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Harry Reid Attempts to Change Senate; NJ Governor Chris Christie's New Job; Judge Sets Bail for Kennedy Cousin Skakel; London Police Rescue Three Women from Forced Servitude; Senate Holds Vote on "Nuclear Option"

Aired November 21, 2013 - 12:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a new job. Taking over the reins of the Republican Governors Association. But the question on everybody's mind, what are his plans for 2016?

HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Also this. He was pulled off a plane in North Korea. The family of this 85-year-old American says, they've had no contact with him since and they are worried about his safety.

Also --


CONTROLLER: (inaudible) 4241 heavy, confirm you know which airport you're at?

PILOT: Well -- we think we have a pretty good pulse.


HOLMES: Yeah, not really. That wasn't the case. This giant cargo plane ended up at the wrong airport. Now they're trying to figure out a way to get it back up in the air.

Welcome to "AROUND THE WORLD", everyone. I'm Michael Holmes.

GORANI: On a very short runway.


GORANI: We'll have that for you. I'm Hala Gorani. I'm in for Suzanne Malveaux.

First this hour, a major debate raging right now on Capitol Hill. The division among Republicans and Democrats coming really to a boil this hour.

HOLMES: Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he is fed up with Republican filibuster threats. He and other Democratic leaders invoking what's become known as the "nuclear option".

GORANI: Now, what does it mean? Well, it would change a very important rule in the U.S. Senate and allow just a simple majority, 51 votes, to overcome a filibuster. Reid says the change is needed to keep the Senate from becoming obsolete.

HOLMES: But Republicans say it's a bunch of pointless drama. Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill with the details. Drama or necessary?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It depends who you ask. How's that a dodge to the answer to that question, Michael? But, look, this is definitely something that has been boiling for some time. When you look at the to-ing and fro-ing and the partisanship and the tension over this question about filibusters, about blocking a president's nominees.

Currently, of course, since it is a Democratic president, it is the Republicans in the minority who able to use their power of the filibuster to block the president's nominees.

But I was just going back and looking, and there's no question that when George Bush was in the president -- was in the White House and Democrats were in the minority here in the Senate, they did the same thing. You can argue about the statistics and the number of times, but certainly the tool is something that both parties have used.

But at this point, the Democratic leader has made clear that enough is enough. And most recently, the issue was, and sort of the straw that broke the camel's back, is the fact that on the D.C. Circuit, which is very important, probably the second highest court in the land -- very important court -- there are three vacancies and Republicans are blocking those vacancies.

They say -- blocking nominations, I should say, to fill those vacancies. Republicans say it's because the court doesn't have a big workload, that there are other places where judges are much more necessary. And Democrats say, 'Uh-uh, the reason is because you don't want to tip the balance of that court, and it's just not fair.'

So that is what they're voting on right now, is an attempt to get one of those judges on that bench. And this is really kind of a show, if you will, in order to get to the point where Democrats can, likely later today, hold the vote to change the rules to make it impossible for Republicans to do what they're doing now, which is have a 60-vote threshold to block the nominations and bring it down to 51 simple majority.

HOLMES: And Dana, you mentioned those three vacancies. Am I wrong in thinking that there's 100 judicial vacancies at the moment? This is about -- the Democrats would say the Republicans blocking every appointment that the government wants to make.

BASH: That's right. And Republicans argue, and they did argue, Mitch McConnell did right on the Senate floor, that they have passed over 200 of the president's nominees and have only defeated less than handful. Of course, that doesn't speak to how many are still stuck on the calendar.

So you can -- to be honest, you can kind of look at the numbers and see in them what you want, if you are a Democrat or a Republican looking at, you know, how things are going. But it is definitely true that the idea of a filibuster for various reasons has been -- become an epidemic in the Senate. And both parties are to blame. I want to play for you, though, what the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said earlier today why he's doing this now.


HARRY REID, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER (D)-NV: It's time to get the Senate working again, not for the good of the current Democratic majority or some future Republican majority, but for the good of the United States of America. It's time to change. It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.


BASH: Now, the Republican leader basically said, 'Give me a break. The people who are playing politics here are Democrats and there's not a crisis in the judicial branch and what is going on is that Democrats are trying to change the subject away from Obamacare.'

Listen to what Mitch McConnell said.


MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MINORITY LEADER (R)-KY: Once again, Senate Democrats are threatening to break the rules of the Senate, break the rules of the Senate, in order to change the rules of the Senate. And over what? Over what?

Over a court that doesn't even have enough work to do? Millions of Americans are hurting because of a law Washington Democrats forced upon them and what do they do about it? They cook up some fake fight over judges, a fake fight over judges that aren't even needed.

BASH: Now, people looking at this might say, 'This is sort of process. It's about a couple of judges or a couple of the president's nominees, why do we care so much?' Sure, that is the case and that is important.

But bigger picture, it is important because if you thought that Washington was divided and partisan and grid-locked, even though the move is to make it less grid-locked, you're going to see, very likely, the tensions flare even more because of Democrats attempting to take away this power from the minority.

In fact, John McCain, who has been somebody who tried to broker this issue and successfully did so about a month ago, just told our Lisa Desjardins(ph) in the hallway that this changes everything with regard to the tone and tenor of how the Senate is run.

HOLMES: All right, Dana Bash, there. Thanks so much more that.

GORANI: All right, let's put things in perspective, and Dana was mentioning why this is important. Because this could have a substantial impact on how business is conducted in the Senate in the future. Now, let's also remind our viewers this nuclear option, as it's called, has never been used before.

Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin joins me now and joins us now on the phone from New York.

Jeffrey, first of all, as we were discussing there, the potential longer-term impact, if this nuclear option in fact passes, is utilized in the Senate, what would it be?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The Senate will get more done. Now that is either good news or bad news, depending on whether you think the Democratic majority is doing what's right for the country. But there are 55 Democrats in the Senate right now. When there is a 60-vote threshold to do everything, which is what, in effect there has been for the past couple of years, nothing much gets done, including confirming judges. And what Harry Reid is doing will lower the threshold back to 50 for judicial vacancies for the foreseeable future.

HOLMES: Jeff, when it comes to the legality of this, there's nothing in the Constitution about it, am I right? And when you look at use of filibusters, it has grown exponentially. I mean, a lot of people think misused, overused.

TOOBIN: There's no question that filibusters are a creation of the rules of the Senate. The Constitution says very clearly that the House and Senate may make their own rules. The Senate made a rule allowing for filibusters and allowing for them to be cut off at some point.

The Senate today is in the process of changing those rules. The Constitution really has nothing to say about any of this. This is really up to the Senate. And the -- so that's really the story. The Democrats have the right to do it. Whether it's a good idea or a bad idea, that's a separate question. But as a legal matter, clearly they have the right to do it.

HOLMES: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst, thanks so much.

GORANI: All right, changing the rules of the Senate requiring a much smaller majority to get some of those nominations. It will be interesting to see if that option is used.

Now elsewhere on the political front, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is about to start his new gig as leader -- who we love to look forward in 2016 -- here's another opportunity -- as leader of the Republican Governor's Association.

HOLMES: Never miss a chance to look forward to the next election. Now that high profile job -- it is a high profile job -- it's often used as a launch pad for governors hoping to become president of the United States.

GORANI: This hour, Republican governors will hear from their new chief. He holds the purse strings. He has the bully pulpit. He is the man. And we'll bring you his speech live. HOLMES: Right now, let's bring in Peter Hamby at the governor's conference. This is taking place in Scottsdale, Arizona. Also political analyst Gloria Borger, joining us from Washington.

Peter, first to you, if we may, Governor Christie, he had to take the job from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who's also been touted around as potential presidential candidate. What's the mood at the conference? Is that is all of the chatter?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Publicly the members of the Republican Governors Association, the governors, their staffs, they're not really talking about the sort of behind the scenes jockeying that took place last year when both Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, wanted to run the RGA in 2014, next year, the big midterm year, when there's 36 governor races, a big year. It could be a good platform, a good launchpad to run for president.

No, they're talking, Michael, you know, not about that, but about winning races next year. There's a variety of press conferences, governors here meeting with donors. And that's one big thing, one big reason why this event and this conference and this new job for Chris Christie is so important to him, because it does put him in touch with some of the Republican party's biggest financial supporters.

The RGA is one of the biggest and most important political committees in the country. They can raise larger sums of money than the Republican National Committee, for instance.

So Christie gets to meet people running the committee around the country. And then next year, he's going to be traveling all over the place, going to places like Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, these really important political states where there just happen to be signature governor races. So Christie gets to travel the country, get out of New Jersey, and campaign and raise his profile without actually campaigning for president. But he will be able to pivot nicely to 2016 after the midterm elections, Michael.

HOLMES: Actually, as luck would have it, Governor Christie is speaking now. Let's listen in for a bit.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: -- we care about and that are important to the people of our individual states. But we also know that we have a job to do, and what we're hired to do is to run our states and to do the job. And I think all throughout the last day and a half or so of this conference, what I've heard from governors all across the country, whether it's John Kasich in Ohio or Scott Walker in Wisconsin or, you know, folks like the ones sitting up here with me, is we talk about the common sense solutions that we're bringing to the people of our state and the things that are getting done on their behalf.

And that's what our focus is going to continue to be. We have extraordinary records of people up on this stage who will be up for election next year, some of them, and others a little bit further in the distance. And we're gonna talk about our records and what we've accomplished. And I think it's going to be a strong and compelling message for the people of the country over the 2014 year.

So I am looking forward to assuming the chairmanship this afternoon. I'm honored by my colleagues' confidence in me. And my job is to go out there and elect and re-elect Republican governors, and that's gonna my sole focus over the course of the next 11 months. So I thank them for their support and their confidence and turn it over to Governor Haley of South Carolina.



GORANI: All right, and there you have it. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, on a high from a landslide in a recent election there in his state.

Gloria Borger, now, many people expect that if -- although we're looking really years down the line, but if Governor Chris Christie were to run for president, his possible opponent would be Hillary Clinton. How does that shape out so very early on in the process?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, in some early polls you see that Chris Christie does better than Hillary Clinton. The interesting thing to look at in those polls is, of course, the independent voters.

And he's really popular with independent voters. And what he's going to do is, as Peter was saying, with the chairmanship, is he's going to be able to raise money. He's going to be able to separate himself as a can-do governor from those guys in Washington who are fighting over the nuclear option, as you were just talking about, and who can't get anything done and look at the Republican governors that we can elect and we can win with.

And in doing so, as he travels around the country, there's a lot of money he can raise for himself. And he gets to be seen as an outsider, as opposed to all of those insiders in Washington, you know, the popularity of Congress is incredibly low. And so, what he's going to try and do is say, 'Look at Republican governors. We get stuff done. Look at those Republicans in the Senate who want to run for president, they're not the can-do caucus; we are.' So it's a perfect platform for him to run for the presidency. It's a springboard.

GORANI: And of course, as we were mentioning, it's very early on. Historically speaking, having covered so many presidential elections, at this stage, how often is the rising star in any party an indicator of who ends up coming out on top?

BORGER: Well, never.


I'd have to say that. But you know, Chris Christie is not a new- comer, but he is the latest sort of guy on the hit parade. But you know what happens. We build you up, and we take you down. So I think we've got a lot of ups and downs to go, but you know, clearly, he's a contender. Peter, what do you think?

HAMBY: Is Chris Christie the front-runner, is that what you're asking?

HOLMES: Is he a contender?

GORANI: No, I mean, is it an indicator? We're talking about two, three years down the line here. Is it in any way an indicator early on, is my question?

HAMBY: Well, look, I mean, I think when people talk about the presidential race three years away, that's not actually true. The presidential race is happening behind the scenes. It's been happening behind the scenes since President Obama got reelected. And look who's driving the conversation nationally in the Republican party for the last year -- Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, the people that are going to be run for president.

GORANI: They're running.

HAMBY: And Christie, as Gloria talked about, is going to use this platform to really make some connections behind the scenes, the so- called invisible primary, and build support and teams in lots of the states, collect chits from activists, donors, reporters, and use it night of the election in the midterms next year and pivot immediately to 2016, because the presidential race begins in earnest in November 2014.

The primary campaign's going to consume 2015, so this race is already under way. And Chris Christie is absolutely at the top of the heap.

GORANI: All right -

BORGER: And not only is there a fight within the Republican Party, because Chris Christie's not among the most conservative in the Republican Party, but there's also this fight inside Washington, outside Washington Republicans.

Which one can actually get things done for you? And as Washington tries to fix itself, governors are going to say, you know what? We've done it in our own states, and Chris Christie will lead that charge.

GORANI: And it will be a -- this is really defining the GOP into the next few years. Thanks very much to both of you, Gloria Borger and Peter Hamby.

HOLMES: It is a perpetual election season, isn't it? You win an election, you're going for the midterms. By the time you get to midterms, you're going for the presidential campaign. It really is endless.

GORANI: Right.

HOLMES: All right, we've got something just in to us here at CNN, by the way.

A judge in Connecticut setting a $1.2 million bail for Michael Skakel, the Kennedy cousin, so it looks like he'll be getting out of prison for the moment, this after, of course, 11 years.

GORANI: And Skakel was convicted for a 1975 murder of a neighbor, Martha Moxley. They were both 15-years-old at the time. And last month his conviction was set aside and a new trial was ordered.

HOLMES: The judge set some conditions, though. Among them, Skakel won't be allowed to leave the state without court approval, and he's going to have to wear a GPS tracking device. His attorney tells "The Hartford Courant" Skakel is prepared to post bail today.

GORANI: All right, we're going to come back in a moment. Here's more of what we're working on this hour for "AROUND THE WORLD".

A possible deal that would keep some American troops in Afghanistan through 2024, it is now in the hands of the Afghan people.


HOLMES: Unbelievable story that's been developing over the last couple of hours out of London. Police say they have rescued three women believed to have been held captive in a house, at least one of them, for up to 30 years.

GORANI: It's unbelievable. We've been hearing the stories in the U.S., some in Germany, as well. The couple suspected of holding these individuals against their will has been arrested. Police from London's human trafficking unit spoke out about the arrests earlier. Listen.


KEVIN HYLAND, DETECTIVE, U.K. POLICE HUMAN TRAFFICKING UNIT: These are deeply traumatized people and it's essential that we work sensitively to establish the facts in this case. When we had established the facts, we conducted the arrests this morning. We have established that all three women were held in this situation for at least 30 years.


HOLMES: Extraordinary. Max Foster is live at Scotland Yard.

This tale really is amazing. I mean, one of these women is 69. The two that are under arrest, I think, are 67. How did police found out about these women? And what do they say how this could have gone on? I mean, we're talking south London. This is one of most populated cities in the world.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that detective, a very experienced detective in the matters, and says the longest he's ever experienced before of this type of captivity was 10 years.

This was 30 years, and bear in mind that one of the women was 30- years-old. So we don't know how she ended up in this house, apart from the fact the police say she has spent her whole life in forced servitude of some kind.

We don't know the relationship of these three women, but either this youngest lady was a baby when she went in or she was born there. We still don't quite know this.

There's lots of details we don't actually know, Michael. The two, the man and woman, were arrested today, but actually the three women were released last month, so they've been putting these pieces together. They're not able to tell us everything. The one bit of information we have is that they worked very closely with a charity.

So there's a documentary on in the U.K. It was about forced marriage. One of the women in the house watched this documentary, saw the charity involved, and decided to contact that charity.

And that would have been a very, very brave thing to do. But the charity recognized that this was a serious case, started gaining trust of that woman and the other two women over time and convinced them that they should leave the house, and the police were ready and waiting outside.

So an extraordinary case, 30 years in this house for one of them, her whole life was spent in that house.

GORANI: And do we have any idea on a possible motive at this stage? I mean, if they were held against their will, was it sexual exploitation? Was it -- any idea at this early stage? Are police talking about that?

FOSTER: They're not investigating anything sexual, so that's one thing. They are purely looking at this as slave labor. That's what the detective said to me, in those terms.

I said, is it slave labor? He says, yes. So it's servitude. And it's what seems like a suburban street in south London. You know, it's a very densely populated city, of course, but this is an area where people live in Lambeth.

So that seems extraordinary, but actually, when I put that to him. He said that's often the case. It's the capital city. It's an ordinary street. They could be next door. They did experience some freedom, it seems, because they're allowed to watch the TV and they're allowed to use the phone.

And what the charity said was, they would organize particular times of the day when it was safe to speak to these women, so presumably that means when the other people were outside, out of the house. So there was some freedom, but they were obviously psychologically in captivation in this house.

HOLMES: Yeah, Max, thanks so much. Still a lot more to learn about that case.

I was talking earlier to the U.K. envoy for human trafficking. He was saying there are more slaves in just the West now than there were back when there was a slave trade and it was legal, by a multiple. GORANI: And what's unbelievable, as you mentioned, is that it happens in a big city and in southern London, Lambeth, but at the same time, you hide in plain sight -


GORANI: -- when you have sort of hundreds, thousands of people walking by every day.

We can go back to Dana Bash now on Capitol Hill on that "nuclear option" vote that would reduce the size of the majority needed to confirm executive nominees.

Dana Bash, the vote is happening now?

BASH: That's right. The vote is happening now. This is the key vote. If you look on the screen, it says it's a motion to appeal the ruling of the chair.

In English, that is that the chair said that -- effectively said that they can't have a simple majority vote on this particular judge because it -- the rules require 60 votes to overcome the Republican filibuster. So in order to change the rules, what the Senate majority leader did was appeal that ruling. So if that appeal goes through, then that means that the "nuclear option" is in fact invoked.

And what that means is that from here on out, any filibuster that Republicans wage, or if -- when Democrats or in the minority, as will likely happen at some point in the future time, they will only need -- the majority will only need 51 votes, a simple majority to overcome that filibuster.

And so this is certainly an important moment that will change the way these rules have been for decades, for almost 40 years, really, to allow the minority to block legislation, to block nominees, in order -- and do that with a 60-vote threshold.

Now, I should also underscore that this particular rule change would just apply to executive nominees, so the president's nominees for cabinet positions, agencies and so forth, and the bench, the judicial bench, but it would exclude the Supreme Court. So that's what's going on right now. And, again, it's called the "nuclear option" for a reason.

And we are already hearing from senators on both sides of the aisle that, although this is -- Senator Reid says in order to make the Senate work better, it could make things a lot more tense, if you can imagine that happening, and more partisan, because the tensions that were already frayed are going to feel a lot more intense around here because of this.

HOLMES: I was going to ask you about that, Dana. You know, I can't imagine the mood down there at the moment. There's going to be a lot of anger on the Republican side. Is that right?

BASH: There will be anger on the Republican side, but you know, you were talking before the break about how everything is political and even in non-election years it's political.

You can be sure that Republicans are going to use this and try to use this to their benefit on the campaign trail, making the case that Democrats only want to follow the rules that apply to them, change the rules along the way while the game's going on so they can win the game. And their hope, the Republicans, that is, is that will not only gin up the Republican base, which is kind of a given, but will appeal to the independent voter's sense of fairness.

You know, so it's going to be probably, in large part, a tug-of-war over appealing to independent voters' sense of fairness and appealing to independent voters' sense of wanting things to work in Washington and wanting to get things done.

Because, as we've been talking about all morning, it is a fact that the number of filibusters used by both parties over the past decade or has exploded compared to how much it's been used over the past century.

HOLMES: Dana, yeah, Dana Bash, thanks so much.

GORANI: All right, and we'll get back to that vote ongoing in the Senate right now on Capitol Hill.

Quick break, we'll be right back.