Return to Transcripts main page


White House Won't Say if Trump Confident in Tillerson; Source: White House Intended Public Shaming of Tillerson; Sanders: Trump's Goal to Elevate Conversation with Anti-Muslim Videos; Frantic Work on Tax Bill Ahead of Possible Vote Tonight. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 30, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: That's it for THE LEADER. I'm Jake Tapper, turning over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SIT ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:10] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Replacement plan. The White House downplays reports President Trump wants to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo, but now, sources tell CNN the White House wants that report out there to show its displeasure with Tillerson. Why is it leaving him dangling in the wind?

Crucial vote. It's down to the wire for the Senate Republican tax overhaul bill, with lawmakers slogging through 20 hours of debate with a goal of a possible vote maybe even tonight. Its fate will be determined by a handful of GOP senators. Can they be persuaded to vote yes?

Elevate the conversation. The White House defends President Trump's retweet of a hate group's anti-Muslim videos, claiming he feels strongly about addressing the extreme terrorism. Does he know the woman behind the videos was convicted of harassing Muslims?

And ultimate impact. Stunning new video of the launch of North Korea's most powerful missile yet, supervised by the dictator Kim Jong-un himself. And now, experts are out there with a disturbing assessment of this powerful new rocket and its ability to strike anywhere in the United States.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, the White House offering lukewarm support for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson amid growing speculation about his future.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, won't say whether the president has confidence in Tillerson. And multiple government officials tell CNN President Trump is considering replacing Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. But now sources are telling us the White House wanted that report out there to show its displeasure with the secretary of state.

We're also following the hectic behind-the-scenes work in the Senate to nail down the GOP tax overhaul bill. Right now, senators are debating and voting on amendments as Republican leaders work to ensure they have enough votes for a final passage, possibly as soon as tonight.

And there's disturbing new information about the latest intercontinental ballistic missile fired by North Korea. Experts tell CNN it's a new kind of missile with better guidance and accuracy and capable of striking anywhere in the United States.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

But let's begin with the uncertain future of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us.

Jim, the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, downplayed questions about this and said it's business as usual between Tillerson and the president.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House once again is fighting fires of its own making on multiple fronts, from the anti-Muslim videos the president retweeted this week, to the fate of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who appears to be twisting in the wind. The White House is evading both of those questions tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President?


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a new episode of "Cabinet Member Apprentice" that feels like a rerun. Once again, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears to be on his way out. Sources tell CNN President Trump is considering a plan to replace Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, but the White House is pushing back.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, as we've said many times before, as many of you love to write these types of stories, when the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they're in.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Some days I feel like I need to do that. Curl up in a ball.

ACOSTA: It's no secret Tillerson has been on thin ice for weeks, ever since he was quoted as calling the president a moron. Mr. Trump responded by challenging Tillerson to an I.Q. test.

SANDERS: The president certainly never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent. He made a joke. Maybe you guys should get a sense of humor and try it some time.

ACOSTA: Sources say Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton is a leading contender to replace Pompeo at the CIA. Like Pompeo, Cotton is much more in line with the president's hawkish approach for combatting terrorism, even echoing Mr. Trump's views on torture.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Water boarding isn't torture. We do waterboarding to our own soldiers in the military.

ACOSTA: The potential shake-up at the State Department comes as the White House is facing a diplomatic uproar with a key U.S. ally. After President Trump retweeted unverified anti-Muslim videos from a far- right neo-fascist hate group in Britain. One video claims a boy on crutches was beaten by a Muslim migrant, but as it turns out, the attacker was born and raised in the Netherlands. The president's retweets sparked outrage in Britain.

STEPHEN DOUGHTY, MEMBER OF BRITISH PARLIAMENT: By sharing it, he is either a racist, incompetent, or unthinking, or all three.

[17:05:06] ACOSTA: Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, said the president was wrong to post the videos, prompting this response from Mr. Trump: "Don't focus on me. Focus on the destructive, radical Islamic terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine."

When pressed on whether the videos were accurate, the White House dodged the question.

SANDERS: I think what he's done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat; and that's extreme violence and extreme terrorism, something that we know to be very real and something the president feels strongly about talking about and bringing up and making sure is an issue every single day, that we're looking at the best ways to protect Americans.

ACOSTA: But May isn't backing down.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The fact that we work together does not mean that we're afraid to say when we think that the United States have got it wrong and to be very clear with them. And I'm very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do.

ACOSTA: With the State Department warning the videos could touch off protests at embassies around the world, even Republicans in Washington are raising questions.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When you embrace religious bigotry, when you say that all Muslims are the same, then you're undercutting our effort to win the war. All of our Muslim allies throughout the world have to be disappointed that President Trump choose to embrace this website.

ACOSTA: Just this week the president has railed against undocumented immigrants and NFL players, and called Senator Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas" while honoring Navajo war heroes. CNN has also learned the president questions the politics of

acknowledging Barack Obama was born in the U.S. Something he finally did last year. Mr. Trump believes he would have done better in the election, had he continued to embrace the debunked conspiracy theory.

DONALD TRUMP (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.


ACOSTA: Now, the White House press secretary did answer one question correctly today, saying that the president apparently did not know the person behind those anti-Muslim videos when he retweeted them, which raises the question whether Mr. Trump is really depending on his team for any kind of guidance on his social media behavior.

He has a secretary of state for now, but he obviously did not consult with the State Department when he gave American credibility to a group that pedals hate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

We're also learning more right now about why there's so much speculation about Rex Tillerson's future. Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. She's over at the State Department.

Michelle, you're getting new information from your sources. What are you learning?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, it turns out that when we heard the president utter those three words, "Rex is here" in response to all these questions, that was as good as saying, "You're fired."

I just spoke to a source close to the White House who, in fact, spent time at the White House today and acknowledged that this narrative that was put out there into the public domain, this plan to replace Tillerson was, in fact, put out there by the White House to express its extreme displeasure with Tillerson.

But Tillerson and his tight inner circle are now considered to be not staunch Trump supporters. They said that, yes, this is intended to be a public shaming of Rex Tillerson. And the goal is to get him to, quote, "punch out," and the clock is ticking.

And you know, Wolf, during the course of this conversation, I raised that, you know, isn't this kind of a sad way to handle this? And the response was, is it though? And that Tillerson should have seen the writing on the wall -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So Michelle, how will all of this play out? What's the next step?

KOSINSKI: Well, because as this source put it, the clock is ticking, we expect Tillerson to resign possibly in days, but possibly longer.

The White House really wants, wants this to be as smooth as possible. You know, they say you can't leave the State Department unmanned. They're not sure exactly what the time frame will be. They think it'll be by the end of the year, but possibly through January.

And, you know, there were only days left for Congress before the holidays, you still have to schedule a confirmation hearing. So they feel that the pick for the new secretary of state position will be current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The White House is very high on him. They feel that he will, quote, "fly through" a confirmation hearing.

But then comes the question of replacing him. And the word has been out there that one possibility, at least, is Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, but this source says, that's only a possibility. It might not be him. There's also a problem in Arkansas that, you know, the governor would appoint someone temporarily, but then Republicans need to get somebody on the ballot for the primary by May. Under Arkansas law, the person that the government, governor appoints temporarily might not be allowed, then, to be on that ballot. That's still in question, so we'll wait and see.

And you know, one more thing, Wolf. We're going to see the debate now over what this administration looks like, who the replacements are going to be. But we're also going to see reaction coming from all sides as to how this was handled.

And I just heard from a former senior long-time diplomat who told me "These guys have no honor and no shame" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Strong words indeed. All right, Michelle, thank you very much. Michelle Kosinski over on the State Department.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland is joining us. He's the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What's your reaction, Senator, to this expected shake-up over at the State Department and possibly the CIA?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Wolf, it's good to be with you. We are already troubled by what's happening at the State Department. And we know that career people are leaving. We know that's difficult on recruitment. We know that there is a morale issue. We know the State Department hasn't received the resources it needs to carry out its critical missions of diplomacy around the world.

And now, we also know of the rough relationship between the White House and the State Department. These are troublesome moments, because our country depends upon a strong diplomacy for our national security, and we are worried that that is, in fact, not taking place. I don't blame Rex Tillerson, I blame the Trump administration.

BLITZER: Well, when you say you're concerned about all these developments at the State Department, why don't you blame Rex Tillerson? He is the secretary of state? CARDIN: Well, I am concerned about the reorganization, and I've

expressed myself on that. This is the 11th month that they've been trying to go through a reorganization, which looks like it's a solution in search of a problem.

So yes, we are disappointed that there has not been more clear direction given to career State Department people. There are key positions that haven't been filled. Yes, Secretary Tillerson has responsibility, no question about it, but it's clear that he's not getting the support from the White House.

BLITZER: So will you be pleased when he leaves?

CARDIN: I'm not going to comment on that. I can tell you what I'm looking for is a State Department that prides itself in its career diplomats and the mission that they perform and has a person as secretary of state and president of the United States who will support their mission through resources and the way that they talk about diplomacy.

BLITZER: The next secretary of state would have to be confirmed by your committee. You're the top Democrat. Would Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, easily be confirmed?

CARDIN: Well, I'm not going to talk about what could happen on a replacement. I will tell you this. We will use a confirmation process to go into the issues that we think are open. That is the reorganization of the State Department, what has gone on between the White House and the State Department. Any opportunity we have, we need to raise these issues.

Congress, the United States Senate particularly, has an oversight role that we must play. And I must tell you, I've heard from a lot of people at the State Department about the problems there. And it has not been helped by the White House.

BLITZER: Is it appropriate for the Trump administration to leak all of this information in order to shame Tillerson into quitting?

CARDIN: You know, Mr. Trump has an unusual way of doing business, which I do not believe is in our national security interests. There should be a team approach. The State Department should be providing the information to the president before he makes statements. He makes statements and then checks it later for the reaction of the State Department.

The president has not used the experience of our career diplomats, our experience of those missions we have around the world in order to help him deal with some of the most complicated issues we have.

BLITZER: Are you concerned that this reshuffling, potential reshuffling is being proposed at the same time the secretary of state is trying to address the growing threat from North Korea?

CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. The solution to North Korea, if we're going to be able to avoid a real catastrophic event is that we need a surge in diplomacy. Diplomacy requires the State Department to take the lead. We have to work very closely, not just with Japan and the Republic of Korea and our European allies, but with China and hopefully with Russia so that we have a common strategy to reverse the course that North Korea is on. That requires strong diplomacy.

And yes, that's been compromised by the way the president's handling the secretary of state. It's been compromised by the lack of resources and key appointments that are necessary to have the people in place so that diplomacy can work.

BLITZER: Let's discuss President Trump's retweeting those inaccurate, far-right anti-Muslim videos. The State Department warned that that move alone could endanger Americans abroad. U.S. embassies were on heightened alert yesterday. Do you think President Trump took that message from the State Department seriously?

CARDIN: Well, I think this is very, very troublesome. The -- Britain First is an extreme nationalist group. Their anti-Muslim rhetoric without any factual basis. And you had the president of the United States giving credibility to that fringe group that should have no space at all for the type of message that they -- that they deliver.

[17:15:13] What the president did was very dangerous. It was very much against the U.S. national security interests, and it certainly interfered in British politics, which is something a president shouldn't be doing.

BLITZER: The White House says President Trump didn't know who he was retweeting, the people behind those anti-Muslim videos. What's your reaction to that? That he would go ahead and circulate to 44 million of his followers, 44 million people in the United States and around the world, that kind of hate video?

CARDIN: Mr. Trump as president of the United States has the greatest resources of any leader in the world. It is hard for the international community to believe that he doesn't know the source of what he tweets. That's just not believable to the international community.

BLITZER: Senator, stand by. There's more we need to discuss. Your colleagues, they're on the Senate floor right now. They're debating the latest version of the tax bill. We're going to have live coverage of that. A whole lot more, there's more breaking news. Stay with us.


[17:20:33] BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. I want to talk to him about the breaking news up on Capitol Hill right now. The Senate Republican tax bill now in the home stretch out of a possible vote maybe as early as tonight.

Let's get the latest from our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's right in the middle of all things over there. So what's the latest, Phil? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I want

to take you to the Senate floor right now, because what we're seeing is something that was not expected by senior Republican aides, was not expected by Republican lawmakers, walking into the vote.

Right now, there is a vote on the Senate floor. It's largely a pro forma vote. It is a Democratic motion to send the tax plan back to committee. These are the types of things that are expected to fail upon partisan lines. They've failed already multiple times today. This is another effort on that issue.

Let me explain to you what's different. Look in the well right now. You've got a group of senators that are sitting there, and there are three Republican senators who have not voted yet on this issue. Again, an issue that all Republicans are expected to very quickly vote against and then leave the chambers.

The senators that have not voted yet on this issue, Senator Bob Corker, Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Jeff Flake. Wolf, those are three senators that still have hang-ups about this bill. This is part of the reason why we haven't had major action throughout the course of this day. As senators and Senate GOP leaders have tried to figure out exactly what's going on.

Also in that huddle, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; Senate Republican No. 2, John Cornyn; Senate Republican No. 3, John Thune. I've spoken to several aides right now who acknowledge, they did not expect this was going to happen. They're not totally sure what's happening right now, except they understand that this is a continuation of negotiations that have been going on and, frankly, have been somewhat frustrating to some of those involved throughout the day.

To give you some context here, Republican leaders throughout the day have been exceedingly optimistic, that not only did they have the votes, they could have a vote, a final vote, as soon as tonight. That has grown more and more unlikely as the day has gone on. And as the day has gone on, there's several behind-closed-doors meeting.

Smaller groups at a time, often involving Senator Corker, Senator Flake, as they try and figure out what has been the major hold-up right now. And that is the idea of a deficit trigger.

Wolf, this bill as it currently stands, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, would add more than a trillion dollars to the deficit, even when you factor in growth. That has been something Flake and Corker have said repeatedly is not something that they will accept unless there is some kind of back stop plan there.

The trigger, what it would do, essentially, is if the growth projections don't match up to where it wouldn't add to the deficit over a certain period of time, tax increases would snap back into place. How those tax increases would be formulated, what side they'd come from, corporate or individual, and perhaps most importantly and most frustrating to a lot of senators throughout the day, whether or not they would pass the Senate's kind of arcane budget rules, based on the process they're going through.

They don't have answers to that, at least a final answer yet, and as a result, or at least in part, now you have senators huddled on the Senate floor trying to figure out, A, what the answers are to that deal and, in the process, holding up what is supposed to be a pretty simple vote for Republicans to vote against.

So right now, still trying to figure out what's going on. Staff is with me on that one, based on the text messages I've received. But definitely some drama we were not expecting in this process at this point. Particularly when you think about the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate No. 2 John Cornyn have said repeatedly throughout the day they're in a good place. They're trying to fix some issues. A lot of the issues are technical, and they're going to get there eventually. Perhaps by tonight, likely by tomorrow.

Right now, that looks at least somewhat in doubt. Or at least, Wolf, they need to figure some things out before they actually finish this vote that, again, was not supposed to be a problem for Republican leaders.

BLITZER: Yes, if they sent it back to committee, that would be a very, very big deal. A major setback for the Republicans. All right. We'll stay in close touch with you, Phil. You'll update us on all the latest.

Let's get back to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a Democrat. Give me your reaction to what we're seeing right now, Senator.

CARDIN: Wolf, this is a motion that deals with the deficit. The motion says that the committee should return the bill without creating any addition to our deficit. It should be one that we all agree on. We shouldn't be deficit financing a tax cut. There's no wonder that there are some Republicans who are really concerned about it.

We -- the bill as reported to the floor, will add one and a half trillion dollars to the national debt. This motion is to correct that so we don't increase the deficit in the tax bill. I hope the motion carries because we really should be dealing with a tax bill, first of all, that's bipartisan, that's focused on middle income people, but one that does not increase the deficit.

[17:25:12] BLITZER: Yes, the -- the Congressional Budget Office says it would increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. The Joint Committee on Taxation says it would increase the deficit by about a trillion dollars. Both obviously very, very big numbers.

What's your biggest single concern if this bill were to go through?

CARDIN: Well, there's a lot of concern. Middle-income families are going to get hurt. In my own state of Maryland, we know that 800,000 people will actually pay more taxes rather than less when the bill is fully implemented.

It gives big tax cuts to corporations and high-income taxpayers, and gives very little to middle-income and it's temporary in nature. And then, it eliminates one of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act that will mean 13 million people will lose their health insurance.

This is not a bill that should be passed.

BLITZER: But the Democrats, there's really not much, if anything, you can do. It all depends on finding three Republicans who will oppose it, right?

CARDIN: The Democrats are united against the bill. They're using what's known as reconciliation, which is a partisan process. They can jam it if they can get 50 Republicans who will support the bill. And you will not even know the final version of the bill, because it'll come out at the 11th hour and be voted on without really understanding the consequences.

This is not the way we should be doing tax reform. We should do it bipartisan, working together for the American people.

BLITZER: Senator Cardin, thanks for joining us.

CARDIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to continue to follow the drama that's unfolding on the Senate floor right now. We'll update you on the very latest. There's other important news we're following.

We're also getting in new pictures, new details about why Kim Jong- un's latest missile test has so alarmed all the experts.

Also coming up, Republican contortions to defend President Trump even when there's tape of the same lawmaker slamming him. Why the change?


GRAHAM: What concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook, not fit to be president.

I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.



[17:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following multiple breaking stories right now. You're looking live pictures from the Senate floor. Dramatic surprise unfolding right now. Senators are huddling during a key vote to send the Republican tax bill potentially back to committee. That would be a huge setback for the Republicans. We're watching this. We'll update you on the latest.

Also breaking, source familiar with the thinking over at the White House says today's trial balloon about CIA Director Mike Pompeo possibly replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was an intentional public shaming to force Tillerson to, "punch out." Let's bring in our specialists. And John Kirby, you served at the State Department during the Obama administration as the Spokesman. Is it appropriate to leak this kind of information to basically shame the Secretary of State and force him to quit?

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE: No, look, I mean, this town can be tough, but this is a particularly mean-spirited shameful thing to do in my view. The thing to do is if you're unhappy with one of your cabinet officers is bring them into the Oval Office and tell them about it. Counsel him and if he's still not performing, then fire him. At least be man enough, be gentleman enough to do it yourself rather than this way. And I think it's absolutely despicable.

BLITZER: And Gloria, I want you to weigh in as well. How difficult potentially would it be to a get a new Secretary of State, a new CIA Director confirmed in this current environment?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's what's going on. I mean, I think they're trying to move the chess pieces around, and I will tell you, this has been going on for some time. It's not as if this just percolated today. I mean, you had the Secretary of State who didn't deny that he privately called the President of the United States a moron. They publicly, the President has said --


BORGER: Right. The President said you're wasting your time trying to do diplomacy with North Korea and on and on and on. You know, the problem they have is let's say they put Pompeo over there. OK --

BLITZER: At the State Department.

BORGER: At the State Department. A member of the club, now he's CIA Director, has been confirmed, you know, that's OK. The question is what happens at CIA? If it's Tom Cotton as everybody assumes, you know, the Senator from Arkansas, they have a bit of an electoral issue, which is, they don't want to lose that Republican seat. It's got a Republican Governor, they don't have a lot of time to get somebody in place to run in 2018. And you know, Cotton's up in 2020 so that would be safe for them if you're worried about control of the Senate. So they do have some pieces they got to move around.

BLITZER: How do you see it?

BROWNSTEIN: Well look, I think Rex Tillerson was an experiment that didn't work, right? It was an idea to try to go outside of the box to find someone without any experience in politics, who had experience in business and kind of thrust them into the highest level of government. You could think of maybe another example of that experiment that we're living through now as well, but that isn't the principle reason I think people feel that he is being pushed out here. It's more about the relationship and the loyalty to President Trump than it is about the effectiveness. So while he does not have a lot of defenders in the foreign policy community or in Congress, there's also a sense as John was saying that, you know, what -- how this reflects upon the White House and that is -- and that is seen --

BLITZER: He's not the first cabinet --


BLITZER: -- that the President has shamed, publicly.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: And not all of those people left. Jeff Sessions has been the most publicly shamed, and he remains in the job. Obviously Tom Price, and a few others. To Ron's point, the -- I think it's fascinating about Tillerson. This was sort of the crowned jewel of the Trump cabinet. Remember, on the campaign trail he always boasted that we're going to bring in sort of titans of the industry that no one else could bring in. But because of --


CILLIZZA: Right, right. Because of my relationships, I'm going to make this happen. And I think people some rolled their eyes and thought you know, Carl Icahn is one guy, (INAUDIBLE) government. But Tillerson was seen as kind of a make-good by Trump. This guy ran Exxon. He agreed to be the top diplomat. This was someone that to Trump's point hadn't served in government, and he saw that as an appeal. I think the problem is Ron mentioned this, Trump expects total fealty. He believes everyone in the government effectively works for him and their job is to forward the Trump brand. Remember what he said about Jeff Sessions. How could he do this to me when he recused himself in the Russia investigation? That's tells you everything you need to know and why Rex Tillerson ultimately, personality wise is not going to be a good fit.

BORGER: But you know, Tillerson doesn't have a lot of constituencies supporting him.

CILLIZZA: He does not.

BORGER: He's alienated the State Department, he's trying to downsize the State Department without a plan that seems to be working. He's alienated people in the White House, he's fighting with Jared Kushner who's an important person to this President. He's alienated the President of the United States. So you know, you have to have some backing, foreign leaders complaining that they can't get through to Rex Tillerson. So, you know, you have to have some people behind you. And I think he's lost that constituency as well and I think that's a problem for him. And by the way, I think he wants to go.

CILLIZZA: And he's also -- he also, I think one of the things and you might speak better than this is to your point, Gloria, it's harder to go to foreign countries when foreign leaders are aware that the President of the United States -- I mean, this has been going on, this undermining of Tillerson has been going on for a long time. One of the most important things is that you are seeing as having the confidence of the President. When you speak represents the President.

KIRBY: Not only the confidence but the voice.


KIRBY: When the Secretary of State speaks, he's speaking for the President and for American foreign policy, it's has been, to Chris' point, a long time since foreign leaders felt that he was. His credibility has been undermined for a long time. I don't understand why he thinks he needs more proof that he doesn't have the trust and confidence of the President of the United States. He ought to resign.

BLITZER: OK, guys, everybody standby, there's other breaking news. We're following series of live pictures of the Senate floor right now. Drama unfolding right now, a key vote coming up whether or not they're going to send the Republican tax bill back to committee, back to the Senate Finance Committee. That would be a huge setback for the Republicans. We'll update you on that right after this.


[17:40:00] BLITZER: We're back with our political and diplomatic specialists but quickly I want to go back to Capitol Hill. Right now Phil Mattingly is reporting on the latest drama unfolding on the Senate floor. Republicans seem to have ran into a bit of a roadblock. What are you hearing, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the issue that's been really frustrating Republicans all day has come to almost a head right now. I'm being told that the deficit trigger, the issue that Republicans were huddled in the Senate well talking about why that amendment vote almost went in a very bad direction for Republicans who to pass this bill, that trigger has run into significant problems. They are not sure how to structure it in a way that complies with the Senate budget rules. I'm told they're still trying to figure out solutions right now. But if you want to know what that huddle was about, the amendment was to send the bill back to a committee. It was deficit-related.

Again, this is an issue Republicans, these amendments Republicans generally just vote against and walk off the floor, not expected to be problematic. But deficit has been Bob Corker's issue. The trigger has been Bob Corker's issue. If they can't figure out a solution to the trigger, there is a real possibility they have a problem, not just with Senator Bob Corker, but also with Senator Jeff Flake. Senator James Lankford is also talking about the trigger as something that he wants to see as well. Now the issue here is whether or not they can find some type of alternative to pacify these Senators or appease this Senators over the course of the next couple hours. The reality is, there's a decent chance that they don't actually need Senator Bob Corker or Senator Jeff Flake's vote. They've got 52 Senators. They only need 50 and Republican aids tell me that they've been on a very good path to that number throughout the course of the day.

But this is a problem that was not necessarily expected. It's certainly been flummoxing Republicans aids and the Republican Senators themselves throughout the day. And the big question now is, can they find a solution to this. And if they can't, does that mean they lose Senator Corker, lose Senator Flake, and does that throw the end game on the vote influx altogether? Right now they don't have answers to that. I'm told they're still trying to find solutions to it. There's no question about it, this is not a problem they wanted. This is not necessarily a problem they expected. And right now, it's a problem they are desperately trying to figure out a way to solve in the near term. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We're going to get back to you Phil. You're going to run (INAUDIBLE). There's 52 Republicans, 48 Democrats. They lose two, then the Vice President, the President of the Senate breaks the tie, they lose three, it's over.

BROWNSTEIN: What happened today Wolf, is the last big leaf was stripped away from any of the Republicans who say they are concerned about the deficit. Because, you know, the Congressional Budget Office has said that the bill would increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion even as we are moving into a period where our entitlement costs are going to go up as we add 40 million more seniors over the next 40 years. Leave that aside for a minute, the Republican response was well, there's going to be economic growth.

Well, the Joint Tax Committee came out with its official estimate today and says, even after accounting for economic growth which it expects to be a minimal increase under this bill, there will still be a trillion dollar increase in the deficit. So you now have a bill that would increase the deficit by at least a trillion after accounting for growth, that would raise taxes by some estimates on half of all the people in the country. And you are asking the, you know, total unanimity among Republicans to hold it together. One last point, it is a rare tax bill that is face two to one opposition in polls. And the reason I think is if you go back to the '81 Reagan tax code or the 2001 Bush tax code, you can make the complaint it gave more to people at the top than the middle been but it didn't raise taxes on people in the middle. This one does for some.

[17:45:24] BLITZER: You know, Chris, I want to make a quick turn to Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina. He was on CNN earlier today, and he said the news media has been unfair, too critical of the President of the United States not giving him a fair break. That he seemed to accidentally echo what he himself said last year during the campaign. Listen.


SEN. LINSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You know what concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook, not fit to be president.

I'm not going to try to get into the mind of Donald Trump because I don't think there's a whole lot of space there. I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.


BLITZER: That was in February of 2016.

CILLIZZA: Yes, I mean, look, this is a tried and true, used to be only Republicans, Democrats do it now too which is to say anything that is going wrong is the result of the media being unfair in some way, shape, or form. That's -- I mean, that's a perfect example of why that is inaccurate. The reason that we cover the erraticness of Donald Trump is because he's the President of the United States and because he acts and tweets erratically. Those are not partisan statements. Look at his Twitter feed and then look at what he's doing. In the midst of tweeting these anti-Muslim videos which by the way, remain unverified and according to Sarah Sanders, Donald Trump likely did not know the person for whom he was re-tweeting them, he is also on a phone call with the President of China talking about the North Korean missile launch. I mean, this is something -- those two things are something we have to address. And that's not the media biased, that's the reality of what the President is doing day in and day out.

BLITZER: Stand by guys, there's more breaking news we're following. Alarming new details immerging right now about North Korea's latest missile test. Stay with us.


[17:50:00] BLITZER: Our breaking news. An unexpected roadblock on the Senate floor as Republicans try to pass their tax bill. We saw Senators were in very intense discussion on the Senate floor just moments ago during a vote to send the bill back to committee. We're going to update you on the very latest. Stand by for that.

Also tonight, we have our first look at the missile North Korea launched this week and it now appears Kim Jong-un's missile program has made very significant advances. CNN's Brian Todd has been speaking to experts, he's working his sources. Brian, there some alarming new details about this missile launch.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There really are, Wolf. A short time ago, a U.S. intelligence official told me they are taking this launch and the North Korean claims a greater missile capability very seriously. Official said the height, the duration of this missile's flight clearly show an improved payload and range capability. Tonight, there's wide consensus among intelligence, military officials, and independent weapons experts that the North Korean's missile advances in a very short period of time, have been nothing short of stunning.


TODD: With a NASA-style countdown, North Korea fires off the most powerful missile its ever tested. Kim Jong-un is there personally supervising the launch. A slickly produced propaganda video showing several different angles of liftoff and flight. Tonight, U.S. officials and independent weapons analyst tell CNN this is a new North Korean missile, what Pyongyang calls Hwasong-15. It is a massive and intimidating game changer.

REBECCAH HEINRICHS, THE HUDSON INSTITUTE: There's no doubt that the North Korean can now hit anywhere in the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile. TODD: This missile could flew far into space, nearly 3,000 miles. Ten times higher than the international space station and was in the air for more than 50 minutes. Flattened out, its trajectory could show the capability to hit anywhere in the U.S. Overall, experts say, a significant improvement from the long ranged missile of North Korea tested in July starting with the size.

MICHAEL ELLEMAN, SENIOR FELLOW FOR MISSILE DEFENSE, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STRATEGIC STUDIES: This missile was smaller than the one that was just recently tested. Here you have one that's about 1.75 meters in diameter. Here you have one that is 1.9 meters in diameter. This means that it can carry considerably more fuel and propellant that enables it to power larger engines.

TODD: Missile experts believe this latest missile probably carried a dummy warhead, which was about the same weight as a real nuclear bomb. To do that, the North Koreans appear to have added more engines from the single-engine they used in July.

ELLEMAN: Now you have two which provides double the thrust, which means this missile can carry a much larger payload to a longer distance. In other words, it can threaten the entire United States with a nuclear warhead.

[17:55:06] TODD: In just under five months since the last test, this North Korean rocket appears to have better guidance and accuracy. Expert say each engine on this rocket has nozzles moving side to side to steer the missile, replacing the fins and thrusters on the last rocket, a stunning advance considering that this year and last there were several failed launches of North Korea's intermediate-range Musudan missiles.

HEINRICHS: They are not worried if there is -- if there is a failure because they're going to figure out what the problem was and they're going to adapt it and get it right the next time, improve and extended range.


TODD: The advances of this missile have come so fast and are so jarring that America's Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said this test brings the world closer to war and says if that happens, North Korea would be, "utterly destroyed." Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you. There's more breaking news. The White House now publicly shaming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with reports that the President wants to replace him. How long can Tillerson last?