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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador; Supreme Court Pick; Democrats Boycott Cabinet Votes; Furor Continues Over President Trump's Travel Ban; Sources: About 900 State Dept. Officials Sign Memo Against Travel Ban; Reports: Suspect in Mosque Attack Known for For- Right Views. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 31, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: External threat. The European Union chief suggests President Trump and his immigration crackdown may pose a danger to the European continent. The Trump administration now arguing there is no ban, even though the president, himself, used that word.
And boycott. Democrats take advantage of Senate rules to stall committee votes on key Cabinet nominees. Members of the minority party now searching for an effective strategy. Do they have the power to trump the president?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news this hour, President Trump just two hours away from announcing his U.S. Supreme Court nominee. Sources say there are increasing signs that he will choose conservative appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado, but CNN learned until finalist for the job, Judge Thomas Hardiman, has also been summoned to Washington, D.C. Insiders warn the president could change his mind at the last minute.
Also breaking, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defends the rollout of the president's controversial travel ban and denies reports he wasn't involved in drafting the executive order. Even the Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan now publicly admits the rollout was, in his word, confusing.
Also tonight, multiple new lawsuits are being filed arguing the limits on immigration from seven mostly Muslim nations are discriminatory and unconstitutional. All this just hours after President Trump fired the acting attorney general for refusing to defend the travel ban. Sally Yates said she believed the order was unlawful. Now the White House is ramping up its criticism of Yates, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer accusing her of betrayal and a dereliction of duty.
As outrage over the travel ban escalates, Senate Democrats have delayed a committee vote on the president's nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions. They're also boycotting votes on Mr. Trump's choices to lead Treasury and Health and Human Services.
I will talk to a key Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Raul Labrador. He's standing by live, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.
Up first, our CNN Supreme Court correspondent Pamela Brown with more on the president's announcement tonight.
Pamela, what are you learning?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have learned the White House is taking extraordinary measures to conceal the top pick, even summoning the two top finalists for the Supreme Court to Washington, D.C., adding to the building suspense before tonight's announcement.
BROWN (voice-over): Just hours before the president's big prime-time announcement, CNN caught up with one of his two top contenders, Judge Thomas Hardiman, on his way to Washington stopping to gas up in Bedford, Pennsylvania.
QUESTION: Can I ask about your trip to D.C.? Are you the potential Supreme Court pick?
BROWN: While Judge Hardiman was heading to the Capitol, sources tell CNN increasing indications are that Trump's big is Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado and that he's already in D.C. His judicial philosophy aligns with the conservative icon he could replace, Justice Antonin Scalia, and he believes as Scalia did in the literal interpretation of the Constitution.
The two men seen here fly-fishing in Colorado were said to be close friends.
NEIL GORSUCH, 10TH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS JUDGE: The world suffered a seismic shock with the loss of Justice Scalia.
BROWN: Judge Gorsuch, Harvard law graduate who clerked at the Supreme Court, has not ruled on abortion from the bench, but legal opinions on religious liberty attracted the attention of those helping Trump make his pick.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Separate church and state!
BROWN: In the Hobby Lobby case, he sided with the corporations who claimed the so-called contraceptive mandate in Obamacare violated their religious beliefs. And he penned a book arguing against assisted suicide and euthanasia, writing -- quote -- "The idea that all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong."
At 49 years old, Gorsuch could remain on the court for a generation and become one of Trump's most lasting legacies. STEPHEN VLADECK, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW: He serves for 30
or 35 years, he could certainly have an enormous impact on the law of the land, especially if President Trump gets another confirmation or two during his presidency, and someone like Neil Gorsuch becomes the center of the court, as opposed to Anthony Kennedy.
But it's still possible President Trump could choose Judge Hardiman, a well-regarded conservative with a blue-collar background.
THOMAS HARDIMAN, JUDGE: I'm going to try to channel my inner newspaper delivery boy, lawn mowing and taxi driving experience to see if I can be of service here to the panel.
BROWN: Hardiman has earned the approval of conservatives on issues such as guns and immigration. Last August, he joined an opinion that ruled against Central American immigrants detained on U.S. soil, something that could have been a big selling point for a new president drawing a hard line on immigration.
VLADECK: The Court of Appeals held that Central American my grants who were in the United States but out of status weren't even entitled to judicial review, let alone to be released from their detention. That's a pretty important precedent. And if you were to follow that on the Supreme Court, that could have obvious ramifications for questions of the rights of immigrants, especially under this new executive order.
BROWN: Hardiman also has a powerful ally, sharing the bench in the Third District with Trump's sister Maryanne, who is also a federal judge.
BROWN: And with three justices in their 70s and 80s, this may not be the president's last Supreme Court nominee, leading to discussions on the Hill about whether Democrats should hold their fire and save it for the next time when that nominee could shift the ideological balance of the high court -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Pamela, thank you, Pamela Brown reporting.
Now to the controversy surrounding the president's executive order on immigration. The Trump administration going to new lengths today to try to defend that decision and define it.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. He's got more -- Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they are trying to defend it and define it, but amid all that, there's great frustration here at the White House. Part of it is at the media for how they believe there's some misreporting.
A lot of it is at Democrats for protesting. But there's also a good degree of frustration here at the White House with Republicans who they believe have not been standing up enough for President Trump's order.
ZELENY (voice-over): The White House is still trying to clean up the mess and clear up confusion across the government, from its executive order on immigration.
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly coming out today in hopes of restoring order.
GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This is not, I repeat, not a ban on Muslims.
ZELENY: Four days after President Trump signed an order closing the nation's borders to refugees and others from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the controversy threatened to escalate into a Washington crisis.
The president fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, after she stood in defiance of Trump's travel ban. The White House said she betrayed the Department of Justice and swore in a new acting attorney general.
As Democrats protested the substance of the order, Republicans were furious for not being consulted.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And so I think there was -- regrettably, the rollout was confusing, but on a go-forward basis, I'm confident that Secretary Kelly is going to make sure that this is done correctly, that they get a good review, and that we're going to make sure that we get this program up and running with the kind of vetting standards that we all want to see.
ZELENY: Secretary Kelly, who must implement the action at the Department of Homeland Security, did not directly say how much he knew about the order before it was signed.
KELLY: I did know it was under development. I had an opportunity to look at, at least two, as I recollect, drafts as it got closer to Friday.
ZELENY: But across many agencies, the order came as a surprise. And chaos ensued in those early hours at airports and on airplanes.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer argued today the order could not be called a ban.
SPICER: It is by nature not a ban.
ZELENY: Yet a ban is precisely how the president described it on Saturday.
TRUMP: It's working out very nicely. And we are going to have a very, very strict ban, and we're going to have extreme vetting. ZELENY: Pressed whether it was or was not a ban, Spicer blasted the media today.
SPICER: No, I'm not confused. I think that the words that are being used to describe it are derived from what the media is calling this. He has been very clear that it is extreme vetting.
ZELENY: On Capitol Hill, Democrats are seizing on the confusion, holding up confirmation of some nominees to the president's Cabinet.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The level of incompetence of this administration already, only 10 days into the presidency, is staggering.
ZELENY: Now, the protests are not limited to this immigration order. The White House is also being protested by other corporations across the country. And businesses are feeling the heat from this.
It is one reason we are learning tonight that President Trump is canceling a scheduled trip to Milwaukee on Thursday. Wolf, he was scheduled to speak at the Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory, but that company quite simply was getting blowback from his potential appearance there. So they have decided to pull that back.
Now, that is, one, something that worries this White House. He needs to go out in the country -- of course, Wisconsin is a state that he won -- to promote his agenda. It's one of the reasons they hope that Supreme Court appearance tonight, that nomination tonight, changes the subject at least for a while -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And 8:00 p.m. Eastern, we will have live coverage here on CNN.
All right, Jeff, thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny reporting.
Let's talk about all of these breaking developments with Republican Congressman Raul Labrador. He's a key member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: Great to be here.
BLITZER: It's pretty extraordinary. Less than two weeks into this presidency, all of a sudden today, we learned that the president was supposed to go to Wisconsin on Thursday, meet with representatives from Harley-Davidson, a U.S. manufacturer.
Of course, this is one of his gut issues, as you know, manufacturing here in the United States. Harley-Davidson decides, you know what, there are going to be protests, Mr. President, this is not a good time to come to Wisconsin. Have you ever seen something like this so early in a new
administration, a new presidency, where the president can't even go out to a factory in Wisconsin to make, to deliver a speech and sign some executive orders?
LABRADOR: I haven't seen anything like this, but I haven't seen anything like what the Democrats have been doing.
If you think about it, the day after the president's inaugurated, they decided to do a huge protest all over the United States. They decided that they're not going to accept this president. They're going to do everything they can to make sure that he's not successful at his job.
I think it's pretty irresponsible behavior from the leaders of the Democratic Party and it's hurting them, Wolf. It's really hurting them because the American people are not going to stand for that. They have no problem with actual debates on politics and issues and having the debates that we have had over the last 200 and such years here in the United States. But what they're doing is, they're trying to prevent the president from doing his job.
BLITZER: You can't blame the Democrats for the -- what the speaker, himself, Speaker Ryan calls the confusing rollout of this travel ban.
LABRADOR: Yes, but...
BLITZER: ... if you will, which has caused these protests, caused a lot of this chaos.
LABRADOR: They're all ginned-up protests. They're all organized by the same groups. The same groups that organized it a week ago, they're organizing it again.
And I assume they're going to organize it next week and the week after because right now they're in disarray as a party. They don't know what to do. They have lost.
BLITZER: There are a lot of Republicans who aren't very happy with this travel ban either, Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham. A whole bunch of Republicans have said, you know what, this is not the way to do it.
LABRADOR: But they're wrong.
This is actually exactly when he said he was going to do. We campaigned for a year-and-a-half saying that he was going to do something like this. I don't think there should be any surprise to anybody. And what's really dangerous is the language that people are using. People are talking about this being unconstitutional and illegal.
There's absolutely no evidence that this is unconstitutional or illegal. In fact, the president of the United States, our previous president, President Obama, did the same actions three times during his administration. There wasn't a single protest. And the most ironic...
BLITZER: There were some nuance -- there were some differences. We don't have to go through all of that.
LABRADOR: Actually, I have one right here. It's the same language. In 2011, there was suspension of entry of aliens, both immigrants and non-immigrants, subject to the United Nations Security Council travel ban.
BLITZER: That was from Iraq because two Iraqi refugees in Kentucky.
LABRADOR: No. This is a separate one. We had an Iraqi one. We had this one.
And at the end of his administration, on the last days of his administration, he actually completely suspended the Cuban Adjustment Act and he did it under the same powers. So it's ironic that I didn't see any protests two weeks ago, when the president of the United States used his authority to do this.
And now, and, in fact, if you think about it, Wolf, there were over 200 Cubans in transit to the United States who were also -- who were all detained. They were all prevented from entering the United States.
BLITZER: The Cuban issue is because the U.S. has normalized full diplomatic relations with Cuba. We don't have to get in a whole issue about...
LABRADOR: He was doing it as a favor to a dictator.
BLITZER: What he was doing was -- what he said he was doing is since the U.S. and Cuba now have full diplomatic relations, you don't need that anymore. People can come to the United States from Cuba through the regular diplomatic process.
LABRADOR: So he actually changed the law.
BLITZER: He did change the law.
LABRADOR: He changed the law without authority, which is opposite of what the president has done.
BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to these 900 career foreign service officers, diplomats, at the State Department who have just signed this dissent channel memo complaining about this travel ban. It's pretty -- I mean, they have been doing it. This dissent channel has been going on.
LABRADOR: This is a process that's available.
BLITZER: But 900 career diplomats have signed this dissent channel memo to the president saying, you know what, you're making a mistake. That's pretty extraordinary.
LABRADOR: Yes, but what you have is political decisions being made by career bureaucrats. That's exactly what the acting attorney general did. That's what these career bureaucrats are doing.
They're all Democrats who are upset that their preferred candidate lost. I think they need to do their job. I think they need to make sure -- now, there's nothing wrong with dissenting. And, in fact, the State Department has a process that allows them to dissent. And I think that's healthy.
But I don't think it's anything significant and it shouldn't be surprising to any of your audience that the State Department has a bunch of Democrats working there.
BLITZER: Well, you don't know if all these 900 are Democrats. These are career foreign service officers who go out there and they serve all over the world, they come back, and they're complaining.
But let me -- you say it's OK to have some dissent.
BLITZER: Listen to what the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, though, said. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: I think that they should either get with the program or they can go. If they don't like it, then they shouldn't take the job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You agree with him?
LABRADOR: I agree. They can dissent, but if they're not going to do their job, then they need to move on.
BLITZER: They can do their job, but they can disagree with policy.
LABRADOR: They can always disagree.
BLITZER: So, it's OK to disagree?
LABRADOR: Absolutely. BLITZER: And to say, you know what, Mr. President, we think this
policy is wrong. They're going to go ahead and serve at the U.S. Embassy...
BLITZER: ... in Bangkok or someplace like that.
But they're not happy with this. And they're expressing their view.
LABRADOR: The president of the United States -- it's not the career bureaucrats that set the policy. It's the president of the United States.
We had an election. Our side won the election. I think they should have a right to dissent and they should not be fired for expressing their views. But if they refuse to do their job, I don't think they should be work -- they should actually resign. That's what they should do if they don't think that they...
BLITZER: He said, if they don't like it, they shouldn't take the job, basically meaning they should go.
LABRADOR: They should resign. If they're not willing to go forward with the policy of the United States, just like under the Obama administration, if you had a Republican or a more conservative member of the State Department who didn't want to do their job, they should have moved on. And many did.
Many people left the State Department. Many people left the CIA. They didn't go out and protest. They actually just said, you know what, I can't handle it, what this president is doing. Many people left the military.
BLITZER: So you think that's what Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, should have done? Instead of releasing a statement saying the president's travel ban was unlawful, she should have simply resigned, is that what you're saying?
LABRADOR: Absolutely. And you actually have some pretty liberal law professors that agree with me. You have people like Laurence Tribe and other people that are saying -- I'm sorry -- not Laurence Tribe.
BLITZER: Alan Dershowitz.
LABRADOR: Alan Dershowitz and others that are saying that she should have never done this, because her duty is to actually go to the court and debate the issues.
And this is an issue of first impression. My staff and I -- as you know, I was a former immigration lawyer. My staff and I spent the whole weekend trying to see if there was any case law on this issue. There's no case law on this issue. So for her to say that she knows it's illegal, when there's actually no case law on point, it was pretty irresponsible.
BLITZER: But she was a federal prosecutor in the Justice Department, a career prosecutor, for 27 years.
LABRADOR: But she...
BLITZER: Worked her way up to be the number two, the deputy attorney general, and now the acting attorney general. So she comes with a wealth of experience and very highly regarded.
LABRADOR: But she disagreed with the policy of this president and she should have resigned. If she could not do her job, which her job is to go to the court and argue the case, that is her job. And if she cannot do that, she should resign.
She wasn't a martyr. She was a political grandstander.
BLITZER: The argument that this isn't a Muslim ban, she says when you take a look at all the statements that were made, even though they deny it's a Muslim ban, in effect, she argued and others have argued it is.
Let me play a few clips for you, and then we can discuss. This is the president, when he was on the campaign trail, more than a year ago, what he said, and what Rudy Giuliani, who's now an adviser to the president, said only the other day on FOX.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: When he first announced it, he said Muslim ban. He called me up, he said, put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, basically, what Rudy Giuliani helped him come up with was this formula for having a Muslim ban, but not calling it a Muslim ban.
LABRADOR: You're misleading a little bit, Wolf.
BLITZER: Tell me why.
LABRADOR: If you listen to the entire interview that Rudy Giuliani said, he said, and we told him that a Muslim -- you know, he taught him that a Muslim ban would be unconstitutional, illegal.
BLITZER: You believe that?
LABRADOR: Absolutely. That would be completely unconstitutional. BLITZER: But the president, as a campaigner, what he originally said, Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, he went on to say until we can figure out a way to resolve the terror problem or whatever. When he originally said that, he was wrong?
LABRADOR: He was wrong.
And Rudy told him that he was wrong. He says, you can't do that, but here's what we can do. And what we can do is we can look at the terror threats to the United States. So he turned it from something that would have been unconstitutional to something that is legal and constitutional.
BLITZER: The other argument that the critics of the president made, and you have heard this, is take a look at what his key advisers have said in the past.
In 2010, Steve Bannon, top strategist, he said: "Islam is not a religion of peace."
Last year, his national security adviser, General Flynn, tweeted -- quote -- "Fear of Muslims is rational."
So do those comments put the Trump administration on shakier legal ground, which is what some of what Sally Yates and others have argued?
LABRADOR: No, that's preposterous.
I think those comments are inappropriate, but you have to look at the actual policy. You have to look at what was written on the page. And if you look at what was written on the page, it's not much different than what President Obama did on three different occasions.
So that's what you have to look at. And that's what the courts are going to look at. They're going to look at the language. They're not going to look at some Twitter accounts online.
BLITZER: Well, very quickly, Congressman, we're going to continue this, but what do you say to Muslim Americans who are worried when they hear this kind of talk?
LABRADOR: I think they should be worried when they hear that kind of talk.
But I think, if you talk to most Muslim Americans, they also understand that they want to be safe in the United States. Most Americans want to be safe. What this president is trying to do is to keep America safe. I think he's doing it the right way. I wish there wouldn't have been some of the confusion over the weekend. There's a couple of things that they could have done better.
But I think most Americans -- and the polling data is coming out, most Americans agree with the president. BLITZER: Congressman, we're going to have a new poll later in the
week here on CNN as well. I need you to stand by. Much more to discuss.
Much more with Congressman Raul Labrador right after a quick break.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.
President Trump about to announce his U.S. Supreme Court nominee. We're standing by for that, even as the Trump administration ratchets up its defense of the president's travel ban and immigration policy.
We're talking with Republican Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho.
Congressman, let me ask you on the border wall with Mexico, we have heard from Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, it will cost probably between $12 billion and $15 billion. Are you ready to use taxpayer money, to come up with taxpayer money and spend that money right away?
LABRADOR: I am. But we should pay for it. We shouldn't be borrowing money just like every other...
BLITZER: Where should the money come from?
LABRADOR: I'm a fiscal conservative. And I believe that we should always balance the budget.
And I have voted for things that are important if we don't have the money to pay for it.
BLITZER: So, where does the money come from?
LABRADOR: I think you can cut spending. There's a lot of things that we're doing that do not make us safe. I think you could cut spending in some areas.
BLITZER: Tell me, give me some examples.
LABRADOR: You could look at the budget right now in homeland security, what are the things that they're doing, what are the things that they're not doing?
And you also need to talk to the Border Patrol agents. I have worked very closely with the Border Patrol agents. They can tell you that in some sectors we don't need an actual wall, that we could maybe use a virtual fence. There's different things that we can do. So we need to look at sector by sector by sector and work very closely with the Border Patrol.
BLITZER: You will vote for the, let's say, $15 billion to fund the construction. He wants to start the construction in a matter of a few months. You will vote for it? LABRADOR: If we pay for it, yes.
BLITZER: The U.S. will pay for it. Do you believe Mexico will pay for it?
LABRADOR: You know, I have never gotten into that debate. That's a debate between President Trump and the American people.
BLITZER: You know what the Mexican government, the Mexican president, the Mexican people say. They're never going to pay for it.
LABRADOR: You can find ways for the Mexican people to pay for it.
BLITZER: So, give me some examples, because one example was a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports into the United States, making those products, by the way, more expensive for American consumers. You support that?
LABRADOR: I do not. I do not.
But you can find ways to do fees on immigration, different things. I'm not going to get into the debate because that's not a debate that I think is that significant. To me, the significant debate is whether we're going to have border security, are we going to have a wall? Are we going to build that wall? Are we going to be able to have interior enforcement?
Are we going to be able to keep the promises that we have made to the American people? The irony about the last two weeks is that we're having a debate about a president who for the first time is keeping his promises. So people are mad because the president of the United States is actually doing the things that he told the American people that he was going to do, which is really ironic.
BLITZER: All right, we got to leave it on that note.
Congressman Raul Labrador, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for joining us.
LABRADOR: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're standing by for the president's U.S. Supreme Court announcement. If confirmed, how influential will this new justice be?
And we're also learning more about the suspect in that deadly mosque shooting and the connection, his connection to the far right.
BLITZER: There's breaking news up on Capitol Hill, where Senate Democrats are boycotting votes on some Trump nominees for cabinet positions.
[18:33:06] Our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is up on Capitol Hill with the latest. Manu, Republicans, they are fuming over this.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Democrats know full well they cannot stop Donald Trump's nominees from eventually getting confirmed, but what they can do is delay the process, and that's exactly what they're doing.
RAJU (voice-over): Tensions are erupting in the Senate as Democrats are delaying confirmation votes for President Donald Trump's cabinet.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, they are idiots.
RAJU: Hatch's complaint came after Democrats suddenly boycotted a Senate Finance Committee vote on two of Trump's nominees: Congressman Tom Price to lead the Health and Human Services Department. And Steven Mnuchin as secretary of treasury.
HATCH: Anybody to do something like that, it's a complete breach of decorum. It's a complete breach of committee rules. It's a complete breach of just getting along around here.
RAJU: Democrats complained that the two men misled the committee in sworn testimony, demanding more answers.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Our Republican colleagues are trying to rush these through. You know, advise and consent doesn't mean ram the nominees through. Now I know why they want to do it. These nominees are not what Donald Trump promised and not what represents American middle-class values.
HATCH: Trump has also called for quick action to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, but Democrats delayed the committee vote until Wednesday, pushing back a final confirmation until week's end. This after Democrats dragged out for another day the confirmation vote of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
BETSY DEVOS, NOMINEE FOR EDUCATION SECRETARY: Thanks for that question.
Raju: While warning they'll do the same for other controversial nominees, including Betsy DeVos to lead the Education Department. But even though DeVos won committee approval Tuesday on a party line vote, some Republicans are warning they may not support her nomination on the floor because of her shaky testimony.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: She has not yet earned my full support and when each of us have the opportunity to vote "aye" or "nay" on the floor, I would not advise that she yet count on my vote.
(END VIDEOTAPE) RAJU: And tonight, Wolf, Betsy DeVos under fire for appearing to plagiarize some questions and answers to questions that senators had, including one about how her views about bullying LGBT students appearing to lift, directly lift passages from a senior Obama justice official in response from questions to Senator Patty Murray of Washington state.
Now the White House saying that this is a character assassination, going after Betsy DeVos. And the top Republican of that committee, Lamar Alexander, telling me he does not think it could scuttle her nomination. But if Lisa Murkowski votes against her, as well as Susan Collins of Maine who also has concerns, it could be very close. Even Mike Pence may have to break a tie -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Manu, thanks very much.
Let's get some more from our correspondents, our experts, our analysts. And Gloria, Gloria Borger, let me start with you. We're just getting the statement in, this Chris Christie, who was a major supporter of Donald Trump, the governor of New Jersey. He said, "The president's goals were laudable with the travel ban, but his plan is too broad. Its implementation was terrible. The rollout of this executive order," he said, "was terrible. The right people were not involved or consulted. There was confusion in the enforcement that went on here."
That's pretty strong words from Chris Christie, involving such a sensitive issue for the new president.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: So what does he really think about it, Wolf?
Look, this is -- this is the man who was in charge of the transition, if you recall, until he got fired and just summarily dismissed from the transition. His -- he did not get a place in the administration.
I think, however, his criticism, if you want to set that aside, because a lot of people in the administration will say that, you know, this is sour grapes from Chris Christie who didn't get a job he wanted and was fired. If you look at his criticism, it comes from somebody who was very familiar with how government is supposed to work, because he got very enmeshed in the details of government when he was trying to figure out the transition.
And what he's really saying here is that something went wrong. What he is saying is the people inside the White House don't really have a full appreciation for how the government is supposed to work. And that, perhaps, is what Chris Christie thinks he could have helped him with.
BLITZER: Evan -- Evan Perez is with us, as well. You broke the story on the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, and her concern, thinking it was unlawful, the president's travel ban. She's since been fired.
I want you to listen to an exchange she had back in 2015 during her confirmation process to become deputy attorney general, an exchange she had with then-senator, still senator, Jeff Sessions.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator, I believe that the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Could we see more examples of this down the road?
PEREZ: Well, you know, I mean, I think that sounds a lot like what happened over the last couple of days. I think that's certainly the way Sally Yates and her supporters at the Justice Department, that's the way they believe this went down. That simply put, she was standing up to a president who was asking her to do something that she didn't think was lawful.
And I think what Gloria is pointing out, too, is exactly right. I think the frustration at the Justice Department is that the people at the White House don't have an appreciation for how to actually get things done. How to govern. And a lot of those people, the initial people that they had handling the transition, including at the Justice Department, would have handled this a lot better than the ones that -- that carried this out.
BLITZER: Steve Vladeck is with us, as well. Steve is a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
What she also said was the intent of the order was a Muslim ban, in effect, that President Trump had called for a Muslim ban, as you remember, during the campaign trail. You also have some comments from his top advisers. In 2010, Steve Bannon said, "Islam is not a religion of peace." Last year, his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, tweeted, "Fear of Muslims is rational."
Do those comments put the Trump administration on shakier ground when they deny this was a Muslim ban?
STEVE VLADECK, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW: Oh, Wolf, I think there's no question that they do. I mean, when you have those kinds of statements and you have President Trump tweeting about the success of the ban -- you know, you were speaking with Congressman Labrador before, who referred us all not to look at these statements but look at the text of the executive order.
Wolf, even the text of the executive order, I think, militates in favor as seeing this as a Muslim ban because of section 5-B, which makes an express exception for religious minorities in the seven named countries. Well, Wolf, all seven of these countries are Muslim majority countries.
[18:40:11] So I actually think courts are going to have very little trouble agreeing with Deputy Attorney General Yates that this is, in fact, a Muslim ban, that it is motivated by an intent to discriminate on the basis of religion. You know, the real question is whether do they go from there?
BLITZER: Well, it's a good question. David Swerdlick, Sally Yates' dismissal, the firing by the president sent out a strong message. What options do career officials whether at Justice or State or elsewhere have if they disagree with a policy decision made by the president?
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, the firings send a strong message, but I think her actions send a stronger message, Wolf.
I think Sally Yates comes off looking fairly good in this situation. She laid out her reasons pretty clearly in the departmental letter and then went on to issue it, knowing that she would probably be dismissed and accepting that.
For other lawyers and other career government employees who don't have the reputation that she has or the platform that she has, I really do think it's a concern. I've talked to lawyers in other agencies who are really on the fence about carrying on the work they're doing, versus working for an administration they may not always agree with.
BLITZER: I want to go to Jeffrey Toobin, who's joining us from overseas.
Jeffrey, Senator Sessions' staff, some staff members were involved in drafting this travel ban memo, if you will, or executive action as it's called. What do you make -- but the -- but the chairmen of various committees and members were not involved at all. What do you make of this level of secrecy that was involved in coming up with this decision?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's indicative of how -- what a small group has been making policy during the early days of the Trump administration. There are very few confirmed senior officials. There are not many appointed officials. And so they are relying on this very small group.
And the question about Jeff Sessions, which really is very clearly raised now, is what will his role be if he's confirmed as attorney general? Will he be a check on the president, as attorney general sometimes has been, or will he simply be rubber stamp on everything that the president wants to do? That's a question very much present now as his nomination comes up for a vote at some point.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's much more ahead, including the European Union president slamming President Trump, calling his administration an external threat. Will this damage American foreign policy? There's also breaking news coming in about the hundreds of career
State Department officials signing a letter opposing President Trump's travel ban.
[18:47:36] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There's more breaking news this hour. Sources now telling CNN, 900 career State Department diplomats have now signed a memo of dissent opposing President Trump's travel ban targeting seven Muslim majority countries.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is working the story for us over at the State Department.
You're learning new information, Elise. Share with our viewers.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Well, this memo was circulating over the weekend and yesterday and throughout embassies around the world, on Facebook, what started as a few dozen grew to a couple hundred and now upwards of 900 career foreign service officers and civil servants passing a dissent memo to the incoming Secretary Rex Tillerson saying that this visa ban, this refugee policy, would be counterproductive, not only would it make America less safe, not prevent terrorism, would increase anti-American sentiment and alienate allies in the war against terror.
Wolf, this is really dissent is a culture here at the State Department after Sean Spicer yesterday told those diplomats if they didn't like the policy, they could leave. A lot of talk about resignations, but today, at a retirement ceremony for a few people that have been asked to leave the State Department, they asked the State Department to stay and make sure that there were good choices in this administration going forward, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Elise, thanks very much. Elise Labott over at the State Department.
Gloria, you know, it's pretty extraordinary not even two weeks into a new presidency, you have 900 career diplomats, State Department officials, signing a letter like this. The president was supposed to be in Milwaukee on Thursday at a Harley Davidson plant promoting product development here in the United States, has to cancel that because Harley Davidson said there's going to be protests, they don't think it's a good time for him to come.
This is pretty extraordinary, all this kind of stuff.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's extraordinary and it's a divided country, Wolf. They're, you know, almost half the public, according to some recent polls, believe the travel ban is a good idea, the other half doesn't think it's a good idea. So, I think that, you know, what you're seeing play out is what we saw play out during the election, quite frankly.
And on this Dissent Channel in particular, it's going to be interesting to watch what Donald Trump does if anything. It seems to me that as president, he doesn't have to do anything.
[18:50:04] But if Rex Tillerson gets confirmed, the question is what does he do when he gets into the State Department? I want to remind you, after there was dissent on Syria with only about 50 people signing a dissent, John Kerry, secretary of state, met with the dissenters, and when there was dissent on Bosnia in the '90s, the Clinton administration met with the dissenters.
So, my question to Rex Tillerson is -- will he do the same if he leads the State Department?
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey Toobin, you're our expert on the U.S. Supreme Court. You've written books on it. Jeff Zeleny, our senior White House correspondent, is telling us that Donald Trump likes the contest. That's why he's brought in the two finalists to Washington for the 8:00 p.m. Eastern announcement.
What do you anticipate?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Look, these are both highly competent, highly accomplished judgments, but the big picture is that the Republicans will get what they wanted when they delay the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. They get a justice regardless of which of the two it is, who will vote very much like Justice Scalia. Both of these judges are very conservative. That's what this is about.
We will discuss the subtleties of how conservative and in what areas, but what we are looking at is replacement for Justice Scalia who will vote like Justice Scalia. And that was really one of the major, major things at stake in this presidential election and the Republicans have won.
BLITZER: How do you see it, Steve Vladeck?
STEVE VLADECK, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW: I think Jeff's exactly right. I mean, I think that the reality is whether it's Judge Gorsuch or Judge Hardiman, you're not going to see a seismic shift in the orientation of the court from this nominee.
But, Wolf, I think it's worth remembering -- Justice Scalia stood out not just for his judicial philosophy but for his style. He was brilliant, he was brash, and he could be a little bit bully.
So, I think we're going to see in either Judge Hardiman or Judge Gorsuch a little more civility on the conservative streak, a little more of an effort to, you know, how respectful disagreements. And, Wolf, they're going to be there for a long time. Judge Gorsuch is 49 years old. Judge Hardiman is not much older. Chances are they're going to outlive the other eight on the Supreme Court which means the fight is not rally about this nominee, the fight's going to be about who's the next seat on the Supreme Court and will it be President Trump with the Republican Senate who gets to fill it.
BLITZER: Yes, they could have influence on the court for 30 or 40 years. TOOBIN: Can I just add one point to that?
BLITZER: Very quickly.
TOOBIN: Well, I -- the fact that Gorsuch was a Justice Kennedy clerk will encourage Kennedy to quit during the Trump administration. And I think that's a big factor here.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, stand by.
Remember, President Trump's announcement of his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, that's coming up. We're also learning new details of the suspect in a deadly attack on a mosque. Officials are calling it terrorism.
[18:57:35] BLITZER: There's new information tonight about the man suspected of shooting and killing six people inside a mosque in Quebec City.
CNN's Deborah Feyerick is on the scene for us.
Deb, this is about the suspect. Tell us what we've learned.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're learning now is that he did hold some very far-right views. He was known to a refugee group, (INAUDIBLE) Refugee, which is welcoming refugees. They're aware of his support for the far-right politician Marine Le Pen. They were aware of his feelings against immigration, against women, as well as his really strong nationalistic feelings.
And so, they knew him from some of the postings he had made. We also spoke to students here at Laval University. This is Laval where we're standing here.
He was a political science major and those who were in his class say that he was extremely anti-social, that he came to class but he never brought a notebook and would never engage in the conversation.
Two students actually who also attend told us that they were in the middle of a political conversation on Facebook and out of nowhere, he joined in. They didn't know him. They were surprised he was speaking. But they described his feelings as so aggressive and so opinionated that they actually made a picture of him -- again, this is five days before the shooting -- basically saying if you don't like it here, go live elsewhere.
So, there's a sense that this was somebody who was really outside, on the fringes, but he did leave a mark for anybody who did interact with him, Wolf.
BLITZER: There are some new details about the man mistakenly identified as the shooter. What are you finding out about that? FEYERICK: Well, what we're finding out about him, this is a man whose
name is Mohamed Belkhadir. He was outside the mosque not long after the shooting and he knew that something bad had happened inside. He ran in and was sort of leaning over people to figure out who was alive and who was dead, and he says that he went to place his coat on somebody who was still breathing and, all of a sudden, he turned and looked back and he saw somebody who had a gun and he ran.
What he didn't know at the time is that it was a police officer who was coming in and so after he bolted, that's when obviously police gave chase, Wolf.
BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick in Quebec -- thanks very much.
And this important note, I just want to leave our viewers with a thank you. We want to say good-bye to our friend and talented director Gina Fellows as she's joining our colleagues in New York. So, she'll still be part of the CNN family, but her SITUATION ROOM family will miss her very much. Good luck, Gina. We miss you already.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.