Return to Transcripts main page


Trump: "I Am Not A Racist"; Government Shutdown Looms As "DREAMers" Deal Stalls; Bipartisan Threat: No DACA Deal, No Government Funding; Representative John Lewis: President Trump Is Racist; Government Shutdown Looms As "DREAMers" Deal Stalls; Panic Ends Fallout Begins After Hawaii's False Alarm. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 11:00   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Kate Bolduan. So glad you could join us. A remarkable moment reflecting a remarkable time in American politics. A sitting U.S. president forced to deny making vulgar and hateful comments in the oval office.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.


CABRERA: There is also a bipartisan divide on whether the president disparaged African nations during Thursday's closed-door meeting on immigration. Democrat Dick Durbin says he did. Republican counterpart, Lindsey Graham implied he did, and now two Republican senators say he definitely did not.

But just a couple of days earlier, both men claim they couldn't recall what the president had actually said.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the president has spent the holiday weekend. Kaitlan, the president just can't seemed to escape these comments.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: No, he can't. And just yesterday he was denying that he's a racist, denying he's made that remark, and for his denial, he cited those two senators who have also said the president didn't make that remark, Senators Cotton and Perdue who were both at that meeting at the White House.

But initially, they said they didn't recall if the president had used that specific term when speaking about countries in Africa. Now they're insisting that the president did not say that.

However, they have not insisted that the president didn't express that sentiment about countries in Africa, about Haitians coming to the United States, and about how the United States should take more people from countries like Norway.

So, it is important to keep that in mind as the president cites their denials. But what is really being overshadowed here, Ana, is what they were in that meeting for and that is to come up with a solution for the DACA program, the program that the president rescinded back in the fall.

And tasked Congress with coming up with a solution for these people who are living in the United States that were brought here as children. And just yesterday, the president was predicting that a deal for DACA could not happen at all now.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal. I think they talked about DACA, but they don't want to help the DACA people. I think we have a lot of sticking points, but they're all Democrat sticking points. Because we are ready, willing and able to make a deal, but they don't want to. They don't want security in the border. People pouring in. They don't want security in the border. They don't want to stop drugs and they want to take money away from our military, which we cannot do.


COLLINS: Now the government runs out of money in four days here, Ana. Democrats are saying they will not support a spending bill unless something for immigration is attached. But right now, things seem pretty dire and it doesn't seem as if Capitol Hill or the White House are any little bit closer to coming up with a solution to this, in this week of crucial negotiations. But it is all being overshadowed by the president's vulgar language during that meeting.

CABRERA: Kaitlan Collins at West Palm Beach, Florida with the president, thank you.

As mentioned, Congress has a lot on their plate. They officially return to work tomorrow, because today, of course, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday. The clock is ticking toward a potential government shutdown at the end of the week.

Democrats and some Republicans say a funding deal won't happen if the nation is -- more than 700,000 DREAMers in this country remain in legal limbo.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, it may be a holiday, but plenty of people are scrambling to avoid this potential government shutdown.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. When Congress returns back to Washington tomorrow, they'll have four working days here on Capitol Hill to get a deal and move forward to avoid a potential government shutdown.

Now behind the scenes, there are negotiations still taking place. Aides say they're working, but aides also openly admit that these talks have been set back, that they're not going so well, a definite shift in tone after President Trump made those vulgar remarks in the oval office last week, which has really set off a fierce partisan debate over what was exactly said.

Republican leaders like Paul Ryan say that they're moving ahead, they're going to talk about decoupling DACA with the spending bill that has to pass by midnight Friday night. As Kaitlan said, many Democrats up here saying, look, we're not going to vote for any government spending plan, no short-term funding, unless DACA is tied to it. That's what two Democrats said this morning on "NEW DAY."


SENATOR CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: A majority of my caucus, myself included, we will not fund the government without a DACA deal.

REPRESENTATIVE CARLOS CURBELO (R), FLORIDA: If we don't have any measurable progress towards a DACA deal, I am not going to vote for a stopgap measure, and I am asking Republican and Democrats to take that position.


SERFATY: So many Democrats, as of this week, drawing their line in the sand over this. The question will be how Republicans are going to be able to get those votes to pass a spending bill by Friday.

[11:05:09] They do need some Democratic support for it and the big question is how far are Democrats willing to push this -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, keep us posted. Thank you.

We have a lot to cover. So, let's bring in our guests, Carrie Sheffield is a conservative commentator and Keith Boykin is a CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist.

So, Carrie, let me start with you. The leader of your party on a week where we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is forced to answer questions about whether or not he's a racist. This can't feel good.

CARRIE SHEFFIELD, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, as I'm not a conservative, I'm a registered independent, but I will say looking at the conservative agenda, I think that Martin Luther King Day is the time to hit the reset button. It is devolved into this he said, he said, he didn't say sort of you know closed door session.

And I would rather focus on the policy here and see what is the president actually doing to help the lives of African-Americans in this country. Look at unemployment for African-Americans, historic low, look at the labor force participation rate, historic high for African-Americans.

You look at what happened last week at the White House, there was a session held on reforming criminal justice. You look at what is happening with Ben Carson, Ben Carson -- if I was advising the president for 2018, put Ben Carson front and center and let people know what his agenda is. He wants to turn around our country, our urban areas. His personal story is incredibly moving of where he came from to be this historic surgeon.

CABRERA: So, we're talking about what the president said. He is the leader of this country. Ben Carson is not and yes, he is a member of his cabinet, but here we have an international backlash happening right now.

We have diplomats from the U.S. being summoned to talk to governments around the country, who are deeply offended and who wonder what the U.S. position is when it comes to how they feel about these nations.

SHEFFIELD: Sure. I agree, and as I said on CNN, as a woman from Utah, I agree with Congresswoman Mia Love who is the sole African- American female in the Republican caucus and she said --

CABRERA: Haitian-American.

SHEFFIELD: Haitian-American. And she said if these comments are true, they are deeply offensive, and the president should apologize. I agree. We have yet to see agreement on what was actually said. So, I think that's where the focus. I think the president should clarify and say he absolutely he absolutely does not feel this way about these countries and he has come out and said that he doesn't feel that way about these countries.

CABRERA: Let me get Keith in here. On that notion of who said what, Keith, we have Senator Cotton and Perdue now saying the president never said these vulgar words. Initially, they said they couldn't recall. Where does this lead us?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It leads us to the conclusion that the Republican Party is complicit with all of the racist that Donald Trump has engaged in as president. Irrespective of the racism and the engagement before he was president, the housing discrimination, the accusations against the Central Park Five, the casino discrimination against his employees, and then spending 5 1/2 years attacking President Obama's birth certificate.

He gets in office, starts attacking NFL players who are predominantly black, starts attacking other African-Americans who speak out against him and he defends the people in Charlottesville as very fine people, the Nazis and white supremacists.

So, of course, when Donald Trump says something that the s-hole comment that he made in the White House last week, he has no presumption of innocence, no credibility on any issue regarding race, because he's been the most divisive president on race issues, any president in my lifetime, and probably any president in a living person's lifetime.

Yes, we've had racist presidents before, we never had a president who has been as openly racist as openly pandering to the white supremacist crowd as Donald Trump has been. And that's what so problematic because Republicans have failed to exercise the basic level of government required to stand up and speak truth to power.

CABRERA: I want you guys to hear what Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, said this weekend.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: It is unreal, it is unbelievable, it makes me sad. It makes me cry. As a nation and as a people, we have come so far, we made so much progress, we have come so far, we made so much progress. And I think this man, this president is taking us back to another place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think President Trump is a racist?

LEWIS: I think he is a racist.


CABRERA: Carrie, what the president said is not something that should be brushed off. Why haven't we heard from more GOP lawmakers on these comments, not even Kevin McCarthy, who was standing right next to the president yesterday, when the president was forced to address these comments. He was in that room, that would have been a perfect opportunity for him to say if these comments that were reported were not true, to say so, wouldn't it?

SHEFFIELD: Sure. I haven't seen directly what he's said or not said. I think that the president, we know, he's an individual who was elected not because of his flowery language, not because he's a diplomat.

He's someone who said, you know what, things are out of control in this country, we need to change the different course. I think that, you know, rather than trying to say, the president needs to speak a certain way, which I personally would love for him to be more diplomatic.

[11:10:04] I would love for him to be more reconciling, even if he won't, that's our responsibility as a country. We are the people. We're the leaders, as even Barack Obama said, we should be the change that we want to see in the world.

And I urge the president to use Martin Luther King Day as a time for him to set the reset button. He could be like Ronald Reagan, what Ronald Reagan did was he grew his electoral margin, but did that by using language that is unifying.

So, absolutely I would love to see more unifying language coming from the Republican leadership. I love to see it coming from the president. But I do think it is also important to look again at the policies and see how the lives of African-Americans have been improved.

I know when Nancy Pelosi said a thousand dollars, given to people, because of the tax reform bill, she said that was, you know, crumbs, said it was crumbs. But a thousand dollars for working families, working at Walmart, that's a lot of money. And for African-Americans who have jobs that didn't have jobs before, that's meaningful. That's not --

CABRERA: Let me get --

BOYKIN: This is nonsense that is going on out here from Carrie. Carrie, this is ridiculous. The unemployment rate for African- Americans was cut in half from 16.8 percent to 7.8 percent under Barack Obama. The president of the United States who preceded Donald Trump. That --

CABRERA: But it is at 6.8 percent now.

BOYKIN: Let me finish for a second. Because Donald Trump last year was saying, the year before last, when he was running for office, said those numbers were fake and phony. He said that the unemployment rate was actually in the 40 percent range for African-Americans.

He lied about the African-American unemployment rate and then as soon as he got in office, he inherited the declining unemployment numbers and he took credit for what President Obama did.

That's disgusting, abhorrent, and the president should apologize to President Obama, not only for the lies, about the birth certificate, but about the lies about the African-American community that he continues to spread.

And you, Carrie, to sit here and defend this, when you should know because you're a smart person to study the statistics, you should know that the president did nothing, has not lifted a finger to help the African-American community.

He's been the most divisive president we've seen in our lifetime for our African-American people. I don't want to hear any nonsense about taking credit for things that President Obama did unless he acknowledges that President Obama had some role in doing that. That's what is so indefensible.

SHEFFIELD: Labor force participation rate is up for African-Americans and that was the criticism that Trump leveled was that labor force participation among African-Americans, and all Americans under Obama's term have been declining and that's a fact. You can go to the bank with that.

BOYKIN: The labor force participation rate, Carrie, is -- the change in labor force participation rate, first of all, it changes -- is it very minuscule over the past year, we are talking about less than one point.

And we are also talking about a statistically insignificant difference because of variance with a small sample size of African-Americans. But the reality is that unemployment rate has been going down consistently and it has been a pattern that started in 2010. It started under President Obama. So, don't try to take credit for something that Donald Trump has done nothing to do. CABRERA: OK, got to leave it there, guys. We're out of time. But thank you, both, for sharing your thoughts, making your points. Obviously, a very passionate issue for many.

Coming up, the false alarm fallout, for 38 minutes Americans in Hawaii scrambled for safety and prepared their children for what they thought was a potentially deadly missile strike. What are officials doing now to ensure a mistake this big never happens again? We're live in Hawaii.

Plus, Republican senator and frequent Trump critic, Jeff Flake, apparently isn't done taking aim at the president. He's now planning to slam President Trump in a big speech, right from the Senate floor, and we already know he's going to compare the president to a brutal dictator.



CABRERA: An important question, in Washington right now, could the infighting over immigration deal torpedo efforts to keep the government running? The deadline is this Friday. The Democrats might use their vote as bargaining chips against Republicans and the president. In other words, no deal on DREAMers, no money for Uncle Sam.


LEWIS: I, for one, will not vote for government funding until we get a deal on DACA.


CABRERA: Regardless, Republicans are planning to move ahead with a short-term funding bill without a DACA deal.

Joining us now is a Republican congressman, Bradley Byrne, of Alabama. He also serves on the Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thank you for spending some of the holiday with us. We really appreciate it. What do you see as the chances that a deal to protect DREAMers is done by the end of this week?

REPRESENTATIVE BRADLEY BYRNE (R), ALABAMA: I don't think we're going to have a deal on DACA by the end of the week. I don't think we need one. What we need to do is our most important function and that is to fund the government.

The House passed our version of the appropriations bill and sent it over to the Senate in September of last year, four months ago. The Senate has yet to act because Democrats are obstructing things over there.

We need to get a funding deal done, so the government's funded permanently for the rest of this fiscal year. Instead, we're having the defense and other important parts of government being held hostage to a DACA deal that we don't need until the beginning of March.

CABRERA: But Congressman, there are Republicans even who say they won't vote for the funding without a DACA deal.

BYRNE: Well, I understand Congressman Curbelo and others have strong feelings about this, and the president asked us to do something about this and we will. The government runs out of money this Friday and that should be the most important thing that we're dealing with this week.

CABRERA: It seems like the solution could be very easy, though, Congressman. Republicans have the power to get both done and you have the blessing of the American people. I want to show you this recent Quinnipiac poll, the question here was should DREAMers be allowed to remain in the U.S. and apply for citizenship?

And 79 percent of Americans say yes. A closer look at these numbers show that of that 79 percent who say yes, DREAMers should stay and be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship, that includes 64 percent of Republicans surveyed, and 77 percent of independents. Should be a slam dunk, no?

[11:20:10] BYRNE: I don't think that there is a question that we're going to deal with. It is a question of whether we have to get everything done this week before we have to make sure the government is funded.

CABRERA: But why not this week?

BYRNE: We have men and women in uniform going all over the world to defend us and they're in harm's way because of the way we're handling our funding. Let's stay focused on the most important thing, which is funding the government.

Then we have plenty of time to deal with this whole DREAMers issue and there are more things involved here than just a DREAMers, as everybody knows, the president has done a great job to bring people together, both parties to have these discussions.

They are moving ahead. They have been constructive, let's give it the time it takes to get it done right. In the meantime, let's fund the government.

CABRERA: I hear what you're saying, and on that note of what we saw, this bipartisan negotiation that was taking place, it did seem like there was a potential deal that was promising and then the president himself, though, made the controversial oval office remarks which seemed to throw a wrench --

BYRNE: I'm not sure the president made those remarks. The president is denying making them. We had a couple of participants who said he didn't make them. But either way it is a distraction and we don't need to be distracted.

We need to stay focused on funding the government, continuing the positive discussions about what we're going to do about immigration, and get the people's work done. This other stuff is an unneeded distraction that is keeping us from doing the essential work for the American people.

CABRERA: So, you call it a distraction. But listen to what your Republican colleague, Mia Love, had to say. She's the first Haitian American, she was deeply offended by the comments.


REPRESENTATIVE MIA LOVE (R), UTAH: I still think that he should apologize. I think that there are people that are looking for an apology. I think that would show real leadership.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Were the comments racist, do you think?

LOVE: Well, I think there were -- yes. I think that there were unfortunate.


CABRERA: Congressman, in order to move forward, should the president apologize?

BYRNE: The president maintains he didn't say it, of course, he shouldn't apologize. If he didn't say it, he's got nothing to apologize for. Let me go back to what we said earlier, this is a distraction from very important things that we need to be doing in Washington.

Funding the government, keeping this positive discussion going on immigration, and a host of other issues. Every time we get one of these distractions, it gets us off on a side path, it is hard to get back on the main path we need to be on. I am not going to get distracted by this issue and the Congress shouldn't be distracted by this issue.

CABRERA: If you take the president at his word that he didn't say that specific language, even if he didn't use the curse word, it is the sentiment that is causing the outrage, the idea that the U.S. doesn't want immigrants for predominantly black or brown countries and instead should be courting immigrants from predominantly white countries like Norway. Are you OK with that?

BYRNE: Of course, not. We should be courting people from every country. We should be courting the people that we want to come to this country because they share our values. People share our values all over the world. So, of course I don't agree with that. I don't know of anybody in Congress that does.

We want the best possible person to come to this country as an immigrant and become a part and continue to make us the great country we are. E pluribus unum, out of one is many. Of course, I don't agree with that. I don't think the president agrees with that.

But once again, because we're off on this one comment in a talk he was having in private with senators, trying to get a deal going, now we're off distracted and not focused on funding the government, and getting these discussions moving in a positive direction on immigration.

If we're not letting the distractions get in the way, we can get the people's work done. If we continue to be distracted, we won't get the people's work done. Right now, the Senate is not getting the appropriations bill done that need to be done in order for us to fund the government.

CABRERA: Congressman Bradley Byrne, thank you. Good luck.

BYRNE: You're welcome.

CABRERA: Coming up, the official who sent out that false alarm in Hawaii that had Americans fearing a missile was going to wipe them off the face of the earth has been reassigned now. But is enough being done to prevent a similar mistake from happening again?



CABRERA: Maybe not since the Cuban missile crisis have Americans felt this kind of fear. For nearly 40 minutes Saturday, people in Hawaii were in a panic after a missile alert was accidentally sent out.


ANNOUNCER: The U.S. Pacific Command has detected a missile threat to Hawaii. A missile may impact on land or sea within minutes. This is not a drill.


CABRERA: No, this wasn't a drill. It was a huge mistake. The employee who apparently pushed the wrong button has been disciplined and reassigned. So how did it happen and what are officials doing to make sure it doesn't happen again?

CNN Sara Sidner is in Honolulu with the latest. Sara, fill us in.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, lots of things have been done now by emergency managers to keep this from ever happening again. One, there will have to be double confirmation when any kind of drill or message is sent out.

Two, I want to mention these drills happen all the time. They're just not supposed to be sent out to the public. They happen within the Emergency Management Agency. Those have been suspended for a while as the investigation continues.

And lastly, they have changed the way that they deal with this by adding another part of the template on the computer to say false alarm. That didn't exist, which is why this took 38 minutes to send out that message to the population that, in fact, this was not a drill, that this was actually not happening, that this was a false alarm.

That is all changing now.