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Biden, Sanders Share Durable Polling Lead; Would Moderate Republicans Support A Potential Biden Nomination?; Report: Pres. Trump Is Already Searching For His Next Secretary Of State; Can They Reach A Deal On The Senate Impeachment Trial?; What Team Trump Should Keep In Mind; Former Clinton Impeachment Adviser Weighs In On Lessons Learned; Republican Senator "Disturbed" By Impeachment Coordination Between McConnell, White House; President Trump Rants Against Impeachment; Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) is Interviewed About Trump Impeachment. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 20:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for joining us. I'm Erica Hill. Anderson is off, and so is President Trump, sort of it.

It seems as though there is no break for Mr. Trump's Twitter habit -- rage-tweeting about the impeachment process and how unfair he feels it is to him. And as he did, a small hint of a narrow possibility began to emerge, a Senate trial that could be different from what he and frankly many others are currently expecting.

But first, quickly, the state of play. As you know, House leadership is hanging on to the articles of impeachment it approved last week, pressing Senate Republicans for a chance to call witnesses.

The president, meantime, is lashing out, tweeting today, quote, now Pelosi is demanding everything the Republicans weren't allowed to have in the House. Dems want to run majority Republican Senate. Hypocrites.

That, of course, is House Speaker Pelosi he is referring to, second in line to the president after Vice President Pence, or "Crazy Nancy" as the president often calls her, including in other tweets today. And while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would likely not call her that, in every other respect he has made it clear he is all in with the president. .


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do doing this, I'm coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this.


HILL: So here's, though, where that hint of a possibility I mentioned, a hint of a possibility of something comes in.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska weighing in yesterday on what you just heard.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): In fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed. To mean, it means we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense. And so, I -- I heard what Leader McConnell had said. I happen to think that that has further confused the process.


HILL: Murkowski went on to say she would abide by the oath that all senators must swear to be impartial, something Leader McConnell has repeatedly said on camera he would not be. She also said the House should have gone to court to force the appearance of witnesses the White House was blocking, namely, former national security adviser John Bolton and three others.

What she did not do was answer the question, would she be in favor of calling those witnesses. It takes just 51 votes in the Senate to make that happen, meaning she and just a few other moderate Republican colleagues could, if they choose to, buck the president and reshape this entire drama. That is admittedly a lot of ifs, and unlike Watergate, for example, precious few moderate Republicans to make those ifs a reality.

For more now on all of it, we're joined by CNN's Phil Mattingly.

So, Phil, this really isn't the first time Senator Murkowski has bucked her own party.


Look, Erica, I think it's worth noting who Senator Murkowski is. When it comes to repeal and replace, which Republicans have campaigned for several cycles, she ended up in a different place and voted against it. When it came to the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, which Republicans largely coalesced behind, Senator Murkowski was in a different place and chose not to support that nomination.

That being said, I think context here is important. What Senator Murkowski did in saying that she had concerns what Leader McConnell has laid out up to this point, I think stopped everybody because we haven't heard Republicans raise any concerns in large part over this process, particular in the House.

But I do think it underscores that the Senate is a different institution. The senators have different constituencies. They're reaching out and talking to different members of their conference and different members back home in their states, and Lisa Murkowski has often gone her own way. That said, you made an important point, Erica, when you talked about the fact that she raised a lot of the same concerns that McConnell and other Republicans have raised about the House process.

So, what does this all mean? It's still an open question. Senator Murkowski clearly has concerns. Whether or not she's going to do anything about that, particularly in a way the Democrats would like, that's still very much in the air.

HILL: Well, in terms of what could be done, as we know. Democrats need just four Republicans, of course, to side with them to shape what this Senate trial is going to look like.

Any sense that there is any movement there?

MATTINGLY: At this point, no. And I think, look, it's a quiet period. There is no question about that. The negotiations over there will be a bipartisan road map forward for a Senate trial are at an impasse. There are no conversations going on between Democrats and Republicans.

I'm told at this point there probably won't be until they come back to the capital in the first week of January. I think the big question now is strategically what are Democrats going for? You've seen Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer get very out in front on this, talking about the four witnesses he wants, talking about the documents he wants subpoenaed.

And the reason why he is trying to reach out to those Republican senators, knowing that if he can get four Republicans to join all 47 Democrats, they've got a ball game. They can really turn the trial into something that they want to see. However, that is a stretch and a reach to some degree at this point, particularly given how Republicans have lined up behind the president.


No clear sign that it's going to happen yet, but obviously, Democrats are going to keep working on that.

HILL: As you mention too, when we look at the House, when we look at the Senate, things are very different for lawmakers in each of these. However, the unity that we saw from Republicans in the House, it was clear. They were a solid bloc.

Is it your sense? It's one thing to line up behind the president. Is it your sense though that every single Republican is in lockstep at this point?

MATTINGLY: No, and I think to some degree, because it's too early. I think if you have followed any of us around Capitol Hill for the better part of the last two months, any time we asked most of the Republican senators where they stood on this, most of them held their fire. It was a very frustrating experience, including Senator Murkowski, who refused to talk about this for the better part of the last couple of weeks. And that's why some of us was so struck by what she said.

But I do think it's important to note, unlike the House, senators are kind of their own independent fiefdoms. They've got their own staff, which is larger than they have in the House. They have larger constituencies because they represent states and not districts. And I also think it's important to know they go through their own process.

Take Senator Susan Collins, obviously, a very moderate Republican senator, up for reelection in 2020. She has been meeting with congressional research service staff, going through the process, trying to learn as much as she can about this before she decides to weigh in one way or the other.

What we know right now is there are not -- there is no mass exodus of Republicans. And you can't even include Senator Murkowski in that. However, we also know they are reaching the point where they're going to have to start weighing in on what kind of trial they want to see.

I would note Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pretty good at knowing where his conference is and pretty good at making sure his members are comfortable with wherever things are going to end up. So, watch him as this moves forward, watch him and his negotiations with Senator Schumer when they come back. Obviously, a lot of questions still to be answered, but those are still the two key players to watch for the moment as we keep an eye on everybody else.

HILL: We will be watching them and we will be watching as always your reporting, my friend.

Phil Mattingly, thank you.

CNN senior political analyst David Gergen also with us tonight, who, of course, knew and worked with plenty of moderate Republican senators during his time in the Nixon administration. CNN senior political commentator, former Republican U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. And Richard Painter, who served as White House ethics czar in the George W. Bush administration.

Good to have all of you with us tonight.

David Gergen, as we look at this, and those comments from Senator Murkowski, how much cover could that give to her fellow Republican senators like a Susan Collins or a Mitt Romney to speak up?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what she said so far is obviously got everybody's attention, but I think she would have to go farther if you really wanted to motivate other people to break. I mean, she sort of stepped up to the edge of the pool, but she hasn't jumped in yet.

And there are, and I think this is very significant. It -- the Senate has different rules from the House, and it's important to understand that. The House, you know, a partisan brawl.

But just as we saw in the Clinton impeachment, the House had a partisan brawl. When we got to the Senate, it was a much more dignified proceeding. And they had rules.

One of the first rules in the Senate is you have to take a pledge before you open the trial to be impartial, serve as a judge who is impartial. You didn't have such a rule in the House. And beyond that, in the Senate, you have to -- you can change the rules with four votes, but to actually impeach the president, you need 67.

And so there is a big, big difference. The rules can be changed much more easily. And the Murkowski comments opened the question, well, are there Republicans who will think that in order to be impartial, you have to have a level playing field, and that means that if you're going to have what they consider a fair trial -- those are code words for witnesses and documents.

Are those Republicans willing to go that far? We don't know yet, but the Murkowski comments have got attention, but they all need to jump in the pool together.

HILL: Senator Santorum, the other thing that stood out is she said Republicans need to step back from being, quote, hand in glove with the defense.

Do you think she has a point there?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, yes, and no. If you go back to 1998/'99, Tom Daschle was hand in glove with the Democrats, with President Clinton.

But at the same time, you know, he represented President Clinton's interest. Said we didn't want witnesses. We wanted to end this. Robert Byrd had a motion to dismiss, you know, after the initial testimony was given.

So they were doing the administration's work, but at the same time, they understood that they have their own interest as senators beyond the president, and number two, they also have the interests of the Senate. And I think what you heard Lisa Murkowski say, there is nothing as a loyal Republican and as a supporter of Donald Trump who could hear that and I think be at all worried.

I think what Lisa is voicing what a lot of people are voicing which is we're senators. We're making this decision, not the administration. We'll listen to the administration. We'll give them their due. But in the end, we're going to do what's best for the United States Senate and for the country.


And I think that's what they're going to ultimately do.

HILL: I will point out, though, there is a difference between what you just said, we will do what's best for the country, and what we actually heard from senator McConnell. And I'm repeating this. He said at the top of the program, we play that tape, he said, quote, I'm coordinating with the White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as how to handle this.

SANTORUM: I'm just telling you, I was through this. And the reality is that there will be senators who will get up, and they will have a different point of view of maybe what the White House's point of view. And I don't think you're going to see something exactly the way the administration wants it. I think you're going to have people weigh in.

Again, I don't think it's going to be far away from the administration. Don't get me wrong. I don't think they're going run and do something that is completely out of line, but I think you're going to see some nuances and a little different than maybe what's coming out of the White House directly.

HILL: Richard, it's also interesting that she pointed out in terms of House Democrats, she thought they should have gone through the courts, although notably did not say whether she thought that there would be value in the testimony of, say, a Mick Mulvaney, a John Bolton in the Senate. But made it clear she thought house Democrats should have gone about this a little differently.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think the House Democrats did everything they could in view of what's going on with the Trump administration. They have gone to court to compel a lot of evidence being produced by the Trump administration, and they've been fought every step of the way. A number of the cases are going to be decided by the United States Supreme Court next year.

But this is trial is going to take place in the Senate as a fair trial. It is presided over by the chief justice of the United States. This is a trial. It's not a political game.

The oath of loyalty is to the United States of America, not to Donald Trump. These senators, Democrats and Republicans have an obligation to hear the facts, to hear witnesses, and make a decision.

And for Mitch McConnell to say he is working with the White House, coordinating with the defendant in this trial before the trial has even begun is atrocious. He may think he is a judge impaneling an all white jury for a Klansman trial in Mississippi. That's not the kind of trial we have.


SANTORUM: I'm sorry. You're being absurd. You're just being absurd.

PAINTER: It's not. No, I'm not.

SANTORUM: Yes, you are. I was there. I saw what Tom Daschle did in 1998, and I don't think you were complaining one bit about him carrying the water for the president.

This is typical, and I think completely appropriate. Completely appropriate.

PAINTER: I didn't approve of that at all.

SANTORUM: And all I'm suggesting -- PAINTER: I didn't approve of that at in 1998.

SANTORUM: Well, I'm suggesting --

PAINTER: I did not approve of the Senate then and I do not approve of it now.


SANTORUM: Fine. It is the Senate to make the rules. There is no requirement in the Senate to listen to witnesses. The Senate makes the rules based upon the allegations that are made and what is necessary to get a judgment in this case.

And, look, I was one back in 1999 pushing hard for witnesses, but remember, this is a double-edged sword for Democrats, because if Republicans concede and give witnesses to the Democrats, I can tell you there will be a lot of Republicans who want witnesses the Democrats don't want. So this is a very, very double-edged sword for both parties as they walk down this process.

HILL: David --

PAINTER: It shouldn't be partisan. Should it be about America. Our loyalty is to the United States of America.

SANTORUM: Couldn't agree more.

PAINTER: And our senators take an oath to the country.

SANTORUM: Do you think that's what happened in the house? Do you think that's what happened in the House?

PAINTER: The House did their job. This president should have been impeached years ago.

SANTORUN: Well, you have a different perspective on it.

PAINTER: This president has not conducted himself in accordance with the Constitution.

HILL: David, one thing that stood out to me today in the wake of the comments from Senator Murkowski that go so much pickup. And we've all been talking about them, trying to figure out what the "there" there is.

GERGEN: Right, sure.

HILL: What's remarkable, unless it's happened in the last 13 minutes since we came on the air, the president has not responded. He has been tweeting. He has been after Nancy Pelosi. Mitt Romney saying something, almost before he can finish getting the words out of his mouth or type out, the president responds. Nothing in regards to Lisa Murkowski.

Does that surprise you? GERGEN: No, I think he is being cautious, very cautious on that. Who

can blame him? If he can do this right, he can hold Murkowski back from an open break. If she breaks openly, it's going to put a lot of pressure on the other senators.

Let me go back -- Rick Santorum, he and I can disagree on a lot of things. But I do think Tom Daschle handled it right way back when in the Clinton impeachment. And that is -- he was not disloyal to the White House, but he stuck by the idea this was an impartial trial.

And at the end of it, at the end of the trial, it was 100-0 among the senators to conduct that trial in a way that pleased both sides. And at the end of the trial, there was a standing ovation from the senators for Daschle and for Trent Lott, the Republican leader, that they had conducted something that was seen as fair.


And that's what I think people are hoping will come out of this process in the next few weeks.

HILL: And that is a perfect place for us to end. We're out of time on this segment, but that would be a lovely thing to see, wouldn't it, gentlemen? Thank you all.

David, stay with us, because I do want to get your report on new reporting about a possible shake-up at the top of the State Department. That is ahead.

Up next, more on the president's latest attack on House Speaker Pelosi and how he is holding up in the run-up to his impeachment trial. We'll also speak with one of the lawmakers who voted for impeachment.

And later, after a full year of change, the one thing in the Democratic primary that has stayed the same. A closer look at why Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders remain alone at the top, and what it says about the voting to come.


HILL: President Trump's holiday tweets a call for unity and respect quickly devolving into attacks on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Quoting here: California leads the nation by far in both the number of homeless people and the percentage increase in the homeless population, two terrible stats. Crazy Nancy should focus on that in her very down district and helping her incompetent governor with a big homeless problem.

CNN's Boris Sanchez has been reading the tweets, and there are definitely a few to read. Also speaking with his sources and joins us from just outside Mar-a-Lago.

This is keeping you busy, my friend.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. The president just a few hours after sending out this Christmas message, a heartfelt message talking about a deeper understanding and a respect among Americans that should exemplify the traits of Jesus Christ, the president calling Nancy Pelosi crazy and then today repeatedly going after her for what's going on in her district.

The president charging that her district is one of the worst when it comes to homelessness and crime in the country, saying that she's totally lost control of it. Clearly, still upset over impeachment. And the president sitting at Mar-a-Lago surrounded by aides sort of egging on some of his worst instincts that now we're seeing unfold on Twitter.

The president also tweeted about foreign policy today, blaming Democrats for, in his words, hamstringing his foreign policy, saying that they are bad for the country. That tweet coming as we're still awaiting a potential Christmas gift from North Korea, that threat that they made just about a week ago or so, and further the announcement that Iran, China and Russia are planning military exercises in the Indian Ocean.

Obviously, there is a lot going on in the world, and the president is focused on blaming Democrats for it. I should note, some of his most recent tweets, I can't believe I'm saying this, Erica, have to do with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation cutting out his cameo in "Home Alone II." The president joking about that. There you -- that is what is on his mind during Christmas at Mar-a-Lago.

HILL: That was on his mind during Christmas. Before the holiday, the president said that he would go along with whatever McConnell decided about the shape of the Senate trial. It is your impression that that is still the case on December 26th?

SANCHEZ: Well, it's unclear that the president really totally means that. Perhaps he hasn't had a total "come to Jesus" moment when it comes to what McConnell actually wants for a Senate trial because we've been speaking to sources at the White House for weeks who have been telling us that the president is demanding a show.

He wants live witnesses. He wants to bash Democrats before 2020. He wants to be vindicated in his eyes in front of the world, whereas McConnell has clearly said if the Democrats don't hand him the articles of impeachment, he doesn't have to start a trial, and she fine with that -- Erica.

HILL: We will be watching and we'll be watching our phones.

Boris Sanchez, thank you.

Joining us now, someone who heard his share of course of impeachment testimony as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Washington Democratic Congressman Denny Heck.

Sir, good to have you with us.

I'm --

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Thank you, Erica, and happy New Year.

HILL: Thank you. And to you as well.

I'm curious, Congressman. Just to get your take, what do you make of all of the tweets aimed at Speaker Pelosi, the attacks on Speaker Pelosi from the president in the last 24 hours?

HECK: Well, same old same old, Erica. When I was first elected, I made a personal pledge. I asked my constituents whom I referred to as the bosses., is to hold me accountable for two standards. I said look, if I ever violate either of these two standards, I want you to let know.

The first of which is, if I ever resort to ad hominem or name-calling, you call me out on it. And secondly, hold me accountable for always looking for common ground, even for people with whom I disagree greatly.

The president has violated my first standard repeatedly, almost hourly since he took office. And I'm not going to resort to the same. It seems to be his instinct.

As I've said I think the year before, he's basically got four plays -- deny, attack, play the victim, or change the subject by invoking some outrageous statement.

HILL: When we talk about Speaker Pelosi withholding the articles of impeachment, are you concerned? Are you hearing from the bosses at home, are you concerned at all that this may backfire?

HECK: So let's look at the antecedent here, the precedent, the most recent precedent, Erica. Back in 1998, the articles of impeachment were actually passed on December 19th, but not transmitted to the Senate until January 6.

So we're not even actually coloring outside the lines yet in terms of recent history. I think that she is waiting to see exactly what the ground rules will be, because as before in 1998, the articles of impeachment were transmitted simultaneously with the floor managers. And it's hard to understand or determine what kind of floor managers you want to send into this impeachment trial if you don't know what the ground rules are.

Let me give some color to that. So if they do allow witness, which I think is the most outstanding question here, witnesses or documents, then you might want somebody that has more prosecutorial experience. If they do not, then you might want somebody who has more investigation experience and presentation experience and do it on the basis of the two reports that my committee, the intelligence committee and the judiciary committee produce.

So it's a little hard to determine who it is you want to send over there until you know how it's going to be conducted.

HILL: Well, but you can -- but to your point you know what each of those scenarios would entail. So if you're Speaker Pelosi, aren't the odds pretty good that you already have your list made in these various scenarios?


So you know once those rules roll out, here's what we've got, these are my managers?

HECK: Many are called, few are chosen. I think the list of people among my House Democratic colleagues who would like to participate in this is longer than my arm. And oh, by the way, I'm not among them.

And so, I think she has to sort through quite a bit. And I think she is waiting to see this settle down a little bit in terms of what is it the Senate is going to do. How are they going to proceed?

Can Senator McConnell get past his statement on camera where he basically violated the oath that he is required to take under Senate rules to pledge himself to impartiality? Can he pivot away from that and establish and outlook that gives her confidence about how this will proceed?

HILL: We will be watching to see what happens. Thanks for letting us know, though, where you stand.

Congressman Heck, always good to speak with you, sir. Thank you.

HECK: Thank you.

HILL: Up next, what explains the remarkable staying power of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders at the very top of the polls? And what does it say about the kind of candidate voters are looking for in 2020? Insight from both sides of the aisle when360 continues.


HILL: New polling on the Democratic presidential race shows something striking. Take a look at the current Real Clear Politics polling average of the Democratic field.

So, you'll notice it shows Joe Biden at the top with 28 percent. Bernie Sanders with 19 percent. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg rounding out the top four.

But if we go back a year, look at that. Joe Biden at the top, 27 percent. Sanders, 18. Beto O'Rourke and Kamala Harris at that point rounding out the top.


But look, those top two are not only still the same people, their numbers are virtually unchanged. One year that saw a string of debates, a presidential impeachment, presidential attacks, you name it, but still Biden and Sanders at the top and still with the same margin. So how to explain that?

For that I'm joined by former Republican presidential candidate and former Ohio governor John Kasich and former South Carolina Democratic State House member Bakari Sellers.

Governor, when you look at those polls, and with everything we have seen over the past year, we look at the debates, Ukraine, the riots of Elizabeth Warren, the fact that they in basically the same place as they were one year ago, what does that tell you?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, a lot of people put Biden at the top early on, and then they started hit -- saying, calling for the fact that he wasn't doing very well and it was going to be all over for him, but he has continued to hang in there. And I think it has to do with his history, his ability to appeal to more conservative, you know, center-left Democrats, his ability to connect with African-Americans. I think Bakari can speak to that.

His ability to offer some solutions and the fact that he's had staying power. And I think he offers a degree of stability. And I think people want to win. Democrats want to win, and I think they have a sense that if you go hard left, you're not going to win. And while 2020 may not be a big debate about philosophy or ideology, that leave that for 2024, in the short-term, it's about stabilizing things in the country. That's what I think is behind it.

HILL: About stabilizing, one which (ph) is you pointed out. It is interesting, Bakari, when we look at some of the second tier candidates, there has been some movement and some shifting there. What do you take away from those changes?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what it shows is what Governor Kasich said is absolutely correct, that Joe Biden is more resilient than anybody thought he would be, including myself. And you've had individuals who popped up to that second place number. You've had Kamala Harris over the summer. You had Elizabeth Warren, you've had Pete Buttigieg, you've had all of these people kind of rise to this second level and not be able to overtake him. And what you see is that the two individuals who have the highest name ID, the two individuals who were the most known quantity coming into the race, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are still up top.

And one of the things that Democrats are looking for is number one, who can beat Donald Trump, and one be is the fact who can build that coalition necessary to beat Donald Trump. And what we see is Joe Biden is looming large and winning this race in most of the national polls and overwhelming number of states that vote after the first four states, all because he can build that coalition.

HILL: Enters that coalition. You have set me up perfectly, Bakari thank you, to lead me in to the next part of the statement where I really want to touch on Governor Kasich, you were quoted in an article in the "New York Times" titled, the, but the I would vote for Joe Biden Republicans. And in terms of the coalition there, there is talk in that article about not just independents, but moderate Republicans that would in fact go for Joe Biden. How big do you think that voting bloc of Republicans really could be?

KASICH: Well, first of all, it was an interesting article. I did not indicate who -- that I would vote for Joe Biden. We have to --

HILL: No, sorry, I didn't mean to --

KASICH: -- see how it all plays out.

HILL: -- mislead there.

KASICH: But --

HILL: No, but you were quoted in the piece.

KASICH: No, no, no. I'm going to have to figure out if I'm ever going to tell anybody. It's a secret ballot in America. We'll see.

HILL: You don't want to reveal?

KASICH: But anyway, Erica, I think that there are a significant number of Republicans who are unhappy with Donald Trump. How big? I don't know, 20%, maybe something along those lines. They don't like him. But I got to tell you, they don't want to go hard left. They don't want to see things, they don't want Medicare for all and all that. I just talked to a Republican friend of mine today. I said what would it take for you to vote for a Democrat. He said well, you know, I probably could vote for Joe Biden because, you know, he doesn't want to tear it all down. He wants to fix things. He's got a good attitude. People can like him.

I mean, I think Joe Biden's problem is people have been whispering that he has sort of lost his step, and I think he is going to have to deal with that. The other thing I would tell you, and I'm probably one of the few that looks at it this way, I don't count out Michael Bloomberg. Anybody who has $54 billion and has also been a successful governor of New York, I wouldn't count him out either. I think it's going to be very interesting as we get through these primaries, particularly through South Carolina, then we end up at Super Tuesday.

So -- but I think that Democrats are waking up to the fact that this has got to be somebody that can, you know, really affect blue collar workers who many Democrats have lost, the independent voters and some soft Republicans. I think it's all possible.


HILL: Bakari, how much is that a conversation behind the scenes in terms of yes we know Democrats want to win and they want a candidate who can beat President Trump, and that's consistently something that voters are asked when it comes to polling. But it tends to be the progressive side of the party that in many ways can feel like it is more vocal, but that can be a concern, obviously, because if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination, there is likely not a bloc of moderate Republican voters and independents who would vote for him in the same way that they would get behind Joe Biden.

SELLERS: With all due respect to my moderate Republican colleagues, Democrats aren't counting on them to win the White House in 2020. It was a great article. Don't get me wrong. But the path to the White House, for Democrats doesn't go through the Republican Party. We are hoping that there is a candidate who can unify the country, and we're hoping that Republicans and moderates and independents are sick and tired of Donald Trump, but no one is counting on that small sliver of the country.

You know, Republicans, we always get to this point, but I think Governor Kasich will agree with me, Republicans, they always fall in love. Democrats -- excuse me. Republicans fall in lines. Democrats like to fall in love. So I -- I think at the end of the day, even if there is a 20% swap (ph), many of them will still hold vote -- they'll hold their nose and vote for Donald Trump, understanding what they will get.

But what Democrats have to focus on and whether or not it's Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders or I really don't believe Michael Bloomberg will win any delegates, but whoever it may be is, there are four million voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 who did not come out and vote at all in 2016. A third of those were African-Americans. And so I think there is a number of individuals that if we get the enthusiasm and energy, whomever it may be, and I think Joe Biden probably right now has the best chance to do that, should focus on energizing those voters who chose the couch over Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, not worrying about the small sliver who may or may not hold their nose and vote for Donald Trump.

HILL: Governor Kasich, Bakari Seller, great to have you both with us. Thank you.

SELLERS: Thank you.

KASICH: Thank you.

HILL: Up next, the holiday buzz in Washington. New reporting the President is searching for his next secretary of state. That, of course, would be number three. Why there could soon be a vacancy, and who is on the list of contenders when 360 continues.



HILL: In the New Year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may leave the Trump administration to make a run for the Senate in his adopted home state of Kansas. According to a new report of "The Washington Post", Pompeo hasn't yet decided if he'll run. The filing deadline is in June, but "The Post" says that isn't stopping President Trump from sending out lawmakers and others to get their thoughts on potential replacement.

CNN political analyst Josh Rogin has the byline on the story and joins me now also back with us CNN senior political analyst David Gergen who has worked with four Presidents.

So, Josh, looking at this first, Pompeo hasn't even decided on this Senate run at this point, but the President is already floating names out there for his replacement, among them National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. Secretary Pompeo insists that he is not running for Senate, and he keeps doing things that make it seem like he's going to run, and nobody really knows. And those close to him say he hasn't actually made his final decision yet. Mitch McConnell is pushing him to run out of fear that former Secretary of State for Kansas Kris Kobach might win the primary and then lose the general. And President Trump is agnostic about it.

So meanwhile, the President has been sounding out lawmakers and officials and tossing around names and seeing who might be interested. And that's created this quiet but heated internal competition. On one hand, there's Robert O'Brien, the National Security Adviser who is in President Trump's favor, who has done a good job. Pompeo likes him. Everybody seems to like him. On the other hand, there is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who is said to be angling for the job. There is Ambassador to Germany Rick Renel, there's Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun.

These are the guys who are the leading contenders. And they're all waiting for Pompeo to tell us what he is going to do so they can figure out what their options are.

HILL: He could also be and you also mentioned Steve Mnuchin who according to your reporting is angling a little bit for the position. But there are people on the list who could be a difficult transition, not just in terms of where they stand on issues but also in terms of a Senate confirmation Josh.

ROGIN: Well, that's totally right. Steve Mnuchin was confirmed to be treasury secretary 53-47 with zero, Democrat votes, because he had in no experience at all and there's a lot of concern inside National Security circles that he is dovish on China and that he is too Wall Street focused and he doesn't really have any diplomatic experience. So that's a problem.

Rick Renel is also not really liked by Senate Democrats. Robert O'Brien has a lot of friends on Capitol Hill. You know, in the end, I think that there is going -- if you have O'Brien coming in after Pompeo, again, if Pompeo leaves, you'll see a lot of continuity. Steve Mnuchin, that would be a big change in our foreign policy.

HILL: Yes, it would.

ROGIN: Yes, we have to see what President Trump really wants to do and where he wants to go.

HILL: Which is key, right? He's going to dependent on what the President wants. But David --

ROGIN: Exactly.

HILL: -- as he look at Secretary Pompeo is, one of the President's staunchest defenders within the administration. And if part of the job description for being a secretary of state is going to be following in his footsteps, it's not surprising that the list of names would be people who were already working within the administration as they understand the unwritten part of the job. That said, Mike Pompeo could still be a tough act to follow, a tough person to replace at this point.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He will be a tougher act to follow than I think people appreciate, and that is because he's the strongest man in National Security around the President. He seems to have the President's ear, and he's not exactly a total yes man the way the others are. For the most part right now, the President is surrounded by people in the National Security area who are yes men. And Pompeo I think has distinguished himself, and he is smarter than people thought when he came in

What I do think, though, I sense he's going to run in Kansas. He's got his eye on 2024, Pompeo does. And being in the Senate, McConnell is telling him, according to Josh's story, a very good story, by the way.

ROGIN: Thank you.

GERGEN: He is being told by Mitch McConnell if you want to run for the presidency, this Kansas being senator from Kansas and given your background would be a good chance.


Let me just make one other point, though, I think is important and that is every candidate, there are half a dozen people mentioned in Josh's story. Every single one of them is a white male. That is a -- that's just not the politics of today. And I also believe that waiting out there is potentially a surprise candidate who could be secretary of state, if not -- I don't think it will be the vice presidential choice. I think Mike Pence has that. But Nikki Haley could well be a surprise choice to become secretary of state in a second term. And that would give her a platform if she is interested in 2024 to go forward, and it would give Donald Trump someone who has a lot of spark, a lot more spark than these, frankly, these white male candidates do.

HILL: I like where you're going with that. It is definitely interesting. And it has not been brought up, which is interesting to me. We should point out, too, Josh, as we look at this, if and when Secretary Pompeo decides to leave and ultimately if he decides to go run for that U.S. Senate seat in Kansas, it does bring to top of mind again the turnover that we have seen in this administration. This would be for a slightly different reason, but still, it's there.

ROGIN: Sure. I think David is exactly right that Pompeo is lodestar, his goal is to run for President in 2024. Now, you can argue that being a senator is a good place to do that. But you could also argue he should just finish his job as secretary of state for another year, rack up some wins maybe and then have an actual record to run on. And also if he runs now, it's really on the heels of impeachment, and he is going to have to answer a lot of tough questions about that. Then he doesn't really want to answer. So, you know, when I talk to people close to Pompeo, they say actually he is leaning towards staying for a year, given all the circumstances. As for Nikki Haley, you know, I think she got into the administration and out clean, which is rare, and she probably doesn't want to take that gamble again. She's got her foreign policy credential to run for president on. So I'd be very surprised if she wants to be secretary of state. But you never know, you know.

HILL: That is true.

ROGIN: You know, the bottom line is that like there are a lot of good jobs open in the Trump administration. You know, if Robert O'Brien became secretary of state, that would be a meteoric rise in any normal environment. But, you know, in this environment, you know, job -- good jobs open up all the time. So, you know, if you want to work for Trump, submit your application now.

HILL: Only the best people. Josh Rogin, David Gergen, appreciate you both.

GERGEN: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Next to a question David raised earlier tonight, can Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer play nice and come up with some agreement on how the President's impeachment trial will be conducted? We'll talk about that and the comparisons with the Clinton impeachment trial with someone who had a front row seat to the Clinton trial.



HILL: As we come to the end of boxing day, how about a little check- in with our very own heavyweight champ to see what his working on for "Cuomo PrimeTime" at the top of the hour.


HILL: How about that?

CUOMO: It's very strong.

HILL: Yes.

CUOMO: Something Anderson would never say.


CUOMO: We have that going for us already. The best to you and your family for all the holy days for the New Year. It's great to have you on the team here, we've always loved working with you, I missed that in the morning.

HILL: Likewise CUOMO: So, we're picking at some stuff tonight. Going to have Greg Meeks come on, he's a big shot in the Democratic caucus, close to Pelosi. What is they have plan? What do they expect to get out of this? What do they going to do when the President is acquitted? You know, what's the plan? Sean Duffey, we're going to have. And Charlie Dent, different facets in the Republican Party.

This noise about Murkowski, is that all it is. It's just noise. Will this party ever have any daylight between them and this President? And then we have new numbers on why certain Democrats are doing better than others. And we're going to test the idea of money mattering in politics with Tom Steyer. So we're picking stuff tonight.

HILL: I look forward to it and I will be watching, my friend. Thank you.

CUOMO: Thank you.

HILL: See you in a bit.

Just ahead, what team Trump should keep in mind as they plot a battle plan for the Senate impeachment trial. Know a (INAUDIBLE) adviser to President Bill Clinton who helped him survive that trial.



HILL: As we've been reporting, President Trump is sounding off on Twitter about his Senate impeachment trial. We've also been talking about comparisons with the Clinton trial. Two decades ago, and of course there was no Twitter, President Clinton was acquitted and the way it played out certainly has resonance today.

Joining me now with some insight is Guy Smith who served as a special adviser to President Clinton during his impeachment.

As you're watching all of this play out, what are the lessons that you think of above all, maybe your top two, that President Trump you think should take away from how things were handled by and for President Clinton including mistakes that he may have made that he should avoid?

GUY SMITH, SPECIAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, the biggest thing is he should be quiet. I mean and he wasn't doing that today, with what, 16 or 18 tweets. And let the staff, his political and legal staff, run impeachment. He needs to run the government. He has a reasonably good economy. He's taking no advantage that have. He needs to just be quiet.

HILL: You talk about his team running things, but there's been talk from the beginning about what the Clinton war room was, we talk about this with Joe Lockhart all the time.


HILL: And then what we're seeing at this point from the Trump administration was only recently that they added some advisers there to help deal with the messaging.

SMITH: That's right. And the advisers they added look pretty on TV, but they're not adding anything to the strategy. And there isn't a strategy yet, which is apparent. And what has happened is, there's some big cracks. Pelosi started with the big one, just House passes impeachment, McConnell stands up and says, I'm going to cheat. So she says, well, I'm not sending you the articles. So that the narrative is control by the Democrats the entire whole day and will be until the 6th of January when he come back.

The next day, there are e-mails that prove they're trying to cover it up with the (INAUDIBLE) covering it up with the Department of Defense. The next day, Christianity Today (INAUDIBLE) in the evangelical support. And then the next day, there's an ABC poll that says more than 60% of Americans who are witnesses at the trial including Republicans (INAUDIBLE) and then yesterday, Senator Murkowski crack, crack, crack five big cracks in their defenses.

HILL: So how do you think that will then in turn play for any negotiations between Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer?

SMITH: I think if they get to where -- in the Clinton trial, if you asked, there were unanimous agreement on the rules. The rules were the way senators comported themselves and then they voted on individual witnesses, which took 51 votes. What we see with Murkowski and there are a number of other at-risk Republican senator at-risk, meaning reelection at-risk, they're going to look at this very different. That it's not acquittal. That's changing the rules so there can be witnesses and documents. And we're going to get to that.

HILL: We'll be watching to see. Really quickly, before I let you go, we have about 30 seconds, do you think they will vote in favor of witnesses?


HILL: Definitely.

SMITH: I do.

HILL: All right. We'll be watching for it. Great to have you with us, Guy Smith, thank you. We'll talk to you again soon.

Thanks to all of you for joining us tonight here on AC360. Let's hand it over to Chris Cuomo for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?

CUOMO: Erica Hill, thank you very much. Merry Christmas everybody. Happy holy days. May we all be touched by the reason for this season. I am Chris Cuomo, welcome to Prime Time.

The President was talking about being better one moment then was at his worst the next. Pounding Pelosi about impeachment.


We know that game, he's all about heat. The question is where is the light at the end of the tunnel?