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White House Source: Nominee Ronny Jackson Not Withdrawing For Now; The White House Is Debating If Pruitt Can Stay At EPA; France Reacts To Macron's State Visit To Washington; Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Founder And CEO discusses Veteran's Reaction to Jackson Nomination. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired April 25, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:32:22] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right.

So, President Trump's choice to run the V.A. is the White House doctor, Ronny Jackson. He came highly recommended to stay in his position by the Obama administration.

However, now that they want to put him in charge of the second-largest bureaucracy in our government, the V.A., there is a new series of allegations that may threaten his nomination.

They involve excessive drinking, a weird nickname he had called the "Candy Man" for giving out prescription drugs.

CNN political commentator and former White House chief strategist David Axelrod says the White House now faces a major question. Listen to the Axe.


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The fundamental question is why was he appointed in the first place? And it seems like from the reporting that this was just an impulse of the president's to name this guy before he was vetted -- before his staff had a chance to look into it -- and so we have the mess we have.


CUOMO: Joining us now to discuss is Rick Santorum, CNN senior political commentator and, of course, former senator from Pennsylvania. Always good to see you, sir.


CUOMO: All right. So, for those looking at this situation, good fact. The Obama administration liked this man and recommended him to carry on in his capacity. Full stop, good fact.

Bad fact is we should not even be having this conversation. The White House should have made the phone calls. They should have known what was out there and they should have been ready to push back when it was raised by somebody.

And now, leaving it up to Democrats but also Republicans, they were asking for this problem.

SANTORUM: Yes. I don't know how you can say he should have known it was out there. I mean, he's in a position of very -- I mean, it's an important position --

CUOMO: Sure.

SANTORUM: -- in the administration and he was continued on by the Obama -- most of the things that he's being accused of occurred during the Obama administration --


SANTORUM: -- and with full knowledge, I suspect, of the Obama administration.

CUOMO: We don't know that but it's a case to be made.

SANTORUM: OK, OK. Maybe the case is that they for -- somehow, they didn't know and these allegations have just come up.

How would he know? I mean, how -- I mean, you can say vetting but --


SANTORUM: -- the idea is here's a man in a position of great power and authority. I mean, one of -- a personal physician of the president -- a pretty important position and none of this was known or vetted and certainly, not discussed within the Obama administration.

Yes, could they -- should they have done some vetting? Yes. I'm not sure they didn't do vetting and maybe these allegations simply didn't rise until his name got out there and then all of a sudden people felt maybe some freedom to release this information.

CUOMO: All right. Let me add some reporting to the rationale and let's see where it takes your feelings on it.

[07:35:02] One, you certainly have to be given some credit for pointing out that the Obama administration didn't flag any of these things as far as we know. However, they were recommending him in a very different capacity than he was now which would suggest a very different level of vetting.

They didn't really have to look into him that deeply for what he was doing there. But again, that's only a partial explanation and they'll have to answer for themselves.

But now in this current administration and their current responsibility to put him in a position that is without any estimation exponentially more important than what he's doing right now, they always should make the phone calls. You know this, Rick. You know you dig into people. The sources that

we're hearing from consistently tell us I was not contacted about this.

They know that I worked -- you know, I expected to be called. I wasn't called.

And this is not the first time, right? Context matters.

Consistently, we were promised the best of the best and consistently, they keep putting people in positions of power who don't seem to be well-equated to it.

Fair criticism?

SANTORUM: Well, it's a fair criticism in this respect. They should have done vetting. The fact that they didn't -- it sounds like, and I don't know but it sounds like they didn't do much, if any, vetting is a mistake. They should have done that.

But I do give them a little bit of slack in the sense that yes, the V.A. position is a bigger position, it is a more public position, and is going to be subject to more public scrutiny.

You know, to say it's a more important position, I don't know if it's a more important position.

CUOMO: The head of the V.A. --

SANTORUM: It's a --

CUOMO: -- versus being a president's doctor?

SANTORUM: Well, I think being the president's doctor is a pretty important position.

CUOMO: It matters, but he can always go to a hospital and a specialist if, God forbid, anything happened to one of them.

SANTORUM: I understand that but have -- being there when something happens and being responsible for the health of the president --

CUOMO: Matters.

SANTORUM: -- and being responsible for the overseeing of the president's health generally is a very important thing for this country.

So look, I concede that they should have done some vetting but I -- it is not -- it's not beyond the pale that somehow they thought that this person who had been in this very important position, had been a high -- had been somewhat of a high profile --

CUOMO: Right.

SANTORUM: -- at least in recent time probably would have passed muster.

But, they should have done their work.

CUOMO: All right. So --

SANTORUM: So in a sense, I agree with you.

CUOMO: -- there's the first of three issues.

The second issue is Scott Pruitt. It's not about what they knew about him before. They liked what they knew about him before and so did -- so did you, I'm sure.

SANTORUM: Yes, I did.

CUOMO: His feelings about the science of climate change and what to do about it, and clean water and regulation, you guys all liked that. He's in there. He's doing your bidding but he's doing other things as well.

And he's got six open investigations. He has to testify between two panels tomorrow.

Do you think he has too much stink on him and bad choices to stay in the position?

SANTORUM: Look, there's certainly a lot of choices out there that are questionable choices and even his chief benefactor -- his home state senator Jim Inhofe, as well as Jim Lankford, both have said that these are questions that need to be answered. And so, he will have the opportunity to answer them.

I think some --

CUOMO: Is there a good answer to wanting a $43,000 soundproof booth?

SANTORUM: That's a tough one, I'll be honest with you. That's a -- that's a tough one. I don't understand it but I'm willing to listen to him.

I -- you know, I look at, for example, the situation with his housing situation where he's paying $50 a night. There's a good answer to that. Number one, it's been a -- it was approved by the ethics folks in -- within the department.

And so, you know, you can say well, it was unethical. Well, it was approved by ethics.

You know, I understand. Scott Pruitt was a public servant. He was a -- you know, he worked in public life.

He was not someone who made a bunch of money on the outside, and as someone who was a young congressman and slept in his office for three years because I couldn't afford to have a house in Pittsburgh and a house in Washington. CUOMO: And because you chose not to take something that maybe conceptually was OK but in the practice of it seems a little shady. You didn't make that kind of choice, he did.

SANTORUM: Well, yes. Again, I think if you -- if you look at the relationship -- I mean, I happen to know the people that he rented from. I know them and I know the kind of people they are.

I mean, these are --

CUOMO: And you don't usually take favors with people who are trying to get something out of you --

SANTORUM: Well, I just --

CUOMO: -- as a public servant.

SANTORUM: Again, I know -- I know these folks and I -- they're not --

CUOMO: So make it OK for me. Why is it OK?

SANTORUM: Well, because he asked the ethics -- his ethics panel whether this was proper or not and they said yes and they thought the money was sufficient.

CUOMO: He said even if I don't pay? Even if I don't really pay the 50 bucks? Even if it winds up being basically free and these people do have an --


CUOMO: -- agenda before me?

SANTORUM: If he didn't pay the 50 bucks then he didn't live up to the deal that he made with the -- with the ethics code.

CUOMO: That's the difference between getting ethics approval of something conceptually, which we have to know more about --

SANTORUM: I agree.

CUOMO: -- by the way -- I don't know that I can check that box completely -- and how it was carried out, and how it was explained or misexplained.

SANTORUM: Again, that's why he needs to explain this and -- because I think it's -- that's explainable. But it's not explainable if he didn't end up paying any money to stay there. That's a very different story.

CUOMO: Absolutely.

Rick Santorum, appreciate the candor.

SANTORUM: My pleasure.

CUOMO: Always good to have you on the show, sir.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn --


[07:40:00] Presidents Trump and Macron's warm relationship was on display for all of the world to see. So how is it playing in France? We have a live report from Paris, next.


CAMEROTA: President Trump's warm body language with French President Emmanuel Macron was on display during the 3-day visit. So how is this playing in France?

CNN's Melissa Bell is live in Paris. Melissa, what's the reaction there?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, these were the pictures that Emmanuel Macron could only have dreamt of when he embarked on this improbable friendship with Donald Trump, really spotting an opportunity to provide the American president with what Emmanuel Macron believed were friends that he probably had on the international stage.

Really giving France an unusual opportunity to be Washington's ally, perhaps ahead of London, ahead of Berlin. Certainly, on behalf of the European Union.

But having invested all that political capital, all that time, all that effort -- really, Emmanuel Macron could not have hoped for what he was given yesterday in the White House.


BELL (voice-over): There were hugs and handshakes, and still more hugs. In fact, it seemed the two presidents simply couldn't keep their hands off one another.


BELL: So much so that Emmanuel Macron even got an Oval Office grooming.

TRUMP: We have to make him perfect.

[07:45:00] BELL: But whatever the strength of the bromance and the French president's hopes of compromise on Iran, once the journalists got Donald Trump started on the subject things quickly got out of hand.

TRUMP: If they restart their nuclear program they will have bigger problems than they have ever had before.

BELL: After the two men had had some time alone together, however, the American president did seem calmer.

TRUMP: We've really had some substantive talks on Iran.

BELL (on camera): So how was the whole extraordinary day seen from this side of the Atlantic? Well, this morning, only two of France's main newspapers bothered to mention it at all on their front pages. And even then, they don't give it that much space.

What has captured the French imagination, however, on the inside of the country's newspapers is the whole dandruff episode, with a number of different publications wondering whether it wasn't troubling or strange.

So do the French agree?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Super weird and I know he wants to show his superiority because he's taller or -- I don't know. I find it a bit like annoying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think that he's just teasing him just to say -- just to see how Macron reacts.

BELL (voice-over): French T.V. was also, this Wednesday morning, digesting what has by any measure been an extraordinary day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was staged so they have a mutual interest showing how much they love each other.

BELL: One final image doing the rounds this morning here in France is this one, with the French president accused of following too blindly where the American president leads.


BELL: And that's really the point on this, Chris and Alisyn, is that the French president on that substantial issue -- substantive issue of Iran, the one in which Paris had said it really wanted to make progress.

The real question here in Paris today is whether Emmanuel Macron hasn't gone too far giving Donald Trump perhaps more than Europe would have wanted, Chris.

CUOMO: More than Europe would have wanted. That's an interesting perspective on it and we'll have to see where all of it comes out.

Good to see you again, my friend. Thank you for keeping us up-to- date.

CAMEROTA: And, Melissa, it was great. I mean, it was also great to get those man-on-the-street interviews --


CAMEROTA: -- to hear what Parisians are thinking. It's so funny. They think it's staged, it's fake, it's all a show. CUOMO: Yes. It shows we're even more connected than we knew.

CAMEROTA: That's right.

CUOMO: All right.

It's time for "CNN Money Now." We are less than two hours from the opening bell. A lot of redness yesterday.

The Dow fell more than 400 points. Will Wall Street see more today? Maybe. Why?

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is in our Money Center with more.

What's driving this negativity?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR, "EARLY START": You know, Wall Street, Chris, is ignoring strong earnings -- and earnings are great -- instead, focusing on threats to the 9-year- old bull market, like rising interest rates.

The most widely-watched bond rate yesterday topped three percent for the first time in four years. That's a big, big number here for investors.

Higher rates mean more expensive auto loans and mortgages for you and me. For investors, it can eat into corporate profits.

Speaking of profits, shares of Caterpillar tumbled six percent after it said its profits have peaked. Cat is a bellwether for industrial America, right, and rising steel costs will cut into its earnings. Steel prices are already up since the Trump administration slapped tariffs on imports last month.

3M also fell seven percent, a big move for one day. It won't make as much money this year as it thought.

And, Google parent Alphabet wrapped up tons of expenses in the first quarter. That sent shares five percent lower and that dragged down the entire tech sector.

Now, that bad tone spreading around the world overnight to Asian markets and European markets, and U.S. stock futures are down right now, too.

And in breaking corporate news, just a few moments ago we learned that Comcast is going to go head-to-head with Fox. It is formalizing a $31 billion bid for European broadcaster Sky. That tops an existing offer from 21st Century Fox. Fox already owns a 39 percent stake in Sky.

So watch the media space this morning, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, thank you very much, Christine. Appreciate it. We'll all be watching.

So, the V.A. nominee, Dr. Ronny Jackson, facing trouble. Does he have the support of our nation's heroes?

Remember, this is about the veterans. We keep failing them in terms of what kind of health care and support services they get.

One of the largest veteran groups is the IAVA. Their leader joins us, next.


[07:53:27] CUOMO: All right.

So how big a deal is this situation with Dr. Ronny Jackson? Right now, we're hearing about it almost exclusively from the partisan perspective, right?

Trump and the White House saying well, this is about Democrats who don't love the country. And on the left, we're saying well, these are questions that you should have figured out.

And now, we have someone who seems damaged who could run the second- largest bureaucracy in our government.

But what about what the veterans think about this? This is supposed to be about them.

Let's discuss. We have Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Always good to see you, big brother.


CUOMO: So, first of all, before all this -- and we'll get to this -- was Ronny Jackson somebody who was checking the boxes for the people in your organization?

RIECKHOFF: No, and I think that's important.

Before this drama unfolded we started a poll to find out how our members felt about him. We ended it yesterday morning before this news started to pull out and only about 29 percent of them support him.

They're worried about his lack of qualifications. They don't know him.

He doesn't have the management experience that we've come to expect from someone who would handle the second-largest bureaucracy in America. So he was already facing an uphill battle.

We were looking forward to rigorous confirmation hearings and find out more about him. Now, the last 48 hours has unfolded so here we are again. It's chaos again after years of chaos at the V.A.

This will be the seventh nominee for V.A. secretary since 9/11 -- seventh. So it's just this constant tumble of leadership changes, drama.

You know, I've been on CNN for the last 10 years talking about drama at the V.A. And it's taking its toll on our veterans, on the employees of the V.A., and on our national security.

[07:55:00] Like, right now, troops are watching overseas and they don't know who they're going to come home to at the V.A. or what they're going to come home to at the V.A.

This is bigger than politics. Like, this is a conscience-calling moment for America to think about how all this drama in Washington is now overflowing into the men and women in uniform.

CUOMO: Does the IAVA take an official position for or against Jackson?

RIECKHOFF: No, we're letting our members speak for themselves and you'll see a diversity of opinions in that poll, and they're politically diverse. You know, they were all going to tune in on Wednesday and see what happens and they're really looking for people to hold them accountable.

I've got to make a point that the chair and the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Isakson and Tester, are good guys. They're good guys.

They're not partisans. They've been really rigorous in this process.

I think Jackson's going to get a fair shake and these guys have been really kind of a voice of an oasis of tranquility almost and bipartisanship in the Senate over the last couple of years. So we've got some -- two good guys in front that I think can take us through these tough waters.

CUOMO: So where's your head on these current questions? Is this a situation where hey, the Obama administration liked this man? They said that he should stay in this position -- he's really good.

So, that's on them if there are any real questions versus the Trump administration consistently fails to vet the people they're going to put in big positions of power. They should have known about these allegations, whether they're true or not, and been ready to rebut them right away.

RIECKHOFF: You know, you're ultimately responsible for the pick you put forward, right? I mean, if this was happening when Obama was president obviously we should all be concerned.

I have no idea if these allegations are true. I think most folks are trying to get to the bottom of it.

But the president's responsible for the nominee that he puts forward. He's got to vet that person. He's got to make sure that that person is capable of handling the lives of our men and women in uniform coming home from combat. So, it's ultimately always on the commander in chief, whoever it is. The commander in chief is responsible for everything he does and everything he fails to do. That's leadership and he's really got to step forward now.

For him to say hey, it's up to Jackson, that's passing the buck. The commander in chief's got to take this on and he's got to make a decision about what he's going to do in the next couple of days.

CUOMO: What do you think the right call is? Do you think the guy's too damaged at this point?

RIECKHOFF: I think -- I think he's got to stop the chaos. Like, we were here a couple of weeks ago talking about Shulkin. We still don't even know if he was fired or resigned.


RIECKHOFF: Like, we're still debating that drama and now we're unfolding into a new drama, so they've got to stop the bleeding. Like, they've got to create some stability.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who work at the V.A. who are trying to do really important work and they don't know who their boss it.

How does that affect hiring and recruit and everything else that we're trying to do at an agency that has a footprint in almost every community in America? This is a big deal and you can't just pass the buck on a -- on a big decision like that.

CUOMO: Now, often -- I don't know if you monitor the IAVA thread on Twitter but you should. Paul and his constituents -- his members -- they're very active in terms of what matters.

And you often send me notes saying, you know, you're following this over here. You say you care about the veterans. You should be talking about this, this and this.


CUOMO: What's on the plate in front of you guys right now in terms of what you need that's not being addressed?

RIECKHOFF: I think what I'm hearing from our members a lot this week is suicide. We've been talking about that for years.

Most folks have heard the number. We're losing 20 men and women to suicide every day.

I posted a link on Twitter before I walked out here because I wanted to give people kind of a perspective on what's not being talked about.

Veterans have died from suicide in the parking lot of V.A.s. Veterans have walked into V.A. parking lots and taken their own life in part because they're making a statement, all right? Because they're calling out for help. They're asking folks for the mental health care we haven't been providing.

That is what's happening in the midst of all this drama. That's what's being forgotten in the midst of all this drama.

So we're literally losing our brothers and sisters while politicians are squabbling over what seems like nonsense.

CUOMO: Paul Rieckhoff, we always say nobody matters more. You've put your lives on the line to secure our freedoms. Those words are --


CUOMO: -- empty if they don't --

RIECKHOFF: They say that a lot in Washington. Now we're going to find out for real.

CUOMO: Well look, big brother, it's always good to have you.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, man.

CUOMO: Thank you very much for your service --

RIECKHOFF: Thank you.

CUOMO: -- and for keeping us straight on the coverage.

RIECKHOFF: Thanks, man.

CUOMO: All right. We're following a lot of news. What do you say? Let's get after it.


DR. RONNY JACKSON, NOMINEE, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: I'm looking forward to rescheduling the hearing and answering everyone's questions.

TRUMP: That fact is I wouldn't do it. What does he need it for?

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: We need some time to get some more information.

SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: He hands out prescriptions like candy. In fact, in the White House, they call him the "Candy Man."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Macron was trying desperately to woo President Trump on the issue of the Iran deal.

TRUMP: If Iran threatens us in any way they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kim Jong Un can decide you know what, I see where the president's heading on the Iran deal. This is not someone I want to negotiate with.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The state dinner, a culmination of a long day of diplomacy, pomp, and circumstance.

TRUMP: God bless France, God bless our alliance.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, April 25th, 8:00 in the east.

The nomination of President Trump's V.A. secretary appears to be in jeopardy. The top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee tells CNN that Dr. Ronny Jackson was known as quote "The Candy Man" for handing out prescription drugs on overseas flights.

A source tells CNN that Dr. Jackson has no plans to step aside even after President Trump seemed to suggest that he should.

CUOMO: All right. So there was a big development overnight. Republicans holding on to a House seat in a special election in Arizona's 8th District. Moments ago, President Trump congratulating the winner.

But what does this win mean for Republicans?