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Putin Orders Military to Prepare Response to U.S. Missile Test; New Poll: Trump Approval Slides to 36 Percent; Harris Aide; Major Drop in Poll a 'Low Point of Campaign'. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:15] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, August 23, 6 a.m. here in New York. John Avlon is with me this morning.

We do begin with breaking news, because Russian president Vladimir Putin has just announced that he is ordering his military to respond to recent U.S. cruise missile testing. This news comes just this morning, just in the past hour, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And it comes as President Trump and world leaders are set to convene in France for the G-7 summit. So let's get right to CNN's Fred Pleitgen live in Moscow with the breaking details -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John.

And we're just getting these details from the Russian government. Essentially, what we had was a couple minutes ago there was a call with the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, and he was already saying that Vladimir Putin was pretty angry, that he had had a meeting with his security council and that there would be a very important announcement coming very soon.

Now, that announcement came in the form of a written statement from the Kremlin, where the Kremlin once again accused the United States of breaching that anti-ballistic missile treaty. The United -- the Russians saying that, essentially, that because the U.S. conducted a cruise missile test of a land-based Tomahawk cruise missile just 16 days after the U.S. left the IM -- Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, that meant the U.S. had been planning this for a very long time.

Now, of course, we have to keep in mind, John, that the U.S. has, for a very long time been accusing of Russia of breaching that very same treaty, saying that Russia had deployed the Iskandar-M missile very close to NATO territory, and that that meant that the Russians were in breach.

Now what Vladimir Putin has done is he has instructed, as he has said, his armed forces to prepare what he calls a symmetrical response. That's one of the things that the Russians have been saying for quite a while now. They say if they see any sort of missile test from the U.S., if they see the U.S. deploying any sort of missiles near Russian territory, they will have a tit-for-tat response.

So you can really tell that the Russians quite angry at some of these recent developments. Meanwhile, of course, the U.S. continuing to say that it was the Russians who were breaching this treaty, and that was why this treaty is no longer in force, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Fred. Thank you very much for helping to explain this breaking news. We have a lot to discuss.

So let's bring in Catherine Rampell. She's our "Washington Post" opinion columnist and CNN political commentator. We have Alex Burns, national political correspondent for "The New York Times" and a CNN political analyst; and M.J. Lee, a CNN political correspondent.

OK. Let's just quickly start with this news. The significance of this announcement from the Kremlin and the timing as the G-7 is about to start in France.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I'm not an analyst in geopolitics or Russian military exercises. But I think we can pretty confidently say that it's a challenge to President Trump and his position as a leader in the G-7 nations meeting this weekend.

That he came into office promising to change American relations with Russia and to take a different and tougher and also more open approach and produce better results for the country, diplomatically and economically. We obviously have not really seen the favorable results that he promised.

So I think he's under a lot of political pressure at home to show that he can appear to be and actually function as a leader of nations in the west. And I think that, given his statements about wanting to have a positive relationship with Russia, these latest developments are a real challenge to that theory of the case.

AVLON: Catherine, that's perhaps what's paradoxical about this. This cruise missile test was on Sunday. This is a delayed reaction. It comes after President Trump basically unliterally floated the idea of inviting Russia back into the G-7, without them requesting it. So why do you think the escalation from Vladimir Putin on this front?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a little bit hard to read the tea leaves here. But I would point out that it wasn't Trump only wanted to only bring Russia in. He claimed it was multilateral. Right? He claimed that French leader Macron had requested this; and France said, "Actually, that's not true."

AVLON: Not so much.

RAMPELL: So look, it could be designed to -- to heighten the perception that Trump doesn't know what he's doing, that he doesn't really have a grasp on the facts. It wouldn't be so hard to -- to give that impression, but there are a lot of reasons to believe that this G-7 could -- could be bungled by Trump, not only given his comments about the G-8, but obviously, the fight with Denmark; cyberbullying Germany over their bond yields; you know, whether he's going to try to muster support with the other members of the G-7 to pressure China to not crack down on Hong Kong.

There are so many ways that this could go wrong and has gone wrong in the past. And obviously, this is just another element heightening that risk.

CAMEROTA: M.J., it's also so schizophrenic, frankly, to watch President Trump's good feelings, rosy feelings towards Vladimir Putin and everything that he says, and he's always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And then to hear the people around President Trump try to kind of rein in Russia. And so this seems like a situation that is ripe for confusion.

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, there are so many issues where the president is simply not in line with the advice and the counsel that he gets from the folks around him whose jobs are to counsel the president in precisely that way.

And I think when it comes to Russia and Vladimir Putin, that is probably the one example where we have seen that the most and seen that so starkly, that the president just simply will not, on a national stage, use the kind of tough language that I think advisors around him would like him to use and that I think they believe is extremely warranted, based on the actions that Vladimir Putin has taken.

I mean, even when confronted with something as serious as a threat to our democracy, that the role that Russia has played and that Vladimir Putin has played, even when confronted with facts about that, the president has not been willing to go there.

[06:05:05] So I think this is going to be a fascinating summit, given that this is now going to be in the background.

AVLON: And there's that constant, you say, you know, Donald Trump reaching out to Vladimir Putin, sometimes unilaterally, while his administration says they're taking a hard line.

In Russia, the coverage is almost as schizophrenic. And I want to play, Alex, for all of you a clip from Russian television after the president announced that he was open to inviting Russia back to the G- 8. And the host seems to say that maybe this was to offset concerns about the missile test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's not the way it really should work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING RUSSIAN)

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: Will you be translating this for us, John?

AVLON: So take a look at that. My Russian is rusty, Aly, but you'll see. They're almost trolling the president by showing the image of the G-8 with the Russian flag right there. So here you see --

CAMEROTA: And their expressions. I mean, I don't think you can -- you can downplay the expression of the moderator there, who sort of looks very wry and --

AVLON: Bemused.

CAMEROTA: And bemused, yes. And amused.

AVLON: Yes. And of course, there's nothing amusing, of course, about an escalation in missile tests, but this is where we are. These things are being played out in a sort of reality TV forum on -- in the Russian side of the Atlantic there. And now we see the unexpected escalation by Vladimir Putin just moments ago.

LEE: And I think heading into a conference like this, we always expect a little bit of erratic behavior, of volatility, however, you want to describe it. There's always the threat of that. And I think if I'm advising the president or in his administration, I'm going to be nervous anyway.

But maybe something happening in the news that is maybe unexpected adds to that level of nervousness, just because we simply just don't know how the president is going to react. And I think, especially when he knows that the headlines back home are so focused on nervousness about a potential economic recession, I think we have to expect that he is already going to be on edge. And sometimes you just -- you just can't predict how he's going to use sort of the attention that he gets from being on a national stage like this, or international stage, I should say, and exactly what he's going to do.

CAMEROTA: Sometimes you cannot predict him. Yes, truer words. Truer words.

LEE: I think he can't predict himself, so.

AVLON: We've heard this before, yes.

CAMEROTA: All right. Let's talk about what we've been talking about, Catherine, now for a week. And that is that some people, you included, have seen storm clouds on the horizon about the recession; and for the first time we are now hearing, though not directly from the administration, through sort of back channel reporting, "The Washington Post" spoke to 25 people in and around the president about what they are planning to do. I'll read you a portion of it.

"Ideas that have been discussed include imposing a currency transaction tax that could weaken the dollar and make U.S. exports more competitive; creating a rotation among the Federal Reserve governors that would make it easier to check the power of Chair Jerome Powell, whom Trump has blamed for not doing all he can to increase growth; and pushing to lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent in an effort to spur more investment. Some, if not all, of these steps would require congressional approval."

What do you think of those?

RAMPELL: I think these are fantasies at this point, right? I mean, for example, the rotation of Federal Reserve --

CAMEROTA: Keeping Jerome Powell in check.

RAMPELL: Yes, I believe that would require an act of Congress. That's in the 1935 Banking Act. So they wouldn't change it.

It's not even clear that that would get them what they want. Because if they reduce the power of the board members, that's going to increase the power of the regional Fed banks, the bank presidents, who are also on the FOMC, who tend to be more hawkish. At least the current crop. So I don't know how that's going to help Trump.

You know, I think it's funny that they're proposing cutting the corporate tax rate further. I mean, this is a common pattern with Trump. It's like, he tells us initially, "Don't worry. 'X' thing that I'm going to do, experts may say that it's going to be painful, it's going to cost a lot of money, whatever. Free lunches all around. Right? Tax cuts are going to pay for themselves. China's going to pay for the tariffs."

And then the next round is like, "OK. Maybe there's a little bit of pain now. Maybe it actually costs money. The tax cuts aren't paying for themselves. We're paying for the tariffs. But short-term pain, long-term gain. The solution is we just need more of the big bad idea. We need more tariffs and more tax cuts." He just doubles down, rather than sort of re-evaluating what's going wrong.

AVLON: But this was also a week of whiplash, Alex. I mean, you know, you had the president saying, you know, "Maybe -- the economy's fine, but maybe we should take dramatic action," that "we should possibly look at raising taxes. But I'm definitely not going to do that."

Just a week ago, the idea that we're going to raise tariffs on China and then backing away from that.

Is the administration and the president's own belief that he can change public opinion by being a great salesman being undercut by this mixed messaging?

BURNS: It absolutely is. I think he does still believe in his power as a salesman. And I think there's reason, at least with the portion of the country that is inclined to trust him, to believe that he does have some power as a salesman.

There probably are people in the country who could be looking at a 2008-style economic crash, which nobody is currently anticipating, and say this isn't the president's fault. Things are better than they appear to be. [06:10:10] But for most of the country, which is basically not

inclined to believe the president's word on anything, this kind of zigzagging just confirms what they already believe about him. That he doesn't talk straight to the country, that the fact that he puts out there cannot be trusted.

And when it's -- when you're looking at this sort of hodgepodge of fanciful ideas for how they might try to forestall a recession, it's hard to take issue with that idea.

There is really no prospect of the Democrat -- the Democrats in the House of Representatives coming to the president's rescue by validating a bunch of ideas that he and Larry Kudlow came up with sort of in the last couple days, right? That's just not going to happen.

RAMPELL: Especially like a capital gains tax cut rate or a corporate tax cut rate.

BURNS: Yes.

CAMEROTA: His approval ratings, M.J., have ticked down in the recent NORC poll. From June, they've ticked down a little bit. Now approve 36 percent; disapprove of his job -- the job he's doing at 62 percent. That's just down a notch from June, which is -- was 38 percent.

But I always think it's always important to give some context to that and say that, like, none of that actually matters to the upcoming election. Because a national poll is different than polling the states --

AVLON: Sure.

CAMEROTA: -- that he won by and that he'll need. And, as we have been reminded all week, he was at approval rating roughly around here of 40 percent when he won the presidency.

LEE: Well, look, the economy strengthens and weakens for so many different reasons and factors. I think what is important for the president and his re-election prospects going forward is what the perception is going to be about the economy, right?

If the perception overall, if there is some kind of serious weakening in the economy or even a recession, is that that happened because of actions that the president took, for example, things that he has said or actions that he has taken when it comes to trade, I think that's something that even people in the middle of the country whose jobs directly are impacted by his actions can sincerely understand, right?

And I think you can't overstate how much that potentially hurts the president's brand when you look back at 2016 and the rhetoric that he used then and how poor sort of that economic populist messaging was in 2016. This idea that, because of the actions that the president himself took, those actions are hurting people like farmers, people who work in steel plants. That is something that I think people can directly understand, regardless of what the polls might be saying about approval about the president's performance on the economy. CAMEROTA: Totally. They feel it. When you feel something, you vote.

You know? That's -- I mean, you could -- maybe you could understand different data points and different numbers. But when you feel it, that's it. I mean, that's the --

RAMPELL: If you lose your job, you notice that.

BURNS: On that -- on that poll, I do think it's worth pointing out it's not just the numbers today. It's that the A.P. analysis of that poll pointed out that no president's approval ratings have stayed in such a narrow band as this president. That he has been between 36 percent and 42 percent approval the entire time. Right?

And it's true that his numbers were low on the day that he was elected, but he got elected by the skin of his teeth, which means that there's really no room for error in terms of approaching reelection. And as M.J., I think, totally correctly points out, his policies are no longer theoretical. Right? This is no longer an election about promises that people can sort of, you know, look him in the eye and sort of check their own gut and decide whether or not they want to trust him. They're actually happening. People can see the results for themselves.

AVLON: We're going to have more on the polls and the enthusiasm gap ahead. Stick with us.

CAMEROTA: OK. What's happening on the Democratic side? Well, Kamala Harris has gone from being the winner of the first debate to what aides are calling the worst moment of her campaign. So what's going on there? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: All right. There are jitters inside Kamala Harris's campaign after a new CNN poll showed that her support has plummeted pretty significantly since her strong performance after the first debate. One of Harris's advisers tells CNN that the day the poll came out that you're seeing on your screen was, quote, "the lowest point of the campaign so far."

Meanwhile, "The New York Times" is out with a new article outlining signs of trouble for former Vice President Joe Biden in Iowa.

So back with us now to talk about all of this, we have Catherine Rampell, Alex Burns, and M.J. Lee. So Alex, what's going on with has Kamala Harris? I mean, the fact that she has dipped 12 points after that really strong performance.

And also, again, I always bring this up, but I think that it is telling. Her town hall on CNN was the most -- had the highest ratings. People always search for her. There's a lot of interest in her. So why isn't that reflected in the poll numbers?

BURNS: Look, I think what you have seen so far from the Harris campaign, I think you saw it in the town hall, I think you saw it in the first debate, is that she is very, very gifted at delivering these big individual moments. Right? And it causes -- Democrats are excited about the idea of her. There are a lot of voters who would like to believe in her. And she can sort of generate these big set- piece moments of ignition for her campaign.

And then after that, it's not really clear where she goes; that she doesn't have the same kind of clear, crisp vision that she communicates the way a candidate like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders does. She doesn't have the long prominence and loyalty that somebody like Joe Biden does.

[06:20:05] And she spends a lot of time fundraising. She spends a lot of time, essentially, in forums that don't drive a big national message.

And one thing that we've seen in this campaign, very consistently in this race, whether we're talking about Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg, is that the national conversation is what drives events on the ground, as much as what the campaigns are doing themselves in terms of organizing. Right?

AVLON: Sure.

BURNS: I spent some time in Los Angeles with Harris after the first debate. And she was very, very focused on this idea of wanting to put out sort of concrete, tactile policy ideas that ordinary people can wrap their minds around. And I think there is some evidence that that approach works in places.

But without the larger architecture of a compelling vision that people feel like they can really understand what it means, it's been hard for most of the candidates in this race to gain traction.

AVLON: And M.J., you just -- You were in Iowa four days ago. I mean, there's -- that is a precipitous drop. There's maybe the sense that the attack on Biden in the first debate may have boomeranged on her.

What are you seeing and hearing on the ground in Iowa when it comes to Harris and Biden, the candidates who had been in poll position just a month ago?

LEE: Well, look, I think Alex is absolutely right that Harris is very gifted at creating these sort of set-piece moments, as you said, and those moments, actually, really do go a long way. And I think that's why we have seen her really go up and down in the polls a lot, right? There have been a lot of fluctuations.

After the first -- after the last CNN debate, for example, her poor -- her poll numbers, obviously, went up noticeably. And that's something that was reflected in conversations with voters on the ground, right?

That moment of Kamala Harris going after Biden actually played very well to her strengths. People -- The thing I heard, probably, most from people after that debate was, "Boy, I cannot wait to see a Kamala Harris take on a Donald Trump. Because it showed -- her performance against Joe Biden really showed and reminded me that I want to see somebody, a Democratic nominee who has that kind of strength and can take on a President Trump in that way."

But I think you're also right that once those moments are over, I think people are looking for sort of a longer vision, and I don't know that she has been as adept at communicating that as some of the other candidates.

When it comes to Joe Biden and what people are saying about him, I mean, it has been very consistent throughout the year since he got into the race. I think the trouble for him is that a lot of people sort of view him as the default candidate to support, right? That he is a known. That they feel comfortable with him. They know what he's about. He may not be, obviously, the youngest candidate or the fresh face, but that they feel like he is sort of the stable candidate and somebody that they know as having been Barack Obama's partner.

I think the thing that we're going to see in the next couple of months is, are the people who are supporting him as sort of the default answer, are they going to feel like, "Actually, there's somebody else that I have done my homework on, and that is the person that I, in my gut, would like to support. Not Joe Biden, the default candidate"?

CAMEROTA: I mean, you know, do you need a lot of enthusiasm to win? Sometimes you order vanilla ice cream. I mean, sometimes you just go back to vanilla ice cream. You're not in the mood for, you know, strawberry that day. You do vanilla.

AVLON: We've been having tutti-frutti for three, four years.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

AVLON: Now, I'm back to vanilla, people.

CAMEROTA: I mean, do you --

AVLON: But it's not the most exciting. I mean, with Joe Biden, it's not --

CAMEROTA: No, but I just wonder, is that a deal breaker? If you don't have a lot of enthusiasm, is that considered a deal breaker or do people just go with the vanilla?

BURNS: I don't think that is a deal breaker. But I do think that you want a more assertive version of vanilla that's more confident about the fact that it is -- that it is vanilla. Right? That --

RAMPELL: You want to know -- you want to know why the vanilla is running.

BURNS: Right.

RAMPELL: Right? And I think, to torture this metaphor further, and I think that's part of the problem for Harris here. People kind of understand what Elizabeth Warren's -- her vision in, what her values are, even if they don't know the nitty-gritty of all the policies. They understand that for, to some extent, you know, Biden; to some extent Sanders. For Harris, you know, her policies on health care have kind of wobbled

a little bit; and she's gone back and forth on busing and other things. It's a little bit hard to understand what's motivating her, what her vision is for the country.

AVLON: So but Catherine, let me stick with you, because politics is perception. But so, to a large extent, is the economy. And before we go, I want to give you a chance to set what you believe the goals of Fed Chair Powell are going to be when he gives this major speech in Jackson Hole today at 10 a.m., because markets around the world will be watching.

RAMPELL: Yes. They'll be hanging on every word to try to look for clues for what they're going to do with interest rates.

If I had to guess, I would think he has probably two objectives. One is to inspire confidence in the economy, say here -- here are the good things, you know, because confidence matters.

But also, if things go bad, if it turns out our confidence is overstated, we will be there to make sure it's not so bad. This is the line that the Trump administration has sort of tried to walk recently and completely failed. Right? If there's a tightrope there, they're way off the tightrope.

[06:25:05] I think his second objective will be to convince the world that the Fed is still politically independent. That if they cut interest rates further, which -- which they've sort of been boxed into doing to some extent by market expectations -- if they do it, it will be because they think it's good for the economy and not because they've been cyberbullied by the president.

Because if, in fact, the perception is that their political independence is compromised, whether or not it is -- and I don't think it actually has been, I don't think that they're responding to pressure in that sense -- their credibility if, in fact, we fall into recession, is shot. Right?

Doesn't matter if they are independent or not. If people just think that they're just doing the bidding of the president, of the administration, they will not be able to be as effective as they would otherwise be.

AVLON: Cyberbullied by the president. Sentences you only hear in 2019. All right. Thank you all very much for joining us.

And right now the Amazon rainforest is burning at rates never seen before. And Brazil's president is facing criticism for doing virtually nothing to stop it. More on the international effort to combat the crisis, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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