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Defense Secretary Visits Troops At Guantanamo Bay; Soon: U.N. Votes On Trump's Jerusalem Decision; Netanyahu Rails Against U.N. Calls It "House Of Lies" Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] WEIR: -- clothing drive, even scoring corporate backup.


WEIR: She's using the grant money she was awarded to buy even more supplies. Way to go.

CAMEROTA: That's awesome. Future business leader.

WEIR: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: Right on.

WEIR: Exactly. Spreading the love.

Thank you so much for spending this morning with us. It's time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. 9:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York John Berman has a well-deserved day off.

Just hours after they managed to overhaul the entire federal tax code for at least the next decade, Republicans and Congress are struggling to keep the government's doors open and the bills paid for one more month.

Even for Congress, the tax bill triumph was fleeting. Today funding for almost every government function is on the line with added division over Defense spending, disaster aid and even health care for children.

The results were a deadline of 12:00 a.m. Eastern Saturday morning, 39 hours from now to get this done. At least one House Republican dares to hope that the House and Senate can hash things out in a day and a half.

Charlie Dent saying, quote, "It would be an act of political malpractice after a successful tax reform vote to shut down the government. Talk about stepping on your message, I mean, really, how dumb would that be?"

Suzanne Malveaux is on the Hill with more.

So you're there, you're talking to these folks. Are they going to get it done?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, they certainly hope so because this is the one thing they don't want to have happened. They can't imagine that they would have such a tremendous success and then afterwards really this dark cloud over it. So they're doing everything that they possibly can. It started in earnest at 8:00 in the morning. The House Rules Committee taking a look at what possible plans compromise they can make to keep the government going. As you said that deadline looming.

What may happen as well, if they have to kick some of the -- they kick the can down the road on some of these more important issues, it's a short temporary fix, a continuing resolution to fund the government until January 19th.

But, Poppy, here are some of the things that are holding up these processes. These are the things that are very important, that they're looking at. One of them, of course, is the Defense spending, whether or not military spending, the stop-start gaps if you will, many people -- many of the Republicans believing that that is really weakening the U.S. security and that that's not a good idea. House Speaker Paul Ryan pushing forward, saying, look, at least just do what you have to do to keep that going.

Also the disaster aid relief package, very likely to go in a separate bill. This is the hurricane relief that many people are saying it's got to continue and you cannot play with that when it comes to the spending bill.

FISA, that surveillance program, the House Freedom Caucus, conservatives, also looking and saying this has to be a part of this extension, this three-week extension package. And as you mentioned, CHIP. This is health insurance for children. Both sides desperately say that this has got to be part of the package, but the real question is, how are you going to pay for it?

Those were just some of the things, Poppy, that people are debating. But you can -- make no mistake about it, they are working fast and furious behind the scenes to try to cobble something together to fund the government.

HARLOW: I'm old enough to remember the last time it shut down and it was not pleasant for a lot of folks. Let's hope they can do it.


HARLOW: Suzanne Malveaux, thank you very much. Because it wasn't very long ago.

Also this morning a clear warning to President Trump from the top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee. Mark Warner warning on the Senate floor, if you move to have Robert Mueller fired, you will face significant consequences. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Any attempt by this president to remove Special Counselor Mueller from his position or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of Executive Branch responsibilities and authorities.


HARLOW: Manu Raju joins me live on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, you know, it is remarkable to hear that on the Senate floor which gives it added weight, you caught up with Senator Warner after, and asked him why he felt it was necessary to do that. What did he say?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he said he was concerned that there's this coordinated effort, both in the conservative media and with President Trump's allies to try and discredit Robert Mueller and try to potentially fire him or undermine the investigation next week when Congress is on recess. So he said that he decided he wanted to go to the floor yesterday and make this speech, put the focus on the potential that the president could take steps to undermine the investigation so that Republicans would speak out as well, and that Republicans for the most part would oppose any effort to fire Robert Mueller, particularly Republican senators, even as some House members have been concerned about what they view as impartiality of the Mueller investigation, some going as far as saying they should fire Robert Mueller.

But when Mark Warner went to the floor yesterday he said this is a red line that the president should not cross. Here's what he said.


[09:05:04] WARNER: In the United States of America, no one, no one is above the law. Not even the president. Congress must make clear to the president that firing the special counsel or interfering with his investigation by issuing pardons of essential witnesses is unacceptable and would have immediate and significant consequences.


RAJU: Now when I caught up with the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, the Republicans Richard Burr, a couple of days ago, and I asked him about specific concerns about firing Robert Mueller, he really batted that down, said this is just speculation. I don't want to get into this at all. He really did not think this was going to be much of an issue.

And the White House itself put out a very strongly-worded statement saying last night that that was not under consideration of the firing Robert Mueller. This is what Ty Cobb, the president's attorney said, "The White House willingly affirms yet again as it has every day this week there is no consideration being given to the termination of the special counsel." Now this comes as there is still a significant amount of concerns

among some Republicans about how the FBI is conducting its investigation. Andrew McCabe, the deputy director, of the FBI behind closed doors later this morning, with two House committees, he's going to be grilled for hours about the Clinton e-mail investigation and everything else, so we'll see what comes out of that as well -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Manu Raju, thank you for the reporting on the Hill. We appreciate it.

Let's talk about all of this with our panel, CNN political commentators Errol Louis and Matt Lewis, the Brother Lewis are with us. And political reporter for the "Washington Post's" political blog "The Fix," Amber Phillips.

Nice to have you all here.

And Errol, let me start with you. Do you think that Warner's concerns are warranted enough to have made this speech using those words on the Senate floor, despite what the president and the White House keeps saying?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, absolutely. There's an odd kind of quality to this. Mueller and the investigation, they can't speak for themselves, it would be improper.

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: They've been -- they've really kept very, very quiet. On the other hand you have a daily barrage of increasingly hostile accusations, some of them frankly fabrications that are coming from FOX News and from some other sources saying that, you know, Mueller is a political hack and Mueller has got it in for the president and --

HARLOW: But Republicans -- from some Republicans in Congress.

LOUIS: Yes. And I mean, when it escalates to the point where they're talking about, oh this is a coup and all of this kind of thing, somebody needs to speak up and I think it was clear that if the Democrats want this investigation to continue on either the congressional side or the special counsel they're going to have to speak up and defend it.

HARLOW: Matt Lewis, how do you see it? Because context is important, and just one of -- you know, number of examples from the president himself who has said, you know, as recently as within the past week he has no intention of firing Mueller, he did write this six months ago.

"You are witnessing the greatest single witch hunt in American political history led by some very bad and conflicted people." That was a series of message he wrote about the special counsel investigation. Do you think it was enough for warrant what Senator Warner did?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. I do. I think that -- so we're one tweet away from Donald Trump changing his mind. And one news story away from Donald Trump having an argument, you know. This has just come out so now we're going to have to fire Robert Mueller. So I think that yes, you want to -- if you're a Democrat certainly, I would say even if you're a Republican, you want to go and stake out what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

I would say this, although I agree that there is an orchestrated attempt to undermine and discredit this investigation, and that could be sort of laying the ground work for firing Mueller, or just simply to discredit whatever he comes up with later, I do think that Mueller's team has invited some of the skepticism and criticism.

You know, six out of the 15 members of his team are Hillary Clinton donors, obviously there have been really embarrassing things to come out, text messages from members of his team, criticizing President Trump saying, you know, we can't let him become president. This was before he was president, obviously.

HARLOW: Right.

LEWIS: I think that it's really unfortunately that Mueller's team is in a way aiding and abetting Donald Trump's efforts to discredit the investigation.

HARLOW: And I should note some of those text messages by the way between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page were anti-Bernie Sanders, anti- Hillary Clinton as well, but I hear you, and a large number of them were anti-Trump during those pivotal moments in the campaign.

Amber, to you, moving on to the possible government shutdown, I hate even saying that or thinking that.


HARLOW: But it could happen. Paul Ryan was so confident yesterday speaking to Savannah Guthrie on the "Today" show when she said, is the government going to stay open? He said, of course it is. You're not so sure?

PHILLIPS: No, I'm not. I think that Paul Ryan was confident yesterday because Republicans were super thrilled to have their first major legislative victory this entire year. The tax bill, of course.

[09:10:02] So Paul Ryan's thinking was, of course my caucus is not going to step on their own toes and shut down the government 48 hours later, to quote Congressman Charlie dent, how dumb would that be.


PHILLIPS: But he got back to the Capitol, he met with House Republicans and a deal to fund the government beyond just a couple of months completely evaporated. There's a variety of reasons for that. Democrats do not want to play ball as much as they have in the past. And normally to avoid these kinds of shutdowns, Paul Ryan has relied on House Democrats to come through when conservatives revolt over any number of reasons mostly, you know, how much this would cost. Democrats are now saying you know what, if you're not going to protect

Dreamers, I'm out. You didn't include us in the tax bill, I'm out, don't count on us. And suddenly Paul Ryan is in a really tough position because he's never had to rely on his own caucus only to pass a spending bill.


PHILLIPS: And then we haven't even talked about the Senate and what they will accept where Democrats can filibuster it.

HARLOW: Right. There are a number of sort of touch and go points here on Defense spending, FISA, et cetera, but also on children's health insurance, Errol Louis. How did we get to the point where a bipartisan program, CHIP, that provides insurance for nine million kids in this country is running out of money, 16 states say they won't be able to fund it by the end of January, and they can't even get their act together on this thing, to get this thing funded. I mean, are they going to allow this to lapse?

LOUIS: It's entirely possible. The fact that it has gone this far tells you that it wasn't a priority for a critical mass of the Republican conference.


LOUIS: And what that tells you as well is that there are going to be a lot of people who are pushing for things that are sort of must-have issues for them. When you say Defense spending, everybody should immediately translate that into, you know, bases and procurements in a particular member's district. Those are must-have pieces of legislation.

Especially I think the stakes go up now that you passed what the polls say is a very unpopular tax cut bill, so even as people get the tax relief that the Republicans promised them, they know they're going to go into 2018 with some really negative campaigning coming up against them, making it all the more important to get that local base funded, to get the local programs that they care about funded.

HARLOW: Matt Lewis, Susan Collins has quite a bit of restraint this morning after an agreement that she had with Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, and the vice president to include some of this funding to stabilize the Obamacare, the individual market, was, in her words, ironclad, sort of promised to be part of this tax bill to get this done by the end of the year. It's not. That promise was broken. Her team says, you know, we think, we hope it will happen early in the new year.

What does this do, though, to that relationship, that trust between McConnell and Collins? She's a key swing vote for him on some of these key issues. You're heading into a year with Doug Jones where you're going to have only have a 51-seat Republican majority. How big is this?

LEWIS: Well, look, I think any time you make a pledge or a promise and you don't live up to it, that hurts you in the future in terms of negotiating, not just with the person that you cut a deal with, but with everybody else who sees it happened. And so I think yes, there was a potential for it to be damaging.

It's actually quite interesting that some of these senators who went along with this tax bill. You think of Bob Corker saying that he wouldn't vote to raise the deficit by a penny and then he ends up voting for this.

HARLOW: But he did.

LEWIS: I was -- you know, I thought this was going to be a much closer vote and much more, you know, on the bubble than it ended up being. At the end of the day these Republicans came through and delivered and they sort of, you know, circled the wagons. And that's why I think that this other topic is so fascinating because Republicans have a chance to sort of go into the new year having scored this big victory.


LEWIS: Come together even despite some of their concerns.

HARLOW: And --

LEWIS: And now they're being cast as the Grinch who stole Christmas. It's horrible optics.

HARLOW: And they need it, Amber. We have a brand new CNN poll out which shows -- it's a general ballot and what that shows is you asked folks, if you were to vote for a generic Republican or a generic Democrat in the 2018 midterms, who would you vote for? 18-point lead for the Democrats on this one, 56 percent to 38 percent will vote for a Republican. That is the largest lead that we've seen for either party, you know, this far away from or this close to however you want to see it a midterm election.

If you're a Republican in Congress, you're looking at those numbers, what are you thinking?

PHILLIPS: You're terrified. And you are really praying that for two things, the government doesn't shut down, stepping on your tax victory, and that the tax victory is actually a victory. You know, we've got to remember that people won't file their taxes under this new tax structure until 2019.

HARLOW: Right.

PHILLIPS: That's after the November elections. So Republicans have to rely on their leaders and President Trump to try to sell this tax plan and completely reverse public opinion that this will benefit the average voter, the base voter, the person who's not going to benefit from, you know, repealing the estate tax, for example, or owning a large corporation that they just got their tax rates slashed.

Republicans are terrified right now and a lot of it depends on completely reversing public opinion on this tax bill because it's their only major legislative victory to campaign on next year.

HARLOW: I was happy to see some companies like Boeing, Comcast and others come out last night and say we are giving $1,000 bonuses, et cetera, to our employees because of this tax bill. Let's hope it means more hiring as well. Errol Louis, Matt Lewis, Amber Phillips, thank you all. Have a great holiday.

So, we do have breaking news from the Pentagon. We have just learned that Defense Secretary James Mattis is on his way to a surprise visit to Guantanamo Bay, obviously a highly controversial location, a place where the president has said he wants a lot more bad dudes to be put, his words.

Ryan Browne has the details on this. You know, this is obviously a complete reversal of the Obama administration's hope to close Guantanamo, and they didn't. The president wants to see more folks there. What do we know about Mattis' trip? Why he's doing it? Why now?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, the trip we are being told is purely to visit troops during the holiday season as these troops are deployed away from home. It's about kind of building morale there.

So, the trip is not about the detention facility. Mattis will not be inspecting it. He will not be discussing detainee policy or the fate of the 41 remaining detainees that are still in prison there in Guantanamo.

This is purely a troop visit, kind of a morale builder during the holiday time. He will be meeting with troops, young enlisted soldiers that are stationed there at Guantanamo.

So, it's we're being told it's purely a morale-building visit and nothing to do with the detention facility there. However, he is the first secretary of defense to visit Guantanamo Bay for many years, not since the Bush administration has a secretary of defense visited there, so definitely newsworthy -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Nice to see those troops being saluted and honored and getting a visit. Ryan Browne, thank you.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is getting her pen and paper ready, literally. The U.N. General Assembly this morning votes on whether to condemn President Trump's decision to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Haley says she'll take names. The president is threatening to cut off funding for countries who don't support the move. That vote happens in minutes.

Another North Korean soldier escaping over the border under heavy fog. How he did it and why South Korea fired shots?

An Olympic gold medalist, Makayla Maroney, said the U.S. gymnastics, that whole association tried to buy her silence about abuse from the team doctor.



HARLOW: A hugely significant vote in just minutes at the United Nations. The U.N. General Assembly is set to vote on whether or not to condemn President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

President Trump is threatening to cut off funding to those nations that don't go the United States' way on this one. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley says she will be taking names. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejecting the results of the Security Council vote on this. That happened just days before calling it the U.N. house of lies.

With me now our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, and former U.S. ambassador to both Iraq and Turkey, Ambassador James Jeffrey. It's nice to have you both here. Elise, let me start with you. This doesn't have teeth in terms of -- it doesn't change policy, it's largely symbolic, but it could prove to be a big embarrassment for the United States, right?

ELISE LABOTT, GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's an embarrassment in the sense that I think they are going to have a stunning defeat. I think, you know, the vast majority of countries, I think, Poppy, will vote against the U.S. on this measure.

I mean, the question of Jerusalem has been an issue for international law that the U.N. marked about decades ago, and so, that has always been respected and this is overturning that.

You will have close to the full general assembly except for a few European countries like the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungry, and leaders that are not only close to Israel but President Trump vote with the United States.

Take a listen, though, to President Trump talking about how the U.S. will remember who votes against them, and then listen to one person, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu showing his gratitude to President Trump this morning.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we will save a lot. We don't care. This is not like it used to be, where they vote against you, and you pay them hundreds of millions and nobody knows what they are doing, and we are not going to be taken advantage of any longer.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, President Trump and Ambassador Haley for standing up for Israel and the truth. Ultimately, the truth will prevail.


LABOTT: I spoke to several ambassadors in the last 48 hours, Poppy, and the question is, are they ready to suffer the U.S. cutting funding? They say, yes, they don't know if the U.S. will actually do that, because the U.S. funds some countries. You're going have countries like Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, some of the largest recipients of U.S. aid.

The U.S. gives these countries money because it's in its national interests. So, they are just kind of wondering is this is a lot of luster, but they say, you know, everybody is willing to stand firm on what they believed in.

[09:25:03] HARLOW: You know, Ambassador, Elise brings up a great point. You look at U.S. funding, annual funding, you know, for Jordan and Egypt, over a billion dollars, and this is largely because of U.S. interests in the region, right, and the strategic importance.

You were the ambassador under President Bush to Turkey and this is what Turkish president, President Tayyip Erdogan, there just said, and he's known to not have the rockiest of relationships with the president, right, but here's what he said, "Mr. Trump, you cannot buy Turkey's democratic will with your dollars." How do you see it?

JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ AND TURKEY: Poppy, to sum it up, this is dumber than dirt and it's dangerous. This vote was symbolic, but we have made it a big issue by threatening people publicly. They will ignore us. Again, if we cut aid, we are going to be cutting aid to countries that are our partners that are fighting against terror. Whoever came up with the stupid idea? This is dangerous for our efforts to throw down threats to the world.

HARLOW: Ambassador, what do you think it does to the hope that this administration has to really sealing a peace deal in the region? What does this do to that, and Jared Kushner's work and General Greenblat's work on that front?

JEFFREY: I was not all that critical of the decision to move the embassy in principle because nothing was moved, and as you know the U.S. Senate has repeatedly voted overwhelming on that, and it was symbolic as well.

What we are doing now is making a big diplomatic stink out of a nothing vote in the U.N. that was proforma, and irritating all our allies and friends around the world, and the champagne corks are popping in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran, and Pyongyang right now.

HARLOW: Elise, I mean, is that how you see it? This was brought. What the ambassador is saying is that the Trump administration by saying this and Nikki Haley saying she's taking names is making a big deal out of a proforma vote that was brought, you know, by another country that would have gone with less notice.

LABOTT: Well, I mean, I think it fits into Nikki Haley and President Trump's whole vision that the U.S. has been kind of kicked around at the United Nations and it's not going to be taken advantage of any more.

I will say that, you know, this is an issue where countries feel very strongly, and this is a member-driven organization. Each country is entitled to its own vote. Just a couple of days ago President Trump laid out his national security strategy and he said in his speech and in the strategy document, each country is sovereign and is entitled to, you know, do whatever it needs to do to protect its people.

It's a free country of its own free will and so is the United States. So, the U.S. in that way is free to vote in terms of moving the embassy to Israel, but each country is free to say that it does not approve of that. So, it's a little bit of an inconsistent message.

Now, whether this will hurt or harm or do nothing to U.S. peace efforts, I think, you know, the U.S. has kind of underestimated the backlash that is happening around the world particularly in the region as a result of this decision.

HARLOW: Fair point, Elise. You are the one that talks to all of those folks for CNN, so an important perspective, thank you. Ambassador, thank you as well. Happy holidays, guys.

All right. We are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, markets are set to open higher this morning. The Dow continuing to flirt with the potential record of 25,000. We recently went to key states for the president's win, Michigan and Kentucky, and we asked a lot of trump voters there how did they feel about the stock market surge despite many of them telling us they don't have a penny in the market?


HARLOW: You don't have a penny in the stock market and you talk about how much you love the stock market?

BILL DECKER, MICHIGAN TRUMP VOTER: This is not about myself. I think it's the overall country, as the stock market goes up wealth is created, and people spend money, and then things turn.

HARLOW: That helps you?

DECKER: It helps me.

HARLOW: Do you have any money in the stock market?


HARLOW: Does he get credit for the rise in the stock market?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe he does because I think a lot of the investment, a lot of the things that happened in the stock market are related to what people see and think will happen in the future.

HARLOW: What does the stock market rising mean for your business or you even though you don't have a penny in it directly? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, our business like any business feeds off of other businesses. Anytime you have a public market that is rising and has more money vested in other businesses, which then allows them to have money to spend throughout the economy to improve properties or build properties --

HARLOW: So, it trickled down to your business?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does. They say trickle down doesn't work, maybe for the workers, but to the small and medium-sized businesses, absolutely it does.

HARLOW: You like seeing the stock market go up?


HARLOW: Do you have any money in the stock market?

STEWART: No, not actually, but we know people that do. I just don't want it to tank because if it tanks then all of a sudden our work place is in jeopardy and it's not going there.