Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen; President Trump Continues Aggressive Talk on North Korea; Interview with Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Trump Slams McConnell Over Health Care "Disgrace". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 10, 2017 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin with breaking news in our world lead.

Just minutes ago, President Trump not only did not back down from his threat that if North Korea keeps acting the way it is, it will face -- quote -- "fire and fury, the likes of which this world has never seen before."

The president said it -- quote -- "maybe wasn't tough enough."


And then he issued another stark warning.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea better get their act together, or they're going to be in trouble, like few nations ever have been in trouble in this world.


TAPPER: President Trump is currently meeting with members of his national security team. That's a meeting that was recently added to his schedule.

Today, North Korea, that country's military announced that a plan to fire four missiles to the waters near the U.S. territory of Guam will be ready for Kim Jong-un's consideration within days.

We have our team of CNN reporters spread out throughout the globe, from Guam to South Korea to China to the White House, covering all angles of this fast-developing story.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

And, Jeff, just a short time ago, the president speaking with reporters, he would not rule out a preemptive strike on North Korea. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he did not

rule out a preemptive strike on North Korea. He said he would not be like previous presidents, meaning President Obama, and not show his hand on foreign policy.

But he said three times that his words earlier in the week, fire and fury, were not strong enough. This is what he had to say today.


TRUMP: If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous, I will tell you what. And they should be very nervous, because things will happen to them like they never thought possible.


ZELENY: So, very strong words there, indeed.

Now, he did leave open the door, though, to negotiations, Jake. He said, yes, there's always a path, room for negotiation. But it seemed to be a pretty narrow path as well. But he also held out hope that China could be helpful to the U.S. as it deals with North Korea.

TAPPER: And, Jeff, there have been a number of different kinds of messages we're hearing from the Trump administration, what the president said, what Secretary Mattis said, the more diplomatic statements from Secretary of State Tillerson.

There's a White House aide, former Breitbart editor Sebastian Gorka, seeming to criticize Tillerson, saying don't look to him for comments about the military. It's nonsensical.

Did the president say anything about the interpretation that there are lots of different kinds of messages coming from his administration?

ZELENY: He did, Jake. He was asked about this mixed messages. He was asked about if his administration is speaking with one voice. Not surprisingly, he said they were. Let's listen.


TRUMP: There are no mixed messages. There are no mixed messages. I heard -- to be honest, General Mattis may have taken it a step beyond what I said. There are no mixed messages.


ZELENY: But, again, there has been a sense, Jake, of the administration looking to find a policy after the president made those comments earlier this week that were simply improvised.

Some of his aides were surprised by them. Others were not because he had said similar things in private. But, Jake, the president also mentioned the three predecessors in the office, President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama, by name, criticizing all three of them.

He said his policy toward North Korea would be different -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you so much.

Earlier, the rogue regime responded to President Trump's fire and fury threat by mocking him. Through a state media report, they called his remarks nonsense and accused the president of -- quote -- "failing to grasp the grave situation."

Let's go now to CNN's Will Ripley in Beijing.

And, Will, you have been to North Korea more than any other Western journalist, 13 times in all. What do you read from this latest threat from North Korea and how the North Korean government might react to another warning from President Trump?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're going to have to find out in the coming days, Jake, whether what they said in this statement, which essentially they laid out very technically their plan to launch simultaneously four intermediate-range missiles and put them down in the water less than 20 miles from Guam, do they actually have that technical capability?

Is this something they could actually pull off. If North Korea believes that they can do that, then we could very likely see an attempt to do what they spelled out in this statement, because it's very unusual for North Korea to go into such great detail. But we just don't know if it was a bluff and if they're just going to come out with more rhetoric or if they're actually going to take action.

Also noteworthy, China, there was definitely a strong message in President Trump's words for China, essentially threatening action on trade if China doesn't do more to rein in North Korea.

Here in Beijing, Chinese officials have repeatedly warned the United States not to conflate those two issues. North Korea is a strategic issue for China, trade an economic issue -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much.

Now let's go to Guam.

The Pacific island in U.S. territory is the focus of North Korea's latest threat, as you just heard from Will. It's also home to two U.S. military bases and thousands of American citizens.

CNN's Ivan Watson is there.


And, Ivan, President Trump just sought to reassure Americans, even as he issued another strong warning. But with this very specific threat from North Korea to strike the waters off the island, what is the response there in Guam? IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, the

local authorities here, the governor of Guam, who you interviewed yesterday, he hasn't issued a new response to this.

He's standing by his position that the threat level has not increased to this island from when this kind of war of words between Washington and Pyongyang first began.

I spoke at length with the governor, who said that he's confident in the U.S. military and its ability to protect this island from the ongoing kind of verbal and written threats now coming from North Korea. And he kind of stressed that there is a security umbrella here. There's an architecture of overlapping defensive measures that can protect this American island from the threats coming from North Korea.

And he points out that any missiles that would be fired from North Korea would have to fly down through South Korea, over Japan, and then over hundreds of miles of open water and ocean to reach Guam, and that, in doing so, it would have to pass through areas where you have other U.S. military bases, where you have the militaries of South Korea and Japan, which could all provide a protective buffer.

And then, at the end, there is the last line of defense here in Guam, which is a THAAD missile defense system, put in place after previous threats by North Korea against Guam in 2013.

That confidence from the local authorities not reflected by all people on the ground here, some people quite worried that North Korea is threatening their home. It's a tough message to try to tell your children, for example, on this island that's home to more than 160,000 Americans.

TAPPER: All right, Ivan Watson in Guam, thank you so much.

Before President Trump turned the heat up another notch today, South Korea warned its neighbor to the North to tone down the threats.

CNN's Alexandra Field is live for us in Seoul, South Korea.

And, Alexandra, how is the South Korean government reacting to all these provocations?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, you just heard President Trump say that he is standing up for other countries, and other leaders around the world support him.

The war of words has turned up the heat on South Korea perhaps more than anyone else, because we all know that if North Korea wanted to conduct an attack or if they felt that they were retaliating for some kind of attack, they could do catastrophic damage right here in South Korea using their conventional weapons before the U.S. military is believed to be able to overwhelm them.

Defense officials here in South Korea have come out and said that Pyongyang's threats against Guam, threats against the U.S. are a challenge to the U.S.-South Korean alliance. They say that they're standing with their allies here. They say that further provocations would be met with military response, but they are also continuing to say that they want to see dialogue happen.

No one has more interest in seeing a peaceful resolution than the people of South Korea. So, the part of the statement that they heard from President Trump just a few minutes ago that they will be perhaps most interested in hearing, most optimistic about is where he leaves the door open for the possibility of negotiation, slim as he paints that possibility to be -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Alexandra Field in Seoul, South Korea, thank you so much.

We are expecting new comments on the North Korean threat from President Trump when he exits that national security meeting. We will bring that to you when we get it.

So, is this verbal escalation the right move? A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is here, and we will discuss that next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with more in our world lead, as President Trump doubles down on his threatening rhetoric on North Korea.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She joins me now for more.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Nice to be with you.

TAPPER: President Trump, as you just heard, said that his fire and fury warning to North Korea perhaps did not go far enough. What's your response?

SHAHEEN: Well, words do matter. I think this is a time when we should be de-escalating the rhetoric, instead of escalating it.

And despite the president's comments, the administration has not been speaking with one voice. They need to do that. We need to send a strong, consistent message to North Korea.

But that means looking at all of the other methods in which we can exert our influence, diplomacy, sanctions, and save the hot rhetoric for the very last.

TAPPER: Secretary Tillerson said that the president was using the language that Kim Jong-un might understand, given that he doesn't seem to understand diplomatic language.

SHAHEEN: Well, you know, the challenge with using that kind of rhetoric is if you cry wolf often enough, and you never act on it, then pretty soon you don't have any credibility.

And I think that's part of the challenge we have. And why give North Korea something to react to? Why not, as I said, be consistent? We had two big wins in the last couple of weeks. Congress passed sanctions against North Korea overwhelmingly, and at the U.N., we got China and Russia to support sanctions.

Those are two big wins. We need to continue and follow up on that momentum.

TAPPER: North Korea says that, within days, they're going to have a plan ready to present to Kim Jong-un to fire four missiles towards, I think about 20 miles off the coast of the U.S. territory of Guam.

How concerned are you that this might actually escalate into a military conflict?

SHAHEEN: Well, I'm very concerned.

And that's why I said I think it's important to lower the rhetoric, instead of escalating the rhetoric. This is the kind of situation, when we're dealing with somebody like Kim Jong-un, who we have no idea how he's going to react to things, it doesn't make sense to again further inflame the situation.

[16:15:08] We should be working in the international community with our allies, working with China and with Russia to try and make sure that we can put pressure on North Korea to do less in terms of their nuclear program, to stop the testing, to freeze the program. That's what we ought to be working towards.

TAPPER: You were talking about the many messages coming from the Trump administration. I'm not sure if you caught this. But the former "Breitbart" editor, now White House aide Sebastian Gorka told BBC that it's nonsensical to listen to Secretary of State Tillerson when it comes to military issues. What did you make of that?

SHAHEEN: Well, I hadn't heard that. But look, again, it's important for the administration to be speaking with one voice. What we have heard from Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis is that they are working together very closely to make sure that they provide the same message, promote the same policies. That's what we need to be doing at this time.

TAPPER: I know you were upset when transcripts showed President Trump referring to the beautiful state of New Hampshire as a drug infested den. President Trump just now said he will declare a national emergency on opioid abuse. I assume you think that would be a good step?

SHAHEEN: That is a good step. For several years now in New Hampshire, we've been saying we are dealing with a public health emergency. So, we need to be treating it like that. We need to provide resources for people with substance abuse disorders. So, we need to support law enforcement. And what we don't need is to take away health care from people so they can't get treatment anymore, to take away their ability to get mental health treatment and to take funding away from law enforcement.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Jean Shaheen from the great state of New Hampshire, thank you so much for your time.

SHAHEEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Just now, the president adding fire to his feud with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying if certain things don't get done, maybe it will be time to ask if the Senate majority leader should retire. That story next.


[16:21:16] TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

It may be a little less "art of the deal" and a little more "you're fired". The president suggesting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's job and leadership should be on the line if he cannot deliver on the president's legislative priorities.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he doesn't get repeal and replace done and if he doesn't get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure, if he doesn't get them done, then you can ask me that question.


TAPPER: CNN's Ryan Nobles is live on Capitol Hill, and the question to which President Trump was addressing was whether or not Mitch McConnell should retire. Ryan, ideally, the president and the majority leader, both Republicans, would be working together.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, I mean, there's definitely an argument to be made that Mitch McConnell is the most important member of Congress when it comes to Donald Trump's domestic policy agenda but it was clear today that the president put the majority leader on notice.


TRUMP: Mitch, get to work and let's get it done.

NOBLES (voice-over): It may be the most important alliance in Washington, and right now, the relationship between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump is as rocky as it has ever been.

This afternoon at his Bedminster estate, reporters asked the president if it was time for the majority leader to resign.

TRUMP: If he doesn't get repeat and replace done and if he doesn't get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure, if he doesn't get them done, then you can ask me that question.

NOBLES: The breakdown started Monday night when McConnell gave a seemingly innocuous speech to a very small group of Rotary members in northern Kentucky.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Now, our new president of course has not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.

NOBLES: McConnell's comments were enough to set the president off, and he voiced his displeasure by tweeting about McConnell three times, including this afternoon. Quote: Mitch, get back to work and put repeal and replace, tax reform and cuts, and a great infrastructure bill on my desk for signing. You can do it.

The tweets came after White House aides say that Trump and McConnell held an animated phone call, a call McConnell's office will not discuss but one a source tells CNN occurred while the president was golfing at his resort in New Jersey.

TRUMP: Come here, Mitch. Thank you, Mitch. How are you doing, Mitch? Hey Mitch, are we going to be OK?

NOBLES: The president's digital attacks are a calculated political risk. He is banking that the average American is on his side. New CNN polling shows that 68 percent of Americans view the Republican Congress a failure, and only 24 percent have a favorable opinion of Republican leadership which includes McConnell.

But, an open feud with McConnell could seriously hamper Trump's legislative agenda.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: The back and forth between the president and the Senate majority leader isn't going to add any additional votes to the Obamacare repeal effort.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, McConnell and his team refuse to engage, hoping this will pass before Congress returns in September with an enormous list of tasks to complete.


NOBLES: And part of McConnell's criticism for President Trump was that he was setting artificial deadlines for the Congress and it made their work more difficult. Well, when the House and Senate return in September, they have some real deadlines to meet, including those on debt ceiling and the budget. And, Jake, they will need the president's help to get those done.

TAPPER: They sure will.

Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill for us, thank you so much.

Just in to CNN, in a new statement delivered a second ago, President Trump told reporters that he has not given firing special counsel Robert Mueller any thought.

[16:25:07] This is part of brand new remarks he made after meeting with his national security team on North Korea and we will have all his latest comments for you any moment, as soon as that video comes in.

Even before President Trump escalated his threats against North Korea moments ago, his fire and fury remark had already sparked criticism from lawmakers from both parties. One former Republican senator from New Hampshire, Gordon Humphrey, who served in the Senate from '79 until 1990, said in a letter to his state's congressional delegation, quote: President Trump's threat to rain down fire and fury on North Korea is like pouring gasoline on a fire, it's crazy. Donald Trump is impaired by a seriously sick psyche, unquote.

Let's ask him more about this.

Senator Gordon Humphrey, thanks so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

GORDON HUMPHREY (R-NH), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thank you for the invitation, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Senator Humphrey, I want to get to your letter in a second but first I want to get your reaction to all the tweets and now a recent comment that the president made about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in which he told McConnell to get to work. He recently just said in New Jersey that if McConnell doesn't pass repeal and replace, tax cuts and reform, and infrastructure, then it would be property for someone to ask the president if McConnell should retire.

You served in the Senate as a Republican for a long time. What do you make of that?

HUMPHREY: Well, Jake, there is more important stuff to discuss like Donald Trump's playing the game of nuclear chicken with Kim Jong-un in North Korea. I think that is insane.

I think honestly, it's time for members of Congress and the cabinet especially to come to conclusions about this mountain of empirical evidence that the president is laboring under mental impairment.

TAPPER: Well, let's --

HUMPHREY: He is -- he is delusional, he's paranoid. He's not a well man. He's dangerous.

TAPPER: OK, you don't want to talk about Mitch McConnell, that's fine.

Let's turn to the letter you wrote to your delegation. You called President Trump dangerous. You added, quote, his sick mind and reckless conduct could consume the lives of millions.

We should note, Senator, you're not a psychiatrist. You're not a psychologist. You have medical standing to diagnose anyone. Are you concerned that by attacking the president's mental fitness, you might undermine criticisms you have of his policies and his actions?

HUMPHREY: Jake, no member -- very few members of Congress are psychiatrists or physicians and even fewer members of the cabinet. Yet, the Constitution empowers them to find a president unfit to carry out the duties and powers by virtue of physical or mental impairment.

So, setting up a standard that one must be a psychiatrist to come to some judgment about this mountain of empirical evidence that the president has a sick psyche is to set up a false standard. We as Americans are stewards of our children's or family's safety and future, and we must, in my view now come to some conclusions about the president's fitness.

TAPPER: Well, where do you get this from? Obviously, he sends a lot of tweets. Obviously, he's made a lot of comments that have offended people. But going from there to he has a sick psyche and should be removed from office, that's quite a leap.

HUMPHREY: Well, let me give -- indeed it is and let me give you a vivid example of the president's delusional thinking. The other night as part of this nuclear crises, he said that he has modernized America's nuclear forces. That simply is not true. It's patently false.

No president can do that in seven months. Furthermore, it takes appropriations by Congress to make physical changes in the nuclear arsenal, and those appropriations have not yet been forthcoming. So, the president told an untruth.

What's really shocking is that he has no guilt or shame or apparently even awareness that he's engaging in lies and he believes his own stories. This is delusional conduct. He's not a well man.

TAPPER: Well, we have heard a lot of lies from a lot of politicians, I will grant you that you hear more of them from this president than previous presidents in terms of the sheer number, but it's not as though lying -- no offense to you as a former senator. It's not as though your virgin ears have ever heard lies before.

HUMPHREY: Well, look, it's more than that.


HUMPHREY: It's more than that. He's delusional. He doesn't grasp the fact that he's lying. He believes in his own lies. He cannot be persuaded otherwise. And he has no shame or guilt or regret or remorse.

I mean, the man is delusional as well as paranoid, an extreme narcissist as I think we would all agree at this point. He's not well. He really should be -- Congress and the cabinet should be thinking in serious terms about whether he's fit to serve.

TAPPER: Have you talked to any members of the cabinet? Have you talked to any of your former colleagues in the U.S. Senate about this issue?