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NEW DAY SATURDAY

Key Vote Tuesday On Republican Tax Cut Bill; Report: CDC Gets List Of Banned Words For 2018; Trump Lawyers Set To Meet With Special Counsel Next Week; British Publicist To Testify Before House, Senate Intel; Trump: "Great" Call With Putin To Talk Economy, North Korea; Historian: Tax Bill Mirrors Pre-Crash 1929 Legislation. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired December 16, 2017 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:07]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, what everybody's been waiting for now for weeks. There's a final bill, there will be no changes.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think that we are going to be in a position to pass something as early as next week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know about me personally, but for the country as a whole it's going to be a good thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sources tell us that the president's lawyers are planning to meet with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team, we are told, as soon as the coming week.

BOLDUAN: When Bob Mueller picked his team, he was fishing in the never-Trump aquarium.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: When you look at what's going on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is way, way beyond the pale of his criticism of the FBI and the DOJ.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drum beat of war against North Korea growing louder by the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States must protect itself if there's an immediate threat against our security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Happy Saturday to you. The president could be getting closer to his first major legislative, a final deal on tax reform is on the table and House Speaker Paul Ryan says the key vote could happen on Tuesday. CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. The final details of the bill, we have them for you, they were released last night. Despite a pledge to reduce the number of personal income tax brackets, the bill does keep all seven. It also however lowers tax rates for most of those brackets.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about some of the provisions now. The biggest tax cut going to businesses. You see them on your screen. I will speak slowly so you can read them. Corporate tax rate drops from 35 percent to 21 percent. Also calls for $2,000 child tax credit now is refundable, helped flip Senator Marco Rubio from a no to a yes.

PAUL: So, individuals are going to be able to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes and the estate tax exemption is going to be doubled. Obamacare did take a hit under this plan. It removes the key individual mandate to help finance the bill. So, with no Democratic support, Republicans cannot afford to lose more than two votes here.

CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip, is with us now. So, Abby, we understand that the president called Senator Rubio on this bill after Rubio became a yes vote. Do we know what they've discussed specifically?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi. That call was largely a thank you from the president for Rubio's support in the bill. He was a key piece of this puzzle. Remember, this is also a priority of the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, who had been working with Rubio on the child tax credit for many, many months.

The president and the White House working very hard over the last few days, working on the phones to make sure all loose ends are tied up before next week when they hope to get this vote done in the Senate. There are still obviously some things that could go wrong. They are feeling consciously optimistic about this process at the moment.

PAUL: All righty. Abby Phillip, appreciate it. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times" is with me now. Lynn, good morning to you.

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Good morning.

BLACKWELL: All right. So, what does this mean for the president? If this gets to his desk, as he said by Christmas, to pass on that Christmas to tax cuts?

SWEET: Well, it could be -- so one, you have to score as a legislative win and two, maybe a mix flushing when people fill out their taxes in a few months and they find out whether or not they really saved or not because this is not a one-size-fits-all tax plan where everybody gets a break and a lot of people will especially in 2018. BLACKWELL: So, let's talk now about what this means, I guess, for 2018 because Republicans believe this will be their selling point as they try to keep their seats and run for reelection. But this hasn't been strong enough to lift the president's approval numbers at least not yet. He's still in the low to mid-30s. Are they betting too much on this?

SWEET: I think they are because sometimes you don't know the impact of a tax cut until you really see it and until you see your check -- really know if you have more money. There is a psychology of taxes where people pay more if there is a soda pop tax than if they 1 percent more in a federal income tax where they don't really see it because of the complexity in the system and how taxes are deducted on paychecks.

So, the psychology is it will give individuals, maybe a lot of them, depending but probably in 2018 more money, but politically that may not translate into enough of a win for this to be reflected in Trump's approval ratings.

BLACKWELL: I want to ask you the same question I'm going to ask our next guest, is this compares to 2009 when Democrats push through the Affordable Care Act and then ran on it in 2010.

[08:05:09] And you'll remember President Obama then called it a shellacking what they took in those midterms. The approval rating for this bill is 29 percent. I mean, could they see what Democrats saw in 2010 after pushing through major legislation on a single party vote?

SWEET: Well, historically the party in power in the White House loses seats in the midterm election. So, you have that historical thrust going in. On top of it, you have all the other controversies and that's what makes this different.

Obama in 2010 did not have all the investigations and personnel controversies and the turn in the White House investigations going on. So, this is going to be harder to compare, but I think that it is legitimate to run on a -- saying that you've done the most biggest tax overhaul in decades. But it is also going to be true that the benefits will go to top earners and to corporations.

BLACKWELL: All right. Lynn Sweet, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

SWEET: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Let's go now to John Philips, CNN political commentator and KABC talk radio host. John, good morning to you.

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning.

BLACKWELL: So, let me give you that question that Lynn just answered. President Obama, as you heard, famously acknowledged the shellacking that Democrats took in 2010 after running on that 2009 Affordable Care Act that was passed, 29 percent approval rating from poll respondents, at least. Are you concerned that your party could go into 2018 and see what Democrats saw in 2010?

PHILLIPS: Yes. They have to get that number up. I think part of the reason why the members are so bad concerning this bill now is because people don't know what's in it. This morning, they're going to be watching CNN and looking up their paper and they are going to try to figure out what exactly is going to be on their tax bill the next time they file.

So, since the focus was about the making of the sausage, Republicans have to shift the focus to how good the sausage tastes when you fry it up in the pan. These guys are going to go back to their districts.

It is very good that they have this bill to go back and presumably will have this bill to go back to their districts with because you don't want to go back this time of the year with nothing but call unless you just want to keep people in West Virginia happy and they need to sell it.

This is something that Republicans have been talking about for years. This is something that Paul Ryan cares about a lot. I think it is something that if they really sell it back home, they'll be fine.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you before we move on to the other issue from the CDC this morning. President Trump tweeted "At the end of October, we will repeal and replace and have healthcare soon after tax cuts." Do you think it is realistic that Capitol Hill is going to go back now to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act?

PHILLIPS: I think they should. I mean, for President Trump --

BLACKWELL: But will they? Do you think they will?

PHILLIPS: I suspect they will. I mean, if he's going to get it done, he's got to get it done right now because they have a Republican majority and as Lynn noted in the previous segment. Typically, the party in power takes loses in the midterm elections so the window is right now.

But I think that that's a bigger issue for Congress than it is for Trump. Members of Congress have been running in cycle after cycle after cycle repealing and replacing Obamacare. The issue for Trump is immigration and the wall. If he does not come through on that subject, then he's toast. Congress, they had different matrix. It's tax reform and health care.

BLACKWELL: He ran on the repeal and replace as well having -- it ended up with those rallies in Washington as well. He also called for the repeal and replacement and said it would be easy and it would happen soon.

Let's move now to the CDC, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Policy analysts according to the "Washington Post" were given a list of words that will be banned in budget request in 2018.

Let's put the list up on the screen, vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based. What's the politics behind this from your perspective?

PHILLIPS: Boy, it reminds me of "I Love Lucy" when they couldn't say that she was pregnant. They had to say she was expecting. I think that Trump and the political people should push back on this because we should be able to have conversations as --

BLACKWELL: When you say the Trump and the political people should push back, you are suggesting they are not the source of this?

PHILLIPS: No, I think that his political people, the people in the Department of Health and Human Services probably did come up with this. But I think it's antithetical to how Trump ran for the presidency.

I think that Trump ran as a guy who is a blood talking guy, who can have frank conversations. I don't like it when the government gets cute with these sorts of things. Here in the state of California where I'm from, they do that with the ballot propositions all the time where they say this is the public safety act that it's something that lets a bunch of people out of prison early.

So, in this particular case, I think they are dead wrong by banning these words and I think that they should reverse themselves.

BLACKWELL: OK. Clear enough. John Phillips, thanks so much for being with us.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Christi.

[06:10:10] PAUL: Well, this morning, an aggressive warning from North Korea to President Trump. State media saying the U.S. could soon face, quote, "disgrace and destruction." The regime also called President Trump a, quote, "old lunatic who is frightened."

These comments come just hours after Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed North Korea's weapons aren't a capable threat to the United States. He says the regime current missile cannot reach the U.S. mainland but encourage President Trump and Secretary Tillerson to continue their diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang.

BLACKWELL: A billionaire couple found dead in their home and now police say their deaths are suspicious.

PAUL: Also, President Trump's lawyers are set to meet with Special Counsel Special Robert Mueller next week hoping the Russia investigation is coming to an end. We have the new details about the next steps straight ahead.

BLACKWELL: Plus, can the Democratic Party make a comeback in 2018 after a historic win in Alabama. Democrats are emboldened to take back the Senate. Do they have a winning strategy? We'll talk about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [08:15:13]

BLACKWELL: New developments this morning in the Russia investigation. Sources say that President Trump's lawyers are set to meet with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as early next week in hopes that the investigation is coming to an end.

PAUL: CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez, has more details on what happens next.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Sources tell us that the president's lawyers are planning to meet with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team we're told as soon as the coming week for what the president's lawyers hope will be a chance to find out the next steps in the Mueller investigation.

The Trump legal team led by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow is hoping that they can see signs that the end is near in Mueller's investigation. Now, they've had other meetings, but here's why this one is of significance.

The White House says that everyone who works there and who Mueller has asked to interview has now gone in for an interview. One of the last happened earlier last week when White House Counsel Don McGahn sat down for his interview.

The White House has also finished turning over documents requested by the special counsel. There's been no request to interview the president or the vice president, we're told.

Now we have a statement from Sekulow and he says, quote, "We do not and will not discuss our periodic communications with the special counsel." And of course, Trump lawyers know that Mueller could still come back to ask for more interviews and for more documents.

And it's important to note that there's no requirement for Mueller to give them any information. They're hoping he's going to show his cards and there is a chance he won't do that. The Mueller investigation is actually moving relatively quickly compared to typical white collar criminal investigations that often stretch into years.

He's been on the job seven months or so and already Mueller has brought charges against four people including two who have pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. But that's not fast enough for the president and his supporters. The bottom line is that the president and Republicans want the cloud of this investigation lifted. Evan Perez, CNN, New York.

PAUL: CNN's Nic Robertson live in Moscow right now. Nic, good to see you this morning. Listen, we know British's publicist, Rob Goldstone, could also appear this week, this time before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. It could happen any day. What can he lend to this investigation?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, he can provide -- and he says in an interview with a British newspaper in the past month or so that he wants to put on the public record his involvement in bringing together Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner into a meeting with a Russian lawyer.

The e-mail that he had sent to Donald Trump Jr. said that he had official documents or there would be official documents discrediting Hillary Clinton. That was very clear in his e-mails. This was what he apparently wants to put some explanations behind that.

It is very interesting watching how this plays out from the Russian perspective sitting here because that Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was in that meeting, who Goldstone talked about the e-mail being there, he was a Russian lawyer, who would have connections to government lawyers.

That was the implication of his e-mail. She was on television here essentially discrediting the whole hypothesis that Goldstone has laid out here at least so far in public. He will put some lights on that and some flesh on the bones for the investigation.

PAUL: Nic, President Trump and Vladimir Putin we know they spoke this week. We know that they have spoken about Russia meddling in the past. No indication that it came up in this particular time around, but is there an expectation or a belief that there could be a diplomatic relationship between these two despite what intel tells us about what happened with the meddling?

ROBERTSON: Well, certainly, we caught a lot of people by surprise that Vladimir Putin, when he gave his annual press conference, this is a once a year opportunity for journalists to ask him a question. It lasted about four hours.

He was asked how did assess President Trump's first year and he said he's done good things for the economy and President Trump then telephoned him back later that evening to thank him for highlighting how the American economy is doing.

They say they talked about a range of other issues including North Korea and Syria, which is a big issue -- would have been topic on that day didn't come up neither as far as we know the meddling in the U.S. elections.

However, you know the position again if you look at it from Russia for President Putin made that one sort of positive comment there about President Trump, if you will. He also said in that same press conference that he thinks this whole investigation to President Trump is imagination. This is undermining the national security of the United States effectively. The investigation should not be going on.

[08:20:10] That's his position, but really his focus on domestic issues right now and he got an election coming up for presidency in March next year. He does not want to be distracted by all of this -- what's going on in the United States right now.

So, I think really for Putin is trying to keep a lot of talk about this so that periphery, it's not what he wants to talk about at the moment in the run up to the elections here. While we have had a little bit of media attention broadly on the issue on television here, it is not a whole lot.

PAUL: All right, grateful for the explanation there. Nic Robertson, we appreciate it. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to Canada now for this tragic mystery. Police are investigating the suspicious deaths of a billionaire couple. Government officials confirmed that Barry and Honey Sherman were found dead in their mansion on Friday. Police say right now their deaths are just suspicious, not homicides.

CNN affiliate, CTV, reports that Barry Sherman was the founder of the largest Canadian-owned pharmaceutical company. Friends describe the couple as incredible philanthropists and great leaders who made their community a better place to live.

PAUL: A historian who said (inaudible) great depression says we are heading down a similar road here. Why he says this tax bill could be history repeating itself. While Republicans say this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

BLACKWELL: Plus, a historic win for Democrats is Alabama paving a way for possibly big wins in 2018? Can the party make a comeback?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:26:04]

PAUL: It's 25 minutes past the hour. Yes, it's Saturday. We are glad you're here. I am Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I am Victor Blackwell. It is good to be with you. It has been months of back and forth, the negotiations, the demands, many of them made and met, now a key vote is set for Tuesday.

PAUL: So, that means that President Trump could be days away from delivering on his promise of tax cuts for Christmas in exchange the president would get his first major legislative win this year. Now, within the last 12 hours, Senate leaders won over key Republican hold outs. They say they now have the vote to get this passed.

BLACKWELL: The stock market keeps reaching one record high after another while the White House, of course, cheers it on, many people cheered it on. Then a tax cut to push through to kickstart business growth. It sounds like what's going on right now, but a historian of a great depression says it an echo of what's already happened, and it could happen again.

Joining me now is Robert McElvaine, the author of "The Great Depression, America 1929 to 1941" and here to tell me why Robert is all wrong is Stephen Moore, distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Gentlemen, good morning to you. Robert, let me start with you. You say as a historian of the great depression you have seen the show before. Explain.

ROBERT MCELVAINE, GREAT DEPRESSION HISTORIAN: Yes. Well, the thing is the trickle-down economics which is what this is has never worked and the best example of that is in the 1920s when the Republicans were in charge of the whole government throughout the decade as they are right now.

And they have an ideological belief that if you just deregulate everything with the economy fill by itself and shovel more and more money to the people at the top, it will leak through those below. That does not work in a consumption-based economy and every time it's been tried, it's been a disaster.

That's exactly what this tax bill, which is going to be catastrophic is doing again. I don't think it will result in anything bad right away, but all the while down the line it certainly will.

BLACKWELL: Stephen?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST: Well, that's not a very accurate portrayal of history. Anyone who knows their history knows we call it the roaring 20s for a good reason. It was one of the most prosperous decades in American history. You can look up the numbers.

Amazing growth after the Coolidge tax cuts of the early 1920s and created a decade of prosperity. What caused the great depression, of course, was the terror and the tax increases that were passed by Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.

And then, of course, if these policies were so horrible, I wonder if he could explain why we that had the 1960s was the second fastest growth decade of the United States. Of course, John F. Kennedy was the first supply sider. He slashed tax rates by 30 percent on individuals and corporations.

After he did that, we had three years of 6 percent growth and had a great prosperity, and of course, for those people who are old enough to remember, the terrible 1970s, what we call the mini-depression (inaudible) I don't know either of you can remember 20 percent mortgage interest rates and 15 percent inflation.

Reagan came in and cut taxes and cut regulations, and of course, the 80s was a boom decade and Reagan was reelected with 49 states. So, I don't think -- he's got his history completely wrong.

BLACKWELL: Robert has the widest smile as he's waiting to respond. Let me ask you, Stephen, you say that the (inaudible) plan led to the roaring 20s. When will voters know if what potentially the president will sign this week will have worked? When will they know that the growth will be directly attributable to this tax plan?

MOORE: Well, we already have 2 percent growth under Barack Obama for eight years and now in the first year of Donald Trump, we have got half a percent growth. So, there's already been a big lift from his policies. But this is a good question, can we get to the 4 percent growth that people like myself have predicted? I think people are going to start feeling early next year of a big, big increase tide of growth because you're going to see that withholding. You know, people are going to start feeling in their paychecks starting in about February the big boost in their paychecks from this tax cut.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Robert, to you, I want you to have an opportunity to respond to the decades that Stephen take through there.

ROBERT MCELVAINE, GREAT DEPRESSION HISTORIAN: Yes. Well, it's hard to know where to begin because everything Stephen is saying is absolutely wrong beginning with the idea that somehow the cause of the Great Depression was not what was going on in the roaring 20s but rather this was only tariffs, which certainly contributed to making things worse. But the Depression was well underway before that.

If you look at the two times of which income has been most concentrated at the very top, the top 100 percent, you'll find it was 1927 and again -- and I think 1928 and again in 2007 and both of those times it was followed by an economic collapse after that.

The discussion of the Kennedy tax cut which is what trickled down people always referred to is a vastly different situation. First of all as Stephen said correctly it was a tax cut that went a lot to the middle class as well to business. This one only pretends to go to the middle class. Mr. Trump is constantly talking about it's unbelievable, it's incredible.

Well, those are the only two words he ever says that are true. Everything he says is unbelievable and incredible. This is a few crumbs to the people in the middle class. And the rest of the people at the very top concentrating wealth there.

The other thing about what follows the Kennedy tax cuts is the great society programs which stimulated the economy in all sorts of ways by giving more purchasing power to people in the lower ranks of society which is exactly the opposite of what's going to happen with this.

The plans are clear, Paul Ryan is -- was a teenager desire to destroy the great society and the new deal and he can see that coming into vision now by using the huge deficits that will come from this tax cut as excuse to cut social programs.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you, Stephen, and I read this a little earlier when we had some of -- the other Republicans on. How do you reconcile what Joint Committee on Taxation says that this legislation, the most recent element at least, what we're seeing now will be scored again I imagine, would add a trillion dollars to the deficit by 2027 and what the Republican Party says it stands for.

And I want to read from the 2016 party platform where it says, "We must impose firm caps on future debt, exhilarate the re-payment of the trillions we now owe in order to reaffirm our principles of responsible and limited government, and remove the burdens we are playing on future generations." Again, an additional trillion dollars by 2027, reconcile those two.

MOORE: So just one quick historical note if people really want to understand a good economic history of the last 75 or 80 years. My book with Arthur Laffer called "The End of Prosperity" really sets this forward.

Now Republicans have become the party of growth. They've become of trying to create more prosperity for the country. And this is a tax cut after -- let's face it, for 10 years, we've seen no budge of middle class income. So we tried Barack Obama's way, it didn't work too well. And now we're going to see I think much more faster growth. And if we're right about that, by the way, every percentage point increase in the growth rate over 10 years reduces the deficits by three $3 trillion.

So one of the things I told Republicans throughout this process is, we can't afford not to do this tax cut because if we continue at 1.9 percent growth as we had under Barack Obama and Bush, we're not going to see -- we're never going to conquer this huge deficit.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we've got to wrap this.

Stephen Moore, Robert McElvaine, thank you both so much.

MOORE: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Have a good morning.

MCELVAINE: Thank you.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the CDC have just been banned from using key words in its 2018 budget. According to the "Washington Post," the Trump administration is prohibiting CDC officials from using seven words and phrases in official documents.

I want you to see the list here so you know what we're talking about. Vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence- based, and science-based. All of those terms are banned from being used when they talk about budget requests.

The ban prompting new questions, too, for this administration the least of which is what's the motive behind these forbidden words.

(INAUDIBLE), the "Washington Post" reporter behind this story with us now.

Lena, good to have you here. Do you get any indication as to why these particular words were banned?

[08:35:03] I mean, we can see on the surface some political power play is going on here but vulnerable, evidence-based. What did you hear?

LENA SUN, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, the official who had told me this said that there was no explanation given when they were given these instructions just that these words were not to be used and they were broken into sort of two buckets. You know this is the time of year when the federal agencies are submitting their budget documents to have the full budget put together, the president's budget will come out in February, and agencies send up drafts and they notice this when some drafts got bounced back and three of the words were flagged. So that was a written flag. And those were vulnerable, entitlement and diversity.

And when the leader of the financial team was given these instruction to the officials, she also said that there were some words that they had been told and she gave this instruction, you know, verbally that were also not included.

There was no explanation given. I'm wondering the official who told me this that it's possible that some could be related to over use, for example, if you have -- if every piece of document narrative has the words evidence-based or science-based, maybe that's too much. And in some cases phrases were given that were substitutes or alternatives to the words that they were forbidding. But in other case, I believe the officials took it to mean as an ideological no-no, for example, fetus.

PAUL: Yes. When -- I understand the reaction of some of the people in the meeting according to the longtime CDC analyst you talked to, said the reaction was incredulous. People saying, are you serious? Are you kidding? So we'll have to see what the intention is behind this.

Lena Sun, thank you so much.

SUN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Democrats are riding a political wave after the boost in Alabama. Can the party keep the momentum going heading into the 2018 midterms. The political panel weighs in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:41:45] PAUL: This week, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore of course in the shocking upset in Alabama's Senate special election. This is a win Democrats are still cheering heading into the 2018 midterms. Now Democrats have high hopes for success in long-held GOP states. They say they have a bigger challenge of winning back voters' trust in states that flipped from blue to red, though, in 2016.

For the party that's still divided, it's just not clear if Democrats can take advantage of the Alabama momentum.

Let's talk about this with the columnist for the "Dallas Morning News," Carl Leubsdorf, CNN political commentator Maria Cardona and CNN political commentator Symone Sanders.

Thank you all so much for being here. I want to ask you first and foremost, and Maria, I'm going to pitch it to you, first. Doug Jones, of course, winning in Alabama. Is that really -- is it a rejection of the GOP or was it a rejection of one man? I mean, how much momentum can the Democrats get from this one win? MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it was a little bit

of both, Christi. And I think that Democrats can certainly take advantage of this momentum. But we have to be committed to making investments early and making investments that are authentic connections to the communities that we understand we have to get the vote -- get out to voting.

I think what happened in Alabama was historic and that those investments were made early and Doug Jones had the relationships for years and years and years in the communities that he was working and then other groups came into to make sure that those connections with the African-American voters that were made, with African-American women were made. And that they were made in a personal and real way.

And I think that is a model for Democrats to move forward. They have to make these investments early on. This is something I have been talking about for years and years and years. And Symone knows this. I think she agrees with me. We can never take for granted the communities that have always supported the Democratic Party.

We now understand that if we make those investments and if we make these voters understand that they are important to us and that we will be with them every step of the way, they will come out for us. They are motivated. Democrats are motivated across the country and all of these communities and I think we can take advantage of that momentum but we have to be committed to doing so.

PAUL: OK. So you're leading me right into a question that I have for you, Carl, because I know that you wrote in the "Dallas News" just a couple of days ago, you were talking about former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner who said excluding independents was, quote, "the height of hypocrisy for a party that seeks their general election votes."

Are Democrats looking at independents differently now? Is their strategy there?

CARL LEUBSDORF, COLUMNIST, THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Nina said that during the first of two days of meetings of the Unity Commission that was set up to bridge the Sanders and the Clinton gaps from 2016. And it had to do with the fact where the independents would be allowed to vote in primaries. There are some legal problems with that.

Actually the Sanders people came out pretty well on the two days of the thing. Nina Turners' comments the next day were much more positive and I think the meeting actually had a lot to do with bridging those gaps and bringing in unity to the party which is an important thing but not as important as the candidates and the money they raise.

[08:45:10] PAUL: But are you seeing Democrats looking at independent voters differently?

LEUBSDORF: Well, the independents are important and one of the two main groups that went for Trump in 2016 were suburban independents and we've seen a pattern all year of those groups going to the Democrats. It was evident in Virginia. It was evident in some of the elections in the New York and Philadelphia suburbs. And it was evident in Alabama.

I mean, Roy Moore was a historically bad candidate but the key groups that went to the Democrats there were a large African-American turnout and suburban independent moderate voters. Many of them Republicans. So that's a crucial group for the Democrats and they need to have candidates who can appeal to them.

PAUL: All right. I want to listen, Symone, here with you to -- former Vice President Joe Biden, he said this last week on his plans for 2020 when he was on "The View."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: If I were offered the nomination by the Lord Almighty right now today, I would say no because we're not ready. The family is not ready to do this. If in a year from now, if they're ready and no one has moved in that I think can do it then I may very well do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: So, Symone, is there a leader that you see, that anybody can identify, that will move in? Or is Biden the next leader?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think it's actually too early to tell. I think if we look closer to November 2018, I would actually even say post this summer, summer of 2018, that's when additional candidates will be emerging.

Look, in 2007, then Senator Obama made over appearances on behalf of other Democrats campaigning for them in the midterm elections. He was out there pounding the pavement on the ground because he was one of the most requested folks to come out on the campaign trail. I think we have to look and see who's going out on the campaign trail, who will be most requested. Those will be some of the individuals that have their momentum and I think folks that will be willing to put their name in the hat for 2020.

But I just want to make one point about the independents and the suburban Republicans. Yes, we need those folks. I'm -- one of the said groups that I worked with Priorities USA, we've done extensive polling and surveys around these people, independents, Obama-Trump voters, if you will, but I just want to be really clear that Alabama would not have happened if just independents and the suburban Republicans made a turn for the Democrats, even a few of them.

It's imperative that there is a two-pronged strategy. Persuasion, i.e., independents and Republicans, moderate Republicans, but also mobilization of based Democratic voters.

CARDONA: Yes.

SANDERS: And the Democratic Party are far too -- the Democratic Party apparatus for the last couple of months have been talking extensively about persuasion and not enough about mobilization. But what we saw in Alabama and even Virginia for that matter and places all across the country, that Democrats have kind of started talking a little bit more and investing a little bit more in that mobilization and that is why we are winning.

PAUL: So, Carl, speaking of the ground game, we had Ben Wikler of MoveOn, who said this, "In Alabama people were focused on victory." He was delighted that the DNC hired 30 organizers to support field efforts in Alabama. "That's exactly the kind of investment and ground game we need to maximize the 2018 wave."

Do you see an indication that ground game is the strategy for the Dems, Carl?

LEUBSDORF: Well, I think the Democrats, one of the problems they had is was the fact that there are many states and many districts, they just let them go to the Republicans and didn't contest them. And for example, in Texas, the Democrats have a congressional candidate and everyone of the 36 districts in Texas in 2018. And so the ground game is important.

It was a big factor in the Virginia election as it was in the Alabama election. Alabama, they put together an awesome get-out-the-vote effort without which the Democrats wouldn't have won. So harder to do it on a 50-state basis but I think the Democrats are getting back to a 50-state strategy in which they contest everything and don't give up districts. And when you do that, you're going to pick off something that you don't expect to.

PAUL: Maria, before I let you go. Do you see a leader of the Democratic Party emerging yet?

LEUBSDORF: No, I agree with Symone. It's much too early. Donna Brazile said I think that there are 51 people she's counted who've either expressed interests in running or have been mentioned. I think it will be later in the summer of '18. I think we won't see this until the spring and summer of '19.

PAUL: OK. Maria?

CARDONA: Yes. I'll chime in on that, too. I agree. I think it is way too early. It could be somebody that none of us have even talked about yet. I think that is what is exciting about this time right now. I think right now Democrats are not so much focused on 2020. We're focused on 2018, going into the midterm elections to really take advantage of the momentum that we saw in the early November elections where Democrats swept across the board in so many locals and statewide elections where we saw minorities being elected, where we saw people, Americans from all walks of life saying that they have had it with this president and this White House and the Republican Party that refuses to stand up for middle class voters, for working class voters, for women, for minorities, for transgender, for LGBT.

This is the kind of election that is going to focus not just on the anti-Trump message because there is a lot of that. But focused on getting America back to full-on American values that make sure that everybody has a way to get ahead.

PAUL: OK.

CARDONA: This White House is not doing that and Democrats will step into make sure that we do.

PAUL: Carl Leubsdorf, Maria Cardona, Symone Sanders, we always appreciate your voices. Thank you for being here.

CARDONA: Thanks so much, Christi.

LEUBSDORF: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Well, their work makes a difference in the lives of others. This weekend Anderson Cooper and CNN honor them in a special hero's tribute. Here is a look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:55:33] BLACKWELL: The 11th Annual "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE." Ten people who put others first all year long.

PAUL: Yes, the star-studded gala airs live tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: These are everyday heroes. They inspire and change lives every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to make sure that they make better choices when it comes to violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you lose your child, the love doesn't go away. It has to find a place. I'm so lucky I found a place to put that love.

ANNOUNCER: They are truly what it means to be a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is people helping poem the best way we know how.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they see me, they always feel happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just give them a chance. They can do anything you ask them to do.

ANNOUNCER: This Sunday night, CNN presents a very special live event.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE": Hey, I'm Anderson Cooper.

KELLY RIPA, HOST, "CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE": And I'm Kelly Ripa.

COOPER: Join us live for CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE.

ANNOUNCER: CNN HEROES: AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE live Sunday at 8:00 p.m. on CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Looking forward to it. We'll see you back here at 10:00 Eastern for an hour of NEWSROOM.

PAUL: But don't go anywhere, "SMERCONISH" is with you next.

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