Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Trump Slams Judges As They Decide Fate Of Travel Ban; Democratic Senators Reading Letter That Got Warren Silenced; GOP's Effort To Silence Elizabeth Warren Backfires; Rahm Emanuel: Democrats Don't Care Enough About Winning. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- just moments ago putting the bench on notice, speaking out about the legal challenge to his travel ban and calling out the federal judges who are right now still deciding how they're going to rule on this case. The president using fear as his defense in part, saying that the nation's national security is at risk. Also using a bit of ridicule, saying even a bad high school student would understand the law is on his side then he also said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't ever want to call a court biased so I won't call it biased and we haven't had a decision yet, but courts seem to be so political. And it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what's right, and that has to do with the security of our country, which is so important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The president making these remarks to sheriffs gathered in Washington today. Joining me now is CNN's senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, and also CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Joe, to you first, I mean, the court hasn't even yet decided on this case and the president is weighing in and criticizing these judges.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Pretty remarkable, Kate, I'd say. Look, this is yet another break in tradition for this new president and new administration. In the past, many presidents have shied away from publicly commenting on active litigation for fear of seeming to try to influence the decision and reasoning of courts.

That is not what Donald Trump did today. In fact, he went all in, talking about this case that is still being decided by the Ninth Appeals Court out on the west coast. And he even suggested there is a whiff of politics. First on Twitter this morning, and then later before a law enforcement conference at a hotel just up the street. Listen.

So we don't have that sound. But I think the significant point, again, Kate, is Donald Trump once again breaking from tradition on the key issue of this case, which is still being decided out on the west coast.

A decision could come today, it could come tomorrow. Of course, the big question is whether his travel ban will stay in place until the merits of the case get decided -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Joe, thank you so much, that's the view from the White House right now. So where do things stand exactly with this case at the moment? Justice correspondent, Pamela Brown is joining me right now. So Pamela, a lot of attention on that conference call hearing last night. What's the likely timing now for a decision?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, it's really unusual for so many people to be paying such close attention to a phone conference on the Ninth Circuit. But what's given the high stakes with this case, that's exactly what happened. So we expect a decision to come out this week according to the court.

And the Justice Department's attorney spent a lot of time in the oral arguments yesterday on the argument that the states did not had the legal right to bring the lawsuit because many of the people impacted by the travel van had never been to the U.S., and therefore should not be constitutionally protected.

They also made the case that the president and Congress have wide discretion and manage immigration particularly in national security matters, which was what we've been hearing from President Trump. This is about national security. This is about what he's learned in the couple of weeks when it comes to terrorism.

And then on the other hand, the states argue the travel ban harms their citizens and violates the establishment clause in the Constitution's First Amendment because it discriminates against Muslims, pointing to comments that President Trump and his surrogates have made in the last several months, including the idea of a Muslim ban.

But Kate, it is clear that the judges were very fiery yesterday and certainly put the lawyers on their heels right out of the gate. They peppered the Justice Department lawyer about his claims, so much so that at times he fumbled over some of his words and toward the end of his argument, he actually conceded. He didn't think he was convincing the court.

So looking ahead as I pointed out, we expect a decision this week, Kate, but the losing side will likely appeal to the Supreme Court, and what's interesting there, if it's a 4-4 split at the Supreme Court, the circuit court's decision would stand, which is why the world is watching what this appeals court does in the next few days -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, why this really matters, its' not just one step, it could be the final step, depending on how it plays out if and when it goes to the Supreme Court. Great to see you, Pamela. Thanks so much. We'll come back to you at any moment, we may be getting the final decision from the Ninth Circuit.

So let's take a deeper dive into this right now and bring in with me CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, constitutional law professor, Gloria Browne-Marshall, and CNN political director, David Chalian.

David, to you, first, on the politics entering the legal realm element of this, the president weighing in in front of a group of sheriffs, association of sheriffs that he was speaking before, weighing in on this case, reading the statute that he believes basically is his defense, and states that the law is on his side.

[11:05:12]But the fact that he's even weighing in so publicly while these judges are still deciding what to do with this case, how to rule in this case, is wild.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. Wild and Trumpian I think in many ways. This is behavior that we've seen, sort of how he deals with the courts in his private business, when he would be in legal battles.

Kate, you are right to note, though, he is making the case that he believes he's right on the merits. And you know, I think as we saw let's say with President Obama during -- as Obamacare was making its way through the courts and being adjudicated.

But President Obama would sort of stick to the merits of the laws and why he thinks he'll be successful. That is different than Donald Trump who is now questioning these judges' motives and veering into this notion that, you know, we have three co-equal branches, if the executive believes he can sort of batter down the judiciary and enter them into the political fray in this way that does not show a full respect for the separation of powers.

It's one thing to argue your case for your executive order on the merits. It's another thing to go in and suggest that the court is playing politics with your order.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's exactly right. Jeffrey, he was -- the president was careful with his words, to an extent.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: He was?

BOLDUAN: Give me a moment. And then he said this, "I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't," going on to say, but the court seems to be so political, it would be so great for our system if they would just do what's right." Is he trying to pressure the court or is he trying to manage expectations? What do you think?

TOOBIN: Boy. You're asking me to read Donald Trump's mind and that's a tall order. I think he's being Donald Trump. I think he's attacking people who are potentially on the other side. I'm not sure I can articulate or understand exactly what the motivation is here.

But why did he say Judge Curiel, in his civil fraud case, back during the campaign, couldn't sit in his case because he was of Mexican ancestry? Was he trying to -- what was he doing there? This is how he fights. He fights by attacking the motives of his opponents. BOLDUAN: On some level you're exactly right, this is not new, we have seen this is Candidate Trump. It is something very different when it is not a candidate, it is a president who is talking about how his Justice Department and an executive order that impacts so many people.

That's the difference here. But what impact, if you see it as a threat, if you see it as a warning, if you see it as trying to pressure these judges, what impact does the president's words today have on the three-judge panel board?

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: You've clerked for a justice. I've clerked for a federal court judge as well as a state court judge. They're human beings. They watch the news. It's not that it's going to change their minds, but it does affect them as human beings.

And I think -- it also is something when you think about Donald Trump and his idea that he was voted in because he knows how to negotiate, maybe that's what he thinks this is, because to him, everything is a negotiation. If he pushes, they push back, fine, he gets what he wants, great, but I think this is how he operates.

TOOBIN: It is worth remembering, these federal judges like all federal judges have life tenure. So Donald Trump can say whatever he wants, these judges are going to remain on the Ninth Circuit regardless of what happens in this case.

But I think Gloria is right, as human beings, you know, they follow the news, and, you know, the potential for being intimidated is there, especially in a case that involves national security.

BOLDUAN: Right.

TOOBIN: I mean, you know, basically he has said from the word "go" in this case, is that if there is a terrorist attack, it's going to be the fault of this judge.

BOLDUAN: Blame the judges -- he didn't mince any words when saying about the district court judge.

TOOBIN: That's a heavy thing to lance.

BOLDUAN: David, with the president weighing in like this, does the president think he's on the losing end of this?

CHALIAN: Well, it certainly doesn't sound like he's boasting confidence about where this is standing in the courts right now. So I do think, you know, there is a little bit of concern. Initially I don't think the White House was planning on commenting on this until there was an actual ruling.

Donald Trump clearly wanted to weigh in. It seems to me, you've seen a lot of public polling out there. We know Donald Trump consumes a lot of that, but where the country stands and they're split, though, you know, with a slim majority opposed to this order.

I think Donald Trump is on a mission to rally the country to his argument in his side here.

BOLDUAN: So Donald Trump played lawyer today. You guys get to play the judge on this one. What we heard in that conference call last night, in that conference call in that hearing.

[11:10:04] If the appeals court, Jeffrey, if the circuit court removes the hold on the travel ban, essentially President Trump wins, why did they win?

TOOBIN: If they rule that way, the appeals court will say, look, this is an exercise of presidential power in that presidents are uniquely responsible for the national security of the country, for the protection of the borders, and they are the only people in our government who have the information available to them to make sound decisions about immigration.

They will also say that this is not anti-religious discrimination, this is simply the application of national security immigration policy like presidents have done historically. That's the argument that will win, if they win.

BOLDUAN: So if the other side wins, if Washington State wins and the hold on the ban sticks, why did they win then, Gloria?

BROWNE-MARSHALL: Because Donald Trump has already shown as candidate and even as president that he has a disdain for Muslims in these particular circumstances. He favors Christians in his executive order when he talks about religious minorities.

And that it was a part of bad faith on his part in his argument that it has nothing to do with religion. Also you have to look at the fact that the judges -- asked the Justice Department attorney what deference the president should be used in this case.

And the Justice Department attorney said he should be given deference in everything. There should be no question as to the information that he has relevant to the terror that we are all supposed to be under, that he knows best and therefore we're going to stand back and let the Justice Department win.

My concern is this, we don't know what information he receives on a daily basis in his security intel meetings. Are we supposed to always just assume that that information is going to allow him to do whatever he wants to do as long as he says I'm president, I'm trying to protect the country? That's a major issue here.

BOLDUAN: Where is the limit of presidential power is a question that has endured.

TOOBIN: Through all of American history.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

TOOBIN: And where a presidential power is at its greatest is foreign policy, national security. BOLDUAN: All right, everyone, stay close. We're waiting for that decision to come down. David, great to see you. Jeffrey, Gloria, thank you as well.

All right, no regrets, that's what Republicans are saying this morning after very publicly cutting off Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor last night. Did they make it worse or better?

And take a chill pill that's the blunt message from one Democrat to his party just as the party tries to reconnect with working class Americans.

And guess who is looking to rent space in Trump Tower now and what does it have to do with the nuclear football? We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:16:46]

BOLDUAN: President Trump inviting several Democratic senators to lunch tomorrow to talk policy and judges. That should be interesting. One senator definitely not getting an invite, at least right now, Elizabeth Warren.

The Massachusetts Democrat and vocal Trump critic cut off and punished by Republican senators during last night's debate over attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, a fellow senator.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invoked a relatively obscure Senate rule that prohibits impugning another senator to shut Elizabeth Warren down. Warren was reading a letter critical of Sessions that was written years ago by Martin Luther King's widow, Coretta Scott King.

CNN's senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is live on Capitol Hill with the very latest. Manu, it sure appears that this is not over. How did this all go down?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, last night on the floor, Democrats planned to stage an all-night session raising concerns about Jeff Sessions' nomination. They do not have the votes to stop him from getting confirmed tonight, but they started to object in strong terms.

Elizabeth Warren reading that letter that you referenced, Kate, that suggested at the time, during when Sessions was nominated as a federal judge and didn't get confirmed by the Senate, that he was unfair to black voters while working in the Attorney General's Office in Alabama.

Now, there was a rule in the Senate that does not allow senators to impugn the integrity of fellow senators and Jeff Sessions is still a senator until he gets confirmed tonight. So Republicans were watching this on the floor and decided to say that Warren was in violation of this rule.

After warning her multiple times, she carried forward, they ruled in favor -- the Senate tried to overturn the ruling of the chair, that she did violate this rule. They failed to do that and she could not speak any longer.

Now today, other Democrats have started to read from that letter, but they have not been silenced including Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, who went to the floor just moments ago to read from that same letter and he was able to do that.

I had a chance to talk to him about it and ask him about his concern about the level of discourse in the Senate right now. Here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: I hate all of this. I would much rather be getting things done for people back home, but this is an issue where you're putting someone in charge at the Justice Department of civil rights, of consumer protection, very, very important issues. And Coretta Scott King has something to say. So we read her words on the floor so that everybody knows what she has to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Republicans say that there was a different situation between Udall and Warren last night. Udall was not warned several times, his tone was much different, they say, than what Elizabeth Warren's rather aggressive attacks against Jeff Sessions last night.

And I asked the Republicans today, are you concerned about giving Democrats an opening here that they otherwise would not have had? They said absolutely not, they had to come to the defense of their fellow senator.

They believe Democrats have been over the line, including Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican, who I just spoke with. I asked him about that and he said, look, in the short term, perhaps this is good for Elizabeth Warren.

But he thinks in the long term, it's important to enforce Senate rules so there is some level of decorum. Suffice it to say, Kate, this fight is not over quite yet.

[11:20:02]BOLDUAN: Right, but real quick, rules are rules, and Republicans can invoke the rule, but if they are going to invoke the rule, why not invoke the rule across the board in a uniform manner? They're reading from the same letter. I don't understand.

RAJU: That is what we are trying to get an answer to earlier this morning. Republican leadership aides say it required someone to be on the floor and to be aware of what was happening when Tom Udall read the letter this morning.

They said that it was not something they were prepared to do at that moment, to raise an objection. Last night, however, they were monitoring the floor like a hawk, and they noticed Elizabeth Warren making these rather aggressive statements. Her tone, they say, was a lot different than Udall, who say lot more reserved, in some ways, than Elizabeth Warren is. That's their line of argument. It does open them up to some criticism of not being consistent on this matter.

It's one reason why a lot of times Republicans and Democrats try not to invoke this rule because it opens them up to this line of criticism -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, a scheduling conflict is why they couldn't invoke the rule this time. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But I know you'll try to find some more answers for us, Manu, and I love it. Thank you.

Joining me now, two Democratic Congressmen, Brendan Boyle, the Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Marc Veasey from Texas is joining me now. Gentlemen, great to have you here.

Congressman Veasey, when you saw this play out in the Senate chamber last night, what was your reaction?

REP. MARC VEASEY (D), TEXAS: I thought that it was sad that Mitch McConnell and the Republicans would use censorship in order to not let the American public hear a letter that Coretta Scott King wrote about Sessions when she was alive, and let the contents be heard, let the American public make their mind up, trying to censor people in the U.S. Senate I think is really bad precedent.

BOLDUAN: But Congressman Boyle, I heard from Republican Senator John Thune say today that what last night was all about 20/20 politics. There is a whole lot of theater that goes on in both chambers on the floor. Let's all just be honest about that. Was last night about politics? Was there a healthy dose of that? Can you admit that?

REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: If last night was about 20/20 politics, then I guess, Mitch McConnell is supporting Elizabeth Warren for president, because he just gave her an incredible assist last night. He also made sure that a letter that might have gone unnoticed, everyone is talking about, including ourselves this morning.

So I think actually it was quite a bad mistake on Mitch McConnell's part. It is also disturbing, beyond the politics of it, it does show the kind of toxic climate that exists here in the House and in the Senate. And that's something we should all be concerned about as Americans.

BOLDUAN: And won't be going away anytime soon, I can almost guarantee you that, even though I'm not in the halls with you there right now. All right, so Republicans clearly feel very differently and very much support Mitch McConnell's move there last night.

But let's move on to why you two are standing there today. You are doing something new. Pulling together a new group of lawmakers to form the blue collar caucus. You want to reach out to win over working class Americans. When I heard that, I thought, Republicans are putting together this group that makes sense. But Democrats needing to reach out to working class voters that says something. What went wrong, Congressman Boyle?

BOYLE: Well, I mean, it shows the challenge we have right now, that what had always been the base of the Democratic Party certainly since Franklin Roosevelt is frankly no longer in our base. And that's -- Mark and I are friends, we've been talking about these issues for years.

For both of us back home, he in Texas, me in Philadelphia, blue collar working class Americans of all races, all backgrounds, are a big part of our voter base. The fact that we lost them by such a large margin this election is why we lost Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and ultimately why we lost the White House.

It's not just this past presidential election. Over the last six years, we have lost over a thousand state legislative seats and about 70 U.S. House seats. So if we don't do better among -- and do a better job of connecting with blue collar Americans, we'll continue to be in the minority, that's just a fact.

BOLDUAN: Right. But Congressman Veasey, how do you win back this message? When you've President Trump, as you guys acknowledged, he ran on it, he won on it, and he's all over this, he had labor leaders at the White House basically on day one.

VEASEY: Well, let me tell you something. President Trump is running the slickest political scheme of all time. They won in office. What did he do with his executive order? He ended a home ownership program that gave opportunity for people to buy homes at a lower interest rate. What does he say about Davis Bacon?

What is he doing about -- in his own state, he talked the Carrier situation, but in his own state, there's a strike right now, in New York that's been going on over a hundred days. He's said nothing about the fact that he wants to be on the side of the workers.

BOLDUAN: But he killed TPP. He wants to renegotiate NAFTA. That's music to the ears of many working class voters.

VEASEY: But again, when you talk about prevailing wages, you talk about strength of labor in this country, he's done absolutely nothing. He actually attacked one of the labor workers, you remember this because you covered it.

He actually attacked one of the labor workers at Carrier instead of defending them. He's running a scam and people need to know that he's running a scam. And you have the strong man routine that he has, and the act that he's putting on, maybe people were impressed by that.

But what we're going to do in this caucus is show that it's about wages, it's about benefits, it's about health care, and that President Trump is absolutely not going to deliver anything on any of those promises that he made. BOLDUAN: And it will be up to the president to deliver on promises, put actions to his words. That is for sure. And as you guys are acknowledging, Democrats need some actions and words to win back the voters, the working class voters you've lost.

Former Democratic congressman, now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, had a pretty blunt message for you guys. He basically says, this was a long time coming and it's going to be a long time coming back. Listen to this, guys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: I would also be honest, it took us a long time to get this low. It ain't going to happen in 2018. Take a chill pill, man. You got to be in this for the long haul.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Congressman Boyle, do you agree, 2018, foregone conclusion, you guys can't win it back?

BOYLE: No, I think it's a false choice. First, I mean, the effort that we're undertaking is not just about 2018, it is a long term effort. However, we have seen just in the last few weeks unprecedented activism in this country on the left, broadly defined.

I have never seen -- for example, at a Democratic meeting in suburban Philadelphia that typically draws 25 or 30 people, we had over 200 people last weekend. There is something real going on and it would be a mistake to underplay that.

I also think, again, that history shows us that any time a party thinks they're going to have a permanent majority, it proves to be mistaken. That was the case in the 1960s when the Republicans were blown out. It was the case in '72 when Democrats were blown out.

It was the case in 2008. Eight years ago there was a talk about a permanent Democratic majority. Nothing is permanent in politics and it forces both parties to make sure they're constantly retooling and constantly reaching out to voters.

BOLDUAN: If you do want to win back the majorities in the House and Senate, the blue collar voters are going to be a big part of that. Gentlemen, thank you so much for coming on. We'll be watching to see how you guys move ahead with this new group. Appreciate it.

So mission backfired after that deadly raid in Yemen, the government there says no more U.S. ground missions without approval first. What does that mean to the fight against terror right now?

And what a difference a few months makes. Candidate Trump faced heavy criticism from Republicans who questioned if he was really a true conservative. Remember that back in the campaign? But now they're saying something very different. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)