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Soon: Senate Votes On Whether To End Government Shutdown. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired January 22, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. In just minutes from now on Capitol Hill, the Senate will be holding a critical vote that theoretically would pave the way to reopening the federal government if there is enough support. That is very unclear at this point as the shutdown is now in its third day.
The start of the workweek today means that some 800,000 federal workers are now officially furloughed. They're put on unpaid leave. The White House is now ratcheting up its offensive as the effects of the shutdown really take hold.
A short time ago, President Trump tweeted this, he said, "The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favor of services and security for noncitizens, not good."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke just minutes ago. Here is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: This immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset, and an amendment process that is fair to all sides and it would be my strong preference for the Senate to consider a proposal that can actually be signed into law.
A bipartisan, bicameral group is already negotiating, and I look forward to completion of its work. But it is abundantly clear that the Senate cannot make progress on any of these crucial matters until the government is reopened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Let's talk to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill with the latest. We're looking, Sunlen, at this vote expected to happen here in an hour. As we speak, senators are meeting, but is there any sense that anything is changing?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there certainly has been a mood shift, Brianna, just in the last hour up here on Capitol Hill. First, it does seem like there is a collective holding of the breath right now by many people up here on Capitol Hill after those comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He said quite clearly, he said it is his hope and intention to bring up DACA and a border security legislation before that government funding runs out. The question up here is will that be enough to satisfy Democratic demand?
Many Democrats saying that they wanted him to make more firm commitments to hold a vote. They wanted him to be a little clearer with that language. So, the big question is will that be enough for Democrats?
We are hearing some very preliminary early readouts from Democrats who are huddling right now, saying that they believe that was positive, that they certainly paid close attention to those words and that potentially it could be enough.
So, while the mood shift here is certainly shifting in the right direction towards that noon vote today, of course, nothing final until it is voted on, but certainly some uplifting comments coming out of the closed-door meeting today that perhaps his comments today were enough to get some Democrats on board.
Of course, they need seven -- at least seven Democrats to cross ranks and vote with the Republicans today if they want to see that spending bill go through.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think if Mitch were a little firmer as to we are going to move to immigration on February 8th if we don't get a solution, it will be a process where everybody will be heard will make a big difference.
But he's got to be convinced it will matter to make that commitment, so if I were a Democrat, I would go talk to my leader, Schumer and say, if you can get the majority leader to be a little more specific, I am ready to open up the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: That was Senator Lindsey Graham just a few minutes ago, who really laid out the politics of this quite clear. He knows that Democrats need Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to be a little firmer. The big question is, was that enough today and will Democrats take this deal -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Big question. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much. Let's head over to the White House now. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there. Kaitlan, tell us about President Trump's involvement in all of this.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, the president spent the weekend largely missing in action from these negotiations on Capitol Hill because he did not leave the White House and he did not make any public remarks since the government first shut down some two days ago.
But the White House is out in full force today insisting that the president is very involved, making calls to lawmakers. They haven't said if he's spoken to Democrats specifically, but they said he's been updated by his Chief of Staff John Kelly and his Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short.
Even though just an hour here ago on the driveway, Marc Short, said he had not spoken to the president yet today. But the White House is insisting that the president is being involved in this and that he's ready to help in any way that he can.
But they say that it is hard to negotiate with what they are calling Democrats as, quote, "hostage takers" today. But this raises the question, Brianna, is that the president helping or hurting?
Because if you look at what he's tweeted so far about his, his main message on Twitter has been the Republicans need to get rid of this Senate filibuster to have a simple majority to get anything passed.
That's something that Republican leadership has rejected and said they're not interested in taking part in that. And then he's also been hammering Democrats this morning, who, mind you, he's going to need their support if they're going to get a spending bill passed today and reopen the government.
[11:05:11] And then otherwise, the president has not left the White House since the shutdown, he has not made any public appearances, and he has not held a meeting here at the White House since Friday, Brianna. So, we're waiting to see today if the president takes a more public role in these negotiations on Capitol Hill.
KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much at the White House.
Let's talk about this now with David Chalian, Gloria Borger with us and Dana Bash with us as well. Listening, Gloria, to what we're hearing from Kaitlan, it begs the question if President Trump is being sidelined.
And we've heard even from Republicans who are saying, you know what, let's just kind of work this out among ourselves in the Senate and not worry too much about him. Here's what Senator Kennedy said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I do not know where the president is. I don't think we should wait for the president. Presumably he's thinking it through. He's watching to see what we're doing. The executive branch, as you well know, is separate from the legislative branch, and it is our job to fund government and keep government open. And I don't think we ought to spend a lot of time waiting to hear from the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Gosh, that is bizarre, isn't it? Because normally you would expect the president to be so involved in this and President Trump is not going to look kindly on things like this. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: They don't want him involved. First of all, we don't know where he is. I think that --
KEILAR: You mean where he is --
BORGER: Where he personally stands. What we have seen is --
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He's been a lot of different places.
BORGER: A ton of different places. So, I think this is a president essentially saying, you go over there, and you go sit in the oval office, and whatever you need to do, and we're going to work this out, and then hopefully we're going to come back to you with something you and more to the point, Steve Miller and your Chief of Staff General Kelly can accept.
And since the president is so unpredictable, what they don't want is inserting that into the middle of these very delicate negotiations which are going word for word. I mean, they're upset at Mitch McConnell because he didn't say we will instead of it is my intent. And they don't want the president getting into the middle of this, it is like throwing a hand grenade into these negotiations.
CHALIAN: And yet we saw an exasperated Mitch McConnell just a week ago saying we need to know where the president is. I don't want to do this. You know, it is like there is a belief in McConnell, only Donald Trump is going to be able to bring the Republican base alone on what he decides on this deal and how he does this.
They do need him at a certain point to be part of it. Negotiating the details now is probably not the best part of it, but they can't have him completely silent. We heard Mitch McConnell say he desperately needs him in this to be able to bring --
BORGER: At a certain point. Maybe not now.
CHALIAN: Exactly, exactly.
BORGER: Maybe not now.
KEILAR: Dana, what do you read? Is this -- especially as we heard Senator Flake saying that Mitch McConnell is stepping away from this requirement that the president sign off, like, OK something ahead of time, that Senate Republicans might agree to with Democrats.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, that's exactly right and Mitch McConnell did do that. He didn't on the Senate floor about an hour ago say I will bring this immigration bill to the floor and my sources are saying he didn't do that because he can't.
He can't really go beyond the word intend because of the words of the Senate. In fact, one source said that intentions are running up against process. But let's talk about what is happening as we speak.
It is a moment of truth right now because Senate Democrats are meeting behind closed doors. I'm looking at my phone, I'm communicating with several sources who are in that meeting.
And the meeting really is going to determine whether or not Democrats decide to abandon their filibuster, abandon this notion of keeping the government open until there is a DACA deal, and taking Mitch McConnell's word for it, that there can be a bipartisan discussion, a real discussion with, in his words, a level playing field.
The discussion I'm told is going well among Democrats, but the debate internally has just begun and as you can imagine is very robust because of the massive trust deficit. Source after source on the Republican side and the Democratic side have told me for the past three days, independently, it is the deficit and lack of trust that is driving this.
And that is why the idea of these 20 to 25 bipartisan senators, they call themselves the common-sense caucus, that they have gotten together and really forced this and gotten us to at least the precipice of a potential opening of the government is really noteworthy.
[11:10:07] The adults put their big boy and big girl pants on and say we're going to do this and this is our job because of the unpredictability of the White House.
KEILAR: Let's listen. When you talk about trust, the Democrats may have with the White House, let's listen to what happens when you call the White House because there is an interesting voice mail that you get. Here it is.
VOICE MAIL: Thank you for calling the White House. Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today because Congressional Democrats are holding government funding including funding for our troops and other national security priorities hostage to an unrelated immigration debate. Due to this obstruction, the government is shut down.
KEILAR: You almost laugh because it is something like you haven't heard before, but if you're Democrats, you're not feeling a whole lot of goodwill when you're getting trolled on voice mail at the White House.
BORGER: No, you're not. It is kind of silly.
KEILAR: It's unusual right, Gloria?
BORGER: You would expect more of a pro-forma sort of unfortunately due to the government shutdown, we can't take your call. But, you know, that's what this is dissolved into. It is ridiculous. These people don't have any trust because they haven't been dealing with each other.
And, you know, every Democrat knows that Mitch McConnell is a pretty cagey guy. They believe that he couldn't be trusted because he made promises to Susan Collins and to Senator Flake earlier about bringing up immigration. That has not occurred.
So, they're, like, why should we trust him this time. I must say, though, in their negotiations, the Democrats are actually talking about funding for a wall, which I think shows an inordinate amount of flexibility here.
KEILAR: That's what he talked about all weekend was, look, I put -- in fact, let's play this, this is Chuck Schumer, David, talking about that very thing. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And the president in all fairness, he's the leader. He's the one that has to get everybody in the room and get it done. I think the pressure is on Obama to make a deal because he doesn't want this.
SCHUMER: Bottom line is this, it would be hard to imagine a much more reasonable compromise. I was in principle agreeing to help the president to get his signature campaign promise, something Democrats and Republicans on the Hill staunchly oppose in exchange for DACA, a group of people the president said he has great love for. I essentially agreed to give the president something he has said he wants in exchange for something we both want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: And that is what we have heard over and over from Democrats.
CHALIAN: Although the White House will say that Chuck Schumer was talking about sort of bringing this up as part of the conversation, but not necessarily appropriating the actual dollars to go along with it. So, there was a whole wording battle there too.
To your point about how it devolves, what I think -- I think we're seeing very different tone right now from Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor than we are from the White House. So, the White House does that voice mail, the White House puts out -- or the campaign -- the re-elect campaign puts up a web video that is saying that Democrats will be complicit in the murders of people who get killed by illegal immigrants here in the United States.
They are in, like, heated campaign battle rhetoric mode. Mitch McConnell yesterday and today, it wasn't all Schumer shutdown and Democrats and Democrats and Democrats. He clearly was trying to provide some sort of an off ramp for the Democrats here.
He seems to be much more in the mode of plotting along to try to get the seven or so Democrats he needs on board to reopen the government where as -- Kaitlan mentioned this, the White House just seems full on right now including the president's tweet this morning aggressively slamming the Democrats.
KEILAR: And Dana, it is different when we flashback to that 2013 shutdown, because whether it was on the shutdown or debt ceiling negotiations, President Obama, we would consistently hear from those within the White House, he's trying to be the grown-up in the room. He's trying to be the grown-up in the room and as you hear David explaining so well there, that's really the role that Mitch McConnell is trying to play over the president here.
BASH: That's exactly right. The circumstances are that there are important differences between then and now. First and foremost, the Republicans in Congress were trying to take away the sitting president's signature issue which is Obamacare.
In this case, there is a bipartisan desire to force the issue of these DREAMers, these -- this very explicit set of undocumented immigrants. And so that, I think, is what leads it to a different situation.
I do think that the Republicans have under those circumstances done a really good job of messaging why they think that this is disastrous. Now, whether or not they should use the White House switch board to do that, you know, that's probably not the greatest use of taxpayer money.
[11:15:13] But in the big picture, it is different. I can just report to you as you were talking to our friends, Gloria and David, I have been continuing to communicate with Democratic sources inside the caucus meeting going on right now, and just seems as though it is getting more and more likely that there will be the Democratic votes to pass this procedural vote at noon.
It is -- it is not a sure thing at all. These discussions are going on. But I have communicated with at least two sources who voted no before who say that they're working towards voting yes.
I don't know -- I can't imagine that it will be the whole Democratic caucus voting yes, but it certainly seems as though the sort of -- the train is moving towards that station at this point. We'll see what happens when they come back and the vote is actually taken.
KEILAR: That reporting coming out right there as you're reporting on air. Very multitasking there, Dana. We have a graphic of the Democrats that we should be watching if we can put that up. Gloria, that's really interesting.
BORGER: It is.
KEILAR: That's a big development.
BORGER: It is a big development. As Dana says, it is, you know, they're counting votes. I would like to hear what Chuck Schumer is saying to them, whether he tells them to take this deal or not. It is clear to me that they believe that this isn't playing well for either party.
And that, in fact, if they're going to lose some of these Democrats that you now have on the air, they may as well -- they may as well do this. I think there is a great concern -- I was talking to one Democrat Saturday night about what then happens in the House eventually.
You know, the Senate can go do things, they can pass whatever they want, and take up an immigration bill, but there is this roadblock in the House of Representatives that they're afraid of. And they're not sure they can ever get what they want, even on DREAMers.
CHALIAN: Talk about Mitch McConnell not being able to guarantee something on the Senate floor, he certainly can't guarantee anything getting through the Republican House conference. That's Paul Ryan's problem.
It does beg the question, Brianna, and first of all, you put up a graphic, those senators are some of the remaining Democrats who are up for re-election in states that Donald Trump won, who did not vote with the Republicans on Friday. Some of them did.
But there is another group of Democrats too, more centrist Democrats, former governors in Virginia, in New Hampshire, in Delaware, that have also been a part of this, and they're Democrats to watch too as they come over, not just the ones in red states.
I will say this, though, Dana's reporting, Gloria, I'm wondering, to your point about what is Chuck Schumer saying to his caucus, so if indeed they do open up the government, and the Democrat -- enough Democratic votes are there, what did they get? What is Chuck Schumer come out and say that I got x and that's why it is worth -- it was worth our shutting down the government.
KEILAR: More than this just very uncomfortable -- for some of our Democrats, it is a very good point.
BORGER: We got a vote which we had already been promised to Susan Collins and Jeff Flake beforehand. I mean, that's a --
CHALIAN: And have a Democratic base take that.
BORGER: Well, it is a problem, right?
KEILAR: Thank you, guys, so much, Gloria, David and Dana as well.
Coming up, the secret memo sparking a new conservative rallying cry. Republican lawmakers claiming they have documents to prove there was widespread abuse by the FBI. So, why won't they let President Trump's own appointees see the so-called evidence. We'll have details ahead.
Plus, they paid the ultimate price for their country and now thanks to the government shutdown, their families will not get their death benefits. The brutal impact that the shutdown is having on U.S. service members and their families right now and how this could get even worse. Stay with us.
KEILAR: A short time from now, the Senate is holding a key vote with the goal of reopening the government and funding it for three weeks. We have just gotten some new reporting from Dana Bash. She's talked to Democrats who are meeting inside of a room. She's communicating with them and it sounds like Democrats may go along with this effort.
So, we're working that story. We'll bring that to you. But, meantime, the president has been slamming Democrats for the shutdown. Earlier this morning, he tweeted that "Democrats have shut down our government in the interests of their far-left base. They don't want to do it, but are powerless."
Joining me now is Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Sir, thank you so much for joining us today. It sounds like things are starting to get moving there, interestingly, on Capitol Hill.
So, we have this vote, I know you're watching it intensely on the other side of the capitol there, scheduled for minutes from now, to fund the government for three weeks with the idea, this is the promise from Mitch McConnell, that by February 8th, DACA will be brought up. You think Democrats should agree to this? You think this is a promise that they can trust Mitch McConnell on?
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN YARMUTH (D), KENTUCKY: Well, I don't know that we can trust him. I think at this point, it is a 17-day opportunity not going to make that much difference. So, I think it is probably a good thing to do to see if we can actually hold their feet to the fire and get something done. I think that's a risk worth taking if we can open the government back up today.
KEILAR: Let's listen to his assurance on the Senate floor a short time ago, or last night. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It would be my intention to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, so that we can move on to other business that is important to our country. It would be my intention to proceed to legislation that would address DACA, border security, and related issues. It is also my intention to take up legislation regarding increased defense spending, disaster relief and other important matters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: So, Sir, if you're saying you don't know if Democrats can trust Mitch McConnell, but he's making this promise, and it sounds like there may be the votes from Democrats to join Republicans to reopen the government, then what are they reopening it for, for a promise that they don't trust?
[11:25:13] YARMUTH: Well, again, we -- particularly in the House we have no power, and in the Senate, they have to hold 41 votes together. And I think it is worth the effort for 17 days to try and get it done.
The red flag I would raise and what it said, and I've been following what Mitch said for decades now, he's my constituent and my senator, is that when he said that border wall and DACA and related issues, related issues could be a lot of things that Democrats would absolutely reject. For instance, dramatic reductions in the amount of immigrants allowed in the country, which is what Bob Goodlatte on the House side wants to do. So, I would be very careful about what the package ends up looking like, once it actually came to the floor.
I was in a Gang of Eight working -- we worked in 2013 we worked on immigration reform for seven months. It is really, really complicated. And even though we had a bipartisan agreement on what we wanted to bring to the floor, John Boehner, the then speaker, would never bring it to the floor.
So, I have a hard time having a lot of trust with Republicans, particularly when we're dealing with a -- something -- the time frame of filing deadlines for Republicans because ultimately immigration reform to Republicans is an issue of primary politics.
They don't want to do anything that would open themselves up to a challenge in their primaries. I think if President Trump were to say today, I'm going to extend my order to July 1st, this thing would be resolved entirely in about an hour. Getting it past that filing -- those filing deadlines.
KEILAR: Are you hearing the same thing, though, just to be clear, are you hearing the same thing we're hearing, that it appears there may be just this critical mass of Democratic support to go along with Republicans in this vote that is expected to happen here in a half an hour?
YARMUTH: Right. We've heard that Dick Durbin from Illinois has agreed to it. He's been driving the train on the DREAMer issue, the DACA issue. And I think if he said he was willing to trust Mitch McConnell for those 17 days, then I think a lot of the members of the Democratic caucus would go along with him.
KEILAR: All right, Congressman Yarmuth, thank you so much. I love how you said that Mitch McConnell is your constituent and your senator. So, you do have some insight here, Sir, thank you so much.
YARMUTH: Thanks, Brianna.
KEILAR: Now coming up, it is an explosive memo alleging corruption within the nation's top law enforcement community. The Republican chairman of the House Intel Committee, Devin Nunes, allegedly has evidence of widespread abuse at the FBI. So why won't he show that evidence to the president's own appointees? We'll have that next.