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Trump Cancels Denmark Visit After Greenland Sale Rejected; Trump Caves on His Pledge for Meaningful Background Checks; Latest CNN Poll Shows Trump's Approval Rating Drops Slightly; Trump Says Jews Who Support Dems Show Great Disloyalty. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


[06:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I have a giant ice-covered island to sell you.

The president claims it is because the Danish prime minister dismissed the idea of selling Greenland to the United States. But what's really going on here? The president himself downplayed the whole Greenland thing just days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not number one on the burner, I can tell you that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: "Not number one on the burner." So, is this about something else? Some story the president doesn't want discussed? For instance, as millions of children head back to school, we're learning this morning that the president has abandoned the effort to expand background checks for buying guns.

After El Paso and Dayton, after those murders, he spoke publicly about meaningful and commonsense background checks. But that's over. He held a series of calls to the head of the NRA and now one Capitol Hill source tells me it's dead, not going to happen.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And then there's the economy. President Trump now says he is considering payroll tax cuts. Despite denials from the White House all week and the administration's insistence that the U.S. economy is doing great.

This comes as we have brand-new poll numbers showing that Americans are starting to waver on the economic conditions of the country. The president's approval numbers also ticking down slightly so we'll give you all of those numbers in a moment. But we have so much to cover for you this morning.

Let's begin with CNN's Anna Stewart. She is live in Copenhagen with how President Trump's abrupt cancellation is being received there.

What is the news from Copenhagen, Anna? ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can just imagine, Alisyn,

this morning the local press, they're really focusing on the reaction involving sort of the royal household. Because you have to understand the U.S. president was invited by Her Royal Highness Queen Margrethe II, and he's abruptly canceled this trip on Twitter. So it's not going down particularly well.

I would like to show you, actually, some of the reaction we're also getting from certain politicians. I'm actually just in front of the Danish parliament. We've had, for instance, the head of the Social Liberal Party on Twitter saying, "It's a case of reality. It's a passing imagination. It's unfathomable. And it shows why more than ever we should consider the E.U. countries are our closest allies. This man is incalculable."

Also spokesperson for the Conservative People's Party, this one saying, "For no reason Trump assumes that an autonomous part of our country is for sale. Then insultingly cancels his visit that everybody was preparing for. Are parts of the U.S. for sale? Alaska? Please show some more respect." And another head of an alliance actually called him smug and disrespectful, and said Trump is living on another planet.

Now we are waiting for a statement from the prime minister. A very tricky diplomatic tightrope to walk there. If you consider the fact that she has to respond to this tweet and the cancellation or postponement of the trip but also has to safeguard this very special relationship between Denmark and the United States. Important for security, important for trade. So containing this political fallout will be very interesting and very difficult, indeed -- John.

BERMAN: Indeed, it will. Anna Stewart for us in Copenhagen.

Of course, that does have real important diplomatic repercussions, but it might be all to divert from this other major news developing this morning. That it's dead, not going to happen. That's what one Capitol source tells me about the effort to expand background checks to buy guns. So after the El Paso and Dayton murders, the president pushed for meaningful and what he called commonsense new background checks. But we're learning that he's had conversations with the NRA and is now in full retreat.

Joe Johns live at the White House.

Joe, it seems the words that the president used just two weeks ago no longer operative.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, if you remember, this is right out of the president's playbook. He initially said as you noted at the top there that he was interested in meaningful background checks. But a source tells me -- a source who by the way is familiar with the president's discussions with NRA president Wayne LaPierre, that the president did assure LaPierre in a telephone call just yesterday that universal background checks are off the table. As I said, the president has done this before.

Let's listen so some of these flip-flops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important. I think we can do meaningful -- very meaningful background checks. I want to see it happen. Mental illness is something nobody wants to talk about. These people are mentally ill. People don't realize, we have very strong background checks right now. I have to tell you that it is a mental problem. And I've said it a hundred times. It's not the gun that pulls the trigger, it's the person that pulls the trigger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: There has been some thinking that the internal turmoil in the National Rifle Association might open a window as it were for more talk on Capitol Hill and here on the White House. As a matter of fact, sources have told me the president, members of Congress, and the NRA have been in almost daily discussions.

[06:05:06] But if anything, this really shows that despite all the internal turmoil, the NRA still has a lot of clout in Washington, D.C. Back to you.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it does, Joe. Thank you very much for your reporting.

We also have new numbers just out moments ago. Our CNN national poll. And it has some troubling signs for the Trump administration about how Americans now view the economy.

CNN's Harry Enten is here to break down the new numbers.

Tell us what we need to know, Harry.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes, so, first off, let's take a look at the president's approval rating in this poll. It stands at 40 percent. His disapproval rating is 54 percent. That is the ground that the president usually covers. Take a look at this. This is the longer-term trend. 40 percent in August. That's the lowest it's been since February at 40 percent. Generally he's been trading in, say, the mid-30s to the mid-40s. This is right now at the lower range since February.

I should point out, folks, that's not statistically significant. But I should also point out some other polls have generally also shown that the president's approval rating is down more in the low 40s than, say, the mid-40s.

Now why is the president's approval rating perhaps dropping a little bit? Well, let's take a look at this. These are his approval ratings on the different issues. And what we generally see is look at what's been in the news recently. Obviously gun policy has been in the news recently. Over the past few months, race relations have also been in the news with the president's comments about the four women of color in Congress. And those issues are not strengths for the president. His approval rating on those issues, 32 percent on race relations, 36 percent on gun policy.

And even the economy, right? 50 percent. That's even down a little bit over the past few months. And indeed we can see that. If you look at the economic conditions, are they good? Well, if we look, look. 65 percent now say they are good. But that's actually down at the lower part of that range again. May, he was at 70 percent so we've seen a five-point drop. That's even lower than it was last December when he was at 67 percent. So even a strength for the president right now is not as much of a strength as it used to be.

Let's take a look at this. You know, you were talking about gun control laws. I think this is rather key. What we see is that Americans are, in fact, favoring stricter gun control laws at 60 percent. That is lower than it was after Parkland when it was at 70 percent. But after the massacres in Las Vegas and after Orlando, those were in the mid until low 50s. So this is a little bit higher than that.

But of course it's still a majority that are suggesting that we should have stricter gun control laws. But why isn't the president acting? Why isn't that pressure there to act? Well, this question may in fact give you a little insight into why. Would stricter gun control laws reduce gun related deaths? Only 49 percent say yes in our new CNN poll. That's very close to the 48 percent who say no. So you have this group in the electorate who may say, you know what? We want stricter gun control laws but they don't actually think that it would reduce gun related deaths.

BERMAN: All right, Harry, thank you so much. That's such important context for everything frankly. We will be discussing today on as you note a jampacked, jampacked morning.

CAMEROTA: And I mean, so obviously such a significant time. Kids are going back to school. We haven't solved the problem of school shootings. We haven't solved the problem of mass shootings. And the idea that Americans don't think there are solutions anymore, that last poll that Harry just talked about, they no longer believe there are solutions because I think lawmakers present no solutions.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House Chris correspondent, Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor- at-large, and Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of "Inside Elections" and a CNN political analyst.

I'm going to take the president at his word which I know is a dangerous thing to do that Greenland wasn't a front burner issue. It never has been. So that isn't the real reason, if you take the president at his word, that he canceled the trip to Denmark. So then why is it? Is it this issue about guns? Is it this full retreat on the issue of expanding background checks?

Kaitlan Collins, you cover the White House every day. The president went from commonsense, meaningful background checks two weeks ago to now it's dead. It's not going to happen. We saw this before after Parkland. What's happening this morning? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This -- it's a

pattern of behavior that we've seen from President Trump before. So it's not entirely surprising if you talk to people who know the president well. They kind of saw this coming. Though some Republicans did fear the president was serious about strengthening background checks this time.

The president's change in stance comes after this long and sustained effort from not only NRA officials like Wayne LaPierre, the NRA boss that the president had a lengthy phone call with yesterday, but also conservative allies, Republican lawmakers, who were telling the president that this wasn't going to make a difference. These background checks that the president had been pushing for, saying he wanted meaningful gun legislation, wouldn't have changed, in their minds, what happened in El Paso and what happened in Dayton.

And now it seems they've been successful. So it appears that that call yesterday just cemented this stance that the president had already been shifting on in recent days after that vacation he had in Bedminster. But turning to his canceling his trip to Denmark which he was supposed to leave in just a week and a half, we should note, and he had a series of bilateral meetings scheduled and just a sign of how ready they were for the president to come, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark tweeted a photo yesterday where they had posters up with the president's name on it already ready to go.

[06:10:08] But of course the president, even though he himself made light of this reporting about purchasing Greenland, clearly was miffed by the response that he got where people were saying, I hope he's not serious about this. And the president is making clear he was.

CAMEROTA: Chris, I think that it is really helpful to know finally how the president and Republicans in the Senate feel about guns and about whether there are any solutions. I think it's very helpful for Americans to know this is as good as it gets. This is all -- this is all you can ever hope for. They're not presenting any solutions. They don't feel like coming back from August recess to figure it out. The president has back-tracked again. So we have to believe this is his real position.

So, as we all prepare to send our kids back to school next week, I think it is just good for Americans to know that they've given up. OK? So now we just have to accept that do we like it like this or do we think that, you know, in -- if voters think that in 15 months there's a way to do better, then they know what their choices are because it's very clear this morning.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. I mean, honestly, Alisyn, I would be more cynical. I don't really think that they've given up. It's they don't want to do anything. Giving up would suggest that they've explored a variety of options and those options just won't work. What I think it really is, is there is no desire on the part of Senate Republican majority to do anything on guns. And I think the reason for that is a couple. I think the NRA's influence remains significant. As Joe mentioned in his report, there is a lot of turmoil at the top

of NRA, but it remains a very powerful lobbying group. And what the NRA has effectively done, particularly as it relates to the -- excuse me, the Republican Party, is create this slippery slope argument that you heard Donald Trump make yesterday which is effectively any -- any -- gun control legislation, anything whether it's expanded background checks, red flag flaws, you know, ammunition and clip limits, all is a slippery slope.

And if you let that door open, you will suddenly at one point in the not-too-distant future have someone knock, knock, knocking on your door and asking to take your gun. And it's simply not born out in policy. When Democrats are in control, there's no attempt to, as Donald Trump would say, there's no attempt to abolish the Second Amendment. There's no attempt to confiscate all guns. But that is the dynamic on which we work. It makes no sense. It suggests that any change represents all change. And that if one change doesn't solve the problem, we can't make any changes?

It doesn't make any sense. But it is clearly the governing political dynamic. And candidly, Alisyn, has been since at least Newtown when we saw those laws fail or that amendments fail that Barack Obama pushed in 2013.

BERMAN: One point. It does seem that the red flag laws are still on the table.

CAMEROTA: At the moment.

BERMAN: Those -- that's the one issue at the moment -- it's a good point. Because the NRA hasn't been too enthusiastic about that either. But at the moment that still appears to be on the table at least according to Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Nathan, you know, you point out, look, the polls on this are clear. There's no ambiguity at the polls. Expanding background checks is a 90 percent issue among the American public with large majorities even in the Republican Party. So it's not the polls that are driving these decisions exactly, you say.

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think this is actually a missed opportunity for the president. I mean, if we go all the way back to 2015-2016 campaign and the president getting elected, he was elected as a non-traditional Republican who I don't think held the same policy views that the traditional Republican Party does. And I think when we fast forward to today, the president I think is holding the political capital within the Republican Party. I mean, he is the most popular politician among the Republican base and it's not even close.

If he wanted to get this done, if he wanted to have a legacy item, I think he could take on the NRA. And I think that the NRA might be surprised at how popular the president is even though it is not a traditional Republican stance. But Kaitlan's exactly right. I think the president also when you get certain people talking to him, having conversations, he can be convinced otherwise. And that's -- and so now we're back to the standoff that we've had for years and years, but I think this is really an opportunity that the president had to say, you know what? Let's have a legacy item and get something done even though it's not what Republicans have done in the past.

CAMEROTA: Just one last point that I think people should know is that --

CILLIZZA: And by the way just very --

CAMEROTA: The NRA did give -- hold on, Chris. They gave $30 million to President Trump's campaign. So just think that that might be an important (INAUDIBLE).

CILLIZZA: Just very quickly to add -- Alisyn, just to add to Nathan's point, I do think it is really important to remember that Donald -- the only way this was true the day after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, the only way the meaningful gun reform legislation gets through the Senate, and that's where it's held up right now, is a hard push by Donald Trump. Everyone I talked to said it's not going to work unless Donald Trump says I want this, I am going to work for it.

[06:15:03] That's how you get wavering Republican senators.

CAMEROTA: Right.

BERMAN: Right.

CILLIZZA: That's how you get Mitch McConnell on board.

CAMEROTA: Right.

CILLIZZA: So when he walks away from it, even a little bit.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

CILLIZZA: That basically dooms it.

CAMEROTA: And so this morning we know that's not going to happen. I just think that we need to mark this moment.

BERMAN: Exactly. No, and to Chris' moment, one Hill source who've been in the middle of these discussions wrote with me overnight. Dead, not going to happen. So it's over.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BERMAN: Expanded background check is over.

I will say, I do think it's possible, Kaitlan, there's a tie between the background checks, Greenland, and another major story which is the economy, which is -- it's clear. The White House has serious concerns now about an economic slowdown. Why? Because they finally admitted after lying about it that they're talking about payroll tax cut hikes -- payroll tax cuts. COLLINS: Yes. Everything --

BERMAN: You know, so again, the Greenland thing might be trying to distract from serious concerns about the economy this morning.

COLLINS: Well, and a lot of things in the White House are -- pretty much everything in the White House has this focus toward the 2020 election and whether or not the president can get re-elected. Whether you're talking about if the president is going to make moves on gun legislation when he's got people like Wayne LaPierre telling him hey, remember we helped get you elected? The NRA membership helped get you elected. It's a very fervent base, part of the president's base, of course.

But also now the president is turning an eye to the economy. And they are insisting publicly, we have no fears about a potential recession. Any kind of an economic downturn, that's what White House officials and the president himself are saying. But behind the scenes, you're seeing some of those concerns come to life with the president saying yesterday, yes, actually I've been considering this payroll tax cut for some time. But not only that, we've also considered several other measures as well.

That shows that they actually do have that concern. And that is something that the White House has been weighing even though they're saying publicly that they're not. Because another fear that they have is if they do talk about things they're going to do to stave off some kind of economic downturn, they fear that that's going to lead to more Americans tightening their belts. So they're essentially trying to keep everything quiet that they are considering even though, of course, the president admits publicly yesterday it is something he's weighing.

CAMEROTA: OK. Kaitlan, Nathan, Chris, thank you all very much.

Also, this morning, there's new outrage from American Jews after the president plays to an anti-Semitic trope. So we'll tell you what the president said about loyalty.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[06:21:56] TRUMP: Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they're defending these two people over the state of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or a great disloyalty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Well, that was President Trump politicizing support for Israel while attacking two freshmen congresswomen who have been critical of the Israeli government. But his remarks is drawing sharp criticism from some Jewish leaders and the president's 2020 opponents for playing into anti-Semitic tropes. Back with us, CNN's Chris Cillizza and Kaitlan Collins. Also joining

us is Arlette Saenz, CNN political reporter who is covering the Biden campaign.

So, Arlette, what has the response been to what the president said about disloyalty on the campaign trail?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Alisyn, this really just plays into the arguments that a lot of these Democratic candidates are making out on the campaign trail, saying that President Trump is dividing the country. Former vice president Joe Biden tweeting overnight that these comments are inexcusable and intolerant. You had Bernie Sanders weighing in. He is Jewish himself saying that he proudly is voting Democrat and plans on voting for a Democratic candidate coming around this election cycle.

But really this is just adding fuel to the fire for Democrats who are trying to paint the president as a divider right now in this country. That's one of Joe Biden's central arguments of his campaign that you saw play out from the very first day with that digital video where he talked about the clashes in Charlottesville, the president's response to that, saying that this is a battle for the soul of the country. So comments like this from the president just give the Democrats more animation for them to try to paint the president as a divider in this election.

BERMAN: Let me be clear. It is an anti-Semitic trope suggesting that Jews are disloyal if they don't feel a certain way on Israel, suggests that they have a duel loyalty, which is the anti-Semitic trope to the United States, but also a loyalty to Israel, is exactly what Republicans criticized Ilhan Omar for earlier this year. And by the way, the president has done this before. He told American Jews that Benjamin Netanyahu was their prime minister. Of course, he's not. President of the United States is American Jews' president.

And Chris, there's a long record here of the president talking this way and it undermines, I think, even Republicans say this, their efforts to go after Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

CILLIZZA: Sure. I mean, if you're attacking people for saying that what they say really matters and what they say and what they believe means they can't enter a foreign country, then if you are then saying things that are decidedly controversial and not being kind as it relates to American Jews, well, aren't you doing the same thing? I mean, I think this is -- Donald Trump does not see gray area in the world. It is either for Trump or against Trump. You are either all in or you are all out. That's how he sees things. It's how he presents things. And it's how he talks.

[06:25:03] You know, this whole thing is simply about if you have the audacity, American Jewish person, not to view things this way, you are disloyal. Right? Those are the terms he talks in loyalty. I'll remind you, John, even though I know I don't have to, he sits down with Jim Comey two days after he gets inaugurated and he says, I need your loyalty. I expect your loyalty. It's a very big thing for him. And unfortunately, I don't think he doesn't define loyalty to the country or loyalty to serve the global world. He defines loyalty to Donald Trump. And that I think is the danger.

CAMEROTA: Obviously, Kaitlan, Jewish people are not a monolith. There are lots of distinctions even political ones inside the Jewish community. And, you know, I always wonder, Kaitlan, how Jared and Ivanka feel when the president says something like this. They're Jewish, the president has called them reportedly the Democrats. They have fundraised money in the past for Democrats. So, you know, how can they not take this personally on some level?

COLLINS: And we should also note that they have not been in Washington over the last few days. They may have returned now recently in the last 24 hours or so. But they have not been in Washington when the president was making this remark and saying this now that he has returned from his vacation in New Jersey. They still haven't weighed in which is typically a pattern you see from the two of them when something like this happens.

We've seen it in the past where it takes Ivanka or Jared Kushner a few days to put out a statement, typically Ivanka, on something that the president has said or done. But to be clear here, this is the way that the president operates because for the last several weeks, he's been trying to target these four Democratic freshmen congresswomen painting them as the picture of the Democratic Party saying that they're anti-Semitic, saying that the Democratic Party doesn't like Jewish people.

So when the president goes and watches Rashida Tlaib's press conference which is what they were referencing when he made this remark about loyal yesterday, in his mind he doesn't see how any Democrats or how any Jewish people could vote for a Democrat in this situation now that he's been demonizing them for so long. And of course the numbers do back up and show that in the midterm elections that a majority of Jewish people did vote for Democrats. That's something that the president is aware of when he's looking toward 2020. So when the president makes a comment like that, he's essentially saying he doesn't see how the strategy over the last few weeks to demonize these congresswomen has not worked yet.

BERMAN: He's calling 70 percent of American jury disloyal. And it might be that he's as much of an American jury on American Jews. Just going to throw that out there.

Another major development overnight in a long list is that the White House today is going to try to do a workaround on Flores which is a court case which establishes that children can only be held for 20 days. Immigrant children detained can only be held for 20 days. What they're going to try to do is make it so they can be held indefinitely. This is one of the court cases, one of the barriers the Trump administration has fell to in their immigration policy.

It was one of the reasons why they had the child separation policy at the beginning. Now they're just going to ignore, I guess, a court case here and try to do a workaround. I know there will be challenges but, Chris Cillizza, I don't know if this is a distraction, but this certainly plays to the politics of immigration that the president likes to focus on. CILLIZZA: Yes. You know, Kaitlan made the point earlier that

everything Donald Trump does and I would say has done since being elected president is aimed at getting re-elected as president. Let's remember, on the day that he was sworn in, they formed the 2020 committee. So I think this is more of the same here, John. I think Donald Trump has a very clear theory of the case. I am going to placate and play to my base at all times. The walk away from guns is that. Some of his rhetoric vis-a-vis the rest of the world is that. Sort of taking his ball and going home from Denmark is that. Hey, you don't want to give us Greenland, even though we want it? We're not doing that.

And I think Immigration has always been at the root of this base politic. Let's remember, first speech he ever gave, Mexico is sending America rapists and criminals, build that wall. This is fundamental to who he believes he is and how he believes he animates his base.

Now, I continue to remind people Donald Trump won by 70,000 votes in three states, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. He loses the overall popular vote by almost three million. He threaded a needle. Now to his credit, he thread the needle. I didn't think he could thread it, but he threaded a needle. This -- the ability to replicate that model by playing to your base I think is very, very a big gamble in 2020.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, I hear you. But I also think that we do need to later in the program talk about the real-life consequences of this because it's beyond just the base play. We already have overcrowded detention centers with filthy conditions as we know, inhumane. And so the idea that now you can keep children in there indefinitely obviously has all sorts of repercussions.

So we have Jeff Merkley, Senator Jeff Merkley coming up. He has just written a book --

END