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Soon: Trump To Meet With Tillerson Amid "Moron" Claims; Bannon To "Challenge Every GOP Incumbent" Except Cruz; Trump: Corker Sounded Like "A Fool" In NYT Interview; At Least 11 Dead As Fires Rage In Northern California. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 10, 2017 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Just moments from now, we could hear from President Trump on camera for the first time since going to war with a leading lawmaker in his own party.

Just as more portions of Senator Bob Corker's "New York Times" interview come to light painting the president as reckless and potentially dangerous.


SENATOR BOB CORKER (R-TN), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE (via telephone): I do worry that he's -- sometimes I feel like he's on a reality show of some kind, you know, when he's talking about these big foreign policy issues.


CORKER: And, you know, he doesn't realize that, you know, that we could be heading towards World War III with the comments that he's making.


BOLDUAN: The president, remember, was quote/unquote, "not finished" with Corker according to a White House official and he tweeted again this morning, this, "The failing "New York Times" set little Bob Corker up by recording his conversation was made to sound a fool and that's what I am dealing with."

Well, he's also dealing with this, from a fight with a member of his own party to more tension with a member of his own cabinet, the president planning lunch today with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Insert your favorite food fight joke here because I couldn't come up with a good one. This, of course, comes after the report surfaced that a frustrated Tillerson had called his boss a moron over the summer.

Just this morning Trump is firing back in a new interview with "Forbes" magazine, asked about the moron report, Trump said this, "I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare I.Q. tests and I can tell you who is going to win."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins, always winning at the White House right now. Kaitlan, has the official vetting rules change for the White House? Do they now include an I.Q. test requirement?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I don't know. We will have to see, Kate, but this meeting is not the first time that Tillerson and Trump have talked since these tensions have been at an all-time high. We've just reported that they actually met in the oval office on Friday.

That's just days after Tillerson held that press conference where he denied that he had considered resigning from his position as secretary of state, but notably did not deny calling the president a moron over the summer.

Now a State Department official tells my colleague, Elise Labott, that the president and Tillerson did not discuss the moron remark when they met in the oval office on Friday at the last minute to discuss a Middle East issue.

But we're also told that their meeting at the White House today, this morning, before that lunch, with Defense Secretary James Mattis, the president, Tillerson and other national security officials are meeting to discuss issues like Iran and North Korea.

But it's a lot of face time for these two men where the tensions have really been at an all-time high. As you just brought up, that quote from the president in his interview with "Forbes" where he essentially said he could beat Tillerson in an I.Q. test.

And then in that same interview, he was also asked about a very public disagreement between these two men lately, after Tillerson told reporters that he had a line of communication to North Korea.

The president swiftly got on Twitter and said that Tillerson should not waste his time trying to negotiate with North Korea. Now, in this interview the president was asked about that and he said he didn't see it as undermining Tillerson, but that he was strengthening his authority.

It's safe to say a lot of people did not see it that way, but the president is maintaining publicly he and Tillerson have a good relationship, that they have a few disagreements, but overall, a good relationship.

But it's safe to say there's a lot playing out behind closed doors here between the president and his top diplomats.

BOLDUAN: And there's been no secret, there's been no secret that Rex Tillerson has been frustrated in how things have been playing out as he -- as he has been secretary of state. But when we say the president thought he was strengthening authority, Tillerson's authority or the president's authority, that can be a follow-up question this afternoon. Little later when they sit down for lunch. Kaitlan, it's great to see you. Thank you so much. So, President Trump's former chief strategist has a message now for Senator Bob Corker, pretty short and sweet, resign immediately. And Steve Bannon does not stop there. He says he's waging a war against the entire Republican establishment.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We're going to go after them and challenge them as a coalition --


BANNON: There's a coalition coming together that's going to challenge every Republican incumbent except for Ted Cruz.


BOLDUAN: Dana Bash joining me with new details on what exactly Bannon is really planning. Dana, this is really some fascinating and important new reporting that you've been pulling together. What is the master plan here for Steve Bannon?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a plan in the works. I mean, they're trying to get a sense of how to strategize, to come up with a national message.

[11:05:04] And when I say national message, I'm talking about a national message for the challengers who are going to try to take out the incumbent Republicans. There's no other way to put this, but an orchestrated, aggressive, civil war inside the GOP.

We saw something similar with the Tea Party in 2010, but a source close to Bannon is arguing to, I should say -- I did this reporting with Gloria Borger and Eric Bradner, is arguing that they want to do it in a more sort of calculated way, in a more careful way, to not get candidates who can topple the incumbent but then potentially not win in the general election in these states.

So, that is the goal, to have, you know, a whole national aggressive game here, and when we talk about consolidating and nationalizing the message, what he's trying to convince donors, grassroots organizers and leaders, is that that's the only way to try to glean from Donald Trump the message that he successfully used in 2016.

Populist message, us against them, the Washington is broken, they're not there for you. I mean, it truly is as sort of at its core the most populist of messages and the goal is to try to overtake the Republican Party with that wing.

BOLDUAN: What are the incumbents that he's targeting? I mean, it's basically virtually every Republican that's up for re-election? What are the incumbents saying about this?

BASH: Not too much so far, but they're probably going to have to and they will have to, if there are legitimate candidates that challenge them, raise money, they're going to have to, you know, maybe think about how they're going to vote in the Senate.

And if they vote maybe in a way that is too moderate or that is too Washington and establishment, then it could hurt them with the very base voters that they're going to need against these Republican primary challengers in their states and just to be clear, look, we're talking about really popular incumbent senators in really red states.


BASH: Senators like John Barasso of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska. There are vulnerable Republican incumbents but he doesn't want to -- Bannon and his people who are going to help him with this, don't want to just focus on that.

You know, the question also is, well, if you spread yourself too thin, Kate, what will that mean in terms of being able to really focus and again the argument that he is making is, better to spread yourself too thin because for them spreading themselves too thin the opposite side of that coin is Mitch McConnell and the establishment Republicans having to defend many, many states they didn't even think about with important money.

BOLDUAN: Let's see how this plays out, 2018, coming fast and furious. Thanks, Dana. Great to see you.

BASH: You too.

BOLDUAN: All right. Joining me now to discuss much more, Chris Cilizza is a reporter and editor-at-large of CNN Politics, Nia Malika Henderson, a CNN senior political reporter, Doug Heye, a CNN political commentator and former communications director for the Republican National Committee, and Eric Beach, a co-chair of the Great American Alliance of Pro-Trump PAC.

Great to see all of you. Doug, let us begin where Dana and I left off. Everyone thought 2018 would be a defining moment but everyone thought at first it would be Republican versus Democrat defining that moment. Now looks like it's Republican versus Republican. What do you think it's going to look like?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I figured you came to me first because as you know, I worked for Eric Cantor. We had a bit of a bruising primary in 2014.

BOLDUAN: I wasn't going to bring it up.

HEYE: It might have been the shot heard around the world on all of this. Look, if people want to put primary challenges out there, I think that's a good and fine thing to do, but let's be clear this kind of targeting of every single Republican minus the one senator who called Donald Trump a sniveling coward, which says follow the money is going to make it harder for Donald Trump to enact his agenda.

And that's the same thing that we've seen with all of these fights with Republican senators and members of Congress. If Donald Trump is fighting with Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or now Bob Corker, he's taking his eye off the ball for tax reform and Obamacare repeal.

And of all the things I hear from members whether they are more moderate or conservative members from very pro-Trump districts is they want to make sure that Donald Trump is doing everything that he can to stay out of his way to enact the Trump agenda.

BOLDUAN: One question, Eric, I mean, I want to know if you guys are planning and playing in some of these races with Steve Bannon, but when it comes down to where is McConnell working against Trump? If this is, you know, taking on the Republican establishment and Mitch McConnell has become the boogie man of that?

ERIC BEACH, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, sure. In full disclosure, we're partners in this coalition so we're certainly going to take on. I don't know that the narrative is quite as accurate as it's been reported. I mean, what we strive to do is really kind of go against the political consultancy class.

They believe that you reach out to the middle and try to get 20 percent of the medium in the middle, and the moderate vote, try to moderate your candidates. I think what happens is, there's a disconnect between Washington, D.C., and the leadership.

[11:10:00] And really around that Trump coalition, and that agenda is built around some core issues that people in D.C. We see on this, you know, the DACA exchange bill if you want to call it that, on illegal immigration, job creation, and also unfair trade deals.

That's something that leadership doesn't take up. These are the core issues that helped get Donald Trump elected, and I think what we're looking for are these Trump coalition and these Trump agenda candidates that will go out there not just in the primary.

But we want candidates because we believe that there's an intensity on the ground, there's these new and low propensity voters that will turn out to vote in droves and help win the general election. Our model works. The old model does not.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, the low propensity voter that is a big part of this conversation and a big part of, of course, any 2018, any midterm conversation. But Chris, let me ask you the same question I just asked Eric, where are you seeing evidence that Mitch McConnell, who is the establishment here, is working against Donald Trump?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I think the argument would be in terms of priorities and in terms of willingness to compromise. The reason that health care didn't go through was because Mitch McConnell didn't push effectively enough on his members.

Mitch McConnell tends towards compromise to cut a huge compromise to avert the fiscal cliff with Joe Biden back when Barack Obama was president. So I think it's really more about a willingness to play within the established D.C. system and a desire to have people who are not part of that system and won't play what those folks view as a game that does not benefit conservatives. Because this is not -- Eric didn't make the case that it was and I think that's fair -- this is not really an ideological fight. It's more of an approach and tone fight. John Barrasso, for example, in Wyoming is on all the voting measures, quite conservative.

I would say the same thing about Deb Fischer, Roger Wicker. This is really about do you want to play within the system or do you think the system needs to be broken down and rebuilt in a different way. That's the Bannon argument. It's not moderate versus conservative.

BOLDUAN: Nia, just one final point op this, what role do you think the president plays when the primaries start kicking up? I mean, we saw the RNC doesn't get involved with primaries, but when it comes to what happened in Alabama, Donald Trump was on the losing side of that. That did not sit well with him, we know that.


BOLDUAN: What happens coming up?

HENDERSON: And that's the big question, right. He was on the wrong side of that race in Alabama, in some ways has been fuming ever since then, and that was a Mitch McConnell idea to have him play in that race.


HENDERSON: He will have to figure out does he try to play in Mississippi if there is a primary challenge, does he try to play in any of these other states. Barrasso, if there's a serious primary challenge against Deb Fischer.

I mean, in some ways it seems like it would be a waste of his time to play in these races because no matter what, it's very likely that a Republican is going to emerge from those contests and a Republican who is with Donald Trump, if not in tone, in temperament, certainly in terms of ideology.

So, he's got to figure out where he plays his time. I think sort of the benefit for him in 2018, Bannon is smart here, I think, to make it sort of like a Trump 2016 campaign in miniature, so you are getting I think, you know, in 2018, all of those hot button issues out there that Donald Trump ran on and won successfully on.

I think in that way it's smart. You do get those low propensity voters engaged and energized in advance, again, of not only in 2018, but in advance of 2020. So, I think from that point, I think it's a really smart thing.

It's going to be chaos for some of these folks, particularly for people like Dean Heller and Jeff Flake, the ones likely going to be most worried about this, but they were already probably going to have a serious challenge in those races anyway but now you've got sort of money and Bannon and Breitbart in these races too, so they've got real cause to worry.

HEYE: Meanwhile we're not --

BOLDUAN: But Doug, I have to get you on something else, I got to go here because whenever anyone starts rebranding on senior member of the Republican Party, we got to go to it. Donald Trump now branding Bob Corker little Bob Corker and hitting at the senator again this morning. Nia --

HENDERSON: It's like a --

BOLDUAN: Can I just say it's a lame nickname? OK.

HENDERSON: I'm going to let Doug go at this.

BOLDUAN: Nia not little. Nia is actually quite tall. I will just throw that out there. Nia is quite tall. So that's why she finds this ridiculous. What -- what's so intriguing about this back and forth is I haven't seen yet and maybe it will come, I haven't seen yet that a single Republican come out to condemn what Corker actually said in this interview. What does that mean?

HEYE: Well, what Bob Corker said publicly is exactly what so many members of Congress and in the Senate, whether they're moderate or conservative, are saying every day.

[11:15:08] I remember on inauguration day, I had a conservative Republican member of Congress from a district that Trump won pretty handedly say to me, this is not going to end well so I'm going to focus on my committee and subcommittee.

We should remember of those of who are critical of Corker and I understand if you want to be critical, those saying he should resign, Bob Corker like every senator and member of Congress took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, not any politician, that's a big difference.

BOLDUAN: Eric, what's your view on this? Because Newt Gingrich was on CBS this morning and he said this isn't helpful to the country or the Republican Party, they should have lunch and just get over it. Do you agree with Newt?

BEACH: Yes. I think that's probably right. But I also think this, I think that there's the turn inside of Washington, D.C., and you mentioned, you know, nobody's talking about Trump on his issues, nobody is talking about, you know, the certain issues that they don't want to get done.

And the Senate's, you know, approval ratings are in the teens because they haven't passed any reforms. I think they have a credibility problem there in the Senate leadership.

So, when you look at candidates like Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee and Kelli Ward in Arizona and Danny Tarkenian (ph) in Nevada, you're looking at candidates that are going to come in and push towards these reforms that not just Donald Trump ran on, but the voters voted for.

And right now, what we're doing is we're discounting the voters. I think that's the problem with the Republican Party, is we are not capturing these new voters that came into our party that expect real reforms.

BOLDUAN: You're saying that's what Trump's not doing in this fight? What are you saying here?

BEACH: No. I'm saying that's what we're not doing in terms of the echo chamber inside of Washington, D.C. We should embrace these new voters and the agenda that Trump ran on and that's the problem is that we don't understand how he won and the reasons that he won and those certain states and all across the country.

I mean, the idea that, you know, Senator Corker and any other senator thinks that they're driving the narrative and pushing it forward, you know, into Congress, I think is a false one. This is the Trump coalition agenda that needs to be followed through with.

BOLDUAN: Well, let's ask Bob Corker about that because he was just as elected by his constituents as Donald Trump was elected by the country. Guys, stand by. Great to see you. I appreciate it.

Coming up for us, the president's war with the NFL apparently far from over. President Trump now calling for a change to laws that gives the league big tax breaks. Where is that going to head?

Plus, the death toll rising right now as wildfires are raging across California. At least 11 people are now dead. This is fast-moving wildfires. Dozens more are in the hospital. More than a thousand homes and businesses destroyed. We will take you live to the heart of the disaster on how things are going there.



BOLDUAN: Breaking news, deadly infernos are raging across Northern California right now. That was a scene overnight. The fast-moving wildfires have already killed 11 people, forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes and we're going to show you another view of the devastation.

Before and after pictures from Santa Rosa, California. Just take a look at that picture on the right. It is devastating.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is joining me now from that hard-hit city of Santa Rosa. Miguel, that is amazing to see in the worst sense. It is startling how fast this moved and how wide it spread?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is disturbing. These were big fires, driven by wind, you know, 50 miles an hour for firefighters. It was impossible to fight. It's kind of like trying to turn out a hurricane with a garden hose. They were moving so fast.

The good news is that wind has calmed down substantially so maybe, maybe, maybe they can get on top of it today and start to put these fires out. I want to show you where we are right now, what you're looking at right in front of us was a resort hotel in lovely wine country in Sonoma County.

It's completely devastated part of that wide devastation that we've seen in other places. If you look beyond those trees there, you can see the neighborhood beyond this hotel and that too is just an absolute hell scape.

Eleven people dead in these fires, 17 total fires in the last 24 hours have kicked up across California, 100 people may be missing. Sonoma County sheriff's office had disturbing calls overnight, people calling up saying I'm missing a loved one, can't find them, can't figure out where they are.

Part of that may be driven by the fact that so many people, tens of thousands of people, evacuated with literally minutes to spare. In all, about 120,000 acres across the entire state burning.

Even Anaheim, south of Los Angeles, Disneyland territory, a big fire is breaking out there. Lots of wind driven -- driving those fires as well as several houses went up in flames, several more -- several thousand more are threatened in that fire.

The only good news that we have in this is that the weather has changed for the better. That wind has come way down, the temperature has dropped. It's actually quite cold right now and the humidity is up.

All good things for firefighters as they try to get on top of these fires. Maybe they can get the upper hand now and get out in front of these fires and actually start fighting them -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: I guess that is the good news, but just seeing what's behind you, seeing the images that we're showing from overhead, some of the aerial views and also the news you gave, 100 people missing, at least at this moment, just really heartbreaking to see this playing out right now. Miguel, thank you so much.

MARQUEZ: It's disturbing.

BOLDUAN: We will be getting back to you and watching this very, very closely. Hopefully, the weather works and helps them out a little bit right now.

Any moment now, though, we are going to be watching, keeping our eye on Washington. We're going to hear from President Trump on camera for the first time since he launched into his war of words with Republican Senator Bob Corker.

And also, since he suggested that he's smarter than his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Roll out the I.Q. tests. Stay with us.



BOLDUAN: We are keeping an eye on the White House today. President Trump is set to have lunch with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis very, very soon. Two of the men that Senator Bob Corker says are in his words separating the country from chaos.

But will Mattis need to separate the president from his secretary of state today? That's one question. This awkward, somewhat awkward, meal comes after word that Tillerson called the president a moron over the summer and, of course, after Trump said in a new interview they just released today he has a higher I.Q.

That interview releasing this morning. Of course, will the president and his top diplomat be able to be diplomatic with each other while they break bread?

Let's find out. Joining me CNN's Jim Sciutto with more details on this. Jim, there has been so much speculation that Tillerson's days are numbered. What are you hearing right now?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, if you look at recent history in the Trump administration, there's been a lot of it because there have a lot of departures. When disagreements with senior --