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Rubio a 'No' on Tax Bill, Other GOP Votes in Doubt; Deputy A.G. Defends Mueller Against GOP Accusations. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 14, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


TAPPER: There he is in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, razor-thin margin. New questions about the future of the Republican tax reform bill. Senator Marco Rubio now says he'll vote against it unless there's one major change. And the votes of two other GOP senators are also in doubt. Could the bill go down in flames?

Burned-out speaker? House Speaker Paul Ryan is said to be soul searching over his political future, possibly considering leaving Congress after next year's midterm elections or even sooner. Has the chaos of the Trump administration worn him down?

Reality show exit. White House aide and former reality TV star Omarosa Manigault-Newman denies reports of a dramatic departure from the executive mansion after her resignation was announced. Now, she's teasing a tell-all interview. Will one of the president's most loyal supporters create one of the biggest controversies?

And Putin on a show. Russian President Vladimir Putin uses his annual marathon news conference to praise President Trump and what Putin calls his fairly serious achievements. He also slams the investigations into Russian election interference as madness. Why is Putin repeating the Trump team's talking points?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A former rival and sharp critic of President Trump throwing a wrench into his efforts to win a much-needed legislative win with the tax overhaul bill.

Senator Marco Rubio now says he'll vote against the measure unless the child tax credit currently offered is increased. Rubio is one of several senators whose support for the bill is now in doubt as Republicans labor to bring it to a floor vote next week.

And more political drama. Close friends of House Speaker Paul Ryan are telling CNN he's been having what they described as soul-searching conversations about his future on Capitol Hill. The sources say Ryan could leave Congress after next year's midterm elections or even sooner. Ryan is denying it. But the White House says the report prompted President Trump to phone the speaker to let him know the president would be very unhappy if it was true. And Russian President Vladimir Putin used part of his four-hour year-

end news conference to praise President Trump and dismiss the multiple investigations into Russian election meddling. He called them -- and I'm quoting him now -- "delirium and madness dreamed up by Trump opponents." Putin also noted what he called fairly serious achievements by Mr. Trump, including the strength of the U.S. markets and investor confidence.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Ron Wyden of the Intelligence and Budget Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

But first, let's get straight to the latest dramatic twist in the Republican effort to overhaul the tax code. Senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us with the very latest.

Jeff, right now Republicans could be down at least two votes from what they need to pass their bill. This is tense.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's tense indeed, but the White House and Republican leaders have reached an agreement on the compromised version of their bill, merging those differences between the House and Senate versions. So while that plan is in place, the question tonight is are the votes there?

President Trump has been working behind the scenes on the telephone throughout the week and including this afternoon, trying to urge Republicans to not let their biggest victory slip away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One, two, three.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump grabbed a pair of golden scissors today at a White House photo opportunity on cutting regulations, but beyond the smiles tonight, deep questions remained over the prospects of the signature Republican tax plan.

TRUMP: I think we will get there. It'll be in a very short period of time. It will be the greatest Christmas present that a lot of people have ever received. It'll be something special.

ZELENY: The $1.5 trillion tax plan is in its final stages but still not over the finish line, as the White House and Republican leaders scramble to ease last-minute skepticism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Explain to everybody why it's so...

ZELENY: At the Capitol, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida made a bombshell announcement, saying he will vote "no" on the GOP's tax plan unless it expands the child tax credit. He's the second Republican senator to voice his opposition.

The president downplayed the concerns.

TRUMP: I think we'll be there. He's really been a great guy and very supportive. I think that Senator Rubio will be there, for sure.

ZELENY: But that confidence was not reflected in the raw math of the Senate. Two Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, are both ill. They've been away from the Capitol all week, making other Republican votes even more critical.

With a razor-thin margin in the Senate, Vice President Pence said today he would delay a trip to the Middle East until next week so he'll be on hand to break a tie if needed.

[17:05:09] (on camera): Will the president ask the House and Senate to stay here in Washington and finish this bill, even if it means bleeding into the Christmas holiday?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're pretty confident that we're going to get there before then, but this is something that I think that both the House, the Senate, and the president are all committed to seeing it happen, and we're very hopeful that it will take place at the first of next week.

ZELENY (voice-over): The White House is making tentative plans for the president to sign the bill into law before leaving for his holiday break at Mar-a-Lago. He's told aides he wants to sign what would be his biggest legislative achievement in the East Room, which is festooned in Christmas decorations. But the plan still needs another vote in the House and Senate.

The latest version, set to be announced Friday, is expected to lower the corporate tax rate to 21 percent; lower the top individual rate to 37 percent; and repeal the individual mandate in Obamacare.

But concerns still hang over the bill. Particularly, whether it has more benefits for the rich or middle-class Americans. A key sticking point: when the tax cut for individuals would expire, 2025 or even earlier.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Ain't going anywhere.

ZELENY: All this amid new questions over Speaker Paul Ryan's future. Some of his close friends tell CNN he's had soul-searching conversations about how long he may serve as the leader of the House Republicans. At the White House, those reports caused alarm. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said the president reached out to Ryan, one of his closest partners on Capitol Hill.

SANDERS: And made sure that the speaker knew very clearly and in no uncertain terms that, if that news was true, he was very unhappy with it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now Speaker Ryan said, "I ain't going anywhere," Wolf, but it is true that friends of his have said that he is exhausted after this year; and it raises the question if he would decide to leave after the 2018 midterm elections. It also raises another point, Wolf. The first year of any presidency,

particularly when they have the majorities in the House and Senate, is the best time to get anything done. So this is a moment here. It's one reason the president likes working with this speaker. They've developed a working relationship. That's why the president would like to see him stay -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Let's get some more on the intense drama unfolding up on Capitol Hill right now. Our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is joining us.

Sunlen, with Republicans looking at two GOP senators, potentially voting against the tax bill, two others possibly being too ill to vote, what do they do now?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have to scramble, Wolf. The situation is very unique in that Republican leaders here in the Senate are facing the situation which they have many potential circumstances, many unforeseen circumstances, many different factors coming into play that could potentially derail this bill.

Of course, we talked about Senator McCain's health. He's in the hospital receiving treatment for cancer. And there's a big question mark whether or not he might be able to return to the hill to cast his vote on the tax bill potentially next week. So that's still a TBD.

And then you also have this wild -- these wild-card senators Susan Collins, Senator Jeff Flake, Mike Lee. And then the flat-out "no's" from the bill as it stands right now. That's Senator Bob Corker. He voted "no" the first time around. He says, look, the questions and the concerns they have are still there with this bill. And then Senator Marco Rubio, who tonight said, "In its current form, I can't support this bill."

Late word coming from my colleague Phil Mattingly that says Senate leaders are working for a way to make some concessions to Rubio, pull him in, potentially give him more money for the child tax credit, which is what he wanted.

All of this boils down to the math. Because Republicans have such a slim majority here in the Senate with Vice President Pence's vote, which is expected next week, they can only lose three votes or else the bill would be sunk. So Republican leaders, Wolf, tonight are facing many different, various scenarios where that could potentially happen.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this and more. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is joining us. He's a key member of both the Intelligence and Budget Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just to remind our viewers, the Republicans have 52 senators. The Democrats have 48. If it's a 50-50 tie, the vice president breaks the tie in favor of the Republicans. You're close. None of the Democrats are going to vote for it. What do you see happening?

WYDEN: I think this debate is far from over. The fact is, I heard somebody mention it's sort of scrambled. That is one serious understatement. And the fact of the matter is this bill is wildly unpopular. A new bill -- a new poll came out here just in the last day.

People understand that this is a betrayal of the middle class. And in fact, the tax breaks in the Senate bill for the multinational corporations are permanent. The ones for the working people are temporary.

And by the way, if Marco Rubio extracts the concession that may be a very good one, are we going to shorten the bill that's already temporary for the middle class to pay for it so the middle-class people would get hosed once more?

[17:10:04] BLITZER: Well, there's going to be at least a trillion- dollar deficit if you believe the Congressional Budget Office, the committee on taxes, all of the studies that have shown already there's going to be a significant deficit, but a lot of the deficit hawks, a lot of the Republicans, they're willing to go along with it, because they think the economy will so dramatically improve with this, a lot of revenue will flow into the government.

WYDEN: There's a little more to it. Those deficit hawks look like they're going to be flying back to the nest, because they think Paul Ryan said, for example, the first bill he's going to do next is entitlement reform. That's code for cutting Medicare...

BLITZER: The president says he opposes any reduction in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. He repeatedly said that during the campaign. He says he still opposes any -- any reductions in what you'd call entitlement -- entitlements, which is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He opposes it, they're not going to pass it.

WYDEN: Speaker said first item of business, and look, we've seen this movie before. What happens is you create a big deficit. You just mentioned it. You get a sugar high for a little while, but you don't get the jobs, you don't get the growth. What happens? They come back and try to cut Social Security, Medicare, and the speaker has announced it. I don't think that happened by accident.

BLITZER: Is there any serious consideration if they don't get it done early in the week? Staying through Christmas, staying through New Year's, working here in Washington to see if they can get it done?

WYDEN: Well, what I hope they do is they see how unpopular this bill is. That's why there's so many Republican senators up in the air. And say, "Look, we want to do a bipartisan bill." Seventeen moderate Democrats said they want to do it. I've written two full bipartisan bills. That's what they ought to do is say, "Let's change course. Let's do a bipartisan bill that puts the middle-class rather than multinational corporations first."

BLITZER: All right, let's switch gears. You're on the Intelligence Committee. I assume you read that very lengthy article in "The Washington Post" today detailing President Trump's refusal to accept evidence of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Officials told "The Post" that the president's daily briefing was structured to avoid upsetting him so they don't even talk about that. What's your reaction?

WYDEN: I just think that's bizarre. I mean, these are the people that taxpayers pay to get us up to date information with respect to the challenges our country faces. As far back as before the election in the fall of 2016, we basically knew that the Russians were trying to interfere with the election. And somehow there was this relationship between the president and Mr. Putin -- I don't begin to be able to psychoanalyze it -- but somehow they support each other, even though we understand that the Russians clearly have hostile interests to ours.

BLITZER: "The Washington Post" also spoke with some administration officials who insist that, despite the president's friendly rhetoric toward Putin and the Russians, it doesn't prevent him from taking tough positions if necessary. Do you buy that?

WYDEN: I don't. I mean, look at what happened with the sanctions bill last year. You and I have talked about this before. There was overwhelming concern in the Congress that the president wouldn't be there for tough sanctions. We had to basically tie his hands. You don't see that very often.

BLITZER: It was a 98-2 vote for sanctions against Russia in the Senate. Passed in August. We're now in December. The president hated that legislation. He didn't want to even sign it. He had no choice, because you guys in the Senate and the House would have overridden a veto if he would have vetoed the legislation. It still has not yet been implemented as far as -- as far we know.

WYDEN: He's clearly -- he's clearly stonewalling that legislation. He didn't want it in the first place, as you indicated.

This relationship he has with Putin I find baffling, because again and again when you listen to it, they just sort of recycle each other's talking points.

BLITZER: Are the Russians still engaged in cyber warfare? Are they still hacking? Are they still doing what they did during the election last year?

WYDEN: I can't obviously talk about matters I know about from the Intelligence Committee, but I continue to believe that cyber is right up at the top of the threats we face. I would sort of probably put cyber first. Then I'd put North Korea and Russia right up there next. BLITZER: And what about terrorism: ISIS and al Qaeda and all of that?

WYDEN: Obviously, a major threat, as well.

BLITZER: But you would put cyber warfare against the United States as the gravest national security threat right now, even more so than a nuclear North Korea?

WYDEN: I think -- I'm not in the business of picking one or the other, but those would be right up at the top.

BLITZER: So let's talk about cyber warfare for a moment. Is it Russia that you're afraid of or other countries engaged, potentially, as cyber warfare against various U.S. targets?

WYDEN: I can't talk about classified matters, but clearly, there are a host of threats, and we know about them.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Senator. We're getting some new information. I want to continue our interview. There's a lot more to discuss. We'll have a complete coverage of all of these developments right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:19:04] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, questions about whether Republicans have enough votes to get their tax bill through the U.S. Senate after Senator Marco Rubio said he'll vote "no" unless the child tax credit is increased.

There are also serious concerns right now over the health of Senator John McCain who's battling brain cancer. He's in a Washington area hospital right now.

We're back with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He's a member of the Intelligence and Budget Committees, the Finance Committee as well.

Let's talk a little bit about what we heard yesterday from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. He testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee. He strongly defended the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his investigation. But he also faced a barrage, very tough questions from Republicans on the committee, who appear to be questioning Robert Mueller's credibility. There seems to be an effort to get Mueller fired. You buy that?

WYDEN: I certainly am troubled. I heard those questions.

Look, Bob Mueller's work is especially important, because he is working on the follow-the-money issues. These are really the crucial questions you see with Papadopoulos, Manafort, Flynn. I mean, the details with respect to Manafort, there's more shoes to drop here.

And I can tell you that when you look at these follow-the-money questions, Paul Manafort is not going to be able sweep all the details under the expensive rugs he was buying. So it is very important to protect Bob Mueller's ability to do the professional work he's been pursuing.

And I want to be clear, is if there is any effort by the president to interfere with Bob Mueller's work, I think that's going to trigger a constitutional crisis.

BLITZER: When you say constitutional crisis, what do you mean? Explain.

WYDEN: Well, I mean, we're talking about undermining the rule of law, and I think, certainly, there will be people calling for various ways to look at impeachment. I think that this will trigger a real constitutional crisis.

BLITZER: Because you hear a lot of Republicans now and conservative media, for example, saying he's hired all these lawyers who are Democrats, who are anti-Trump. You've heard all those suggestions. If the president wants to fire Mueller, constitutionally, he has the right to fire him, right?

WYDEN: There really is no rule with respect to firing Mueller, other than for cause. And if he is firing Bob Mueller without showing cause, I think that's going to trigger a constitutional crisis.

And I think if you look at the details that he has laid out in those three cases that, you know, I mentioned, this is somebody who's doing it by the book. I hope there won't be any effort in the Justice Department to discredit Bob Mueller's work. We've been concerned about some of these e-mails and the like that people are talking about. I think he's doing it by the book.

BLITZER: Have you seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?

WYDEN: I think when you look at Donald Trump Jr. and what is on the record, I think there was clearly an intent to collude. Now, I continue to believe that there are major questions. I mentioned the follow-the-money issues. I put a hold on some key appointments that the Trump administration wants, becaue I want access to the documents. This is how you collect -- connect the dots.

I mean, you have on one hand their portfolio consisted of a lot of money. Then the president didn't disclose his taxes. We've seen from newspaper articles there are a lot of passthroughs that benefit under his tax legislation. There's a lot to do here.

BLITZER: When you say "follow the money," what are you suggesting? And I want you to be specific, your fear? And I know you don't have enough evidence to make it, but what is your suspicion?

WYDEN: My concern always is, are the interests of the American people being put first or are there interests, financial interests, that come before the American people?

BLITZER: Yesterday Donald Trump Jr., he spent hours, maybe eight or ten hours meeting with the staff. The staff of your committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee. No senators were allowed to participate. Only staffers were there. But Senator Manchin told me yesterday that the senators could go and read the transcript as early as today if they wanted to. I wonder what, if anything, you can tell us.

WYDEN: I -- I've been working around the clock on this tax bill because, Wolf, we're talking about $10 trillion worth of tax policy changes. And I have never seen a process like that.

We had a so-called conference committee. It was really a conference committee maybe for a reality show, but not anything in the real world. We didn't actually have a bill. We didn't have the opportunity to ask questions about it.

And as I've indicated, I'm concerned that the Republicans are writing into black-letter law a double economic standard. One set of rules for the well-connected, the multinational corporations, very generous breaks, permanent. The middle-class gets temporary ones.

And by the way, the issue to watch is how you would pay for anything extra Marco Rubio got. Would it come, for example, by taking the temporary break the middle-class gets and then making it even shorter?

BLITZER: We're told that your colleague, Senator John McCain, he's at Walter Reed, the military medical hospital outside of Washington. He's very frail right now. He's suffering from brain -- brain cancer. What could you tell us about -- I'm sure he's your friend, Senator McCain?

WYDEN: Well, he really is a special friend. When I came to the Senate, I was on his committee, the Commerce Committee. And you saw his, really, joy for public service. He was willing to take on big issues, willing to take on Enron. He was willing to take on the tobacco lobby.

So my prayers are with -- with John and Cindy tonight. He's really a special friend.

BLITZER: And what are you hearing about his condition?

WYDEN: We hear, obviously, he's very frail, and -- and we're concerned.

BLITZER: We're all concerned and we wish him, of course only, only the best.

Senator Wyden, thanks very much for joining us.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have more on the Republicans' sudden scramble for vote to pass a final deal on tax cuts. Will disagreements or Senator McCain's illness delay a final vote? They want to vote Monday or Tuesday.

Later, Vladimir Putin spends four hours taking questions and has plenty to say about President Trump. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:29:45] BLITZER: This hour's breaking news, the Republicans' last- minute scramble to lock up enough votes to pass tax cuts.

Just a little while ago, President Trump told reporters he feels very sure Republican Senator Marco Rubio will be there and support the bill. Even though the senator says he's a "no" vote until the lawmakers increase the child tax credit.

Let's bring in our political specialists to discuss, so David Chalian, it looks tense for the Republicans. How does it look to you?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, just hearing Donald Trump praise Marco Rubio as a great guy is a little -- after that primary season. But, Wolf, I would say, Marco Rubio's not going to be the guy that is going to scuttle the Republican tax bill. That -- I just -- I can't see any scenario when that happens. It seems to me that this is a bit of a negotiating position knowing that his vote is needed. And by the way, I think it's going to be a call to some other potential senators. It's like, well, wait, if Marco Rubio was able to get a little bit of his thing, I'm going to fight to get mine. That's the problem for Mitch McConnell when you're in this position and you need every single vote, every single voter, Senator, has a right to ask for what they want for that vote. So, yes, a momentarily blip, but I -- it would very much surprise me if Marco Rubio is not a yes vote at the end of the day.

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: That's 100 percent right. Look, he's trying to get something so he can say, I went -- you know, he can go to his constituents and say, the child tax credit -- the refund wasn't high enough. I told them they need to make it higher, and they made it higher, right, delivering on promises.

BASH: Its constituents or voters in Iowa?

CHALIAN: Well, that's just --

CILLIZZA: Well, we're (INAUDIBLE) about 2024.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: For the next presidential run, why not?

CILLIZZA: But yes, yes, that's certainly --

BASH: That's why he can't think it because of 2024.

CILLIZZA: That's certainly something that he is -- right. Absolutely. So -- but he's not going to be the (INAUDIBLE). The thing is, remember, to David's point, every senator matters, every senator becomes his own island that he can negotiate, and come January, they will have even less wiggle room with Doug Jones coming in, in place of the -- of Luther Strange. So, this is why people say, oh, it's one senate seat. Well, this is why. Because right now, if the -- if the alignment was in January, Corker would be -- that would be it, that would be all they could lose. I mean, this is very dicey, the math is just very close.

BLITZER: Especially what happened in Alabama, and the new Senator Doug Jones in Alabama, he'll be sworn in early -- until early January, so they want to get this done before he comes to Washington and replaces Luther Strange, the Republican Senator from Alabama. What are you hearing, Dana, about Senator McCain, we know he's at Walter Reed Medical Center, and we know he's frail. The President and the Republican leadership, they desperately need his vote Monday or Tuesday.

BASH: They do. And there's no question about it. And look, he is somebody who -- look, less than six months ago was diagnosed with a really aggressive form of cancer, of brain cancer, he's had really aggressive treatment to combat it, and it's been nonstop, that treatment. And that is tough on any human, and he's 81 years old. So, it has been a tough slog for him. The cancer treatment, the other treatment to deal with the effect on his body has been hard. And so, he has been, until this week, sticking with it in the Senate and voting much of this chagrin of some of his friends.

BLITZER: And his doctors, too.

BASH: And his doctors who were wishing that he would just rest because of the effect of the treatment. So, now, he is, and he's doing it at Walter Reed, and you know, we'll see. We'll see what happens first and foremost with his health. And then, secondly, with this vote, and whether he is needed. The other thing that we should probably keep in mind here is that McCain voted for the first -- the Senate version of the tax bill. And there are some kind of long-time McCain supporters and friends who were not thrilled with that because he, all those years ago, voted against the Bush tax cut because of the deficit and so forth. So, you know, we'll see if he is completely on board with this regardless if he's in the hospital or even in the U.S. Senate.

BLITZER: You want to say --

CILLIZZA: Well, I was just going to say, what's difficult here again is that you're dealing with such narrow math, Wolf. I mean, this is not the House, where in the House, they can lose 20 -- now, we've seen problems with that, too, the first health care vote they took they couldn't get it passed, but they can lose 20 people and give people passes. You really can't here. So, even though you have people who are -- they expect people like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake, people who have been difficult for them in the past, Rand Paul, they expect these people to vote, it's still not easy. I think ultimately, they will get it done. I always defer to Dana, especially on Congressional stuff. I think they'll get it done because they believe it's a necessity for them in 2018, though, I would argue, they may be in big trouble, Alabama being a precursor to that, regardless of what they do with the tax bill.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a sensitive moment. Everybody, stand by, there's more we need to discuss. We'll take a quick break. We'll resume our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:39:14] BLITZER: We're back with our political specialists. And, you know, David, let's talk a little bit about the Doug Jones win in Alabama. The Democrats as, you know, they want the Republicans to wait on a final vote on the tax cut bill until he's sworn in probably in early January. They found themselves, the Democrats, in a similar situation back in 2010 when they were trying to pass during the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act that Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts just pulled off a surprise win. There were pressured to delay any final vote until he was sworn in. At the time, Democrats delayed action on the bill. I want you to listen -- until Scott Brown was sworn in. Here's Mitch McConnell, President Obama, and Donald Trump, private citizen at the time talking about this back in 2010.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[17:40:00] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I'm convinced now that no gamesmanship will be played by the other side with regard to future votes in the Senate, let's honor the wishes of the people of Massachusetts and move forward.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He said now, you know, we have to give Massachusetts their vote, which was a very smart thing for him to say, but that may kill his health care plan. Boy, he has devoted an entire year and all of his capital to this one particular situation that a lot of people don't want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is it fair to compare what was said then to what's going on right now?

CHALIAN: It is certainly fair to compare, there's no doubt about that. Here are -- here are a couple differences: one, when Mitch McConnell made those comments in 2010, Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, had just expressed that viewpoint, that he was not -- so Barack Obama was going to start facing pressure internally from his own party if they were going to move forward and not have Scott Brown seated first, that's one. Two, Scott Brown's victory in that Senate race was about the health care bill.

In many ways, not like in Alabama which was not at all about this tax bill, really? But it is worth -- it is certainly worth pointing out that Mitch McConnell was in a different place then than he is now. But Donald Trump was in a different place, then there's no doubt about that, but I -- it is -- it is worth to note, if Mitch McConnell started hearing from Republican Senators, Wolf, and they said, I'm not going to move forward on this tax bill until Doug Jones is seated, guess what, he'd be all for seating Doug Jones and so with Donald Trump to make sure they were there to move forward. BASH: And also, just take a moment to remind ourselves that we just heard private citizen Donald Trump talking about a President spending his whole year of political capital on a piece of legislation. I mean, who could imagine such a thing?

CILLIZZA: In his defense, he wasted a lot of political capital trying to repeal health care.

BASH: That's my point. That's my point.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Keep up, Cillizza. Keep up, Cillizza.

CILLIZZA: I'm sorry. I'm going to stop.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: No, I'm just kidding. No. But, look, I mean, this is one of the many reasons people can't stand Washington because you make one argument when you're in one situation, and you make a completely contradictory argument when you're in another. And it is hypocrisy, and both parties do it.

CILLIZZA: It's also evidence that there's -- people say there's a Donald Trump tweet for everything, there's probably a Donald Trump sound bite for everything. I mean, it's remarkable the extent to which he was just sort of opining on literally --

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) that was then, and this is now.

CILLIZZA: Well, I mean --

BLITZER: You know, when I interviewed Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Intelligence Committee, just a few moments ago, Dana, and I asked him if there was evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and he said this, and he was very precise, he said, there was -- there's evidence of intent to collude, and he suggested, follow the money, follow the money that he was talking about, Donald Trump, Jr. And there was evidence of intent to collude. What was your reaction to that?

BASH: He has a lot of access to information that he isn't supposed to and doesn't often talk about. So, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and somebody who has been part of this investigation for almost a year. So, that is noteworthy. There's no question. The follow the money is happens to be kind of investigation 101 whether it's intelligence or other kind of investigation, law enforcement investigation, but the fact that he mentioned that in the same sentence as Don, Jr. and collusion, is really striking.

BLITZER: Yes.

CILLIZZA: And, I mean, look, we know Michael Flynn pled guilty to what we believe was sort of a -- I don't to want say a lesser, but pled guilty to lying to the FBI when there's been a lot of reporting about many other things regarding Michael Flynn. If Bob Mueller believes that Michael Flynn possesses information that could inform people above him, candidly, in the Donald Trump world, there's just not that many people above where Mike Flynn was in the Trump inner circle out there.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to be speaking, by the way, with the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, in a few minutes. We're going to get his reaction, what he is learning about all of this. But this is significant, if he says there's evidence of intent to collude and then he uses that phrase, follow the money, followed by what he's learning about Donald Trump, Jr. and setting up that meeting at Trump Tower.

CHALIAN: Yes, no doubt. I mean, Ron Wyden is connecting dots that he sees right now. The thing about saying what there's -- that there's evidence of intent, there may be more evidence still to come. This is an ongoing investigation. And so, the next piece of evidence may discount that or support that claim from Ron Wyden. We're not at the end of this where I think conclusions can be drawn just yet, we are in the place where you're looking at a lot of different pieces of information and what you heard today, was Ron Wyden significantly trying to connect some dots.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's more news we're following. Coming up, by the way, once again, at the top of the hour here on THE SITUATION ROOM, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, he'll be speaking with me. We're talking about the Russia investigation. There are new developments unfolding, stand by for that.

[17:44:58] There's also breaking news we're following, we've just learned Vladimir Putin and President Trump, they spoke on the phone today. We have details right after this.

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[17:50:04] BLITZER: Breaking news. We've just learned Russia's Vladimir Putin and President Trump, they spoke by phone today. This comes as the same day the Russian leader held a marathon news conference in Moscow, telling reporters that suspicions about the Russian collusion with the Trump campaign are, and I'm quoting him now, "espionage mania" and "dreamed up." Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what are you hearing first of all about the Putin-Trump phone call?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told that they spoke about how the problems, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula might be solved. And in that phone call, which we're just learning about right now comes after Putin held one of his vintage news conferences in which he praised President Trump repeatedly for more than 3-1/2 hours. Putin also slammed the Russia investigation, belittled his own opposition and tried once again to drive a wedge into American politics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD: By Vladimir Putin standards, this was a brief news conference.

Speaking for more than 3-1/2 hours, the Russian President didn't spare any degree of flattery for his controversial American counterpart. Putin said President Trump has been working under great constraints and limitations, but so far, so good.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Objectively, we can see a number of fairly serious achievements over the short period he's been at work. Look at the markets, for example.

TODD: What's Putin's calculation for complimenting President Trump?

DAN HOFFMAN, FORMER CIA STATION CHIEF: Vladimir Putin wants to be in a position where he's grading the administration and it elevates his status, certainly in front of his own people, as if he's assessing the Trump administration. He also wants to drive a wedge between the administration and the Congress. He's acutely aware that it was the Congress that pushed the sanctions over the summer.

TODD: Putin also brushed off the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The former KGB colonel calling it espionage mania.

PUTIN (through translator): This is all dreamed up by people who are in opposition to Trump. To make sure that everyone thinks that what he's doing and working at is illegitimate. It's just delirium, it's madness.

HEATHER CONLEY, DIRECTOR OF THE EUROPE PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It also feeds into, I think, President Trump's concern about the Intelligence Community, the so-called "deep state," President Putin acknowledge that this was something that was created to divide. So it just strengthens President Trump's views on this investigation.

TODD: Putin's own re-election next year is a foreground conclusion. Still, this authoritarian leader had the nerve to say he wants a, quote, "balanced political system with competition." He was asked why there's no effective opposition running against him.

PUTIN (through translator): When you are talking about opposition, it's not a matter of just demonstrating in the streets. What you have to do is propose something to make things better.

TODD: This, from the man whose opposition has an extraordinary habit of meeting up with violence. Alexei Navalny, the most vocal opponent of Putin who's still alive, has been arrested on corruption charges, he says are concocted by Putin. Navalny has been repeatedly jailed and prohibited from running for office. Prominent Putin opponents like Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Kara-Murza have wound up dead or poisoned to the brink of death.

CONLEY: People that threaten the stability and the longevity of that regime suffer consequences, fatal consequences, or they are bankrupted, they are, you know, forced into exile.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, after he wins re-election next year, analysts say Putin may try to inject some fresh blood into his inner circle. He may replace some of his team, he may even install a new prime minister to try to make Russians think he's undertaking actual reforms, but at the same time, at the very core, analysts say this is going to be the same Vladimir Putin who really won't willingly give up power anytime soon. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, and despite the intimidation of journalists at that 3-1/2 hour news conference, there was one highly charged confrontation where a journalist challenged Putin, right?

TODD: That's right. She's an extraordinary story, Wolf. There's a woman named Tatyana Felgenhauer. This is a picture of her. She's an editor at a radio station called Echo of Moscow which has been critical of the Kremlin. She had her throat cut back in October around the same time that Russian government were on T.V. had singled her out for her reports. Today, she shows up at this news conference, she asked Putin about the corruption of Russia's legal system. He danced around it and gave a nonanswer. She just shook her head and walked away. Quite a moment.

BLITZER: All right. Quite a moment indeed. Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.

There's more breaking news. Will have more on the phone call between President Trump and Russian President Putin, and why democrats fear that congressional republicans may try to shut down the Russia probe. I'll talk to the top democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff. He's standing by live.

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[17:59:26] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, not enough votes. President Trump's hopes for passing tax reform in new jeopardy tonight as his former campaign rival Marco Rubio reveals he's against the current version of the plan. We're following multiple potential threats to the bill in the U.S. Senate.

Under assault. As republicans raised questions about Robert Mueller's team and possible political bias, is the special counsel or the broader Russia investigation in any new danger tonight? I'll ask the ranking democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

Ryan to leave? Sources say the House Speaker is doing some soul- searching about his political future. We're learning more about Paul Ryan's thinking and the President's concerns that he might call it quits.