Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan; Trump's Porn Star Payoff?; Over Half of Country Will Blame Republicans for Shutdown; Can Republicans Avert Shutdown?; Interview with Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 19, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: no art, no deal. The president tries to wrap up 11th-hour talks to prevent a government shutdown, as lawmakers stare down a midnight deadline. Can the president bring clarity to the negotiations after helping to create the chaos?

Face to face. After being summoned to the White House, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says his meeting with the president led to good progress. We're following all the last-minute arm- twisting and all the last-minute deal-making, as the clock runs down.

Placing blame. Republicans and Democrats are gaming out the political fallout if the shutdown happens. Tonight, our new poll shows nearly half of all Americans are ready to point fingers at the president or his party.

And porn star payoff? New details are emerging about hush money reportedly paid to a former adult film star who allegedly had a past affair with President Trump. Did Mr. Trump's lawyer use secret names and a shell company to buy her silence?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the THE SITUATION ROOM.

This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on last-minute negotiations to prevent a government shutdown less than six hours from now.

It's a very, very fluid situation. Anything could still happen with paychecks and services for millions and millions of Americans on the line. This hour, I will talk to senators in both parties, including Republican Senator Dan Sullivan. There you see him. He's standing by live, along with our correspondents and analysts.

First, let's go to Jim Acosta. He is at over the White House.

Jim, we're told the president right now is still very actively involved.


President Trump is still in search of that art of the deal. He has spoken to a lot of people today, the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, within just the last hour. We're hearing from a senior White House official there are smoke signals coming from Capitol Hill. That was the word or the phrase used by the senior White House official.

Smoke signals coming from Capitol Hill giving them reason for optimism, but, Wolf, as you know, the clock is still ticking down to a shutdown.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Biting his tongue, President Trump declined to answer questions about the looming government shutdown, preferring to do his talking behind closed doors with a special guest. No, not with fellow Republicans, but with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

A source familiar with the 90-minute meeting said it was a sign the president wants a deal. But Schumer returned to Capitol Hill apparently without an agreement.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue.

ACOSTA: Despite their party being in control of the White House and Congress...

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: OMB is preparing for what we're calling the Schumer shutdown.

ACOSTA: ... Trump administration officials are saying: Don't blame us.

(on camera): How can it be the Schumer shutdown, when Republicans control the White House, the House, and the Senate?

MULVANEY: Come on. You know the answer to that as well as anybody.

I have to laugh when people say that. Oh, we control the House, the Senate, the White House. Why can't you get this done?

QUESTION: You do. You do.

MULVANEY: You know as well as anybody that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass an appropriations bill, right?

You know that.

QUESTION: I know that.


MULVANEY: OK. So, when you have 51 votes in the Senate, then you have to have Democrat support in order to keep the government, to fund the government. So, that's the answer to your question.

ACOSTA: While Democrats are glad Schumer is negotiating with the president.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I'm so glad Chuck Schumer is the one who is over there.

ACOSTA: Republicans are struggling to keep their members fully on board for a short-term spending bill, or C.R.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm not going to vote for a 30-day C.R. What the House sent over is unacceptable to me.

ACOSTA: Senator Lindsey Graham put his finger on the problem. GOP leaders won't yield to a bipartisan effort to shield young undocumented immigrants known as the dreamers from deportation. A sign at the frustrations, Graham is taking swings at hard-liners in his own party.

GRAHAM: The Tom Cotton approach has no viability here. He's become sort of the Steve King of the Senate.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: The difference between Lindsey Graham and Steve King is that Steve King can actually win an election in Iowa.

ACOSTA: The immigration talks broke down and the shutdown threat mushroomed after the president's racially offensive language last week dashed hopes for a fix to the DACA program for dreamers.

(on camera): The president asked Congress to come up with a solution for the dreamers. Congress was in the room. Members of Congress were in the room with the president last week. It seemed to be a fairly productive meeting. And then the whole process got blown up. And, if I may, it seems that the whole process was blown up by the president's comments.



MULVANEY: When Republicans tried to add a discussion about Obamacare to the funding process in 2013, we are accused by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer of inserting a non-fiscal, a non-financial issue into the spending process in order to shut the government down. There is no reason that you have to deal with DACA this week.

ACOSTA (voice-over): A government shutdown would force more than a million members of the military to work without pay while hundreds of thousands of federal workers are furloughed, even employees at critical agencies like the Centers for Disease Control, while the administration is trying to keep some national parks open.

The president need only look back to his past comments to figure out where the buck stops in Washington. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Problems start from the

top, and they have to get solved from the top. And the president is the leader. And he's got to get everybody in the room and he has got to lead.

If there's a shutdown, I think it would be a tremendously negative mark on the president of the United States. He's the one that has to get people together.


ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's meeting with Chuck Schumer earlier today, the president just tweeted about this within the last hour.

We can put that up on screen. He described that meeting as "an excellent preliminary meeting in the Oval Office with Senator Schumer. Working on solutions for security and our great military together with the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Speaker Ryan. Making progress," he said. "A four-week extension would be best."

Wolf, we should just point out in the last several minutes a White House official came by our booth inside the White House and said that a short-term C.R., a five-day C.R., continuing resolution, short-term spending agreement, is a -- quote -- "nonstarter."

So the White House is drawing a bit of a line in the sand at this point, in that if they agree to something tonight, it is going to be a longer-term continuing resolution.

But, Wolf, when they're just talking about the number of days that are going to be a part of that C.R., that is obviously a negotiating give, if you will, in that they're not saying it has to be what was passed out of the House last night, although they are running out of time if they want to get something out of the Senate and signed by the president before midnight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he said, the president, in his tweet, a four-week extension would be best, would be best. He didn't say he would reject anything shorter than that. We shall see what happens in these last- minute negotiations.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill right now to find out what's happening and what we can expect in the few hours leading up to the potential shutdown.

Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us.

What are you learning, Phil?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is no question there are an urgency to the talks that are ongoing right now, Democrats trying to figure out some pathway forward here to prevent a shutdown that would occur in less than six hours.

But what there is not is a clear pathway forward. In fact, I was just talking to one Democratic aide who said there's a lot of hurry up and wait right now. We want to get something done. We know that something needs to get done, but we're not quite sure how to get there.

One key to keep a very close eye on, Wolf, is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has made very clear over the course of the last couple days that the House-passed short-term funding bill is the bill he considers the only one that is on the table right now.

Keep in mind the majority leader, sources tell me, has been in very close touch with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly throughout the day. He was aware of the meeting with Senator Schumer before it happened, was briefed on the meeting with Senator Schumer after it happened, and remains very content, I'm told, to continue the posture and the position he's had up to this point.

As one aide told me, he's very happy to let this hang out there and let Democrats try and find their way out of this. Wolf, I think the key issue right now, as you wait and see what could happen going forward, is, as Jim kind of talked about, there are talks about timelines, about how long a potential continuing resolution would actually go.

But when it comes to the actual policy itself, there is no DACA resolution on the table, there is no major changes on the table in terms of a long-term spending bill. Right now they're talking about timing, not policy. That appears to be where their negotiations have gone up to this point.

To underscore it again, they plan on having a vote tonight, a vote that they know will fail. As of now, nobody knows what happens after that, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will watch it together with you, Phil. Thank you very much.

Tonight, millions and millions of Americans are watching what happens here in Washington with a vested interest. A shutdown would certainly have enormous ramifications for people all across the country.

CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh is joining us.

Rene, if the clock strikes midnight and there's no deal, who will be affected?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, beyond the nation's capital, people will feel this. The longer the government shutdown drags on, the more painful it will be for Americans.

Certain services will be stopped, some will be delayed. If you are a senior and you want to file a new claim for benefits, you will not be able to. If you have already received Social Security benefits, you will receive your check. However, if you have a sick kid and depend on government assistance

programs for medical coverage, your child may lose coverage if this shutdown drags on for weeks. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would back down its flu tracking program as the nation faces its worst outbreak in years.


As for Medicaid and Medicare, in the short term, it would not be disrupted. And patients would still continue to get their treatment.

People who keep us safe, Wolf, they will remain on the job. We're talking about law enforcement, military, national security employees. The mail service will continue.

If you're traveling, air traffic control will still be on the job safely directing those aircraft. TSA, Customs and Border Protection, they will still be on the front lines at airports and on our borders.

And federal courts will remain open. So do the veteran hospitals. However, for those veterans who are looking to get new benefits, file a new claim, they will not be able to. They will feel that delay.

As for the national parks, they will all remain open, but there won't be any trash pickup. And if you're visiting places right here in Washington, D.C. -- lot of people come, vacation -- all of the Smithsonian museums will be closed, Wolf.

The bottom line is, the longer this drags out, the more painful it will be. One current estimate shows that shutting down the government would cost taxpayers some $6 billion a week.

BLITZER: Rene Marsh, good report. Thanks very much. Lots of disturbing information in that report.

Let's hear from a key member of the United States Senate right now. We're joined by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan. He serves on the Armed Services Committee, represents the state of Alaska.

Senator, thanks so much for coming back.

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R), ALASKA: Good to be back on the show, Wolf.

BLITZER: What's your understanding, Senator? Where does it stand at this moment? I'm sure you have been well-briefed.


Right now, the Democrats' position continues to be the same one, which is unless there's a DACA deal by tonight, according to their terms, they're going to move to force a shutdown of the government. That's where they have been.

Right now, it seems it's in the hands of Senator Schumer and his colleagues. And I'm hopeful that they will see that that's not a good way to go. BLITZER: But there would be a relatively simple way to avert a

government shutdown and move on, if, for example, the compromised proposal put forward by your Republican colleague Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, other Republicans and Democrats, were simply attached as an amendment.

You want the dreamers to be able to stay here in the United States in any case, right?

SULLIVAN: Look, I think getting a deal on immigration is important. But, Wolf, the key issue on that is we have time. We do have time. Where we don't have time is with regard to the government.

So tonight at midnight, the government shuts down. Your program is doing a good job of saying here are all the Americans who are going to be hurt. In particular, the military is going to be hurt. Our veterans are going to be hurt.

BLITZER: But you have to compromise with the Democrats, because you don't completely control the Senate. In this particular case, you need 60 votes. You have 51. Senator McCain, unfortunately, he's still recovering. He's still dealing with his cancer. So, he is not going to be here.

You need Democrats. And in Washington, to get a job done, you have got to compromise.

SULLIVAN: Well, look, I think there's going to be compromise on an immigration agreement.

And to be honest, we have been actually making good progress on that. But that's taking some time. We need a legislative solution. As you know, that has been something that Congress has dealt with for almost 13 years without a solution.

BLITZER: They don't necessarily want comprehensive immigration reform, if you listen to Lindsey Graham. They just want a short-term deal to allow the 800,000 or so DACA recipients to remain legally in the United States.

SULLIVAN: Well, we've all talked -- and Lindsey has been focused on this -- an outline of a deal that would include a resolution, a permanent resolution for the DACA recipients, border security and some of the other immigration-related issues.

But, again, the point is, we have time for that. What is the challenge right now is, we don't have time on the funding side. And to have Senator Schumer and his colleagues say, hey, take the deal right now or we're going to force a government shutdown, that's something that even in 2013 Senator Schumer said he was not in favor of.


BLITZER: I think what Senator Schumer is saying, you know what, do a four- or five- or six-day extension so the negotiations can continue. Would you be open to that?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, right now, we have a short-term extension in front of us, which is...

BLITZER: Four weeks.

SULLIVAN: Yes, which is short-term, which would give us time.

By the way, the extension we have in front of us also addresses another big bipartisan issue that the Democrats and Republicans have been talking about, a long solution to CHIP.

BLITZER: The Children's Health Insurance Program.

SULLIVAN: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: It's a six-year extension, which is very important. Republicans support it, Democrats support it. And it's good in that deal.

SULLIVAN: And it's in the deal.

BLITZER: But, apparently, to the Democrats, that's still not enough.

SULLIVAN: Well, it's a little ironic, because a lot of my Democratic colleagues have been talking about a full long-term extension of that program.

Millions of Americans have been worried about that program, which expires in certain states. We have the opportunity not just to not shut down the government tonight, but actually bring resolution and comfort to millions of Americans who have been worried about CHIP as well.


I think my colleagues should vote for the deal. And then we get back to the drawing board, back to the negotiating table on DACA.

BLITZER: But why have you waited? The CHIP is bipartisan. It's supported, children's health insurance. You want poor kids to have health insurance. Nine million kids are potentially affected.

Why hasn't that been done before? Why couldn't it have been done in a separate piece of legislation over these many months?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, I thought it should have been done before Christmas. So, I agree with you on that. It should have been done as part of the C.R. during that time.

BLITZER: Because the Republicans have been using that as leverage on the Democrats to support this extension to avert a government shutdown.

SULLIVAN: Well, there's been strong bipartisan support for CHIP. BLITZER: Because Democrats really want the CHIP.

SULLIVAN: As a matter of fact, it was a Senator Hatch and Senator Kennedy bill that got it going in the first place. That's another opportunity that we have tonight.

It's another reason, in my view, that the Democrats should support the C.R. tonight. We get CHIP, we get more time to negotiate a comprehensive -- or not even comprehensive deal on immigration, a deal that's satisfactory, and we don't shut down the government, which is going to hurt a lot of Americans.

BLITZER: It certainly will. And I have lived through several of those government shutdowns. You have as well. We know the impact.

What's encouraging, I must say, the president did invite Chuck Schumer over to the White House for a private meeting in the Oval Office, and then the president just within the past hour or so tweeted: "Excellent preliminary meeting in Oval with Senator Schumer, working on solutions for security and our great military together with the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Speaker Ryan. Making progress. Four-week extension would be best."

So, he is deeply involved.


BLITZER: If there's going to be a deal, he's got to sell it, especially to conservative Republicans in the House. That's probably where the big problem would be.

But he's very sensitive to his role as president. Listen to what he said years ago, back in 2013, when there was a shutdown during President Obama's administration.


TRUMP: And the president, in all fairness, he's the leader. He's the one that has to get everybody in a room and get it done.

They're not going to be talking about Boehner and Reid and all. They're going to be talking about President Obama and what a disaster the administration was. So, he does have a lot of pressure to get this problem solved. He's got a big problem.


BLITZER: That's what he said then, and I assume he still believes that. That's why he's, at least at this late stage, getting so personally involved.

SULLIVAN: Well, I think it's positive that the president is involved today.

But the truth of the matter is right now as we come to this deadline, the decision whether or not the government's going to be shut down is really in the hands of Senator Schumer and his colleagues. I'm hopeful that they're going to support the continuing resolution.


BLITZER: I know you, Senator. It's in the hands of both Republicans and Democrats. The Democrats want certain things. The Republicans want certain things. In a situation like this, you have got to compromise.

SULLIVAN: Well, we're going to compromise on immigration. There's no doubt about it, Wolf.

But like, as I mentioned, we have time to get there. That's a complicated issue. It's taken Congress many, many years. Still haven't been able to address it. But what we don't have time with regard to tonight is, we're running out of time in terms of the government, in terms of funding the government.

I don't think moving forward with a government shutdown is going to be in anyone's interests. I'm hopeful again that we -- in the immediate hours tonight that we're going to get that kind of compromise so we don't have a government shutdown.

And then we will work through these broader issues.

BLITZER: A lot of your constituents in Alaska -- and I have been to Alaska -- they are either federal employees, civilian employees, military personnel, or they're recipients of the federal government.

How do you explain to them this level of chaos that's currently going on here in Washington?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, this is another reason I'm so focused on making sure we don't have a shutdown tonight.

It's going to hurt a lot of Americans, particularly our military, federal employees. But there's a broader issue here.

The system with regard to our budgeting, our funding, I think, is clearly broken. The other thing we have to do is look at long-term reforms.

There's a number of the new senators led by Senator David Perdue from Georgia -- I'm part of that group -- looking at ways to make sure that we don't keep doing these C.R.s, we don't keep doing these omnibuses at the end of the year that are these massive spending bills.

And we do it in regular order. We're trying to get Democrats interested in these long-term reforms. But, tonight, the most immediate thing is to keep our government open and not shut down the government.

And I'm hoping that my colleagues in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, will agree, and we pass this C.R. in a couple hours.

BLITZER: A lot of us are hoping that, because those of us who have lived through these government shutdowns here in Washington and elsewhere know the pain that's going to be suffered as a result and the enormous cost to American taxpayers down the road, loss in revenue, loss in the economy.

It's a big, big deal. Good luck.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska, appreciate it very much.

SULLIVAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to get another update on all the last-ditch efforts to keep the government running. And I will ask a Democratic senator what he's learning, what he's ready to do. He's going to have to compromise as well.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Following the breaking news.

You're looking at live pictures from the Senate floor right now. Senator Casey now speaking.

Lawmakers are talking as behind-the-scenes negotiations continue on avoiding a government shutdown.

Tonight, as the shutdown gets closer and closer, only 5.5. hours or so left, we're told President Trump, he is working the phones from the White House. We're following all the breaking developments at the White House, up on Capitol Hill before midnight, the midnight deadline.

Let's bring in our analysts.

And, David Chalian, if you take a look at the negotiations right now, this is what the president tweeted just a little while ago: "Excellent preliminary meeting in Oval with Senator Schumer, working on solutions for security and our great military together with the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Speaker Ryan. Making progress. Four-week extension would be best."


So are they getting closer and closer to averting a government shutdown?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Let's first assess that why are there preliminary meetings with 12 hours to go before the government shuts down?

Clearly, this whole process has run amuck as it is. And preliminary meetings should not be on the final day as the hours are ticking away.

That being said, clearly, there is some optimism at the White House, not just from the president's tweet, but in listening to the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, on with you earlier, Wolf.

And clearly Chuck Schumer is still huddling with his fellow Democrats up on Capitol Hill trying to tell them sort of what he believes could be the outlines of a deal.

What does the clock say? We've got five hours and 34 minutes now? It still seems pretty difficult to me how we're just all of a sudden going to have Chuck Schumer emerge with some deal. He hasn't talked to Mitch McConnell all day long. And the House has passed a bill here. I don't even know how the Senate is going to pass something that could automatically avert this entirely.

It seems to me Mitch McConnell still does not have 60 votes at this place. We still don't know the contours of any deal at all. It would cause a little alarm that preliminary is happening just a few hours before the deadline.

BLITZER: Preliminary talks.

Go ahead, Perry.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Usually, I see the middle ground here. But I don't see it here, because one side says DACA in the bill, one side says no DACA in the bill. It's like hard to reconcile those issues.

We've been talking before we came on it looks like they're 10 votes short, at least.

BLITZER: The Republicans.

BACON: The Republicans, of 60. There are three or four Republicans who are not there. Most of the Democrats. We have three or four Democrats who are voting yes, but not more than that.

I just don't see the compromise emerging right now in any way, shape or form.

BLITZER: I spoke with Mick Mulvaney, Rebecca, in the last hour. He's the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

I want you to listen carefully to what he said to me.


MULVANEY: Probably the only way you could avoid any shutdown, even for just a little bit -- again, we're on a weekend, so we get a little bit more flexibility here.

The only way to avoid an entire shutdown would probably be for the Senate to pass exactly what the House has passed already.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Unlikely the Senate is going to pass exactly what the House passed with 230 votes yesterday.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, especially, Wolf, if Democrats decide it is important for them to have immigration as part of this deal.

And it looks like that's where they're at right now, that they do want immigration to be part of this deal. I think at the heart of this really is a fundamental political question. Do Democrats believe this is an important enough issue for their base that they would shut down the government?

And many Democrats, the answer is yes right now. I think Democrats are probably also looking at what happened during the government shutdown in 2013. The polling after that showed that most Americans blamed Republicans for the shutdown. But then in 2013, Republicans won the Senate. So there wasn't really any sort of consequence for what they did.

BLITZER: You're getting some new information, David, because I saw you looking at your...


Our congressional reporter Lauren Fox is just reporting some color that's happening outside. There is a meeting going on right now, a bipartisan meeting, some Democratic and Republican senators, trying to figure a way forward here.

They apparently opened the door. They saw the press waiting out the door. Somebody could be overheard asking, is there a different door we can go out of, because clearly they didn't want to answer the question about what the contents of their discussions were.

And they went back a different door, except Angus King, the independent from Maine, who seemed, according to Lauren Fox, unusually upset and would not comment on the status of how things were going.

That doesn't sound like very positive progress.

BLITZER: Yes, Angus King, a very, very serious guy.

Phil Mudd, you used to work at the CIA, you used to work at the FBI. How does a government shutdown affect law enforcement, the intelligence community, national security?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I wish the American people understood this, because it's painful.

And it's not painful in a bad way. I mean, I would expect this, if there is a shutdown, to be relatively short. In the short term, especially going over the weekend and early into next week, even if you're told you're not getting paid, you know going into this situation that when they come up with a deal, you're going to get a paycheck at the end of the game. You're not going to lose money. People like me are going to show up,

especially if there's a crisis or if you have a breaking situation, and see what's going on. You're not going to suffer in my world at the CIA and FBI a shortfall.

But the really ugly piece here is the American people are paying for a vacation for federal employees. Do they know that? People like me look at this and say if you want to pay me to take three days off or five days off and then give me the check at the end of the day, feel free. That's the Congress' fault. It's not my fault.

It's not like federal employees aren't going to get paid for this, Wolf. This is not on them. This is on Democrats and Republicans, who can't compromise and who can't figure out how to negotiate. That's what this is.

BLITZER: Yes, 800,000 or so federal employees will be furloughed.

And they're not going to get paid while they're furloughed.

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: But they will be getting back pay afterwards.

MUDD: Yes.

BLITZER: That's what happened during the 16 days of the government shutdown in 2016. They get their back pay, even though they were, as you say, effectively on vacation during those days.

[18:30:20] You know, we have a new poll, David Chalian. Just came out. You studied it closely. Which is more important: avoiding a shutdown, 56 percent say avoiding a shutdown. Or passing DACA to help the DREAMers, 34 percent.

CHALIAN: Well, I think it's that kind of poll finding that is giving these red-state Democrats the ability to say, "You know what? I'm going to go a different way than the rest of my party here, and I'm going to feel comfortable doing so."

A majority of Americans clearly don't think this is the thing to be staking the ground on. And if that's true nationwide, you can imagine how much larger that number is in some of these deep-red states like North Dakota or West Virginia or Indiana. All three Democratic senators have said they're going to vote "yes" on this C.R.

BLITZER: In our new poll, Perry, the president's approval number has actually gone up over the past month or so. Right now, 40 percent of the American public approve of the job he's doing; 55 percent disapprove. But that's an improvement from a month ago.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Right. He's been at 37, 38. So maybe the tax cut, you know, helped him a little bit. I would add a government shutdown when you're the president does not make it look like you're in charge, does not show you leading the country very well. So I think that probably will not help him. That said, I do think the Democrats are in a tough spot here because

of the fact that the polling suggests people want to avoid a shutdown. The one thing that's interesting in this process is Democrats in 2013, '95, '96 tried to avoid a shutdown. Democrats usually don't like to take this kind of aggressive tack. So I think you are seeing the base of that party get more involved.

There's been a sort of a countdown on different websites saying which senators are going to fight for us and which one aren't. And they just pushed some of the more -- you know, more progovernment senators -- the Chris Coonses, the Mark Warners, the Tim Kaines -- who maybe would have been nervous before, they sort of jumped into this in a way that surprised me over these last few days.


BACON: And the party has been unified around a shutdown right now.

BLITZER: Now we're just getting more information from Capitol Hill. Even as we speak, there are developments unfolding, urgent talks underway. We're following the breaking news. A last-ditch scramble to avert a government shutdown only a few hours away. The president has gotten personally involved. Reporting progress. Looking at the pictures coming in from the Senate up on Capitol Hill. There have been reports of bewilderment, confusion. Lots of information. Stand by.


[18:37:22] BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures of the U.S. Capitol, a lovely shot indeed. But there are intense negotiations underway right now. The president, President Trump, he's claiming progress toward avoiding a government shutdown that's on track to happen just after the stroke of midnight, unless the current stalemate is broken and a deal is reached.

Let's get a quick update on the last-ditch maneuvers on Capitol Hill right now. Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is back.

Phil, what more can you tell us?

MATTINGLY: Well, Wolf, just to give you a sense of what's actually happening right now, you basically have three stages of where things are moving or not moving at all.

You have Speaker Ryan's office, where White House officials, including legislative affairs director Marc Short, have been shutting in and out for the last couple of hours. Also, members of the Republican conference, they have been going in and out of leadership meetings, as well.

A couple hundred feet away from that you have the Senate floor. That is a place where there's relatively little action, and that's a surprise. We expected going into today that there would be, potentially, numerous votes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making clear that he wanted to, in a way, punish Democrats for not agreeing to this bill.

It's very clear that at this moment, they still don't have the votes to move forward on that short-term funding proposal. But as of now, the floor has been mostly empty.

Now move about 20 feet away from the Senate floor. That's where Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, is still holed up. I'm told from a Senate Democratic aide that Schumer and his team are continuing conversations with the White House at this hour, trying to build on that 90-minute meeting from earlier today.

Where is it all going to end up? That's the big question. Wolf, just a short while ago, I had one senator walk up to me and say, "Do you know what's actually happening right now?" The rank and file have no sense of what's actually moving forward. There's a lot of frustration right now, some palpable frustration about the lack of details that they're getting, the lack of path forward. And I think, Wolf, as we've all been talking about, the recognition that the clock is ticking down. It's not like this is something that can be solved quickly. There clearly is no big, long-term deal that can be addressed in just a short number of hours.

So what actually is the pathway forward? That is the open question, but keep one major thing in mind here. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still fully plans to have that vote to move forward on that spending bill later tonight. You guys have just been talking about it. A third Democrat has come out and said they are in favor of it. That doesn't mean they have the votes. They are still very much short. But it underscores the dynamics that Democrats are dealing with right now. Ten red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2018, facing very difficult choices here as the base of the party continues to push them forward to not give the votes there that are actually up for right now.

Wolf, I think the key issue right now as we watch the clock tick down is, is there an end game at all? People say something's happening; talks are clearly ongoing. But as of now, a final proposal, even a final potential proposal still not in the works, at least not publicly, Wolf.

[18:40:06] BLITZER: Not yet. All right. We'll stand by together with you. Phil, thank you very much.

And it's important to note that the president tweeted, "Excellent preliminary meeting in Oval with Senator Schumer. Making progress." Let's see how much progress they're making.

Perry, 61 percent in our new poll -- 61 percent of the Americans in our new poll -- say it's either very or extremely important to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. That puts a lot of pressure on Democrats and Republicans to come up with a compromise.

BACON: I wonder who the 36 percent are who don't want them to come together. That's very odd. Yes. But that said, we've been through this for six years now. Since the Republicans won control of Congress in 2010, we have these almost shutdowns, near shutdowns constantly. I think the public is exhausted by these and is constantly like, "Let's just fix it."

Donald Trump campaigned on the idea he would bring Washington together. But my sense of him right now in the shutdown is he's kind of involved. You know, late -- he had a meeting at the last moment. He didn't go to Mar-a-Lago after all. But he's still not really leading the country in any way. He's not really in charge of these fiscal matters as much as McConnell and Schumer are, and it's not clear he can bring anybody together on a compromise.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that, what, there are now three Democratic senators, David, who have said they will vote in favor of this Republican-proposed legislation. There you see them right there. Two Republicans, Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, they say they are going to vote "no." There are 51 Republicans in the Senate, 49 Democrats -- two independents, leaning Democrat. They caucus with the Democrats. In a vote like this, you need 60. So there's still a long way to go.

CHALIAN: Yes. So according to that point, Mitch McConnell is still eight votes away, right? We have two Republicans that are voting "no's." That brings him down to 49. He needs to find 11.

BLITZER: And Senator McCain is in Arizona recovering from his cancer.

CHALIAN: Not going to be one of them. Exactly.

So he's still quite a ways away, Mitch McConnell is, from having 60 votes and being able to actually pass -- or at least move the process forward to pass the House bill. That seems unlikely that this House bill is just going to all of a sudden get 60 votes.

That's why we're trying to figure out what is happening in Speaker Ryan's office right now? What is happening when the White House staff is up on Capitol Hill? Because there's nothing that they can just emerge and say, "OK, we've solved it, and the Democrats are now all on board, and Mitch McConnell has 60 votes." That's not a likely outcome here.

BLITZER: How united, Rebecca, are the Democrats?

BERG: Actually, incredibly united, Wolf. And we saw this on the House side. Democrats together decided to oppose this bill, were totally united on the House side. And on the Senate side we're going to see maybe a few Democrats, three as of right now, who can support the short-term C.R. And these are Democrats from these red states, these Trump states, where they're going to be up for reelection in 2018, this year, and feel vulnerable politically, potentially.

But not enough Democrats to get this over the finish line. And for the most part, Democrats recognize that their base is very energized, as I said, by this immigration issue. And they feel like, politically, for the most part, this can actually be a good thing for them.

BLITZER: You're getting some more information, David.

CHALIAN: Well, now our congressional producer, Deirdre Walsh, on the Hill reporting that a House Democratic leadership meeting has been called, according to a Democratic aide.

BLITZER: House Democrat?

CHALIAN: House Democratic leadership. So obviously, House members who thought they were going to be out of town by now have been hanging around to figure is this in some way going to come back to them? Perhaps -- this is my pure speculation -- perhaps they've gotten a read at what's been going on inside Speaker Ryan's office and Leader Pelosi now wants to brief her members and give a sense of where they are.

But it's funny, because the House Democratic part of this seems rather done at the moment.

BERG: Irrelevant.

CHALIAN: They didn't vote for the C.R. on the House floor.

BLITZER: If the Senate were to pass something different than what the House passed last night, it's got to go back to the House for another vote.

CHALIAN: Right. And what we can assume is, if the Senate does change what the House voted, they're probably going to change it in a way that's going to make it more difficult for Paul Ryan to keep his party totally unified. They may need some House Democrats.

BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, the last time there was a government shutdown, I think it was 16 days during the Obama administration in 2013. Then Donald Trump was a private citizen. Listen to how he assessed the then-president of the United States and his responsibility.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the president, in all fairness, he's the leader. He's the one that has to get everybody in a room and get it done.

They're not going to be talking about Boehner and Reid and all. They're going to be talking about President Obama and what a disaster the administration was. So he does have a lot of pressure to get this problem solved. He's got a big problem.


BLITZER: And President Trump right now fully understands he also has a big problem.

MUDD: That's right. He was dead right then, and I think he's dead right now. And furthermore, I think he's already told us what's going to happen. So let's predict the future.

We're going back less than two weeks, and he gives us a signal about what he's going to give on. He talks about the wall, but he talks about the wall in terms that sound to me more like sensors and drones. [18:45:03] That is a smart border but not a physical wall. He talks

about chain migration and the lottery. I think a lot of people in Congress and I'm a regular American citizen would think chain migration lottery can go. I don't understand them in the first place.

And then he talked about compromise on drama. He talked about a love bill. I think the president pretty much said, if you give me some money on a smart border that doesn't exactly equal a physical wall, if you give some on the periphery of migration, chain migration, a lottery, I'll give you some on DACA and we've got a deal. I think that's where we're going to end up.

I don't think this will be 16 days. I do think one thing in close, he's got to get rid of the fringe, people like Tom Cotton who want to pull him hard right like they did a week ago and go back to the compromise he suggested when he first met with the centrists, that is Dick Durbin and the Republican senator --

BLITZER: Lindsey Graham.

MUDD: Lindsey Graham, yes.

BLITZER: Is there, David, going to be a DACA fix, something that will allow the Dreamers once and for all to have permanent legal status here in the United States? They were brought here as little kids illegally, but they've grown up here in the United States. Will there be a DACA fix that will eventually result down the road and their ability to become U.S. citizens?

CHALIAN: Well, in our poll, in our brand new CNN poll that we released today, more than eight in 10 Americans want to see that be. When more than eight in 10 Americans wants something, Congress usually finds a way of doing it more often than not.

So, I would imagine -- there will be people on both sides have said that. But what has happened, why we're in this moment over this issue is because there's been such a breakdown of trust that the sides would work together to actually accomplish that goal. That's why the Democrats are forcing this moment that they are.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's new information coming in from the White House.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

What are you learning, Jim?

ACOSTA: Yes, Wolf, I just talked to a senior White House official over here who said they do expect over here at the White House, they do expect there to be a vote in the Senate tonight on the House continuing resolution that was passed, of course, last night. They expect there to be a vote over in the Senate on that.

The question, though, at this point, Wolf, is whether there will be any kind of modifications to that House continuing resolution, because obviously at this point, even though there were some red state Democrats who were saying they may be inclined to vote in favor of this, this aren't enough votes to get to 60. As we heard Mick Mulvaney say earlier today, especially in the White House briefing room, they need 60 votes to get this out of the Senate. I think the question is whether this goes to the Senate floor, it's voted on, it doesn't pass, and then some kind of amendment is attached to it, some kind of modification is made to it, and can it get out of the Senate tonight and would it go back to the House at this point?

The only reason why I say that is because I asked this senior White House official, is this vote going to be on the House CR? And the senior White House official said, yes, the House CR, quote, for now. So, that appears to be some kind of indication that things are fluid at this point and that something else could be voted on before it's all said and done.

But they do expect over here at the White House to be some kind of vote tonight in the Senate on this House continuing resolution. Of course, at this point, nobody has given us any indication that this is going to pass the Senate tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: And if it were to pass the Senate and if there were some modifications, it would then have to go back to the House for passage as well before it can go to the president for his signature.

Stand by. We're getting more information, how far are Democrats willing to go to avoid a government shutdown? I'll speak live with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, there, you see him there, joining us from Capitol Hill. This, as the clock ticks down toward the deadline.


BLITZER: Tonight, as the federal government careens towards a shutdown, Senate Democrats have a critical role to play in determining whether or not a deal can be reached to keep things running.

Just -- joining us right now, Senator Chris Van Hollen. He's a Democrat who serves on budget committee. He's also chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, I know you guys, the Senate Democrats, have a meeting scheduled in about an hour or so from now. As far as you know, and I know you're well plugged in, where do things stand?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Wolf, there have been ongoing discussions. And as both Senator Schumer said and White House said, there's progress that's been made, but there remains some unsettled issues, so people are still talking. We've got to work very hard on a bipartisan basis to prevent a government shutdown.

And I should say we are four months into the fiscal year with no budget. We are operating month to month. Republicans and Democrats agree that's no way to run a government. And so, we need to address that and provide funding for our veterans, the spokesperson for the Defense Department just said yesterday this is hurting our military, going from CR to CR. So let's get this done.

BLITZER: So, what's going to happen, Senator, in the next five hours?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's still up in the air. What I can tell you, Wolf, is people are still working hard to try to resolve it. I was disappointed last night, because we are very close in the United States Senate to agreement on all these issues. And then, Senator McConnell said instead of moving forward and exercising our own constitutional responsibilities here in the Senate, we had to wait until he figured out what President Trump wanted to do.

[18:55:03] Senator McConnell said he didn't know what President Trump wanted to do but we had to wait for him. I don't know why we have to wait.

BLITZER: Well, presumably, Senator, the president today in that 90- minute meeting with Senator Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, told him what he wants, right?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, it's not exactly clear where we are now. I think there's progress that had been made. As you know, there are lots of issues in play.

But we saw what happened just a couple weeks ago, right? We saw the president of the United States bring senators together on bipartisan basis. He said figure out a bipartisan deal and I'll sign it. And then Lindsey Graham, Dick Durbin and others came up with a deal strong bipartisan deal which has strong support here in the United States, bipartisan support, and then the president in that meeting where he used those repulsive racist remarks, he blew the whole thing up.

My view is the Senate should exercise its constitutional responsibilities. We should not be contracting that out to the White House, which has been incredibly dysfunctional. I hope the president can help us here. After all, he said Obama should have prevented the last government shutdown.

But even if we can't get the White House on board as hours go down, I hope we can, Mitch McConnell should put forward what we have here in the Senate, which is a bipartisan agreement. Let's do our job. And by the way, the president said he would sign it. At least he said that originally.

BLITZER: Three of your Democrat colleagues say they are yes on short- term continuing resolution. Does that worry you?

VAN HOLLEN: No. I think everybody is looking at this legislation and deciding what's to do best. There are also Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, and some others, who are going to vote with the Democrats. Because they think it's crazy that we are running this government month to month.

And they know as well that we're very close here in the Senate to an agreement. And, you know, Lindsey Graham said that the White House was an unreliable negotiating partner.

Heck, you had the chief of staff to the White House saying that the president was uninformed on some of these issues. So, look, I hope we can bring the White House along here. That would be great. But most importantly, the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, needs to put forward an agreement that we have here, a bipartisan agreement.

BLITZER: So be specific. What do you need tonight to be added to this continuing resolution that will avert a government shutdown and allow the Democrats to vote yea?

VAN HOLLEN: So, Wolf, we need to make sure that we fund our veterans health care. We need to make sure we have funding to address the opioid epidemic. This has been going on for months and months.

There has been a lot of talk but no action. We need to address that. We need to address the other parts of the budget, both on the military side and on the education side. We should address, because there is already agreement on it, the issue of DACA. We got a bipartisan majority here in the Senate.

Now, are we going to it be able to dot all the I's and cross all the T's tonight? No. That's why we should do what a number of Republican senators propose, do three or four days, not drag this on for another month, three or four days, while we can essentially put pen to paper and get that.

So, keep the government open, and then come together on the deal, which really in the Senate is really in place with the exception of some final touches.

BLITZER: When it comes to immigration and border security, is there any way that the Graham-Durbin deal, the compromise they worked out Republican and Democrat could pass if it were added night to the continuing resolution?

VAN HOLLEN: Absolutely it could pass, because it has overwhelming Democrat support, Democratic support. You already have seven Republican senators on board with that agreement. It could fly through here tonight. We could pass it in the next 10 minutes if Senator McConnell would put that up to a vote.

That's what's been so disappointing because agreement is here in the Senate. I don't know why we have to wait and figure out what President Trump wants to do. Let's pass it.

He said if we got an agreement he would sign it. If he wants to change his mind, that's up to him, but let's do our job right here. Let's do it tonight. And if we can't get it all done tonight, take a couple days, finalize it, get it done early next week.

BLITZER: Your job, among other things is to get Democrats elected to the Senate in the midterm elections. Fifty-six percent of Americans now say in our new poll more important to fund the government than to pass the DACA legislation. Are you listening to them? VAN HOLLEN: Well, I'm definitely listening to the American people,

and all of us are, which is why we are working to get a bipartisan agreement. This is not just about DACA versus keeping the government open. It's about making sure we have a budget that provides certainty for our military, make sure we fund the veterans, opioid epidemic.

BLITZER: All right.

VAN HOLLEN: There's lots to get done and we can do it.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Van Hollen, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

CNN's special coverage of the looming government shutdown continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".