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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With New York Congressman Lee Zeldin; Interview With Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: No, I wouldn't.

It's -- we have tried a lot over the course of 2017. One thing, for example, that was good was a vote this past summer, China and North Korea joining in a United Nations Security Council vote that effectively cuts off over one-third of North Korean exports, multilateral diplomacy, an information campaign within North Korea to let the North Korean people know that the struggles they face is because of Kim Jong-un, not despite his best efforts for a better future.

And then the economic pressure for -- really just ramps up everything else. The M in the DIME principle, diplomacy, information, military, economics, the military option, as you were just covering with Barbara Starr, it is important for us to be ready of the full range of unconventional to conventional, but looking at the military option as the last possible option.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right.

Congressman, there has been a lot of talk since last week about the president's Oval Office meeting on immigration that included bipartisan members of Congress right there.

Do you think the president needs to apologize for the statements that he made?

ZELDIN: Well, first off, I wasn't in the room. But if I was just to assume that everything that Senator Durbin said was accurate, I don't believe so.

I believe what was most important here for to us move forward over the course of these next few days, the government is funded up until Friday. There's high stakes in that. For one, the military is operating under continuing resolutions.

I was just in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Jordan over the last week and it is really difficult for our military to operate understanding continuing resolutions. There's also obviously the DACA debate that is going on. And just I think that's where the focus should be moving forward, rather than debating what was said in the Oval Office.

(CROSSTALK) BERMAN: Well, except that the president was talking about the details of the DACA plan, the dreamers plan, the deal on immigration, when he either called African nations blank-hole countries or blank-house countries.

Do you think that is an appropriate way to describe an entire continent?

ZELDIN: I think that -- I don't want to get into just debating that.

I would say, if we were to go down that road, we would make a lot of former presidents look very bad for certain things said and done during their time. This was a private conversation.

BERMAN: It was. Well, there were a number of people in the room there. They were deal-making.

You said that your goal is to find some kind of a deal. Let me pose the question a different way. Do you think that helps finding a deal, working out a way to protect some 800,000 dreamers?

ZELDIN: I think -- I wish I knew everyone who was in the room.

But, OK ,as far as Senator Cotton goes, for example, he might be approaching this a little different than Senator Graham or Senator Durbin. As far as language used, the president may have thought that he was developing a closer relationship with more trust with the different people around the room than actually exists.

In hindsight, obviously, with the fact that it has been this much of a distraction, where we're not talking about the specifics of a deal, you can't necessarily advise him to go there, if it is going to result in this kind of a debate here in our conversation after a weekend.

BERMAN: Do you think it's odd that Senators Cotton and Perdue went from saying they didn't recall whether the president had used those terms to all of a sudden definitively remembering that he did not?

ZELDIN: Again, I really wish I was in the room, to be overqualified to be a referee here on exactly what was said and how everyone has responded to it.

I don't know what Senator Graham heard, what Senator Perdue, what Senator Cotton, Senate Durbin what they all heard, what they thought they heard. And, again, we are in a huge time crunch here on the policy. That really is where this conversation needs to go in the best interests of our country.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Do you support the deal that was presented to the president? Was that the workings of something you could support there?

ZELDIN: No. It's not going to pass Congress.

From my understanding from past debates, I don't believe that the votes would be there in the House. I don't want to speak for my colleagues. I'm not aware of -- maybe there will be a conference this week where we will discuss.

BERMAN: But I'm asking if you would support, would support protection for the dreamers, some funding for the wall, some protection for these people from Haiti and El Salvador, these countries who are here on a temporary protected status? Is that a deal, the frameworks of which you personally could support?

ZELDIN: No.

I think that it is going to be important to go further. As far as with the border wall, for example, we have had people who say we're for a border wall, we're against the border wall.

We really, I think our entire country will be served if we can move further along on this debate on what that actually means. No one is proposing, as far as I know, a 30-foot wall on top of the Huachuca Mountains or in the middle of the Rio Grande.

[16:35:07]

Part of our border already has a wall. Other parts, there are vulnerabilities that everyone agree needs to get fixed. So let's address those vulnerabilities, the changes being made to chain migration and changes to visa lottery.

There are aspects of what was agreed through few bipartisan senators. I don't believe it is enough to pass Congress. And as far as me personally, I also believe that we need to go a little bit further in tackling our immigration challenges than just this deal. It is a great opportunity for us to go even further.

BERMAN: Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York, happy new year. Thanks for being here.

ZELDIN: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: She is one of the architects of the dreamer program that President Trump is trying to shut down.

The former head of homeland security under President Obama, Janet Napolitano, joins us live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We're back with the politics lead.

[16:40:00]

In a matter of days, the government will run out of money. And Des Moines are saying they will withhold votes to fund the government if both sides cannot come to an agreement to help the so-called dreamers, children who were brought to the United States illegally by fault on their own. In the meantime, the Trump administration has resumed receiving DACA renewal applications in light of a U.S. district judge in California blocking the president's attempt to end that program.

And joining me now, one of the plaintiffs I that case, the president of the university of California, Janet Napolitano. She helped create the DACA program as a former secretary of homeland security during the Obama administration. Was also governor of Arizona. Knows a lot, to say the least, about this issue.

And, Secretary, if I can, the president's comments have made so much news over the last several days, referring to these all African nations as blank-hole or blank-house nations. He says he's not racist. He says he's the least racist person ever.

Based on what you have seen, do you agree?

JANET NAPOLITANO, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, I think he has a track record here.

And I think the track record goes far back. But, in reality, what we need to get to is a legislative solution for DACA. We have succeeded in federal court here in California to enjoin the administration from rescinding DACA and to accept enrollments under the current requirements of the program.

But it needs to be memorialized in statute.

BERMAN: Part of this deal that was presented to the president last week did include some funding for a border wall or border fence or some kind of border structure.

It is something some Democrats said they would never provide money for. But this deal that Dick Durbin was part of provided more than a billion dollars, maybe more than two, depending on how you look at it. Do you think it is worth providing funding for such a structure in order to get protections for dreamers?

NAPOLITANO: It all depends on what is meant by a wall.

There are currently miles of border wall and reinforced fencing along the Southwest border. And it requires funding to maintain. There were current plans even under the previous administration to extend it on certain parts of the border.

So if that's what is covered, what was already contemplated in part of the Border Patrol's plan, then it seems to me that that's part of the border security measures that could be accepted as part of the DACA deal.

BERMAN: Even if the president calls it a wall, that's fine with you. The semantics of it aren't necessarily as important to you, correct?

NAPOLITANO: I think we're in semantic land all over this debate.

BERMAN: Right. NAPOLITANO: And we need to return to what it is about. It's about

the lives of 800,000 or so young people brought to this country at a young age. Have done everything our society has asked of them and gained admission to the University of California, which is a very competitive institution.

Are we really going to deport this kind of talent? That's not what our immigration system should be all about.

BERMAN: So, are they so important, is finding those protections so important that you would be willing or you would suggest that Democrats shut the government down, if necessary, this weekend, not vote for any kind of government funding unless DACA protections are part of it?

NAPOLITANO: Look, I'm going to say, I'm not a member of the Congress.

They will each have to make their own decision. But I will just simply say that it seems like, for some reason, on DACA, which there is broad public support for, by the way, by both parties, that unless it is somehow attached to a must-pass bill, Congress just can't get to it.

It is kind of symptomatic of the problems we have in Congress more generally.

BERMAN: You are a former Democratic politician, so you have been part of negotiations like this before. But you do think, generally speaking, then, Democrats should use what leverage they have?

NAPOLITANO: I think they may be forced to.

And I think it is nobody's first choice. And I think there are lots of pros and cons. But unless they can reach an agreement on DACA, the question raises as to, well, what other opportunities will there be for Congress to address this important issue?

So, again, it will be up to the members. But I think we may very well be looking at a possible shutdown.

BERMAN: Governor Napolitano, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

NAPOLITANO: You bet.

BERMAN: All right, lots more to talk about, including what could be an early glimpse into how a possible Senate candidate Mitt Romney might respond to President Trump. Well, ask the panel next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We're back now. Sticking with the "POLITICS LEAD." Negotiations on a DREAMer deal have stalled in light to the President's vulgar immigration comments. But the clock is ticking as the threat of a government shutdown looms. I want to bring back the panel to discuss this. And John, the question is, in light of these comments, right, who has the most to lose if the deal is not reached by this Saturday?

BASIL SMIKLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The DREAMers. Yes, that's the great --

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, that's the clear answer. But then it's a question of whether your politics are oriented toward helping other people or trying to score ideological or political points. And that's the real deep division of politics. And so, you know, that's what -- you know, what should be motivating folks isn't just the utter face plant of a failure to keep the government operating. I'm mean if there's unified control of government and there's a shutdown of Friday, that's an utter face plant. But the people who are hurt most are the DREAMers. That two -- that combination of factors should really motivate senators to summon their better angels, again, despite the President, and get something done before Friday.

[16:50:24] BERMAN: Do you think Margaret, that -- which side would be more willing to risk a shutdown?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not the Democrats. The Democrats have been railing against Republican against shutting government down for too many years. The Republicans are the ones who can't do it they're shutting up. So I think, if the Democrats do the same thing they've been accusing the Republicans of, they lose their moral authority as well.

BERMAN: But you see Governor Napolitano who was a Democratic governor of Arizona, he doesn't want to say it now I think, in so many words because she's the President of the University of California education system and everything, but she seems to think it would be worth it to fight this until the bitter end for Democrats and use what leverage they have.

SMIKLE: To actually convince -- Margaret raises the point that is of concern to me, which is we've been railing against Republicans for so long about shutting down the government. Is this a risk we're willing to take? I do think it is a risk we could take. It's worth it. But the question is how cavalier are Democrats, particularly some of the more vulnerable ones going to be?

AVLON: I think it will be politically disastrous because it removes that clarity, that difference. As long as there's a deal where both sides are given a little, nobody is perfect but the basic principles are being achieved, for the good of the country at least someone steps up and be an adult. It would be nice if --

SMIKLE: It can actually be a bipartisan thing. I agree with --

BERMAN: All right, today someone threw down a bit of a political marker and that one was named Willard Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts who we all think is likely running for Senate in Utah, put out a statement in reaction to the President's comments in the Oval Office. This is what Governor Romney said. The poverty of an aspiring immigrant's nation of origin is as irrelevant as their race. The sentiment attributed to POTUS, the President, is inconsistent with America's history and antithetical to America's values. May our memory of Dr. King buoy our hope for unity, greatness, and charity for all." People have been asking if Mitt Romney runs for Senate. Will he run as a Republican who will be loyal to the President or an opposition to the President? What does this tell us?

HOOVER: In Utah, 40 -- 51 percent of people voted for somebody other than Donald Trump. 45 percent for Donald Trump, 51 percent for Evan McMullin, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, all right?

AVLON: In deep red Utah.

HOOVER: In deep red Utah. Well, you know, the Mormon Church doesn't like -- no Mormon representative likes the way Donald Trump is behaving. Most Mormons dislike, unlike the evangelical Protestants from the south, do not like Donald Trump is behaving the presidency. Romney would have amazing freedom to speak to his power, to be consistently who he is, to represent a reformed Republican tradition that frankly many of us are thirsting for on a national level. And if he watched television it's as much as Donald Trump did, I would look on the camera and say please run, please run, please run.

AVLON: He's -- all signs are that he's running. And I think it's good for the country and the Republican Party to do so because -- a Representative from Utah, Senator of Utah, he would really have the freedom to speak his conscience. And it's very clear from that tweet that this is not a jump ball, whether it's going to be pro-Trump or anti-Trump. He's going to be looking out for his conscience and for the political soul of the Republican Party because somebody needs to (INAUDIBLE).

SMIKLE: All that's true, but the -- we have seen and I think Mitt Romney one of the last that this is sort of northeast Republicans, some of those more moderate Rockefeller Republicans. The question is what happens when he gets there? Is it going to be all nice and wonderful in the first year or so?

BERMAN: It starts the primary --

HOOVER: Yes, absolutely.

SMIKLE: And I don't think Democrats are going to get -- are going to forget (INAUDIBLE) at any time soon.

BERMAN: All right, there's another Senate candidate people are talking about all of a sudden today. Chelsea Manning. You remember Chelsea Manning who you know, leaked so many documents to WikiLeaks? Listen to this campaign ad put out by Chelsea Manning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHELSEA MANNING, FORMER UNITED STATES ARMY SOLDIER: We need to actually take reins of power from them. We need to challenge them at every level. We need to fix this.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: All right. Basil, I'm going to ask you because sort of Chelsea Manning is she's sort of running on the extreme left against the Democratic incumbent. Any potency to this as you head towards 2018?

SMIKLE: There may be some resonance but I'm not sure that there's a tremendous amount quite frankly.

BERMAN: Maybe not even I'm talking about from Chelsea Manning specifically but do you start seeing incumbents primaries on the left?

SMIKLE: I think it was for a little while, maybe last year. But actually, I do start to see a lot of us coming together.

AVLON: See, Trump is bringing us together.

SMIKLE: Yes.

AVLON: That's the secret. He'll make America great again by proxy, by uniting everybody. But the Democratic civil war is real. Chelsea Manning is a symptom of it. Manning versus Cardin. Look, Maryland is a very deep Democratic state but it's unlikely this is where she's going to pick it off. The second most popular governor of the country, Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland.

BERMAN: Guys, thanks so much for being with us. Stick around. A look at how President Trump spent Martin Luther King Jr. day, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] BERMAN: This year marks 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And today, people across the country are reflecting on his legacy and where the dream goes in the next half-century. Today Dr. King's youngest daughter Bernice King was the keynote speaker at the annual service and historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Members of the Trump administration joined Martin Luther King III who spoke at the King Memorial in Washington, D.C. today. And after the President spent the weekend telling reporters he is not a racist, he spent Martin Luther King day golfing in Florida before heading back to Washington for a busy week. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JOHNBERMAN or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is all for THE LEAD today, I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. It's now time for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, I am not a racist.