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Awaiting Federal Appeals Hearing on Travel Ban; Awaiting Federal Appeals Court Hearing on Travel Ban; Education Secretary to Be Sworn In, GOP Hoping for More Confirmations Soon. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 7, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Travel ban test. A federal appeals panel is about to hear emergency arguments on President Trump's travel ban. Did a judge go too far in halting that ban? We're going to bring that to you live.

[17:00:28] Terror list. You've seen the horror on your TV screens and in your newspapers. Now bloody massacres certainly followed by urgent manhunts and investigations. So, why is President Trump falsely claiming the news media is ignoring terror attacks?

Tie breaker. For the first time ever, a vice-president of the United States casts the deciding vote to get a cabinet nominee confirmed. Every Democratic senator and two Republicans opposed Betsy DeVos as education secretary, but it wasn't enough, and she will be sworn in this hour by Vice President Pence.

And un-stable. As North Korea races to develop its missile technology and nuclear arsenal, there are now some chilling new assessments that Kim Jong-un's regime may be spiraling out of control.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. One hour from now, a federal appeals panel will hear arguments over President Trump's ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim countries. We're going to bring that to you live.

The emergency hearing will focus on a lower court judge's order halting the ban. Backing that move, a growing coalition of states, tech companies and advocacy groups opposing it. The Justice Department, which wants the appeals panel to rule that the judge went too far. Either way, the president's travel ban could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The White House is standing by President Trump's false claim that terror attacks are being ignored by the news media, but a White House list of attacks includes the slaughters in San Bernardino, Orlando and Paris. All are among the worldwide attacks covered extensively by CNN and other major news organizations.

And every Democratic senator today voted against President Trump's education secretary nominee. Two Republicans joined in. But in an unprecedented move, Vice President Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm Betsy DeVos for the post. She'll be sworn in this hour.

I'll speak with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

President Trump again defending his travel ban, but to be the focus of an extraordinary judicial hearing, and the president again attacking the news media, falsely claiming that we're ignoring terror attacks.

We begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, what is the latest?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump is increasingly sounding the alarm about the growing urgency of terror threats. Even as is one of his biggest campaign promises, that executive order, now hangs in the balance.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's common sense. You know, some things are law, and I'm all in favor of that. And some things are common sense. This is common sense.

ZELENY: Surrounded by law enforcement officials today at the White House, President Trump defended his travel ban. But the courts will have the final say on whether what he calls common sense is constitutional.

TRUMP: I actually can't believe that we're having to fight to protect the security -- in a court system to protect the security of our nation. I can't even believe it, and a lot of people agree with us. Believe me.

ZELENY: The Supreme Court may ultimately rule on the immigration order that sparked international backlash, but the president is trying to conflate and litigate it, sounding the alarm about the threat of global terrorism. "The threat from radical Islamic terrorism is very real," he tweeted. "Just look at what's happening in Europe and the Middle East. Courts must act fast."

The president falsely accusing the media of covering up terrorist attacks.

TRUMP: Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland, as they did on 9/111, as they did from Boston to Orlando, to San Bernardino and all across Europe.

It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.

ZELENY: Trying to back up that claim, the White House releasing a list of 78 terror strikes that officials say haven't been thoroughly covered by the media. But that list strangely includes these high- profile attacks. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Local media are reporting an exchange of


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Fifty dead, 53 injured at The Pulse gay night club.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still very much an active scene.

ZELENY: White House press secretary Sean Spicer defending the president today.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's becoming too often that we're seeing these attacks not get the spectacular attention that they deserve. And I think it undermines the understanding of the threat that we face around this country.

ZELENY: Spicer said the president is trying to be vigilant, not alarmist. But his tone a significant departure from how previous presidents talked about terror threats.

SPICER: His message to the American people is he is fully committed to doing everything that he can to keep the country safe.

ZELENY: The president also dramatically overstating crime here in the U.S.

TRUMP: And yet the murder rate in our country is the highest it's been in 47 years, right? Did you know that?

ZELENY: It's not true. The 2015 murder rate ticked up slightly over the previous year, but it's half the rate from its peak in the 1980s.

Trump critics question whether safety is at the root of the executive order now on hold. On Capitol Hill today, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly took the blame for the rocky roll-out of that order, even though other government officials say confusion came from inside the White House.

GEN. JOHN KELLY (RET.), HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: That was the thinking. In retrospect, I should have -- this is all on me, by the way. I should have delayed it just a bit so that I could talk to members of Congress.


ZELENY: Now, the White House counsel's office will be watching that hearing and will update the president as it's going on, I'm told.

But, Wolf, this is the first test of the president's executive power versus the other branch of government here. He believes that his order will stand, but this will help answer a big question for the rest of his agenda going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll have live coverage of that hearing coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much. For a closes look now at tonight's history-making hearing by that

federal appeals panel in San Francisco, let's bring in our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown.

Take us through the process, Pamela. How is it about to unfold?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So in less than an hour from now, Wolf, three federal judges will hear oral arguments from both sides on President Trump's controversial travel ban. Each side will have 30 minutes to make their case.

And the federal government says that Judge Robart in Washington overstepped his bounds. And it wrote in the brief, quote, "The court's sweeping nationwide is vastly overbroad." And it also argued that the president has wide of authority when it comes to immigration, particularly when it comes to national security. And those lawyers also claim that the states don't even have the legal right to bring the lawsuit, because many of the people affected by the travel ban have never stepped foot on U.S. soil.

The states, on the other hand, argue the ban breaks up families. It hurts businesses and public universities, particularly those who have already come to the U.S. with a valid visa. And they say it's unconstitutional and discriminates based on religion.

So, the three judges, Wolf, that will be hearing this case later today were randomly selected; and two of them were appointed by Democratic presidents.

BLITZER: Just to be clear, the -- the hearing tonight is not going to determine the constitutionality of the president's decision.

BROWN: That's right. In fact, we expect that to come later. So, tonight's hearing won't determine if the president's order, which blocks travel from these seven Muslim majority countries for at least 90 days, is constitutional. Instead the judges will only decide whether or not to lift the restraining order that is keeping the ban from being implemented.

And as I've said earlier, the losing side will likely appeal, which means it could soon go to the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Even if there are only eight members on that Supreme Court, four Democratic appointed members, four Republican appointed members?

BROWN: So, initially it would go to the Supreme Court it would be the emergency motion of whether or not to keep this ban on hold during the appeals process, depending on what happens with the 9th Circuit.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. We're standing by for live coverage once again of those arguments, pro and con. Thanks very much, Pamela Brown for that.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He serves, among other things on the Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Thanks for having me, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you. You released a statement opposing what you called the scope and execution of President Trump's executive order, calling instead for what you called common sense, a common sense approach. The president today said his travel ban is common sense. What is he missing?

MANCHIN: Well, let me say this, Wolf. I will always do everything I can to protect the people of West Virginia and this country. So I want to make sure that we're doing the proper vetting. If there's a void, if there's a flaw, please let me know, and let's work on it and clear it up.

I think General Kelly today, as the good soldier that he is, basically said it was his fault. Whoever's fault, it was a bad roll-out. It didn't come out right. It came far-reaching to where people that have already gone through the vetting process, whether they had a green card or whether they've been through a refugee, which is very strenuous, a two-year program or two-year process. If there's a problem with the visas, let us know. I would have thought that people who have already been through the vetting process would have been -- would have been excluded from this. If there are going to be new rules, let's make sure that we need the new rules.

But please, the executive branch has to work with the legislative branch. We need to work together.

BLITZER: And there was no coordination between the president, the executive branch of the government and the congressional, the legislative branch in this particular order.

In the same statement you released, Senator, you did express support for what the president likes to call extreme vetting. What specifically should extreme vetting look like?

MANCHIN: Well, first of all, if you go back to -- I think they're -- referring back to President Obama in 2011, and the Bowling Green, as you call them, Kentucky, the situation where two people down there were identified and how they got to this country and changes need to be made.

At first he put a 90-day -- a 60-day stay, I think, in Iraq; and then that was expanded to six other countries. You had a total of seven countries involved. They were basically known to harbor terrorists and be supporting of terrorists.

So, with the extreme vetting, we want to make sure areas that we know and know -- our intelligence knows -- they're harboring and basically supporting and training. Those areas will take extreme vetting to make sure we've crossed every "T," dotted every "I."

But when you have a four or five-year-old coming to the country, if you have an 80-year-old mother or grandmother coming back and has been here and has already been vetted, that's not, I believe, our concerns really lie.

If you look at the people that basically have gone through the refugee vetting, I am told that those are not the people that have come through with a two-year exercise of getting that approval, have not been the problem. If there is a void somewhere, please let me know. I will -- I will err on the side of caution every time and reach for the extreme vetting in making sure that West Virginians and Americans are safe.

BLITZER: As you know, senator, this case may end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. You've urged your Democratic colleagues on the judiciary committee to give the president's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, a fair hearing. Should the committee members also question Judge Gorsuch about his views on this specific case?

MANCHIN: Sure. This is what the process -- I understand it's going to be sometime in march when his hearing comes up. We all have a chance to sit down.

I had a chance to sit down with Judge Gorsuch just last week when he was up on the Hill. But I did the same thing with Merrick Garland. You know, I don't know how anybody can be hypocritical and won't even sit down and have a meeting with Judge Garland. And now if the Democrats -- my colleagues are going to do the same, then that's -- two wrongs don't make a right. So sit down and talk to the gentleman. Find out, ask the questions. You can ask anything you want. They are very informal, they come to your office. There is nobody there but you and Judge Gorsuch. Ask him these questions. See what type of answers, see if you're comfortable with the response.

You know, we want to make sure, first of all, if you love this country and the democracy we have and the three branches of equal government, the judiciary cannot operate with eight members of the Supreme Court. It's as simple as that. So, we're going to have to find somebody that we agree on. And I do support the 60-vote $, rule because I think it should be, most should be a bipartisan effort.

BLITZER: This is a critically important decision, because it's not just for four years or eight years. A Supreme Court justice has a lifetime appointment.

The Republicans argue that as far as Merrick Garland, he was nominated in the final year, an election year of the Obama presidency. This is the first year of a new presidency, and so you can't be mixing apples and oranges. Do they have a point?

MANCHIN: The point they have is that they said Joe Biden back in the '90s said something like that. There was no rule. There's no Senate rule that says that is the rule that we have to abide by. People have been around here maybe too long. They're remembering going back in history.

The bottom line is just common decency and courtesy. And if you want nine members and you know you need a nine-member Supreme Court of the highest order, then you should try to find a bath way forward. That's what the vetting process is all about. That's why we sit down and talk to them.

But when you have the Republicans that wouldn't even sit down with Merrick Garland and not even talk to him, let alone get a vote, and now chastising saying, "Well, we did that because Joe Biden said that ten, 20 years ago. I don't know what Joe Biden said 10 or 20 years ago. It didn't happen that way. The bottom line is now we have Judge Gorsuch. I don't want Democrats acting the same as they thought the Republicans acted against them. This is like school yard brawl back and forth. He said this, she did that, so I'm going to do this.

It's just not what I was sent here to do. West Virginians have common sense, and they have decency. They want me to operate in that parameter.

BLITZER: We want to hear some more common sense and decency, but we have to take a quick break. We're going to be right back with Senator Manchin. A lot more coming up.


[17:19:21] BLITZER: Our breaking news: a federal appeals panel is about to hear arguments on President Trump's ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim nations, specifically did a lower court judge go too far in freezing that ban? We're going to have live coverage of the arguments. That's coming up.

In the meantime, we're back with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, the president has made a point of attacking two federal judges when they issue rulings he simply doesn't like. Last year he said Judge Gonzalo shouldn't preside over his Trump University fraud case because of his Mexican heritage. He was born in Indiana, a U.S. federal judge.

[17:20:05] And just this past weekend President Trump said the federal judge who put his travel ban on hold would be to blame if any terrorist attacks happened here in the United States. He called him a "so-called judge." Is that appropriate behavior for a president?

MANCHIN: Wolf, let me just say that the three branches of government are equal. I look at the judicial branch as the referee. Any of us who have ever played any type of sports whatsoever, we haven't always agreed with the referee's call.

But we made it a point not to pick a fight with the referee because he or she would have the last call. So, I would say it's not. We have enough problem between the executive and legislative branch. Don't bring the referee or the judicial branch in it, too. And that would be my advice. We've got to learn to work together here. The judicial and executive has got to work and find a pathway forward. Judicial is there to interpret. We do the right thing. Are we basically following the law or was the law basically breached? That's what they do.

So, I am not, and I do not recommend or advise the president or anybody else on the judicial, if you don't like a judicial, then you have a chance in some of the states to vote for your judicial person. Most of them are appointed. Again, that's so they can be impartial.

BLITZER: These federal judges, as you know, they are appointed by a president of the United States. They are confirmed by the United States Senate. In the case of the travel ban, the judge was unanimously confirmed, nominated by president Bush and then they have a lifetime appointment.


BLITZER: But to dismiss them as a so-called judge, if you were sitting down, for example, tonight with President Trump -- and I know you've met with him -- what would you say to him about this?

MANCHIN: I'd say, "Listen, Mr. President, first of all, you're the president of the United States of America. You're the president of all the Democrats, all the Republicans, everybody that voted for you and everybody that voted against you. You're the president over 320 million people in this great country. I want to do my job and help you succeed. And many people up here want you to succeed. We want you to do well, because our country does well. My state of West Virginia does well. Picking fights with the judicial branch is not going to help us move forward our agenda. And it's going to make it more difficult for you to do the job you want to do.

So, I would recommend, let's work together, see if we have a pathway, knowing he'll step in and tell fuss we're right or wrong.

BLITZER: President Trump's travel ban is now being used -- and you're on the Intelligence Committee -- as a recruiting tool by terror groups like is, AQAP, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, among others. They say "the ban" as enunciated by the president fits their narrative of Islam versus the west. You've seen those reports. What would you say to the president about that, providing is and al Qaeda, for example, potentially with fodder for extremist propaganda that they could use in recruiting home-grown terrorists?

MANCHIN: I don't think you have to give them any other reason. They're going to use anything and everything. Trying to say this heightens up their recruiting or their rhetoric, I'm not sure if that would be...

BLITZER: It does, senator, it does give them additional ammunition to go out there and tell young men, you know, and women for that matter, look at this president. He hates Muslims or whatever they're going to say. You've got to fight.

MANCHIN: Well, let me just say for myself, I don't hate Muslims. I hate the extreme radical people that become -- from the Muslim religion which is not Muslim religion as far as I know it.

And next of all, basically we're going to do everything we can to keep them out of the country. They're not coming here for the right reason. With that being said, a lot of the god-loving American-loving Muslims

that we have in West Virginia and around the country, they are part of our society. They can help us. They can make our whole country much safer if we all work together with them.

But the bottom line is to cast aside a whole group of people because of their religion is not First Amendment, it's not who we are. So with that I would say very cautiously. I want to make sure that we are doing the vetting, extreme vetting, whatever you want to call it, to make sure that West Virginia and America is safe. If there is a void, tell me. Tell me and I'll help you fix that immediately.

But if not, if you can't show me that, just to say we're going to paint everybody with a broad brush, Wolf, is not, I don't believe, the way to go.

BLITZER: Yes. No, I couldn't agree more. Let's turn to the recent anti-terror raid in Yemen that left an American Navy SEAL dead, four others injured, an Osprey destroyed.

The White House claims this was a successful, highly successful -- highly successful raid -- that's what the press secretary said today -- because the U.S. was able to gather important intelligence on the ground during the operation.

You're on the Intelligence Committee. I know you've been briefed on this. Was this a highly successful raid?

MANCHIN: Well, first of all, I have not been briefed on it. We are going to be briefed. The Armed Services Committee was briefed first, because that was a Department of Defense operation. It comes to our committee now, and we will be briefed on the highest level of security. There will be things that I can't talk about once I find out.

But I'm asking the same questions you've just asked me. I want to know, if it was highly successful, then we must have captured intelligence that we were looking for. Did we pay a high price? Was it breached? All these questions will be asked. I can't give you answers to them. I don't have them right now.

BLITZER: We'll have you back when you can. And I know there will be restrictions on what you can say because of the classified nature of that briefing.


BLITZER: Hey, Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

MANCHIN: Wolf, it's always good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

MANCHIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Just a little bit -- a little bit more than a half an hour or so from now, CNN will have live coverage of today's oral arguments over immediately restoring President Trump's travel ban. Stand by.

Also ahead this hour, we're expecting word Betsy DeVos has been sworn in as the education secretary of the United States. That should be happening momentarily. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: All right. We're following the breaking news. At the top of the hour, a three-judge federal panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments over immediately restoring President Trump's travel ban. The court has agreed to the highly unusual step of providing a live audio feed. You're going to hear it, all of it, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:30:52] In the meantime, let's bring in our political and legal experts. Speaking of legal experts, Jeffrey Toobin, the oral arguments are going to take place in front of this panel of three judges. Tell us a little bit more about these judges. You've taken a look at their background.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it's a very eclectic group. William Camby is one of the oldest federal judges still sitting. He's 85 years old, appointed by Jimmy Carter. He's former Vice President Mondale's brother-in-law, as well as a former professor at Arizona State University's law school.

The other Democratic appointee, Michelle Friedland, is one of the youngest federal judges in the United States. He was -- she was just appointed by President Obama. She's only 44 years old. She's a former Supreme Court law clerk to Sandra Day O'Connor.

The third judge, Richard Clifton, is Hawaiian. And even more unusually, he's a Republican from Hawaii. There are not a lot of Republicans from Hawaii. He was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002. He just took senior status, which means he, like Judge Camby, is on a lesser schedule.

It's an unpredictable group. None -- none of the three have records that would lead you to predict definitely how they would come out one way or another. But we'll certainly know more, if not everything, after listening to them ask questions for an hour.

BLITZER: It will be fascinating to hear the questions from the judges and the responses from the two sides. Gloria, have you ever seen a case like this go before a federal panel with so much at stake, so early in a new presidential administration?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Two weeks in? I can't -- I can't recall. Of course not.

And I was talking to some Republicans today who were likewise astonished about -- about this development, particularly on a matter of national security, which, after all, this is what this is about. It's about national security. So, you have a confrontation between a president and an attorney

general saying, "Look, I know more about national security. You don't know what I know." And having the courts have to kind of adjudicate a presidential authority this early is quite stunning to every person I've talked to today, Republican or Democrat.

BLITZER: You've heard the theory, Jackie, that some Democrats have. This is the first of many tests where the judicial branch of the government might be able to reign in some of the executive powers of President -- of President Trump. Do you buy that theory, that this is just the first of many similar tests down the road?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is going to be the new normal, where if president -- if the Congress isn't able, because of the Democrats' depleted numbers, to stop President Trump, the judiciary is going to be the next line of defense. And I think you're going to see state-level suits, also group-generated suits, and this is just going to continue.

BLITZER: You heard, Ron Brownstein, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, today say that President Trump respects the judicial branch, but he called this federal judge a so-called judge.

He also tweeted that if there's a terror attack, this judge will be held responsible for future terror attacks.

Do you think we're going to hear a lot more comments like this from the president about this judge or other judges if they were to rule against him?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think the short answer is yes. I mean, you know, we've seen President Trump from the campaign on is that any time he is challenged by any institution or individual, his first response is to personally delegitimize the critic, whether it was Judge Curiel during the campaign, whether it was John McCain, or Lindsey Graham who he accused the other day of wanting to start World War 3, or John Lewis. I mean, that is his M.O.: to kind of personally delegitimize whoever is challenging him.

And to Jackie's point, I mean, I think this is -- what we're seeing here in this case is really significant, because it is the opening of another -- the opening of another front where you have the president, much like President Obama, not only having to fight the other party in Congress, but facing resistance from the states that are controlled by the other party who are essentially opening a second front against him, in this case through the courts.

[17:35:19] BLITZER: So quickly, Jeffrey, if they unanimously, these these three judges, rule against the president, Judge Camby, Judge Friedland, Judge Clifton, do you think he's going to tweet about the three of them?

TOOBIN: I would say that's about as certain as the sun will rise tomorrow morning that we will get a tweet reaction, one way or another.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's a lot more news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

This note to our viewers: later tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern, senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz, they will debate the future of healthcare in America. This live CNN debate will be moderated by Jake Tapper and Dana Bash. Once again, tonight, 9 p.m. Eastern.

We're going to have more breaking news just ahead. Any minute now, we expect word that Betsy DeVos has been sworn in as education secretary after Vice President Pence cast today's historic tie-breaking vote to assure her confirmation.

Also ahead, disturbing new reports of violence and instability inside Kim Jong-un's regime in North Korea.


[17:40:55] BLITZER: Breaking news. Any moment now, Betsy DeVos will be sworn in as education secretary. We're told the oath will be administered by Vice President Pence, who was in the Senate today and cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of her confirmation.

Let's bring in our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.

Manu, are any other cabinet nominees for President Trump nearing confirmation?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are indeed, Wolf. Tonight Republicans in the Senate are planning to use the power of their majority to push through three nominees by week's end, including Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, Tom Price as Health and Human Services secretary, and Steven Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department.

But a new controversy is engulfing another nominee, his choice to be labor secretary. And some key Republicans are withholding their support.



RAJU (voice-over): Tonight President Donald Trump gets his secretary of education.


RAJU: But only after Mike Pence made history by becoming the first vice president ever to break a tie in the Senate for a cabinet nominee.

PENCE: The vice president votes in the affirmative, and the nomination is confirmed.

RAJU: The new secretary, Betsy DeVos, came under fire after last month's rocky confirmation hearings. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for the call today.

RAJU: Prompting liberal activists to flood Republican offices with phone calls and hold rallies on Capitol Hill, questioning her fitness for the job.

After two GOP senators announced their opposition, Democrats staged an all-night session, hoping to convince one other Republican to block the nomination.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: It was the most embarrassing confirmation hearing I have ever seen. She could not answer the most basic questions about education.

RAJU: But Republicans held firm and are furious at the slow pace of confirmations, since Trump has more unconfirmed nominees at this point in his presidency than the past 11 presidents combined.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: The Democrats are clearly sore losers and they refuse to listen to the American people, who on election day said, "We're sick and tired of the delays that we've been having in Washington."

RAJU: This week three more Trump nominees could be confirmed, including Jeff Sessions to be attorney general; Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary; and Tom Price for Health and Human Services.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We're going to have long debates on Sessions, and we're going to have debates on Price.

RAJU: But now Trump's labor nominee, Andy Puzder, is facing controversy after revealing this week that he had hired a housekeeper who was an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, saying he has since paid back taxes.

Similar controversies have sunk nominees in the past, including Bill Clinton's choice for attorney general, Zoe Baird in 1993.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: For all of my Republican colleagues who say we should be treating Trump's nominees just like we treated Democratic nominees, well, then this nominee should withdraw, because similar conduct forced Obama nominees and Clinton nominees to withdraw their candidacies.

RAJU: The revelations are giving pause to some key Republicans.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: When he knew, how he knew, how he found out, what he did afterwards, you take them all in context. And I'm not prepared to make a definitive statement until I've seen all the facts.

RAJU: But GOP leaders are downplaying the matter.

(on camera): Will this sink his nomination?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The administration strongly supports Andy Puzder and wants to stick with him. There have been times in the past whether -- you know, when this kind of thing caused a nominee to withdraw. There have been times when a nominee has gone forward.

He realized the mistake. He fixed it. And I think is imminently qualified for the job, and for myself I'm enthusiastically in his camp.


RAJU: Now, Wolf, tonight, Puzder's ex-wife trying to diffuse another controversy that has emerged since he was picked for the job late last year. This about a three decades-old domestic abuse allegations from the 1980s. Allegations that Puzder himself has denied but have surfaced ever since his ex-wife Lisa Fierstein actually writing a letter to Senators on the Committee saying that she regrets pressing those charges back in the 1980s, and also regrets appearing on Oprah Winfrey's show in disguise in the early 1990s where she discussed the issue of domestic abuse.

She said that she got bad advice at the time and also was looking for a free trip to Chicago to go to that "Oprah Winfrey Show." This, expected to come up at his confirmation hearings which could get rather contentious and could occur next week, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I suspect they will. All right. Manu, thanks very much.

We're standing by for the start of oral arguments over immediately restarting President Trump's travel ban. We'll be right back.


[17:50:07] BLITZER: As Kim Jong-un's regime races to develop its missile technology and nuclear arsenal, there are now some chilling new assessments about the threat posed by North Korea.

Brian Todd has been looking into all of these for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we were here on Capitol Hill a short time ago when members of Congress received some chilling new warnings about Kim's inner circle. Former U.S. intelligence officials and a former top envoy, people who watched this regime very closely, well, they say there's been a pattern of purges, executions, and defections recently, which they believe reflects some serious threats on the young leader.


TODD (voice-over): New warnings tonight about the threat from Kim Jong-un and the violence inside his regime. Former intelligence officials and a former envoy who dealt with Kim's father and grandfather warning members of Congress that, by any metric, Kim's recent patterns of behavior are very dangerous. DR. SUE MI TERRY, FORMER ANALYST ON NORTH KOREA, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

AGENCY: Based on a number of pillars of stability eroding, I'd say the regime is more unstable today than at any time in the past.

TODD (voice-over): South Korean officials say Kim Jong-un recently fired one of his top lieutenants. Kim Won-hong was Minister of State Security, an immensely powerful position.

VICTOR CHA, SENIOR ADVISER AND KOREA CHAIR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: They're responsible for overall internal security in North Korea, threats to the regime, and also security directly around the leadership. The notion that the Minister of State Security has now been sacked is a sign that, you know, there's something going on inside the system.

TODD (voice-over): When he was in power, Kim Won-hong had been tasked with rooting out spies inside the regime, and the U.S. government had sanctioned him for allegedly overseeing the beatings, sexual assaults, and killings inside North Korea's notorious prison camps. Kim Jong-un fired him, shortly after losing the most senior North Korean diplomat to defect in almost 20 years.

Thae Yong-ho had been number two at North Korea's embassy in London. Shortly after he escaped, Thae revealed that Kim Jong-un had killed so many of his own top officials that there was unprecedented discord among the elite.

THAE YONG-HO, NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR: Low-level dissent or criticism of the regime, until recently, unthinkable, are becoming more frequent.

TODD (voice-over): Former CIA analyst Sue Terry says there are other signs that the young dictator may be under threat. She says he doesn't have the absolute loyalty among the military and other security services that his father and grandfather could always count on.

TERRY: There's also corruption among the security services and the soldiers and the police where everybody can be bribed, basically.

TODD (voice-over): Which she says makes it easier for defectors to escape. And tonight, a new warning from a former top envoy who says he's worried about Kim selling his newfound nuclear bomb expertise to the highest bidder.

ROBERT GALLUCCI, FORMER UNITED STATES NEGOTIATOR WITH NORTH KOREA: -- that the North Koreans will be the source of fissile material directly or indirectly to some rogue regime or to a terrorist group. The problem with a transfer to a terrorist entity is that there isn't really a good deterrent option.


TODD: Robert Gallucci and other analysts who've sounded those warnings before Congress today, they all say that there's no clear-cut path for President Trump and his security team to deal with all of these threats from North Korea. But Gallucci says he believes it was the right move for the President's new Defense Secretary, James Mattis, to make South Korea the first stop that he made on his new job -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important. All right. Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, a federal appeals panel is about to hear emergency arguments on President Trump's travel ban. We're going to bring that to you live.


[17:57:57] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Circuit breaker. President Trump's controversial executive order faces a critical legal hurdle. Three federal judges are about to hear arguments for and against it in a battle between state Attorneys General and Justice Department lawyers. Will the court reinstate the President's travel ban?

And hasty hearing. We're just minutes away from the start of the proceeding which was called so quickly, it's being conducted by phone. Tens of thousands of people worldwide are awaiting the decision that will directly impact their lives. Tonight, we're bringing all of the hearing to you live.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news, a critical hearing in a case that could ultimately redefine the powers of the President. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is about to hear arguments for and against reinstating President Trump's executive order temporarily barring people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States.

As we wait for the start of this critically important hearing, let's bring in our Justice Correspondent Pamela Brown.

Pamela, the stakes tonight are very high.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And for the first time, these three randomly assigned federal judges will hear oral arguments from both sides on President Trump's controversial travel ban. Each side will have 30 minutes to make their case, and then it will be up to the judges.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, the world is watching as the federal government goes head to head with two states over the controversial travel ban, as President Trump continues to make his case for it.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's common sense. You know, some things are law and I'm all in favor of that, and some things are common sense. This is common sense. BROWN (voice-over): And tweeting, quote, "The threat from radical

Islamic terrorism is very real, just look at what is happening in Europe and the Middle East. Courts must act fast!"

[17:59:58] Trump's Secretary of Homeland Security, on Capitol Hill today, echoed that sentiment, following Washington state federal judge and George W. Bush appointee, James Robart's decision to halt the ban nationwide for now.