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Democrats Boycott Cabinet Votes; Furor Continues Over President Trump's Travel Ban. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 15:00   ET



FAWAZ GERGES, AUTHOR, "ISIS: A HISTORY": By lumping the president of United States, the greatest power in the world, by lumping Muslims, who number one billion persons, with Islamic radicalism -- again, he uses the term in a very, very dangerous way -- he's playing into the hands of al Qaeda.

He's providing ammunition and motivation and inspiration and also he's unleashing anti-American sentiment throughout the world, particularly in the Muslim world. And that is why I say that this particular ban is seen throughout the world as a ban against Muslims, because why has he chosen these seven countries?


GERGES: Remember, Brooke, most of the attacks that have taken place in the United States after 9/11 were carried out by citizens of the United States and permanent residents. They were not carried out by citizens from these countries.


BALDWIN: I'm fully aware of that, although perhaps this would be the Trump administration's attempt to get ahead of any future nefarious activities from anyone from these countries. Their perspective.

I hear you, Fawaz Gerges, loud and clear. We have to go, but global perception of the U.S. here right now is so entirely important. Thank you.

GERGES: Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: All right, here we go, top of the hour, breaking news here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Here is what we have following a very, very contentious White House briefing today and the sort of head-spinning 24 hours for the Trump administration, all of it involving moves to obstruct the president's plans.

But the issue front and center today at that White House briefing was what we were just discussing, this travel ban involving these seven predominantly Muslim nations.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted the executive order was not a ban, despite the president using the word just yesterday.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, first of all, it's not a travel ban. I think you heard Secretary Kelly -- I apologize -- I just want to make sure I get this straight.

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 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 the country during the week."

He says it's a ban.

SPICER: He is using the word that the media is using.


QUESTION: Those are his words.


QUESTION: Those are his words. It's his tweet.

QUESTION: Jonathan, thanks. I will let Kristen talk.

It can't be a ban if you're letting a million people in. If 325,000 people from another country can't come in, that is by nature not a ban.


BALDWIN: That came moments after the Homeland Security Department Secretary John Kelly said this at his first news conference just before.


GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I knew he was going to sign an order about a year-and-a-half or two years before he became the president-elect.

People on my staff were generally involved. I guess probably Wednesday, I think, we learned, Tuesday, Wednesday, that it would probably be during the week that it would be signed out.

I did not look at it from the perspective of, as I say, correcting the grammar a grammar or saying, no, we need the change these words or do this thing. People that know the immigration process infinitely better than I do right now were people -- and that includes people around the interagency were the ones that did the staff work and ultimately the president signed it.


BALDWIN: Let's go to the White House to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, here.

Just first on words matter, right? We even looked up a transcript where Sean Spicer himself referred to it as a ban. Which is it?


The press secretary referred to it as a ban yesterday. The president himself speaking in the Oval Office on Saturday, just a day after he signed it, referred to it as a ban, as well as extreme vetting. He tweeted that it was a ban.

Now, I think enough people have called it a ban that we can call it a ban. Is it a full and complete ban? No, it is not? Is it banning all Muslims from coming to the U.S.? No, it is not here.

And I'm not sure that this argument over the word ban is that illuminating, except to the point that the rollout of this plan was universally across all agencies here was simply not planned, was simply not done in a methodical way, the way things usually are done here.

And in a respect, that is what this White House is fine with. They want to shake things up. But you could see how the new homeland security secretary there was, if not parsing his words, coming right up to the edge of that, saying he did not review every piece of it. Yes, he knew it was coming.


The reality, though, Brooke, people did not see this order in enough time to review it. Speaker Paul Ryan said that on the Hill today. These are Republicans who want the president to succeed here.

So this is different than your typical partisan back and forth. This is sort of was this written in a way that can work in this government? And four days later, the White House is still trying to clean up this mess.

BALDWIN: We will come to this in a conversation, but also tonight, this is a huge moment for the president, right?

ZELENY: It is.

BALDWIN: Where he's announced he's down to two potential picks for the U.S. Supreme Court. We're told are they both now in Washington?

ZELENY: If they're not both in Washington, they will be this evening. At least, that's what we're being told right now, Brooke. And this is something -- you're absolutely right. This is the biggest

decision a president can make, appointing someone to the Supreme Court, particularly when they are either 49 years old, which is the age of Neil Gorsuch, who is on the federal bench in Colorado, or 51 years old. That's the age of Thomas Hardiman, who is on the federal bench in Pittsburgh.

These are lifetime appointments here. This is the legacy of a president. So, all the controversy of this immigration ban will go away, but this announcement tonight, Brooke, so critical to this president. But it is also tied with the immigration. You can bet that will be front and center in their confirmation hearing, regardless of who he announces tonight -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: The SCOTUS moment, 8:00 Eastern, we will have special coverage, and we will be tuned in. Jeff Zeleny,thank you.

Let's skip over to Capitol Hill, shall we, where Senate Democrats are staging their own protest today. They are boycotting this committee vote on two of President Trump's Cabinet nominees. They are Congressman Tom Price. He's up to be the head of the Department of Health and Human Services and Steve Mnuchin is up for treasury secretary.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is blasting his Democratic colleagues for bailing moments before the vote was supposed to happen.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I'm very disappointed that they treated the committee that way, and me personally that way, at least call me and say that they can't do it. And even that would be -- didn't call me and say -- they have to feel ashamed for pulling this kind of crap.

Well, they are idiots. Anybody who would do 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.


BALDWIN: Manu Raju there with the microphone on Capitol Hill, the fact that Orrin Hatch called the Democrats idiots, what is going on, on the Hill?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Tensions are flaring right now, Brooke.

Democrats are refusing to move forward on these two nominees, Steven Mnuchin and Tom Price, until they get more questions answered. They believe there are some key questions during the hearing that they did not answer directly. They believe they mislead the committee on some of their testimony, including a questionable stock purchase that Tom Price made with an Australian firm just as he was trying to pursue legislation that could impact that firm. They believe it was a -- quote -- "sweetheart deal." That's something

that Tom Price and the company itself has denied. I just talked to Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. He's not saying they will never give any cooperation on this Finance Committee for a vote.

He is saying he wants more answers first. So they're holding out the possibility of working with Orrin Hatch, who is actually planning to move forward as early tomorrow to try to have another vote in the committee.

Now, Brooke, also the Senate Judiciary Committee just delayed a vote on Jeff Sessions to have a vote on him to send his full nomination to the full Senate because Democrats objected to having committees meet for longer than two hours. That's something they are allowed to do under the rules.

A lot of delay tactics right now by Democrats because they do not want Donald Trump to have his Cabinet in place, particularly with a lot of these controversial nominees. And they don't have much opportunity to actually stop them from getting confirmed, but they can do everything in their power to delay those nominees.

And watch for also Betsy DeVos, who was actually just approved by the key committee today on a party-line to get sent to the full Senate. Democrats trying to do everything they can to stop her confirmation or at least delay it as long as they possibly can -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, Manu, thank you, Manu Raju on the Hill.

We do have more breaking news out of the White House briefing today including the acting attorney general that President Trump just fired because she defied him in that travel ban.


QUESTION: Why use the word betrayal?

SPICER: Because the department's job is to execute -- they're the Department of Justice. And if you have a legally executed ordered, and the attorney general says, I'm not going to execute it, that truly -- that clearly is a betrayal.


BALDWIN: Let's start our conversation here.

I have Dana Bash with me, CNN chief political correspondent, and Julie Pace is CNN -- rather, chief White House correspondent for the Associated Press.

I wish we could claim you, Julie Pace.

So, Julie, let me begin with you on that exchange, the words again from Sean Spicer, on Sally Yates, defiant, betrayal. Strong words for what he said she did. [15:10:08]

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: They were really strong words.

And I think this was the White House sending a message, as they have earlier in the week as well, to people in this administration that they expect them at all levels to be in their jobs to fulfill the president's mission.

The problem with that, though, is that, as president, you oversee not just your political appointees, your Cabinet secretaries, but you oversee a huge federal bureaucracy. And we saw pushback at the State Department, where several diplomats, a really large number of diplomats have expressed their outrage over the refugee ban.

This idea that you're not going to see dissent in the federal government is just not going to really hold for this White House. But what Sally Yates did for -- to them, was a bridge too far.

BALDWIN: Speaking of attorney general, Dana Bash, we know Manu just reported the confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions sort of hit pause or they're on hold. He just perfectly explained how tensions have ratcheted up when you have Orrin Hatch calling Democrats idiots. What's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, at its core, what the Democratic Party is going through right now is a crisis in how to function and how to make its anger, make its opposition heard, when they don't have the votes to do it.

And I think what became crystallizing for Democrats, particularly in the Senate who are dealing with these Trump nominees, is they're hearing from their liberal constituencies. And when I say crystallizing, we heard it over the weekend, when Chuck Schumer was having a press conference on these travel restrictions and he was sort of heckled by one of his own supporters, by liberals, saying, if you're going to oppose him, why are you agreeing all of his nominees?

And then yesterday, he put out a press release with like eight nominees that he's going to oppose. And I think that this boycott is another example of how Democrats are trying to telegraph to the liberal base, we hear you.

They did it. And then the DNC sent out a press release and they're sort of telegraphing via social media and elsewhere they're trying to stand up. The problem is that this isn't just a political campaign. They're elected representatives who have a job to do. And a boycott might be something that sort of sends a message, but they also need to be kind of in the room and doing their jobs and debating and voting when that is necessary, so it's a delicate balance.


What about, Julie, in the briefing just a while ago, where you are, about this travel ban and the White House claiming there's no travel ban? And I don't want to have a whole conversation about language here, even though the president and Sean Spicer referred to it as a ban, but the issue is the rollout and the implementation. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan referred to it -- and I'm paraphrasing it -- as sort of messy.

They were saying Republicans were in the dark.

PACE: And we've been told that the president himself isn't happy with the way the rollout went. He's aware.

We watches CNN and other networks. He's aware of the way that this has looked, the chaos this has caused. The White House is defensive to this idea that they did this in secret, that this was a closed-door process.

But when you do talk to people on Capitol Hill, the president's own party, and when you do talk to people at the agencies, yes, people were aware that the president was looking to move forward on something like this, because he did talk about it in the campaign. But there wasn't this robust interagency process that we're used to when you have this kind of complicated change in U.S. policy.

And I think that's what has left people frustrated.

BASH: Exactly. That's the key here.

Giving people a heads-up, like, for example, the White House is going to try to do a little bit of heads up it seems on the Supreme Court nominee, OK, that's one thing. But giving people a road map onto -- not just people, not just sort of your political allies, which you do need in order to kind of bolster your argument that this is a good policy, but the people who are -- well, also the people who are working in Homeland Security, a road map to how to execute.


BASH: That's why I think the General Kelly press conference this morning was so fascinating, because Jeff Zeleny reported earlier with you that he was trying to parse his words. There is no question.

He was trying to be a good soldier. He was trying get out there and kind of try to combat reports that even he was annoyed and he was in the dark. But it's not just about saying, oh, by the way, this is the order and you need to know what it says. It's, OK, this is the order, this is how it is implemented, this is how it's going to work, boom, boom, boom, boom.

That basic execution that needs to happen in a very large, very complex government, never mind with something as potentially toxic and explosive as this, simply didn't happen.


BALDWIN: Your point is well taken, getting out ahead of something, giving people heads-up. Had this been on Friday, instead of today, we would have a much bigger and different story.

Dana, thank you. Julie, thank you as well.

More breaking news here. We're just hours before President Trump announces his Supreme Court choice. And you have these two finalists. We know that they're arriving in Washington today. Who are they? How much of a fight will the Democrats put up in this particular selection?

We have got all that for you coming up next. You're watching CNN's live special coverage.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Here is the breaking news. The head of homeland security here says the president's executive order is not a Muslim ban. The president had called it a travel ban. The White House press secretary, he insists it is not a travel ban.

But for the Republican House speaker, the sticking point isn't the semantics here. It's actually just the rollout of this in and of itself.

Here is what Speaker Paul Ryan just said about it.



REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think it's regrettable that there was some confusion on the rollout of this.

No one wanted to see people with green cards or special immigration visas like translators get caught up in all of this. And so I think there was -- regrettably, the rollout was confusing, but on a go- forward basis, I'm confident that Secretary Kelly is going to make sure that this is done correctly, that they get a good review, and that we're going to make sure that we get this program up and running with the kind of vetting standards that we all want to see.


BALDWIN: Let me bring in Reza Aslan, religious scholar and host of CNN's new original series "BELIEVER WITH REZA ASLAN."

Reza, it is so nice to have you on. And just first we played the sound from Speaker Ryan talking about the messy rollout. What do you think?

REZA ASLAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, with all due respect to Speaker Ryan, it's just not true that no one wanted to ban green card holders.

Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller, on behalf of the president, specifically tried to ban green card holders. And indeed now "The Washington Post" is reporting that there are draft orders of other executive orders the president has yet to sign, but are circulating now, that actually takes this one step further, and is now targeting immigrants already here in the United States.

So I think it's about time that we start talking honestly about precisely what it is that the president is trying do with these executive orders. And that is to fundamentally reshape the very identity of this country.

BALDWIN: I think some of the reporters were trying to get at that in the briefing.

But I think another piece of the conversation is the global perception of what's happening here in the U.S.

Let me just read, Reza, this quote from -- this is German government's transatlantic coordinator, OK? He says: "With his choices in trade and travel policy, the new President Trump fundamentally questions what made America great, openness for people seeking protection, irrespective of their religion, openness to cross-border trade. President Trump creates uncertainty as to the future course of the U.S. and thus also with regard to the future U.S. role in the world."

ASLAN: Well, you know, the president's motto is America first. And that may have worked in the 1920s and 30s, but it doesn't work in a globalized world any longer.

We are intimately linked, not just with our allies, by the way, but even with our adversaries, in a global community, a global market. And the idea that you could make these kinds of unilateral decisions that affect the way in which that global network functions is frankly ridiculous.

BALDWIN: What about, though, the 46 percent of the country -- and I don't know if all 46 support what he is doing with this, but they supported him. They wanted him to not color within the lines. And that is precisely what he's following through on.

ASLAN: I'm glad you brought that up, Brooke, because instead of talking about semantics and whether we can believe, at this point, anything that comes out of Sean Spicer's mouth anymore, let's talk about what Trump has said to convince that 46 percent that this ban is a good idea.

He said that it keeps America safe. Well, it that were the case, then it wouldn't be almost universally repudiated by the national security community, by the military brass, by the ambassadorial services. Almost everybody who has actually studied this has said that, far from keeping Americans safe, it actually increases the threat to Americans because of the perception it has in the world and because of the propaganda value that it gives to our adversaries, particularly what it gives to ISIS.

BALDWIN: Right, which I was talking to Fawaz Gerges, very, very smart Middle Eastern policy professor over in London, and saying it is absolutely mega-propaganda and essentially putty in ISIS and also al Qaeda's hands.

Here's my other question, though, because we've been focusing so much on perhaps who isn't included in this ban and who is included is Iraq.

And you think about Iraq, right? You think about this is the U.S.' closest ally militarily. The U.S. is in a war with Iraq on our side fighting terror, fighting ISIS. And Iraqis are not allowed in the U.S.

To that point, Reza, we just got some news that Iraq will not retaliate against the travel ban. This is according to the prime minister, but that they are studying all of our options.

What do you make of that? Are they taking the high road here?

ASLAN: The Iraqi prime minister is an uncomfortable position. He needs American troops, intelligence troops, military troops, on the ground in his country in order to fight the threat of ISIS.

But we also need Iraq. We are desperate for the support of Iraqis in this global battle of terrorism that the president says he is taking so seriously.

And you're right, Brooke. It is astonishing that one of our closest allies, a country whose military is actually shoulder to shoulder with American military fighting a common enemy, has now been blacklisted in this way.

And, by the way, Iraq is not alone. Many of the countries on the banned list are countries in which we are militarily engaged with the support of the government itself.


And I think this has been said repeatedly, but let's just say it one more time. Not a single American, not one American has ever been killed on U.S. soil by a foreign national from any of these banned countries. So the notion that this is about keeping Americans safe just doesn't hold water.

BALDWIN: You are correct. Zero.

Reza Aslan, thank you very much.

ASLAN: My pleasure, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We won't miss your new original series. Congratulations, by the way. It's called "BELIEVER," which explores religions all around the world. It premieres Sunday, March 5, at 10:00 p.m. here on CNN.

We are hours away from something historic here for the Trump administration, the president announcing his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. Happens during prime time. CNN is learning the two finalists for this spot will be in Washington for that announcement.

We will talk live with an attorney who knows one of them quite well.