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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Two GOP Senators Call Out Trump Over His Rhetoric. Aired 4:30- 5p ET
Aired August 17, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:30:38] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our politics lead now. This afternoon, President Trump tweeted his condolences to the people of Spain, quote: The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough and strong, we love you.
And then the president tweeted this: Studying what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years.
Let's take a look to this story that he has told about General Pershing and how he handled terrorist. The president has discussed this claim in much more detail before. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs' blood and he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said, you go back to your people, and you tell them what happened. And for 25 years, there wasn't a problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, that story is not true. There is no evidence backing up President Trump's claim that in the early 1900s, General John Pershing tried to quell a Muslim uprising in the Philippines by dipping 50 bullets in pig's blood which is, of course, offensive to Muslims and shooting 49 Muslim insurgents and telling the fifth to go tell everyone what he say.
The historians say there is zero evidence to that. None. Not true.
There is evidence that a different military leader in the Philippines may have buried dead insurgents with a dead pig, but none that Pershing did it, or even approved of it. And most important, there is no evidence that burying dead insurgents with a pig did anything to stop the violence.
So, just to be clear, what happened today in the face of a horrific terrorist attack, where people are still finding out that loved ones have been killed or injured, President Trump just told the world to study a story that is not true. A lie about an American general dipping bullets in pig's blood and killing insurgents. A story that, by the way, does nothing to help keep our soldiers and the American people traveling the world safer.
At times of crisis, the nation turns to its president for reassurance and for truth and for moral clarity and the lie about General Pershing does not provide any of those.
Also, one might observe the very different reactions from this president. Today's Islamic terrorist attack which the president condemned immediately and with this inflammatory untrue story and how President Trump responded to the white supremacist terrorist attack on Saturday, which is an attack he has yet to unequivocally call terrorism at all.
Now, there are signs that President Trump's rhetoric this week is causing major distress among members on Capitol Hill in a way we have not seen before. Some are finally going public with their dismay.
Today, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott said that the president's moral authority is compromised.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm not going to defend the indefensible. I'm not here to do that. I'm here to be clear, and to concise and succinct. His comments on Monday were strong. His comments on Tuesday started erasing the comments that were strong.
What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. That moral authority's compromised when Tuesday happens. There's no question about that. We should all call that on that carpet. I certainly have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Another Republican senator and a key early supporter of President Trump, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is now publicly questioning his competence.
Let's bring in CNN's Jim Acosta who's in Bridgewater, New Jersey, near where the president's working on his working vacation.
And, Jim, Senator Corker delivered what can only be called a stinging rebuke to President Trump earlier today.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. These are some of the strongest words yet coming from a fellow Republican. And it's remarkable because Bob Corker is not one of the president's usual critics.
[16:35:03] Listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, President Trump is still trying to convince Americans that he was right when he blamed both sides for the violence in Charlottesville, and he's slamming any critics, even those in his own party who get in his way.
ACOSTA (voice-over): For the second straight day, President Trump shied away from the cameras, following his divisive comments on the violence in Charlottesville. But on Twitter, the president is still in clean-up mode, blasting Republicans who criticized him and falsely claiming he did not put white supremacists on the same level as the people protesting them, tweeting: Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists.
He also attacked Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, cheering on his upcoming primary opponent, tweeting: Great to see that Dr. Kelly Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is weak on borders, crime, and a nonfactor in Senate. He's toxic.
Graham hit back in a statement: Because of the manner in which you have handled the Charlottesville tragedy, you are now receiving praise from some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country. For the sake of our nation, as our president, please fix this.
GOP Senator Bob Corker lashed out at the president to reporters in Tennessee, saying --
CORKER: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.
ACOSTA: The president is showing more sympathy from the Confederate statues coming down around the country, doubling on his comments earlier this week.
(on camera): George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same, Mr. President.
TRUMP: George Washington was a slave owner.
ACOSTA: But, sir --
TRUMP: Was George Washington a slave owner?
ACOSTA: Yes, he was in the 1700s. TRUMP: So, will George Washington now lose the status? You're changing history. You're changing culture.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president tweeted sad to see that history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish.
Democrats aren't buying it.
REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: President Trump has made a living off of changing the subject. You know, he wants this now to be about statues and monuments, Kate, and the last time I checked, the Republican Party was frankly in favor of local control.
ACOSTA: Joining the debate, the chief strategist Steve Bannon slammed white supremacists to the progressive "American Prospect" saying: Ethno-nationalism, it's losers, it's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much and we got to help crush it, you know, help crush it more.
At first, Bannon claimed he didn't know he was being interviewed.
ROBERT KUTTNER, CO-FOUNDER, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT MAGAZINE: He called me. And weirdly, he never said that we were off the record.
ACOSTA: But sources close to Bannon say he really intended the remarks to divert attention from the president's comments on Charlottesville. One source told CNN, Bannon knew full well this would distract from criticism.
ACOSTA: Now, the White House declined to comment, but a White House spokesperson did weigh in on the future of the president's top economic advisor Gary Cohn who was with Mr. Trump at that wild news conference on Tuesday. Sources said Cohn was upset by the president's comments, but the White House said Cohn is not going anywhere -- Jake.
TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thank you so much. So, what do the president's two different reactions to two different acts of terror at home and overseas tell us?
Our political panel will be here to weigh in next. Stay with us.
[16:43:16] TAPPER: Welcome back.
We got a lot to talk about with political panel today. Before the break, we played what senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, said about President Trump. Let me replay it for those who didn't catch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CORKER: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Lest anyone think he was trying to appeal to the elite Acela or Delta quarter that was at the Chattanooga Rotary Club.
David, I'm hearing this from a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill and now, they're starting to say it publicly, they do have actual concerns about President Trump's ability to do this job.
DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Jake, look, all of those members are entitled to their own opinion. They're a separate branch and co-equal branch of the governor. Senator Corker is an independent guy, an independent voice, and identify heard from him and from Senator Scott saying something similar. Yet, I haven't heard it from any other folks. So, we'll wait and see.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I need to walk back what I said last night. I said the Republicans on the Hill are emasculating. Well, some spine, let me change my anatomical metaphor for an afternoon show. Some spine today from Senator Corker and from Senator Scott.
Because I'm a political animal, I look. What's the political -- I don't see political gain for Bob Corker in this. He's up for reelection. He's got a primary.
When he criticized the president back in June, there was a poll in "The Tennessee Star" that said 76 percent of his states Republicans agreed with the president, not with Corker. So, this is a rare moment of political courage.
This is a stable, serious man, Corker, he was, in fact, on the president's short list for secretary of state. He's one of the Senate's workhorses, not one of the show horses. And so when he says something like that, it carries a lot of weight. I suspect he does speak for a lot of his colleagues on both sides of the isle. The President, he's raising serious concerns in the minds of serious people as to whether he is stable or competent to be the leader of the free world.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And Nia, I'm hearing from Republicans on Capitol Hill with these expressions, and again, very few of them are willing to say it publicly, and they want -- look, we should also say, they want the President to succeed, they support much of his agenda, if not all of his agenda, they want him to be Monday speech, Trump. That's what they want.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right, exactly. And that's in fact what Tim Scott said. He praised Monday's speech and said on Tuesday, Donald Trump essentially erased all of that. You know, the interesting thing about Corker, you're right, he's up for primary -- he's also in a southern state, right, which also sort of makes this, I think, a little bit more brave for him to do it. But I still think, I mean, if you look at the numbers of elected Republicans, right? If you look at governors, folks in both chambers of Congress, it's about 300 people, right? And the people who have come out and said something maybe, 20, 25, so I still don't think we are getting the numbers yet in terms of people really criticizing this President so frontally in the way that Bob Corker has done.
And a lot of folks don't even know -- we talked about this before, they don't really want to use his name. They sort of want to use you know, platitudes about you know, racism is wrong, white supremacy is wrong, anything like that. So, we'll see, but I think this does -- this does represent a shift in something of a crack and we'll see what happens.
TAPPER: There is actually a policy debate that's emerged from Charlottesville, carnage, and horror which is that there is now a debate about whether or not there should be confederate monuments standing in the public square. This is something -- I think Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker have suggested that they be taken down out of the Capitol. It's a debate that's going on in cities and counties. President Trump tweeted, he had a long tweet storm about this this morning. "Sad to see the history and culture being of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.
You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, who's next? Washington, Jefferson? So foolish." I suppose this was an allusion to the fact that the Mayor of Baltimore had statues of Lee and Jackson taken away two nights ago overnight. Steve Bannon has said, David, that he wants Democrats and the left to be calling the president racist and talking about tearing down monuments, that this helps him. Is that the strategy?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, first of all, let's go back to your thing. Everybody, this President wants America to succeed, right? This monument debate's been going on for quite some time as you guys know. The statuary hall still remains there, there are ten states that still have Confederate Statues and they're representing their states in the --in the U.S. Capitol. You know, it's been going on for quite some time. This didn't start with this President.
TAPPER: Oh no, not at all.
URBAN: And so, I don't think that this President is looking to divide America. I look to what's the next page. If we were to say, what could we do to bring America together? I think that's what people need to focus on right now. Tomorrow, today, as we talk about this, not one person, is getting healthier, not one road is being repaired. We need to talk about the monuments, we should have that debate full throated, have it in the Congress. I think you let state and local municipalities decide what monuments stay. The stuff that's on federal land, let's have a debate in the Congress and let's talk about it. I think it is -- it's offensive to folks, I think it should be taken down. Let the state local governments take it down like what has happened in Baltimore and let's have a full throated debate in the Congress and let's remove those things that are offensive.
BEGALA: So why is the President weighing in on this debate which predates his Presidency by a lot? Not because he gives a rip snort about Confederacy or statues or history or art. In fact, their TV couldn't pass a class on American history at Trump University. He couldn't tell you Stonewall Jackson's first name or where he died or how he got the nickname Stonewall, he doesn't know nothing about this. He's doing this as his Chief Strategist said. To divert, divide, and distract and God bless the Democrats. We shouldn't be the donkey --
BEGALA: It should be the largemouth bass. If we see a shiny object, boom, Trump throws it says we hit it. Charlottesville was not about the Robert E. Lee statue. Those Nazis were chanting, Jews will not replace us. They weren't chanting we love Robert E. Lee. They were Nazis and the President put them on the same moral plane as Heather Heyer and people who put their bodies in the way of those Nazis. That's what we should be talking about. We should have a debate about the monuments. I think Mitch Landrieu, the Mayor of New Orleans gave the best speech I've ever heard about this topic. Everybody should go and Google it and watch it. But I don't think the Democrats should chase the President down monument row. I think they should talk about Charlottesville and honor the memory of this woman who gave her life opposing Nazis and focus on the fact that the President seems to be an apologist for some of those guys.
TAPPER: David --
URBAN: Paul, I mean, I disagree as forcefully as possible that the President is an apologist for the Nazi -- the Nazi parties or David Duke --
[16:50:05] BEGALA: He said there were some nice guys.
URBAN: No, listen, Paul, I don't know what he was referring to that. He gave a full throated -- full throated rebuke of the Nazi party, Nazis. Listen, the President has Jewish grandchildren, all right. Do you think -- do you think -- you really think the guy that wants to embrace the people that want to wipe his grandkids out? It's insensible.
HENDERSON: But I do think on the statue argument, he's probably going on the firm ground with a lot of Americans. He's certainly on firm ground with white evangelicals and Republicans because he does tap into the sense among many white Americans that there is --- sort of that their culture is under siege, they feel that there's sort of a sense of loss. And I think that's what he's tapping into. We often talk about identity politics on the left, I think Trump plays White identity politics very well --
URBAN: Everybody's house and identity politics, right? Let's do away with identity politics.
TAPPER: We have to take a quick break. We're going to come back. You guys aren't going anywhere. Stick around, much more to talk about. We'll be right back after this break.
[10:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. This just into CNN in the wake of his Charlottesville reaction, President Trump has ended plans for an advisory council on infrastructure. That's according to one White House official talking to CNN. This is of course after already two business panels were disbanded after leaders of industry began to leave his side. Whether he disbanded them or they fled him as a subject of debate. Let's talk about this for one second. Why are these business leaders fleeing these advisory councils? I mean, does it -- do they really -- do they need to do it? Are they really morally outraged?
HENDERSON: Yes, it's sort of virtue signaling to their customers they don't necessarily want to be attached to Trump because of what's happened in the wake of -- in the wake of Charlottesville. And you saw some of that early on. Them essentially having to say no it's better to be at the seat of the table, (INAUDIBLE) you know (INAUDIBLE) at the table, happened a little after the Muslim ban. You saw some people flee. And -- I mean, we saw Under Armour and remember, Steph Curry who is a part of that family and wears Under Armour sneakers, he was very critical of the CEO of that company for being on these councils. So I think it's mainly that. They want to protect their brand, and they feel like a Trump, at this point, any association with Trump isn't good for the brand.
TAPPER: David, I want to ask you about an interview Steve Bannon gave when he called up the editor of the American Prospect and just started talking. He said, later he didn't think that it was an interview, then he said apparently he told people that no I did it to distract people and it was act of genius. But more importantly, he said in this interview about North Korea, there's no military solution, forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me ten million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don't know what you're talking about. There's no military solution here. They got us. Which seemed to be, to me, completely undermining the strategy of the President talking tough, fire and fury which -- whether he was -- he was scaring North Korea or scaring China, seem to be having some effect on North Korea. And here Bannon says, the President's bluffing. There's no military action we're going to take.
URBAN: So, I haven't had this chance to talk to Steve about it or the President for that matter. I think obviously North Korea poses an existential threat, not just to -- not just to the region, but the entire globe. And so I'm not sure what Steve's talking about there and I don't know, I haven't sat down and talked with General Dunford and you know, folks of the Joint of Chief -- anybody of the Joint Chief to see if there is a military option but I have to think that military option always remains viable and you have to -- you have to be prepared with utmost strength at all times in this situation. TAPPER: And Paul -- go ahead.
BEGALA: No, I'm struck -- the President (INAUDIBLE) he has a great national security team. General Mattis, General Dunford, you mentioned the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, now General Kelly as Chief of Staff. Three --
TAPPER: McMaster too.
BEGALA: Three marines, first. All of whom who very, very are close and served together, in fact, Mattis gave Kelly his first star. I mean, these three are like brothers. They're more than brothers, they're marines. And then the -- General McMaster happens to be an army guy --
TAPPER: Poor guy.
BEGALA: National Security Adviser. I hope my President is the listening to them. With respect to Steve Bannon who did serve in the Navy, I didn't even finish the Boy Scouts and I do respect that service. But I don't -- can't imagine he has the sort of knowledge and expertice that those four generals have. And why the President is interested in -- Mr. Bannon is a fine political strategist, apparently made millions at Breitbart. He's a good businessman but he don't know jack about North Korea and I don't know why the President would listen to him.
TAPPER: I'm just -- I'm stunned that Bannon would go and tell this person that he's never met before, from the American prospect, you know, it's all just a bluff. There's no actual military option.
HENDERSON: Yes, and there's this idea that he's doing it just to distract from the story about Charlottesville that it was some strategy. He said a number of things in there about Trump and how this whole thing works for him when Democrats talk about racism. So it's unclear why he did that and whether or not of this puts him on further thin ice which we've been told he's been on for a while.
TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all for being here. Really, really appreciate it. Be sure to tune in on Monday. We have a CNN special event, I'm going to moderating an exclusive Town Hall with House Speaker, Paul Ryan. We're going to be in Racine, Wisconsin. Speaker Ryan will answer questions from his constituents about the challenges facing Congress when lawmakers return to the Hill. Everything from the federal budget, tax reform, infrastructure, there might be a question or two about President Trump. The Town Hall airs Monday on CNN at 9:00 p.m. That is it for THE LEAD, Jake Tapper signing off, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer next door.