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Labor Secretary Nominee in Danger; Trump Meets With Netanyahu; Interview With Pennsylvania Congressman Brendan Boyle. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired February 15, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans urging the White House to withdraw Andy Puzder's nomination for labor secretary.
And take a look at this by a Democrat, Senator Elizabeth Warren. She says, if Puzder can't stand the heat, that he should get out of the kitchen.
Let's go straight to Manu Raju, our CNN senior congressional reporter, on the Hill.
Manu, what is the status that he's -- the hearing is supposed to happen tomorrow. What's the status update?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I have just been told that that hearing tomorrow is likely to be canceled.
The word coming down that this nomination is expected to be withdrawn from the White House. Now, that official word has not come down yet, so we don't know officially yet that Puzder has dropped out.
But we are hearing that's a very likely outcome. And we're hearing that hearing that they did plan for tomorrow is not going to happen. At least that's the expectation on Capitol Hill, this coming after Senate Republicans have communicated directly to the White House that this nomination will not get confirmed because there are four firm no votes.
That means four Republican senators, in addition to all 48 Democratic senators, plan to vote no. That would be 52 Republican senators. That means he would not get confirmed. In addition to that, we are hearing there are up to 12 more Republican senators who are likely vote no as well.
This coming after a range of issues coming to make things very difficult for Mr. Puzder to get confirmed, ranging from some of his own ideological views over immigration, for instance, that are actually more moderate than a lot of conservative Republicans, but also liabilities from the past, his acknowledgment of a housekeeper that he employed who was an undocumented immigrant, as well as details from a very messy divorce from the '80s that have come out as well, his ex-wife at the time going on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and saying that domestically -- she was the victim of domestic abuse. Now, she has withdrawn those domestic abuse allegations and now supports Mr. Puzder's nomination. But all these things taken together have made it incredibly difficult for a lot of Republicans to stomach a difficult vote for Andrew Puzder, which is why the Republicans do not want to go forward with this nomination.
They want Donald Trump to pull this back, to withdraw the nomination, because they want to move on to something else that will be a lot more politically palatable before a country difficult confirmation process.
One reason why, too, two we're hearing that confirmation hearing tomorrow is expected to be canceled, Brooke.
BALDWIN: This is obviously huge, huge news.
A little perspective on this. Why is it Andrew Puzder vs. -- you were covering the senators holding over the floor over Jeff Sessions or Betsy DeVos. We know the Capitol Hill switchboard was blowing up over phone calls over those potential picks.
Even Rex Tillerson, we talked about the potential battle. And we see what happened there. Why is this happening, do you think, specifically with Puzder?
RAJU: Some of it is those things that I just mentioned, his liabilities from the past, but also in some ways, Brooke, is the sequencing, this coming after all those...
BALDWIN: Sorry, Manu. Let me cut you off, Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking now.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: ... treating his own workers terribly.
Indeed, he has dripping disdain for people who work for a living. This alone disqualifies him to be secretary of labor.
But there's more. In recent weeks, it has come out that Mr. Puzder employed an undocumented immigrant in his household for years. And he didn't pay taxes on this employment. Yes, you heard that correctly.
The Trump administration, which bellows about building a wall and pounds its chest about ripping millions of families apart with a deportation force, threatens to send millions of DREAM Act kids with deportation, has no problem putting a guy in charge of the Labor Department who cheats on his taxes and employs undocumented workers.
The hypocrisy of that is pretty stunning, even for the Trump administration.
And then there's the controversy over alleged spousal abuse. Over 25 years ago, Mr. Puzder's first wife appeared on an episode of "Oprah Winfrey" in a show about spousal abuse. I have watched the episode in which she appeared, as I believe every senator should. I found it extraordinarily troubling. Alongside his company's poor
record of treatment of female employees, his highly explicit and sexualized ads, and his snide comments about sex discrimination, there's ample evidence that Mr. Puzder is a terrible choice to head the agency charged with ensuring that women and men are treated fairly in the workplace.
And I understand that no matter who President Trump picks to run the Labor Department, I'm probably going to have a lot of issues with that person, but this is different.
Andrew Puzder should not be the labor secretary. And if you ask the senators in this body, Republicans and Democrats, if you ask them behind closed doors, with the cameras turned off, you will have a hard time finding people who think this divisive nomination is good for the country.
It's been suggested that Mr. Puzder is -- quote -- "tired of the abuse" -- close quote -- that he's received during this confirmation process.
Well, I think the workers at his companies are pretty tired of the abuse they have received while being at the mercy of an employer that doesn't care about them at all and who goes out of his way to squeeze them out of every last dime.
That is literally the opposite of what we need in a labor secretary. I was prepared to question him on these issues tomorrow, but I hope it is true that he will withdraw his nomination before then.
I also rise today to express many concerns over the appointment of Congressman Mick Mulvaney as director of...
BALDWIN: We're going to pull away from this, but this is Senator Elizabeth ago, right? We remember her not too long ago during the -- speaking about Jeff Sessions, who was eventually confirmed, and silenced reading the Coretta Scott King letter.
Now she's talking specifically about Andrew Puzder, outlining reason, just as Manu Raju had, as far as why Democrats and, by the way, some Republicans as well now, don't want Andrew Puzder to become the next labor secretary.
As Manu just reported, sources are now saying they are expecting to cancel that confirmation hearing tomorrow. That is significant. And also Republicans touch with the Puzder team and in touch with the White House describe the nomination as -- quote, unquote -- "beyond repair."
Mary Katharine Ham just sat down next to me, CNN political commentator and also senior writer with "The Federalist."
Is your head spinning? A couple days ago, it's the Flynn resignation and now it's potentially Puzder going down in flames. MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who had the Hardee's
guy in the pool for the one that would not be confirmed?
BALDWIN: This is the guy.
HAM: Look, I think there's a couple things going on here.
Democrats really want a win on one of these or a loss for the Trump administration. The Trump administration is looking a little weaker because of this flurry of stories. So a couple of Republicans might be dropping off for those reasons.
And Democrats are able to put a lot of energy and money into two fights, the education secretary, because that's a pillar of their constituency, and labor, labor, by the way, an area where Trump has been able to peel off votes, so perhaps that's part of the energy behind this.
BALDWIN: I think you're right that Democrats want a win.
But when you look at the math, though, from Manu -- and I jotted it down -- he said so far it looked like 12 Republicans could say no, four are a firm no.
Jamie Gangel, who I listen to, who talks to a lot of senior Republicans, was saying perhaps it's also on the Republican side now that Flynn is out and there's this black eye a billion on the White House, that these Republicans feel like they can now say no.
HAM: Well, yes.
And there are plenty of Republicans who have been critical and who were critical during the election process. I think there's a sense that, oh, well, perhaps we can vent some of those concerns in this case.
Again, there's rumors about what's in the divorce records that I think some may be very skittish about.
I'm listening to you.
I got told Manu Raju is chasing down lawmakers right now on Capitol Hill, as he does so well.
HAM: As he should, right.
BALDWIN: As soon as he grabs someone to get reaction to this huge story, of course, we will bring him on.
You stay with me, but let me move to this other huge story, to President Trump's first joint conference just a little while ago with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And while Israel was certainly discussed, Russia came up. It was a dominating issue, as it should be, part of the news of the day. The news really specifically that CNN had confirmed that during even the campaign that Trump's aides were in constant contact with senior Russian officials.
And that came to light during all this fallout this week with regard to now former NSA adviser Flynn.
So Flynn is out, as you know, after he denied talking about sanctions with Russian ambassador to the U.S. That was not the case. Instead of actually condemning the general, President Trump stood up there and said he was a great guy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Flynn is a wonderful man.
I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media -- as I call it, the fake media, in many cases. And I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.
I think, in addition to that, from intelligence -- papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It's criminal actions, criminal act, and it's been going on for a long time -- before me. But now it's really going on, and people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.
I think it's very, very unfair, what's happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally -- I stress that -- illegally leaked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Here is where I'm confused, is we have President Trump saying that General Flynn is a wonderful man and it was the unfair, the fake media, whatever, for the firing or the tendered resignation of General Flynn.
And 24 hours ago, Sean Spicer was standing in the briefing and said, no, no, it was an erosion of trust. Flynn misled the vice president.
You can't have both.
Well, you can now.
BALDWIN: Someone ain't telling the truth.
HAM: No, I think, look, it was fake media, but he real resigned and they real accepted that resignation.
So, there was something going on here. And, look, I think there's a lot of stuff here. I think Trump had some bones to pick with the systematic leaking from the intel community.
BALDWIN: He's furious with it.
HAM: And it is something we should be concerned at, as well as concerned about the contacts with Russia.
But the principal in this case, who is General Flynn, walked back his denials. It's fairly clear he was dishonest with Vice President Pence. And that's a fundamental problem. And so it's not the media's fault that he did that.
And it's not a question of who is leaking what and why in this particular case. You can have those discussions about other things, but in this case it seems fairly clear.
BALDWIN: I think you're right on the leaks. I'm glad you brought that up too with regard to the president.
Stay with me. Not quite finished with you, Mary Katharine Ham, because we also need to talk about a rather awkward, bizarre moment between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu involving Israeli settlements. We will do that coming up.
Also ahead, more on this breaking news up Capitol Hill. The president's pick for labor secretary could be the very first of his Cabinet picks to go down in flames. We will be right back.
BALDWIN: Among some of the headlines coming out now of that historic first joint news conference at the White House today between President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a moment when the president was asked about Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As far as settlements, I'd like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We'll work something out. But I would like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made.
Bibi and I have known each other a long time -- a smart man, great negotiator. And I think we're going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That's a possibility. So let's see what we do.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Let's try it.
TRUMP: Doesn't sound too optimistic, but he's a good negotiator.
NETANYAHU: That's the art of the deal.
TRUMP: So I'm looking at two-state, and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one.
I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two. But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians -- if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's start there.
And Mary Katharine Ham Mary is back with us.
BALDWIN: Also with us -- I hear you laughing -- Aaron David Miller, our CNN global affairs analyst who is a former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations.
I think I heard you on TV earlier talking about a Vulcan mine meld. Feel free to go there if you would like. And a V.P. and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International. Also with us, Oren Liebermann, our CNN correspondent based in Jerusalem.
Aaron, though you laugh, but this are serious stuff that these two were discussing. When you hear President Trump say he did about holding off on settlements in the West Bank, that's not what Netanyahu wanted to hear. Maybe he wasn't surprised, but that's not what he wanted to hear. Am I right?
AARON DAVID MILLER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I found that exchange, frankly, Brooke -- and I'm smiling and laughing I always because I really like our interviews.
I found that exchange, frankly, to be playful, rather than provocative. "Hold off a little" on settlements? The Israelis have just two weeks introduced a significant expansion on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, to which the administration, at least at the time, said very little.
Again, I think the seamless Vulcan mine meld is right. Both sides had an interest in demonstrating that this was a fundamental break from the acrimony and soap opera quality of the Barack Obama-Netanyahu years.
There's really nothing to fight over right now. And as for the one- state/two-state thing, Middle East is tough, but it's not like ordering off of a Chinese menu. U.S. policy has to be anchored in concepts.
And while Mr. Trump is right that we are not going to impose anything that the parties don't like, I'm not sure the president understood the implications of basically saying that they could have a one-state solution, which is a highly provocative road to nowhere concept that I think most Israelis would reject, and many Palestinians too.
BALDWIN: What about, Oren, though, to you in Jerusalem? How is this being received?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Netanyahu's government, the right-wing government, is absolutely celebrating that Netanyahu-Trump press conference, calling it -- and it depends on who you talk to -- but calling it essentially the end of a Palestinian era.
That's a statement we've heard from right-wing ministers even when Trump was elected. This is exactly what they wanted to hear from Netanyahu.
When he was asked point-blank does he still support a two-state solution, as has been his public position for years, he completely dodged the question. He said two-state solution is a label. It's not about substance. And then he talked about why he doesn't want to go down that road.
That's exactly what Netanyahu's right-wing government wanted to hear from him. Many are calling on more settlements to be approved. Forget what Trump said about holding off a bit. They are calling on annexation of parts or all of the West Bank.
That's exactly what Netanyahu's right-wing government wanted to hear, many of whom have called on him to back away from a two-state solution, as he very much seemed to do in this presser.
Meanwhile, Palestinians haven't directed responded here yet. But they say, if this is what Trump wants, a one-state solution, then is it going to be Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights, or is it going to be an apartheid system, where Israelis have rights and Palestinians don't?
BALDWIN: That was one piece of the back and forth.
Let me just play one more. Just to tee it up, there was an Israeli reporter who essentially asked a question. And President Trump responded to his response to the rise in anti-Semitic attacks. Here was the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that's going on.
I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation. Very divided. And, hopefully, I'll be able to do something about that.
And you're going to see a lot of love. You're going to see a lot of love.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Mary Katharine, from your political lens, how he's asked about these anti-Semitic attacks and then talks about safety in America and love and the Electoral College.
HAM: I think, yes, that was a mishmash of answer there. Plenty of ways that you could have gone about that, and the denounced anti- Semitism and had a great moment of it.
When it comes to the Israeli-American relationship, I think Netanyahu deserves some credit for getting Trump and referencing "Art of the Deal." No way to get closer to Trump than that.
BALDWIN: How about that?
HAM: And then I think, also, when it comes to substance, this is a guy who is not an ideological creature. He's not mired in years of Palestinian-Israeli conflict theory and diplomacy.
There's a decent possibility of good in that, that this has been the same thinking for a long time and it's possible that he could bring some acknowledgment to the idea that when Israel clears out of Gaza, what do they get? They get a very violent Islamist regime there that has been attacking them. So, there may be more acknowledgement of that kind of part of the solution for Israelis.
But, clearly, he does not have it figured out yet.
BALDWIN: The art of the deal line, out of the mouth of the Israeli prime minister.
Mary Katharine, thank you. Aaron David Miller and Oren Liebermann, I appreciate all of you. Thank you so much on that.
Coming up next, though, after tendering his resignation, President Trump just praised Michael Flynn as a wonderful man at that joint news conference, even though he appears to have lied about his contacts with Russia, this as President Trump's team was in constant contact with Russia during the campaign.
We will talk live to a Democratic member of Congress who suggests this may all amount to treason.
BALDWIN: If you are just tuning in, there's breaking news from Capitol Hill here, as we're hearing from the great reporting from Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill here that Andrew Puzder -- this is President Trump's pick for labor secretary, supposed to have this massive confirmation hearing tomorrow.
Couple of notes there. The hearing now is expected to be canceled. Apparently, he has canceled all of his prep ahead of said hearing. And according to a Republican source who has been in touch with team Puzder and also the White House, describing the nomination as "beyond repair."
Let's start there. Let's go to Capitol Hill. Let me bring in Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Democratic from Pennsylvania.
So, Congressman, welcome.
REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Your response to exactly what I just outlined on how it appears this is Trump's Cabinet pick potentially going down in flames?
BOYLE: Well, I have to say, I would be pretty happy about it.
Mr. Puzder, despite all the other things that may have come out regarding his history with abuse, which I don't have firsthand knowledge of, just simply his record as a CEO was abysmal.
He really was the poster boy for CEO greed, making an incredible amount of money, millions of dollars, while paying wages that were below a living wage to his fast-food workers.
So it's ironic that Trump was propelled into office mostly because of his appeal to working-class voters, and yet he picks a CEO, like with so many other of his Cabinet spots, picks people who in no way would be in the best interests of American workers.
BALDWIN: There have been some potential fights for some of the other picks, but it appears, again, quoting this Republican source, that this nomination looks beyond repair.
Let's move off that, Congressman, and let me move on to the news of the day on Russia and our reporting here at CNN that a number of Trump aides during the campaign were in constant communication with senior Russian officials.
You, sir, floated the word treason. That is a serious allegation. How do you mean?
BOYLE: Well, my exact quote was, if it is shown that someone actively conspired with a foreign enemy agent of the United States to subvert our democracy, that, I believe, is actually close to the textbook definition of treason.
I put an "if" beforehand. Here at least is what we know now, thanks in part to CNN's reporting