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Headed to Government Shutdown? Alleged Trump Remark Dispute. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 16, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. A government shutdown now seriously seems more likely than ever. The divide between the Republicans and the Democrats is only widening, in the middle of all of this, this morning, a flurry of statements from the president slamming the Democrats again and once again bringing up the Russia investigation calling it a hoax. Last hour, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders spoke with reporters at length on the White House lawn. Listen to part of it.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm certainly not going to try to predict the future, but we definitely want to get a deal done on the budget. We want a clean budget deal. And I think a number of prominent Democrats have come out and said that they don't feel like attaching DACA to the budget is a good idea and so hopefully we'll stick to that and we'll get something done.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) It is stalling negotiations.

SANDERS: No, I think he's worried that Democrats' unwillingness to actually put the country ahead of their party is what is stalling things from moving forward. Whether it is the budget or whether it is a deal on DACA.


BERMAN: All right, also happening now, you're looking at live pictures from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will testify today. This could be contentious. It brings together three players who were in that Oval Office meeting where the president dropped the s-bomb. You know the Homeland Security secretary and two senators whose versions of the meeting differ very much from hers. So I'm sure they will have a lot to talk about. We'll keep our eye on this hearing.

First up, CNN's Abby Phillip for us at the White House. Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, the debate continues to rage over that Oval Office meeting that turned fiery. And the - we've learned over the weekend according to some sources that the president, while he was in Florida at his Mar-a-Lago resort, had been calling and talking to friends about this meeting and saying that he thinks that this is going to play well with the base, that his use of that -- those curse words and that meeting might actually gin up his base on this immigration issue.

But we talked to Sarah Huckabee Sanders this morning, a little bit about that, and asked her why the president would say that to his friends and then have others like the two Republican senators who were in that meeting seem to deny that the president used that language to begin with. Listen to what Sarah Sanders had to say to us.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If he didn't make that remark, the expletive to reporter that he made, then why did he spend the weekend calling his allies and his friends defending it?

SANDERS: Look, the president hasn't said he didn't use strong language. And this is an important issue. He's passionate about it. He's not going to apologize for trying to fix our immigration system. He's committed to doing that and hopefully Democrats will be too.


PHILLIP: And as you mentioned, Kirsten Nielsen who is about to appear on the Hill, is one of the people who was in that meeting. And she says that she doesn't even recall the president using that language. So that debate continues on.

But meanwhile, the president is tweeting and he's talking about the DACA deal and blaming Democrats already for a failure to get -- to come to the table and get a bipartisan compromise. The president continues to talk about his border wall. He's not backing away from that. And we still seem to be very far away, as far as these two camps are concerned and whether they are going to be able to come closer together on an immigration deal. The president seems pretty combative on social media this morning calling out Democrats pretty sternly for the last 72 hours of back and forth, especially over this Oval Office meeting.

BERMAN: All right, Abby Phillip for us at the White House. Abby, thanks so much.

Let's go right up to Capitol Hill now to get a sense of the status of negotiations, if there are any. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is there. Sunlen, what are you hearing?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is a crucial day, John, and crucial week. Congress just has now four working days to keep the government open and operating. They need to get a deal before midnight on Friday night. And as of now, there is no resolution up here on Capitol Hill. Both sides really are becoming more entrenched in their positions.

At this moment, it seems the direction that this is all heading is that Republican leaders are likely going to separate DACA, separate that out with the spending bill and pass - or attempt to pass some sort of short-term spending bill. But that is exactly where this becomes really tricky and where the threat of a potential government shutdown becomes potentially very real.

You have Republican leaders in the House who need to corral support within their own party, many House conservatives, defense hawks, are not happy about the needing to potentially pass another stopgap measure. And then over in the Senate, you have Republican leaders who need Democrat support to get any spending bill through. They need 60 votes. And you have Senate Democrats, many saying, look, this is my line in the sand, I'm not going to sign any spending bill that doesn't include DACA extensions here.

[10:05:04] So, you have a situation where already four days before a potential shutdown, a lot of finger pointing, a lot of politics at play, thinking about re-election races, and, again, four days before shutdown, before the government runs out of money.

HARLOW: All right, we all wonder what happened to the, I will sign an agreement that they come to me with even if I don't like it. That was from the president not long ago. All right, so let's go back to this hearing because there is an important hearing underway. What exactly did the president say in that now infamous meeting at the White House with those lawmakers? You can bet Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen will be asked that under oath today by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

BERMAN: She was in the room.

HARLOW: She was.

BERMAN: But she says she doesn't recall the president saying blank hole. Now she hasn't been pressed on the House version of that, but lord knows she might be today.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has the very latest for us on the hearing. Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John and Poppy, all eyes on this hearing to see if it does devolve into really a he said/she said, so Senator Dick Durbin really versus Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen. Secretary Nielsen has repeatedly insisted in television interviews over this weekend that she did not hear President Trump make that controversial s-hole remark.

But Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, he was one of the first out of the gate late last week, leading that outcry over the president's use of the word in the Oval Office meeting. Durbin, in fact, said the president's words were quote, "hate-filled, vile and racist."

Of course, over the weekend, the president saying emphatically he's not a racist. So also in this hearing today, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, he'll be there. He's also stood by his recollection that the president said s-hole. So we'll see if he does challenge Secretary Nielsen. But Secretary Nielsen, she did double down this morning when she was asked how some lawmakers heard the president use that controversial word and why she says she doesn't. Take a listen.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I have no problem repeating what I've said. I just don't -- I don't -- that's not a word that I remember being used. It is not a particular phrase that I heard.


SERFATY: So Secretary Nielsen there continuing to deny -- continuing to deny that she heard anything. So we'll see how this back and forth plays out in the committee hearing that started at 10:00 a.m., will be ongoing. And, of course, amid that, the question will -

HARLOW: Let's go to Dick Durbin. He's speaking to reporters.

DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: -- but we did what the president challenged us to do and now I hope Senator McConnell, as well as Speaker Ryan will move forward in that spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If Republicans don't go along with the -- should Chuck Schumer hold the line? Chuck Schumer hold the Democratic line.

BERMAN: All right. Hopefully we'll be able to cue that back up so we can hear what Senator Durbin had to say.

HARLOW: Of course, he's critical in all of this, given he's the one that came out and said the president made these remarks repeatedly.

BERMAN: He's one of the senators who were on the Judiciary Committee, who will be able to ask questions to Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen about the discrepancy. Apparently, the differing views they have of what was said.

HARLOW: House versus hole.

BERMAN: Exactly, important.

HARLOW: Let's get back to our Jessica Schneider. Jessica, so sorry, I think we have Jess, do we? So, sorry have to interrupt you. We were trying to hear what Durbin had to say. Finish what you were saying.

SCHNEIDER: Well, so it will be interesting to hear what Senator Durbin has to say there because of course, he was the one or he is the one who's standing by his understanding and what he heard inside that Oval Office meeting. Of course, Secretary Nielsen has said repeatedly she did not hear any of those controversial comments.

So this is all playing out amid that Senate Judiciary hearing, of course, a lot of other issues that Secretary Nielsen wants to address today. She is expected to address DACA, immigration, of course, big hot topics on Capitol Hill this week.

Now she did say this morning that even if DACA isn't extended by the deadline, she says that those so-called Dreamers, they will not be a priority when it comes to ice. So Secretary Nielsen saying that they could be potentially still safe. She's also expected to really defend the president's policy. She has already come out to say that it is logical to push for merit-based immigration as opposed to one that is based on quota. And she did take it a step further in interviews over this weekend and this morning saying that she takes offense to the president being called a racist. So all of this, the backdrop in this Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where we know that Secretary Nielsen is really focusing her opening remarks on immigration, and all of that, But we'll see, of course, if his controversial comments from the president really become front and center and if there are any fireworks that go off in this repeated battle amid this terse language about immigration. Poppy and John?

BERMAN: All right, Jessica Schneider for us. Thank you very, very much.

A very busy day on Capitol Hill, there's something else big going on right now behind closed doors. That's Steve Bannon, the former senior strategist at the White House and campaign chair for President Trump, is behind closed doors testifying to the House Intelligence Committee. He arrived up on Capitol Hill an hour early for this meeting. So badly did he want to be there that he showed up an hour early. -

[10:10:08] HARLOW: Really?

BERMAN: -- Of course, this follows the publishing of "Fire and Fury" that book by Michael Wolff where Steve Bannon said explosive things about Donald Trump Jr., about things having to do with Russia and the Russia investigation and then had that falling out with the president.

CNN's Manu Raju just outside the door of this hearing we believe is going on. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Taking place right now, expected to go several hours as lawmakers want to question Steve Bannon about what he knew about any Russian contacts that occurred during the Trump campaign while he was there. As well as what he knew about contacts between Michael Flynn, the Russian ambassador, the time of the transition period, and about why he made those rather inflammatory remarks in Michael Wolff's book about that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Donald Trump Jr. met with the Russians, as well as Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, in which Bannon said, that was unpatriotic, that was treasonous and also questioned whether or not then candidate Trump was aware of this meeting. This is something that Donald Trump Jr. said under oath, that there was no discussion with his father about this meeting. Bannon was not part of the campaign at the time, seemed to think otherwise, lawmakers want to understand why.

Now, Bannon is not the only high profile witness expected to come before the House Intelligence Committee this week. We're also expecting Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager, who had some separate contact with George Papadopoulos, who was at Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, who lied to the FBI about contacts that he had with Russians. Lewandowski expected this week. And we're also expecting Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, to speak to the House committee as soon as this week. It could happen on Friday, we're told. This is incredibly significant because, of course, she's a sitting White House official, which is very unusual to interview a sitting White House official as part of an investigation and she's incredibly close with the president, having been one of the first hires on the campaign trail. Also by his side now is the White House communications director and also has knowledge of that misleading statement that came out on Air Force -- from Air Force One in the aftermath of that Donald Trump Jr., Trump Tower meeting reports, all those questions expected to be asked this week on Capitol Hill, guys. We'll see if they get the answers they want, though.

BERMAN: All right, Manu Raju, lurking outside the doors.

HARLOW: I don't think Hope Hicks has ever given an interview since she's been working with the president.

BERMAN: I have not -

HARLOW: Seriously.

BERMAN: -- seen her speak out loud, make noise since -

HARLOW: I mean, we have Bannon, we've heard from, et cetera.

BERMAN: She gave an interview to Robert Mueller. But that's not the kind of thing that --

HARLOW: There you go. That's not exactly on TV.

BERMAN: All right, our thanks to Manu.

President Trump, he says the Democrats want to shut down the government over amnesty for all. That is simply not true by the way. Democrats are not calling for amnesty for all. How does this help or hurt the prospects to get a deal done?

HARLOW: Also happening right now, on the Russia probe beat, the former campaign manager for President Trump, Paul Manafort, is back in court along with his associate Rick Gates. What does this tell us about the Mueller probe and then specifically moving ahead?

And in California, a House of horrors uncovered, 13 siblings held captive in their home. We are live from the site of the incredibly disturbing discovery.


[10:17:35] BERMAN: All right. The president says the Democrats want to spike any kind of deal over the budget and DACA because of what he calls amnesty for all which is simply not true. Moments ago, the lead Democrat of the negotiations Senator Dick Durbin had a chance to respond. Let's listen.


DURBIN: We're going to be ready to go this week. We're introducing the bill, bringing it to the floor, so the members can see it in detail. We've described it in detail. We want them to read it in detail and we're calling on Senator McConnell as the leader, he can set the agenda in the Senate. Let's bring this matter to a vote before we reach deadline on Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And the Republicans in your bipartisan group agree with that strategy?

DURBIN: Yes. And we're growing in number. Thanks to efforts by many Republican senators, Senator Graham, Senator Flake, Senator Gardner and others, are reaching out to their colleagues. I think they want to step forward and solve this problem. I do. Most Americans do.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, the president has labeled you. He's called you names, Dicky Durbin. He says that you're to blame if this DACA negotiations fall apart. What is your response?

DURBIN: I can tell you, the president challenged us at his cabinet meeting to come up with a bipartisan agreement to solve the problem and to hit four major elements in it. We did everything he asked and presented it to him on Thursday. It is the only bipartisan agreement that has been brought forward and we spent four months putting it together. So we met the president's criteria. Remember at one point when he said whatever you send me, I'll sign. I'll take the political heat on this. Well, we showed up Thursday, with our bipartisan bill and presented it to him with a much different story.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Some of these Republican colleagues have impugned your credibility, essentially. They said this is what happened at this meeting.

DURBIN: Politics and beanbag. I understand that. But I'll tell you this. I stand by every word I said about what was said and what happened at the meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you intend to confront the DHS secretary -

DURBIN: Come on down and see it. Let the press -- we're going to talk about some serious issues with the Department of Homeland Security.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Bottom line, you don't think we'll see a shutdown this week? Do you think that's preventable?

DURBIN: It is preventable. The Republican majority is in control of the House and the Senate. They have the White House. We're prepared to work with them. And we have put down a list of things that should be included and they've had it for weeks. So from my point of view, they should move forward.

Let's stop postponing this a week or two at a time for goodness sakes. It is an embarrassment to Congress that we can't reach an agreement. We spent four months to reach an agreement on immigration, on DACA. [10:20:01] It wasn't easy. I had to give a lot. I didn't want to give it. And so did the Republicans. But we did what the president challenged us to do and now I hope Senator McConnell as well as Speaker Ryan will move forward in that spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If Republicans don't go along with this, should Chuck Schumer hold the line?


HARLOW: All right. There you have the lead Democrat on these immigration negotiations, Dick Durbin, about to go into that hearing to question Kirstjen Nielsen, Homeland Security secretary. But he said as we bring our panel in with us, Brian Fallon, Kevin Madden, our political commentators and Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for "RealClearPolitics."

You heard him say we, meaning Republicans and Democrats, Caitlin, gave the president what he asked for. I gave a lot, Republicans gave a lot. I wonder what you think at this point, Caitlin, the White House is risking, at this point in time.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Right. Just one week ago today with that bipartisan roundtable meeting in which the president said that he would sign anything and take the heat for anything. And now we're in a very different situation. And a lot of ways the White House is trying to have it a few different ways here. At first saying, oh, I don't recall him saying these comments or he didn't say it in that way.

And on the other hand, saying that, of course, the president is going to take a very hard line on immigration. You heard something to that extent from Sarah Huckabee Sanders just this morning. And so, Durbin is right insofar as the president asked for a bipartisan solution and they offered him one. And there are Republicans on the Senate side who are risking some credibility here because it is not just Dick Durbin's word against the president's, it's, you know, Senator Lindsey Graham and other Republicans have said that they confirmed those sentiments, at least the substance of those sentiments as reported were true.

BERMAN: You know, Republican Kevin Madden, the White House today, the president seems to be saying if this thing goes down, it's the Democrats' faults. The Democrats are the ones trying to spike the deal on Dreamers right now. But Lindsey Graham says to believe that you can successfully blame Democrats for a shutdown over the DACA deal is naive. Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House. Can they avoid the blame here on a shutdown?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think there is risk for both sides. But I think one of the big problems for Republicans here, I think, is first of all, to Caitlin's point, there's not a whole lot of clarity in where our positions. I think there is too much space between where some folks on the Hill are with the White House.

I think the other part of this is when you are the party that is habitually promoting limited government you always tend to take the hit when the government shuts down. Particularly as you point out, John, when you're the party that is in charge. If you look back to the last shutdown that we had, I think it was in 2014, we saw a double digit drop in the generic ballot for Republicans as a result of that. So there is a great deal of risk for both sides, but I think from my party I do worry about the long-term impact it could have on the profile of the party.

HARLOW: And the generic ballot already doesn't look favorable for Republicans now and this hasn't even -- there has been no shutdown. To you, Brian, as the Democrat on this panel, Claire McCaskill, interesting quotes from her in "The New York Times" piece this morning. And here's what she says. "We've got people running for president all trying to find their base, and then you've got people from Trump states that are trying to continue to legislate the way we always have -- by negotiation. And never the twain shall meet." She goes on to say, "I'm not interested in drawing a line in the sand as negotiations continue because I think that's how negotiations get blown up."

She's fascinating because she's one of the 10 Democrats up for re- election in the Senate from a state that Trump won, won her state by 19 points. But does she have a point that Democrats should heed?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what she's saying is, that Democrats have to be negotiating all the while in good faith. And I think as the comments from Dick Durbin tell you, they have done that, they have come to the president with a proposal that met all his demands. And so, at this point, I think it would be very hard to dream up a scenario where the Democrats didn't -- couldn't possibly have any more leverage than they have for four days out from a potential shutdown. Obviously neither side should be seeking a shutdown. Democrats should continue to negotiate in good faith right up into the deadline.

But if you talk about who is going to blink first, just think of all of the points in the Democrats' favor here. You have Republicans control every part of government. You have a historically unpopular Republican president. You have a provision that the Democrats are fighting for that is extremely popular even among Republicans. And you have a president who is now twice blown up a potential deal over this, once in the fall, after striking a deal on principle with Pelosi and Schumer, he went back on that.

And then last week, he said no to this bipartisan deal that included concessions on border security. And oh, by the way, at the meeting where he blew up the deal last week, he made a series of racist statements that have now had this White House on their heels for the last week.

BERMAN: Brian, so you want to go to the mattresses on this is what I'm hearing. -

FALLON: Well -

BERMAN: You think that given all of those advantages that it is worth shutting the government down if Democrats don't get what they want. FALLON: I don't think Democrats should be seeking to shut the government down. But I agree with Joe Scarborough, who I rarely agree with. But Republican - former Republican congressman, host on another network, who this morning said that given all the cards that Democrats have and given how the public is on their side and wanting relief for these DACA kids. If Democrats do anything more than just put the bill on the floor as Dick Durbin said that they're going to do, and force the Republican -- force the Republican president Donald Trump to sign it or not, I think if the Democrats entertain any further concessions, as Joe Scarborough said, they should just pick their tail between their legs and walk away. And I think he's sort of right.

HARLOW: Caitlin, to you though, I mean this gives us a lens into the president's thinking.

Our Gloria Berger broke some news last night saying that essentially, the president's thinking on what he said in that, now infamous meeting at the White House and immigration last week has not changed at all because he still believes that place of his base that the deal presented to him is not what he wanted, even though it had a lot of gives from Democrats and a lot of gives from Republicans. I mean that could guide us into what the president is thinking, amid all of this, right, and might be willing to risk all of what Brian laid out in a shutdown.

HUEY-BURNS: Right, and he has said as much. I think what is really interesting as a lot of people are kind of debating what exactly -- what terminology he used in that meeting, the substance of the meeting has not been disputed. The substance of what the president wanted, the way in which he described things has not been disputed by the White House. And instead you had Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying the president going to take a tough line on immigration here. And so I don't think that, you know, the president is going to take a tough line on immigration here.

And so, I don't think that, you know, the president is also tweeting of course that the Democrats will be blamed and kind of pushing it back that way. I mean, the question I have is what some of the other Republicans in the conference are going to do. Yes, have David Purdue and Senator Cotton who have proposed changes and curbs to legal immigration coming to the president's defense, but there are other Republicans out there as well, some of whom are involved in these bipartisan talks. This puts McConnell in a difficult position, of course, but what he brings to the floor as Dick Durbin said I think will be very telling.

BERMAN: Kevin Madden, we can't let you go without asking you the question on mitt Romney as the sixth mitt Romney son and former adviser to the presidential nominee. Look, Mitt Romney, you said, will not be a supplicant to Donald Trump. If he decides to run for Senate and get to the Senate.


HARLOW: If he decides to run. BERMAN: When he enters the race. And look, he put out a statement yesterday critical of the president. But is not being a supplicant the same thing as going full bull worth if Mitt Romney is capable of that? Are we going to see a full Mitt Romney completely unshackled inside the Senate?

MADDEN: Well, I've think that one of the big hot one of the big things that you see right now is that there's been. Well, gravitational pull towards having Mitt Romney re-enter political field because they want somebody who is going to promote substance, somebody who is going to confront. You know, a president when he says things like was alleged during that White House meeting. And that the party needs to counterbalance to that type of rhetoric. So I think he would be somebody who will be willing to do that.

BERMAN: You know, 6 hairs - instead of two. - All right, Brian, Kevin, Caitlin, great to have you with us.

HARLOW: In federal court right now, former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, their trial is going to begin in the spring. What will this tell us about the strategy and all of this, of course, ahead of the critical midterms? Stay with us.