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Danish Lawmakers Slam Trump's Visit Cancellation; Trump Caves On His Pledges For Meaningful Background Checks; Trump Calls For Russia To Rejoin G7; Trump Considers Tax Reductions To Bolster U.S. Economy; Trump Moves To Expand Detentions Of Migrant Families. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 07:00   ET

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


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- at the school, even though they have children at the school, even some of the former students who were there at the school at the time.

[07:00:05]

And, again, I want to reiterate, this happened in 2018. We are told that these are members of the water polo team, and that they had been disciplined in some way and that their families have been told. But, again, the community reeling from seeing this video just come out now and just learning about it, not from their own administrators but from the news stations.

[07:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: All right. Sara Sidner, thank you so much for that report.

We're getting breaking news. Russia has just responded at President Trump's remark that he wants them back in the G7. New Day continues right now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is New Day.

Here are the words, unfathomable, smug, disrespectful. Those are just some of the words from Danish lawmakers overnight after President Trump canceled his trip for next week via Twitter. This move comes after the Danish prime minister dismissed the idea of selling Greenland to the United States calling it, quote, absurd.

BERMAN: But is that really the reason the president is canceling the trip there? The president himself the other day said that Greenland is not a front burner issue. So why? Maybe it's because of the distraction from the other big story overnight, a presidential retreat. Expanded background checks are now off the table. This is in the wake of the massacres in El Paso and Dayton. And the about- face comes as we learned that the president has had a series of conversations with the NRA.

CAMEROTA: A new CNN poll just released this morning shows a majority of Americans favor stronger gun laws. As for the economy, poll shows solid marks overall but the outlook is less rosy than a few months ago. So we'll dive into those numbers in a moment.

But we want to start with the controversy over Greenland. CNN's Anna Stewart is live in the Danish capital of Copenhagen with the response to the president's Twitter decision. Anna?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Yes. And what's extraordinary is I've just spoken to a local here and he says the responses being so ignited across Denmark, across the political spectrum, people are incredulous by President Trump's decision to postpone this trip and so abruptly, I guess, on Twitter, and also the offense has been caused (ph).

People see this is a very offensive decision to the people of Denmark, to the government, also, of course, the queen, her Royal Highness, Queen Margrethe II, as she invited the president here. And the palace today said they are surprised, this has never happened before and they have nothing else to say.

Now, I do want to bring you some reaction from some of the leading politicians who sit in the parliament here behind me. The head of the Danish Social Liberal Party, he said, it's a case of reality surpassing imagination. It is unfathomable. It shows why more than ever we should consider E.U. countries, our closest allies. The man is incalculable.

Another one, as spokesperson for the Conservative People's Party, they said, for no reason, Trump assumes that an autonomous part of our country is for sale, then insultingly cancels the visit that everybody was preparing for. Are parts of the U.S. for sale? Alaska? Please show more respect.

And another alliance is saying Trump is living on another planet, smug and disrespectful.

We are now waiting for a statement from the prime minister. Very difficult diplomatic situation she's in. She has to respond. She has to echo the sentiment and feelings of the Danes. But she also has to make sure she doesn't further damage the relationship between Denmark and the United States, a hugely significant and important relationship for security, for trade. They've had a long, long military alliance.

CAMEROTA: Yes, this will require some diplomacy, something that is, well, questionable this morning. Anna, thank you very much.

Joining us now is CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman. She's a White House Correspondent for The New York Times. Maggie, there's so much to get through with you. But we do want to get your reporting and your take on these things.

The reporting last night from The New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, universal background checks are dead. So how did this happen?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They've actually been dead for several days. This was a phone conversation yesterday where Wayne LaPierre from the NRA had called the president. The president called him back and made very clear that universal background checks, which he sounded warm to shortly after these massacres in El Paso and Ohio which were not very long ago, which the president sounded very bullish about, were not going to happen.

[07:05:04]

And that he was going to focus on mental health, he was going to focus on accessibility to juvenile criminal records that perspective gun owners might have, and so forth. If you're the NRA, that's what you want to hear.

And the reality is it wasn't just the NRA that was pushing him on this. There were a number of conservative allies and advisers who have been talking about this several days saying, you will imperil your re-election chances if you do this. It is a now-familiar retreat that we have seen him do repeatedly in the face of a mass shooting, where he talks about doing something big. And his aides are still talking about doing something big. It's just that what they're describing is not at all realistic, which is they're going to do a huge gun bill that includes various different pieces of legislation -- of -- you know, proposed legislation. And that's going to have something almost every senator is going to find something to object to.

So this is dead for now.

BERMAN: To be clear, to get expanded background checks was going to take a presidential push. It would have required him to take a stand on this. And just like after Parkland, he indicated that he was in favor of it. He was crystal clear. He said meaningful background checks, common sense background checks. He said he wanted to talk about that. And it's curious the less than two-week evolution to now, completely dead.

HABERMAN: Look, he -- again, it doesn't take much, right. It takes hearing that this could harm him with his political base. He likes the sound of doing something bipartisan. What they're talking about now is not at all bipartisan even though they're saying it would be. There's no way that Senate Democratic Leadership would get behind what they are talking about.

It does not take much to get him back to where his supporters are at every opportunity, whether it is on guns, whether it was after Charlottesville. The president routinely burrows back into his base, and we have seen that again.

And, look, again, this is not just the NRA. I think that's important. That represents a segment of gun owners. There're a lot of other people who are gun rights advocates who were in his ear talking to him about it.

CAMEROTA: While he was in Bedminster on his vacation?

HABERMAN: While he was in Bedminster for a week-and-a-half. And the transformation you saw came last week when he was at a rally in New Hampshire. And he was basically espousing NRA talking points, including saying that thing about how guns don't kill people. It's the person who pulls the trigger. I mean, that is like just sort of textbook language the NRA refers to. I think he'll continue to say things, that this is what I want to do, but if there's going to be any action.

CAMEROTA: Mass shootings have gotten worse on his watch. Does he not think or the White House or his campaign not think that Americans will realize that or hold him responsible for that?

HABERMAN: I think Americans are not going to hold him responsible for it or that they're going to be able to make enough of a case that it isn't his fault, that it was already beginning several years ago, to your point, that it's accelerated. But we've had mass shooting -- I mean, I covered my first school shooting in 1998.

CAMEROTA: Sure. I guess the (INAUDIBLE). So there's been no solutions.

HABERMAN: He hasn't fixed the problem.

CAMEROTA: Or even totally not ameliorate it somehow.

HABERMAN: Totally not. But I think that the number of people who are going to necessarily hold him responsible for that versus him in Congress in which becomes something of a wash, I think, is debatable.

BERMAN: Maggie, why isn't the president going to Denmark?

HABERMAN: So I don't know the actual reason he's not going. But I'm fairly certain that this controversy around in Greenland and purchasing it is not it. The president was already getting disinterested in this trip before The Wall Street Journal broke that story about him having conversations about purchasing Greenland.

He has been talking about the idea of seeing if they could acquire Greenland for many, many, many months. This was not something that just came up recently. He did task advisers with it.

And to be fair to him, you know, he got made fun of quite a bit for doing this. The reality is it's not new for the U.S. to look at whether they can make the land acquisition. It's just that this always just emerges with his own staff kind of mocking him and that sets the tone. And that just it is what it is.

I don't know what the actual reason is that he doesn't want to go. But this is a tactic that they have just kind of seized on.

CAMEROTA: Isn't it possible that he just doesn't want to go? I mean, hasn't it --

HABERMAN: Yes, it is.

CAMEROTA: He likes to sleep in his own bed. He doesn't love international travel. Maybe he just doesn't want to go.

HABERMAN: There's also been a change of leadership in Denmark since this trip was initially discussed. But, look, regardless of why it is that he doesn't want to do it, the way that he did this is hugely disrespectful to a NATO ally.

This is not how you handle diplomatic relations. You don't do it by Tweet after there have been weeks and weeks of preparations. You don't do it necessarily the same day that you have suggested that Russia should be admitted into the G7. And I don't think that' that's unrelated.

I think we always talk about what is the thing that he's distracting. And I think it's a lot of things. I know he's doing what he did during the campaign, which is throwing out so many pieces of chum that he's hoping nothing particularly sticks.

Remember, the other thing he said yesterday was that he thought that any Jews who favor Democrats are disloyal. That's basically the same dual loyalty language that he has attacked Congresswoman Omar for. So he could be distracting from any of them (ph).

BERMAN: So it may be intentional distraction. It may be he just likes the idea of focusing on something he knows is different.

[07:10:03]

HABERMAN: It may be a combination. It may be that this is an easy way of getting out of a trip he didn't want to do.

BERMAN: Let's break this down by pieces here, because you brought up the fact that happened the same day that he said that he wants Russia back in the G7 or should make it to the G8 (ph).

To be clear, Russia was kicked out after they occupied Crimea in 2014. They were kicked out. And now, he says he wants Russia back.

We're just getting a new response from Russia this morning. Russia says it needs to receive and examine tangible proposals for its return to the G7. It wants to see the tangible proposals. But the idea that he invites Russia back in the same day that he basically kicks a NATO ally, and you say it's not a coincidence?

HABERMAN: I think that that was not a great headline for him. And I think that people were not upset with the idea of talking about Denmark and Greenland as opposed to talking about that. I don't know that that was the specific thing.

Again, I don't want to say there's a -- you know, there's an equal that he does this and then he distracts from X. I think there's a whole number of things that he's distracting from. But that was a headline that a lot of his advisers were not happy about.

BERMAN: But he really does want Russia back in? He doesn't see Russia (INAUDIBLE) to the organization?

HABERMAN: I do think it's important not to go too deep into what he really wants. But I think like who knows what he really wants. But he certainly did suggest that was something that ought to be considered and even suggesting it is going to create an uproar, and did.

CAMEROTA: And in terms of what he wants, I understand not going too deep into that, but why would he suggest this?

HABERMAN: I am not going to begin to venture a guess. Most people couldn't begin to explain it yesterday, other than it is in keeping with a number of Russia supportive or pro-Russia statements that he has made over two and a half years, three years, four years.

CAMEROTA: Okay, yes.

BERMAN: I'm sorry. I was going to say the tone that Jim Taggart (ph) yesterday did. As good of the pieces I've seen on the economy, the economic discussions and consideration facing the White House right now, and a whole lot of economic data that isn't as good as the Trump administration wanted it to be right now or claimed it would be right now in stuff that's just a headwind.

And now, they say they have been talking about payroll tax cuts.

HABERMAN: After they denied it.

BERMAN: Right. So they lied about that.

HABERMAN: Yes. I mean -- and it's -- look, I don't think this was -- what we had heard was that, and this was a great Washington Post scoop, and they got sort of kicked in the knees by the White House immediately. And, in fact, that story was true, as often happens. The president sends aides out to say something is false and then he confirms it later on.

It's not surprising that they are looking at what tools there are to try to juice the economy given the warning signs that they are seeing. Most people around the president will say that, you know, any sense of a panic or a scramble is overstated. But they certainly are looking at what they can do over the next 14 months. He knows and his advisers know just on sort of an elemental level, his re-election depends not entirely but in part on what the feelings are about the economy.

CAMEROTA: And do we have any idea of when they got this idea to -- because I asked Peter Navarro about it on Friday. I guess he came around, it was Thursday or Friday, but he wouldn't even sort of dignify the question that they might have a plan if there were signs of a recession, because they didn't see any signs of recession. So I'm just wondering how long have they been baking the possible payroll cut.

HABERMAN: I mean, a while. And I think that -- I don't know about baking, but they were certainly looking at it as an option. There was a white paper that was drafted. And that was one of the options that was discussed. They're looking back at previous recessions, like during the H.W. Bush years and looking at what was done then. And they're -- this is a menu of options that we could choose. They so don't want to suggest that anything is not as good as Trump says it is, that you're, of course, seeing his advisers say, no, no, no, this is great. And we saw Larry Kudlow say over the weekend, you know, what's wrong with having some optimism or something like that.

They've gotten very used to the president trying to talk his way out of certain things. We'll see if he can do that here.

BERMAN: We have a new CNN poll out, which is interesting. First of all, it shows the president's approval rating is down to 40 from 43, not a statistically significant jump. But other polls also show it dropping a little bit this month as well. So there does seem to be a downward tick.

But the other thing is on the economy, it's interesting. 65 percent say the current economic conditions are good. This is P104, 65 percent, still strong, but slipping. And that's really the issue here is that things seem to be slipping and what does that mean? As you note, it's a conundrum for the White House because they don't want to be accused of not having a plan to face it. But the minute they say they're talking about it, then people say, aha, there's a problem.

HABERMAN: They're not wrong if there is something -- it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, not completely but it can certainly add to your point, consumer concerns about where the economy is. There's always been a question about whether the economy is doing as well in the minds of voters as the numbers had indicated, and certainly as the White House had talked about.

That 40 percent number, I think, is of more concern or equal concern to the president's advisers. I think they think there is -- he's had a pretty hard floor where he wasn't really going to go below in terms of approval rating. He has consistently -- he had been running in head-to-head matchups below his approval ratings.

[07:15:04]

So if he's approval rating was a 46, he was running at 42 percent against a Democrat. The lower that ticks, that is a real problem for him.

And it depends on how it depends on how it lasts. It depends on how it is when he's in a binary matchup against a Democrat. But we will see.

CAMEROTA: But as Matt Taibbi pointed out to us yesterday, President Trump won last time with a 40 percent approval rating.

HABERMAN: Yes, except Hillary Clinton's approval rating, I think, was lower. And so he doesn't have to be above 50. Though what has been striking and this was true in the Wall Street Journal poll the other day too, voters basically don't like any politicians anymore. And that has been true for several years. We really started seeing it in 2014. All he has to do in the minds of some of his advisers is get the other person's approval rating worse than his. That is why you're going to see a race that I think is going to look so negative, it's going to make 2016 look like a refreshing discussion of ideas.

CAMEROTA: Oh, goody.

BERMAN: While people don't like politicians, we like you, Maggie Haberman.

HABERMAN: Well, thanks.

CAMEROTA: So you should run for office.

BERMAN: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: All right, thank you very much, Maggie.

All right, the Trump administration is preparing to rewrite the rules again when it comes to detaining migrant families. We'll tell you about the policy change that is expected today and what it means for the crisis at the border and the U.S. as a whole.

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[07:20:00]

CAMEROTA: The Trump administration is trying to keep migrant families in detention longer. The new regulation would do away with the Flores Settlement and allow the federal government to keep families and children in custody for more than 20 days.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. He's the author of the new book America is Better Than This, Trump's War Against Migrant Families.

Senator, great to have you here.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: So we're expecting this announcement about the Flores Settlement. That is what this administration has talked so much about because that's why they say -- that's one of the reasons along with deterrents that they claim they had to separate families.

If you do away with the Flores Settlement, children can be kept in detention indefinitely. So what will this change at the border?

MERKLEY: That's right. So the goal here is to be able to establish internment camps, that is lock up children and their parents through the duration of immigration proceedings, which could be many years. This has already been known to be deeply traumatic to children and it is a terrible, terrible idea. But that's exactly what this strategy would do is write a regulation that replaces Flores.

CAMEROTA: Didn't Congress give the Trump administration more money to hire more judges to speed up this whole process?

MERKLEY: Yes, they did. Absolutely. But you still have a backlog that is about a five or six-year backlog even then, so more has to be done on that front. But, realize, this is part of a coordinated strategy. We have an administration that has just recently appealed to a circuit court and lost arguing they didn't need to provide soap and basic nutrition to children in facilities.

You have an administration that has been using a for-profit, no- compete contract to lock up thousands of kids in Homestead, Florida. They have been deliberately sabotaging the placement of children into sponsors' homes, which is where they belong, and schools and playgrounds and parks, homes, mot behind barbed wire. So the strategy, all of this flows from a -- if we traumatize children, we will deter immigration.

This basic strategy hurt children as a political strategy. It is an evil and dark approach. And it reverberates one moment after another, and we see it again here.

CAMEROTA: Here's the part I don't understand. I mean, the detention centers are overrun, they're overcrowded. We have all seen it with our own eyes. The administration has talked about how much of a challenge it is for them. So if you do away with the Flores Settlement, then the detention centers get more crowded?

MERKLEY: They will be establishing large internment camps all over America.

CAMEROTA: And what are we to make of that? I mean what will that change in terms of what's happening at the border and what that means for the U.S.?

MERKLEY: Well, realize that the alternative to the internment camps is case management program. This is a program that said, immigrant families, as they await adjudication of their asylum treatment, they will be placed under a case management program that will be in close contact with them. They will show up at their hearings.

So the Inspector General of the Trump administration, twice, they have reported on this and found that 99 plus percent of families show up at their hearings. The administration eliminated this program a year ago, June, because it was working. And what they want is an excuse to lock children up rather than have them in an appropriate setting as we await asylum hearings.

CAMEROTA: Look, you've been sounding this alarm for at least 14 months. That's, I think, when you first went to the border to see what was happening in these detention centers. That's what prompted you to write this new book.

I mean, in it, I think your case is that the Trump administration is deliberately mistreating migrant children, as you just said this morning. But what's your evidence that they're deliberately inflicting pain?

MERKLEY: Well, it started right in just 13 days after Trump came into power. One of his administration officials laid out the case that this was his strategy, if you basically separate children from their parents, inflict this disturbance both on the adults and the children, you will discourage immigration.

John Kelly came out a month later and said the same thing. A month after that, they launched a pilot program in California. They kept this more or less quiet until Jeff Sessions' zero tolerance proposal or speech in May of last year. And at that point, it was six months out and he said, we really want to amplify this now publicly as an election strategy, make it sound tough on crime, make immigration something to drive a fear factor in American politics.

At every stage, they come back to arguing, treat immigrants like this after dehumanizing them and use it as a political strategy to deter immigration and also accentuate support on the Republican Party.

CAMEROTA: On the side of the Trump administration, I think what they would say is that they're dealing with an unprecedented crisis.

[07:25:01]

The number of families detained has gone up 290 percent this fiscal year over the same timeframe last year. So what's the solution to keep families from coming here?

MERKLEY: Well, realize the total number of refugees coming to the border is actually much lower than it was many years ago. We hit a case of some 200,000 per month in the --

CAMEROTA: Yes, so they're still overwhelmed. I mean, they're still overwhelmed with this current number.

MERKLEY: But not now because those numbers have dropped off dramatically in the last months. We have thousands of vacancies in small state-licensed facilities across the country right now. There's absolutely no excuse here.

And the idea that if you're going to solve this by making it harder and to put families with sponsors and lock people up. This is World War II Japanese-American family detention camp-style operation. I have visited these internment camp, where now the limit is 20 days. They want to be able to hold people indefinitely, hold children indefinitely in these camps.

By the way, this shows the vast division that Trump has driven between the Democrats and Republicans. 40 Republican senators sponsored a bill to allow indefinite detention of children in internment camps. 40 Democratic senators sponsored my bill, which is Stop Cruel Treatment of Migrant Children Act.

This is a human rights violation, that if it was done by any other country, we'd be passing resolutions to tell people to end this. We would be applying sanctions. We would go into the U.N. Human Rights Council. This is not America to treat children in this fashion.

And I wrote this book to try to keep this conversation alive and in the spotlight and have one place people can understand that many dimensions of this challenge and the actions we can take to make sure we treat refugees with respect like we'd want our family members to be treated if they came here.

CAMEROTA: The book again is America is Better Than This. Everybody can buy it now. And, again, you've been sounding this alarm for a long time. Senator Merkley, thank you so much for being here.

MERKLEY: Thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: John?

BERMAN: So after the new round of mass shootings, the president said, people pull the trigger, not guns. But does shifting the blame to mental illness do more harm than good?

We're going to ask the head of the American Psychological Association next.

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[07:30:00]

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