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North Korean Threat; Interview With Texas Congressman Will Hurd; President Trump's Poll Numbers Hit New Low; Trump Targets Legal Immigration; Russia: Trump Signing Sanctions Shows "Total Weakness"; GOP Lawmakers Starting to Openly Ignore Trump Demands. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Slash the level of legal immigration into the United States by keeping many low-skilled workers out -- tonight, the administration's policy, its pitch, and the heated pushback to tough questions.

Sinking support. The president's approval rating is worse than ever in a new poll, with most Americans saying he's not honest, intelligent, or level-headed. Are the numbers encouraging GOP lawmakers to turn their backs on the president?

Reluctant. The president finally signs the Russia sanctions bill,despite calling it unconstitutional and seriously flawed. One top Democrat fears Mr. Trump may shirk his duty to impose the sanctions and punish Vladimir Putin.

And missile threat. The U.S. tests its defenses just days after North Korea's most ominous missile launch yet. Tonight, Kim Jong-un's provocations may be posing an immediate danger to commercial aircraft and passengers on board.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We are following breaking news tonight, a heated debate over the president's support of a plan to crack down on legal immigration, cutting it in half within a decade.

Mr. Trump claiming the plan would protect low-income American workers by dramatically cutting the number of unskilled laborers allowed to enter the United States. The so-called merit-based system is expected to face very strong opposition in Congress.

Also tonight, Vladimir Putin's government is accusing the Trump administration of "total weakness" after the president signed new sanctions on Russia into law. Mr. Trump finally signing the bill that's been on his desk for days, while declaring that it's unconstitutional and seriously flawed. His statement criticizing the sanctions also raising questions about how and if he will actually implement them. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is warning that the president may

try to wriggle out of his duty to punish Moscow for its election meddling.

We are also tracking the declining ratings of the president's performance in office. In a new Quinnipiac poll, his approval rating sinks to only 33 percent. That's the lowest point yet in that survey. Most Americans disapproving of the president's handling of multiple issues, with a whopping 71 percent of Americans saying he's not level- headed.

This hour, I will talk about those stories and more with Republican Congressman Will Hurd. He's a member of the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the administration is on the defensive on multiple issues today, including the proposed crackdown on legal immigration. You were in that briefing today. Update our viewers.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was another bumpy day here at the White House, as a top policy adviser sparred with reporters over a new immigration proposal. President Trump, meanwhile, is taking new hits on his standing here in Washington as Congress has essentially forced his hand to sign a new Russia sanctions bill.

And the White House is responding to statements from the president that he has had calls with multiple people, people who say those calls didn't happen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): As the president rolled out a new immigration plan that prioritizes English-speaking people coming into the U.S., the White House sent one of its top policy advisers, Stephen Miller, to defend the proposal as all-American.

But Miller bristled when reminded of what the Statue of Liberty has said to generations of immigrants, Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

(on camera): Aren't you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you're telling them, you have to speak English? Can't people learn how to speak English when they get here?

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Well, first of all, right now, it's a requirement that to be naturalized you have to speak English.

So the notion that speaking English wouldn't be a part of immigration systems would be actually very ahistorical. Secondly, I don't want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and light in the world.

It's a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you're referring that was added later is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty.

But more fundamentally, the history...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: You're saying that that does not represent what the country has always thought of as...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: ... immigration coming into this country?

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: I'm saying the notion...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: Stephen, I'm sorry. That sounds like some National Park revisionism.

Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Jim, actually, I have to honestly say, I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English.

This actually -- it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree, that, in your mind -- no, this is an amazing -- this is an amazing moment. This is an amazing moment...

ACOSTA: (OFF-MIKE) sounds like you're trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country through this policy.

[18:05:03]

MILLER: Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you have ever said. And for you, that's still a really -- the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president unveiled his immigration plan in front of the cameras.

But when it came to one of the biggest pieces of legislation of his administration, a Russia sanctions bill, Mr. Trump chose to remain behind closed doors. The president signed the measure passed overwhelmingly in Congress, then protested in a statement that this legislation is significantly flawed, labeling portions that limit his ability to lift sanctions on Russia as clearly unconstitutional provisions.

The president's response one day after the White House conceded he weighed in on a misleading statement for his son about a meeting with a Russian attorney struck some Republicans as over the top.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: I'm kind of chuckling. That is such a Trumpian statement. The fact is, though, is that the legislative the legislative branch has a role in this. We are exerting that role.

ACOSTA: the president was forced to swallow the sanctions bill as new questions are being raised about his credibility that boil down to his overall trustworthiness. Take what happened on Monday, when he bragged that even the president of Mexico was praising his success in slowing unauthorized border crossings.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, the border was a tremendous problem, and now close to 80 percent stoppage and even the president of Mexico called me.

ACOSTA: Problem is the Mexican government said that call didn't happen, adding in a statement: "President Enrique Pena Nieto has not been in recent communications via telephone with President Donald Trump."

TRUMP: Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts, right?

ACOSTA: Then there is the president's recent controversial speech to the Boy Scouts that he turned into a political rally. The president told "The Wall Street Journal," "I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them and they were very thankful."

But a Boy Scouts official told CNN there was no such call.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And on Mexico, he was referencing a conversation that they had had at the G20 summit where they specifically talked about the issues that he referenced.

In terms of the Boy Scouts, multiple members of the Boy Scout leadership, following his speech there that day, congratulated him, praised him, and offered quite -- I'm looking for the word -- quite powerful compliments following his speech.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's immigration proposal, top Republicans already questioning whether it will go anywhere up on Capitol Hill.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham complained the White House plan at this point could harm his state's agricultural industry and tourism industry, Wolf. That is going to be a sentiment shared by lots of Republicans and Democrats across the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure it will. All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Even as the president signed the Russia sanctions bill, there are now new questions tonight about why the State Department isn't taking advantage of millions of dollars to fight disinformation and propaganda put out by Moscow.

Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

So, Michelle, what are you learning?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

So, as you have the president criticizing this new Russia sanctions legislation even as he signs it, you have a bipartisan group of senators hitting out at the State Department for not yet spending or even requesting tens of millions of dollars that have been already set aside specifically to counter propaganda and fake news spread by Russia, $60 million of which expires in less than two months.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Stopping the spread of terrorist propaganda online has been a top priority since the early days of fighting ISIS. Last year, that effort was broadened by Congress to include combating Russian President Vladimir Putin's powerful fake news and disinformation operations.

But now prominent senators, including Republicans, are mystified as to why the State Department has yet to formally request $60 million already approved for that purpose, and hasn't spent nearly $20 million that they currently have.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I created this account. It's an account to allow front-line states like the Baltic states, Georgia, the Ukraine, to fight back against Russian interference in their economy and their democracy. They are under siege by Russia. We are trying to help our allies.

If the secretary of state says, I don't want to use this money, then that's just yet another sign that when it comes to Russia, we are incredibly weak. I can't figure this out.

KOSINSKI: Graham says he will write a letter to Secretary of State Tillerson, who criticized the new sanctions against Russia passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Neither the president nor I are very happy about that. We were clear that we didn't think it was going to be helpful to our efforts.

KOSINSKI: The money available to Tillerson would also counter disinformation within the United States and terrorist propaganda seeking to spur lone wolves to attack even on U.S. soil.

[18:10:02] So, why not use it? The special envoy to the coalition against ISIS

Brett McGurk, says it's about the broader scrutiny now of all State Department spending.

BRETT MCGURK, U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Before you put that money in a pot, you want to make sure that it is delivering the results you want to deliver. So, I think there is a review going of everything of what we are doing to make sure that it is effective.

KOSINSKI (on camera): So if there's tens of millions of additional dollars available for exactly that goal, isn't the urgency there to use it?

MCGURK: I would say, again, I think the secretary addressed yesterday we are not resource-poor in this overall fight. We have the resources we need to carry on the fight.

KOSINSKI: Is some of that hesitation to avoid angering Russia?

MCGURK: I have never heard that discussed, no.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): But a former State Department official was cited by Politico. One Tillerson aide, R.C. Hammond, suggested the money is unwelcome because any extra funding for programs to counter Russian media influence would anger Moscow.

Hammond today denies he ever said that. He says Tillerson's inner circle and staffers that manage those funds in the Global Engagement Center have gone back and forth multiple times working on a spending plan that Tillerson. Hammond tells CNN he's not worried about the $60 million set to expire on September 30, adding that if Senator Graham did send Tillerson a letter asking if Russia has anything to do with this, Graham would be -- quote -- "wasting his ink."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: Well, others in Congress are angrily using their ink.

Republican Senator Rob Portman teaming with Democrat Chris Murphy to send a scathing statement to the State Department, urging them to act without delay and saying this is indefensible. Every day, they say ISIS is spreading terrorist propaganda and Russia is implementing a sophisticated disinformation campaign to undermine the United States and its allies.

So, you have a source saying they were told this delay has to do with Russia. You have the State Department saying, no, it's not, we just don't want to waste money. But then you have other sources here in the State Department telling CNN that confusion here, a lot of staffing contribute to such delays -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Michelle, thank you, Michelle Kosinski over at the State Department.

Let's get back to breaking news on immigration and talk about that and more with Congressman Will Hurd. He's a Republican on both the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Always a pleasure to be on, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want you to react to White House senior adviser Stephen Miller. Do you agree with his stance that, in the application process, the United States should favor applicants who can already speak English as one factor?

HURD: Well, when we look at trying to fix our broken immigration system, we should be looking at trying to turn it into a market-based system.

And, you know, so, I think this proposal that was introduced today, it doesn't have a chance of going anywhere, especially in the Senate. If you can't have a bipartisan piece of legislation on immigration, it's not going to go anywhere in the Senate.

So, this is, I think, something that has no place to go.

BLITZER: Your district obviously borders Mexico, Texas. How much of an impact -- let's say it were to pass, this legislation that the president is proposing. How much of an impact would it have on your district's economy?

HURD: Well, it probably would have a large impact. I haven't looked at the details of it because, again, I don't think this is going to go anywhere.

We should remember that we have benefited from the brain drain of every other country, and I want to continue that. We have benefited from that for the last couple of decades. And I want to benefit from the hardworking drain, too. If you're going to be a productive member of our society, let's get you here as quickly as possible, but let's do it legally.

And there are many things that we can be doing to streamline our immigration system. As an undercover officer in the CIA, during the day, I had to stamp visas in one of my tours. So I can talk about the difficulties and ways to streamline this until you're blue in the face, Wolf.

But we need to be streamlining this and it needs to be market-based. It's 2017. We really can achieve that.

BLITZER: Yes, so you're obviously critical of this significant shift in legal immigration.

Let's talk about what we just heard from Michelle Kosinski over at the State Department. Secretary Tillerson has not yet spent or even requested the millions of dollars set aside to stop terrorist propaganda, Russian propaganda, Russian disinformation.

Do you agree with Senator Lindsey Graham, who questions why the Trump administration is so different apparently than so many others when it comes to Russia?

HURD: Well, I think this is a concern; $60 million is a lot of money to spend by the end of the fiscal year, which is the end of September.

But I think part of the problem is all the key individuals that would be involved in shaping a policy around this haven't been approved by the Senate, so there is probably some questions of direction. You know, the Russians were definitely involved in trying to influence our elections. They are some of the best in the world when it comes to disinformation.

And we as a country need to be having a broader conversation about, what is our counter disinformation strategy? It's not -- it doesn't just sit with the State Department's responsibility alone.

[18:15:03]

I was recently out in Eastern Europe. I was in Estonia, Poland, Ukraine, and I have learned the closer you are to Russia, the less likely you are to believe what they say. And the converse of that is true as well. The farther you are, the more likely you are to be influenced by this.

And we need to be taking a whole-of-government approach and looking at working with civil society as well. This is a big issue, not only with Russia, but as you all alluded to earlier, in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

We can continue to put the pressure on ISIS in Iraq and Syria and our military is doing a good job about that, but we have to be countering the ideology. And the ability to propagate a message and influence people even 6,000 miles away using social media is something that we have to deal with.

The State Department plays an important role, and they should be utilizing all the funds that they have available. But this is much broader than just the State Department.

BLITZER: As you know, speaking of Russia, the president did sign the Russia sanctions legislation into law today, but he added this, a very significant statement in what's called his signing statement.

"My administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations."

He doesn't believe a lot of these provisions are constitutional. He seems to be suggesting he's going to do what he wants, irrespective of what the overwhelming majority of the House and Senate wants. Are you concerned about that?

HURD: Well, I would say not too many things pass the House with over 400 votes, and definitely not many things pass the Senate with over 90. So, I think my colleagues and I have a different perspective on this.

And also this is -- there's co-equal branches of governments. And I think, with signing this into law, it's now law and it has to be followed. These were important sanctions, not only on Russia, but on North Korea and Iran as well.

And, again, this is -- we have to continue to put pressure on the Russians to stop their activities in our country. We have also got to make sure that we continue to put pressure on North Korea to prevent them from having a true intercontinental ballistic missile that can be topped with a nuclear warhead that could really impact the homeland of the United States.

And these sanctions that passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan fashion in the House and Senate are good tools to do that.

BLITZER: Yes, passed the House of Representatives 419-3. It passed the Senate 98-2.

But, you know, the president in a statement, personal statement, he also released in connection with the signing of the sanctions bill, he really swiped all of you in Congress, the House and Senate. Let me read part of that.

"The bill remains seriously flawed, particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate."

Then he said this: "Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking."

And then he said this: "I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected as president. I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress."

That's a tough statement. He really took a hit at you guys.

HURD: Well, it's his prerogative. It's a free country. You say what you say.

But when 98 senators and 419 members of the House come together, I think that's a pretty powerful statement as well as what we expect on how foreign policy should be conducted, especially when it comes to Russia, North Korea and Iran.

These are three big issues, and we should be focusing on how do we have a strategy to counter these threats, rather than any potential infighting in Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: Yes, don't forget, though, the president said he built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. He can negotiate better than you.

Congressman, stand by. We are getting new information on North Korea. I want to pick your brain on that and more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:45]

BLITZER: We're back with Republican Congressman Will Hurd following breaking news on the president's support for a new crackdown on legal immigration.

Congressman, I want you to stand by.

We have another breaking story. The State Department just put out an official travel alert banning U.S. citizens from going to North Korea, this as the U.S. is testing its defenses and escalating -- amid escalating tensions with Kim Jong-un's regime.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, just days after a dangerous new missile test by North Korea, the U.S. conducted a missile test of its own.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They did indeed, Wolf. There are potential new threats from these North Korean missile launches, but indeed the U.S. sending back its own message.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): An unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile flew more than 4,000 miles into the Pacific after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Air Force emphasizing it was not a response to recent North Korean missile launches, but a long-planned test that demonstrates the ability of the U.S. to defend itself.

Republican hawks continuing to press for a tough approach.

[18:25:05]

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We should have a clear message that this threat is not going to mature to the point that it can America with a nuclear-tipped ICBM, that if we have to use military force, we will, and I don't believe North Korea will ever change until they believe America is serious about the military option.

STARR: Defense conservatives worried after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to at least publicly soften the U.S. tone.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And we're trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy. We are not your threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us. And we have to respond.

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Diplomacy is not giving in. Talking to somebody is not giving in.

STARR: The White House won't be pinned down on what might happen next.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I have said many times before, we're not going to broadcast our actions and we're keeping all options on the table.

STARR: There is a growing sense that any U.S. action would be a last resort.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You always have to apply overwhelming force to make sure that your opponent doesn't get the next move. In North Korea, you don't know what that next move is going to be.

STARR: A new problem. Last Friday, some seven to nine minutes before North Korea's latest ICBM test missile hit the water, an Air France flight flew through a corridor just two miles from the impact zone.

By the time the missile hit, the airplane was dozens of miles away. But North Korea doesn't warn when and where its launches are happening. Aviation experts say it wasn't a close call for the plane being at risk of a shoot-down, but it could lead to avoiding certain flight paths in Asia.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: This is something that is billions and billions to one as far as probability, but again, it's not something we can just discard and say, oh, well, we don't think it's going to happen so therefore we don't need to do anything about it. It's something that still needs to be assessed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So, we have now learned that within eight minutes of that North Korean launch last Friday, the Japanese government did warn airlines and ships in the area about it all.

The Air France flight continued on its way. It was well past the impact zone when it got the message, but it is now leading to some discussion about whether some airlines might decide to switch their flight paths through that portion of Asia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect they might.

All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

Let's get back to Congressman Will Hurd of Texas.

Congressman, how dangerous is all this ratcheting up that is going on, especially given the fact that Air France flight flew through a corridor, what, just about two miles from the impact zone?

HURD: Well, this is probably one of the most dangerous parts of the world. The ability to escalate, Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator could potentially kill tens of millions of people with some of his weapons. He could kill hundreds of thousands of people in Seoul with just long-range artillery. And, so we have to -- we have to use all tools in our tool kit to deal

with this. One thing that we need to be able to do and be prepared to do is we need to be prepared with our anti-missile batteries to shoot down the next test. We need to make sure that our allies in the region, like South Korea and Japan, start improving some of the intelligence cooperation between them.

There has been longstanding cultural differences between those two countries, but the direct threat and the immediate threat of Kim Jong- un is important. And we still have to try to work with China on putting additional sanctions on North Korea; 90 percent of North Korean's economy comes through China.

And these are some of the tools we should be using. But earlier in the show, you all talked with the North Korean defector from London, I believe. And one of the things that he's very clear and talked about, and I had the chance to visit with him when I was on the subcontinent -- on the peninsula -- excuse me -- recently.

He said that Kim Jong-un will stop at nothing to stay in power. And he knows that if there is a nuclear fight, he's not going to be in power. And so what is the opportunity for him to de-escalate? And that's where the new South Korean president could potentially come in.

This is a complicated issue. And, again, one of the few places in the world that could -- because of a misstep, tens of millions of people could die.

BLITZER: Would you support direct talks between the United States and North Korea at a high level?

HURD: I think if any talks happen, it would have to be at a high level. I think having the South Korean president, you know, the new South Korean president, is -- has always been interested in -- and probably a little bit more to the left than the previous predecessors -- in engaging North Korea.

That may be a potential first step. But this is a complicated part of the world, and we need to make sure that we are engaging all of our allies that has this impact, because, you know, again, South Korea and Japan are closer threats than anyone.

And so they should be -- everything we do should be in concert together.

[18:30:14] BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget there are 28,000 U.S. troops along the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and another 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

HURD: Wolf, always a pleasure.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more on the controversial legislation that would slash legal immigration in half over the next decade. Can White House support help it pass? Plus, the president's approval rating hitting a record low in a new

poll, but it also contains another number the White House may find even more troubling.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:25] BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the Trump administration strongly defending a new proposal embraced by the president that would cut legal immigration into the United States in half over a decade. The president's top policy advisor sparring with reporters as he tried to portray the plan as pro-American.

Let's bring in our correspondents, analysts and specialists.

And Jeff Zeleny, you listened very carefully. I'm going to play a little part of the exchange our colleague, Jim Acosta, had with Stephen Miller on this sensitive issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What you're proposing or what the president is proposing here does not sound like it's in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration. The Statue of Liberty says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." It doesn't say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer.

Aren't you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you're telling them, "You have to speak English"? Can't people learn how to speak English when they get here?

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: Well, first of all, right now it's a requirement that to be naturalized, you have to speak English. So the notion that speaking English wouldn't be a part of immigration systems would be actually very ahistorical.

Secondly, I don't want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty enlightening the world. It's a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you're referring to was added later. It's not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty, but more fundamentally, the history -- but more fundamentally...

ACOSTA: You're saying that that does not represent what the country has always thought of as immigration coming into this country?

MILLER: I'm seeing that the notion that -- I'm saying the notion that -- I'm saying the notion...

ACOSTA: Stephen, I'm sorry.

MILLER: Let me ask you a question.

ACOSTA: That sounds like some national park revisionism.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And it went on and on and on, as we all know...

ZELENY: It did.

BLITZER: ... by now. So what is the White House trying to achieve now?

ZELENY: Wolf, I think first and foremost, the White House is trying to appeal to their base. They've had a series of defeats here. So this immigration bill -- it's not new, actually. These two senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, David Purdue of Georgia, proposed this in February. The White House signing onto this today to send a message to their base that they are still into this.

But what this program and legislation is, it's quite interesting. It would fundamentally change immigration here. But it would operate through a points-based system. And if you speak English, you would get more points. It would curtail the number of family members who could come here, and it would overhaul the illegal immigration.

But the question here, I think, and one that the White House was not really answering is what about Donald Trump and his businesses? This would fundamentally affect his workers at Mar-a-Lago, his other hotels here. So, the White House was less inclined to answer those questions, more inclined to have a quarrel about the Statue of Liberty there. But the reality here is this bill is not likely to pass.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, what about that, Gloria? Do you think it has a chance at all of getting through the House and Senate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I don't. I don't think it has a chance. You'd need to break a filibuster, because certainly, it would be filibustered, which would mean that it would need to be more than 60 votes. And that's just not going to happen.

I mean, we heard Lindsey Graham earlier today talking about how it would be devastating to his state, because his state depends on agriculture and tourism, as does Mar-a-Lago.

You heard Dianne Feinstein, just -- just when you interviewed her talking about how this would be devastating to her state. So, I think you'd have kind of a bipartisan group of senators who would not let this go through.

Look, Wolf, the Senate has been focused for years on trying to figure out a way to deal with the large immigration problem, which is the question of 11 million undocumented workers in this country. It has not really been focusing at all, aside from this legislation, on the question of how to curb legal immigration or how to cut it in half, as this measure would do.

And there are lots of economists who say, "Look, we are at 4.4 percent unemployment in this country. We need those workers in to do jobs -- to fill those jobs that are not being filled otherwise, and that it would create an economic problem in this country." So, I agree with Jeff here. I think this is a proposal that, a, is

trying to appeal to the president's base on the very hot-button issue of immigration, because there isn't a wall that is being built.

And, you know, I think he's also trying to change the subject and say, "Look, I'm trying to get down to legislation to things that I promised you; and we haven't been able to deliver on health care so I want to talk about immigration."

[18:40:07] BLITZER: Yes, and this Quinnipiac poll shows that, even among his base Republicans, he's losing support right now.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Bianna, how -- let's say this were to become the new law. How would it impact the U.S. economy?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, Gloria is absolutely right. It is a bit puzzling that you have a president who's so focused on growing the economy to want to clamp down on legal immigration because, of course, you do need immigrant workers to grow the economy in the U.S. Labor force participation, actually, for immigrants is higher than for native-born Americans.

And on a number of issues regarding sectors like Gloria mentioned, like agriculture, like tourism. They are valued employees in a number of states, not just South Carolina for Lindsey Graham. But you're talking about Texas, California, New York as well.

BORGER: Florida.

GOLODRYGA: And Florida, exactly.

So, also another critical point to mention is the aging population. I mean, that is a critical point when you're talking about economic growth. We're starting to see a bit of a trend toward an aging population in the U.S. When you have more immigrants come into the country, that balances it out.

I think what the president was actually trying to do was shift the focus on something else he signed today and the sanctions on the Russia bill that he wanted to deflect away from, and focus on this instead.

BLITZER: You heard, David Swerdlick, the president's senior policy advisor, Stephen Miller, at that contentious briefing today. He said the bill was also designed to help African-Americans, Hispanic, the Hispanic community, unemployed workers, because if you restrict lower level, let's say, immigrants from coming to the United States, maybe the unemployment numbers would go down for those communities.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. So, even though only 8 percent of African-Americans voted for President Trump, when you talk to those African-Americans that did vote for President Trump, frequently, people do bring up this stance on immigration as one of the things that motivated their vote. And when forced to defend that, Stephen Miller at the briefing today

brought out the research of Harvard's George Borjas. He brought out some of the statements of members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to back up this idea that immigrants hurt low-income African-Americans and Latino Americans.

That being said, it's hard to see this as anything other than a naked pander to communities of color, to voters of color, because on every other issue, whether it's criminal justice, whether it's health care, whether it's affirmative action, foreign policy, on down the line, they are going in a direction opposite of what those voters want.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. Don't go too far away. Just ahead, is the president laying the groundwork to ignore the Russia sanctions legislation that he signed into law today? More with our political team right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:29] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Russia is firing back at the Trump administration tonight after the president signed sanctions legislation against Moscow into law. The president saying he did it for national unity, even though he believes the sanctions bill forced on him by Congress is unconstitutional and significantly flawed.

Gloria, he also in the process, he took a direct hit, a direct swipe at Congress, basically suggesting that on foreign policy it's useless. Let me read a little bit of his statement.

The bill remains seriously flawed, particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. After limiting the executive's flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people.

And then he added this, I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

So, is he basically suggesting Congress is a waste of time?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And what he's upset about is that Congress has the final say on sanctions. And the reason this occurred by such overwhelming majority is not only the fact that members of Congress believe this ought to be in retaliation for Russia hacking into our election, but also because it's very clear they don't trust this president on the issue of Russia, period, and they wanted to have the final say.

And John McCain today, in a statement he released, reminded the president there are three co-equal branches of government. And he said, this bill has already proven the wisdom of that choice.

It's clear the president felt boxed in because he was boxed in by the Congress on purpose. So, he can swipe at these overwhelming majorities all he wants, Wolf, but they gave him no choice but to sign this bill because if he had vetoed it, it clearly would have been overridden.

BLITZER: Certainly would have been, Bianna. What, 419-3 in the House, 98-2 in the Senate. What kind of message does what we're seeing in Washington now send to Putin?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, Putin obviously and Russia interpreting what their own spin as well, taking the president's words and using it against him in Russia media. They're labeling the sanctions as, quote, quoting the president, saying it's potentially unconstitutional and that it's significantly flawed.

[18:50:00] The Prime Minister Medvedev on his Twitter account tweeted, the Trump has shown it's total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way.

And if you think about what President Trump has said about what he admires in foreign leaders, especially in Vladimir Putin, someone who is very powerful, for that country and that president to turn back around and call President Trump someone who is weak, I mean, that definitely has to hurt and be an embarrassment and black eye for the president.

And the greatest irony here is Gloria is right. If the president had come out initially and said I support what the intelligence community has told me time and time again, that Russia did interfere in the election, we wouldn't be here. We're in a situation where Congress felt they had no choice but to do what they did. And now, we're in a position where Russia is angry and trying to use this to their advantage and, of course, President Trump is trying to focus on something else.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting --

BORGER: And, Wolf, if I could --

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: If I could just add, Wolf, that we hear the president complaining more about Congress and this sanctions bill than we have heard him complain about the 755 embassy personnel who are now being told they have to leave Russia. We haven't heard about that.

BLITZER: Yes. There is a silence on that.

Very quickly --

GOLODRYGA: And we probably won't.

BLITZER: Yes.

Very quickly, Jeff, the new Quinnipiac University poll, his job approval number now only 33 percent, 61 percent of the American public according to this poll disapprove of the job he's doing. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is very low.

One is because of a lack of accomplishment overall. We've seen health care. We've seen other things.

But people did not vote for him because of Russia. This Russia cloud without question is bringing down his approval. It's one of the reasons they're going back to their base on immigration and other things. Never mind tax reform. I talked to a senior Republican today at the Chamber of Commerce who said this is supposed to be tax reform week as well.

They're not talking about it. They're trying to get their approval rating up. It's very low.

BLITZER: All right.

ZELENY: No one supported him because of Russia.

BLITZER: We got more news coming up. Everybody stick around. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:26] BLITZER: Tonight, key Republicans are brushing aside a new plea by the White House urging them not to give up on repealing and replacing Obamacare. After an embarrassing health care defeat in the Senate, there is a new willingness, at least among some Republican lawmakers, to ignore the president and to reach out to Democrats.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is up on Capitol Hill for us.

Ryan, we're seeing Republicans now openly pushing back at the president.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And health care is really just one example of a growing list of issues where there seems to be a clear lack of cooperation between the White House and Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is making it clear that despite setbacks, repealing and replacing Obamacare should be the priority. But some GOP lawmakers are pushing back.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: We just don't want them to give up. We haven't given up on trying to repeal and replace. We don't think they should either.

NOBLES: This as Republican leaders led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appear ready to move on to tax reform.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Comprehensive tax reform represents the single most important action we can take now to grow the economy and help middle class families finally get ahead. NOBLES: The break with the White House on health care has opened

Republicans up to working with Democrats. In September, the Senate Health Committee will hold a bipartisan committee on stabilizing insurance markets. A move welcome on both sides of the aisle.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: We've got to fix this thing because it's not working. The status quo is failing the people I represent in Ohio and it deserves to be fixed.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: What we've learned is when you do it with one party, it becomes political. It becomes a gotcha exercise.

NOBLES: As Congress appears content to let the process play out, the president is growing impatient. In a skating tweet he wrote, quote: Republicans in the Senate will never win if they don't go to a 51-vote majority now. They look like fools and are just wasting time.

An attack that McConnell brushed off by explaining there is simply no will in the Senate to abandon the 60-vote threshold for most pieces of legislation.

MCCONNELL: There are not the votes in the Senate as I have said repeatedly to the president and to all of you to change the rules of the Senate. There are not enough even required, 51 or 50 Republicans to agree to do that. The votes are simply not there.

NOBLES: And there is a growing level of concern from his rank and file members. South Carolina's Tim Scott telling "The Washington Post", quote, we work for the American people. We don't work for the president.

Arizona's Jeff Flake, who's up for re-election in 2018 and could potentially face a White House-backed primary challenger, wrote a scathing indictment on GOP capitulation to the president, vowing to challenge the administration when necessary.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We've got to get away from this attitude that you have to agree with the president and that a senator should be a rubber stamp for everything the president wants at all times.

NOBLES: A criticism the White House willingly used as an opportunity to fire back at the Arizona senator.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he would serve his constituents much better if he was less focused on writing a book and attacking the president than passing legislation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And despite this breakdown in cooperation between the White House and Capitol Hill, there are some Republican leaders optimistic with John Kelly now in as chief of staff. The majority whip, John Cornyn of Texas, telling CNN that he believes Kelly could bring a calming -- an impression to the White House and said that it would hopefully get rid of all the chaos and confusion that currently exists on Pennsylvania Avenue -- Wolf.

BURNETT: Lots of confusion, indeed.

All right. Ryan, thanks very much. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:29] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Russia is firing back at the Trump administration tonight after the president signed sanctions legislation against Moscow into law. The president saying he did it for national unity, even though he believes the sanctions bill forced on him by Congress is unconstitutional and significantly flawed.

Gloria, he also in the process, he took a direct hit, a direct swipe at Congress, basically suggesting that on foreign policy it's useless. Let me read a little bit of his statement.

The bill remains seriously flawed, particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. After limiting the executive's flexibility, this bill makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people.

And then he added this, I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.

So, is he basically suggesting Congress is a waste of time?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And what he's upset about is that Congress has the final say on sanctions. And the reason this occurred by such overwhelming majority is not only the fact that members of Congress believe this ought to be in retaliation for Russia hacking into our election, but also because it's very clear they don't trust this president on the issue of Russia, period, and they wanted to have the final say.

And John McCain today, in a statement he released, reminded the president there are three co-equal branches of government. And he said, this bill has already proven the wisdom of that choice.

It's clear the president felt boxed in because he was boxed in by the Congress on purpose. So, he can swipe at these overwhelming majorities all he wants, Wolf, but they gave him no choice but to sign this bill because if he had vetoed it, it clearly would have been overridden.

BLITZER: Certainly would have been, Bianna. What, 419-3 in the House, 98-2 in the Senate. What kind of message does what we're seeing in Washington now send to Putin? BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, Putin

obviously and Russia interpreting what their own spin as well, taking the president's words and using it against him in Russia media. They're labeling the sanctions as, quote, quoting the president, saying it's potentially unconstitutional and that it's significantly flawed.

[18:50:00] The Prime Minister Medvedev on his Twitter account tweeted, the Trump has shown it's total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way.

And if you think about what President Trump has said about what he admires in foreign leaders, especially in Vladimir Putin, someone who is very powerful, for that country and that president to turn back around and call President Trump someone who is weak, I mean, that definitely has to hurt and be an embarrassment and black eye for the president.

And the greatest irony here is Gloria is right. If the president had come out initially and said I support what the intelligence community has told me time and time again, that Russia did interfere in the election, we wouldn't be here. We're in a situation where Congress felt they had no choice but to do what they did. And now, we're in a position where Russia is angry and trying to use this to their advantage and, of course, President Trump is trying to focus on something else.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting --

BORGER: And, Wolf, if I could --

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: If I could just add, Wolf, that we hear the president complaining more about Congress and this sanctions bill than we have heard him complain about the 755 embassy personnel who are now being told they have to leave Russia. We haven't heard about that.

BLITZER: Yes. There is a silence on that.

Very quickly --

GOLODRYGA: And we probably won't.

BLITZER: Yes.

Very quickly, Jeff, the new Quinnipiac University poll, his job approval number now only 33 percent, 61 percent of the American public according to this poll disapprove of the job he's doing.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is very low. One is because of a lack of accomplishment overall. We've seen health care. We've seen other things.

But people did not vote for him because of Russia. This Russia cloud without question is bringing down his approval. It's one of the reasons they're going back to their base on immigration and other things. Never mind tax reform. I talked to a senior Republican today at the Chamber of Commerce who said this is supposed to be tax reform week as well.

They're not talking about it. They're trying to get their approval rating up. It's very low.

BLITZER: All right.

ZELENY: No one supported him because of Russia.

BLITZER: We got more news coming up. Everybody stick around. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:26] BLITZER: Tonight, key Republicans are brushing aside a new plea by the White House urging them not to give up on repealing and replacing Obamacare. After an embarrassing health care defeat in the Senate, there is a new willingness, at least among some Republican lawmakers, to ignore the president and to reach out to Democrats.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is up on Capitol Hill for us.

Ryan, we're seeing Republicans now openly pushing back at the president.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And health care is really just one example of a growing list of issues where there seems to be a clear lack of cooperation between the White House and Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, the White House is making it clear that despite setbacks, repealing and replacing Obamacare should be the priority. But some GOP lawmakers are pushing back.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: We just don't want them to give up. We haven't given up on trying to repeal and replace. We don't think they should either.

NOBLES: This as Republican leaders led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appear ready to move on to tax reform.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Comprehensive tax reform represents the single most important action we can take now to grow the economy and help middle class families finally get ahead.

NOBLES: The break with the White House on health care has opened Republicans up to working with Democrats. In September, the Senate Health Committee will hold a bipartisan committee on stabilizing insurance markets. A move welcome on both sides of the aisle.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: We've got to fix this thing because it's not working. The status quo is failing the people I represent in Ohio and it deserves to be fixed.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: What we've learned is when you do it with one party, it becomes political. It becomes a gotcha exercise.

NOBLES: As Congress appears content to let the process play out, the president is growing impatient. In a skating tweet he wrote, quote: Republicans in the Senate will never win if they don't go to a 51-vote majority now. They look like fools and are just wasting time.

An attack that McConnell brushed off by explaining there is simply no will in the Senate to abandon the 60-vote threshold for most pieces of legislation.

MCCONNELL: There are not the votes in the Senate as I have said repeatedly to the president and to all of you to change the rules of the Senate. There are not enough even required, 51 or 50 Republicans to agree to do that. The votes are simply not there.

NOBLES: And there is a growing level of concern from his rank and file members. South Carolina's Tim Scott telling "The Washington Post", quote, we work for the American people. We don't work for the president.

Arizona's Jeff Flake, who's up for re-election in 2018 and could potentially face a White House-backed primary challenger, wrote a scathing indictment on GOP capitulation to the president, vowing to challenge the administration when necessary.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We've got to get away from this attitude that you have to agree with the president and that a senator should be a rubber stamp for everything the president wants at all times.

NOBLES: A criticism the White House willingly used as an opportunity to fire back at the Arizona senator.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think he would serve his constituents much better if he was less focused on writing a book and attacking the president than passing legislation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And despite this breakdown in cooperation between the White House and Capitol Hill, there are some Republican leaders optimistic with John Kelly now in as chief of staff. The majority whip, John Cornyn of Texas, telling CNN that he believes Kelly could bring a calming -- an impression to the White House and said that it would hopefully get rid of all the chaos and confusion that currently exists on Pennsylvania Avenue -- Wolf.

BURNETT: Lots of confusion, indeed.

All right. Ryan, thanks very much. Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.