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Argument over Term Ban; Kelly Briefed on Travel Ban; Fired Attorney General; Dems Boycott Votes; Hatch Calls Democrats Idiots; Supreme Court Nominees. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:04] ANNOUNCER: this is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go. Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.

So much to get to today. We've got the breaking news and a very contentious White House briefing that just wrapped. And, really, a head-spinning 24 hours from the Trump administration. All of this involving moves to obstruct the president's plans. But the issue dominating that briefing was actually the president's travel ban involving seven predominantly Muslim countries. You had the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, stressing and even correcting some of the reporters saying, let me say this again, this is not a ban. Here he was.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, first of all, it's not a travel ban. I think you heard Secretary Kelly, and I apologize, I just want to make sure I get this straight. There is - I think Secretary Kelly or one of the other individuals that got up there from DHS mentioned I think a million people have now come into this country. That's not a ban. What it is, is to make sure that the people who are coming in are vetted properly from seven countries.

QUESTION: President Trump's tweet yesterday, "if the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the bad would rush into our country during that week." Because he says it's a ban. (INAUDIBLE).

SPICER: Well, he's using the word that the media is using. But at the end of the day it can't -


SPICER: Hold on, hold on, hold on, it can't be -

QUESTION: No, those are his words.

SPICER: It can't be -

QUESTION: His words (INAUDIBLE) - SPICER: Jonathan thanks, I'll let Kristen (ph) talk. It can't be a ban if you're letting a million people in. If 325,000 people from another country can come in, that is by nature not a ban.


BALDWIN: So that conversation came moments after the Homeland Security secretary, General John Kelly, at this at his first news conference.


GEN. JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This is not, I repeat, not a ban on Muslims. And we cannot gamble with American lives. I will not gamble with American lives. These orders are a matter of national security. I is my sworn responsibility as the secretary of Homeland Security to protect and defend the American people.


BALDWIN: Let's begin with Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent, who's joining me from the Briefing Room.

Jim, help me understand. Sean Spicer says it's not a ban. General Kelly says it's not a ban. I'm staring at a tweet from the president calling it a ban 24 hours ago. Help.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. President Trump tweeting not on POTUS but @realdonaldtrump, "if the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the bad" - in quotation marks - "would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad dudes out there!" The word "dudes" in quotation marks.

Sean Spicer was saying during the briefing, you know, when asked, well, why did the president use the word "ban" in that tweet if it's not a ban. He said, well, he's just using a word that the media is using. But you notice in that tweet, and not to get too forensic about this, he puts quotation marks around the word "bad," he puts quotation marks around the word "dudes" but does not -

BALDWIN: But not around the word "ban."

ACOSTA: But not around the word "ban." So if it's a part of his parlance and vocabulary when refer to all of this, why can't it be ours? I guess that's a good question to ask.

Now the other question that came up during the briefing repeatedly, Brooke, was this issue of General Kelly, Secretary Kelly over at the Department of Homeland Security was he briefed on this executive order before the president signed it. You heard Secretary Kelly saying during that news conference over at DHS that yes he was briefed on it. And you heard Sean Spicer saying that here as well.

He was pushing back on reporters who were saying, no, no, no, that the reporting in "The New York Times" was accurate. I think a key question here, Brooke, that was not answered during this briefing is whether Secretary Kelly was briefed on the final language in that executive order. Being briefed along the way, along that process of drafting an executive order is one thing, but looking at the fine print of what's in the executive order just before the president signs it, that's a different matter altogether.

But, you know, this is just another example, Brooke, looking at this briefing today, of how these questions about this executive order on vetting and refugees just have - they just haven't gone away and that's why you heard the speaker of the House earlier today talking about confusion and that it being regrettable that there was this confusion about the execution of this executive order. Sean Spicer was asked about that, sort of danced around it. They are clinging to the position over here, Brooke, that everything worked perfectly throughout the execution of this executive order.

BALDWIN: OK, so that was a huge piece of the questioning. Another huge piece is about the acting A.G., Sally Yates, who is no longer. All right, she's already been replaced. That happened last evening.


BALDWIN: And he was questioned about that. Here's that exchange.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Ironically, it went through their offices, the Department of Justice Office of Legal Compliance. So the idea that it went through the entire process of which they were part of and then she chooses not to execute it actually is bewildering.

The president was very clear during the campaign, whether it's economic security or national security, that he has an agenda be (ph) articulated very, very clear to the American people and that -


SPICER: Hold on. Thank you. And that it is his job to lay that vision out and that the people that he appoints and nominates and announces as staff members or cabinet level members or agency heads, their jobs is to fulfill that. And if they don't like it, then they shouldn't take the job. But it is the president's agenda that we are fulfilling here.


[14:05:12] BALDWIN: I mean he had strong words, Jim Acosta, I jotted down multiple times -


BALDWIN: His use of the word "betrayal" and "defiance" in describing Sally Yates.

ACOSTA: Right. And it should be surprising that Sally Yates did this. You'll recall at her hearing up on Capitol Hill, Senator Jeff Sessions, who might be the next attorney general should his confirmation go through, he was quizzing Sally Yates and asking her, well, would you follow orders from the president that you view to be illegal or wrong, and she said absolutely that's - that is what I would do. And that is exactly what she feels that she did do in these last 24 hours.

It is interesting to note, when Sean Spicer was asked about, well, are there any other Obama administration officials out there working in the various departments of the federal government that you need to worry about and Spicer said that there are some and noted that they're in a variety of different positions and acting positions and so on. But let's keep in mind, there are people from the Obama administration, Brooke, that they are holding over for very critical reasons. Brett McGurk, who is - was the U.S. envoy in the battle against ISIS under President Obama, he's been held over, and there are other counter terrorism officials who were in that same category. So just because somebody is staying over to the Obama administration doesn't necessarily make them a risk to the president's agenda. But you heard Sean Spicer say if there are people in this government right now that can't get on board with what the president is doing, there's the door.

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta with one of the hottest seats in the house at that White House briefing.

Jim, thank you very much.

We've got some more breaking news from Washington. In a surprise turn of events, you had Senate Democrats deciding to boycott not just one but two of President Trump's cabinet nominees. Today the Senate Finance Committee was set to vote on the nominations of Congressman Tom Price for Health and Human Services secretary, and Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary. But committee Democrats, with their Republican counterparts waiting in a hearing room, especially pulled a no-show minutes before the vote was set to take place.

Manu Raju is on it, our senior congressional reporter.

Manu, what happened?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Brooke, a number of these Democrats believe that both Tom Price and Steve Mnuchin did not answer questions clearly and honestly at the committee hearings. They believe that Tom Price misled the committee on a questionable stock purchase that he made right before pushing legislation that would affect that company. Similarly, they believe that Steve Mnuchin did not answer questions in a way that they thought would - the honest way to answer the questions. So what they're asking for is more information. They're demanding that these - these two nominees provide them with more information before they agree to a vote to come forward.

Now, this decision to boycott is a surprise, is a rare move and unprecedented in the modern Senate Finance history times. It is something that is rarely, rarely done and it has absolutely enraged Republicans who thought that the vote was going to happen today. Here is Senator Orrin Hatch, who's chairman of the Finance Committee. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, they are idiots. Anybody that would so something like that, it's just a complete breach of decorum. It's a complete breach of committee rules. It's a complete breach of just getting along around here.


RAJU: So the question, Brooke, is what happens now? The Republicans are warning that if there is not any cooperation from Democrats to actually have - to have this vote, then they may have to take extraordinary measures. And what does that mean? Donald Trump may have to ultimately recess appoint these two nominees to their positions because the Senate rules do not allow for a vote to happen on the full floor of the Senate if the committee does not act and one Democrat needs to be in - at that committee for the vote to actually happen.

This all part of that effort, Brooke, by Democrats to try to delay and frustrate the - Donald Trump from getting his cabinet in place. Just moments ago too, delaying a vote until tomorrow in the Senate Judiciary Committee to have a hearing on Senator - to vote on Senator Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general. He'll probably be confirmed later this week, but effort to try to slow things down here in the Senate. Something they can do under the rules here, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you.

All the news, let's catch it and analyze. I've got with me my two favorites, David Chalian and Gloria Borger, our CNN political director and CNN chief political analyst.

My goodness, if you're head doesn't feel like, woo, like this today, oh my gosh! First, on my initial question to Jim Acosta, who was in the White House briefing, you know, is it a ban, is it not a ban? Spicer says stop calling it a Muslim ban, stop calling it a travel ban. Trump called it a ban yesterday and he's not the only one.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's right, Sean Spicer also called it a ban two days ago when he was on ABC on "This Week." he said, "it's a ninety day ban." So I think he's now caught up in sort of a rhetorical pretzel for no good reason. As you said, the president himself called it that. When Sean was pressed on that in the briefing you heard him say, he's just using the words that the media are using.

[14:10:07] What we saw happen today in the briefing room is that they're trying to get control of the story that they lost control of and I think you saw first General Kelly, the DHS secretary, sort of play the good soldier in many ways.



CHALIAN: And start getting his arms around the implementation of this, trying to bring down the temperature of this a little bit. I kept watching that briefing and I thought, now imagine if that briefing had occurred last Friday when they were implementing this policy. If Secretary Kelly was out there, in front of it, announcing it and putting some context around it, perhaps a lot of this could have been avoided.

BORGER: Well, and you have House Speaker Paul Ryan coming out talking -


BORGER: About regrettable confusion.

BALDWIN: The - the rollout.

BORGER: So what I noticed about Sean Spicer today was in talking about the Supreme Court announcement, which is coming tonight. He went out of his way to talk about the advice and consent aspect of all of this and how the person they are going to nominate meeting the criteria, the expertise. And so -

BALDWIN: Why do you think he did that?

BORGER: Because of the blunders of - of the past week. They have to kind of slow down this train and let people understand that the president wants to get things done very quickly. He wants wins very quickly. But they have to let people know that there is an organized process that is not chaotic and it's not unstable.

BALDWIN: You know, in watching all of this I kept thinking, OK, this is Donald Trump. He's a business man. And when you start up a mega business, you're like, you know, you hit the ground running.


BALDWIN: Change, change, change. Breakneck pace. But it's different if you're the president and you've never governed before, right?

CHALIAN: Well, because you - on a campaign or at his businesses, he is overseeing a population of people that are entirely committed to his goals, whether the success of the company or of winning the campaign, right?

BALDWIN: The government, yes.

CHALIAN: When you're governing, to oversee this vast bureaucracy, there are lots of people, especially we see with the Obama holdovers that aren't in place yet, who are not at all aligned with what he's doing. And he sees that he doesn't have his hand on every level the way you can when you're running a business.

BALDWIN: He's trying, it feels like.

BORGER: Well, but he has Chuck Schumer. You know, he has Chuck Schumer to contend with. He's got the Democrats who are walking out of committee hearings because they've read -

BALDWIN: Called idiots by Orrin Hatch.

BORGER: Called idiots by Orrin Hatch because -

BALDWIN: What do you make of that?

BORGER: Well, I - I just think it's all kind of dissolving into this puddle of, you know, antipathy between the two sides. And if you're sitting back and watching, you know, I guess you could applaud the Democrats for standing up for what they believe and Donald Trump is doing what he promised he would do during the campaign. But at some point I think the American public is going to demand some kind of order and achievement beyond executive action, which comes into the question of legislation and approval of the Supreme Court nominee or, you know, an orderly process without name calling.

CHALIAN: The American people clearly told us -


CHALIAN: The order they want is a new order, not the order that existed before.

BALDWIN: They don't want it.

BORGER: That's right, but - but the - but if you look at the early polling and the question is whether this kind of breathes an unsettled feeling or an uncertainly among people who did not vote for Donald Trump. And, don't forget, you know, there are a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump just hated Hillary Clinton. So, you know, there is a larger audience here and I think that's why Sean Spicer went out of his way to sort of set up and tee up the nomination tonight as something that was well-thought out, well-planned, well advised by Republicans and so that they can sort of put -

BALDWIN: Bipartisan support on the criteria before the meeting.

BORGER: On the criteria. Somebody who's experienced and has, you know, the expertise.

BALDWIN: What about - I just thought that the whole, you know, briefing was pretty pointed. And I made this point with Jim, but just the adjectives he was using to use now no longer acting A.G. Sally Yates, "defiant" and "betrayal." That's strong language.

CHALIAN: That is strong language. I thought that whole episode last night was more about political theatrics than it was about a real - you know, Sally Yates knew exactly what she was doing when she decided to -

BALDWIN: So what did she expect? This can't be a new -

CHALIAN: She - I mean you can just start the watch and say, you're going to get fired in about -

BORGER: I quit, you're fired kind of thing.

CHALIAN: Kind of. So, yes.

So - and, you know, and Donald Trump played his role, exactly the type -


CHALIAN: And so I think what we saw there, that's what was going on last night.

I thought what got very contentious in the briefing though was Sean Spicer wanted to put the confusion around the -

BALDWIN: On the media.

CHALIAN: Executive order on to the media.

BORGER: On the media, exactly.

BALDWIN: On the media, yes.

CHALIAN: Instead of owning some responsibility for it, as they're clearly trying to move beyond that. He put it all on the media. I almost felt like the country got a sense of how our phone calls are with press secretaries, like who the press and the press secretary talk on the phone. Usually you don't see it sort of that way in the Briefing Room on television.

BORGER: But, you know, the media is getting complaints - I know I am - from people on The Hill who are saying we were not briefed, we were blindsided by this. I mean Paul Ryan said it today publicly. And, yes, there was a small cadre of staffers who had worked with the transition and left that position on January 20th who were on The Hill. But there is sort of a general sense that when you're going to do something like this - and, again, nobody should be surprised by it because it's what Donald Trump ran on.

[14:15:22] BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: And what his voters want.


BORGER: And that's what he's doing. But when you get down to the details of something like this, the question is whether actually input from people who write legislation, the Justice Department, people who write laws, would be useful.


BORGER: Even to people who understand what direction they want to go in but may need some assistance in figuring out just how to do it. And -

CHALIAN: Which is - but you wait and see now to see, will Donald Trump ever come to that conclusion -

BORGER: That's the point. Exactly.

CHALIAN: That he can actually use some of the Washington infrastructure that he's trying to blow up to his advantage to accomplish his goals.

BALDWIN: We'll see. David and Gloria, awesome conversation, thank you both so much.

BORGER: Thanks.

CHALIAN: Thanks.

BALDWIN: We have more breaking news. Hours before the president announces his Supreme Court pick this evening, these two finalists have arrived in Washington, D.C. Who are they? And will Democrats put up a huge fight? Let's discuss that next. You're watching CNN's special live coverage.


[14:20:13] BALDWIN: All right, and we're back with breaking news here from CNN. We're learning it is now down to the final two. And in a classic Donald Trump fashion, sources tell CNN the president is flying his Supreme Court finalists to Washington, D.C., where he will make the big reveal tonight during primetime. Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman will come face-to-face just hours before the president's announcement.

So let's bring in CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue, and Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst and Supreme Court biographer.

Ladies, let's get to it. Ariane, beginning with you. I understand from our reporting that Mr. Trump already is leaning toward one. He has his favorite, but that doesn't mean he can't change his mind. What do you know?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, we know that the top finalists are being brought to D.C. and increasing indications are that Neil Gorsuch is likely to be the pick, but Trump could change his mind. All of our sources stress that, that he could make a change at the last minute. We have learned that Gorsuch is in D.C. and a CNN producer caught up with Hardiman driving in the direction of D.C. just a little bit earlier today.

BALDWIN: Joan, I mean, we're calculating where they are in the car and are they in D.C. and what is that supposed to mean and he could change his mind.


BALDWIN: What do you make of this?

BISKUPIC: Well, let me just tell you that I have covered Supreme Court nominations since 1990 and I've tracked them through my own research back to 1971 and it has never, ever been like this.

BALDWIN: Really?

BISKUPIC: Sometimes, you know, a nominee might not know until the day before or the weekend before, but never, you know, just hours before. And also with this drama with the poor runner up. You know, what's - you know, what has that - the one that's going to be number two been told? You know, we want to use you as a decoy? What is this? Anyway, this is unprecedented but this has been that week, right?

BALDWIN: It has been that kind of week and I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. What about just - could you compare the two, Gorsuch and Hardiman?

BISKUPIC: Yes. Yes, if it's Judge Neil Gorsuch, who sits on a federal appeals court out in Denver, it will frankly be more of the same. He has the kind of credentials of just about every justice who's sitting on the Supreme Court right now. Ivy league credentials. Had been a clerk at the Supreme Court earlier for first Byron White, the late Justice Byron White, who happens to be from Colorado, where Neil Gorsuch's family was from, and then for Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is still on the Supreme Court. If he - if Neil Gorsuch ends up being the pick tonight and he ends up being confirmed, it would be the first time that you'd have a - two justices who once had the allegiance of boss and clerk.

The other - the other man qualified but in different kinds of ways. Thomas Hardiman sits on the third circuit out of Pittsburgh. He was educated at Notre Dame and at Georgetown. Two fine universities, but they're not the ivies that usually end up on the Supreme Court.


BISKUPIC: His family started a cab business and he drove a cab to support himself through law school.

BALDWIN: How about that? How about that? And so you've gone through both of the gentlemen's credentials. And then, Ariane, here's my question because it's important to underscore, while this is huge, huge, huge, any appointment to the Supreme Court, this would not change the balance. And so my - I'm wondering if the Democrats will really, you know, put up a fight this go around or for the next one?

DE VOGUE: Well, you know, I think the Democrats might be wondering that, too, right, because with this seat, Trump is replacing the conservative icon, Antonin Scalia, with a conservative. So that keeps things in the status quo. But supporters of Trump are really hoping that he might get a second vacancy. For instance, if Justice Kennedy were to step down, or Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that would be a huge fight, for instance, in areas like abortion. So the Democrats will look at these hearings and they'll wonder, how hard should they use all their ammunition this time around when they know with three justices in their 70s and early 80s that they might very soon be back at this debate and maybe want to have some stored up ammunition to use for those hearings.

BALDWIN: Could be. It's a real possibility. Again, we watch, we wait for the big reveal tonight, 8:00 Eastern. Tune in for CNN for special coverage. Joan and Ariane, thank you so much.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I appreciate both of you.

Also breaking today, allegations of apparent plagiarism involving the nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. How might this impact her full Senate confirmation? And how the White House is responding to this.

[14:24:57] Also ahead, was it an act of betrayal? New reaction for President Trump's decision to fire the acting head of the - the attorney general after she refused to defend White House immigration policy? That's coming up.


[14:29:39] BALDWIN: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer fiercely defending President Trump's firing of acting attorney general Sally Yates. CNN was first to report that Yates, an Obama appointee, had ordered the Department of Justice lawyers not to legally defend Trump's travel ban and moments ago we heard Sean Spicer in that briefing responding to multiple questions on the White House statement which reads, quote, "Yates has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States." Here was Sean Spicer's response.