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Interview with Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:19] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Another whirlwind day for President Donald Trump and another executive order. Today, the President focuses on trade and lays the groundwork for new trade deals. This, just days after pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP.

Also today, the President makes his first official flight on Air Force One, attending a Philadelphia retreat for Republican lawmakers. He'll be speaking there at noon, that's noon Eastern Time.

At the bottom of the hour, we'll hear from Republican leaders, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, likely facing tough questions over Trump's first days as President.

We're covering all of these, of course. CNN's Sara Murray live at the White House. Manu Raju standing by for this hour's news conference.

But, Sara, I want to start with you. Good morning.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning, Carol. Well, Donald Trump has a very busy day ahead, and it comes off of a day where he was moving forward on some of the immigration border security actions he promised on the campaign trail, moving forward with that plan to build a wall, and now, he says, have Mexico reimburse us.

Now, this is understandably heightening tensions between the U.S. and Mexico. We saw Mexican President Pena Nieto come out and address his nation last night, essentially saying he's not going to pay for the wall but not scrapping the plan to meet with Donald Trump next week.

Now, Trump has taken to Twitter apparently to up the ante. Here is what he tweeted just now, "The U.S. has a $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting."

Now, Carol, we have been expecting, at some point, Donald Trump to sort of pull the trigger and say that he is prepared to renegotiate to modernize NAFTA. But that's not the announcement we were expecting today.

We are expecting him to take executive actions on trade, but a senior administration official told me that this was likely to be related to moving forward with Congress and negotiating new trade deals and also moving forward in negotiating new trade deals with countries who were involved in TPP after Trump pulled out of that. So Trump may have some surprises in store for us today. It certainly wouldn't be the first time, Carol.

COSTELLO: What exactly do you think that Mr. Trump's tweet means? Does he want the Mexican President to cancel the meeting, or is he just trying to get out ahead of this in the event the Mexican President pulls out of the meeting?

MURRAY: Well, that's a great question. And I think they're both equally plausible. I think it's possible that Donald Trump is putting this out here because he knows that he wants to move to renegotiate NAFTA. He knows he wants to build the wall. He knows he wants to do a lot of things that Mexico is not going to be very pleased with, so that already sort of set them up to have an awkward meeting.

And Mexican President Pena Nieto is under pressure in his home country as well, people saying you should not go and meet with President Trump at a time when he is saying not only does he want to build a wall, but he wants to either strip Mexico potentially of the aid it's getting from the United States or tax remittances or something else in order to try to pay for that.

So I think they seem to be sort of on thin ice at the moment with one another. We will see if the Mexican President responds to Trump at any point today.

COSTELLO: I can't help but think back to that meeting, you know, during the election with the Mexican President and Donald Trump and how horribly that went because the Mexican President was saying, you know what, we didn't talk about the wall, Donald Trump said we really did talk about the wall. And they were trading accusations about that.

MURRAY: It was very bizarre because on its surface, it looked like that was a very diplomatic day for Donald Trump, right?

He went and met with the Mexican President. He was trying to show that he has, you know, sort of multifaceted sides. But that was the same night that he delivered a very barbed speech on immigration where he said, once again, that he was going to build the wall, where he called for more ICE agents, for more border security.

And afterwards, like you said, the President of Mexico came out and said Donald Trump never asked me about the wall, never asked me to pay for it.

So it will be interesting to see how these two gentleman can work together, if they can, in the coming years.

COSTELLO: Oh, that's the question, if they can. If they will! Sara Murray, many thanks. I want to take our viewers to Mexico City now and check in with Leyla Santiago and talk more about what the Mexican President might do. LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think everyone is still waiting

the find out exactly what he will do today. Yesterday, all day, we heard from Senators, some of the people, saying, hey, you should be canceling this meeting and really stand your ground. Stand firm, protect Mexico's interests.

So then, hours after that call came out from some of the Mexican Senators, we saw him take to Twitter, post nearly a three-minute video in which he reiterated, we will not pay for that wall. We will protect Mexico's interests.

[09:05:04] And then he also said, we will also extend friendship. We want to be friends. We want to work together. And we have heard him say in the past, this can be a win-win situation when it comes to NAFTA, when it comes to immigration.

He laid out a 10-point plan just a few days ago in which he talked about that. But we'll need to wait and see exactly what he does today, given President Trump's tweet.

Now, he does have a delegation in Washington, D.C. right now. When I say "he," I'm talking about the Mexican President. The Mexican foreign minister, as well as the economic minister, is having meetings over yesterday as well as today.

And so, the President, President Pena Nieto, in that Twitter post, said I want to wait and see what they come back with, sort of have that dialogue before making any immediate decision on the future relationship.

But in that video, he never actually said, I'm going to cancel this meeting or I'm considering canceling this meeting. He didn't make any sort of declaration on that. It seemed like he was waiting to find out what his delegation brought back from the U.S., and then will make a decision on how he will move forward.

But the feeling in Mexico City, from a lot of the Mexican Senators and the people, there is a call to cancel this meeting with President Donald Trump on January 31st. Carol.

COSTELLO: OK. So everything is very much still up in the air. So I want to take you back live to Capitol Hill, check in with Manu Raju. He's our congressional correspondent because, certainly -- oh, you're in Philadelphia for the big GOP retreat.

Sorry, Manu. Sorry to get your location wrong, but I did want your thoughts on how Congressional leaders might be reacting to all this.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, with some concern. There are a number of Republicans who don't want to move forward with the wall or are concerned about paying for this wall up front, billions of dollars potentially initially, and also cutting off trade with one of the U.S.'s biggest trading partners.

I talked to Senator John Cornyn, who's the number two Republican, who also represents Texas, and he said that this is a marriage between the U.S. and Mexico that needs to work. We need to work on that marriage. We can't afford to get a divorce. And that is probably what you're going to hear from folks going forward.

Now, the debate on the Hill is going to intensify in the coming weeks when they figure out how to actually pay for the wall now that Trump has made it pretty clear that Congress, first, will have to appropriate funding for it.

Now, at this retreat yesterday, in a closed door session, I am told that House Speaker Paul Ryan discussed the possibility that this would be funded through a separate funding package aside from the bill that would need to be passed by April 28th to keep the government open. And potentially, that funding package could cost -- we don't know the price tag of that yet, but there are some estimates that could be upwards of $10 billion or so.

So how do Republicans react? I had a chance to ask a number of Republicans yesterday whether they would support such a steep price tag. A lot of them just weren't willing to say quite yet. They want to see more details, and they're hoping that President Trump fulfills his campaign promise to get Mexico to pay for it.

So suffice to say, a lot of questions right now, Carol, about how to deal with this going forward and what this means for the U.S.-Mexico relationship, and concern if it gets increasingly tense, given how important Mexico is to the United States as a trading partner, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Raju, we'll get back to you at the bottom of the hour when we expect the Republican leadership to hold a press conference in Philadelphia. Of course, we'll take that live.

So let's talk about Mexico and more. Bob Cusack is here. He's the editor-in-chief for "The Hill." And Karen Tumulty joins me. She's the national political correspondent for "The Washington Post."

So, Bob, what do you make of this from a political standpoint, why Donald Trump would tweet something out this morning saying, you know, maybe it's better that the Mexican President does cancel the meeting if he's not going to agree to pay for the wall?

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HILL: Yes. Well, as you mentioned, there were rumors that he was going to cancel. So I think Donald Trump is all about negotiation strength, and I think he wants to get out ahead of this. That if the Mexican President, who has been suffering from dismal approval ratings in his own country, does cancel it, then Trump can say, well, I proposed that he cancel it.

You know, it's fascinating to see. With what he's saying about NAFTA, you know, most Republicans supported the TPP which he withdrew from. So this is also Trump saying, I'm in charge now, I'm driving the agenda.

But the Republicans have to get on the same page. They have a bold agenda, a very aggressive agenda -- tax reform, replacing Obamacare, transportation. This is going to be difficult to do. And if they're fighting, it's going to be almost impossible to do. [09:10:01] COSTELLO: Well, exactly.


COSTELLO: And that brings me to my next question for you, Karen, because Congress doles out the money for presidential dream projects, right? Like the wall, like infrastructure projects, like refunding the military. But you can bet that the issue of that alleged voter fraud will come up during this retreat.

So how might that go over and how might that affect unity among Republican lawmakers with the President of the United States?

TUMULTY: Well, I think, quite frankly, that the wall itself is going to be a more pressing issue. I think what a lot of these Republicans in Congress would like to see is this issue go away because it's -- the issue of voter fraud, that is, in that it's just not something they want to be talking about right now because none of them has any evidence to back it up.

But in the meantime, we do have this sort of, you know, alpha dog move going on between the leaders of the United States and its neighbor to the south. And that could become, you know, really tricky going forward.

And a number of these members, for instance, Will Hurd, the Texas Congressman who has more of the border in his district than any other congressional district is expressing -- he's a Republican, and expressing some real reservations about this wall in part because it's going to be expensive, in part because he says it won't be effective.

And also, he's going to be dealing with a lot of people in his district who have concerns about their property rights.

COSTELLO: Exactly. So unless Donald Trump, Bob, outlines exactly how he plans to force Mexico to pay for the wall, why would Republicans jump on board and fund this project that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars?

CUSACK: That's the big question. You know, I think that's why this retreat in Philadelphia is well-timed because they do have to get on the same page. Conservatives in the House are not going to be willing to shell out $10 to $20 billion.

And it's interesting that House Republican leaders are, as Manu Raju was reporting, not putting this on the government funding bill that must pass in April. That could threaten a showdown. And Republicans, generally speaking, are blamed for shutdowns.

So this would be a separate measure, but how are they going to get the votes? Now, some red state Democrats who are up in 2018 in states that Trump won, they may go along with the wall. But at the same time, there are going to be conservatives who are going to worry about, as Karen mentioned, property rights and the price tag. COSTELLO: All right. I guess we'll just have to see what happens.

I'm going to leave it there because you're going to rejoin me at the bottom of the hour. And I do appreciate that.

Also up next in the NEWSROOM, Republican Senator John Barrasso on what he makes of this rift with Mexico just days into Trump's presidency.


[09:16:49] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, there appears to be a growing rift between Mexico and the United States. Next Wednesday, the Mexican president is supposed to come here to the United States to meet with President Donald Trump. But now, that meeting is up in the air. The Mexican president might back out because he says Mr. Trump is stripping the dignity from the Mexican people.

So, what if that meeting doesn't transpire?

Joining me now to talk about is Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming. He also serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Welcome, sir.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: Thanks, Carol. Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: Thank you for being here.

The Mexican president says the American president is stripping Mexicans of their dignity. Is that what you want to hear from an ally and a trade partner in a neighboring country?

BARRASSO: Well, I think it should be no surprise after the campaign that Donald Trump is a man of his word and has made a number of promises that helped him get the nomination and the election. We're going to be meeting with him today at noon. He's joining us at the Republican retreat in Philadelphia. The House and Senate are here.

I expect he's going to -- President Trump is going to address that. We also have Theresa May, the prime minister of Britain here today. And she's going to be meeting with President Trump.

So, you have the president of the United States newly in office committed to making sure the United States is the most powerful, respected country around the world. He's done that with an all-star cabinet, and he's doing that now, reaching out and making decisions with leaders of other countries.

COSTELLO: So, if the Mexican president does cancel his trip to Washington, A, what would the fallout be, if anything, and, B, would that prove to the world that the United States is the strongest, greatest country in the world?

BARRASSO: Well, I think he ought to keep his commitment to come to the United States and to meet with President Trump. I think that would be the right thing to do, and I think it's important to continue dialogue, continue discussions, and I expect that's actually what's going to happen.

COSTELLO: OK. So, you want the Mexican president to come here, but President Trump, it appears he's up in the air about the idea right now. I'll read you his tweet he sent out moments ago. He says the U.S. has a $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico. It's been a run- sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.

So, what's the underlying message here from President Trump?

BARRASSO: Well, I expect he's going address that today at our lunch. Right now, we're so focused, as you talked about the job loss from the United States. We are focused at the Republican retreat on jobs, the economy and national security.

National security is not just about border security. It's also about economic security, energy security, all the things we've campaigned on and the things we want to do to restore and put America in a situation where we have a strong and healthy economy, and that we are a safe, strong and secure nation. That's why national security is part of our discussions.

COSTELLO: Well, our allies are very important, right? So, anxiety is building with Mexico, right?

[09:20:01] But it's also building with other allies. For example, other allies are uneasy with Mr. Trump. Jordan's parliament, they condemned the U.S. plan to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem saying it fuels violence, it threatens to flame the passions of Arab and Muslim nations.

Senator, this might be an initial idea of Mr. Trump's. But he said it out loud and that's -- appears to be hard for even America's friends to decipher what he exactly means.

BARRASSO: Well, if you're talking about the moving of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I support that. I understand that Bill Clinton supported it, George W. Bush supported it. I think it's the right thing to do.

COSTELLO: But isn't Jordan a very important ally in the Middle East and also in the fight against is? If you alienate Jordan by doing something like this prematurely, that that might not be such a good thing?

BARRASSO: Well, you know, Donald Trump was elected based on a very strong campaign where he made many statements, and the American people, I believe, are expecting him to keep to those statements, and this is one he made a promise on.

COSTELLO: And the rest of the world be damned?

BARRASSO: The other is the wall, and I'm expecting -- I'm saying that I think he surrounded himself with an incredible team, including Rex Tillerson as secretary of state who knows the world, knows the inner relationships.


COSTELLO: I'm asking you as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, should we be concerned? Not only about what Jordan did and its parliament, but here is another example for you. Torture, right? Most experts say torture does not work, including Mr. Trump's defense secretary, James Mattis. Yet, Mr. Trump insists we reinstate these black fights.

Listen what he told ABC yesterday.


DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: President Obama said the U.S. does not torture. Will you say that?

TRUMP: Well, I have a general who I have great respect for, General Mattis, who said -- I was a little surprised -- who said he's not a believer in torture. I have spoken to others in intelligence, and they are big believers in, as an example, waterboarding, because they say it does work.


COSTELLO: So, Senator, this kind of talk according to many experts inflames terrorists and also upsets our allies. Britain's prime minister, for example, was forced to repeat her country's opposition to torture.

So, again, is this just causing unnecessary anxiety with our allies, or does Mr. Trump really mean what he says?

BARRASSO: Well, the law is very clear and settled in the United States. We used the army field manual. That passed and was signed into law. We do not torture individuals.

I actually voted against the law that was signed by President Obama because I think if Americans are in danger, that we need to be able to use techniques that we know work that are not torture. But right now, by the law that President Obama signed, they're limited so that the bad guys get to say, OK, these are the only things they can do to us, let's practice so we don't tell them what they want to know. President Obama essentially stopped when he was president capturing others.

COSTELLO: I want to talk about president Trump. Should Mr. Trump --

BARRASSO: You talked about the risk for the world, we released so many from Gitmo, they have gone back into the fight.

COSTELLO: Should Mr. Trump be saying these things about torture? Does he mean what he says, that he'll use the Justice Department to change the law?

BARRASSO: Well, I expect that he's going to address a number of these things today when he meets with the Republican retreat, the House and the Senate members in Philadelphia. I'm looking forward to hearing from him as well as Vice President Pence to see what they address, but the law of the land is settled at this point.

COSTELLO: All right. Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, thanks for joining me this morning.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: Republicans plotting their future in Philadelphia. Any minute now we'll hear in party leaders ahead of President Trump's speech this afternoon. We'll bring you their comments live, next.


[09:28:39] COSTELLO: Live to Philadelphia for the GOP retreat that's going on right now. President Trump will speak later. Right now, the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is saying a few remarks. Let's listen.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Possibility of a bilateral trade agreement with the British people. Interesting new topic.

In the Senate, as you know, we're concentrating on getting the president's cabinet in place. We'll have a very busy week in that regard starting Monday. We'll also be taking congressional review acts, proposals from the House and taking those up as well as we begin to change America and go in a different direction.



RYAN: We are on the same page of the White House. We will be hearing from the president today. We've been working with the administration on a daily basis to map out and plan a very bold and aggressive agenda to make good on our campaign promises and to fix these problems, to repeal, replace and repair our broken health care system, to reform our tax code to get jobs and economic growth, to clear out the regulatory underbrush so we can get economic growth going.

So, we're on the same page with the administration. And we've worked with the administration on basically the kind of timetable and legislative agenda we have for 2017. So, yes, we are on the same page.