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After Well-Received Speech, Trump Delays New Travel Ban; Trump Talks Tough after Touting Immigration Reform; Military, White House Discuss How to Authorize Missions; Sen. Murphy: Yemen Raid a 'Failure,' Trump Trying to 'Pass the Buck'; After Well-Received Speech, Trump Delays New Travel Ban; The Killing of Kim Jong-nam. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 1, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, revising the ban. Savoring the success of the president's address to Congress, the White House delays issuing a revised travel ban with all the renewed criticism that could bring. Wasn't the ban supposed to be an urgent national security fix?

The raid and the results. President Trump honors the widow of the Navy SEAL lost in a counterterrorism raid and calls the mission highly successful. But is he now ready to pass on responsibility for authorizing such risky missions to the Pentagon?

Playing with immigration. After the president told journalists he's open to a compromise deal on immigration, today a senior administration source is backing off, calling it a misdirection play. So, what's behind the deception?

And blaming America? Two women are charged in the assassination of Kim Jong-un's half-brother, but North Korea suggests the U.S. and South Korea are behind the hit. How dangerous is that claim?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Trump won the praise for his first address to Congress. Now he's trying to build on the momentum, focusing in on the key elements of his agenda: replacing Obamacare, changing the tax code, and rebuilding America's infrastructure.

The president met today with Republican congressional leaders, whose job is to make that agenda happen. But Republicans themselves are clearly split on health care, on immigration, and how to pay for the president's wish list. And Democrats say the president is all talk and no action. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi characterizes the speech as a bait and switch sales pitch.

In his address, President Trump honored the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL, but the president seemed to duck responsibility for the fatal raid in Yemen, a raid that he had approved. Today CNN is learning that the Pentagon and the White House are discussing changes in how submissions are authorized, allowing the Pentagon to green light some actions on its own.

I'll speak with Democratic senator Chris Murphy. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, the president getting good marks for the way he laid out his agenda last night, but checking off all those boxes may be a different story.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he is getting rave reviews. House Speaker Paul Ryan told me last night it was a home run. Other Democrats are calling it presidential.

But one question still hangs over all of that today. How will he pay for it?


ZELENY (voice-over): As President Trump basked in the glow of his big speech to Congress...


ZELENY: ... the hard work of turning those promises into reality was the first order of business today at the White House, with the president sitting down for lunch with Republican congressional leaders.

TRUMP: We're just here to start the process. It begins as of now, and we think we're going to have tremendous success.

ZELENY: Yet tremendous success depends not only on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, but on persuading the party's rank and file to pay for his agenda. The president delayed again today the signing of a travel ban to replace the one blocked in the courts.

TRUMP: We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.

ZELENY: CNN has learned the secretary of state, defense secretary and national security advisor are all pushing for Iraq to be removed from the list of majority Muslim countries included in the ban. But in most of his primetime address, the president struck a more optimistic note.

TRUMP: A new national pride is sweeping across our nation. And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp.

ZELENY: But it remains an open question whether it was a lasting pivot or a one-night performance after a rough start to his presidency. In either case, his wish list is an expensive and complicated one, even among Republicans. Not to mention Democrats who are largely resisting the Trump agenda. From health care...

TRUMP: We should ensure that Americans with preexisting conditions have access to coverage and that we have a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the health care exchanges.

ZELENY: ... to tax reform...

TRUMP: It will be a big, big cut. At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class.

ZELENY: ... to infrastructure.

TRUMP: To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States, financed through both public and private capital, creating millions of new jobs.

[17:05:08] ZELENY: After the speech, Speaker Ryan offered praise, but walked away when asked about the price tag.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I thought he did a great job.

ZELENY (on camera): Did he answer questions how he would pay for things tonight?

(voice-over): Several fiscal conservative lawmakers said they could not support an agenda that would add to the nation's deficit. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the plans would be paid for through economic growth.

STEVE MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: It is the No. 1 issue. We've got to get back to sustained long-term growth rates 3 percent or higher. We're going to have a tax plan that's going to bring business back to the U.S. and make it competitive again.

ZELENY: The president's biggest moment of the speech, still reverberating today, was in his new role as commander in chief, when he paid tribute to the widow of fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who died in a raid in Yemen.

TRUMP: And Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he's very happy because I think he just broke a record.


ZELENY: Now, a decision was made after the speech to hold off again on signing that travel ban. One White House official said they simply did not want to step on the positive reaction from that speech, but, Wolf, that raises all the question: What was the urgency of that ban in the first place? It's been delayed again and again at least three or four times. We're told it could be signed this week or it may not be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: AS the president suggested a month ago they had to do it quickly, because a lot of, quote, "bad dudes" would be streaming into the United States if it wasn't in play.

All right, Jeff, thanks very much.

After touting immigration reform earlier in the day, President Trump delivered some very tough talk on the subject in his speech last night.

Let's go to our senior congressional reporter Manu Raju.

Manu, what do we know, where does the president stand on comprehensive immigration reform? Is a deal possible in Congress any time soon?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight it sounds like the White House is pulling back on the idea of pushing through a comprehensive immigration bill or a compromise bill. And one reason why is that Republicans are divided over some of the key issues at the heart of that proposal, and instead they're looking at some other issues, as well, moving forward on health care and the like, trying to figure out how to get their party united over a number of issues that they're currently divided on.


RAJU (voice-over): President Donald Trump told reporters yesterday he'd be open to a dramatic shift, legalizing some undocumented immigrants as part of a broad compromise bill.

TRUMP: I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible.

RAJU: But during his speech to Congress last night, Trump was vague on the details. Instead, emphasizing tougher enforcement and building a wall on the border with Mexico.

TRUMP: As we speak tonight, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens.

RAJU: The mixed messages spawned confusion on Capitol Hill and left many deeply skeptical that any immigration measure could pass Congress this year.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: But what's necessary forerunner to get what you call a comprehensive bill is the bill confidence with the American people that we're going to deliver on what, for the last 20 years, we said we're going to deliver on, secure the border and we haven't delivered on it.

RAJU (on camera): He said -- he suggested that he could be open to legal status for undocumented immigrants. He told that to reporters yesterday. Do you -- would you be open to that legal status?

GRASSLEY: Before you even deal with that question, you've got to -- you've got to take care of these other things. That's -- that's the most important thing you've got to build confidence for.

RAJU (voice-over): Conservatives are dubious that Trump may back off his hardline stance on illegal immigration.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: You know, I don't make it a habit to respond to rumors passed on by reporters.

RAJU (on camera): It wasn't a rumor. It was the president of the United States.

CRUZ: Well, you're welcome to testify and give your own views. I'm going to wait until I see specific legislative proposals to comment on them and not -- not chase down every press room or if people...

RAJU: What about just the idea of giving legal status on undocumented immigrants? Are you open to that idea?

CRUZ: My idea is we need to secure the border. I don't support amnesty.

RAJU: The pushback comes as Trump is trying to deliver on a central campaign promise: to build a wall paid for fully by Mexico.

TRUMP: We will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border.

CRUZ: But the billions of dollars that Congress will first have to approve have given some Republicans pause.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to find some way to pay for it. We can't just continue to add debt.

CRUZ: And some influential Republicans questioned the viability of the wall.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: There's some parts of the border where an actual wall would be incredibly expensive for taxpayers and incredibly expensive to monitor.

I think there's a way to do this, but not on the entire border.


RAJU: Now, Wolf, one thing that Donald Trump did not mention last night was the thing that he said repeatedly on the campaign trail, that Mexico would eventually pay for the wall. He did not mention that at all.

[17:10:10] And that means that Congress will first have to appropriate anywhere upwards of $20 billion to pay for the wall if estimates do prove correct.

And also tonight, Wolf, a senior administration official telling our Sara Murray that his comments floating the idea of doing a compromise deal that would include providing some legal status to some of those undocumented immigrants was a, quote, "misdirection play" aimed at generating some positive news coverage while taking a harder line approach in his speech. They're saying that is perhaps not the utmost priority for the administration right now as they try to focus on some other issues on the president's agenda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. He did get some positive coverage in the hours that immediately followed that statement by the president to a group of journalists in the White House, including myself.

Stand by. We're going to get back to you. I want to bring in Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Sure, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Let me tell you precisely what the president said on the record yesterday. It's a direct quote: "The time is right for an immigration bill," the president said, "as long as there is compromise on both sides."

But today our White House reporter, Sara Murray, is quoting a senior administration source as saying that was simply what the source calls "a misdirection play," to give that word, anchors a story line to generate some positive news coverage for the president. If that is true, that it was a misdirection play, what is your reaction to that?

MURPHY: Well, that's a wonderful turn of phrase, a misdirection play, another simpler way to describe that is a lie. Donald Trump once again lied to journalists in order to get good coverage for a couple hours before he returns to his campaign pabulum during his speech about blaming all of America's economic problems on immigrants. And once again doubling down on his theory of the case, in which he throws them all out and our economy magically comes back to life.

The fact of the matter is that Donald Trump riled up the Republican base, further radicalized them on the question of immigration; and he is not going to try to come to Congress to try to do something responsible. And in the end, his immigration policy will just make this country weaker, because we are built on the strength of being able to bring the smartest, brightest people from all around the world. And folks just don't want to come to this country any longer to try to make a better life or to try to start a company because of the way that Trump talks about immigrants, Muslims and anybody that looks or feels different than him.

BLITZER: Senator, the White House also has now delayed the rollout of its revised travel ban executive order, in part because of the positive reaction to his address before Congress last night. The president's original reasoning for enacting it so quickly a month or so ago was because of national security; bad people were coming into the United States. So, does this delay erode the original reasoning for the urgency?

MURPHY: Well, the original reasoning is flawed from the beginning. The fact of the matter is there is no evidence that refugees from the countries that were named in that ban have ever carried out a terrorist attack on this country. And the recruiters for lone-wolf attackers in the United States have been using the Muslim ban ever since it was announced in order to recruit people here in the United States to wage battle against us.

And so, the fact of the matter is that every day this ban stays alive as an idea, the country is less safe. And they're waiting to announce something, not because of some good press they got last night, but because they can't figure out how to make this legal.

The fact of the matter is, even if they were to remove green card holders, legal permanent residents, there's still a 1965 law on the books that says you cannot have immigration policy discriminate based on national origin or based on religion. There's no way to get around that by removing a country or removing certain classifications of immigrants.

BLITZER: Speaking of removing a country, CNN has learned that Iraq potentially could be left off the list of banned Muslim majority countries. Would you accept the executive order if it excluded Iraq, kept the six other Muslim majority countries in the ban?

MURPHY: No, absolutely not. It would still be a ban on Muslims from six majority Muslim countries coming to this country. It would still be terrorist recruitment fodder that would make this country less safe.

Yes, probably the most egregious country on that list is Iraq. Why? Well, I met with Prime Minister Abadi last weekend, and he looked us in the eye and said, "How can you ask Iraqi soldiers to fight alongside Americans in Mosul against ISIS, and then, after they put their lives on the line, tell them that they are unsafe to be able to come and visit this country?" It hurts our ability to defeat ISIS, because Iraqis don't want to fight with us if we're telling them that they're the enemy.

So yes, that's the worst and most egregious country on the list, but it still harms our national security.

BLITZER: Well, the other argument they make, Senator, is if you take Syria or Somalia or Yemen or these other countries where there's very limited central government capability of vetting anyone, why would the United States risk allowing these people into country -- into the country? That's the argument they make.

MURPHY: Because we are actively bombing those countries. We are bombing inside -- inside Libya today, inside Yemen, inside Syria today. And never before in American history have we been actively at war with a country, creating a humanitarian catastrophe, and then had a policy of locking those individuals inside.

We have a rigorous vetting process that has worked, right? We have not had a refugee from these countries commit an act of violence, a terrorist act of violence in this country. Now, it's not saying that it will forever be 100 percent foolproof, but the epic disaster of bombing these countries and then not rescuing people from terror and torture, it violates the best of America.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Murphy, stand by. There's more we need to discuss. We've got to take a quick break. We'll resume all of this right after this.


[17:20:45] BLITZER: We're talking with Senator Chris Murphy, the Foreign Relations Committee. We'll get back to him in a moment.

But first CNN has learned that military commanders are discussing with the White House some significant changes in how counter terrorism missions are authorized. That comes after President Trump in his speech last night focused extensively on the loss of a U.S. Navy SEAL in a raid in Yemen.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House has wanted to get more details out there, classified as the mission was, about what really happened and what they learned. It now appears some information is being made public.


TRUMP: I just spoke to our great General Mattis, just now, who reconfirmed that -- and I quote -- "Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence."

STARR: A full-throated defense of the raid in Yemen that led to the death of Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens last month. U.S. official tell CNN the intelligence gathered points to additional al-Qaeda hideouts that may lead to even more raids.

Documents the SEALs seized detail training, targeting, and explosives manufacturing by the group which has attacked the west, including the 2015 attack on the "Charlie Hebdo" offices in Paris and the attempted 2009 bombing of an aircraft landing in Detroit.

But there are serious questions about how the SEALs ran straight into a firefight, resulting in several civilians also being killed. Several military investigations are underway to determine what really happened.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: One thing that I would caution the president to do is don't oversell.

STARR: CNN has learned the Pentagon and the White House are discussing changing how some counterterrorism missions are approved and authorized. Under consideration, whether Defense Secretary James Mattis and military commanders should be able to greenlight some missions.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The problem that you have with that is, if something goes terribly wrong, you're going to end up with a lot of political fallout for something that you didn't really approve or understand the minute details of.

STARR: The White House insists President Trump will continue signing off on raids that require his approval. White House press secretary Sean Spicer saying, "It is a philosophy more than a change in policy. He believes these are the experts in this field."

President Trump already suggesting he wasn't completely involved in the Yemen raid.

TRUMP: This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something that was, you know, just -- they wanted to do, and they came to see me. They explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who were very respected. My generals the most respected that we've had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.

LEIGHTON: From a political standpoint, it may be good for somebody who wants to wash their hands of something, but from a military standpoint, it really abrogates the authority that the commander in chief has inherent in his position.


STARR: Now, the intelligence surrounding all of this remains highly classified. Investigations are ongoing. So, don't expect any time soon, if ever, to see much more detail made public -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.

Let's get back to Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, the Trump administration potentially could allow future counterterrorism missions, as we just heard, to be approved by the Pentagon, even field commanders, rather than go through the White House. Is that something you could support?

MURPHY: No, it's not something I could support, and it's not something anyone in the military should be willing to support.

Listen, let's be clear. This mission in Yemen was a failure. Any time that a U.S. soldier is killed, 25 civilians are killed, the targets that we are going after are not killed, and we lose a $70 million piece of equipment, that is not a success.

And the fact of the matter is that Donald Trump is trying to pass the buck on this to generals when he was the one that signed off on it. Remember, President Obama would not sign off on this mission. President Trump did. And what he is perhaps attempting to do on these future counterterrorism missions is put the decision making in the hands of people that are not him. So, if they go wrong, he bears no responsibility.

[17:25:14] Ultimately, he owns one title that is more important than any other. That is commander in chief. And when you are making a decision to put soldiers in harm's way, you make the call; you oversee that mission. And if it doesn't go well, as this one in Yemen did, if something terrible happens, then you have to own the responsibility.

BLITZER: Here is what the president said in his speech last night, and he quoted General Mattis, the defense secretary. Quote, "Ryan was part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies." This is from the defense secretary Mattis, who authorized -- who gave that quote to the president to read last night. Are you suggesting you don't believe the defense secretary?

MURPHY: Well, I haven't seen that intelligence. But as I understand it, the mission of that raid was to take out targets on the ground. The secondary purpose was to gather intelligence. And I'm not sure that there's anybody in the field who would suggest that getting some actionable intelligence is a good trade-off for an American killed, 25 civilians killed, a major piece of hardware being lost, and the primary objective not being achieved.

Yes, maybe there's something in that intel that will end up helping out down the line, but the cost that had to be borne in getting that actionable intelligence just simply cannot be worth it in the end.

BLITZER: Is the president oversell, in your opinion, the gains in Yemen, specifically the highly successful raid, according to General Mattis, that generated large amounts of vital intelligence?

MURPHY: Well, listen, again, I don't think you can categorize this as a success. And frankly, our entire operation in Yemen has been a disaster. Now, this predates President Trump, but he has continued this policy of actively assisting the Saudis in a bombing campaign inside Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians, that has radicalized the Yemeni people, that has allowed al-Qaeda and ISIS to grow. The fact of the matter is, there's a civil war happening inside Yemen, but the United States shouldn't be part of it.

Yes, we should be using these counterterrorism missions to go after the true enemy, but in the end that's got to be the president making those decisions, and he's got to weigh the costs against the risks. It doesn't seem as if that was done properly here.

BLITZER: Senator Murphy, thanks very much for joining us.

MURPHY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the two suspects in the killing of Kim Jong-un's half-brother are taken to court and charged with murder. At the same time North Korea is pointing at the United States and South Korea; and North Korea is now making new threats.


BLITZER: Today at the White House President Trump met with Republican leaders to discuss their strategy for enacting the goals he listed during last night's speech before Congress. One thing we haven't seen from the White House, although it had been promised for today, is the president's revised travel ban.

[17:32:31] Let's talk about that and more with our political experts. David Chalian, 24 hours ago you were here before the president's address to Congress. You said you were looking for three things. His tone, the audience he would speak to, his priorities. How did he do?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, he did quite well. There's no doubt about that. Clearly on tone. He made a marked shift from what we had been seeing, and I think that played right into the audience he spent most time courting, which was different than we saw for the first 40 days of his presidency, which was sort of the American people at large and not just talking to his base. He definitely was trying to broaden his appeal a little bit.

On the third component, priorities, Wolf, now is when the rubber meets the road on that, because you just saw that meeting there with congressional leadership on the Republican side. Now what he's set forth, especially on Obamacare, which Mike Pence said today is first and foremost, now he's got to actually try to enact those priorities or at least have Congress enact them into something he can sign into law. That is going to be a little more complicated, obviously, than just giving a speech.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Rebecca, because his tone was more conciliatory last night, certainly if you compare it to his inaugural address. He's avoiding Twitter, saying anything inflammatory over the past few days. Here's the question. Is he gaining control of his messaging?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, for a few days at least, maybe so. I mean, last night he did strike a more conciliatory tone. He said it's time for us to move on from these trivial fights. That's in the past now.

At the same time, Donald Trump was reading from a script last night. He didn't have Twitter within arm's reach during the speech. Who knows what could have happened if he did? And a few days, I don't think, is long enough, really, to draw a conclusion about where this administration is going, especially if past is precedent. It's just been so unpredictable. Donald Trump can go for a few days in one mode and then flip back to where he was before. So I think -- I think we need to wait and see. But certainly, he's trying, and I think the speech was a good indication of that.

BLITZER: Yesterday, Mark, the president told journalists including me, quote, "The time is right for a compromise bill, an immigration bill, compromise -- an immigration bill, as long as there is compromise on both sides."

Today a senior administration official told our Sara Murray over at the White House that was just misdirection. He was trying to get some good publicity for a few hours, speaking to network anchors. It really wasn't a serious initiative. What do you make of that?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, I mean, strategically it's a terrible thing to do. Maybe in the short term they feel like they were going into the speech with good will, so to speak, because we're talking about compromise, trying to get, really, what has been an albatross of an issue to try to get fixed in Congress. [17:35:10] We've seen Democrats and Republicans come together. We saw

President George W. Bush work with Ted Kennedy, John McCain to try to get it. They weren't able to do so.

But in the long term, though, the fact of the matter is, if he does not stick by his pledge to try to compromise and get something done, then that's going to come back to bite him, even though he might have sent a dog whistle in that speech last night, you know, pushing forth a very hardline approach to illegal immigration.

CHALIAN: I just -- I don't think he was elected with a mandate to solve comprehensive immigration reform. So, I don't know -- I agree with you as a political strategic initiative for the Republican Party, as Reince Priebus when he was RNC chair said, this is a problem that was dividing the party that they want to get past. I think it could help the party in the long run, what Mark's saying. But I don't know that Donald Trump feels that he has some sort of mandate from the voters or that his election had anything to do with deliver on some promise of comprehensive immigration reform, because that just wasn't part of his proposal.

BLITZER: Why would an official, a senior administration official, tell a journalist, you know, "The president really didn't mean it. He was just misleading these network anchors"? Why would one of the president's aides even say that?

CHALIAN: It is befuddling to see a White House aide, obviously unnamed in this scenario, undercut the president.

BLITZER: It makes the president...

CHALIAN: It happens in this White House all the time.

BLITZER: It makes the president look horrible.

BERG: And this isn't the first time this has happened, even on immigration reform. When Donald Trump met a few weeks ago with a group of senators at the White House, he told them, according to senators who were in the room with him, that he would be open to immigration reform. A few hours later the White House, not Donald Trump, had to walk that statement back.

And afterwards, a few weeks later, I spoke with Senator Manchin, who was in that meeting. And he said, "I was there. I was in this conversation with Donald Trump. I still believe he was sincere."

And I think maybe that's what we're seeing here, as well. Donald Trump says one thing. The White House, he's surrounded by conservatives, by Republican aides in this White House. Maybe they decided that's not the smart politics right now.

PRESTON: You know, I think the whole issue of immigration for Donald Trump has been framed as a law and order issue; and it's quite frankly much more than that. It's an economic issue. It -- not only for people personally and for the private sector, you know, with companies who need these -- these undocumented immigrants to work for them, particularly when you look at the farming industry and what have you.

But it also has a really big effect on public resources such as health care, you know, at the county level. That's why I do think that he does need to try to get some kind of comprehensive bill through. Whether he does or not -- whether he believes it -- because I agree with David. He believes what he wants to believe, but I don't think that, in the end, that's going to be an effective way for him to get what he needs done.

BLITZER: Yes. Senator Manchin may have been in that meeting with the president when he said he wanted comprehensive immigration reform. I was in a meeting with the president yesterday when I heard him say...

BERG: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... quote, "The time is ripe for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides."

CHALIAN: Wolf, it obviously -- it serves his political purpose to have it out there that he is perhaps open to this, in favor of it. But I think the White House, with what you're seeing with the aide, what you're seeing, what Rebecca just said, they pulled back because the political reality is the party is divided on this and the Democrats aren't really, for the most part, willing to work with him on it yet. So the math is not there for something to get done.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys. There's more to assess. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:43:12] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. David, you remember the White House, now we're told, pushed back the rollout of the revised travel ban because they wanted to bask in the glory of the positive reaction from the speech last night.

But remember what the president tweeted back on January 30? He tweeted this: "If the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the bad would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad dudes out there."

So, if he's -- if they're so concerned about the bad dudes rushing in, why delay the revised travel ban announcement?

CHALIAN: Yes, I can't actually come up with logic that works here as to why, at one point in time it must be done now, and there can be no delay. And now you can delay and bask in the reviews.

The only thing I would say is that, obviously, the court has delayed it for them in many ways, so they are already in delay of actually being able to enact the ban.

BLITZER: What's your analysis? Why are they doing this? Why are they delaying? Because by all accounts it's been ready to go. It's been ready for a few days. PRESTON: Right. Strategically, and quite frankly, it's because his

speech was so well-received, that they are basking in the afterglow of the rave reviews, particularly from those who are harsh critics of how he's been governing so far. I mean, including myself. I've been very tough on Donald Trump and how he's been acting. But if you look across the board, he is getting rave reviews. No reason to kind of insert that travel ban into this news cycle.

BLITZER: There does seem to be a debate whether Iraq should be included in the revised travel ban, along with six other Muslim majority countries. A lot of cabinet members, including the defense secretary and the national security advisor saying, keep Iraq out of that ban. But there's no final decision, we're told, yet.

BERG: Right. Well, this is going to be a major test of the new national security advisor's influence in this administration.

One of the major concerns that we've been hearing from Republican lawmakers, from national security and foreign policy experts is that there isn't any clear line of authority in this administration, especially when it comes to national security.

What I heard from John McCain a few weeks ago when Flynn stepped down from his position was that he hadn't actually had any sort of clear power in the White House in the first place. John McCain didn't know whether Steve Bannon was making the call on national security issues or whether it was Flynn or whether it was someone else or the president.

So McMaster as the new national security advisor really needs to assert his authority on this decision. And whether the president takes his recommendation on this very crucial issue, I think, will tell us a lot about what his role is going to be in this White House.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: There really wasn't much in the president's speech last night, it went for an hour and one minute. But there wasn't really much on national security. Some, he never mentioned Russia, didn't go into specifics or Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan.

North Korea, which he sees as the gravest national security threat to immediate threat to the U.S. right now, didn't mention that.

Is that a sign he really wants to move away from the international issues and prioritize on domestic issues?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, I think it is another symptom of America first. He means that as both a strategic slogan for his initiatives but also that is where his focus is.

He has said time and again he is not interested in leading the world. He's very interested in what's happening here at home. And so I think that was the clear focus of his address.

BLITZER: America first, that was the clear focus throughout that address.

Guys, stand by.

Murder charges are being filed against the two women accused of attacking Kim Jong-un's half-brother. But North Korea is implying the real culprit may be -- get this -- South Korea and the United States.




BLITZER: The two women accused of assassinating the half-brother of Kim Jong-un were charged with murder today but North Korea seems to be casting blame in another direction altogether. Brian Todd has new details for us.

What are you learning -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Kim Jong-un's regime and his inner circle are pushing back hard on the allegation that they ordered the murder of Kim's half brother. Astoundingly, Kim's regime is implying the U.S. and South Korea were involved.

It comes as President Trump characterizes North Korea as the greatest immediate threat to the United States. And this all plays out against the backdrop of the two principle suspects in Kim Jong-nam's death, appearing in public for the first time since the killing.


TODD (voice-over): Under heavy security, pulled by their guards past a crush of journalists yelling their names, the two women suspects in the world's most compelling murder mystery are led away from court, formally charged with the murder of Kim Jong-un's half-brother.

Inside, one woman said, quote, "I do not admit this, I am not guilty of this."

The other says she is not guilty of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

TODD (voice-over): South Korean officials say Kim Jong-un ordered the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, who Malaysian police say died of VX nerve agent poisoning after the two women allegedly smeared his face with VX at the Kuala Lumpur airport.

Tonight, the North Koreans call the accusation groundless and they suggest the U.S. and South Korea are involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To say that that South Koreans or the United States were giving South Korea chemical agent for the ladies is a courtroom move attempting to deflect responsibility from the North Koreans onto someone else who may have a motive -- in this case, there is absolutely no motive. TODD (voice-over): The North Koreans say if the U.S. and South Koreans continue to implicate them in Kim Jong-nam's murder, Kim's regime will be compelled to, quote, "take stronger measures."

A U.S. intelligence officials tells CNN North Korea's statements are obvious propaganda. This new tension comes as President Trump, according to a senior administration official, is characterizing North Korea as the greatest immediate threat to the United States, with a violent, unpredictable dictator, wielding nuclear bombs long-range missiles and possibly the nerve to kill his own brother.

A key question tonight, what can the U.S. do to stop Kim Jong-un?

Could a preemptive military strike on his nuclear or missile facilities work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be the best time to preemptively strike a missile when it's on the launch pad, either on the launch pad or in its initial boost face. That is the best time. But the potential sidebar consequence of that is they could launch a direct artillery attack on Seoul.

TODD (voice-over): One former White House official says the best way to force Kim to back off his weapons programs is to pressure him economically with China's help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They engage in illicit commercial relationships and send the money back to North Korea, they have guest workers around the world and instead of the money going back to the families of these poor people, it goes to the government and it funds the nuclear missile program. So cut off those workers, cut off the diplomats who aren't engaged in diplomatic activities.

TODD: Now what about negotiating directly with Kim Jong-un?

A senior administration official says President Trump believes Kim may be crazy. One analyst calls Kim narcissistic and sociopathic but rational enough to run his country and says the only way to really negotiate with Kim is to really understand that the thing he cares about most is his regime's survival -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, in the Kim Jong-nam case, it looks like the women's apparent handlers have also been charged, right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Malaysian authorities tonight, they've charged four unidentified people with the murder as well. The Malaysians say these four are at large. We believe they're talking about four North Korean men seen on surveillance at the airport the day of the attack. These men got out of Malaysia that day. The Malaysians believe the four men are back in Pyongyang and they are very likely out of the reach of any law enforcement.


BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thanks for the update. Coming up, basking in the glow of the president's address to Congress,

the White House delays issuing a revised travel ban with all of the fresh criticism that could bring.

Wasn't the ban supposed to be an urgent national security fix?




BLITZER: Happening now. Travel ban tweaks. We're learning new information about President Trump's revised travel ban including possible removal of Iraq from the list of red-flagged countries.

Why is the White House further delaying the new order's release?

Shifting authorities: new details emerging about the terror raid that left a U.S. Navy SEAL dead and now sources telling CNN the Pentagon and the White House are debating changes to how such missions are green-lighted.

Will generals get more authority?

Spy expenses: financial ties are revealed between --