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Trump Lashes Out at Travel Ban Suspension; Senate GOP Silences Warren in Sessions Debate; GOP Leader Speaks on Senate Floor; Interview with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour, I'm Poppy Harlow. John Berman has the day off. So glad you're with us. President Trump lashing out at the legal appeals process that has put his travel ban on hold for now. He just spoke to a very friendly audience, local sheriffs from around the country who had endorsed his immigration crack down. He said suspending the restrictions on seven Muslim-majority nations puts this country at risk.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I think it's sad. I think it's a sad day. I think our security is at risk today, and it will be at risk until such time as we are entitled and get what we are entitled to as citizens of this country, as chiefs, as sheriffs of this country. We want security. One of the reasons I was elected was because of law and order and security.


HARLOW: Also, as early as today, three federal judges could hand down their ruling on the president's travel ban. This case is seen as a critical measure of the president's power and also of the reach of the U.S. Constitution. And a firebrand Democrat gets an extraordinary rebuke on the Senate floor. Senator Elizabeth Warren ordered last night to sit down and be silent in the middle of a contentious debate over attorney general nominee, Jeff sessions.

Let's begin this hour with Jeff Zeleny. He joins us to the White House with more. And we'll get to what happened on the Senate floor last night because certainly, a lot of drama and a lot of fireworks there. But let's begin with what the president just said, directly taking on the judiciary.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, taking on really the heart of his Executive Order which is really a centerpiece of his campaign and taking this to the court of public opinion in very strong language. Sometimes we hear presidents talk about rulings after they happen, but this has not yet happened, this is something that's happening in real time here. So, he's clearly trying to make the argument here. Even if he loses in court, why his Executive Order, he believes, is the right thing to do. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This is for the security of the country, which, again, you're the chiefs, you're the sheriffs. You understand this. And I listened to lawyers on both sides last night. And they were talking about things that had just nothing to do with it.

I listened to a panel of judges. And I'll comment on that. I will not comment on the statements made by certainly one judge. But I have to be honest that if these judges wanted to, in my opinion, help the court in terms of respect for the court. They'd do what they should be doing. I mean, it's so sad.


ZELENY: So, clearly, it sounds like the president there is trying to influence this decision. Unlikely that will happen. But Poppy, we have seen this again and again from Donald Trump. Over the course of his life, really, trying to influence decisions, you know through lawsuits, other things. This is of course an entirely different level here, when you have the president trying to influence another branch of government here.

But he was also talking about the wall, that border wall. He also used so much as he was running for president, conflating all of these issues, but talking specifically about building that wall.


TRUMP: It's time to stop the drugs from pouring into our country. And by the way, we will do that, and I will say this. General, now secretary, Kelly, will be the man to do it. And we will give him a wall.

A lot of people say, oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall. I wasn't kidding. I don't kid. I don't kid.


TRUMP: I watch this, and they say I was kidding. No, I don't kid. I don't kid about things like that.


ZELENY: Well, he doesn't kid about that, but Republicans, Poppy, are wondering, how will he pay for it. This is $12 to $15 billion here. So, the opposition we're seeing in the Senate among some border state senators as well is how will he pay for that -- whole campaign promise. But Poppy, still, I think the headline here of this speech to major police officials from across the country is trying to influence the judges' ruling, which could come later today or this week here. But regardless of what he says, there are three branches of government, and he is getting his first sense of the limits potentially of executive authority as well. Poppy?

HARLOW: Absolutely. And if the justices' rule against his administration, this will inevitably -- I think either way. Inevitably go to the Supreme Court. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all of this with our panel. Joining me now, Jason Johnson, politics editor for "The Root," Juliette Kayyem is here, our national security analyst. Paul Callan, our legal analyst joins us, and Paul Singer, Washington correspondent for "USA Today."

[10:05:00] Paul, let me begin with you. As the reporter, you know, on all of this, your take. You know -- it shouldn't be a surprise that the president attacked the judiciary. He did it with Judge Curiel during the campaign. He did it, you know, just a few days ago on Twitter to the Washington state federal judge, saying he's a so-called justice. What do you make of when he said this morning if these judges wanted to help the court in terms of respect for the court, they would do what they should be doing? He said that a bad high school student could easily rule on this in his favor.

PAUL SINGER, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "USA TODAY": We always talk about the fact that the president has a bully pulpit. I think we've never quite seen it quite so much bully. And in this case, you know Donald Trump is really, as Jeff Zeleny said, beginning to run up against the limits of a government that's based on three co-equal branches.

The fact of the matter is that Trump is used to having a situation where things are done because he says they should be done. And that doesn't work in the American constitutional system. And it's very, very odd to see him standing at a podium saying basically, not only are we right and we look forward to prevailing, but everybody who opposes us, even in the judiciary, is making the country unsafe, they're doing their job wrong and they should have shut up and sit down.

HARLOW: Paul Callan, to you. There's two Paul's on this panel, so I got to use your last names as well. Paul Callan, to you, I just want you to make it clear for our viewers. He did read statute 1182 which does indeed give the president very broad discretion and authority over issues of immigration. What he did not talk about is the 1965 law saying that at the same time as the president has that discretion, he also cannot use it in any way that would be, you know, discriminating against anyone coming into this country based on their nationality, their place of birth, their sex, their religion, et cetera.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the Justice Department -- has taken the position essentially that the law that was enacted in the 1960s that you referred to does not overrule the prerogative of the president to exclude aliens as the statute describes them. --

HARLOW: But are they right?

CALLAN: That would be detrimental to the interest of the United States. Well, no, I think the president, most certainly, continues to have that right. But he can't discriminate according to religion or racial background. He has to show an underlying threat. And of course, the administration says here, that both the Obama administration and Congress have identified these seven countries as the place where the threat is the greatest. And that the statute itself, the Executive Order itself, makes no reference to Muslims. So, it's not - it's facially neutral. It doesn't discriminate on its face.

But you know I just want to get back for one second to the extraordinary nature of his attack on this panel. I watched this last night in detail. And what the president doesn't understand, I think, is that hard questions are asked when appellate cases are argued. And it doesn't indicate necessarily which way the court is going. Sometimes the guy or woman who is voting for you asks the toughest questions, because they're going to use the answers to persuade their colleagues. This is not a political campaign. This is a court analyzing complex legal issues. And anybody who has watched legal arguments knows that. So, to attack these judges for their questions is quite foolish.

HARLOW: To that point though, he did allude to the fact that you know, this -- the Ninth Circuit may lean a little bit more left. He didn't use those words, but as you know, that is what critics have said about the Ninth Circuit in particular. And I just like you to clear the record -- for the viewer. Is there any merit to that argument?

CALLAN: Well, there is merit to the argument that on balance, their decisions tend to be more liberal than other districts which are conservative. But that doesn't mean that any given -- in any specific case that they're going to go one way or another. And during oral argument, this sort of back and forth between the lawyers and the judges is quite common. And it doesn't -- they're not making political speeches, the judges. They're trying to make up their mind on an important issue.

And for the president to attack them for asking questions just shows that he doesn't understand how the judiciary works. If he wants to attack the decision after it's made, let him do it. But strategically, it's always a bad idea to attack the people who are hearing your case. I can't understand why he continues to do this.

HARLOW: Juliette, the argument that the administration is making, that these are the seven countries that indeed the Obama administration -- did select for tougher vetting, and they did agree to not allow people without visas from some of those countries to come in. They needed to then have visas. They didn't put a ban on immigration from those seven countries. But his argument that the vetting process is not where it needs to be, as a national security expert and someone who worked in Homeland Security. Does the administration have a point on this, when -- as it pertains to these seven countries?

[10:10:00] JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think every administration, and I think at any moment, you are going to want your government authorities to constantly be assessing and reassessing immigration and counterterrorism rules. The list of seven, as we now know, that Obama administration came up with was actually in response to Paris, as we would want them to respond, and was a way to ensure that people from countries that did not require visas, what we call the visa waiver countries. People from those countries who travel to say, Yemen or Iraq or Syria, would then be required to have further review, just given the nature of the terrorist threat, that's a very smart response.

But nowhere in anyone's thinking -- that there would be complete ban from these countries. One, because some of these countries are our allies in the fight against terrorism, Yemen, for example, which has now responded in the last 24 hours saying, they're basically not going to be so cooperative anymore and not allow us to do ground missions or ground counterterrorism missions. But the other is just to think about the terrorism threat today. The terrorism threat today is not aligned with a country. It is aligned with individuals. And they can have French passports, they can have German passports, or they can have U.S. passports.

And so, one of the reasons why, as a counterterrorism issue, not a legal one, we have always avoided these sweeping bans, it's because it takes away focus from the more particularized individual assessments that we will want from people both in -- both coming to this country as well as, as we now know, the nature of the threat today, as well as those who are already here and who are U.S. citizens.

HARLOW: Let's take a moment just listen to another thing that the president said when it comes to building the wall.

Oh, we don't have that. But here's what he said. He said, "The wall is being designed right now, I wasn't kidding, if you thought I was kidding. That, Jason to you, was interesting to me, because it's the first time, I believe, that we've heard him outline what stage this is at.

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, "THE ROOT": Well, I'm not surprised. Look, Donald Trump, to the press visibility, is going to try and accomplish everything that he said he was going to accomplish in the campaign and the wall was part of that. I think it's a waste of money. I think that spending anywhere from $15 to $26 billion to build a wall that would have to be an architectural marvel. The likes of which would make the Panama Canal look like a Lego set, is a waste of our time and resources when we have crumbling schools, when you have police who need assistance. But that's the priorities of this administration.

And that also applies to what he was saying about terrorism. I find it disturbing that the President of the United States would be speaking to police officers, talking about foreign terror, which is a CIA, FBI problem, and not talking about domestic terror. The sovereign citizens were the ones killing cops last year. It was people who are at the Bundy Ranch who killed cops in Vegas. It was white nationals who killed cops in Pittsburgh back in 2009.

If he was concerned about terrorism, he would be starting to look at home. Looking at our homeland and the dangerous white supremacist nationalist groups here, they are the ones killing cops. We don't have that many concerns about the people coming from overseas.

HARLOW: Jason Johnson, Juliette Kayyem, Paul Callan, Paul Singer, thank you very much. We appreciate you being here.

Still to come, the Senate may not have heard Coretta Scott King's words about Jeff Sessions last night. This morning, though, they did. Did a Republican push to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren backfire? Or was it effective? We'll ask her colleague, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, next.


[10:17:26] HARLOW: The full Senate is expected to vote tonight on President Trump's nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions. One vocal critic will be noticeably absent from the rest of the debate. Senate Republicans have delivered a stinging rebuke to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, forcing her to be silent. This morning, they say they don't regret it. Our Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill. What a night it was on the floor.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was, Poppy. And that moment was so stunning which certainly underscore how hostile the environment has become up here on Capitol Hill. This all started when Senator Elizabeth Warren took to the floor last night, and she was speaking out against the attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions. And she was trying to quote from a letter from 1986 written by Coretta Scott King. It was then when she was interrupted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who basically shut her down. He invoked this seldom-used rule called Rule 19 which essentially says that a senator cannot impugn or demean another sitting senator. Here is how it all went down.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is what it said. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, sons and brothers.


WARREN: They are --

MCCONNELL: Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Majority leader.

MCCONNELL: The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama as warned by the chair. Senator Warren, quote - said, "Senator Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens." I call the senator to order under the provision to Rule 19.


SERFATY: Now, the Senate afterwards voted down party lines to reprimand Elizabeth Warren, which means that she will not be allowed to be involved in the floor debate for the remainder of the debate on Senator Sessions which will last for the entire day today. But Senator Warren, what she did is she took to social media, read the full letter over Facebook live last night. And we've seen similar acts of solidarity coming from the Democrats this morning who have read multiple parts of the letter, including just recently, moments ago on the Senate floor by Senator Tom Udall. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: This is sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as a federal district court judge for the Southern District of Alabama. My professional and personal roots in Alabama are deep and lasting. Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot of the citizens should not be elevated to our courts.


[10:20:11] SERFATY: Now, despite all these fireworks overnight and into the morning today, none of this will influence the outcome of Senator Jeff Sessions. He will be voted later tonight by the full Senate to become the next attorney general. And Poppy, that will go through tonight. Poppy?

HARLOW: Sunlen, thank you very much for the reporting on the Hill for us. Joining us now, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire. Nice to have you on.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Nice to be with you.

HARLOW: Many, this morning are arguing that Republicans silencing Senator Warren only gives her a microphone. Many Democrats, I should say, Republicans like Senator Rick Santorum said that is not the case. But if indeed she does have this microphone, to what effect do you believe she and your party could use that most effectively?

SHAHEEN: Well, I think, those who think you could -- silence Senator Warren couldn't be more wrong. And in fact, I think this is really not about Senator Warren and what she had to say. I think this is about the effective arguments that she and so many others have made against the nomination of Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. The fact is I have heard from a remarkable number of citizens, my constituents in New Hampshire, cards, letters, e-mails, calls, telling us that they are concerned about his nomination.

HARLOW: Senator, if you would, please forgive me, stay with us. Let's listen to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, on the floor right now.

MCCONNELL: -- Obamacare and stabilizing the health care markets. We'll come together to confirm Steve Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury, too, so we can get to work continuing the president's efforts to relieve the regulatory pressure on America's economy and American job creation. We'll also come together later today to confirm a new attorney general. We all know our colleague from Alabama. He's honest. He's fair. He's been a friend of many of us on both sides of the aisle. It's been tough to watch all this good man has been put through in recent weeks. This is a well-qualified colleague with a deep reverence for the law. He believes strongly in the equal application of it to everyone.

In his home state he's fought against the forces of hate. In the Senate he's developed a record of advocacy for crime victims but also for the fair and humane treatment of those who break our laws, both when they are sentenced and when they are incarcerated. Jeff Sessions has worked across the aisle on important initiatives. He is in the words of former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, an honorable and trustworthy person, a smart and good lawyer, and a thoughtful and open minded listener, someone who will be principled, fair, and capable attorney general. Our colleague wants to be attorney general for all Americans. Later today, we will vote to give him that chance. And I'll have more to say about our friend and colleague at that time.

HARLOW: There we have it, -- the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a brief statement there -- in big support of Senator Jeff Sessions who is expected to be confirmed and voted on tonight. Back with me is Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. Thank you for your patience, I appreciate it. So, let me just get your reaction to what Mitch McConnell said there, calling Sessions a thoughtful and open-mind listener.

SHAHEEN: Well, the record shows that he has not been all of those things. Even though in his hearing, he said he supported the rule of law. The fact is, if we look at where he has stood on civil rights, on the rights of LGBTQ Americans, on women's rights and access to health care, on things like the Violence Against Women Act, which in its reauthorization had overwhelming bipartisan support. Jeff Sessions was one of 22 to vote against that. And expressly, he indicated that was because of the expansion of those supports to immigrants and to Native Americans.

What I have heard from my constituents, and what -- I share their concerns, I want somebody who I am confident is going to be the people's attorney in the attorney general's office, who is going to support civil rights and that expansion, who is going to make sure that voting rights are upheld, something that Senator Sessions has in his statements said that we didn't need to worry about. He called the striking down of the Voting Rights Act good for the south. I want somebody who is going to make sure that we are going to protect the rights of all Americans. And I think that's where people are very concerned. And I share that concern about Jeff Sessions.

[10:25:00] HARLOW: So, Senator Shaheen, I think it's important for our viewers to have the context here that unlike many of your Democratic colleagues who have been in vocal opposition to almost all, if not all, of the president's cabinet picks. You have not been that way on all of them. You have voted in favor of five of them, including Mike Pompeo for head of the CIA, including General Kelly for Homeland Security, including Mattis for Defense, including Nikki Haley, and also including Elaine Chao. Do you believe that your colleagues in the Democratic Party's opposition to so many of the president's picks, hurts the American people and hurts the ability of government to function?

SHAHEEN: Well, I think there are a lot of reasons why people have been opposed to some of the president's nominees. And what we have said as Democrats, what I believe, is that we should try and work with those people who bring a reasonable approach to government, who are going to do -- support the mission of those agencies that they are confirmed to lead, and that's what I tried to do. I don't think that is the case for Jeff Sessions, who is the attorney general nominee. I think if we look at his record, if we look at his statements, he has not been there. He's considered to be one of the architects of this recent Executive Order on immigration that has been so controversial and so poorly implemented.

HARLOW: I should note that the -- most recent CNN polling does show 47 percent of Americans are in favor of this travel ban, 53 percent of them opposed. Before I let you go, I'd like you to listen to something that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said on Monday when she was speaking at Stanford University.


JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I wish there were a way I could wave a magic wand and put it back, when people were respectful of each other and the Congress was working for the good of the country and not just along party lines.


HARLOW: Is the Congress working for the good of the country, not just along party lines? Does she have a point, a point which applies to both parties?

SHAHEEN: I think it's important for us to work in a bipartisan way. That's what I've heard from my constituents. That's what I think the American people want. But look, if we look at what happened last night with Elizabeth Warren, and Angus King pointed this out, back when Ted Cruz called Mitch McConnell a liar on the floor of the Senate, nobody invoked Rule 19 to censure him. So, this has been a very subjective process.

HARLOW: I appreciate you being with us. Thanks for standing by while we went to the Senate floor, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Still to come for us, a key day ahead for the man that Donald Trump wants to be the ninth justice on the highest court in the nation, Neil Gorsuch making his case to Republicans and Democrats who will decide whether or not he will join the Supreme Court. That's next.