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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Fight For The White House: Donald Trump's Presidency. Aired 10- 11p ET
Aired September 12, 2020 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Donald J. Trump, the unconventional, unpredictable businessman, was no different in his first term.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm proud of the extraordinary progress over the last four incredible years.
TAPPER: Shattering norms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is completely disruptive and different than anything you've ever seen before.
TAPPER: Breaking boundaries.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would turn on that, in a really aggressive way, in a way that I've never seen or heard of presidents doing before.
TAPPER: And demolishing expectations and behavior for a president of the United States.
This working for President Trump to ultimately mean, you have to agree with them all the time, if you want to keep your job/
TAPPER: A president who seems to thrive in Division.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): He's a racist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): He's a racist.
TAPPER: Whether those who hate him, or celebrating. A look now at the moments that defined President Donald J. Trump's first term, the issues he vowed to tackle.
TRUMP: Build that wall. Repeal and replace Obamacare. These massive tax cuts will be rocket fuel for the American economy. For those miners, get ready because you're going to be working your asses off, all right?
TAPPER: The crises he has faced.
TRUMP: We will defeat the virus and emerged stronger than ever before.
TAPPER: Hear from the people who were there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was in the early meetings in the Oval Office.
TAPPER: In the rooms where it happened.
Why does he seem to like Putin?
TAPPER: This is a CNN Special Report, "Fight for the White House: Donald Trump's Presidency."
TRUMP: Together, we will crush the virus.
TAPPER: Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, President Trump was making his case for a second term. And from the looks of it, no real concerns about an extremely contagious and deadly virus.
S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST: What the White House was trying to do was say, look, we believe the COVID is gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You saw Donald Trump trying to sort of put lipstick on a pig last night.
TRUMP: We will defeat the virus and the pandemic.
IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I have witnessed him make some of the most difficult decisions of his life.
TAPPER: But there might have been an accidental clue that this was not the whole story.
TRUMP: Thanks to advances, we have pioneered the fatality rate.
TAPPER: Pioneered the fatality rate? In fact, President Trump and his administration have been pioneers of a mishandled response and flawed leadership from the very beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New details on the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China and spreading across the globe.
TAPPER: As early as January, President Trump was warned about the novel coronavirus. According to author Bob Woodward, in a January 28tth briefing, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told President Trump COVID-19 would be "biggest national security threat of his presidency." President Trump says, he does not remember that briefing.
There were also briefings with other intelligence and public health officials, Washington Post White House Reporter and CNN contributor, Josh Dawsey. JOSH DAWSEY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: HHS Secretary Alex Azar, called to brief the president, and they talked about it briefly. And the president soon moved the conversation to vaping. And Azar later said to others that he was quite frustrated.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: I was in the early meetings in the Oval Office.
TAPPER: Former White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, however, tells a different story
CONWAY: He didn't take it seriously. I mean, he banned travel from China in January.
TRUMP: Nobody thought we should do it, zero cases, zero deaths.
TAPPER: It was not a full ban on travel from China. Tens of thousands of people were allowed to travel to the US even after it was ordered. Perhaps more importantly, President Trump was publicly dismissing the threat, with CDC efforts to come up with a test botched and no comprehensive effort to identify and isolate the virus nationwide.
Still, the President would continue to point to partial travel bans to argue that he was on the case. CNN's White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If you talk to experts, by the time that the President put those in place, the virus is already circulating inside the United States.
TAPPER: All of this was accompanied by a nearly daily barrage of presidential allies.
TRUMP: We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China. We think we have a very well under control.
ERIC LIPTON, New York Times Investigative Reporter: The consensus among his own health experts was that we needed to shift to a strategy of trying to limit the number of illnesses and deaths instead of just trying to block it from entering the United States.
TAPPER: New York Times Investigative Reporter Eric Lipton.
LIPTON: Trump was unwilling to accept that advice.
TAPPER: Throughout February, Trump dismissed concerns that the coronavirus was worse than the flu.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1%.
GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio somewhere between 2% to 3% percent. TRUMP: We don't know the exactly the numbers. And the flu is higher than that.
TAPPER: But it turns out privately weeks earlier, Trump was saying something very different.
TRUMP (via phone): You just breathe the air, that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your, you know, your even your strenuous flus.
TAPPER: Trump says he downplayed the virus to not panic Americans, something he continued to do in the early March.
TRUMP: It will go away, just stay calm. It will go away.
TAPPER: A message at odds with health experts. Cases kept increasing, and increasing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coronavirus death toll had jumped again today.
TAPPER: Finally on March 11th, the day Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson became the first high profile Americans to announce they had tested positive, and the NBA shutdown its season, Trump set out to reassure a very nervous nation.
TRUMP: My fellow Americans --
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The President was uncomfortable heading into it.
TAPPER: New York Times White House Correspondent and CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman.
HABERMAN: The President looked unfamiliar with the material as he was reading it. It contained at least three errors.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That speech was probably the single most important moment in the US response to the coronavirus but for all the wrong reasons.
TAPPER: CNN's Abby PHILLIP.
PHILLIP: It really highlighted that the administration was not prepared to deal with the crisis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was an historic day on Wall Street.
TAPPER: The next day, the New York Stock Exchange halted trading for 15 minutes, after the S&P 500 fell 7%. The White House scrambled to try to fix the errors about travel bans and insurance coverage. Then, one day later --
TRUMP: Today, I am officially declaring a national emergency.
TAPPER: The country had last two months really, to ramp up testing and production of key supplies, such as PPE or ventilators. TIM NAFTALI, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He had that at his fingertips.
President Trump, says Presidential Historian Tim Naftali, could have nationalized the response, and invoked the Defense Production Act to immediately force companies to manufacture what was needed.
NAFTALI: He had an opportunity with COVID-19, to use the enormous power of the presidency, in a moment of national crisis.
TAPPER: Governors were left to fend for their states
GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R), MARYLAND: It was just mass pandemonium.
TAPPER: Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
HOGAN: It was a 50 state strategy. Some states doing better than others.
TAPPER: Hogan secretly sourced half a million tests for his state from South Korea.
COLLINS: I asked the President about that at a briefing we had.
TRUMP: It could have saved a lot of money, but that's OK.
COLLINS: -- go to South Korea.
TRUMP: No, I don't think he needed to go to South Korea. I think he needed to get a little knowledge would have been helpful.
COLLINS: He had been assuring that testing was amazing in the United States. And the question was, well, if that's true, then why is the governor of Maryland having to go to another country?
TAPPER: Testing was lagging far behind despite the President's spin.
TRUMP: Anybody that wants to test can get a test. That's what I would say that.
TAPPER: That was a lie. Experts agree one of the singular reasons that we still have so many cases and so many deaths, is because the US lacked in its ability to identify the virus through testing and isolate it.
TRUMP: I said earlier today that I hope we can do this by Easter.
TAPPER: Trump then tried to pressure governors to open up their states and their economies.
TRUMP: I really do believe a lot the governors should be opening up states.
TAPPER: What mistakes do you think have been made by the President?
CONWAY: Allowing some of the governors to make decisions and mayors to make decisions about whether and when to lock down, and how to lock down also made this more fraud.
TAPPER: It was not a health strategy, it was a political strategy. Allowing the White House to blame the governors no matter what, and accept zero responsibility. This while the President also sought to undermine the nation's leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, for telling the truth, including acknowledging the fact that the President's delay inaction cost lives.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: Obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that.
TAPPER: The President tried to control the message, minimizing the risk.
TRUMP: Young people are almost immune to this disease.
TAPPER: Pushing unproven, potentially dangerous drugs to treat COVID- 19 such as hydroxychloroquine.
TRUMP: What do you have to lose? I'll say it again, what do you have to lose? Take it.
TAPPER: Or this jaw dropping moment.
TRUMP: I see the disinfectant would knock it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost cleaning.
TRUMP: The President's briefings ended for a while and he let the experts take the lead. He pushed guidelines on social distancing and wearing a mask, and he finally wore a mask himself.
The Trump administration did eventually invoke the DPA for key supplies such as testing swabs. Progress has been made when it comes to treatments. And the Trump administration is optimistic about developing a vaccine
CONWAY: Dr. Francis Collins, who spent decades at NIH alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci. Jake has said that he's never seen vaccines, therapies come together so quickly in the way that they are.
TAPPER: But the facts sadly speak for themselves, the US, with less than 5% of the world's population, has a much higher case count and death count than the rest of the Western world. The worst response of any Western wealthy nation according to this data, and it's not even close.
And recently, the President seems to be back to undermining efforts to save lives, whether it's holding events with seemingly no social distancing, or required mask wearing, or even mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask, again.
TRUMP: Did you ever see a man that likes a mask as much as him?
TAPPER: We wanted to ask President Trump about all of this and more, but he turned down repeated requests for an interview.
PHILLIP: He views this virus as standing in the way of him being reelected.
NAFTALI: COVID-19 was not of his making, but COVID-19 was his opportunity to be a great president. He looked at COVID-19 and backed away, not wanting to take a chance.
TAPPER: The quality Donald Trump values perhaps the most, that when we come back.
TRUMP: You know, some of these people have like a 10% loyalty. Meaning, if they sneeze in the wrong direction, they're gone. Loyalty.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your new day. It is Monday, December 19.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Texas electors sealing the deal for Donald Trump.
BERMAN: To make Donald Trump's victory official today.
TAPPER: It was the day Trump's win was officially certified by the Electoral College. The president-elect was reportedly celebrating with top aides in his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The conversation turned to whom he should hire.
PHILLIP: They focused on campaign advisors and supporters who had been loyal to him during the 2016 campaign, at a time when most Republicans were trying to distance themselves from him.
DAWSEY: That dinner has certainly been consistent with everything we've seen from this president. He has been obsessed.
TAPPER: Obsessed with loyalty, he always has been. Here he is in 1980.
TRUMP: But I learned that there were some great loyal people. And I've learned that there were some people that could have been more loyal. And those people have discarded totally.
TAPPER: And once, Donald Trump became president, he didn't just look for it. He demanded it.
NAFTALI: It's a tradition that presidents bring a little clique with them, whether it's the Boston mafia of John F. Kennedy, the Georgia mafia of Jimmy Carter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Loyalty is not new in the White House.
TAPPER: But Trump's brand of loyalty was new.
DAWSEY: The Trump people said essentially, if we can ever find that you publicly posted something negative about the President, you were very unlikely to get a position.
PHILLIP: I have never heard of that kind of vetting of people for negative comments about the President in their past lives.
TAPPER: His early hires were loyalists throughout the campaign and in the early months of the presidency. He did hire a few one time opponents who had been loyal since.
BEN CARSON, SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: Thank you, Mr. President.
TAPPER: Including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson.
CARSON: Our president, Donald J. Trump, he makes promises and he keeps them.
TAPPER: And Secretary of Energy, former Governor Rick Perry.
RICK PERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF ENERGY: Mr. President, I know there are people that say, you said you were the chosen one, and you are.
TAPPER: But it would not take long for President Trump to learn others loyalty was fleeting.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Very, very good idea of who the leakers are, who the senior leakers are in the White House.
TAPPER: Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was hired six months into Trump's presidency to weed out disloyal leakers.
SCARAMUCCI: There were three or four people that were probably the biggest leakers and he wanted them gone. So the loyalty goes one way towards him.
TAPPER: This demand for loyalty could be a problem when it seemed to supersede ethics.
NAFTALI: Loyalty means you do what I need you to do. Even if it's unethical, you work for me. That may be a good strategy if you run a small private business, but it's absolutely unacceptable for a constitutional officer in a republic.
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI: He immediately tests you to see if you are going to be on his side. Here if you're going to be his enemy.
TAPPER: It was an unfamiliar situation for someone such as Andrew McCabe, than Acting Director of the FBI. He had served for administrations at the FBI. I has served four administrations at the FBI for both Republican and Democratic presidents.
MCCABE: As career government servants dedicated first and foremost to the Constitution and to the Rule of Law, those folks are not going to simply exceed to the President's will.
TAPPER: Does working for President Trump ultimately mean, you have to agree with him all the time, if you want to keep your job?
MCCABE: Yes, I think that's the case. They're going to do what they think is their job. And that is a very tough decision for people to make, and it's one that will likely bring you great personal pain and sacrifice.
And so if you are committed to doing that work, you're likely going to run headlong into a conflict with President Trump.
JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER US ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaign for president of the United States.
TAPPER: For instance, Jeff Session, an incredibly loyal guy, but made one decision. We are complying with ethics suggestions from DOJ, and that's it. He's dead to President Trump.
SCARAMUCCI: He could run you over with a steamroller at any time. I need you to do things and I need you to be willing to take the blame for me when things go poorly.
TAPPER: Perhaps contributing to unprecedented turnover. 89% of his senior staff Trump's 18 have left. That's more turnover than all of the past five presidents had in their entire first turn. And one more number, Trump has had 40% of his top positions replaced more than once. Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There were a lot, you know, were some people that weren't qualified, but they've been loyal to the President.
TAPPER: And when people have left, several formers found themselves eventually speaking out against President Trump.
REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It was challenging for me to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined doesn't read briefing reports.
JIM MATTIS, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The only person in the military that Mr. Trump doesn't think is overrated is Colonel Sanders.
TAPPER: The ultimate betrayal for Trump, who resorted to name calling. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton, a wacko. Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the world's most overrated general. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, dumb as a rock.
PHILLIP: He would turn on them in a really aggressive way, in a way that I've never seen or heard of presidents doing before.
DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP ADVISOR: I think, you know, turnover is natural in any White House.
TAPPER: Former Trump Advisor, David urban.
URBAN: I think this administration maybe more high pressure, more issues that are pressing.
TAPPER: A demand for loyalty that Trump relied on for what he hoped to be his first big policy win, repealing and replacing Obamacare.
TRUMP: We have so many unbelievable alternatives, much less expensive.
NAFTALI: I think Trump believed that his iron grip on Republican voters would get him all Republican votes.
TAPPER: Two months after the Trump inauguration, the Republicans had a bill that would begin the dismantling of Obamacare. And while the bill did make it through the House, the Senate post some issues.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I think the bill would have to be fundamentally changed.
TAPPER: The Senate bill was known as skinny repeal going into that vote in July 2017. Trump's hopes for success rested with Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, whom Trump had attacked for years.
TRUMP: He's not a war hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.
TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured.
SCARAMUCCI: Senator McCain was sick, and he was heading out to Arizona. I made the suggestion maybe we should go out there and see him on one of these trips that we were making. And President did not want to do that.
TAPPER: In the early hours of July 28, 2017, McCain arrived to vote, a singular motion that left the Senate chamber aghast and the White House reeling.
PHILLIP: It was incredibly personal. President Trump hold on to grudges and like he wants loyalty. He probably will never let that moment go.
TAPPER: For the rest of McCain's life and long after his death, Trump would attack him.
TRUMP: I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.
TAPPER: Something that Trump would do to any Republican who turned against him.
TRUMP: No, I'm not a fan of (inaudible). But Jeb Bush is a puppet to his donors.
TAPPER: He has effectively chased many of his critics out of the Republican Party.
PHILLIP: The President has defied political wisdom in bringing the party along with virtually everything that he has done for over four years now since he was a candidate. And he requires that loyalty.
TAPPER: Loyalty that would carry Trump through many issues and crises in his first term.
TRUMP: We want lower taxes, bigger paychecks.
TAPPER: From tax reform, to judicial appointments, to impeachment.
TRUMP: The only good headline I've ever had in the Washington Post.
TAPPER: More on those later, but first when we come back Trump's economy.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We need a leader that wrote "The Art of the Deal."
TAPPER: Donald Trump came to Washington based on a promise.
TRUMP: I'm a great deal maker, that's what I do. I'm in a lot of money. I'm going to give it my best.
CHARLIE DENT, FORMER US CONGRESSMAN: I mean we haven't really seen a whole lot of deals. He's actually frankly been more likely to walk away from deals or threaten to walk away from deals.
TAPPER: That's Republican Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania who resigned in 2018, and in 2020 endorsed Joe Biden for president.
DENT: I don't -- and I'm not blaming the President for this, too. I mean, this was Congress's fault in some respects. I never thought we should have let off with healthcare.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amendment is not agreed to.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It says that healthcare piece never really materialized. He was frustrated and that's why he was returning back to his campaign instinct mode. We want lower taxes, bigger paychecks.
TAPPER: The President was determined to strike a deal on tax cuts by the end of his first year in office.
TRUMP: There's never been tax cuts like what we're talking about.
SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): This was the passed bill.
TAPPER: Democrats railed against Republicans for rushing a complicated overhaul of the tax system through Congress.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It is about 500 pages. And they want us to vote on this thing in about an hour, an hour.
TAPPER: Some Republicans such as Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, worried that a radical tax cut might inflate the national debt.
At first you were a holdout, one of the two key holdouts, what were your concerns?
JEFF FLAKE, FORMER US SENATOR: I would have felt it was a better option simply to lower the corporate tax and leave individual rates as they were, but mine was not a popular opinion. At the "11th Hour", Senator Flake reversed course, siding with President Trump.
FLAKE: In the end, as a whole, I thought it was a good package
TAPPER: The tax cuts and JOBS Act, the first major tax overhaul in more than three decades, passed the House then the Senate in late December 2017. The veil promised to slash individual and corporate tax rates, increase wages, and boost business spending.
TRUMP: These massive tax cuts will be rocket fuel for the American economy.
TAPPER: Some of that did happen.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Most Americans saw a small increase in their take home pay, some of them ended up with big tax bills at the end of the year, and many Americans felt that they just didn't get a tax cut.
TRUMP: I can think of no better Christmas present for the American people.
TAPPER: Experts say the tax bill was a much bigger present for companies. The corporate tax rate was slashed from 35% to 21%.
RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYSTS: I mean really what we got in 2017 was a big corporate tax boondoggle.
TAPPER: RANA FOROOHAR, our CNN's Global Economic Analysts.
FOROOHAR: He sold this idea that, hey, these companies are going to save so much money, they're going to bring back investment now from overseas. We're going to see new factories. We're going to see hiring.
Well, somebody did come back, about 700 billion or so, but the majority of it went into shares buybacks, when companies go into the market and they buyback their own shares. So it's great for the C- suite, it's great for that top 10%, but it doesn't change the story on Main Street.
LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: I would respond with a lot of disagreement.
TAPPER: White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow.
KUDLOW: The biggest beneficiaries of that 2017 bill, whose centerpiece was the business tax cuts, were actually middle income blue collar workers Main Street folks, they had the largest gains in wages.
TAPPER: Economists say the bill probably did help lift wage growth for many Americans, overall momentum that began under President Obama. But the bulk of the Trump tax bill benefit went to the rich, adding to that success Trump supporters say near record low unemployment.
TRUMP: We're in the midst of the longest positive job growth streak in history.
TAPPER: And a booming stock market.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The NASDAQ has hit 9,000 for the first time ever,
TAPPER: All true for a while.
ERIC LIPTON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: There was a period of I think if you were to interview the average corporate executive of United States where they felt more confident in their ability to make investments in the United States, as a result of Trump.
TAPPER: The Dow Jones hit more than 100 new highs between the 2016 election and the end of 2019. With a doubt peaking at a record breaking high of 29,551 points on February 12, 2020, right before the coronavirus outbreak froze the US.
FOROOHAR: The president lives and dies by the market. And so anytime there's bad economic news, he does whatever he can to try and goose things and he's done that by tax cuts. He's done it by trying to encourage interest rates to be kept, low pushing the fed around that.
TRUMP: We've accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportion.
TAPPER: In September 2018, President Trump emboldened by America's economic growth and China's economic slowdown, ramped up his trade war with Beijing imposing tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods entering the US.
SCARAMUCCI: There was a need certainly to right size the relationship with the United States. But what the President did was, he disavowed the strategies that were put forth by trade
TRUMP: The tariffs are not being paid for by our people. It's being paid for by China. LIPTON: No, tariffs are being paid by American consumers who have higher prices on consumer goods that are being essentially tax as they enter the United States.
TAPPER: In retaliation --
TIM NAFTALI, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The Chinese put pressure on Iowa and Nebraska.
TAPPER: -- by placing tariffs on hundreds of American products such as soybeans, hurting American farmers.
NAFTALI: This great deal maker undermines American farmers by going after the Chinese. And in the end, has to get Congress to send financial assistance to farmers.
FOROOHAR: I think that the Chinese were at certain points ready to come to the table and actually make some changes. But oftentimes, right when a true deal might have been about to be cut, you'd see the President really ramping up that, that really inflammatory rhetoric.
TRUMP: Get all different names Wuhan, Kung Flu, yes?
TAPPER: The President escalated his tariff roulette with China.
KUDLOW: Well, it's a tricky business. We're very cross with them about denying the freedoms in Hong Kong and breaking that long standing treaty, presence cross with them with respect to their lack of human rights and Uighur problem. We're holding them accountable.
TAPPER: But former National Security Adviser John Bolton says President Trump's recent sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang contradicts his earlier stance. Bolton in his new book alleges that during a meeting with President Xi in Japan last year, President Trump said, "Xi should go ahead with building the camps," which Bolton writes, "Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do." President Trump denied that accusation.
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I can't make sense of our policy where we're rhetorically tough on China, we're intermittently tough.
TAPPER: Richard Haass was the Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department under President George W. Bush. He's now the President of the Council on Foreign Relations.
HAASS: But in many areas where we've been missing in action and we've said inconsistent or weak signals, more significantly, we didn't join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If we hadn't wanted to put pressure on China, what better way than to join with all of our Asia Pacific trading partners. That would have been serious. President wouldn't do it.
TAPPER: Trump supporters say the President's foreign policies with China are working. DAVID URBAN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: There is a widespread belief that many, many reforms need aid in China, in terms of technology transfer, terms of theft of intellectual property that this President concessions were able to get with President Xi and the Chinese by imposing tariffs. The long-term legacy of this president, similar to Nixon, will be China.
TAPPER: That's a harder case to make during a global health crisis.
FOROOHAR: We're already in a recession. In fact, we're already in a depression, you know, technically. And the numbers are that bad. When you layer the problem for the pandemic on an economy that already had all these structural weaknesses, that doesn't add up to any kind of a good picture.
TAPPER: But during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, President Trump was painting a rosy picture.
TRUMP: Over the past three months, we have gained over 9 million jobs and that's a record in the history of our country.
TAPPER: What the President failed to mention, those gains followed a record 22 million job loss over the previous two months. Something else the President didn't cover, the enormous economic toll caused by his bungled pandemic response.
TRUMP: We have seen the smallest economic contraction of any major Western nation.
TAPPER: The economy has been President Trump's calling card his entire first term.
Goodness, look at those numbers. They're down 7%.
TAPPER: even as the shockwaves of the COVID crisis hit Wall Street in March 2020.
MOHAMED EL-ERIAN, ALLIANZ CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISOR: We are going to see a spread of economic sudden stops.
TRUMP: I do think once we get rid of the virus, I think we're going to have a boom economy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The COVID crash on Wall Street is officially over
TAPPER: Yet, even as the virus continues to grip the country, it has not stopped the stock market from surging.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The S&P 500 closed at a record high Tuesday for the first time since the pandemic began.
URBAN: It is the best time to talk about the economy. Folks at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum need to know that there's somebody in the Oval Office can focus on rebuilding the economy. This President's done at once, and he'll do it again if reelected.
TAPPER: Yet during the economic downturn, the White House is grappling with an eviction crisis facing millions of Americans.
TRUMP: We will make America great again. You've heard that before.
TAPPER: Up next, the reshaping of the federal judiciary.
TRUMP: I've always heard actually that when you become president, the most single most important thing you can do is federal judges.
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The court became an issue, it became a flashpoint. Republican candidates have run against the Supreme Court, saying we want to roll back the liberalism of prior years, and Donald Trump went along for that ride.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have some very sad news, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died.
BISKUPIC: Antonin Scalia served on the court since 1986. And it looks like President Barack Obama is going to appoint a new member of the court, which would tip the liberal balance for the first time in the years to the liberal side.
TAPPER: CNN Legal Analyst Joan Biskupic.
BISKUPIC: But what happens that actual night set in motion a series of dominoes that produce the court we have today.
TAPPER: Though leading in the polls, Trump was still considered a long shot. But he knew the world would be watching later that night --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump of New York.
TAPPER: -- as the GOP presidential debate took center stage. So he called his friend and legal adviser, Don McGann.
BISKUPIC: Don McGann suggests some names that he could mention during the debate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A moment of silence for Justice Antonin Scalia.
TAPPER: They knew if he could capitalize on this moment and suggest a couple of respectable conservative judges to fill Scalia's vacancy, it might seal the deal with conservatives.
TRUMP: And we could have a Diane Sykes or you could have a Bill Prior. We have some fantastic people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So just to be clear on this, Mr. Trump, you're OK with the president nominating somebody.
TRUMP: I think he's going to do it whether I'm OK with it or not. I think it's up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It's called delay, delay, delay.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: This nomination should not be filled by this lame duck president.
BISKUPIC: Barack Obama had nearly 11 months left on his term.
MCCONNELL: Thanks, everybody.
BISKUPIC: We're going to hold the seat hostage and Mitch McConnell pulled it off.
TAPPER: President Obama's nominee, US Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland, never got even a single hearing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outside adviser to the President for Judicial Selection, Leonard Leo, the LA Times says you're the man to see if you aspire to the Supreme Court.
TAPPER: Leonard Leo, co-chair of the Conservative Federalist Society joined Trump's team.
LEONARD LEO, CO-CHAIR, CONSERVATIVE FEDERALIST SOCIETY: He wanted to put out a list of individuals for the US Supreme Court.
TRUMP: One of the most important things we'll be doing, whoever the next president is, is naming judges.
LEO: He wanted, first, someone who was in his words, not weak. What that did was it basically said to the American people, this is what I, Donald Trump, stand for, in terms of judicial selection.
TAPPER: Many felt that judicial selection campaign helped pave Trump's path to the White House.
With Trump now in office and a Republican-held Congress, the small team of McGann, Leo and McConnell wasted little time.
TRUMP: Today I'm nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch.
TAPPER: The momentum did not stop there. When moderate Republican and longtime Jurist Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018, Trump nominated young conservative us appellate court judge, Brett Kavanaugh, to try to swing the court even further to the right. But he was not expecting this.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Federal investigators will now be looking into a matter of connected that with federal judge Brett Kavanaugh as US Supreme Court nomination.
BISKUPIC: Started off rather predictably, but then a woman by the name of Christine Blasey-Ford came forward.
FLAKE: I told Leader McConnell and others that I wouldn't vote to advance his nomination unless we heard from Dr. Ford.
CHRISTINE BLASEY-FORD, ACCUSED BRETT KAVANAUGH OF RAPE: I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help.
TAPPER: Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.
FLAKE: Brett Kavanaugh, he acted as if I think I would have acted had. I felt that I'd been unjustly accused.
BRETT KAVANAUGH, US SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: I'm here today to tell the truth, I've never sexually assaulted anyone.
TAPPER: Down the street at the White House, Trump fired off a shot of his own.
TRUMP: This is a big con job. And Schumer and his buddies are rolling, they're laughing, how they fooled you all.
TAPPER: Following a week long investigation that critics of Kavanaugh thought was too brief.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Charade.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sham
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Bullies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will call the roll.
TAPPER: Kavanaugh was confirmed to the US Supreme Court by a two vote margin.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh is confirmed.
TAPPER: Another victory for Trump, another justice on the bench.
TRUMP: False charges, false accusations, and he toughed it out.
TAPPER: While the Supreme Court confirmations grabbed the headlines, something else was happening that largely went unnoticed by the public.
URBAN: District courts and the circuit court, you know, it's one of those quiet things that folks Cross America don't perhaps grasp the gravity of these courts all interpret the laws of our country every day in so many different ways.
LIPTON: They identified 40 something, you know, conservative judges, and they jam them through the Senate with incredible speed.
TAPPER: Speed and strategy, because McConnell blocked so many Obama nominees, Trump inherited 103 vacancies. Astoundingly, the President has appointed almost one third of all current appellate court judges.
BISKUPIC: Much of the law in America is set by the Federal Courts of Appeals.
COLLINS: That is probably one of the very few things that helps Republicans justify why they support him is that he got the judges they wanted, confirmed and put in place.
TAPPER: That means controversial issues such as abortion, gun control, healthcare, immigration, and racial and same sex discrimination, cases that could very likely be ruled on by Trump appointees, largely young, white, male conservative judges serving lifetime appointments.
But perhaps none of those issues will have the global impact such as the rulings we will see dealing with the environment.
TRUMP: Miners, get ready because you're going to be working your asses off, all right?
TAPPER: A long held Republican belief. The message was clear. Trump was going to roll back environmental regulations that he said hurt businesses.
TRUMP: I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy and to cancel job killing regulations.
BETSY SUTHERLAND, FORMER DIRECTOR, EPA: It was considered a slap in the face.
TAPPER: Former EPA Director Betsy Sutherland remembers Trump signing an executive order to dismantle Obama's signature Clean Power Plan, signed at the EPA.
SUTHERLAND: It was absolutely a display of sheer contempt for all the scientists, engineers and economists that have worked on that rule for years and years.
TAPPER: Trump's newly appointed EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, was full steam ahead.
SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: The war on coal is done. It's over.
TAPPER: And this would be just the beginning.
TRUMP: The United States will withdraw.
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, EPA: I wasn't surprised that we stepped away from the Paris Climate Accord because the President given every indication he thought was ridiculous.
TAPPER: Former EPA director and Republican governor Christine Todd- Whitman,
WHITMAN: It was in sync with his total denial of climate change. I mean, it's a hoax in his mind. And yet, everybody can see it. We all see it the changes in environment.
TAPPER: Warning shots to environmental agencies everywhere. deregulation had arrived.
URBAN: I think you could have clean water, clean air, safe skies, but do so in a manner that doesn't strangle business. Rollbacks have not produced the gloom and doom that so many predict.
WHITMAN: Every single man, woman and child in this country has threatened drinking water, threatened fisheries, threatened air quality and more contaminated land because of this administration,
BISKUPIC: Donald Trump's administration really doesn't want regulators in your life, in my life in anybody's life. So their philosophy is to diminish regulations.
TAPPER: Trump is banking on voters agreeing with that philosophy when they cast their ballots in November, a philosophy and legacy that could very well be defined by the legacy of the judges he is appointing.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think there's any question his greatest success is going to be what he's done on the judiciary. When you've appointed over 200 judges at the federal level, that that has a lasting legacy that probably can extend well beyond a generation,
BISKUPIC: They're likely to affect the law in America, for our children and our grandchildren, long after Donald Trump is gone from this earth.
TAPPER: Coming up, Trumps divisive stand on immigration.
TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.
TRUMP: We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration.
TAPPER: Long before the rally chants during the 2016 campaign.
TRUMP: Built that wall. Built that wall. Built that wall.
TAPPER: Donald Trump believe immigration was the issue that would help land a Republican back in the White House.
TRUMP: They've lost on immigration. They're going to have to do something in immigration because, you know, our country is a different place than it was 50 years ago. So we'll see what happens.
TAPPER: And what happened three years later, Donald Trump entered the presidential election in 2015 with a harsh, if not blatantly racist, stand on illegal immigration.
TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume are good people.
TAPPER: It was an unscripted moment says Julie Hirschfeld Davis, co- author of the book, border wars. It was so offensive that businesses started dumping Trump.
TRUMP: You're fire.
TAPPER: NBC dropped him from "The Apprentice". Macy's discontinued selling his menswear collections.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a real shock to a lot of other Americans and frankly a lot of Republicans.
TAPPER: But solidifying a base especially energized by these calls to build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants out.
Candidate Trump also proposed one of the most shockingly bigoted policies modern politics has heard from a major party candidate, Stark discrimination based upon religious observance, unconstitutional and (inaudible).
TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
TAPPER: And Trump was clear once he got into the White House, he would not back down.
TRUMP: We've defended other nation's borders while refusing to defend our own.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He signed this executive order which was a travel ban on these, roughly half a dozen Muslim majority countries. And the idea was basically to catch people by surprise, to basically create confusion to create mayhem.
TAPPER: Chaos has, of course, rippled from Washington, DC to airports and foreign capitals around the world today. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was complaining, that members of the media are unfairly using the term ban to describe the President's action.
SPICER: Not everyone was on board in different aspects of the rollout. And that makes it challenging to then communicate while you're doing it.
HIRSCHFELD-DAVIS: After many months of revising, they did put in effect stricter vetting procedures for a large number of countries. So I think they saw it as sort of a qualified success.
TAPPER: What was seen as an unqualified failure, the Trump administration's family separation policy.
JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, then we're going to prosecute you. If you're smuggling a child, then we're going to prosecute you. And that child will be separated from you probably, as required by law.