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Drug Czar Nominee Bails After Bombshell Report; Trump: "Disgraceful" If GOP Doesn't Pass Tax Reform; Twelve Days Later Trump Comments On Soldiers Killed In Niger; White House: Can't Pay Subsidies Without Congressional Approval; Dow Breaks 23,000 For First Time Ever; Democratic Senator Pleads For Action In Puerto Rico. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:00:32]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. President Trump is getting set to face reporters once again today. This after his impromptu press conference yesterday left more questions than answers.

The questions today, why did his nominee for drug czar who Trump calls a great guy, why did he just drop out and what does that mean for the ongoing opioid crisis crippling parts of the country and what does the president's newfound friendship also with the top Republican Mitch McConnell mean for the brewing tax battle on Capitol Hill?

And another question, new questions about the attack on U.S. troops in Niger that left four service members dead. Why did the president claim his predecessors didn't call families of fallen U.S. soldiers and why is this a time to compare and contrast?

Let's get to it. First to the White House, Congressman Tom Marino dropping just out a week before the president is set to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency and also just two days after a scathing report that Marino championed a bill that hampered DEA efforts to fight that very crisis.

Joe Johns with the White House has this for us. Joe, what is the president saying about this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kate, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, was one of the first people to get behind the president in the campaign and when the time came for the White House to pick director of drug policy control, Marino was it. Now, he's out. The nomination has been withdrawn. The president talked about that this morning on the radio. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (via telephone): There was a couple of articles having to do with him and drug companies and I will tell you, he felt compelled, he feels very strong about the opioid problem and the drug problem, which is a worldwide problem, but it's a problem that we have, and Tom Marino said look I'll take a pass, I have no choice, I really will take a pass, I want to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So, the story that did all this was a "Washington Post"/"60 Minutes" report citing, among other things, the fact that Tom Marino in his role as a congressman from Pennsylvania, had been the key supporter, if you will, of a bill that essentially undermined the ability of the DEA to get rid of or at least control shipments of opioids. A big problem for him and a big problem for this administration. He's out now. Back to you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Joe, absolutely. Now we've got to look for another nominee. Thank you so much.

Now to the next battle on Capitol hill, your taxes and does this newfound romance between the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell guarantee a much needed legislative win in this very big area.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is following the very latest on this from the Hill. So, Sunlen, they stood side by side in the Rose Garden yesterday. Everything now kumbaya, rainbows and unicorns with regard to their tax reform dream?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not yet. They still have a long way to go, Kate, but I tell you what this week they will face a critical first big test to see what direction all this is going to go. Senate Republicans, they need to pass a budget.

That's important for the larger issue of tax reform because if the budget passes, that paves the way for them to pass tax reform with only Republican support. Now there are still a few Republicans right now who are undecided on the budget.

Many say they have concerns like Senator John McCain, who just echoed that moments ago, Senator Rand Paul, they say they're worried about this budget and want more answers before they potentially vote on it as early as Thursday of this week.

But Republican leaders here in Congress are confident that they can cobble together the votes they need to pass a budget and that's certainly something President Trump echoed moments ago in this radio interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP (via telephone): Now we are there and, you know, I think rand will be there and let's see what happens, but we have the votes coming up starting on Thursday. Budget is phase one and the vote is phase two and if the Republicans don't do it, it's -- it would be disgraceful to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SERFATY: And looking forward even beyond the budget this week that move for them to have to write the legislation, get all of the T's crossed and I's dotted here in Congress, Kate, and we know that there's a lot of interparty battling going on, on what the specifics of that policy on tax reform actually will look like. So, huge obstacles ahead -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Huge obstacles. Sunlen, great to see you. Thanks so much.

Now the deadly attack on U.S. service members in Niger, the president is facing backlash this morning after when he was asked about this attack, his comments about how and when he makes contact with families of the fallen in comparison to his predecessors.

[11:05:04] Not to be lost here, though, there are also many more questions circling about what exactly happened in that operation that left four service members dead.

For that, let's get to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with much more. Barbara, what are you learning this morning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. So many questions especially for the families of the fallen. The U.S. military has now opened a full review, two weeks later, still looking at this, trying to figure out exactly what did happen.

This review will look at the timeline hour by hour, how it unfolded, what everybody did, what everybody knew. What was the intelligence that these military members led by Green Berets, the 12-man team, had going into a village in Niger where they were only supposed to meet with locals, and then depart?

There was no indication of combat. Why didn't they have the intelligence that they were walking into an ambush of 50 ISIS fighters? When the ambush broke out, there was confusion on the ground. They had to wait 30 minutes for overhead support from French aircraft.

And one of the major issues is what happened to Sergeant La David Johnson, 25 years old. He was one of the soldiers killed there. We have his picture. I know we put it up a minute ago. Let's show it again, his body was not recovered for 48 hours.

It was out there in the brush, if you will. They do not know how he became separated. They don't know how they didn't find him right away and bring him back with everyone else -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Key questions. Barbara, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. Joining me now to discuss this and much more, Republican Senator Mike Brown of South Dakota. Senator, thank you so much for coming in.

SEN. MIKE BROWN (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: You bet.

BOLDUAN: A lot happening this morning, let's try to get to some of it at least. The president's drug czar nominee this morning, Congressman Tom Marino, withdrawn his name from consideration as we've been reporting. This came after just after this huge report by CBS and "Washington Post" over the weekend. What's your reaction to this?

BROWN: Well, first of all the president had made a nomination, nomination has been withdrawn, I think the fact that he's actually directly in touch with legislative leaders who have discussed it with him, is a step in the right direction.

The president has made some very good nominations in the past. The Senate's role on this is to advise and consent. Sometimes not to consent, simply to advise. I think that's what's happened in this particular case.

BOLDUAN: What should happen to this law that's at the center of all of this? Do you think it should be repealed?

BROWN: Well, first of all, you go back in and see what the other items were that were within the law and whether or not there was an attempt made to begin with to modify it or was it simply one of the things that looked good to everybody, and it was passed by unanimous consent, meaning people assumed that everybody else had looked at it.

BOLDUAN: That's what happened here. I mean, everyone I've heard talking, Senator, says it went through committee, DEA pulled back any objections they had, DOJ didn't have any objections, it passed by U.C., we all moved on.

BROWN: Yes. There is no such thing as a perfect law and when you find them, when you have identified a problem some place, you go back and fix them. You don't hide from them. You simply walk back in and look at it and say where did we make a mistake, what else is in it that should be corrected and then you move forward.

BOLDUAN: So, you're on board with changing this law repealing it as some Democrats are pushing a bill right now?

BROWN: I think what you do is you take a look at it and you will allow it to go through committee process, you get the testimony on it, then you make a decision based upon what you learned. But you don't simply walk on in and say, gee, we have a news report here that something is wrong on it and we will totally stop in the middle.

You do it through a regular process and that's the way it should be with the vast majority of the laws we've got here. There is no such thing up here as a law which is perfect and if we made a mistake, we go back in and we fix it. Same thing we should be doing in health care, same thing we should be doing in tax reform.

BOLDUAN: Yes. This one seems more flawed than your average bill, though, if we -- if as we are now learning, you're on board for reviewing it. You, of course, served on a Senate Armed Services Committee, you just heard Barbara Starr's reporting on the very latest on the Niger ambush that left four American service members dead. The Pentagon is investigating doing a full review, should Congress be investigating? BROWN: I think Congress will have a report. Any time you have the loss of life, any time you're involved in an incident in which we lose young men, lose young women, Congress has an interest in seeing what happened, why, where, were they in the right place, something we should have done differently?

Was there something that has to be addressed within the system itself? But you know, we still have to go back down to one thing which is very important that is to express to those families who have now lost a loved one and our thoughts, our prayers, our support, take care of those individuals first, get the data, come back in, make changes.

There is -- any time you have a war, any time you are in a war zone, any time you have young men and women at risk, you have the possibility of loss of life. You don't want to see it. You want to avoid it. If we can learn from this, then we should be doing that.

[11:10:10] BOLDUAN: Senator, of course, four Americans were also killed in the Benghazi attack back in 2012 and that we well know led to a massive year's long investigations by Congress. Seven Congressional investigations, in fact. Is this not worthy of one as well?

BROWN: It's not to say it's not worthy. It's simply a matter of, in the last one, in the Benghazi incident you had a case of where there was clear testimony, information coming out, saying there were hours and hours of activity going on. We don't have the facts on this yet.

If similar facts were to be determined in this particular case, you may very well see the same type of a demand for a review. But in any case, any time, regardless of when these types of losses occur, you want to get to the bottom of it.

You want to do a reasonable plan to make sure it doesn't happen again and find out what happened in this particular case, but you do it in a reasonable fashion in which you try to learn from the incident. Find out what happened.

Once again, you never take any loss of life as anything other than the most serious of nature and once again, you offer complete condolences. I share with you, look, I was governor of South Dakota for eight years. We lost -- I went to 31 funerals for young men and women who lost lives overseas.

You don't forget them. Every leader feels that. And when you go in, you can't take away the pain that families feel. You can offer your support, your prayers, you bring a community together, and you try to begin a healing process.

Sometimes that takes a long, long time. But, I think that's one thing that element, that human element, is something none of us should ever forget.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely not. And with that in mind, what did you think when President Trump said yesterday that past presidents, including President Obama, didn't make contact as you're just discussing with families of fallen soldiers, what did you make of his remark?

BROWN: I listened to his remarks and I can tell you that that's not quite what he said, not what I heard. What I heard him say, he may or may not have made them and then he may or may not have made personal contact, may have done them by letters and so forth.

I can tell you that I believe that every single president, feels these, just as every governor feels the loss in their home state. I think regardless of whether you're a Republican or Democrat, if you're the president of the United States, you feel that loss.

And I think President Trump felt that loss and sometimes leaders have a challenge that they're not exactly sure -- they're human. They're not exactly sure what they should do. They want to play a part. They want to be in that role.

But they also want to -- they also know that sometimes they got to learn how to do it as well. None of us come built in knowing how to respond in times of need. We have to learn from it and get better with time. I fault neither Republican nor Democrat leaders.

I don't wish that upon any leader. Once again this is a case of where our entire country feels the hurt but they want that leader to step forward and to express on their behalf and sometimes as leaders we're not sure that we do the greatest job in the world.

That makes it more difficult to step in and do it, but we want to do that job for the American people and for those families. And that's a challenge sometimes.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Really quickly, on health care, an impossible turn out after the important conversation we've had but also an important issue that you're very much involved with on the Hill.

The president yesterday, he said on the health insurance subsidies that he canceled, he said he called it a gift to the insurance companies. He's called it a payoff. He says, it's a disgrace. Do you see those subsidies as a payoff?

BROWN: I think -- it was not the intent to begin with. But I think the president first of all he made the right choice to deliver it back to Congress and say, if you want these to continue, then do them legally because we didn't have the legal authorization, the courts have already indicated that to the president. It's in our court, that's where it should be.

BOLDUAN: But I feel like that's not exactly what he said. He said I canceled them because they're disgrace. That doesn't mean I like them at all. He calls them a gift to the insurance company. Why is he then asking you guys to fund that gift and payoff to the bad guy here which he thinks is the insurance company?

BROWN: We've actually proposed and what we've been working on for several months is legislation that would prohibit what the president referred to as double dipping. One in which they may well receive the payments, but the benefit doesn't go back to the people who it's supposed to help.

So, within the language that we're talking about right now, we are proposing that these resources go back to individuals that need them. Individuals under 250 percent of poverty.

[11:15:03] But in exchange for that, that we actually make the first major changes in the Affordable Care Act allowing under Section 1332 additional opportunities for the state to actually reduce premiums for their people.

And there's a number of different tools that are out there. They've just been made very difficult in the past. We're trying to ease up on them and allow more flexibility for those states. I think we're getting there. And we've got legislation that is being finetuned right now by Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander.

BOLDUAN: That's the important part I want to --

BROWN: So, it's moving in the right direction, yes.

BOLDUAN: That's where I want to leave this because you are a Republican member of a bipartisan group who are working very hard to try to find a solution here and that should not be lost in this conversation. Senator, thank you so much for coming in. I really appreciate it.

BROWN: You bet. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We are following some breaking news we need to get to, though, right now. Breaking news on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Index has just hit an all-time record high, passing the 23,000-mark for the first time just a short time ago.

I want to get over to CNN's business correspondent, Maggie Lake. She is at the New York Stock Exchange with much more on this. Maggie, another all-time high?

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Another one for the history books. You know what's amazing there was barely a peep down here. We are getting used to this. The market up 4,600 points since the election, 25 percent. We've gone right through 20,000, 21,000, 22,000. Just another day at work.

Good earnings from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the catalyst today, but this has been a really broad based, very strong bull run. Underpinned by those good corporate profits and an improving global economy. So, a very good news if you're in the stock market. Not every American is, but if you are it's certainly helping your retirement.

BOLDUAN: All right. Important to mark this another historic day. Maggie, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, the pushback growing against the president over the federal response to the hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico. I'm going to talk to a senator who just returned from the island and says more people are going to die if more is not done and done fast.

Plus, this, it could be one of the biggest blows to ISIS yet. U.S. backed forces in Syria say they've liberated the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqah. We will take you live to the Syrian border.

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[11:21:15]

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SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Our fellow Americans are dying and they desperately need our help and ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, I have seen it with my own eyes. On the ground. And I'm here to urge this Congress and the administration that we have to act and act for a very long period of time.

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BOLDUAN: That was Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida on the Senate floor last night making a plea for the people of Puerto Rico. Here's what we know right now, the death toll stands at 48, more than 100 people are still unaccounted for, 83 percent of the island remains without power. That's just some of the updates.

Let's bring in Senator Nelson right now. He is joining me from Capitol Hill. Senator, thanks for coming in.

NELSON: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So, the president yesterday again said that he is getting an a-plus for the response to the hurricanes including Puerto Rico. You were just there over the weekend. Do you agree?

NELSON: Not entirely. First of all, when you figure that it took a week to get the United States military in, and they are doing the job, they are uniquely capable of logistics, but secondly, one of the little towns that I visited and you can't see this from the air.

You've got to get in on the ground so the helicopter flew me into the mountains into this little almost like a village, they didn't even have access by roads until two weeks, two and a half weeks after the hurricane.

The bridges were knocked out and so they're using a pulley system across a river to get food and fuel, water, to the people. Now they're resilient. They put forth a good face, and in this case, they're not dying, but what about the electricity a long time coming to the hospitals and the dialysis centers.

It's going to be a long time and we're going to have to spend a lot of money and a lot of resources to help our fellow citizens get back on their feet in the island.

BOLDUAN: Senator, let me play you one more thing that the president -- I want to play you something that the president said yesterday about Puerto Rico. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We've delivered tremendous amounts of water and then what you have to do is you have to have distribution of the water by the people on the island. We have massive amounts of water. We have massive amounts of food, but they have to distribute the food and they have to distribute the food to the people of the island.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Is that a fair assessment from what you saw when you were there, that the locals are the hold up in distributing the aid?

NELSON: Well, take, for example, the little town of (inaudible). It's up in the mountains. They have pipes that have water coming down from the mountain, with which they're getting their drinking water, other than the bottled water that has finally come in in the last week.

And the Puerto Rican National Guard by the way was there trying to improve this little dirt winding road along the stream through the mountains. So that water is not portable water. That's water washing off the mountains and yet those pipes that were coming out of the mountain is what was available there.

Fortunately, I don't think all of the people in the village were drinking that water but that's what some have had to rely on.

BOLDUAN: You saw firsthand, of course, the federal response after Hurricane Irma in your state. It's a different state, it's a different storm. Do you see a difference in federal response?

NELSON: To Puerto Rico as compared to Florida? Oh, well without a doubt. The first thing is, obviously, the geography. Utility trucks came from other states into Florida and that's why you got a lot of Florida back online with electricity.

An island is an island. A system is ancient and decrepit. It is what it is. So, are we getting all of the essence of the people that we need to fix the lines? They've turned this over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They contract out.

Have they contracted with who is going to get in there? Why are we four weeks after the hurricane, and not any major part of getting the distribution of electricity across the island? Can you --

BOLDUAN: Senator --

NELSON: -- can you imagine, Kate, in a state like Florida, if you didn't have any electricity in four weeks and you didn't have any prospect of electricity for months? Can you imagine the uproar that would occur? This is what's happening to fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico and I understand also in the Virgin Islands.

BOLDUAN: I do need to ask you about Niger. One of the four soldiers, service members who were killed in the Niger ambush was from your state, Sergeant La David Johnson, whose body was missing two days before it was discovered.

The Pentagon is investigating. You're a member of the Armed Services Committee. Mike Brown I just spoke to, said you all need to get more facts before Congress launches an investigation. Do you agree?

NELSON: Well, of course, we have to get the facts. I spoke to Mrs. Johnson, the widow, today. I have written her. By the way that's a sobering experience when you are a military officer and you're designated as the one to tell the next of kin, which I did during my active service a long time ago, and, of course, we need to get the facts to find out what happened.

BOLDUAN: Do you think Congress should launch an investigation?

NELSON: Of course. That's part of our oversight responsibility on the Armed Services Committee.

BOLDUAN: You said as you mentioned you spoke with the widow this morning. With that in mind, what did you think when you heard President Trump say what he said yesterday and comparing kind of the reactions, the responses from past presidents to his, saying that past presidents including Obama didn't really make contact with families of fallen soldiers. What did you think of his remarks?

NELSON: That's why I told you, it's a sobering experience. As a military officer, to have to notify next of kin, and the last thing in the world you would ever want to do is try to turn it political. And I can guarantee you, when I spoke to Mrs. Johnson earlier, I was just thinking about her and her family's feelings and especially that she is in the late stages of pregnancy, and she's not going to have her husband.

BOLDUAN: How is she holding up?

NELSON: She was resolute. She was grieving, but she was resolute.

BOLDUAN: The strength of those families is just awe-inspiring in what they do and how they serve as well. If I could ask you, you said you never want it to turn political. Did the president turn it political?

NELSON: It seemed to be.

BOLDUAN: Senator Bill Nelson, thank you for coming on, Senator.

NELSON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, we're going to be following breaking news on the U.S. led victory over ISIS in Syria. U.S. backed forces say they have liberated the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqah. We will take you live to the Syrian border.

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