Return to Transcripts main page
Trump: We Can't Keep FEMA, Military in Puerto Rico Forever; Trump Slams Puerto Rico amid Hurricane Devastation; Report: Trump Yelled "I Hate Everyone in White House!" Trump: Rescue a Sign Pakistan "Respects Us Now". Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired October 12, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: -- Texas or Florida, but he seems this morning to be effectively putting Puerto Rico on notice. He's threatening to abandon the recovery efforts there and pull back on the number of relief workers who are on the island and the -- this is just while they're in the middle of this staggering humanitarian crisis there.
Now, the president also tweeted this morning, quote, saying, "Puerto Rico survived the hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making, says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of accountability says the governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the military and the first responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in Puerto Rico forever!"
Now, that website set up by the Puerto Rican government does say that 45 people have died in Puerto Rico, over 100 people are unaccounted for, 90 percent of the island is without power and a lot of people are struggling to find clean drinking water. And officials have cautioned that this recovery effort is going to take some time, given the magnitude of this storm. But we're seeing the president become increasingly irritated with dealing with this.
A lot of the media coverage of his administration's response to Puerto Rico has been largely negative. And when he made his trip there, he raised a lot of eyebrows when he told Puerto Rican officials that they should be grateful that hundreds of people had not died there like in a, quote, "real catastrophe" like hurricane Katrina.
Now, the president and the vice president have both promised to be there with Puerto Rico every step of the way in this recovery effort. But now, John and Poppy, it sounds like they want Puerto Rico to shoulder more of the responsibility here.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House thanks so much.
Here now to discuss, CNN political commentator commentators Ben Ferguson, Robby Mook and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Ron, the president says, FEMA and the military can't be in Puerto Rico forever. I'm not sure we're near forever yet.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
BERMAN: When 90 percent of the people on that island or 3.5 million Americans don't yet have power. The compassion here seems to be, you know, a mismatch with the situation on the ground.
BROWNSTEIN: Not only the compassion, but the competence, right? I mean, you know, every day, you find yourself saying, how extraordinary what you are hearing out of the White House is. What Poppy said, I think, really underscores the point. I mean, this is very different than the tone we have seen on Texas and Florida. And you have to ask yourself whether they're partisan dimensions to that, whether there are racial dimensions to that, but either way you're talking about American citizens who are facing an extraordinary catastrophe.
And the White House saying, they are, in fact, they are lucky to receive the help they have gotten so far. And, you know, my patience for being involved is limited. As well as over the weekend, the head of FEMA criticizing the mayor of San Juan, saying basically, I'm tuning out their objections. Again, we are in unchartered waters with a president behaving this way and making these kinds of threats to American citizens suffering from what any indication is a historic catastrophe on the island.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's also bizarre because last night in the "Hannity" interview he bragged that you know debt has been reduced by $5 trillion because of the stock market increasing. That's not true. But -- the point he was making was things are looking so much better for our economy, et cetera, for our wallet, but then he's questioning how much time, how much money, how much energy can go to Puerto Rico. Ben, our friend from Texas, substitute Harvey for Maria. Substitute Texas for Puerto Rico. What would you say?
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't like the way that the president phrased it this morning. I think his point is there are obviously some political issues down there behind the scenes that we're seeing. I mean, it's very clear that you have people that are in politics specifically you have one mayor that's been very critical of the president.
And I think not showing up for these early FEMA meetings and I think his point was to those leaders, you got to come together and you got to get your stuff together. We've seen a different response from local elected officials, specifically I think in Texas, where Republicans and Democrats have come together it -
HARLOW: Hold on.
BERMAN: Hang on. A dramatic reading from the writings of President Donald Trump if we can. The first is a message about Texas and Louisiana. We are with you today. We are with you tomorrow. We will be with you every single day after to restore, recover, and rebuild.
Now, this is about Puerto Rico. We cannot keep FEMA, the military and first responders who have been amazing under the most difficult circumstances in Puerto Rico forever. That is night and day.
FERGUSON: Yes. And I think that's where you have to distinguish when the president. And this is where I would not have sent that tweet, between the political frustration and the anger. And the President Bush had to deal with this when he was dealing with Mayor Nagin, for example. But you have to let the people know of Puerto Rico. But the politics are not going to get in between the bigger issue which is the American people are here to help you and the American government is here to help you.
BERMAN: He did the opposite.
FERGUSON: And that's the reason why I would not have sent that tweet. And I think his frustration is probably one of those that you hear about the stories afterwards of the non-communication. For a mayor not to go to any of the FEMA meetings early on, but go out there on TV.
[10:05:00] I think has got to be incredibly frustrating for the president to say, we're here helping you, you're not even telling us what you need, you're going on TV instead to criticize me personally. Again, I think you have to be the bigger person when you're the president of the United States America always. And I think that tweet is probably a tweet that should have never ever been sent.
HARLOW: Let's switch gears here and also talk, Robby, about an article I'm sure you've read this morning in "Vanity Fair" by Gabe Sherman. He talks about a lot of different folks who are very close to the president and the fallout from the attack back and forth with Senator Bob Corker. He talks about the White House being at an inflection point.
Here's part of it. "It brought into the open what several people close to the president have recently told me in private: that Trump is "unstable," "losing a step," and "unraveling.""
That sounds a lot like some of the language you and the Clinton team used during the campaign, unhinged. How is this different? I mean, this is folks that don't like the direction of the president that may be close to him but don't like what he's doing and they're using these words or is this different?
ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think this is what actually Democrats and Republicans warned about during the election. Republicans were talking about this in the primary. The people needed to take Trump at his word. They needed to take him seriously. And they needed to take the threat of him winning seriously. And here we are. This is what we warned about.
And as you mentioned we ran a lot of ads on the campaign talking about the potential for the president to use nuclear weapons and how we couldn't trust him to have that power. And I think what you're seeing is Republicans beginning to truly grapple with this and you know, we're hearing talk about potentially changing the law to limit and curb his powers in military decision making or at least have other people involved.
We saw with the Russia sanctions, Republicans come together in full force to intervene and make sure that we did the right thing there. I would actually pause it that the tweets this morning about Puerto Rico are potentially in reaction to that article. This is classic Trump when he's under attack and he's upset about something. He goes and tries to make the conversation about somethings else.
But there's probably going to be a breaking point. You know, when the economy is not doing as well, when the president can't rest on those laurels anymore. I think you'll start to see Republicans take even more action.
BERMAN: You know Poppy's point though, again, you called the then- candidate Donald Trump unhinged during the campaign. You mentioned "The New York Times" editorial this morning saying that Congress should limit the ability of the president of the United States to launch a nuclear weapon. It should become part of the discussion right now, just going to read you one line, "Does he understand, and can he responsibly manage, the most destructive nuclear arsenal on earth?" That's from "The New York Times." The thing is, Ron Brownstein, the American people said yes.
BERMAN: You know, the American electoral system said yes. The president can do this. They voted for him to do this, despite the warnings that you heard from Robby and the Democrats during the campaign. They knew what they were getting and this is what they got.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. First of all it wasn't just the Democrats. I think we can forget that extraordinary letter from dozens of former high- ranking national security officials in several Republican administrations making essentially the same warning that we heard from Bob Corker this week. Yes, the president won and that's why it is very unlikely that Congress, you know, would ever pass something like what "The New York Times" advocated this week. Certainly never passed the House and, you know, get to 60 votes in the Senate. But I think it is a debate.
What Bob Corker said this week, I think, has gotten lost in the idea of some kind of feud or war of words or spat between the president and a senator. What you have is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying that a president of his own party is so reckless and volatile that he's a threat to the security of the nation and the world. I am unaware of a precedent for that. William Fulbright criticized Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam, but we have not seen something like that -
FERGUSON: Let's be clear -
BROWNSTEIN: -- there needs to be a way to debate and grapple with the implications of that comment.
FERGUSON: Let's be clear about Bob Corker for a second. I do a radio show every day in Tennessee. I have known Bob Corker for years before he was a politician. If anyone is becoming unhinged right now, it's Bob Corker for the fact he's trying to rewrite history about his time in the Senate and stand up to Donald Trump because he was going to lose re-election. The people of Tennessee cannot -
FERGUSON: Let me just finish, the people of Tennessee rejected Bob Corker. They don't like him. They think he's been a fraud, a rhino Republican in name only, and that's the only reason why Bob Corker is not running for re-election is because he knew he was going to get beat badly in Tennessee.
So when you come out as you're Bob Corker. And you try to have, I'm a statesman, and I'm going to attack the president because, let's be clear, in the same state where Bob Corker is going to lose, the president of the United States of America, 10, 11 months ago just won a massive election there overwhelmingly in a bigger margin than Bob Corker won his election. So, Bob Corker, if anyone is unhinged, it's Bob Corker going after Republican president to try to make himself feel better and look better about the fact he's walking away with no one behind him in Tennessee.
[10:10:05] BERMAN: Ron, quickly answer and then we're going to get Robby.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, first of all we don't know that Bob Corker was going to lose. And second none of that -
FERGUSON: -- the people in Tennessee that talk to you every day --
BROWNSTEIN: None of that deals with the extraordinary substance about Bob Corker said, which you have heard -
BROWNSTEIN: -- also his argument that you know, the vast majority of Republican senators agree. You know, you look at what's being reported on the Iran deal with the president talking about decertifying and the concerns that raise among his own senior national security advisors not to mention all of our -- all of the relevant allies who are involved. I mean there is a serious underlying issue here that it's comfortable to try to apace by talking about the political dimensions. But you have the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, someone that was considered for Secretary of State, saying the president of the United States is too reckless to be trusted with the nation's security.
BERMAN: Hang on, Ben.
BROWNSTEIN: More of a debate under that underlying issue.
FERGUSON: You're good. BERMAN: I want to get Robby's take on this.
MOOK: Yes. I mean look, Ron's bringing up the key point here. All of these important policy questions are floating in the air, including the questions about whether Donald Trump is making the right choices and the response always from the Trump camp is to deflect and get us talking about drama and intrigue when what we should be talking about is, for example, should the U.S. be withdrawing from the Iran deal which would be a disaster and we can't have a productive dialog in our politics anymore because the president keeps pulling us off the page.
I mean, I'm worried, for example, now in California people are dying in California. Is the president going to, you know, do enough to help them? Is he going to treat them the way he treats Puerto Rico and, you know, it goes on and on and on. So I think we have to start taking our elected officials seriously when they raise serious points and not just deflect on to something else. I think what Bob Corker said is important and you will hear more Republicans.
FERGUSON: Bob Corker, the only reason why Bob Corker said this, is because Bob Corker could not win a re-election and the people of Tennessee -- but -- have walked away from supporting him. Let me finish. I'm saying -- I'm saying the fact -- are his ideas worthy. Bob Corker that's very upset and he is walking away from the U.S. Senate -
HARLOW: We're out of time.
MOOK: Is what Bob Corker said correct. It is. His values -
FERGUSON: I would say no.
MOOK: Talk about his ideas.
HARLOW: All right. Gentlemen, thank you. You'll be back. We appreciate it. Breaking news this morning.
BERMAN: All right. American woman, this is important, an American woman and her Canadian husband and three children have been freed after five years in Taliban custody.
HARLOW: Let's go to Barbara Starr. She joins us at the Pentagon with more. They are free finally these three little kids and their parents. What can you tell us?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, this news breaking overnight and good news to report. Let's emphasize that for a change, very good news to report.
This American woman Caitlan Coleman, her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle, and three small children, all three of their children, born in captivity, finally rescued overnight by Pakistani security officials. They were being moved apparently, according to our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, from one location to another, when the Pakistanis acting in part on intelligence they got from the United States, were able to move in and rescue them. The family currently to this morning is still in Pakistan, arrangements still being made for their return either to the U.S. or to Canada, the husband's country of citizenship.
The president actually hinted last night when he was speaking, in fact, that something very interesting was in the works and was about to come to light. Have a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And one of my generals came in, they said, you know, I have to tell you. A year ago they would have never done that. It was a great sign of respect. You'll probably be hearing about it over the next few days. But this is a country that did not respect us. This is a country that respects us now. The world is starting to respect us again, believe me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: The president there, referring to Pakistan. He knew at the time he was speaking that Pakistan had moved on the intelligence and was, in fact, able to rescue this family. Now, the White House a short time ago also issuing a statement in the president's name saying in part, "This is a positive moment for our country's relationship with Pakistan. The Pakistani government's cooperation is a sign that it is honoring America's wishes for it to do more to provide security in the region."
And this is -- this is something that the Trump administration, the Pentagon and the State Department, have been working on trying to pressure Pakistan to do more to ensure security in that region where the Taliban and the Haqqani network of terrorists that had these people are so active. John and Poppy?
BERMAN: All right. Good news for the family --
[10:15:02] HARLOW: Great news.
BERMAN: -- first and foremost. Barbara Starr, thank you so much for that reporting.
This morning we're getting insider information on just how concerned some in Washington are about President Trump's mindset as he faces two big foreign policy tests.
HARLOW: Is the president turning repeal and replace into do it yourself project? He's about to take Obamacare into his own hands at least in part. We'll have more in that.
And the sun is about to come up in northern California. What does today hold? What do the winds hold for exhaustive crews dealing with this deadly and unpredictable set of wildfires?
BERMAN: This morning we're getting some new information about just how concerned some top Washington insiders are about the president's mindset right now, and frankly, his ability to lead as he addresses major foreign policy issues.
HARLOW: Our Jamie Gangel is working her sources, getting a lot of reaction on a lot of issues. So let's spend some time going through them. First of all, you know, just responding to Gabe Sherman's piece in "Vanity Fair" quoting a lot of people close to the president thinking, you know, this is different.
[10:20:05] This is a different moment. He does not have it together on all of these issues. You're speaking to your Republican sources. How true does that ring to you?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, I think we should start by saying we have thought for a long time that there were watershed moments that it couldn't get any worse. That something was going to change. I'm not sure personally that we are there.
But what I am hearing over and over again is that, especially with North Korea. There is a great concern about national security. A very senior Republican who's been around Washington, D.C., a long time, said I have never been so concerned about national security and not just because of North Korea. Because you never know what the flashpoint is going to be. And they're concerned does he have the temperament? Is he going to tweet about it? Words do matter. So there is no question there's a growing concern about what's going on.
BERMAN: And among some in the establishment or these insiders there was a sense that well, maybe it will get better, maybe over time things will get better, but you're hearing now that people have a belief that it just won't change?
GANGEL: Look, there were some people who really -- we've seen this from the campaign. They thought, oh, he'll pivot. Remember that word, when he gets in the White House, he'll change. He'll understand the power of the presidency and the importance. And to go back to Charlie Brown and Lucy and the football, they're still waiting for it and he keeps pulling the football. He has not pivoted. He has not changed.
HARLOW: What about his words yesterday when he did acknowledge, disagreeing with those around him, that advised him on foreign policy and on his national security team. He said, yes, I have a difference opinion of them. You can assume he's talking about Iran, North Korea, et cetera. But then he went on to say but what I think is the only thing that counts, that's how it works.
GANGEL: Right. And that worries people because, especially people at the Defense Department, people who have been in national security State Department. They don't think that he has the depth of either experience or knowledge or understanding of these issues from where he came from. So when he says something like that, the alarm bells go off.
BERMAN: And when Bob Corker the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week said that he was concerned the president might get us into World War III and the White House is like an adult day care center, these insiders that you're talking to say?
GANGEL: Amen. I mean, they were really -- someone said to me, thank God for Bob Corker. What Senator Corker said out loud is what I've been hearing for months behind the scenes from Republicans who didn't want -- were hoping to work with him, were hoping they could change him, were hoping he would evolve, or, frankly, the Republicans who have to run for office and are afraid if they take him on, that they'll be primaried and they won't be there. So there are a lot of people who were very happy that Bob Corker said what he did.
HARLOW: Quickly, we're going to bring Aaron David Miller and again, our global affairs analyst. And as we bring Aaron David Miller, come into the conversation. I just want Jamie to weigh in on this, because a lot of those people that are criticizing the president also think that Kelly, his chief of staff, is the one that's sort of keeping it together, you have different reporting than others on Kelly.
GANGEL: So, there's no question that I think people feel that General Kelly is doing an amazing job as best he can of trying to have discipline and keep it together. I'm sure when he saw the Puerto Rico tweet this morning, he was not happy with that. But there's been reporting that General Kelly is so frustrated that he's going to leave. I think it's fair to say General Kelly is very frustrated. I think it's also - my sources say, he's not going anywhere. He's a very tough guy. He's in this for the long haul. He sees it as a mission.
BERMAN: So, Aaron David Miller, let's bring you to this conversation. You've worked for several administrations. Is this discussion and the volume of chatter right now, is it different or is this just a different version of the we don't really agree with the president and it's the normal diplomats who think they're all smarter than politicians?
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFARIS ANALYST: You know, I voted for R's and D's. I worked for R's and D's. And frankly, in 25 years of working for the government, State Department, I've never seen anything quite like this. It's unprecedented. It's unbelievable and arguably it's unseemly.
General Kelly, General Mattis and McMaster, they can only do so much. They can improve the efficiency of the process, but look, with respect to impulse control, temperament, these are characteristics, prudence, wisdom, judgment. This is what is required to even begin to cope with the, you know, root canals and the migraine headaches that the United States confronts abroad. And it's essentially a problem. I'm almost 70, and I'm telling you, I think the truth is, people don't change.
And on this one, I think there's enough empirical evidence to suggest that there won't be any changes. The one positive feature, so far, when it comes to the projection of the American military force abroad, whether it was that proportionate strike against CW sites in Syria or the Afghan policy, when you actually look at what the Trump administration has done with respect to the projection of military force, expanding the rules of engagement perhaps, causing additional civilian collateral casualties. That's a problem but by and large they've colored within the lines. The problem is when you get into a crisis and the war of words with Kim Jong-un is not yet that kind of crisis. When something actually occurs, either through miscalculation or miscommunication, North Korean strike a conventional target, shoot down an aircraft or a South Korean naval vessel, then you're going to see the crisis management in action or not. And that's the moment, I think, that concerns me the most. Impulse control here is critically important. Had Kennedy behaved like the president during October 1962, it's arguable that a lot of us, frankly, wouldn't be here today.
HARLOW: Jamie, given all that Aaron has said, but also given all of your Republican sources on the Hill, what do you make of the "New York Times" editorial this morning that says considering all of this, Congress should at this point consider legislation that would strip the president of the power to launch a preemptive first nuclear strike, an authority that was given to him - you know, to the president in 1946. Is that something they would think about? Is that just out there?
GANGEL: I think that -- I can't imagine that this Congress is going to do it. I think when "The New York Times," I'm not inside "The New York Times" head, but when someone puts that out there, whether "The New York Times" or others, it's to add to the conversation. To say, this is how concerned we are about something, you know. It goes to state of mind, something we don't like to talk about or speculate about, but it's adding it to the conversation.
BERMAN: I don't think Paul Ryan is about to put that on the House floor any time soon. Jamie Gangel, Aaron David Miller -
HARLOW: Thank you guy.
BERMAN: you look like a young man, I don't believe your age no matter what you say.
MILLER: Trust me on this one. Ask my kids.
BERMAN: Thanks, Aaron. Appreciate it.
Thank you both, very much. We're going to head to northern California where deadly wildfires are still unpredictable. They are getting even worse, entire towns evacuating thousands of firefighters on the front lines battling the shifting and strong winds working to save lives, ahead.