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RNC Joins Trump in Supporting Roy Moore; Conyers Announces Retirement Effective Today; Congress Trying to Avoid Government Shutdown; Supreme Court Weighs Gay Wedding Cake Case. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 5, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT- LARGE: You heard Orrin Hatch, from Utah, yesterday, essentially, say these allegations are from decades ago and Donald Trump has no choice but to support Roy Moore. You saw Mitch McConnell on Sunday say leave it to the people of Alabama decide, the same Mitch McConnell that said Roy Moore needed to drop out of the race and he should not be a U.S. Senator. So what's changed is that the race is a week from now, Roy Moore isn't going to drop out, and they think Roy Moore might win and they want that seat. It's as simple as that.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: David, what is more important right now, a week out? The money that the RNC is offering up or the headlines of the Trump and RNC I guess an endorsement a week out?

DAVID MOWERY, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: It's easily just the Trump/RNC/Bannon thing. I think the cake might be baked already, people were tuning this out. People in Alabama cared much more about the SEC championship game, go dogs, and they cared about Alabama getting into the playoffs than they're paying attention to this. There's only been three special elections in Alabama in December since 1913, and so there's really no precedence here for what turnout will look like. But in our world of, you know, tweets and quick news cycles, it's just that Trump's back in, hey, that's our man, they see that. And the people that vote in special election, people that vote in every election will vote in the special election. The people that you have to try to get out to vote in this election, I don't know that they're being engaged, and I don't see a surge anywhere.

CILLIZZA: And by the way, to David's point, Kate, I think it is worth noting, look, I think Donald Trump being back engaged here, it gives you cover. If you are a regular Republican voter and you would have supported Roy Moore before all this stuff came out, it allows you to say, Donald Trump's for him, you know, fake news media. It gives you a rationale and justification you might not have had otherwise, other than we need to stick it to the establishment. So I think at the margins it matters. Remember, Dave will tell you this Donald Trump is a very popular figure in the Alabama Republican Party.


MOWERY: Very popular.

BOLDUAN: David, at this point, is there just no persuadable voter? MOWRY: Yes. I think that's right. Bannon represents the seething

Republican Party and where a lot of Alabama is at when you look at your most likely voters. Look at people that have voted in every election for the last four or five cycles or whatever, those people are hard-core Republicans, they're older, and they're going to look at this and they're going to say, hey, look, you know, I've tuned out all this stuff and don't know if it's true or not true. It's just -- but I'm going to go vote and I'm probably going to, you know, vote for Roy Moore now.

BOLDUAN: I will say it is -- it is disheartening no matter where you land on the political spectrum if folks say I'm tuning it all out as new information may come in before an election for someone who has a huge impact on your state and nation for six years at least. That's just me.

Great to see you Chris and David. Let's see what happened. David says this cake is baked.

After allegations of sexual harassment and intense pressure from his own party to resign. the longest-serving member of the House, Democrat John Conyers, he is now out, but how he says he is retiring, resigning essentially, how he's doing it. What he's saying about it raising eyebrows. What does it mean for the party? What does it mean for Congress? That's coming up.


[11:37:44] BOLDUAN: A race against the clock on two fronts for Republicans on the Hill and the president in the White House. They're pushing to get their first major legislative win on the board by way, of course, of the massive overhaul to the nation's tax system, by Christmas. But also staring down another deadline, a government shutdown come Friday. All eyes there are on now renewed, renew, and once again, on an influential group of House conservatives that pushed the government to shut down before. How about now?

Suzanne Malveaux is on Capitol Hill with much more.

Suzanne, Speaker Ryan was behind closed doors meeting with members this morning on these topics, especially this government shutdown deadline. Did he emerge with answers on whether or not they're more or less likely to move towards a shutdown now?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, what was interesting about what he said is that he described these all as family discussions, these food fights going on within the Republican Party, that is very clear and it's been laid bare these divisions.

I want to take it piece by piece. First, what happened last night, when you look at the tax bill, OK, the House and Senate both said, OK, we're going to go ahead and move forward in conference to figure out the differences. Put forward and appoint negotiators to do this. That process should have been simple, but it was held up by more than two dozen or so conservative members who said, look, we don't want to move this forward. And why? It had nothing to do with the tax plan itself, it had to do with the spending bill, a real difference with the GOP leadership. They want to extend it, the stop gap two-week extension to fund the government. The Freedom Caucus, conservatives, did not agree. They want it longer. Eventually, those sides came together. You had House Speaker Paul Ryan talking to Mark Meadows, the head of the Freedom Caucus. It was sorted out. But essentially, Kate, that bill was held hostage by the conservatives for a while. It underscored how precarious the situation is to get that forward. They are desperate to move that forward.

On the other side, you talk about the spending bill, what is happening there, Friday deadline, very critical, and a new invitation now for the Democrats to join with the president, as well as the Republican leadership. As we know, it takes Senate -- 60 votes in the Senate, not just the 52 majority that Republicans have to push that forward. They need Chuck and Nancy, as the president has called the Democratic leadership. They got an invite back to the White House. They will be back to the White House with the president on Thursday to meet with him to try to hammer out some of the differences to fund the government the day before that deadline.

As you might recall, it was last week they decided they weren't going to go to the White House to meet with the president and Republicans because Trump tweeted they didn't a deal. Looks like they are all now willing to play ball, at least when it comes to the spending bill, but it is far from certain whether or not that is going to make that deadline on Friday -- Kate?

[11:40:36] BOLDUAN: Family discussions.


BOLDUAN: Family discussions can get ugly and seem so shockingly familiar. Not only do the Republicans in charge need to negotiate with Democrats to get this over the finish line but the Freedom Caucus and conservatives in the House. We've seen this movie several times before.

Suzanne, great to see you. Thank you.

MALVEAUX: You, too.

BOLDUAN: See how this turns out though. That will be different.

Congressman John Conyers, that's coming up. He's going down not without a fight, saying allegations of sexual harassment against him won't do anything to tarnish his legacy. This, as he announces he is retiring, at the very same time, taps his son to take over -- take his place.


BOLDUAN: Breaking news coming out of the Supreme Court. Oral arguments have just wrapped up in a major free-speech, religious- liberty, gay-rights case before the justices. This is about a Colorado baker and the same-sex couple that he refused to make a wedding cake for. Let's get over to the court. CNN's Supreme Court reporter, Ariane de

Vogue, was inside for oral arguments. She's joining me now.

Ariane, this is a major case before the justices. What did you hear inside?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, as you said, it's a case about Jack Phillips. He owns Masterpiece Cake Shop. And he refused to make that cake for a same-sex couple for their wedding out of religious objections. He said, he made a free speech claim. He said, look, the state can't force me to convey a message that I don't believe in, my cake is my artistic expression.

And that free speech argument during oral arguments gained a lot of traction and bothered the liberals and, at one point, bothered Justice Kennedy, who will be key. Justice Kagan said, where do we draw the line here? Does a jeweler get protection, hair stylist and makeup artist? And Kennedy made a key point. He could be the key swing vote here. He said, look, would Phillips have to hang a sign in his bakery saying, we don't make cakes for gay weddings. But then Kennedy also was on the other side at times, it seemed, particularly when it came to religion, and he worried about hostility to religion. And he asked, at one point, look, has the state -- was the state tolerant of Phillips' religious views here.

Keep in mind that the Trump administration is on the side of Phillips. On the other side are lawyers for this couple who were denied the cake. And they say this isn't about free speech, it's not about a cake, it's about discrimination, plain and simple. And that's what they argued in court.

All eyes on Justice Kennedy. It may, indeed, come down to how he sees this case.

[11:46:39] BOLDUAN: I don't know if you can hear me with all of -- what happens on big cases outside the court. But if you can, everyone will have to wait to see how the justices land, where Anthony Kennedy lands. But no matter what, however they decide, it could have a major impact on what was already a major case from 2015 when it came to same-sex marriage rights?

DE VOGUE: You remember, right, it was only -- more than two years ago, Anthony Kennedy wrote that opinion clearing the way for same-sex marriage nationwide. And Phillips, and his side, they say there's room in that opinion for a respect for their religious objections. And the other side said, yes, there's a respect for religious objections, but that doesn't mean you have to blow up anti- discrimination laws across the country. That decision clearing the way for same-sex marriage did come up in the end, and it will be interesting to see by June where the justices come out here.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Is there a way to thread the needle or are they going to make a broad and sweeping decision? Again, all eyes will be on Anthony Kennedy as it was in 2015 with this decision.

Ariane, thank you so much. A lot more to come and discussion to come when the audio if it does come out, comes out from the oral arguments today.

We'll have much more right after a break.


[11:50:23] BOLDUAN: We are following breaking news. The longest- serving member of the House announcing he is retiring, effective immediately. Democratic John Conyers, of Michigan, made the announcement this morning as he is was facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment from former members of his staff. In the end, he was facing bipartisan calls for his resignation.

CNN's Sara Ganim has been following all of this.

Sara, the headline today and why he said he's out, but also how he made, said he is leaving the Congress. What did we just hear from Conyers?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We heard this from a radio station in Michigan. He made the phone call from a hospital where he's being treated for stress related to all of this.

This is significant, Kate, because Conyer is the longest-serving member of Congress. Now he is also the first to step down because of allegations of sexual harassment since this nationwide reckoning over workplace misconduct. As I mentioned, 88 years old. He called into a radio station from a local hospital to say not only is he retiring, but is endorsing his son, John Conyers III, to replace him. Conyers has been in the hospital for stress and dizziness after accusers started to speak out. This is the first time we heard from him directly since the allegations of harassment have surfaced.

While he is stepping down, Kate, he continues to flatly deny the allegations. When he was asked how this will impact his 50-year legacy in the House, this is what he said.


REP. JOHN CONYERS, (D), MICHIGAN (via telephone): My legacy can't be compromised or diminished in any way by what we are going through now. This, too, shall pass. I want you to know that my legacy will continue through my children.


GANIM: Just a quick note, Kate. While his son -- he's endorsing his son, his grand-nephew, Ian Conyers, also told the "New York Times," he also plans to run for the seat. We expect a special election to be announced by the governor of Michigan in the next month or so.

BOLDUAN: Sara Ganim, thanks so much.

Joining me now, CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Angela Rye is here. CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Alice Stewart. And CNN political commentator and former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.

Senator, great to see you.

Thank you guys all for being here.

Angela, we had passionate conversations about this. I want to get your reaction to what we heard from John Conyers this morning.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is just a tough moment. Given what's happening in the culture, a lot of people are facing reckoning. I continue to say to you, Kate, what I have been saying since last week, I look forward to the day whether the position of power in politics or position of power in entertainment or position of power if you are the most senior ranking in a big corporation, I want for whatever punishment is doled out to be fair. I eagerly await the opportunity for someone to call on Blake Farenthold, whose settlements was three times that amount of the Congressman Conyers' confidential settlement. I wait someone to call for Al Franken's resignation. This is not a partisan issue. If politics is going to be accountable, in the same way in which Hollywood is, I eagerly await for Donald Trump to resign amid the accusations of 16 women.

BOLDUAN: Angela raises an important point. If you want to go as apples to apples as you can, Alice, Blake Farenthold -- John Conyers had a settlement in Congress. Blake Farenthold, from Texas, is a Republican from Texas, and had a settlement, $84,000, and is sticking around. There is no indication he is leaving. I haven't heard leadership come out for him to resign. Is there an element of fairness or unfairness going on?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Angela made an important point. This is a time of reckoning. Whether we are talking about Conyers or Farenthold or talking about Al Franken, if you are facing these charges -- and all the ones we heard today, in my view, are credible. I believe these women. I believe their stories. They should all step aside. I don't think this is a time where we have the opportunity to take this to a judge and jury. I believe these women and they should step aside. Listening to Conyers - one of the important things he said when asked by the radio show host, asking about the settlements and taxpayer money being used to pay off the hush fund, it was important for him to say, all this should be in the open, no more confidentiality when it comes to the important issues, everything should be on the table. I believe, if nothing else, out of this, we will put all of this in the open. More women will feel comfortable and more men will pay the price for the types of activities.

[11:55:32] BOLDUAN: Senator, I want to get your reaction to Conyers and if you want to speak like a House member to a House member, the woman that there is a settlement with spoke to Anderson Cooper. Spoke candidly about when she spoke out about harassment. She has not been able to find work. She was finding temp and baby-sitting jobs, work she worked for a member of Congress before.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree with what's being said, but I want to make sure there is a process. Accusation is one thing and we need a process to determine whether the accusations are credible or not is something that the Congress has to do. I understand Al Franken's claims made, but Al Franken deserves his day in court. The idea that someone makes an accusation and we demand resignation, that is different than going through a process and found to be credible. We have to make sure that we do give people some sort of due process through this whole thing.

RYE: Can I raise one more point? There is a new member out of Nevada named Ruben. He is a 37-year-old Latino member and he has been called on by Nancy Pelosi resign. There is no process. I think that is in fact what I'm raising. There was a process for Blake Farenthold. The same one as Mr. Conyers. If Senator Santorum suggests that that process found guilt, which is not what it found, if they found a settlement, the settlement that is required to have someone resign, he should resign. If we are saying because Al Franken's six accusers were not believing the women because there was not a process where they were forced to settle, or he was forced to settle, and it's open and up in the air, so are Ruben's one accuser, and we should allow that process to take place as well, and he should not face calls to resign. I'm seeing a lot of disparities and it's confusing. I want someone to help me understand why Conyers and Ruben are facing calls for resignation but Blake Farenthold and Al Franken are not.

BOLDUAN: It's one of the situations where everyone said it involves politics, but when it involves politicians, I thank you all for being candid. There is a lot of politics involved. That is the way it is. It is not good, and it should change, but that's the way it is today.

Rick, Senator, Alice, Angela, thank you so much. I appreciate you being here with me.


BOLDUAN: We will have much more breaking news after the break.