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Will be Summer Before Some Puerto Ricans Get Power; West Wing Staffing Shuffle as Lawmaker Predicts GOP Loses in House; Trump Predicts Big Bipartisan Deals in 2018. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:00] LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Miles away from town, high up in the mountains, where the power lines are, Cheryl de Jesus has little hope her home will be back to normal soon. Maria rushed in through the windows and doors and ruined more than furniture. It ruined her life. For now, new paint is all she can afford to fix any of it.

(on camera): She has no idea when she'll get power back.


SANTIAGO: I'm asking her if she thinks it will be soon.


SANTIAGO (voice-over): Without power, Cheryl and her children lost more than the lights.


SANTIAGO (on camera): Without power, they don't have water.

(voice-over): The mayor says the problem, constant bureaucratic delays.

(on camera): For a month they had power workers here, but not enough materials to actually carry out the work.



SANTIAGO (voice-over): The mayor calls this is a start. He says they need more generators, power pools, cables.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers admits a shortage of supplies sent to other natural disasters is part of the reason it took so long to get power back to people like Ida.


SANTIAGO: She doesn't have to wash clothes by hand anymore. (LAUGHTER)

SANTIAGO: Back in town, Ida will spend tonight in a home, overjoyed. Power is the best Christmas gift they could ask for.

But for the families up in the mountains, the sun sets on another night as they wait for their gift to arrive.


SANTIAGO: And we should note that family, those two little kids, in the mountains you just saw there, they actually haven't had power since Hurricane Irma, before Maria. Right now, they are 115 days without power. They just were able to establish a signal on their cell phone last week for the first time as well.

But here is one more number I want to throw out at you. That is 69, 69 percent is what the government is reporting in terms of power generation. Generation, however, very different from distribution and clients with service. So the government right now not giving any sort of indication as to how many people on this island, 100 days after Maria, can actually turn the lights on at home.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: My, oh my, the things we take for granted.

I have to ask you, real quick, Leyla, because I know covering the hurricane has had such a personal impact on your family, who was affected who had great devastation in their town, too. How are they doing?

SANTIAGO: Right. So I'm from an area up in the mountains in the interior. There is still great need there right now. We visited the shelter earlier this week and there are still families in those homes, rather in that shelter that don't have power, that don't have water. Depending on a generator just like the families you saw in our piece. So I think people are starting to see this as a new normal, waiting and hoping for power, the greatest need right now on this island, to be reestablished. I'm lucky to report my family is OK. But they are just like the rest of the Puerto Ricans on this island, dealing with a tarp on the roof and a home with no power.

CABRERA: Incredible resiliency by those people.

Leyla Santiago, in San Juan, thank you.

Still ahead, a new year and a new staffing shuffle inside the West Wing. It comes as one GOP lawmaker is sounding the alarm about a Democratic wave in the midterms, predicting double digit losses in the House. That's next.


[11:37:23] CABRERA: The White House will be making some staff changes in the new year. An aide to President Trump tells us Johnny DeStefano will take on a larger role, overseeing more top administrative offices, including the Office of Political Affairs. Now, that office has been under fire since the Republican Senate lost in Alabama, as well as defeats in Virginia and New Jersey. This could be a part of a bigger change coming to the White House as the West Wing of the Trump administration braces for what could be a politically challenging 2018.

Josh Dawsey is the one who first reported this move for "The Washington Post." He's joining us now.

Josh, thank you for waking up early this holiday week.

Why this change? What is the concern about the White House's current political operation?

JOSH DAWSEY, AMERICA DESK EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: So the White House and the Republican Party suffered two pretty devastating defeats in Virginia. The governor's race there. And then in Alabama where a Democrat did what was seen as somewhat of the unthinkable, winning a Senate seat in Alabama. The White House is fearful that 2018 could be a very difficult year. And should Republicans lose the House, it makes it not good for the president. You will have a lot more investigations, more probing, the agenda will be stalled. And we have a political shop coming under a lot of criticism for its communications with the committees, for its kind of preparation for this. And I think as 2018 rolls into place, and as we see a new year begin, we are trying to bolster that a bit and get ready to stem the tide of some of these defeats.

CABRERA: Do these shortcomings have anything to do with the amount of turnover in the administration, given the "Wall Street Journal" reporting, the highest turnover rate in the first year than any administration in the past four years.

DAWSEY: It is a disorienting for senior staffers in the White House when you have dozens of people who have left in the first year from the chief of staff to the chief strategist. When Steve Bannon left earlier this year, he was seen whether it was an accident or not, he was seen as the chief political advisor, the strategist. He was talking to advisors and the president for positioning for 20. There hasn't been a David Axelrod type in the White House to lead these high-level meetings to really organize the White House's political efforts. It is very crucial in 2018. You have a president with fairly lower approval ratings at this point, a difficult map across the country. States like Nevada, Arizona, where Republicans are going to struggle to win. And some concerned donors and party activists, who say if we lose Congress it doesn't matter what else is going on. This is goal number one.

[11:40:09] CABRERA: What are you hearing from Republicans in Congress? Are they bracing for big losses?

DAWSEY: Yes. We quoted Mark Meadows yesterday saying he was afraid they would lose 15, 18 seats. That said, before the tax bill passed you saw even deeper concern among Republicans. They were fearful of going into a mid-term election with nothing to show legislatively. With this tax bill there is a hope that they will be able to sell it. That it will become more popular when people see their tax returns. And that some of this will turn the tide by November. You know, obviously in politics, months is an eternity. I think they are trying to get a place.

CABRERA: I have to ask you about your tweet because you spoke to a senior advisor about the president's interview with "The New York Times." At least you tried to ask him. Here's your tweet: "Asked Trump advisor for thoughts on "New York Times" interview a few minutes ago. The person responded, 'What interview. Today.'"

What does that tell you about this White House?

DAWSEY: So it tells you about the president played golf yesterday and a reporter for "The New York Times" was at the golf club. He was a guest of a friend of the president, someone the president enjoying counseling and talking to and after he played golf and had lunch he came over, talked to Mike, and sat down for 30 minutes or so and just talked to him. It's something that a lot of aids of people around him try to limit those interactions, try to stop the kind of press conferences, really want to kind of contain the message, particularly when they feel they will bait him. But you have a president whose proclivities are to talk to the media. He enjoys give and talk with the reporters and sat down yesterday and just decided on a whim for an interview with The New York Times. It is difficult to imagine any other president, Democrat or Republican, just deciding, hey, I want to do an interview with The New York Times. I'm going to do it, no staff there. But that's the way this president operates. He has lived this way for 71 ways and feels like I'm the president of the United States. Why change now?

CABRERA: Like you point out, different than past administrations. No press conference from this president. I guess this one counts in terms of getting some questions answered.

Josh Dawsey, from "The Washington Post," thank you again. Happy new year.

DAWSEY: Thank you for having me. Happy new year.

CABRERA: Bipartisan deals on health care, infrastructure, DACA. The president says he wants to make it happen next year and Democrats should come to the table. A political reality check, next.


[11:46:58] CABRERA: President Trump is repeating his call for the Democrats to come to the table to work on some of his biggest agenda items. In that year-end interview, he told "The New York Times," quote, "We could make a great health care plan, through bipartisanship, we can make a great infrastructure plan, through bipartisanship. And do immigration and DACA, in particular, we can do something that's terrific through bipartisanship."

I want to bring in congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, in Washington.

Phil, what's the reality of these bipartisan deals, really, of any of this stuff next year?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a tough road. Ana, when you talk to both Democratic and Republican aids on Capitol Hill, they acknowledge they are in a wait and see type of position. 2017 was a very, very partisan year. When you look at what's going to happen in 2018, you need to look at it through two lenses, the politics and the policy. These intertwine on some level.

On the politics, 2018 is an election year. There are ten Democrats from states that President Trump won, many of which he won very handedly up for election in 2018 in the Senate. That would lead one to believe at some point they will be willing to come across the aisle and want to on some level support something that President Trump puts on the table. But that hasn't been the case up to this point. And the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, has gone to great lengths to protect them. You also have Republicans. If they feel like the tax bill's approval ratings are going up, they might want to give winds to Democrats up for tough re-elections in those states.

But Ana, it's also the policy. Look, in 2017, when it came to health care, no Democrat was going to get on board with repeal and replace. When it came to a tax bill, some Democrats were considering coming over at various points but the second you put in the repeal of the Obama care individual mandate they all left. What President Trump has been talking about, whether it be infrastructure or smaller pieces of health care bill, those might actually float. But it is important to note we will get answers to these questions within the first couple weeks of 2018, by January 19th, a spending bill has to be done. That's something they have to agree on to be able to move forward.

As you noted, there is also the issue of DACA hanging out there right now. Take a look at what the president tweeted this morning. It says, quote, "The Democrats have been told and fully understand that there can be no DACA without the desperately need wall at the southern border and to end the chain migration and lottery system, et cetera. We must protect our country at all costs."

This is what I'm talking about when it comes to the policy. On the top line, these are things that Democrats and Republicans, A, say they want to agree on and, B, believe there are parameters for a specific deal. What the president laid out in that tweet, whether it is a wall, which Democrats say they won't support or whether it is migration, which they have serious difficulties with or involved in these discussions, the idea of interior enforcement, that could be problematic for Democrats, too.

What you are seeing here is on the top line, that Republicans and Democrats say they both need. The devil is in the details and the politics are absolutely going to play a role. The policy on it, Ana, will decide whether bipartisan things is something that comes to fruition by the end of the year.

[11:50:16] CABRERA: Phil Mattingly, thank you. And I suppose the Republicans are going to need Democrats on some of these key agenda items. They can't do everything with just 51 votes in the majority in the Senate. Phil, we will get back with you in the issue as we continue into the

new year.

Joining us now, as we look ahead, former presidential writer for George W. Bush, Ned Ryun. He is now CEO of the conservative training organization, American Majority. And also with us, Democratic strategist and former executive director of the Correct the Record super PAC, Isaac Wright. He is now a partner with the Forward Solution Strategy Group.

Guys, the president says there are many bipartisan deals to be done in the new year. I quote again, because, he said, "We can do bipartisan health care and infrastructure and DACA."

Isaac, is the president right?

ISAAC WRIGHT, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST & PARTNER, FORWARD SOLUTION STRATEGY GROUP & FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CORRECT THE RECORD SUPER PAC: Democrats have been at the table for months waiting for Trump to come to the table and negotiate. When he has even thrown a hint of that he has done it in bad faith, right? Remember back in September when Trump worked the Democrats to find a fiscal funding formula and passed a vote on that. At the same time, he alluded to by the end of the year he would work with Democrats to the solution to the DACA crisis and didn't come through on it. We have seen this president break his word time and time again through continued efforts for repeal and replace and his effort to throw 23 million Americans off their health care and his xenophobia. We know who Donald Trump is because he told us. If we don't listen it's our fault. We have to be prepared to negotiate and win the best deal, but with no blinders on.

CABRERA: When you look at that list, health care, infrastructure, DACA, Ned, of those different things, which one would you be most comfortable with if you saw the president reach out and make a deal with Democrats?

NED RYUN, CEO, AMERICAN MAJORITY & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL WRITER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: He is now Probably infrastructure. It's definitely something that can be addressed in a bipartisan fashion. I get nervous when he talks about a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan and cuts in foreign aid. That makes me nervous to add to the deficit. That would be the starting point. We can get enough Democrats to agree our country needs infrastructure. I'm not sure anything will happen in 2018. 2017 laid the ground work. I thought there might be some of the red state Democrats that might be willing to negotiate on the tax bill. He was willing to negotiate on the deduction if the Democrats would come to the table. No Democrats came to the table and I'm not sure when we get down to the details how many Democrats are going to talk about infrastructure. I think with DACA, Trump laid this out in a tweet and also in the interview. His supporters want a wall. They believe that there should be a wall and if there is no wall, there is no DACA. That will be hard to get Democrats to say we will fund your wall if you give us DACA. I don't see that happening.

CABRERA: Isaac, let's ask you about that. Because I will say that there are other members of the president's own party who really, really want to see the DACA legislation happen. Those DREAMers be protected, including Jeff Flake, who voted for tax reform. To that point that was just made, is that make or break for the Democrats? Will this red line be something they can't refuse because it's so important to protect DREAMers?

WRIGHT: I think Democrats are prepared to work on the DACA issue with Trump on the administration. They called for reform and they called specifically for fixing DACA.


CABRERA: But what about the wall? Because the president's red line is the wall. There is no deal without the wall.

WRIGHT: The wall. The president promised Mexico would pay for the wall. I guess we're waiting for the check to come through.

I also want to go back to something Ned said about Democrats not being at the table, and said Chuck Schumer sent an open letter to Trump and Republican leadership that said Democrats are ready to negotiate. We have two principles. One, we don't want to add money to the deficit with debt for tax cuts for the rich, which Trump did by over a trillion dollars. And wanted tax cuts for the 99 percent and not the 1 percent. We know 50 percent of the value goes to the wealthiest 1 percent and 80 percent at the mark.

RYUN: On a couple of fronts, first of all, that whole issue of deficit spending, I'm curious to know where Democrats were when Obama added $9 trillion to our debt. I will agree with you on the second point. I was frustrated with that tax bill that they were not more concessions made to small business and the individuals. I felt that is cheated towards the corporate. I agree with you on that. But going back to the first issue, I think Trump understands his base, one of the top issues he ran on and that he won, they expect a wall. Not a virtual wall, a physical wall. I see this as a bright red line that Trump understands. He is willing to negotiate. And again that's part of the art of political compromise. I will give you something as long as you give me something I really want. It will be push and shove. How badly do the Democrats want a DACA compromise?

[11:55:37] CABRERA: We will see.

RYUN: We are only going to get it if there is a wall.

CABRERA: OK, gentlemen, we will --


CABRERA: Isaac Wright, Ned Ryun. We will continue your conversation during the break. We appreciate it.

WRIGHT: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: We have a programming note. We have an epic New Year's Eve planned for you here on CNN. You want to tune in. Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen hosting CNN's New Year's Eve special. The fun starts at 8:00 p.m. eastern, Sunday night, right here on CNN. Don't miss it.

We'll be right back.