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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Smacks Down Paul Ryan; Trump: Up to 15,000 Troops Going to the Border; U.S. Commander in Afghanistan: There Must Be a Political Solution. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 31, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just six days until the midterms seems like a perfect time for President Trump to publicly smack down Speaker Ryan.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump stiff-arming his way through the country in a final midterm end-run, with the GOP majority in danger, and the Mueller report on the way, as he tells Speaker Ryan, hey, butt out, pal.

President Trump today trying to strike more fear into voters, fear of a migrant invasion, not actually technically an invasion, as some veterans are now accusing him of using troops as a political prop at the border.

Plus, a suspected murder mystery. Two sisters, Saudi citizens, found dead, duct-taped together, washed up on the banks of New York City after applying for asylum in the U.S. What is the Saudi government saying?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

President Trump's final midterm blitz. He's hitting 11 cities in eight states, all in just the next six days, up until the midterm Election Day. The president moments ago speaking to reporters on his way to his next rally, and we will bring those remarks as soon as we get them.

The stakes this election, I don't need to tell you, are just huge for President Trump, not just for his policies, but for his very survival.

Democrats gaining control of the House could mean an attempt at the impeachment of President Trump. So he is focusing on what he believes is a winning issue that will get his voters out to the polls, scaring the American people about undocumented immigrants.

The president, apparently, so fired up by this issue, he decided to publicly blast the Republican speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who dared to disagree with the president's incorrect belief that he could undo birthright citizenship as described in the Constitution with the stroke of his pen through an executive order.

It's a little more complicated than that. President Trump writing -- quote -- "Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the majority, rather than giving his opinions on birthright citizenship, something he knows nothing about."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, this has to be weird for Speaker Ryan. He's held his tongue now for the most part for two years about some things that President Trump has said that Ryan found offensive and outrageous. At risk to his reputation, he's been quiet. But we have seen this before. You disagree with President Trump publicly, you might suffer his wrath.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it didn't take long for President Trump to respond to Paul Ryan really dismissing the president's idea. And, of course, this is something that we have seen before.

President Trump and Paul Ryan, it feels almost, Jake, like we are in two years ago. But President Trump just left the White House to go to Florida for that rally, and he was actually asked about Paul Ryan, and here's what he had to say.

So he was asked about Paul Ryan there. He was asked by reporters on the South Lawn if he is going to blame Paul Ryan if the Republicans do lose the House, because, of course, when the president was hitting back at Paul Ryan today for what he said, dismissing that idea about getting rid of birthright citizenship, he said that Paul Ryan needed to be focused on keeping the majority.

Of course, Jake, as you pointed out, Paul Ryan was doing just that whenever he made this remark and was asked about what the president said. But listen to the president himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of my favorite places in the world, Florida, to speak on behalf of hopefully Governor DeSantis, who is running a very good campaign. They have got it going now.

And also, as you know, Rick Scott, who has been a great governor and hopefully he will be a new senator. I'm going to Florida. We will spend a lot of time. We're going to make a speech tonight or a rally. And we have a tremendous crowd. We have a lot of people.

Whatever it is, it's packed. So I look forward to being in Florida. And I guess some of you are going with us and some of you aren't. But, if you're not, we will be missing you.

It seems the campaign is going very well. Looks like we're doing very, very well in the Senate. A lot of seats that were not really being thought of in terms of victories a year ago now look like they could very well be victories. And the House is a lot of people. I mean, there are a lot of people. And I think we're going to do well

in the House also. But I know we're doing well in the Senate, and it looks like we're doing OK in the House. We're going to have to see. There are just so many people.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Why are you attacking Paul Ryan?

TRUMP: Birthright citizenship is a very, very important subject. In my opinion, it's much less complex than people think. I think it says it very loud and clear in the Constitution that you don't have to go through the process of whatever they're talking about.

And, by the way, this is not a constitutional amendment. You don't need a constitutional amendment for birthright citizenship. I believe that you can have a simple vote in Congress, or it's even possible, in my opinion -- this is after meeting with some very talented legal scholars -- that you can do it through an executive order.

[16:05:04]

Now, I would rather do it through Congress, because that's permanent. But we can certainly do it through -- I really believe we can do it through executive order.

One other thing. If President Obama can get DACA approved, if you look at DACA, where he actually said, well, this isn't legal, or this I can't do, but I will do it anyway, and then he gets a judge to approve it, and it will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, I hope quickly.

But, certainly, if he can do DACA, we can do this by executive order.

With that being said, I think Congress will ultimately act. But I may very well do it by executive order.

Just so you understand, a person comes in, was never in our country before, has a baby, and now all of a sudden the baby is a United States citizen. And through chain migration and other things, many other people come in through the baby.

It's ridiculous. All you have to do is take a look at what Harry Reid said in 1993. And guess what? Before he went insane, he got it right.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are you going to blame Paul Ryan if Republicans don't hold the House?

TRUMP: No, I'm not going to blame anybody. I think we're doing well with the House. We're going to have to see. It's a lot of people. I have campaigned for a lot of candidates that were down a little bit. And now they're up.

But we're going to see. I think we're going to do well in the House. I think we're doing really extraordinarily well in the Senate.

QUESTION: Have you received a subpoena at all from Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Say it again. What?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Not betrayed me, no. I just hope that it all works out. We have a lot of facts. We have a lot of things we have been looking at. They haven't betrayed me. I mean, maybe they have betrayed themselves. We will have to see how it all turns out.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No, I'm not fear-mongering at all. Immigration is a very important subject. The Democrats have let immigration in our country get out of control with their horrible not allowing us to have any votes to get passage. We need Democrat votes to change the immigration laws. They haven't given us any votes.

And I actually think that they will. As far as the caravan, which is very dangerous, you see what's been happening. As far as the caravan is concerned, our military is out. We have about 5,008. We will do up to anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 military personnel, on top of Border Patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border.

Nobody is coming in. We're not allowing people to come in. If you look at what happened in Mexico two days ago with the roughness of these people in the second caravan that's been forming, and also, frankly, in the first caravan, and now they have one forming in El Salvador.

And we are thinking very seriously immediately stopping aid to those countries, because, frankly, they're doing nothing for the American people. Immigration is a very, very big and very dangerous, a really dangerous topic. And we're not going to allow people to come into our country that don't have the well-being of our country in mind.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Oh, they will be here fast. They're trying to get up any way they can. They're trying to get up by train. They're trying to get up by truck and by buses. We're going to be prepared.

They're not coming into our country. And one other thing, important, we're not doing any releases anymore. We're not going to release and let them never come back to trial. We will build tent cities. We will build whatever we have to build in terms of housing.

But we're not doing releases. What's been happening over years is, they would come in, release them, and they would never show up for their trial. And we now have 25 or 30 million people in this country illegally because of what's been happening over many years. So we're not going to allow it. It's dangerous, and it's very unfair to our citizens.

With that -- with that being said, I want people to come into our country. But they have to come in legally and they have to come through merit, a merit system, because we have many companies, as you know, car companies, Foxconn that does the Apple computers and iPhones, we have many, many companies coming into our country.

We need people. We want them to come in, but we want them to come in through merit, and we want them to come in legally.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I wouldn't be surprised. Yes, I wouldn't be surprised. No, I wouldn't -- I don't know who. But I wouldn't be surprised. A lot of people say yes.

QUESTION: Have you heard from Kanye West?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: We get along great. He's a good guy.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Say it?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No, I don't think so. Whatever it is, here's the thing.

[16:10:03]

I don't view suburban districts or any other districts. I view the country. Our country has to be safe. And, by the way, women, we're doing very well with the women vote, because they want security. They want safety.

They don't want these people pouring into our country totally unchecked. And when you look at what happened to the Mexican police and you look at what happened two days ago to the Mexican military, it's a dangerous group of people.

They're not coming into our country.

Thank you. We will see you in Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump departing the White House to Florida, where he will stage a campaign rally.

We just heard some numbers there that I have never heard before. Kaitlan Collins, let me go to you. President Trump talking about deploying almost 15,000, 10,000 to 15,000 service members to the border, he said, and he also talked about how there are 25 or 30 million undocumented immigrants in this country?

That's a number I have never heard before either.

COLLINS: Jake, that first number is stunning, the president saying he could send 10,000 to 15,000 troops to the border. A reminder, we have 14,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.

The president is talking about those level of numbers down at the U.S.-Mexico border, where he's already deployed 5,000 troops to go there to stop this caravan that he says is coming. He uses the word invaded, even though they are weeks away from arriving.

That certainly is a really stunning number. And it's going to be interesting what the Pentagon has to say about that. But, also, Jake, two other things I do want to point out the president said, one right there at the end, which is going to give Republicans a little bit of a headache, saying he thinks they're doing fine with suburban women, essentially trying to lessen those fears, when Republicans are actually trying to get Republican suburban women to turn out in the midterm elections on Tuesday.

And, Jake, the last thing, the president was talking about birthright citizenship and what his feud that he got into today with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said that the president cannot undo that with an executive order, and President Trump arguing there that he can. He's actually been advised, he says, by several legal scholars that he can.

But, Jake, the most stunning was his example that he used. And that was pointing to President Barack Obama and DACA. That is something that President Trump said he believed was illegal, defied federal law, but President Trump saying there that if Obama could do that through the executive branch, that he can undo birthright citizenship through an executive order.

Jake, that is truly stunning, and it's going to be incredibly interesting to see what the president's conservative allies have to say about him using that reasoning.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Let's talk about this all. Where to begin?

Fifteen thousand troops being sent to the border? That would be -- I mean, already, he's talking about more troops to the border than we have in Iraq and Syria fighting ISIS. Now he's talking about sending more troops to the border, up to 15,000, more troops than we have in Afghanistan.

SEUNG MIN KIM, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And the number seems to be escalating as the issue continues. We have seen how the president has tried or has successfully pivoted

to this immigration issue in the final days of the midterm stretch. I mean, you -- Republicans would probably want to talk more about the economy and tax cuts, but Trump, the president has pivoted, and gone to this comfortable issue for him, because it excites the base.

And I know in the 11 rallies that we're expecting or the 11 rallies that are coming in the next six days, this is going to be a major issue at each of these events.

And it's no coincidence that as the midterm nears, his rhetoric on immigration is heating up even more.

TAPPER: David, I want to point out that you signed a non- disparagement agreement when you were with the Trump campaign in 2016, though that certainly hasn't stopped you from criticizing the president.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I may do so...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you, because he's going after Paul Ryan for saying what I think is just fact. You can't undo a provision, a disputed provision through executive order. It has to go through a process.

That's all Paul Ryan said. Now, Paul Ryan's point of view is, he was on the road campaigning for a very vulnerable Republican, Congressman Andy Barr from Kentucky, who doesn't want to be talking about birthright citizenship and undoing it through executive order.

That's not what Andy Barr wants to talk about. All of a sudden, Ryan has to talk about it, Andy Barr has to talk about it. And so the idea that President Trump is attacking Paul Ryan on this is curious.

URBAN: Well, you know, look, Paul Ryan is going away, right? Paul Ryan is no longer going to be speaker. Paul Ryan is an easy, you know, punching bag. Right? Not a darling. I don't think at any Trump rally this afternoon in the Hertz Arena in Fort Myers, they're going to be people chanting for Paul Ryan.

It's an easy target. And I think the president is -- look, he's going out to kind of rally the base. And that's what it was. Remember, not too long ago, Mitch McConnell was not a favorite at the Trump rallies.

(CROSSTALK)

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": He's only the top ranking Republican on the Hill in the succession for the president. It's not like he's an unimportant, minor league...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: He's leaving. He's a lame-duck, Susan. You know that.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: Yes.

You know what this says to me? He's given up on the House, because this message is one that helps him, helps Republicans in the Senate in the red states, kills Republicans in suburban districts, where a lot of the competitive House races are.

TAPPER: Yes, and Paul Ryan is going to be -- he is out in the middle of fund-raising right now, something like a 50-city tour for 25 candidates. He's raised more than $70 million.

[16:15:03] He's raised more than $70 million. I mean, he's trying to save the house. He's probably not going to be successful. But he's trying.

This has the effect -- I can't help but think of not -- maybe not wanting -- people wanting to go see him at a fund-raiser.

BEGALA: That's exactly right. He's undermining one of his assets. He does this all of the time. David is right. He's attacked Mitch McConnell from time to time. And this is the president.

I think you're right. He -- as the poll numbers go down, the troop numbers will go up. We're not done here. Wait until we get to the Trump reelect. Here's my prediction, save this tape. Six days before the election, he'll be firing nuclear weapons at asteroids. We got Martians riding --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Aerosmith, yes.

BEGALA: He's -- this is called operation change the subject. He's losing the house on health care. Democrats are running on health care. So he's passionately trying, any way he can, to change the subject to something that does fire up his base.

So far, it's not working. The Democrats are not chasing him. Let's see if they do today. But so far, they're not.

TAPPER: What's interesting about that is because President Trump tweeted this morning, Republicans will protect people with preexisting conditions, far better than the Democrats.

Just as a technical matter, is that accurate?

KIM: OK, just quick fact-checking here. So, a couple of things. First, it was Democrats who passed the Affordable Care Act, even with its flaws, that does include the protections for preexisting conditions.

TAPPER: The protections are, you can't deny people coverage and you can't charge them more. KIM: And Republicans made multiple attempts to repeal the health care

law. They did try to replace it, but unsuccessfully so. And the most relevant issue here is that the Trump administration is declining to defend Obamacare in court as Texas and several other conservative states challenge exactly this preexisting conditions in court.

And, you know, the Justice Department has shown no signs they are backing off that legal stance. So what the president is saying there is not accurate. But you do see how much the issue of health care and preexisting conditions has become so -- almost toxic for Republicans as Democrats continue to hammer them on this issue.

URBAN: And amazingly, and Paul knows all too well, because his partner -- it's the economy stupid. It's amazing. It's not resonating.

The economy --

BEGALA: Right.

URBAN: -- this buoyancy, this consumer confidence at an all time, highest since 2000. It's not being talked about, doesn't seem to have any impact.

TAPPER: It's not being talked about by the president.

URBAN: Right, but it's not being talked about by any Republicans. Are you better now you were two years ago. All those traditional themes you hear, and any traditional kind of campaign or race, it's silent.

TAPPER: And, Susan Page, take a look at this tweet from Congressman Carlos Curbelo, he's in a tough -- Republican from Florida -- in a tough reelection campaign, swing district, high Latino population. He wrote, birthright citizenship is protected by the Constitution. So, no, President Trump, you can't end it by executive order. What we really need is broad immigration reform that makes our country more secure and reaffirms our wonderful tradition as a nation of immigrants.

That could have been a tweet about the economy. Instead, it's a tweet where the congressman feels he needs to take a stand against the president.

PAGE: And, of course, and this is a person I believe -- he is the son of Cuban immigrants. He's representing a state where immigration is a very important issue. You have a lot of immigrants and first- generation Americans there.

So this has put members -- Republicans on the ballot like him in a terrible place six days before the election.

TAPPER: Rick Scott running for Senate there, the governor, also. He doesn't want to answer the question about this.

PAGE: He walked away rather than answer the question. BEGALA: Will Scott appear at the Florida rally with our president?

TAPPER: Oh, I think he will. You don't think he will?

BEGALA: I don't know. I literally don't know. I bet he doesn't want to. Maybe his hair has -- he'll be drying his hair.

URBAN: Just got to close the segment where you talk about me not criticizing the president. I will say, listen, Mr. President, stop talking about immigration. Let's talk about the economy, tax cuts, cutting regulation, all the positives. It's the economy.

TAPPER: I never thought that that NDA was worth anything, to be completely honest.

Everyone, stay with us.

URBAN: The economy.

TAPPER: You just heard President Trump announce, he might send up to 15,000 troops to the border. Is this a smart use of American troops? Well, the guy who has been in charge of commanding U.S. troops will weigh in next. General Stanley McChrystal.

And then an awful mystery unfolding right now. Two sisters found dead bound together in New York's Hudson River. What police are now saying, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:22:44] TAPPER: We have some breaking news now. President Trump just revealing moments ago, that he is considering deploying, quote, anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 military personnel to the U.S./Mexico border. Already more than 5,000 service members have been deployed with the stated mission of preventing entry to any migrants traveling with the caravan or any undocumented immigrants. The caravan still hundreds of miles from the closest crossing point to the U.S.

The president stoking some fear on Twitter this morning, writing, quote, we will not let this caravan which are also made of some very bad thugs and gang members into the U.S. Our border is sacred, must come in legally. Turn around.

Joining me now is retired Four-Star General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded all forces in Afghanistan, among many other tasks. He's out with a new book called "Leaders: Myth and Reality."

General, thanks so much for being here. It's an honor to have you here.

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), FORMER HEAD OF JOINT SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: Jake, thanks for having me.

TAPPER: So, you heard the president say that up 15,000 troops might be sent to the border. As you know already, he's talking about a troop level there or service member level there that could exceed the number of troops we have fighting ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he's talking -- I mean, ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Now, he's talking about exceeding the number of troops we have in Afghanistan.

If President Trump asked your advice, would you tell him, this is a good use of military resources?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I would tell him that I believe nations secure their borders, whether it's military forces or law enforcement and things. But I would tell him to think long and hard on this one, because you've got a caravan of migrants, and there may be some problems in it, but really what's about to be assaulted are our values. If this caravan comes close and America handles it poorly and around the world and inside our values are poorly portrayed to our kids, to our grandkids, to ourselves, then I think everything that America stands for is much more at risk than any short-term issue of who is getting across the border.

TAPPER: What do you mean by portraying it poorly? You mean like, for instance, what we saw with all the kids taken from their parents, the kids put in jails, that sort of imagery?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, that, the image of the young child who drowned trying to get into Europe. There's a desperate part of the world that wants to get to a better place. And we really can't -- we can't deny or we can't think that that's not what we would do in their position.

[16:25:01] That doesn't mean we let everybody in. We have got to have an equitable system to do that. But the most important thing is to be who America is. At the end of the day, if in the rear-view mirror we get a picture of something that doesn't make us look like us, that looks more like segregation in the south or pushing bonus marchers out of Washington, D.C., in 1932, then I think we lose far more than we could ever lose by somebody getting across the border in the near- term.

TAPPER: That's interesting. I want to get your response -- because, obviously, you're right. Any country has the right to have the borders it wants to have. But the question, of course, is, is this what U.S. service members should be used for.

David Lapin, who's a former homeland security spokesman for the Trump administration, he worked for John Kelly and he's a former marine, or I guess you're always a marine. But he's not in the service any more. He tweeted, quote, a military strained by 17 years of war and sequestration doesn't need this. Service members who have repeatedly spent long periods of time away from their home don't need this, and the U.S. doesn't need its military to, quote, defend against a group of unarmed migrants, including many women and kids.

Do you agree with him?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I don't know whether they're needed or not. I don't know whether we've got other assets available. And I know that Secretary Mattis would be very forthright and say this would be the number that's needed. So, that's really hard to comment on. I think you should send what's

needed. This particular announcement felt a little more symbolic than it did nuts and bolts practical, because we didn't really make a clear description of what they were going to do or what they're required for, because that's the way it starts. You say, I have this problem, this requirement, and then you ask the secretary of defense to put his people into the process of sourcing that intelligently, rather than starting with a number and going that way.

TAPPER: You brought up -- you brought up Secretary Mattis, who is a good marine and does what he's told and never publicly disputes what the commander-in-chief tells him. He was asked today if this was a stunt. He said, we don't do stunts. But knowing him as you do, how do you think he hears something like this where he might send up to 15,000 troops to the border?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, I think that -- if he's told, and it's a legal mission, he will do exactly as directed and source that correctly. I absolutely have great faith in Jim Mattis.

TAPPER: I do want to ask you before we get to your book about the new commander in Afghanistan, a job you had, General Scott Miller, he just gave an interview in which he talked about the war, he said it's not going to be won military, it's going to be a political solution, he talked about building up administrative abilities, he talked about taking the fight to the Taliban.

I think you know where I'm going with this. I heard you say similar things back in 2008 and 2009.

MCCHRYSTAL: Right.

TAPPER: I've heard a lot of commanders in Afghanistan say similar things. I don't begrudge any of you. But at what point do people in the military think I don't know if this is worth the time and treasure and blood we're spending?

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes. There are no leaders better in uniform than Scott Miller right now. I would tell you probably when I was serving I would have said the same thing about him. It's a hard test.

I think the thing we've got to do is really align America's strategy and our desired objectives with something we can really achieve. As Scott said, we probably aren't going to win this militarily. That's not realistic. But I don't think that he's recommending and I don't think that we should just walk away, because I believe Afghanistan is fundamentally different than it was before 9/11.

And what I mean is, there's now 17 years of Afghan girls back in school. There's a young generation being educated moving forward.

The problem Afghanistan, in my personal opinion, is my generation. They need to go away. They need through normal attrition of life to go away and let a new generation not scarred by civil war take a shot at remaking a country with hope. TAPPER: So your book, "Leaders, Myth and Reality," is really

interesting. And you write about some interesting and surprising leaders in the book. You say that leaders pull us to higher values, they make a stronger, better, more compassionate.

What do you think of President Trump's leadership, and who do you see out there that you think is the kind of leader that you respect and admire?

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes. I think President Trump is missing an opportunity to be the kind of leader that will really resonate with followers. Clearly, he resonates very well on certain issues with certain followers.

But as you said, what a president does is make us stand taller. What a president does is make us see things that maybe we don't see in the daily part of our lives. The president makes us brave when we might want to be scared. A president should be pushing the good things in us, not reaching down to the smaller parts of us.

I think those leaders that are caught up in the sort of petty arguments we have right now for tactical wins and quick lines are missing the point. We need to go back to the idea of maybe John F. Kennedy's idea of asking what you can do for the country, not what the country can do for you, raising the idea of national service. Raising the idea that we have rights as citizens and most of us got them for free. We just got born here.

But we have responsibilities that go with that. And I think that people will respond to asking what it is they are supposed to do for others, Americans and, frankly, for the world.