This is a rush transcript from "The Story," September 29, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SANDRA SMITH, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: It's Friday night. President Trump is at his golf club in New Jersey, but it is anything but quiet at the White House tonight. Washington is buzzing in the wake of the sudden resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, happening late this afternoon. Good evening, everyone. I'm Sandra Smith in for Martha MacCallum, and this is "The Story." The resignation coming after days of intense scrutiny over Secretary Price's use of private planes for work and personal use paid for by us -- the American taxpayer. Some estimates say the cost is as much as $1 million. Price apologized yesterday and promised to pay a portion back -- just $50,000. President Trump still was not happy. At 3:30 p.m., this afternoon, Eastern time, President Trump said this when asked about Price.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see. I mean, we have-- he's a very fine man, but we're going to make a decision sometime tonight. He is a very, very fine man.
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SMITH: About an hour later, we got this from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. "Secretary of Health and Human Services, Thomas Price, offered his resignation earlier today, and the president accepted." Then, 45 minutes later, the White House released Prices resignation letter, Price saying in that, "In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tendering my resignation as the Secretary of Health and Human Services."
In moments, we will talk to Congressman Adam Kinzinger and Karl Rove about the big news. But we begin first with Chief National Correspondent, Ed Henry, live at the White House with the backstory. Good evening, Ed.
ED HENRY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sandra, good to see you. There's not just a new health secretary, breaking this hour, there's a whole new policy for the Trump administration in terms of the use of government aircraft, private jets, all of that. The OMB, the Office Management and Budget just moments ago, releasing a memo that basically says any such travel has to first be approved by the Chief of Staff John Kelly. All of this coming in the wake of Tom Price.
Politico, now reporting he used military flights for several overseas trips costing taxpayers over $500,000. That's on top of the private jets he used here at home. Total travel tab, somewhere over a million dollars -- while he has only paid about, as you say, $50,000 to reimburse his seats on the flights. Left out of most of the media frenzy on this so over is that President Obama's administration used far more charters. Leon Panetta, serving as CIA Director and Defense Secretary flew all the way home to California on a private aircraft rather than commercial flights nearly every weekend.
In fact, the Washington Times reported in 2013, Panetta has "declined to say exactly how many trips he has made, and has failed to respond the increase asking for copies of the receipts of his reimbursements to the federal government for the personal travel." And then, he was Defensive Secretary, a much more senior post than health secretary, we should not. But President Trump made clear at his many news conferences, what infuriates him, is that in context, he saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in renegotiated government contracts, and that is now being overshadowed by what Price and other cabinet secretaries have done. Price, of course, tried to save the job last night on "Special Report" but it didn't work. Watch.
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TOM PRICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We were trying our doggonedest to be able to accomplish the mission, to make certain that we did all that we could to advance the president's agenda. And clearly, that we got -- we're insensitive to the taxpayer.
TRUMP: I think he's a very fine person. I certainly don't like the optics. As I said, we renegotiate deals, we're renegotiating great deals, we're renegotiating, as an example, the F-35 fighter plane. I've saved hundreds of millions of dollars, so I don't like the optics.
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HENRY: To put a finer point on the comparison of the Obama's administration use of private aircraft, during its first eight months, the Trump White House has now authorized less White House support missions than the previous administration either during its first eight months or its last eight months. You can see that here. The acting secretary of Health and Human Services will now be Don Wright, he had been running the office of disease prevention and health promotion. So, the search is now on to fill two key cabinet posts.
Remember, the Department of Homeland Security has an acting secretary because John Kelly came over here to be the chief of staff, now you have an acting secretary situation that has helped. That's normally not top-tier posts, but now with the president's effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, he needs somebody full-time in place. Congress about to go out of session a time when Democrats were already holding up a lot of nominations, Sandra. It looks like he's not going to fill these posts on a full-time basis, permanent basis, until probably really next year.
SMITH: All right. Ed Henry, thank you. Ed Henry, live at the White House for us. Joining me now is Illinois Congressman, Adam Kinzinger. He's also served as Deputy Majority Whip. So, Congressman, thank you for joining us tonight on this breaking news. Was this the right move by President Trump?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER, R-ILLINOIS: Absolutely. I know Tom Price, I worked with him in Congress. I commend him on his many years of service, but this had become a massive distraction, and we've got big a lot of big things on the president's agenda, on Congress' agenda. And this was a massive distraction from that, and our efforts to make government more efficient, more effective, more working for the people like a 21st-century government should. I think it's imperative to say, every tax dollar spent needs to be done right. And so, this new memo that came out of OMB that say trips need to be approved by the chief of staff is the right move. And again, it just brings us back to our message, again, that we're going to be needing to drive over the next few months, which is we need a government that works for America.
SMITH: You know, a lot of people are confused by that. Because, in the wake of all this, we learned that these -- every single one of these trips by Tom Price was approved by the White House. So, you have the White House tonight announcing a change in policy. Will that be enough to stop this sort of behavior?
KINZINGER: Well, I think so. And I think people need to understand, you know, in the case of a secretary of defense or the CIA director, in some cases, or even cabinet heads, they may have to use official resources to travel -- and sometimes that may be a military plane, or in some cases, a charter. The problem is, though, when you get into where that's used to go and visit people that you know and its overuse, and so I think this is a good opportunity.
We know this has happened in the past administration too, as you were just talking about in the lead-up. I think this is an opportunity for the president kind of put a freeze on things, re-center, refocus everybody, and say, let's not get too comfortable in our jobs because we're renting these positions that were offered to us by the American people. We don't necessarily own these positions. So, let's get back to our core mission of making this a 21st-century government.
SMITH: So, you're suggesting it would've been a distraction had Tom Price stayed on board, but some wonder if this is a distraction, having another high-level departure from this administration in the wake of recent departures. The president's got so much on his plate right now, whether it's health care, tax cuts, tax reform. Does this distract from the president being able to tackle his aggressive agenda?
KINZINGER: No, I don't think so it all. I think the president's very good at being able to communicate what he wants to communicate in a simple way that people understand. He's been doing a great job in the last few days of talking about the need for tax reform, how it's going to benefit hardworking Americans. And so, I think he's going to be able to get on message. This will be a story for a couple days.
And again, I really do commend Tom Price on his service. It's unfortunate it had to go down like this because he's a great American. But had this going on, this would've continued to be a drip, drip, drip, taking the president away and taking Congress away from this really monumental historic thing we have to do which is revitalize the tax code for the 21st century.
SMITH: And to your point, the president was very complimentary of him as well just a few hours before the announced departure. He kept saying, he's a good man, he's a fine man, and he had very nice things to say just a short time before this news happened. Congressman, thanks for joining us tonight.
KINZINGER: Anytime, you bet.
SMITH: All right. Well, here now with more, Karl Rove, former Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush and a Fox News Contributor. Karl, can you lend some perspective to this news tonight?
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR AND FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, first of all, it is a little bit troubling that these trips and the trips of Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, who's been criticized for some of this and others in the cabinet, have been approved by the White House, because, look, I think the world of Tom Price. I was in the White House when he came into Congress -- a very able person, a wonderful physician, cares deeply about health care policy. This is one of the better choices that President Trump made in a group of outstanding cabinet appointments. And yet, now, he's gone after basically, 9.5 months. And the problem was, this was not defensible. When you become a cabinet official, you know, suddenly, you got a big department to run, a lot of big, you know, important responsibilities, you have a security detail, which is necessary, and you have a lot of people saying, we want to see you.
And unfortunately, in figuring out where he was going and how he was going to get there, both Secretary Price and the people around him and, apparently, somebody inside the White House, or not paying attention to what is appropriate and proper. For example, he had one trip from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia in which he took a jet out of, I believe it was a private charter jet, out of the Dallas airport to Philadelphia. Well, you know, you can either fly on commercial planes between Washington, D.C. -- Washington and Philadelphia, or better yet, you can go to the Union Train Station and get a train.
SMITH: It sounds simple, doesn't it?
SMITH: It sounds simple.
SMITH: You know, you mentioned Ryan Zinke, Steven Mnuchin. There are others in the president's cabinet that are under scrutiny for similar problems. The dollar amount is not as high, but you wonder in the wake of this decision if this sets a precedent.
ROVE: Well, look, it was the volume of this that did it. You're going to occasionally need to travel. There may be an important function for somebody outside the national security apparatus where they need to be someplace for something important, and the only way to get there is either a military plane or a charter. But that is of rare occasion, particularly the private charter question, for people who are not in the national security part of the government.
And the only good news out of this is, is that this is probably going to cause every cabinet official for the rest of the time that Donald Trump is in the White House to say, I'd better be really careful about this issue. But the downside is, we've lost a very important member of the president's cabinet who has played a vital role in framing the Republican response on repealing and replacing Obamacare.
SMITH: And that's a great point. And filling that position, you wonder, it could be a difficult process, Karl.
ROVE: Well, I thought you had an excellent point with Adam Kinzinger. This, look, the administration's already behind in the number of people that it's nominated for jobs. It's been hurt by the fact that the Democrats are slow balling, slow plain, blackballing the president's nominees. But now we have two very important cabinets -- Department of Homeland Security, which the president feels very passionate about the wall and the immigration policy, and now the cabinet secretary responsible for repealing and replacing Obamacare.
And White House personnel shop had better be getting lots of possibilities in front of the president. Not going to take a lot of the president's time to make this decision, but the people around the president are going to be drawn away from other things in order to get these two cabinet departments filled, and that means they need to come up with some good people, the vet them strongly, and take some recommendations to the president, so he can pick and choose among them.
SMITH: You know, when I asked your perspective earlier, when you look at, back at previous administrations and similar issues, the Trump administration, as Ed Henry just laid out for us, authorized 77 military flights in the first eight months of office, while the Obama administration, 94 flights during the same time period. Why is this president, and his administration being scrutinized more so than -- and I know you can look at the Bush administration and tell me that it was handled differently than as well?
ROVE: This is -- we're finding out things now that we should've known at the time. I am shocked that Attorney General Holder gets assistance to take himself and his family to the Belmont for a horse race. I mean, and then, has to -- a huge cost to the taxpayer, and he has to pay this much. Why couldn't he get there on his own hook? And look, when you serve in government, sometimes you're not going to be able to go to the places that you want to go that you could if you are in the private workforce, but that's amazing.
And look, everything the president does, let's be clear. Everything this administration does is going to get an extra level of scrutiny. Things that might have been possible for previous administrations to get away with, they're not going to be able to get away with it in this administration. But I've got to admit, I am jaw-droppingly shocked at things that it turns out the Obama administration was doing it routinely. And I bet you a dime for a dollar, if you went back and looked at those 94 military planes, a great many of them were devoted to the movement of Hillary Clinton around the world. And she traveled extensively and I'm not certain always very usefully.
SMITH: All right, Karl Rove, thank you for coming on tonight. Good to see you.
ROVE: You bet. And to you.
SMITH: Well, up next, Tom Price now part of a high-profile list of White House officials who have either resigned or been forced out of Trump's administration. Trace Gallagher has the backstory there. Then, Chris Stirewalt is here with what this means for the president's next four years. Plus, dramatic new steps, the State Department just took against Cuba in the wake of nearly two dozen U.S. diplomats suffering from a mysterious illness. And will the fun return to football this well? America at a crossroads over free speech as NFL teams, players, and fans prepare for national anthem protests.
SMITH: Breaking tonight, the departure of Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary marks the latest in a long list of officials who have exited in the eight months since President Trump took office, and it is no coincidence that many of these exits happened on a Friday. Trace Gallagher is live in our West Coast Newsroom with that part of the story. Tough not to notice that fact, Trace.
TRACE GALLAGHER, FOX NEWS CHANNEL ANCHOR: Well, it's a popular day of the week, Sandra, unless you work for the White House, in which case, it's doomsday. In fact, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is just the latest in a string of Friday White House departures. Friday, July 21st, Sean Spicer resigned after telling President Trump that he strongly disagreed with the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as White House Communications Director. One week later, Friday, July 28, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was pushed out after a rough and tumble 6-month tenure. Priebus was replaced by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Three Fridays after Priebus left, on August 18th, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who was widely credited with getting Trump into the White House, decided to leave the White House.
One week later, Friday, August 25th, Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka resigned, expressing his dissatisfaction with the Trump administration. Friday was not the only cord cutting day. Embattled White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned February 13th, that was a Monday, for reference, after he misled administration officials about his contact with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Senior White House Aide, Katie Walsh, abruptly left the White House in late March to run a pro-Trump group on the outside. FBI Director James Comey was fired May 9th ostensibly for is the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. A few weeks after Comey was let go, Communications Director Mike Dubke tendered his resignation, but he was the first communications director to leave, he was not the last. That would be, Anthony Scaramucci, who was shown the door on July 31st, just ten days after he walked in the door for the first time.
SMITH: We remember. Trace, thank you. You set it up so well for us. And now, here to explain the latest shake-up could impact President Trump's road ahead, or will it, is Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt. Chris, happy Friday evening to you.
CHRIS STIREWALT, FOX NEWS POLITICS EDITOR: I'm nostalgic for the Mooch. That was a much more exciting Friday. That had a lot more sizzle than the Friday's ouster.
SMITH: That's a little more for you.
SMITH: Well, what about tonight, what about Tom Price? What does this -- which should we make of all this?
STIREWALT: So, generally, as a rule, in administration, it is bad when there is turmoil, right? In any institution whether it is the place where you --
SMITH: If you call this turmoil.
STIREWALT: Well, right. So, we use, as a rule, a lot of turnovers could be a sign of trouble. And certainly, for the opening months of this administration, that turnover was trouble. If you can't keep skilled, quality people like somebody like Dubke, and they can't stay, that could be a problem, these could all be warning signs. Other times, though, firings are the sign of a well-run organization. And in the case of Tom Price, it would've been inexcusable to even let him stay; it would have been a sign of dysfunction had he remained.
So, in this case, context matters. Maybe some of the changes before were the sign of an unhealthy administration, this is the sign that the president has confidence in his chief of staff. When a cabinet had got was way out over his skis and not taking the right approach in its response, boom, take care of business and move on to the next thing. That could be the sign of a healthy administration.
SMITH: So, perhaps, for a president that promised to drain the swamp, decisive action like this satisfies his base?
STIREWALT: Especially when it is an issue that goes to the very core of Trump-ism -- which is already rich people, people who are already rich, who are working in Washington, and then taking advantage of the perks of office for themselves, nothing could be more antithetical to core Trump-ism than what Tom Price was doing. The president, basically, outlined that when he was talking to reporters today at the White House, and he carried out that mission. And I think that not only says that Trump is being true to the ideals that he talked about in his run as it relates to draining the swamp, but also, this is just good management. You can't have somebody like Tom Price hanging around your administration.
SMITH: Ambassador Bolton, there, it reminds me of what he said in response to all of this. He said, Republicans are cheap, at least we're supposed to be.
STIREWALT: Yes. Yes, I think that sums it up.
SMITH: So, what about filling this position now? You know, the timing is interesting. Here we are coming up at the end of the year, health care, tax reforms, there's a lot going on. So, is that going to be a problem?
STIREWALT: So, the budget that the Senate Republicans laid out today, this very day, indicates to me and everybody else, the idea of Obamacare repeal is gone. Now, it may be revived at some point, but let's also face this fact: the head of the Department of Health and Human Services became kind of a celebrity position under President Obama, but really, this is a bureaucratic post. This is supposed to be somebody who is doing the day in, day out of managing a large, complex agency, but this isn't a celebrity post.
This isn't a big idea post so much as it is somebody who is at the daily grind of administration. If they're not in the business of repealing Obamacare, they have to administer this large agency. Almost -- not almost anybody -- but there are many, many qualified individuals, and many, many qualified human beings who can handle the day-to-day functions of an agency like this. Maybe not to spearhead the repeal of a major law, but certainly to handle the business of running that agency.
SMITH: Does this set a precedent, you know, Ryan Zinke is facing scrutiny; Steven Mnuchin, under investigation. You know, what does this mean for the next several years for Trump's cabinet members.
STIREWALT: Well, it means they're going to think before they fly. But remember this, and especially in the case of Zinke, all we can say for Mnuchin is that he was lucky to have been refused the privilege. But in the case of Zinke, look, people like the secretary of defense and people like secretary of state, they've got to fly, and when they fly, they have no choice but to travel on government aircraft because they need secured communications and other things.
In the case of Zinke, we have a lot of national parks. You can't get to all of them every time. He might have to ride a mule or a flat bottom boat or who knows what to get where he's going and exceptions will continue to be made. What you can't do is do it in a way that if you have a choice to do it hard or do it easy, if you're doing it easy, you're doing it wrong when you're paid by the people.
SMITH: Zinke is not pleased about the criticism over his travel. I think, today, he referred to it as a lot of B.S.
STIREWALT: He did, in fact. He did himself well today.
SMITH: All right. Chris Stirewalt, happy weekend to you, sir.
STIREWALT: Happy weekend, my friend.
SMITH: All right. Up next, President Trump renews his attack on NFL anthem protesters as we get ready to head into a week of football. So, what can we expect to see on the field? Trace Gallagher is back with that, before Ben Shapiro and Richard Fowler take on the new culture war. Plus, as more aids starts to flow into Puerto Rico, many still say the White House did not and still not is doing enough for the hurricane-ravaged country.
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TRUMP: I can tell you this. We have done an incredible job considering there's absolutely nothing to work with.
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TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a (BLEEP) off the field right now, out? He is fired. Fired!
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SMITH: That was President Trump if you can believe this, only a week ago tonight. The comment sparking a week of heated debate, protests, and division across the country. And tonight, Trump is not backing down, renewing his call that the flag be respected.
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TRUMP: Well, I've spoken to other owners, and I really think it's coming together. I noticed last night or I was told, I didn't see it, but I heard everybody stood for the national anthem, and that shows respect for our country, our flag, and for the national anthem. So, you know, I'm very happy. I heard that, and they should stand. You have to stand. It's our national anthem. You have to stand.
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SMITH: Let's go back to Trace Gallagher, he's live in our West Coast Newsroom with what we can expect for game day this weekend. Trace?
GALLAGHER: And Sandra, the president is correct during last night game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, none of the players on either team took a knee during the national anthem, instead they've all linked arms. The Packers also asked their fans to link arms in a display of unity, and some did, but many did not. This same unity apparently did not extend to the rest of the country, because television ratings for the CBS debut of Thursday Night Football last night were down 13 percent from the CBS Thursday Night Football debut from last year.
Now, last weekend's NFL ratings were actually up 3 percent from the same time last year, but it's important to note that during the same weekend last year, there was a presidential debate that captured 84 million viewers. Overall this year, NFL ratings are down 13 percent, which, for the NFL, translates to tens of millions of lost dollars. As for protesting the anthem, Fox News polls show that 55percent believe kneeling is inappropriate. That's actually down from last year when 61 percent thought kneeling was wrong. But the increase in those who say it's OK to kneel come primarily from African-Americans, women, and Democrats.
Meantime, the NFL is very aware of how this is playing across the country, which is why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a meeting this week with some team owners and players. Those who were there say the commissioner was mainly listening to the various opinions and that he did not push for players to stop kneeling during the games. But it's also important to note that visiting this week, those who were on there on hand say the New York Giants, their owner, Mara, said that he would like everybody to stand, but he also respects those who decide at the time to take a knee. Sandra?
SMITH: Trace Gallagher, thank you very much for that. Here with more, Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of dailywire.com, and Richard Fowler, syndicated radio host and a Fox News contributor. Ben, I'll start with you first. You know, when you saw that show of solidarity, the players linking arms, the fans linking arms in support of the flag and our military, did you see this as a win for the president?
BEN SHAPIRO, DAILYWIRE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF: Yeah, I do think it was a win for the president politically for him. I'm not sure it's a win for the country overall, because I think that the issue was divisive. But what it looks like from -- just the 30,000-foot view is that Colin Kaepernick and a bunch of others NFL players and former NFL players have knelt for the anthem. President Trump said he hated that and the NFL should do something about that. A bunch of the players, more of them, no, and now none of them are kneeling anymore. They're all standing, arm in arm, for the anthem. So it looks like Trump did something, and now the NFL reversed itself.
That was a mistake on the part of the NFL players. They made a mistake by allowing Trump to polarize the issue in the first place. They never should have boycotted the anthem or knelt for the anthem. I said this all along, if they wanted to show they didn't like what Trump had to stay, they could've just stood for the anthem next to the guys who are kneeling for the anthem and that would have been that, but instead they decided to leap over themselves and cut off their nose to spite their faces. It was a problem to them and now how it reverse, and it's looks like Trump made them do it.
SMITH: Richard, I'll ask you the question so many are wondering as -- you know, this country loves football, we love sports, and we want to see game day come back and we want to see the focus go back on to the game. Do you think the fun is going to come back this weekend?
SMITH: Let me get Richard in here.
RICHARD FOWLER, FOX NEWS CONTIBUTOR: I think we have to wait and see here. I think we have a larger contextual problem outside of football. And that if you look at the poll that Trace just talked about, and there's another poll that came out that showed that 82 percent of African-Americans thought that what these NFL players did was bold, brave, and courageous, and 59 percent of Caucasians thought that these players were wrong. And when you take it by age, 59 percent of Americans who are under the age of 45 though these players were right, and vice versa.
SMITH: Hold on. So let's actually bring in and cite some of the studies that are going on here. Remington Research Group found 64 percent of voters agreed President Trump -- and want players to stand for the anthem during these games. The survey also found 80 percent of voters want less politics in sports, 51 percent say they're watching less football than in previous years, Ben. Isn't that what we're hearing? People just saying, just leave politics out of sports?
SHAPIRO: I think that's right. And I think it's important to note when Richard says that people are siding with people like Colin Kaepernick, they weren't back in September of 2016. In September of 2016, 40percent, according to Reuters, 40 percent of black folks, people of color, were saying that they didn't agree with Colin Kaepernick protest. Today, that number is down to 13 percent, which shows you that a lot of this is reaction directly to Trump, not in favor of Colin Kaepernick protest
FOWLER: What I said is, 82 percent of African-Americans are siding with NFL players that kneeled on Sunday, which says to me that African-Americans are saying that these players have their first amendment rights, just like you have your first amendment rights--
SMITH: Right. And we've had that discussion many, many times this week.
FOWLER: -- these players have the right to kneel and we should respect that right. And I think these players have been very clear, this is not about the anthem. This not about our veterans. This is about protesting racial injustice. And if 82 percent of African-Americans say they feel as though there is racism in the country, clearly we have a problem.
SMITH: The NFL is a business and it is a brand, and I will remind you of that. And Ben, when you look at the ratings for Thursday Night Football on CBS, they were down 13 percent. You're seeing attendances dropping. Ticket sales so far, sort of unwavering, but there has been change in the wake of this.
SHAPIRO: A hundred percent. There's a study that's just came out in the last couple of hours showing the ticket sales for this weekend were down something like 31 percent. I mean, this is a massive hit for the NFL. And there's a reason why all of the players are now standing. And Richard, if this are going so well, then why aren't the players doing the same thing this week than they did last week--
FOWLER: I'll give you another brand it's called the Montgomery Bus Company in the 90's and the Rosa Park boycott. That was also a brand. And what these players understand is when you hurt the brand, things start to change its economic impact, right?
SHAPIRO: The wrong way.
SHAPIRO: The wrong way because now the NFL is coming out against them.
The Montgomery Bus Company caved to Rosa Parks as it should.
FOWLER: No, listen, let's have this right, ben. The Supreme Court force the Montgomery Bus Company to cave--
SMITH: So Richard, let me ask you this question then. Let me ask you then. This weekend, what would you like to see happen? Do you want to see sports get back to sports, and football be played without politics in it? What do you want to see?
FOWLER: I mean, for me, I think there's space for both. I think football should get back to football, and we as a country should have a real conversation about how we saw racial injustice. I think Ben, and we can both agree, whether its white people or black people, there is a problem with excessive force by police and we should figure out how we solve it together.
SMITH: All right. So Ben, we've got to leave it there, but do you think the president is pleased with the way things are changing right now with this conversation?
SHAPIRO: Well, I think the president has to be pleased with the outcome because, again, it looks like he's the one who intervene to stop the players from kneeling, and it looks like they're stopping their kneeling. If they were going so well as I've said to Richard, then why are they doing the same thing this week than in last week?
SMITH: All right. Thank you for the debate. Thank you for the debate. Richard, Ben, thank you. Good to see you guys. Still ahead, the State Department sending a strong message to Cuba tonight in the wake of mysterious illnesses by nearly two dozen U.S. diplomats. Plus, as the government and volunteers raced to get aid to the millions in need in Puerto Rico, critics are still saying the Trump administration should have acted quicker. We've got a fair and balanced debate on that after the break.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe. And we will be there every day until that happens.
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SMITH: Breaking tonight, President Trump fighting back against criticism of his response to the crisis in Puerto Rico. Nine days ago, Hurricane Maria absolutely devastated the U.S. territory of 3 million people. Many still lack basic necessities like power, water, and supplies, but Trump says his administration is doing all it can to help.
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TRUMP: As far as Puerto Rico is concerned, that has been going, as you know, really well. It's been total devastation. We have over 10,000 people in Puerto Rico right now. We've made tremendous strides. Very, very tough situation.
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SMITH: Despite that, there is a growing chorus of criticism from the left over the president's handling of this crisis. Watch.
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UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a sense that the response from the federal government or maybe the response would have been stronger if you've been a state?
UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it's because they didn't care. Maybe it's because this wasn't a priority.
UNINDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico, and the president was really preoccupied with trying to make a racial issue out of the NFL while he wasn't doing anything about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: Here now, David Wohl, attorney and conservative commentator, and Jessica Tarlov, author of American in the age of Trump, and Fox News contributor. David, did the president make the rescue, the help, and aid, and recovery of Puerto Rico a priority?
DAVID WOHL, ATTORNEY: Absolutely, Sandra. Remember this, on August 25th you had Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. On September 10th, Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Shortly after that, Hurricane Maria hits and devastates Puerto Rico. He has made this an absolute obsession of his. He's sending hundreds and millions of dollars of food, supplies and water down there. He's wave the Jones Act requirement which makes some any available ship can ship supplies from the mainland to Puerto Rico. He's going down to Puerto Rico on Tuesday to help to survey the damage.
And remember something, Sandra. There's no question about it. With the Russian hacking story collapsing, the media and the Democrats have shamelessly pivoted to this of Puerto Rico, trying to make it Mr. Trump's Katrina. They're going to fail miserably. They ought to stop now, and they ought to applaud him for his unbelievable efforts in getting recovery on that island.
SMITH: There's certainly some who are doing that, by the way. The governor there has been very supportive saying that every time that they call, the president has delivered. Jessica, are you OK with some of those things you just heard from the media, criticism that this president just doesn't care, he hasn't made Puerto Rico a priority.
JESSICA TARLOV, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, I'm absolutely am OK with it. And to David's point, yes, he did have a streak of tragedies that he had to pay attention to, but he's the president of United States of America and it is hurricane season and these things happen. I mean, over the weekend, we all know what he was tweeting--
SMITH: By the way, these things don't just happen. It's sort of unprecedented what happened for the people in Puerto Rico, Jessica.
TARLOV: No, no, no. I'm not at all belittling there. I'm just saying when you're president you have a responsibility to take care of these things. He focused on Houston, he went there, that's great. His response in Florida was also heralded as a success. Last weekend, tweeting about the NFL. It took him days to waive the Jones Act. And if you listen to the mayor of San Juan today, she did not sound like a liberal partisan. She looked like a woman who was begging for attention from the United States government.
SMITH: Jessica, rightly so, she's concerned and stressed. There's a major catastrophe--
TARLOV: She's saying that they are being neglected. Cholera is breaking out in Puerto Rico.
SMITH: And that's President Trump's fault? David?
WOHL: And it's tragic and it's going down there. And the fact that Mr. Trump is tweeting about a big story in this country, the NFL--
TARLOV: Which he created.
SMITH: David, let me challenge you on this for a second. Because the president was asked this week, are you preoccupied, and you just heard the media criticizing him. He did talk about the NFL a lot. He did tweet about the NFL a lot. He made that a major point this week. So it gave the opportunity to the media, as you just said, saw, and those on the left to say, hey, hold on, these people down in Puerto Rico, they need help. Let's make this the focus and priority. Perhaps, looking back, could the president have handled that a bit differently?
WOHL: No, I think he is tweeting about the NFL, it's a huge story here. Behind the scene, FEMA--
TARLOV: He created it, David.
WOHL: -- taking care of this problem -- now hold on a second. Last year, if you recall, 2016, when the deadly flooding hit Louisiana and Barack Obama was out on the links hitting golf balls around while that was all happening, the media was almost dead silent in response. When you have President Trump working his butt off--
SMITH: Can you be more specific, though? You are in the group criticizing the president here for his response. The president has said Puerto Rico is different. It's different than Texas. It's different from Florida.
There's logistical issues with getting aid to Puerto Rico.
TARLOV: Yes, absolutely. But I don't think, to David's point, that him tweeting about the NFL last week and was him prioritizing a big story. It was a story he created. The point is it took days to waive the Jones Act. It should not have. There're people on the left and the right saying that. You have Marco Rubio absolutely concerned about these things. Florida is now taking tons of people from Puerto Rico. Royal Caribbean already using their cruise ships.
SMITH: Our thoughts and prayers for those people because it's not a good situation. Jessica and David, thank you.
TARLOV: Thank you.
WOHL: Have a great weekend.
SMITH: All right. Coming up, a new warning against Cuba from the State Department after a bizarre and mysterious attack on American diplomats. Former congressman Jason Chaffetz and Zac Petkanas are here on what it means for U.S. relations with the communist nation, next.
SMITH: New tonight, a dramatic development in the bizarre case of U.S. diplomats in Cuba. Victimize in so-called sonic attacks, leaving them with a host of mysterious ailments ranging from hearing loss to brain damage in some cases. Earlier today, the State Department pulling more than half of its diplomatic personnel out of Cuba, and warning Americans not to visit the country. It's all raising questions about the success of President Obama's effort to restore relations with the communist nation. Here with more, former Utah congressman, Jason Chaffetz, who's also a Fox News contributor, and former senior DNC advisor, Zac Petkanas. It does raise some serious questions based on what we know at this point, which isn't a whole lot, congressman.
JASON CHAFFETZ, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUOR: Yeah. I had a chance last week to visit with Ambassador Dale -- who was the czar there in Havana. And he told me in first -- you know, firsthand account about how specific individuals were just bombarded with headaches and they couldn't concentrate, and very weird symptoms, and that spread to a number of people and it became evident that this was an attack. It wasn't actually just a coincidence or somebody, you know, eating bad fish or something. So the State Department has taken extraordinary measures, and they needed to.
SMITH: So we know the State Department is issuing a travel warning, as I just mentioned. Officials say the U.S. will stop issuing visas in Cuba effective immediately because of the staff reductions. But you look at what's happening here, Zac, 21 U.S. diplomats and family members reporting ill after these apparent sonic attacks. There may have been as many as 50 attacks, some as most recent as August. What do you make of this?
ZAC PETKANAS, FORMER SENIOR DNC ADVISOR: Well, look, I mean the attacks are really bizarre, and the fact that they remain a mystery is very concerning. So I think this is appropriate action by the State Department. They have an obligation to keep their diplomats and personnel safe until we can figure out exactly what has happened. I mean, what's interesting about this is that, you know, the American officials they're really suspicious if this is even the Cuban government? It doesn't even feel like it is. The Cuba government, for example, has been begging for the FBI to come down there and help them figure out what happened.
And it's also important to remember, this is not just American diplomats who were hurt. There was one Canadian diplomat who was hurt. And Canada and Cuba have had very long warm relations for a very long time. So this just doesn't seem to fit that this is potentially the Cuban government--
SMITH: I'm sure our viewers are hearing all this and thinking this is just absolutely bizarre. And you want to look back at former President Obama's Cuba policy, if you will, he established diplomatic relations, ease travel restrictions, promoted financial transactions, remove Cuba from state sponsor of terror lists. Congressman, looking back, what do you make of that?
CHAFFETZ: I'm actually on the side that believes he ought to open it up after 50 years of not making a whole lot of progress. I do believe that more travel and more interaction with Cuba will actually accelerate their move towards democracy. You still have the Castro regime that is embedded there. I understand the difference without Fidel Castro there in the leadership position. But still, I do think that the infusion of America and Americana into Cuba will accelerate this. But this attack is going to slow us down. We're not sure if it's the Cuban government. There is this mystery as to who is doing it. So we really don't know, and we're going to need the FBI to figure it out.
SMITH: Yeah, a lots to figure out here. Zac, I'll give you the last word to you on this.
PETKANAS: No. And I think we really need to figure out what happened here with the -- to figure out who did it. One of the interesting theories that is gaining some credibility with American officials is that another country may have done this, a rogue country, an enemy of the United States like Russia or somebody else. And so, we need to figure out who perpetrated this attack against not only American officials but a Canadian one as well. It is in our national security interests.
SMITH: A big day, I mean, pulling more than half of our diplomats out of Cuba because of these sonic attacks. Thanks to both of you for coming on tonight. Good to see you.
CHAFFETZ: Good to be with you.
PETKANAS: Thank you.
SMITH: We will be right back.
SMITH: Thanks for being a part of "The Story" tonight. Starting Monday, by the way, I'll begin joining Bill Hemmer every weekday on "America's Newsroom," 9:00 to 11:00 AM Eastern Time, in addition to hosting "Outnumbered" at 12 noon, so tune into both. We've love to have you there. Tucker is up next. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.
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