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Dreamer and Budget Battles Looms for Trump This Month; Orrin Hatch, GOP's Longest-Serving Senator, to Retire; Trump Blasts "Brutal" Iran Regime as Violence Erupts. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:12] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Brooke Baldwin. Happy New Year.

At any moment now, first White House briefing of 2018 set to begin as the president starts the New Year with packed agenda. Plenty of tweets this morning all before lunchtime. In fact, he's been commenting on everything from DREAMers, to "The New York Times", to airline safety, to North Korea. There's obviously a lot on his mind.

But what specifically will be on his plate for the first full day at the White House?

Let's get to senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

And, Jeff, what are the main priorities? What do we know about what the president is planning now that the holiday is over?


The president is beginning his first full working day of 2018 here at the White House. Behind the scenes, he's having meetings, making phone calls. But so far, we have not seen him. But as you mentioned earlier, we certainly have heard from him in a variety of messages on social media.

But in terms of the agenda and business of 2018, largely picking up where he left off in the unfinished business of the White House and the House and Senate. I mean, just a partial list of it is, of course, the budget. In two weeks time, that needs to be finished. They -- the House and Senate passed a stopgap measure late last year, but they need to do the budget.

They also need to work on DREAMers, of course, the young immigrants who moved here, the action of the Obama administration. Also, infrastructure is priority of the president. The Children's Health Insurance Program, of course, this White House still wants to repeal Obamacare, reform welfare and other entitlement programs.

And, of course, politics is also front and center. Want to keep control of the House and the Senate, of course. That is a tall order.

So, a full list of items, no doubt. But coming up this weekend, the president and congressional leaders will meet at Camp David, really to go through their agenda, to go through their list of things that need to be done. And it is, you know, the beginning of his second year in office. He'll also be spending time, I'm told, working on his State of the Union Address, that will be coming later this month as well, Ana.

CABRERA: So, Jeff, stand by, because we are talking about domestic policy, but as he's also formulating his plans for the next year and even just the most immediate future, he is sparring with some of the nation's biggest antagonist, including Iran. In fact, here's what the president tweeted today in the wake of deadly anti-government protests there, quote: The people of Iran are finally acting against the regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets. People have little food, big inflation, and no human rights. The U.S. is watching.

Jeff, how is Iran responding?

ZELENY: Certainly, Iran is first and foremost also on the international agenda here. Iran is not responding very favorably, not surprisingly, to that message there. The president going after Iran several times.

Also, North Korea is a focus. Let's take a look at the tweet that the president sent out earlier today on North Korea as well. He said: Sanctions and other pressures are having a big report.

Excuse me, you hear the overhead announcement, sort of like being in the airport, they are saying the press briefing will be at 2:30.

But let's go back to the tweet. The president says: Sanctions and other pressures are beginning to have big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea.

Rocket man, of course, his slang for Kim Jong-un, now wants to talk to South Korea for the first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not. We will see.

So, certainly, a lot in there to unpack. But there is no question, North Korea remains first and foremost the biggest foreign policy challenge on the president's desk here. So, we will see what he has to say about that, of course, in the State of the Union Address later this month. And certainly I'm sure much before then -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us.

Of course, we will a wait that press briefing with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. It sounds like that has been pushed back to 2:30.

I want to bring in our panel and I want to start with the president's domestic agenda.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN political analyst Amie Parnes, she co- wrote the book "Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign", and also here, CNN political commentator, Errol Louis, who is also political anchor at Spectrum News. So, Amie, President Trump, he's entering New Year fresh off tax a legislative victory of tax reform. Does that give him confidence heading into 2018? Is this sort of a reset?

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It gives him a little momentum going in. And Republicans needed that. They needed a win, a large win. They hadn't won really legislatively. So, this kind of gives them a little bit of energy going into it.

[14:05:01] But he is also facing a huge -- you know, lots of legislation happening. There's a budget problem that needs to be -- that has to be dealt with. There is DACA, as we talked about. There is CHIP.

There are all these things that have to be handled right now, and that's not an easy way to start 2018, and I think that's why you're seeing a lot of his mind and he's taking a lot of different directions.

CABRERA: You can plug anything out of that bucket, Amie, just mentioned, Errol, we get to be chatting about. But I'm going to ask about DACA because the president tweeted about DACA today. That obviously is a priority. We know it's a priority for Democrats as well to come up with some kind of protection for these DREAMers.

And here's what the president wrote today: Democrats are doing nothing for DACA, just interested in politics. DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against them, will start falling in love with Republicans and their president. We are about results.

So, Errol, who has the upper hand, Republicans or Democrats when it comes to this issue?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if you put it just like that, I'd say the Democrats are doing just fine. Now, their political base, those who support some kind of help for DREAMers, those brought here as children, and undocumented through no fault of their own, have no country to go back to, you explain it to people in about 30 seconds, and most people would say it would not be fair to spend a lot of government resources to deport these people and their families.

However, the president is on the other side of that argument. When he says Democrats are doing nothing on DACA, what he means I suspect based on his prior tweets is that Democrats have not come into the White House and said, we'll help you build your wall if you let the Democrats stay longer. The Democrats are not going to take that deal. The Democrats are not interested in that deal.

There are a number of members of Democratic conference, in fact, who are ready to shut down the government over those DREAMers. And certainly, to the extent the wall is so closely identified with this president, is so deeply unpopular with core constituencies, including Latinos of the Democratic Party, there's no way they're going to touch that. He doesn't --

CABRERA: Don't you think that there's anyway the deal gets done without some portion of the wall inside this legislation given that's the president's deadline?

LOUIS: I'm not so sure about that. Look, a lot of Democrats who were ready to play chicken over shutting down the government over DACA. Meaning, it's a line in the sand for them and they're simply not going to budge on that. The notion they would budge in order to give the president a win on the wall, some version of the wall, some portion of the wall seems even less likely.

PARNES: And they know it's an issue actually divides their constituency, Republicans, so they kind of have -- they're playing their cards right I think on this. They have a little bit of an advantage.

CABRERA: You talk about sort of this dance that Republicans in particular are doing, Amie, when you look at what the president is doing today, he's meeting with his labor secretary, to talk about infrastructure. That could be theoretically bipartisan issue. But I have to ask about Republicans appetite for spending because with infrastructure comes spending and their big tax bill is set to increase the deficit by about a trillion plus dollars according to the expert analysis.

So, will Republicans, especially those deficit hawks, do anything with infrastructure?

PARNES: No, it's another problem for President Trump that he has to face, because a lot of them don't want further spending. Democrats aren't willing to give him another win, especially going into 2018. This is -- they feel like 2018 is their time to shine. They can go in and win back the House and the Senate.

They are not really anxious to work with him right now. They were I think a little bit -- they could have worked with him a little more I think earlier last year. It was low hanging fruit. I think a lot of Democrats would have been willing to play ball. I don't think that's the case right now.

CABRERA: Democrats or Republicans, the bigger challenge for this president when it comes to infrastructure given the background of all that?

LOUIS: Honestly, I think the challenge is his over all popularity. If this president was polling as far as the general public is concerned, above 50 percent, he would be in a much stronger position to sort of make these demands around the wall, around DACA, around infrastructure or anything else.

The reality with such no numbers, Democrats know how to read polls, too, they look at this and they say, well, you know what, we don't have to come crawling to you. In fact, we are winding down. We got 11 months until the next general election, maybe you should be trying to talk to us.

CABRERA: All right. Stand by. Thank you both for that analysis.

Any moment now, the White House press briefing set to begin. We'll bring that to you live.

And also, as we've been discussing, anti-government protests are intensifying overseas, in Iran. We will talk to a reporter on the ground in Tehran, next.


[14:13:24] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CABRERA: Welcome back.

We have breaking news just crossing CNN's news desk right now. You are looking at Senator Orrin Hatch. He is the longest serving Republican right now in the Senate. And he is set to retire at the end of this term.

Of course, that was a big question mark leading into this New Year is what was he was going to do.

I want to bring back our political panel, Errol Louis and Amie Parnes, to discuss the significance of this.

Amie, is this a surprise?

PARNES: I think a lot of people were expecting it. I think there were rumors all along, Mitt Romney kind of wanted to come in and run. He was -- his hometown paper a couple of weeks ago I think last week, kind of suggested that he should step aside now that the tax bill had passed.

CABRERA: That was the paper endorsed him for his last reelection?

PARNES: Yes. And he was getting pressure from Trump to stay in. Trump doesn't want Mitt Romney to come in. They are kind of rivals at this point.

So, I think -- but I think a lot of people expected this. This was sort of his moment to kind of take stage left I think.

CABRERA: Real quick. I want to listen to his video announcement. He posted this on social media. Let's watch.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: For over 40 years, I've had the great honor of serving as your senator. As many of you know, I came up during the Great Depression living in a ramshackle house built with recycled lumber from the local scrap yard. My parents gave us everything they had. But in the --


CABRERA: All right. A little bit of a technical glitch there. As we see happen every day, right, when we are on social media. As part of that message, he does say: After much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I've decided to retire at the end of this term. [14:15:06] He's been serving as a member of the Senate since 1977.

Let's bring in David Chalian to continue our analysis here about how this may play a factor in moving forward for the GOP and for the president.

David, we all know the president had wanted Orrin Hatch to run again.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, he made no bones about that. He was quite clear with Senator Hatch and with people around him that he was eager to see Orrin Hatch come back to the United States Senate not only because he sees an ally in Senator Hatch, of course, but also because Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate, has been eying this seat. He now lives in Utah.

And Donald Trump and Mitt Romney don't have a lot of love lost between them. So, he wasn't eager to see Mitt Romney jump into this. That remains to be seen if he will, of course. But there were two reasons there that he wanted Senator Hatch to come back.

You know, it is important to state this will not affect the balance of power in the United States Senate in any way. It is most likely a Republican will replace Orrin Hatch from the state of Utah. So, this doesn't sort of change the overall landscape in terms of the Democratic battle to take over the majority from Republicans in 2018.

But it is important. This is a Senate institution. Obviously, the longest serving Republican member, but as Orrin Hatch noted in his announcement video that he's going to retire, every single sitting justice on the United States Supreme Court has gotten there with Orrin Hatch playing a role in getting them there. This is somebody who for 40 years has been part of shaping so much American policy, both on the judiciary and in some of his social policy work that he did with his friend, the late Ted Kennedy.

So, Orrin Hatch has certainly left a mark on the United States Senate and on the country writ large. And now, he's ready to step down, which will certainly create a really, really compelling drama if indeed Mitt Romney does get into this race and if it indeed he ends up coming to the United States Senate as somebody who has been a real nemesis of Donald Trump's throughout much of the campaign season despite the fact that there was that moment of them flirting with him becoming secretary of state.

CABRERA: Do you know what his biggest influence was on choosing to retire? We now when he ran for election last time, he has sort of set the stage that he would be retiring at the end of this current term. But you also hear people throw around phrases or words like Trumphaustion setting in among the GOP and, of course, tax reform getting done was a big check on the list for a lot of Republicans.

Any sense of what it was where he -- that pushed him over this edge?

CHALIAN: Well, as he said, he talked with his family about it, I'm sure that had a huge in influence. And this is somebody who has been serving in the Senate for 40 years. It is a man in his 80s, and I don't think anyone would begrudge somebody in that position to retire.

CABRERA: No doubt about it.

Let me bring in with us to continue the discussion -- stay with me, too, David, please? But I want to bring back Errol Louis and Amie Parnes.

Errol, we haven't gotten your take on this, this news just yet. And the fact that Mitt Romney could now be running for this Senate seat. What are the chances he gets into the race?

LOUIS: Well, there has been a lot of talk about it. And in fact he is, of course, extremely popular. Family has deep roots there. He himself is a Mormon bishop. And so, if you look back to 2012, when he was running for president, Mitt Romney got something like 72, 73 percent of the vote in Utah. In that same race, Orrin Hatch was also on the ballot and he pulled about 10 points behind that, about 62 percent of the vote.

So, Mitt Romney has every reason in the world to think about this if this is something he wants to do. The question it raises is what happens to the non-Trump Republicans. Many of them have folded and come into come with the president, Lindsey Graham being a prominent example, the president ridiculed him, gave out his cell phone number during the campaign.

CABRERA: Now, they are golf buddies.

LOUIS: Yes, they're golf buddies, although Lindsey Graham always loses somehow and talks about the president's great golf skills, telling you the price of being close to the president. Mitt Romney has signaled that he's not willing to pay that price. And it will set up an interesting dynamic within the Republican Party if he does, in fact, run for that seat.

CABRERA: All right. Everybody, stand by. We've got to squeeze in another quick break.

Again, we are awaiting a White House press briefing and any minute now expected to happen now, closer to 2:30. Initially, it was supposed to be at 2:00. Of course, this breaking news may play into this briefing as well. We'll continue to follow it all. And be back in just a moment.


[14:23:44] CABRERA: We are just now getting a clearer picture of how deadly anti-government protests have become in Iran just as access to the Internet is reportedly being strangled off by the government.


CABRERA: There are reports that at least 21 people have been killed. Reports on the ground trickling out on social media paint a different picture with social media saying that there are distress calls coming from protesters. The reports are giving us a glimpse into an unprecedented revolt. Revolts there.

Video showing thousands of demonstrators saying "death to Rouhani" and "death to Khamenei", the country's top two leaders.

This video showing hundreds cheering as a picture of Iran supreme leader is torn.


CABRERA: Joining us now is CNN national security analyst, Matthew Rosenberg, who is with "The New York Times".

And, Matthew, I want to ask you about the president's reaction to this protest. President Trump tweeting this today: The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets.

[14:25:02] The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching.

What is the impact of these tweets from the president?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, I think we need to make this clear. The Obama administration did not give any money to Iran. Money that was returned to them after the Iran nuclear deal went through --

CABRERA: We assume that's what he's referring to, that it was lifting of sanctions on Iran.

ROSENBERG: Yes, exactly.

Look, I think inside the Obama White House, there was a big debate during earlier set of protests about whether they should weigh in, what they should say if they say anything. I think they decided at the time, you know, let's not say anything because that's going to be presented as, you know, these protesters being lackeys of the U.S.

I think there's some regret among the Obama folks. And for the Trump White House, you know, they are saying, we should weigh in. I think we are seeing with Iran supreme leader talking about the enemies in Iran being behind the protest. Whether the U.S. says anything, the reaction from the Iranian leadership is going to present this protest as being the work of pro-Western agents or others, the enemies are out to get them.

So, I think the Trump White House is, you know, the president in his own way, is trying to get out ahead and say, look, we support these protests. What impact that will have on the ground, I don't know. I don't think President Trump is particularly popular person among Iran's leadership or average Iranians. And so, the actual practical impact is very hard to measure.

CABRERA: OK, as we again away a press briefing set to get underway here in the next few minutes. I want to turn to North Korea because Sarah Sanders is sure to be asked about the Korean peninsula. We now know the south and the north are expressing interest in talking to each other. What do you make of the president once again calling Kim Jong-un rocket man as these talks now approach?

ROSENBERG: I mean, the talks present a real -- they're a real issue for President Trump. He's tried to rally the world to be incredibly tough on North Korea. And in his New Year's Day speech, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seemed to find an opening there and to say, you know what, I want to talk to South Korea. I'm open to direct talks with South Korea.

And in South Korea, you have a liberal leadership that is eager to talk to the North that is very hesitant to take Trump's hard line and that is very hesitant to join in what they see is rush to possible conflict with North Korea which would be fought largely in South Korea, which could result in tens of thousands or millions of their citizens dead. So, I think this is a real issue that the president is going to have to try to figure out here, because the North Korean do seem to have found a sort of way through this for now to try and split the U.S. and South Korea or at least to make an attempt to try and create daylight between the U.S. and South Korea.

CABRERA: All right. Matthew, stand by.

Any moment now, the White House press briefing ready to begin live. We'll bring that to you.

And more on our breaking news, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch says he plans to retire despite being urge to run for reelection by President Trump. We are back in a moment.