Return to Transcripts main page


Gorsuch Hears First Arguments; Gorsuch Takes his Seat; Dems Flight in Georgia Election; White House Easter Egg Roll. Aired 9:30- 10a

Aired April 17, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:55] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, it is an historic day on the Supreme Court. In just a few minutes, the new junior justice, Neil Gorsuch, will take his seat on the court for the first time.

Joining me now live, CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue.

What can we expect to hear, Ariane?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, John, you're right, it's Justice Neil Gorsuch who's going to take the bench for the first time. And this is actually a big week for the court. They're about to issue an orders list, and that has to do with cases they may or may not take next term. There's an important religious liberty case and there's also the potential of them taking a challenge to North Carolina's voter I.D. law. They'll also sit for arguments today, tomorrow and Wednesday.

And Wednesday's a big deal. It's another religious liberty case. It concerns a church-run preschool program that was denied state grants for - to improve its playground. It's a big religious liberty dispute and conservatives will really be watching Gorsuch. They think that he'll rule in their favor on these religious liberty cases. But, of course, you're never sure, right? Now he's a justice and we'll find out.

But, John, the most important thing is after over a year this court is now back to full strength. It's got - now got nine justices. And, John, that means a lot to them.

[09:35:09] BERMAN: Yes, nine justices as intended.

Ariane de Vogue outside of the Supreme Court. Thanks so much for being with us, Ariane.

Joining me now, CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, staff writer at "The New Yorker," former federal prosecutor. He wrote "The Oath," about President Obama's relationship with the high court.

Jeffrey, thank you.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Remember Obama, he was the one before Bush - before Trump, after Bush.

BERMAN: I remember faintly.


BERMAN: And the whole oath of office thing with John Roberts. It didn't work so well.

TOOBIN: That's right. That's right.

BERMAN: All right, the junior justice, which is Neil Gorsuch right now -

TOOBIN: Yes, indeed.

BERMAN: That's a real thing. The junior justice has real ceremonial responsibilities.

TOOBIN: Yes. I would describe him as modest. I mean the most important thing is he has a vote on the Supreme Court. That's a good thing to have. Yes, indeed.

BERMAN: Well, but beside the vote.

TOOBIN: But in the super-secret conference room of the justices, sometimes someone knocks at the door to deliver the coffee or someone's eye glasses and it's always the junior justice's responsibility to go get - to open the door. No other justice has to arouse themselves.

The other responsibility that the junior justice has is, the Supreme Court has a lot of committees. They have a committee on the building. They have committee on procedure. They committee on commuters. They also have a committee on the Supreme Court cafeteria, which is considered the least desirable committee to be on because, after all, who cares? The junior justice always has to serve on the cafeteria committee. So Elena Kagan is now freed of those responsibilities.

BERMAN: Hazing even inside the Supreme Court.


BERMAN: All right, you bring up the fact that in addition to having cafeteria responsibilities and door opening, the justice does get a vote as being a part of the Supreme Court.

TOOBIN: That's true.

BERMAN: Some big cases coming up, even as soon as this week, on religious liberty.

TOOBIN: Right.

BERMAN: And this is where Neil Gorsuch, Justice Gorsuch, may make a real difference immediately. TOOBIN: Well, and this has been a particular interest of his in his career on the appeals court, which is basically, do religious people get to excuse themselves from responsibilities that the law establishes for others? In addition, are religious institutions allowed to get government benefits? That's what the case on Wednesday is about. It's actually about a very small issue about who gets to - you know, whether a parking lot is paved -

BERMAN: Yes, a playground.

TOOBIN: Yes. But the question about whether a religious school can receive government funding for its operations is potentially a very big deal, especially in the Trump administration, where Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary, wants to shift resources into parochial schools. So cafeteria is not the biggest deal.

BERMAN: What - so Neil Gorsuch, Justice Gorsuch, known as a writer, a great writer, and known as something of a talker, as we all saw during the confirmation hearings as well.

TOOBIN: Yes, indeed.

BERMAN: He replaces, you know, Antonin Scalia, who was also known as something of a talker. What kind of a difference to the overall tone inside the court during hearings and in the back room can that make?

TOOBIN: You know, Byron White served on the court for more than 30 years, and he had a saying that all the justices liked to quote, which is, "when you change one justice, you don't just change one justice, you change the whole court," because the dynamics of only nine people are actually very much effected by one new person.

I anticipate he will be an active presence at oral argument. All the justices, except, of course, for Clarence Thomas, are big questioners. I anticipate that Gorsuch will ask questions too.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has sort of taken it upon herself to ask the first question in a lot of Supreme Court arguments. And I anticipate that the junior justice will wait his turn.

BERMAN: Probably a good idea.

TOOBIN: Yes, that's customary to wait in seniority order. But I don't expect a Clarence Thomas-like silence from Gorsuch at all. I would be willing to bet three arguments today, he'll at least ask some questions, even on his first day.

BERMAN: It will be fascinating to se. An historic day.

TOOBIN: Yes indeed.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks for sharing it with us. Appreciate it.

TOOBIN: All right, Berman.

BERMAN: So what do Alyssa Milano, Samuel L. Jackson and Newt Gingrich all have in common? They're all connected to the most closely watched election in the country, the Georgia race that could tell you everything about the health of the presidency.

And, bracing for bunnies. Live pictures from the South Lawn of the White House. The new first family's first White House Easter Egg Roll. No Shaq, no Beyonce, but we are promised surprises. The president and first lady speak live, that's coming up.


[09:43:26] BERMAN: Every political eye in America focused on Georgia this morning. In less than 24 hours, there's a special election to fill a vacant House seat that has been in Republican hands since the '70s. Democrats are pinning their hopes on a 30-year-old political neophyte, a bunch of celebrities and what they hope is a wave of anti- Trump sentiment.


SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR: Hi, I'm Samuel L. Jackson. There's a special congressional election on April 18th. What can you do? Go vote. Your vote goes a long way towards setting things right in this country. Vote for the Democratic Party. Stop Donald Trump.


BERMAN: Now, so if the Democrat John Ossoff can win more than 50 percent of the vote tomorrow, he takes a seat. Otherwise, he faces a runoff with the top Republican in June.

Let's talk about this with A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for RealClearPolitics, David Swerdlick, a CNN political commentator and assistant editor for "The Washington Post," and CNN political analyst Alex Burns, national political reporter for "The New York Times."

Alex, special elections mean everything unless they don't. But let's take the over here. Let's talk about why this special election is so important.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think that in the big picture this is a check in most of all on just the enthusiasm and the mood of the two party bases. This is a seat that a conventional Republican in a conventional year ought to win easily and where a Democrat like John Ossoff really shouldn't be remotely close. And the reason why it's close, and both parties acknowledge it at this point, the Republicans acknowledge that they're concerned about the race, is that it's entirely about just sort of the native, organic energy on the two sides. The Democrats, left to their own devices, are voting and Republicans left to their own devices are not voting quite as much.

[09:45:04] BERMAN: So far in the early vote you're talking Democrats also left to their own devices are sending in just tons and tons of cash to this election right now. John Ossoff, 30 years old, raised more than $8 million heading into the special primary. A.B., let me read you a tweet we just - we just got in like minutes

ago from the president of the United States. He says, "the super liberal Democrat in the Georgia congressional race tomorrow wants to protect criminals, allow illegal immigration and raise taxes." What you see there, it's interesting. You see the president, Donald Trump, who isn't necessarily that ideological one way or the other, trying to make this an ideological race, sending a message to Republicans, go out and vote tomorrow to make sure that this Democrat doesn't get to 50.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right. I think it would be hard for Ossoff to get to 50, but there is a lot of fear in Republican ranks and you know that President Trump was helping along with several party big wigs like Senator Ted Cruz, helping Ron Estes and the - take the Pompeo seat in Kansas in a special election there last week. That came too close. He won by seven points, but he should have had it by dozens and dozens. And they, you know, really did a good effort of sort of scaring the Republicans and the state admitted in Kansas that they kind of scared Republicans into showing up because it's a numbers game and if you have motivated Democrats, that's the kind of thing that can take these special elections.

Ossoff is obviously hoping, counting on an energized anti-Trump sentiment in his party, but with 95 percent of those donations coming from out of state, he's got to get people in that district motivated to turn out and get him over 50 percent. If he doesn't get to 50, and he has to face a runoff, I think the Republicans will, with the help of Donald Trump, really mobilize and motivate and push a Republican over the top in the runoff in June.

BERMAN: That's right, Alyssa Milano, Samuel L. Jackson, they don't get to vote there. That's not what's going to put you over the top in that district.

David Swerdlick, Democrats, you know, they think they got close in Kansas, but there's no participation ribbon in politics right now. They have to win some of these races. Can they do it?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR : Yes, John, that's right, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. You know, Democrats have to win some seats and they have to win them one at a time, whether you're talking about Kansas, where they came close but didn't quite get it, whether you're talking about Georgia, where I agree with A.B. that if Ossoff wins tomorrow, then obviously that's great for Democrats. If he only gets to a runoff, I think that's a much steeper climb once Republicans can coalesce around one or maybe two Republican candidates.

This is - this is the challenge for Democrats. There's not going to be any silver bullet. There's not going to be some sea change all of a sudden in public opinion about President Trump. He has bled support, but it is not just flipped overnight in the last couple of months. Democrats have to just go out there and win races. There's no - there's no other magical formula to it. You know, Alex, last week you had an article - sort of a deep dive in

some of these Republican, but maybe shifting Democratic districts, suburban districts where you had some voters who did turn out for Donald Trump, who now you found might be having some reservations.

BURNS: That's right. You know, I was in the district down in Georgia. I was in a competitive district in New Jersey. One of my colleagues was in Virginia and Minnesota. And what we heard was, you know, not a lot of Republicans or Trump voters saying, I'm now going to vote for a Democrat. But a lot of folks saying, I'm just not really sure what the point of voting was. You know, we didn't get Obamacare changed. We haven't seen really any big wins on the board. This is what scares Republicans more than anything else right now because while A.B. and David are absolutely right, that Democrats, at some point, actually do need to win elections, it does change the mood in Washington and the mood of the Republican Congress. If they keep seeing these seats that are, you know, typically 10, 20, 30 points Republican, ending up as two, three, seven points Republican because there are a lot of Republican members of Congress who typically win by three or five points. And if there, you know, center right voters in the suburbs who they always count on to turn out are thinking of staying home, they may be endangered even if Tom Price's seat at the end of the day ends up in GOP hands.

BERMAN: You know, A.B., you mentioned about what Republicans might do if there is a runoff in Georgia and Republicans I've talked to say it's very possible that President Trump will go campaign in Georgia's sixth (ph), which is interesting on many levels, not the least of which is that Mar-a-Lago is not in Georgia. So, you know, he doesn't go many places in this country. We have a chart here. Alex's paper, "The New York Times," did an interesting study this morning. President Trump has only gone to nine - seven states, visited no foreign countries. At this stage, President Obama had been to 23 states at this point and also gone to Canada.

A.B., why don't you think the president has done more travel up until now?

STODDARD: Well, we know from his campaign in 2016 he's a home body. He doesn't like to spend the night in strange places. I think he spent one or two nights, I can't remember the exact estimate, in hotels, and he talked very fondly of how nice and clean they were, but he basically would fly to a rally and fly home, even if he got home at 2:00 in the morning. And it is true, he just doesn't really like to travel to places that are not his residences. Mar-a-Lago is one. Now the White House is one. And, of course, at Trump Tower in New York City. So he's not comfortable particularly with overseas travel.

[09:50:21] And I think that just combined with the fact that if we're talking about sort of the political use of the president before the midterms, you know, his threat to members of the Freedom Caucus who helped bring down the Obamacare replacement bill that he would, you know, that perhaps he would primary them and people around him making those threats really fell short because they don't really believe that he would actually come after them in primary campaigns before the midterms next year. Not only that he doesn't like to travel, but that it would just be really unprecedented for a president to come after members of his own party.

So the question of how much he can really help them, particularly if members of Congress working with the Trump White House do not fulfill these promises. They don't get taxes cut. They don't get Obamacare repealed and replaced. This is going to be a huge problem for them, as Alex said, going into 2018 because the energy against Trump, particularly in these swing districts where somebody won by four points, is so strong.

BERMAN: David, quickly, you know this president has shown that he doesn't necessarily need to go somewhere, though, to get covered in a big way. He can have a lot of influence just by, you know, playing with his cell phone.

SWERDLICK: Right, he has effectively used Twitter to get a message out that goes above the heads of us in the media sometimes and I think he'll continue to do that, although I think after the whole tweet storm back in March about President Obama, quote/unquote, "wiretapping" him, that diminished some of the power of his ability to tweet. And I agree with A.B. that, you know, part of the reason he doesn't go out is because he doesn't like to travel. I also think part of the reason he doesn't go out is because he's - he's - it's harder to sell what he's selling right now. When you can go out on the trail, John, and say something like, you know, look, China's a currency manipulator, that's a good talking point. When you have to go out on the trail and say, I met with China and we're still talking, doesn't make as compelling of a speech. And I think that's what he's up against.

BERMAN: Right, doesn't necessarily have anything to sell right now.


BERMAN: A.B. Stoddard, David Swerdlick, Alex Burns, great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

It could be the egg heard around the world, or eggs, I suppose. The White House Easter Egg Roll. Live pictures. This is the first one for the Trump family. They got a late start in planning, so can they pull this off? We're live.


[09:56:57] BERMAN: All right, let's roll! You're looking at live pictures from the South Lawn of the White House. This is the Trump administration's first Easter Egg Roll. It is underway, been so for several hours. This is a giant, annual social event in Washington every year, but this year things could be a little less giant. Twenty- one thousand are expected to attend, compared to 37,000 last year. Now, we could hear from President Trump very, very shortly.

CNN's Kate Bennett live for us from the South Lawn in the midst of it all.

Kate, what are you seeing? KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it is true, the crowds

are a little more sparse this year. There's definitely fewer waits in some of the lines. But the kids are having a good time. We're right next to one of the Easter Egg Roll stations. And we can take a look here and you can see, the lines are moving pretty swiftly. People are coming through. There's not a big wait. You know, there are other activities that are drawing more crowds, the costume characters. There are a bunch of team players from D.C. United over there. There's a cookie decorating station and an egg dying station. There's lots of activity, but it doesn't feel that packed-in feeling. It's definitely - there's room to move around, let's just put it that way.

And the president and the first lady should be out shortly, as you mentioned. We'll likely hear from the president. I would imagine he might take part in at least one or two of the activities, perhaps writing letters to the troops. There's a station set up over there where people can write letters to our troops. He might make an appearance, we're hearing, at - over there later on.

BERMAN: So, there was a big question about whether or not there would be enough eggs and they would get there in time. I mean the Trump family got a late start on this. As you can imagine, they had a lot going on coming into the presidency after January 20th. But the company that made the eggs was concerned that they didn't get the order early in time. Are all the eggs there, Kate?

BENNETT: I cannot confirm that I have seen any of the actual wooden commemorative eggs that Wells Woodturning, that company in Maine, was tweeting about. However, there are plenty of dyed eggs.

I will say this, the first lady's office is - because she's not here full time, there were staffing hiccups in the beginning. However, I've been told that goodie bags were stuffed here on Saturday by hundreds of volunteers, that they'll be ready to go and each child is supposed to receive a commemorative egg as well as some other goodies and arts and crafts in those goodie bags. So we're hoping that they'll be here, but I have yet to lay eyes on one of the special, signed commemorative eggs this year.

BERMAN: All right, Kate Bennett for us on the South Lawn of the White House. We're going to keep our eye on there because we are expecting to hear from both the president and the first lady very shortly in honor of Washington tradition, so stick around for that.

Our next hour starts right now.

All right, good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

We do have live pictures from the White House, where President Trump is expected to speak just minutes from now. Live pictures of the Easter Egg Roll, his first as president.

[09:59:50] Inside the White House, serious business. A face-off with North Korea. In an exclusive interview with CNN, the vice president, Mike Pence, he issued a new warning. He was speaking inside the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, standing just a few feet from North Korean soldiers at the time, just a few hours after the North Korean regime's failed missile launch. He warned that this White House may not show the restraint of