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Government Shutdown Looms with No DREAMers Deal in Sight; Flake: GOP Should Stand Up to Trump's Stalin-Like Attacks on Media. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 16, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


MADDEN: -- about the Martin Luther King legacy. So I think in speaking to that, he wanted to elevate that.

[07:00:07] But also he has a great deal of faith in what he believes is the American experiment. And speaking to -- to all those people around the globe who see America as a shiny beacon of hope, those are principles that he believes very strongly and will always speak quickly about -- or always speak forcefully about.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I'm making you speak quickly. For that I apologize. Kevin Madden, great to see you. Thanks very much.

MADDEN: Thank you. Great to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWS ROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN NEELY KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I don't want want to shut the government down. I think it would be a mistake if the Democrats tried to force us to vote on amnesty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are compromises that are being made on both sides.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly, the events of the last couple days make the likelihood of a deal more complicated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It detracts from the very important issue we've got to get solved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bottom line, all people ought to be treated with respect.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I know what happened. I stand behind every word that I said.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Donald Trump wants to change this narrative, he should act on immigration. Donald Trump needs to lead on this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flames are really hovering right above them, gaining momentum.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first thing I heard were the screams, and I see the firefighters catching the babies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't really feel like a hero. It's our job. I couldn't be anything else.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: The video is incredible.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Talk about that Minnesota Vikings football game, but I'll tell you when a catch really matters is what that firefighter just did. Can you imagine catching a kid from that height, all that heat and fire? And that's when they are at their best. Thank God for them.

Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. The clock is ticking as Congress returns to work today. Lawmakers are facing the very real prospect of a government shutdown, and it could coincide with President Trump's one-year mark in office.

It is the president's disparaging comments about certain immigrants that are threatening efforts by lawmakers to strike deals on spending and immigration in just the next four days.

CAMEROTA: The president also slamming Democratic Senator Dick Durbin for allegedly misrepresenting the president's comments in that contentious Oval Office meeting last week. Mr. President is also blaming Durbin for blowing up the deal to protect DREAMers. But Senator Durbin is standing by his account that the president repeatedly described immigrants from impoverished countries in profane terms.

We have it all covered. So let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Well, President Trump is back in Washington, and Congress is returning to work today, but they still have no immigration deal ready for them. And they're facing a looming deadline over the government shutdown.

Making matters worse is this ongoing controversy over President Trump's crude remarks in the Oval Office, where he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal and effectively derailed the negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): The prospect of a government shutdown growing increasingly likely, as a high-stakes game of chicken plays out on Capitol Hill over including a deal for DREAMers in Friday's must-pass spending bill.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: A majority of my caucus, myself included, we will not fund the government without a DACA deal.

KENNEDY: I don't want to shut the government down. I think it would be a mistake if the Democrats tried to force us to vote on amnesty, but if they do, I will vote no.

PHILLIP: Republicans now focusing on passing another short-term funding measure to keep the government open, but it is not clear they have the votes.

The chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus telling CNN on Monday that it will be "extremely difficult to convince our caucus members to vote on another short-term funding mechanism."

Democrats are demanding any spending bill include protections for DREAMers, so they are working to create momentum for the bipartisan deal rejected by President Trump last week.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If it was put on the floor of the House or the Senate, it would get a majority vote in either one.

PHILLIPS: Well, weighing the political risks of shutting down the government, especially for Democrats running for re-election in states that President Trump won in 2016.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We have to make sure this government runs and operates in a functional way. It takes all of us working as Americans.

PHILLIP: Multiple aides tell CNN that President Trump's disparaging comments about immigrants have hardened Democrats' resolve, but a Republican source says the president is not bothered by the controversy and continues to think his vulgar remarks could help him politically.

Still, President Trump insists that Senator Dick Durbin, quote, "misrepresented what was said at the Oval Office meeting" when Mr. Trump reportedly questioned why the U.S. needs more Haitians and called some African countries "shitholes."

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I know what happened. I stand behind every word that I said.

PHILLIP: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has not denied Durbin's account, telling a South Carolina newspaper that his memory hasn't evolved.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The discourse right now is pretty low. We're producing some pretty good policy, but those of us in my business need to up their game. It's pretty embarrassing when you have to take your children out of the room just to report the news.

[07:05:07] PHILLIP: White House officials focusing on semantics for their defense, telling CNN that senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue heard Mr. Trump say "shithouse" rather than "shithole." DURBIN: I don't know that changing the word from "hole" to "house"

changes the impact which this has. I am stunned that this is their defense.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: Homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is going to be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in just a few hours. And she was among the people in that Oval Office meeting and has said that she that does not recall the president using that vulgar language.

Now, also questioning her are senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham who said otherwise. As for that government shutdown, House GOP leaders are meeting with rank and file members tonight to talk about their strategy for potentially funding the government with a stopgap funding measure -- Chris and Alisyn.

CUOMO: Thank you very much, Abby.

Joining us now is CNN political analyst and "New York Times" national political reporter Alex Burns; and CNN Politics reporter and editor at large, Chris Cillizza.

Chris, what can you tell us about what the big items are that are going to be in play here with whether or not there's a shutdown/continuing resolution for funding and DACA. We just heard Kennedy in the open say if they make us vote on amnesty, is that the line?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. I think it is. To be honest, unless Congress has changed how it works since I've been up there, which I don't think it has, I don't see a deal on immigration and DACA happening.

I think the game at this point is another short-term spending deal, which gives them more bargaining time on DACA, Chris. I just -- I just don't think it happens. I think you've spent since last Thursday distracted by "house" versus "hole," the most pointless debate in American history. So I don't think that happens.

I think at this point what you should focus on is the spending math. Can -- if Republicans can't get any Democratic votes, can they hold their own line? They have done it in the path in these short-term funding resolutions. This will be harder because, as Abby mentioned in her package, the House Freedom Caucus is not all on board as of yet. They lose a handful of them, and all of a sudden, that math in the House becomes a lot tighter.

CAMEROTA: So Alex, I mean, this is a big gamut for Democrats if they decide that this is what they're going to stick their convictions on and allow the government to shut down. So are they allowing to go along with a short-term spending deal if a -- if the promise of a DACA fix is soon?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think a decisive group of Democrats would be willing to go along with a short-term spending fix in exchange for some kind of perception of movement on a deal. As Chris said, it would be a big deal for Democrats to vote lock step on a vote where they know the consequences could be shutting down the government. At the same time, the folks on the left of the Democratic Party who want to see more confrontational approach to the White House say, "Look, Republicans control the entire government."

If the government shuts down, that's not on us. That may be a short- term thinking or relatively narrow thinking on their part, but they do feel emboldened to kind of, you know, hit the ball back to the Republican side of the net and say, "You guys fix this. You made this problem."

CUOMO: All right. Let's think it through, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

CUOMO: They have leverage on DACA even if -- or even beyond this deadline with the C.R., with the budget deal because you have this time certain that the president has set and we have to see whether or not he sticks with that timeline. So their leverage continues there. What is the back and forth on the actual spending that would make the Democrats not want to do it? What's on the table on this budget funding that they wouldn't want?

CILLIZZA: Well, honestly, Chris, I think it's primarily tied to DACA. You have -- Alex makes a really good point. What you have is the Democratic Caucus, particularly in the Senate, very much split between people who are running for president -- Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders -- and the ten Democrats -- let's not forget this; there are ten Democrats running for re-election in 2018 in states that Donald Trump carried, including places like Montana, West Virginia, North Dakota.

So, you have them split on that, because again, it's sort of shutting down the government may be a bridge too far. Could they do something like children's health insurance, CHIP, to try to incentivize more Democrats to say, "We got something"? Yes, they could.

I honestly think it's more -- it's less what's in the specific budget C.R. deal, than an approach, than sort of a how should we approach the Trump administration? How should we approach Republicans in Congress? Should we, as they have largely done to date, should you sort of go along with the promise of "We'll make a deal in the future on things you care about like DACA" or -- and this is what the 2020 folks are advocating, do you say, "We're putting a line in the sand. This is going to be on them, the Republicans, and we're not going to help them in any way, shape or form. If they want to do it, let them do it." To me, this is less about policy than it is about sort of positioning.

CUOMO: If we sort of pull back the frame that we're viewing this through, it is sort of a case study and object lesson in why it's going to be virtually impossible for Congress to get anything done of scale this year. Just think about how long we have now spent, how long they have spent, how much political capital they have spent on a question of whether they're going to fund the government by a couple more weeks.

Whether they're going to get rid of a crisis in the DACA situation, in the CHIP situation, than that was entirely self-inflicted, that these are elected crises. So if we are starting 2018 with Congress just plunged into turmoil over issues like these, the notion that you're going to get something big done before the midterms on this scale of tax reform on the scale of Obamacare repeal, it gets really, really hard to envision, especially when you think Congress has maybe six months in its productive life left before the campaign just takes over everything.

CAMEROTA: Chris, do you think -- I mean, I know that the debate over "blank hole" versus "blank house" has sometimes gotten us in the weeds. Do you think, though, that that meeting and those crude remarks, did they derail this?

CILLIZZA: Yes. I think they derailed it for a couple reasons. One, Alisyn, they derailed it from a policy perspective that this -- the deal that was presented last Thursday, which has of course, now been totally overshadowed.

CAMEROTA: Eons ago.

CILLIZZA: "Hole" versus "house," was the deal. I mean, that was the deal.

CAMEROTA: You mean the one that Lindsey Graham...

CUOMO: And Durbin.

CAMEROTA: -- and Durbin went over to present, that was the bipartisan deal.

CUOMO: Yes, the one that the president promised to sign.

CAMEROTA: When they brought it that morning.

CILLIZZA: Right, right. I was just going to say remember that Tuesday meeting a week ago today in which he said, "I'll sign it. I'll sign it." Donald Trump -- Donald Trump on immigration. So, yes, that was the deal.

So not only do you have -- we've spent the time between that meeting Thursday and today talking about what did he say and we know what he meant, so what he said to me doesn't really matter.

But you also have the fact that that sort of stalled the policy out. Because these things are not easily constructed. That's why the idea that they'll just pop up a deal in the next 24 to 48 hours. You spend any time watching politics, this is to Alex's point, they don't do big things. They don't really even do medium things. That's why tax reform, I'm still stunned they got tax reform through.

But they really -- this is not a process set up to do big things, especially when you're dealing with a 72-hour time frame. So that's why I'm very skeptical that suddenly, a DACA deal emerges between now and the end of the week. To me, it's much more likely the debate is over. Can -- do Democrats sign onto some kind of short-term spending deal? If they don't, can Republicans find the votes within their own conference.?

CUOMO: Alex, why are they holding on so hard to this house/hole controversy? I don't -- I don't get it. I mean, we've been steeped in it twice a day. But they don't have a good case here. They have Durbin and Graham. OK?

So the president is attacking the Democrat. He's calling him "Dicky Durbin" now, you know, because he loves -- he loves the nicknames. Here are the people who are in there. OK, so this as a lawyer let me tell you something. When someone says, "I can't recall," that's an engineered thing. People don't speak like that. Either you remember me saying something that's as obnoxious as this type of language or you don't. It's not the kind of thing that's just going to slip past you.

BURNS: Right.

CUOMO: So you're -- you're getting an "I can't recall" from David Perdue and Tom Cotton. They then shifted to "I didn't hear it."

CAMEROTA: Shifted to "He didn't use that word."

CUOMO: Right. That they now say he didn't say it. OK, but they started with an "I don't recall." And if you're going to back the president on a basis of truth, you'd think you'd do it right out of the box.

But here is the bigger point. Nobody disputes the real sin that was committed in that meeting, which was not his language. If people aren't used to vulgarity in language with Donald Trump, then they'll never be used to it. But he expressed a preference: "I'd rather have people from Norway than from Africa, South, Central America." Nobody disputes that he said that. That is the sin that he committed in that. That's what is stuck in the craw of the Democrats. So why is he holding onto "They're lying about what I said"? Why?

BURNS: Well, for the two people in that meeting who have changed their story about what happened, senators Cotton and Perdue, who are trying to give the president some kind of level of deniability here, their agenda is that they have an immigration bill that would make deep cuts in the levels of legal immigration to the country and overhaul the way we decide who gets to come in.

They call it a merit-based system. The president described it in rather different terms. Right?

So what their agenda here, the reason why they are holding onto the notion that the president didn't say what you think he said is because if the American people, if Congress come to see a merit-based immigration proposal as basically a coded way of saying, "Let's keep out the black people and bring in people from Norway," that is not a proposal that's going to go over well. [07:15:10] CUOMO: And just from a facts-first perspective, the media

went to the White House, deputy press secretary Raj Shah did not back off the reporting of the language that was used.

CILLIZZA: He defended it.

CUOMO: Then -- thank you, Chris Cillizza.

Then Kaitlan Collins, CNN, gets contact from a staffer who says not only did he say it, we're good with it, because we believe the base will like it.

That was their starting point. How did they get to "It was misrepresented and he never said it"?

BURNS: No. There's really no reasonable question at this point about whether the president said the specific vulgarity and the sort of broader point that you described in making.

CUOMO: Right. I don't get why it's covered as a controversy. They didn't even deny it themselves.

BURNS: This is the president's great political gift, right, that he gave a long, rambling interview to "The Wall Street Journal" last week, in which he said all kinds of controversial things. On Friday, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that he had a nondisclosure agreement with an adult film star. And over the weekend, the White House creates a multi-day controversy over whether he said the word "I" or "I'd" in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal." They're enormously gifted at sort of problematizing news coverage even on very, very fine points.

CUOMO: That's a good word. "Problematizing."

CAMEROTA: Yes. That's a new verb.

CUOMO: The longest word I usually word is "mayonnaise." But that's in the -- that's in the competition.

CAMEROTA: That's awesome. Alex, Chris, thank you both very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CUOMO: Cillizza does a lot of problematizing.

CAMEROTA: Oh, yes. There's Sniglets running around in this studio often.

CUOMO: I remember that. Dating us again.

CAMEROTA: Arizona Senator Jeff Flake says President Trump's attacks on the media reminiscent of Josef Stalin. But the senator says that does not mean he's comparing the president to Stalin or does it? We discuss that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [07:20:54] CAMEROTA: Republican Senator Jeff Flake is taking on the president over Mr. Trump's repeated attacks on the free press. Senator Flake will present his case on the Senate floor tomorrow, but he's already sharing his concerns with Christiane Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: What concerns me is when you use phrases like "enemy of the people." then that -- you trace that phrase back, and it was not a good origin. Really was popularized by Josef Stalin. What this president does, the most powerful man in the world, has lasting implications.

And it has implications for journalists worldwide, as well as our free press here in this country.

CAMEROTA: Here to discuss all this is Douglas Brinkley, CNN presidential historian; and "New York Times" journalist Nicholas Kristof. Great to have both of you here for this discussion.

So Doug, a sitting U.S. senator is going to go on the Senate floor and criticize the president of his own party. Historically speaking, can you give us the significance of this?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: And on the day that the government might close.

Look, it just tells you there really is a type of neo-civil war going on within the Republican Party. Jeff Flake is determined to tell fellow Republicans there's another road besides Trumpism. That there's the grand old party itself. There's true conservatism, and he's positioning himself to be a flashpoint person to Donald Trump.

Now, choosing Stalin, it may have been a mistake for him out of the gate, but the point we understand that he's making is we have a president who is saying that the First Amendment is garbage, that despises reporters, that's threatening journalists around the world.

So I think it is a "Profiles in Courage" moment for Jeff Flake. That's obviously the famous book John F. Kennedy wrote about senators who are willing to stand up and speak truth to power.

CAMEROTA: Nicholas, we have a few excerpts of what Senator Flake plans to say. So let me read it for everyone: "It's a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice that with malice was the phrase 'enemy of the people,' that even Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose or annihilating such individuals who disagreed with the supreme leader."

What do you think the significance of tomorrow is?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Well, at one level, there isn't a comparison. I mean, there really isn't a comparison with Stalinism. The fact that we are having a conversation right now about whether Trump is comfortable with the Stalin, suggests that there is no comparison. I mean, you know...

CAMEROTA: We're allowed to have this conversation.

KRISTOF: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: We're criticizing the president, et cetera.

KRISTOF: That's right. And so that level -- and there's just no comparison.

But I am very glad that Senator Flake is bringing up this issue of freedom of the press. Frankly, I don't -- I think there is a problem when we journalists are the ones who are kind of patting ourselves on the back, and we're saying we're such an important institution. And it works much better when it's a Republican senator, like Senator Flake, who is making that point or, earlier, Senate Sasse making a similar point about the importance in democracy of institutions like the press.

And, you know, indeed, Senator Flake is right that it was Stalin who did use this and that Soviet Union in 1956 repudiated that phrase, because it was so loaded. And the idea that it's revived by an American president, boy, it's weird.

CAMEROTA: It's mind-blowing. I mean, when you put it that way, it is mind-blowing.

And Doug, listen, Senator Flake, after using the comparison of Josef Stalin's language, says he's not comparing President Trump to Josef Stalin. Here's what he says in his defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLAKE: I am in no way comparing President Trump to Josef Stalin. Josef Stalin was a killer. Our president is not. But it just puzzles me as to why you would use a phrase that is so loaded and that has such deeper meaning that the press being the enemy of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[07:25:06] CAMEROTA: So Doug, I mean, basically he's saying he's comparing their language.

BRINKLEY: Absolutely. I mean, Donald Trump is not a killer in the degree that Stalin would just massacre millions of people.

CAMEROTA: But he's not a killer at all to any degree. I mean...

BRINKLEY: Exactly. Just saying I think it was foolish of Senator Flake to try to make the analogy to Stalin, but we get his point. Which might get lost in the over -- should he have said "Stalin" or not? The point is a powerful one, and that's Donald Trump is very attracted to dictatorial ways, to tyrants. He wants to be the only one in charge. He seems to not understand Democratic processes. He's talking about Stalin, but there's a lot of Roy Cohn and Joe

McCarthy in Donald Trump. There's a kind of neo-cryptic fascism that he finds attractive. That's what Jeff Flake is going after that this is a president that does not really understand the Constitution, doesn't understand things in democracy like our immigration heritage and certainly is on the wrong side of history when he talks about the press being an enemy.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Nick.

KRISTOF: You know, I think it's also important to note that there is a larger issue here. And maybe it does feel a little uncomfortable for a journalist to be wringing his hands and saying how awful attacks on the press are. But what President Trump has done is not just go after the press but really systematically go after all the larger institutions in American politics and government that play a kind of referee role.

So that's the courts. That's judges. It's the law enforcement community, the intelligence community. And I do think that this larger effort to undermine -- just advert the legitimacy of these institutions is an enormously important line of attack that it's really important for all of us, whatever our political party, to stand up against.

CAMEROTA: So Doug, I mean, Jeff Flake is retiring. So is he doing this out of just, you know, his own conscience and wanting to kind of speak truth to power? Or is there an ulterior motive here tomorrow?

BRINKLEY: I think Jeff Flake's a man of integrity. He's an old style Barry Goldwater conservative from Arizona. He sees what Donald Trump is, and he's trying to offer an alternative way.

Whether or not he -- you know, we just heard Mitt Romney is going to be running for the Senate from Utah, which is sort of anti-Trump vote in a sense within Republican family, and Flake may run for president in 2020. He may run as a third-party candidate, as a conservative party. He's somebody that's determined not to fade away from the public discourse and wants to be a finger in the eye of Donald Trump. And it carries some clout, because there are two Republican parties: Trump -- Trump supporters and the establishment, and Flake is seeming to be the bravest of that establishment crowd.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, that's what I was getting at is that what's in this for Flake? You know, he's not leaving yet, so he's going to just have this -- I don't know if it's going to be a contentious relationship with his fellow Republicans while he, you know, works out the rest of his tenure? Or what he's doing.

KRISTOF: I suspect it's something--

BRINKLEY: He's a man on a mission.

CAMEROTA: Hold on. What is that mission, Doug?

BRINKLEY: Well, I just think he's a man on a mission to tell the truth that he's disgusted with Donald Trump, wants to cut it off; and now he doesn't care what his other Republicans think. That makes him free. That makes him have a certain degree of power.

CAMEROTA: How do you see it?

KRISTOF: Yes, and I think he's concerned about his legacy. That's important for him.

And I also think that maybe there is some inspiration for us as journalists that we don't just pat ourselves on the back and accept these plaudits about our role but that we also make clear that we do accept legitimate criticisms, not as enemies of the people. And that we are willing to scrutinize or own role, including our screw-ups and that that will make the country better but, you know, as long as one doesn't systematically try to undermine the media itself.

CAMEROTA: That's great advice, because my arm has gotten tired from patting myself on the back about all this. So Nicholas Kristof, Doug Brinkley, thank you both very much.

BRINKLEY: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Chris.

CUOMO: So the fate of hundreds of thousands of DREAMers hangs in the balance of a heated immigration debate. Up next, let's talk to a DREAMer. Let's get a sense of what her reality is, what her anxiety is. What this could mean for her and her four American children next.