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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Idaho Senator James Risch; Interview With California Congressman Duncan Hunter; Retiring GOP Senator Blasts His President and His Party; Sen. Flake: Will Not Be 'Complicit or Silent' About Trump's Behavior; Alaska Senator: Trump Asked About Renaming Mountain. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 24, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Will other GOP lawmakers now follow Flake's lead?

Tweet revenge. The president's feud with another Republican senator flares up again, Mr. Trump taking to Twitter to call Bob Corker an incompetent lawmaker who -- quote -- "couldn't get elected dogcatcher."

That tirade following Corker's confession that he wouldn't support Trump again.

Reform in jeopardy. The president visits Capitol Hill, trying to boost Republican efforts to pass tax reform, but the legislation is taking a backseat to the public spectacle of a president at war with members of his own party whose votes he desperately needs. Can the bill pass?

And naming rights. An Alaska senator reveals that President Trump asked about reversing an order by President Obama and changing the name of America's tallest mountain from the Native American Denali back to Mount McKinley. Was it just an attempt by the president to spite his predecessor?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight. Two Republican senators, both retiring, blasting President Trump today.

A short time ago, Senator Jeff Flake delivered a blistering reproach of the president as Flake announced on the Senate floor he won't seek reelection. He lamented what he called the president's flagrant disregard for truth or decency. He accused him of setting a tone of coarseness, degrading the country's politics, and -- quote -- "reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior that's dangerous to democracy."

Flake's stunning remarks echo those of his Republican colleague, Bob Corker, who said President Trump has -- quote -- "proven himself unable to rise to the occasion as president." He said Mr. Trump has great difficulty with the truth and is debasing the nation and Corker added that he would not support Trump were he to run for office again.

The White House just faced a flurry of questions on these truly exceptional developments. Press secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed the senators' criticisms of the president as -- quote -- "petty comments." She also said Flake's language wasn't befitting the Senate floor and she accused Senator Corker of -- quote -- "grandstanding."

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican Congressman Hunter of the House Armed Services Committee and Republican Senator James Risch of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.

And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

But let's begin with the extraordinary repudiation of President Trump by Republican Senator Jeff Flake.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is joining us.

Phil, this was a historic moment on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, extraordinary and historic, not just your words, but the words of senators I spoke to after these remarks, senators that were both saddened by the loss of one of their colleagues, but also somewhat slack-jawed by what they heard on the floor, Wolf, a visceral verbal attack, a broadside against not just the president, but the ideology that is prevailing right now in the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We must never regard as normal the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country, the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms and institution, the flagrant disregard for truth and decency, the reckless provocations most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that that is just the way things are now.

If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal.

They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and

countenanced as telling it like it is, when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

[18:05:00]

The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined, and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters, the notion that we should say or do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavioral is ahistoric, and I believe profoundly misguided.

I have children and grandchildren to answer to.

And so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent.

I decided that I will be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.

We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us and calling fake things true and true things fake.

And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more. And I say, the sooner the better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, a couple of key points for context here.

There's no question that Senator Flake was endangered politically in his reelection campaign, not just because Democrats had put up a top- tier candidate in a state that demographically had been moving their directions over the last couple of election cycles, but also within his own party.

Senator Flake having record-low disapproval numbers, facing very serious primary challenges from elements of the party, bolstered by people like Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist of the White House. So there was a real possibility he was going to lose not just his election, but his primary as well.

But it's worth noting here, Senator Flake was not considered a moderate senator. He was a conservative senator. At one point when he was serving in the House, he was considered a conservative rabble- rouser. That was very problematic for establishment Republicans.

There was a point the senator himself made, that he feels like at this point in time, given the direction the White House has gone in this, that the party has left him, even him, a conservative, somebody the Club for Growth put out a statement lauding his time in the U.S. Congress. That is no longer the Republican Party, at least in Senator Flake's view.

Now, you mentioned the White House pushback. It was strong, saying his remarks on the floor weren't befitting of a U.S. senator. But when you pair what Senator Bob Corker has been saying, what Senator John McCain has been saying, and what Senator Flake has said, there is no question about it, there is now an element of the Republican Party that includes votes in the U.S. Senate where President Trump's agenda has to move through that now currently is not tied to anything or anyone.

And that raises real questions both for the agenda, but also for the future of the party going forward, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the Republicans only have a narrow majority in the U.S. Senate, 52-48. Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

A day of remarkable criticism of the president of the United States, by not one, but two U.S. senators from his own party, and the White House is dismissing all of it.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's got more on the breaking news.

Jeff, a lot of questions for the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, on all of this today.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there were, indeed, questions today about the tone and tenor of our politics, but not between Democrats and Republicans, among Republicans themselves, starting with the president.

Now, the White House insisted Republican voters like the strength of the president. The question tonight, will all of these GOP distractions complicate the president's agenda?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump on Capitol Hill today, trying to sell his tax plan and revive the agenda of a fractured Republican Party. But only an hour after leaving with a wave and a smile, Republican Senator Jeff Flake delivered a stinging rebuke of the president.

FLAKE: When a leader correctly identifies real hurt and insecurity in our country and instead of addressing it, goes to look for someone to blame, there is perhaps nothing more devastating to a pluralistic society.

ZELENY: Flake's announcement that he would not seek reelection and his blunt concession that he's no longer comfortable with Trump's Republican Party... FLAKE: There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal by mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle -- the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people.

ZELENY: ... came on the same day the Republican picked a new fight with Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. It was an extraordinary moment for a party in power.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called Flake's decision to leave the Senate good news and blasted his speech as inappropriate.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I noticed that a lot of the language, I didn't think, was befitting of the Senate floor.

ZELENY: She also defended the president's fight with Corker.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: He's a fighter. We have said it many times before. The people of this country didn't elect somebody to be weak. They elected somebody to be strong.

[18:10:03]

ZELENY: After Corker said in a round of morning television interviews the president should leave details of a tax plan to Congress, Mr. Trump launched a searing attack on Twitter.

The president said "Corker, who couldn't get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee, is now fighting tax cuts."

Seven minutes later, the president added: "Corker dropped out of the race in Tennessee when I refused to endorse him. And now it's only negative on anything Trump. Look at his record."

The senator fired the off this rebuttal: "Same untruth from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff."

The extraordinary exchange between a Republican president and one of the president's senior statesmen devolved from there. Corker, who also decided against seeking reelection next, year said the president did not refuse to endorse him.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: No, it's not accurate. And, you know, nothing that he said in his tweets today were truthful, nor accurate. And he knows it. And people around him know it. I would hope the staff over there would figure out ways of controlling him.

ZELENY: When asked by CNN's Manu Raju if the president is a liar, Corker had this to say:

CORKER: The president has great difficulty with truth on many issues.

ZELENY: Asked whether he would support him again, Corker did not hesitate.

CORKER: No way. No way. No. I think that he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.

ZELENY: Taken together, the decision by Flake, who also has quarreled repeatedly with Mr. Trump, underscored the challenges facing the GOP and potential complications to the president's agenda.

FLAKE: We must argue our positions fervently and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man and always look for the good.

Until that day comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out as if our country depends on it, because it does.

ZELENY: The move stunned Republicans and overshadowed discussion of a tax plan the party still hopes will be the one major legislative accomplishment of the year.

House Speaker Paul Ryan was among GOP leaders trying to extinguish the unusual, and, to many, the unseemly civil war.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So all this stuff you see on a daily basis on Twitter this and Twitter that, forget about it. Let's focus on helping people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, the White House says the president wants Republican senators who are -- quote -- "committed to actually moving things down the field."

But, Wolf, a review of these senators' voting records, both Senator Flake and Senator Corker, showed that they supported the president on virtually everything, despite their comments occasionally against his antics.

The question tonight, will their replacements, be they Republicans or Democrats, actually do the same?

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.

Let's get some more on all of this.

Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember, back in 2016, you said it was distasteful, a distasteful choice for you to have to vote for President Trump. Do you think it is now your responsibility to speak out against him when you strongly disagree with some of his policies?

RISCH: Well, I think what my responsibility is, is to follow my conscience as far as where we're headed. And this -- a lot of this personality stuff is starting to cloud the

issues on the important issues, the substantiative issues that we have...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But when you see some of the president's behavior, doesn't that anger you? And do you feel, when you see how he behaves, goes after various individuals on Twitter, says ugly things about them, starts calling names, is it your responsibility as a United States senator to criticize him and tell him to stop it?

RISCH: Wolf, by now, I think it should be patently obvious to everyone that we have a president who has a very unique personality and a very strong character.

And if you, indeed, publicly fight with him, he's going to fight back. Look, I have had a number of disagreements with the president, both before he was president and now after he's been president. He's treated me with nothing but respect, respect and dignity, as we have discussed those. The only thing different is, before he was president, I called him Donald, he called me Jim.

Today, I call him Mr. President, he still calls me Jim, but he still treats me with respect. But I don't go on Twitter in the morning and start poking him.

BLITZER: But when he lies about something, and you know it's a lie, shouldn't you speak up?

RISCH: That's your job.

BLITZER: But that's your job. You're a United States senator. You're an equal branch of the -- a co-equal branch of the U.S. government.

RISCH: Wolf, if I went around criticizing a statement that was made by the president or any one of my fellow senators or any one of the congressmen up here or people in Idaho who hold public office, and I stood up and talked every time they talked and said I don't like this, I don't like that, I'm criticizing, I would be busy all day long.

BLITZER: Senator Flake says...

RISCH: I have my own...

BLITZER: But Senator Flake -- and you know Senator Flake.

[18:15:00]

RISCH: Very well, and he's a good friend and a great guy.

BLITZER: And I know you know Senator Corker. And I'm sure he's a good friend.

RISCH: A good friend and a great guy. BLITZER: But when Senator Flake says you're complicit if you remain

silent in the face of this, what is your reaction?

RISCH: That's his view.

BLITZER: What is your view?

RISCH: That is not my view.

BLITZER: I don't understand why you wouldn't take a position on something as emotional and sensitive...

(CROSSTALK)

RISCH: Well, look, I have told you, and I'm going to tell you again.

I'm not going to go around every time the president or another senator or a congressman or anyone else says something I disagree with, jump up and start criticizing. I'm just not going to do that.

BLITZER: So you say it's the press, the news media, our responsibility to keep the president honest?

RISCH: Well, there's no question about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But does -- the president hits us all the time. He says we're fake news.

RISCH: Yes, I appreciate that and certainly appreciate his point of view on that.

But, look, I'm focused...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You don't agree with him on that? Because he's threatened to take broadcast licenses away. You believe in the First Amendment, you believe in the freedom of the press?

RISCH: I do believe in freedom of the press.

BLITZER: So, when the president goes after the press, what's -- should you stay silent? Should you be complicit in that when he goes after democracy?

RISCH: Listen, he also has the right to go after the press and hold you guys' feet to the fire also when you're doing the wrong thing. So, I'm -- you're trying to drag me into something I don't want to get drug into.

BLITZER: He has every right to criticize us. And a lot of people criticize us, but when he threatens to withdraw -- withhold broadcast licenses to those news organizations that criticize him...

(CROSSTALK)

RISCH: I would expect you to speak out.

BLITZER: What about you?

RISCH: And I would expect your lawyers to speak out.

BLITZER: I would expect you, Senator -- I have known you for a long time.

RISCH: That's true.

BLITZER: I would expect a United States senator who's outraged by some of this, like Senator Flake...

(CROSSTALK)

RISCH: I will say it again. I will say it again.

BLITZER: Yes.

RISCH: If you want me to stand up every morning and start criticizing everything the president says I disagree with, everything that my fellow senators say that I disagree with, everything that a congressman says or governor in my state, I would be busy all day long doing that.

You have got a job to do. I have got a job to do. I'm focused on issues. I'm focused on working on a tax plan that helps hardworking, middle-class American people get a tax cut, to create jobs in America, to lower the tax rate. But all this background, all this bickering back and...

BLITZER: But when he speaks out, Senator, against a Gold Star widow, who just -- a 24-year-old woman, with two little...

RISCH: Thanks for asking that question.

BLITZER: ... with two little kids, two little kids, one additional kid on the way, when he speaks out against her, tweets, says -- you know, disputes what she is saying, isn't that something you should speak out against?

(CROSSTALK)

RISCH: Thanks for asking that question.

That is the toughest job a chief executive has to do. I did it when I was governor.

Vicki, who is here with me today, did it with me.

BLITZER: Your wife.

RISCH: When we go -- when we went out -- first thing, I would do is have the staff check and make sure that they wanted us to attend the memorial service or funeral or whatever it was.

And then you have to deal with the situation when you get there. It is the most difficult, the most sensitive thing that you have to do. We did it, and I think we did it very well.

Obviously, the president has his own way of doing things. And, certainly, we don't want to be fighting with Gold Star families by any stretch of the imagination.

BLITZER: But you would never have said anything bad about a Gold Star widow like that. You would have never publicly started to dispute her account of a phone conversation, as opposed to your account?

RISCH: Well, I have never had that situation where someone had a different view of a conversation I had with a Gold Star family than I did. It is a sensitive and very, very difficult task.

BLITZER: Should the president call her up and apologize?

RISCH: The president of the United States ought to do what he thinks is right as far as dealing with those Gold Star families. I would encourage him, and I know he feels he wants to be as sensitive as he possibly can to the Gold Star families.

BLITZER: You're on the Intelligence Committee.

RISCH: I am.

BLITZER: You're on the Foreign Relations Committee.

RISCH: I am.

BLITZER: Do you worry that some of his statements, some of his policies are undermining U.S. national security right now?

RISCH: Well, look, I deal with heads of state, foreign ministers, secretary of states from other countries.

I know how they deal with these things. And they have a view of this which is different than the Americans' view of this. And what we do is both of the first branch of government and second branch of the government, number one, construct foreign policy and, number two, execute foreign policy.

BLITZER: Because Senator Corker, who's a friend of yours, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he said today, "World leaders are very aware that much of what he says," the president, "is untrue."

RISCH: That's Bob Corker's view of it. And Bob Corker's a good friend and has been...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How painful is it for you to see your good friends, Corker, Flake, both of whom good friends of yours, get into this very, very nasty fight with the president?

RISCH: Very painful.

I have been -- as you know, I have run 33 times for public office. I have done this all my life. Our party has robust internal discussions and disputes. Most of the time, they're private. When they become public, it's always hurtful.

[18:20:01]

And you hope that they could get it back into a situation where they could sit down and resolve the issues between them.

BLITZER: Is what these two senators, Corker and Flake, said today true?

RISCH: Well, I guess you would have to take it a piece at a time.

I don't want to get involved in this. They -- each of them have a difficult relationship with the president. They're hurling things back and forth. I am not going to get involved in it. I'm not going to take sides. I work with the president. I work with both of them. I consider all of them friends of mine.

And I certainly hope they will resolve this.

BLITZER: You were at that lunch today, that closed-door lunch with president of the United States.

RISCH: I was. I was.

BLITZER: On the agenda, tax reform.

This bitter fight with two Republican senators. Senator McCain did not mince any words last week. Former President George W. Bush didn't mince any words. Will all of this have an impact? Will you guys fail to get 50 votes that you need to enact major tax reform?

RISCH: Well, that's several questions, but in answer to the last question, I don't know.

We're cautiously optimistic that we will get the 50 votes that we need. But I really don't think this fighting back and forth is going to affect that.

Look, we're not doing this for President Trump. We're trying to reform taxes to get it done for the American people, so that hardworking middle-class American people get a tax cut, so that we grow jobs in America, we grow the economy in America, that we cut the corporate tax rate so we can bring the corporations back to America.

We're not doing this for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: But what the president is doing with these Republican senators certainly not going to help?

RISCH: Well, I guess he's going to have to resolve that with them as we go forward.

But I can tell you, these two that we're talking about are good people. They're not going to let a fight with the president of the United States affect what their view is of what they should do that is right for the American people.

BLITZER: On Niger -- you're on the Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee. Tell us what you know in terms of an intelligence blunder. These troops that were sent out, four American soldiers were killed. Was this a major intelligence blunder?

Because they were expecting a routine patrol. They weren't expecting to be ambushed by ISIS terrorists.

RISCH: Right.

First of all, the report isn't complete yet. And most of what I know is classified that I can't talk about here. But what I can say is, I thought that the general, yesterday, gave a good overall presentation of what was going on there, what they were attempting to do.

Right in the particular area they're operating in has been a very -- a growing difficult area, as we try to control terrorism and keep the lid on, so that we don't have problems that spill over to the homeland.

BLITZER: One final question.

What was the reception like for the president when he met with the Republican senators over lunch today, and did this issue of Niger even come up?

RISCH: The issue of Niger came up very briefly.

I will say this. All of this you're seeing today is so different than the lunch that we had. It was very lighthearted. It was very sincere. The president did about a 30-minute monologue, talking about the greatest hits and talking about what we have to do in the future.

He answered about 10 questions. It was a discussion about policy that really needed to happen. And it was an incredibly pleasant experience. There was none of this bickering that...

BLITZER: Were there multiple standing ovations for the president?

RISCH: There were -- define multiple.

BLITZER: Well, the president says there were.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let me put it up on the screen, and I will show you what the president is tweeting about the luncheon.

RISCH: OK. OK. BLITZER: He said: "So nice being with Republican senators today. Multiple standing ovations. Most are great people who want big tax cuts and success for the U.S."

Question, were there multiple standing ovations?

RISCH: All true.

BLITZER: How many?

RISCH: I can't answer that. But there were enough that I'm not sure exactly how many there were. But there were multiple.

BLITZER: Because you hesitated before you heard the tweet from the president.

RISCH: I did. I did, yes. I thought you were going to ask me for a count on it.

But there were a number of them. Obviously, he got a standing ovation when he came in the room. He got a standing ovation when he left, and there were a couple of points -- a least a couple of points in there that people were respectful of him and gave him an ovation.

BLITZER: Senator Risch, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

RISCH: All right, good to have you. Thank you for having me. Enjoyed it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. I know this is a tough day for you and your Republican colleagues and not easy answering these questions.

RISCH: It wasn't as bad as what you think. Thank you.

BLITZER: Well, we will continue these conversations down the road.

RISCH: All right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

RISCH: You bet.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We will ask another congressional Republican to weigh in. Congressman Duncan Hunter, there you see him. He's standing by live in the House of Representatives. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:29:18]

BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, retiring Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker both offering stinging assessments of President Trump, his behavior, his ability, and the damage, both men, he says -- that he's doing to the United States.

In his speech on the Senate floor, Senator Flake called on fellow Republicans not to be silent or complicit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: When we remain silent and fail to act, when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do, because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam, when we succumb to those considerations, in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of our institutions and our liberty, we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

[18:30:22] Now, I'm aware that more politically savvy people than I will caution against such talk. I am aware that there's a segment of my party that believes that anything short of complete and unquestioning loyalty to a president who belongs to my party is unacceptable and suspect.

If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe it is my obligation to do so, and as a matter and duty of conscience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Strong words. Joining us now to talk about those words, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California. He's a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. Do you feel an obligation to speak up when President Trump does something that goes against your values?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Yes. I mean, that's what we're here for. And I think Senator Flake made a very eloquent speech. I was with him in the House of Representatives before he was in the Senate. That was a very eloquent, great speech.

But it's not my job -- and this is kind of like what Senator Risch said -- it's not my job to comment on what the president tweets or what the president says. It's my job to be a check and balance, and as a conservative Republican, to support him on his big-issue items. Tax reform, securing the border, making our military stronger. That's what I'm here to do. Not to comment on everything he tweets or says, but, you know, like the senator said, we'd be up day and night if we did that.

BLITZER: But isn't speaking out when you disagree strongly with something he says, something he does, part of the checks and balances that members of the House of Representatives have with the executive branch of the U.S. government? HUNTER: Well, I think it's good to speak out. But, no, in terms of

the checks and balances, as you know, it's our ability to control the pocketbook of the country.

But speaking out is important, too. And if President Trump says things that I disagree with, not necessarily the way he says them, but if he says something and I disagree with the substance of it, I think most members of Congress, the House and the Senate, would speak out when they disagree on substance. If you talk about the way that he delivers, you know, it -- I'm not going to go there. Because it's -- we all can't be as eloquent as Senator Flake.

I will say, though, that there are plenty of Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate who are up for re-election next year who are afraid to speak up, because they're afraid they could be challenged in a Republican primary or be attacked by the president. As you know, when he's attacked, he strikes back. We did hear -- go ahead.

HUNTER: We like what the president's doing. I mean, I support what the president is doing. His big items, his big agenda items, I'm all for that. And I think most Republicans are, too. At least the voting public is. So I don't -- there's no reason to speak out if we're on the same side. And right now, we're on the same side.

BLITZER: As you know, Senator Flake and Senator Corker -- I assume you know both of those senators -- they expressed deep concern today about President Trump's impact on America's standing in the world, on the decency of American political discourse, on the example that the president sets for children. Do you share any of those concerns?

HUNTER: No. And I do not share them the way that those senators have phrased them. And I think it's fairly easy to be -- to be critical of folks once you're on the way out. That's not to say that they shouldn't say anything, but it's a bit easier to be critical on the way out.

You know, Trump is not the most eloquent man in the world. And I knew that when I endorsed him last year. But I believe in what he stands for. And to me, it's the substance is what's important, right?

BLITZER: Do you think the president, President Trump, is a good role model for children?

HUNTER: I think he's a good role model in his business sense and now that he's president of the United States. But I wouldn't want my daughters talking like him, no. Or my son, for that matter.

So he's -- but I'm probably not a great role model either. We all have our -- we all have, you know, our -- we all have pasts and we all have futures.

But, no, I don't -- I would not want my kids talking like him. Let's put it that way.

BLITZER: Senator Corker, as you heard today, he's advanced the idea that the White House needs an adult day care center. He says that the defense secretary, Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, White House chief of staff Kelly, they are there to contain the president, and he's glad they are there.

Do you see behavior from the White House that backs up that notion expressed by Senator Corker?

[18:35:04] HUNTER: No, I don't think so at all, actually. Trump -- Trump is in charge. The president knows what he's doing. He knows what's important to him. He knows what his priorities are.

And -- and General Mattis, General Kelly, General Dunford, Tillerson, they're all -- they're all there supporting the vision that Trump has. So I don't see it the way that the senator saw it at all.

In fact, in reality, the only thing that's not happening in Congress, in government, is the Senate passing anything, Wolf. I mean, that's -- there's one part of government not working right now. The judicial branch is doing fine. The House of Representatives is passing lots of stuff. President Trump is pushing his vision and trying to pass stuff. It's the Senate hasn't done anything.

So I -- I'm glad that they're very critical of everybody, but the reality is, the Senate needs to get to work and start doing things for the American people. It's them who have failed us at this point.

BLITZER: As you mentioned, you endorsed President Trump during the campaign, touting his business skills, his ability to tell it like it is, get things done. Are you happy, so far, with the accomplishments of the Trump administration?

HUNTER: I am. I'm happy with the accomplishments of the Trump administration. I'm happy with the accomplishments of the House of Representatives. I'm not happy with the total lack of anything from the Senate.

We -- we couldn't do health care reform. We're finally working on tax reform here, but we have over, like, 300 bills that we've passed out of the House that are in the Senate that haven't seen the light of day. That's what I think needs to start getting done here. It's not President Trump. It's the Senate. The Senate needs to get to work.

BLITZER: And as you know, the House -- the House and the Senate both passed, with overwhelming majority margins, legislation imposing new sanctions against Russia. They were supposed to go into effect October 1. They have still not gone into effect. Are you concerned?

HUNTER: Yes. I think we ought to crack down as much as we can on them. Especially...

BLITZER: Why do you think the president is -- why do you think the president is delaying imposing those sanctions against Russia?

HUNTER: Well, that's like asking, why do you think the president hasn't preemptively attacked North Korea yet if they're going to shoot a nuke at us. And my answer would be, the president knows what he's doing. He knows -- he has information that you and I don't have. Tillerson -- Tillerson is out there. They know what's going on. And

I trust his judgment as commander in chief, knowing when the right time to put those sanctions into effect. But sooner would be better than later. Because the Russians aren't backing off at all.

BLITZER: The Russians aren't backing off at all. But he did sign into law the legislation that you in the House passed overwhelmingly, the Senate passed it overwhelmingly, supposed to go into effect October 1, still hasn't gone into effect. Why is he delaying? This is the law.

HUNTER: I don't know, Wolf. I don't have an answer for you on why he's not. But I -- we have to trust somebody. You have to trust the commander in chief to know what the right timing is and when to put this into effect to get the most advantage out of it. And I think that's probably what he's doing.

BLITZER: Because the law said October 1, and it still hasn't happened. Maybe it will happen, but as you know, the president was very reluctant in imposing new sanctions against Russia, for whatever reason. But let's see if he does eventually implement that law that was passed overwhelmingly.

Congressman, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

HUNTER: Wolf, thank you very much.

BLITZER: The breaking news continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM with more on the remarkable rebukes of President Trump by two U.S. senators from his own party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: Mr. President, I rise today to say, enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You wouldn't support him again?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: No. I don't think that -- he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:43:19] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A searing takedown of President Trump on the Senate floor as Republican Senator Jeff Flake announces he won't seek re-election.

He blasted the president's behavior as reckless, outrageous, and undignified, and he warned against Republican complicity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses; turning against ourselves; glorifying in the things that divide us; and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

This spell will eventually break. That is my belief. We will return to ourselves once more, and I say, the sooner the better. Because we have a healthy government, we must also have healthy and functioning parties. We must respect each other again in an atmosphere of shared facts and shared values, comity, and good faith. We must argue our positions fervently and never be afraid to compromise. We must assume the best of our fellow man and always look for the good.

Until that day comes, we must be unafraid to stand up and speak out, as if our country depends on it. Because it does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I'll dig deeper with our reporters and specialists. And Mark Preston, how extraordinary was that?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Beyond extraordinary. I think it was historic in many ways.

There have been countless speeches that have been given on the Senate floor. But at this moment in time, to hear a Republican senator go to the floor and be critical of the whole process and his party, I think, is really one of those moments where we have to take a step back, and we really have to listen to what he said.

This is the kind of speech, Wolf, that I think that every history, every civics class, every political class in high school should watch, because it really does frame the moment we're in right now and kind of explains the situation, and quite frankly, might be the road map to get us out of this dead end that we have, like, really got ourselves down.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's not necessarily the view we heard from Senator Risch.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let's be clear here. This is not about politics. This is about American culture. I've got ten nieces and nephews. So let's have a conversation with them, Wolf.

Senator Risch should be back on here and he should be ashamed. Let's have that conversation with an 8-year-old or a 6-year-old, my nephew and niece. If a man who's the president ever says it's appropriate to make fun of a woman's face, her menstrual cycle, if it's appropriate to say the federal government wiretapped my office with no evidence behind it, if it's appropriate to attack a war widow on social media, if it's appropriate to say that attacking a woman, assaulting a woman by grabbing her crotch is locker room talk, and then we have senators and congressmen stand in this room in THE SITUATION ROOM and say, I can't speak out against that, I've had it with these people.

You want to know why people like me can't stand the Congress? It's Senator Risch and others who sit up here and say, I can't afford to say the same thing to this camera that I would tell an 8-year-old. That performance by the president of the United States has nothing to do with politics. It has something to do with what you would tell an 8-year-old. Never do that stuff. I think that's the message, Wolf.

BLITZER: How did you see all of this unfold, David? Because these were powerful words we heard from these two Republican senators, today. Both of whom, though, are not running for re-election next year.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, Wolf, I think that's the thing, right? Strong, clear words both from Senator Corker and from Senator Flake, as Mark said, historic in a particular way, and almost courageous, definitely refreshing to take on their own parties, but only willing to say these things after they announced they're retiring.

So, you can't quite give them that full credit, because they don't -- they're not willing to take on their own party in a primary and duke these issues out.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Now, hold on just a second.

SWERDLICK: Yes.

BERG: Not to interrupt you, David.

SWERDLICK: Sure.

BERG: But this -- part of the reason this is happening now to Jeff Flake is because he did speak out about this. He actually wrote a whole book about some of the problems that he had with Trump and Trumpism and the direction of the Republican Party under this president. And so, part of the reason he was facing such dismal polling and disapproval that he had to decide, I can't run for re- election and win this primary was because he spoke out.

And that's --

SWERDLICK: That's a good point, Rebecca. And I give Senator Flake credit, not only for that, as you point out, but also because he was consistent in the campaign, right? He took on -- he never supported President Trump, even during the campaign.

BERG: Right.

SWERDLICK: Where I think it's not quite a profile in courage is that if the republic -- if the fate of the republic is at stake as both of these senators seem to suggest today, then go out there in a primary, duke it out, and be prepared to lose your Senate seat over these issues. But I do see your --

BLITZER: But, Mark, how scared are Republican senators to do what Flake and Corker did today, speak out? Because we know privately, a whole bunch of them basically agreed with what we heard today from these two Republican senators. PRESTON: Wolf, all we have to do is hit rewind a little bit on this

show, to Phil's point, you had Senator Risch sitting right here. He knew exactly the questions he was going to get. There's no surprise what the topic of the day was, but yet not to address them head-on.

Here's the issue right now, is that the likes of Flake and Corker are being criticized for speaking out at this time. David's right, that they've done it afterwards. But Rebecca's right, as well, because they at least had the courage to do so.

What the common thread, I think, that ties this altogether are two things. One, free speech is a live and well in America, and we saw that today. Two, this is their job. It is a co-equal branch of government. And I do believe that members of Congress have abdicated all of that to the executive branch. And their job is oversight and to have them speak out is refreshing.

BLITZER: Phil, listen to this exchange that Senator Corker had with Manu Raju, our congressional correspondent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Is the president of the United States a liar?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has great difficulty with the truth, on many issues.

RAJU: Do you regret supporting him in the election?

CORKER: Well, let's just put it this way. I would not do that again.

RAJU: You wouldn't support him again.

CORKER: I wouldn't. No way. I think that he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion. I think many of us, me included, have tried to, you know, intervened. I've had private dinner.

[18:50:01] You know, I have been with him on multiple occasions to try to create some kind of aspirational approach, if you will, to the way that he conducts himself. But I don't think that that's possible and he's obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What's your reaction?

MUDD: Let's be clear here. The people who are talking about this, Flake, you have McCain talking about this, who clearly is in a very difficult situation. You got another senator, Corker, who is not standing for re-election.

We've got a question about the soul of America here and the people who are choosing the speaker, the people who don't -- who think they don't have skin in the game long term. I think the question that history will ask is, those who do have skin in the game, what's -- what's their perspective? Is it 35 percent, 40 percent of the population, people in my electorate are going to vote, so therefore I have to be careful about what I say, as Senator Risch was tonight? Or is history in 20 or 30 years will ask, where was I when a man who lied from the start about the citizenship of the former president, who came to the president about attacking a war widow, when do I speak?

I want to know when people who still have a chance will speak. I think he was courageous today. I think he was thoughtful. There's a bunch of other people out there who are holding their tongues and history will judge them.

BERG: Although it's important to remember as we have this conversation that the public really detests Congress. And it might be, you know, a question of cause and effect, as you said, Phil. But there has been an erosion in faith in institutions, and that matters because our congressmen and senators, credible speakers -- we saw what happened in the Alabama Senate primary. Mitch McConnell and his allies spent a lot of money supporting Luther Strange, and Alabama voters said no thank you. We don't care what you think.

BLITZER: Our White House correspondent, Mark, Sara Murray, is reporting according to a source, that the president is in high spirits right now because Senator Flake has decided not to seek re-election.

PRESTON: Right, doesn't it just fit the narratives that he loves chaos? He's created chaos. We saw Steve Bannon. Our Kaitlan Collins reported than Steve Bannon was happy he got another scalp.

You know, this isn't about politics. So, for everybody out there who says this is about Democrats and Republicans, this has nothing to do with that at all. This just has to do with what Phil said, it's about the soul of America right now. And it's about dignity. That's what we heard Senator Flake say today.

It's not about health care. It's not about tax reform. It's not about any EPA regulations. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with dignity.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have much more news coming up. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:17] BLITZER: America's tallest mountain formerly known as Mt. McKinley but renamed Denali by President Obama to honor Alaska's native population, now one of Alaska's senators says President Trump asked him about switching the name back.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tom, as a candidate, the president indicated he was against that name change.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And you can bet the temperatures will skyrocket in both Alaska and Ohio over this bit of news, which is reviving a bitter feud that truly went on for more than a century.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Towering more than 20,000 feet over the Alaskan wilderness, this is the tallest mountain in North America, and also appears to be a big chip on the president's shoulder. So much so that he took it up with the two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.

The issue: in 2015, President Obama changed the mountain's name from Mt. McKinley to Denali.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Flying in on Monday, I had the view of something extraordinary from Air Force One. The great one, Denali. We restored its Alaska native name.

(CHEERS)

FOREMAN: The move came amid much praise in the far north.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alaskans have fought for this to happen for years, knowing it was a gold prospector who named the mountain after President McKinley, who never set foot in this state.

FOREMAN: But in Ohio, the home state of the assassinated 25th president, outrage. Then-speaker of the U.S. House, Ohioan John Boehner, said he was deeply disappointed. Governor John Kasich said POTUS once again oversteps his bounds, and candidate Donald Trump --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: O.H.

AUDIENCE: Ohio!

FOREMAN: With the state's primary stale ahead, he tweeted: President Obama wants to change the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali after more than 100 years. Great insult to Ohio. I will change back.

But it's not clear if that will actually happen now. "The Anchorage Dispatch News" which initially reported on the president raising the matter with the senators says it happened back in March. Both told him: no, no. And by the way, this was Murkowski back when McKinley was dropped by Obama.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I'd like to thank the president for working with us to achieve this significant change to show honor, respect, and gratitude to the Athabascan people of Alaska.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Her colleague, Senator Sullivan, put it this way: Those native inhabitants of Alaska named the mountain Denali 10,000 years ago. And that name should remain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Tom Foreman, thanks very much. Very, very interesting. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.