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Donald Trump Reportedly Picks Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General; Donald Trump Reportedly Picks Mike Pompeo to Head CIA; Interview with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired November 18, 2016 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They'll be meeting in Bedminster, New Jersey, this weekend. And we know according to sources that, yes, on the table is a potential consideration for Romney for a cabinet post potentially for secretary of state.

Also as you said, Donald Trump making his first formal appointment, that of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn for national security adviser. This role does not need Senate confirmation. But the other cabinet positions, of course, do. John and Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Sunlen, thank you for all of that background.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast" Jackie Kucinich and CNN politics executive editor Mark Preston. Mark broke the news yesterday about Trump's meeting with Mitt Romney. Mark, I've been watching you work your phone during the commercial break. What do you think of Senator Jeff Sessions news?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: You know, not unexpected. Jeff Sessions has, you know, a long career here in Washington. He also served as the attorney general out of Alabama, and most importantly, I think, he brings a lot of loyalty to the mix that Donald Trump seems to be looking at right now, which we all know is very, very important. He's been with Donald Trump since the very beginning, the first senator to endorse him. But he also has a lot of experience when it comes to working on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And, of course, his experience in state law, as well. So not a surprising pick at all, Alisyn.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Guys, I should tell you just as we were doing this, Reuters reported Mike Pompeo, Congressman from Kansas, will be announced as the CIA director this morning, or that Donald Trump has selected him, same language we don't know if it was officially offered and accepted, but Mike Pompeo, representative from Kansas, could end up as CIA director and a source in the transition confirms this to me. So Jackie, what do we know about Mike Pompeo?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's a West Point grad. He's on the intelligence committee. You'll remember during the Benghazi hearing he had some really tough questions for Hillary Clinton. So this is someone who supported Marco Rubio initially, but in recent days has been meeting with Donald Trump. So, it's -- this one was a little bit -- this was a little bit of a -- not a surprise, per se, but I don't know that he was necessarily someone we were discussing who was top of mind going into this.

CAMEROTA: So, this is -- this is interesting how quickly these are breaking. Back to Jeff Sessions for a moment, Mark. He had been nominated in 1986 for the federal judgeship and it didn't go well because at the time people said that he was accused of making racist remarks. Do you think that that's relevant today?

PRESTON: Listen, he has served in the Senate for a couple terms now, and since that time -- it was Ted Kennedy, you know, who has since passed away, who helped led the charge against Jeff Sessions getting that judgeship. But he has served in the Senate now for a couple terms, and I think that there is something to be said for Senate courtesy, and I think that he probably will see that with Jeff Sessions.

And let's not forget, Republicans do run the chamber right now. And Democrats have got to pick their spots about where they want to try to stop Donald Trump and where they're willing to work with Donald Trump. This might be one of those where they're willing to let it go because it is Donald Trump's adviser.

BERMAN: This is a history that a lot of people know about. This is something I imagine Democrats will bring up, Jackie. And it is something that happened. This is history. Now Jeff Sessions disputes parts of it. But among other things during confirmation hearing that there U.S. attorney who said, an African-American, who said that Jeff Sessions called him "boy." And there were other things said about the NAACP and the ACLU during this time. Again, I don't see any way that the Senate blocks, frankly, any of Donald Trump's appointments, but this could be something that comes up at a hearing.

KUCINICH: Oh, this will be discussed, for sure. But I think at the end of the day, Mark is right, that there is a lot of Senate courtesy. These are his colleagues. This isn't just someone who is a stranger to them coming and sitting in front of them. So I do think that while you're right this will be discussed, ultimately Jeff Sessions is going to be just fine.

CAMEROTA: Mark, let's talk about other names. We've heard Lieutenant General Mike Flynn name as NSA director, national security adviser. And he, too, has some controversial stances. We just had that entire segment about the fact that he says that Islam can't be trusted, he thinks it's a political movement, not a religion. How is this going to play out?

PRESTON: Well, he doesn't have to be confirmed by the Senate. All he has to do is be appointed by Donald Trump. We've already seen some red flags raised by Democrats specifically about this appointment being made.

But the fact of the matter is, we put him in the same category as Jeff Sessions. He's been a very loyal political soldier for Donald Trump, has stood by his side, holds his worldview on many issues, and you can't take away from the fact that he does understand the military. He has served on the battlefield. He has been overseas.

[08:05:00] He has been controversial, though. Fact of the matter was, he was fired by Barack Obama back in 2014 when he was the director of national intelligence. But again, he doesn't have to be confirmed by the Senate. So while it might raise some red flags amongst folks who don't like him, there's not much they can do about it.

BERMAN: All right, let's move on to Mitt Romney, if we can. Mitt Romney will be meeting with Donald Trump this weekend in New Jersey. This is a story broken by a certain Mark Preston yesterday, first and foremost. The fact of this meeting is interesting. This shows Donald Trump at least willing to listen to people outside his circle, Jackie.

KUCINICH: Right. We've seen him reach out to Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz, and he -- it does seem like he is, you he is listening to these folks. But at the end of the day, I think you see the people he's actually putting around him are loyalists. It will be interesting to see if he does pull from some of these people who were former rivals or very prominent critics. That will send a very different signal than what we're seeing right now.

CAMEROTA: So Mark, give us more scoopage that you have. What are the chances that Mitt Romney becomes part of the cabinet or even secretary of state?

PRESTON: I think you have to look at this in different levels. First of all, the first level is that both men have agreed to meet with one another and they've both been very critical of one another. That in itself, just the optics of that is good for the nation, right? I mean just because there's been a lot of concern about whether Donald Trump would try to grind an ax, you know, with those who opposed him.

Second thing is how this conversation actually goes tomorrow. It's going to take place in New Jersey. How does it go? And, look, I do think, and I have been told that the secretary of state position is going to be discussed. And what we had learned from our reporting, Jamie Gangel learned late last night, that in fact Mitt Romney had talked to people about wanting to continue to serve in government, and one of the positions he would be interested in is secretary of state, which makes a lot of sense. You know, Mitt Romney seems to be itching to get back into the game. Look, he once considered again about running for president. We all remember it seemed like eons ago, but running again. He chose not to do so. But even the folks that I talked to that are close to Romney and know Romney, he's not lobbying for the position by any stretch of the imagination, but if offered he does have this deep feeling of serving the country, and we hear that a lot from politicians. But Mitt Romney, I think we can all acknowledge, probably really believes that.

BERMAN: What about Rudy Giuliani? As we sit here now, more than a in, Mayor Giuliani was one of the fiercest loyalists. Not going to be A.G. Jeff sessions was offered that job. It seems like secretary of state, which is the job that he wanted and he was rumored at is now being floated for a lot of other people. Is it possible because of confirmation concerns that at day, Rudy Giuliani like Newt Gingrich, another fierce loyalist, Ben Carson, another loyalist, doesn't end up as part of the Trump team in the White House?

KUCINICH: I mean it could mean everything for him or it could mean absolutely nothing, because it -- the Trump organization has sort of shown that they'll look past maybe some controversial records or, I mean, look at some of the things that Michael Flynn has said. Right? So it doesn't seem like that they're willing to take loyalty over perhaps what might be a tough confirmation hearing. That said we just don't know right now. There is a lot of -- it feels like I'm at a child's birthday party every day, there are so many trial balloons. So we kind of have to wait and see at this point, which is tough.

CAMEROTA: I thought you were going to go with a clown metaphor.

KUCINICH: That's scary, Alisyn.

BERMAN: Scary.

CAMEROTA: So I mean, Mark, you said that it's great optics for the country that you know these rivals are meeting, but what if it's just for show? I mean, is that a possibility?

PRESTON: Well, let's go back to the word of "optics." Yes, it could be shore show. I mean, Donald Trump knows how to play the media. He knows how to play the nation. In many ways he's a very good actor in many ways.

Although I do think we have to take a step back in what we know about Donald Trump, is that he is a very vindictive person. I mean, we've seen that throughout the campaign. And I'm not quite sure that he'd be so willing to meet with the likes of Nikki Haley, who said some nasty things about him. Or Ted Cruz, who obviously had a very tough fight with him, as well. And of course Mitt Romney, you know, someone said to me yesterday, you know, other than the mainstream media, Mitt Romney did more to try to defeat Donald Trump, which of course is not true. The mainstream media didn't try to defeat Donald Trump. But it just goes to show you the level of the supporters of what they think of those who tried to stop Mitt Romney.

So even if it is for show I do think there's something to be said about the optics at a time right now when there's a lot of concern about a Trump administration and a new Trump administration in who he surrounds himself with.

BERMAN: Guys, thanks so much. Again the breaking news, CNN confirming that Donald Trump has selected Jeff Sessions to be his choice for attorney general. And CNN just reporting right now confirming that Mike Pompeo, congressman from Kansas, is Donald Trump's selection to be CIA director.

[08:10:07] So two big appointments within the realm of national security and also law enforcement that we're just learning right now. Guys, thanks so much.

PRESTON: Thanks.

KUCINICH: Thank you. CAMEROTA: Iraqi paramilitary forces capturing a strategic air base

from ISIS 40 miles west of Mosul. Mop-up operations are underway to remove lingering pockets of ISIS fighters we're told. The air base will be used as a staging area for Iraqi security forces in their battle with the terrorists once Mosul is recaptured. A neighborhood in Mosul previously declared liberated came under mortar attack earlier this week with two civilians killed.

BERMAN: An Oregon man's attempt to connect with nature takes an ugly learn at Yellowstone National Park. Police say Colin Scott was testing out various hot springs in an unauthorized area when he tripped and became stuck in the churning acidic water. A lightning storm delayed the arrival of first responders. When they did get to the scene, the remains of Scott's body could not be found. Authorities believe that he died in the spring.

CAMEROTA: That's terrible. Video of this Connecticut police officer going viral after he was spotted getting down with a group of teens in a parking lot. Watch as Officer Officer Matt Sulek shows off his dance moves. Come on. Look at these. The teens were at first nervous. They lowered their music when they saw the police car, but to their surprise Officer Sulek told them to turn it up. And then he joined them. The teens were shocked. They said it proves not every officer is bad, calling this an inspiring moment.

BERMAN: Alisyn, you always say dancing brings us all together.

CAMEROTA: It does, John. It does. I love the dance thing.

BERMAN: All right, reaction pouring in for Donald Trump's cabinet picks, including some breaking news on cabinet picks, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pompeo. We're going to speak to the former head of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about this and the future of the Democratic Party. That's next.


[08:15:38] BERMAN: We do have breaking news in the transition of power as President-elect Trump begins to make appointments. First, sources tell CNN that Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo has been asked to be CIA director or he has been selected by Donald Trump to be his CIA director. Moments before, sources tell CNN the president-elect has selected Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general.

Here to discuss that and much more, Florida member of Congress and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate you being here. Congratulations on your own re-election.

You are the first official --


BERMAN: -- we had a chance to talk to since the news of these appointments from Donald Trump selected Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, Mike Pompeo your colleague in the House to be director of the CIA.

Your thoughts on these appointments?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, these are two certainly experienced elected officials. It is their personal views, particularly Jeff Sessions, that continue the drum beat rollercoaster ride that Donald Trump is engaging in in who he's surrounding himself with.

I mean, let's remember that Jeff Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship by President Reagan and at the time was one of only two in 50 years to be rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee which was controlled by Republicans at the time because of his previous racist statements and really outrageous comments. I mean, the reference he's made to the NAACP, the racist and sexist comments he made, which he at the time owned up to, was not even something that could be stomached by the Republicans Senate Judiciary Committee at the time.

And so, you know, between the Steve Bannon appointment as his chief strategist, you know, a step and heartbeat next to the presidency -- one, you know, one, one person who fans the flames, and gives permission to sexism, racism and anti-Semitism on his shoulder, and you know next door at the Justice Department, a person who exactly shares those views, it's really getting more and more disturbing, and clear that Donald Trump is not trying to bring the country together with the moves he's making right out of the gate.

BERMAN: Jeff sessions, this was 1986, you're absolutely right, was rejected in committee. He denies making a few of the statements that were attributed to him. He admitted some of the others right there, and he points out, and so do Trump insiders that he was elected at the Senate many times after that. So, the people of Alabama, you know --


BERMAN: -- they -- they endorsed him.

As for Steve Bannon, you've signed on to a letter among many Democrats who are very concerned about Donald Trump appointing him to this White House job of chief strategist. But other than a strongly worded letter at this point, there's really nothing you can do about it, is there?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, the presidency affords the right of the individual to surround themselves with whom they want at the White House. Certainly. But it's also my responsibility as an elected official, as the first Jewish woman to represent Florida in Congress, you know, seriously.

And when you have someone who is literally the chief strategist, the top adviser, to the president of the United States, who has given permission, and fanned the flames of anti-accept milk, promoted racist views, promoted anti-Muslim views, through a journalistic publication that he led, that's -- that's truly problematic and disturbing. It sends a strong and clear message that the kind of policies that are going to be promoted by this administration.

And you know, we can't -- it means that we can't take Donald Trump at his word after he was elected a couple of weeks ago that he intends to bring the nation together. Having someone who is literally a door in the hallway away from the president of the United States who believes that women who are feminists, for example, don't want husbands, don't love their children, and -- and you know, essentially have no right to be supportive of women being equals is really outrageous and troubling.

[08:20:04] BERMAN: You're talking -- I do understand. You're talking about articles that were published in Breitbart while Steve Bannon was in charge of it. Just to be clear about that.


BERMAN: If we can I want to talk for a few minutes about the Democratic Party right now, because, obviously, it's a party trying to figure out what happened more than a week ago and trying to figure out what to do next. And in the House of Representatives, the Democratic caucus, you have all delayed election for leadership posts, and Congressman Tim Ryan, who just appeared on the show a short time ago, has announced he will run against Nancy Pelosi for the job of minority leader.

This is why he said the party needs new leadership in the House.

We have sound. We have sound.


REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: Well, we're losing. I mean, that's the big story and I think part of it is our message isn't connecting with working-class folks. Black folks, brown folks, white folks, gay, straight, rich, poor, black, you know, we got to connect have a message that connects with everybody.

And so, I don't want to hang this around Nancy Pelosi's neck. I love her. She's great. She's a mentor. She was amazing speaker when she was in. But we got to ask ourselves, who can get us back into the majority?


BERMAN: So, is Congressman Ryan right that you have to do something different going forward?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, let me just say, Tim Ryan is one of my closest friends in the Democratic caucus and I have, you know, been proud to fight side by side with him, particularly when we were both newer members of Congress, and standing on the House floor in the 30- something working group and talking about what was important to progressives, and younger Americans.

But the reality that we're facing here is that we are going to be dealing with a -- a legislative train wreck coming at us at warp speed. And there is nobody in my mind that is more battle-tested and prepared for, frankly, savvy enough to be able to go toe to toe with Paul Ryan the Republican leadership, and this really troubling and disturbing administration than Nancy Pelosi.

We absolutely have to make sure that when it comes to policy, that we are ready to beat back their really disturbing proposals with our full strength. Now, that doesn't mean that we don't also need to make sure that we broaden the leadership table and that we make sure that we focus clearly on messaging. One of the things that we absolutely have to do is emphasize our economic focus. Emphasize the things that we've accomplished.

We're the party that rescued the American automobile industry, John. We're the party that pushed through and supported middle ass tax cuts. We're the party that made sure that everyone was primarily helped people who are of lower income has access to health care and can go to the doctor when they're sick.

And so, that message was definitely lost. Whether we didn't argue it clearly enough, or whether we need to make sure that we have more messengers that people are able to hear and that got through, it's a really important thing that we do, as I said we need to do it with a more broad-based group of people. And more clear and focused strategy.

BERMAN: Quickly --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And I'm confident Nancy Pelosi is committed to doing that.

BERMAN: All right. So, number one, you just threw your support behind Nancy Pelosi. I'm not sure that was in question. But you're going to remain as Nancy Pelosi to remain as leader.

How about your old job, chair of the Democratic National Committee? Who do you support to be chair of the Democratic National Committee?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I have tremendous respect for my former colleagues at the DNC, and it's their decision. And I'm not going to weigh in on who it should be.

I do know that it's going to be important for us to retool and gear up. We've got to focus on both the grassroots. It's going to need to be somebody who can both raise the resources, focus on grassroots outreach, make sure that we continue to build on our digital and organizational successes and take a hard look at where we need to improve. And I'm confident that DNC membership will do that.

BERMAN: Taking a pass on DNC chair but supporting Nancy Pelosi for House minority leader.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, member of Congress from the state of Florida --


BERMAN: -- thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.



CAMEROTA: John, here's a question, what divides America the most? Is it race? Socioeconomic class? Is it education? Geography?

Wait until you see the panel we have assembled to debate this. We have Ana Navarro, Charles Blow and JD Vance, next. Also hear what they say about Trump's new cabinet picks. Pop the popcorn, everyone.


[08:28:27] CAMEROTA: We are following breaking news.

Sources tell CNN that President-elect Donald Trump has asked Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo to be CIA director. A source also telling us the U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions has been offered the post of attorney general.

Joining us now to talk about this, as well as how the country is dealing with the aftermath of this divisive campaign, we have incredible panel. We have CNN political commentators Ana Navarro and Charles Blow. Also with us is J.D. Nance, the author of "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis".

Great to have all of you, guys.

Let's start with the breaking news. So, Ana, we know that Senator Jeff Sessions, attorney general. Your thoughts?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it looks like it's shaping up to be a very diverse cabinet, so far.

CAMEROTA: Different white men of different ages or no --

NAVARRO: Different sections of the country.

Listen, Jeff Sessions is a man who I think showed great loyalty to Donald Trump, was one of his first, maybe first endorser in the Senate.

I think that what we've seen in the appointments so far is he is rewarding loyalty. That it is something that is of great importance to him, with Michael Flynn, with Jeff Sessions, with Congressman Pompeo.

They're also very hard-line people. They have, I think, you know, they share the same kind of things that Donald Trump said during the campaign, and we were waiting to see whether Donald Trump was going to moderate. What we are seeing from his early picks, whether it be Steve Bannon, whether it be General Flynn, whether it'd be Jeff Sessions, is that no, he is not moderating.

Jeff Sessions was considered too racist, too controversial in the '80s to be confirmed for a federal judgeship.