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Trump Discusses SC Nominee With Senators; Impact of Trump's Demeanor On Washington; Sessions Sworn In as Attorney General; Schumer: Puzder Will "Further Embarrass" Trump Admin; Dems Angling To Tank Trump's Labor Pick. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 9, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:01] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We're only to your point Lisa three weeks in. And so how do we keep -- we can't keep escalating. But what is -- am I wrong? Is there -- the language of Washington, it's been raw. It's been polarized for a long time. But to publicly call that racist and the Republicans have their counter. We'll get to that in a minute. So that just -- if this is both sides.

MARY KATHERINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Yes. I think there is a ratcheting going on here. But it's also because the rhetoric, I think, often from the left because Trump is sort of been able to neutralize it. That kind of language was able to sink nominees in the past. And so, now they're like what do we do next? And that does require a stepping up. And they're not -- it's not working partly because the filibuster is not operative now when it comes to these nominations. But I think that's some of it. There's a lashing out. It's like I'm very upset about what's going on. I don't like any of these picks and none of this is working and it's --

KING: And he is a candidate just blew away the lines of what was considered acceptable political discourse.

LISA LERER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: The President is the President. The President sets the tone. And it's not just in Washington. You see that, you know, there's been some flare-ups in State Houses. You see this like Trump style of doing political business. This un, you know, varnished attacking, sort of filtering down through. It's changing our political culture. It just is.

Is there a shift back in 2020? And do people get sick of this? We don't know but it's definitely, you see it throughout Washington, throughout the country. And, you know, I thought this whole fight in the U.S. Senate just seems a little laughable, like they're fighting over the decorum of the U.S. Senate. Meanwhile, the guy 10 blocks away in the White House is like attacking half the body. So it just didn't really -- it all seemed very discourting.

ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: There were times I'm wondering where is their political correctness like, you know, backlash? And I think this is what Elizabeth Warren is doing for them. She's basically saying, you know, forget about all of this stuff about pulling punches on the President's nominees, even if he's a fellow senator. It's -- Democrats and the base really want their people to step up to the line and call it what it is. And the same way that Trump was able to sort of like blow away all of this sort of genteel talk, Washington talk and be himself and voters really like that.

REID WILSON, THE HILL: Bu I feel like this is, to your earlier point, this is a long-term escalation of sort of the breakdown of decorum in American government. You know, starting with Abe Fortas in the Johnson administration, and Robert Bork. And the heated rhetoric over nominees from Supreme Court now all the way down to the secretary of the education who the Vice President had to come and rescue at the last minute with a tiebreaking vote.

The difference is, you know, we used to complain about this too much filibustering and then the R.S. do a little more and then the D.S. do a little more and it gets worse and worse. Well, now we've got this sort of 20-year trend that's been distilled down into two weeks. Or one campaign season that is now getting even more heated because they're all sitting there in the same building up on Capitol Hill.

So, this is the culmination of a long-term trend. It's just happening a lot faster.

KING: And if you go back to 30 years, 24-hour cable news got blamed for some of this. Now it's social media. I've seen with the constitutional convention we would have at Thomas Jefferson looked silly in his wig today or something like that as we went for. I want to mention, this is a two-way street. You heard Elizabeth -- or just read the Elizabeth Warren's tweets there. Here's Senator Ted Cruz, to your point about enforcing the rules. Once went to the floor to call his own leader a liar, but listen to him here talk about the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: When the left doesn't have any other arguments, they go and just accuse everyone of being a racist. And it's an ugly, ugly part of the modern Democratic Party. Listen, the Democrats are the party of the Ku Klux Klan. You look at the most racist. You look at the Dixiecrats. They were Democrats who imposed segregation, imposed Jim Crow laws who founded the Klan. The Klan was founded by a great many Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I don't -- we can have a historical conversation if you'd like. We can have that.

HAM: The Robert Byrd.

KING: We can have the Robert Byrd question. We can have this, you know, there's some -- there's truth there about the Dixiecrats and the like. There's a -- that was then, this is now. But to the now part of this, is this how you get attention in today's politics that if you said wow, so I have to do wow-plus?

LERER: Well, I mean I think the internet has created an environment where that kind of thing is rewarded. Those videos go viral. Elizabeth Warren, Democratic groups fund-raised hand over fist off her comments. So -- and, you know, all -- and she's up of course for re- election in 2018. Everyone wants, all politicians want this viral moment that they can, you know, get a money bomb and get an infusion of cash on whether it's good for democracy, I think, is another question.

HAM: To money bombs and attention are different than actual electoral wins or legislative wins. And I wonder if I maybe a naive ray of sunshine for one moment is that --

KING: Please.

HAM: -- you do kind of reach the end of this tactic. We're calling somebody a racist for whatever their belief that disagrees with you doesn't work. We're accusing someone of the same doesn't work on the other side. And then you go, well, what now? If it's not getting you the electoral and legislative wins you need, you have to go a different direction.

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: It will be the black hole of cynicism to your ray of sunshine. I don't, you know, as we're escalating through all of this and doing nothing but money bombs and fund-raising nonstop, how does this stop? How does Mitch McConnell back off something he needs to back off?

[12:35:12] How does Chuck Schumer back off on something when he's got thousands of people protesting and demanding nothing but opposition to Donald Trump? I think we're in for worse before we get better.

KING: Right. We're in for worse before we get better, does it affect this? Remember, Senator Obama, then President Obama came here and had a honeymoon because people thought, OK, they had him vote for he's going to change Washington. Does Trump run the same risk? The American people wanted change. After eight years this guy, the professional politician didn't give it to us. So we're sending the bull into the China shop. If we have this environment where, you know, you're a racist, you started the KKK and everyone is on dictionary.com trying to find the next adjective to take it to the next level. Does anything get done or in two years, four years does Donald Trump face the same environment, where is that change, sir?

WILSON: Right. Well, things are moving forward and getting done. You know, whether or not they get tax reform done. I mean that's something we talk about needing Democrats on your side of the fence, tax reform or something that's going to have to be a bipartisan process. We're talking about the trade deals that are moving forward. There will be things that are done. Obamacare replacement leaves to mind. Whether or not that is the change that Americans are looking for or whether or we're just hating all of our incumbents and voting them all out.

Let's not forget, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2014, all way of elections you can argue of 2016 was a pretty significant wave too.

KING: It was a kind of important. A lot of big things happened now. Everybody sit tight from the tough rhetoric. Next, the battle ahead for the president's labor secretary and other cabinet picks. Will the labor secretary nominee be the one the Democrats defeat?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:49] KING: Welcome back. You know that old saying "close only counts in darts, horseshoes and hand grenades?" Democrats have come close to blocking the President's choice for education secretary. The Vice President had to vote to there to break the tie. They came relatively close but not close enough to block another nominee they really wanted to get, the now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Listen here. Here's Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader of the United States Senate. Andy Puzder, the President's choice to be labor secretary, Democrats don't like him. Chuck Schumer says remember he's a Democrat but he says he should quit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCH SCHUMMER (D), NEW YORK: Nominating Puzder to oversee the Labor Department is clearly having a fox guard the hen house. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The odds of that happening or probably longer than the odds of winning the power ball. But what is it? What is it that puts Chuck Schumer there? They lost one. They come out and fight again. They lose again and they come out and fight again. They -- if you talk to them privately, they think they have a chance for Andy Puzder because some of the ethical and other issues we can get into in a minute. But this is the Democratic base. Pushing fight again, senator.

PHILLIP: And I don't think they're wrong to keep trying because I mean we don't really know what's going to happen with any of these people. We don't know at what point there is the breaking point. And it's not so much will the Trump folks withdraw Puzder. But will Puzder decide that this is too much for him? He doesn't want to deal with it anymore. And I think Democrats, there's a decent argument that they should just keep trying. There's no -- there's nothing that they lose by opposing Trump's nominees in this case, politically. They only gain because their base really wants them to.

KING: I'm not saying they should give in. But I'm saying that this is sort of an admission of their relative weakness here that he says he should withdraw. Essentially he's conceding. We don't have the votes to stop him so we certainly hope he leaves.

LERER: You know, I think what happened was Elizabeth Warren and Ben Carson, Democrats were really startled by the blowback. Elizabeth Warren, a Liberal icon got for voting in favor of Ben Carson. Thousands of people showed up in front of Chuck Schumer's house in Brooklyn. He was in Washington at the time. But not matter to protest him supporting any of these nominees. Thousands of people showed up in Rhode Island, to protest Sheldon Whitehouse town hall because he voted for one of the nominees. So they know the base is demanding that they go aggressively after these nominees and whether they succeed or not is almost beside the point. They know that if they couldn't take down Betsy Devos, it's really hard to see how they take down anyone else. But that's not really what this is about.

WILSON: Right. The calls were flooding into Congress to oppose Betsy DeVos. There's no similar thing for Andy Puzder. The one thing that people are taking, at least note of, is that there will be a hearing next week in St. Louis County Court to debate over his -- unsealing his divorce records.

KING: Right.

WILSON: You know, that could lead to some embarrassments as we get closer to an actual vote. But, you know, there's no ground swell to oppose him like there was for Betsy DeVos. There is just a ground swell to oppose Trump nominees.

KING: Right. And the person -- just quickly on that point that his now ex-wife had accused him of domestic abuse. She has this publicly said that she's, you know, pulled some of that back. And people want to see the files to see the specifics on that one. He also just this past week acknowledged in his back and forth with the government ethics agency the one point of having an undocumented house worker. So the Democrats want to say that he's disqualified prior nannies questions of personal conduct like that. But there are also some people have gotten through including some Democrats, have gotten through dealing with those issues.

HAM: So here's the -- because of the procedure here and I know a broken record. But Democrats brought on themselves which has only requires 51 votes and they have 52 Republicans. There's a low percentage of chance they're win each of these battles. So I have thought the entire time it seemed like a strategic misstep to scatter shot your fire instead of concentrating on one particular nominee who might -- it looked like Betsy DeVos might be that person for a while, but it really takes a super heavy lift.

So there is sort of the left's base is running into this like blade saw of demoralization because every single one of these things is for the most part is going to get through. And I think the question they have to ask themselves after this is whether the protests and the attention and the means and all the things that have worked in the past are not working right now?

[12:45:10] And I would point out that in the cases somewhere like Wisconsin, a environment of constant protest over many, many years got you Governor Walker in another term.

KING: Right.

HAM: And a red Wisconsin in a presidential election. So I think the left's base, although it will be successful in pushing Democrats to do the things they wanted to do, whether that actually works for them is another really big question. LERER: And some Democrats will admit that. That these protests could go badly for them. It's particularly if they get taken over by like WTO kind of anarchist elements. They start, you know, becoming violent. The base starts demanding primary challenges. Like there is a lot of weariness among -- particularly among Democrats for more conservative areas about where this movement could lead for sure.

KING: And one of the things, if you are a fan of good government or just government. One of the issues here, we're talking about the specifics from some of these fights over individuals. And one of the things that's a reality is, in part, because the Democrats are stalling tactics. And in part because the Trump -- some of the Trump nominees were slow getting their paperwork. It's a combination. It's all not all partisan.

Six of these cabinet members have been confirmed so far. But it's still awaiting confirmation on some pretty big jobs, the treasury department, the interior secretary, the agriculture secretary, health and human services which is being debated today. The clock runs out I believe at 1:46 a.m. I have been told later on today. But you see the not confirmed on the other side there.

There is an impact here just in terms of the operations of government. Again, these delays are a mix of politics and process, but that hasn't -- that matters.

PHILLIP: And among them is his office of management and budget director. That's like -- these are some kind of basic Washington jobs that are necessary that, you know, the president has to put forward a budget in a couple of weeks. That process can't really fully happen until he has some of these people into place. They really want to work on Obamacare without having Tom Price confirmed. They really can't do anything publicly on that.

The list goes on and on. And, you know, when I talk to people, they're saying, these people need to be in place in order for like the government to really just move forward, and in order for Trump to deliver on some of these promises. Healthcare is a huge one. But the budget is also a big one, too. Tax reform infrastructure hanging in the balance, you know, if the president doesn't have his nominees in place to move the levers of government, to put plans on the table, to get executive orders out there, they really need those people.

KING: When we're scoring the administration at the end of the year, this is three weeks in. You keep a scorecard now, you'll going to rip it up a few teams. If we're scoring at the end of the year, these could not -- these delays could matter.

Everybody sit tight up next. Our reporters open their notebooks including how Trump appointment might help a Republican governor save his own skin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:51:54] KING: Welcome back. Well, change of plans here as we close the show here. We're told we're just moments away from seeing tape. The President is having lunch at the White House with the bipartisan group of senators, a couple Republicans in the room. But the main focus, several Democrats whose votes he hopes to get when his Supreme Court nominee Federal Appeal's Court Judge Neil Gorsuch comes up for a vote or we assume a vote. There might be a filibuster later down in this process.

We're told as we await for the tape the President said it would be unfortunate if any senator voted against his nominee because of politics. That happens in this town. He also said again that he believed the judge's comments have been misrepresented. By that, we're talking about Judge Gorsuch in a number of meetings. Not just with Democrats and a number if meetings with senators has said he has found it to be disheartening and demoralizing that the president of the United States has publicly criticized. The federal judge involved in the travel ban case who put the stay in place.

We wait for the tape here. How does the President say that when his spokesman, hired by the White House to help Judge Gorsuch, says Judge Gorsuch said demoralizing, disheartening. A shorter a Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte says he said disheartening and demoralizing. A Republican senator says in my meeting with me he said disheartening and demoralizing. How can the President say it's being misrepresented?

PHILLIP: Look, I don't think that if President Trump had been silent today and he had just been like, oh well, that's fine that Neil Gorsuch criticized me that we would actually be talking about whether Neil Gorsuch actually criticized him.

I mean I think it's important for this to play out the way that it would normally play out which is that someone says something negative about Trump and Trump punches back. I mean I think we would have a lot more skepticism toward this whole situation if it didn't play out that way. I'm just going to put that out on the table.

They know that it cannot look like this whole, you know, organized, like preordained moment in history. And I think President Trump is also reluctant to fall into any tropes like that. He is going to respond exactly the way that he wants to and that I don't think that necessarily hurts --

KING: Couldn't the president say, well, that's his opinion. He's a judge. He comes from a different perspective. I believe when I said I stand by what I said.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: He can say I'm not afraid to have people --

LERER: I think it is a little bit of a strategy of confusion, right? You say, you know, someone says something that is a fact. The president or the White House says that's wrong. And then everyone spends the next day debating whether it is or is not correct, right? Sometimes that means fact-checking. Sometimes debates like this.

And then at the end, I think if you are a viewer and you're not living and breathing this stuff, you kind of don't know what's right or wrong and that's where we get in a very dangerous, slippery --

KING: A key point because the president shows his supporters if you hear it from somebody like CNN of "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" don't believe it.

HAM: Right. Yes. A friend of mine has written in the past I think smartly that it feels like now like much of the American public is watching too what they feel like are unreliable narrators. Telling us what's going on and one is the media, which they have real reservations about, and one is Trump. And they're sort of trying to make sense of it. And depending on your biases, you'll fall on either side of that. And I think it is a real problem but I think both sides have some answering to do for the making of it.

KING: Right. It's a wonderful test. Wonderful test, I've said this before. You know, you can do this yourself. You can do this yourself at home. You have to find your own sources to go to. But we're about 20 seconds away from the tape here playing. Very quickly, very key here. The Democrats, Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Jon Tester, Chris Coons team when they're trying to break a filibuster.

Here we go, here we go. Sorry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:55:20] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITD STATES: So thank you all very being for being here. We had a couple of great meetings this morning -- the airline industry, we're going to get that one going. They've got a lot of problems but it's going to be good. We just had talks with Qatar and a couple of countries -- Afghanistan. I would say that that's a tough situation but we'll do something about it. We'll be having some -- we'll be giving you some pretty information, pretty good information soon. We're going to have some good conversations with other world leaders over the next two hours. A lot of things happening, a lot of positive things.

I want to start by thanking Senator Manchin for having the courage to vote for somebody that's really very outstanding, really outstanding -- as good as they've seen in a long time. Nominating the justice to the Supreme Court, a justice, has always been considered one of the very important things that a President can do.

I guess I'm looking very much at defense and we're negotiating a lot of contracts with airlines and with a lot of other people, but when you get right down to it, the F-35 Fighter is very important and all of the things we're doing are very important. But I've always considered, and I guess a lot of people have, the Supreme Court nominees to be right up there -- right up there. We'll take defense, number one, I think, Senator, we have to go with defense of our country, number one. And right after that, I suspect it's going to be Supreme Court justices.

And Judge Gorsuch is an exceptionally qualified nominee -- probably there's rarely been anybody that's been more qualified. He has impeccable academic and legal credentials. He went to Columbia -- very, very great student. He went to Harvard, top of his class. He went to Oxford, great student, great intellect. He has an outstanding record for 10 years on the bench. One of the great writers they say -- legal writers -- I've read some of the things that he's written and, believe me, he is a great, great writer. He'll respect and very much respect the Constitution, as written, and he will apply the law as written.

He's a mainstream judge, very much mainstream, and I urge you all to confirm him. He's been doing very well. A lot of people are liking him very much on the other side. And I think that, because of politics, perhaps they're not going to vote for him. I think that's a shame because that's not being honest.

I've had a couple of people tell me from the other side -- because, believe it or not, I have a lot of friends on the other side too -- and they think he's outstanding. And then they go on to tell me that perhaps they won't be able to do that. But that's one of the reasons that our country is in stagnation in so many different forms and so many different ways. I think it's very dishonest and I think it's very unfortunate.

But we'll see what happens. I think he's doing very well. And I know that some people are going to come on board and hopefully we can do this in a very quick and civil manner.

The Cabinet slowly is happening. Jeff Sessions just got -- you're very happy about that -- because Jeff is outstanding. And we just swore in Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, and I think he's going to be outstanding.

So I just want to thank you all for being here. We're going to have a good lunch and we're going to talk about our Supreme Court nominee, and somebody who will do a fantastic job for many years to come. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, any comment on Judge Gorsuch's comments about you, sir?

TRUMP: You misrepresented his comments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to ask you what your thoughts were, sir.

TRUMP: His comments were misrepresented. And what you should do is ask Senator Blumenthal about his Vietnam record that didn't exist after years of saying it did. So ask Senator Blumenthal about his Vietnam record. He misrepresented that just like he misrepresented Judge Gorsuch.

Thank you all very much. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You see the president of the United States meeting with Democrats and Republicans, members of the U.S. Senate, making his pitch for his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed. Also in the same -- at the same, at the very end you heard him once again very, very critical of Senator Richard Blumenthal. He says misrepresenting comments by Judge Gorsuch.

Judge Gorsuch making the point to Senator Blumenthal yesterday that what the president tweeted, what the president said about the judiciary in Judge Gorsuch's words, this according to Senator Blumenthal, were the words were demoralizing and disheartening. The president saying that was a distortion of what was said. But it's interesting that the official spokes --