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Report: Senate Confirms Tillerson; Trump Makes Unannounced Visit to Honor Slain Navy SEAL; Trump Urges "Go Nuclear" If Dems Block Gorsuch. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 1, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news we're following moments ago, the full U.S. Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. The vote for the former Exxon Mobil CEO was 56 to 43. Tillerson's confirmation comes days after the Trump administration quote "cleaned the house at the State Department. Tom, thank you so much for the time.


BALDWIN: Honor is all mine. How exactly were you told by whoever above you that thanks but your service is no longer need after 35 years?

COUNTRYMAN: Well, all State Department appointees who were in positions confirmed by the Senate tendered their resignations in December, and tender means that the person receiving them can ignore it or accept it. Certainly,

all of us in these positions, career officials that is expected that eventually our resignations would be accepted. I received the news while I was traveling to a meeting with Arab officials together with colleagues from Britain and Russia in Amman, Jordan Wednesday afternoon and instead of continuing on to a similar meeting in Italy I returned immediately home, concluded by duties as of Friday afternoon, and cleaned out my desk yesterday.

BALDWIN: Was that tough for you?

COUNTRYMAN: It's very difficult to say goodbye to something that has been such a central part of my life. I feel like I broke my back working for the American people and yet still, I haven't fully paid back everything that the American people through the State Department have done for me.

BALDWIN: Wow. Well, including your post there are major holes right now within management at state. I want you to tell me since you were there and you know, what's missing, I should say now secretary Tillerson is going to walk in logistics, day today -- day today functioning, what's different.

COUNTRYMAN: There's a difference at the policy side, but does not mean that the department is paralyzed. There are thousands of public servants in the civic service and foreign service who believe sincerely the work they do every day to serve the American people and have not stopped working. We look forward to getting back Senate confirmed high quality appointees. Let me be the first to congratulate Mr. Tillerson. Everything I have heard from his folks at Exxon Mobil, everything is positive. I hope that when he is welcomed to the state department tomorrow, he'll make four important points, first, that he respects the work of the career diplomats and civil servants in the department, second, that he will ensure that their work is taken into account, their advice, their guidance in the implementation to have white house foreign policy, the formation implementation, third, that he will appoint people to have highest quality of the secretaries and secretary assistants of the department and protect employees of any threat of retribution or retaliation for the work an opinions that they share in private.

[15:35:00] BALDWIN: So, those are the four things that secretary Tillerson should do. Folding into that, he's also walking into these 900 or so diplomats, they have all this great reporting how they signed this dissent cable how they disagree with this Muslim ban. And I realize -- let me play some sound and then my question for Rex Tillerson, because Sean Spicer raised some eyebrows when he said this on Monday.

COUNTRYMAN: I think they should either get with the program or they can go. Hold on hold on. This is about the safety of America. There's a reason that the majority of Americans agree with the President. It's because they understand that that's his number one priority.

BALDWIN: On this travel ban, Sean Spicer clarified those workers are entitled to their own opinion. Here he was today.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think they should either get with the program or they can go. Hold on. Hold on. This is about the safety of American and there is a reason that the majority of Americans agree with the president. It is because they understand that that is his number one priority.


BALDWIN: So, that on this travel ban Sean Spicer clarified that those workers are entitled to their own opinions, here he was today.


SPICER: Every American has a right to speak their mind, that's one of the amazing beauties of this country, you have the ability to write what you want through the first amendment, you have the right to speak out and that's not hampered. But the point I was making then is that if you feel it's so deeply that the policy is offensive to you, you have to understand that the way our government works is elect a president. That president gets to carry through their agenda.

So, people have the right to speak out, but there's a difference between expressing dissent and concern and not implementing a lawful order as the acting attorney general did the other night. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: What should Rex Tillerson do when he walks in knowing that this what he is walking into, and I also know at State dissent is awarded. I know a dissent cable was written last June as it pertained to the Obama administration in Syria. What is he saying to these folks?

COUNTRYMAN: First, it's got to be clear that Rex Tillerson is not walking into a hostile environment. There are many who want him to succeed, to make sure that we don't suffer from foreign policy malpractice, that his leadership ensures that the President benefits from the best advice not only of what to do but how do it. So, there's no hostility towards Mr. Tillerson. Second, I welcome the comments from Mr. Spicer today which I've just seen for the first time. I think that he perhaps has not done enough after many other statements by the White House team to reassure public servants at the State Department and elsewhere that there's not going to be a list of names in retribution, yes, dissent is a practice that has been in the Department of State since 1971, this dissent channel, and it should be respected. I do regret this time around that the contents of this dissent message reached the media before they reached the secretary of acting secretary. It is essential there be a real debate and discussion how to do it and the dissent channel plays a vital role.

BALDWIN: Tom countryman, thank you for your service.

COUNTRYMAN: Thank you it's an honor to be here.

BALDWIN: We are following breaking news what is being called quote a very scary situation unquote unfolding at a Delaware prison. Guards being held hostage right now. More when we come back.


BALDWIN: We have more breaking news today. We have just learned about this unannounced trip that President Trump is making with regard to the fallen Navy SEAL. These are pictures moments ago, alongside his daughter Ivanka Trump. Jim Acosta, our White House correspondent what's going on?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is happening now as we speak. The video you're watching now, Brooke is the President leaving the White House with Ivanka Trump his daughter boarding marine one for this departure up to Dover Air Force Base for the arrival in dealing with the remains of Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens killed in the raid over the weekend. This is what they call the dignified transfer of his remains and you know what we can tell you is that the President is obviously making this his first trip. This is his first trip to Dover for such an occasion, but all of this was kept under wraps obviously for security reasons and so forth but we should have more information as it comes in.

Once we have the video or whatever video we do have from Dover we'll be able to bring that to you, but this came up during the White House briefing, Secretary Spicer was asked about this and he's been talking about Ryan Owens in the last several days and Sean Spicer I think this was a fairly touching moment during the briefing, he talked about the 12 deployments he had throughout his career and the phone call that the President made to the wife of Ryan Owens, his wife made a point of telling the President during this phone conversation that you know her husband made this sacrifice but something he enjoyed doing it was something he felt he had to do for his country.

And all along throughout all of this the White House has made it very clear that they consider this to be and operation that did result in the collection of some very important intelligence and other items that were picked up during this raid. But we should point out there was a little bit of a shift in the language, over the last hour. Over the weekend, they put out a statement calling this a successful raid and just a short while ago during the briefing, Sean Spicer said we can't call it successful if somebody was injured or lost their lives, so this is something that the President obviously wanted to do.

He was very forceful about this during the campaign. Honoring American troops, honoring the sacrifice of our armed services so it's not a big surprise that he's gone up to dover to do this today.

BALDWIN: But anyone who has ever witnessed either on TV or in person these dignified transfers to see the casket to see the President receive this man or woman in a casket draped in red, white and blue I dare anyone not to have a dry eye, so as we watch him leave there on marine one and as you pointed out the President had the phone call with chief petty officer Ryan Owen's widow. Briefly tell me a bit more about this raid over the weekend.

[15:45:00] ACOSTA: Well, it was a raid that the operations and preparations raid were being made during the Obama administration and what we understand talking to our sources this was handed over to the Trump administration because of logistical reasons so the people planning the raid were waiting for the right lighting situations the moonlight to occur and so that's when all of this went down over the weekend. President Trump did authorize this raid and during that mission from what we understand foreign members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were killed but also U.S. members wounded as well as Ryan Owens killed this operation.

There was also a technical problem used during the mission and according to our sources to be unrelated to the fire, but we're told that the daughter of the terrorist killed in a drone strike back in 2011, that his eight-year-old daughter was killed during this raid so there were civilian casualties in all of this, so it is a situation that perhaps the word successful should not be attached to it because of the loss of an American life, but as Sean Spicer said during the briefing and from what we understand talking to our sources, Brooke, there was important intelligence gathered that U.S. officials believe will pay dividends down the road.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much. The President and daughter are in route to Dover. Let's please show his picture one more time. Chief Petty Officer, William Ryan Owens, deployed 12 times, killed in Yemen.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we end up with the same gridlock that they've had in Washington for the last, longer than eight years, in all fairness to President Obama, a lot longer than eight years. If we end up with that gridlock, if you can, mitch, go nuclear because that would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was caught up in the web. So, I would say it's up to mitch, but I would say go for it.


BALDWIN: Mitch being Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 60 votes, that's what Republicans need to affirm Gorsuch. 50 Republicans in the Senate so they would have to win over eight Democrats to reach that magic number of 60. Keep this in mind. Thanks to our lovely map, you'll see ten Senate Democrats will soon face reelection battles in states where Trump decisively won. So, if the Republicans can't quite get to that 60 number, President Trump as you just heard has told Republican leaders to invoke the so-called nuclear option, ditching that 60-vote requirement, replacing it with an up or down vote which only requires 51 to confirm. Both parties have long resisted that option because it would change actually the confirmation process for future supreme court nominees. Here is what one Democratic senator told our Manu Raju.


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, SENATOR, CONNECTICUT: I believe there must be a 60-vote threshold as there has been for all of the recent supreme court nominees, including all of President Obama's nominees. Kagan and Soto Mayor both were approved by that kind of 60-vote margin. The reason is very simply. The supreme court is different. It's a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land with awesome power. And that appointment ought to be by a broad national consensus.


BALDWIN: Let's talk this over with Keith Boykin, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, and Steve Deace, syndicated radio talk show host. Gentlemen, good to have both of you on.


BALDWIN: Keith, let me begin with you. You heard Senator Blumenthal. Is it worth the fight for Democrats to go all out, this one seat would not change the balance of power?

BOYKIN: I think, Brooke, it's the principle that matters here. It was a year ago, this month when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to be a supreme court justice. The Republican party, before the nomination was even announced, decided they were going to block his nomination. And for the past 350 days or so, the Republicans refused to even hold hearings. They refused to even meet with President Obama's nominee. The idea that Donald Trump then would come in office after losing the popular vote and then suddenly the Republicans decide they want to expedite the process for a supreme court nomination, I just think that that's unprecedented and it's rewarding the Republican party's obstruction. And the Democrats should not do that.

BALDWIN: Steve, what's your response to that?

STEVE DEACE, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: I think the American people already rewarded the Republican party's obstruction in November. I think if they wanted Merrick Garland on the supreme court they would have elected Hillary Clinton, but they did not. So, they wanted Donald Trump to make those nominations instead.

[15:55:00] In fact, Brooke, when you look at the exit polling, the number two issue in 2016 were judicial appointments. It ranked only behind the economy. Trump won those voters by 15 points. I think this is following perfectly in line with what the people wanted in November.

BOYKIN: The minority of people who voted for him.

BALDWIN: Keith, I think that I hear you -- they're ticked off about the Merrick Garland thing. They have a fired-up base. You have as pointed out these ten Democratic senators in these Trump states where they're up for battle in two years. And if you're one of these Democratic senators, what would you do?

BOYKIN: Well, Brooke, I think the thing that gets ignored a lot of times when we talk about these issues for Democratic senators and members of Congress is that the base of Democrats are more likely and more enthusiastic about supporting Democrats who stand up for Democratic values. Democrats who are sort of milk toast in the middle of the road don't get the enthusiastic support that other Democrats do if they know -- if you have somebody who is going to fight for you as opposed to somebody who is going to give up and abandon ship every time there is a little bit of a controversy, Democrats will support the person who will fight for them. I think there is a reward for those Democratic senators who decide to stand up and do the right thing and not to reward the Republican party's obstruction of Merrick Garland.

BALDWIN: Okay. Steve, we've talked before and if memory serves you weren't exactly the biggest Trump fan. With all of this in the bloodstream, do you think that this will further unite the Republican party?

DEACE: I don't think there is any question about it. You know, I have to kind of smile. Democrats do this very well. Brooke, this is all masterpiece theater. This is all political theater. They don't have the political capital to fight this. This is really a warm up for what's to come. The real fight will be when begins berg and/or Kennedy retire because that's your fifth vote against Rowe potentially. That will be the real fight. Gorsuch is going to have a fake fight and will ultimately be confirmed, I predict, and it won't require a nuclear option. For goodness sakes, Brooke, Obama's former solicitor general endorsed him. I saw a leftist personality, she called him, quote, mainstream. That has me rethinking my own thoughts of Neil Gorsuch, for goodness sake.

BOYKIN: I went to law school with him. I don't think he's main stream. He's conservative. Analysts have shown he would be more conservative than Antonin Scalia has been.

BALDWIN: That make you feel better?

DEACE: My beating heart.

BOYKIN: I think that's good for you, but that's not what the American people who voted against Donald Trump, I don't think that's what they wanted. And I think it still --

DEACE: May not be the majority in California that voted against Donald Trump.

BOYKIN: Don't get into the conspiracy theories. It's still unfair that the Republicans are crying crocodile tears. People like John McCain and Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell who did everything they could to obstruct President Obama's lawful nomination, and now suddenly they're upset that the Democrats simply want to hold them accountable and hold them to the same standard they did for Merrick Garland. This cannot continue this way and the Republican party has an obligation to present a compromise candidate. Donald Trump who lost the majority of the vote should have presented a compromise candidate, not some conservative ideologue.

BALDWIN: Steve, thank you. We'll see how big of a fight this is. Coming up, let's talk about this prison hostage situation here in Delaware. Apparently, inmates have taken some correctional officers hostage. We have an update on what's happening there next.

All right. Here's the breaking news. Out of Smyrna, Delaware, 90 miles west of our nation's capital, this frightening situation is unfolding. Police are responding to the James T. Vaughn correctional center where we're told correctional officers are now being held hostage. Now, officials won't say how many officers are being held, but they are calling it, quote, a very scary situation. As a precaution, all level five prisons in the state are on lock down there. Updates as we get them here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you always for being with me. In Washington, "The Lead" with Jake Tapper starts now.