Return to Transcripts main page


Nor'easter Hammers East Coast; Trump Administration Considers Military Action Against North Korea; Wild Week in the White House; Trump, First Lady Attend Billy Graham Funeral. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 2, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:02] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: A nor'easter is hammering the east coast right now. The strength of the storm being compared to a category 1 hurricane. It is a nasty mix of hurricane strength wind gusts as well as heavy rain, heavy snow in some areas. We're talking about some 80 million people who stand to see an impact in this storm from the Carolinas all the way on up to Maine. We already know of power outages in some areas, expected to be an issue as is travel into and out of the northeast. Some 1500 flights have been canceled already today. And as a precaution in Washington, federal offices, museums, the zoo are closed today. In New England, many are bracing for severe coastal flooding.

And that's where CNN's Polo Sandoval is. He joins us from Boston -- Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Erica. You got rain, wind, and you got flooding. As far as precipitation, we're just beginning to see some of that here in Boston. We used to be able to see the air traffic control tower at Logan International Airport. Can't see that anymore. Clearly, we're seeing more precipitation.

Of course, flooding that is the main issue here in Boston. Folks have been through this before, just happened in January where we did see some of the water flood the areas around the harbor. What makes it a little more difficult this time, though, we're expecting three high tides in the next 36 hours or so. Even after low tide, it may not be so low after all because the winds will continue to push some of the water into some of these regions. You can see what is usually a fairly busy area here, a lot of people walking along this harbor. Clearly, folks are staying away at this point, heeding some warnings from officials, who says we're past the preparation stage, now it is about hunkering down here in the city of Boston. Schools still happening. But as far as businesses, some attractions along the water, those are going to be closing up shop for the day -- Erica?

HILL: All right, Polo, thank you.

The Trump administration is considering military action against North Korea if it succeeds in building a nuclear missile that can hit the United States. Multiple sources telling CNN national security officials are also concerned that North Korea could spread nuclear and missile technology to other countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Libya, and even terror groups. Already this week, the U.N. reported Pyongyang was helping Syria with chemical weapons. North Korea denies that.

CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, joins me now with more.

Barbara, what else do we know?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Erica. Scary stuff on a good day of the week. Right now, one of the major concerns is if North Korea really can put a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach out and hit the United States. The general thinking is North Korea has some of the pieces, but it can't put it all together just yet. It doesn't have that advanced targeting guidance capability. It can't really assure that a warhead could hit a target.

But the question for the president, the question now, if there is going to be a new national security adviser, do they wait. Do they wait until North Korea demonstrates that full capability? And with the U.S. intelligence community is saying, that capability could be just a few months away. So we are looking at 2018, the second year of Trump administration in which decisions are going to have to be made one way or the other. How long do you stick with sanctions, with high pressure diplomacy, do you have to turn towards a combat option?

And here at the Pentagon, I have to tell you, Defense Secretary James Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs very cautious about that, warning that war would lead to massive casualties, would be a catastrophe in the region. It could have a tremendous impact on the world economy and financial markets. So no surprise to anybody, there are no good solutions here. It is why the White House is pressing North Korea so hard to give up its weapons -- Erica?

HILL: As you point out, that clock is ticking.

Barbara, thank you.

Well, in terms of Washington and what is happening inside that building on your screen, talk about a wild ride over the last 72 hours. If your head is spinning, you are not alone. We're going to do our best to make sense of it all, next.


[11:38:31] HILL: You can call this a wild week. That is probably putting it mildly when we talk about the Trump White House this past week. Chaos sums up the last 72 hours or minutes.

Here is a quick recap for you. Just some of the highlights, FBI counterintelligence, as we learned now, investigating one of Ivanka Trump's business deals. National security adviser, H.R. McMaster, could leave his position by the end of the month. The president's confidante and White House communications director, Hope Hicks, resigned. There is also senior White House adviser and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who we learned could be a potential target for foreign manipulation due to overseas contacts. He security clearance was also downgraded. And the $31,000 dining room furniture debacle courtesy of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And that is, you know, just in no particular order a quick look at some of the things we have talked about.

CNN political commentators, Paul Begala and Alice Stewart, joining me to make sense of all of it.

I don't know if we can make sense of it, I'll be totally honest here. But we can certainly talk about it.

Alice, as we look at this, there is the chaos. We talk about it being wild, the whiplash, all of that is true and accurate. But is it also just time for us to accept that this is simply the way this White House works?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, everyone knew, whether you voted for President Trump or not, he was not going to be your ordinary president. He's uncharacteristic of others, unlike any others we had. We knew this was not going to be typical presidency.

All those things you mentioned, with staff departures and others possibly on the way, and as well as questions about financial ties and furniture purchases, and let me add to that the mean tweets against the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as Alec Baldwin, those are things that have been discussed widely here on television and in the media. But I can assure you, I've spoken at two big GOP events this week, and those aren't subjects that they talk about. And those are things that's a lot of palace intrigue, yes, it causes disruption and distraction in the White House. And as Paul knows, when you're dealing with things like that, it is difficult to drive your agenda.

But I think it is good also to look at some of the positive things that he has actually done this week, really continuing the debate on gun violence. Whether or not we're all on the same page with that, remains to be seen. But also working to protect the steel industry with regard to the tariff announcement that he had. So certainly, a lot of noise, but I'm going to focus on the positive progress we had this week.

[11:40:58] HILL: So you're focusing on some of that progress.

Paul, from a purely strategic perspective, when you look at this, when you flood the zone with information and developments in the way that this White House does, and when you keep everyone guessing, is that, in fact, a win for the president or is it more of a distraction. Because Alice wants to talk about two things that the White House sees as a win. Those are not certainly getting the attention in that way, because of all of the other distractions.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. The president doesn't have a communications strategy. Jeb Bush said if he makes this guy president, the chaos president, he said chaos candidate, a chaos president. Governor Bush was right.

But I think Alice makes a great point, the American people knew that when they voted for him. So 62 million people voted for Trump, want a wrecking ball, got a wrecking ball. Here is the problem with wrecking balls. Sometimes they hit your house.

Even the policy stuff that Alice talks about, the president's position on guns is now he's going to confiscate them without due process, that's beyond any left winger. That's way past Nancy Pelosi's position. But nobody takes it seriously because it is only the president. On live TV meeting with members of Congress. Analogous situation with steel and aluminum, which seems to come out of not a disciplined policy process, but just a sort of presidential fit of pique.

The problem with that, is tying it back to Barbara Starr's report from the Pentagon. America has adversaries around the world and those adversaries sense chaos, weakness, disorder, and they're going to move, whether it is North Korea, whether it is Iran, whether it is China, whether it is Russia. That's the problem is that we have real enemies in the world. Even I, as a Democrat, I don't like to see my president tied down by all this chaos because he's still my president, he's still supposed to be defending America against all the threats.

HILL: Alice, you're pointing out a couple of things. We have to say there is no real movement here. We don't have an exact plan on what the steel tariff will look like, how it will be rolled out. We have a couple of numbers. We know it wasn't fully flushed out before it came to be. We know the president keeps changing his position on what we hear on gun control. And both parties are asking for this president to lead when it comes to some sort of discussion about guns.

So the question comes back to, are the American people losing out? How much of that has been a discussion for you and Republican circles that the work itself, legislation is not moving through, I would imagine, at the rate they would like?

STEWART: That's an excellent point, Erica. One of the key points with regard to this tariff, it was not a very good rollout. It wasn't a rollout. Just him saying, I'm going to impose a tariff on steel and aluminum industry on imports and it wasn't any details. That's why we're seeing such a dive in the market. That's why there is talk of trade wars. I think in hindsight, would have backed up and rolled out a full policy like they did with tax reform, we would be in a much different space. He wanted to get that out there and begin the conversation.

With regard to gun violence, all options are on the table. Look, a lot of people are saying the president is changing his mind. He's having every option on the table. We heard about expanding background checks, which is critical. We heard about hardening schools, possibly arming teachers, talking about one of the big issues you mentioned, taking guns away and answering questions later, a lot of people have issues with that. I think it is really premature to nail the president down on any one of these components of this, because he's still in the listening phase.

He's still taking down ideas, talking with the NRA last night. They told me that they're pushing hard for him to stand firm on Second Amendment rights. That's their number-one objective is to make sure to protect Second Amendment rights for their five million members and tens of millions of Second Amendment supporters across this country. I think we're very, very far from a concrete proposal addressing gun violence.

I think it is premature to nail him to the wall on any one issue.

[11:44:57] BEGALA: And maybe premature to nail him to the wall, but we were told we would have at least some thoughts by yesterday, which we don't have, those apparently getting pushed aside to move forward with the plan when it comes to steel.

HILL: Paul, when we look at this, this could be a real moment for the president, though, if he can lead both parties here who want to see something done who are far apart, but have to start the discussion somewhere. We're not seeing as much of that in terms of moving forward, not something that happens overnight, not one fix to this. We are seeing movement in the corporate space. Still seeing the American people speak up and hear what they want. How much is that impacting the rest of Washington, Paul?

BEGALA: I do think you make a great point about how corporate America, whether it's Walmart, Dick's Sporting goods, these are not left-wing entities. They're moving because they sense their customers want it. They're reading the real market price. I think the meeting the president had should be the only thing we've talked about all week. It was remarkable. It was wonderful in many ways. But what is troubling is our president still really has no idea what he thinks about gun control, even though he campaigned, big for the NRA, he sat there and said, we're going to confiscate weapons first and then do due process second.

Well, even I'm not -- even I'm a gun owner myself, I'm not for that. We have to have due process. He doesn't know what -- this is the problem, though, when for the first time in American history, we elected a president with no prior experience in government or in the military. And this is what you get, America. Look, I hope you're happy. I don't mean to sound mean on Friday, but he wasn't hiding this from anybody. He was a lunatic on the campaign trail, a lunatic in the White House, and he'll be a lunatic in his post presidential phase. He's Donald Trump. What did you think you were getting?

HILL: Strong words there.

Listen, I want to move on because, as you point out, it is Friday.

The president was tweeting, also an obvious fact there. That will happen too whether it is Friday or any other day. This is catching a lot of attention, not solely for the fact that initially the tweet said "Alex Baldwin," referencing Alec Baldwin. But the tweet from the president today: "Alex Baldwin whose dying mediocre career was saved by his terrible impersonation of me on 'SNL' now says playing me was agony. Alex, it was agony for those who were forced to watch. Bring back Darrell Hammond (ph), funnier and a far greater talent. Alex, over. Darrell Hammond (ph) coming back."

STEWART: I don't see that happening. I think Alec Baldwin has too much fun. But what that tweet right there, Erica, that is red meat for the base. That's exactly what the president is doing, having a little fun, throwing out something, bashing not just the media, but "saturday night live" and their portrayal of them. They love it, gives them something to nibble on for the weekend. That's exactly what that was.

HILL: So you're saying it was a gift the president is serving up on a Friday.

Paul, your take?

BEGALA: Can you at least get spell check, Mr. President? First, dying, it is a five-letter word, sir. Dying, a five-letter words, drying, D-Y-I-N-G. I'm sorry. This is the word nerd in me. He's an embarrassment. The person happiest is probably is Alec Baldwin and Lorne Michaels, producer at "Saturday Night Live" because it will boost their ratings. That's fine if you're a private citizen at the top of your gold-drenched Penthouse in Manhattan. He's my president. And we have real threats and real problems. We have just barely buried all the children and teachers murdered in Florida. And that's what I want him focused on is our economy, our security, and not picking fights with movie stars.

HILL: Paul Begala, Alice, appreciate it, good to see you both. And we'll pick up that discussion on Monday.

BEGALA: Thank you.

STEWART: Thank you.

HILL: We're keeping a close watch on the markets. At this hour, you see down just about a percentage point, triple digits, just over 200 points. The president announcing upcoming trade penalties for steel and aluminum imports. Then declaring, "Trade wars are good." More details ahead.

But first, in just two weeks, we begin a new season of "CNN Heroes," everyday people changing the world. So where and how do we find these remarkable individuals? Well, we do a lot of it with your help.

Today, we want to introduce you it a woman who successfully nominated her personal hero to be a "CNN Hero." Thanks to her, Sister Theresa Fitzgerald was honored for offering thousands of incarcerated women and their children a fresh start.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I met Sister Theresa her at the correctional facility. It was through her love and her support that really helped me regain my life.


I'm happily a "CNN Hero" thanks to Joanna's great recommendation.

My credentials. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was like, oh, my goodness, everything that

she's done for me, I did something for her that no one else did, you know? So it felt really good.


[11:49:41] HILL: If you know someone who deserves to be a "CNN Hero," please nominate them. You can do it right now at


HILL: The first couple today in North Carolina to attend the funeral of Reverend Billy Graham. At any moment, President Trump and the first lady will be seated at the service.

CNN Correspondent Dianne Gallagher joins us live from Charlotte -- Diane?

[11:54:33] DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, we expect that to happen any moment now. Both the vice president, the first lady, the second lady and President Trump will be escorted by the Reverend Billy Graham's grandson. After that, his casket will be brought in, the funeral services will begin.

Erica, this is something that the Reverend Billy Graham actually planned himself about a decade ago, his own funeral. So they're going through exactly what his last wishes were, the way he wanted to be remembered here at his library in Charlotte, North Carolina. And his childhood home, where he was born, is on these grounds here.

He's been called the president's pastor. He's been called the Protestant pope by some. He's counseled presidents, from Truman through Obama. President Trump will be the 13th president to pay honor to him a little bit later this afternoon. He's not expected to speak, but his attendance here, we're told, is very, very appreciated, especially by son, Franklin Graham -- Erica?

HILL: Dianne Gallagher there, live, in Charlotte. Dianne, thank you.

Words you don't expect to hear from a sitting U.S. president, trade wars are good. That's what President Trump declared this morning on Twitter, defending his announcement of new tariffs. More on the global reaction, coming up.