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Democrats Launch War Against Trump's Remaining Picks; Trump Denies Gorsuch Criticism, Despite Actual Criticism; Sessions Sworn In As Attorney General; Sessions Defends Trump's Travel Ban; Trump Rips McCain For Criticizing Deadly U.S. Raid; McCain Spars With Trump On Deadly U.S. Raid; Schumer Calls For Withdrawal Of Puzder Nomination. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 9, 2017 - 11:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. As the world waits for the imminent ruling on President Trump's travel ban, any moment Donald Trump will swear in his new attorney general, the now former Alabama senator.

Emerging from a brutal confirmation battle that saw one of the president's most critics on the Hill, Senator Elizabeth Warren, of course, called Sessions racist, and then she was formally silenced on the Senate floor.

But that whole episode has lit a fire under Democrats, of course. Any minute now, Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, and other top Democrats are going to be taking to the microphone expected to take on another of President Trump's cabinet picks, Labor secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder.

The fastfood CEO has been under fire for among other things admitting he employed an undocumented worker for years in his home. We're going to get to that in just one second.

But first, the war of words over the words of the president's Supreme Court pick. The president fires back today after his Supreme Court nominee answered to Trump's attack on federal judges. Neil Gorsuch calling those attacks disheartening and demoralizing.

For more on that, let me go to CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown. So Pamela, we're waiting any moment for the country to have a new attorney general sworn in. That could be coming at any moment. But this also comes as Neil Gorsuch is making maybe more news than he wanted to be.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's absolutely right, which is highly unusual for a new Supreme Court nominee. But what we have been told from Senator Blumenthal and others is that when he was asked about Donald Trump's comments about judges, calling the judge in Washington State a "so-called judge."

You know, lashing out against the judiciary, saying that they're biased, calling the oral hearings in the Ninth Circuit "disgraceful," when he was asked about that, he said those comments were disheartening and demoralizing, according to Senator Blumenthal. And that an attack on one of his brothers and sisters in the judiciary is an attack on all judges. And the spokesperson for Judge Gorsuch confirmed to CNN yesterday that indeed he did make those comments.

But now Donald Trump is lashing out, saying that Senator Blumenthal is misrepresenting what Judge Gorsuch said. So there seems to be some contradiction there.

But certainly it's highly unusual for a brand-new Supreme Court nominee such as Gorsuch, who was rolled out last week with great fanfare by Donald Trump to be make this kind of news and be making these comments.

But clearly he's been put in this sort of interesting dynamic, interesting situation. The Democratic senators are saying that this is not convincing them yet that he is going to be independent of the White House. That he's not going to be beholden to the White House.

They actually want him to take it a step further and come out and speak out against this publicly. It's unclear what kind of forum they would want that to happen in, he hasn't even had his confirmation hearings yet. But you can bet this will come up in the confirmation hearings as well -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, you can assure that will come up in confirmation hearings. Interesting, Republicans think this shows his independence, Democrats say it does not show his independence enough.

BROWN: Right.

BOLDUAN: That's where things stand at this moment. Great to see you, Pamela. Thank you.

So breaking news also on Capitol Hill, as we mentioned, Democrats are continuing their fight against President Trump's cabinet nominees, now taking aim at Labor secretary nominee, Andy Puzder, the CEO of the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr.

Joining me now, CNN Congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, for much more on this. So Phil, Democrats are going after Puzder very much in the same way that they've taken on other cabinet nominees of Trump's, with very little success, in that regard. What's different this time?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At least up to this point, and what's different this time, Kate, is there is not an all-in lockstep confirmation that Republicans will be behind this nominee. What we've seen repeatedly over the course of the last couple of weeks is no matter what Democrats did, no matter what kind of levers they tried to pull procedurally to slow the process down, they simply could not break off enough Republicans.

Now, there's a very good chance Andy Puzder ends up being confirmed, that's what Senate Republican leadership has continued to say. But over the course of the last 48 hours, particularly as you noted, it became clear, that he had employed an undocumented immigrant for a number of years and then worked to help her move through the legalization process.

A handful of Republican senators have decided to withhold their support. That doesn't mean they're going to vote no, Kate, but that means they're not all in yet. This is the type of issue that's sunk a number of cabinet nominees in the past. Democrats see an opening because of that.

During this press conference that's about to kick off here in a couple of minutes, they're going to ask Andy Puzder to withdraw his name. Obviously we've been given no indication by the Trump folks that that is going to happen.

But you see Democrats sense at least a modicum of an opening here, one that they really haven't been able to grab onto on any other nominee up to this point -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And they clearly feel that they've got some momentum, coming on the heels of the Senate floor battle between Elizabeth Warren and basically the rest of Senate Republicans over Jeff Sessions, right?

[11:05:04]MATTINGLY: Yes. Look, no question. The energy has been there on the outside. The problem has been on the inside. They just simply on their own don't have the power to stop anything. The belief now, I talked to one Senate aide this morning who said, if there's going to be one, this is going to be the one.

Now I've heard that on a number of different nominees over the course of the last month so take that with a grain of salt. But what they believe is, you combine the energy on the outside that we saw with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, that you saw with Jeff Sessions as well, with the kind of unwillingness for every Republican senator to get behind this nominee in lockstep right now, they see an opening.

How big is that opening, how real is that opening? We'll have to wait and see. Andy Puzder's confirmation hearing, which has been postponed three, maybe four times, is now officially on the schedule again next week.

That is going to be a much-watch as the Democrats really try and rally that support and take that momentum, as you noted, into an opportunity to try and sink at least one of president Trump's nominees -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Momentum, again, but you just could I have to say, look at the scoreboard, they don't have the votes when it comes to Andy Puzder. But we'll see what happens and we'll be listening in when Democrats take to the microphones. Great to see you, Phil. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: So it is a game of he said, she said playing out in Washington right now, except this time it's more of a game of he said, yes, he said it, and no, seriously, he actually did say it.

Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, in a closed door meetings with lawmakers answered to President Trump's attacks on federal judges, calling them, quote, "Disheartening and demoralizing." That's according to at least three sitting senators, as far as who has spoken out publicly, plus a former Republican senator turned Supreme Court shepherd, Kelly Ayotte, plus the spokesman for Judge Gorsuch. The one person who doesn't seem to think that the judge actually said this is President Donald Trump.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist, Kirsten Powers, and CNN political analyst and national political reporter for the "New York Times," Alex Burns.

So Alex, all of these people say Gorsuch said it. Where do you think the confusion is with the White House?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think it's clear that the White House broadly is confused here, Kate. I think the president is out there on Twitter trying to make this claim that no, the judge didn't really say anything intended to push back on my own comments.

But that may just be President Trump individually sort of saying what he has to say in order to feel like he hasn't lost the loyalty of a member of his team.

Because what we've learned in the primary, what we've learned in the general election so far in the administration, loyalty is everything to Donald Trump, and he has not tolerated virtually any criticism from inside the tent.

So even this, you know, pretty well-calibrated statement, disheartening and demoralizing is not exactly a thunderous denunciation that is more than Trump has ever accepted from a member of his team in the past.

BOLDUAN: And the fact that Senator Blumenthal has a whole lot to say about that private meeting, Kirsten, but the fact that Blumenthal, said to MSNBC that Gorsuch gave him the go-ahead to come out and publicly disclose what they talked about in the meeting. That tells you what?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I just talked to somebody at the White House. So there's been confusion because the spokesperson had confirmed that this happened. So I asked, why did he confirm it? And the person at the White House said, he was confirming the specific words were used.

He wasn't in the room. He wasn't confirming what was said. And according to people in the room, what was said is basically what Gorsuch's statement from Kelly Ayotte said was that he was speaking generally.

So at this point, I guess, people are going to have to decide whether they trust Neil Gorsuch and what his recollection is or whether they trust the Democratic senators.

BOLDUAN: Hold on, I want to turn to this really quick. President Trump is reigniting his on again/off again attacks today with Senator John McCain. This time for his assessment of the recent U.S. raid in Yemen. The White House has been calling the mission a success for the intelligence that it gathered.

Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens, you will remember, lost his life in the operation. We'll get back to this conversation in a second, but let's go live to the White House, the oval office. Jeff Sessions is about to become the next attorney general of the United States.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I've worked with them over the years. I know how good they are. Their talents need to be directed at this nation's benefit in a lot of different ways. We have a crime problem. I wish the blip -- I wish the rise that we're seeing in crime in America today were some sort of aberration or a blip.

My best judgment, having been involved in criminal law enforcement for many years, is that this is a dangerous permanent trend that places the health and safety of the American people at risk. We will deploy the talents and abilities of the Department of Justice in the most effective way possible to confront this rise in crime and to protect the people of our country.

We have an increased threat, since I was United States attorney, from terrorism. Mr. President, you've spoken firmly on that.

[11:10:04]You've led this nation to say we're going to respond to the threat of terrorism and you can count on your Department of Justice to do so on an effective way.

You've said something that I believe and I think the American people believe, that we need a lawful system of immigration, one that serves the interests of the people of the United States. That's not wrong. That's not immoral. That's not indecent.

We admit a million people a year plus lawfully, and we need to end this lawlessness that threatens the public safety, pulls down wages of working Americans.

It is an honor beyond words to serve under you and your leadership. You're putting together a great cabinet, which is just a thrill for me to have the opportunity to join.

And I look forward to making sure that every ounce of strength I have and that the people of the Department of Justice have is going to be focused on preserving and protecting the Constitution and the safety of this country.

We will defend the laws of the country as passed by Congress. We'll depend the lawful orders of the president of the United States with vigor and determination. Thank you all for being here. I see a lot of good friends, and may God bless all our efforts. Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, these are executive orders approved by the Department of Justice.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: A federal law with respect to the Transnational Criminal Organization, preventing international trafficking. Thank you.

Task force on crime reduction and public safety, preventing violence against federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement officials. Very important. All very important.

Thank you all very much. Jeff, you're going to do a fantastic job. Good luck.

BOLDUAN: And with that you saw President Trump say right there to now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, "You're going to do a great job, good luck.

Joining me right, Democratic congressman from California, Adam Schiff. He is a top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining me. Your reaction, we now have a new attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Your reaction.

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, deep concern. I spent six years with the Justice Department as assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. I have a great love for the department. I think there's a lot of concern among members of that incredible agency about the future direction of the department.

In particular, many of us on a bipartisan basis have supported criminal justice reform. That's something he's opposed in the Senate. I'm concerned with this rash of law in some parts of the country designed specifically and politically to disenfranchise minority communities from voting.

We saw a strong pushback in the Obama Justice Department against those efforts. I'm afraid we are not going to see that kind of position from this new attorney general, and that's a grave concern to me.

BOLDUAN: The attorney general saying he will vigorously defend the laws of the country and the lawful orders of the president that is sure to clash up against you many times in the near future. Can I talk to you about another thing?

I was kind of introducing it as we needed to go to that live event. This back and forth now between Senator John McCain, the president of the United States, and the White House, over the raid in Yemen. A success or a failure?

[11:15:09]John McCain said the mission was not a success, in part pointing -- partly because he was pointing to the death of a Navy SEAL in that raid. The White House, though, has said over and over again, the operation was a huge success.

And also now saying that no one should criticize or talk about or evaluating a mission like that. Who should be talking about or evaluating a mission like that, Congressman?

SCHIFF: Well, I certainly think if anybody has standing to talk about it, it's John McCain. Look, all of us have a responsibility to do oversight, to question the administration, to make sure they're thinking out and thinking out seriously and thoughtfully what they're doing when they put American service members in harms' way.

I'll tell you this from an intelligence point of view, and the White House is using their characterization of this as a success based on the intelligence we've gathered, we don't know yet the full value of what was obtained.

And Sean Spicer was out there immediately after this raid saying by any measure it's a success because of the information we got. They don't know, we don't know. We're going to see what we can exploit from what was obtained.

But it's far too early to be crowing about this mission where we lost a Navy SEAL and there were also civilian casualties. And clearly we're going to have to continue to hold this administration to account because they are going to embellish, exaggerate or outright fabricate the success of their efforts notwithstanding what the facts may show.

BOLDUAN: If it's too early to be calling it a success, Congressman, is it too early to be saying that it was a failure, as John McCain suggested?

SCHIFF: Well, I think it's really too early, frankly, to characterize this in any way. It certainly was tragic in the loss of life and regardless of whether we gained good intelligence or we don't from this, the Navy SEAL that lost his life is a hero and we should honor his service.

But from my point of view, I think it is too early to say. We had a raid, for example, in Syria that was designed to capture Abu Sayyaf. He was the oil emir. It wasn't successful in capturing him, but it was successful in getting very valuable intelligence, lots of intelligence.

Now, we didn't have a loss of one of our service members as we did in the Yemen raid. So it's going to have to be awfully valuable to justify the risk we put those service members to, and the phenomenal price that we paid.

BOLDUAN: The broader point, what Sean Spicer said from the podium was that saying it is a failure on the part of John McCain. He said anyone who would call that mission a failure is a disservice to the life of William Ryan Owens. Do you think -- do you believe that to be true?

SCHIFF: No, I don't believe that to be true and frankly I think honoring our service members, including those who have lost their lives, the best thing that we can do is be truthful about whether efforts are successful, whether we're making progress, whether we have met our objectives.

So no, we need to speak out and where we are not successful with a mission, we need to say so. We need to analyze what went wrong. We need to figure out what to do differently.

If the reports are true, and the go-ahead for this mission was based on a dinner conversation that wasn't fully vetted, it wasn't fully thought out, that's a real problem, and we've already seen inaccurate information from the administration.

This was apparently not approved by the Obama administration and this may have been something broadly considered in terms of do we increase the tempo of counterterrorism operations. But to try to lay the responsibility for this on the Obama administration I think is completely false. So we need to --

BOLDUAN: but also saying this might not have been fully thought through before it was approved is also a very -- very strong statement. Are you going to be investigating this? If you believe that to be true?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, the Armed Services Committee will have primary jurisdiction over this because it was a military raid. We're certainly trying to do our oversight on the intelligence committee. But yes, it's very serious if these missions are being authorized in a kind of an ad hoc, ill-thought-out way, without proper thought to what the adverse consequences may be.

Let me give you one. Right now the Yemenis are pushing back against these counterterrorism operations. Initially it seemed that they might prohibit us from doing them. They'll certainly be much more reticent to approve these kind of operations in the future.

So there are costs that we're already paying. Frankly, there are broader costs we're paying by this Muslim ban because it's becoming toxic to work with our president.

So getting approvals we need, whether for counterterrorism operations or the use of overhead assets, all of these things may become much more problematic if it's toxic to work with this president.

[11:20:12]BOLDUAN: Congressman, let me also ask you about the president's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. He called attacks on fellow judges demoralizing and disheartening in meetings with lawmakers. Republicans are now saying that -- all this morning I've heard them saying that him saying that in his meetings is proof that he's an independent jurist. You do not have a vote on Neil Gorsuch, but do you think with these statements he's made, he's locked up his confirmation with that?

SCHIFF: No, I don't think so at all. You know, there may be something quite calculated in these statements --

BOLDUAN: Really?

SCHIFF: -- and the willingness, at least not on the president's part, but on the willingness to have these comments published. But my own feeling frankly is that --

BOLDUAN: Right. Congressman, these were Democrats coming out saying this. Are you saying that Democrat Chuck Schumer, Democrat Senator Blumenthal are in coordination with the White House?

SCHIFF: No, no. What I'm saying is that it might have been quite calculated in terms of what Judge Gorsuch said. It may have been very well choreographed. He may have had very specific intention to use those terms knowing that essentially they would be leaked to the press. That might have been part of the confirmation strategy.

I don't know. But I can say this, on the merits of whether he ought to be confirmed, that my own view is that given the tactic that was used by Mitch McConnell, given the fact that they did this deplorable thing to a co-equal branch of government by leaving it open for a year because they wanted to deprive President Obama of the ability to appoint a justice.

That tactic cannot be rewarded, ratified by the approval of this justice. My own feeling is if the Republicans don't put up someone moderate in the mode of Merrick Garland, and this justice is not, he ought to be rejected by Democrats. So that's been my view all along.

BOLDUAN: Congressman Adam Schiff, it's always great to have you, thank you so much.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right, coming up for us, a commercial interruption straight from the White House. A pitch from the briefing room, nonetheless, to go shopping, and not just for any clothes but for Trump brand clothes. The details on that, ahead.

And right now, Senator Lindsey Graham, a great close friend of Senator John McCain, is weighing in on the back and forth that we were discussing between President Trump and Senator McCain over that raid in Yemen. That's next.




SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: And the nomination of Andrew Puzder, one of the most anti-worker nominees to any cabinet position and probably the most anti-worker nominee to the Department of Labor ever. Remember the days when Republicans would actually nominate labor leaders to be head of the department of labor?

My fellow New Yorker, Peter Brennan, was nominated by Richard Nixon. He was head of the building trades. This is amazing. They ought to withdraw Puzder's nominee before he further embarrasses this administration and further exposes the hypocrisy of President Trump in saying one thing to the workers of America and then doing another.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to thank Senator Schumer.


BOLDUAN: All right. That was just moments ago, Democrats calling on President Trump's Labor secretary nominee, Andrew Puzder, to withdraw his nomination. That of course was Chuck Schumer speaking at a press conference just moments ago. Back with me right now is Kirsten Powers and Alex Burns, to discuss this. Kirsten, Democrats have not been successful in their attempts no matter what they've done to spike the football, to ruin any of these, to derail any of these nominations. Do you think there is a chance it could be different with Puzder, is there something different about this?

POWERS: I think it's unlikely, but what the Democrats think is they think in the beginning with DeVos they didn't even think they get any Republicans on their side. So they feel like the more time that they spend trying to go after these nominees that there's a possibility that more information will come out about them and that could possibly pressure Republicans to go against Trump.

I think it's very unlikely, but they're under a lot pressure, obviously, from their base, and look at the people that are going after -- teachers' unions are pushing them to go after Betsy DeVos, and labor unions are so powerful in the Democratic party so it's natural this would be one they would focus on.

BOLDUAN: To that point, does it have to do with Andy Puzder or what Puzder represents?

BURNS: I think it's both. I mean, I think that there are people who would have taken a similar view of labor issues who would have had an easier time getting through this process than Andrew Puzder that because of his personal financial baggage, his personal baggage, his ethics review is just going on and on.

They've delayed the hearing a number of times. Democrats have an opportunity that they probably wouldn't have had if President Trump had reached into the House of Representatives and pick somebody with a very, very conservative set of ideas on labor, who probably would have been confirmed much more easily.

BOLDUAN: I know you're a betting man, chances that he withdraws?

BURNS: I will not go there. But I will say, you know, historically, when people don't make it through the Senate, it's typically because they see the writing on the wall and they pull out themselves, not because -- the scenario where someone like Betsy DeVos would actually get voted down on the floor. We haven't seen that in a really long time.

BOLDUAN: But this also again is not a typical year for these nominees. Great to see you guys, thank you so much.

All right, also moments ago, Senator Lindsey Graham, a very good close friend of Senator John McCain, weighing on the president's attack of McCain over the deadly U.S. raid in Yemen.