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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview with Sen Chris Murphy; Turmoil & Infighting on Trump Transition Team; Trump Calls Electoral College 'Genius'; Reid Condemns Bannon From Senate Floor; CIA Chief: ISIS Leader's "Time is Limited". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 15, 2016 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Why did Trump-rival-turned- surrogate Dr. Ben Carson take himself out of the running?
Putin's praise. New details on the phone call between president-elect Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, their conversation coming just hours before Trump received his first presidential daily brief. And a warning from Senator John McCain against resetting relations with Russia. How closely will Trump and Putin work together?
Democratic depression. The party is demoralize and in disarray in the wake of election losses. Tonight, leaders are looking for lessons while taking aim at Trump. Now House Democrats have postponed their leadership election. Will Nancy Pelosi be challenged for her job?
And game of drones. A militia group believes it knows the whereabouts of the ISIS leader on the run in the face of a massive offensive against terrorist forces. And, tonight, the Pentagon says it will take him out. Is the administration determined to kill Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi before President Obama leaves office?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Sources are describing a transition in turmoil tonight, as Donald Trump tries put together the inner team that will accompany him into the White House. The infighting among his closest advisers is being described as a knife fight and some key inside players are suddenly out as factions within the Trump team jockey for control.
The president-elect received his first presidential daily brief today, the same one given to President Obama, outlining the most sensitive threats to the United States. Tomorrow, vice president-elect Mike Pence will also start receiving the brief.
And we're also learning new details of Trump's phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and what it says about their relationship going forward.
Tonight, Senator John McCain is warning Trump against getting close to Putin, saying another reset with Russia would be complicity with what McCain calls the butchery in Syria.
We're also learning new information tonight about the hunt for the leader of ISIS. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be on the run as Iraqi forces assault the former ISIS stronghold in Iraq. The Pentagon is determined to take on al-Baghdadi if they can find him.
We're covering that, much more this hour with our guests, including Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. He's a key member of the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and our expert analysts, they are also standing by.
Let's begin with the Trump transition.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has the very latest.
Jim, tell our viewers what you're hearing.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are also hearing from sources describing a chaotic scene inside the Trump transition.
Today, Donald Trump received his first presidential daily briefing, a rundown of threats facing the country presented by the U.S. intelligence community. Trump and vice president-elect Mike Pence met at Trump Tower today to continue hashing out just who will join the Cabinet in the incoming administration and the fight is on over who will land where.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Don't tell Mike Pence vice presidents don't have much power. The new chair of Donald Trump's transition team now has a critical mission, to end the infighting over who will snatch up some of the most powerful positions inside the new administration.
Among the front-runners for key Cabinet spots, Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Senator Tom Cotton for Defense, Trump finance chair Steven Mnuchin and Congressman Jeb Hensarling for Treasury, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani for secretary of state.
Giuliani is publicly jockeying to become the nation's top diplomat.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: John would be a very good choice.
QUESTION: Is there anybody better?
GIULIANI: Maybe me. I don't know.
ACOSTA: But Giuliani may not be a lock, as some transition officials worry about his past business dealings overseas. And Bolton could put Trump in an odd position. Bolton was a strong supporter of the Iraq War, which Trump insisted he opposed.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Does everybody believe me? I was against going into Iraq.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: You want to have a diplomat in charge of diplomacy. You don't want a bomb-thrower.
ACOSTA: Inside the transition team, one source describes a knife fight, as high-level adviser former Congressman and CNN contributor Mike Rogers has stepped down, along with a slew of officials who worked for the team's ousted chairman New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
One former Bush administration official tweeted after his own exchange with the Trump transition team that applicants should stay away. "They're angry, arrogant, screaming you lost. Will be ugly."
Sources say Christie may be blocked from the Cabinet altogether and Trump surrogate Ben Carson says he is also out.
DR. BEN CARSON, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: I have lots of offers, but I don't particularly want to work inside the government.
ACOSTA: Another headache, Democrats are howling over Trump's selection of Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon as chief strategist, accusing the president-elect of putting a white nationalist in the West Wing.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I just want to underline something that every one of you know. Bigotry is bad for business.
ACOSTA: After once criticizing Trump for using racist language during the campaign, House Speaker Paul Ryan is defending Bannon.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is a person who helped him win an incredible victory, an incredible campaign. The president is going to be judged on the results of his administration.
ACOSTA: But Trump appears to be sensitive to critics who point out he will become the fifth president to have lost the popular vote. After once slamming the Electoral College, Trump has changed his tune, tweeting: "The Electoral College is actually genius, in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different. And if the election were based on total popular vote, I would have campaigned in New York, Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily."
One victory Trump can point to, he appears to now have much of the GOP on board.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: We got these hats at conference today. And it's not just a great slogan. But inside the tag you see made in the USA.
ACOSTA: Meanwhile, not all the transition team's paperwork is in order. The White House says it still needs Mike Pence to sign some necessary documents to keep the White House transition moving forward.
Until Pence signs off and replaces Christie's signature on those documents, the White House says the transition process is essentially frozen. And a couple other housekeeping notes, Wolf. Mike Pence's presidential daily briefing, that will happen tomorrow in Washington.
And Donald Trump had one interesting visitor at Trump Tower today, besides all of the others, Ted Cruz, his old rival from the primaries. If Donald Trump, Wolf, is going to be shifting around on those campaign promises, one person he has to keep happy in Washington is Ted Cruz -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting, given the history during the campaign and since, especially at that convention, the Ted Cruz speech that did not endorse Donald Trump. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that.
As Jim mentioned, president-elect Trump received his first top-secret presidential daily briefing today outlining the most sensitive threats to the United States.
Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us with more on this part of the story.
Jim, you have been in the room where they have prepared these kind of daily top-secret briefings. Walk us through the difference between what Trump is receiving now as the president-elect compared to what he received as the nominee.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think two headlines here, one, more in-depth and more secret.
The briefings they got while they were nominees, Clinton and Trump, were general overviews of the threat picture. This will get more specific, but it will also include information that would not have been in those earlier briefings. And that gets to sources and methods, so information that might have been gleaned from covert operations, from intercepted communications, things that reveal the true extent of U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities.
And I will just give you an example, Wolf. On the issue of Russia, Russia's state-sponsored activities, hacking into the Democratic Party before the election, et cetera, you might then see exactly why is it that U.S. intelligence community blamed Russia for those attacks, revealing some of the cyber-clues, the digital fingerprints that we believe were behind that assessment. He would now know.
And, of course, the open question as to whether that might change at least his public view of whether Russia was behind those attacks as expressed before the election.
BLITZER: Jim, we know that Trump and Putin, they spoke on the phone yesterday. What if anything does that tell us about the relationship that is emerging between these two leaders?
SCIUTTO: Well, it's interesting. You look at their public statements, the Kremlin statement on this call and the Trump transition team statement on the call, and they were very much on message. They talked about the importance of the relationship. They both did. They talked about how both sides wanted to improve the relationship going forward, an enduring relationship as Donald Trump's statement described it.
But they also specifically talked about economic ties, the importance of trade ties. That's important, Wolf, because you will remember, many senior Russians leaders are currently under U.S. economic sanctions for Russian military activity in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea.
That's U.S. policy at this point as a deterrence against military action in Europe. If a Trump administration were to follow through on improved trade ties, that might signal a change in that key U.S. policy issue here which is punishing economically the Russian state for that military action.
BLITZER: Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut is joining us. He is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks very much.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Sure. Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: All right, so, we have heard a lot of names thrown around for key posts in the incoming administration.
As a member of the Senate, you of course will to have vote to confirm these nominees. I want to get your reaction to some of the top names emerging, Rudy Giuliani for secretary of state. Would you confirm?
MURPHY: Well, first of all, I find it under believably ironic that Donald Trump, who spent a good part of the campaign trying to convince people that he was against the Iraq War, is considering people like Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton, who were some of the primary cheerleaders of the Iraq War, and to this day don't admit that it was a mistake.
If Donald Trump will nominate someone like Rudy Giuliani, who really has no experience in foreign policy, or somebody like John Bolton, who is pretty determined to invade more countries, who has learned no lessons from our failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, then I don't that either of them are going to get many Democratic votes at all.
Right now, it appears that Donald Trump is putting loyalty to him ahead of the security of the nation. The job of secretary of state is maybe the most important that he can fill. It is really a matter of life and death for people in Ukraine, for people in East Asia, for people in the United States.
And by putting a political supporter, a crony from the campaign in that position, it sends a really dangerous message to our allies and to the American people.
BLITZER: Are there any names that you have heard listed in all the discussion over these past few days by the Trump transition that you might consider voting for, for secretary of state or secretary of defense?
MURPHY: Well, I don't agree with Bob Corker, who is a senator from Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, but I certainly have confidence that he understands the perils that the United States faces. I probably differ with him on how we approach them, but he certainly is someone who would bring a sober understanding of the challenges we face.
So, certainly somebody like Corker I think would get a fair hearing from Democrats. I don't think there would be a lot of support for Giuliani or for Bolton. In fact, I think there would be active opposition, not just from Democrats, but also from a lot of Republicans, to those two names.
BLITZER: What about Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served in the State Department during the Bush administration? His name has been floated for secretary of state. And Steve Hadley, who was President Bush's national security adviser, his name has been floated for defense secretary.
They're both seen as moderates. Would you be open to them?
MURPHY: Those are less dangerous picks.
But, again, you're talking about individuals who supported or were architects of the Iraq War. These are not people who understand in fundamental ways the lessons from almost 10 years of misadventure in Iraq and now ongoing 15 years of a war in Afghanistan that has frankly not worked the way it was planned to work.
I think that those are much more establishment names, but they are going to have to convince a lot of us that they are not going to simply repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration in the Trump administration.
BLITZER: But, remember, Senator, you supported Hillary Clinton. She voted for the Iraq War as well.
MURPHY: Well, and, listen, she voted for the Iraq War and then admitted later that it was a mistake. A lot of these names that you're talking about here to this day believe that the Iraq War was a just war.
As we are dealing today with a terrorist group, ISIS, that sprang forth from the U.S. occupation of Iraq, it is hard to understand how anybody couldn't admit that that was a colossal mistake. BLITZER: Do you think though that Democrats in the Senate who would
have to confirm these nominees will be able to work with Donald Trump, the president-elect, and his new administration?
MURPHY: Well, it remains to be seen whether he is going to put forth nominees who actually have experience in the department, in the field that they are going to occupy, or whether he is just going to appoint loyalists, political cronies to these positions.
I do believe that the president deserves some deference in terms of the people that are going to serve him, but I would like to know that the people he is putting in these positions actually know what their job is about.
Someone like Rudy Giuliani, who really has no experience in foreign policy, has never represented the United States abroad, is not going to inspire the kind of confidence in Democrats that some of the other names that have been floated might.
BLITZER: Senator, Donald Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin by phone yesterday. They agreed to try to improve the relationship between the United States and Russia. Do you think Trump understands the complexities of this relationship?
I don't think he understands the complexities of the relationship, but I hope that he is committed to spending time with people over the course of this transition period who can explain to him how important it is that we stand for a free, sovereign and independent Ukraine.
Our worry, though of us that have stood with Ukraine 100 percent over the last three years, is that he is going to cut a deal with Putin and give away Ukraine to the Russians, essentially abandoning one of our key allies in the region, walking away from our longstanding effort to try to rid Ukraine of Russian influence.
So, I hope that he is going to spend the time to get up to speed. If he spends time with people who understand what Russia is trying to do, he will continue the policy of supporting the Ukrainian government and resist all efforts by Putin to try to essentially make Ukraine a proxy state of Moscow.
BLITZER: Based on everything you know, what's the most pressing foreign policy concern right now that you have about the Trump presidency?
MURPHY: Well, my most pressing concern is the threat to the United States from terrorism abroad.
If Donald Trump sticks to his plan to ban Muslims from the United States, even if he doesn't achieve it through an act of Congress, if he continues to talk in a way that makes Muslims in the United States feel like they are not part of the collective, then that that puts our country at risk.
I hope that during this transition people some smart people can explain to him that the way in which we try to protect ourselves against lone-wolf attackers is to build more inclusive communities, not to continue this talk that every Muslim in the United States is to blame for the threats presented to this country.
So, clearly, acts of terrorism are the most important threat to the country right now. And many of us have long worried that the kind of rhetoric in the campaign that Donald Trump used, if he used it as president, would make us less safe. We will see the kind of words that he uses once he inherits this office.
BLITZER: All right, Senator Murphy, I want you to stand by. We have more to discuss, including the emerging disarray right now within your own party, the Democratic Party, new information coming in on that.
Stay with us. We will resume the conversation just after a quick break.
BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
We want to talk to him about the state of his party following Donald Trump's election victory.
But, first, I want to get the latest from our senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, this was not just a loss for Hillary Clinton. It was a loss for the entire Democratic Party.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It was indeed, Wolf.
And the entire Democratic Party is reeling from this loss as it searches for a new direction. Tonight, that is starting in the House of Representatives, where Nancy Pelosi is feeling the winds of this change election herself.
ZELENY (voice-over): One week later, President Obama is still talking about bruising lessons learned from the election.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is this mismatch, I think, between frustration and anger. Perhaps the view of the American people was, was that you just need to shake things up.
ZELENY: Now the Democratic Party is facing a shakeup of its own, as outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid takes forceful aim at Donald Trump. SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We have a responsibility to
prevent Trump's bullying, aggressive behavior from becoming normalized in the eyes of America, especially the millions of young people who are watching and wondering.
ZELENY: The Democratic rank-and-file is restless. Today, House Democrats voted to delay the election of its leaders, a warning shot to Nancy Pelosi that she may face a challenge of her own. She walked into a closed-door meeting today confident of keeping her title as the Democratic leader.
QUESTION: Madam Leader, do you expect a challenge to your leadership today?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: No.
ZELENY: Her effort to hold a quick election failed. Challengers now have two weeks to step forward. She walked away quickly, saying she doesn't own the stinging Democratic defeat.
QUESTION: You got beat pretty badly here. And this speaks of leadership.
PELOSI: Well, that speaks to the presidential race more than our race.
ZELENY: The Democratic Party is demoralized, decimated and in disarray. It's seeking new direction at the DNC and beyond. The place to start rebuilding is on Capitol Hill, where young Rust Belt lawmakers say the party must increase its appeal to working-class voters.
Pennsylvania Congressman Brendan Boyle said his state should not have been such an easy win for Trump.
REP. BRENDAN BOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Our party needs to do a much, much better job of reaching out and representing blue-collar and working-class voters. And, for me, this election should be the final wakeup call that we get.
ZELENY: The Democrats' finger-pointing is giving way to soul- searching and who should be the face of the party.
REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D), NORTH CAROLINA: We just got a shellacking. We just got a shellacking last Tuesday. We got an unexpected defeat. And we have got to recalibrate and decide how we go forward. It's just like death. There are different stages of grief that you go through.
ZELENY: Pelosi still enjoys strong support from many fellow Democrats. But Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan is considering mounting a challenge, saying it's time for a new direction.
REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: This is not about in -- the past election, in my mind. This is about the next election, and what do the leaders look like, what does the message sound like, in order for us to pick up the seats that we need to pick up to get back in the majority.
ZELENY: Now, so far, there doesn't appear to be a center of gravity among those who are searching for new leadership in the House.
And Democrats across the board on Capitol Hill have praise for Pelosi, but privately many told me today it is time for a fresh start. The same is true at the Democratic National Committee, which also will be selecting a new leader.
Wolf, one thing I heard over and over again today on Capitol Hill, geographical diversity, to focus on some of those big swathes of red states now painted on that electoral map.
BLITZER: Very interesting. Jeff Zeleny reporting for us, thanks very much.
And we're back with Chris Murphy, the senator from Connecticut.
You agree it is time for some new leadership?
MURPHY: Well, I think it is a little overwrought to suggest that a party that just won the popular vote, that picked up seats in the House and the Senate is in disarray.
We clearly did not communicate our message like we should to many of the voters that supported President Obama that moved over to Trump. And we have got to spend some time figuring that out. But there are complicated reasons why people supported Donald Trump.
And anybody searching for a quick overnight answer from Democrats as to what went wrong is probably looking in the wrong place. Ultimately, I think we have got to understand that people need on hear from us that we are on their side and that we have ideas, big ideas, not little incremental fixes, that are going to change their lives.
So, on college affordability, we have been talking for a long time about changing the interest rate. Well, that's not really a difference maker to a lot of families out there. That's why what Bernie Sanders talked about, free college or at least debt-free college, that starts to perk up people's ears.
So I don't think that we need to make sweeping changes overnight. I think we have got to take a little time to understand what happened, that we didn't win the Electoral College, and we have got to be unafraid of proposing some big changes to make our economy more fair.
BLITZER: You did have a good chance to be the majority in the U.S. Senate. The Democrats failed in that area as well and didn't pick up many seats in the House of Representatives.
A lot of your fellow Democrats want to know what happened. They want to learn from these mistakes. They want to learn from the blunders, for example, on the presidential side, failing to even go to Wisconsin since the convention. They want to learn from those mistakes and they think it is time for some new leaders to help them. You disagree?
MURPHY: Well, again, I think this is an example of why there is no easy answer here.
So, Hillary Clinton didn't go to Wisconsin and she lost Wisconsin. But she was all over Pennsylvania and Florida, and she still lost those states as well. So clearly the answer isn't that, if you go to a state, you win it, and if you don't to go a state, you lose it.
And I think that's an example of Democrats trying to find answers that probably are a little bit too simplistic. Ultimately, we have got to reconcile the fact that Donald Trump's frame worked. Hillary Clinton built a frame that was someone unready to lead and reckless vs. someone ready to lead.
Donald Trump built a frame which was the status quo vs. blowing up the status quo. I don't think voters in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio really believed the Democrats were committed to upending the economic reality of their lives, in which their economic mobility has been frozen.
That's why taking on Wall Street, taking on the drug companies, making college truly affordable, raising the minimum wage, not just by 50 cents, but by $3, $4, $5, we have got to start communicating those big ideas to show clearly what side we are on.
BLITZER: Who is the leader of the Democratic Party right now?
MURPHY: Well, I think when you're a party out of power, you don't have one leader. And I think it would be a mistake four years out from a presidential election to decide who the singular leader is.
I have supported Keith Ellison for the chair of our party because I think Keith represents this very clear idea that the Democrats are on the side of the working-class, middle-class voters, that we are not for sale.
I also think he saw Donald Trump coming before a lot of other people saw him coming. And I think he also represents the diversity that has to continue be at the core, at the bedrock of our party.
So I think it would be a little silly for us to anoint the one leader today. Let's see who is interested in taking the reins. I think Keith would be a good choice to run the DNC.
BLITZER: Senator Murphy, thanks so much for joining us.
MURPHY: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, more on the turmoil inside the Trump transition. Now that he is in charge, can vice president-elect Mike Pence take control of this transition?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: More NOW on the infighting ROCKING THE Trump transition team
as the president-elect tries on assemble a cabinet ask a national security team. Sources are comparing the turmoil to "The Game of Thrones" and a knife fight.
[18:32:17] Let's bring in our political panel. Gloria, can Mike Pence, the vice president-elect of the United States, bring some order to this transition? He's now in charge.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: That is a herculean task at this point, because the whole thing just seems to be getting a little bit out of control. You have a candidate, first of all, who was superstitious, didn't want to talk about the transition. And it was a transition that might have been a little bit behind the eight ball.
Now you have a triumvirate. You have Mike Pence. You have Reince Priebus. You have Jared Kushner, who is the son-in-law, who is flexing his muscle. You have some Christie people who have been purged from the transition, which Christie at one point was running. So that's a problem.
And you have a group of candidates for these top jobs with questions around them, questions about whether they can be vetted, whether they can be confirmed for the jobs they might want to go to. One of those being Rudy Giuliani. And so it's kind of like a game of musical chairs at this point. We don't know where it's going to -- where it's going to wind up.
BLITZER: Giuliani clearly wants to be the secretary of state, and he does have some business ties with foreign entities. Already, you're hearing Democrats say they're not going to vote to confirm him. Rand Paul told me today he's not going to vote to confirm him. So there are some problems there.
ZELENY: No doubt, and that's where the rubber meets the road on this. I mean, Donald Trump can do a lot of things, but he cannot escape the confirmation process. And you know, just by the law of averages, that someone -- at least someone, maybe more than one someone, will not make it through confirmation. We all remember back to the early days of the Obama administration, the Bush administration, the Clinton administration. Someone always falls by the wayside.
But someone with as much background as Rudy Giuliani, it just takes a lot of research in things. So we'll see where this actually ends up. This something that they're clearly starting from behind. I think, had the other outcome happened a week ago tonight, the Clinton administration probably would have been already announced by now.
But Donald Trump will take a little bit of time here, and we'll see. But they do not want to have a lot of failed confirmations. And that's one of the reasons that these business dealings actually matter now.
MANU RAJU, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think you can't guarantee that Democrats would vote for Rudy Giuliani. I mean, he angered so many Democrats by the way -- things that he said about President Obama, his handling things on the campaign trail. Maybe he'll have four or five of these red-state Democrats who are elected in -- who are up for reelection and they represent states won that Donald Trump won overwhelmingly, but getting to 60 votes much harder. And as Jeff said, as Gloria said, you don't want to mess up out of the gate.
[18:35:03] BLITZER: And Rebecca -- Rebecca, it was very surprising to me to hear Senator Rand Paul, a Republican, just reelected from Kentucky, really going out today and making it clear he doesn't want Rudy Giuliani to be the secretary of state. Because he supported the war.
He doesn't want John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the Bush administration, to be the secretary of state, because he supported the Iraq war. And he's going to oppose those, at least unless they change their minds dramatically. He's going to oppose those nominations if they were to come forward.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So Rand Paul sort of laying down a marker for Reince Priebus and others on Trump's transition team or his White House team to come to him and make the case for why he should accept either of these nominations, should they actually come down.
But I think this is an important point, because we can't assume -- I mean, we talk about the Democrats potentially opposing these nominations and that's a salient point, because this is not a filibuster-proof majority that Republicans have in the Senate. But we shouldn't also assume the Republicans are going to just be a rubber stamp on this. Because we had plenty of Republicans who, during the course of this election, opposed Donald Trump, opposed some of his policies. And just because he won this election, doesn't mean they're going to agree with him on everything. And in fact, I would argue a lot of them have incentives not to agree with him on a lot of things, and this is going to be a first test of that.
BORGER: You know, the one utility player right now that -- that the incoming administration has is Senator Jeff Sessions. Because they figure he can do just about any job.
ZELENY: And get confirmed. Because senators are more likely to get confirmed.
BORGER: And get confirmed, because he's senator. So he wants to be attorney general, apparently, according to all of our transition reporting. But if things don't work out for Giuliani, who wants state, he could go to state. If things don't work out with who they want on defense, he can to go defense. I mean, he can do just about any job. So they figure they have Sessions waiting in the wings.
BLITZER: And they have Bob Corker, too.
RAJU: He also picked the right horse.
BLITZER: Bob Corker, the Senate -- the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
BORGER: But he hasn't been as loyal as Sessions, and that's the No. 1 quality I think you have to have right now. Loyalty.
ZELENY: Always one that I keep hearing: look for Donald Trump to also appoint some Democrats, at least one or two. I mean, I think he has -- a lot of people he knows in New York, obviously. I think that that will be a sign.
So he's still thinking about. Give him -- I think after Thanksgiving, we'll have a much better sense of this. But they need some people who are easy through the confirmation process, and that is a senator.
BLITZER: Paul Ryan got a nice vote of confidence today from his fellow Republicans. It was not that long ago, a few weeks ago, there were some murmurings, maybe he's not the guy. All of a sudden, he's the guy.
RAJU: It's amazing what winning does. It changes the entire mentality of the Republican Party. I mean, they -- these conservatives who were concerned that they were going to lose, they were looking for a scalp. And Paul Ryan was an easy scalp because of his handling of Donald Trump. They didn't like the way he said he wouldn't campaign or defend Donald Trump.
In the last couple weeks of the campaign, Paul Ryan shifted his focus. He talked more about Republican unity, started to campaign. At least he appeared with Mike Pence; and then afterwards, the victory sort of deflated any sort of effort to find a scalp.
You know, the challenge is going to be going forward, of course. When do they start moving forward on legislation? Can they keep that unity? Because I can tell right now, interviewing a lot of Republicans today, they are very enthusiastic about the incoming administration. Very few are willing to criticize them, even on the very controversial Steve Bannon appointment, which Ryan would not do today, either.
BLITZER: On the Senate side, Rebecca, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, he spent the last four years, maybe the last eight years, fighting various initiatives from the Obama administration.
Now it's very different. He's got to lead and take -- and move policy forward right now. He's got a slim majority in the Senate.
BERG: He does. And you know, there are some Republicans, although Mitch McConnell is probably fine in terms of his leadership spot. There are some who feel a little bit disappointed in his leadership and kind of the way he has stood up for some things or not stood up for some things in the Senate. And so I think he's going to be under a lot of pressure to perform by some Republicans who want, especially moderate Republicans who want to see things get done. Of course, it helps when you have Republicans in control of all branches of government.
But he certainly has his work cut out for him. It is not as easy on the Senate side as it's going to be for Republicans on the House side. And so he's going to, you know, maybe in the Donald Trump tradition, try to make some deals.
BLITZER: You were up on the hill today, Jeff. You got a flavor of what's going on. As far as Nancy Pelosi's leadership for the Democrats in the House of Representatives, how many pressure is she under to maybe think about, it's time for somebody else to take over?
ZELENY: She's under a little, no question. She was hoping to end week, to go out before Thanksgiving with an election under her belt and be the leader. That didn't happen. And so she scheduled -- it was scheduled for 15 days from now, November 30. Not a lot of time for someone to oppose her.
And one of the issues has always been there's not one person who has a lot of support. There may be two or three, which breaks things up. But there's a lot of soul searching inside the Democratic Party right now. And she is at the middle of that, given her -- the fact that she's from California, represents California. This is a party that is trying to redefine itself. And she does not fit the mold of it.
That doesn't mean she can't hang on, though.
[18:40:21] BORGER: You know, who are the young leaders in the Democratic Party? The up and coming leaders? They just don't roll off the tongue very easily. And I think that, as Democrats are looking for their young leaders, they're looking at people who have been there and failed.
ZELENY: In part, she's been there so long, so they've (UNINTELLIGIBLE) she's allowed.
RAJU: She was not expecting that outcome today. She thought that this was going to be locked up by Thursday or people think that there would be enough opposition to having a vote on Thursday. Really just shows how much consternation.
BLITZER: As I've spoken to some of the younger members, the Democrats. And, you know, they like Nancy Pelosi. They certainly are loyal to Nancy Pelosi, but they think maybe it's time for a younger generation, some new blood, to come in. They look at her, and they admire her. She's 76 years old.
RAJU: Yes, and that -- we actually heard that at the last election cycle, too, when Democrats did terribly in the 2014 midterms. Now after this cycle, too, when they thought they were actually going to win. Getting closer to regaining the majority back in the House.
There are a lot of concerns if she is the right person to bring them back to a majority. But one thing she does have going for her, she raises so much money for her party. Way more than anybody else.
BLITZER: But how much -- but all that money they raised, how much -- how good did -- how much good did it do?
BORGER: This was that kind of an election. But let me say one thing about Nancy Pelosi. She was the first woman speaker of the House. If it weren't for Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama would not have his signature piece of legislation, Obamacare. And you ask anybody in the White House about that, and they will tell you that. She is a canny legislator. She knows how to get things done.
In the opposition, it's a lot more difficult, and it's a lot more difficult for the people around her, who are searching for something new and something different and someone different to lead them. If they were to come up with somebody else, would that person be any better? Not necessarily.
ZELENY: It's not just her, though. It's her whole leadership team is significantly older. Like Steny Hoyer, Mr. Clyburn, James Clyburn. It is...
BORGER: Because Senator Holling (ph) went to the Senate.
ZELENY: The Senate, of course. So it's a moment of thinking for the Democratic Party, and this is certainly part of it.
BLITZER: And that's one of the reasons they delayed this vote for three weeks right now. I think some of these Democrats wanted to send a message to Nancy Pelosi: "You know what? Think about what's going on."
RAJU: And watch Kim Ryan (ph) of Ohio, possibly, thinking about challenging her, as well.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, stay with us. There's much more coming up. A sharp condemnation from the Senate floor of a top Trump White House appointee.
[18:47:28] BLITZER: We have new backlash against Donald Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon as the chief White House strategist. More than 100 House Democrats now sign a letter calling on Donald Trump to rescind the appointment.
There were some sharp words against Bannon in the Senate as well, Gloria, especially from the outgoing minority leader, Harry Reid. He said Bannon is a champion of white supremacy. Those are Harry Reid's words.
Harry Reid is leaving the Senate, retiring. Is he trying to send a message to his fellow Democrats as opposed to the president, the former secretary of state, the Democratic nominee, you know what, fight, fight, fight?.
BORGER: Of course, he is. And that's what Harry Reid always does, and you guys know this very well.
And if you look at the tone president has taken which is, I am just going to be somebody who is going to have a perfect transition for Donald Trump, just the way George W. Bush did for me, and then you compare that with Harry Reid who can say whatever he wants, and he is leaving the Senate. He is no longer leading the Senate. He doesn't to have work for Donald Trump for one minute. And he is speaking his mind.
He is, Wolf, to answer your question directly, sending a message to other Democrats that the only to beat Donald Trump is to fight him, from day one.
RAJU: It's so interesting, Wolf, to see the man who's going to succeed Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, has been almost silent about Bannon. He did say some -- make some remarks last night, but that was well after Harry Reid's spokesman came out with a blistering statement attacking Steve Bannon, and the appointment of Steve Bannon, and after Harry Reid himself issuing an inflammatory statement on Friday going after Donald Trump.
So, it shows a difference in the personalities of the styles. And it's also a signal of a concern that I think people, some Democrats have, that there may not be someone who is willing to go toe to toe against Donald Trump.
BLITZER: But during the Republican primaries and the general election, all the attacks didn't necessarily work all that well, did they?
ZELENY: No, they didn't. Of course, not. This is something, though, that I think makes Democrats feel somewhat better about themselves in what has been a pretty lousy week for them. Again, just a week. It seems longer than that.
But look, he's definitely trying to send a message. I think he's also trying to be a bit of a distraction. Chuck Schumer as Manu just said, talking about the most important Democrat in town now. He may not be the leader of the Democratic Party writ large but he is in this town and he is willing to deal with Donald Trump.
And Harry Reid has the luxury as Gloria said of going after him. That's what -- he believes it, for sure, watching him on the Senate floor today -- boy, he believes it.
[18:50:01] But the president is not --
BLITZER: He's leaving town. He's going back to Nevada.
BLITZER: Rebecca, President Obama today caused a bit of stir in his remarks at his news conference in Greece, when he had some implicit criticism of the Clinton campaign. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere. I won Iowa and not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It's because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was yesterday at the White House just before he left for Greece, Rebecca. So what's the reaction to what the president suggested among his fellow Democrats?
BERG: Well, you don't even really have to read between the lines there, Wolf, to see what the president is saying. He's saying that the Democratic Party needs to appeal to working class voters as he did when he won Iowa. He cobbled together a coalition that included many white working class voters that in this election supported Donald Trump.
And so, he's laying it out there that Democrats cannot forsake this demographic, that they can't just blame the demographics for their loss, that they need to speak to the entire country. And he's certainly implicitly saying that Hillary Clinton did not do this in this election. And Bernie Sanders has, you know, made a similar point.
I think we're going to be hearing a lot more from Democratic leaders over the coming weeks, months and years even about how the party needs to change its messaging and its tone and even some of its policy prescriptions to make sure they are appealing to this segment of the population.
BLITZER: You think the internal incriminations are just beginning?
RAJU: Yes, I mean, you already are seeing that. It's so fascinating to see Obama deal with Donald Trump after going after him so aggressively, but now on the world stage, talking -- trying to reassure the public maybe Donald Trump isn't so bad, in having to actually point out Democrats made some mistakes, as well as the reason why that Donald Trump got elected.
It's a fascinating way that the president is balancing this.
BORGER: Obama wasn't going to say it was my policy and that's why Hillary Clinton lost. He was going to say, well, you threw a little shade, you know? You should have spent a little more time --
ZELENY: You should have spent time campaigning and actually raising money and not campaigning.
BLITZER: It was only exactly one week ago this hour, we were getting ready to make our first projection as the polls were closing --
BORGER: How long did it take, Wolf?
BLITZER: It's a week later.
And you can -- by the way, please be sure to check out the first ever book from CNN Politics. It's called, "Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything." It's in stores starting December 6th but you can preorder your copy right now at CNN.com/book.
Just ahead, the hunt for the leader of ISIS. There is new information tonight about where he might be hiding.
[18:57:18] BLITZER: We're learning new information about the hunt for the leader of ISIS.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.
So, Barbara, what are you hearing about the whereabouts of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
The rumors are swirling on the ground in Syria and Iraq, but the question now is, can the U.S. really get to him?
STARR (voice-over): Tonight, Pentagon officials say they do not know where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is hiding, but if they find him, they will kill him.
CIA Director John Brennan has long warned Baghdadi will be dealt with.
JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: His time is limited so it's a question of whether or not he'll be removed this week, this month, next month or in the coming months.
STARR: It had been thought Baghdadi, who released an audio statement earlier this month, was hiding somewhere around Raqqah, ISIS' declared capital in Syria. But a local militia group now says it believes he's in Iraq somewhere between Tal Afar and Baa'j, close to the Syrian border.
An Iraqi defense ministry spokesman told CNN, "We know that al- Baghdadi fled Mosul and headed out of the city in a western direction. We also have confirmed intelligence information that al Baghdadi is not in Tal Afar."
The intelligence community says Baghdadi clearly knows he is a hunted man.
BRENNAN: The reason he's alive is they really do practice tremendous operational security. That they know that we are looking for them.
STARR: But even as the country moves towards a Trump presidency, killing Baghdadi may do little to reduce the terror threat. There is still plenty of worry a San Bernardino style lone wolf attack inspired by ISIS could be launched.
ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We also need to operate against it and are wherever it arises, Libya, Afghanistan and so forth. And then, absolutely, we need to protect our own people. STARR: Inside Iraq, the fighting for Mosul is likely to grow worse,
much worse as Iraqi forces inch forward and get closer to the densely populated city center. This latest ISIS propaganda video shows fighters making their stand with gunfire and even showing explosions from truck bombs.
STARR: And tonight, CNN has learned that the U.S. military is considering asking President Obama to authorize sending even more U.S. troops to Syria as military advisors to fight in that next door country against ISIS. Currently, there's just under 300 there. No word on how many more the Pentagon may want to send -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.