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Senate Committee Weighs Presidential Nuclear Authority; Trump Touts "Successful Trip" To Asia Upon Return; Ryan Says House Will Require Harassment Training; Congress Uses Tax Dollars To Settle Sexual Harassment Claims; Meet Doug Jones; Democrat Vying For Seat Against Moore. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 15, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] DANA BASH, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: -- time in sharing their concerns about the President.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: We are concerned that the President of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile as a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapon strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. National Security interests.


BASH: Now, Republicans were a little less blunt, a lot less blunt but also wanted assurances that there is some oversight in place to prevent the rash use of nuclear weapons.

It's sort of a talking point on a presidential campaign, certainly was in 2016. Do you want this guy's finger on the nuclear weapons? Well, it is and I don't -- unless they paid attention to this hearing or, you know, understand a little bit more reading about it, he has -- he, the President, has a lot of unilateral power when it comes to the nuclear codes and our nuclear arsenal.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: he does and he has talked pretty openly about it in a way that previous presidents have not and he has made threats and used very vigorous language, some would say irresponsible language when talking about North Korea and talking about those options. So the fact that the Democrats are concerned and the fact that. You know, a Republican like Senator Corker has made his concerns so clear is unusual and it's related to the fact that he really does have a lot of power.

BASH: Now let's just -- this wasn't a hearing just like let's trash President Trump today. They are actually looking to see if there is some way to change the rules, the law so that the power can be taken away from him or any president. It can be kind of spread out a little bit.

Listen to what the Ranking Democrat said in exchange with one of his witnesses.


SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MAYLAND: Is there action that can be taken by those advisers if the President overrules that decision and says no, we're going with a nuclear attack?

GEN.C. ROBERT KEHLER (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: Other than to state the, their view about the legality of the move, the President retains constitutional authority to order some military action.


BASH: Now, there were some Republicans in that hearing and walking around Capitol Hill who are worried about having this open discussion and how it would be read in capitals like Pyongyang. Listen to one of those Republican senators.

SEN. JIM RISCH (R), IDAHO: I want to make sure that Pyongyang understands that this talk about lawyers and this talk about standards and proportionality and all the other things we all talk about is not a discussion that is going to take place in the heat of battle in today's world. These decisions have to be made in moments. And it is not going to be made by courts or by lawyers or by Congress. It's going to be made by the commander in chief of the American forces.


BASH: He has a point.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: There is a constitutional reason that so much military authority is vested in the President of the United States and why the President of the United States is the commander in chief. And so I think you saw in that hearing yesterday the concerns of senators really butting up against some serious constitutional problems because the fact is, the duly elected President of the United States has an enormous apartment of unilateral power when it comes to his ability to make unilateral decisions over the use of nuclear weapons, nuclear first strike and that has been true since the emergence of nuclear weapons on the world stage in the early Cold War.

BASH: And meanwhile, the President is, you know, and trying to prepare to put his own unique spin or explanation on this trip that he had which he clearly felt went very well. We expect to hear from him at some point. I think it's a question of what they're doing inside the White House to try to figure out how to present it.

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I'm sure he'll say it was the greatest, you know, a great trip, the greatest trip --

BASH: IS it?

PERRY BANCON: -- diplomacy and so on. I know that this hearing was telling mainly not because what was said but because Bob Corker a Republican organized it. But also like Eliana was saying, Jim Mattis, John Kelly are not going to stop. The President has very high authority here.

I'm sure he's also a greatest, you know, a greater of the greatest turn, a pharmacy has go on. I know that this hearing was telling mainly not because it was said but because Bob Corker, a Republican organized but also like Eliana was saying, Jim Mattis, John Kelly are not going to stop. The President has very high authority here and the idea of the generals will stop him or limited him saying we should stop saying and stop thinking because the President will decide here. And that's what the hearing illustrated yesterday as a very important thing to think about.

BASH: OK. Everyone stand by. Up next, they're considered the unwritten rules for women on Capitol Hill. It's a code to protect themselves again sexual harassment. So what's being done as new allegations surface against sitting lawmakers. Stay tuned.


[12:39:22] BASH: It's hardly a secret that Capitol Hill has long been a boys club, a bastion also for sexual harassment. The Harvey Weinstein effect is finally reaching Capitol Hill and lawmakers are starting to speak out and make long overdue moves to address it. Last night, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would require all aides and staffers to undergo harassment training. Something that frankly has been done by the private sector for years.

And this afternoon, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a new bill that would make it easier for congressional staffers to report harassment.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: There is a serious sexual harassment problem in Congress and too many congressional offices are not taking this problem seriously at all.

[12:40:08] The inadequate policies that are in place today about sexual harassment in Congress make it very difficult for victims to actually come forward, report incidents and seek justice.


BASH: And there's this. The U.S. government has paid out$15 million in settlements, taxpayer dollars, your money going to quietly settle claims that include sexual harassment. Now to be clear, the fund also deals with racial, religious and other discrimination cases but we really don't know the details of any of it because it's been kept secret. It still is secret.

So CNN has spoken to dozens of women current and former hill staffers as well as lawmakers themselves to hear their stories. And CNN's MJ Lee has been on the front lines of that reporting and joins me now from Capitol Hill. MJ, can you give our viewers a sense of just some of what you have unearthed?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Absolutely. I did want to first point out we just wrapped up a press conference here where Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, they just have released a new bill trying to overhaul the sexual harassment reporting policies on Capitol Hill that they say are antiquated and not adequate. And there was a really fascinating moment.

One of the questions that I asked Congresswoman Speier was whether she snows the identities of the two members of Congress she mentioned at a hearing yesterday as having been accused of sexual harassment. And at first she didn't answer my question. She simply said look, we want to protect the victims. But then she was pressed about it again a little later in the press conference that she was specifically asked have you talked to these members of Congress that you are talking about and she said she has not approached them. And again said when pressed, why not, she said because we want to protect the identities of the victims.

And I guess that has to do with also not revealing the members of Congress that are being accused of this misconduct. I think all of this sort of goes to show, you know, in all of the reporting that we have been doing over the last couple of days or so, we have seen this over and over again where even members of Congress are pretty reticent to actually name the perpetrators that they are talking about.

One congresswoman that I spoke to who did not want to be named this conversation really stayed with me because she kind of blurted out in our conversation. She said, you know, half of them are harassers, that she talking about her male colleagues in the House. And then she sort of corrected herself and she said look, that was an overestimate. Only some of them are harassers.

And when I tried to press her and ask her look, why don't you want to share more details? Why don't you want to name these members? She simply said, look, I don't want to make any enemies in Congress. It's important for me to have these guys' votes and she didn't want to go there.

And I think this is a big problem that we are confronting here on Capitol Hill. Yes, there are conversations that are being had now about this culture and how rampant this issue is on Congress. But unlike in say Hollywood or media and other industries where a lot of women and men have begun to start naming these perpetrators and speaking out against powerful figures, that's not really quite the case here on Capitol Hill, at least not yet.

BASH: It's true. I call this the Harvey Weinstein effect except -- we know the name Harry Weinstein now, it's not just Hollywood mogul number one and we don't know the names of the members of Congress. And I think that's unfortunate and rather telling.

I want to, before I let you go MJ, ask you about this $15 million that taxpayer dollars have been spent for settlements. I covered the Hill for a long time. I didn't know anything about this. This Office of Compliance. This is kind of unbelievable.

LEE: That's right. And the Office of Compliance which a lot of lawmakers, a lot of aides that we have spoken to, many of them said that they didn't even know such an office existed until recently because this office has been a part of people's reportings on stories. And the $15 million figure is really fascinating. This is a figure that Congresswoman Speier's office says the OOC, the Office of Compliance has paid out in settlements. But really important to keep in mind is that we don't know how many of those settlements were actually about sexual harassment --

BASH: Right.

LEE: -- and how many of them were about other issues, discrimination based on race, disability, religion. So we really don't have a clear picture of how much money went towards what kind of settlement. And I think that is what these lawmakers are trying to find out, and that's why they've proposed new legislation to try to get at that issue.

BASH: That's exactly right. That's the point. We don't know. And we should know because this is about, you know, taxpayer dollars. So thank you very much for your excellent reporting, MJ, and people can check out your story on

And let my bring it back around the table. You know, not to discriminate here, but let's start with the women. I mean, I covered the halls of Congress for a long time. You're there every single day.

[12:45:05] What's the reaction to this? Are you seeing a lot of ashen-faced men walking around, worried that, you know, perhaps them or their friends are going to get named?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, I think it's very clear that, you know, people are going to be very careful about how they conduct themselves over the next --

BASH: Well good.

FOX: -- following weeks, months. This reporting matters. I mean, there has been a culture on Capitol Hill. There are a lot of powerful men up on the Hill and there's a lot of concern when you were talking about tiny house offices, these offices are places where people work very closely together. And there's a lot of concern that when women come forward, it might become very clear who is pointing the finger very quickly.

And I think that that's part of the reason why we haven't seen members', you know, names being used at this point. There's a lot of fear that people would come forward and they would be discredited because of the powerful men they're accusing.

BASH: Look, sexual harassment is a power play. I mean, can you think of a place where there is more of a power center, the halls of Congress is about as powerful as it gets. And it's understandable that people are concerned. But probably like the Weinstein situation, you need the dam to break with somebody being called out. And it does take a lot of guts. And it's very difficult because once a victim talks, that's what they're going to be known for for the rest of their lives. JOHNSON: I think it's absolutely true. You're seeing this spread from one industry to another. And the thing that the constant here is that you see powerful men exploiting women with less power who are looking to advance in their careers, sometimes, but not always and they're using that power and exerting it as a way to either advance them or keep them down from Roger Ailes at Fox News, to Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood, to members of Congress who have enormous power over whether their aides rise and fall. And so, this is -- I think very closely tied to the advancement or not of women in the workplace.

BASH: And guys, we just have to remember, this isn't just staffers who work for the members. These are female lawmakers who are also being harassed by their peers. Let me read you one quote from MJ's piece. "In this body -- this is a female lawmaker talking -- you may be an enemy one day and a close ally the next when accomplishing something. So women will be very cautious about saying anything negative about any of their colleagues." Oh my god.

BACON: The power that's between the staff and the members but like a chairman is much more powerful than a freshman member, that power get there too. One thing to note, 15 million in settlements means there's a paper trail somewhere. And so I expect reporters, you know, will look for that. And then may be where the story comes in next.

So that's why a lot of these cases you're seeing where the settlements create documents and this is where you can like break the story out and find who the members are.

BASH: You're right. And these lawmakers who had this press conference that MJ was reporting on today, they are trying to get it so it's public. So I think that they're probably going to have a good shot. We hope.

All right everybody thanks for that discussion. And coming up, is the Democrat running against Roy Moore in Alabama trying to stay local, keep his distance from Washington? Who can blame him?


[12:52:43] BASH: Democrats are hoping allegations against Alabama's Roy Moore put that ruby-red seat in play. The Democrat on the ballot is becoming part of a national story line, but Doug Jones, he's the Democrat, he isn't trying to play to the blue base. His latest ad released yesterday tries to pull over Republicans or pretty much anybody who doesn't like Roy Moore.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't trust him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's too divisive. Don't decency and integrity matter anymore?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a republican but Roy Moore, no way. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm for Doug Jones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm another Republican for Doug Jones.


BASH: Question is, are there enough of those for Doug Jones. And it's a big open question. But the way Jones is playing this is smart. He had a fund-raiser, scheduled an in-person fund-raiser, $500 ahead with Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, two very well-known Democratic senators, canceled it. And he's saying basically to the leadership, thank you so much for your money. Stay in Washington or wherever it is that you come from. Good strategy?

MASON: The last thing he wants to do and the last thing that would help him is to align himself with the people in the Democratic Party that others and particularly Republicans in Alabama are going to say this means he's like a west coast liberal. So he wants to emphasize his strengths, emphasize the weaknesses of his opponent and keep the Democrats at bay but take their money.

BASH: And the last time a Democrat, this is just at along shot here, last time a Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama was 25 years ago. It was Richard Shelby who then became a Republican a couple of years later. So, you know, it really shows how tough it is.

But I also think that the other way that Jones is playing this is like Moore in that he is not -- not signing onto the leadership of his party in Congress. Meaning more is saying it's us against them. And Jones is saying, well you know what? I'm not so sure if I'll support Chuck Schumer as my leader.

FOX: It's a brilliant play and -- I mean, it's something that we see red state Dems kind of doing but obviously once you're in the Senate, it becomes harder to run against Chuck Schumer because he is your leader and you did vote for him. But I think that, you know, moving forward it's the only way that a Democrat is going to win a state like Alabama.

[12:55:08] JOHNSON: I also think that on the Republican side, this has become such a personal fight between Mitch McConnell and Roy Moore and that Republicans are recoiling in any way from Mitch McConnell that i think it's -- it behooves Doug Jones simply to stay out of that Washington versus, you know, Wilko (ph) or Washington versus Alabama grudge match and to do his own thing. And so I do think it's a very, very savvy move on his part.

BACON: It only show he's going to get about 25 percent of Republicans. Jones is right. You know, this only get (INAUDIBLE) number even higher, above 25 percent, because that state is so red. So I still think at the end of the day, he's a Democrat. People are going to figure that out, and it's going to be hard for him to win that race.

BASH: Yes, it will be very hard. But it will be hard -- easy to -- interesting to see which side this galvanizes. Probably the answer is both.

BACON: Yes, for sure.

BASH: Thank you so much everybody and thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf Blitzer is up after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Harare, Zimbabwe --