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Republicans Speaking Out Against Trump?; Steve Bannon Out. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 18, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

DAVID BANNER, MUSICIAN: That is -- that does not represent me or my culture. That means death and slavery to me. And just like most things in America, if it's something that's important to a white man, it will be considered.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: David, I appreciate your passion. And to the point that has been made before, this is about where America is today, not about where America was back then.

David Banner, thank you. Thanks.

BANNER: Can I ask you one question before you leave?

BALDWIN: Hit me?

BANNER: Isn't it sad that, as a black man, we are still arguing about the same things that my grandparents were complaining about?

If something happened to a dog -- or think about the police force. When we were talking about innocent black people being murdered in America, they were passing laws to protect policemen, when statistics show that being a policeman isn't even the 15th most dangerous occupation anymore.

What about us? What about laws? If you really want to change it, pass laws that will make people afraid to do terrorist acts, and call terrorists terrorists, even if they're white men.

BALDWIN: David Banner, I don't know if that was a question, but it was a powerful statement.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: And I can't even imagine what some of that feels like. Just being real with you. David Banner, thank you. Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: We continue on, on this Friday afternoon. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The news? White House strategist Steve Bannon is out. Officials tell CNN President Trump fired the former Breitbart founder. A source says Bannon was given the option to resign, but was forced out.

So, since day one, Bannon has been a controversial figure inside the Trump White House, and also the campaign, because of his alignment with the so-called alt-right movement. Bannon's firing comes just days after he gave an extraordinarily candid interview that seemed to undermine the president's authority. We will talk about that.

And moments after this news broke, the editor of Breitbart, Steve Bannon's former Web site, tweeted the single word: "War."

Let's begin with Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent. He is in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

What are you hearing, Jim, about exactly how this went down?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this is starting to feel like one of those days where the White House is like a reality show.

Steve Bannon was fired, forced off the island, you might say. My understanding from talking to White House sources, Brooke, is that this was in the works a couple of weeks ago, that he was supposed to be fired two weeks ago, but was given the option to resign.

And -- but, you know, if you cut through the White House speak there, he was forced out. He was fired. But my understanding is, is that he's still hanging around over on the White House grounds. He was spotted leaving the cafeteria earlier this afternoon, appeared to be in good spirits.

But this is a part of what John Kelly, the new chief of staff, is trying to do inside this White House. He is trying to bring about a more orderly and disciplined power structure inside that West Wing to control who goes into the Oval Office, who speaks to the president, even by phone, and who speaks on behalf of this administration.

And you will remember earlier this week, Steve Bannon was granting these interviews during which he was essentially contradicting the president. That also rankled people inside the White House, we're told, including the president. And so that was just not going to fly, and so that's why you have the White House putting out this statement earlier today, via Sarah Huckabee Sanders, saying that John Kelly and Steve Bannon mutually agreed that today would be Steve's last day is the way to put it -- it was put in that e-mail.

And so, I was just talking to an administration official just in the last few moments. There is some optimism inside the White House that what John Kelly is doing is going to bring about some change, but, as we have discussed time and again, Brooke, the question is, can John Kelly control what the president says and does? And by all accounts, at this point, he cannot do that. The president is still the president, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. Well said, Jim Acosta. Thank you.

Let me bring in CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, former presidential adviser, Rich Galen, and in a moment here, we have got Jamilah Lemieux, the V.P. of news and men's programming at Interactive One.

And so, welcome to all of you on this big, big Friday.

David Gergen, first to you.

You know, Steve Bannon gets the door. What does this mean for the presidency?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a lot easier, Brooke, to explain why Steve Bannon is leaving than what it means.

BALDWIN: OK.

GERGEN: I think we're going to be puzzling about what it means for a while. On why he's leaving, there simply wasn't room in the White House for General Kelly and for Steve Bannon.

General Kelly wants hierarchy, he wants order, and Steve Bannon is exactly the opposite. But take the latest flap here in the last couple of days, and that was Steve Bannon giving an interview saying that war with North Korea is impossible, he'd considered cutting a deal, that the United States leaves Korea altogether in exchange for the North Koreans becoming nuclear-free.

[15:05:12]

BALDWIN: Yes, that didn't go over well.

GERGEN: That is totally in conflict -- no, it didn't go over well.

And so the generals in the administration had to scramble to tell allies and friends that simply isn't U.S. policy. So you can see why Kelly wanted him out. And he obviously got the president to agree. It's ironic that it happened in the same week that Steve Bannon had one of his greatest victories, and that it was the president's Tuesday response to what happened in Charlottesville.

That was very much a Steve Bannon kind of reaction. As to what it means on the outside, there are two things. One, Jim Acosta is absolutely right. It doesn't change Trump, and a lot of the chaos didn't come from Bannon. It comes from Trump. The hatred and a lot of that is welled up inside him.

But there is now going to be an interesting conflict, because a lot of conservatives feel that Steve Bannon and the people around him represent the last conservative stronghold in the White House. I think they're wrong. The OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, is obviously very conservative. And, nonetheless, Breitbart wants to declare war because it's full of, as one source said....

BALDWIN: Whatever that means.

GERGEN: Yes. They're full of Democrats. The White House, it remains full of

Democrats, Wall Street types, and hawks.

BALDWIN: Manhattan.

GERGEN: And they want to -- there's going to be a big pressure on. Steve Bannon's very close to the Freedom Caucus in the House, which was so instrumental in getting the health care reform passed in the House.

So, I think there's going to be some rough spots ahead. Steve Bannon's not going away. He is, as he calls himself, the classic honey badger.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: We know his saying, and we won't repeat it on TV.

GERGEN: I agree.

BALDWIN: Rich Galen, to you. Yes, we won't.

Rich Galen, to you.

You chuckled when I was asking David about, what does this mean? And he was like, well, let me just try to understand the why first. What do you -- do you think -- a lot of people this week were saying, in the wake of Charlottesville, get him out, get him out, this will be so much better, but will it be?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, remember what General Kelly said when he came in to be the chief of staff. His job is to control the staff, not control the president.

BALDWIN: Right.

GALEN: So, he didn't set the bar out of sight.

BALDWIN: People had high hopes.

GALEN: And he's making good on it. I think one of the reasons, David, that Bannon didn't leave two weeks ago was so that they could put some space between the Scaramucci business and the Bannon business, which I think...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Which, by the way, was precipitated by the Reince business Friday prior.

GALEN: That's right.

And so -- but the net result is that General Kelly is getting control of the staff. He's moving the people out that he doesn't want, and now we will see who he can attract in to fill some of the gaps that can make the thing work smoothly. A lot of work has to get done at the staff level at the White House.

They don't need to have people kind of fighting with each other all day long, not kind of, but actually fighting with each other. They need to get their work done, and I think General Kelly's clearing out the brush so that the new shoots can come up.

BALDWIN: What did you think, Jamilah, about this tweet from the Breitbart editor, war? Do you think -- it depends on your perspective -- that this is bad news for the president, that he will harbor some ill will toward the same sort of characters like H.R. McMaster and others who he was feuding with and just bring it on the outside? What does that mean?

JAMILAH LEMIEUX, INTERACTIVE ONE: You know, there's a level of dissonance in the past few days following Bannon's own remarks about people who we would consider on the outside his base. You know, that he would mock white nationalists for what happened in Charlottesville...

BALDWIN: Called them clowns.

LEMIEUX: ... calling them clowns, and so now know that, OK, Breitbart is going full-throttle against this White House apparently?

This is going to be a very bad time, I think, for the Trump administration, because now you have a break in your base. You have a break in the people who believe in, you know, the sort of white nationalism and white supremacy that brought you into this position in the first place.

BALDWIN: Not everyone, but, yes.

And, David Gergen, to the point that, you know, of all places for Steve Bannon to be talking to, "American Prospect," this progressive outlet, to whom he -- with whom he picks up the phone, and has this conversation, makes the North Korean news, which absolutely contradicts the president, do you think that was Steve Bannon -- strategic Steve Bannon planting the seeds in a pre-firing place?

GERGEN: Absolutely.

I think it was in preparation for this departure. He's known it, and he's showing that he's going to have a significant voice when he leaves the White House. He's not going away. He's going to be sought out for interviews, and he will try to become -- you know, he has Breitbart as a platform for the alt-right.

He now wants to make himself essentially the spokesperson and the leader of the white nationalist movement. And that -- you know, this whole economic nationalism, he's going to be pushing on that very, very hard and putting pressure on the administration, cross-pressure. Even as the mainstream media comes at Donald Trump from one direction, he's going to be coming from another direction.

[15:10:16] BALDWIN: What about, Rich, just thinking of Washington and everyone's

kind of wondering, what the heck is September going to look like, especially since you have had...

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: David Gergen laughs, but you have the Mitt Romneys. You have -- do we have the sound guys, Newt Gingrich today? Let's roll it. Here's Newt Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think he's in a position right now where he is much more isolated than he realizes. On the Hill, he has far more people willing to sit to one side and not help him right now.

And I think that he needs to recognize that he's taken a good first step with bringing in General Kelly, but he needs to think about what has not worked. And you don't get down in the 35 percent range of approval and have people in your own party shooting at you and conclude that everything's going fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Former House speaker, your former boss, adding to the list of Republicans who are full-throatedly calling out the president by name. And this was obviously before the Bannon news broke.

Do you think that the Bannon news will then -- how much will the Bannon firing placate folks like him?

GALEN: I don't think it will at all.

BALDWIN: You don't?

GALEN: No, because you still have the president that's the president.

BALDWIN: Minor detail.

GALEN: There's a very famous saying. When Lyndon Johnson saw Walter Cronkite say we couldn't win the Vietnam War, LBJ said, if we have lost Walter, we have lost the war. And I can't imagine that the president -- he pays attention to these sorts of things -- wasn't saying to himself today, if we have lost Newt, we're in really big trouble.

BALDWIN: What about Bob Corker questioning his stability?

GALEN: Corker is a gentle, thoughtful guy. He doesn't elbow his way in front of the cameras when you're on Capitol Hill. He's worked his way through the system, and for him to come out at a Rotary Club meeting -- I mean, what could be more Middle American than a Rotary Club meeting in Tennessee -- and use that kind of language about the president, I think Bob Corker may have been the most important story of the day. But because he's not kind of lighting fires, it's not getting the attention, other than from...

BALDWIN: What does that mean for getting stuff done?

GALEN: Well, it means that you get people that will start saying, the president's over here, we're going to be over here. Now, he could either sign what we send him or not.

I will tell you who the best guy is that they have got right now.

BALDWIN: Who is that?

GALEN: Marc Short, who is...

BALDWIN: Vice president.

GALEN: The vice president's guy.

I worked for Marc when we both worked for Kay Bailey Hutchison, very smart guy. He's the legislative guy for the administration. And it would not shock me if he were not moved back into the White House to give him more access to the president.

BALDWIN: Interesting. Wondering who would then take the shoes and be more influential.

Did you see what Senator Tim Scott said, South Carolina, you know, questioning what was the moral competency of the president? What do you think of that?

LEMIEUX: You know, I think there's a significant percentage of the population that has known all along that this is a president that lacks moral competency.

And it's been really unfortunate to watch members of his party, his still relatively new to him party -- do you remember seeing him at any of the meetings or fund-raisers 10, 15 years ago? But that they have rallied around him for so long and that they have supported him, and that so many people have been willing to throw their own political careers away to ride the wave of Trump nationalism.

And it seems like that's falling apart right now, and so to take someone like Tim Scott, who has been critical of his party at times, but, you know, more often than not has been willing to side with the "bigger picture" -- quote, unquote -- "for him to go out and that way and to say, I'm breaking ranks, I think that says a lot as well.

BALDWIN: Just makes you wonder, are they breaking rank and are they the few voices representing the many or are they just the few voices, period? We will see.

Rich, good to see you.

GALEN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And Jamilah, thank you.

And, David Gergen, as always, a pleasure. Thank you all so much.

GERGEN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: In addition to the news -- thank you.

In addition to the news on Bannon, we are also getting word that more organizations have pulled out of events down at Mar-a-Lago, the president's Florida resort. Stand by for those details. This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:29]

BALDWIN: We continue with our breaking news here on CNN.

Embattled White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is out. He has been fired by the president. Bannon has been making headlines in recent days, giving unexpected interviews to, of all places, a progressive reporter.

In the process, he contradicted some of the president's major policies. One of the rare occasions Bannon actually spoke publicly -- this was just back in February -- at CPAC. It's the Conservative Political Action Conference. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think if you look at the opposition party and how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and now they're portraying the administration, it's always wrong.

I mean, on the very first day that Kellyanne and I started, we reached out to Reince, Sean Spicer, Katie. It's the same team that, you know, every day was grinding away on the campaign, the same team that did the transition.

And, if you remember, the campaign was the most chaotic -- you know, by the media's description, most disorganized, most unprofessional, had no earthly idea what they were doing, and then you saw them all crying and weeping that night on the 8th.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BANNON: And the reason it worked, the reason it worked is President Trump. I mean, Trump had those ideas, had that energy, had that vision that could galvanize a team around him of disparate -- look, we're a coalition.

You know, a lot of people think, you know, I have strong beliefs about different things, but we understand that you can come together to win and we understood that from August 15. And we never had a doubt and Donald Trump never had a doubt that he was going to win. (END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:20:02]

BALDWIN: Now, interesting to note. Of all the people that he mentioned in the clip, with the exception of Kellyanne Conway, they're no longer at the White House.

Dylan Byers, let me bring you in, our CNN senior media politics reporter.

Where to begin. Do we know yet if Steve Bannon is going back to Breitbart?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: He will continue to work with Breitbart in some fashion.

BALDWIN: He will?

BYERS: Yes, absolutely.

And he's also working with Bob Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire who's behind a lot of the money behind this sort of not just Breitbart, but the sort of populist insurgency that helped carry Trump into power.

You know, Brooke, I was going back, I was looking at a conversation I had with Bannon back before the election in November, and I remember something that Bannon told me. He said, "Regardless of what happens to Trump on November 8, this movement is not going away. This is the first inning."

Bannon is somebody who really sees this as a movement where he's just playing a part and this is something that's going to play out over the course of American history, this sort of populist, nationalist movement, for years and decades to come.

I think Bannon -- you know, he's a philosopher, and it might be a dark and twisted philosophy, but he's a philosopher nevertheless. He saw Trump as a vessel to sort of advance this populist nationalist agenda. He is going to continue fighting for that now outside of the White House.

He maintains this sort of very optimistic, top of the first inning view that the best days for his agenda are yet to come. I think the one question you have to ask is, what platform is more powerful for you than being in the White House, than having the ear of the president of the United States?

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

BYERS: If you don't have that, how powerful can you really be?

That's really what we're going to see in terms of where Bannon goes, what he does, what he does with Breitbart in the days and weeks to come. BALDWIN: What do you think war means, Dylan?

BYERS: Well, it's hard to interpret. War means two things.

At Breitbart, war, generally -- especially with that hashtag, generally means war of the populists and the nationalists vs. the globalists, those people who in the eyes of Breitbart and the eyes of Bannon are fighting on behalf of the American people and the American middle class vs. a sort of corporate, globalist, you know, leftist media, what have you.

But it could mean something else. It could also mean war between Breitbart and the Trump White House. I think what's hard for me to sort of square that interpretation is that it seems like Bannon is going to continue fighting to the benefit of the president in some way, shape, or form.

I talked to another senior administration official today who said that Bannon can be very helpful to Trump outside of the White House. So, you know, it's hard -- I wouldn't anticipate that all of a sudden Trump is going to lose the backing of Breitbart entirely.

I sure -- I definitely think this puts him on shakier ground, though. Breitbart could turn against Trump and could be more apt to do so in light of the fact that their man Bannon is no longer in the West Wing.

BALDWIN: Dylan Byers, thank you.

BYERS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Still ahead, I will be joined live by a veteran running for Congress as a Democrat. Hear why she is going directly after the president in a new ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone needs to be willing to say that the emperor has no clothes. Too many politicians haven't had the guts to say that. It's time they did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:44]

BALDWIN: It has been a chaotic week, even by the standards of this White House.

Today, it all culminated with the firing of President Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a man who has been a lightning rod for controversy since joining the Trump orbit a year ago.

So we turn to CNN political director David Chalian.

David Chalian, we talked about -- it feels like it's been a year. It's just been weeks since the Reince leaving, the Scaramucci. Now we have Bannon. At the end of the day, the president is the president. I mean, do you foresee some major change?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, summer Fridays have a whole different meaning for this White House, Brooke.

(LAUGHTER)

CHALIAN: You know, obviously, a president does put a team around him and that has impact, and changing the team could have impact.

But just like you and I discussed on the day that Reince Priebus was out, the man in the Oval Office is not changing, and much of what we have seen over these last seven months are Donald Trump's instincts as president, Donald Trump serving as his own chief of staff, Donald Trump serving as his own communications director.

And so none of that is likely to change. What this does do is perhaps give John Kelly, the new chief of staff, a bit more running room to really fill out a team and bring some order and discipline, without having some vestiges left over who think they have unfettered access or, in Steve Bannon's access, sort of -- always sort of portrayed himself as somebody who was really puppet master of a lot of the government levers.

BALDWIN: How much will this help? I'm thinking about September, and actually getting something done in Washington. And, you know, you look to the Republican leadership and even folks who aren't in Washington, technically, the Mitt Romneys, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all of these people speaking up, of course, Bob Corker that we talked about yesterday, questioning the president's competency and stability.

Do you think that is indicative of the broader GOP who just hasn't spoken up, or is that just the few?

CHALIAN: It's a good question, Brooke.

I mean, when we look at the polling, we still see, you know, 80 percent to 85 percent Republican support, somewhere in there, of Republicans approving of the job the president is doing. It's not a great number in your own party, but it's certainly one that is survivable for Donald Trump.

You get worried, if you're an incumbent, and your fellow partisans really start bailing on you, and it goes below 80, into the 70s, down in the 60s. That becomes a real problem. He's not there yet.

But, as you noted, these leaders, their voices matter.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CHALIAN: I mean, Bob Corker coming out like that --