Return to Transcripts main page


House Schedules Vote Today to Keep Government Running; U.N. Votes 128-9 to Condemn Trump's Jerusalem Decision; Warner: Firing Mueller Would Be "Gross Abuse of Power". Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:14] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being here on CNN this Thursday afternoon.

We begin with breaking news on the shutdown showdown after passing tax cuts not seen in generations. Republicans who, of course, as you all know, control both houses of Congress and also the White House have a little bit of a new problem staring them straight in the face. They are facing the government shutting down on their watch, but now, we are getting word of the House vote for a stopgap measure at some point this afternoon. It is coming just hours before the deadline of midnight tomorrow, about 34 hours from now.

The president tweeting this, quote: House Democrats want a shutdown for the holidays to distract from the very popular just passed tax cuts. House Republicans don't let this happen. Pass the CR. That's continuing resolution. Pass the CR today and keep our government open.

Let's go straight to Capitol Hill to Sunlen Serfaty, our correspondent up there.

So, Sunlen, talk to me about a timeline and when the short-term government funding could actually come through.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a big sign, Brooke, as you referenced that this is starting to come together today, the fact that the House Republican leadership has set a time this afternoon to vote on this CR plan, likely happen between 4:30 and 5:00 range tonight. Put simply, they simply would not bring a bill to the floor of the House if they thought that it would fail. So, that's a sign leadership is confident that they have the support that they need at least behind the scenes to get the vote through and passed through the House tonight.

We have been talking in the recent days that they had been battling behind the scenes, Republicans amongst themselves over what is going to be included in the CR deal. As it stands right now, the plan from leadership to pass this stopgap CR funding until January 19th, it would include a short-term reauthorization of the FISA program, the government program that expires at the end of the year. It would include $3 billion in funding for CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program, which expired back in October and separately, they would have to address, of course, disaster relief aid bill, of course, very important to those delegations in Florida, in Texas, hit hard by the hurricanes, hit hard by wildfires, you see, course, California as well.

The Senate meantime stands ready to pass, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, look, we're here ready and waiting. Of course, it has to get from the House, and Senate, and a lot of potential hiccups along the way. As we know up here on Capitol Hill, nothing is final until it's final.

BALDWIN: Sunlen, thank you so much.

And Sunlen mentioned the key piece of the CR, which is CHIP, Children's Health Insurance Program. So, in that, let me bring in two ladies I have with me first. CNN political analyst Amie Parnes, who is co-author of "Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign", and Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics".

Ladies, hello.

Just piggy backing a little bit off of Sunlen's point, then we look ahead here. On CHIP specifically, which is the piece that the House sort of shoved in the CR.

Amy, this is for you and it affects millions of children in this country. And it lost its funding in September, has all this bipartisan support, and now within the CR, it would be funded through the end of March. Why drag something out that has all this support and affects millions of kids in this country?

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, because the deficit was a key issue on this.

BALDWIN: Money, money, money.

PARNES: Money, money, money.

They wanted to push this and make it part of their successful tax bill, that never happened. So, it got kind of shoved into this. This is all kinds of pressure.

And this is something that Republicans really like and want. And so, they were getting pressure from Democrats, but it all came together in the end. But they can't make it work past March, so they are doing like a little punt, if you will, until the spring to get it kind of settled for now, and then they'll continue to work on it.

But the states meanwhile are screaming bloody murder saying this isn't helpful. This isn't, you know, they are struggling to do something. So, I think this is a temporary fix.

BALDWIN: We're going to talk to a mom next hour who would say this little punt is not good enough for my daughter. And so, she will have a plea to Congress on that.

Speaking about what Republicans like, and great news for them, is this -- the fact that number of companies will write bonus, they will invest, specifically Wells Fargo, Caitlan, and Fifth Third, Bancorp, said they plan to hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Other firms including Comcast and AT&T promised $1,000 bonuses. That is worth highlighting as a win for them.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Certainly worth highlighting. A lot of critics would say that these are also companies, of course, facing their own PR battles, Wells Fargo chief among them. And so, this is a way to get good press for themselves.

[14:05:02] But certainly, I think Republicans are running with this, as well they should, because for a lot of folks, this is real money for real people.

Republicans are facing this PR battle on this, right? We've talked about how unpopular this bill is. Democrats are already planning to run on this in 2018. Republicans are kind of banking on the fact that people will view this more popular -- this will become more popular once people kind of see these changes. They'll see some kind of changes in their withholdings they estimate in April or so.

But, again, it remains to be seen whether this will be a motivating factor for the Republican base. I mean, the Republicans have a lot of accomplishments to tout really at the end of this year, the tax bill certainly, but also judges and other kind of executive things. Or whether this is something that really just rallies up the Democratic base.

And that's what Democrats are seeing. You are seeing that reflected in the generic polling that we've seen over the past couple of days.

BALDWIN: There are a number of Americans, obviously, who are championing what we saw in the South Lawn at this time yesterday, but a number of affluent Americans are coming out against the tax bill. Abigail Disney for one, yes as in that Disney, Disney World, spoke out in what has become a viral Facebook post. Her she was.


ABIGAIL DISNEY, DISNEY HEIRESS: They gave a lot of money, they gave some of that to my dad and my dad gave it to me. I did not do anything to earn that money. And yet, I'm about to get a huge handout from Congress. You might have heard a tax cut, and yes, it's a very fat tax cut for me, along with some other people, and corporations mostly in the 1 percent, but it's probably not going to be a meaningful tax cut to you.

For example, if you work for a living, your income is probably going to be taxed at a higher rate than mine once I set up a pass-through corporation to send it through. That's right, 21 percent.

I really hope I've made you angry. You should be. No one who votes for this tax bill will be voting with your life in mind.


BALDWIN: Let me add one more voice to this, Dave Chappelle. He has a new Netflix standup special, which we should mention was filmed long before any of this happened with taxes in Washington. But he talks about the, quote, poor whites who elected President Trump.


DAVE CHAPPELLE, COMEDIAN: I listen to him say naive, poor white people things. My aunt, Donald Trump is going to go to Washington, and he's going to fight for us. I'm standing there thinking in my mind, you dumb (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You are poor. He's fighting for me.



BALDWIN: OK. So I realize Dave Chappelle doesn't speak for everyone in this country. But still, we heard from Senate majority leader saying, all right, now we got to get out and sell this. How do they sell this when they have folks like that saying what they just did?

PARNES: And that's the thing, and as Caitlyn said, that's why it's going to be a major part of the Democratic platform going forward in 2018 and they're going to use that, they're going to use Dave Chappelle, and this Disney heiress, even these people are saying, you know, Mike Bloomberg for instance, that this was a big fairytale and that this wasn't -- they weren't for the middle class, that they were for everyone else but the middle class.

And so, I think this is why Democrats are kind of a little gleeful, if you will, to know --

BALDWIN: A little gleeful?

PARNES: A little bit, yes, going into the New Year, because actually, this is a palpable thing that they can campaign on.

BALDWIN: Another piece of this, one senator who was noticeably absent yesterday from the party on the south lawn was Maine Senator Susan Collins who voted yes for the tax bill. And, you know, people were asking yesterday, what happened, did she get played? This is one of the questions out there. In exchange for tax cuts, she was promised Obama payments to health insurers that help lower income get coverage. Party leaders got her vote, but she did not get those payments and we now have a system with no insurance mandate.

So, what do you think she's thinking today?

HUEY-BURNS: This is a really big part of this tax bill. Not only did they pass the tax provision, but they repealed the individual mandate, which conservatives are saying that this is a huge accomplishment. What it also means is that Republicans certainly now own anything that comes with the fallout of Obamacare, just as they'll own a lot of things that happened with the economy, for better or for worse. And so, Republicans are now in this position where Susan Collins especially, since she's been championing this, and voted against that health care repeal, the total repeal earlier, what happens if premiums rise? What happens if the system unravels and people are left without insurance?

And so, this is going to be something that they are going to have to tackle next year, but it's also something that people aren't really talking much about. But this is a huge part of this bill.

BALDWIN: Final quick thought from you going into 2018 with this administration.

[14:10:00] PARNES: Stay tuned.

BALDWIN: I know it's funny we talk about 2018 and what could happen, but there is a lot but this is a huge part of this bill.

PARNES: And Congress has a huge hurdle going into the New Year.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes. Amy and Caitlyn, ladies thank you so much. If I don't see you again, happy holidays, merry Christmas and happy New Year.

We do have some breaking news now, we will remember. Despite direct warnings from U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, and President Trump, moments ago, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to condemn U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The question now, how will the White House respond to allies who didn't stand with the U.S.?

Also, this is the disputed ballot, a changed vote that is now throwing a major curveball into the Virginia election that's now tied after more than a year of campaigning and speeches and knocking on doors. We have a new detail how they're going to determine a winner and you'll be surprised given the way technology is in 2017.

Speaking of technology, rare admission tech giant Apple on why your older iPhone suddenly is running slower.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:15:35] BALDWIN: Back with the breaking news here from the United Nations. Just voted overwhelmingly to condemn President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The president warned nations they risk losing funding if they cast their vote against U.S.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley with this stinging rebuke before the vote.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED STATES: United States will remember this day in which they were singled out in the general assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world's largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us as they so often do to pay even more and use our influence for their benefit. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go straight to Elise Labott, CNN global affairs correspondent.

And, Elise, I mean, this vote was nonbinding. So was it mostly symbolic? What's implication what we hear there from Ambassador Haley?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's symbolic. It's completely symbolic. It changes nothing. It doesn't change the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem. It doesn't do anything.

You know, I'm talking to analysts and such, I'm not really so sure why president Trump cares so much. I mean, I think that Ambassador Haley and this is one of the things that she had when she came in to the United Nations is -- United Nations is anti-Israel organization. There really is a bias against Israel there. You know, so many more resolutions against Israel than any other country, and including in the U.N. Human Rights Council, there's an agenda item devoted to Israel.

So, I think that's part of this. But, you know, look, President Trump and his national security strategy, just a few days ago said countries are sovereign to do as they wish with their policy. And in fact, Ambassador Haley said the same thing today. So, yes, President Trump is a sovereign president of a sovereign nation, able to do what he wants with his embassy. But the United Nations member states are also sovereign nations and why aren't they free to do what they wish their decision. It's a little bit of a consistent message in my view.

BALDWIN: Do you think the president follows through with his threat to cut funding?

LABOTT: I don't think so, Brooke. If you look at some of the country that is voted for this resolution, it's particularly in the Middle East, we are talking about Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, these are some of the largest recipients of U.S. aid. And the U.S. doesn't do that as a favor. It does it because it's U.S. national security interest to stabilize Iraq, to stabilize Jordan, to stabilize Egypt.

And when it's with the United Nations, look, I was just traveling with Nikki Haley in Africa, you know, several months ago, and she said this was pennies on the dollar at the United Nations, what it gets for its money. And President Trump has said the same thing.

So, I mean, will a few countries, you know, smaller, Asian or African or Eastern European nations that voted against it, maybe. But some of the largest U.S. allies voted here, and that's their right to do.

BALDWIN: Vice President Mike Pence heading to this part of the world in January, given all of this, Elise Labott, we'll continue that conversation when that happens. Thank you so much. Good to see you.

Coming up here on CNN, top Democrat puts the president on notice, warning him don't even think about firing special counsel Robert Mueller.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: In the United States of America, no one, no one is above the law, not even the president.


BALDWIN: And how about this today, just a couple weeks after this dramatic scene of a North Korean soldier defecting at the DMZ, under heavy gunfire, guess what? Something similar has happened again. What is going on over there? We'll talk to an expert, coming up.


[14:23:58] BALDWIN: Up on Capitol Hill right now, lawmakers are grilling the deputy FBI director, still happening behind closed doors, but this is coming as Republicans and conservative media continue to accuse Robert Mueller and his team of anti-Trump bias with the Russia investigation. Some of the claims are growing to include federal law enforcement agencies and even calling for the FBI and Department of Justice to be investigated by a second independent counsel.

Now, today, we are hearing from congressional Republican who says it is no secret he's investigating the Department of Justice.

So, let's go straight to Manu Raju, our CNN senior congressional correspondent.

And we're talking about Devin Nunes here, you know, who had recused himself from his committee's investigation earlier this year. What's this really about?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, remember, Devin Nunes was cleared by the House Ethics Committee earlier this month, so he's no longer under investigation. He said that he had stepped a side temporarily from running the Russian investigation. But now that investigation, Ethics Committee Investigation is over, he has moved onto other things.

[14:25:01] He has, I should say, Brooke, been looking into DOJ and possible FBI actions that he views as improper, the work with British agent Christopher Steele and putting together the dossier with President Trump. This is something he has been doing for months.

And earlier today, when he caught up with our colleague Jeremy Herb, he says no secret what he's doing, but it's part of one of several different investigations that Republicans are now launching in various areas that are not related to the Russia investigation, and one area is also the Clinton email investigation. In fact, what we are now learning about this closed door hearing that's happening today with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, is that it's focused largely about the FBI's handling of the Clinton email investigation, this according to one of the Democratic members in the room, Raja Krishnamoorthi, a congressman from Illinois, saying that that is exactly what the Republicans have focused on so far. Now, when I had a chance to catch up with some Republicans, they are

not disputing that at all, that that's been the focus of "Today's" hearing. But they're also saying they are not trying to discredit the FBI or discredit Robert Mueller. This is what Mark Meadows, a conservative congressman, told me earlier about committee's hearing today with FBI Director Andy McCabe, said, there is nothing wrong with what we are doing. Take a listen.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: There's not a concern in terms of trying to discredit the special prosecutor that has been not only established but continues to investigate. And so, Robert Mueller is not a subject of our investigation.

RAJU: How would you react if the president took steps to get rid of Robert Mueller?

MEADOWS: He's not. I talked to the president. He's not.


RAJU: So, some confidence there he's not going to take steps to fire Robert Mueller even as Democrats are sounding the alarms that he very much could.

But clearly though, Brooke, interesting that this hearing today focusing on the Clinton email investigation, the Republicans concerns that it was not handled properly by the FBI, and we are told that this is probably the beginning of this new investigation looking into the Clinton email inquiry. The first witness Andy McCabe today behind closed doors. There will be others as Republicans look to go down this route come 2018 -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right. Manu, thank you.

More on that stark and powerful warning, though, to President Trump, from the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner. He is calling on Congress to essentially draw a line in the sand in the president even attempts to oust Robert Mueller.


WARNER: I believe it is up to every member of this institution, Republican or Democrat, to make a clear and unambiguous statement that any attempt by this president to remove special counsel Mueller from his position or to pardon key witnesses in any effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of executive branch responsibilities and authorities.


BALDWIN: Let's start there. I have CNN national security analysts Shawn Turner and Asha Rangappa. Asha is also a former FBI special agent. So, welcome to both of you.

Shawn, I mean, adding onto what, you know, Senator Warner had said, he's also told CNN he's actually worried that the president could fire Mueller next week when, you know, members are home for recess. The White House you heard Mark Meadows in that sound bite, also the president himself has said, no, no, no, I'm not going to fire Mueller.

But do Senator Warner's -- do his concerns hold water in your opinion or is this just a little too precautionary?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it's appropriate response what they are saying with Republican side with regard to this idea that there are biased individuals who are kind of in Director Robert Mueller's sphere. I also -- you know, think there is also the concern here that simply by raising the idea that the president might decide to fire Bob Mueller, they are taking a risk here, because -- I mean, look, this conversation about whether or not Bob Mueller is being fair and unbiased is a conversation that is not helpful to this investigation.

What we really need for everyone on both sides to do is come take a step back and allow Robert Mueller to do the investigation, and to kind of cease with this idea that you have to come out in front of whatever findings he may -- he and his may come up with in order to kind of, you know, preemptively lay out your precision that you could say the findings were legitimate or that they were illegitimate.

So, I think it's a good -- you know, while I think the strategy is the right strategy in response to what the Democrats are saying, I also think there is a risk associated with it.

BALDWIN: So, the concerns, the risks, this has all been swirling, as we now know that the White House legal team is getting ready to meet with Bob Mueller himself in the next couple of days, Asha. What will happen there? What are your expectations?