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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Rex Tillerson Sworn in As Secretary of State; Flynn to Iran: You're on Official Notice; New Details on Trump's Call with Australian PM. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired February 1, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:05] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks very much for joining us.
We begin tonight with breaking news. President Trump and Vice President Pence just moments ago making it official after a bruising confirmation battle, and some lingering questions about his lack of experience and business ties with Russia, Rex Tillerson is now secretary of state.
The ceremony followed Mr. Trump's first taste of the consequences some of the decisions the president makes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just returned from an amazing visit with a great, great family at Dover. And it was something very sad, very beautiful. Ryan, a great man.
Secretary Tillerson, I first want to congratulate you, Brenda, and your entire family on this incredible honor and it is that, an incredible honor.
You bring the unique skills and deep, deep insights, and I've gotten to see it firsthand, into foreign diplomacy our nation needs to foster stability and security in a world too often trapped, and right now, it's trapped, in violence and in war.
You understand that the job of our diplomats and the mission of the State Department is to serve the interests of the United States of America to make our nation safer, our country more prosperous, and our people much more secure. In that mission, you also understand the importance of strengthening our alliances and forming new alliances to enhance our strategic interests and the safety of our people. Your whole life has prepared you for this moment and you really have had a tremendous life heading up one of the great companies of the world and doing it magnificently. Absolutely magnificently.
And I can say this is a man that's respected all over the world before he even begins, but as Brenda said, now he's beginning his big, big and most important journey. This is where you were meant to be right here, today, at this crossroads in history. It's time to bring a clear-eyed focus to foreign affairs, to take a fresh look at the world around us and to seek new solutions grounded in very ancient truths. These truths include the fact that nations have the right to protect their interests, that all people have a right to freely pursue their own destiny and all of us are better off when we act in concert and not in conflict. And there's rarely been conflict like we have in the world today. Very sad.
I'm excited for you. I'm excited for your family. And perhaps most importantly, I am excited for our great country. Though you inherit enormous challenges in the Middle East and around the world, I do believe we can achieve peace and stability in these very, very troubled times.
May God bless you in this journey and may God bless our very, very special and great country. Thank you very much."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: As President Trump noted, he was just back from Dover Air Force Base and the return of Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens who was slain in that raid in Yemen over the weekend.
Secretary Tillerson, of course, takes the State Department job at the White House, leveling sharp words at Iran and nearly a thousand of his own employees over at the State Department signing a letter, taking exception with his own boss's executive order.
More on that now from our Elise Labott.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A scathing protest by career diplomats and civil servants is growing. Over 900 of them signing a petition protesting President Trump's new policy banning visas for citizens from seven majority Muslim countries. In an internal memo obtained by CNN, the diplomats warn Trump's executive order, quote, "will not achieve its aim of making our country safer" and is likely to "alienate allies in our counter- terrorism efforts" and "increase anti-American sentiment and foster violent extremism."
TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: The cable is at least in my memory unprecedented. And I think it goes to the deep concern and the broad concern that is felt in the State Department over the actions taken by the administration.
LABOTT: The memo came through the State Department's dissent channel which awards employees for voicing foreign policy concerns without retribution. And from the White House, a blunt warning.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has a very clear vision. I think that they should get with the program or they can go.
[20:05:00] LABOTT: One long time career officer pushed out by the new administration used his farewell address to urge colleagues to stay and uphold their oath to defend America from all enemies foreign and domestic. THOMAS COUNTRYMAN, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR ARMS CONTROL:
The policy without professionals is by definition an amateur policy. You have to help make the choices that bring this country forward.
LABOTT: In addition to a restless diplomatic corps, the Trump administration must also confront allies concerned the White House is increasing the ISIS threat with its latest moves.
AMBER RUDD, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: ISIL and Daesh will use any opportunity they can to make difficulties to create the environment they want to radicalize people, to bring them over to their side. So, it is a propaganda opportunity for them potentially.
LABOTT: In Canada, one lawmaker compared Trump's policies to fascism.
THOMAS MULCAIR, CANADIAN NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADER: We will call for immediate action and for the Canadian government to finally start standing up to the fascist Donald Trump.
COOPER: Elise Labott joins us now.
Is Tillerson expected to try to kind of smooth things over at the State Department when he starts work tomorrow?
LABOTT: Well, I think that's what diplomats are really hoping, Anderson. And I spoke to a lot of them and they say one of the early things he can do is come in and maybe speak to some of the authors of this memo. There's a lot of anxiety. Not just about this immigration policy but the way that it was rolled out because as we know, Secretary Tillerson, even though he was a nominee, the State Department was not consulted at all.
So, I think they're going to be looking for some assurances for him that he has their back, that he hears them, that he respects them. And also that he's also going to represent their interests to the White House. And that could really go a long way in terms of getting the people on his side.
And he needs going forward. He has that kind of reputation at ExxonMobil. Diplomats that have briefed him said he really wants to hear from people throughout the building and speak to what their interests and their concerns are. So, I think they're going to be looking for him to really set the tone as someone who is willing to listen to his foreign service, Anderson.
COOPER: Elise Labott, thanks very much.
We'll talk to the panel about that.
I can hear Jeffrey Lord already thinking about what he wants to say.
As we talked about briefly, earlier today, the president's national security adviser had a warning for Iran after Iranian-backed hostile action in the Red Sea and a failed medium range missile test. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL FLYNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama administration, as well as the United Nations as being weak and ineffective. Instead of being thankful to the United States in these agreements, Iran is now feeling embolden. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, General Flynn did not take questions and he did not specifically or point out what being officially "on notice" means. Late today, the White House briefed reporters on it.
Our Michelle Kosinski joins us now from the State Department.
Obviously, a very strong statement from Secretary Flynn, ambiguous though about exactly what it means at the end there, putting them on notice. What's the latest?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, some people are calling this a red line. If it is at this point, it's a very blurry red line.
But it was meant to sound like a very hard line. This administration is saying that it is dedicated to holding Iran accountable after the latest ballistic missile launch. It is considering a whole range of options that nothing is off the table, including a military option.
What the administration didn't say is whether they contacted Iran. In fact, they wouldn't answer that question, to tell Iran that it is on notice.
They did, though, take the opportunity to criticize the Obama administration's response. And that caused the Obama administration to lash out. President Obama's former deputy national security adviser going on Twitter and saying that, look, while this is going on, there's an escalating situation of violence in Ukraine and questioning why the new national security adviser chose to call out Iran harshly, to call out the Obama administration but not criticize Vladimir Putin -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much.
Joining us now is Trump supporter, "American Spectator contributing editor, Jeffrey Lord, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Trump supporter and contributor to "The Hill", Kayleigh McEnany, also "New York Times" columnist Frank Bruni, and CNN military analyst, retired Army Lt. General Mark Hertling.
General Hertling, let's start with you. We heard the national security adviser, General Flynn, talking about Iran being on notice. How do you interpret that message? And is there value or a strategy, perhaps, behind being intentionally vague? LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Key questions,
Anderson. There might be value behind the strategy of vagueness. But you don't do it in this manner. The reason I say that is because as many will tell you, the language of diplomacy is very precise. And there is no definition of putting people on notice.
It's troubling, first of all. It's really just bluster. And to have a military guy, a former military guy standing in the national security adviser's role saying this in the open and as Michelle just said, two of the five paragraphs in this press release.
And, by the way, it's a press release, not a demarche. It wasn't delivered to the ambassador of Iran. I wasn't delivered to that country, our allies weren't informed. And most importantly, our military wasn't informed. The Central Command commander said he had no idea this was going on.
So, this is another uncoordinated action being announced by a military guy to the press without the kind of diplomatic soft stroke that you have to take.
I get it that Mr. Trump is a different kind of president. But he's also dealing with sovereign nations. And this is really unfortunate.
COOPER: Jeff, I mean, is it as General Hertling --
JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Respectfully, general, I disagree. Let me just -- I want to read you a line from President Reagan's first press conference a few days after he was inaugurated and he received a question from ABC's Sam Donaldson on the Soviet Union.
And the president broke all kinds of land records here that were diplomatically speaking when he said the Soviet Union, and I'm quoting directly, "had openly and publicly declared that only morality they recognized is what will further their cause, meaning they reserve under themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat."
I can only tell you in the world of Washington diplomacy and the world of the media and the day, they were aghast that the president of the United States would stand there and say. His point was, he was sending a message to the Soviet Union. That's what General Flynn is doing. The Reagan was the president of the United States and said these things.
So, there is a reason to do the things and General Flynn sees it and does it.
COOPER: Paul -- go ahead.
HERTLING: Well, I would say that's a statement. That's a statement, Jeffrey. It's descriptive to be sure.
But I don't see a threat in that. And I know we're going way back to the Reagan administration one more time. But there was kind of a power in that message that said this is what I'm going to do. It wasn't bluster. And it wasn't -- you know, we have seen a lot of
-- we've seen a lot of action in the last few days but we haven't seen a strategy or progress. And there's a whole lot of difference between actions and signing things versus progress in an overarching strategy.
I think Mr. Reagan came in with a strategy to defeat the Soviet Union and the Warsaw [act. That was part of it. You know, as others have said, why isn't Mr. Trump or General Flynn talking about what's going on in Ukraine right now? Since Saturday, Ukrainian -- or the Russian forces have advanced on three different axis in violation of the Minsk accord. Why aren't we talking about that right now?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, in fact, if I can pick up on the general's point. It has become -- and Ukraine has for quite much more time but today became much more kinetic, as the Army likes to say, which means that forces are engaging. Nineteen people were killed in eastern Ukraine, just north of Donetsk. And these are Russian-backed separatists fighting the sovereign nation of Ukraine, an American ally, and we're saying nothing while the Iranians have launched -- tested a ballistic missile. I think the United States has a right to call them on that and to complain. I think the general is right, better done in concert with allies and diplomats and with your generals, Central Command didn't know.
But the contrast is being noted all around the world. The president spoke to President Putin today. We haven't gotten a readout of that conversation.
But he did, according to "The Washington Post" when he spoke to the Australian prime minister, one of our closest allies, Malcolm Turnbull, he told the Prime Minister Turnbull, this is the worse call I had today implying he gets along better with Putin who as we speak has supporting separatists who are killing American allies than the Australians an American ally.
This is amateur hour. It is really dangerous.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There were a lot of Republicans asking during the Obama administration why isn't the Obama administration talking forcefully against Iran as we like? For instance, you had Senator Bob Menendez, a Democratic senator, come out and say, it appears as if the Obama administration is using Tehran talking points. Harsh words from his own party.
You know, for Mike Flynn, a high ranking general I would note, I think he knows what he's doing, to come out and say Iran is on notice after they not only fired a ballistic missile but they also attacked a Saudi ship, a Saudi ship which U.S. defense analysts have said they attack the ship thinking it might have been an American ship or it might have been a dress rehearsal for an attack to an attack on the USS Cole, that's from defense analysts.
For him to say Iran is on notice, I'm not sure why that should be controversial. COOPER: All right. I want to hear --
HERTLING: I go back to Russia one more time. Instead of deflecting back to Iran and shot a ballistic missile, not a nuclear weapon but a ballistic missile which is in their sovereign right to do. It has not been outlined as that is against the law according to the U.N. Accord. They have done something that they have the right to do and yet Russia continues in the 19 casualties or the 19 deaths today has been building over the last six months. This has been continuous and it's just been increased over the last few days, right after Mr. Trump's phone call, actually.
[20:15:04] And I'm troubled by that. This is an ally nation trying to maintain sovereignty.
COOPER: Frank, how do you see it?
FRANK BRUNI, NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED COLUMNIST: I was just going to say to what Kayleigh said. Mike Flynn may know what he's doing, but he also has a rich history of provocative language and provocative stances. And this administration has a history of inspecific bluster.
We need to see putting Iran on notice in a larger context. We said again and again that Donald Trump is so far governing exactly as he campaigned. He spent lot of time on the campaign trail talking about his displeasure with the Iran nuclear deal. He definitely signaled that he had a much different attitude toward Iran than the Obama administration does.
And we're seeing that in this. This is part of that larger context. And so, as we analyze it, I think we have to look at that bigger picture.
COOPER: We have to take a quick break. We're going to have more with the panel and pick up the conversation, when we come back.
Also later, breaking news -- the first lady responds after reports she might never move into the White House. Latest on that, ahead.
COOPER: Continuing the conversation about Iran, foreign policy and the new secretary of state.
Back with the panel.
You know, Jeff, we saw a -- one of the diplomats who's leaving the State Department give a farewell address in which he made some pointed comments about the Trump administration or some pointed suggestions.
COOPER: What -- do you think this is much to do about nothing or is -- I mean, is this a good thing in your ideas?
[20:20:01] LORD: This is a good thing. I mean, I'm sure he's a good person and all of this sort of thing in a professional. But my first reaction is don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Look, this is going to be --
COOPER: I knew that was going to be your response.
LORD: This is -- this was Ronald Reagan's problem. This is problems for Republican president that's the bureaucracy writ large is filled with lots of liberals. There are unions and there -- and most of them are unionized. They give in one case I look into with Energy Department spokesman, union representative spoke up. His union gave $400,000 some odd to Democrats in this cycle and $22,000 to Republicans.
In other words, they think they're running the country. Now, are they part of running the country? Yes. But the fact of the matter is neither this gentleman nor anyone else in any of these departments was elected anything.
The president of the United States, be it Donald Trump, Barack Obama, or anyone else, is the person who went out here and did the hard work and got elected. The American people expect them to run the government. And if these folks don't like policy A, B, or C, have honor and resign.
COOPER: Paul, what is wrong with that? Why shouldn't the president have the people representing his policy?
LORD: Can you imagine the reverse to Bill Clinton? You would not be happy.
BEGALA: It was done to Bill Clinton. In 1993, the same process, the dissent channel at the State Department, some history, created by Dean Rusk in 1971. We were engaged in Vietnam. A lot of diplomats thought it was a bad idea.
It has proved to be one of the great successes in managing a bureaucracy, the Dissent Channel, because it does that. It allows experts to speak out when they believe the government is wrong, without having to resign and sometime policy changes.
When President Clinton was president, about a dozen folks sent messages through the Dissent Channel saying we were being too weak on ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. What we wound up -- they wound up being right. We wound going to war to stop the ethnic cleansing.
There's about 50 or 51 when President Obama was in office --
BEGALA: -- saying we were too weak on Syria. Now, we haven't changed our Syria policy. We'll see what the President Trump does.
But this say wonderful thing. Eisenhower, you quote Reagan, I'm going to go to Eisenhower. Ike said never confuse -- LORD: I wasn't alive then.
BEGALA: Even I wasn't.
Never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.
LORD: I agree.
BEGALA: This is a high act of patriotism. By the way, the State Department gives an award for dissent. That's how wonderfully that has taken hold in that department. You don't want a bureaucracy that doesn't challenge the conventional wisdom.
LORD: I agree. I agree. I totally agree with that. But there is a difference between expressing dissent and then trying to sabotage it.
BEGALA: There's no question. These people aren't sabotaging. They're using the proper channel. Literally.
COOPER: But it's interesting, Frank, because Donald Trump said as a leader, he likes to hear dissenting voices. He likes to --
BRUNI: Has he said that? I haven't seen a lot of evidence of that. Any time those of us in the media criticized him, he says he wants to curtail our rights.
But this isn't -- this is largely about liberals in the bureaucracy but not entirely. This is partly about in this early phase of the administration, executive orders have been signed without being vetted by agencies, without getting the sort of input that would normally be sought and received. And so, I think a lot of people in government are feeling entirely shutout of the process and they're feeling that things are being done in a rash way.
And we've seen that rashness in terms of the confusion. You know, with the immigration crackdown, the travel ban, whatever you want to call it, were green cards affected or not? We saw that with the confusion, that's what a 20 percent import tariff on every country or just on Mexico?
Again and again, there is all this confusion, because orders are being written before they've been thought through and before advice is sought. I think that's part of what's fueling the robustness of this dissent.
BURNETT: But I do think we have two categories to Jeffrey's point. We have seen both this week, we have the dissent category and the defiance category. To Paul's point, the dissent category, by all means, the Dissent Channel has been here for years and years, decades even. You can express your dissent as long as you don't engage in defiance.
And what we saw earlier in the week with Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, instructing the Justice Department to not defend the president's actions was reprehensible.
BEGALA: I took that oath. The oath is to the Constitution not to the president.
MCENANY: And the Constitution supports his actions.
COOPER: Paul, talk about this. The phone call with Australia's prime minister. Earlier, "The Washington Post's" Philip Rucker has just written about it. He joins us on the phone.
Philip, explain what occurred in this.
PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): Hi, Anderson.
So, President Trump spoke with the prime minister of Australia on Saturday over the weekend. It was a day where he had five phone calls with world leaders. But it got quite testy and, you know, Trump has taken issue with the refugee agreement that was reached between the United States and Australia under President Obama. That would allow roughly 1,200 refugees that are currently in Australia to, you know, apply to enter the United States through our screening process.
He got very angry with the prime minister about that according to our sources. And the call only lasted about 25 minutes before it ended, a lot sooner than expected. Among the things Trump did is he bragged about the magnitude of his Electoral College victory, sort of talking about his crowds and his Electoral College win as something he has begun doing in a number of these foreign leader calls and that happened with the Australian prime minister.
[20:25:03] And then at one point, he told the prime minister that, look, I've spoken today with four other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and, quote, "This was the worst call by far." So, that's pretty strong language for the president to be making to the Australian leader. Australia is one of the U.S.'s long time allies on trade, intelligence sharing and, of course, defense matters.
COOPER: And this call took place, you said Saturday?
RUCKER: On Saturday, that's right. It was a day when Trump was at the White House making a number of calls to various foreign leaders.
COOPER: Fascinating details on the call.
Philip Rucker, I appreciate talking to you. Thank you so much. Philip Rucker from "The Washington Post" with details on this call.
I mean, Paul, why -- why do you bring up, why do you think it's important?
BEGALA: Because it is really astonishing. Australia is one of our closest allies and always have arguments, that's fine. But this is really vexing to me. That our president seems to go into picking fights with our allies, our neighbors, our customers. He picked fights with the Mexicans and now, apparently, with Australians. The British are now talking about not allowing him to the country and
not a peep about the aggression against our ally by Russia. It's a very odd juxtaposition that he seems to be much more pro-Russia, which is our adversary, than he is pro-ally.
COOPER: Jeff, should he be talking about --
LORD: Well, I think that one things that's going on here is that Donald Trump and England's Nigel Farage, and elsewhere in the world, there is an upset, if you will, a revolution against the world order, whether it's in America and the establishment, et cetera. Or whether it's around the globe.
And it sounds to me like this conversation with the Australian prime minister is of that variety.
COOPER: I guess my question is more Ukraine and why not if the White House is talking about Iran, will you actually have, you know, people being killed in Ukraine by advancing --
LORD: I mean, I don't know what the ins and outs of their thought process is on that. I mean, I'll be honest with you on. That but I'm sure in all due time as these things come to his attention or brought to his attention by his staff that he'll deal with it.
I mean, what the conversation with the Australian prime minister says to me is he's fearless about this. Whether he was dealing with Jeb Bush or whomever in the Republican establishment, he's now in the world stage and he's going to be fearless with this.
COOPER: I mean, it's easy to beat up on the Australian prime minister, I imagine. I guess the question is with Vladimir Putin --
LORD: I certainly think that if he felt there was cause, he'd do it in a heartbeat. Absolutely.
BRUNI: I'm just -- part of the Philip Rucker's readout that sticks with me is when he said that President Donald Trump bragged anew about the size of his electoral college victory and how his victory night went out.
When he is going to stop talking about that? And also all this talk about him leading a movement which in his words the likes of the world has never seen, I think the Bolsheviks might quibble with that, and there are plenty of other historical antecedents.
I'm getting tired of hearing about Donald Trump using formal situations, formal discussions with foreign leaders, interviews with potential cabinet secretaries to talk about how great his victory night was. I mean, this is not presidential --
LORD: Because it does represent something, though, Frank. I mean, it represents a movement of Americans in this country to challenge the status quo. And it's worth mentioning.
BRUNI: Would you describe for me the shies and contours of the movement? He speaks as if he -- he literally says the likes of which the world has never seen. Tell me a world has never seen a movement like the one is that Donald Trump is leading.
LORD: The size an content is that Donald Trump --
BRUNI: The world has never seen anything the movement that Donald Trump is leading? You are really serious?
LORD: Lots of stories that president Donald Trump is like no other.
BRUNI: I would like you to mathematically quantify this for me.
MCENANY: We all know that Donald Trump talks about his electoral victories --
LORD: His electoral votes.
MCENANY: -- with foreign leaders. He talked about it publicly.
BRUNI: What's the point of that, Kayleigh?
MCENANY: What we're missing is the point of the call that for the first time, we have America first foreign policy. We have someone who's willing to get on the phone --
BRUNI: What does that have to do with Donald Trump reliving the election night?
MCENANY: I understand you want to focus on the electoral victory. But I'd like to focus on the other half of the call.
MCENANY: I thought it was far more important and that is to say we had a Somali refugee come in this country and attack American citizens. And for Donald Trump to get on the phone add advocate for America's interests and say we're putting a halt to this, even if the Australian prime minister doesn't like temporarily, that is a good thing. And I understand the media wants to get distracted by him talking about election night.
BRUNI: I'm fine with him advocating for America's interest, but he doesn't need to take this narcissistic digression all the time and talk about how wonderful his victory was.
MCENANY: This is the case study of what the media missed. This is what you want to focus on. Whereas, the American public wants to focus on the other half of the call, which is America is first again on the world stage and we're going to advocate for our interests.
BRUNI: So then why doesn't he edit --
COOPER: General Hertling, go ahead.
HERTLING: If I could say something. I think it's interesting that it's been posed as an America first policy. And what we've been seeing over the last couple days is about to become an America only policy. That's troubling to me.
We spent several decades attempting to build alliances and I think what we're seeing right now in the first 13, 14 days of the Trump administration is a lot of signatures on executive orders.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: ... to build alliances and I think what we're seeing right now in the first 13, 14 days of the Trump administration is a lot of signatures on executive orders.
What we haven't seen yet is a reaction to a crisis. And when that happens, and I think it will probably within the next 30 to 60 days, Mr. Trump is going to look around for alliances. And it's not going to be like he saw in his campaign where he was insulting all the other candidates for the Republican Party and they all eventually came around to him.
When he tries to come around and build alliances to fight real threats, he's going to find himself not just America first but America all by itself.
[20:30:37] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We got to take a break here. We have a lot more ahead on what's been a very busy day on Capitol Hill. Pres. Trump's Supreme Court pick paid courtesy call to senators while battles over the president's current (ph) picks end up. Republicans went ahead and voted without Democrats when they boycotted two committee hearings for a second day. Details on that ahead.
COOPER: Well, federal appeal (ph) as Judge Gorsuch Pres. Trump's pick for the Supreme Court had his first random meetings with senators on Capitol Hill today with Vice Pres. Mike Pence at his side. The Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley says he plans to be in confirmation hearing in six weeks.
Of course, the (inaudible) nomination of course comes after Republican refused to hold hearings from Merrick Garland, Pres. Obama's pick to fill the same seat.
Democrats have to decide how aggressive they want to be now that the shoe is on the other foot. Pres. Trump for his part minced no words today advising Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to, "go nuclear if necessary."
Manu Raju joins me now with the latest. So what you are learning about how Democrats are planning on handling this?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Anderson, this has consumed a lot of debate internally. Last week at a private retreat in West Virginia, Democrats talking about their tactics as well as in private lunch meetings as well. And what we're finding out is that the caucus is divided, largely along ideological lines. Progressives and liberal fire brands really want to go tooth and nail and fight this nomination, filibuster it, do everything they can to block Neil Gorsuch from getting this spot.
[20:35:5] But more moderate members some of the more centrist members and once who are up for reelection in 2018 are reserving judgment. And some of the top party tacticians are also saying maybe this is not the fight to wage. Since the conservative fighting (ph) conservative, maybe worry about the next time so we don't have to worry about possibly seeing Republicans cut the filibuster, and then worry about this fight if it's a conservative replacing a liberal justice. And that is all putting Democratic leaders like Chuck Schumer in a tricky spot, Anderson.
COOPER: I know you talked to Joe -- Joe Manchin about calls from the left to block the nominee. What is he saying?
RAJU: And he -- Joe Manchin is one of the centers that the Trump team is aggressively courting right now. Yes, he met with Neil Gorsuch earlier today. Manchin warning liberals in his party that it's time to work with Pres. Trump including on this nominee. Or they can risk old super minority status. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: If we're ever going to be back into the majority, they're going to have to learn to work with moderates, people that come from red states like myself that might not be able to support certain levels of a base that goes a little bit further left. It doesn't make sense with the constituent who represent. They have to be tolerant and understand that. If not, they're going to be in this super minority.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now Anderson this is really the crux of the debate post election on for Democrats on how to move forward. Liberals believe that it's time to move back to more ideological roots and really that's where the energy of the party is right now. So, people like Joe Manchin may end up getting overruled here, Anderson.
COOPER: And the president is saying today that he told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to go nuclear if necessary, meaning lower the threshold to break a filibuster for Supreme Court nominee from 60 to 51. How the rank and file Republicans feel about that?
RAJU: They're open to it. Even though they opposed this idea of changing the rules in the past, I've talked to a number of Republicans who are not ruling it out. They are saying bluntly from the leadership on down to the rank and file that no matter what Donald Trump will get his nominee confirmed. So he can read between the lines. They're ready to go nuclear, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Mau Raju, thanks very much.
And now the other battles in Capitol Hill. We've said the Senate today confirmed former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as the next Secretary of State.
Meanwhile, Republicans played hardball to get two other Trump nominees approved when Democrats boycotted hearings for a second day. Our Phil Mattingly joins us now with the latest.
So, let's talk first about the Republican moves to push through several of Trump's nominees.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Anderson, look, partisanship obviously on Capitol Hill is an exactly a new development. But the level of ranker we're seeing has really kind of caused some dramatic turns. And you talk about Republicans actually changing the rules in committee to move Pres. Trump's nominees along. Why do they have to do that? Because Democrats were in the midst of their second boycott of committee hearings over the course of two days.
Now normally, again, while partisanship exist these committee processes and moving through nominees is -- pretty regular order. But we have moved far beyond that and the underlying reason is this. Democrats as it currently stands have no mechanism of blocking any of these nominees on their own.
If Republicans stick together, every single one of Pres. Trump's nominees will be confirmed. Because of that, Democrats are trying to basically pull any procedural lever they can find to slow the process down. We've seen a lot of frustrated Republicans. I've talked to a lot of frustrated Republicans and they're fighting back. And this is the way they're doing even if it doesn't seem to trap (ph) with what we're used to in this chamber, Anderson.
COOPER: I also understand things got heated between Senators Franken and Cornyn.
MATTINGLY: Yeah, that's exactly right. This is the new normal. And it's getting very personal. I want to play this for you. Take a listen. And let me just set it off with the premise that this isn't how these committee hearings are supposed to happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN, (D) MINNESOTA: But when describing this history, Sen. Cruz misrepresented what happened. So I'd like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS: I object to the senator disparaging of fellow member of the committee here in his absence. I would think --
FRANKEN: Well, he should be here, first of all. Secondly, don't disparage me, senator.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let him make his case and then we'll go back you to.
CORNYN: I object to the Senate. We're here to talk about the president's nominee not a colleague. And I object to disparaging -- disparaging a colleague on this committee and particularly in the colleague's absence. It's just not -- it's un-tort (ph) and it's inappropriate. Now I object.
FRANKEN: OK. Can I speak to that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can speak to it. But I think that we would be better off if we just let it go at this point.
FRANKEN: You mean let me continue my speech?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Would do you that, please?
FRANKEN: I will, thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Anderson, we're seeing exchanges like that break out across committees here.
Now I did mention that Republicans have largely stayed in line. They really haven't broken at all on any of these nominees. That changed today. It was kind of a jarring development, back to back senators on the Senate floor.
Republican senators saying they would be opposed to Betsy Devos' nomination for Education Secretary. But, it's important to note Republicans they can actually lose three senators and at this point they are not expected to do that. But this is going to be as tight as it can possibly get. As it currently stands, the vote will be 50 to 50.
[20:40:08] The Republicans control the White House which means Mike Pence, president of the Senate and his capacity, will come up and cast the tiebreaking vote. Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Phil Mattingly thanks very much, Phil.
Up next, it's been a busy start, of course, for the Trump presidency. A lot of executive action signed and under scrutiny.
Plus, a Supreme Court nominee picked already placed by his supporters.
In a moment, I'll speck with Glenn Beck who is no fan of Donald Trump during presidential campaign, has he changed his mind at all? We'll talk to him about.
Also tonight, First Lady Melania Trump breaking her silence over some reports about whether or not she'll finally move to Washington.
COOPER: President Trump is placed to get things done in office, and whether you support him or not, the fact is, he is living up to that promise. It's been a busy start in the Oval Office for the 45ft President of United States. But less than two weeks in office, he signed more than a dozen executive actions and rewritten U.S. policy on several issues such as immigration and refugees. And just last night he announced his pick for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch.
The question has Pres. Trump especially with his Supreme Court pick went over any of those who would criticize him.
Joining us tonight is Glenn Beck, the founder of the Blaze and Syndicated Radio Host.
Glenn, you had -- obviously your fair share of criticism of candidate Trump and Pres. Trump. His Supreme Court pick, I wondered, does it make you rethink your early assessment of the kind of president he might turn out to be, because you were concerned he would not select a conservative jurist.
GLENN BECK, FOUNDER, THE BLAZE: Yeah, in some ways yes and some ways no. And I didn't think -- this is a great surprise for a constitutional conservative. That was skeptical of what Pres. Trump might do.
And on the air today apologized to everybody who listened to me and I said during the primary and during the election, I don't -- if you're hanging your hat on this, I don't think it's a done deal. I didn't think he would. But he did. And for all of those evangelicals that put everything else aside because they said, the Supreme Court is too important, this is a big, big move for Donald Trump for them.
[20:45:22] COOPER: What about -- what else you have seen in the first 12 days of this administration? Are there -- I assume there are concerns you continue to have.
BECK: Yeah. Several. Let's take the, "Muslim ban." When I heard that reported on the news and I saw Pres. Trump as he is signing it talking about a ban, I thought, oh my gosh. I was against the Muslim ban. This is one of the things that I thought was really horrible. How is this happening through executive order? This is horrible. Then I watched it on the news and heard the media talk about it. And then I went and I read the executive order. It's not a ban. It's a pause. Now it may turn into a ban. I don't know. It may turn into nothing, I don't know. It's a pause.
But what happened was I think Pres. Trump for some reason was calling it a ban maybe to throw a bone to the people that actually want a Muslim ban. And I don't know who those people are. And then the media picked it up and without reading it or knowing that it wasn't really a ban started calling it a ban. And then everybody started to march.
And I will tell you, Anderson, you've been in dangerous places in the world. And there comes a time when you can sense, hey, there's trouble coming. At some point there's trouble coming.
Donald Trump is a counter puncher. Good or bad, like it or not, if you hit him back, he has said, I will hit you back twice as hard. People in the press are hitting him back. People on the street are hitting him back. I hit him back. He hits back twice as hard. We're escalating things.
My question to the American people is how does this end?
COOPER: Right. Where does it go?
BECK: We have to -- I feel like I'm a very old puffy Matthew Broderick in war games, I'm the computer maybe saying the only way to win is to not play the game. How do we not keep continue to escalate until we're killing each other?
COOPER: It's interesting though, because I feel like this is a conversation you have and this is a thought process that you have been undertaking for a while now. I mean you were very reflective of your own past comments and you have talked about adding to divisiveness in some cases in the past. So, I feel like this is kind of a continuation of that. Do you have -- for you, what is the answer? Because I know many people in the press say well, look, it's the -- you know, you have to stand up for facts. You have to point out what is true and what is not.
I also think nobody should have a knee jerk negative response to anybody. I think you need to be fair above all things and in one's reporting and in one's government.
BECK: Anderson, I gave an interview to somebody this week and they said, can you name an honest, intellectually honest and intellectually curious reporter, honestly I could come up with one name and it was yours. I'm not saying that because I'm on your program, that was a response.
I don't know enough people who are actually intellectually curious and intellectually honest that will look at this Muslim ban and say, wait a minute, this isn't a Muslim ban. Why are we doing? Why are we running this story to Muslim ban? To deescalate things, you have to be able to say what the truth is. But, I've also not heard anybody in the media say, you know what, we -- there are some things that we did that we were wrong.
COOPER: You know, one of the things I've talked to you a number of people, former chiefs of staff, Democrats, Republicans, who talked about the difficulty of transitioning from campaigning to actually being president and being in the White House and governing. Particularly for somebody like Pres. Trump who has not served in government previously, that transition, according to chiefs of staff in the past for any candidate, for President Obama it was, for many candidates, it's a very difficult thing. And I'm wondering how much of what you've been seeing, we've been seeing in the last 12 days is just part of a regular kind of realignment transitioning, kind of figuring out the leverage of government and how much is something more?
BECK: I don't -- I'm not sure. I mean, I'm again, feel compelled to express my concern about Steve Bannon. I think he's a very dangerous man. And is a self-proclaim leninist that appreciates Lenin's technique of burning everything down and destroying the system so you could rebuild another one.
I don't know if it's just politics, if there is a bigger game or if it's in experience, but I will tell you, each of us, each of us, and me included, have got to watch our words. We have to say, how do I de-escalate this? We have to understand you're working with a counter puncher. He's going to hit you harder than you hit him. That's only going to retch it, make you more angry.
The press has a profound responsibility to tell the truth and not politic or campaign or be viewed as an army or a service of one party. And to me, that means you almost have to overcorrect on some things, but not when it comes to the truth.
COOPER: Well, I mean, I agree with you on that. And I do think it's very easy to get into a pattern in covering things, in -- even if you're not in public life, just as a citizen watching things, to instantly have a knee jerk reaction of, you know, a negative knee jerk reaction. I think that's the easiest thing in the world to do.
And I do think all of us have to constantly check ourselves, whatever political strike we are, whatever our role is in looking at things with fresh eyes and with unbiased eyes. And, you know, I think that's the most critical thing for us human reporters to do.
BECK: Let's just keep our eye on things and try to be reasonable and just be vigilant on that.
[20:51:54] COOPER: Glenn Beck, I appreciate you being on. Thank you so much.
BECK: Thank you very much.
COOPER: Well, up next, more breaking news. First lady, Melania Trump responding to a report that she might not move to Washington, details on that ahead.
COOPER: Well, there's more breaking news tonight. First lady, Melania Trump is responding to a report from the magazine as we play about whether or not, she and her son Barron will eventually move to the White House.
The senior adviser of the first lady releasing this statement, "Mrs. Trump will be moving to D.C. and settling in to the White House at the end of the school year, splitting her time between New York and D.C. in the meantime. Mrs. Trump is honored to serve this country and is taking the role and responsibilities of first lady very seriously. It has only been a short time since the inauguration and the first lady is going to go about her role in a pragmatic and thoughtful way that is unique and authentic to her."
[20:55:12] Today, the first lady was visibly absent. President Trump's daughter Ivanka was the one who traveled with him to Dover Air Force base. More now on the first lady from CNN's, Kate Bennett.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE: Congratulations Mr. President.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It's been 12 days since her husband was sworn in, and Melania Trump has yet to return to Washington, D.C. Without her living under the same roof as her husband the responsibilities of the office of the first lady are in limbo. With the White House visitor center on stuff, that means no White House tours and with no appointed social secretary, there's no one to plan state dinner or the annual Easter egg roll.
MELANIA TRUMP, U.S. FIRST LADY: We must find better ways to honor and support the basic goodness of our children, especially, in social media.
BENNETT: Mrs. Trump has said she plans to take on cyber bullying as first lady, but she has not yet formerly announced the platform of official causes, a social schedule of events or her Washington calendar.
She has also not hired a full staff in the east wing. All things past first ladies have done almost immediately after their husband's take office.
In November, her husband told reporters that Mrs. Trump will delay their move to Washington until 10 year old Barron Trump completes his school year. More recently, Pres. Trump told "The New York Times", the first family would return to D.C. on weekends.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Our first Lady --
BENNETT: But Melania Trump has not been seen in Washington since she returned to New York since Sunday after her husband was sworn in, which was also their wedding anniversary.
The only sighting of the first lady since leaving D.C. was on Monday night when the paparazzi caught her running errands in New York.
Melania Trump made few public appearances on the campaign trail, a decision she told Anderson Cooper was hers.
M. TRUMP: They will have me on the trail all the time. They wish to have me there. But I made the decision. I will be a parent to our boy, to our child.
BENNETT: She spoke at the Republican National Convention in August, where she was met with controversy amid allegation she plagiarized part of her speech from Michelle Obama.
M. TRUMP: His task when he has to be, but he's also kind and fair and caring. This kindness is not always noted but it is there for all to see.
BENNETT: And she defended her husband when the "Access Hollywood" tapes were released, calling it "Boy talk."
M. TRUMP: I said to my husband that, you know, the language is un- appropriate. It's not acceptable. I accept his apology. I hope the American people will accept it as well. And it was many, many years ago. He's not the man that I know.
BENNETT: She traveled to Washington for the inauguration, looking every bit the first lady in a Jackie Kennedy inspired ensemble. And she gave brief remarks at the inaugural armed services ball, thanking attendees for their service.
M. TRUMP: I'm honored to be your first lady. We will fight. We will win. And we will make America great again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And Kate Bennett joins me now. I understand there's some new information about the first lady's transition to D.C.
BENNETT: That's right, Anderson. Just tonight, this evening, the first lady's office announced she has hired her first official staff member. Well, her name, Lindsey Reynolds, to be her chief of staff in the release tonight that was put out about the hiring.
Ms. Reynolds says, "I am putting together a professional and highly- experienced team which will take time to do properly. I'm excited to be organizing and bringing together such a dynamic and forward thinking group of individuals who will work together to make our country better for everyone."
Again, Ms. Reynolds is the first official hire. The first lady has yet to hire communications person, a social secretary. There's still many, many open positions in the east wing. However, Ms. Reynolds does say she plans to get the visitors' office up and running so that those White House tours can resume to the public as soon as possible.
COOPER: Well, it's big transition. We wish them the best. Kate Bennett thanks very much.
In the next hour of 360, our breaking news on the cut-off (ph) from President Trump's National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, the fall out from he's telling Iran that it's officially on noticed, details ahead.