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Trump Attacks Nordstrom; Republican Leader Silences Senator Elizabeth Warren. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You have been listening to the discussion from the White House daily briefing here.

Today, really just two major stories unfolding.

First, you have President Donald Trump unleashing on the very judges who are deciding whether to reinstate his travel ban.

We have learned just a minute ago that that ruling will not be issued today.

Earlier today, though, the president was certainly candid about what he's learning in his classified intelligence briefings. More on that in a moment.

But, first, big-time drama playing out right now on Capitol Hill. Republicans silencing Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, essentially booting her from the microphone when she was standing up there and reading a letter from the late Coretta Scott King. This is all in her fight against the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions.

He is up for the job for attorney general.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there objection?


WARREN: I appeal the ruling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The objection is heard. The senator will take her seat.


BALDWIN: Democrats are now making up for it in reading the letter on the Senate floor today.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: "Mr. Sessions' conduct as U.S. attorney, from his politically motivated voting fraud prosecutions, to his indifference toward criminal violations of civil rights laws, indicates that he lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge."

REP. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: "The irony of Mr. Sessions' nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished 20 years ago with clubs and cattle prods."

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: "I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgment, competence and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court."


BALDWIN: Let me bring in CNN political director David Chalian and CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju.

And, just, Manu, to you first. You talked most recently to Senator Warren on the Hill just a little while ago. What did she say?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she defended the move. She said that she believed that she was presenting the facts about Senator Sessions' record, particularly when he was a U.S. attorney.

And that was what -- the basis of Martin Luther King's widow raising objection to his record as a U.S. attorney, that at the time 1986, when he was put up for a federal judgeship, and in the letter saying that Sessions unfairly disenfranchised and targeted elderly black voters, sought to intimidate them. This is the accusation from Coretta Scott King.

Now, that is what really rankled Republican senators who view Jeff Sessions as a dear friend, as a senator who should be respected. And they invoked this seldom-used rule that says that senators cannot impugn the integrity of a fellow senator.

So, Elizabeth Warren in my conversation with her strongly defended the move and even suggested that Jeff Sessions as the attorney general could unfairly target black voters.

Take a listen, Brooke.


RAJU: Do you really believe what that letter says, that he could unfairly intimidate and disenfranchise elderly black voters?

WARREN: Yes. I believe the facts show that is exactly what he did.

RAJU: You think he would do that as attorney general? WARREN: Let me read to you what she says he did.

RAJU: But, Senator, do you think he would do that as attorney general.

WARREN: She says, he accomplished, Mr. Sessions accomplished with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished 20 years ago with clubs and cattle prods.

RAJU: Is this kind of rhetoric back and forth really what voters are looking for right now to fight Donald Trump tooth and nail?

WARREN: I don't think voters are asking us to ignore facts.

I don't think voters are asking us to say, you know, we're just going to ignore what this man did to black citizens, because it's not only with black citizens. The speech also talked about what he's done with immigrants, with women.

The real question for an attorney general of the United States is whether or not he can be trusted in those hours when you can't review what he does. Can he be trusted to do two things, to stand up strongly on behalf of everyone, not just those he agrees with, but everyone? And, secondly, does he have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the president of the United States, when the president issues an illegal and unconstitutional order?



RAJU: Already, Brooke, this is renewing talk perhaps she could be a 2020 candidate. Elizabeth Warren, of course, her fights with Donald Trump had been rather intense during the campaign season.

And now I asked her about that. I said, are you open to the idea? She said, well, I'm just open to doing my job right now, saying that she's not using this as a platform to elevate herself in advance of that possible run, saying she is doing everything she can to go after Jeff Sessions and also acknowledging, Brooke, that the Democrats probably don't have the votes to stop Sessions tonight or other tough nominees, but wanted to make their votes heard very clearly in the Senate.

And Republicans, by invoking this rule, gave them the opportunity to so, Brooke.

BALDWIN: On the note, though, in 2020 -- I'm sure all have now seen Hillary Clinton has now tweeted taking senator Mitch McConnell's now infamous line, quoting him back. She tweets: "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

And in Hillary Clinton's four words: "So must we all."

David Chalian, did Senator McConnell just give Senator Warren her campaign slogan for 2020? DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He gave her an enormous gift.

This is politically just a clean win for Elizabeth Warren here. The optics are terrible for Mitch McConnell. I'm not sure he's all that consumed with that. We know he tends to power through those kinds of controversies that bubble up like this.

But clearly Elizabeth Warren -- in that tweet you just showed from Hillary Clinton, Brooke, she also linked to the Facebook Live video that then Elizabeth Warren went outside the Senate chamber to continue reading the letter last night. More than a million people watched that.

No doubt money is flooding into her campaign coffers. Manu is right. As Senator Warren told him, they don't have the votes. They are going to be on the losing end of nearly every fight in the Senate. They don't have the tools at their disposal because they don't have the numbers.

But what they do have is a base that desperately wants a fight. And that is what Elizabeth Warren was able to sort of choreograph last night on the Senate floor.

BALDWIN: When you have a woman reading a letter from a black woman who was married to a civil rights icon, taking Glenn Thrush's note from earlier, rebuked by a man from the South, ergo, opening for Democrats.

Manu, here's my question for you. When you asked about the rhetoric and the language in the Senate right now, and even one of Mitch McConnell's own Republican colleagues called him a liar in July of 2015, and it was on whether the Senate would vote to revive the Export-Import Bank.

Here's Senator Cruz on the Senate floor.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: What he just saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over and over again was a simple lie. Well, we now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment that he is willing to say things that he knows are false.


BALDWIN: And leader McConnell urged his fellow Republicans not to pull out the Rule 19 against Senator Cruz, fearing Cruz would become a martyr. And now, to David Chalian's point, look at the opening this has provided for Senator Warren.

RAJU: Absolutely. This is the reason why Senator McConnell did not want Republicans to go after Ted Cruz during that time.

I remember talking to a number of Republican senators who were furious at Ted Cruz, and they wanted to try to silence him, they wanted him to use this rule. But McConnell said, look, this is not a good idea. This is just going to give him a platform that he's been silenced.

And that's exactly what Elizabeth Warren is doing right now. But, Brooke, I talked to Republicans all day today about whether they thought this was a mistake. And no one is really willing to admit that yet.

They're saying maybe in the short term, as Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican senator, told me, maybe in the short term, this is giving Elizabeth Warren lots of publicity, but we need to enforce the rules.

Interestingly, though, Orrin Hatch of Utah, who actually wanted to go after Ted Cruz when he made those remarks, does not remember a time in the last four decades or so of service when this rule was actually enforced. So it just shows how rare it was, what happened last night, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you. David Chalian, thank you as well.

There's that big headline today. Then you have this, President Trump today making arguments all of his own after federal judges grilled lawyers from the Department of Justice on his travel ban. You know the story.


President Trump put the appeals court hearing the case on notice while addressing major city police officers, local law enforcement sheriffs today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by the President -- OK, now, this isn't just me, this is for Obama, for Ronald Reagan, for the president.

He may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary."

So here it is, people coming in -- suspend the entry of all aliens. Right? That's what it says. It's not like -- again, a bad high school student would understand this.

And 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.

I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful.


BALDWIN: And then the president tweeted this. "Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas, while our people are far more vulnerable, as we wait for what should be Easy D."

Let's talk to Michael Moore about this, once served as the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. He's back with us this week. And CNN contributor Larry Noble is with us. He's the general counsel at the government watchdog group Campaign Legal Center. He's also the former general counsel for the FEC, the Federal Election Commission.

Gentlemen, great to see both of you.


BALDWIN: Larry, let me begin with you. The president calling the court political. Earlier on CNN, John Dean, who was a former White House counsel to President Nixon, even said President Nixon would not have belittled the court so publicly. How do you see it?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's very telling, that if we have now reached the standard where Nixon is the high point, we're really in serious trouble.

I think what he did was very wrong. We don't have a decision. And there were a lot of semi-coded statements there, that he doesn't want to call them biased, but -- and that we haven't seen a decision yet, but the courts are becoming very political.

He's doing actually what he did before the election. He's calling into question the validity of a decision before it's being made. And then it's setting it up if the court does rule against to him to say this is an invalid decision, this is an improper decision.

And he's undermining another branch of the government. He's one-third of the government. He's really going out of his way to undermined another branch of the government. That's just not presidential. That's not what the president should be doing.

BALDWIN: Not having the respect, as I keep hearing from people coming on, of separation of powers and these branches of government.

Michael, to you. Listening to these oral arguments yesterday evening debating the hold on the president's travel ban, they were heated. At one point, the DOJ lawyer said something to the effect of, I'm not sure I'm convincing the court. Did you of course catch that?


BALDWIN: Finish this sentence for me. The Trump administration wins because?

MOORE: The Trump administration could win because the court decides in fact there's a statute in place.

There's a federal law that says in fact the president has a certain amount of latitude and discretion when it comes to banning people from the United States, if he or she determines that in fact their entry might somehow jeopardize the security of the country, so that's one way the president could win.

I think a second way the president could win, the administration could win, would be if the court determines that the stay, that is that the mechanism that sort of holds everything in the status quo, if that stay is determined to be overbroad. Let's say the Ninth Circuit decides the district court judge should not have protected everybody, every immigrant, every person who has never been to America, everybody who has not even applied for a visa.

At that point, the Ninth Circuit could say, look, the district court, it was too expansive in its decision and we think it's overbroad. We're going to send it back. I think the likelihood is that it goes back to the district court anyway for more fact finding, more evidence gathering. But those are two ways I could see the court sending it in Trump's direction.

BALDWIN: What about then at the same time kept bringing up the so- called Muslim ban, president or then candidate Trump's comments on Muslims? How could they argue conversely to keep the ban in place?

MOORE: I think Washington can win, the state of Washington, if the court wants to look at the intent of the Muslim ban.

Realize we're at a stage right now in the proceedings where really all the court is looking at is whether or not this stay stays in place. There was some discussion last night about the intent. And one of the judges even asked, what evidence do you have? And the solicitor general from Washington said, look, we have attached statements, we have attached statements from then candidate Trump, we have attached statements from Rudy Giuliani, who has come out and talked about it. We clearly think he had every intention of making this a Muslim ban.


So they could look at that and determine, if there some type of religious animus or a test basically on religious grounds to get into the country? The other way the state of Washington could win would be because there's a statute, there's a federal law.

This is an interesting point. There's two statutes in the law that could be read to conflict with each other. The one that the state of Washington wants to rely on says, look, no person can be discriminated for the issuance of a visa based on their country of birth or where they live.

That may be something that court wants to look at later. And, ultimately, if we get to the Supreme Court, that might be something they talk about.

BALDWIN: And if it does, and if it is tied, then it goes back to the lower court, as we know how it works. But, again, we are learning that decision likely won't come out at least today.


BALDWIN: Larry, just quickly back to you here, moving off of the Ninth Circuit and on to Ivanka Trump and her brand being yanked from Nordstrom.

Essentially, the backstory, Nordstrom said, you know what? Your brand wasn't performing well, so they're pulling her brand from the shopping store. The president has tweeted. And let's throw the tweet up if we can, And I will read it for you, the president's response here. Here we go.

"My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom. She is a great person, always pushing me to do the right thing. Terrible."

Now here's Sean Spicer's response.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. So there's clearly an attempt for him to stand up for her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.


BALDWIN: Larry, is this out of bounds for a president to tweet about this? Is this more of just an upset dad?

NOBLE: It's out of bounds for a president to tweet about this.

And this is our worst fears about what would happen with a president with these business interests and a family with these business interests, where they weren't totally separating themselves from it.

It's interesting what Spicer said is, he said this was an attack on the president's policies.


BALDWIN: On Trump's policies.

NOBLE: Yes. On his policies. I didn't hear Nordstrom say anything about Trump's policies.

And then he said it was an attack on his daughter. Well, the Trump name is all over businesses around the world. And if Trump is going to take the position that any time somebody tries to negotiate a deal he doesn't like with one of those businesses or decides not to do business with one of those businesses, it's an attack on the White House, it's an attack on his policies, we're going to be in a lot of trouble.

He should have stayed out of this. This is really bringing the full power of the White House. He tweeted it first out of his personal account and then the White House retweeted it.

BALDWIN: And then retweeted by POTUS, right.

NOBLE: Right. And this is bringing the full power of the White House into a business deal, and a business deal which his daughter now says she is separate from, that she separated herself from the business.

So this shows that no matter what -- how many documents he stacks on a table, no matter what he says about staying out of the business, he does not see himself separate from his businesses and he is going to act that way.

In a sense, it dawned on me the other day that he doesn't have a conflict of interests. His only interest is actually Trump. And he is going to act in a way that if he feels the Trump name is being attacked, he's going to respond to that. He's not going to be thinking about what's best for the country at first. And that's really scary.

BALDWIN: Your opinion. We will take it.

Gentlemen, thank you. Larry and Michael, appreciate both of you.

Coming up here, President Trump today warning that terrorism is a bigger threat than Americans can understand. What is it that he's learned since entering the White House? Of course, he's getting these daily briefings, and why some critics are saying he's actually governing on fear.

Also ahead, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin falls mysteriously ill for the second time in two years, what his wife is telling CNN about who she thinks was behind it.



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

In just a couple of hours from now, the full Senate is set to vote on President Trump's nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions. But the Republicans' decision to silence one of Senator Sessions' most vocal critics seems to have backfired on them.

They decided to openly rebuke Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren here while debating Sessions's nomination.

Joining me more to begin there, Michael Smerconish is with me, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH," and CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson.

So, Michael Smerconish, let me actually just begin with you on this notion. They invoked Senate Rule 19. Essentially, they don't want you to be nasty to a fellow senator. Right? That's what Leader McConnell was arguing with regard to Senator Warren and Senator Sessions.

But this whole notion of decorum and civility, you look at the president of the United States and what he said about other politicians, whether it's crooked Hillary or fake tears Schumer or you fill in the blank. If he were on that Senate floor, he would be reprimanded as well. MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's no doubt.

In the well of the United States, if now President Trump were to refer to Ted Cruz as lying Ted, or Marco Rubio as little Marco, he would be censured as a result of Rule 19.


SMERCONISH: I like Rule 19. I like civility and I like decorum, and I think that she was in violation, Senator Warren, of Rule 19.

But, Brooke, it really doesn't apply to a circumstance where the Senate is sitting in judgment of a colleague who has been nominated to another position, because what's not lost on me is the irony that Senator Warren was seeking to read allowed something that's in the Senate record.

It was entered into the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986. So it seems a little ludicrous to say, we need to reprimand you, you need to sit down, because you want to reintroduce into the record something we already have.

BALDWIN: Help me understand, Nia, why was she yanked, but then other men who later this morning picked up where she left off were allowed to continue?


It's certainly something that other senators are asking and highlighting, Senator Sanders, for instance, highlighting this.


And it's I think again galvanized an already very galvanized progressive left, particularly online, using some of the language that Mitch McConnell has used talking about Senator Warren, that she persisted in going forward with this.

That is now a hashtag. It's not a good look, I think, for a party that has historically had trouble not only with women voters, but with African-American voters, right? This is obviously Senator Warren trying to read a letter from Coretta Scott King, who apparently is now getting her due, finally, more and more attention onto Coretta Scott King.

And so this is what she was doing. So I think it highlights that problem and in some ways exacerbates it. Some people are saying, oh, well, this was a strategy by Mitch McConnell to elevate Senator Warren and make her sort of the liberal foil for this Congress.

But I think that probably is giving Mitch McConnell a little bit too much credit. This was I think an unforced error. And you can see this viral moment that has been created on the left and with Warren as the face of it.

BALDWIN: Here is how Sean Spicer responded to this in the briefing.


SPICER: Like Arlen Specter, the late Arlen Specter, I can only hope that if she was still with us today, that after getting to know him and to see his record and his commitment to voting and civil rights, that she would share the same view that Senator Specter did, when he said, "Although I voted against him, getting to know the man that he is now, I regret that vote."

And I would hope that if she was still with us today, that she would share that sentiment, because Senator Sessions' record both as U.S. attorney for Alabama, as attorney general, and as senator, has been one that has stood up for voting rights. He prosecuted the clown -- he -- the Klan.


BALDWIN: Michael, Senator Specter, the late Senator Specter from your state. He had initially voted no for the federal judgeship. He came around. Does Sean have a point?

SMERCONISH: He absolutely does have a point.

I worked for Arlen Specter. We were very, very close. In one of his books, "Life Among the Cannibals," he recounts how he really regretted, one of the biggest mistakes he said he made in the United States Senate was his 1986 Senate Judiciary Committee vote against Jeff Sessions then put forth as a federal judicial candidate.

And he said that after serving with Sessions, he came to know the man, respected him, did not believe that he was a racist. So I'm not surprised that Sean Spicer invoked Senator Specter's name. And my hunch is that you will hear that line again and again if this continues to be an issue.

BALDWIN: Let me hit pause. I want both of you to watch this.

Let's go to some live pictures of the Senate floor. It's California Senator Kamala Harris speaking now. Let's hear what she has to say.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: It is its mission.

And the next attorney general of the United States must use his powers as a prosecutor to uphold it. And this brings me to the troubling and frankly unacceptable record of the nominee for this office.

It is the United States Department of Justice that is charged with enforcing the rights of those trying to cast a ballot, but Senator Sessions cheered the Supreme Court's decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, used his power as a U.S. attorney to prosecute three African- American civil rights activists in Alabama, and then called the NAACP -- quote -- "un-American." It is the United States Department of Justice that addresses systematic inequalities that we know unfortunately still exist in our criminal justice system and have led to mass incarceration. But Senator Sessions led the opposition to bipartisan sentencing reform.

It is the United States Department of Justice that investigates and prosecutes crimes motivated by hate based on race, religion, gender, nationality, disability, or sexual orientation of its victim.

But in the 1990s, when lawmakers worked to pass hate crime legislation after the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard, Senator Sessions was a vocal opponent.

It is the United States Department of Justice that uses the power of the prosecutor to protect women who have been victims of crime. But Senator Sessions voted no when both Democrats and Republicans came together to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which gives support and assistance to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, including members of our LGBT community.

BALDWIN: This is a whom who we are listening to, Nia -- and I don't need to tell you this -- but here she is. She's clearly speaking in opposition to the notion of having Jeff Sessions be the A.G.

Her perspective, she was A.G. in California before being elected, and also a potential rising star, as they say, for the Democratic Party.

How do you see her role here?

HENDERSON: You know, she is a potential rising star.

But, in many ways, she's been a potential rising star for a number of years. She got a pretty big --