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Paul Ryan Speaks About Travel Ban; Senate Democrats Boycotting HHS, Treasury Nominees; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] JASON JOHNSON, POLITICAL EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: Because the Republicans are pretty much going to support anything that Donald Trump says.

This is the issue that I have with it from a legal and a moral and a political standpoint. I have said this repeatedly. We've had more Americans killed since 9/11 by white nationalists in domestic terrorists than anything from any jihadi from any part of the world. So for him to suggest that this policy, that the only problem is the roll-out and the rhetoric around it, is not the issue.

The issue is that there's no evidence that blocking visas and preventing people from coming from these countries keeps us any safer. We should have the focus on here in the United States and dangerous people here and that's not the concern. This is a racist and dangerous policy promoted by Paul Ryan and the president of the United States.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: So, George, I want to -- I want you to answer to that because you were a former deputy attorney general. What do you think?

GEORGE TERWILLIGER, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: This is a -- this is a very intelligent pause in a policy that's designed to ensure the security and safety of our citizens. Look, for years during the Cold War, we had different criteria for the entry of people from Soviet bloc countries because of a number of different fears, including espionage. To take time out here, all that histrionics and what we just heard, in fact, the rhetoric about this, that all we're simply doing is taking time out to put into effect new screening methodologies to ensure that when we go through a refugee program, when we let people in from countries with a history of terrorist violence, we're making sure that the people who come here are coming here for the right reasons to assimilate and become part of our culture. That's entirely logical, appropriate and legal thing to do.

COSTELLO: And of course, Laura, Democrats have completely the opposite opinion. In fact, there are 11 lawsuits, I think, that have now been filed against Mr. Trump's executive orders. So what do you suppose will happen in the end?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, ironically, the same message that Ryan has been spouting and everyone else who's in support of the firing of Sally Yates is about an intelligent pause and waiting to figure out the clarity that you need to enforce it in a uniform and systematic and lawful way. And in fact, that is the role of the Department of Justice to be able to understand the breadth of an order and figure out whether or not they can enforce is uniformally.

You know, you misconceive the notion that the Department of Justice is somebody who the president of the United States says here is my directive. Now figure out a way to make this lawful and legal. That's actually the opposite theory of the DOJ. In fact, their role is supposed to figure out how they can enforce any lawful order. But if there are questions about whether or not it's ambiguous as to its lawfulness, let alone its constitutionality, the DOJ and attorney general, whether it'd be the acting or the one who is probably going to be seated, Jeff Sessions, they will have the same conundrum.

Which aspects can be enforced in conformity with the Constitution and in conformity with what we know about the immigration and national act?

COSTELLO: And Patricia, I don't know if you heard --

TERWILLIGER: That is just --

COSTELLO: Wait a minute. George, go ahead.

TERWILLIGER: That statement is just wrong. I'm sorry. That statement is just wrong. The role -- what Sally Yates did was an affront to the institution of the Department of Justice and the career men and women who work there. You don't have to defy a presidential directive --


COATES: Sir, I have been -- well, sir, I have been a career attorney for the Department of Justice.

TERWILLIGER: Sorry. May I finish, please? May I finish, please? I'm sorry. You don't defy a presidential directive and order subordinates to abandon their duty to go into court in an adversary system and represent the interests of the United States. The real hero here is Dana Boente, another career employee of the Justice Department who has stepped up to this task.

COATES: Well, sir, as a career attorney, I actually believe that the president does have the prerogative to lay off or fire Sally Yates if she does not follow his other directives. However, this always presumes one really critical component. That they have a duty to follow lawful orders. And the arguments that you're using is that she has betrayed the Department of Justice or her authority is actually inaccurate. What she has done instead is simply said --

COSTELLO: I've got to interrupt this -- I've got to interrupt this debate for just a second because we are getting so much breaking news this morning. And I apologize but we just found out that the Senate Democrats will be boycotting the Department of Homeland Security and Treasury nominees when they come up for a committee vote later today. This is a meeting of the Democratic Weekly Leadership Press Conference. We're going to monitor this. And, of course, we'll bring you any more pertinent information as it transpires. But things are going to get quite contentious.

And I want to go to Patricia about this. What do you make about this? Democrats appear to be quickly formulating the strategy that they are going to just obstruct everything they can in any way they can?

[10:35:06] PATRICIA MURPHY, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, Democrats right now are struggling with exactly how to be a responsible and effective opposition to Donald Trump. He is doing so many things at the same time Democrats know they have to pick their targets. They know that they complained so much about Republicans who were obstructing President Obama's agenda that they will look very hypocritical and will be ineffective if they don't decide exactly when and where to stand up to Donald Trump.

The reality is that they don't have the votes. Democrats changed the rules in the Senate in order to block any of these nominees. It's just not going to be possible unless they have Republicans come over to their side. And at this point, they are relatively neutered in what they can do. So they need to just have message events. And this is going to be a big message to send to Donald Trump. But at the moment, Democrats just don't have the votes to stop what Donald Trump is doing on their own.

COSTELLO: Yes. And I just want to repeat what I said because I don't know if I made a mistake or not. Democrats are boycotting the committee votes for the Treasury secretary and for the Department of Health and Human Services. So I hope I said that, Jason. I just wanted to make sure that I imparted the correct information for our viewers.

But, Jason, this is just setting up so much ugliness in the days and months and years to come.

JOHNSON: Well, we've seen this for the last eight years. I mean, this is -- when you are the party in the minority, and when you have changed the rules to make it difficult for the minority to do something, you have to obstruct. Republicans did this. Democrats did this. But I want something -- I want us to go back and make this very clear about not only the firing of Yates but eventually Jeff Sessions coming into office and this ban in general.

The issue here is facts and truth. There is no evidence that we should be afraid of refugees who are already being vetted coming into this country. To put forth this ban and to not determine as to whether or not our own interpreters and people like that can come into the country is dangerous and it's not based on evidence. And it's a very similar attack to what Jeff Sessions and President Trump and Steve Bannon have been saying about voter fraud.

These are lies. These are myths being developed by this administration to push forth an agenda. Now this may be constitutional and it maybe in Donald Trump's right to do so but it doesn't mean it's right for the country. It doesn't mean it's safe and it certainly doesn't make anybody in this country or this panel any safer.

COSTELLO: Well, George, let me put it to you this way. George, just let me put it to you this way because President Trump didn't really confer with many experts when he came up with this executive order. And some people say he did that for a reason. He just wanted to push it through and it didn't really matter if it was constitutional or not because that fight was to come later because Jeff Sessions is going to be confirmed as the attorney general and, as a Trump supporter through the election, he'll probably support Donald Trump whether it's constitutional or not.

TERWILLIGER: Well, I don't -- I don't believe that. I mean, I don't think Jeff Sessions would advise the president to go ahead when he's attorney general with something that was unconstitutional.

Look, what we've just heard here is that this is a policy debate. Is it a good policy or a bad policy to impose these sorts of temporary restrictions as a matter of national security procedure? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I don't -- I'm not pretending to sit here as an expert in that policy. But the fact of the matter is that it's a policy debate. And if Sally Yates had a disagreement about policy and a crisis of conscience over it, she had a crisis over conscience even if whether it was lawful, then what she should do is quietly resign and turn the job over to somebody else.

Instead she grandly politicized the decision and put people in the Justice Department, career people, hard-working people in a terrible position.

COSTELLO: OK. Let me throw this out and I'm going to pose this to you, Patricia. OK, the way that Donald Trump fired Miss Yates, right, I mean, it's very clear to me that Mr. Trump will fire anybody who disagrees with him in a most public way. I mean, his team could have sent a termination letter to Yates with one line, you're fired for insubordination. Instead the president publicly accused Yates of betraying the Justice Department. He accused her of being weak and jeopardizing American safety. Is that an intimidation factor? Or am I just kind of making too much of it?

MURPHY: Well, there are two -- there is a distinction within the executive branch that's going to be really important going forward. The people who are defying President Trump and being punished for it, are they political appointees or are they career civil servants? And Sally Yates was a political appointee. She had to know that she was going to get fired and she made this decision to make a loud and broad statement anyway. And the president really did have every authority to fire her and we know Donald Trump is going to do it with a big splash and get the most headlines he can as a part of it.

What is more troubling is something that Sean Spicer said from the podium yesterday was that if anybody at the State Department, any career civil servants don't like what's going on, they need to either get on board or get out.

[10:40:10] That could be political intimidation and that can be extremely problematic. There are a number of protections -- COSTELLO: OK.

MURPHY: -- for career civil servants and if the Trump administration starts to punish career civil servants, that becomes very dangerous.

COSTELLO: I'm hurrying you along because I want to go to Phil Mattingly.

MURPHY: Sorry.


COSTELLO: Senate Democrats were boycotting the committee votes for the Treasury secretary and Health and Human Services secretary. So Phil Mattingly has more reporting on this. He's been monitoring the Democratic leadership presser.

What do you got, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we right know is kind of as you noted, Carol, the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, the committee that this morning was supposed to consider the nomination of Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary and Tom Price for the Department of Health and Human Services secretary, they chose not to show up.

Now, Carol, this is something to keep a very close eye on for a couple of reasons. We've noticed over the course of the last 24 hours, they have delayed several committee votes by using procedural tactics, by kind of standing in the way of things and now by boycotting them entirely. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch said it's something he's never seen before. He believes it's frankly because the Democrats just can't seem to grasp or accept the fact that Donald Trump is the president of the United States.

The Democrats, they're saying this is nominee specific. This has to do with the fact that they feel like they've been lied to by Tom price related to some of his personal stock purchases. They've been lied to by Steve Mnuchin, related to some of his former banks or the bank that he and his group owned and their relationship with the foreclosure crisis. That's what they are saying.

But, Carol, what we're seeing right now is a pattern for the Democrats. And I think it's important to keep an eye on this as we watch everything fall out from that executive order, as we watch everything fall out from the firing of Sally Yates as acting attorney general. You are seeing Democrats in the U.S. Senate start to pull the mechanisms, use the levers that they have here, even in the minority to slow things to a crawl.

That's something we could see a lot more of going forward. I'm told there's no kind of central concerted strategy to follow through on that but we have seen it a number of times over the course of the last couple of days. Expect to see it more going forward.

COSTELLO: OK. MATTINGLY: One kind of contrary point to that, though, Jeff Sessions,

that vote is still expected to happen in committee today.

COSTELLO: Absolutely. I was just thinking of the coming Supreme Court confirmation hearings because as you know, Donald Trump will announce his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, right, and that's got to go through the Senate. And I'm going to pose this -- I'm going to -- stay right there, Phil, I want to bring in my panel and Jason Johnson to ask you about this because that is expected to be all-out warfare within the Senate, this U.S. Supreme Court pick in the nomination process.

What do you expect in light of what's just happened today?

JOHNSON: I think there's going to be a lot of grandstanding. I think there's going to be a lot of speeches. I think there's going to be a lot of people putting together hot takes and clips for political commercials in 2018, and I think whoever Donald Trump selects is going to get end up, you know, on the Supreme Court.

Look, the numbers are just not there for Democrats to provide much actual resistance other than to complain. And I don't think that many Republicans are going to switch sides one way or another because it's not to their benefit. They still want to be loyal to the president- elect. But I think that again, the larger question is this. If you continue as the president has done so far to pick people who seemed to be driven as much by ideological loyalty to him as they are to the law, this may be cute in the first couple of months of the presidency but it could create constitutional crises down the road as people are more interested in doing what Trump wants than what is good for the nation or what is constitutional. That's my concern as an American citizen and patriot.

COSTELLO: All right. We're going to continue this conversation. But I got to take a break. NEWSROOM will come back right after this.


[10:48:07] COSTELLO: All right. We continue our rollercoaster ride this morning. Back to the Senate Judiciary hearing for Jeff Sessions' nomination to the attorney general. That of course is South Carolina senator, Lindsey Graham. He's speaking some positive things about Jeff Sessions saying his closeness to the president of the United States shouldn't necessarily disqualify him. Let's listen.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think in Pakistan, I can't remember, a couple of years ago, the son-in-law of bin Laden, he was put on a Navy ship for a couple of weeks, sent to New York and read his Miranda rights within two or three weeks of capture. Not held as an enemy combatant, given a life sentence, and here's what I would suggest that Jeff Sessions will stop that practice. That if we catch enemy combatants in the future, high level al Qaeda operatives, that we're not going to read them their Miranda rights. We're going to hold them in the rule of war, interrogate them consistent with the laws of the land and the Geneva convention, and try to gather intelligence to prevent the next attack. To my friends on the other side, the world is on fire. And somebody

needs to come along and change our legal system so we can better defend ourselves. Only God knows how much intelligence we've lost in the last four years for an insane policy that treats an al Qaeda terrorist as somebody who stole your car.

As to Dianne Feinstein, I admire greatly but we've had this running debate about what an American citizen can and can't do. You can't join al Qaeda and collaborate with them without consequences. "Hamdi versus Rumsfeld," an American citizen captured in Afghanistan was held as an enemy combatant. Justice O'Connor said we can hold even one of our own as an enemy combatant if in fact they have been collaborating with the enemy.

And if you get to America, you don't get rewarded. Hopefully to God our laws work here even on our homeland. So I think Jeff Sessions is right and Senator Feinstein is wrong.

[10:50:08] Bottom line about the job of attorney general, I think Jeff will follow the law. No matter what his political opinions are. I have no doubt about that.

As to "Roe v. Wade," millions of Americans share that opinion. You mentioned a march where thousands of people came to protest President Trump. You were right. They were peaceful. Most of them were around my house. Very nice folks. You apparently missed the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets just a few days ago and had a sincerely held opinion that "Roe v. Wade" is bad law. So can you disagree with "Roe v. Wade"? Absolutely, you can, and still be attorney general. At least I hope so. Because millions of Americans do. But it is the law of the land and there's a process to change it, and that will come from the courts.

Now Jeff Sessions is the man, this is the one that gets me the most, I guess. I expect criticism to come our way on both sides of the aisle. I voted against Senator Leahy's proposal for Violence Against Women even though I'm very supportive of the concept of protecting women because I didn't agree with his construct. So I guess maybe I can't be attorney general either.

Jeff, the man. John Lewis. John Lewis, if anybody deserves to be called a modern hero it is John Lewis. He literally risked his life to stand up against oppression at a time when a lot of people were not. That's something that he should be proud of and we should all revere. But he came before the committee and he made a pretty damning indictment of Senator Sessions.

So here's what I'd ask my colleagues to do. Look underneath some of these criticisms and see what you find. This is the same man who basically accused Sarah Palin and John McCain of having Republican rallies that reminded him of George Wallace's time. Senator McCain and Governor Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division and there's no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

And he went on to say that George Wallace never threw a bomb, he never fired a gun, but he created the climate and conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who are simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.

I think most of you know I'm very close to Senator McCain. Senator McCain had a chapter in one of his books about John Lewis. And when asked about three people you would seek their counsel and advice when he was running for president, John Lewis was one of them. I don't think I've ever been more disappointed than when John Lewis said those things about my friend John McCain. It hurt him to his core. So I recognize Congressman Lewis' service to our country and his heroism, but there has been a pattern here starting with Senator McCain, where I think his criticism is off base. The NAACP. Jeff Sessions says one of the greatest civil rights organizations in this country. I think it's probably earned that title without any question.

But when you look at where we're at today in 2017, 2016, every Republican on this side of the aisle gets a 25 percent, at best, on their scorecard. Now you can blame them or you can blame us. But when you look under the criticism, there's more to do about Republican conservatives not being able to agree with the NAACP than it is about Jeff Sessions the man.

So what I want to let the committee know is that I voted for almost everybody that President Obama appointed, disagreeing with them on most everything. But I never doubted any of these people were bad people because they disagreed with me. The one thing I can tell the United States of America, in my view, that Jeff Sessions is a Republican conservative who is a good, decent man, who will follow the law as he sees it, will try to take the country down a different road than President Obama and his attorney general, and that's what the whole election was about.

You can't have it both ways. You can't lose the election and expect the government to represent your view of what we should be doing. The question is, is he qualified? Is he a decent, honorable man? And he's ever bit as qualified and every bit as decent and honorable as Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.

[10:55:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for the seven minutes you took. Go ahead, Senator Durbin.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me say at the outset that this exercise, this responsibility in the Senate Judiciary Committee is one which I perhaps didn't anticipate when I ran for the Senate but so often we are called on to judge other people to stand in judgment of people who are seeking positions as judges, U.S. attorneys, U.S. marshals, even Cabinet members. And it really puts to a test each one of us in terms of trying to be fair and be honest and to anticipate what will happen if we entrust that person with a special responsibility.

It is complicated even more when it involves a colleague, someone you've served with. In my case for 20 years with Senator Sessions. I believe that I can take the measure of that man as he can take it of me because we've heard one another's speeches to the point that we can give one another's speeches. I certainly understand his philosophy and understand his values -- political values. And that is making this even more challenging.

I would like to make one comment about Senator Graham's statement about John Lewis.

Senator Graham, I may not agree with everything that John Lewis has said. I certainly, if there was any conclusion about Senator McCain relative to his position on race or such, I would agree with you completely. I don't believe that he should be assigned any title that questions his commitment to racial equality.

But I also believe that John Lewis paid in blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge for his right to speak his opinion, even if I disagree with it. Even if you do. And I think that's what you said, and I respect you for saying that. But when he was dismissed by the president in a tweet for his lifetime of commitment to civil rights, I found that to be below the belt and unacceptable.

Day 12. This is day 12 of the Trump presidency. It is hard to believe or imagine that it's only been 12 days. As Senator Feinstein has said, this new president has issued six executive orders and 10 presidential memoranda. Wide-ranging in the issues and subjects that they address. But certainly they should give us pause because if in 12 days, this is what we have, what can we anticipate for the next three years, 11 months and 16 days?

We ought to understand that this is not just a hearing on a nomination, an important nomination. This is a constitutional moment. This is a constitutional moment. And a challenge to us to envision what the next attorney general will be facing in the remaining three years and 11 months with this president.

Back in my youth, dubious about the wisdom of the Vietnam War, I marched around and carried signs and so did a lot of others. And I found myself when the Trump Cabinet was being proposed curiously gravitating toward Marine Corps generals, hoping that there will be more and more of them in the Cabinet. And my reason? I believe in the case of General Pettis and certainly in the case of General Kelly, they are men of proven allegiance to this country, proven integrity who at that critical moment when they have to stand up for what is right will do it or will walk away from the job.

We can expect nothing less of people who serve this country, either in our military or in our Cabinet, and we can certainly expect nothing less when it comes to the attorney general of the United States of America.

I join with the statement made by Senator Leahy about Sally Yates. For more than two decades as a prosecutor and a person I worked closely with in the Department of Justice, she is a person of character and integrity. What she did --

COSTELLO: All right. We're going to pull away. This is the Senate Judiciary hearing for Jeff Sessions' nomination to attorney general. And you can hear these impassioned speeches on the part of both the Democrat and Republican. But truth be told, Jeff Sessions is likely to be confirmed by this committee and that his nomination will go to the full Senate where he is expected to be confirmed as the attorney general of the United States.

Things will really get interesting 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight when Donald Trump is in the White House in the East Room and he announces his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats have vowed to fight against those picks even though they don't know who they are yet.

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. "AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND BOLDUAN" start now.