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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Prepares for Address on Afghanistan; Trump Underwater in Three States; Rare Total Eclipse; Trump Unveils U.S. Path in Afghanistan. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:18] MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for sharing your day with us. I'm Manu Raju. John King is off.

President Trump's returns to Washington, set to make a critical address to the nation, his outline for the future of America's longest war, right as he needs a commander in chief moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The president has made a decision. As he said, he wants to be the one to announce it to the American people. So I'll stand silent until then -- until that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Plus, Steve Bannon locked and loaded and free with his hands, quote, back on his weapons. President Trump's exiled chief strategist vows not to go quietly into that good night.

Then, total, beautiful and a little dangerous. The moon does something it hasn't since 1918, block out the sun. We'll tell you how to catch a glimpse of history.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Davis of "The New York Times," Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," Jeff Mason of Reuters and CNN's MJ Lee.

President Trump is back at work preparing for a primetime address with huge stakes and even bigger consequences. Tonight at 9:00 p.m., the president will lay out how the United States will keep fighting America's longest war. Candidate Trump ran on the promise to pull out a combat- fatigued country out of Afghanistan. But President Trump does not want to -- history to labeled him as the commander in chief who seeded the country to terrorists. His policy will be defining and any successes or missteps will echo for a generation.

But the politics of the moment could rescue a presidency crippled by the president's response to Charlottesville. One of the telling sign of the times, this non-denial from the Republican governor of Ohio when asked by Jake Tapper if he plans to primary the sitting president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I don't have any plans to do anything like that. I'm rooting for him to get it together. We all are. I mean we're only like seven months into this presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: then this morning the senior Republican senator says she cannot say if Trump will be the nominee in 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he will end up the party's nominee in 2020?

REP. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It's too difficult to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Julie, President Trump, we have not seen him since that erotic press conference last week. There were no administration officials on any of the Sunday shows yesterday defending the president, yet you're hearing these criticisms from prominent people within the party. What is the White House's strategy here to turn the corner after Charlottesville? Is it just to ignore what happened and hope the news cycle changes?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean I think that they're hoping certainly for a reset after the last couple of weeks. I mean he -- it's easy to forget he's actually been on vacation for the last couple of weeks and this has been an event vacation for him in all the negative ways. So I think starting with this speech tonight on Afghanistan, they're really hoping that he can sort of focus on that message.

As he said, though, it's a difficult message for him. He's sort of, by agreeing to send more troops and talking about the engagement in Afghanistan, he's doing something that he said as a candidate he didn't want to do. He said we shouldn't be in Afghanistan.

So they're hoping for a reset, but the message that he has going into the fall is a difficult one for him. I think they're really hoping, when Congress comes back, that if they can focus on tax policy and on tax cuts, that might play things forward a little bit in a positive way. But we've got a few weeks yet before -- to see if whether he can regain (INAUDIBLE) --

RAJU: And the specter of Charlottesville continues to loom over this president, who has not answered questions. The White House has not answered questions after that, those -- his incredibly controversial remarks last week. Just listen to Tim Scott here, the South Carolina Republican senator, the lone African-American Republican senator, saying this when asked about Charlottesville yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As we look into -- look to the future, it's going to be very difficult for this president to lead if, in fact, that moral authority remains compromised. His comments on Tuesday that erased his positive comments on Monday started to compromise that moral authority that we need the president to have for this nation to be the beacon of light to all mankind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Jeff, you're at the White House every day. You talked to White House officials about this. Are they just ignoring what their own party is saying about the president or are they telling you things on background privately saying, well, we need to do something about this?

JEFF MASON, REUTERS: Well, and I was as Trump Tower last Tuesday when he did that controversial questions and answers. I spoke to a senior official shortly after that, later on Tuesday, just kind of about that strategy for about their next steps, and he said not talking -- talking is losing. So I think that their decision is absolutely just to kind of try not to talk about it anymore. That's why you didn't see people on the Sunday shows and we don't have a briefing today, which is probably because they want the president's remarks tonight to be the -- to dominate the news.

[12:05:12] But it's also a strategy. It's, let's not talk about this. Let's find a way to move on. Let's find a way to change the subject.

RAJU: And clearly a huge moment for the president tonight. It comes at a time where his poll numbers are dropping substantially. Even in some key states. Yesterday NBC News and Marist put out a poll about how he's doing in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. States that the president often points to as helping propel him to the White House. Look at those disapproval/approval numbers significantly under water in each of those three key states. It really trends what he's facing nationally, too.

Jonathan, do you -- if you're a Republican running for re-election, are you running away from the president at all costs at this point, because at the same time you need his voters (INAUDIBLE).

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, look at Ed Gillespie in Virginia, across the Potomac. I mean he's trying to pull off this balancing act where he criticizes what the president said about Charlottesville, but refuses to mention Trump's name because he doesn't want to unduly (INAUDIBLE) Trump's supporters. And he knows -- the fact that he mentions Trump's name, that's a whole new news cycle. And that clip was probably shown to Trump himself and then do you risk the possibility of a tweet war?

And so that's the challenge is that, you know, for some of these folks who were on the ballot this year or next year, you criticize what Trump said, but in some cases you either refer to him obliquely or not at all.

But you just flashed those three states on the screen. I mean those are three states where you've got governor races next year and Senate races next year. Those candidates on the ballot are not going to want to be connected to somebody who's numbers are in the mid-30s as of right now and it could be worse next year.

RAJU: And part of -- of course the criticism too that the president's facing are the things that he promised on the campaign trail that he did not fulfill so far as president, or seemingly taking a complete opposite stance in today's decision on Afghanistan. We'll see what he says. But presumably it looks like an increase in troops could be in order. This is not what he promised on the campaign trail.

Among the things that he said on the campaign trail that he has since backed off on, calling NATO obsolete, saying that, that he would -- essentially get rid of NAFTA. Building a wall on the border of Mexico. Labeling China a currency manipulator. And also threatening to leave Afghanistan.

But, MJ, when you look at some of the things that some of Trump's supporters are saying, they're not necessarily holding him accountable for those decisions to essentially flip-flop. This is one voter, Republican voter, quoted in "The Boston Globe" saying this, Trump is the only one standing up and saying what we think and it's getting him in trouble. The ones that didn't vote for him are acting like little brats.

MJ LEE, CNN REPORTE: Oh, boy.

RAJU: Do you think that -- at what point does the base say that -- look, you change your mind on some of these key decisions, I'm not going to support you anymore, or does it not matter?

LEE: Yes, I mean, I think President Trump is always very, very aware of what are the desires of his base, his core supporters. And I think if you look at the polling that has come out in the last couple of weeks, the most troubling for him should be the fact that his numbers have started to dip among Republicans and particularly non-college educated whites.

MARTIN: Yes.

LEE: Those people were so core to bringing him across the finish line. And, you know, Julie, you were talking about the White House reset. I would just say that we should talk about that with a little bit of skepticism. You know, remember during the campaign, we used the word pivot. That became the strategy word. That was --

MARTIN: Hash tag pivot.

LEE: Hash tag pivot. So we kept saying, look, we have said this and predicted this so many times and that pivot never came. We have not gotten any real indication that President Trump is interested in any kind of a wholesale or fundamental reset. Even with someone like Steve Bannon now being not at the White House. The president always, if he gets his way, and in the Trump White House he often does, he doesn't want a directional change. He always wants to be that last person to make the decision. RAJU: And we'll see what he says off script. Tonight he will be on

script, of course. When he's off script, things often change for this president.

But let's not also forget today is the day, eclipse Monday. Americans across the country are gearing up for the event of a lifetime. In just a few minutes you'll witness the first time a total solar eclipse has gone from coast to coast across the U.S. in nearly a century. And so will the president and the first lady, who will view the eclipse from the White House's Truman balcony and CNN's Chad Myers joins me now from the Weather Center.

Chad, what can we expect in the next couple of hours?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEROROLIGST: Manu, it really depends on where you live. If you are in totality, you will actually get dark enough to see stars, at 1:00, 2:00 in the afternoon. If you miss totality, it won't be that different than just leaving your blinds slightly cracked when the sun rises. It doesn't stay dark. It lights up.

I believe I see the sun getting a little bit of a nick out of the top of that sun right there from Salem, Oregon. And so this is going to start in the west, and it's going to drive itself to the east. And you think, well, wait a minute. The sun goes the other way. The moon's going the other way. How can the eclipse go the wrong direction? We'll get to that in a second.

[12:10:21] But all the way from Salem all the way to Charleston. That's where it will be today. We are clouding up in places like Lincoln, Nebraska, into Lewisville, into St. Joe, Missouri, clouding up right now. And Charleston has not really cleared at all today.

The west is perfect. The northwest will be dry, clear, sunny, low humidity. Here's where the showers are popping up across parts of the Midwest, in a gain belt in the corn belt. Back down to the southeast, we'll see the showers and the clouds pop up across the Carolina coast all the way down to about parts of Florida.

But it's that -- that middle part. It's that center part of the eclipse that is the most important part. Twelve million people live somewhere in there. But we are seeing at least another 12 million maybe more than that drive to that center. So here it is. It starts in Salem. It runs all the way across the United States, 3,000 miles, 70 miles wide. And really if you're in there, plus or minus ten miles from the middle, you're going to get about two and a half minutes' worth of totality. Two and a half minutes where you can take off your glasses and look up. If there's no peek, if there's no sun peeking through, there's no diamond ring, there's no bailey (ph) beads (ph), there's nothing else other than completely covered up.

Now the sun and the moon and the Mars and Mercury they all make shadows all the time. But today is special because the moon's shadow is going to reflect all the way here onto the earth. Now sometimes the earth reflects on to the moon and you get a lunar eclipse. This is not that. This is a solar eclipse that you cannot look at because the sun is still in so many places, still very bright, even if it's only 3 percent or 4 percent exposed, you can't look at it. You have to have those solar glasses because it is going to be a dangerous day for the retina today. You probably don't even understand how the retina can be burned because it doesn't hurt until the next day and then it truly does.

So let me get to this. It appears I have just an extra minute or two here. Here's the morning. Here's the noon. Here's the afternoon. And you're saying, how in the world -- Chad, how in the world can this thing go in the wrong direction?

Well, here we are right now. That shadow is going toward Oregon. About 2:00 or 3:00, the shadow is going to be going down towards St. Louis. And about 4:00 or so, the shadow will be going towards Charleston. So that's how you get the shadow to go the wrong direction 1,000 miles an hour.

Manu.

RAJU: Chad Myers at the CNN Weather Center. Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

RAJU: As you see, we're seeing pictures from Salem, Oregon, of the -- of what we can expect in just about an hour. And you can watch the eclipse live in virtual reality. Just go to cnn.com/eclipse.

Up next, President Trump gets ready for primetime as he prepares to address the nation on his strategy in Afghanistan. What it could mean for American troops.

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[12:17:26] RAJU: Some breaking news right now. The solar eclipse has begun over the United States. Pictures there from Hailey, Idaho, of what people there are seeing right now of this marvel that's happening in the sky as it happens from the West Coast to the East. We'll keep you posted here as this happens throughout this afternoon.

Right now, though, a massive search is on for ten missing sailors after a U.S. destroyer collided with an oil tanker in the Pacific. A defense official tells CNN the Navy is expected to order an operational pause as a safety precaution. The incident happened earlier today just east of Singapore. These photos show the gaping hole pierced in the side of the guided missile destroyer. The Navy also reported significant damage to the hull, including damage to sleeping (ph) and communications units. The military says in addition to the ten sailors missing, five others were injured. A short time ago, Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke about the crash.

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JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We obviously have an investigation under way. And that will determine what happened. The chief of naval operations' broader inquiry will look at all related accidents, incidents at sea.

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RAJU: Now, this marks the fourth accident for a U.S. warship in Asian waters this year. Earlier this summer, seven sailors were killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald after it collided with a merchant vessel.

Meanwhile, President Trump is gearing up for a major moment when it comes to America's longest war. Tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, the president will unveils his U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. The president will address troops from the nation from Fort Myer, Virginia. Possible military options include deployments of additional troops, as well as the use of private contractors. Also on the table, additional special forces soldiers and air advisers. Tonight marks the president's first major national security address.

Let's bringing in right now CNN's military analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's also a former State Department spokesman and Pentagon press secretary.

If the president went ahead, John, with the recommendation of adding 4,000 additional troops, what kind of impact do you think that actually could have in that country?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, remember, Manu, the commander out there, General Nicholson, has been asking for about that number. And what he wants to do with this is sort of twofold. One, beef up the counterterrorism mission, put more fighters on the ground to go after the ISIS network there and other al Qaeda affiliated groups that are actually, you know, using Afghanistan, continue to use Afghanistan as a safer haven. And then he'll use some for those troops also for the advise, train and assist mission to try to beef up the capabilities and capacity of the Afghan national security forces, which have been fighting bravely in the field but are in sore need of additional help.

[12:20:11] There's sort of a third component here, too, and that's enabling functions. Air support, logistics, information and surveillance reconnaissance, that kind of thing. So I think you're going to see sort of those three prongs if you use these troops. You're also going to have to use a component of them as force protection. One of the reasons why we don't have more troops is because we don't have more force protections measures and resources applied to help keeping them safe. So if you're going to plus up total troops, you're going to have to probably plus up your force protection as well.

RAJU: John Kirby in Washington, thank you, as we're seeing also live pictures there of Hailey Idaho, the total solar eclipse. We'll keep monitoring that as well as we bring the conversation here in the room.

Julie, what do you think is the most important thing the president tonight? What specifically are you going to be looking for?

DAVIS: Well, the president needs to figure out a way to explain this in the context of what he said on the campaign. And we know that this decision has been a long time in coming. Donald Trump has been promising for months to give a news conference on ISIS and how he's going to go after ISIS, to come up with and present to the American people a strategy for Afghanistan. And so I think people are going to be listening to hear him explain how what he is doing here, what he is authorizing, is different than what he talked about on the campaign being the wrong thing to do.

You know he talked about we should be spending money here at home. We shouldn't be spending money in Afghanistan. And this is a conundrum that past presidents before him have faced. And I would not be surprised if he talks about that a lot this evening. That this is something that, you know, he's not the only president who's had to make these hard decisions.

But I do think he's going to try to characterize this as a turning of the page. Other presidents couldn't get this solved and now he is going to be able to somehow solve this. And it's a difficult -- as you mentioned, a difficult moment for him because this is -- he's going to be calling on the American public to support what could be a dangerous mission. More troops. A war that has not gone well for the United States. General Nicholson, who John Kirby just talked about, talked about this being a stalemate earlier this year. So he's going to have to figure out a way to marshal support for what is a pretty controversial thing at this point.

RAJU: Yes, no question about it. And there were -- there's poll numbers suggesting just that and from that same NBC/Marist poll from yesterday showing that in those three state the president carried Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, asking whether or not the president's standing has been strengthened or weakened on the world stage by President Trump. It says that in all of those states, 59 percent believe that the president has actually weakened world standing, not strengthened.

But at the same time a separate poll from earlier this year said that 46 percent of Americans in counties that President Trump carried actually support deploying additional troops to Afghanistan versus 39 percent to -- who opposed the idea.

John, you spent a lot of time in Trump country with Trump voters. How do you think that they will respond to the deployment of additional troops?

MARTIN: Oh, I think that some of them will have heartburn over the prospect of continuing this war, but I think generally any moment where the president can cloak himself in the garb of a commander in chief is a good moment for him with his voters, with voters who are inclined to like him but they have some doubts. I think seeing him at Fort Myer, you know, with troops there with him, looking the part of a commander in chief, not somebody who is sitting watching "Fox and Friends" and tweeting is a better moment for him.

And, you know, look, is it going to erase Charlottesville? Of course not. I think this is a lingering issue here that is not going away anytime soon unless he says more about it. But I -- this does give him a moment here to at least, you know, remind folks that he is the commander in chief. RAJU: And Julie mentioned candidate Trump taking a different position

on the issue of Afghanistan. This will be interesting to see if he addresses this tonight. This is a taste of what he said on the campaign trail about this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I'd like to see money spent on this country. I'd like to see us take our money and build schools here and build highways here, and build transit here and reduce the debt of the country, which is now almost $16 trillion. Instead of building a school in Afghanistan and it gets blown up the following week and then we build it again.

When he said I didn't want to go to Afghanistan, that's not right. No, Afghanistan is where we should have gone. All right? I didn't want to go to Iraq, because I didn't want to destabilize the Middle East.

So we're on track now to spend, listen to this, $6 trillion -- $6 trillion -- could have rebuilt our country twice. All together on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East.

It's time to rebuild America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: As we know, this is a president who does not like to admit when he's wrong. Does he at least, Jeff, have to acknowledge that he changed --

[12:25:09] MARTIN: Was that John Kerry in '04 or Donald Trump last year?

RAJU: Exactly, voted for it before voting against it.

MARTIN: That sounds so familiar, right?

RAJU: It does. And does he have to at least acknowledge that when he speaks to the nation?

MASON: I mean I think everyone is right when they're saying that this is a big moment for him. But it's an awkward moment because of the clips you just played. He does have to own this now. This is President Trump's administration. It's his decision.

I suspect he may talk about the fact that he, to some extent, outsourced the decision to his secretary of defense by a couple months ago giving him the authorization to decide about troop levels and that may give him, at least in his mind, some cover. But it is the Trump White House and it is President Trump's decision and he will have to reconcile that and sell it in some way with what he said as a candidate.

RAJU: MJ, go ahead.

LEE: Well, I was going to say, I think the way in which he has chosen to make this announcement is really, really important and telling. You know, this is not only going to be teleprompter Trump. It is going to be the president delivering for the first time a primetime address from the White House. You know, if you think back to some of the speeches that have been made from the White House in a primetime address, this is a really, really big moment for him, right? And there's no image sort of more sobering and holds more weight than the president making this kind of an announcement.

And I think especially at a moment when he is having credibility issues and sort of the trust is being eroded, the act that he's choosing to make the announcement in this way I think has to be obviously it was a deliberate decision. But I will say, just to, once again, add a little bit of skepticism, you know, keep in mind that tomorrow he is going to Arizona to deliver what will be what we expect to be sort of a campaign rally speech. We don't know what that is going to sound like. And he is always, always, just 140 taps away from his next tweet.

RAJU: Yes.

LEE: And we don't know what that is going to be either.

RAJU: And will he stay on message? One of the big questions here. And we'll talk more about that Arizona rally later in the show.

You can watch the president's remarks on the U.S. Afghanistan strategy at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And the pictures, again, for the total solar eclipse that you're seeing. We're monitoring that as well.

And tonight at 9:30 p.m., House Speaker Paul Ryan joins Jake Tapper in Wisconsin for CNN town hall.

Up next, Steve Bannon is out at the White House and back at Breitbart, sending very public reminders to the president to keep his promises and attacking the president's closest advisors.

And more on the eclipse. Those are the pictures you're looking at from Salem, Oregon.

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