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Republican Senator Republican Marco Rubio Now Saying He Is A Yes In Support Of The Republican Final Version Of The Tax Plan; Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson And North Korea's Ambassador Each Addressed The U.N. Security Council; One Of President Trump's Judicial Nominees Gets Grilled By A Senator On His Legal Experience. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired December 15, 2017 - 15:00   ET



[15:01:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We continue on hour two. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking news this hour, a source close to Republican senator Republican Marco Rubio now saying he is a yes in support of the Republican final version of the tax plan. He had been holding out for bigger child tax credit refunds but looks like the Florida senator won that fight. Republicans raising the refundable child tax credit to $1400 in this final version due out very shortly.

We are also keeping a close eye on ailing senators John McCain of Arizona and senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. We did learn that a procedure that senator Cochran had to remove a skin cancer into that apparently being more extensive than the doctors had planned. What that means for him physically getting to Capitol Hill for a vote next week that is unsure.

But let me be crystal clear. These stakes could not be higher. President Trump is looking for his first major legislative win since becoming the President nearly a year ago. And Republicans who have control of the House and Senate want something to show for it as well.

So let's go to Capitol Hill to our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty here.

And Sunlen, this is a big, big deal that Rubio is now a yes.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It is, Brooke, essentially, the big hurdle removed for Republican leaders and it increases their momentum and it increases the chances that this bill could go through next week when they vote on it. Rubio clearly was satisfied by the concessions that were made. The changes he wanted to see over the child tax credit, the fact that you said it got boosted up, more money thrown in going from $1100 to $1400.

But Rubio specifically moving to yes column, it is battle won for Republicans but not out of the woods yet. There are still a lot of wild cards here. You have senator Mike Lee who had same concerns of Marco Rubio over the child tax credit. It will be interesting to see if that appeased him as well. Right now he is still undecided.

Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, they never relied on him being a yes vote. Still no indication how he will vote. He says he still has the same concerns over this bill. But so certainly a battle won today, Brooke, you also have the dynamic with senator McCain as you mentioned whether or not he will be table to return to Washington.

So Republican leaders feeling confident at this moment. Certainly Rubio coming out and saying yes is a huge boost of momentum but still some work to be done before they move to a vote next week.

BALDWIN: Give me a list, as far as we know, that the tick tock as we would say, that the timeline for votes next week?

SERFATY: Yes. Well, tonight we will see the formal bill tax bill released 5:30 this evening. And then going into next week, the expectation (ph) as of now is that the House will go first Tuesday, the Senate will vote next potentially Tuesday night maybe into Wednesday. Everyone here seems to think that they are pushing towards and driving towards getting a bill to the President's desk to be signed, that's of course given it passes both Houses up here by Wednesday. An incredibly ambitious timeline but one everyone here seems to be pushing for.

BALDWIN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

As Sunlen reported this Republican bill, it is finalized. It is locked. No more changes as of noon today. But the key question, do they have the votes to pass it through next week.

Let's talk it over with two Republicans. Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator and in just a moment we will sell Joseph Borelli, New York City councilman.

So Ana Navarro, good to see you.


BALDWIN: Let's pop up guys if we have the tweets from senator Marco Rubio that had just been tweeted out so we can see maybe where his mindset set is and how he had gone from potentially a no to a yes. He says for far too long Washington has ignored and left behind the American working class, increasing the (INAUDIBLE) of the child tax credit from 55 percent to 70 percent as solid step toward broader reforms which are both pro-growth and pro-worker. And just in the end, he named checks and things, senator Mike Lee, senator Tim Scott, and Ivanka Trump.

So Ana, your friend in Florida has made quite a bit of new. And this is a huge chill for Republicans. He is a yes. Are you surprised he came around?

[15:05:10] NAVARRO: No, I'm not surprised. I think it's kind of his playbook. It was what we have seen him do over and over again under the Trump administration. Where he initially comes out as iffy opponent, talking, you know, and tries to get some sort of concession for his vote.

We saw him do it for example during the Rex Tillerson hearings and vote and he got some concessions on Cuba as I result. I think it's the same thing we did here. Rubio skeptics will say to you, look, it's what he always does. Makes a lot of noise and then caves at the end. I think Rubio supporters will say, look, he got something for it. He got a 15 percent increase on child refundable tax credit. He something on behalf of, you know, the working families of America.

So really I think it depends where you come at this and what glasses you are seeing it through. If you think he is, you know, he always caves, you think he just caved. If you think he doesn't, you think he just got something for his efforts.

BALDWIN: So, all right, Joe Borelli, good to sea see you, sir, as well.

We know that he is a yes. There are still a number of unknowns as they head into the vote next week. And this isn't a guarantee. A political imperative. Surreal. You know, the idea of doing something by the end of the year has according to our sources on the Hill and aides I know our crews have been talking to, you know, has been a driving force. My question to you is what's the fallout for failure for Republicans?

JOSEPH BORELLI (R), NEW YORK CITY COUNCILMAN: Well, in this case I don't think failure is not an option. I mean, for better or worse, we did have an electoral loss in Alabama. And the GOP in the Senate really does have to justify its raise own, the reason why elect Republicans there.

I think the GOP can afford a failure. And with Rubio coming on board finally now, and the fact that I don't think they wouldn't have finalized in text in the bill this morning if they didn't have the results, almost certain, you know, anything could happen. But I'm almost certain that this bill passes and we do have a big Christmas gift from President Trump by December 25th.

BALDWIN: That is what he is hoping for. Certainly sounded pretty confident when we saw him departing for the FBI academy a little while ago.

Speaking of that, I want to play a moment as he was leaving, he stopped to talk to the media, Joe, this sends to you. And I want you to listen how he answered a question as to whether he would consider a pardon. He was asked about this, whether he would consider a pardon for Michael Flynn.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We will see what happens. Let's see.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: So much to do about that, let's see, and the yet part of what he said. We know the White House council Ty Cobb has been pushing back saying there is no considering Flynn pardon. This isn't the first time, you know, they have been on the same page. But what do you read into that, the let's see, and not yet?

BORELLI: Well, I think the one thing we have seen time and time again from Donald Trump is use of the phrase "we will see" when he's not ready to make a decision.

BALDWIN: What's that about?

BORELLI: I don't know. I think it is just one of the default, you know, phrases that he likes to use, like huge, and bigly and some of the more, you know, creative words that he likes to throw in his speech.

I don't necessarily see a Flynn pardon coming down the pike any time soon. Although that said, you know, there is stuff that Flynn pled guilty too isn't really -- they are more of a process crime in terms of the Russia investigation and anything he did, you know, just jeopardize security of America.

BALDWIN: A crime is a crime is a crime, Ana Navarro.

NAVARRO: Look. The reason he pled guilty to that smaller crime is because he is cooperating with Mueller's investigation. And so what you saw today from Donald Trump was he was speaking directly to Michael Flynn through the TV camera telling him, hey Michael, don't snitch, don't sing like canary, don't tell anything you know and, you know, maybe I'll be nice to you and I will offer you a pardon for what --.

BALDWIN: You think that's what he was doing?

NAVARRO: Of course, that's what he was doing. He had an audience of one. Look, you know, if I had Michael Flynn cooperated with Mueller, I would be sweating (INAUDIBLE) too if I was Donald Trump. I think he is, you know, basically, telling Michael Flynn, be nice to me, I'll be nice to you. You rub my back, I'll rub yours.

BALDWIN: Can he - I mean, I'm not a lawyer here, and Ana Navarro, I don't think Joe Borelli - I mean, none of us are lawyers, to see whether that's even OK for the President to be, you know, sending messages to cooperating witness who is doing a deal with the special counsel in this case, but nevertheless perhaps that is what he was doing.

Also President Trump was slamming the current system of immigration. Here he was.


TRUMP: Visa lottery. They have a lottery. You pick people. Do you think the country is giving us their best people? No. What kind of a system is that? They come in by lottery. They give us their worst people, they put them in a bin, but in his hand when he's picking them is really the worst of the worst. Congratulations. You are going to the United States. OK. What a system, lottery system.


[15:10:18] BALDWIN: So the White House admitted this week that even the people who are picked in the lottery, Joe Borelli, are vetted, so why is he being misleading?

BORELLI: I think he is really speaking to the broader GOP goal of ending chain migration, you know, and giving people an advantage simply because they have family connections to people that have come before them, you know. And I think you heard it right there, people in the FBI seem to be laughing and cheering when he was saying that.

You know, this is something that the President had promised to do from when he was running for office. Be tougher on immigration. Be more careful of who we let in. And despite people who predict that he wouldn't be able to move forward on this type of agenda, I think you actually see him going forward with the support of Republicans in Congress.

BALDWIN: Ana Navarro, what do you think they are up to?

NAVARRO: Look, a lot of what he said is incorrect. It is not -- countries don't put names in a bin. Applicants apply themselves. Pro-actively apply. It is a random process. And then people are fully vetted just like anybody else wanting to come into this country. So it is nothing like what he described.

That being said, a lot of Republicans don't like the lottery system. Think there is a better way that better addresses the needs of this country, the economic needs, the modern economy that we have now, than a random lottery system.

I think, look, I think that we can't just cherry pick things we like and don't like. Really, the immigration system is broken. It has to be addressed in a comprehensive way. OK, if you are going to get rid of the lottery visa, what will you get on the other side for it? Maybe legalize those TPA people, the people who had temporary protective status that he ended a couple of weeks ago, and who have been here being part of our economy and our society and have jobs, and businesses here. You are talking about, what, 60,000 people.

I mean, I don't know, there is going to have to be a grand bargain. There is going to have to be bartering. You take from here and you give there. And I do think that there needs to be some focus on how do we use immigration to address the economic and social needs of the United States to make this a stronger better country.

BALDWIN: Let them get the taxes through and then we shall see what happens with this immigration.

Last question, Ana, on a bit of a lighter note, Gallup poll numbers just in on Melania Trump. You see it now. She has higher approval rating than her husband. And Ana Navarro, we know the President doesn't really like to be out shined by anyone, including his wife. How is that going to go down over the holidays?

NAVARRO: I don't know. Look, I don't know how to interpret that marriage. But I'm not surprised, you know. We have seen her, you know, be a first lady. We have seen her be a hostess. We have seen her go read to sick children. She really, you know, has not been politically involved. And, you know, she seems to be a grounded person. So I'm not surprised.

Look, she's not up in the middle of the night sending offensive tweets to anybody and there brothering causing international incidents through offensive tweets. She is being a normal human being. Any normal human being would have higher numbers than Trumps. Maybe he should take a page out of his wife's book.

BALDWIN: OK. We have to go. Joe Borelli, Ana Navarro, thank you both so much.

BORELLI: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Happy Holidays to you. Thank you.

NAVARRO: Merry Christmas.

BALDWIN: Thank you. Same to you.

For the very first time in decades, the American secretary of state sat at the same table with North Korea ambassador. They didn't hold back, though, with their messages to one another. What the U.N. meeting means as nuclear tensions are on the rise.

Plus, a Republican senator hammers one of Trump's judicial nominees about his credentials. The awkward exchange and the new White House response.

And more breaking news from Capitol Hill where this crucial vote on the Republican tax bill just gained a big yes from this man, Republican senator Marco Rubio.

We are back in la flash.


[15:18:47] BALDWIN: We are back. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

A remarkable moment over at United Nations today as secretary of state Rex Tillerson and North Korea's ambassador each addressed the U.N. Security Council. Washington and Pyongyang may have been at the same table physically at the U.N. but their messages couldn't have been more different.

Secretary Tillerson answered questions from reporters after calling for North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are going to continue our diplomatic efforts. Those options remain open until other things may foreclose the diplomatic option. There is no daylight at all between the President's policy and the pursuit of that policy. The President I think had been very clear that we are going to lead this pressure campaign.


BALDWIN: CNN'S senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is here with me to discuss. Nice to have you in person.


BALDWIN: So significant that he said no daylight as he had said one thing earlier this week and perhaps (INAUDIBLE), had been conversations worried about mixed messages again. How significant is all this?

KOSINSKI: I know. And when he says no daylight, I think people at this point just say, yes, OK. I mean, we have heard that before, but then we have seen some pretty glaring gaps. And after that, remember, the whole moron controversy where he allegedly called the President a moron during a meeting at which the President wasn't present. But later he neither confirmed nor denied that he said it. And he reiterated that they are on the same page in all of this.

But, I mean, he is still at the state department, yes. But we do know that his words the way he framed them days ago about having no preconditions for talking with North Korea. In fact he went on and on and he said come to the table, you know. We can talk about the weather if you want.

[15:20:28] BALDWIN: That changed.

KOSINSKI: Yes. OK. So in fact that language, he was going to reiterate that, because they released, the state department released his prewritten remarks before he actually appeared at the security council this afternoon. And he restated what he had stated the other day. Used the word preconditions. And then when he delivered this address, that was all taken out. So today the emphasis was all about there being preconditions, and big conditions. As he put it, a sustained cessation of North Korean dangerous behavior. So that's a big pre-condition right there.

We don't really know the evolution of this fully. The state department says, well, he decides what he is going to say and what venue. So in his view, he doesn't want there to it be preconditions, obviously. But almost in the same breath he talks about things that certainly sound like preconditions.

BALDWIN: OK. Significant also that North Korea was there and there is so much more to ask you about that. But I was just handed this piece of paper on something entirely separate if I can ask you about this. KOSINSKI: Sure. Yes.

BALDWIN: I was getting this is, getting your take on how secretary Mattis responded to questions today at the Pentagon, specifically around this really substantive piece in journalism in the "Washington Post" yesterday. You know, questions about how they change briefings around the President because they realized that the President sort of (INAUDIBLE) in affront to bring up Russian meddling in the election.

And so this is -- let me read for you what secretary responded. Secretary Mattis, no, I have no reservation, nor has the President ever evidence any push back. When I bring up Russia in a national security contacts and obviously this has come up, whether it would be in Syria or NATO, and all the other places where you have heard me speaking about this, you know the intel people. I have not seen the shyness, including over at the White House. And so again, then have been acknowledges the questions did Russia interfere in the U.S. elections. Something that we haven't fully heard entirely (INAUDIBLE) from the president. He says, yes, I believe they did, so.

KOSINSKI: Yes. So coming from the secretary of defense, those are some strong words. And it's a strong defense of the President. I will say, though, that from the outside looking in, think of how many times the President has not wanted to say that Russia meddled in the U.S. election. How many different ways he found to say it that was hugely ambiguous.

BALDWIN: All of his intel chiefs saying yes, yes, yes.

KOSINSKI: Yes, if not outright dismissing that. So now it gets down to, well, who do you believe, the sources in this, you know, well research and well put together piece of journalism in "the Washington Post" or the defensive words of his secretary of defense? I don't really know the answer to that. And that's something that you have to decide. But you do have to consider all the times the President extremely publicly seemed to dismiss the assessments of the intelligence community.


Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much. Thank you.

Coming up next here on CNN one of President Trump's judicial nominees gets grilled by a senator on his legal experience. You have to hear this clip.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever taken a deposition by yourself?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Have you ever argued a motion in state court?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?




[15:28:20] BALDWIN: As President Trump is wrapping up his first year as president, he still has more than two dozen judicial nominees who have yet to be confirmed. One of them in the spotlight today because Trump nominated Matthew Peterson as a judge for the federal district court in D.C. but, the but here is when Republican senator asks the nominee about his job experience. Well, you listen for the word no.


SEN. KOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom? Have you ever tried a jury trial?




KENNEDY: Criminal?




KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSON: I have not.

KENNEDY: Have you ever taken a deposition?

PETERSON: I was involved in taking depositions when I was associate. When I first came out of law school. But that was --

KENNEDY: How many depositions?

PETERSON: I would -- I would be struggling to remember.

KENNEDY: Less than 10?


KENNEDY: Less than five?

PETERSON: Probably somewhere in that range.

KENNEDY: Have you ever taken a deposition by yourself?

PETERSON: I believe, no.

KENNEDY: OK. Have you ever argued a motion in state court?

PETERSON: I have not.

KENNEDY: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?


KENNEDY: When is the last time you read the federal rules of evidence?

PETERSON: The federal rules of evidence all the way through? Well, comprehensively would have been in law school.

[15:30:03] KENNEDY: Well, as a trial judge you obviously going to have witnesses.


KENNEDY: Can you tell me what the (INAUDIBLE) standard is?

PETERSON: Senator Kennedy, I don't have --.