Return to Transcripts main page


Education Nominee Lifted Senate Questionnaire Answers; Senate Democrats Boycotting Treasury, HHS Nominee Confirmations; DHS's John Kelly to Give Press Briefing on Travel Ban; Trump to Reveal Supreme Court Pick Tonight; Enrollment Up as Republicans Seek to Repeal, Replace Obamacare. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:34:13] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Did President Trump's nominee for secretary of education lifted some of her written responses to Senate a questionnaire ahead of her confirmation hearing? Betsy DeVos now facing some very new questions this morning.

CNN Politics producer, Dan Merika, is joining us.

Dan, what do you know?

DAN MERIKA, CNN PRODUCER: After the Betsy DeVos hearing earlier this month was limited to one round of questions, Democrats submitted hundreds of questions to the Michigan Republican asking for her answers. She answered a lot of them and submitted them in written form. In these answers, it appears that Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick to lead the Department of Education, lifted text from an Obama administration official.

I want to read exactly what she said. She was asked about LGBT youth and bullying in schools, and here's what her answer was: "Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive and grow."

[11:35:10] But earlier in the year, an Obama administration official, the head of the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, said this: "Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive and grow."

Now this comes as Betsy DeVos' confirmation is in question. Democrats see her as possibly the most vulnerable nominee that Trump has put up. And some Republicans have not committed to voting for her in the open Senate forum.

Her hearing is actually going on right now in committee. And it is likely she'll get out of that committee but remains to be seen whether she'll be confirmed. This is after her confirmation hearing, even Republicans admitted it was less than stellar. She speculated about the use of guns in schools to combat grizzlies and she chalked up a 20-year clerical error that left her as one of the senior officials on her mother's charity that donated to groups like Focus on the Family that believe in conversion therapy for LGBT people. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Dan Merika, at the White House with new

reporting, thanks so much.

I want to bring in our panel. David French is a writer for the "National Review. Brad Woodhouse is a former communications director for the DNC. And Abby Phillip is a CNN political analyst and a reporter for "The Washington Post."

David French, full disclosure, we are just hearing Dan's reporting for the first time, seeing what Betsy DeVos said in that questionnaire, which is awfully similar to what an Obama administration official said earlier. And there are some other examples of similarities as well that we haven't had a chance to dissect fully.

Let me put it this way. If it does turn out there are more than one example, several examples of Betsy DeVos seemingly lifting lines from something someone else said, how much trouble would she be in?

DAVID FRENCH, WRITER, NATIONAL REVIEW: It would have -- if it's large-scale plagiarism on the order of what you saw from Monica Crowley, it would be an issue. That phrase right there, I've heard that phrase, variations of that phrase constantly. It's almost like a mantra in the education community, that particular phrase. So, I don't find that to be all that interesting. I'd have to see what else is out there.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, I think more to come. And we'll stick by with you and look into more of those examples.

Brad Woodhouse, the other breaking news play out this hour. Senate Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee boycotting basically two confirmations, for the treasury secretary and Health and Human Services secretary, bringing the machine to a halt because of the committee rules. Why are they doing it? Are they going to -- we were talking to Doug Heye just before this. Are they about to overplay their hand and look like they're just blocking and not helping with progress?

BRAD WOODHOUSE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DNC: I don't think so at all. Senate rules are there for a reason. And I think Democrats have every right to exert these rules to the best of their ability and to highlight the qualifications of these nominees, and also use this as an opportunity to shine the light on this administration, writ large. Last year, Senate Republicans, who are in the majority, used their prerogatives and their rules to block President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court for an entire year. So, them boycotting a hearing, boycotting a vote, slowing down the confirmation of people they don't believe are qualified, that have ethical problems, like Price, I think it's appropriate, and I applaud them for doing it.

BERMAN: The question is, are they just obstructing to obstruct? There's that old saying, Brad, two wrongs don't make a right. But there are other sayings --


BOLDUAN: But this is Washington.

BERMAN: -- like, what goes around, comes around.

Abby, let me press forward. This has been an unbelievably fast-paced few days here. Much of it by choice from the Trump administration. Much of it not by design. But the reaction to some of the things they've done or tried to do.

In just a few minutes, Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, will be holding a news conference about the travel ban, discussing ways they'll implement it going forward, and take questions. Is this a sign that the administration is trying to get ahead of some of this conflict that's been going on?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you see pretty clearly a signal from congressional Republicans about what they're willing to stick by the administration on and what they're not. And Paul Ryan earlier this morning said he supports the overall executive order but he pointedly said that the roll-out was not what it should have been. And I think John Kelly is responding to widespread concerns among Republicans this roll-out has been so messy and has rated more political problems for them. Even if they are going to stand by Trump on the foundations of this order, the way in which it was implemented, you know, in trapping green card holders and valid visa holders in the process isn't going to work.

What we're seeing on the Hill right now is Democrats trying to adjust to the pace, but also, they have to kind of get organized themselves about how far they want to go with deal with Trump. And I think this moment, these next 48 hours, will be a key test of how coalesced they can be around some of these issues, particularly the executive order, and what impact that will have on Trump's nominees as well.

[11:40:35] BOLDUAN: Let's be honest. Republicans on Capitol Hill are also trying to adjust to the pace this White House is moving.

David, you are no fan of Donald Trump. Obviously, we spoke with you many times. You seriously considered running against him in the presidential election because of it. Your reaction to this travel ban and the protests and backlash afterwards? You say it's overblown. Why?

FRENCH: Well, let's -- the executive order itself is a huge climb- down from a lot of Donald Trump's campaign promises. The executive order itself caps refugees at a level higher than George W. Bush administration levels, puts a really short 90-day pause on immigration from seven countries that -- with the most problematic, with the exception of Iraq, are war-torn countries that are, in many cases, enemies of the United States. A 120-day refugee pause is not that long in the scheme of things. The really interesting part of his immigration policy and refugee policy is what comes next.

But the implementation, the roll-out was such a disaster. It was so incompetent. The protests at the airports, for example, all of that was entirely avoidable. You let in green card holders, let in people with valid visas. And, good grief, you let in translators who have sacrificed and risked their lives for American forces overseas. That's so easy to do. And the administration didn't do it.

It's quite telling that only now is General Kelly really, seemingly, beginning to assert control over the process. He should have been in control of the process from the beginning, not Steve Bannon.

BERMAN: One thing David wrote, Brad, is that he doesn't see this as a Muslim ban. It's a ban on seven countries. It's not as much as the president said at one point during the campaign.

But you are shaking your head because --


WOODHOUSE: I am. I am shaking my head. You cannot -- John, you cannot separate the sentiments of this president and those sentiments that he expressed on the campaign from his actions in office. This is a ban of Muslims. It's a ban of Muslims from those countries. Rudy Giuliani this weekend called it a Muslim ban. The son of the national security adviser, who was working on the transition for much of the time after the election, called it a Muslim ban. And the fact of the matter is, whatever the text of it is, the sentiment behind it, how people around the world are reacting to it, and what it will actually do, it sends a signal that we do not welcome people of this religion in the United States, and it will not help us in the war on terror. It will hurt us. Every expert that's been interviewed has agreed with that sentiment. Former CIA officials, former national security officials believe that this will be a black eye on the United States and will hurt us in the war on terror and not help us.

BERMAN: "Every" is probably going far. I think there are people --


BRADHOUSE: Well, everyone I've read.


BOLDUAN: Everyone that Brad --


BRADHOUSE: Got to read more. Got to read more.

BERMAN: David French --


BERMAN: A very well written piece.

Brad, Abby, David, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, guys.


BERMAN: Right now, President Trump's team making the final preparations for tonight. He's going to nominate someone to fill the Supreme Court vacancy tonight, and we've barely talked about it. Will the decision leak out early?

BOLDUAN: Plus, for the first time since President Trump's travel ban was put in place, the new Homeland Security chief, General John Kelly, he's going to be holding a news conference to talk about the implementation of this executive order. And maybe answer some questions of why it didn't go so smoothly in the beginning. He's about to speak to cameras. We'll bring it to you in just moments.

Be right back.


[11:48:44] BERMAN: In just a few hours, President Trump will reveal his pick to fill the Supreme Court vacancies. Sources say the contenders have been narrowed down to two, Judge Neil Gorsuch and Judge Thomas Hardiman.

BOLDUAN: Hardiman has become the leading contender but President Trump could surprise everyone.

With us is Joan Biskupic, a Supreme Court biographer and legal analyst.

So, Joan, looking into your crystal ball, if it is down to these two, Hardiman and Gorsuch, if either of these is the pick for President Trump, how hard -- how difficult do you think the fight is going to be that Democrats are going to put up?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANLYST & SUPREME COURT BIOGRAPHER: First, isn't this an amazing moment where, on the day of the announcement, and we haven't been able to extract who the nominee will be, probably because of all the other news going on.

But they are an interesting pair. Neil Gorsuch is very much a product of Washington, D.C., elite institutions, Ivy League degrees. He has a firm thought out, well-articulated approach to the Constitution. He president in one way.

But Thomas Hardiman is someone who scrapped his way up, come from a family that ran a cab driving business, went to Notre Dame in Georgetown. He would be the only justice on the court who didn't have Ivy League credentials. Intriguingly, he also worked with refugees and knows Spanish and did a lot of pro bono work. He would present a different kind of model to the American public if he is unveiled tonight.

It's close, but I think that I can't remember the last time we had this kind of surprise going into an announcement. It might even have been back in 1986 when Ronald Reagan unveiled Antonin Scalia, who is being replaced tonight.

[11:50:42] BERMAN: On that point, there's some game theory going on. We have some reporting from Capitol Hill that says, you know, Democrats are saying they'll fight this, but they're want going to go to the mattresses on this because this is Justice Scalia's replacement. You're replacing a conservative, so they may be willing, in the end, to allow a conservative to get in. However, they're saving the fight for what could be the next time.

BISKUPIC: Right. Just look at the reality of the math. The Republicans hold the majority in the Senate chamber with 52 votes out of the 100-member Senate, so the Democrats are already going to have an uphill climb if they try to block it, and especially with any kind of a filibuster, which I think the Democrats are going to struggle with. Do they -- could they potentially overplay their hand at this point and then make it harder when there's a more consequential seat?

You nailed it. This is Antonin Scalia's seat. He was arguably the most provocative conservative on the Supreme Court. The next one to step down is likely to either be centrist conservative, Anthony Kennedy, or perhaps liberal -- senior liberal, Ruth Badder Ginsberg, who turns 84 in March.

BERMAN: Joan Biskupic, a lot going on today, and we barely even had a chance to talk about it.

Thanks so much, Joan. Appreciate it.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Just getting started.

Thanks, Joan.

BERMAN: Why? Because we are following two great, big breaking stories right now. First, there's a revolt on Capitol Hill. Democrats now say they will boycott confirmation votes in key committees. We'll have details ahead.

Plus, in just minutes, we are going to hear directly from the new secretary of Homeland Security for the first time about how he and his department plan to implement the executive order on the travel ban. These remarks ahead.


[11:56:30] BERMAN: It is deadline day for Obamacare. If you do not sign up now, you likely cannot get coverage for 2017. So far, 11.5 million people have enrolled in the federal and state exchanges, and that is up from this time last year.

BOLDUAN: President Trump has started the process of repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act through executive action. The rest of that repealing and replacing is going to be left for Congress to figure out.

Joining us, the former CEO of, Kevin Counihan.

Kevin, thanks so much for joining us.

This happens just as the Trump administration just pulled, I think it was, $5 million of ads promoting enrollment. You know you have a Republican president, Republican administration. Why is that upsetting to you?

KEVIN COUNIHAN, FORMER CEO, HEALTHCARE.GOV: The major concern, of course, is that the Affordable Care Act is still the law. It should be administered obviously, both with the explicit and implicit provisions of the law, as long as it's on the books irrespective of administration.

BERMAN: You feel like that lack of $5 million in advertising at the end could have a real impact. How?

COUNIHAN: For a couple of reasons. One is that many people, like myself, which is they procrastinate and wait until the last minute. The enrollment ends at midnight tonight. It's the last time people can enroll. But --

BERMAN: Maybe ever.

COUNIHAN: That's true. I guess we'll see about that.

But the others, we know that young people in particular tend to wait until the last minute, and those are the kinds of folks that insurance companies are looking for to have a more balanced risk pool.

BOLDUAN: As you look ahead, Kevin -- you have been involved in the health care reform and more than almost anyone. Where do you think all of this goes from here?

COUNIHAN: You know, it's a great question. I think it's hard to say. You heard some of the discussions in Philadelphia last week with the Republican retreat that there's a lot of confusion and concern about what to do. It's always hard to replace a replacement. And, of course, the Affordable Care Act is actually the Republican replacement to Clintoncare from 25 years ago. It's obviously going to be a challenging thing to do.

I personally hope the following. I think health care is far too important for Americans, for kids, families, to be subject to too many political cheap shots. I'm hoping that the two parties can work together and understand that millions of people depend on this, and hopefully everybody will do the right thing.

BERMAN: You were in the arena, and you know how difficult health care is to administer to huge numbers of people and you know how politically charged it is. We've got about a minute left now. What advice would have for this administration in how to do this.

COUNIHAN: It would be a couple of things. The first thing I think I would do is have a summit with the insurance company CEOs that the president has been having with people from the auto industry and the drug firms and things of that sort. Number two is that I would take a very good look at exactly how things have progressed so far. We've had four years of progress so far. I think there's a fairly decent understanding of what needs to be tweaked and what's worked. It's so much easier and cheaper to build on what we have as opposed to try to dismantle and reconstruct. Those efficiencies, hopefully, can be built on.

BERMAN: Kevin Counihan, great to have you with us. Thanks for your expertise on this.

COUNIHAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Kevin.

And thank you all so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[12:00:09] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing some time with us.

A very busy action-packed hour ahead. We show some live pictures --