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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Commenter-in-Chief Sends Markets Tumbling; President Trump Reportedly Questioning Why He Has to Attend G7 Summit; Justice Ginsburg Treated For Pancreatic Cancer; Evangelical Speak Out About President Trump's Conduct In Office; President Trump Offers U.S. Assistance To Fight Wildfires; "A Toxic Tale: Trump's Environmental Impact" Airs Tonight At 10 p.m. E.T. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 23, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:21] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Jim Sciutto. Anderson is off tonight.
We're going to ask you to take a moment now to evaluate the statements and decisions in just a single day of the sitting president of the United States. This is not a question intended to be based on party affiliation or personal preference, simply the facts.
President Trump departs for the crucial G7 summit in Biarritz, France, tonight but not before reportedly grumbling about having to go at all or reportedly discussing new tariffs on his hosts there, America's oldest ally, or escalating a trade war with China with global consequences, or calling his handpicked Federal Reserve chairman the country's enemy, more so than the communist leader of China. Or we might add when markets took a massive hit as a result joking about it and again, this is all -- all of it at the end of a week in which he cancelled a state visit with another ally because that country, Denmark, would not sell us Greenland and he compared himself to the messiah, by the way.
All of it, other than the messiah and Greenland stuff happen just in one day, today. Most notably this.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
SCIUTTO: The Dow Industrials lost some 624 points on the day. It came after these tweets from the president. Quoting now: We don't need China and frankly would be far better off without them. Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China.
Hereby ordered, he said, which, of course, no president can do. And as we mentioned, he also lashed out at Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, tweeting, quote: My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi? That the leader of China, the communist leader of China.
Then late today, the president made good on his threat to impose new tariffs on Chinese imports, of course, tariffs which you and I will pay, so much for all those Christmas shoppers the president said he was helping when he put a number of tariffs on hold just a couple weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have Christmas season just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers, which so far they've had virtually none.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Well, so much for that, so much for the signal that markets sent him earlier today, and just think about that for a minute. You do something ill-advised, get a sharply negative reaction to that ill- advised thing you just did and then you do more of it just a few hours later. That's what played out today in this country, and it is unfolding in the context of a weakening economy, as even one of the president's top advisors conceded to me, on CNN this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Are you seeing indications of that growth slowing?
PETER NAVARRO, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: We went from 3 percent to 2 percent and our read of that is it's a pure Federal Reserve effect on higher interest rates and higher currency exchange.
SCIUTTO: But that's your read. But that's not what business leaders are saying. Business leaders, I talked to farmers, too. Farmers have lost markets in China.
NAVARRO: All I can do is come here and have this conversation and have your viewers think about what's going on here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So, Peter Navarro while downplaying the White House's role is clearly conceding the fact, the fact of a slowing economy and there is plenty of reporting, CNN included, saying the president is concerned, as well. Any president would be.
But until now, this sort of situation never moved a president, any president, mind you, to all but accuse the Federal Reserve chairman of treason, treason, or call one of the country's biggest trading partners, no matter how rocky the relationship, the enemy and again, this president is different just ask him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I am the chosen one. Somebody had to do it, so I'm taking on China. I'm taking on China on trade, and you know what? We're winning. Because we're the piggy bank. We're the one all these countries, including the European Union wants to rob and take advantage of. European Union, $200 billion. China, more than $500 billion.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: That is the kind of talk that appears to be giving markets perhaps the economy a case of jitters, real ones. But remember this is a president who once said "I alone can fix it" and who now says even more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If we don't win in 2020, everything that we've done -- seriously, though -- everything that we've done, your 401s, they're going to crash.
[20:05:01] The whole thing is going to come down like a stack of cards.
You have no choice but to vote for me because your 401ks down the tubes. Everything is down the tubes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Well, as the market went down the tubes today, the president joked, suggesting in a tweet that they were reacting to Democratic candidate Seth Moulton leaving the presidential race, whoever that maybe, he said in his tweets.
Seth Moulton, by the way, volunteered to serve this country in war and risked his life doing so, a risk, of course, the president refused to bear during the Vietnam War. We're not sure how many millions of Americans watching their 401(k)s today were laughing.
More on all of this now from CNN's Abby Phillip, who joins us from the White House.
Abby, what is going on today with this president? Is there concern inside that building about a series of decisions that do not seem to serve the president's interest or the country's interest?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president at the moment seems to be committed to this trade war with China. In fact, so much so that he is doubling down on a strategy that a lot of people, including some within the White House believe is contributing to the economic uncertainty.
But it's also clear, Jim, that President Trump is worried about the economy. He has been lashing out at Jay Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, who appointed to that job, insisting that Powell is responsible for the fact that the economy seems to be slowing. And his economic aides are also warning him that by the 2020, there could be an economic slowdown, we've had GDP and job growth numbers that have not been as rosy as the president would like.
And some of the comments that we've been seeing on social media, his comments about Democrats egging on a recession are due to his concerns this could become a political problem for him.
SCIUTTO: And perhaps looking for others to blame it on than himself.
What more specifically are you learning about the tariffs that the president announced late today against China? These are significant.
PHILLIP: They are, and they add on to what already exists and add on to what is coming in the near future. Now, White House aides, the president and his trade advisors met and huddled in the Oval Office to try to come up with some kind of retaliatory plan in response to these Chinese tariffs and what we're seeing now is that some of the existing tariffs are going to go up from 25 percent to 30 percent and then tariffs that were planned to go into place on September 1st, a $300 billion worth, those tariffs are going to go from 10 to 15 percent.
So, all told, $550 billion dollars in goods from a Chinese company coming into the United States are going to be tariffed or taxed, and those taxes are increasingly being born by American consumers.
SCIUTTO: Uh-huh. They try to protect them, the fact is, that's who pays for these.
Do we know what specifically aides are telling the president about the possibility of an economic slowdown? We know this is not a White House or president that rewards hop honest talk to the president, but are they talking honestly to him about economic indicators here?
PHILLIP: Well, the one thing "The Washington Post" has recently reported is that the White House has been counseling the president a slowdown is possible but one word they have not been saying is recession. That is the word that you've been hearing a lot from Democrats and some economists that there is a possibility of that in the future.
White House aiding are saying some of the economic growth projections that he had been expecting, three, four, or even five percent growth might not materialize, and aides in those -- in that environment that his aides are recommending him to come up with something. They have been brainstorming any number of ideas, some more outlandish than others.
But I should note, Jim, one thing that we have not heard from aides is that the president has been willing to entertain the possibility of pulling back from the trade war. That is one thing that is squarely within his power to do. He's not been willing to do that privately or publicly.
SCIUTTO: That's right, because Tax cuts would require an act of Congress, and not clear he has that support.
Abby Phillip, thanks very much.
Digging deeper now into the political and economic angles of this remarkable day, this remarkable week.
Joining us for that CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist, Kirsten Powers; CNN senior political commentator and former Republican presidential candidate, and former U.S. senator, Rick Santorum; and Mark Zandi, he's chief economist at Moody Analytics. We got a lot of expertise here. Kirsten, I want to start with you with a basic question. You look at the collection of statements and comments just today, block out the rest of the week, look at today. Are these rational decisions by this president?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, I think that I talk about the impact of his decisions and I think the impact is not -- it obviously not helping the economy as something he's been told repeatedly in terms of the tariffs that this is a major problem.
[20:10:03] And I'm sure he's hearing it from -- you know, even some of his Republican supporters. There was a survey, you know, a few days ago where three out of four of the top economists in the country said they fear that we were headed for a recession and they said that because of the trade war with China.
So, you know, for him to be doubling down on this, it doesn't seem particularly rational, but I -- you know, I've kind of given up trying to figure out what motivates him to do these kinds of things.
SCIUTTO: Senator Santorum, the other thing President Trump has repeatedly praised, president xi and today he went as far as to say that the chairman of the Federal Reserve, of course, an American and an appointee of this president is a bigger enemy of the country than Chairman Xi, communist leader of the People's Republic of China.
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the president sees it as Kirsten said, the president has been chosen because he stepped forward, not because he's the messiah, because he actually chose to do this, to wage a fight that presidents in the past have passed upon and Democrats and Republicans have been urging presidents to take on, which is take on China, take on China stealing our technology, undermining our economy, and unfairly training with us, currency manipulation. No less than Chuck Schumer has been cheerleading the president taking this on, and China hit and so the president hit back.
You can say, well, that's going to hurt the economy short term. I think the president as people are admitting that. But he's saying is, the long term goal is more important than the short term goal.
The long-term goal of dealing with China and they are undermining our economy is more important than 3 percent, I mean 2 percent versus 3 percent growth.
SCIUTTO: Mark, you're an economist. I'm old enough to remember, we all are, the president declaring that trade wars are good and easy to win. What evidence do Americans see that this trade war is easy to win?
MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: None. The recession, the odds of recession are high and rising because of the trade war. It's doing very significant economic damage. I mean, if the tariffs that the president has threatened are actually implemented, that will raise taxes on American businesses and consumers by over $100 billion in the coming year. Just to put that into context, that's $1,000 for every American household over that annual period.
It's undermining business confidence, businesses are sitting on their hands, business investment has flat lined. Hiring is weakened. And here most ironically, dark irony, manufacturing is now in recession because of the trade war that was supposed to help manufacturing.
And look, I agree that China plays unfair and we had to do something about it. The answer to that wasn't a trade or tariff war, the answer was the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade deal between the United States and rest of the Pacific that excluded China because they didn't play fair and they couldn't get into the trade deal until they started to play fair. So, that's the strategy that would work.
This is a strategy with no end, and it will ultimately end if the president keeps double downing on this, it will end in recession.
SCIUTTO: Kirsten, the president is laser-focused on the election of 2020. He does not want the economic cycle or trade war or downturn to damage reelection chances here and seems he's relying on a bailout from the Federal Reserve and possibly a tax cut, not clear that Republicans in Congress considering the size of the deficit or Democrats would back such a move.
What is the president do in that instance, then? Does he cave on the trade negotiations with China?
POWERS: Well, I just guess I wonder if he really does care because it seems pretty clear that he's -- that he's been told -- and I mean, we just listened to mark and he's saying what all experts on this are saying, that this is not -- this is extremely damaging. We're seeing, you know, what is it doing to Wall Street and the president has decided to double down on it.
So what does that say to you? To me, it says the economic argument is not central to his reelection. I think that I've always been frankly a little skeptical about the idea that Trump voters voted for him because of the economy. I think they vote for him more over cultural grievances than anything else.
And so, what is it the president spends most of his time on? Cultural grievances. And he doesn't seem to be that concerned about this because I think whatever, even if you believe in long-term this was the right thing to do, I mean, I agree with Mark, there are ways to do this multilateral ways to do it.
It's a longer conversation to deal with countries that are trading unfairly, but a person who wants to get reelected typically wouldn't do this unless they didn't think it was going to hurt them.
[20:15:04] SCIUTTO: Senator Santorum, I'm curious what do you think. I spent a lot of time in China, covering China and it's not clear to me that the cudgel of tariffs works with Chinese leadership there, loathe to be seen as capitulating to a U.S. president here and they have a lot of money and they have no political calendar to worry about, no election to worry about there.
Set aside for a moment your belief and I think it's a reasonable one that China is a bad trade actor here. Set that aside for a moment and tell me, does Trump's strategy work with China in your view?
SANTORUM: Well, I mean, that's one of the reasons I think he is so upset with Powell. I mean, if you look what the Fed did to basically boost the Obama economy by quantitative easing and zero interest rates, under Trump, I mean --
SCIUTTO: Senator, that was the biggest downturn since the depression.
SANTORUM: I understand. Now, we're -- what the president is saying now is -- and look, they were right to ratchet uprights a bit and to reverse the quantitative easing, no, I'm not arguing that. But now, we're engaged in war and what the president is saying, look, I need your back. If I'm going to be able to stand up to the Chinese and fight the Chinese and win -- and look, as much as the economy is being hurt here in the U.S., it pails in comparison what is happening to China. It is causing problems over there and they are taking a lot of heat over there.
So this is -- I agree. It's not an easy battle. We'll see. Here is what I do know, that presidents in the past who tried to play this nice game with China, we have gotten our lunch eaten, and this is a president that will try something different.
You may say it's irrational. You may say it hurts our country, all those things may be true, but it's something different that may end up with a different result than we've been getting in the past 20 years.
SCIUTTO: Mark Zandi, is it the Fed's job to bail out a trade war?
ZANDI: Hey, look, Jay Powell is doing exactly what he's supposed to do. That's chair of the Federal Reserve and the Federal Reserve. They cut interest rates a few weeks ago. He was on -- he gave a speech today in Jackson Hole, an important speech, saying, look, I'm going to cut rates, intimidated, suggesting I'm going to cut rates a couple, three more times many this trade war continues to do damage.
But here is the point, here is the key point -- in the typical economic recession, the fed has to lower interest rates 5 percent points. Currently, the interest rate they control is at 2 percent. They will run out of room and investors will figure this out quickly and once they do, when lowering rates isn't a good thing.
So, we can rail against Chairman Powell and the Fed all you want, he's not going to be able to bailout President Trump if he continues to pursue this war. This war is doing very serious damage.
SCIUTTO: Kirsten Powers, Rick Santorum, Mark Zandi, I hope you get a weekend. We all deserve one. Thanks for coming on tonight.
Next, will President Trump blow up the G7 summit in France, the one with America's closest decades long, even century's long allies? And later, yet another health scare for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and what appears to be yet another story of her remarkable resilience. Stay for this one.
We'll be right back.
[20:22:25] SCIUTTO: President Trump is on his way tonight to a summit with America's friends, which the president apparently does not want to attend -- with allies whose economies he has threatened to push for the renewed acceptance run by a dictator he always has kind words for. Those are simple facts. Not normal ones but any stretch, but the facts the same and consistent one.
Just as it is always a fact but certainly not normal that when this G7 Summit is over, there will be no joint communique. Allies cannot get together and agree on a statement because no one wants to see the leader of the free world trash that joint statement. No one wants the kind of picture we famously saw at the last summit there to emerge from this one but that's where we are tonight.
Perspective now from political consultant and writer Stuart Stevens. He's a consultant to the America United Super PAC, which is supporting Republican presidential candidate and challenger to Trump, Bill Weld. Also with us tonight, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings. He served as special assistant to President George W. Bush.
Thanks to both of you for taking the time tonight.
Stuart, if I could begin with you, the president headed to a summit with U.S. allies and old group that's discussed economic issues among friends for years, for decades. He doesn't want to go. It doesn't bode well.
Tell us the significance of that.
STUART STEVENS, POLITICAL CONSULTANT AND WRITER: Well, you know, I think it really goes to fundamental character of Trump. Trump doesn't -- alliances are built on win, win situations. Trump doesn't believe in win, win. Someone has to lose. That fundamentally troubles him that he can't be someone who is going to go beat these people who are supposed to be our allies.
You know, Trump has this vision of Americans, it's very different than a traditional view, certainly most Americans have seen themselves and most presidents have seen. He sees Americans as victims, that they are these evil forces out there like Canada that are conspiring to take advantage of us, and it really runs against this idea that many of us believe, certainly conservatives embraced enthusiastically, that to be an American, you were the most fortunate person in the world that it was a great gift. That's all changed for Trump.
STEVENS: It's this victim mentality that he embraces. SCIUTTO: Scott, CNN is reporting to make the president's attendance
this week more palatable to him that aides lobby to add a session to the G7 that focused on the global economy specifically in order to give the president a way to brag about the U.S. economy to leaders of nations are growth is-- where growth is what does that say given the drop of the stock market and the course of the U.S.-China trade war right now, does he have a leg to stand on if he were to lecture U.S. allies on this?
[20:25:13] SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, I'm not shocked that a president facing a reelection campaign wants more venues to talk about what he sees as a success of his administration, the American economy. If I were him, I would go to the G7 and try to rally support for what I'm doing to the Chinese.
Look, China is a cheat. China has taken advantage of the rest of the world. It's not just America. They do this all over the world.
If the president wanted to really stand up to the Chinese, he could use this G7 summit to rally support for what he is doing. And, look, Stuart and I worked for Mitt Romney together in 2012 and Mitt Romney talked a lot, Stuart, as you'll recall, about standing up to China, labeling them the currency manipulator.
Trump is actually executing what Republicans have been talking about for years. The next step, rally international support and force China to play by the rules. That would be a good use of time.
SCIUTTO: Right. Well, Scott, Mitt Romney also said that Russia is the number one national security threat of the country, disagreeing with Obama. Trump hasn't backed it up.
I have to ask you, Scott, did this president instead of rallying U.S. allies to join him in standing up to malpractice, has attacked allies with some of the same methods, same weapons including tariffs. How does that work? How does that work to America's benefit if he needs those allies on his side?
JENNINGS: Well, I mean, the president has views that he made clear in the campaign he wanted to take the nation down this route. I mean, we'll see if it works out. I think it's worked to our benefit in some cases and the verdict is still out in others. I pray that it works out with the Chinese, because I think the short-term pain could be worth the long-term gain.
Russia should not be, by the way, readmitted to the G7 here. That would be a huge mistake. They deserved the punishment for invading Crimea, and for all the other mischief they caused in the world.
The reality is this, the president is making a big bet that taking on the Chinese will pay off and if it doesn't, his reelection campaign will suffer, if it does, he's going to look like a hero for finally doing something no one else had the guts to do.
SCIUTTO: Well, Scott, do you see evidence that the president is going to look like a hero? JENNINGS: Well, look, I think --
SCIUTTO: Stuart, Stuart --
JENNINGS: This is still going on.
SCIUTTO: So sorry, Scott.
JENNINGS: Go ahead.
SCIUTTO: I want to hear your thoughts but that was to Stuart.
STEVENS: Look, the economy is slowing. I don't really see any reason to believe the tariffs, all of a sudden, are going to start working this year and next year when they really haven't worked for the last century or so. I mean, the problem with Donald Trump if you're a conservative is he takes these ideas like standing up to China and he invalidates them by going about it the wrong way and making sort of a mess of it. So, then it ends up, it looks like the idea itself was a bad idea, which it isn't. We should stand up to China.
But we're really, it's sort of a blind Cyclops just sort of lumbering about and making threats and not building alliances like Scott says and that ends up making the wrong people look right.
SCIUTTO: Scott, another issue certain to come of the G7 is North Korea and in the last hour, North Korea has launched another missile. It's the ninth missile launch since May.
As you know, the president has effectively given North Korea a pass for these missile tests because as they launch in South Korea and Japan have expressed alarm, the president said, well, these smaller missile tests don't bother him. Is Trump's North Korea policy working?
JENNINGS: Well, I have given the president credit for trying something different. We've been failing at this for decades as Americans trying to deal with the North Koreans.
On the other hand, I don't think you can trust these people. I think they have no intention of denuclearizing. I think they have every intention of taking advantage of President Trump and the United States, and I think we ought to threat them like an enemy.
That shouldn't stop the president from trying non-traditional things to get him to do what we want them to do. But these people clearly have no interest in giving up what they see as their only leverage and they're testing President Trump at a time when he is obviously struggling with China, which is probably the most important country in the triangle there.
So, I think that -- I think we deescalated from a couple summers ago when we thought we were on the brink of nuclear war. But that doesn't mean the North Koreans are good actors all of sudden. These people are clearly bad people.
SCIUTTO: Yes, President Trump called him rocket man at a time.
Stuart Stevens, Scott Jennings, thanks to both of you. Wish you both a good weekend.
Coming up next this hour, the very latest on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health. The new challenge she faced from an old and what can be a deadly foe.
[20:33:45] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Tonight, a new cancer scare for the Supreme Court's liberal icon, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 86- year-old justice has been treated for pancreatic cancer and just completed three weeks of radiation therapy. The court says her malignant tumor was treated definitively with no evidence that the disease has spread. This was her fourth cancer diagnosis since 1999.
And once again, Justice Ginsburg is not showing any signs of slowing down. She attended a Broadway show in New York City last night and has two speaking events in Buffalo on Monday.
Joining me now for more on this is CNN Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic. Joan, you cover this court very closely. Tell us about the seriousness of this news tonight, what we know about it.
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, what we know at this point is exactly what the court put out and the court was stressing that she has been going about her regular schedule. She cancelled only one trip to Santa Fe, a vacation and that she has kept up her speaking commitments and that's the thing, Jim.
Every time she's had one of these cancer ordeals, she seemed to want to come back with more vigor and more visibility. She wants to say to people, "I'm still here." And we saw that in 2009 with the pancreatic cancer, we saw that in 1999 with the colorectal cancer, and we certainly saw it just last year with the lung cancer. She's going full boar at this point.
[20:35:10] SCIUTTO: Yes. Let me ask you this question.
SCIUTTO: Under any circumstances, would she step down, retire for health reasons?
BISKUPIC: I don't think that this 86-year-old justice is going to go unless the situation is so completely dire. Look, she is -- she's a judicial person but she's also a political animal. She knows that if she leaves, President Donald Trump will be able to appoint her successor.
And Jim, he's already put two individuals on the court, the two individuals who succeeded conservatives. If he got the opportunity to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this would be a whole new court and I am certain she does not want that. ACOSTA: Let me ask you this. I don't have to remind you of the circumstances of Merrick Garland's nomination being quashed by the Senate majority leader during President Obama's final term.
BISKUPIC: That's right.
ACOSTA: If a vacancy were to come up in President Trump's final year, I should say, not final term, but final year before an election, would Mitch McConnell hesitate for a moment to bring up a replacement?
BISKUPIC: I think the answer is a flat no because Mitch McConnell himself has said things will be different and here is the other thing, Jim. Remember, all you would need is his Republican majority to be able to confirm a successor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
I think everything would be much different and Mitch McConnell has made the third branch all levels of the federal court system a major priority of his and so has Donald Trump.
And I think that if for some reason Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to step down and, you know, again, she's going full boar, she's going to be in Buffalo on Monday she says, we don't anticipate that there'll be a change, but if there is, I would expect that President Trump would immediately nominate someone --
BISKUPIC: -- and Mitch McConnell would immediately move to get that person confirmed.
SCIUTTO: So just to be clear, the argument that McConnell made in a final year of Obama's term saying that let the people speak was for lack of a better term, B.S.
BISKUPIC: That is -- that's not quite a judicial term, but you're speaking accurately there.
SCIUTTO: Sometimes you got to call it is, call like it is.
BISKUPIC: That's right.
SCIUTTO: Joan Biskupic, thanks very much.
BISCUPIC: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Up next, evangelicals talked to "360's" Randi Kaye and sound off about whether they can vote for Trump even despite his recent behavior.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARRETT BERRY, NOT SUPPORTING PRES. TRUMP: This man is not morally sound as a leader.
DARIUS LITTLE, PRES. TRUMP SUPPORTER: As a Trump supporter, I think he was out of line. (END VIDEO CLIP)
[20:41:30] SCIUTTO: Evangelical voters are a core constituency for President Trump. He took 81 percent of their vote in 2016, that is higher than Republicans received in the three previous elections. This is according to exit polling compiled by Pew Research.
This week, the President has tested that bond like never before. On Wednesday, he tweeted out and so appeared to validate the words of a far right conspiracy theorist who compared the President to the King of Israel and the second coming of God. Later that day, President Trump kept with the messy annex theme and said he was "the chosen one to take on China."
Politico reports that President even took some flak for using the Lord's name in vain during a speech last month. But does this behavior change any evangelical minds about voting for him in 2020?
To find out, CNN's Randi Kaye gathered nine evangelical Christians in Charlotte, North Carolina, most we should note were Republicans, but the group also included one Democrat and two voters who are not affiliated with either party.
Some in the group so have political ties, including one who is a state representative, another who is volunteered for various campaigns, and one who worked for the Clinton administration. Here is Randi's report.
SPENCE SHELTON, UNDECIDED VOTER: I don't think any of us are looking for a pastor in chief, you know? I think we are looking for a commander in chief.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Evangelical Christians in Charlotte, North Carolina weighing in on campaign 2020 and President Donald Trump.
(on camera) How many of you at this point do plan to vote for Donald Trump? One, two, three, four.
(voice-over) Four support Trump, four are still undecided and one will absolutely not vote for Trump.
BERRY: This man is not morally sound as a leader, as a Christian.
KAYE: Trump's recent comments calling Jewish people disloyal if they vote Democratic is a turnout to some in our group.
(on camera) What do you make of that statement?
LITTLE: As a Trump supporter, I think he was out of line.
KAYE: Does it offend any of you that the President seems to be treating this vast religious group, the Jewish people in this case, as a monolithic voting block?
SHELTON: What bothers me is anytime a religious group is lumped together so that they can then be lobbied as if they are all going to vote one way.
ANGELA AMBROISE, UNDECIDED VOTER: We're not monolithic and that's part of what Trump's problem is. Even when he refers to immigration or whatever, he'll go, you know, Hispanics. We -- they're not monolithic.
KAYE: Is this rhetoric danger us?
PEARL BURRIS-FLOYD, (R) FORMER STATE REPRESENTATIVE: This is not new rhetoric. It's just that we have a president now who speaks plainly. It does not make him a racist.
KAYE: When critics of Donald Trump call him white supremacist, call him a racist, you disagree?
BURRIS-FLOYD: I disagree.
KAYE (voice-over): This evangelical voter isn't sold on Trump, but she's happy he's calling attention to issue she says Democrats are ignoring, like undocumented workers taking housing from African- Americans who need it.
AMBROISE: He talks about that. Nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room, illegal immigration, immigration, nobody wants to talk about it. There is not a city in America that is black folks are not on these streets. Go see Charlotte. People who look like me are on the middle of the streets.
KAYE (on camera): Why are you OK with supporting Donald Trump?
LITTLE: We are imperfect. We are going to offend one another. He is not the pastor at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. He is my President.
KAYE (voice-over): Trump has been married three times. Has said he's never asked for forgiveness from God and was once pro-choice. But none of that seems to sway his evangelical supporters.
[20:45:02] (on camera) Why are you able to look past Donald Trump's flaws and support him?
DARCI HORNE, PRES. TRUMP SUPPORTER: Because it's not my place to judge his heart.
KAYE (voice-over): And this week when the President referred to himself as the chosen one, echoing what some evangelical leaders have said about him, that certainly caught this group's attention.
CASEY CRIMMINS, UNDECIDED VOTER: When we ask the question, is he the chosen one? Well, for what? To help our trade agreements with China? Maybe. Is he the guy that's going to help us, you know, solve racism in America? Heck, no. KAYE (on camera): Part of your faith includes forgiveness. So can you forgive the President for some of the things that he said?
BERRY: Oh, absolutely. I'll forgive him absolutely, but I still have to stand the gap for those who are brutalized on a regular basis and who are left behind.
KAYE: Can you forgive the President?
DAVID DOCUSEN, UNDECIDED VOTER: I have said central tenant of our faith.
BERRY: Oh, yes.
DOCUSEN: So, I'm -- yes, I can forgive. I don't have to agree, but I can certainly forgive.
AMBROISE: There is nothing that cannot get under God's umbrella. God is a God of forgiveness.
SCIUTTO: Just a fascinating conversation. Randi joins us now. So, Randi, it seems like that group is divided certainly not monolithic.
KAYE: No, absolutely not, Jim. Some in the group say that they love that Trump speaks his mind, while others say that they wish he would just stop talking. Some in the group, as you heard there, they do think that he's racist, but others think that he started actually a really healthy conversation about racism in this country that they say the Democrats have refused to address.
And we also talked about the President's lying. His supporters said that, you know what, that's OK, what politician doesn't lie. They stretch the truth. They lie. It's hypocritical to lower the bar for Donald Trump. But those who have questions about the President say he can't continue to lie and also continue to claim to be a follower of Christ. Jim?
SCIUTTO: Randi, thanks so much.
Coming up next this hour, the offer President Trump just made to Brazil as it fights the raging wildfires ravaging the Amazon forest.
[20:51:14] SCIUTTO: Late today, President Trump tweeted that he called Brazil's president and told him the U.S. stands ready to help as they battle wildfires burning in the Amazon rainforest.
This comes as after Brazil's leader announced that he plans to deploy his country's army to help tackle ranging fires, and also comes after Brazil's president got in a Twitter spat with the president of France. Brazil taking issue with France's suggestion that the fires are an international crisis that need to be discussed at the G-7 summit. Chris joins us now for a look at what's going on, on "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris, we've talked a lot about events over the course of the last days, weeks, months, years. Today was a particular collection of statements, policy moves, with no real strategy, it seems, no real rationality or planning. I mean, what is the significance?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: High significance. First, you know, we call the balls and strikes. Good for him to for reaching out to Brazil and say we will help you. Cooperation is strength. You know, that kind of courage can be contagious. Now, he's going to have to start talking about the issues that surround it well. But this is not about the randomness.
You know, even the idea in the closing, we're just finishing the closing for tonight, Jimmy, the idea of Hans Christian Andersen play, the emperor has no clothes, they keep applying it to this President, impart because Andersen was Danish and obviously he's fighting with Denmark right now. But I don't buy it.
His clothes aren't invisible to everybody else. There is no trick going on. This is all painfully obvious, OK. This man's mouth is a precursor to toxic actions that he keeps taking. And you and I both have people and friends in our lives that support this President and they say the same thing to us all the time, Jimmy. We talked about it off camera all the time.
I don't like his mouth, but I like the results. That's not a good enough rationale anymore, because his mouth is writing checks that his actions can't cash. And we're seeing it with the stock market today. We're seeing it with the China deal going sideways. We're seeing it with Iran running all over the world, because now they're free to do so after the deal. And we see how divided we are as a society. When will the people who support him demand that he be better?
SCIUTTO: That's the question. That's the question. And will they win the 401(k) fall and -- well, sadly, if it happens, when the paychecks stop coming. Chris I'm going to be watching the show. Thanks so much.
CUOMO: Always a pleasure, brother.
SCIUTTO: See you in a few minutes. Coming up next, how President Trump's rollback on EPA regulations on everything from pesticides and air and water quality are affecting you and me across the country.
[20:57:19] SCIUTTO: The Environmental Protection Agency was created with this mission, "To protect human health and the environment," a simple one, a direct one. But under the Trump administration, the EPA has cut an unprecedented number of environmental regulations.
Tonight, in a CNN Special Report, Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta investigates these rollbacks and what they mean for you and me and our families. Earlier, Anderson spoke with Sanjay about his documentary premiering, again, tonight, 10:00 Eastern Time. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: So, what have you found?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there has been so many of these deregulations that have occurred. You know, 40 just over the last couple of years. And it's often hard to draw a cause and effect, how exactly is that deregulation going to affect my health, for example.
So we saw this story, it was really striking to me because it was the clearest sort of cause and effect that I have seen. A chemical that was supposed to have been banned at the end of the Obama administration, all of those ban were sort of, you know, withheld for a period of time.
And somebody goes and basically is exposed to this chemical that shouldn't even be out there and this tragic story unfolds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA (voice): Like most people, no one in Wynne family had ever heard of methylene chloride, until one tragic day in October 2017.
(on camera) How did you find out about Drew?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Drew's business partner, Jimmy, was knocking at the door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he was hysterical. And he was just yelling, "He's gone," over and over again. He had apparently passed out on Saturday while stripping paint from the floor. The first responders had to wear hazmat suits when they did the autopsy and the cause of death was methylene chloride inhalation.
GUPTA: This is the death certificate?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is.
GUPTA: It says on here. It says it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. That's it. Cause of death, methylene chloride inhalation.
GUPTA: You know, you don't typically see it that clear-cut.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I mean, it's incredible. Has the chemical that killed Drew Wynne, and as you said, I mean, it's right there on the death certificate. Has it now been banned by the EPA?
GUPTA: You know, this has been sort of a Lorenzo's Oil sort of story. This has become his family's life work, as you might imagine, to get this stuff off the shelf so it doesn't happen to anybody else. They've been to Washington. They went to the EPA when Pruitt was still there. They keep doing this.
Ultimately, what they did, Anderson, was they essentially went to the retailers and shamed them, Lowes Home Depot saying, you know, you're selling a product that has killed dozens of people. You've got to stop doing it. And many of the retailers stopped doing it.
Subsequently, the government then has now banned this at the retail level, but you can still buy it commercially. So it's still out there. There's just still this weird sort of nuance where they still want to at least live it out there.
COOPER: So would you say it's OK to buy it commercially, you just -- individuals can't buy it.
GUPTA: That's right. So that product, again, a product that we know is lethal, has killed 64 people, is still available at the commercial level.
COOPER: Sanjay, thank you. Incredible report. You can watch CNN Special Report, "A Toxic Tale: Trump's Environmental Impact" airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, it is very important, only here on CNN.
SCIUTTO: Folks these changes have real effects. We look forward to seeing that. But, first, the news continues. I hand it over to Chris Cuomo for "Cuomo Prime Time."