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Senate GOP Silences Warren in Sessions Debate; Trump Addresses National Sheriffs' Association. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- has the day off. Thank you so much for joining us.

A busy morning and potentially a critical day pour the Trump administration. At any moment, the President is set to speak to the National Sheriff's Association. The group supports its plans to crack down on border security.

Meantime, as early as today, three federal judges could hand down their ruling on the President's travel ban. The case is seen as a critical measure of the President's power and the reach of the U.S. constitution.

Also, a firebrand Democrat gets an extraordinary rebuke on the Senate floor. Senator Elizabeth Warren ordered to sit down and be quiet in the contentious debate over Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.

Our correspondents, our experts, and analysts all here to break it down for us this morning. Thank you all for being here.

And let's begin on Capitol Hill with our Sunlen Serfaty.

Good morning. What a night it was!

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was, Poppy. Democrats continued their marathon talk-a-thon all night into the morning, and they continue at this hour on the Senate floor in protest of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. But it was that moment, just a remarkable confrontation between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which signified how hostile this battle over Trump's nominations has become.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.

SERFATY (voice-over): A stunning moment on the Senate floor.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.

SERFATY (voice-over): Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren formally silenced by her Republican colleagues. SEN. STEVE DAINES (R), MONTANA: The Senator will take her seat.

SERFATY (voice-over): In the incredibly rare dressing down, stemming from this statement.

WARREN: Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by Black citizens.

SERFATY (voice-over): Warren quoting a scathing 1986 letter from Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow opposing Senator Jeff Sessions' failed nomination to a federal judgment to explain why she is against Sessions' current bid to be Attorney General.

DAINES: The Senator is reminded that it's a violation of Rule 19 of the Standing Rules of the Senate to impute to a senator or senators any conduct or motive unworthy or becoming a senator.

SERFATY (voice-over): Republicans arguing Warren violated Senate rules by demeaning a sitting Senator.

DAINES: Stated that a sitting Senator is a disgrace to the Department of Justice.

MCCONNELL: She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

SERFATY (voice-over): At issue, whether quoting Coretta Scott King should be exempted from the rules.

WARREN: I appeal the ruling of the chair.

SERFATY (voice-over): But the Senate voted strictly down party lines to reprimand Warren, prohibiting her from speaking on the floor for the remainder of the Sessions debate.

WARREN (via phone): The truth hurts, then that's all the more reason to hear it.

SERFATY (voice-over): Refusing to be silenced, Warren taking to social media continuing to read Scott King's letter on Facebook Live and calling in to CNN.

WARREN (via phone): They can shut me up, but they can't change the truth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And despite all these fireworks, the outcome of Senator Sessions' confirmation is not in question. The Senate will have a final vote at some point tonight, likely around 6:00 or 7:00 this evening, and then Sessions will be confirmed to be the next Attorney General -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Sunlen, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all of this now with our panel, CNN Political Commentator Rick Santorum is here. He's a former senator and former Republican presidential candidate. Larry Sabato is here, Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. Laura Coates joins us, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. And Maria Cardona is here, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist.

Thank you all for joining us this morning.

And, Larry, let me begin with you. Let's play this extended portion of the McConnell-Warren exchange on the Senate floor last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: And this is what it said, "They are mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, sons and brothers --"

MCCONNELL: Mr. President --

WARREN: They are --

MCCONNELL: Mr. President --

DAINES: The majority leader.

MCCONNELL: The Senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama as warned by the Chair. Senator Warren, quote, said, "Senator Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by Black citizens." I call the Senator to order under the provisions of Rule 19.

WARREN: Mr. President --

DAINES: The Senator from Massachusetts.

WARREN: Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks.

DAINES: Is there objection?

MCCONNELL: I object.

[09:05:01] WARREN: I appeal the ruling --

DAINES: Objection is heard. The Senator will take her seat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Now, Democrats have come to Warren's defense. They claim that Republicans were using selective enforcement rules. Larry, how do you see it?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, that's true, in the sense that Rule 19 has been applied in a non-uniform way, and there's some excellent examples circulating online. We can go into them if you want. But to me, the significant thing here is that what the Republicans

have done is to elevate Elizabeth Warren in her, one presumes, presidential candidate of 2020. That pleases her. It pleases liberal Democrats.

It may also please Republicans. Some Republicans, and I think that includes Senator McConnell, believe that she would be one of the weaker Democratic nominees for president in 2020. Democrats strongly disagree with that assessment.

But, you know, Senator McConnell thinks several steps ahead on the chest board. There had to be a reason why he would put Elizabeth Warren in this position and put himself in this position because it certainly looks bad to silence a woman on the floor of the United States Senate reading a letter from Coretta Scott King.

Also, it's brought millions of people to that letter and to Senator Elizabeth Warren who would never have heard the speeches on the Senate floor. It may be a shock to some --

HARLOW: Well, and --

SABATO: Go ahead.

HARLOW: And, Larry, as you know, she didn't just read the letter from Coretta Scott King. She read the entire, you know, 15 minutes' worth of her entire testimony that was submitted.

Senator Santorum, to you as a member of the GOP, as someone who ran for president, do you believe that this just gives Senator Elizabeth Warren a microphone and hurts your party?

RICK SANTORUM, FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR FOR PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I don't think giving Elizabeth Warren a microphone hurts our party at all. I think the Republicans are happy to highlight Elizabeth Warren.

HARLOW: So you don't think the hash tag that is trending on Twitter, #LetLizSpeak, et cetera, hurts your party.

SANTORUM: No.

HARLOW: How did this advance the cause because, as you know, Republican Senators have done similar things? I mean, even Ted Cruz calling Mitch McConnell liar on the Senate floor two years ago, and the same rule hasn't been applied that way.

SANTORUM: Well, he was actually warned on Rule 19 on that too. And I think, frankly, your reporting isn't completely accurate here in the sense that, you know, she was warned and then she continued.

HARLOW: Correct.

SANTORUM: So it's not just that she said what she said, but she continued to say things like, you know, he's a disgrace to the Senate. So had she just said that, my guess is, they probably would have let it go. But she didn't just say that. And so you need to report more fully that a senator -- and it's

happened to me, where people got up and said, you know, what I said when I was on the floor was a violation of Rule 19. And you sort of take a step back and say, OK, I got carried away, and, you know, I retract my remarks or, you know, you restate them differently.

She didn't do anything of the kind. In fact, she didn't just read Coretta Scott King's letter. She said she agreed with it. So there's a difference by saying -- again, it's not accurately reporting when you say all she did was read her letter.

No, she didn't read her letter. She read her letter and said I agree with those remarks. So she put the as her own.

HARLOW: Right, I didn't say all -- just for point of clarity here, I didn't say all she did. She also quoted Senator Kennedy when calling Sessions a disgrace back in the 1986 hearing.

SANTORUM: Right.

HARLOW: And that's when she was first warned. Then she read the entire letter. That's the point I was making.

To you, Laura Coates. Let's just take a moment and let's listen to the Senator, Senator Warren, going on Facebook Live after she was silenced on the floor and reading part of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: Tonight, I wanted to read that letter. And Senator Mitch McConnell and the Republicans came to the floor to shut me down for reading that letter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So far that video has been viewed more than 4 million times. And as I said, the hash tag, #LetLizSpeak, is now trending on Twitter.

Laura, do you believe that this just shined an even bigger light than Senator Sessions' controversial past when he was up for a federal judgeship and denied that?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. When you try to silence somebody, it only shows that you may fear what they have to say. And when you have a confirmation hearing looming of somebody who is going to oversee the Department of Justice, I think people are entitled to figure out what the concerns are about his appointment to that position.

And by not allowing her to speak, I think they really magnified the issue and made people question whether or not this person was a sound candidate. Now, whether that's the intention or not of what Mitch McConnell did, it had that effect.

HARLOW: Maria, to you. Senator Warren last night tweeted this, "Silenced Mrs. King's voice on the Senate floor and millions who are afraid and appalled by what's happening in this country."

[09:10:00] She later came on this network. She told our Don Lemon, "They could shut me up but they can't change the truth."

It is certainly high drama. It is the lead of this program this morning.

MARIA CARDONA, FOUNDER, MESTIZOINOVATIONS: Yes.

HARLOW: But I think my question to you is, to what end, right? Senator Sessions is likely going to be confirmed. What's the end goal of this in your opinion?

CARDONA: Well, I think the end goal here is, as Senator Warren underscored last night, for the American people to know the truth about Senator Sessions, for the American people to know what is at stake with somebody like Senator Sessions in probably the most high profile and the most powerful job when it comes to prosecuting justice and our freedoms in this country, given his horrible record on this when it comes to African-Americans, civil rights, immigrants, minorities, the LGBT community, and women.

And so what the GOP did last night, what Mitch McConnell did last night, I think from a messaging standpoint, was frankly downright stupid. Because what he did was, he gave Elizabeth Warren a platform that she didn't have. Had he let this go, we would not be talking about this today. There wouldn't be --

HARLOW: She's had a previously --

CARDONA: There wouldn't be millions of people that would have seen her testimony.

HARLOW: As Senator Santorum argued, he doesn't believe that giving her a microphone hurts his party, and that she's had a pretty loud voice for quite a while.

CARDONA: Well, clearly, I disagree with that from a long-term perspective. And Larry Sabato sort of touched upon this, but I will be very clear. What this does to the Republican Party is that it continues to underscore this feeling -- frankly, what a lot of people think is actually a fact. And what last night did was shine a light on it because it had misogynistic undertones, sexist undertones. It had racial undertones because they were silencing a woman Senator, when in the past men senators have said much worse things without that kind of silencing.

HARLOW: Well, I have to let Senator Santorum push back on that because, as he said, Rule 19 has been applied to him. It's been applied to Senator Cruz before. Your take, final word, Senator?

SANTORUM: Well, look, this is continuing slander of Jeff Sessions. My former colleague, no conservative Republican -- in fact, he turned a Democrat -- Arlen Specter said, as a Democrat, that the only mistake he ever made as a United States senator, humorous on his part but he said it anyway, was voting against Jeff Sessions back in 1986. He said some things that were not complimentary of Jeff. Every senator in the United States Senate knows Jeff Sessions, knows him well, know that what they're saying, frankly, isn't true about this man.

HARLOW: But, Senator, do you agree with Maria --

SANTORUM: And it's slanderous. And members of the Senate are upset because they know this is just playing politics. It isn't about the man.

HARLOW: Senator, your take on Maria's point. She said there were misogynistic undertones to what was done. Do you agree?

SANTORUM: You know, this is typical tripe from the Democrats. They continue to play these ridiculous games that someone or the Republicans are misogynistic and racist and bigoted. I mean, I don't when they're going to get tired.

CARDONA: You, like, kind of prove the point every single time.

SANTORUM: That's just silly. It's just silly.

CARDONA: No. Well, we'll see. And we'll see what this seems, moving forward in 2020, when the majority of the American people are going to be minorities, they're going to be women. Good luck with that, Senator.

SANTORUM: I think we will have very good luck with that.

HARLOW: Maria, Rick, Larry, Laura, stay with us because -- I guess we have a little bit more time because we're waiting for the President to make this address. He's heading from the White House to the J.W. Marriott. He's going to be addressing the National Sheriff's Association.

And on that point, I do want to turn the corner here and talk about something that the President said yesterday that was just patently untrue. And if you could just, Senator Santorum, again, weigh in on this. As you know, the President said that the murder rate is the highest that it has been in more than four decades.

Let's pull up the chart and show everyone what we're talking about here. The U.S. murder rate is actually half of where it was four decades ago. What do you want to hear, Senator, from the President on this?

SANTORUM: Well, the President has campaigned on the fact that he was going to bring law and order back to the country. And you're right, the overall rate of murders has gone down. A lot of that is frankly demographic, that the country is getting older, and part of it is, as I mentioned, demographic.

But, no, look, part of it is the fact that people like Rudy Giuliani and others, you know, put in programs of policing that were much more aggressive than the community and police has seen. And it's had a positive impact on crime. But you can't ignore the horrible violence that we're seeing in many of our major cities. And it's very disturbing.

HARLOW: OK. Senator, doesn't it do a disservice to the American people and actually the argument about how do you bring crime down in cities like Chicago to say something that is just absolutely not true, to say that the murder rate in this country -- this is a quote -- "is the highest it has been in 47 years"?

SANTORUM: Yes.

HARLOW: It is not. It is half of that.

SANTORUM: Look, I'm not going to defend Donald Trump's recitation of the facts on a lot of things. I think Trump speaks more from emotion and how he's feeling about certain things than he does necessarily being bound by all the facts. And, you know, we've had that --

[09:15:02] HARLOW: Is that a problem for a sitting President?

SANTORUM: I do believe that's one of his characteristics. It's not a strong one, it's not one that helps him in the debate. But I think his point that we're seeing a lot of violence and we're seeing cities out of control. And you look at a city like Chicago and you see violence, you know, markedly up and murder rates up, I think that's what he's referring to.

HARLOW: Maria Cardona, to you, what do you think would be the most effective counter from Democrats on that point? Because the senator does point to cities like Chicago where there is an increasing problem. Granted what the president said is factually not true. Is this an area where you can see Democrats working with the president on cities like Chicago?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think if he would put forward a serious plan or a serious proposal without using bombastic lies, frankly, and untruths and falsehoods to try to make his point, absolutely I think Democrats would be ready to work with him because it is true that, you know, some of these cities are having a spike in violent crime. But overall, when the president uses these -- not even just exaggerations, again, just downright lies to try to make his point, it is -- it does the whole country a disservice.

It does a disservice to the communities that are really trying to fight this from a solution-based standpoint. And what they deserve is a president that actually takes these things seriously.

HARLOW: And Larry Sabato, one thing that I should note is that there was -- there was a significant increase in the murder rate between 2014 and 2015, the most recent data that's available. And that was a record year-over-year increase. What it's not is a record high murder rate, you know, in the last four-plus decades.

Do you believe it does a disservice to the president's argument when he doesn't take the time to find the actual fact and state that?

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR OF CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: That's the easiest question I've ever been asked. Of course. You know, bigger picture, Poppy, is on a daily basis -- literally on a daily basis President Trump and some of his key aides misstate the facts or outright lie or, as you note, have been too lazy to check the real facts. And it is diminishing their credibility on a daily basis, on an hourly basis sometimes. And a president needs to have credibility when it really matters, at a time of crisis. I don't know that we're going to trust what he says when we have that moment of crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, Poppy, if I -- one of the things that this president is doing --

HARLOW: All right, guys, guys, hold on -- hold on just one second. I want to take you -- I believe we have live pictures, do we guys, of the Senate floor? All right. There you have the Democratic senator from New Mexico, Senator Tom Udall, he is reciting that letter and testimony from Coretta Scott King. Let's listen in.

SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: Respect for individual rights and a commitment to equal justice for all. The integrity of the courts and thus the rights they protect can only be maintained if citizens feel confident that those selected --

HARLOW: All right. Let's switch over. Let's listen to the president. He is set to address the National Association of Sheriffs at the J.W. Marriott in Washington.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They'll say I didn't get a standing ovation because they never sat down, and I say, I got one standing ovation because they never sat down.

But I want to thank you all. I have great, great love for what you do and the way you do it. And when I'm with the police chiefs and I'm with the sheriffs of our country, and these are the big ones, these are the really big ones, I just want to thank you very much.

And I thought before I spoke about what we're really here to speak about, I would read something to you because you could be a lawyer or you don't have to be a lawyer. If you were a good student in high school or a bad student in high school, you can understand this and it's really incredible to me that we have a court case that's going on so long.

As you know, in Boston we won it with a highly respected judge and a very strong opinion, but now we're in an area that -- let's just say they are interpreting things differently than probably 100 percent of the people in this room.

I'd like to almost know, does anybody disagree when I -- when I read this. But I'm going to read what's in -- what's in dispute, what's in question, and you'll see this. It's (INA) 212(f) 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), "Suspension of Entry or Imposition of Restrictions by the President." OK? Now this isn't just me, this is for Obama, for Ronald Reagan, for the president.

[09:20:04] And this was done very importantly for security, something you people know more about than all of us. It was done for the security of our nation, the security of our citizens, so that people come in who aren't going to do us harm and that's why it was done. And it couldn't have been written any more precisely. It's not like, oh gee, we wish it were written better, it was written beautifully.

So just listen, here's what it says, this is what they're arguing. Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens, OK, the entry -- the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens -- so any aliens, any class of aliens -- into the United States. So the entry of people into the United States, let's say, just to be precise, of aliens into the United States. So, anytime -- whenever the president finds that the entry of any alien or any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, right?

So, if I find, as president, that a person or a group of people will be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and certainly there's lots of examples that we have, but you shouldn't even have them necessarily, he may be -- and he may, by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary -- now the only mistake is they should have said he or she, but hopefully it won't be a she for at least another seven years. After that I'm all --

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I just noticed that actually. I just noticed it. I'm saying whoa, this is not politically correct. It's correct, but it's not politically correct, you know. This is the old days. He may by proclamation and for such period as he shall deem necessary -- so here it is, people coming in -- suspend the entry of all aliens, right? That's what it says. It's not like -- again, a bad high school student would understand this. Anybody would understand this. Suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens -- OK, so you can suspend the aliens, right? You can suspend the aliens from coming in, very strong, or impose, on the entry of aliens, any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

OK, so you can suspend, you can put restrictions, you can do whatever you want. And this is for the security of the country which, again, you're the chiefs, you're the sheriffs, you understand this. And I listened to lawyers on both sides last night and they were talking about things that had just nothing to do with it. I listened to a panel of judges and I'll comment on that -- I will not comment on the statements made by certainly one judge.

But I have to be honest that if these judges wanted to, in my opinion, help the court in terms of respect for the court, they do what they should be doing. I mean, it's -- it's so sad, they should be -- you know, when you read something so simple and so beautifully written and so perfectly written, other than the one statement of course having to do with he or she. But when you read something so perfectly written and so clear to anybody and then you have lawyers and you watched -- I watched last night, in amazement, and I heard things that I couldn't believe, things that really had nothing to do with what I just read. And I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call it

biased. And we haven't had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what's right. And that has to do with the security of our country, which is so important. Right now we are at risk because of what happened.

[09:25:02] General Kelly is an extremely talented man and a very good man, now Secretary Kelly, Homeland Security. We are doing our job -- he's a great man.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: We're doing our job and one of the reasons you probably heard that we did it so quickly -- in fact, I said let's give a one-month notice and then law enforcement and General Kelly was so great because he said we totally knew about it, we knew about everything. We do things well. We did things right. But the law enforcement people said to me, oh, you can't give a notice, because if you give a notice that you're going to be really tough in one month from now or in one week from now -- I suggested a month then I said, well, what about a week? They said no, you can't do that because then people are going to pour in before the toughness goes on.

Do you people agree? I mean, you know more about law than --

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Anybody, law enforcement. So I wanted to give like a month. Then I said well, what about a week? They said well, then you're going to have a whole pile of people, perhaps, perhaps, with very evil intentions coming in before the restrictions.

So there it is, folks. It's as plain as you can have it. I didn't -- and I was a good student. I understand things. I comprehend very well. OK? Better than, I think, almost anybody. And I want to tell you, I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful. It was disgraceful because what I just read to you is what we have and it just can't be written any plainer or better and for us to be going through this -- and by the way, a highly, highly respected judge in Boston ruled very strongly in our favor. You heard that.

I said to my people, why don't you use the Boston case? And there were reasons why they couldn't use the Boston case. This one came later for various reasons, but use the Boston case. And I won't read that, but there were statements made by that judge who, again, highly respected, that were right on. They were perfect. They were perfect. So I think it's sad. I think it's a sad day. I think our security is at risk today and it will be at risk until such time as we are entitled and get what we are entitled to as citizens of this country, as chiefs, as sheriffs of this country.

We want security. One of the reasons I was elected was because of law and order and security. It's one of the reasons I was elected. Also, jobs and lots of other things, but I think one of the strongest reasons is security. And they're taking away our weapons, one by one. That's what they're doing. And you know it and I know it and you people have been very unhappy for a long period of time and I can read the polls maybe better than anybody because it seems that I understood the polls a lot better than many of the pollsters understood the polls. Assuming they were honest polls, which I, you know, think probably many of them weren't. I really believe that.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: But -- but we need security in our country. We have to allow you folks to do your job. You're great people. Great people. Great men and women. And we have to allow you to do your job and we have to give you the weapons that you need, and this is a weapon that you need and they're trying to take it away from you, maybe because of politics or maybe because of political views. We can't let that happen. So with that, let's get on to business, right? That's really something. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I want to thank sheriff -- Senator Hudgens and Chief Tom Manger for your leadership and frankly for the service, you have had great service. Everyone has told me about you two legendary people. All of us here today are united by one shared mission, to serve and protect the public of the United States.

During my campaign for president, I had the chance to spend time with law enforcement officials all across our country. They're the most incredible people you will ever meet. And I just wanted to say to all of them right now from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: There are many actions we in the federal government can take to help improve safety in your communities. But I believe that community safety begins with moral leadership.