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Nuclear Option to Move Forward; Russia Subway Explosion; Kushner Expands Diplomat Role; Trump Meets Egypt's President. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:46] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go. Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking news, a crucial week for President Trump and his agenda, 74 days in to his administration, and the White House is looking for a massive win. A win that will require an historic rule change as a nuclear showdown in the U.S. Senate appears eminent. The president's Supreme Court pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, at the center of this partisan war on Capitol Hill. You have Republicans, you have Democrats today arguing passionately in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican senators threatening to go nuclear if the Democrats don't play ball. The senior Democrat on the committee, ranking member Dianne Feinstein, announcing she cannot advance President Trump's nominee.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Unfortunately, Judge Gorsuch's answers were so diluted with ambiguity one could not see where he stood even on big and long-settled cases. Based on Judge Gorsuch's record at the Department of Justice, his tenure on the bench, his appearance before the Senate, and his written questions for the record, I cannot support this nomination.


BALDWIN: All of this as President Trump is meeting with several foreign leaders this week. And the Senate Intelligence Committee continues to meet and investigate behind closed doors, asking a key question in its next phase of the Russian investigation, did the Trump campaign have secret ties to Moscow.

A lot to get to over the next two hours, including the White House daily briefing.

But let's begin with the breaking news and Sunlen Serfaty on this historic moment there on Capitol Hill.

I mean Chis Cillizza just wrote the headline at the top of, "the Senate is about to change forever." SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke.

It's certainly a big moment reached today when Democrats most notably now they've reached the number of votes that they need to essentially lock in a filibuster for Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. That came in the form of the last hour. They reached that threshold when Senator Chris Coons, speaking at the Senate Judiciary Committee, he became the 41st senator to come out and say that he will oppose cloture, essentially joining his fellow Democrats in filibustering Gorsuch. With his support, that means that Republicans, they don't have the numbers here to block that filibuster, which pushes this into a nuclear shutdown, as we call it here in the Senate. First, here's that moment with Chris Coons a moment ago.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Throughout this process I have kept an open mind. After reviewing Judge Gorsuch's record, after meeting with him twice, after participating in four days of very well- run Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, submitting reading (ph) questions and getting feedback from literally thousands of Delawareans, I have decided that I will not support Judge Gorsuch's nomination in the Judiciary Committee today.


SERFATY: Now, all this math is a complicated Senate procedure here, Brooke, really boils down to this. The only way that Neil Gorsuch can get through and become the next Supreme Court justice is if Senate Republicans go ahead and make good on their vow to break Senate rules later in the week invoking the so-called nuclear option. And that changes the rules of the Senate, where Neil Gorsuch and further Supreme Court nominees down the line would only need 51 votes to get confirmed.

Now, we know we've heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell many times in recent week, most notably just yesterday. He said he's basically vowing, he says, Neil Gorsuch will get through. So that's your big clue on where this is all headed.

BALDWIN: Sunlen, thank you so much.

Let me go ahead and bring in my panel. I have with me Dana Bash, CNN chief political correspondent, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, who knows all things SCOTUS, Errol Lewis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News.

Welcome to all of you.

And, ladies first, Dana. I mean, you know, we've underscored how likely the rules will change that, you know, with a simple majority, with this nuclear option, if it goes through, there are ramifications short-term and long-term. I want you to explain what those are first.

[14:05:08] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly. I'm going to let Jeffrey talk about the implications for the Supreme Court. But I - if I may want to talk about the implications for partisanship in Washington because I'm sure our viewers are listening to me say this and think, really, could it get worse? And the answer is, yes. The answer is, yes, it could -


BASH: And it will get worse if and when the rules change for this Supreme Court nomination to make it so that the Supreme Court nominations only need 51 votes. In the short-term, it means that for all nominations, now across the board, because it's the Democrats who changed the rules under Harry Reid several years ago, for other nominations.


BASH: But what - this is sort of the last bastion (ph) in the Supreme Court. All nominations will be 51 votes, which means that pretty much - it's whomever has the majority, or even 50 votes in the Senate and the White House will be a able to get - will be able to get it.


BASH: The thing that is up next, the thing - the only thing left that 60 votes could be required for, that a filibuster could take place for, is legislation. And it's a slippery slope, Brooke. I mean nominations now - and nobody even imagined that the filibuster would be done away with for nominations, much less the Supreme Court, and now nobody could imagine that would happen for legislation.

So what - so let me just go back to where I started about partisanship. It is - it is not - it is possible, not probable, but it is possible that that could eventually be done away with too. And so what that means is that any notion, any semblance of bipartisanship, which is required in the Senate to reach that 60-vote threshold generally, would be gone. And it will - it will look a lot like the House, which we saw what happened there with health care. They couldn't even get their own party together. And so that's why it is so, so frankly disturbing for those of us who have covered Capitol Hill for a long time and see this Senate as the last bastion of the potential for - to working across the aisle.


So, Jeffrey Toobin then on the - my question with regard to the Supreme Court, and we'll get to the slippery slope and legislation and the 60 vote threshold in a second. But to me I think of this two ways. It's like the short-term, and if you're a - if you're a Democrat or a Republican, I mean Judge Gorsuch is a pretty - he's an incredibly qualified pick. I'm thinking down the road, whether Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Justice Kennedy and there is that second, crucial, you know, swing spot, where all of this would then sway how Republicans feel, that's a big deal.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I would just -

BALDWIN: Am I getting ahead of myself?

TOOBIN: No. No, you're not. But I would - you know, I'll defer to Dana and Errol on the procedures.

BALDWIN: OK, everybody being so nice.

TOOBIN: Let's talk about the Supreme Court. Let's talk about the year 2040, which we don't talk about very much because it's so far off in the distance.

BALDWIN: OK, now you're really getting ahead. Yes.

TOOBIN: But, you know, Neil Gorsuch is likely to be on the Supreme Court in 2040. That's what these appointments mean.

BALDWIN: As a legacy pick for the president, right.

TOOBIN: And he's very conservative. So that means, on abortion rights, on gay rights, on Citizens United and campaign finance, this is going to be a voice for the conservative position. And that, to me, is what really matters about this appointment. I mean, you know, we can talk about the procedures and whatnot, the Senate procedures, but he's going to be on the Supreme Court for a very long time. He's only 49 years old. And that's what's really significant about the news today.

BALDWIN: But the Senate procedures matter if you want to go ahead and talk 2040 -


BALDWIN: And another potential position opening. Let's even say within the next four years of a Trump presidency. If they can go with a simple majority, if they change the Senate rules, and if somebody comes up with an even more conservative justice, than with those 51 votes, that person is in.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And, frankly, I don't understand what's so terrible about that. I mean, you know, what's magical about 60? I thought we deal in majority rule in this country. I mean I think 51 is majority.

BALDWIN: Errol's smiling.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think my friend is being provocative here. I mean the -


LOUIS: The reality - well, look, if you want to turn it into yet another legislative chamber, where there are partisan fights and there are simply power plays, you know, let's remember, this is bookends. This week's events are bookends to what happened with Merrick Garland, where, as a power play, the Senate majority decided they just weren't going to have any hearings. They weren't going to talk to the man. They weren't going to hold any hearings. They weren't going to cast any votes. Now, let's roll it forward. Either this majority or future Democratic

majority can do the same thing.


LOUIS: Maybe it stops being one year.

BASH: Exactly.

LOUIS: Maybe it turns into two or three or four, in which case we now have the Supreme Court greatly denuded from what the founders wanted in the first place, and, secondly, sort of a - just a branch of the Senate in effect.

[14:10:00] BALDWIN: But you say -

BASH: And, Brooke -

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Dana. Let me - let me bring you back.

BASH: I also - I also just want to add what this shows about the fervor in and among the Democratic base to do something to get back at Republicans, to stop Republicans, to stop the president. I mean Chuck Schumer, who's a Democratic leader in the Senate, is very strategic. He knows what he's doing here. He knows that by waging this filibuster, by taunting the Republican leader to change the rules, which he will, it could very much, to your point earlier, Brooke, hurt the Democrats when and if there is a swing seat that comes up during the Trump presidency because their hands are going to be tied unless they get the majority in the Senate.

However - however -

TOOBIN: But - but they were going to do that anyway, Dana. I mean it -

BASH: Well -

TOOBIN: Isn't that - that they were going to abolish the filibuster for the next seat if they didn't abolish it for this seat. Isn't that right?

BASH: Possibly. Possibly. But not definitely. Not definitely. I mean it just - it just depends. Now they have no leverage. It is possible, but now it's like it's a done deal, right? But I guess my point is, is that there's so much energy out there among liberal activists and among Democrats to stand up to the Republicans, to do something, to get back at Republicans for what they did to Merrick Garland and, you know, that Democrats genuinely think that this is a stolen seat because Republicans didn't even give him a hearing. And I think that this could be a telltale sign for what's to come vis-a-vis the power that the left has, you know, among Democrats, but also potentially to help Democrats in the next election.

BALDWIN: Let's - let me - Errol, on that precise point then, with some of these red state Dems, how might this help them? LOUIS: Well, it absolutely helps them. I mean, you know, I don't want to sort of speak for Chuck Schumer, although I've covered and I've known him for quite a long time.


LOUIS: What I sense here is that they knew that with Senator Coons, that they had enough to sort of keep a filibuster, and that gave some freedom to some of these so-called red state democrats, like Manchin in West Virginia and Heitkamp in North Dakota, Donnelly in Indiana, to sort of say, OK, we're not going to go along with it. So they're sort of trying to protect and preserve something of Democratic power and possibly in these otherwise red states. That's an interesting kind of development. All of that gets swept away if you start making it into these simple majority power plays. And that then sort of makes each state either all Republican or all Democrat, all partisan all the time. The last thing that you want, especially when you're talking about lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court.

BALDWIN: Final thought from you.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, you know, what my buddy Errol says is simple majority power plays. Another word for that is democracy. Like, decide with the most votes wins.

BALDWIN: Whether it's 51 or 60?

TOOBIN: Well, yes, I mean -

LOUIS: If you're from Rhode Island or from California, what -

TOOBIN: Well, but, I mean, that - you know, 51 is a majority of 100 and I just don't see why that is suddenly so terrible.

LOUIS: So then by 51 votes you can say, you know what, we're not even going to fill the next vacancy because we don't like the way that will come out. Is that OK too?

TOOBIN: That's - that's how it worked. Yes, absolutely.

BALDWIN: To be continued.

Errol and Jeffrey and Dana, thank you all so much.

We are minutes away, by the way, from the White House daily briefing. And, of course, they'll be talking about what we're talking about precisely, Neil Gorsuch and this vote later this afternoon out of committee and ultimately the full Senate vote later this week.

Also ahead, high stakes diplomacy. President Trump meeting right now with Egypt's president. President Trump also delivering an ultimatum to the president of China days before their meeting with President Xi heads down to Mar-a-Lago. We'll talk about what's at stake there.

Also breaking news today, this subway terror attack leaves 11 people dead. Who is behind it? How the White House is responding. That's coming up.


[14:17:47] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Tragedy in Russia's second largest city. At least 11 people have been killed, dozens more injured, including children. This all happening after an unidentified device exploded inside a St. Petersburg subway train. Russian state officials say the explosion was so strong it ripped off the side of the subway car. You can see it.

All of this happening while the train was traveling through this tunnel between two busy metro stations right before the evening rush hour. The two stations are in the city center. A second device was found at another station and that device was disabled. Passengers, many of them, just covered in blood, escaped from the smoke-filled trains. Witnesses described seeing bodies strewn across the subway platform.

City and state officials called the incident a terrorist act, but Russian President Vladimir Putin says the investigation is just the beginning.

Coincidentally, President Putin was in St. Petersburg just before the explosion. He was there speaking on the outskirts of the city on official state business.

Matthew Chance is standing by. He's our senior international correspondent in Moscow. And with me here, Paul Cruickshank, CNN terrorism analyst.

So, Matthew, first to you. What do you know? Has anyone claimed responsibility?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, but the investigation, as Vladimir Putin has said, is still very much at the early stages. And the investigative teams are on the ground. The metro stations have been evacuated, of course. The casualties have been taken away. And the process now is part of, you know, trying to build a picture of what exactly took place. Investigative teams are there gathering what evidence they can, scouring the platform for any clues as to what went on here and who may be responsible.

There's also been some praise unusually for the driver of the train from Russian prosecutors because they say that he could have saved lives by the fact that when the device exploded, instead of just stopping in the middle of the tunnel, he drove on to the next station, allowing the injured and the casualties to be evacuated there by saving a whole lot of other lives as well.

[14:20:00] And so, you know, very chaotic scenes that we're seeing here. A lot of trauma and a lot of outrage, of course, being expressed now about what took place.

BALDWIN: When you, Paul Cruickshank, think of Russia and you think of the caucuses, you think of, you know, terror attacks we've covered, a lot of these jihadists coming from the caucuses, training, are they now coming home?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, and the warriors that there's this terror threat from the caucuses, but that jihadis from the caucuses have also migrated to Syria and Iraq and some of those have become the elite fighters for ISIS there. Some of those have gotten involved in international terror attacks. For example, the Istanbul airport attack back last June. And the worry is that all these thousands of fighters are now going to migrate back to Russia, to launch what could be an unprecedented terrorist campaign against Russia.

Russia really is the number one target right now for global jihadis. A bigger target even than the United States. And that's because of its brutal intervention in the Syrian civil war. The fact that its airstrikes have killed so many Sunni Muslims inside Syria. That has angered these global jihadis and also energized them, making this international terror threat - the whole international terror threat, not just against Russia, but about - against just about everybody - that much worse, Brooke.

BALDWIN: What about just even the fact that President Putin happened to be in St. Petersburg? Do you read anything into that at all or no?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, it's certainly possible that it was timed to coincide with his visit. Not clear whether that was telegraphed beforehand or not, but I think it may end up being just coincidental that he happened to be there at the time.


CRUICKSHANK: But right now it's a race against time to find the perpetrators of this attack. They have not, as we understand, been apprehended yet. They've managed to make powerful bombs. They could do this again tomorrow. They could do this again later on.

BALDWIN: It's frightening.

Paul Cruikshank, thank you so much. And Matthew Chance, thank you, in Moscow for us. We'll stay on that.

Also coming up though here on CNN, President Trump meeting with top international leaders face to face this week. The stakes couldn't be higher as President Trump's son-in-law, top adviser, Jared Kushner, makes a surprise trip to Iraq. What role he's playing in President Trump's foreign policy plans.

You're watching CNN.


[14:26:48] BALDWIN: Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a man with no government experience, is fast becoming one of the most influential men in Washington. In fact, when China's president meets with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, it will be thanks in no small part to Jared Kushner, the president's also top adviser who facilitated the very meeting.

And as the fight for Mosul continues, Ivanka Trump's husband also surprised a lot of people with an unexpected trip to Iraq. And we now have this picture showing Jared Kushner meeting with the Iraqi prime minister.

Joining me now, Michelle Kosinski, CNN's senior diplomatic correspondent.

Michelle, this is a 36-year-old man whose previous job was running his father's, you know, real estate firm and now he's like this de facto secretary of state. At least that's how some people are describing it. China, Iraq, Mexico. I mean what isn't he involved in?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN: Yes, I know, I mean he's tasked with everything from leading American innovation and reworking the entire government, to solving the Mideast peace crisis. And you've heard President Trump say things about him after his inauguration like he's a good kid. If anybody can solve Middle East peace, it's him. He's a good deal maker. Everybody likes him. I mean things like that. But then you have career diplomats looking at this situation like, here's somebody with zero diplomatic experience. How is this going to work?

But, obviously, the president has entrusted him to have this kind of influence, to have these conversations around the world. It's also caused this kind of rift when you look at, what is he doing versus what Secretary of State Tillerson is doing? Who has the more influential role with the president? I think that's probably obvious given that Kushner is his son-in-law after all. But they've had to kind of hash out what the roles are. It's not as if Tillerson has been absent. We saw him right there at Donald Trump's side when he was meeting today with the Egyptian president. He's taken overseas trips. It's just surprising to see Kushner kind of wear so many hats and then this trip to Iraq, it prompted President Obama's former deputy national security adviser to tweet out, you know, "Kushner goes to Iraq before the secretary of state, before the president's national security adviser, totally normal," he ends it with, obviously sarcastically.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. Yes. I mean and also goes to Iraq, by the way, before this big visit with President Xi this week. Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much.

Let's move on and broaden out the discussion. I've got Dana Bash with me, our chief political correspondent. Clarissa Ward is here, CNN's senior international correspondent. And Demetri Sevastopulo, D.C. bureau chief at "The Financial Times." One of those three reporters who actually interviewed President Trump for the FT.

So, Demetri, let me just begin with you. And let me just share this moment because we have the video where President Trump is welcoming Egyptian President El-Sisi to the White House and, you know, the president said El-Sisi has a friend in him. And on the left side of the screen you see the handshake with El-Sisi. On the right, we're putting this up here just because you had asked about the Merkel meeting with President Trump in the FT piece and the chillier reception and the non-handshake moment. What do you make of the El- Sisi meeting?

[14:30:07] DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO, D.C. BUREAU CHIEF, "THE FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, this is a big week for Donald Trump. President El-Sisi was never invited to the White House by President Obama because the Obama