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Trump Names SCOTUS Pick, Dems Signal Another Battle; Cabinet Confirmation Battles Boil Over. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired February 1, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The qualifications of Judge Gorsuch are beyond dispute.
[05:58:41] SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: He may be coming with an agenda that's out of the mainstream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one that is not a place that people should fight over.
MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Democrats are delaying confirmation votes for President Trump's cabinet.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The White House has been untruthful and, at times, un-American.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's also make it very clear this is not a Muslim ban.
TRUMP: We're going to have a very, very strict ban.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Nine hundred diplomats sent him a letter saying, "You're making a mistake."
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Regrettably, the rollout was confusing.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The only chaos we have is because of Senate Democrats.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, February 1, 6 a.m. here in New York.
President Trump introducing his pick for the Supreme Court, Colorado appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch in a primetime event from the East Wing. Republicans applauding the 49-year-old conservative. Democrats vowing to challenge Gorsuch, as they are challenging Mr. Trump's cabinet picks, calling this choice, quote, "hostile." CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He'd be the youngest, on the court, by the
way, since Clarence Thomas. So that's an interesting part of history he gets through.
Now, the primetime event was hoped to distract from the travel ban debacle, but it won't work. The White House insisting it's not even really a ban, even though they keep calling it a ban.
Now hundreds of State Department diplomats are calling it wrong- headed, as well, insisting the highly-charged executive order, will make America less safe. We're entering day 13 of Donald Trump's presidency. We have every angle covered, starting with CNN's Jeff Zeleny live at the White House -- Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. There are fewer bigger decisions that a president can make than appointing justice to the Supreme Court. Well, this judge, Neil Gorsuch, will be on Capitol Hill this morning, meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He'll be escorted by former New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte. She will shepherding this whole process on Capitol Hill.
And Chris, this confirmation battle will be a tough one.
TRUMP: Here they come. Here they come.
ZELENY (voice-over): In a primetime reveal, President Trump unveiling Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to the Supreme Court.
TRUMP: I only hope that both Democrats and Republicans can come together for once for the good of the country.
JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: As this process now moves to the Senate, I look forward with speaking with members from both sides of the aisle.
ZELENY: Setting up a battle between Senate Republicans...
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I think it was an absolute home run.
ZELENY: ... and Democrats, who are vowing a confirmation fight after President Obama's nominee to fill the seat of the late Justice Anthony Scalia was blocked for ten months.
BLUMENTHAL: If I conclude that he is out of the mainstream on issues like privacy rights, including women's health care and Roe v. Wade, or worker and consumer protection, I will use everything at my disposal to block his nomination.
ZELENY: For the White House, it's a chance to turn the spotlight from the growing backlash over the president's executive order on immigration and refugees. The fall out continuing, with more than 900 State Department diplomats signing a memo of dissent against the travel ban. House Speaker Paul Ryan admitting the rollout was unusually rough.
RYAN: 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.
ZELENY: Ryan speaking about Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who is in charge of implementing the action. An action he defended, despite chaotic scenes and flip-flopping on green card holders.
JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We knew it was coming. It wasn't a surprise it was coming. And then we implemented it.
ZELENY: Meantime, the White House is trying to reframe the order.
SPICER: It is by nature not a ban. It is extreme vetting.
ZELENY: Ban is exactly how the president and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, describe the action.
TRUMP: We're going to have a very, very strict ban.
SPICER: It's a 90-day ban.
The ban deals with 7 countries.
ZELENY: Pressed on the point, Spicer provided no clarity, instead taking aim at a familiar target.
SPICER: No, I'm not confused. I think those are the words that are being used to describe it are derived from what the media is calling this.
ZELENY: Despite legal challenges and protests, the administration is signaling it has no plans to change the order. Three high-ranking Republican senators saying they were told the White House will not be rewriting its controversial travel ban.
ZELENY: Now, speaking of protests, there are protests that were planned in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That is where the president was scheduled to go tomorrow to give an economic address. Scheduled to speak at the Harley-Davidson plant there, but that -- that trip is not on the schedule anymore. It was abruptly cancelled because of those protests.
But Chris, one thing that will unify Republicans more than anything else is the Supreme Court nominee. Watch for that to start happening as soon as he hits Capitol Hill later this morning.
CUOMO: All right, Jeff, appreciate it.
It was interesting to see Ryan there, acting like the Democrats did during the Obamacare rollout, where it was just about the rollout being weird and not the law itself. Obviously, it wasn't true in either case.
Let's bring in our panel to talk about these big events. We've got CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich; CNN political commentator and senior columnist for "The Daily Beast," Matt Lewis; CNN political analyst David Gregory; and CNN Supreme Court analyst and Supreme Court biographer Joan Biskupic.
Joan, I start with you. I have bags under my eyes, because I was reading Gorsuch opinions. And the good news is, for anybody else who wants to, there aren't that many that go to hot-bed issues that may come up before the court. But what is your read on him?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, they're well-written, aren't they, Chris? I mean, they're actually a delight to read, but I'll tell you one thing about the fact that he's such a -- he's so handy with rhetoric is that this is a man who is clearly a win for President Trump at this point. But I think for Democrats and their liberal allies it's sort of a setback in two ways because he is so effective.
He's got the kind of background that will make him not just a conservative vote to replace Justice Scalia's, but he's got a broader intellectual approach as Justice Scalia did. I actually do not think there's going to be a battle royale over him. I think that there -- there might even be a strong handful of Senate Democrats who break off, only because his record isn't super controversial on the hot- button issues that you were referring to when you're thinking about those opinions. He has not written yet on abortion extensively. He has not written yet on, you know, gay rights extensively. Death penalty.
All those -- all those issues that are more accessible to the public. He has it, but what he's done is he's taken a narrow approach to federal regulators and how they can protect consumers and aggrieved workers. And those things don't translate as well for his opponents.
CAMEROTA: So Jackie, Democrats have to choose their battles wisely. What is their strategy?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're going to demand 60 votes, four courses.
CUOMO: Not going to listen to Ted Cruz?
KUCINICH: So weird, right? No, they're base -- they're under so much pressure from their base to not only take vengeance for Merrick Garland but also who was blocked, of course, but also to resist President Trump at every turn. They got heat for confirming General Kelly and General Mattis for their positions. So they're not going to go quietly.
Will it end up -- will Gorsuch end up a Supreme Court justice? Probably. But they're going to make a big show about opposing him, for sure. CUOMO: David Gregory, you live with a brilliant lawyer yourself.
This debate politically is, if you go all in on Gorsuch who got a full pass. It is -- now, things change. He wrote a decision as an appellate judge that people who confirmed him initially wouldn't have known about. You know, he may have taken a direction that Americans weren't aware of. But he walked through on an oral vote his last time. How much momentum does that put in his favor?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, so did Merrick Garland, when he got onto the D.C. Circuit, and he was blocked. And I think Jackie is exactly right. Democrats don't want to just, you know, have some kind of bipartisan fever here after what was an obstructionist move by any measure.
As I've mentioned, Judge Garland is a close friend of mine, and I think the Supreme Court is poor for not having him on it. But also, the manner in which it was done leaves Democrats really wanting to fight.
But look, this is someone who's extremely qualified, Judge Gorsuch. What's happening here is a very strong moment for President Trump, a strong leadership moment. He made a promise to conservatives. He's kept that promise right out of the box. The rollout was done very effectively. And he's got a very qualified nominee.
And what's more: just like in the campaign, what the president benefitted from was conservatives coming home. A lot of conservatives came home in anticipation of last night. Did they get a conservative nominee to the Supreme Court?
Now you're going to get an ideological battle, which suits the president very well, because it helps him unite his party, which is not united because of Russia, because of the travel ban and other things. This is a good old-fashioned ideological fight about the high court, which the White House is happy to have.
CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the travel ban. You heard in Jeff Zeleny's piece there, they're changing their lingo. You heard Sean Spicer trying to do sort of verbal backbends: It's not a travel ban, but he said it is a travel ban. The president says it's a travel ban. So it's a travel ban. What else do you call it when you block people from 7 countries from coming in? b=
But I think that the largest question, so we don't get bogged down in semantics, is what does this tell us about the inner workings of the White House, that they're trying to do all of this backpedaling?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think I'm a little more sympathetic with them on this one. The problem is people -- the lingo is "Muslim ban." And so there are really two problems with that. One is, obviously, it doesn't ban all Muslims. People come in from a lot of other countries, other than these seven that are affected by the...
CAMEROTA: They changed it from Muslim ban to travel ban. LEWIS: The second part is a ban, I think, suggests that it's
indefinite. And we know that, in most cases, this is 90 days to 120 days.
So look, it's easier to say "ban." Ban is shorter. If you're tweeting something, "ban" is easier to tweet than, you know, a temporary pause or whatever. The Trump administration is guilty of helping propagate and perpetuate this language, because they're imprecise in their language. But now that they're pushing back, I mean, I think they actually do have a point. When you call it a ban, it suggests that it's indefinite.
CAMEROTA: Well, as Jackie just pointed out, for Syria refugees, it is indefinite.
LEWIS: That's true. It's fair to say that. That would be more precise, but the other six countries, it is not indefinite.
CUOMO: Except we know what's going on here. Ban is biting them in the behind right now, so they're trying to change it to be something else to make it seem more about extreme vetting and putting the procedures in place. But when they wanted the political capital of seeming harsh on Muslims, they called it that. And when they wanted political capital, making it seem that they were taking a strong move, they called it that. It backfired. Now they're trying to call it something else. You don't get your own facts in this business. The facts are the facts.
[06:10:21] Let's play Sean Spicer. Just so everybody understands at home, this isn't about the media twisting what it is. This is what they've called it from the beginning. Play the different pieces of sound. Here's Sean Spicer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: It can't be a ban if you're letting a million people in. Three hundred and twenty-five thousand people from another country can't come in. That is, by nature, not a ban.
It's a 90-day ban to ensure that we have further vetting restrictions so we know who is coming into this country. The safety of the American citizen, the safety of our country has got to be paramount.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: If you say, well, he's just a mouthpiece, and it's really about what the president wants, listen to President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We're going to have a very, very strict ban, and we're going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: Then, when we were talking about it on the show and criticizing what it means if it's a ban and what it means to security, they started tweeting about our show. And here's what he tweeted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: "If the ban were announced within one week notice, the 'bad' would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad 'dudes' out there."
He calls it a ban and then makes a point, David Gregory, which is just demonstrably untrue, because the idea of notice providing for a flood of bad dudes would mean that there's no vetting in place; and that's not the case. Especially with refugees, you have the most strict vetting that is applied to anyone gaining access to our country.
GREGORY: And I think that's a really critical point, because the feel-good aspect for Trump supporters of this executive order is that "Oh, you know, we've stopped all these terrorists from coming in. And, you know, heretofore, they were rushing into the country. Not the case. Simply not accurate. There's all this vetting that goes on.
So, you know, there's layers of problems that this executive order, the question about whether parts of it or all of it might be unconstitutional. That will be challenged in the courts.
There's the implementation, where it was -- you've heard from people across the board, from governors to members of Congress and even from administration cabinet officials, that was hastily put together.
And then there's the insult factor for people who have to go through this. You can say it's not a Muslim ban. It certainly affects a lot of Muslims. And they are humiliated by this. The reverberations around the world, and how about the fact that it may not start here, that there's a view within the White House that this is just the beginning, that we want to really recast who should be able to come into America at a fear that if you let more and more immigrants in who can't assimilate into America, you could have a kind of European-like terror threat, because you've got subgroups that wouldn't be part of majority populations. So lots to chew on.
CAMEROTA: All right, panel. Stick around, if you would. We want to talk about the cabinet votes that may be happening, or may not, today. So stick around, please.
Cabinet gridlock at the moment on Capitol Hill. Outnumbered Democrats are holding up votes for several of President Trump's key nominees. So how long can that last? Our panel discusses next.
[06:17:12] CUOMO: Bitter confirmation battle bubbling over on Capitol Hill. It's not just a bunch of buzz. Democrats are blocking confirmation votes for Trump cabinet nominees but why? Republicans did manage to push through Education Secretary Betsy
DeVos. She was accused of plagiarizing part of her Senate questionnaires. How much of this is politics and how much is it going to play ultimately.
Let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, live for us on Capitol Hill. What do you see?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To give you a sense of just how intent it is you have a noncontroversial nominee, Elaine Chao, yes, being confirmed by the whole Senate last night for transportation secretary.
But you had six Democrats, including very notably the Senate Democratic minority leader, Chuck Schumer voting against her. And then you also have the Democratic boycott of two of Donald Trump's nominees: Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary and Tom Price for Health and Human Services secretary.
Democrats say they just need more information. They feel misled, they say, by certain things both these nominees. The Republicans here are crying foul. They say Democrats very well understand that they really can't do anything to fully stop any of these nominees, and they're just trying to slow down and delay the process.
Here's Chairman Hatch reacting to that boycott yesterday in his committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: They ought to be embarrassed. It's the most pathetic treatment I've seen in my years in the United States Senate.
They are idiots. Anybody that would do something like that. It's a complete breach of decorum. It's a complete breach of committee rules. And it's a complete breach of just getting around here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: It's very likely that we'll see Rex Tillerson being confirmed by the full Senate for secretary of state and also attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions after Democrats dragged that out again. Today he very likely will face a committee vote in the Senate Judiciary.
CAMEROTA: OK, Sunlen. Thank you very much for all of that background. Let's bring back our panel to discuss it. Jackie Kucinich, Matt Lewis, and David Gregory.
So David, is this payback for -- I mean, you heard Orrin Hatch there say,, "I've never seen anything like this in all of my years." Well, Merrick Garland they didn't even want to -- they refused to vote on for 11 months. Is this Democratic payback where they're boycotting, now, these votes or what's happening? GREGORY: Yes. Look, there's nothing harder to listen to than self-
righteousness on Capitol Hill, you know, from one side or the other. This is a real blood sport, and it leaves a lot of Americans disgusted with Washington. And you see that play out on social media when you get into these fights.
[06:20:04] But I think Democrats are in the middle of a strategic choice about how they want to handle the Trump years. Whether they want to imitate what Republicans did which is really stand in the way, they argued on principle. But they did obstruct the Obama administration.
And now there's a tremendous reservoir of energy from progressives in this country who want Democrats to respond in kind and play just as tough. There's limits to what they can do be it on a filibuster or denying nominees but I think they're in the middle of an entrenched battle of figuring out how far they want to go in their opposition.
CUOMO: I mean, some Democrats are arguing, Jackie, that they have more leverage than the Republicans did during their opposition, because the Republicans were purely political. But they have high ground when it comes to the executive order, but they're not applying it to the executive order. They're applying it to these confirmation points. What do you make of that argument, coupled with what we heard from Senator Angus King yesterday, who said he's going to vote for Tillerson, because watching what happened with the executive order, Trump needs a secretary of state who will give him independent thought.
CAMEROTA: But not Sessions, he said.
CUOMO: Not -- not Sessions. Right. Although it would be interesting to see Sessions. I want the Democrats to show up at the hearing, because I want to hear Sessions answer the question that he asked Sally Yates about what do you do if the president asks you to defend something that's unlawful? Because he was so righteous then. I wonder how he is now. But how is this playing out in terms of what leverage Democrats perceive versus what they have?
JACKIE KUCINICH, ANN POLITICAL ANALYST: Democrats are going to use whatever they possibly can to beat Republicans over the head and to delay these nominees. It's because they are so in the minority they really do -- they really do need every piece they can get.
And David's right. They do have sort of switched the talking points, which the Senate -- the Senate flipped. But the people that are going to be interesting to watch throughout this entire process are the red state Democrats. Democrats from states that Trump won, because they're the ones that are going to be pulled in every direction. And there are a couple of Republicans, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins. She said yesterday that she was getting tons of calls from her constituents about Betsy DeVos. And who are very concerned about her.
So when you see sort of these modern -- these senators that are in the middle, they're going to be the ones to watch. They're going to be the deciders, really, at the end of the day. CAMEROTA: Matt Lewis, Betsy DeVos is facing plagiarism charges. Lawmakers had posed something like a thousand questions to her they wanted answered about her education -- her opinions of education, her agenda. And some of the answers seemed cribbed directly verbatim from other places.
So what do you think is going to happen on Capitol Hill with Jeff Sessions, with Betsy DeVos? Is turnabout fair play, now that the Democrats are in a position to try to obstruct?
LEWIS: Well, she'll be confirmed. And I think at this point I think all of these nominees will be confirmed. Democrats just don't have the leverage. They can try to, you now, make a stand for their base, show that they're tough. At the end of the day, they don't have the leverage to really stop anything. And so that's what it comes down to.
Of course both sides are now playing politics. I don't think either side has the moral high ground. You know, look, it's ja different time. There was a time when people went to dinner together; and Republicans and Democrats their families knew each other; and there were more moderate, you know, Democrats and moderate Republicans. The polarization has changed the world. And this is the new normal. It's going to be fighting over things people in power will say one thing. When they're out of power they'll make the other argument.
CUOMO: Well, if it's still true that tone starts at the top, it's going to stay this way for a while, because there's nobody who favors disruption the way our current president does. David.
GREGORY: Yes, I think that's exactly right. And I think that both sides are going to dig in, because of the tone of the White House, which is not promising to bring people together. As Jackie said, watch these red state Democrats. The Democrats are really working now for the midterms and trying to claw back power. And that's where a lot of the energy is.
These red state Democrats who are up in the Senate are the ones who are already going to be targeted on Neil Gorsuch, on Judge Gorsuch. There will be ads going up in their states, saying you've to vote for this guy. So that's why the vote on this pick will be very interesting.
CAMEROTA: There's something interesting happening, and that is the protest or, I should say, the dissent that we have seen already to the Trump administration. We see it publicly in terms of the protests in New York and Washington, D.C., and around the country. And then there's this underground level of dissent that we read about.
So "The Washington Post" has a piece today, and they talked about -- yesterday, I should say. They talk about this, about federal workers pushing back: "Less than two weeks into Trump's administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president's initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make. The resistance is so early, so widespread and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis and overt refusals by workers to do their jobs."
[06:25:31] Jackie, where does that leave us?
KUCINICH: This is why there's sort of -- this is why America is not a business. Trump just can't rule and crack down on all of these workers in all parts of the federal government. It doesn't work that way. You do need to foster some sort of good will, because it's a complicated bureaucracy out there; and they can make your life very hard.
GREGORY: I should point out, it's a partisan bureaucracy. I know a lot of people in the Justice Department there's some you view, you know, say Sessions is a good law and order guy on criminal stuff. But these are a lot of liberals who are in the department who lashed out against Bush, as well. The FBI has a lot of conservatives in it. I mean, that's the thing about the bureaucracies in Washington.
CUOMO: And also, Matt, this is one of the things that the election spoke to most clearly, is that people who came out for Trump and people who are coming out for Bernie Sanders don't like the status quo. And I don't know that these federal workers will have a very sympathetic year with their fellow Americans. What's your take?
LEWIS: No, I think that's right. And I think this partly explains why the Trump administration is purging people who -- who don't agree with their world view. I mean, it's a rational decision. We have people on the inside actively working against you.
And I say, look, Donald Trump is a very unique figure. He has some unique problems. There's no doubt about that. But I wonder if Marco Rubio were the Republican president, as ironic (ph) and thoughtful and as much as he would probably try to do more outreach and be a kinder, gentler conservative, how much of this stuff would still be going on? In other words, how much of this is a sign of the times, not of Donald Trump's being outside the mainstream?
CAMEROTA: All right, panel. Thank you very much for all of the insights. Great to talk to you.
So the Trump administration is moving to complete the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline, and a Native American group is threatening to sue to stop it. We have the latest on this high-stakes environmental battle, next.