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Senate GOP Leader Speaks Ahead Of Vote On Reopening Government; GOP Senators: Mcconnell "Has Moved" On DACA; Senators Says His "Intention" To Deal With DACA Later Shows Willingness To Negotiate. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 22, 2018 - 10:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

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

The breaking news is this. Want to show you live pictures of the Senate floor. We were just told we're about to hear from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He will take to the floor to make some kind of a statement, perhaps to tell us if they are any closer to a deal to end this government shutdown. Now, the latest proposal on the table is to fund the government for three weeks, in return for Leader McConnell saying it is his intention, his intention to bring the issue of immigration to the Senate floor. Is his intention enough for Democrats though? Democrats will meet in the next hour to discuss where they stand on all of this.

Also new this morning, from the White House, what seems to be a choreographed series of statements that the president is very busy, very involved, both involved and busy, in all of the negotiations. This, after reports that many Republicans including administration officials would rather he stay on the sidelines during all of this practice what is called a game of hide and tweet here.

Let's begin, though, on Capitol Hill, again, where we are about to hear from Leader McConnell. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is there. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, certainly a lot of fast moving developments this morning. We heard from many senators leaving that meeting behind closed doors. And essentially saying, look, we don't know the path forward here. Some Democrats saying we want more promise, more firm assurance from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to have -- to move forward on immigration, move forward if they agree to the spending bill before February 8th. That's something that we heard from a Democrat leaving the meeting a few minutes ago, Senator Amy Klobuchar.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Hopefully we can resolve this in the next day or two. But this group's importance is not going to end there because we're going to, as we move forward with the DREAM Act, we need a group of Democrats and Republicans, some version of the DREAM Act.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said in a day or two. Does that mean the vote today is not going to happen?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I would just hope that it gets resolved as soon as possible and I can't tell you what day.


SERFATY: So, no firm commitments there, of course. Leadership is still as of now pushing towards a 12:00 p.m. noon vote on the plan that is on the table that emerged over the weekend. And as you said, John, we'll hear from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a few minutes where you can bet that everyone up here is going to pay very close attention to exactly what words he uses when he's trying to, you know, corral support behind this plan. We had over the weekend two key Republicans switch from no votes to yes votes. That means that Senate Republicans still need seven Democrats to break ranks, switch over and vote with them. But as of now, it is not clear that they have those numbers. John?

BERMAN: So far he says it is his intention as part of this deal to bring immigration to the floor. If he says more than that, this morning, that will be key. That is what we'll be watching for. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Let's go to the White House to get their side of the story right now which among other things that the president is very involved this morning. That's their line.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there. Kaitlan, what are you hearing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, John, that is what the White House is insisting after a weekend where the president was largely missing in action from these negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. And it is noteworthy because not only is he the president, but he also fashioned himself as this dealmaker in chief and now people are wondering just where those deals are.

Now the White House says that the president is frustrated about this shutdown and that he's standing by and ready to help. But that it is hard to negotiate with what they are calling the Democrats, as, quote, "hostage takers." So we're seeing that come out. We're seeing the president continue to hammer Democrats on Twitter, several of his aides doing the same on TV appearances. That's what we're seeing come out of the White House right now.

But, John, they are insisting that the president is taking meetings today. Mick Mulvaney the director of the Office of Management and Budget said he's meeting with several of his cabinet secretaries today. But we're also wondering what the schedule for the president is going to look like this week because he is supposed to travel to Switzerland later on for the economic forum. But now White House officials are saying that it's getting more and more logistically challenging with this government shutdown each and every day. So, they're waiting to see what plays out on Capitol Hill here in the next few hours. But some new reporting from my colleague Jim Acosta, he says that the reason the White House has not made a deal about reopening the government just yet is because they, quote, "are insisting on nearly all of their demands for the nation's immigration system."

Now, that's another subject of dispute is if the president is in line with what his party on Capitol Hill is saying about what they want for immigration. This is something we have seen the president go back and forth on, even though the White House insists that he's maintained the same position on what he wants for immigration.

[10:05:00] But it is certainly something that left a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill guessing. But we're waiting to see if we see the president today. John, we have not seen him since the government shutdown and he has not made any public remarks yet. So we're waiting to see if the president starts to take a more public role in this government shutdown on day three here, John.

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

Joining me now is Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. And Senator, let me apologize, because as we're speaking here, we're waiting to hear from Mitch McConnell, your majority leader. He's set to speak on the Senate floor. We might have to cut to that we're all waiting to see if he will shed some more light on what he means that it is his intention to bring up the issue of immigration as part of this deal to extend government funding by three weeks. What do you think he means?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, he intends to move to immigration as a part of the package. And, look, the reality is we have to address the issue surrounding immigration in order to get everything else put together. It is part of the deal. And I think he is very sincere in his message. He was very clear to us last evening when he met with him. The reality is we have got to be able to address this issue or we're not going to get the rest of the package completed, including funding for government on an ongoing basis.

BERMAN: All right. Senator McConnell is speaking right now. Let's both listen in, Senator.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Every senator can vote to end this government shutdown. At 12:00 p.m., we'll vote to end the Democratic leader's filibuster, and advance instead a bipartisan bill that would put this mess behind us. The bill before us does three things that every Democrat and Republican should be able to support.

First, it ends the shutdown and restores full funding for the federal government through February 8th. Second, it extends health insurance for 9 million vulnerable children. And, third, it will enable Congress to resume serious bipartisan talks on the important issues facing our nation.

I respect the passion that many of my friends in this chamber, Democrats and Republican alike bring to the major issue before the Senate, all of these issues. Each of us brings our own views and personal perspectives to discussions of immigration policy or health care reform or details of government spending. But we should not let the political feuds or policy disagreements obscure the simple fact that every member of this body care cares deeply about the challenges facing our country. All of us want to make life better for the American people.

Bearing this in mind, I hope and intend that we can reach bipartisan solutions on issues such as military spending, immigration and border security and disaster relief before -- before the February 8th deadline. But yesterday evening I restated my position that these negotiations can't last forever. Should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on February 8th, so long as the government remains open, so long as the government remains open, it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security, and related issues as well as disaster relief, defense funding, health care, and other important matters.

Let me be clear. This immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset, and an amendment process that is fair. 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.

We need to move forward, and the first step, very first step, is ending the shutdown. It is evident that this government shutdown is doing nothing. Absolutely nothing to generate bipartisan progress on first step, very first step, is ending the shutdown. It is evident that this government shutdown is doing nothing, absolutely nothing to generate bipartisan progress on the issues the American people care about.

[10:10:09] Every day we spend arguing about keeping the lights on is another day we cannot spend negotiating DACA or defense spending or any of our other shared priorities. So, look, let's join together, put the filibuster behind us, and get back to work for the American people.

BERMAN: OK, that was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with some new words that I think are worth discussing. He says, I hope and intend that we can bring the issues of DACA and many other things to the floor of the Senate before this three-week extension of government funding ends. And then he says that if it does reach that point, then he would allow a free and open debate with a level playing field on the issue of immigration. What exactly does that mean? We're joined again by Senator Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota. And Senator am I correct here that the majority leader seemed to be trying to add a little more detail to what he's offering the Democrats as part of this proposal. What did you hear? ROUNDS: That's correct. That's what I hear as well. He has to be careful because there are some things he can't promise because he can't deliver. In the Senate rules, most of the activity you do is by unanimous consent. All it would take would be one member to object to his motions and then there are automatic delays that can mess with the time frames that are involved here. So if we have consensus to move forward, he can make the request and if he and the Democratic leader can agree on a path forward, in terms of the defining what the debate would look like then those become the guidelines that we use. If not, if you have an open debate, we call it a borderama, you can go day and night until you're done with it. And we don't do that except for once a year - regarding the budget.

BERMAN: -- He says it is a strong preference to consider bills that could become law, in other words, his strong preference to only consider legislation that the president would sign. That's a sticking point here, because the president has said he won't sign certain things, sometimes he changes his mind on that, but when he -- when the majority leader says it is only his strong preference. To me that opens the door to the possibility that the Senate will consider and vote on something that doesn't necessarily have a seal of approval from the White House. Did you hear that?

NOBLES: That's correct. And, you know, I think this is a case of where the Senate majority leader is saying that the Senate is part of the institution, but it is an institution on its own as well. And it has a responsibility to its members to act independently when the case requires it. And while we try to coordinate so we can actually get results, the Senate still has the ability as the United States Senate to act by itself.

BERMAN: Senator, let me just hold on for one second, some of your colleagues, Senator Collins, Senator Flake and Senator Graham are speaking now.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hope and intend to bring immigration bill to the floor by February 8th. If not, he wants to move to it after that if the government remains open. Should he be even more firm in his commitment here in order to win over Democrats, say, tied to ensuring it would go to the next CR? Should he be more firm to get this to the finish line? Senators?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think he's right to say this is not a good way to get a result on any policy, have the government shut down. I don't think this is the right way to get policy outcomes to shut the government down. When we tried it, it didn't work well for us. So I think what you will hear from the majority leader is that a firmer commitment when it seems like it will matter.

Right now, Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham are with the majority leader, we got 52 votes. If some other Democrats I think would like to get to yes, 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. And here's the question for all of us, what good does it do to open up the government a lot, but does it lead us to a solution? My goal is to create a process that gets us to yes on a bunch of issues, hoping that the government is not winning.

[10:15:03] Losing is keeping the government open. Winning is finding a solution on DACA, on military spending, on disaster, on your CSRs. Why I'm hopeful is that I think we're close to opening up the government, but we're also close to getting deals.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is the president's role here? Have any of you heard from the president?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Whether or not this is enough for the Democrats to come along will be determined by what conversations the two leaders have before the noon vote. If we can get firmer language, I would encourage him to try to. If they can get language they're comfortable with, I think we'll have the government open.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Let me just add one point. First of all, I do think it would be helpful if the language were a little bit stronger because the level of tension is so high. But you have to remember that initially the majority leader was not talking about this issue. So he has moved -- the Republican leader has moved to accommodate the concerns that had been raised. And I think that the Democratic leader needs to give him credit for moving on the DACA issue. But it would, at the same time, be helpful if Senator McConnell's language were stronger.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But Senator flake, you were given an assurance -

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Same question, you both have the same sort of side deals with Mitch McConnell for votes in the not too distant past but things haven't really happened yet. How do you tell Democrats to deal with the side promise from Mitch McConnell when yours haven't been addressed?

FLAKE: My commitment was to have a vote on immigration by the end of January. We're getting close. This one will miss it by a week. I can live with that. We got a shutdown that wasn't anticipated. So we're getting close on that.


GRAHAM: The big change --

COLLINS: In my case, obviously I was very disappointed that the commitment for a vote by the end of the year was not kept. But I am optimistic that it is going to be kept. Our negotiations with the House are going very, very well. And the deadline slipped, but the policy is what is important. And you have to remember that the individual mandate repeal does not go into effect until 2019. So we do have a little time here -- GRAHAM: So let's -- don't rewrite history. One of the reasons why they had any votes, our Democratic friends won't let us vote. So, Obama had the White House, majority in -- a big majority in the House and 60 votes in the Senate. We didn't do immigration. So, you want to blame Trump, fine.

There is a history around here of people screwing up immigration on both sides. I would like to bring that history to a conclusion. So here's what I think. I think if the majority leader says stronger words about we will. We will go to immigration. He will say that if it matters. So some Democrats have to convince Mitch McConnell, stronger language results in the outcome.

As to Susan's issue, the reason we had to put it on anything, there is nothing to put it on. My hope is that once we break the impasse on government funding, I mean, excuse me, opening up the government, things fall into place pretty quickly. But if there is a commitment by the majority leader that is firm, to move to immigration, what does that mean? He's telling the White House we want something the president can sign, we want to work with you, but we're moving forward.

Nobody's leading on immigration. Everybody's telling you what they won't do. The president is here one day and there the next. I think he's got a good heart about this. I think he knows what will work. I said before I think there are some people the White House always pull him back.

So Senator McConnell is saying if nobody else leads, the Senate will on February 8th. And here is what I predict. Once we start talking about immigration, and voting on immigration, we'll find 60 votes to make sure these DACA recipients' lives are not ruined by March 5th and our soldiers in the fight will have what they need. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Rand Paul was right. If you started a debate on the United States Senate floor, you would get a result, so here's what the majority leader is saying. Work with me, Democrats, we're going to start a process to get to yes, maybe before February 8th, but come February 8th, the Senate is going to lead and I think that is a huge step forward.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Bottom line, are you asking Democrats just to trust you?

[10:20:02] FLAKE: I think this is a pretty high profile promise right now, if he makes it on the floor to move ahead and proceed to a bill. I think the Democrats can hold on to that and so can we?

COLLINS: I also don't think -- that we have had over the past few days 25 senators attending meetings right here in my office, Republicans as well as Democrats, all of whom are committed to getting to a solution. That is a powerful voting bloc in the Senate and it includes Republican members as well as Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But again when it comes to funding levels, Democrats are talking about, how close are Republicans to getting a deal on -- up military, plus the domestic programs?

COLLINS: Well, the budget caps are obviously a very important issue. Our militaries told us over and over again their readiness is being affected. And there is one thing that the military hates worse than a continuing resolution, and that is a government shutdown. So the most important thing is that we get government to reopen and continue the negotiations on the budget caps, which will give the military and some of our domestic programs like opioid funding the money that is need.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right, we heard Senator Collins right there, Senator Graham as well as Senator Flake. Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota is still with us. I apologize for keeping going to the senators, but I think you're probably as interested as I am because they're central right now to so many of these negotiations. One of the things we heard from both Senator Collins and Senator Graham is it would be helpful if Senator McConnell's language were even stronger about promising a vote on the Senate floor on immigration. Do you agree with that?

ROUNDS: When we met with him last evening, his language was stronger in the private meeting. I think he is still trying to do his best to maintain the prerogative as the majority leader to lay out the agenda in the Senate. We just came out of the meeting this morning. There were a group of us, 19 or 20 of us, this morning, and the message from the Democrats was, look, we think we need to get a little bit closer, we don't like the idea of having the word intention, we would have liked it better if he would have said we will move too.

But also remember that majority leader is doing his best to be able to retain the ability for unusual circumstances that might arise. We all want to get this thing behind us. We have got to get the government open and operating again, but we also have got issues of continuing resolution, which would only go until February 8th and between now and then we have to come to a consensus about how we address the issue surrounding immigration. And we know we have to get that behind us because you've got a march 5th deadline with regard to the DACA issue.

So they're all trying to build this. There is a sense of trying to get that trust among Republicans and Democrats that the process in the United States Senate would actually work in everyone's favor and it would be a fair process. And we normally don't use the traditional processes in the Senate anymore. Everybody is still trying to learn and understand from some of those senior members as to just exactly how an open process would work.

BERMAN: Can I ask you, you said Senator McConnell used stronger language behind closed doors. Can I ask you exactly what language he did use?

ROUNDS: Well, let me just share with you that he made it very clear that it was in everyone's interest to move in the proper direction of getting this behind us and that he understood that this is not going to go away and that if everything else fails between now and the 8th that as part of the discussion we're going to be behind immigration. It is a matter of how you lay that out on the floor and what he can do, because, remember, the only way you can actually do it is to actually make the motion on the floor to move to it at a particular time. He can't do that today. He has to wait until that time to do that.

So I didn't know if he would use the word, I will schedule or -- in my schedule or I plan to or it is my intention, but he was very clear to us that the logic and the situation requires that we move to that subject matter in order to get past this impasse. But also, please remember, there are members in the Republican conference who feel very strongly that you should not be negotiating with the Dems in a time of distress, where you're being held or the government is being held as a hostage to an independent or a separate issue. And so he's feeling the pressure for members in our conference saying, look, he shouldn't make this a precedent or we're going to have this happen every single year.

BERMAN: Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Again, we really appreciate your patience, so many developments this morning. It has been terrific having you to help us understand what we're hearing.

ROUNDS: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, so much going on new developments coming in to us as we speak. We'll be right back.


[10:25:00] BERMAN: All right. The breaking news this morning, we just heard from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who went on the Senate floor with really what seemed to be an offer to Democrats. Open the government, fund the government for three more weeks and the majority leader says he hopes and intends to bring the issue of immigration to the Senate floor. Is that enough of a promise for Democrats?

I'm joined right now by CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, you have been corresponding with Democrats who listen to the majority leader. What are saying?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That they were pleased. I wouldn't call it satisfied, but pleased with the way that the majority leader has moved towards what they have been demanding. And that is even an acknowledgement that as part of the process to reopen the government, as part of the process to pass the bill to fund the government that the majority leader said as you said that he intends to deal with the Dreamer issue and he also talked about bringing it up on the Senate floor as part of a level field.