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Interview With Oklahoma Senator James Lankford; Trump's New Immigration Policy; Interview with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The stock market hitting a record high today, as the president's approval ratings hit record lows.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Crisis of credibility, the White House trying again to clear up another potential disconnect as a new poll shows 62 percent of the American people say President Trump is not honest.


A harrowing close call after analysts say a missile test came crashing down near the flight path of a passenger plane -- the latest from the powder keg that is North Korea's nuclear program.

Plus, she's blaming the triumph of myth over truth -- why a top official at the Environmental Protection Agency said, after 30 years, she just can't work there anymore.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's start with breaking news on our money lead, and the Dow close to hitting another record high today, the closing bell coming any second. The Dow is holding close to the 22000 mark. It's up nearly 20 percent since Election Day. President Trump is one of the biggest cheerleaders of its success.

Let's go to CNN's Alison Kosik in New York.

Alison, I guess we missed the bell.

What is driving this new surge?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, strong corporate earnings powered the Dow to a new milestone. The index hit 22000 for the first time ever. It's a new record high.

It is the Dow's sixth record high in a row, and it's the 49th record high since the election. In fact, the Dow is up more than 3600 points since the election. Investors have been shrugging off turmoil that is happening in

Washington and instead they're focusing on big corporate profits. More than 70 percent of the companies reporting so far this earnings season have beat expectations, like Apple last night and it was actually a bump in Apple stock today that pushed the Dow over 22000.

Apple is one of the 30 stocks in the Dow, and when it moves, it can impact the entire index. What you're really seeing, Jake, is a rally that's less about investors hoping for President Trump to deliver on massive tax cuts and more about Wall Street looking for companies to keep posting these solid profits -- Jake.

TAPPER: And today President Trump once again touting the Dow's rise and the success of the overall economy. As I recall, though, Alison, candidate Trump dismissed stock market rallies as a bubble. Is there anything tangibly different now?

KOSIK: What's different is he's the president and he believes the stock market is evidence that the economy is doing well on his watch. But as a candidate, Trump was warning about the stock market rising too much. Let's take a little walk down memory lane. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a stock market that is so loaded. Be careful of a bubble. Believe me, we're in a bubble right now. And the only thing that looks good is the stock market, but if you raise interest rates even...


KOSIK: OK, but now the president has become the market's cheerleader in chief.

The danger, though, is the markets don't always go straight up, so the president is playing with a little bit of fire here. A little perspective for you. It's been trading almost 400 days since the S&P 500 suffered a 5 percent decline and that's actually the biggest winning streak since 1996, so some investors, Jake, are definitely wondering how long stocks can keep rising before there's a pullback -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alison Kosik with the news about the Dow crossing 22000, thank you so much.

If you think the president has credibility issues when it comes to these contradictory claims about the stock market, welcome to our politics lead now.

In a brand-new Quinnipiac poll just released, the president's approval rating isn't just underwater. It's drowning -- 61 percent of those polled disapprove of the job President Trump is doing. Among a key part of the president's base, white voters with no college degree, 43 percent say he's doing a good job, while 50 percent disapprove; 50 percent of white, non-college educated voters disapprove. Sixty-two percent of American people say not honest. In addition, 71

percent of voters say President Trump is not level-headed compared to 26 percent who say he is; 60 percent of voters say they believe President Trump thinks that he is above the law; 57 percent of the American people polled say he is abusing the powers of his office.

And then there's this. A majority of the American people, 54 percent, say that they are embarrassed to have Donald Trump as their president; 26 percent are proud.

CNN's Sara Murray is live for us at the White House right now.

And, Sara, some of these issues may be starting to hurt the president even with his base. Today, he is throwing out some red meat in terms of conservative policy proposals.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, and it's actually within the last few days that we're seeing this administration and this president in particular go out of his way to try and ensure this base of supporters, the people who put him in this White House stay on board.

Today, it was the administration unveiling a new immigration plan that would dramatically rewrite the way -- the rules of illegal immigration in this country.


MURRAY (voice-over): With his domestic agenda stalled and his approval numbers mired in historic lows, President Trump is pitching to his base.

TRUMP: It's great to be here today to unveil legislation that would represent the most significant reform to our immigration system in half-a-century.

MURRAY: Trump, alongside Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, unveiling a plan designed to cut immigration to the U.S. by 50 percent.


It aims to remake America's legal immigration system so it's less rooted in family migration, instead creating a so-called merit-based system that grades potential immigrants on their readiness to work in the U.S.

Trump touting the proposal Wednesday as a way to protect American workers by introducing lower-skilled immigration.

TRUMP: Among those hit the hardest in recent years have been immigrants, and, very importantly, minority workers competing for jobs against brand-new arrivals. And it has not been fair to our people, to our citizens, to our workers.

MURRAY: Cracking down on immigration both legal and illegal was a cornerstone of Trump's potential bid.

TRUMP: Every time an African-American citizen or a Hispanic citizen or any citizen loses their job to an illegal immigrant, the rights of that American citizen have been totally violated. They're losing their jobs.

MURRAY: But the legislation is already facing skepticism from some Republicans, as well as Democrats.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We think it's a nonstarter.

MURRAY: But it marks just one of the ways Trump is working to shore up the base of supporters who helped get him elected. The Department of Justice is also preparing to steer more resources from its Civil Rights Division toward investigating universities for affirmative action policies deemed discriminatory toward white applicants.

That's according to "The New York Times," which obtained an internal Justice Department document about the plan.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And while the White House does not confirm or deny the existence of potential investigations, the Department of Justice will always review credible allegations of discrimination on the basis of any race.

MURRAY: All of this coming on the heels of Trump's impromptu Twitter announcement that transgender individuals would be barred from serving in the military, a Twitter proclamation that has not yet led to a change in policy, as the Joint Chiefs await further guidance from the White House.

Meanwhile, the administration is preparing to take a tougher line on China's trade policies, a key campaign trail issue for then-candidate Trump.

TRUMP: We can't continue to allow China to rape our country, and that's what they're doing. It's the greatest theft in the history of the world.


MURRAY: Now, a number of these plays to shore up the base would actually require the administration to stay focused, for instance, on a single legislative issue.

For instance, on immigration, that's going to be tough to do when Congress is also trying to do tax reform and, at the president's request, he wants them to go back to health care, all of this before we get to whatever the president may decide to wake up and tweet tomorrow morning -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray at the White House for us, thank you so much.

As President Trump tries to please his base one by one, more Republican senators are feeling emboldened to push back against the president's message here and there. Is this causing a trend? And is it causing deep divides within the party? We will get a read on all this with one Republican senator here to join me next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

We're continuing our politics lead.

President Trump has signed the new Russia sanctions bill into law, but called the measure -- quote -- "seriously flawed."

In a statement, the president said the bill -- quote -- "encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate" and that -- quote -- "As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress."

Joining me now to talk about this and much more Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

So, Senator, thanks for being here. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: So, the president said the bill is filled with -- quote -- "clearly unconstitutional provisions" and that the Constitution puts foreign affairs in the -- quote -- "hands of the president."

Are you worried at all about the president's commitment to these sanctions? He kind of had to sign the bill. It was going to become law either way.

LANKFORD: No, I'm not worried about his commitment to it.

The issue was the same thing we had with President Obama before, that Congress put in place sanctions on Iran and the president, President Obama at that time, chose to pull those down.

Something Congress is learning its lesson to say, if we're putting sanctions in place, there is common agreement among the American people we need to do this. Then we need to be able to leave it in place.

And if the president wants to be able to put those sanctions down, he needs to come back to Congress. We all agreed together to put them in place. We should all agree together to be able to take them out.

TAPPER: And specifically the reason for imposing sanctions on Russia -- I know the bill also deals with Iran and North Korea, but Russia is because of the election interference and also because of its encroachment into Ukraine?

LANKFORD: Ukraine and Crimea, that's correct.


LANKFORD: The Russian engagement all over the whole world, but they have also pushed back on us obviously in our elections from 2016.

There is no reason to believe they affected our election. There is also every reason to believe they tried to, to be able to reach into election to be able to find it in every way they could.

What's happening in Ukraine, what's happening in Crimea currently is a major issue. We think that there needs to be a pushback on Russia, and if there is not a forcible pushback, they're going to just keep going.

TAPPER: What do you make of the fact that President Trump disagrees with you, as far as I can tell, the entire Senate and House Intelligence Committees, everybody who has spoken about this from the intelligence community, including his own director of national intelligence, NSA, CIA, FBI, et cetera, and he doesn't accept this?

He doesn't accept that Russia tried to interfere in the elections.

LANKFORD: Of late, he has made the comment about that it's most likely Russia, that he's seen all the evidence, that he thinks it's most likely them, but it could be some others that are also participating as well.

I think that's good movement. I have no question that it is Russia that was actually trying to engage to interfere in our election. I would be glad to be able to continue to be able to show any evidence as well as all the other people around it.

TAPPER: On the question of Russia, there does seem to be just a question about his posture toward Russia.

The president in recent days has had a lot to say about Republican senators, about Democratic senators, about the media. I don't think he's said anything publicly about Russia's retaliation for the sanctions, the insistence, the demand that the U.S. remove 755 individuals from the missions and embassies in Russia.

[16:15:06] Does that disappoint you? What do you make of it?

LANKFORD: It does disappoint me, but it also disappoints me that Russia is going to respond that way. I understand they're going to respond back to sanctions. We're stinging them because of what they have done in their actions.

The issue of them trying to kick out 755 people that are Americans working there in Russia is their way to try to do a tit-for-tat, back and forth. It's nonsensical, quite frankly. They're still mad about us removing those facilities that the Russians had here in the United States. We have every reason that they'll be removed those two facilities and should not get them back.

TAPPER: Were those facilities being used for spy craft? Or is it being used for espionage?

LANKFORD: Yes, there is no question those facilities were being used for trade craft and for Russian spies. They call them vacation homes. They were gathering spots for that and they know it full well and so do we.

TAPPER: Sebastian Gorka told me a few weeks ago that the White House is considering giving them back, and he said something like, why not give cooperation and collaboration a chance?

LANKFORD: I think we've already given cooperation and collaboration a chance. There's an opportunity to be able to do that in a lot of areas. But I have no reason to help Russia in their spycraft against the United States. We are going to have to cooperate with them in Syria.

What's happened over the last ten years in Syria is the United States have pulled back from that as a vacuum. Russia has run into that vacuum. If we're going to resolve the issues in Syria, we are going to have to work with the Russians. So, where we can work with them, we should, but I'm not going to help them spy on us.

TAPPER: You penned an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" today. It's called "How to Make the Senate Work Again". Among other things, you write, quote: The Senate should not go to a 51-vote majority for every vote because the Senate is the one entity in the federal government where the minority view is heard and deliberation is protected.

So, clearly, you disagree with President Trump who has said the 60- vote threshold should be disposed of and it should go down to 51 votes.

LANKFORD: Right, he and I have had this conversation. My proposal back is most people don't understand there are actually two 60 votes before the 51 votes actually pass the bill. There's the one, the motion to proceed to begin debate. Not only you have to 60 people agree to start debate, then 60 people agree to end debate and then you vote on the bill with just 51.

My statement is, it's not rational for us to have two 61 votes or two 60 votes in every time. Let's let the majority party regardless of who it is, get on a bill, debate the bill, bring it up. If the minority is not heard, you don't get enough amendments, you don't get inside in that, then the minority can prevent it from going forward.

But the majority party should always be able to get a bill and to be able to debate it and then the minority makes sure they get a hearing before it ends.

TAPPER: What would you say to Democrats in the Senate, your colleagues, who would say, Senator Lankford, you're talking about making the Senate work better. Last year, Senate Republicans wouldn't even allow a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee? LANKFORD: Sure, I understand that full well. We go from the

nomination process. That's currently in fact you're seeing right now. There's never been a time in the history of the Senate that we've had so few nominations work through and so little legislation that's been allowed because Democrats are preventing that.

Typically by this point, any president has about 200 people on his staff. This president has 50.

TAPPER: How much of that -- and I really honestly don't know the answer to that. But how much is that is obstructionism and how much is it is the administration not nominating people?

LANKFORD: Oh, no, they have enough people to be able to go through the process. There are quite a few people who have gone through our committee process. They're literally waiting to get to the floor. And because 30 hours are required to be able to do the debate before a 51 passage, if the Democrats continue to require 30 hours for each person, it will literally take 11 years for the president to get his staff.

My concern is that this has not happened before and it's setting another new precedent in the Senate, that every time there is a president that comes up, the president can't get his staff. And the gridlock that's happening in Congress is now a gridlock that is Washington, D.C.-wide. In every agency, they can't function because they don't have staff. We can't move it that way.

TAPPER: Another, one of your colleagues, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, was on yesterday. I want you to take a listen to what he had to say about what he thought was happening to the Republican brand because of President Trump.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We've kind of, as Republicans, taken up an unfamiliar banner that, you know, is populism. And, you know, in some cases xenophobia, anti-immigration, protectionism. That's not familiar to us, and I don't think that that is a governing philosophy.


TAPPER: What do you think?

LANKFORD: Yes, I think every person represents their own people and where they are. I represent the 4 million people of Oklahoma. Those are the voices that I speak for and they've sent me here to Washington, D.C. to represent their voice. Their president has been elected. He has a role. Jeff Flake has been elected and he has a role.

So, for me, it's not about Republican brand. It's about trying to identify the people at home and what their basic values are and trying to be able to coalesce those values here. So, I'm not so much worried about protecting the president. I don't know if that's a party issue or not. I don't come from a political background. The values coming from my state are the values I need to articulate here.

TAPPER: What do you think about his criticism, that the values or the Republican Party in his view now represents are too often xenophobic and indecent ones, ones that are protectionist and nativist and not what he's used to?

[16:20:08] LANKFORD: Yes, there's no question that President Trump when he was elected had a very different message than the typical Republican that's out there. He ran as a Republican. In fact, there was some dispute early on whether he would run as a Republican, Democrat or independent because of his own background on that, and I think most people in America see him as a different kind of Republican with a different set of issues that he's bringing up.

That's fine. He's the president of the United States. He's head of our party as president of the United States, de facto in that role. But I think people also know what basic Republicans' values are, dealing with people in poverty, dealing with opportunity for every single individual, trying to protect life at every stage of life, trying to find ways to be able to help people achieve new things they haven't been able to do before, whether it's education or whatever it may be.

Those are basic values that will continue to articulate. We have differences in our party. There's no great shock with that, that we all don't see it the same. But that is the uniquenees of what we are.

Republicans in Oklahoma don't think the same as Republicans in Ohio or New York or California. But we all share the same party and we're all trying to work through the differences in that.

TAPPER: All right. Senator, good to see you. Thanks so much for coming in.

LANKFORD: Good to see you as well.

TAPPER: Really appreciate it.

We hear Republicans calling for bipartisanship. So, are Democrats open to making deals and getting some work done on Capitol Hill? We'll talk to Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, a leading voice in his party, right after this quick break.


[15:25:32] TAPPER: Welcome back to the lead.

Sticking with politics, President Trump announced his new proposal today to curb legal immigration, claiming it will strengthen the American economy and help American workers.

Joining me now to talk about this and much more is the Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois.

Senator, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: So, the White House proposed what it calls a merit-based immigration system that would effectively cut illegal immigration by 50 percent. He says unskilled immigration hurts American workers. What's your response?

DURBIN: I can tell you, a lot of the jobs filled by these immigrants are jobs that Americans don't care to fill. You know, picking crops out in the field, there's not a long line of Americans wanting to do that. When you go to the packinghouses, the poultry processing plants, you find an awful lot of immigrants taking these dirty, hot, sweaty jobs and there aren't a lot of Americans standing in line trying to get that opportunity.

So, I think they're overlooking the obvious. There are some jobs immigrants will take that Americans, frankly, won't take.

TAPPER: I believe Senator Schumer said that the immigration bill is a nonstarter. Does that mean Democrats will do everything they can to prevent it from even being voted upon?

DURBIN: Well, let me tell you how the Senate works. If this bill is serious, it currently has two sponsors. Two Republican sponsors. That's all.

But if it's a serious bill, it will go to committee, judiciary committee, and there may be others. We may have hearing on it to discuss moving forward. There's a process, and we've got to get back to it.

We're in this whole world of reconciliation which, to your viewers, might not mean much, but we're not going to the regular process of the Senate. It's time to return to it, particularly on an issue like immigration.

TAPPER: Well, that's not how it worked with health care, which is what you're talking about obviously. There wasn't the normal hearing process.

But the question still stands. If it goes through the normal process, if it emerges on the floor of the Senate with basically intact as to what President Trump and Senators Cotton and Perdue announced today, will Democrats do everything they can to stop it from becoming law?

DURBIN: Jake, if it goes through the regular process, it's going to be changed. I guarantee you. There will be things added to it, things deleted. It's what the presses is all about. It's not going to come as written before as take it or leave it. And if that is the case, if it's take or leave it, I'm afraid the Senate will leave it.

TAPPER: So, President Trump signed the Russian sanctions bill this morning. Clearly, he did it with reservation. He said, in part, quote: As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

Is this deal going to be effective, do you think? DURBIN: This is the darndest thing I've seen. You know, the

administration told us, hold back, hold back, on the Russian sanctions, and finally the Senate especially and Congress, the House as well, enough. We've got to do something and be decisive when it comes to them interfering in our election. The president signing statement today is like nothing I've ever read before.

He finally, I don't know if he finally, but he realized that the language sent him by the Republicans and Democrats really kind of limited his authority when it came to lifting these sanctions. It shows the suspicion that many have on both sides of the aisle about his judgment when it comes to foreign policy at this point. The fact that he can negotiate better, there's no evidence of that.

TAPPER: Well, that's exactly the point. I mean, also in the statement he said, quote, the bill remains seriously flawed particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate. I mean, you are saying, essentially, the president is right in a sense that the point of the law is to tie his hands because so many in Congress from both parties, at the very least, disagree with his stance to Russia.

DURBIN: You got a point there.

TAPPER: "The New York Times" reported that the Justice Department is prepping to investigate and litigate race-based discrimination in colleges and universities. Some say that the Trump administration is planning to go after affirmative action in colleges and universities. Is that your understanding?

DURBIN: It's not a surprise. Senator Jeff Sessions really couldn't understand the concern about voting rights, discrimination based on race and gender and sexual orientation. He really did have some pretty strong feelings when it came to affirmative action. And so, they're going after discrimination against white Americans.

Now, I don't -- I'm not going to say that every affirmative action plan is perfect, but if you're going to put a list -- a litany of the most likely discrimination in America, it isn't going to start with that.

TAPPER: Where do you -- so you think this is coming from Senator Sessions, now Attorney General Sessions?

DURBIN: It comes on it of the Department of Justice, doesn't it?

TAPPER: The president has discussed ending the government subsidy to insurance companies that help lower income Americans pay for health care. You and other Senate Democrats have called for a more bipartisan effort. What is the Democrats' plan to fix Obamacare now that the Republican effort has stumbled?

DURBIN: Here's the good news. Immediately after that bill, the Republican repeal bill failed on the floor --