWIN: So that was the secretary of state. Let me turn everyone's attention now to one of these Republican senators who, famously through this whole process, is from the great state of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski. It was 50-51 to proceed with this debate which is coming now. The president, the first thing after he called this thing a win, he tweeted, Senator Murkowski of the great state of Alaska really let our Republicans and our country down yesterday. Too bad! She has responded to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R), ALASKA: My vote yesterday was from my heart for the people that I represent. And I'm going to continue working hard for all Alaskans and just focus on that. I'm not one that follows the tweets. I know that many are. But I have to focus on my job. I have to focus on what I came here to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Here's my question, Julie. In your 31 years, why would a president, in his effort to woo Republicans, why attack a Republican senator like that?

ROVNER: I have no idea. But one thing I will say about Lisa Murkowski, she was defeated in a primary left and won on a write-in, basically, on the power of her name. She owes the Republicans and the senate absolutely nothing. She tends to go her own way, but I don't think picking on her is likely to make her more of a team player. It's a very curious strategy that the president is playing. Although I will point out that his continual encouragement or telling them they must do this, reminding them of their promise, probably did have something to do with pushing a few people over the line at the end to at least get on with the bill. Go ahead.

LEE: I was talking to Senator Lindsey Graham earlier and asking him about this tweet from the president about his colleague, and Lindsey Graham, first of all, he said Lisa is a strong woman. I think she will be fine. He also said this is a game that the president plays, and we understand it. Which to me just sounded a little like senators and members of congress in general, they are getting so used to the fact that this is a daily occurrence that the president will send out a tweet, and I can't tell you the number of scrums I've been in in recent days where the first question that a [00:30:00] senator gets asked, can you react to x tweet from the president? So, there is almost an eye rolling exasperation you see from these senators that often are not even in their own party.

People aren't necessarily afraid. Lisa Murkowski certainly not afraid. I think Julie is right. A couple of those senators seem to be concerned about what the president was saying and he's kind of messaging, win one for the team, you guys promised. That message seemed to be effective, but this is a president that to some of those Republicans is like a toothless tiger at this point. He's got kind of a roar but they aren't necessarily afraid of him.

BALDWIN: Right, which is appreciated maybe when it comes to North Korea and others but maybe not to those on the hill.

Thank you for joining me. I'll send it over to Jake Tapper. "The Lead" starts now.