Return to Transcripts main page


GOP's Graham Refutes Flake Declaring DREAMer Deal; Interview with U.S. Congressmen Pete Aguilar and Will Hurd; Trump Talks Prison Reform; Trump Undercuts Administration's Stance on Surveillance Bill. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 11, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:14] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

We begin with, what else, confusion in Washington, D.C. In the past hour, we were told bipartisan group of senators, three Democrats, three Republicans had just reached this deal on the future of DREAMers. They are the 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children who are on verge of losing legal status unless, unless Congress acts. The deal, according to Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is, quote, the only game in town. There's no other bill.

But, now, another Republican senator says nope, at least not yet.

Let's get right to the halls of Congress and CNN's Phil Mattingly.

Phil, what's going on?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Clear as mud, right, which is how we operate a lot of days up here. Look, here's kind of the behind the scenes what's going on. This Gang of Six, it's three Republicans and three Democrats have been working for months to try to figure out some solution to the DACA issue. They have been working on a bill that -- or proposal that has the broad parameters that the president has said he needs, those four pillars that he talks about. And I'm told they have reached general agreement on where they are.

What they haven't been able to do yet is brief the members of their respective conferences or their respective caucuses about what's inside that bill. They haven't been able to brief the White House -- sell the White House on what's inside the bill.

What that all means, Brooke, is that this group, which is somewhat ideologically aligned, it's Republicans, they were open to this idea, Democrats who are willing to come together with Republicans to try and figure this out, recognizes that there's a heavy lift ahead of them.

While as Senator Jeff Flake said accurately, this is pretty much the only game in town, I've had senior Republicans in both the House and the Senate over the course of the last couple of days that they don't have any desire to touch this proposal whenever it comes out because they feel it moves too far away from where Republicans are on this issue. That is significant problem. And that's why the behind the scenes work that once they finalize a deal, once they have an agreement, that they actually need to conduct becomes extremely important.

I'll say, though, and this matters a lot right now, people are casting about looking for some type of solution here. They recognize there is a January 19th government funding deadline and Democrats have laid bare they don't want to vote for any government funding bill unless there's a DACA agreement attached, and this is something that's on the table, and that means it's live. The question is, does it have a future? That's what's going on behind the scenes right now.

What's actually in the deal, that we need a lot of clarity on as well. But that's kind of the state of play right now. Yes, it's confusing. Yes, it needs a lot of clarity, but I think that's actually emblematic of just this entire process right now. A lot of people on Capitol Hill are confused, a lot of people are looking for something, but nobody is exactly sure, Brooke, what that something actually is.

BALDWIN: OK. I've got two members of Congress standing by who hopefully be clearer on, at least their version of something.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

I've got these two congressmen who have a bipartisan plan for DREAMers, also known as DACA, stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Joining me now, Republican Will Hurd from Texas and Democrat Pete Aguilar from California.

Congressman, nice to have you on, both of you.



BALDWIN: OK. So, speaking of Washington and what appears to be clear as mud, you know, at least two of you have been working on this bipartisan plan for quite a while, that you really hope, you know, what will be the foundation of this law to help DREAMers, how willing is the president, Congressman Hurd first to you, how willing is the president to agree to maybe a watered down version of his wall or whatever his idea of border security is do you think?

HURD: Well, I think the president made it very clear earlier this week, that if we send something to his desk, he will sign it. And he said we would all work together.

What I find interesting is, is there a new day in Washington, D.C. where people are battling about which is the most bipartisan piece of legislation. I think the fact that you have bipartisan legislation, what Pete and I have been able to do here in the House, and you have those conversations in the Senate, I think that's ultimately a good thing.

BALDWIN: Did you, Congressman Aguilar, would you agree with your friend there, would you say the president was clear the other day in that meeting?

AGUILAR: Well, look, I mean the president takes a couple sides to these issues oftentimes. And what we have tried to do here is to say, look, the president, what we have heard loud and clear is he wants a DACA fix with border security. That's exactly what our efforts have been focused on. We hope that it continues to serve as the foundation for ongoing conversations. But we feel that we have addressed those two main concerns that the president identified.

BALDWIN: In your version of what the two of you have, you know, been working on for a number of days and weeks and what have you. So, all right, so talking DACA --

HURD: Months.

BALDWIN: Let's give you the full credit you deserve, a month here.

And so, you know, and also border security we hear this phrase border security, and I don't know if anyone is entirely clear what that means according to the president, but we'll find out.

[14:05:07] Congressman Aguilar, back to you. You know, Phil Mattingly up on the Hill is also reporting that Republican leadership sources, they're skeptical of this Gang of Six deal. A senior White House official is telling CNN that White House is also skeptical whether this can pass.

But going back to the president in that meeting from earlier this week, the president said, you know, I'll take the heat. Do you think the president is willing to just completely rile up his base over this? And do you give him credit for that willingness to perhaps do so?

AGUILAR: Look, I can't speak to what the president is thinking right now or during that meeting. So, you know, what we've been focused on --

BALDWIN: What did you think when he said I'll take the heat? That's significant.

AGUILAR: Yes. Well, look, it's significant if that happens. So, our responsibility is to produce legislation that the president can sign.

We are a co-equal branch of government. We should act like it. We should deliver a bipartisan solution that addresses DACA fix with border security. That's what we've been focused, and let's get the president a bill. He said he wanted a bill, let's get him a bill that does just that.

HURD: And let's make a deal. We are ready. This is strong border security. I have more miles of border than any other member of Congress. I

spent almost a decade as under cover officer in CIA. We need smart solutions to border security. And the USA Act does just that. Oh, and it solves the problem for 1.2 million kids who have only known the United States of America as their only home.

BALDWIN: Congressman Hurd, we have a map, we can show everyone watching. Your district in Texas contains the most border, the biggest chunk of the border of any lawmaker in Congress. So, we've got the map so people can see how long that stretch is.

That said, let's pause and listen to what Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, said to CNN.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president has discovered that part of it will be, he knows part of it will be the physical wall, part of it is better technology, part of it is also fencing. You know, there are rivers involved, I'm told. There are mountains involved. There is terrain that isn't conducive to building an actual physical structure in some places.


BALDWIN: Walls, fencing, rivers. I mean, Congressman Hurd, just staying with you -- I mean, there seems to be some backing off of the hard line the notion of this wall. Are you clear on what the president or the White House now defines as the wall?

HURD: I don't think anybody is clear on what that is. But it's our responsibility to come up with legislative solution. As Pete said, we are a coequal branch of government. And the problem a lot of people have --

BALDWIN: How can you come up with a legislative solution at the end of the day needs the green light from the president of the United States? And if he has his idea what the wall is --

HURD: Right. He had said earlier -- he had said earlier this week that if we get something to his desk, he's going to sign that. And, you know, let's test that.

The problem with border security, and, look, it is 2018, and we don't have operational control over our border. And the reason is we haven't been looking at all 2,000 miles of border at the same time. Every mile is different. And so, the only way you can achieve that kind of operational control is through the use of technology. And you also need the right manpower.

The border patrol measures their response time to problems at the border in some places in hours to days. Their response time in hours to days, I don't care if you put a 30 foot concrete structure up, that is not a physical barrier. So, that's why we've got to be smart about these solutions. That's why it's great working with people who understand these issues. And let's put something bipartisan together and get it to the

president's desk and let's think of this as a win-win solution, not a fight amongst us. Because we all agree, let's secure the border and let's take care of these DACA kids.

BALDWIN: What about the Democrats, Congressman Aguilar? Democrats are angry at leadership. They're saying Democrats are being tough enough for pushing for a clean DACA bill, that they are just willing to give away the store. Is that a fair criticism?

AGUILAR: Well, let's be very clear, Democratic Caucus wants a clean DREAM Act. But we also recognize, I also recognize that Republicans are in control of Congress and occupy 1600 Pennsylvania.

So, what we are trying to do here is solve the problem. That's what people in Will's district sent him to do. That's what people in my district sent me to do. How do we solve this issue for so many of these young people who only know this country as their home and are an American in every shape and form except a piece of paper.

That's what this legislation is designed to do, is to give them certainty because we know this holiday season, they didn't get any from Congress. They didn't get from the president. So, let's solve this issue, let's move pass this and let's do it in a bipartisan way like we have identified.

[14:10:04] BALDWIN: Now, again, I go back to Phil Mattingly, our correspondent up on the Hill, who has been following this, you know, and has been on the weeds, his reporting in the last 24 hours is that senior Republicans in both chambers have shifted gears fully to the idea that the government will need to be funded on January 19th without a DACA solution. And that puts your party, Congressman Aguilar, in a bad situation.

The question is, would your party be willing to shut down the government over this issue?

AGUILAR: Look, we have said there are a number of priorities we need addressed. The state Children's Health Insurance Program needs to be reauthorized in a reasonable way. Funding the community health centers. Funding to stabilize the health care market, as well as solving this issue for these DACA kids.

So, those are the priorities of the Democrat caucus. Those continue to be our priorities.

BALDWIN: So would your party, Congressman, would your party be willing to shut down the government over this issue as it is a priority?

AGUILAR: I can't speak for the Democrat caucus. What I'll tell you.

BALDWIN: Speak for yourself as a Democrat.

AGUILAR: Exactly. What I'm saying is I'm not comfortable voting for a continuing resolution unless we address these issues. That's what my community wants me to focus on. That's what I've committed to do with Will.

We have a solution, let's do this, we've got eight days, let's start. Let's get this done.

HURD: And, Brooke, there's another complication in this as well, is that, you know, having a continuing resolution month by month is having a drastic impact on the state of our military, the fact that our armed forces aren't able to plan accordingly. They don't know how much money they are going to get except in every single month. That's having an impact on readiness.

And that is a factor that is going into the conversations about a January 19th. Oh, and, by the way, we have sequestration that would potentially quick in a few days after that. So, this is -- this is a much more complicated issue than just one particular topic. But let's do our job and solve this problem. And we have a solution that solves what the president has said, what everybody has said, border security, and DACA fix.

AGUILAR: Look, Brooke, I would say real quickly --

BALDWIN: Yes, yes.

AGUILAR: -- that Republicans haven't even signaled that they are comfortable funding the CR. Ninety Republicans opposed the CR in September if I recall. So, look, there's an obligation, they have an obligation as well here.

BALDWIN: You guys keep repeating what the president said the other day, he said he said he'll sign it, send it to me and I'll sign whatever, and I'll take the heat. Let's see if he follows through.

Congressman Aguilar, Congressman Hurd, gentlemen, thank you both so much for your time today here on this really important issue.

Moments from now, the White House will be dealing weekly press briefing as president's attorneys try to clarify a statement he made about possibility of talking with special prosecutor Robert Mueller. More on that.

Back in just a minute.


[14:17:17] BALDWIN: All right. I want to take you to an event under way here with obviously the president, and he's talking specifically about prison reform. This is listening session, a number of governors around the table and also the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who doesn't see eye to eye as the president does on this very issue. Nevertheless, this is happening.

Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Once they exit the correctional system, we have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second chance, and make our communities safe. Many prisoners end up returning to crime, and they end up returning to prison. Two-thirds of the 650,000 people released from prison each year are arrested again within three years.

We can help break this vicious cycle through job training, very important, job training, mentoring, and drug addiction treatment. And you know how we are focused on drugs pouring into our country and drug addiction. It's a big problem even as we speak of this project.

We'll be very tough on crime, but we will provide a ladder of opportunity for the future. The governors with us today have pioneered reforms -- they have been very, very successful and we appreciate you being here very much -- that can inspire change.

Kansas improved its juvenile justice system to help make sure young offenders do not become repeat offenders. Kentucky is providing job training to inmates and helping them to obtain professional licenses upon release. And it's been very successful. It's been a great governor, I'll tell you that, my friend.

My administration is committed to helping former inmates become productive law-abiding members of society.

And I want to thank you all for being with us and thank you for the discussion. And maybe we'll take a couple of minutes and, Governor, you might want to say something about reform. You've been very successful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appreciate it. Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you truly to those in the media --

BALDWIN: All right. So, we're going to pull away from that. We wanted to just hear a little bit from the president.

Let me bring in my colleague Van Jones, CNN commentator, Democratic strategist, very, very passionate. We know you founded Dream Corps a couple of years ago on this very issue.

And would it be fair, my friend, to say that you agree with what the president is doing here on prison reform?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Anything can happen right now. They are ice skating in hell. It is happening.

BALDWIN: Pigs are flying.

JONES: Pigs have wings. This is something good that is happening.

Now, behind the scenes, that looked very peaceful. That looked very wonderful. Behind the scenes, there is a big challenge inside the Trump administration.

[14:20:02] Jared Kushner whose father went to prison is passionate about this issue. He's been trying to figure out a way forward on this thing. Of course, Jeff Sessions, who runs the Department of Justice, is pro-incarceration and frankly is out of step with his own party. You got a bunch of Republican governors, let's not forget, who are out there reforming the system, trying to save money, trying to save lives, and you have Jeff Sessions really, you know, way out in left field but moving in the wrong direction.

You finally now have a breakthrough where Jared Kushner has been able to organize a meeting, where conservatives are sitting there with the president, including a conservative governor, saying, this doesn't make sense. Locking up people for, you know, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, because they are addicted to drugs, that doesn't make any sense. And so, now, there is going to be a struggle.

And I have to say, I have never met anybody in prison who said to me, Van, I want to get out of here, but whatever you do when you help me don't work with Republicans. They never said that.

Everybody in prison wants a bipartisan fix.

BALDWIN: They don't discriminate.

JONES: They don't care. They want a bipartisan fix. It took both parties to get us in this mass incarceration mess. It's going to take both to get us out.

There have been great Republicans like Newt Gingrich and others who've been saying this for a long time. It looks like there now may be a chance for the Trump administration to do something that progressives can actually applaud. We will see.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. Yes. And I think a lot of this due to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, perhaps because of what's happened to his own father, and the president listened to him and is holding this listening session there with a lot of Republicans as you point out.

Van, thank you so much. Good to see you.

JONES: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up here, we are waiting for the White House press briefing to begin. We'll bring it to you live as always.

Also, a historic shift involving the future of Medicaid. Will states soon be enforcing a work requirement for a lot of people who receive Medicaid? How critics are now responding to that, coming up.


[14:26:07] BALDWIN: All right. Again, watching and waiting for the White House briefing to begin. In the meantime, officials will likely to be taken to task about the Capitol Hill chaos created today by the president's contradictions. We just witnessed him caused major confusion over DREAMers.

Today's case was about renewing a critical law U.S. intelligence agents need to monitor foreign terror suspects abroad known as FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The president tweeted about it just as lawmakers were voting on it. And just last night, the White House endorsed it, all right? So, just keep all of that in mind here.

This vote went on as planned. The House passed it overwhelmingly. It's now headed to the Senate.

But let me just read for you the tweet that supporters feared could have derailed this whole thing this afternoon. This is what the president tweeted this afternoon: House votes on controversial FISA Act today. This is the act that may have been used with the help of discredited and phony dossier to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump campaign by previous administration and others?

That tweet was followed by this House speech from -- by this floor speech, I should say, from House Speaker Paul Ryan.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There has been wide reporting and discussion here in the House about parts of the FISA statute that affects citizens. It's a big law, it's a big statue with lots of pieces. Title 1 of the FISA law is what you see in the news that applies to U.S. citizens. That's not what we are talking about here. This is Title 7, Section 702.

This is about foreign terrorists on foreign soil. That's what this is about. So, let's clear up some of the confusion here. This program in March of 2016 gave us the intelligence we needed to go after and kill ISIS' finance minister.


BALDWIN: That wasn't the only talking Ryan did. Source said after the president's tweet, he called the House speaker and that call was followed by this tweet from the president.

With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today's vote is about foreign surveillance for foreign bad guys in foreign land. We need it. Get smart.

The president's chief of staff John Kelly said this about the tweets impact on the votes, quote, it's not more difficult, it's a juggling act.

So, let's go to Jim -- oh, here's the briefing.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And the secretary will get into those details on that. And then answer a few of your questions on that topic. Then, as always, I'll be back up here to take questions on other news of the day.

With that, Mr. Secretary.

STEVE MNUCHIN, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: Thank you very much. And it's a pleasure to be here.

Let me first just comment and say I am pleased that I'll be leaving the economic delegation for the president in Davos. We'll have a very good large group of cabinet members traveling with us. And Sarah will give more information on that later.

I'd like to talk about the withholding tables. So, today, the Treasury Department and IRS released new withholding guidance that will implement the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. This new guidance will mean that workers and their families will receive larger paychecks starting in February.

This has been a massive project that we've been working on beginning to implement the tax plan. So, a lot of work left to be done but estimating that 90 percent of the workers are going to see an increase in take-home pay because of the Tax Cuts Act. This historic legislation doubles the standard deduction, simplifies the filing process, lowers the rate for millions of middle income Americans and their families.

I want to acknowledge the Treasury's Office of Tax Policy and the IRS who worked around the clock to meet our important objective to work with the existing forms and the existing systems. We want to minimize the burden on both employers and hard-working taxpayers in getting this implemented in February.