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Two finalists for Supreme Court Headed to D.C.; Senate Democrats Boycott HHS, Treasury Nominee Votes; DHS Chief: These Executive Orders Protect the Homeland. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: -- home early this morning and as we speak is in route to Washington D.C. So this is all an extraordinary measure, we're told through officials, to keep the selection private ahead of tonight's announcement. And also to build the suspense that Donald Trump has been building really since the campaign when he announced his list of 20 potential nominees. So this is all sort of in line with what you might expect from him in that case, and it's also very dramatic in line with what we've seen with previous picks.

As you'll recall, John, with Vice President Mike Pence, there was debate after it leaked that he would be picked that that whether Trump would change his mind. And then as you'll recall with General Mattis as we announced here at CNN and broke the news that he would be picked as the Defense Secretary. His team openly denied that that was going to happen and then hours later Trump announced on stage that General Mattis was his pick.

And so, really anything can happen between now and tonight. But again our sources are telling us that increasing indications are that Judge Neil Gorsuch from Colorado, 49-years-old considered a conservative judge will be the pick. Thomas Hardiman is behind him on that, he is the other finalist. He is a judge in Pittsburgh and he is a conservative. He actually served on the bench with Donald Trump's sister and she has been friendly with him. And then we are told through our sources have recommended him to Donald Trump. So those are the two finalists being brought to Washington ahead of the big announcement. Back to you, John.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Pam, stand by. I want to bring in your colleague Ariane de Vogue, who helped on this reporting. And Ariane, then again Donald Trump, he is our president, but he also knows how to produce a big event. He loves the big stage. Bringing two finalists to town, when we have to be pretty certain despite his past history that he knows who the number one is, that's one a bit of flare to this. You just heard Pam go through some of the news. Is there a big difference between these two men? Both federal appellate judges, both relatively young, would be on the bench quite a long time. Is there a difference between them that might make one more palatable sight to the United States Senate than the other?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, it's interesting. Neil Gorsuch, he would be more the establishment pick, right? He is from Colorado, a Kennedy Clerk. He has opinions on religious liberty that conservatives really like. He is young, 49-years old. Presidents like to put young people up there for a lasting legacy. And he sailed through his confirmation hearings. And then there's Thomas Hardiman. He comes -- he is a little different. He has a very interesting personal story that might appeal to Trump. He was first in his family to graduate from college. He drove a cab for a while. He's friends with Trump's sister. So, two conservatives but they're pretty different in the calculation that Trump will have to make.

KING: And Pamela Brown, Ariane stay with us. Pam, as we await this to play out tonight a lot. There's always competing forces on something like this. The President put out this list during the campaign. He said he would pick from this list, but even today, even though conservatives are basically happy with these guys. Now you even see a little pushing, some like Gorsuch, and some like Hardiman. Who -- do we have any sense of who is the most important person to the president on this search? Who is he listening to?

BROWN: You're right, that this is the biggest parlor game in Washington. And you hear people say, "I think he is going to pick Gorsuch". "I think he's going to pick Hardiman". In fact we're told, John, that President Trump or the White House, I should say, has told Judge Gorsuch that he is likely the pick as his nominee. And so that just shows you the extraordinary lengths the White House is going telling him that, but not being 100 percent certain with it. And bringing them both to Washington to make sure that this isn't leaked out and like I said earlier, John, things could change between now and tonight, but our sources say that early indications and increasing indications are that Judge Gorsuch will be the pick. And I think Ariane laid out very well why at this point it's leaning towards him, John.

KING: Pam and Ariane, well get back to you if the reporting develops as we go. A dramatic day here in Washington, now that the Supreme Court pick about to be announce seems almost an afterthought given all the other drama happening in town today at the top of the program we went straight to the Department Of Homeland Security. I didn't get a chance to introduce my guest here today with me to share the reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of Bloomberg, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Josh Gerstein of Politico, with CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.

Let's start right there. We'll go back to the Home and Security and the Travel Ban issue in a minute. But let's start right there. As I said, the President has television experience. The President likes drama. He likes a big event. He schedules this at 8:00 in primetime like George W. Bush did when he have unveiled Chief Justice Roberts years back, to bring two candidates, one of these finalists an esteemed federal appellate judge, I assume is going to feel a little disappointed at the end of this.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I would think they would. And I think the key question hanging over all of this is the United States Senate. So I was actually in the Roosevelt room this morning with the President as a member of the White House of pool. And I asked him a question which he didn't answer, but I think is, is one of the most important ones. Has he talked to Senator McConnell about the nuclear option on this pick?

[12:35:02] That means not having 60 votes here, including 8 Democrats. So the Senate wont quite to that, but that is the question here. Democrats are going to fight both of these two candidates, but it's a reason that to William Pryor is not on the list here. He of course, is from Alabama. He is viewed as much more conservative on abortion, on other things or so. Both of these are likely confirmable here, but at the end of the day the White House advisors I talked to say, it's that connection the President had with both of them in their personal interviews. And we don't know the answer to that. All signs point to Mr. Gorsuch, but, you know, we'll have to stay tuned. But they say he does not want to preempt himself.

KING: To Jeff's point, for those of you watching around the country, who might not understand nuclear option. Currently Supreme Court picks, you need 60 votes. Essentially the filibuster where you need 60 votes to move to a final vote on the Supreme Court pick. On other judges, now they reduced it to just the majority, 50 plus 1. Senator McConnell has said, he prefers as an institutionalist to keep it, right at 60. Because he thinks that's best for the institution, but in recent day it is also opens the wiggle room for himself if this go forth.

Given the current environment, just in the last 24 hours the Democrats have escalated. The Democrats have gotten more aggressive, boycotting a key confirmation hearing today to block the votes for the Treasury Secretary and The Health And Human Services Secretary. How much does that? Because of this travel ban, because of the early actions of the President, you have a more toxic, even more partisan -- hard to say that sometimes to believe it, but even more partisan environment. How does that affect the climate that awaits the justice we get tonight?

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO: Well, I think a lot of people thought this big fight over the filibuster might well wait for the second Supreme Court nomination, because no matter whom Trump picks for this seat, you are talking about a conservative replacing a conservative. You're not really swinging the court dramatically. There may be some incremental changes. The next seat that comes open, if it's Ruth Bater Ginsberg that leaves the court then you would have a liberal potentially being replaced by a conservative. And we would expect everyone to go to the mat. The real question at the moment is, are Democrats so angry, so enraged and are their constituents so worked up by the firing of Sally Yates by the Trump executive order that they insist on a full showdown right now over the Supreme Court?

KING: And these two picks, I'm going to say this is almost contrarian to what we've seen from President Trump so far. If it's from these two lists, two very talented esteemed federal judges. Democrats will say that they're too conservative. Democrats will argue they're out of the mainstream. But, they have an accomplished record on the bench. But for a President to won every other battle so far has decided to pick the fight. If he does this and not prior, is that an indication maybe he's thinking about that second pick as Josh just noted or maybe he's listening to someone that says, "This isn't what you want to do this out of the gate". NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Possibly so. And I think you still have to look at the Democrats and what they're going to do. You got some -- Amy Klobuchar for instance saying that she might filibuster. And the sense I think, you talked to progressives, you talked to Democrats. They're sort of been a sense that Democrats didn't really show up during the nominees fight, that there was sort of a lot of screaming and no sort of final blocking of any of these nominees.

And they certainly see this as a stolen seat, right? Merrick Garland and Mitch McConnell standing very strongly, people thought it was a political mistake. It ended up being a political gold or for Republicans to block that seat. So, for Democrats it's -- for 10 months. And it worked. It worked. And of course, Republicans see this as Scalia's seat. So, you know, we'll have to see. I mean, but I do think in this climate there is this sense that, you know, Democrats have to show some fight in this one.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Democrats have been sitting on a very powerful potential weapon right now, which is public opinion. And they need to decide kind of how to measure like, you don't want to go over the top and turn the public against you, right? Right now, the way President Trump rolled out this immigration order the few days. Democrats all they had to do was to a large extent get out of the way. Show up for a couple of protests here and there.

You have CEOs lining up, corporations lining, Republicans in Congress expressing confusion. If they decide to overly eject themselves in the case of two nominees who are, let's say mainstream in the context of what the options were here. Then they live with the consequences of that.

KING: Everything is different it seems with this President. Maybe his Supreme Court pick won't be the biggest fight in town as it has been in every other administration. And some of the other things we're bubble after. Everybody sit tight. We're going to take a quick break.

Because I just know the Democrats now are boycotting votes on two of the President's picks for the cabinet, for the Secretary Of The Treasury and Health And Human Services. They could block the President there and force dramatic tactics in the Senate.

Also, Jeff Sessions, that's the President's choice to be Attorney General. Democrats don't like him even more so because of the dust-up of the immigration ban.

The key vote on Senators Session is taking place on Capitol Hill as well today. Stay with us. A lot of Breaking News, "Inside Politics" continues in just a minute.


[12:44:01] KING: Welcome back to Inside Politics. A lot of breaking news on yet another very busy day in Washington. Day 12 of the Trump administration. We are just seven hours away plus a few minutes from the President announcing his first pick to the Supreme Court. And we are being told CNN is reporting two finalists have been brought to Washington for that announcement.

Also just moment ago, at the Department of Homeland Security, the new secretary John Kelly, a retired general trying to calm fears and quiet any doubts about the President's controversial executive order restricting immigration and travel into the United States from seven majority Muslim countries. The main message from General Kelly, listen here, he says priority one is keeping Americans safe and he says much of the controversy in his view, overblown.


JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND AND SECURITY SECRETARY: This is not -- I repeat not a ban on Muslims. And we cannot gamble with American lives. I will not gamble with American lives. These orders are a matter of national security. It is my sworn responsibility as the Secretary of Homeland Security to protect and defend the American people.


[12:45:01] KING: Our justice correspondent Evan Perez was in the room. And Evan, the general trying, general, I should call him secretary now, trying to be a calming voice here, trying to tell people much ado about nothing with all the confusion. But some key questions about whether he was blind sighted by the White House and exactly when he knew certain things, he tended to collapse over the details on those ones.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. He was essentially saying that we all knew that this executive order was coming, that certainly for the last couple of years that Donald Trump was running for president we knew this executive order was going to be coming, and so for him, he is saying, this was not a surprise. And he said also that he saw earlier drafts certainly in the days before this was signed that he said kept him abreast of what was coming. And he said also that key members of his team, that the customs and border protection, at immigration and customs enforcement, they all knew the language that was coming. That however still translated into some confusion on the ground on Friday night, Saturday.

They did acknowledge that they had to go back and do some legal reinterpretation of how this affected the green cardholders. These are legal permanent residents who have a right to come back into this country. They're legal permanent residents of the United States, and initially there was a legal reading that was overruled by the White House. Here Mr. Kelly said that in the end everything was taken care of. Certainly by the end of the weekend everything was running a lot more smoothly. He said they also were very good about complying with the court orders. As you know, there are about a half dozen jurisdictions where courts intervened because of the way these were being handled. So, again, the impression that he is giving is that everything was done appropriately and certainly by now it's everything is okay now, John.

KING: And certainly he's -- we all get the impression that he understands this is on his watch now even though it came out of the White House, Evan Perez for us at the Department of Home and Security. Evan, appreciate it. Let's go quickly now to Capitol Hill.

More breaking news, Democrats are trying to stall, number one, the appointment of President Trump's choice for Attorney General. They probably don't have the votes to have that, but a new tactic today to try to block a vote on the President's controversial choices to lead the treasury departments and the Department of Health and Human Services. CNN Senior Political Correspondent, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. With that Manu the Democrats, new wrinkle here, as they try to block these appointments.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right actually not attending a committee vote, happening just a couple of hours ago. The Senate Finance Committee scheduled to vote Steven Mnuchin's nomination to lead the Treasury Department and Tom Price's nomination to lead Health and Human Services.

There needs to be at least one Democrat on that committee to actually have a vote according to the committee rules, and so what do they decide to do? Not show up because they believe that both Mr. Price and Mr. Mnuchin did not answer questions in a straight forward manner. They say that they "lied" according to the Democrats, and so they wanted more information before agreeing to that vote. Now Republicans are furious. I talked to Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Finance Committee, and he teed off on Democrats. Take a listen.


ORRIN HATCH, (R) UTAH: Well they are idiots. Anybody who would do something like that, it's just complete breach of decorum, a complete breach of committee rules, it's a complete breach of just getting along around here.


RAJU: So now the question, John, is what happens next, and that is an open question. If Democrats do not cooperate, I am told the last resolution here is to actually install these nominees through a recess appointment, Senate recessing and Donald Trump taking constitutional of using his constitutional authority to install these as a recess appointment.

That's because the Senate rules do not allow for a vote to happen if the committee vote does not happen. This could actually could limit how long they could serve in their administration without getting Senate confirmed. So we'll see if that's a last step they could take. But clearly Democrats, another tactic to try to delay Donald Trump from getting some of his more controversial nominees confirmed, John.

KING: And the Democrats, Manu, seemed more emboldened in recent days. They've seen the protests in this about the President's travel bans. We know they're getting calls progressive organizations telling them to toughen up, to stand up and fight more. Is that what this is a product of or do they just sense some political weakness up there and they see some opening to make a stand? RAJU: I think it's a little bit of both. They're definitely being pulled by their base to take a very firm line on who ever Donald Trump has nominated for some of these key cabinet positions. The question is will they take that same tactic also for the supreme court nominee, I'm told from a number of Democratic Senators do not want to go that far because they believe that a conservative simply replacing a conservative won't (inaudible) the idealogical balance of the court, they don't want the Senate Republicans to blow up the filibuster for Senate -- for supreme court nominees and want to wait to make that fight, and the next Donald Trump pick, presumably placing a more liberal justice, but will their base let them take that more moderate tack. It's unclear that point. Some liberals want to take a very tough line, and you're seeing that happening in some cabinet nominees as well, John.

[12:50:05] KING: Manu Raju, busy day on Capitol Hill, keep up. We'll check back in if anything else happens. Come back with the panel we should note, we had the President's Supreme Court pick tonight with the Home and Security there, Democratic boycott tactic here, the vote on Senator Sessions is about to happen in the judiciary committee. Betsy Devoss, the Education Secretary put out a committee on a party line vote. No Democrats voting for her. Welcome to day 12 of the Trump administration. There's more to talk about as well.

But to this climate, we knew the Democrats don't like this President. They don't support this President. They were going to oppose much of this president, but am I wrong since the weekend actually since the march the woman's march here and then following through the President's travel ban order, and you see the progressive organizations getting fired up, and essentially telling their members grow a spine. Am I wrong about that?

GERSTEIN: I think there's no question there's been an escalation since the weekend. I would add the airport protests to that as well. Where you really saw some members of Congress going out to the airports sort of pleading with that to get access to some of these detainees who were apparently being deported not withstanding what General Kelly said earlier. There seemed to be some disconnect between the facts he was asserting and other facts that lawyers are claiming about people being told to sign away their green cards and sent to Ethiopia or things like that. It will be interesting to see over the next few days how some of those facts are hashed out.

KING: I think you call that taking one for the team. Interesting to see, you know, even General have bosses and he was -- that was taking one for the team. This climate also includes the President's decision yesterday to fire the acting attorney general, who was an Obama holdover, who said that she in her view she would not implement this executive order because she thought it was unlawful, and she was using that, the statements he made in the campaign, that General Kelly was talking about this briefing that the intent in her view, even though it doesn't say it on paper, was to ban Muslims.

So the President says you have betrayed me and you're fired. Democrats say that's proving that he will not allow, he will put all power in the White House and not allow an independent justice department.

ZELENY: I mean perhaps, but it is an Obama appointee, who was confirmed widely, if not unanimously. But I'm not sure this is a perfect test case for that. The justice department is independent. He is not the President's lawyer, if Jeff Sessions is concerned. But the reality here is, I think the bigger question you talk to Republicans and the senators, why didn't they wait until Senator Sessions was the Attorney General? He is likely to be confirmed then none of this would have happened.

So I think this crisis -- the Steve Bannons to the world are into this. They sort of like all this going on, but I'm not sure it's done much for building relationships across this town because there are cabinet secretaries who are not pleased by how this rolled out.

KING: It created a lot of quicksand -- these cabinet secretaries are taking their jobs, Secretary Mattis at the Pentagon, Secretary Kelly at Home and Security although he again, he was a loyal -- certainly a loyal player there. I'm told Rex Tillerson, who is waiting to be confirmed as Secretary of State has also privately told some people, "Well I'm not sure this is what I signed up for" because they see this happening. So, that's the sign, you mentioned Mr. Bannon -- obviously a senior advisor of the President has, I think, right to say, a lot of people now think he's more powerful inside the White House than the man who has the title chief of staff Reince Priebus.

HENDERSON: Yeah that's right in Bannon's motto is apparently "Honey badger doesn't give a crap," and I think that's what we've sort to seen. I mean the sort of chaos in his appointment to the some -- in a sea (ph) and seeming to displace some other people, it means, you know, kind of he comes in (ph) in the White House whether it's, you know, Priebus having one and Spicer being some place else and Kellyanne Conway, and Kushner, in some ways if you read the "Vanity Fair" article, in some ways perhaps feeling a cutout of some of the decision making with Bannon being the right-hand man of this President.

KING: The New York Times, I'm sorry about it one second. I just want to sneak this in, the New York Times editorial page not a fan of Mr. Bannon. Saying today, "As a candidate, Mr. Trump was immensely gratified by the applause of the rallies for Mr. Bannon's jingiosm. Yet now casually weaponized an executive orders, those same ideas are alienating American allies and damaging the presidency."

Here's my question. He was elected with 46 percent of the vote. Clearly if you were a Trump supporter, this president is keeping his promises. Whether he can fulfill them going to these executive orders hold up but he goes up for Obamacare, he goes to build the border wall, he institutes his travel ban. He's doing what he said he says he's going to do. But my question I guess is if you keep that base happy, but you alienate the rest, can you confirm -- he didn't win the majority of the vote, but they clearly think that that's what they needed to do.

TALEV: Not over the course of four years, but he's got --

KING: Are we sure?

TALEV: Well, history suggests, but certainly over the course of the first 12 days, which remember, is where we are. That's exactly what they're pushing to do. There's a couple of ways to read the lessons of President Obama's run in office first term. But one way to read it is that he really had one very short window to put all of his chips on the table, and after that --

HENDERSON: First 18 months or so.

TALEV: It didn't matter.


KING: But in this new world if the opposition is fractured, if he keeps this 46 percent it may not be a majority but it's the biggest piece. If he keeps it, but the question is, can he get the votes on Capitol Hill?

[12:55:01] GERSTEIN: And there's a question about the tone and being that ticks surrounding everything. I mean a lot of these moves could have been made without some of the provocative language. You know, some of the sharp edges could have been left off. Some of the things could have been deferred to, there was no reason that immigration order had to be issued, you know, a week into the presidency. It could have been deferred, as Jeff was saying, to sometime later on, and instead they decided to rush everything forward, and sometimes it's important to make a clean entry. Think about health You know, he may have had a good plan if you don't come out strong at the beginning, that's all anybody remembers.

KING: It's an excellent point on this, when you say that it reminds me of what they said at the Homeland Security briefing. This will be on the website, the explanation will be on our website soon. I think if they head (ph) to the point, if they had done this more meticulously, you had that briefing at the homeland security, you have on Friday not today.

Not five days later, you have that that day. But we shall see it's been interesting the first 12 days and more to come. Remember, Supreme Court pick tonight 8:00 p.m. special coverage here on CNN. Thanks for joining us "Inside Politics" today.

Up next, my colleague Wolf Blitzer is here. We're waiting for the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer to host his daily briefing. Much more news another action-packed day, stay with us.