Return to Transcripts main page


Senate to Vote on Plan to Reopen Government; Top Trump Aide Says Trump to Hold Meetings Today; Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 22, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. John Berman here and as we sit here this morning, the government is shutdown. We could know in the next 60 minutes if it will stay that way.

At stake the jobs of 800,000 government employees, the future of some 800,000 people brought to this country as kids, and also frankly, the very notion of competence. There is movement all over the place this morning so pull up a chair. This is where we stand right now.

The Senate reconvenes next hour but the real action is behind closed doors. Senate Democrats are expected to meet at some point to see if they can stomach the latest proposal on the table. That proposal an agreement to fund the government for three weeks in return for Mitch McConnell promising it is his intention, and that seems to be the key word, his intention, to bring the issue of immigration to the Senate floor.

Is that enough for the Democrats?

And moments ago despite pleas from members of his own party and reportedly his own staff to stay out of the fray, the president is dropping Twitter bombs into the mix, writing, "Democrats have shut down our government in the interest of their far-left base. They don't want do it but are powerless."

Let's go right to Capitol Hill this morning to find out the very latest on these negotiations. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is there.

Suzanne, what are you hearing?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is going to be a very busy morning. Just within the hour or so the Senate will gavel to session officially and the business will begin at hand.

Now the Democrats and as you mentioned before, the Democrats meeting behind closed doors. T the time was supposed to be around 10:00. It could slip a bit here. That is the key meeting to note because that is where you're going to have Senator Chuck Schumer with all of the Democrats to talk about McConnell's latest proposal here.

So we've got folks like the five Democrats who said, yes, OK, let's go forward with this temporary spending, like Senator McCaskill in a very tough reelection race. But you also have people like Senator Richard Blumenthal who I spoke at this morning who looks at the McConnell plan here and says that it is a ploy, that it is an empty promise, that he does not believe this.

And so everyone along the spectrum here, can they actually go ahead and keep it from that 60 super majority from McConnell to move the government forward? So that is where we are from the liberal as well as the conservative and moderate members meeting behind closed doors.

Later, what we're going to see is it is going to go to a full vote and that is going to happen around noon and the big question is whether or not you are going to have that super majority, you've had some of the Republicans peel off like Senator Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake. You've had some Democrats that have moved along as well. So those are the big questions.

The Democrats who we've been talking to and holding out on this, what is the main concern here? Well, one of them is the DACA plan, the proposal here. They want something McConnell says perhaps will bring it up and maybe get something later after that three-week extension. They want something before the three-week extension.

They also want a commitment that President Trump doesn't interfere in this process. That is a hard commitment for anybody to say that that is not going to be the case. They also want a commitment of a bipartisan proposal, the one that was introduced by Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham to be the basis, the text, the base text if you will, of any kind of legislation that comes forward protecting the Dreamers or immigration reform on the floor and then on to the House.

Furthermore, they want a real commitment, a binding commitment that the House is actually going to take this up after the Senate. It is far from certain and certainly Speaker Paul Ryan not indicating that that is necessarily any kind of guarantee, that they have the appetite for that, and so therefore you see a lot of Democrats balking at the idea that the majority leader can bring this forward in any kind of serious way.

So we'll see how it all plays out around noon.

BERMAN: All right. Suzanne Malveaux for us on Capitol Hill.

Again one notable thing, the Democrats were supposed to be meeting at 10:00. That meeting is sliding. Why? They want more time for what? That will be a key question this morning.

Let's go to the White House right now because we're getting some new developments out of the White House. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there.

And you just spoke to a presidential aide, a top aide trying to give you a sense of how much, and I think this is important, how much the president is doing this morning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John. Marc Short who is the Legislative Affairs director here at the White House said today that the White House has been in touch with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell with Democrats and he said that the president does have meetings today.

And he offered that information after a weekend where the president was largely on the sidelines here at the White House, not making any public remarks about the government shutdown and mainly while the White House was blaming Democrats, putting all the blame for this shutdown squarely on their shoulders, the president didn't make any public appearances but he did make a rare trip to the press secretary's office on Saturday to compliment several of the aides on their TV appearances and to say that he believed Democrats had overplayed their hand this time and were simply trying to appease a small portion of their base.

[09:05:13] Now the president continued to hammer Democrats this morning with his first tweet of the day on the shutdown and he wrote, "The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favor of services and security for noncitizens. Not good."

But the fact of the matter here, John, is the president has not made a public appearance since the government shutdown. He has not held a meeting at the White House since Friday and his main message on Twitter has been to get rid of the Senate filibuster rule which is something that Republicans have largely rejected.

So we're keeping an eye on all of that today waiting to see if the president gets more involved in these negotiations on Capitol Hill but right now it seems that the White House and senators prefer that the president stays out of what's going on here -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House.

That insistence of just how busy the president is this morning is notable. Let us discuss that. Joining me this morning, CNN political analyst April Ryan and Julie Hirschfield Davis, and Caitlin Huey- Burns, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics.

And Julie, I want to start with you on this very notion that we just got from Kaitlan at the White House because you have a fascinating article in the paper this morning. Let me read just a small snippet of what you wrote about what the feeling is on Capitol Hill and perhaps in the administration itself.

"The president was either unwilling or unable to articulate the immigration policy he wanted, much less understand the nuances of what it would involve." Add that to the sentiment we're getting from some people on the Hill saying we much rather the president stay out of this. What's the effect here?

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: : Well, I mean, I think that's one of the reasons that people on Capitol Hill, particularly the Republicans, but Democrats as well, want the president out of this because it's not been clear throughout this process what his bottom line is, what he's really willing to accept versus what he's not. Every time Democrats and some of the moderate Republicans who have been trying to drive toward a deal on the Dreamers and DACA think that they've got that sense it gets pulled back by a staff member at the White House, John Kelly or Steve Miller. And really, it makes it impossible for them to figure out a path

forward on this issue that Democrats have really decided they're not willing to go forward on funding until they figure out how it's going to end. They don't necessarily need to include it in the deal but they need to know what the path forward looks like and right now the president isn't really weighing in to show them what that looks like.

BERMAN: It certainly feels like the president's watching the coverage over the last few hours seeing that he's not that involved, he's staying on the sidelines so he puts his aides out this morning to say how busy he is so he can get, you know, those words on the screen right there. "Top Trump aide, Trump to hold meetings today." It is interesting to

see the action and reaction there.

Caitlin, Republicans I talked to are spinning the notion that they think they are winning this shutdown or at least not losing this shutdown, and they point to this latest CNN poll and the answer to this question, which is more important, avoiding the shutdown or continuing DACA, 56 percent say avoiding a shutdown is more important than just 34 percent say the continuing DACA is more important. Are you picking this up from Republicans? Do they like where they are?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Yes. And in many ways Democrats are divided on this a little bit. You did have a handful of Democrats from states that Trump won overwhelming go ahead and support the continuing resolution on Friday and you've had a lot of Democrats who are saying, OK, is this the best way to move forward with this?

I think, you know, the Democrats are kind of in this position where they have to recognize kind of political gravity which is that Republicans control the agenda. They don't necessarily control all of the Senate because they need Democratic support and Democratic votes which is where they think they have leverage but they do control the path forward.

There's a huge trust deficit, of course, between Democrats and Republicans and Republicans and their own leadership. So it makes sense for Democrats to want some kind of assurance but what that looks like remains to be seen. Because you can't really write into the legislation that we need a vote from McConnell and also from the House which is a whole other enterprise entirely.

BERMAN: This is 100 percent about trust this morning.


BERMAN: Democrats want to feel like they can trust Mitch McConnell's intention here. They don't trust where the White House is on negotiations because they don't know.


BERMAN: Where the White House is on the negotiation and that's what Democrats are wrestling with as we speak when they go behind closed doors, April, in the next hour or so.

They're also facing these attacks from the administration directly. We see the president attacking them on Twitter this morning and we saw this ad, this remarkable ad from the president's campaign over the weekend. Let's play a small bit of that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is right. Build the wall, deport criminals, stop illegal immigration now. Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.


[09:10:02] BERMAN: Calling someone complicit in murder, April, is not often a way to win friends and influence people. Does this pressure Democrats or embolden them?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, actually, it emboldens them. They've been emboldened since January 11th when the president was talking about this is going to be a bill of love and then changed the conversation when he talked about s-hole nations or s-houses or what have you, or s-houses, when he actually said Norway, white, versus El Salvador and Haiti and Africa which is brown and black.

Here's the issue. Democrats are very upset and they're trying to really push this message and they're talking about going out today really full force at the fact that once this is over, if the Republicans get what they want, they're going to actually try to control who comes in to the United States, meaning the browning of America. So they're very concerned about this.

And I mean, over the weekend, Congressman Gutierrez was very upset. Luis Gutierrez was very upset about the fact that he said, this is not about the wall. He said, you know, Schumer game him everything he wanted, the president wanted, and he still turned away from it. And he said, I will put brick by brick to build a wall so these Dreamers can stay here because taking these kids, making them go back they don't even know the country they come from, so there is in a lot of Dems' minds and they have not totally articulated this the way that the layman would understand in my opinion is that they feel that this is racial and it's going to control the kinds of people who come in this nation with this merit based system that they're talking about.

BERMAN: And that is the longer deeper issue for some Democrats. There may be some Republicans as well. The shorter term issue, Julie, is this issue of trust, right? Democrats need to feel like they can trust Mitch McConnell on his intention.

I will remind you, you know, Jeff Flake and Susan Collins ended up with yes votes --

RYAN: And even the president with trust.

BERMAN: And the White House also. There are two separate issues here we want to get to. McConnell, Julie, you know, Jeff Flake and Susan Collins were promised

votes on immigration and promised votes on things when they became yes votes on taxes. I have a quote here from Jeff Flake, you know, from December, "I'm so pleased that the majority leader has committed to bring the bipartisan DACA bill we are currently negotiating to the Senate floor in January."

That didn't happen. He felt like he was promised this by the majority leader in December, it didn't happen now so when Democrats see that what do they have to believe Mitch McConnell's intention on now?

HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS: That's right. I mean, there is a big trust deficit here and one of the interesting things about those poll numbers you showed before is it did seem to suggest that there was more support for keeping the government open than for insisting on a DACA fix but that ship has sailed. Now Democrats have decided that they are going or they're not going to back down on this shutdown issue until they figure out a way to get to secure a vote on an a broader immigration plan involving the Dreamers.

And so it's really difficult for them to accept a sort of handshake or an informal agreement, oh, yes, we'll have a vote on that and don't worry, it's going to happen, when this is their point of maximum leverage. They have to know -- they have to figure, and moderate Republicans who are working on this as well, have to be able to secure a definite enough commitment from the Senate majority leader that they don't have to trust this president who has been all over the place on this issue for the past year really.

And that they know that they're going to get a vote either way, and that is not an easy thing to do in the Senate. What's in front of them now is a government funding bill, not a DACA bill. So they have to figure out a way to get from here to there.

BERMAN: Right. Very quickly, Caitlin, you think we will continue to see the president somewhat removed from this process?

HUEY-BURNS: Well, it's interesting that when the president met with Chuck Schumer, you heard a lot of Republicans kind of griping that they were not in the room which showed that they don't even trust the president to be in charge of these negotiations here.

I also think it's really important to know that even if we do get to a position where Democrats are confident that they can get a vote on DACA what will that legislation look like, right.

BERMAN: Right.

HUEY-BURNS: Because the president -- people say he's all over the map. But I think the reason that that open meeting was so interesting when he said I want a bill of love, I'll sign anything, was that that was in direct conflict with everything he campaigned on and that's why his White House aides and Republicans in Congress who say, look, we control all of everything, we should be driving the policy here. That's where that clash goes. So even if we get a government funding bill, the clash over DACA I think will be just as messy if not more. BERMAN: You can extend the government for three more weeks here but

you're guaranteeing yourself three more weeks of this very same battle that April is just talking about right there.

April Ryan, Julie Hirschfield Davis, Caitlin Huey-Burns, thanks so much.

So pay for the wall to get a deal for Dreamers. Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez says, if that's what they have to do then do it. How does the rest of the Democratic caucus feel?

Plus a slew of new text messages between FBI officials who briefly worked on Special Counsel Mueller's team just given to Congress. We will pore through them.


And right now, new victims to face sex abuser and ex-gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar in court. New questions today about what Michigan state knew and didn't know and didn't do about the doctor.


BERMAN: Are they getting closer to a deal? Senate Democrats meet in just a few minutes to discuss the latest proposal to end the government shutdown. Will there be progress?

Joining me now is someone really who has been in the middle of all this, Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas. He was part of that 55-minute meeting with the president. So nice to see you here this morning, Congressman.


BERMAN: Look, you were one of the few Democrats who voted yes on the latest stop-gap measure to keep the government open. So, I assume you would still be a yes on the current version, the three-week plan, correct?

[09:20:08] CUELLAR: That's correct. You know, the Republicans in 2013 shut down the government over an issue they felt very passionate about and that was health care. Now some Democrats are using the DREAMer issue which I feel passionate about, but I don't think we ought to use any issue to shut down the government because what happens next year?

The Republicans are going to come up with something they feel passionate and the Democrats will do that and we're going to continue shutting down the government. This is not the way we ought to negotiate and anybody that gives in to that is not understanding the big picture of what it means to shut down the governments. The terrorists don't shut down the government, but Congress shuts down the U.S. government.

BERMAN: You know, the latest CNN polls seems to agree with you. The public seems to agree with where you stand at least when asked which is more important avoiding a shutdown or continuing DACA, 56 percent say avoiding a shutdown is more important. So how do you persuade your fellow Democrats here because they seem to be in the Senate the ones holding this up?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, everybody's got to do what they got to do, but you know, at the same time, there's ways to negotiate. I've been saying since -- I've told Kevin McCarthy back in November the way to do this is -- if we have to do a C.R. which I don't like C.R.s.

I said on the defense appropriations, homeland appropriations and -- you know, it's important to keep this process going, but if you are going to do a C.R., which I don't like the C.R.s, but if you're going to do a C.R. get a strong commitment before to take a vote.

And I told Kevin McCarthy just a couple days ago on Friday, I said listen, why don't you put the Goodlatte bill to a vote and put our DREAM Act up for a vote and see what happens. Let the will of the House work and that's what I told senator -- my good friend, Senator John Cornyn yesterday. Let (inaudible) Senate work and see what happens.

BERMAN: So, right now, this all seems to hinge on a promise from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He says as part of this deal would be his intention to bring immigration to the Senate floor. How do you tell your Democratic colleagues in the Senate? Why should they trust Mitch McConnell?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, I understand. I think one of your prior guest somebody said, you know, I believe that was part of the agreement with Flake to vote on the tax bill. He didn't keep his word.

I think Collins, he also told Senator Collins also on the health care part of it, the subsidies so there's got to be something that has to be agreed by both, by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell where we all feel comfortable.

I think it's got to be done before the C.R. expires if we do a C.R. So, if they don't do what they're supposed to do then you got the C.R. then we'll take it from there.

BERMAN: Again, do you need more than just Mitch McConnell saying it's his intention? What more would you need to believe that that's real?

CUELLAR: We got to be in a room where Pelosi and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn all get together with the president say, this is what we agree to do and do it. You know, the problem is we don't get that leadership from the White House.

I mean, all we do is get a picture of the president, with all due respect, in front of an empty desk with a phone? No, if he's going to be the leader, he needs to get us back there, put us in a room, close the door, don't let us walk out until we work out an agreement.

That's the legislative process that works. You roll up your sleeves, close that door and don't walk out until you get an agreement.

BERMAN: Well, look, Senator Jeff Flake says the exact opposite thing. You say the president needs to get you all back in the room. Jeff Flake of Arizona says I just don't think it helps for him to be involved at all.

CUELLAR: Well, we do know that the president has said one thing and then his advisers will whisper to him and it will change hour to hour. I understand that, but he's still the president of the United States.

You know, just the fact of being there, but at the end you're right. At the end of the day, it's going to depend on Congress because this is a legislative solution that has to be worked out the old fashioned legislative solution where you put people in a room and just roll up your sleeves and get it done.

And you know, we got to get people that understand the border. One of my good friends, Louis Gutierrez, and other folks have been saying we're going to give in to the hostage takers, and we want the DREAMers so we're going to give you a wall.

No, I want to protect the DREAMers, but I don't want a wall. I get a check -- just like I told the president people that show up at the border for a few hours and don't even show up and they're telling us what's better for the border.

We want law and order at the border, but we know how to do it. Senator (inaudible) and I have been working on this.

BERMAN: When you hear an ad from the president's campaign, the president's campaign committee that says that Democrats will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants, is that negotiating a good faith when your campaign puts out that ad?

CUELLAR: No, it's not. You're trying to negotiate, and you don't insult the people that you're trying to negotiate. You know, if that's the way of the "art of the deal" by the president, I don't know -- you know, how that could be successful.

[09:25:09] It's not the way to do it. That doesn't help. Those type of ads insulting the people that you want to get to the table is not productive at all.

BERMAN: Your last 10 seconds here, your pitch to senate Democrats right now, are they making this better or worse?

CUELLAR: Well, again, I don't want to speak for the Senate. They know what they need to do. I'm speaking for myself and other folks that the way to do it is, if we can't attach a C.R., which would be nice if we could do it, but not shutdown the government but if we can, get a C.R., get a commitment with everybody in the party and -- in the room and get that commitment and if it doesn't happen and you still got that C.R. that expires before that vote.

BERMAN: And then you can take up the issue of a shutdown again. Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Senate investigators pouring through hundreds of pages of new text messages from an FBI agent removed from the Mueller probe. Stay with us.