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Trump Calls Sanctions Bill Flawed; Trump Backs Immigrant Plan; Bipartisan Health Care Hearings; North Korea Missile near Passenger Jet's Path; Trump's Mexican and Boy Scout Claims; Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 02, 2017 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. You're watching CNN.

Shortly we are on briefing watch again today. The White House press briefing to begin in just the next little bit as President Trump makes several major moves on multiple critical issues, health care, sanctions and immigration.

Right now I can tell you that he's meeting privately with Ohio Senator Rob Portman as this new bipartisan effort, you heard me right, bipartisan effort kicks off to reform the nation's health care insurance system. We'll talk about that in a second.

Also just a few hours ago, President Trump signed the sanctions bill against Russia, North Korea, and Iran. But while Congress overwhelmingly approved it, the president calls it flawed.

And minutes ago, the president debuted the RAISE Act. This is a proposal to revamp how green cards are given out. RAISE is an acronym. It stands for Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy. The president says it is time for an immigration system that is based on merit.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The RAISE Act ends chain migration and replaces our low-scaled system with a new points-based system for receiving a green card. This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families, and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy. The RAISE Act prevents new migrants and new immigrants from collecting welfare and protects U.S. workers from being displaced.


BALDWIN: So let's go to the White House to our senior White House correspondent there, Jim Acosta, ahead of the briefing.

Let's go back, though, to this Russian sanctions bill that the president signed this morning.


BALDWIN: This veto-proof bill. People were kind of like, well, what took him so long.

ACOSTA: Right.

BALDWIN: What is it that he says he doesn't like?

ACOSTA: Well -- and this is something that the White House, Brooke, has been saying for weeks now, that they do not want or they did not want a bill -- this was really forced down their throats -- they did not want a bill that limited the president's ability when it comes to lifting sanctions on Russia or really having the ability to do what he wants with sanctions. They see that and really this is not to be unfair to the president, other administrations have felt that that is the purview of the executive branch.

And so they were trying to flex those muscles heading into all of this. But, obviously, with the Russia investigation going on and both parties in Congress essentially saying, no, we're not going to leave this matter of what to do about Russia to the president, given everything we've been talking about over the last six months, they brought a bill to the president that essentially had veto-proof majorities. And so even if he had vetoed this today, the Congress would have overridden those vetoes.

And so what the president did instead was essentially all he could do. We should mention, he did not sign this in front of the cameras. He's done other things like this in front of the cameras. He did not do this in front of the cameras. He did this behind closed doors and attached a signing statement to it essentially saying that this was unconstitutional.

And added an additional statement on top of that, Brooke. And we can put a clip of that up on the screen if we want to show that to our viewers.

BALDWIN: Here we go.

ACOSTA: The president, at one point, saying that he was doing this all for national unity, but here's what the president says. "Still, the bill remains seriously flawed -- particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking."

So taking a swipe at Congress there and really his own party for not getting a health care bill out of the Congress and to him and saying, OK, well, you can't do health care but you can get a sanctions bill to me. He's clearly not feeling good about all of this. And we'll have to take the temperature of Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the Briefing Room and see how they're spinning this because, obviously, you know, this is -- this is a humbling moment for the president and he was forced to do this. He did not want to sign this bill, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We begin with your point there on how it was a humbling moment for him.

Jim Acosta, we'll see you in the Briefing Room momentarily. Thank you.

ACOSTA: You bet.

BALDWIN: As we're waiting for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to take to that podium, let me just bring in CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN political analyst Abby Phillip, who is also a White House reporter for "The Washington Post."

Ladies, welcome.

And, Gloria, a couple of points that Jim made I thought were great, the fact that there were no cameras. You know, this is a pretty significant signing and there were no cameras, so nothing visual there for us to see. And also how he is calling this flawed. And perhaps, to Jim's point, this is about, you know, the president's powers being held back.


BALDWIN: What do you think?

BORGER: The president believes he should have ultimate authority, except that there are co-equal branches of government in this country. One of them happens to be the Congress. John McCain just released a statement saying, the framers of our Constitution made the Congress and the president co-equal branches. This bill has already proven the wisdom of that choice.

[14:05:12] And what the bill says is that Congress gets the final say here, period.

Now, there was a veto-proof margin here, so he was backed up against the wall. He had to do it. He didn't like it. He doesn't like it when Congress gets the final say. But, sorry, that's the way the Constitution was written.


BORGER: And Congress flexed its muscle here and said, sorry, we're not going to give you the final say on Russia sanctions. And I believe you can't -- you can't separate that from the fact that the president hasn't come out and said that Russia hacked the election.


BORGER: I mean these things are joined. And I don't think the Congress trusts him on Russia, period, end of sentence.

BALDWIN: There have been questions about whether he understood the boundaries of the justice branch.


BALDWIN: And now legislative.

Good point on that. I'm coming back to you.

Abby, let me just bring you in here because also today we're learning the administration is taking on two big issues today, one on this immigration event we mentioned a second ago where the White House is arguing they want to switch to this skill-based immigration system with the goal of reducing legal immigration by 50 percent.

There was also reporting out of "The New York Times" today that the Department of Justice, speaking of that branch, looking to challenge race-based admission programs at colleges and universities, meaning with the potential aim of protecting white applicants from discrimination.

My question to you is, why is he so blatantly playing to his base and might part of this be does he sense trouble looming in this health care loss?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, trouble is basically already here for him. I mean you cannot separate the timing of these announcements from the fact that there are, to date, no major legislative accomplishments for this administration. And we're getting to the point in the summer here where it's do or die. They have to decide, are they going to restart the health care debate, which it seems like virtually no one on The Hill thinks is doable or wants to do at this point in time, or do they just cut their losses and move on to taxes.

And even the tax proposition seems to be facing a fairly uphill battle. So their -- this administration is dealing with the reality that getting stuff through Congress is really going to be quite difficult for them between now and the end of the year. And what these moves are all about is signaling to the base that, yes, we are still interested in the things that you guys voted for that put Donald Trump into office.

And it's no surprise that they are targeting two kind of absolute pillars of his campaign, one of them being restricting immigration and this idea of benefitting U.S. workers. And the other being the kind of forgotten American, which many people believed was code for the predominantly white, middle America, rust belt part of the country and the concerns that they have around those issues.

BALDWIN: On the first piece on immigration, and shout-out to my writer, Tina, for thinking of the Statue of Liberty, because there is this poem that's forever linked to the Statue of Liberty. It was once part of the pedestal. It's now part of the display. And it reads, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I mean people have pointed to this message. Critics are calling this immigration move today un-American.

I mean how much, Gloria, how much support does this have, not just among his base, but among Republicans?

BORGER: Well, it may have some support among Republicans. I mean it remains to be seen. Merit-based immigration is not what this country was founded on. I mean, obviously, you don't want to bring criminals into the country, et cetera, et cetera, but you don't ask people for their college degrees or their income or anything else when they come into this country. BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: Very often they come here because they're looking for something better than what they have. And so the question is whether, in fact, the president will have those moderate Republicans behind him who didn't want to build the wall, who don't believe in the wall, will this be any more palatable to them? I don't really think so.

BALDWIN: I don't know. OK.

Abbey, over to you.

For -- you know, despite the president's push for Republican lawmakers just to not give up on the repeal and replace of Obamacare, there are now these indications that folks on The Hill, the Republicans, actually want to work with Democrats to figure out fixes.

We've been talking today about Republican Senator Lamar Alexander. He's talking about holding bipartisan hearings on actions where Congress can take to stabilize health care markets. Do you think that this is a trend of what's to come of more and more Republicans standing up against the president, and what's the net effect of that when it comes to policy?

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean particularly on health care, this could be a moment where the Republicans and Democrats do exactly the opposite of what Trump wants them to do, which is hold hands with Democrats and fix Obamacare.

[14:10:02] They are facing the reality that the marketplace next year could be absolutely disastrous for their constituents and the only way to prevent that from happening is short of passing some kind of repeal and replace that is perhaps better than what they were contemplating before, fixing the marketplace, funding those cost-sharing subsidies to insurance companies.

That's something the president and this administration has not wanted to do. And if Congress chooses to do that, which they very well might, it would be in defiance of the administration.

But, really, Brooke, at this point, it seems like that is really the only option on the table. Leadership has said they do not have the votes to go back to the table on repeal and replace. And it's going to be politically unpalatable to go into 2018 without having fixed some of these problems with the marketplace. People would be in very dire straits. And the Republican Party, because they are running all branches of government right now, is going to be blamed for that.

BALDWIN: But it's not even just on health care. I mean you could add other Republican senators to the list who are standing up against him. Lisa Murkowski, for one. You can also think of Senator McCain and that, you know, powerful speech he gave on the Senate floor, but also what he's saying now on Afghanistan policy. We know all about the book and the quotes from Senator Jeff Flake.

I mean, Gloria, what are we like six months and some change into this whole thing.

BORGER: Yes, we are.

BALDWIN: And the honeymoon is long over. Is this just the beginning of what's to come?

BORGER: Well, I -- you know, I think it is.

First of all, these senators don't want the president, who has threatened to break Obamacare, who has threatened to end these subsidies, because he knows that it would break Obamacare, but that would also hurt millions of people, and that's what the senators don't want to do. I mean there's another thing on that list. Senator Mitch McConnell has said he doesn't want to end the filibuster in the Senate.

BALDWIN: There you go.

BORGER: And the president has said he would do that.

He has a 36 percent approval rating, a 60 percent disapproval rating. So it's not like these are all courageous people. They are just looking at the polling right now and they're saying, you know what, it's OK. And what Jeff Flake is -- has said is, look, we -- Republicans need to speak out because a lot of this stuff is not anything we agree with, actually. This is not what our party is about. And so you see more Republicans coalescing on issues and saying, you know what, we're going to have to try and do things on our own without this White House.

Now, that may change with General Kelly. I saw that Rob Portman is at the White House today, as you were talking about earlier.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

BORGER: Talking about the opioid crisis. There may be more conversation rather than threats coming out of this White House. We're just going to have to see. But I think we're at a tipping point right now with Republicans in the Senate who are saying, you know what, we may need to go our own way.

BALDWIN: Live pictures inside the Briefing Room. All off of the themes we discussed will certainly be thrown at Sarah Huckabee Sanders momentarily.

Ladies, thank you so, so much.

Coming up, we'll take that White House briefing live.

Also ahead, too close for comfort. New details about an intercontinental ballistic missile fired by North Korea that came precariously close to a passenger jet, a commercial plane flying through that area.

Also, phone call fallout. Why both the president of Mexico and the head of the boy Scouts are disputing claims made by President Trump involving phone calls that never happened.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:17:21] BALDWIN: Some tragic news to report out of Afghanistan. Two American service members have been killed in action in the war-torn country. This happened today in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when their military convoy came under attack. The American service members were part of a NATO-led mission. And this is the latest attack to rock the Kandahar province. Last month at least 26 Afghan soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack on an army camp.

And today this frightening new threat after yet another provocation from North Korea. CNN has learned that Friday's intercontinental ballistic missile test flew within miles of a passenger jet. So, according to data from FlightAware, this Air France plane was roughly 65 miles from the missile's splashdown site. That is only about seven minutes of flight time.

So, for some perspective, we took a look at the FlightAware live feed right now. You can see hundreds of flights in the skies all above Asia.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is with us. She's got the reporting. Also with us, Les Abend. He is a CNN aviation and 777 captain.

So, Barbara, just first to you. How did this happen?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is a very busy area off the northern coastline of Japan. Very busy for maritime shipping, as well as civil commercial aviation. And there was an Air France flight flying. But look, Brooke, as you pointed out, it was about seven to nine minutes past the area of the missile impact zone when the missile hit the water.

The problem for U.S. and worldwide commercial aviation is that the North Koreans don't notify either mariners or airmen aviation, if you will, when they're conducting these tests. And they've been flying them into these very, very busy commercial areas.

I'll be interested to see what Les has to say. I've talked to some aviation experts. They say, look, it's a billion to one chance, really, that it would hit an aircraft. But, still, it's something that has to be considered, something that has to be looked at. And the aviation industry always has to consider all the threats wherever it flies.

And, in fact, this incident did lead Air France to put out a statement. Let me quickly read that to everyone. Air France saying, and I quote, North Korea's missile test zones do not interfere in any way" with the Air France flight paths. We constantly analyze potentially dangerous flyover zones and adapt our flight plans accordingly. [14:20:00] So, you know, while you always see hundreds of flights in

that -- in those commercial software packages airborne at any time, the aviation industry tries to assess where the threat areas are and not fly near them. North Korea posing some new challenges in making that analysis. And a quick hat tip to our friends and colleagues at ABC News. They were the first to report this, that this sort of encounter had the potential of even happening.

BALDWIN: I think you, it sounds like, hit the nail on the head, Barbara, because, Les, when we were talking -- and when I first saw the urgent cross across my e-mail, I thought, what? You know, I'm thinking about going to Tokyo for vacation, and that makes me a little nervous. But you agree with her in saying, you know, you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than --


BALDWIN: Make me feel better.

ABEND: It's a concern. There's no doubt about it. We don't want to get those kind of messages. One of my colleagues got a message flying to South Korea from the Dallas area.

BALDWIN: Saying what?

ABEND: Well, it came across saying that a -- that we have notification of a missile launch in progress.


ABEND: They weren't in that particular area, but air traffic control is very well aware of it. And as we were having the discussion before we went on air, it's very -- we have departments that disseminate this information or being disseminated to the airline itself. But, you know, yes, it was in the air space. It's disconcerting for a lot of people. But we avoid thunderstorms. We avoid much more serious, direct threats.

BALDWIN: You can predict thunderstorms. You cannot always predict Kim Jong-un and what he's planning on doing with missiles.

ABEND: Correct. Correct. And if you have a war zone that you're aware of at the time, with missiles being fired off, with small arms fire, whatever it may be, you're very well aware of it.

I think almost a couple years ago we were talking about some of what was occurring in Israel and that -- how some of the flights were being diverted.

Now, my dispatcher has the same responsibility with the flight as I do, in essence, at least to plan the flight, so he's getting that information too. And just as Air France did, here in the U.S., our airlines are also getting that information so that we cannot -- we file a different flight plan.

BALDWIN: So if you're -- I hear you on ATC should let you know. You should have the heads up. You get these reports. But if you're the captain on this Air France flight and this is suddenly happening, and I realize that 65 miles maybe, you know, it seems like a lot to you, you can pass that in a nanosecond when you're flying, but is that the kind of thing they see on a radar? Are they anticipating?

ABEND: I wish I could tell you we could see it on our own airborne radar, but it's for weather purposes. Every once in a while we can catch an airplane -- another airplane in it, but we're not going to catch a missile.


ABEND: And we're just -- and we're not maneuverable enough to get by it, nor do we have -- some airlines do have detection material, but it's not necessarily available for most airlines.

BALDWIN: OK. Les Abend, thank you so much. Thank you.

Coming up here, President Trump says he got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts telling him that his speech was, quote/unquote, the greatest speech ever. Just one problem, though. The Boy Scouts say they never made that phone call. That's coming up.

Also ahead, live pictures from the White House. Sarah Huckabee Sanders getting set to brief the press pool from the Briefing Room as President Trump is launching a plan to dramatically overhaul the country's immigration system, focusing on legal immigrants. We'll explain that for you coming up.


[14:27:57] BALDWIN: To President Trump and some phone calls, specifically his claims about two phone conversations filled with Trump praise, one from Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, the other from the head of the Boy Scouts. Both parties involved now say these phone calls never happened. But President Trump did talk to "The Wall Street Journal" last week after his speech to the Boy Scouts and this is just part of the transcript that we have that was released by Politico.

Quote, I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them and they were very thankful. But the thing here is that the Boy Scouts are unaware of any phone call between President Trump and scout leadership and the scout statement apologizing for President Trump's political speech still stands.

So, Kaitlan Collins is working this for us from outside the White House.

Kaitlan, so that's the Boy Scouts. Talk to me about this alleged phone call between the president of Mexico and the president of the United States. Did it or did it not happen?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's a great question. It's being called into question right now whether it even happened. As you know, this all came about during the president's first cabinet meeting with his new chief of staff, John Kelly, on Monday here at the White House. The president was lavishing praise on Kelly and he was talking about the things he had achieved as DHS secretary when he made this comment about Mexico. Let's look at this.


TRUMP: So, as you know, the border was a tremendous problem and now close to 80 percent stoppage. And even the president of Mexico called me. They said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they're not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment.


COLLINS: So that might have been the ultimate compliment for Donald Trump. But it also might not have even happened. The president of Mexico is disputing this and saying that he hasn't had a call with President Trump, putting out a statement today saying they have not talked on the phone.

[14:29:49] Now, we know that the last time they met was July 7th at the G-20 Summit in Germany, and the president may be referring to that. But the White House has not returned requests for comment on this or some clarity about when this alleged call happened. So if this call didn't happen, as Mexico says, it really ties into this broader credibility problem that we're seeing with the White House. As you know, with that call that Trump says he had with the head of the Boy Scouts, that the Boy Scouts says didn't happen.