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Trump Unveils Tax Plan, Leaves Out Key Details; 'Playboy' Founder Hugh Hefner Dead at 91; Health Secretary Under Scrutiny for Private Plane Use. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 28, 2017 - 06:00   ET

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


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's called a middle- class miracle.

[05:59:32] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The framework sends a loud, clear message that tax relief is on the way.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The wealthiest Americans make out like bandits, while middle-class Americans are left holding the bag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're running out of food and water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to overstate just how desperate this island is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has been the biggest catastrophe in the history of Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Playboy" founder Hugh Hefner has passed away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was one of the original American playboys who helped spark a revolution.

HUGH HEFNER, FOUNDER, "PLAYBOY" MAGAZINE: I am essentially a romantic. So I think my life revolves around women.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY, with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hugh Hefner, we will get to that in the show to talk about him. A legend, obviously.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I'll tell you, he was about a lot more than just girly pictures. And we'll take you through what a life that ended after 91 years.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Thursday, September 28, 6 a.m. here in New York. And here's our starting line.

President Trump said his tax plan would be directed at helping American working families. But the early details seem to benefit the wealthiest individuals and big business. Now Trump is going to leave the rest of the details on how to help

American families and how to pay for all of it to a bitterly divided Congress.

President Trump also raising eyebrows after saying he has the votes on health care even though this week's vote was canceled, because Republicans do not have the votes. And this after three failed attempts. So now Mr. Trump is vowing to tackle the issue next year.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, the White House facing several growing controversies. Three of the president's cabinet secretaries are under fire for spending taxpayer dollars on costly flights instead of cheaper ones. Health Secretary Tom Price under scrutiny for the extent of his private plane use. All while President Trump faces questions about his administration's response to the catastrophic destruction in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And he's upping his ante with his feud with the NFL.

So we have it all covered for you. Let's begin with Joe Johns. He is live at the White House

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

The president trying to get back on track with a signature issue. He's had a brutal week. His third try on a health care revamp failed on Capitol Hill. He's taken criticism for the federal response to the hurricanes in the Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico. And he backed the losing candidate in the Alabama Senate race. Now, hoping to get back on track with the signature issue of tax reform.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: There's never been tax cuts like what we're talking about.

JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump kicking off the Republican Party's ambitious push to slash tax rates and revamp the tax code, unveiling a nine-page framework that includes reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three, doubling the standard deduction, increasing the child tax credit, reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, creating a new tax rate for pass-through businesses, and eliminating the alternative minimum tax and estate tax.

Trump's plan lacks many key details, including what the income levels are for the new tax brackets, and how they plan to pay for the tax cuts. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates they will add $2.2 trillion to the deficit.

TRUMP: This is a revolutionary change is, and the biggest winners will be the everyday American workers.

JOHNS: Mr. Trump attempting to cast the proposal as a boon for the middle class. But Democrats say it is is wealthy Americans who will benefit the most.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: Behind Republicans' vague framework and deceptive math, the American people find a billionaires -- billionaires first tax plan that fails the middle class.

JOHNS: Mr. Trump also insisting that Republicans have the votes to repeal and replace Obamacare, despite the fact that the co-author of the latest bill refutes that. The president says Congress fell short because of Republican Senator Thad Cochran's absence.

TRUMP: We have the votes to get it done. You can't do it when somebody is in the hospital.

JOHNS: Senator Cochran tweeting that he is not hospitalized but recovering from a medical ailment.

All this as several controversies consume the White House. The president facing growing questions about the federal response to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

As three of the president's cabinet secretaries are under fire for spending taxpayer dollars on costly flights. The president scolding Health Secretary Tom Price over his repeated use of private planes, foregoing cheaper commercial options.

TRUMP: I'm going to look at it. I am not happy about it, and I'll let him know it.

JOHNS: But a White House official says Price's job is safe for now. And the president continues to sound off on the NFL not doing anything to stop players who kneel during the national anthem.

TRUMP: In my opinion, the NFL has to change. Or you know what's going to happen? That business is going to go to hell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: President Trump also has a number of meetings today on the schedule, including one with the acting homeland security secretary. Puerto Rico likely to be top of the list in that conversation. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also has said he expects to sit down with President Trump and talk about the next moves on health care.

Chris and Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analyst and congressional reporter for "The Washington Post" Karoun Demirjian; and CNN political analyst and editor-in-chief of "The Daily Beast," John Avlon.

[06:05:07] John, I'll start with you. So the president, you know, unveiled this tax cut plan. The devil's in the details, of course. And there are no details. So it's hard to know exactly how is going to work.

We do have -- we do have a few graphics that could sort of capture it. These seven different tax rates are going to be consolidated into three. So 35, 25, 12. As you'll see, the -- one of the sticking points is the bottom, the very bottom percent that are paying 10 percent would, it looks like, go up to 12 percent. But maybe they'll build in some protections so that that doesn't happen.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's what they are saying they're going to -- you know. It may look like the rates are being raised on the poorest and lowered for the wealthiest, but they're going to try to offset that, they say, with tax credits.

But look, I'm all in favor for simplification. You know, we need a more simplified tax code. But what Trump has said repeatedly in a populist pose is that he's going to make sure this is focused on wealthy -- on working families not wealthy families. What we know about the outlines that have been presented really seems to be the exact opposite. I mean, you know, not only lowering the top rates and cutting the corporate income tax without, evidently, closing any loopholes, which is a big deal. But ballooning the deficit and eliminating the estate tax. Now, that's a huge give away that will exacerbate income inequality. That is not consistent with what he said he believes in terms of tax reform.

CUOMO: So Karoun, how do we understand this then? If Trump's -- because you know the reporting has been pretty consistent that he's saying, "Look, I want to take a bite out of the wealthy. I don't care. You know, and the estate tax and all of these people, you know, I don't really care about them. They're going to vote for me or they won't vote. I don't care."

If that's true, then how did they -- how did he arrive at this plan? How did he allow this to get his stamp?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's potentially a mismatch. Because this plan, as John just said, does focus on having the most dramatic drops in the rates for the people at the upper end of the income spectrum. And what is businesses, at the upper end of the earning spectrum, there.

I think that you are going to see this argument continue, though, that you know, this is better for everybody. This is better for the middle class as they continue to hash out the details. And it's going to be a little confusing. Because right now you've got, you know, nine pages of a document that's giving you basically top line ideas and top line numbers. It's a really difficult comparison to compare top line numbers to the tax code that we have right now.

You're talking about -- it seems that this plan does not include exemptions for state and local taxes or the personal exemption, right? That can add up very easily to over $10,000 for a normal middle-class family. And so when you're saying that and you're saying, OK, but it's a $12,000, you know, standard deduction and all these rates, the numbers start to goo up in people's heads very quickly, as they should, frankly. Because you don't have a clean tax system right now where a top line number means the same thing as you are putting out in a discussion draft, which is basically what the Trump administration put out yesterday. So this is going to be a very convoluted discussion. And thus, you

will probably hear more of that line from the president that, oh, it's better for the middle class, even if we have to take a little time to figure out if that's true.

CUOMO: Well, they're saying it's better for the middle class, with the same old rationale we've been hearing since we were born, which is because when you free up the wealthy's money, they invest. And that's good for everybody. I mean, that's just a trickle-down argument. It just is.

AVLON: Yes, but look, that argument hasn't really carried water since Ronald Reagan reduced top rates from 70 percent, which is going to have a stimulative effect. It hasn't kicked in in the same way. Instead, we've seen assets moved overseas. We haven't seen reinvestment of the money that is saved.

And look, let's not get distracted by the top line rhetoric here. You've got to dig into how it actually impacts families. If you're a middle-class family in New York making between 50 and 80K, right now, your tax status is pretty unclear in this. And all of a sudden you start not being able to deduct your state and local, that's a massive tax hike on middle-class families.

So we've got to stay focused on how this impacts people.

CAMEROTA: What about, Karoun, that $2.2 trillion addition to the deficit, according to analysts? I mean, what about the deficit hawks in Congress? How are they -- how is this going to pass muster with them?

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, this is going to cause some existential turmoil in the Republican Party. Because they have -- I mean, look, they have been extending the debt ceiling. They have been talking about deficits for a long time. You've got -- people have kind of forgotten that we're still trying to have the sequestration resolution on the side there, too. You're talking about, you know, this question of, you know, can they actually curtail the deficit when they're talking about increasing spending on the military, when they're talking about a tax plan that is going to balloon the deficit, as well.

It doesn't match up. The numbers don't match up. And it doesn't match up with the ideology that the party has established for years and years and years. So will the Republicans watch over and preside over an exponential ballooning in the deficit and in the country's debt, or will they actually rein this in, because the deficit -- because the deficit hawks prevail? That's a question that I can't answer right now.

AVLON: Well, it is a question we can answer, right? Because we've seen this movie before over and over again. Republicans seem to care a lot about the deficit and the debt when Democrats are in the White House. And I say that as someone who really cares about deficit and the debt. Fiscal conservativism is theoretically the ideology that unites the Republican Party. [06:10:11] But instead, what we see is they've actually given away caring about it in the favor -- in favor of giveaways and stimulative arguments. And this is a disaster for people who are alleged deficit hawks, at least as presented now. There's no sense that those folks are in the pole position of the party or policy right now.

CUOMO: Well, look, you have one fact, which is tax cuts with Reagan, with Bush were done during periods of economic slowdown.

AVLON: Right.

CUOMO: And then you have a little bit of teeth, a little bit of an understanding that, well, let's try and free up some more money. We'll drive the economy. We're on one of the periods. Christine Romans says it all the time. This is some of the most unprecedented expansion we've ever seen. And that's why deficit hawks are so afraid.

We've already heard from the Fed that they will change the rates to counteract any stimulus. A tax cut is stimulus. So it's a really tough question for Republicans.

But it's an equally tough one, John, for the Democrats. Democrats have a very fundamental proposition, which they have to decide whether or not they want to defend. Do the wealthy pay more than everybody else? Not in absolute terms, in relative firms. If you make 400 grand, you make six times more than the average middle income family, OK. You do not pay six times more in taxes.

AVLON: Right.

BERMAN: That has been eroded. Obama tried to reverse a little bit. So it's a fundamental question for Democrats. Are you going to fight to have the wealthy pay their fair share? Not just more, their fair share. Because right now that's a big unknown.

AVLON: Look, Democrat presidents have been bloodied and bruised trying to get the top rate up to 39 percent. I think we do need simplification. I think Democrats should be focused on middle-class tax cuts and offsets so people, when they're trying to work their way up the ladder, have it a little bit easier.

We've got a big problem. As Christine was just saying, you know, on our lead-in, that the income inequality in this country is getting worse. It has dramatically over decades. We're talking about 1 percent of the country owns twice as much wealthy as the bottom 90 percent.

CUOMO: Well, that's a tricky political argument, because it sounds like you're punishing people for being successful.

AVLON: No, no, no, no.

CUOMO: But when you reverse it and say, "But you've still got to pay. You've got to pay because you've been successful..."

AVLON: Yes.

CUOMO: "You've you have to pay to help everybody else," that's a different argument. I'm not hearing the make it yet.

AVLON: Well, that's a -- that's a redistributionist argument. And I don't actually think that's a winner. I think we need tax simplification, but relief should be focused on middle-class families. And we have to deal with income inequality in this country.

CUOMO: If you're going to help them, somebody has to pay for it.

CAMEROTA: Karoun, John, thank you. Hold that thought. Thank you very much. We have breaking news to get to.

CUOMO: Big and sad headline. "Playboy" founder Hugh Hefner died of natural causes, 91 years old. Hefner, we all know, sparking the sexual revolution, you know, the face of "Playboy" in the late '50s, '60s and '70s. You know, he was a lot more than that. He was an ardent supporter of free speech and not just the ability to play in pornography.

And this morning, celebrities are paying tribute to Hefner calling him everything from an American icon and a revolutionist.

CNN's Stephanie Elam takes a look back at Hefner's life and legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was one of the original American playboys, a magazine tycoon who helped spark a revolution, one that challenged the nation's views on sexuality.

HEFNER: I have celebrated the romantic connection between the sexes, and that's part of what "Playboy's" all about.

ELAM: Hugh M. Hefner, who liked to be called "Heff," was born in Chicago in 1926 and raised in what he said was a strict household by conservative protestant parents.

HEFNER: I felt there was something more to life than the world I saw around me.

ELAM: With just $8,000, the aspiring publisher produced the very first issue of "Playboy" magazine on the kitchen table of his Chicago apartment. The cover featured a photo of Marilyn Monroe and sold more than 50,000 copies when it hit newsstands in December of 1953.

Hefner now had the funds to launch another issue and the "Playboy" empire was born.

HEFNER: Well, I've never really thought of "Playboy" as a sex magazine. What I tried to do is create a lifestyle magazine for men.

ELAM: Hefner divorced his wife, Mildred Williams, in 1959. And during the early days of the magazine's success, decided he would not only promote the fantasy he helped create, but he would live it, as well.

Audiences got a taste of Hefner's good life in an early 1960s television show called "Playboy's Penthouse."

HEFNER: Come on in and meet some of our guests.

ELAM: Having already established himself in Chicago, Hefner made the move out west. In the early 1970s, when "Playboy" magazine was selling 7 million copies a month, he made his permanent home at the now famous Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.

In 1989, Hefner uttered the two words many thought he'd never say again when he married Playmate of the Year Kimberly Conrad.

HEFNER: I do.

ELAM: The couple had two children but separated in 1998. Hefner said he realized he was much happier as a bachelor.

HEFNER: I am essentially a romantic. So I think my life revolves, and always has, revolved around women.

ELAM: Hefner continued to live out the "Playboy" fantasy even in his later years. Often seen in his trademark silk pajamas surrounded by busty blonde, lingerie-clad women, while hosting extravagant parties with celebrity guests.

He even returned to television in 2005, this time sharing the small screen with three live-in girlfriends in the reality show, "The Girls Next Door."

In the late 2000s, he began an on-again, off-again relationship with Playmate Crystal Harris, 60 years his junior. They tied the knot on New Year's Eve in 2012.

Hefner sold his beloved Playboy Mansion for $100 million in 2016 on the condition that he be be allowed to live there for the rest of his life.

Playboy and provocateur Hugh Hefner wanted to make the world a happier, sexier place.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What's your definition of obscenity?

HEFNER: Racism, war, bigotry. But sex itself, no. What a sad and cruel world this would be if we weren't sexual beings. I mean, that's the heart of who we are.

ELAM: Stephanie Elam, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: Wow, what a history. What a look back. I mean, the changing mores, obviously, of the country and the times. Also, he gets to work in a bathrobe, which I applaud.

CUOMO: Silk.

CAMEROTA: A silk bathrobe, yes.

CUOMO: Silk.

CAMEROTA: Not terrycloth like mine, which would be inappropriate, I feel, for work.

CUOMO: A trademark. But I think Over time, you know, that conversation he had with Anderson. Very early on, he agreed to excerpt a story called "The Crooked Man" in one of his magazines. And it was a great play on bigotry. It was about heterosexual men who are oppressed in a homosexual society. And people went crazy and sent him all these letters, and he said, "If it's wrong to oppress the heteros in a homo world, then it's just as wrong to do that to homosexuals in a heterosexual." And it blew people's minds. And it's a great window into where Hefner was. He was ahead of his time with fairness.

CAMEROTA: Fascinating.

All right. Getting back to our news of the day, President Trump says he is not happy with his health secretary, Tom Price, for repeatedly using private planes at taxpayers' expense. Will Price be fired? We discuss that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I was looking into it. And I will admit to it. And I will tell you, personally, I'm not happy about it. I am not happy about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you fire him?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: More than just not happy about it, President Trump seemed to suggest that he might fire his health and human services secretary, Tom Price, after Price took a lot of private planes for government business, of course at taxpayer expense.

Politico reports Price chartered 24 flights since May, estimated to cost $300,000. An extra layer of hypocrisy is that Price used to go after this kind of largess when he was in Congress.

CAMEROTA: He's the famous pork-buster. You know?

CUOMO: Right. So -- or one of them. Certainly, he made his name on that.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

CUOMO: And now Trump is saying, "We'll see" as to whether or not he will fire the secretary over this.

Let's bring back our panel: Karoun Demirjian and John Avlon.

What a tough place to work. Look, the hypocrisy is a problem. You're supposed to be a steward of the taxpayer's pocketbook. There's no question about it.

But Trump, you know, just leaving it open that he may fire him. So who's next? Pruitt? I don't remember how "The Apprentice" works. But could you fire more than one person at a time?

DEMIRJIAN: You could. But I think that possibly Price is the one who may be up first. Because, well, first of all, the number of the flights and the hypocrisy from his former comments is the most egregious situation.

But also, remember, Trump cares about results, and right now, health care has been in the limelight, and it hasn't been going that well. So it doesn't necessarily mean he's got the greatest feeling right now towards Tom Price's efficacy on Capitol Hill to get his agenda through.

AVLON: Right, but...

DEMIRJIAN: So that, in culmination is, you know, not great.

AVLON: But yes, let's not buy into the reality show framing of the rotating cabinet seats. You know...

CUOMO: How else would you understand it? He fires all these people around him on, like, either it takes too long or he does it on caprice.

DEMIRJIAN: He fires...

AVLON: He teases it. Right? I mean, that's the point. It's, you know, who's going to be next?

CUOMO: I'll let you know.

AVLON: I'll let you know.

CUOMO: I'll let you know.

AVLON: Tune in. I've got to keep my ratings up.

Again, the president of the United States, not talk show host, different responsibilities, should be different tactics.

Yes, hypocrisy used to be the unforgivable sin in politics, right? And this really stinks to high heaven, and great reporting that brought this out. But, you know, I'll tell you, the failure of Obamacare, and particularly Tom Price's fault, he's been diligently using money supporting -- that was supposed to support Obamacare to try to undercut it and get people not to sign up. It's the Senate's fault. So -- and the president for not aggressively backing it.

But clearly, he's not in favor today, and I can't wait to see what happens next week.

CAMEROTA: Very good. Let's get in our time machine, Karoun, and go back to a time when hypocrisy was the great sin in politics. And this was 2010. And Tom Price calling out Nancy Pelosi. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY/FORMER CONGRESSMAN: What I want to say to the speaker, don't you fly over our country in your luxury jet and lecture us on what it means to be an American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: "Instead, let me do it. Pass the peanuts."

AVLON: So good, so good.

CAMEROTA: So that's -- that's that.

CUOMO: Pass the peanuts.

CAMEROTA: And you know, I don't know if we've mentioned this, but he also says there were 11 trips. And then HHS documents say that there were 24 trips. Maybe they're counting round trips. Who knows?

DEMIRJIAN: Doesn't quite add up.

CAMEROTA: But either way, he should have known better.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, I mean, 11 times two is not quite 24, but still. But it's -- yes, this is a situation where it's that obvious to you that this is a bad thing as a congressman, do not, then, just kind of forget everything you ever said and learned as a congressman once you enter the administration. I think that's basic advice for anybody who's in politics that is, you know, switching roles. So -- and it's advice he doesn't seem to have followed.

CUOMO: All right. So where does this leave us, Avlon? I mean, you know, we're up in the air again.

CAMEROTA: Bam.

AVLON: We're done, yes.

CUOMO: Look, you need some consistency. You need consistency in government. You know, you need people who can get in there and do what they're supposed to do. They're still not even fully staffed on the executive, let alone in so many of these important agency positions.

[06:25:09] But so now, well, Mnuchin asked for one, so is he on the block? Well, I don't know, because his tax plan, it wasn't that great. So maybe he's on for that.

Now you've got Price. Well, health care hasn't gotten -- so maybe he's going to go. I mean, how many people can you fire around you before you know, you wind up being left with no one?

AVLON: Enough to keep the dramatic tension people -- and people's attention for this...

CUOMO: Is this draining the swamp, even though it's his alligators?

AVLON: He's restocking the swamp. I mean, you know, this -- you know...

CUOMO: If you shoot your own alligator, are you draining the swamp?

AVLON: This is an existential question. It's the Zen koan of the morning. Look, you know, he keeps restocking the swamp. Wall Street has got more folks or the same number of folks in ambassadorships and other appointees.

But you raised another important point. Look, we all know tone come from the top, if there's chaos in the administration or if there's chaos in the executive. But the number of unfilled positions that are critical. We don't have an ambassador to South Korea, and yet, we're dealing with North Korea as a serious, serious issue for the world.

We still don't have Jon Huntsman confirmed as Russia ambassador. I mean, there are -- and undersecretaries of state could go on and on. This is not a fully staffed administration. So he may be focused on who to fire next, but he should fill the administration.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about what -- the ongoing feud, Karoun, with the NFL. It continues. Here's what the president said about the NFL yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What prompted that in Alabama?

TRUMP: Well, I have so many friends that are owners. And they're in a box. I mean, I've spoken to a couple of them. They say, "We are in a situation where we have to do something."

I think they're afraid of their players, if you want to know the truth. And I think it's disgraceful. And they've got to be tough, and they've got to be smart, because you look at the ratings. The ratings have gone way down. The stadiums are -- I've seen a couple of stadiums over the last few weeks. There are lose -- there are a lot of empty seats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK. That was actually fresher than yesterday. That was this morning. That's just airing this morning.

And you know, look, the president is making it sound as though he's on the side of patriotism. And his critics and the people who are taking a knee, say they're on the side of free speech and, you know, kneeling for what they believe the country needs to focus on. DEMIRJIAN: Right. And also, it's very interesting, I think, that the

president is focused on -- explained this as saying he has a lot of friends. Yes, there are 32 owners of NFL teams around the country.

Some of them locked arms with their players over the last weekend to show solidarity with their players. So they're not all in a situation where they're feeling so beleaguered and scared of their players that they're, you know, in a bind and not knowing what to do. They're actually taking the side of their players.

You've seen, you know, senior members of the NFL come out and say, "We defend our players' rights to take a knee in this situation."

Also, this is not just about 32 owners of the NFL. This is about a national -- it started with people like Colin Kaepernick who took a knee, who were saying that they disagreed with what was going on in the country when it came to, you know, brutality and when it came to racism and things like that. That's a national conversation.

CUOMO: Yes.

DEMIRJIAN: You have veterans coming out and saying, "We defend their right to take a knee."

AVLON: Yes.

DEMIRJIAN: So this is, you know -- this is galvanizing opposition to the president's tweets, basically, on this front, where he keeps saying, "It's the flag. It's the flag. If you don't respect it, if you don't stand, you're a bad American."

AVLON: This is not about the flag. This is not about the national anthem. But you know, a couple of tells from that FOX interview, apparently, which just occurred. First of all, you know, "The owners are my friends." Right? So "I know all the really wealthy people in this country." Populism.

Second of all, "I've seen a lot of stadiums lately. They look, you know, thinner and thinner." And this is, you know, the reality distortion field.

Also, "They're afraid of their players." Right? That, I think, was real interesting. He's effectively trolling the owners. And it's the language he understands of fear and goading.

CUOMO: Well...

AVLON: "If you're not on my side, you're afraid of me."

CUOMO: It may be even uglier than that. It does sound a little bit -- and obviously, you can come at me on Twitter about this -- like he's saying "Control your dog." "Control your dog" to the owners. You know, "You're supposed to tell these guys what to do," which by the way, is not how that league should work. And it's been a big thing that they're trying to make. I'm trying to map it here. They're his friends, the owners. OK. So two of his friends he creates a false issue, which puts them in a huge bind.

AVLON: Sure.

CUOMO: That's the way he treated his friends, by his own admission.

Then, he says, "Well, you know, I feel bad about what's happening there with these guys." Which clearly he does not, because he created this issue to foment political tension.

And now he says they're fearful of the players. So he is setting up the ugliest kind of tension that you can. And I know when you say "Control your dog" it's got to have a lot of racial overtones to it. So does this situation.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

CUOMO: I don't know how you can look at it and not see how it's racial. You know, to say, "Oh, these are rich guys. They don't have" -- these people who play in this league, so many of them come from impoverished backgrounds, and they make it up into this elevated status. That doesn't mean they forget what happened in their communities. These are real issues. They're being cheapened for a political score. He's making it uglier every chance he gets.

AVLON: And he can't -- look, he seems to feel his core job is to enflame culture wars, to distract, and not actually do his job as it relates to North Korea passing major legislation. And there are folks in the White House who think this is a win, and presumably the president does, too. But it's divisive, and it's a distraction.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Karoun.

DEMIRJIAN: Remember, if these are his friends, his friends -- many of his friends have already left him. He has -- NFL owners have come out and said, "I supported him. I disagree with this." And that's pretty -- I mean, that's pretty clear.