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Protest Erupt Across U.S. Against Trump Immigration Ban; Pres. Trump Reorganizes National Security Council; U.S. Service Member Killed In Raid On Al Qaeda In Yemen; Federal Judges Block Part Of Trump's Immigration Order; Trump Expected To Announce Supreme Court Pick This Week. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired January 29, 2017 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Six of 14 people detained at New York's JFK Airport have been released. Travelers from the seven countries named in Trump's travel banned were stopped upon landing in the U.S. New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is hopeful the detained travelers were all be released from JFK soon calling Trump's ban a smoke screen.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D) NEW YORK: And we're hopeful that moving forward the Department of Justice, the Trump administration will abandon this reckless unconstitutional unsavory, un-American effort. And help us all come together to deal with the challenges that are facing the American people.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Rachel Crane just spoke to some of those travelers who were released at New York's JFK Airport. Rachel, what did they say?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. Well, actually, a woman was just released, an Iranian woman. She's getting her Ph.D. right now at Stony Brook. She had been held for over 24 hours. At one point yesterday she was actually put back on a plane to be deported, but that was just before the announcement was made.

And so she was then taken off the plane but now just released. Everybody, of course, cheering. She had 20 friends here that have been waiting for her to be released. But that's just one of many tearful reunions that have been held here today at JFK with detainees being reunited with their family members.

However, there are still people being detained at this point. Congressman Jeffries mentioned to us just moments ago that four men from -- Somali men who just got off a plane today have been detained. Unclear when they will be released. But the lawyers here at JFK are preparing for more people to be detained. Fred?

WHITFIELD: Rachel Crane, thank you so much at JFK. Appreciate that. All right, for a second day in a row now, protesters are gathering at the Los Angeles International Airport to voice their opposition to President Trump's travel ban. CNN's Dan Simon is there. So, Dan, what's taking place?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Fred. This is turning into a large and loud protest. We are in the international terminal here at LAX. You can see a number of protesters here behind me.

Now, in addition to the folks behind me, we have a number of people who are wearing name tags that say lawyer on them. I would say there are a couple dozen lawyers here who are here to assist family members and friends of those that they were expecting to arrive at LAX.

I spoke to a gentleman just a short time ago who is from Iran. He is expecting his friend who has been living in Los Angeles for over a year. She was here on a work permit, but then had to go home because her mother was sick.

Now, he says that his friend is Christian and that's one of the reasons why she's so baffled that she's been detained here at LAX. He says that he spoke to her on the phone, and he says that border patrol went through all of her photos on her phone. Also went through all of her luggage and he's just waiting for any information about his friend.

One of the problems we're hearing about is we can't get a firm grip on the number of people detained, Fred. It's really been a moving target. At one point we heard it was dozens, but then somebody else said it's just a small number and that is one of the real challenges is that we can't get any reliable information at this point from the federal authorities. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, Dan Simon, thank you so much, at LAX. You see the scene there. We just showed you the scene at JFK in New York and now we want to take you to Virginia, Dulles International Airport, where again people have gathered there. This is just outside of the Washington, D.C. area. One of the airports there that surfacing Washington, D.C. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the accountable to the American people has followed the law and we said here as testament to our commitment to make sure that happens. Now, please give a warm Virginia welcome to my Maryland colleague, John Delaney.

REP. JOHN DELANEY, (D) MARYLAND: So look at -- there are three things government can do. They can do things that are good. They can do things that are neutral and they can do things that are bad, right? You can negotiate with neutral, but you can't negotiate with bad. You have to fight bad.


WHITFIELD: All right, sorry, but you can hear it clearly but camera view dropped there. We could see a number of people have gathered indeed at Dulles International Airport and now scenes in Philadelphia there. We continue to monitor developments across the country as a number of people pour out as they contest this executive order now in its second day being put to use there across the country.

All right, a massive protest also taking place outside of the White House. That's where we find CNN's White House Correspondent Athena Jones. Athena?

[15:05:06] ATHENA JONES: Hi, Fredricka. Well, that protest doesn't sound quite as loud as it did last hour. It was set to go from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. here outside of the White House. So it may be beginning to break up. But I can tell you on the way in I saw a lot of people streaming towards the protest site right several hundred feet behind me carrying signs that said things like "Make America kind again. " "Welcome all immigrants." "Muslims welcome." Signs quoting the Emma Lazarus poem "The New Colossus," that's the poem on the Statue of Liberty that says, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," and even a sign that said "Shame on you. No totalitarian USA. Love not hate."

But the folks here at the White House are standing their ground. They say that these moves were necessary and if there -- when confronted with the questions about the chaos and confusion that this new policy has been sowing, they are pushing back. Here's what Reince Priebus, the President's Chief of Staff, had to say about all of this on "Meet the Press."


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It wasn't chaos. I mean, the fact of the matter is 325,000 people from foreign countries came into the United States yesterday and 109 people were detained for further questioning. Most of those people were moved out. We've got a couple dozen more that remain.

And I would suspect as long as they're not awful people that they will move through before another half a day today. And, perhaps, some of these people should be detained further and if there are folks that shouldn't be in this country, they're going to be detained. And so apologize for nothing here.


JONES: So the White House saying there is nothing to apologize for. And the president himself tweeting about all of this early -- starting early this morning saying, "Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting. Now, look at what is happening all over Europe and indeed the world, a horrible mess." The second tweet he says, "Christians in the Middle East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue."

So, the White House from the president on down standing their ground arguing that these moves are necessary for national security. And also, they're arguing that this is exactly what they were elected to do. This is what the president ran on doing. Now, he's doing it so it's just one more promise kept, Fred. WHITFIELD: All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much. Again, not far from where you are at the White House at one of the three Washington, D.C. airports, live pictures right now of Dulles International Airport, a very busy place of international travelers. Let's listen in to what's happening.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Paine said it would be a haven of refuge for people fleeing religious and political repression all over the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is so unfair. What about the airport?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm going to get to your point if you listen. OK, I'm going to get to your point. Donald Trump --




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go have your own rally over there if you want, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want us to respect your president? Respect your congressman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, so Donald Trump has taken action that is totally antithetical to the basic values of the United States of America.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. The orders that came down yesterday violate our constitution. Somewhere we read of the free exercise of religion, is that right?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And somewhere we read there's no establishment of official religions in America. Somewhere we read that there are no religious tests in America.


WHITFIELD: As you can see, tensions are rising not just at Dulles International Airport, but really across the country. We continue to keep a close watch of all of the protests that have unfurled across the country as result of the executive order signed by Donald Trump on Friday night banning travelers, nationals from seven nations, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran. We'll continue to keep a close tab on all of the gatherings across the country.

Meantime, perhaps, overlooked by some in the uproar of President Trump's travel ban was another executive order that was signed just yesterday reorganizing the National Security Council. With (inaudible) of a pen, President Trump effectively removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National Intelligence from the committee saying that they would be invited when issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are discussed.

Meantime, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, while he praised some of the president's national security team members, he also expressed concern about who will and won't be sitting on the National Security Council meeting.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I think the national security team around President Trump is very impressive. And I couldn't -- I think you couldn't ask for a better one, whether be General Kelly, General Flynn is great, General Mattis and the ones they are bringing onboard on their team.

[15:10:11] I am worried about the National Security Council who are the members of it and who are permanent members they appointment? And then Mr. Bannon is something which is a radical departure from any National Security Council in history.

Remember, Karl Rove, there was -- when he sat in on one in Axelrod when he was supposedly -- look, that is -- and the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been diminished, I understand, with this reorganization. One person who was indispensable would be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in my view. So it's of concern this "reorganization."


WHITFIELD: For more on this, I'm joined now by CNN Washington Correspondent Ryan Nobles. And so, Ryan, Sean Spicer used the word, you know, modernizing the system -- the White House's approach to modernizing, you know, systems that have customarily been in place at the White House.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And, Fred, this is definitely a departure from the way that this principles' committee has been utilized before by previous administrations. But essentially, the White House believes that this is a more streamlined way to handle it. And what they done as you mentioned, they'd moved off the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs off of this principles committee.

And then what the principles committee is, it's essentially the committee that meets when the president is in the room. So the National Security Council will hash out a lot of these intelligence and military issues without the president necessarily there. And when they want to take something to the president, that's when this principles committee is brought together.

Now, added to that group is Steve Bannon whose John McCain was talking about. He's, of course, the chief strategist and senior counselor to the president. He is someone who has an equal amount of power in this White House as the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. But Democrats are criticizing his role on this particular committee because he's not thought of as a military or intelligence strategist. He has -- he did serve in the navy, but he is thought to be more of the political strategist in the White House and that led President Obama's National Security Adviser Susan Rice to really sound off on this reorganization by the Trump administration.

Look at these tweets that she fired off in the past 24 hours. She did not mince words at all saying, "This is stone cold crazy after a week of crazy. Who needs military advice or intell to make policy on Isil, Syria, Afghanistan or DPRK," which is, of course, South-- North Korea. And she also criticized the fact that there can be an opportunity for the president to step out of these meetings and be replaced by the vice president. She said, "Pence may chair the NSC meetings in lieu of POTUS and that never happened under President Obama."

Meanwhile, Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, he is pushing back on this criticism saying that the chairman of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff and the national -- director of National Intelligence will be involved in the process. Take a listen.


PRIEBUS: It wasn't chaos. I mean, the fact of the matter is 325,000 people from foreign countries came into the United States yesterday and 109 people were detained for further questioning. Most of those people were moved out. We've got a couple dozen more that remain. And I would suspect as long as they're not awful people that they will move through before another half a day today. And, perhaps, some of these people should be detained further. And if there are folks that shouldn't be in this country, they're going to be detained. And so apologize for nothing here.


NOBLES: All right, that was Priebus talking about the executive order that the president put out and not about the National Security Council. Essentially what the argument that Priebus made was that if the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or if the director of National Intelligence wants to be involved in those meetings, they have the opportunity to do so saying that the criticism was a bit overblown. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, Ryan Nobles at the White House. Thank you so much. We'll continue to monitor the protests erupting across the country. Live pictures right now in Boston. All of this as a result of President Trump's executive order signed Friday.


[15:17:24] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. A wave of protests across the country in this double box feature here. You re seeing live pictures from Boston, as well as from LAX. Lots of confusion taking hold at airports across the country as a result of President Donald Trump's executive order barring 134 million people from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. Ban that the president claims is "working nicely." Last hour, I spoke to Trump's former adviser Jack Kingston about the travel ban.


JACK KINGSTON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: A president might not ask everybody's permission because he just wants to move along with it. As you know, Washington resists change this week and this administration has been about implementing a number of new policies and doing it quickly so that they can get off to the right start fulfilling a number of campaign promises. But the other thing is we know Donald Trump is the kind of guy who doesn't sit around and wait for consensus. And so that -- this is part of his leadership style.


WHITFIELD: All right, joining me right now, Nic Robertson, CNN -- the International Diplomatic Editor and Ron Brownstein, CNN Senior Political Analyst and Senior Editor at the Atlantic. Good to see both of you.

So, Ron, let me go to you because I think Mr. Kingston was kind of underscoring there's been a flurry of activity. Donald Trump promised that he would get to business. He has, you know, 14 and counting now, maybe 16 executive orders. But Americans won't just judge on this flurry of executive order action, but they're also going to be judging on the consequences or benefits of these executive orders. How much is at stake, you know, so to speak, Ron, is there for the president in all of these orders?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think the dynamic of the Trump presidency is being set right here and on the streets in America. You know, when Representative Kingston said he is not waiting for consensus, that's really kind of putting it mildly.

You have a series of actions in which the administration has signaled that it was good advice to take them literally and seriously during the campaign in which they are intended -- they have signaled -- they intend to do exactly what they said during the campaign even though many said that, you know, it was kind of a metaphor. And that the other thing has become equally plan (ph) in the first week is that there are millions of Americans who are equally as determined to resist him every step of the way who view many of the ideas that he is advancing.

There's a fundamental abandonment of a country's core values. And I think what has been signaled here is that it is going to be very hard for Democratic elected officials to treat this as a normal presidency and kind of tactically weave back and forth on working with it or opposing it.

[15:20:08] There is a visceral reaction happening, particularly in major cities that many of these ideas and I think they are going to be pulled along in that stream.

WHITFIELD: And so, Nic, what are the conflicting messages that are being sent to allies around the world when you got the newly elected president saying one thing as it pertains to what travelers, what nationals would be accepted into the U.S. and then you've got, you know, thousands of American protesters who are saying we object to this decision.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah, as much as, you know, this order appears to be stress testing American society, it's really stress testing the bonds with United States allies as well. Take Theresa May, the British Prime Minister here walking hand in hand with President Trump on Friday.

On Saturday finds this executive order has come to pass and has to immediately put us -- put distance between herself and President Trump on this saying, you know, this is not the way that we want to do it. It's up to the United States, but we're not going to be doing this as well.

She's being attacked politically at home. There's now a move in Britain. There's now a move by the leader of the opposition to stop put a travel ban, if you will, on President Trump that invitation to come meet the queen. There's a petition that moving 100,000 names on it.

So, you know, you damage -- there's not damage there, but across Europe, you know, you now have like the French and the Dutch foreign minister saying this is not really addressing the core issues and looking at our core values. This is not going to fight terrorism. It's not going to be productive on that front where he echoes what we've heard from Senator McCain and Senator Graham as well.

So, you know, what we're hearing, in fact, from United States allies is a real level of concern. The German chancellor yesterday in her phone conversation with President Trump apparently we're told by a spokesman from the chancellor's office in Germany that she actually had to explain how the United States being a signatory to the Geneva convention that obligates you to take refugees from countries where there's conflict of war.

WHITFIELD: And so, quickly, you know, Ron, if -- we know Nieto, Mexican President Nieto canceled his visit, the fact was before this immigration. This is really as a result of the, you know, the wall issue. But now in listening to what Nic is saying here, does this mean there are other world leaders who are going to be redescend (ph) if not defiant even against coming to visit the President of the United States in the White House as a result of largely this ban?

BROWNSTEIN: I think you can't ignore the President of the United States from pretty much any country in the world. But I do think there's going to be enormous domestic pressure as Nic were saying, to stand up against many of the things that Donald Trump and his administration, particularly in kind of the -- under the ages (ph) of Steve Bannon who has expressed a, you know, a belief that they want to knit together a global movement, a populous nationalist like the national front in France and other parties like that in Europe.

This is a fundamental challenge to -- kind of the U.S. led rules based world order that we've had really since World War II when you have a President of the United States saying he could care less if the European Union unravels. That is a very different world. And I think as Nic said both at home and abroad, this is an enormous stress test.

You see the seams loosening in American society over this last week, perhaps, more dramatically than any moment since the 1960s and I think all signs are full speed ahead. It's not clear this is going to have a lot of impact on Republicans, but you can get the sense very quickly of how visceral reaction many of the things Donald Trump wants to do. It's evoking in the parts of America that are resistant to him and I think we are headed to a period of really unprecedented tension both at home and potentially abroad.

WHITFIELD: All very extraordinary and topped with that statement coming from Lindsey Graham, the leadership in the GOP and John McCain saying they're not behind this executive order and the way in which it's been executed. All right, thank you so much, Nic Robertson, Ron Brownstein. Appreciate it. We will be right back.


[15:27:44] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. A U.S. service member has died from wounds suffered during a raid against al- Qaeda in Yemen. Three other service members were also wounded.

President Trump authorized this operation and he just released a statement saying "Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism. My deepest thoughts and how humblest prayers with the family of this fallen service member. I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for service members who sustained injuries."

I want to bring in CNN's Pentagon Reporter Ryan Browne. So, Ryan, what more do you know about this service member?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN SECURITY AND DEFENSE REPORTER: Well, this elite service member was wounded during this raid on an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's headquarters in Yemen. It was an intense fire fight. There were about 14 al-Qaeda operatives killed.

It was part of what's called a site exploitation raid, which is an effort to gather intelligence that can facilitate additional raids, other drone strikes against the terror group. So it was kind of one of the first missions and they had to kind of get out of there which resulted in an aircraft going down. So, definitely, an important day in Yemen today.

WHITFIELD: Ryan Browne, thank you so much in Washington. All right, coming up, federal judges have blocked parts of Trump's travel ban. Will a flood of new lawsuits overturn executive order or is this case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court? We'll discuss when we come right back.


[15:32:19] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. We continue to watch protests that are growing. You're looking at pictures out of Boston on your left and then also in Philadelphia -- oh, I'm sorry, in Los Angeles at LAX where a number of people have gathered both of those locations in addition to other protests sweeping now the nation. All of this as it relates to Donald Trump's executive order barring 134 million people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the U.S.

So Trump's travel ban is also causing legal concerns. Federal judges in several cities have already overturned parts of the executive order and more lawsuits are expected to be filed but already the White House has been responding saying its full steam ahead. None of the executive orders will be suspended as of now.

Let's discuss all of this with our panel. Raul Reyes is Attorney, an Immigration Analyst and a CNN Opinion Writer. You are the panel right now, Raul. Good to see you. OK, so the White House is digging in its heels saying that nothing will be suspended in this executive order.

We've heard from a number of analysts who believe that it can be challenged on constitutionality, how will the White house be able to substantiate that this is constitutionally sound?

RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY: Well, I think as a starting point, putting myself in the shoes of the Trump administration, obviously the president does have great discretion over setting immigration policy. We saw that with President Obama when he took his executive action in 2012 and then attempted to again in 2014. So the president does have some discretion.

Yet, overall, immigration policy is decided by Congress. The president can -- is really only authorized to move it forward in very incremental ways. The big problem with Trump's order as I read through it, first of all, there's a problem with it on the First Amendment grounds, because while it bars refugees from these Muslim majority countries, it carves out exceptions for Christian refugees. And under the First Amendment, the government is not allowed to prioritize one religion over another.

We also see this -- you can also look at this act as being in violation of existing law. In the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, it specifically forbids any discrimination against -- on the grounds of national origin, which is what Trump is doing here with these seven nations.

And then looking around the country on a more -- let say practical standpoint, because this was rolled out so quickly and I think many immigration reform advocates and many immigration attorneys would say that it would -- has been ruled out somewhat sloppily it has been inconsistently applied at airports around the country.

[15:35:03] So that brings into issue, due process concerns and equal protection questions because we have people being treated one way at JFK and people being treated a different way in Washington, D.C. or Dallas.

WHITFIELD: So we heard from a number of representatives from the White House who said that these seven nations were selected because it was codified by the Obama administration and as well as Congress because there was terrorist camp activity in those states and thereby this executive order singling out these states, essentially a continuation if not an elaboration on something that was already set in the previous administration. Is that fair sound enough?

REYES: In my opinion, I don't think that's sound enough. I would say that is probably their best defense at this point. But the longer this ban -- remember, this is a temporary ban. The longer that this stays in effect, however, I think they would likely be cause for Congress to take a vote on it. And so we'll see whether or not a majority of Congress and majority of Republicans would go along with it.

But in addition to all of these concerns having to do with the constitutionality or potential due process violations, there's also an argument that can be brought by let say group, social justice groups, groups like the ACLU that this is a violation also of international law. Because, remember, the United States going all the way back to 1951, we led the way in the United Nations refugee convention, which specifically states you cannot send people back to a country where they would be at risk of persecution. That's what the Trump administration is trying to do here. And we see even from Mr. Priebus that there's confusion about how he thinks it should be applied.

WHITFIELD: All right, Raul Reyes, thank you so much. And I'll read a letter that has gone out from some members of Congress who say that they will be challenging this executive order calling President Trump and I'm quoting it now, "President Trump's unconstitutional executive order banning refugees and citizens of Muslim nations betrays everything the statue of liberty and our nation stands for. The president's action is not only unconstitutional, but immoral.

As Pope Francis said, "It's hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help." We'll have more on that coming up. Raul Reyes, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

REYES: Thank you, my pleasure.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll have much more as we continue to monitor events, protests across the country. This is Boston. We'll be right back.


[15:41:18] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Protests erupting across the country. You're looking at pictures of Dulles International Airport as well as Boston. All of this in response to Donald Trump's ban on travelers into the U.S. from "radical Islamic countries." That's how the president puts it.

Demonstration is taking place. Tens, if not hundreds of people who have been turning out after hours spent traveling to the U.S. Dozens of passengers were detained once they hit U.S. soil this weekend at various airports including this Iranian mother's 5-year-old son that you see on the left-hand side. She anxiously awaiting his arrival at Washington's Dulles International Airport Saturday night only to learn that he was one of the travelers detained.

And there you see the reunion after hours spent without answers. She finally got to hold onto her son in her arms right there. Here's part of the emotional moment when they reunited.

All right, that was the moment in Dulles International Airport and now scenes in Boston where a number of demonstrators have turned out there. Look at those pictures. Kerri Corrado is a reporter with WHDH. So, Kerri, tell us about the demonstrations that have unfolded there.

KERRI CORRADO, WHDH REPORTER: Well, these crowds are massive. A lot of people are starting to leave Copley Square behind me and they are starting to march down Boylston Street. So, a very big presence here. Everyone here to voice their concerns about the president's immigration order and all ages are here.

They're flooding Copley Square. The streets and sidewalks surrounding it also have a lot of people on it. There seems to be a family affair. I saw little kids holding signs and the Boston police special operations team, they are here weaving in and out of the crowds and really guarding the perimeter doing their best to keep everyone safe and secure here. They just want their presence to be known.

I did speak with the police commissioner here. He says everything is calm. No problems to report at this hour. They did put up snowplows for crowd control. But, again, no problems to report at this hour and a lot of people seem to be heading out. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kerri, thank you so much from Boston. Appreciate that. And we'll have much more from the "Newsroom" right after this.


[15:47:37] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Demonstrations sweeping the country. Live pictures right now on the left outside of Atlanta International Airport and then to the right, Dulles International Airport just outside of Washington D.C. People are expressing their concerns and confusion following that executive order signed by President Trump banning nationals from some seven mostly Muslim nations, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran. We'll continue to monitor.

Meantime, it's likely to -- other things that are likely to take place later on this week. President Trump says he will be announcing his pick for the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump says he already has a candidate in mind, but Democrats are warning the president that they are ready to screen the candidate. Here now is CNN's Victor Blackwell.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We have outstanding candidates and we will pick a truly great Supreme Court justice.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Donald Trump is done interviewing candidates according to a senior administration official and Trump now making it clear he has (inaudible) down his list of potential Supreme Court nominees saying he will announce his pick on Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will it be from the list that you gave out during the campaign?

TRUMP: The answer is yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will it be an original list?

TRUMP: I don't want to say that. You're going to see on Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you made your decision?

TRUMP: I have made my decision pretty much in my mind, yes. And it's subject to change at the last moment, but I think this will be a great choice.

BLACKWELL: If approved, the president's nominee will replace Justice Antonin Scalia who passed away last February. The seat has remained vacant since then after Senate Republicans refuse to hold a vote. For then, President Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.

The administration official tells CNN that Trump has narrowed his list to four candidates, three men and one woman. They are Judge Neil Gorsuch who sits on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado. He's a former clerk for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He closely aligns with Antonin Scalia's conservative philosophy. Gorsuch is 49 years old.

Also under consideration is William H. Pryor Jr. who serves on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Georgia. He was appointed by George W. Bush in 2005. Pryor is 54 years old and disagrees with the Roe v Wade decision legalizing abortion.

[15:50:05] Judge Thomas Hardiman sits on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania. He was nominated by George W. Bush in 2006. He serves on the same court as Trump's sister. Hardiman is 51 years old.

The fourth finalist is Diane Sykes. She serves on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. She was also nominated by George W. Bush and Sykes is a former reporter for the Milwaukee Journal. She's 59 years old.

Whomever the president picks, finding support from Democrats still upset over the treatment of Obama's court nominee may pose a challenge.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MINORITY LEADER: If the nominee is not bipartisan in the mainstream, we absolutely would keep the seat open. I'm hopeful that maybe President Trump would nominate someone who has mainstream and could get bipartisan support. We shall see, but if they don't, yes, we'll fight it tooth and nail, as long as we have to.

BLACKWELL: Victor Blackwell, CNN, Atlanta.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's discuss this with our panel, CNN Supreme Court Reporter Ariane de Vogue and Gloria Browne-Marshall, a Constitutional Law Professor. Good to see both of you ladies.

All right, so, Ariane to you first. You know, these top contenders for the U.S. Supreme Court position, are there any rumblings of who likely may be among those four had just mentioned might be Donald Trump's choice?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, my sources say that we might even hear this before Thursday. It could come earlier, depending on Trump's decision making process. And I've narrowed it down to three.

And at the top of that would be Neil Gorsuch. He's an appellate court judge out of Colorado. He's got religious liberty opinions that conservatives really like, but most important are two things. A, he's only 49 years old and presidents like to put young justices on the court. And second, he sailed through his confirmation hearing, which is in stark contrast to another person on the list and that's still Pryor out of Alabama.

He is friends with Jeff Sessions, but he has called Roe v Wade and abomination and that's going to make it harder for him to get through. And then finally, a dark horse, Tom Hardiman. He's from Pittsburgh. He has an interesting personal story. He's the first from his family to graduate college. So, that might be an interesting pick or something that Trump would like.

WHITFIELD: And so, Gloria, Donald Trump had said that he wants to pick someone as close to an Antonin Scalia as possible. And that given the case, will he be looking particularly as you see this outpouring of protests now over one of his executive orders, will he be trying to narrow in on a possible justice, or at least nominee, that would support this kind of executive order and at the same time, also one who might mean more pro-life and less support of a Roe v Wade.

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: I think that Donald Trump knows that this country is divided and there is a fight. As we see with these protests for the heart and soul of America, and it's going to come to the Supreme Court. So, it's going to go beyond anything that we see right now. Every issue is going to be in play.

So, if Donald Trump as unpredictable as he's been in the past, I would say even though it's a dark horse, Pryor is the one that I think the people who have been his most avid supporters would want.

WHITFIELD: And William Pryor, he's out of Atlanta.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Alabama. But, yeah, of Atlanta via Alabama, but the concern that I have about William Pryor, he's the one who said that Roe versus Wade was an abomination. He was the one who actually kind of went through the back door to be a federal court judge. But he's also the one who's had the most religion cases. He's spoken out about religious freedom. He's from a conservative standpoint.

Gorsuch for example has been antigovernment, anti-ACA from the front, but also, Thomas Hardiman has been a pro gun person. So we have these issues that are the issues of concern for the constituency that supported Donald Trump, but we also have -- if he's going to buck the system, then he would go all the way with William Pryor.

WHITFIELD: And so, Ariane, if it's Thursday or even sooner, bottom line this week with the naming of a nominee, how soon before confirmation hearings were to begin.

DE VOGUE: Well, what the Republicans want to try to get someone on the bench by the end of the sitting and that might be a tough call. And it's interesting that these hearings are going to be a big fight because not only are they going to be about the nominee, but they're going to be about the fact that Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, didn't get on the bench and the Democrats are still seething mad about that. So they plan to attack Republicans for that as well as going after the credentials of Trump's nominee.

[15:55:08] WHITFIELD: And so, Gloria, we've even heard some Democrats say that they would try to withhold support of any nominee during his entire if it is one term, you know, but at least that first four years, is that possible?

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Well, it's possible.

WHITFIELD: Sorry, go ahead, Gloria, first.

BROWNE-MARSHALL: It's possible for them to do that. I think at the end, there are those who are in the Democratic Party on the other side, who will say, you know, we're holding up America by holding this up. But the judicial branch is the only branch left in play right now. And I think that if the Democrats have to sit back and, you know, turn their back on whatever nominee comes forward, then it might be in their political position to do so.

WHITFIELD: Ariane, you want to button it up?

DE VOGUE: Well, I was just saying, remember, it was back in 2013 that the Democrats changed the rules when they were having a hard time getting lower court judges through. So some people wonder, "Will the Republicans try to do that this time for the Supreme Court?"

WHITFIELD: OK. Ariane de Vogue, Gloria Browne-Marshall, thank you, ladies. Appreciate it.


WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.