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President Trump Under Fire Over Comments to Military Widow; The Presidents Club; Interview With Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown; Interview With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Former President Jimmy Carter Willing To Go To North Korea For President Trump; Carter Agrees With Trump On NFL Controversy; George W. Bush: "Bigotry Seems Emboldened"; Trump Attacks Democratic Congresswoman As "Wacky"; President Trump Will Allow Release Of JFK Files. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired October 22, 2017 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Turning the page? President Trump plays nice.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The relationship is very good. We're fighting for the same thing.

BASH: After consistently criticizing fellow Republicans in Congress.

TRUMP: I'm not going to blame myself. They are not getting the job done.

BASH: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is here to respond next.

Plus: pushing tax reform.

TRUMP: Lower taxes mean bigger paychecks, more jobs, and stronger growth.

BASH: Democratic leaders are blasting the president's plan, but one Democrat now says he might be able to support it.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: If the middle class does well, then businesses do well.

BROWN: Senator Sherrod Brown is here to explain.

And the presidents club. All five living former U.S. presidents band together.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make America still a greater volunteer nation.

BASH: Just days after two of them made rare comments, making their concerns public.


BASH: Good morning. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is taxing.

Nine months into the Trump administration, and the president is giving himself high praise for his self-proclaimed accomplishments so far.

Late Saturday, Trump tweeted a string of compliments to himself, but also made reference to two major pieces of unfinished business.

He tweeted: "I agree getting tax cuts approved is important. We will also get health care, but perhaps no administration has done more in its first nine months than this administration."

This week, Republicans did take a step towards a major legislative achievement, passing a budget that paves the way for GOP tax reform.

Now, President Trump is calling for a tax overhaul by the end of the year and says that his attacks on senators from his own party and on his own party are actually helping Republicans pass their agenda.


TRUMP: Sometimes, it helps, to be honest with you. And so we will see what happens in the end. But I think, actually, sometimes, it helps. Sometimes, it gets people to do what they're supposed to be doing.


BASH: The Republican lawmaker under the most pressure from President Trump is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

And he joins me now from his home state of Kentucky.

Thank you for joining me this morning, sir.


BASH: And let's begin -- good morning.

Let's begin with the Republican plan to cut taxes.

For years, you have said that tax reform should be revenue-neutral, meaning that it should not add to the nation's federal debt.

Take a listen.


MCCONNELL: Tax reform ought to be revenue-neutral.

I'm in favor of doing tax reform, but I think tax reform ought to be revenue-neutral.

It will have to be revenue-neutral. We have a $21 trillion debt.


BASH: The budget passed this week, in it, it is estimated that the tax plan could add to federal deficits by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

So, are you abandoning that promise to do whatever you can with tax cuts to make it revenue-neutral?

MCCONNELL: No, actually, we're not, because that's a rather conservative estimate of how much growth you will get out of this pro- growth tax reform, which reduces rates for the middle class, which makes it considerably less likely that jobs go overseas by correcting business taxes in such a way that produces more jobs and opportunity.

I actually think it's a fairly conservative estimate of how much growth we're likely to get out of this pro-growth tax reform that we're in the middle of accomplishing.

BASH: Well, you're arguing now that they're going to spur growth, and then that, in the end, will make the tax cuts pay for themselves.

But there's really no evidence, historically, that that happens.

I will just give you some examples. According to the CBO, the Reagan tax cuts reduced revenue by $445 billion over four years, and the Bush tax cuts did the same thing. They added $1.7 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.

MCCONNELL: Well, you're referring to the wrong bill.

Reagan signed tax reform 31 years ago today. And this is a tax reform bill designed to make America grow more. And there was a gush of revenue after the '86 tax reform bill. The two bills that you referred to were different bills, but I would argue that that produced more revenue as well.

But, clearly, the '86 Tax Reform Act got America growing again, and it lasted for a sustained period of time. And that's the effort that we are under way to accomplish right now, Dana.

BASH: I hear what you're saying, that, at the end of the day, you want this to be much more of a reform and an overhaul of the tax code.

But are you guaranteeing that whatever tax cuts are part of that will not add to the federal deficit?


MCCONNELL: We believe, as I just said, that this is a conservative estimate of how much growth we're likely to get out of this kind of tax reform.

Look, we have been studying this for quite a while. We have been waiting for the opportunity to do it. And Donald Trump being elected president, and Republicans having a majority in the House and Senate, give us an opportunity to accomplish something really important for the country, to get it growing again.

And I don't think President Trump has been given nearly enough credit, by the way, for the other things that he's doing to get the country growing again. And that is changing the people on these boards and commissions that have such a pervasive impact on growth in this country, the SEC, the Federal Communications Commission, the NLRB, the Food and Drug Administration.

The president sent up spectacular appointments. And the Senate, of course, is in the personnel business. We work with him to get the government staffed, not to mention, not to mention Justice Neil Gorsuch and other judicial appointments that are coming through the pipeline, that President Trump, I think, doesn't get nearly enough credit for the changes that he's brought about that are unrelated to legislation.

But we're going to score a big legislative accomplishment here on tax reform in the very near future.

BASH: Well, let me just drill down on one other aspects of taxes.

And that is, "The New York Times" reported this week that House Republicans are considering a plan to sharply reduce the amount of income that Americans can save in tax-deferred 401(k) accounts.

If Republicans, your fellow Republicans in the House were push to go down this path, it could mean higher taxes on the middle class. What do you want to do? Is this a nonstarter in the Senate?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, we're just beginning the process of actually crafting the bills. They will be crafted in the Ways and Means Committee in the House, the Finance Committee in the Senate.

It's way too early to predict the various details. But I can tell you, the goal here, the goal here is to get middle-class taxes down, to get -- to prevent job exportation, which our current business taxes really encourage people to go offshore, and to produce more jobs and opportunity for the American people.

That's the goal. The details will be hashed out in these two committees in the coming weeks.

BASH: The devil is definitely in the details, as they say.

Let's talk about health care. And the two key senators, bipartisan Senate agreement you saw this week, Lamar Alexander, the Republican, Democrat Patty Murray, they came up with a bipartisan plan to fund subsidies to insurance companies that President Trump cut off last week.

Will you bring the Alexander-Murray legislation to the floor of the Senate for a vote?

MCCONNELL: Well, what I'm waiting is to hear from President Trump what kind of health care bill he might sign.

If there's a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign. And I'm not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I will be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it.

BASH: Are you not clear because we have had different opinions and different signals of support and opposition from the president this week on this?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think -- I think he hasn't -- I think he hasn't made a final decision.

When he does, and I know that we're not just debating it, but actually passing something to be signed, I would be happy to bring it up.

BASH: Mr. Leader, you were talking about some of the accomplishments you think the president has got -- has not gotten credit for, but I think it is pretty clear that the president, himself, when he's talking about the things that he has not been able to get done, he puts the blame squarely on you and your Republicans in Congress and, frankly, your leadership.

Take a listen.


TRUMP: We're not getting the job done. And I'm not going to blame myself. I will be honest. They are not getting the job done.


BASH: He's blaming you.

MCCONNELL: Well, I think he's getting a lot more done than he's giving everybody credit for.

I think his appointments, as I have said earlier, are absolutely changing the country. The optimism about the economy is picking up. It's related to the people he's put in positions at various key places in the federal government.

It's related to the Supreme Court appointments and all the judges that we're confirming. All of that, the Senate is directly involved in.

So, I think the president ought to give himself a little more credit for the changes that he is bringing about that are turning the country in a different direction.

We want to get America growing again. There wasn't a single year of 3 percent growth during President Obama's tenure, not one. We ought to be growing about 3 percent a year on average to realize the hopes and dreams of the next generation.

And a combination of tax reform and regulatory changes that the president's already bringing about are going to get that job done.


BASH: You are clearly trying to, you know, sort of bring up some of the things that are being done, but, at the end of the day, there is very open tension between you and your fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill and the president.

are going to get that job done.


BASH: You are clearly trying to, you know, sort of bring up some of the things that are being done, but, at the end of the day, there is very open tension between you and your fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill and the president.

And the president himself was asked just this weekend about his own attacks on fellow Republicans. And he said he thinks those attacks are helpful, because they get people to do what they're supposed to be doing.

You have been on the receiving end of those several of those attacks. Do they help you get legislation through the Senate, sir?

MCCONNELL: Look, I'm not particularly concerned about all of this.

What we're interested in is achieving an agenda for the American people. And the president's agenda and our agenda are one and the same. We're thrilled to have somebody in the White House who supports what this House and Senate Republican majority has been wanting to have an opportunity to do for a long time.

And so I refuse to get diverted off on the various comments that may be made at one time or another. Let's try to accomplish these things for the American people. We think we can do that. And we're in the process of it.

BASH: One final question on this.

Do you think -- do you trust the president in these negotiations? Do you trust the president as a partner in getting these things done?



Let's talk about former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. He declared war on you and the rest of the Republican accomplishment this week.

Take a listen.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Now, Mitch, I don't know if you're watching today. I don't know if you're watching.

I have been getting calls. It's like before the Ides of March, right? The only question is -- and this is just an analogy or metaphor or whatever you want to call it -- they're just looking to find out who's going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar.



BASH: What do you make of Bannon recruiting candidates...


BASH: ... with the explicit goal, sir, of taking you out as leader?

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, this element has been out there for a while. They cost us five Senate seats in 2010 and 2012 by nominating people who couldn't win in November.

In order for the president's agenda to advance, we have to be able to elect people who support the agenda. And so these interparty skirmishes are all about whether or not we can nominate a candidate who can win in November.

Now, we in...

BASH: But...

MCCONNELL: In 2014 and 2016, we nominated candidates who could actually win elections, and we took the Senate in 2014, and kept it in 2016.

So, these are interparty skirmishes about actually winning elections. And, so, Dana, I...


BASH: They're interparty skirmishes, sir, but they -- but they now have what he calls a Brutus, who doesn't necessarily care about keeping the seat. They just want to defeat incumbent Republicans who support you.

MCCONNELL: But I think most Republicans want to see us win elections, because I always remind people that the winners of elections make policy, and the losers go home and go into some other line of work.

And so we're trying to maintain this majority, so we can achieve the goals that the president and ourselves share. And so these skirmishes will occur in the primaries. They have happened in recent years. The years in which we have nominated people who could win, we took the majorities, and years in which we didn't, we lost.

It's all about whether or not we can maintain control and achieve the things that the president and ourselves want to achieve for the American people.

BASH: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, thank you for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

MCCONNELL: Thank you. BASH: And he has been a constant critic of President Trump, but now

one Democrat says he's ready to work with the president and might even be able to support his tax plan.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown joins me next.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Dana Bash.

President Trump is trying to sell his new tax plan as a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, and says he expects bipartisan support.


TRUMP: This is something that will be really unique. The timing is right.

I have had people on both sides -- and I promised not to mention the name of the people on the other sides or names -- but a lot of people are liking this very much, and I think we will have tremendous support.


BASH: Now, one of the key groups the president is courting, Democrats up for reelection in states that went for Trump in 2016.

And Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio is one of those Democrats. He attended a meeting on tax reform at the White House this week, and indicated he is open to supporting the president's plan, with some changes.

Senator Brown is also a member of the Finance Committee, which helps write the tax plan, and joins me now from Columbus, Ohio.

Good morning, Senator. Thank you for joining me.

BROWN: Thanks, Dana. Good to be back.

BASH: So, during last year's presidential campaign, you were one of the president's toughest critics.

I want our viewers to listen.


BROWN: The one thing we know for sure is, Donald Trump looks out only for Donald Trump, no matter who he steps on along the way.

Trump proposes tax cuts, too, $3 trillion for millionaires like himself, and $2 trillion for corporations like his.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Sounded like you struck a different tone when you went on FOX News this week before meeting with the president.

Take a listen.


BROWN: The president wants to do two things. He wants to give significant tax relief to working families and he wants to make sure that corporations are patriotic, that corporations actually pay decent wages and keep their jobs in this country.


BASH: That's pretty out of step with your leadership and many in the Democratic Party.

What is your view right now, after having met with the president on taxes? Is it something that you can work with him on?

BROWN: Well, it's not out of step at all with what my party wants to do.

The president's made some comments in the last two weeks when he spoke, when he did an interview with "Forbes" magazine and part of his speech, a couple of speeches he's given, where he says he wants to reward those corporations that -- that pay good wages and do their work and do their manufacturing in this country, and he wants to do a tax break for the middle class.


That's -- that's not what Mitch McConnell wants to do.

And so, when I was at the White House, I asked the president to support my patriotic corporation -- my Patriot Corporation Act, which simply says, if you pay

and do their manufacturing in this country, and he wants to do a tax break for the middle class.


That's -- that's not what Mitch McConnell wants to do.

And so, when I was at the White House, I asked the president to support my patriotic corporation -- my Patriot Corporation Act, which simply says, if you pay good wages, and you do -- and you don't outsource jobs, you do your production in this country, you get a lower tax rate, and my Working Families Tax Relief Act, which will put lots of -- will put thousands of dollars in the pockets of middle- class families and working-class working families. And the president's paid -- paid lip service to that. He does that,

it's a different tax bill. But he -- it's -- there's a fork in the road. The president either -- either decides to work with Democrats on issues like I just talked about, the Patriot Corporation Act, which he said at that meeting that he likes, or he throws in with McConnell and the billionaires.

And he's -- he's at a fork in the road. If he throws in with McConnell and the billionaires, Democrats don't support it. If he chooses to fight for the middle class and help those companies keep production in the United States, not the bill that McConnell has, if he does that, it's a bipartisan bill.

That's what I have been saying all along.

BASH: So, you obviously were encouraged by your meeting with the president this week.

The question is whether or not you think that the president, based on -- because you had this experience with him behind closed doors at the White House, whether or not you think the president is going to kind of hew to what you and your Democrats want, or whether he is going to go with what, as you say, the Republicans in the Senate and the House want.

BROWN: Well, yes, you walk into the White House, and it looks far too much like a retreat for Goldman Sachs executives.

The people closest to the president whispering in his ear all want to do tax cuts for -- want to do trickle-down economics, big tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country, and hope it trickles down, and they say it's budget-neutral, and they say it will raise wages.

It's never done that throughout history. It didn't do that from Hoover to Bush to Bush 2 to anybody else.

So, we know what the pressure on him is. But I know what he said in that meeting. And I heard him say that he likes the Patriot Corporation Act and he likes the idea of a real working family tax relief act.

Again, if he chooses that path, Democrats will work with him. If he goes the McConnell way -- and you just saw on this show, when you were asking him those questions, Dana -- if you go the McConnell way, you will end up with tax breaks, lowering the income tax rate for those making over $400,000, cutting -- cutting the corporate tax rate, but doing nothing, almost literally nothing for working-class families.

And that's not what the American people want. There's little public support for that.

BASH: Mitch McConnell certainly made it sound like he and the president are on the same page.

But you're telling us this morning is, based on your private discussions with the president, they're not. BROWN: Well, I don't know what he ultimately decides. I mean, the

president went around the room agreeing with people all over the place during that meeting.

But I look at -- I look at what -- it's clear that McConnell and the president are not on the same page on a lot of things. Look at the clip you ran of Steve Bannon and what he said.

McConnell's in a tough place, but McConnell's chosen to -- to mix metaphors, to sleep in this bed he made. And he's got to figure -- he's got to figure out what he does.

But, fundamentally, the president's got to decide, is he going to go with his campaign promises and his more recent comments, too, about focusing on the middle class, bringing jobs home, not continued tax breaks that outsource jobs, like the McConnell plan has?

Is he going to do the Patriot Corporation Act route and the tax relief -- Working Families Tax Relief Act route, or is he going to go with his billionaire contributors, with McConnell? And that's -- that's the fork in the road. And, so far, the jury's out.

BASH: Senator, we have to take a break, but right before we do, quickly, can you just tell me if you think that your progressive colleagues and friends, like Bernie Sanders, who call the Trump tax plan morally repugnant and bad economic policy, are making a mistake in just knee-jerk opposing the president on tax reform?

BROWN: Well, I think people are now conflating the -- you know, the McConnell tax bill is now, by some, called the Trump tax plan.

And, again, it's a fork in the road. It's you follow what -- we don't even see a bill yet. That's the first thing. But what's leaked out is the McConnell plan. And the McConnell plan has kind of become the Trump plan too.

But it's a fork in the road, and the president decides he has to take. And I think most of my progressive colleagues think that Trump will throw in with McConnell, because he has more often than not on these big economic issues.

BASH: Senator...

BROWN: I'm still hopeful from that conversation. I'm going to keep pushing for it.

BASH: Senator, stick around. We have a lot more to discuss.

BROWN: Glad to.

BASH: The feud between a Democratic congresswoman and President Trump continues to escalate. Now she's saying the White House is -- quote -- "full of white supremacists."

That's next.

Plus, Donald Trump called him one of the worst presidents in history, and now Jimmy Carter is unabashedly coming to Trump's defense.


His stunning comments ahead.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

I'm joined again by Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

And, Senator, there has been a major back-and-forth this week between the White House and Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

It all stems from her interpretation of the president's call to the widow of a fallen soldier.

Now, the congresswoman told "The New York Times" this week that the White House is full of white supremacists.

You were at the White House this week. Do you agree with her?

BROWN: I agree that Steve Bannon is a white supremacist, and Stephen Miller seems to be. And I know that studies have shown that they have their allies sprinkled around the White House.

I think that -- you know what's really interesting about this, Dana, is when the president attacks people like that, he almost never calls them by name.

He -- he -- I think he thinks it sort of demeans them or dehumanizes them. Or, conversely, if he mentions their name and mentions the -- the serviceman who gave


BROWN: -- people like that, he almost never calls them by name. I think he thinks it sort of demeans them or dehumanizes them or conversely, if he mentions their name and mentions the serviceman who gave his life for his country, if he mentions his by name -- him by name or the African-American congresswoman by name, maybe he thinks he's uplifting them and humanizing them too much for his -- for what he' trying to do.

And I just think it's -- it's -- it's I would say it's sad, it's worse than sad, that the president engages in this kind of name calling without the name and dehumanize -- tries to demean people that way and gets in these fights. I just wish he'd apologize say -- he could say, you know, it didn't come out right, I'm sorry it came out that way, of course I respect, and then mention the congresswoman by name and mention the widow by name. It would be a nice touch if the president would once in a while act that way instead of always attack, always attack, always demean the way he does, too often.

BASH: I want to ask you, Senator, about former President Jimmy Carter, what he said this weekend in "The New York Times." He said that he's willing to go to North Korea for President Trump. He said he thinks it's important for the two nations to be engaged in direct talks.

Do you think that President Trump should take Carter up on that offer?

BROWN: That's between him and the diplomatic core at the State Department and the former president.

I think that we should do whatever we can to engage directly, as directly as we can with the North Koreans. I think it starts with the sanctions, putting pressure -- I know how we've been successful with Iran, keeping Iran from it's -- from going down its nuclear path, because of sanctions, and then direct negotiations. I think that only works with North Korea, starting with China in the financial bank sanctions that we have -- that we have worked with on China and Korea.

Whether President Carter can be helpful is up to President Carter and President Trump to decide that.

BASH: Just one more question, because this Jimmy Carter interview was really fascinating with Maureen Dowd.

He also said that he thinks he went after the media, saying that the media are not fair to Trump. I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.

What do you make of that?

BROWN: Well, with I don't know.

I very much respect President Carter. I know his grandson fairly well. And I think it's their -- I love that family.

I don't know -- I think the media has not been unfair to Trump. I think that Trump has made it a point of attacking the media and calling all of you, Dana, enemies of the people.

I guess I -- some disclosure, my wife is a journalist and a novelist, as I think you know, Dana. And so I -- maybe I -- maybe I disclaim interest in this, but I think that this president has done things that no president ever has.

Look at what Senator McCain recently said, look at what the first President Bush recently said -- or, I'm sorry, the second President Bush, specifically not mentioning Trump, but clearly talking about Trump and his demeanor and the way he has acted. So I think that that's a pretty clear call.

BASH: Final question, Senator Elizabeth Warren did a fundraiser for you in Cleveland recently. Is there any chance we might see an Elizabeth Warren/Sherrod Brown ticket in 2020?

BROWN: There's no chance of that, but thank you for asking.


BROWN: She was in Cleveland last night -- two nights ago. Thank you.

BASH: Senator Sherrod Brown, thank you so much for joining me this morning. Appreciate it.

BROWN: Thanks.

BASH: And two former presidents this week publicly criticizing President Trump, but now as we were talking about, another Trump predecessor is coming to his defense. Jimmy Carter unplugged, next.

Plus, president Trump says he's ready to release the secret documents so many people have been waiting to see. What's in the JFK assassination files -- next.




BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we just do what we ought to do, and prove that the heart of America, without regard to race or religion or political party, is greater than our problems.


BASH: The five living former presidents gathered on stage last night for a rare joint public appearance. And the show of unity comes after presidents Bush and Obama each made rare speeches this week, taking thinly veiled swipes at President Trump.

But in a brand-new interview, another former president, Jimmy Carter, is coming to the president's defense. The current president, that is.

We're back with our panel now. Welcome all of you.

Carter told Maureen Dowd of "The New York Times" he's willing to go to North Korea for Trump and he also talked about the media coverage of Trump. I'll read you the whole quote.

He said, "I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president, certainly that I've known about. I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everywhere else without hesitation."

Evan McMullin?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, I think what you see in that article is Jimmy Carter doing what Jimmy Carter does.

He understands how to deal with leaders who have outsized egos, how to massage those, how to work with them. I think he's angling for a role with regard to North Korea and he's doing that by taking a very generous posture, vis-a-vis, President Trump. And I think that's what you see in Maureen's piece.

BASH: Yes, no question.

And, Bakari Sellers, he also came to Trump's defense on the NFL controversies.

On the issue of the NFL, he said, players kneeling -- Carter -- excuse me, the article said, "Carter was less sympathetic. I think they ought to find a different way to object, to demonstrate. I would rather see all the players stand during the American anthem."


BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, with all due respect to one of my favorite presidents, who's had one of the best post-presidencies of any president in the history of this country, he's wrong.

SELLERS: And, you know, that's the blessing of the United States of America. We can criticize our leaders and hold them accountable for what they say.

But Jimmy Carter is a southern Democrat, through and through. And in this instance, I mean, he's seen a lot. And so to question these protest tactics, I think is just flat-out wrong.

And even in the article, if you go further, he talks about, confederate monuments and him wanting confederate monuments to stay up. And I think in that instance, he's wrong as well. Jimmy Carter is serving very well in his post-presidency, and so as a Democrat, we give him a little leeway, but can still criticize him for that (ph).

BASH: But let's take a step back also and talk about what you mentioned, that he pressed all the Trump buttons in this interview. He knows what he's doing.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He does. And as you know, Jimmy Carter fancies himself someone who negotiated the last deal with North Korea. I think he sees a role in the Trump administration in doing that.

Most of the former presidents he was up on stage with have sort of dismissed him as the lesser light in the picture of him standing by himself, the last time they were together. So, this was an opportunity for him to reinsert himself, put himself in the middle of the national stage, with someone that he thinks that he can work with. And we'll wait and see whether that turns out.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think one of the most interesting things he said in there was about China. And the fact that we are overestimating China's role and what they can do with North Korea. And it might be that he was strategically supporting Trump, saying positive things, because he wanted to get a message across.

Now, his offer to go to North Korea, I don't think, most people think makes sense, would make sense, because you don't need a high-level envoy at this point. You probably need behind-the-scenes negotiations.

BASH: OK. Let's look at some other former presidents who came out this week.

Your former boss, President Obama, did, but also, to me, the most fascinating speech was of George W. Bush. Didn't mention Trump by name, but it was pretty clear who he was talking about. Listen to part of it.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication. We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism.


BASH: I covered George W. Bush. I knew the way that he operated, and he hoped that former presidents would operate when he was in the Oval Office, and we've seen the way he's conducted himself after.

He doesn't say much, on purpose. He bites his tongue. And he's not now. That says a lot.

SANTORUM: Well, this is the difference between George W. Bush looking at a Democratic president who he knows he's going to disagree with and has policies that are very different and George W. Bush fighting for the soul of the Republican Party. I think that's what was going on here.

I mean, the comments he made, whether it had to do with immigration or whether it had to do with economic or national security policy, is all about fighting the ground. Trump has gone after the establishment.

He's gone after -- who's the establishment? George Bush is the establishment. And so Donald Trump has gone after him.

Barack Obama went after him all the time, blamed him for everything, for years and years and years, but Bush sort of said, well, with I expect that. I mean, that's the other side, they're going to come after me and -- OK. But this is my party and I'm going to fight for my party.

And I think that's -- that's where he saw -- I think that's why he decided to stand up and fight. MCMULLIN: Yes, I agree with Rick. He's standing up to fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party, but I think it's even deeper than that. He's fighting for the soul of the country.

SELLERS (ph): Exactly.

MCMULLIN: We're at this place now where there's a question. You hear this nationalist refrain, blood and soil, that's what the country is about, which is a euphemism for this is a country about, you know, about race, who we are, what our blood is, that sort of thing.

That's not what America is about. America is about, most principally, the inherent liberty and equality of all. And our whole system of government is built upon that.

And to have these former presidents break that code and decide to come out and speak to reaffirm those truths, the truths upon which our entire country, again, is based, is absolutely crucial. Not only for the party, which I agree with what Rick said, but also for the country.

SELLERS: I mean, it's a troubling trajectory that the Republican Party is on.

I mean, right now, the Republican Party is the party of Roy Moore. Roy Moore just won a primary in Alabama and he believes that homosexuality should be illegal. I mean, this is where we are.

But I do think that George W. Bush was speaking to something greater than that. He was not talking just about the soul of his party, he was talking about the soul of our nation. And he was speaking directly to the camera when he talked about the fact that bigotry and white supremacy have no place in this country.

And kudos -- I mean, this is still the same George W. Bush that got us in Iraq. We can't forget that. But kudos to George W. Bush for realizing where we are as a country and continuing to push us to make us a more perfect union.


BASH: OK. Everybody, stand by, because President Trump doesn't want to seem to let it go. He's tweeting again this morning about Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, calling her wacky and a disaster after she claimed he was insensitive in a call to a Gold Star widow.

That's next.



TRUMP: I was so nice. I was -- look, I've called many people. And I would think that every one of them appreciated it.

I was very surprised to see this, to be honest with you. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: That was President Trump talking over the weekend to Maria Bartiromo, talking about this controversy with Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.


And we're back with our panel. I just want to show you also what the president is tweeting again this morning. A couple of tweets on this.

BASH: "Wacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for Republican Party, a disaster for Dems. You watch her in action and vote R."

Senator Santorum, a gift for the Republican Party?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, I would say that she does not perform well in my opinion in front of the -- in front of the cameras.

And I would -- look, I don't necessarily disagree with Donald Trump with respect to the way he's approaching this. Like Donald Trump has done what he said he was going to do.

He has called -- he has called people. He has tried to relate to them, you know, his empathy for the deaths of these -- of these troops, and, you know, he described at least from everything I see, described the situation of past presidents fairly accurately.

So, you know, I don't think this is one, if I was the Democrats, that I would be pounding away at this one. I think the president has true empathy for those who have died under his watch and is doing everything he can to make sure that they know that he cares about them.

BASH: That might be, but the White House seemed to have dug hole after hole this week in trying to say that, by having the White House chief of staff go out and talk about a video that turned out to be erroneous and a whole bunch of other things that maybe made the story more about them than what you were just talking about.

PSAKI: That's exactly right. And let's not forget that President Trump doesn't exactly have a strong record of honoring men and women who have served.

Remember, he stood in front of the wall at the CIA that commemorates people who have lost their lives and talked about crowd numbers. So he is the first president in decades if not forever who has politicized the men and women who have served our country. There's a lot that President Obama did, President Bush did, many presidents before them that was never publicized, never talked about. And he made this about himself.

Now, General Kelly I think is the one who unfortunately unintentionally or not is caught in the crossfire here a bit because he has become a very credible spokesperson for this White House, coming out and speaking at the podium. And what he did on Thursday, the first half of his speech was riveting. It was heartfelt.

It was hard not to watch and listen to and feel for him. And the second half we now know was full of misinformation and was full of racial undertones.

So who is that? Is that General Kelly who is the chief of staff to President Trump? I think it is, but they have made it now been themselves and not in a positive way.

SELLERS: Amen. I mean, I don't know what to follow that. But the fact is you can say whatever you want to say about Congresswoman Wilson. She's the only one in this scenario who has been honest from the beginning.

She actually was one -- and there's a problem with her identity, because people want to say that she's just a Democratic congresswoman, but in fact she was a mentor to this young man. She was a family friend. She knew this person.

And so my heart goes out to her as well as the family. But there are a few things. Donald Trump lied, General Kelly lied about this -- about Congresswoman Wilson, but even more importantly we're not talking about the major issue, which is why four men in uniform died in Niger.

That's the question. Why did they die?

MCMULLIN: Well, I think that is a question. I think the major issue is that we ought to be turning our attention towards the families, towards the victims in this attack, towards the fallen. It's just so unfortunate that we have a president that this morning goes out with a tweet attacking a congresswoman who is doing her job, plus some. She has this mentorship program. And that's how she knew La David Johnson.

I will say, though, that I do think the president ought to be given the benefit of the doubt on his call to the widow. You know, he didn't set out to make that call in a way that would create problems. He didn't do that.

He had good intentions. Did he deliver it perhaps in a less than ideal way? Maybe, probably.

We don't know. But he set out with positive intentions. Why he isn't being given the credit or the benefit of the doubt is because of his past attacks on our veterans.

BASH: That's an important point getting lost here.

Before we go, I have to ask this is my favorite fun story of the weekend, well, maybe fun is not the right -- interesting, fascinating. President Trump said this weekend that he is not going to block the release of classified documents related to the assassination of President Kennedy.

He tweeted, "Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as president, the long blocked and classified JFK files to be opened."

You worked at the CIA. Do you want to give us a preview?


MCMULLIN: I don't have a preview to give.

I do think they should be released. But I think that it is going to cause a flurry of conspiracy theories that only over time will trend more towards truth. And if they are -- if the president were to say, no, I'm going to delay the release of these documents for another 25 years, there would be even more conspiracy theories.


BASH: You're shaking your head.

SANTORUM: No, I agree with him. He can't delay these things.

SELLERS: Yes. Alex Jones supported the president, finally has paid off.


BASH: Go ahead.

PSAKI: The one issue I will say is there has been a lot of public fascination, everybody agrees on that. But this is a president with a history of being a conspiracy theorist and he has not by all public accounts consulted with anyone in the Kennedy family about the release and I think that's pretty insensitive.

BASH: And on that note, Congressman Adam Schiff tweeted, "@POTUS, does this mean Ted Cruz's father will be exposed?"


Some sarcasm there. All right. We're going to have to leave it there, everybody. Thank you.

And a stark warning from the CIA director. The U.S. needs to assume that Kim Jong-un is on the cusp of being able to hit the U.S. with a missile. How might the U.S. respond?

That's next.