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Trump to Unveil Afghanistan Plan in Prime-Time Address; U.S. Sailors Missing after Warship Collides with Oil Tanker; Poll: Americans Overwhelmingly Disapprove of Trump Response to Charlottesville. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 21, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TAPPER: I'll be joined by Speaker Ryan here in Racine, Wisconsin. He'll answer questions from his constituents about the president's announcement, about the challenges facing Congress when they return to the Hill and much, much else. It all starts with the president's address, again, at 9 p.m. Eastern, followed by the town hall at around 9:30 Eastern right here on CNN.
That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper in Racine, Wisconsin. I'll see you again at about 9:30. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. President -- president's pivot. President Trump prepares for a major address to the nation tonight, laying out a new strategy for Afghanistan in America's longest war. Can he pivot to a crucial national security issue after his disastrous comments on the white supremacist rampage in Charlottesville?
Destroyer crash. Ten sailors and a U.S. Navy warship is badly damaged after colliding with a commercial tanker. It's the fourth incident this year, and the Pentagon is demanding to know why.
Out of cash. The Secret Service says it's out of cash, in part due to the constant travel by the president to his private resorts and his trips by his adult children. Hundreds of agents are working overtime and won't get paid.
And good night sun. For the first time in a century, the sun goes into total eclipse on a coast-to-coast path across the United States. In many cities, day turns to night as the moon blocks the sun. Millions take the day off or stop what they're doing to watch.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: After joining the rest of the nation in watching the solar eclipse, putting on special glasses to view the rare event from a White House balcony, President Trump is getting ready to make a rare address to the nation, focusing in on Afghanistan, where the United States has now been at war for almost 16 years. Tonight's address follows a major review of America's Afghan strategy,
and the president, who in the past has often scoffed at the U.S. military involvement there, he will have to convince the American public that he has chosen the right path moving forward. He's been given various options ranging from full withdrawal to boosting the current deployment of more than 8,000 U.S. troops.
But will the president stick to the script? There will be close scrutiny after he went off the rails last week at an event that was supposed to focus in on an infrastructure, going on to equate the white supremacists encounter, protestors who clashed in Charlottesville.
Three new polls in key battleground states are a new setback to the president's standing right now. In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Michigan, all of which he won last November, nearly two-thirds of respondents now say they are, quote, "embarrassed" -- embarrassed -- "by the president."
And a search is on for the 10 American sailors missing after a U.S. Navy destroyer collided with a commercial tanker just east of Singapore. The U.S. warship limped into port with its hull ripped open. It's the fourth major accident for U.S. Navy ships this year in Asian waters, raising serious questions about readiness. I'll talk with Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of the House Intelligence Committee.
And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with the president's address to the nation, revealing his decision on how to move forward in Afghanistan. CNN's Jessica Schneider is joining us from the White House right now.
Jessica, what can we expect?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's possible tonight that we'll hear the president present a plan for up to 4,000 troops in Afghanistan. But the White House has not released any script that the president will stick to. They also haven't revealed any details about what the president could present when he speaks not far from here in Fort Myer, Virginia, tonight.
Of course, this address about the Afghanistan war will come at a time of some inner turmoil at the White House amid staff shakeups, also some plunging poll numbers. Which begs the question, will Americans get fully behind whatever plan President Trump presents?
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight President Trump will make his first major national security address in prime-time. The commander in chief will lay out his military strategy in Afghanistan after months of lengthy and delayed deliberation.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very big decision for me. I took over a mess. And we're going to make it a lot less messy.
SCHNEIDER: The president met with top national security advisers at Camp David Friday, announcing Saturday he had made his decision, which remains under wraps.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five on, remain arms (ph).
SCHNEIDER: President Trump has been presented with a wide range of options, everything from full withdrawal to the deployment of up to 4,000 more soldiers, adding to the roughly 8,000 already there.
New troops are an option that recently-ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon opposed. Bannon, along with the founder of the controversial military consulting firm Blackwater, lobbied the White House to rely more heavily on private defense contractors.
[17:05:15] Officials say the president remains deeply skeptical about a continued presence in Afghanistan, but the hawkish generals on his team, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis, warn full removal could create a vacuum to be exploited by terrorist groups.
Secretary Mattis gave a blunt assessment about the state of the 16- year war in June.
GEN. JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are not winning in Afghanistan right now.
SCHNEIDER: It's a war the president spent his campaign speaking out against.
TRUMP: Six trillion dollars. Six trillion. We could have rebuilt our country twice. Altogether on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East.
SCHNEIDER: Before he announced a run for the presidency, Donald Trump tweeted extensively, advocating full withdrawal. "Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home. We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives."
In presenting his plan, the president will ask Americans to trust him on a new Afghanistan strategy. But his proposal comes in the midst of staff shakeups inside the recently remodeled White House and questions about the president's leadership after he made these remarks about white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia.
TRUMP: You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.
SCHNEIDER: In the wake of those comments, the president finds his poll numbers sagging in key states that propelled him to the White House. Less than 40 percent of registered voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin approve of the president's job performance, while 64 percent of voters in Michigan and Wisconsin say they've been embarrassed by the president. Sixty-three percent saying the same in Pennsylvania.
SCHNEIDER: And we also know that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be in attendance tonight for an address that will address various other countries in the region, including Pakistan. We know that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been in touch with the prime minister of Pakistan, as well as foreign ministers in India and Afghanistan.
In addition, Vice President Mike Pence has spoken on the phone with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. We know that Vice President Pence has been in touch with President Ghani throughout the past few months as these plans have been taking shape -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting for us from the White House. Thank you.
Meanwhile, there are new questions about the U.S. Navy readiness and a demand for answers after a U.S. warship collides with a commercial oil tanker. Ten American sailors are now missing. CNN's Diane Gallagher is now joining us with the latest details.
Diane, this follows a series of accidents this year alone.
DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you know, Wolf, a collision in itself is really considered rare. For instance, since January it's absolutely unheard of. And they're all based in Asia. So this really is a troubling trend, to say the least. In some cases, it's been deadly, which is why, as they continue to search for those missing sailors, the Navy ordered a complete review, at least a one-day pause in operations so they can figure out what's wrong with its fleet.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): Tonight, search and rescue efforts are underway for 10 missing sailors from the USS John S. McCain. Now docked in Singapore, the Navy warship has significant damage to the hull at the waterline, evidence of the force of the Navy destroyer's collision with an oil tanker three times its size in one of the world's most congested shipping routes east of the Malacca Strait.
MATTIS: My hearts and thoughts are with the sailors and families of the USS John McCain. We obviously have an investigation under way, and that will determine what happened.
ADMIRAL JOHN RICHARDSON, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS: Like you, I was devastated and heartbreaken [SIC] -- broken to hear about the collision of the USS John McCain off of Singapore.
GALLAGHER: Admiral John Richardson announcing today a far broader investigation, involving every U.S. Navy ship over the next few weeks, reviewing safety, leadership and training procedures.
RICHARDSON: This trend demands more forceful action. As such, I've directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world.
GALLAGHER: This is the fourth incident involving the Navy's Japan- based 7th Fleet ships this year and the second major collision in just the last two months. In June, seven sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship in the waters off Japan. The commanding officers were removed from duty, but the cause is still under investigation.
RAY MABUS, FORMER NAVY SECRETARY: One accident, maybe, because these are busy shipping lanes. But when you've got a pattern here, and particularly the Fitzgerald in June and now the McCain, you've got to find out if there's something systemic going on.
GALLAGHER: The McCain, like the other three ships this year, is equipped with state-of-the-art radar and the Aegis anti-missile system, like this one. Based in Japan, in part, due to the North Korea threat, the panel of problems has potential to shade the perceptions among enemies and allies in the region.
[17:10:06] COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There are potentially training issues for U.S. sailors. There are potentially operational issues. There are potentially logistical issues. I -- all of that together really means that the United States is not as powerful as it should be, in terms of the weapons that it has deployed.
GALLAGHER: All the more reason to root out the cause quickly.
RICHARDSON: This requires urgent action. We need to get to it and take corrective action.
GALLAGHER: And Admiral Richardson calling for a brisk but fleetwide introspective examination. Basically, determining if this is an issue with leadership, training. Perhaps readiness could be a factor. And they're also going to look at the technology. And of course, Wolf, whether or not an outside force could be at play. If this is some sort of sabotage, then the goal is to leave no stone unturned. Because of course, there are ten families tonight who are going through just an unbearable feeling of not knowing what happened to their loved ones.
BLITZER: Yes. What an awful, awful situation.
All right, Diane. Thanks very much. Diane Gallagher reporting for us.
So joining us now, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you.
BLITZER: So this is the third time this year alone a U.S. Navy warship has collided with another vessel in Asia, in the Pacific over there. Is this simply a coincidence? What is the problem here?
QUIGLEY: It's hard to imagine that it's just a coincidence. I mean, just two weeks ago, I was on the USS Pittsburgh, one of our fine submarines, and you couldn't help but be impressed by the crew and the operations and the great job that they're doing.
But the fact that this has happened so often just this year raises the questions. I think the Navy is doing the right thing, suspending operations briefly, and reviewing everything from the top down. I suspect, come September when we get back in Congress, there will be congressional reviews as well.
BLITZER: If it's not a coincidence, what do you fear it could be? I'm looking at the list, the USS John McCain most recently, the USS Fitzgerald off the coast of Japan, seven U.S. sailors dead. The USS Lake Champlain struck by a small fishing boat off Korean Peninsula. The USS Antietam ran aground, trying to answer in Tokyo.
If these are not a coincidence, what could it be?
QUIGLEY: Look, I think you don't rule anything out, including the mischief that was referenced. But I think it's more likely it's just the basics. What are we doing with training, our technology? How are we moving these ships around in a modern war fleet in busy lanes? So I think you leave no stone unturned and you look to take care of those sailors that we have lost and their families in the meantime.
BLITZER: Yes, they clearly have to do a major investigation. But when you use the word "mischief," what do you mean by that?
QUIGLEY: Well, the reference was made earlier in the report that they're worried about some sort of outside influence doing this. I doubt that. I don't think it's possible. But again, given the magnitude of this and what's at stake, you don't rule anything out. You let the experts do their job.
BLITZER: How do these incidents impact America's security over there not far from the Korean Peninsula in light of the threat from North Korea and the massive U.S.-Korean/South Korean war games, exercises that are about to begin. We know the North Korean regime hates those.
QUIGLEY: Yes, I was there in 2015 during these maneuvers and these operations. And as you recall, that was the time when the mines blew up on the DMZ and the tensions were high as they've been recently. We have to be on our "A" game. There can be no mistakes, no misunderstandings what our intentions are. And again, we have to be impressive. We have to show the world that we're the best out there, and I think we are. But we can't have any more mistakes.
BLITZER: We're awaiting President Trump's speech announcement tonight on Afghanistan. He's delivering a major address to the American public, 9 p.m. Eastern. AS you know, back in 2012 when he was still very much a private citizen, he said, rebuilding Afghanistan, is, quote, "not in our national interests." He also called it, quote, "a complete waste." What do you expect to hear from him tonight? QUIGLEY: You know, if you believe the reports, we're talking about an
escalation here. It's going to be a tough sell for some of the reasons that candidate Trump talked about. This is a war now four times longer than the Civil War, for us, the Second World War. Sixteen years, with trillions spent, thousands of lives lost. It's hard to imagine a new strategy that's going to turn this around.
I'm also hoping the president will reference the recent Russian involvement with the Taliban and their attempts to undermine the government of Afghanistan. What will our NATO allies do in this effort?
And finally, Congress needs to take a role. We have abdicated our responsibility in all these conflicts and potential conflicts for too long. This is a reauthorization -- this is an authorization of use of military force that's, what, 16 years old now. Congress can't just talk about it. It has to actually vote and advise the president accordingly.
[17:15:11] BLITZER: Yes, I'm looking at some of his tweets. From 2012, "It's time to get out of Afghanistan. We are building roads and schools for people that hate us. It's not in our national interest."
He's got another one: "Afghanistan is a total disaster. We don't know what they're doing. They are, in addition to everything else, robbing us blind.
Here's the question. Do you think another few thousand -- the U.S. has about 8,400 troops in Afghanistan right now. Do you think another few thousand is really going to make much of a difference?
QUIGLEY: It's hard to imagine that it will. I'll be anxious to listen to the president tonight and to get briefed when we get back from Washington, D.C. I do know that more troops means more potential for some of them being injured or killed and creating an ever- widening, again, conflict there and U.S. involvement. I think that's what Americans and members of Congress are most concerned about.
BLITZER: Sixteen years already, America's longest -- longest war.
Congressman, there's more we need to discuss. I've got to take a quick break. We'll resume our special coverage right after this.
[17:20:30] BLITZER: The breaking news we're following. President Trump will make a rare prime-time address to the nation tonight, revealing his plan going forward in Afghanistan, America's longest war, 16 years.
Pentagon planners have given him options, ranging from a troop increase to a full withdrawal. We're back with Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of the House Intelligence Committee.
We're just getting in a brand-new poll, Congressman, from the "Washington Post"/ABC News. It finds that twice as many Americans disapprove of the president's response to Charlottesville as approve. Sixty-six percent disapprove. Only 28 percent approve. But what's your reaction to this?
QUIGLEY: I guess I'm wondering why those who support the president didn't see this kind of mentality by the president during the campaign. I mean, this was a hate-filled campaign that appealed to the lesser angels of our nature. I think it was based on going after people who were bigoted and mean-spirited to support him.
And the fact that he's implemented that and put people in high positions who agree with him on that has only manifested itself recently with his statements regarding the protest of neo-Nazis. So I guess my reaction is why didn't they see this sooner from this man?
BLITZER: You know, breaking it down according to party affiliation, only 6 percent of Democrats say they approve of the president's response to the Charlottesville protests. Twenty-eight percent of independents approve. Sixty-two percent of Republicans, though, do approve, which suggests he still has a big chunk of his base behind him. Do you want to react to that?
QUIGLEY: I just don't know what it's going to take to change their minds. I mean, does it basically mean that that percentage of Americans believe that it's OK to be misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic and bigoted? I don't know how else to explain it; I don't know how else to appeal to the better angels of their nature.
BLITZER: On a different issue, and it's a sensitive issue, "USA Today," the newspaper, is reporting that the Secret Service has actually run out of funding meant to last the entire year, due in part to the demands of protecting the Trump family, their many properties, the adult children. What's your reaction to that?
QUIGLEY: First, we need to take care of our Secret Service agents. They do a great job, and what they do is extraordinarily important. It's the right thing to do. It's the fair thing to do, and we're not going to be able to recruit and retain officers unless they're paid appropriately.
So I think that we have to work, on a bipartisan, basis to make sure this gets done.
At the same time, the president has spent about a third of his short time in office traveling either to, what, Mar-a-Lago or his golf course in New Jersey. The Mar-a-Lago trips are about $3 million apiece. Seven trips. Five to his golf course in New Jersey. I mean, he has to take some responsibility. Our job is to make sure he's safe. He can play a role, too.
BLITZER: Congressman Mike Quigley, thanks so much for joining us.
QUIGLEY: Thank you. Any time.
BLITZER: Coming up, the president gets ready for a prime-time address to the nation, presenting a new strategy for America's longest war in Afghanistan after his politically catastrophic response to the Charlottesville violence. Can he push the reset button tonight?
And are the president's constant trips to his resort draining the Secret Service budget -- we're going to have more on this -- while hundreds of Secret Service may be working overtime -- get this -- without pay.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:28:45] BLITZER: Breaking news: a brand-new poll shows Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the incident in Charlottesville. Most disapprove of how he's handling his job, overall, as well. Let's discuss with our analysts and reporters.
Jeffrey Toobin, a brand-new poll. We just had those numbers. I'll put them up again. Only 28 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the Charlottesville protest, the current attack. Sixty-two percent of Republicans did approve of his response. That's still pretty good for him and his base.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's pretty good, but it is not what it was. And -- but it remains true that his numbers have not changed that much. I mean, he had a bad start to his presidency politically, and his numbers have been about between 35 percent and 40 percent the entire presidency. So as bad as last week was -- and I think we can all agree it was a pretty bad week for him -- it has not, you know, moved the ball tremendously. His base, by and large, still supports him; and most others don't.
BLITZER: So how does -- Kaitlan, how does this set the stage, the importance of his address to the nation tonight on Afghanistan?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this could really be a turning point for him. This is a big night for the president, because like you said, everyone is questioning his leadership capability after those comments he made after the violence in Charlottesville. It really didn't sit well with a lot of people, as that was just proven by your numbers. So this will be a turning point for him tonight, because people -- he's essentially asking the country to trust him on this big decision he's making regarding troops in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: Chris, how do you see it?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: It has the potential to be a pivot point, because he's the president of the United States, and this is his first prime-time address; and he's talking about U.S. troops in a foreign land.
My time spent with Donald Trump over the past several years would suggest, however, that even if he does meet what I think is a low bar, which is essentially to explain why he made the decision he's made and what's going to happen, not veer wildly off the teleprompter, he'll get some praise. The problem is -- or if you're for Donald Trump, not the problem -- he
has a campaign rally tomorrow night in Phoenix. My guess is he will go full Donald Trump in that rally.
So again, what I have learned in covering Donald Trump is the narrative is that there is no narrative. This day does not connect to -- yesterday does not predict today. Today does not tell us about tomorrow. He just does things.
Kaitlyn is exactly right, though. This is an opportunity. He swung and missed big time on August 12 in front of the country. He then did so again in the press conference. This, you -- it has all the elements that he should be able to succeed in a speech like this, and people will be watching.
Even if he does, however, predicting that it means anything about the future of Donald Trump's presidency, I would suggest the past would say doesn't make a lot of sense.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, John Kirby, because for years going back, and I've taken a look at my interviews with him and other tweets. He's been saying get out of Afghanistan. It's a lose-lose situation for the United States.
In 2013 he tweeted this: "Let's get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis. We train and waste billions there. Nonsense. Rebuild the USA." I could read another 20 tweets like that over the years. That was his position, a constant position for a long time. We may hear something different tonight.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: I think you will. Look, I've said it before. His past tweets are interesting but also kind of irrelevant, right? And now he's the commander in chief now, and now he has to make final decisions here about what we're going to do in Afghanistan.
What I hope I hear tonight is not just a troop announcement, and I get that that's probably going to be part of this. What I hope I hear is some sort of larger strategic end state here that we're driving at in Afghanistan. What are we actually trying to do? And it can't just be pegged to boots on the ground. It's got to be pegged to a larger regional geo-strategic strategy. What are we going to do about Pakistan, India, Iran, which has also been helping the Taliban out? Russia, which we know is having a deleterious effect inside Afghanistan?
So there's a -- there's a large chunk of strategy that needs to be, I thought, articulated.
BLITZER: The U.S. military and the diplomats, the whole strategy for 16 years has resulted in the current failure. What's -- why would anyone believe that a few more thousand U.S. troops is going to result in anything else?
KIRBY: Exactly the point, Wolf. It won't. What I don't want tonight to be about is incrementalism. We're going to throw a few more thousand troops. We're going to do more training. We're going to do more counterterrorism. All that's important stuff, but you have to have a larger strategic view here, and it has to be whole of government, not just the military.
It bothers me a little bit that the speech is happening at Fort Myers.
KIRBY: Because -- because it shouldn't just be about the military. What we do in Afghanistan in the long-term future that we see. It really has to be more diplomatic, more economic, more political. We've to help shore up the unity government under President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah whether we like it or not, and so it can't just be a military solution.
BLITZER: Strategic advisor Steve Bannon who was removed, what, on Friday, he wanted the U.S. to get out militarily but to have contractors there who could at least maintain the current status quo. You're -- you're shaking your head.
TOOBIN: Well, no. That's true, and one of the paradoxes of the Trump administration is that it's very difficult to identify where he is within the Republican approach to foreign policy. You know, he was very critical of the neo-conservatives who brought us into the war in Iraq. And Steve Bannon embodied that criticism.
But at the same time, he has not withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq and is -- is apparently going to argue for some more -- some more troops there. So I don't really know where he stands on that continuum. And it's not like there is an easy answer regardless of where you are, but these are intractable problems that Democratic and Republican presidents have had.
You know, Chris, people don't necessarily appreciate the U.S. right now has about 8,400 military personnel serving in Afghanistan. But another 23,000 contractors, 10,000 or so of whom are U.S. citizens. There's a huge civilian contractor deployment in Afghanistan right now already.
CILLIZZA: And that's, to John's point, that this is not -- to just say military solution, there's a lot more going on there, and there's a reason. This is the problem -- the difficulty of being president is you don't get any of the easy decisions. None of the easy ones pop all the way up to you. You only get the hard ones.
[17:35:12] Where he has been versus where he is now, I think, is the difference between being a candidate for president and being president. Barack Obama ran for the exact same things.
Remember the criticism of Barack Obama's foreign policy was it was too much like George Bush's, because there are no simple answers. Can he find a way? I'm skeptical that he will outline a broad strategy in the region, though they are saying that the conversation will be about more than just Afghanistan. I'm skeptical of that, only because I think Donald Trump is not and never has been a details guy, necessarily. I think this will be much more about we are America. This is what we sort of represent, more broadly symbolic than it will be in the weeds.
Maybe that's more appropriate for a speech like this. I'm just not -- he's not going to, I don't think, going to go down a bullet point list of strategic ways, militarily and non-militarily, that we're going to get to an end goal.
TOOBIN: And he's going to say Afghanistan has to solve Afghanistan's problems, but George W. Bush said that. Barack Obama said that. It's easier said than done.
BLITZER: How has that turned out so far. Not so good.
All right. Everybody stand by. There's more we need to discuss, including the U.S. Secret Service budget now at a breaking point, we're told, stretched to the limit in part by the president's constant travel along with trips by his adult children. Will hundreds of agents actually be forced to work overtime without pay?
[17:41:11] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A new poll from the "Washington Post" just out says Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the president's response to a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Let's dig deeper into these latest numbers. And if we take a look, his overall -- his overall approval number in this "Washington Post"/ABC News poll only 37 percent approve. That's been pretty consistent: in the 30s, high 30s, mid-30s approve of his job as president. But on this sensitive question of whether or not the president was putting white supremacists on equal footing with their opponents, look at this. Yes, 42 percent. The president is putting white supremacists on an equal standing with their opponents, the counter protestors. No, 35 percent. Twenty-three percent no opinion.
Those numbers are not very encouraging for the president right now. The job approval number in this specific question.
COLLINS: No, they're not at all. That response to those comments, and that there was violence on both sides, was not received well at all. There was an overwhelmingly negative response to that. Because the president was equating those. He was saying is there was violence on both sides. That meant the white supremacists, and the KKK and the neo-Nazis and those who were there counter-protesting that.
And even Heather Heyer, the young woman who was killed that Saturday during the protest, her mother said she was not going to take a call from the president, because he had essentially equated those. So I think that's going to be a big problem for the president, and I think that's why we saw no White House officials go onto any of the television shows on Sunday. Because they didn't want to have to defend those comments, because there's not really a way to defend them.
BLITZER: He said, and this s what really has burdened him over these past few days. There were very fine people on both sides. CILLIZZA: And remember his response on the Saturday of the actual
event was, on many sides. On many sides, repeating that. So it's clearly what he thinks.
Those numbers, Jeff mentioned this in the last segment, that Trump's numbers largely are static. And they sort of are. I mean, it's -- part of it's the tribalism around our politics. Part of it's the tribalism around Donald Trump in particular.
One thing, I do think, to look out for and not to just plug, not to be a company guy and just plug Jake's town hall tonight with Paul Ryan, but I do think Paul Ryan, he had a post on Facebook today. He's going to talk to Jake tonight. I do think there is a danger here, more long term, for the Republican Party. That Donald Trump's affiliation with the Republican Party is loose at best. He wasn't a Republican before he ran for president. I don't know if he'll be one after he is president.
But there's real damage, if Donald Trump becomes the Republican Party for your average person in the country, there's things like this. It is a big problem in 2018, 2020, 2024, because there's going to be someone after Donald Trump running, and if they have to answer for everything that Donald Trump says and does, including things like this, which more people think he was equating white supremacists with counter-protestors than not. That's a huge problem for one of our two national parties.
BLITZER: This is a new national poll, Jeffrey. But take a look at the Marist poll on three important states that President Trump won. You see the numbers, those job approval numbers. In Michigan, only 36 percent. In Pennsylvania, only 35 percent. In Wisconsin 34 percent.
Also very bad numbers for "Trump made you feel proud or embarrassed." Those numbers, if the president studies these polls and looks at them all the time, he studies these, he's not going to be very happy.
TOOBIN: He's not, but I also take a somewhat different view, that he is in less political peril than -- than we think. I mean, he -- his base has not changed that much. It has shrunk a little bit, but these polls -- you know, we spent all last week saying this was a catastrophe. This was awful. We had people quitting. We had CEOs leaving. And you know what? His numbers stayed just about the same.
I just think, you know, he has decided these are his people. He got elected with them. They're sticking with him regardless of what he says, and that's how he's betting his presidency.
CILLIZZA: I don't disagree. I do think there has been some erosion, as you know.
CILLIZZA: But it's hard -- Donald Trump once said famously, I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and my numbers wouldn't move.
TOOBIN: He did. CILLIZZA: He's not totally wrong about that.
CILLIZZA: But 37 percent approval, if you look at history, would suggest major losses in the house in 2018 for his party that could cost them the House. A divided Congress would be hugely problematic. And there are not a lot of presidents who get reelected with 37 percent approval.
He's got plenty of time. But I'm just saying, Jeff's right that his base has not moved a lot. The question is, how big is that base? And when you are at 37 percent approval nationally, that's a hard case to make to win in a two-person race in 2020.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Everybody, stick around. There is much more coming up.
An important note, though, to our viewers right now. The President's address to the nation in Afghanistan, 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight. We'll have live coverage, of course, of that.
Then, at 9:30 p.m. Eastern, right afterwards, an exclusive CNN town hall with the House Speaker Paul Ryan, moderated by our own Jake Tapper. We'll have the Speaker's immediate reaction to President Trump's announcement on Afghanistan, what he had to say about Charlottesville, and a whole lot more. Stick around for that.
Coming up next, the U.S. Secret Service says it's running out of cash. How the President's travel have been stretching the agency's budget to its breaking point right now.
[17:51:13] BLITZER: The U.S. Secret Service says the agency has already blown through its annual budget. It may mean some agents will be working overtime without pay unless Congress steps in to meet the shortfall.
Brian Todd has been digging on the story. Brian, what can you tell us?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump is now on pace in just his first year in office to surpass President Obama's spending on travel for his entire eight years. And tonight, there is new information on just how much of a strain the President's travel is putting on the Secret Service.
TODD (voice-over): The multiple weekend excursions to Mar-a-Lago, the repeated visits to his golf club in New Jersey, round the clock security for the first lady and their son inside Trump Tower in mid- town Manhattan until recently.
Tonight, there is more scrutiny on the strain of those operations for the men and women who protect President Trump and his extended family.
CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: They are now working overtime hours they are not getting paid for.
TODD (voice-over): Today, Secret Service Director Randolph Alles said about 1,100 agency employees will work overtime hours this year that they won't get paid for without Congress stepping in.
Alles pointed out in a statement, quote, this issue is not one that can be attributed to the current administration's protection requirements, but rather has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade.
Still, observers say Alles has a problem internally at the Secret Service.
LEONNIG: He has a lot of angry, frustrated agents who feel that they are giving more than they -- than they should give by serving on these details.
TODD (voice-over): And the Trump details are taxing the Secret Service in unique ways. Unlike other presidents who made trips to Camp David where military security is already in place, President Trump has made frequent trips to his resorts. Former Secret Service Agent Larry Johnson says that creates more security challenges and longer hours for the agents.
LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE: And you're going to have to name check. You're going to have to do extra security because of access to individuals that may either be residents in that location or members of the golf club, et cetera. The logistics of the Secret Service is quite amazing when you talk about moving vehicles, moving agents, moving assets like magnetometers.
TODD (voice-over): And Trump's large family, 18 members in all, travel often and need protection wherever they go. "USA Today" reports Trump's son, Eric, took a business trip to Uruguay earlier this year, which cost the Secret Service almost $100,000 just for hotel rooms.
LEONNIG: You may remember when the children -- the three adult children all went skiing. It cost quite a pretty penny in ski lift fees just for the Secret Service agents. It costs thousands upon thousands of dollars in golf cart fees when the family is in Mar-a- Lago because the Secret Service agents have to have golf carts to follow everybody around.
TODD (voice-over): This from a President who tweeted three years ago, quote, we pay for Obama's travel so he can fund raise millions so Democrats can run on lies, then we pay for his golf.
Today, the White House issued a statement saying the President is committed to ensuring the Secret Service has all the resources it needs.
TODD: Today, Secret Service Director Alles promised to work with Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to make sure agents are paid their overtime.
But even if these budget and overtime issues are resolved this year, former Secret Service agents and others observers are telling us they worry about a broader long-term issue, the challenges of keeping top agents in the agency. Several of them have left in recent years and the challenge is of recruiting top law enforcement agents to join the Secret Service -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I hope Congress funds the money so the Secret Service agents will be paid what they are due. Brian Todd, thank you very much.
[17:54:59] Coming up, breaking news. President Trump prepares for a major address to the nation tonight, a new strategy for Afghanistan and America's longest war. Can he move beyond his disastrous response to Charlottesville and the upheaval over at the White House?
And 10 U.S. sailors, they are missing and a U.S. Navy war ship is badly damaged after the fourth major accident this year. So what's the U.S. Navy doing about it?
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Boots on the ground? We're standing by for President Trump to reveal his new Afghanistan war strategy. Will he send more Americans to fight in a conflict he once heavily criticized?
[18:00:03] Attempting to shift. Mr. Trump is about to address the nation as he faces some of the worst poll numbers of his presidency and serious questions about his competence and moral authority.