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Report: Trump Judicial Nominee Can't Answer Basic Legal Questions; Sen. Corker Now A Yes On Tax Reform; National Park Leader Scolded For Climate Change Tweets. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 15, 2017 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW S. PETERSON, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE NOMINEE: The federal rules of evidence all the way through? Well, comprehensively would have been in law school.

SEN. JOHN KEELY KENNEDY (R) LOUISIANA: Well, as a trial judge, you're obviously going to have witnesses. Can you tell me what the Daubert standard is?

PETERSEN: Senator Kennedy, I don't have that readily at my disposal, but I would be happy to take a closer look at that. That is not something I've had to contend with.

KENNEDY: Do you know what a motion in limine is?

PETERSEN: Yes. I haven't - I'm, again - my background is not in litigation - as when I was replying to Chairman Grassley. I haven't had to, again, do a deep dive. And I understand, and I appreciate this line of questioning. I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The White House is now responding to Peterson's critics. The spokesman says, quote, Mr. Peterson has spent nearly a decade as a commissioner of an important federal agency overseeing its litigation on regulatory issues -- the very kinds of issues federal district court in D.C. decides. It is no surprise the President's opponents keep trying to distract from the record-setting success the President has had on judicial nominations.

So, with me now CNN's Supreme Court reporter, Ariane de Vogue, and Yodit Tewolde. She it is a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. Ladies, good to see you. And Ariane you heard the defense saying that they think this is a distraction, and obviously he's qualified. But have you ever heard so many "no's" during this sort of process?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: That was a lot of no's and it's obviously an embarrassment here. This administration, they are involved in this dramatic push, Brooke, to try to get these nominees out here. It's the White House, it's the senate, it's the outside groups. Clearly, the vetting hadn't gone well here. They hadn't done enough work with this candidate. But, Brooke, there's one point that's worth noting. This one may very well be a failure, among other ones, too. But while this administration might be losing the battle on a couple of these nominees, and embarrassing moments like this, they are winning the bigger war on getting people on to the courts. It's unprecedented what the Republicans have been able to do. They put 12 appeals court nominees on the bench, and that breaks a record. So, true, right there that was not a good moment for them, but they are looking at that as, OK, maybe one or two or three, but look what we are being able to accomplish in record speed, which could be the problem with that nominee.

BALDWIN: What do you think?

YODIT TEWOLDE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER PROSECUTOR: I couldn't even believe what I was watching. I couldn't believe it was real. This was an embarrassment, not only for that individual, Peterson, but for the legal profession. This, again, goes to the heart of what Trump is even thinking or the administration in their judgment in making these nominations. I mean, are we surprised that, yet another nominee lacks the qualifications for a job when the nominator himself is unqualified? Anyway, I digress.

But to not know what these basic legal terms are, and you refer back to your experiences as a law student, that is unbelievable. No, what have you done since law school? What have you done in court? Have you even seen the inside of a courtroom? This is a job. A lifetime appointment, right, where somebody is going to interpret the constitution and decide whether laws or government action is impacting or violating the spirit of the constitution. And this individual doesn't even know what basic legal terms are. Have you ever even in a courtroom? It was embarrassing for him.

BALDWIN: It's not a good look and I'd love to have a longer conversation. And you'll have to excuse the brevity. We've got some breaking news over on Capitol Hill. But Ladies, I think you so much.

Here is significant step forward for Republicans in Washington. We have just now learned U.S. senator, Republican Bob Corker announcing he has gone from a no to yes vote on tax reform. So, let's go to our congressional, senior congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly, who's over on the Hill. Who's been counting the yeses and the nos. You said senator Rubio was a big deal. But I mean this was a presumed no all along, correct?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the ball game, to be quite blunt about it. Republicans leaders without Senator Bob Corker thought they were going to get there. With Senator Bob Corker they are all but assured to get there at this point. Brooke, you remember last hour I noted don't mark Senator Corker off yet. Behind the scenes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had been working very hard with Senator Corker over the last six or seven days. A lot of people have been kind of whispering at the possibility that maybe he would come around. But kind of hurtled there is in terms of what Senator Corker referenced as to why he wasn't going to be a yes on the initial bill was deficit concerns. [16:05:03] That the fact that this bill even with growth worked in,

according to several nonpartisan analyses would still add a trillion dollars to the deficit over the course of ten years. That hasn't changed. There has been no significant change to raise revenue to try and address that issue. Yet Senator Corker is a yes. And Brooke I want to read part of his statement as to why --

BALDWIN: Please.

MATTINGLY: -- he actually got to this point. Because it's extremely important. He said, after great thought and consideration, I believe that this is a once in a generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive, internationally more competitive, and it's one we should not miss. While many projects that it's very possible over the next ten years we can lose at least 500 billion short on a $43 trillion baseline. I believe this bill accompanied with significant regulatory changes that are under way and hopefully pro-growth oriented policies relative to trade and immigration could have a significant positive impact on the well-being of Americans.

So what Senator Corker is essentially saying I've seen the analysis, while that analysis was enough to drive me to no the first time around, I believe, and I hope that future policy changes will put us in a place where those analyses are eventually proved wrong.

I can't underscore this enough. This is it. Republicans in the Senate now have the votes. We are very clearly on the path to not just 50 or 51 but potentially all 52 of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate voting for this bill. Lawmakers on the House side feel comfortable where they are as well. Only question now is when they actually get this done. But from a votes perspective, they are pretty much there, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You said it out of the gate. You said this is the ball game. And that I think translates for the rest of us. What about, though, they could have them all, but what about Senator Lee, he's apparently said he's not a full yes yet. Why is that?

MATTINGLY: So, he wants to read the bill. And I think this is also a really key component of how fast everything has been moving over the course of the last six or seven weeks. It's a 503-page bill, I'm told final conference report, and full text of that bill isn't out yet. Won't be released publicly until around 5:30, according to House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady. It will be filed in the house until 5:30.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should be doing it in the same time as well over in the Senate. So, Senator Lee wants to go through the bill. I will say his spokesman sent over a statement saying he was happy on the child tax credit with the progress they made there, that issue that got Senator Rubio to yes. And here's very hopeful he will be voting yes on the bill in the end but the wants to read it first.

The expectation on leadership side of things is Senator Lee will be there in the end just wants to make sure that everything kind of alliance with what he's been told. What he has been briefed on up to this point. I think you will get there.

But Brooke, it actually does bring up a key point. They are pretty close to there on this. And no one really has the full bill yet. That's kind of the drive behind this process from Republicans now, to get this done, to get something done, and frankly get something done that they've been campaigning on and that they won power on in 2016.

BALDWIN: That was of course we read every word of your note, Phil Mattingly and you talk about the rationale and in the political imperative, right, that has been driving these Republicans. They said they would do it, and that's what's been driving them. And just underscore for me how big of a win this would be, not just for Republicans, but for the White House this year?

MATTINGLY: It's huge. Look, and you dig into the policy here, there are a lot of criticisms of the policy. Criticisms that a lot of Republicans will acknowledge are there. They don't think it's a perfect bill. On the individual side the idea that tax cuts for individuals would sunset after certain points in time isn't ideal.

There is no question about it the spills weighted more towards the corporate side than the individual side on the hopes the corporate profits. With the corporations would be able to do drive growth, drive wages. That is a bit of a bet that they are making

But in terms of legislative accomplishment put the entirety of this bill in perspective. Not only is it a tax overhaul, something that hasn't been done in 31 years, something that both parties have been trying to do for three decades. Also repeals the core component of Obamacare. The individual mandate will come out as well.

You combine that what the Senate has been able to do and what the White House has been able to do. On judges, to have a Supreme Court justice, they have 12 circuit judges confirmed, those are lifetime appointments, and senate, judges they have voice mail court justice, 12 circuit court justices, lifetime appointments. You end the year with first 11 plus months was filled with legislative or disappointments or shortfalls with a pretty substantial end game here.

Again, Democrats think these policies are poor. That they are not well thought out. They were rushed. That they just don't do the trick in general.

[15:40:00] But for Republicans who for so long have been hit by their grassroots, have been attacked sometimes by the president for inability to get something done, and frankly who have been in fighting with one another about some of the road blocks and holdups they've had over the last 11 months, that they can end the year with this to show people says a lot, does a lot. Now you can look at the politics of things, approval rating for the tax bill that they are considering right now is in the high 20s, low 30s, that's not great.

There is going to be a lot of work to do to try and sell this bill if they can do it. But Republican leaders say that will be the focus. And people will see the differences that occur with this bill. They are kind of putting everything on that fact, that people will see change, like the change, and that will bring them around. Open question whether that will be the case. But they now have something tangible to actually show those people, Brooke.

BALDWIN: It's a ball game, folks, so says Phil Mattingly. Thank you so much, Phil for the latest development there. Corker being a no. Listen to me, Corker being a yes. That is the breaking news. Quick break. Back in a moment.

[15:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We are back with the breaking news on the Republican tax plan. As we have now learned that the U.S. Senator Bob Corker, Republican here, who had been quite a loud no on this plan has now turned to a yes. So, as we go to the White House, to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, let's read some of your colleague and my colleague's Jeff Zeleny's reporting that Republicans close to the tax debate working with the White House and the hill tells Jeff Zeleny that Corker's yes bill that is a sign John McCain will not be able make the vote next week. And so obviously status and we wish him well, but that is unclear. But Jim Acosta, can you tell me how big after deal is this, not just for Republicans, but for the president.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we certainly don't want to get into any kind of speculation about Senator McCain's health only to say we wish him the best. This statement came in from the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on apparent Corker's yes vote. This just came in a few moments ago.

I'll read it to you. It says the president greatly appreciates Senator Corker's phone call and pledge to support tax cuts. So apparently, they spoke over the phone. He sees a great entrepreneurial spirit being released in our country. And he is a part of that spirit when these massive tax cuts and incentives kick in, jobs and growth will follow at a very high level. That's a pretty happy statement coming out of this White House. It sounds like they see this tax reform bill as being almost being a done deal and on its way to the president's desk. And keep in mind, Brooke, there has been a lot of bad blood between President Trump and Senator Bob Corker. In recent weeks there was a war of words that they both engaged in.

Bob Corker referring to White House as an adult daycare center and the president referring to him as little bob. So on. But it seems Bob Corker was able to get over some of the concerns that he's had about this tax bill adding to the deficit. You know, I'm old enough to remember, Brooke, when there were people in this town concerned about the mounting federal deficit. And Bob Corker raised that as one of the issues with this tax bill.

Apparently, he has overcome those concerns and ready to get on board with his party. And the White House is very happy about that. There were some hand wringing over here in the last 24 to 48 hours as to whether or not they were going to have to steal a vote here and get a vote there. Obviously, they were bending parts of this bill to get to Senator Rubio's concerns about child tax credits. That apparently has taken place. Senator Rubio is on board. But getting Bob Corker on board is a very big deal for this White House, Brooke.

BALDWIN: The president said he wanted this on his desk by Christmas, and he may just get his wish.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you.

ACOSTA: You bet. Sure.

BALDWIN: Interior secretary Ryan Zinke office is responding to a report that he went out of his way to berate the leader of a National Park. This is according to a report out of the hill, David Smith who runs the Joshua Tree National Park in California tweeted a series of posts saying that there is an overwhelming consensus that human activity is the driving force behind climate change.

A source tells the hill that prompted Secretary Zinke to fly him Smith all away from California to Washington, so he could give him a quote unquote trip to the wood shed. Zinke spokeswoman said that account is false. They say yes, there was

a meeting but it was scheduled to discuss quote myriad issues facing the park as it approaches peak season. With me now Richard Painter former ethics lawyer under Bush '43, and corporate law professor at the University of Minnesota. Richard

Painter, nice to see you again.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER ETHICS LAWYER UNDER BUSH '43: Thank you.

BALDWIN: So, you heard the White House version is that they say that the trip to the wood shed is false. There was a different reason for this meeting. But Smith may have been out of step with the Trump administration's take on climate change. What do you make of this? Was that wrong of him to tweet that?

[15:50:00] PAINTER: No. There is an important public education component to the national parks. And talking to the public about climate change and other important issues is very important. I don't think that they should spend a huge amount of time on the climate change issue. There are other people in this government who should be spending a lot of time on that issue, because it's critically important to our country. But those tweets were entirely proper.

And did not use up government resources in any unreasonable way. Now, we don't know what the truth is with respect to the trip to Washington. But if he was called to Washington just to discuss that, at taxpayer expense, that's enormous waste. And the main issue is that if this administration denies climate change, and the fact that climate change is caused by human activity, they are just plain stupid. And none of them should be in there if that's their attitude.

BALDWIN: Well, you are entitled to that opinion. I want to get your take on Ivanka Trump. This is another story I want to have you weigh in on. This is according to the "Washington Post." She's opening up this new shop with all of her merchandise in, you know, in all places the lobby of her dad's building in Trump tower. She still works at the White House. Does this -- does this rub you the wrong way ethically speaking?

PAINTER: Well, she continues to own the business and, so she has all the conflicts of interest that come along with the business, and that includes the export-import business. She does a lot of business in Asia and China. That creates conflicts of interests for her and her husband. I wish she would sell the business if she really wanted to work in the government, but otherwise she can go ahead and sell her clothing out of the Trump tower.

It looks like they just want to capitalize on the Trump name and charge a high margin and not have the money go to a department store like Nordstrom which won't sell her stuff anyway. It's one more example of capitalizing off the Trump name and the presidency.

BALDWIN: So, the optics of this in your opinion not so great?

PAINTER: Lousy. Lousy optics. Legal, yes. But lousy optics.

BALDWIN: Right. I think it was the lead in "Bloomberg" making the point, if you want to take the time and go through all the traffic on fifth avenue and go around the metal partitions and the security to get into this gift shop, it's the toughest gift shop to get into these days. Richard Painter, appreciate your voice. Thank you so much for that.

We do want to take you back to capitol hill here. This is the huge breaking news we've been following where a crucial vote on this Republican tax bill now include two yeses from Senators Rubio and Corker. We're back in Washington in just a moment.

But first, a sneak peek at this "CNN Heroes" gala live. 8:00 eastern here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are everyday heroes, they inspire, and change lives every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to make sure that they make better choices when it comes to violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you lose your child, the love doesn't go away. It has to find a place. I'm lucky I found a place to put that love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are truly what it means to be a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is people helping people the best way we know how.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they see me, they always feel happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just give them a chance. They can do anything you ask them to do. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Sunday night, CNN presents a very special

live event.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper.

KELLY RIPA, CNN HOST: And I am Kelly Ripa.

COOPER: Join us live for "CNN Heroes, An All-Star Tribute."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "CNN Heroes, An All-Star Tribute". Live Sunday 8:00 p.m. on CNN.

(END OF VIDEO TAPE)

BALDWIN: Now have an update for you on a story that captured the attention of so many of you. This police officer who is adopting a baby from a mom who is homeless and addicted to drugs. CNN's Ed Lavandera follows up on this officer who went beyond the call of duty and the mother he is so desperately trying to help.

[15:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ED LAVENDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Crystal Champ flies a sign in an Albuquerque, New Mexico intersection. Scrapping together the money she needs to live and to pay for the heroin that controls her life. Crystal was at the center of a CNN story that touched tens of millions of people around the world.

After the story ran, there were a lot of people who were worried about you and wanted to see good things happen for you and to get clean. How does that make you feel? What do you take away from that?

CRYSTAL CHAMP, ADDICTED TO HEROIN: It's nice to know that people care.

RYAN HOLETS, ALBUQUERQUE POLICE OFFICER: I'm not going to lie, it looks like you guys are getting ready to shoot up over here.

LAVENDERA: In September, Albuquerque Police Officer Ryan Holets found Crystal eight months pregnant, homeless, shooting up with her partner Tom.

HOLETS; How far along are you?

CHAMP: Eight months.

HOLETS; Oh, my god.

LAVENDERA: Nearly 3 weeks after that chance encounter, Crystal gave birth to baby Hope and officer Holets and his family offered to adopt the baby. They guided the newborn through the painful withdrawals from heroin and crystal meth. Today, baby Hope is doing well, bright- eyed and smiling.

Unidentified Female: There's a smile.

LAVENDERA: But the story didn't end there for officer Holets.

CHAMP: He basically adopted us, too.

LAVENDERA: The accolades mean nothing if he can't help Crystal and Tom.

HOLETS: They're not obviously my family members and I met them a couple of months ago, but I feel like the same way that I would feel if they were my brother and my sister.

LAVENDERA: After the story aired on CNN, several rehab centers round the country offered to help Crystal and her partner, but the grip of heroin is so strong that Crystal believes she can't leave this life.

CHAMP: I know what it takes for me to get sober and it is not easy.

LAVENDERA: Because you're scared?

CHAMP: Yes, I'm scared that I'll get clean and, you know, not find the comfort that I find in my life like this.

LAVENDERA: A rehab interventionist approached Crystal and Tom and there was a breakthrough. They both agreed to leave their life of addiction behind and take the offer to enter a rehab center in Florida.

HOLETS: We're trying to quit, though, all right?

LAVENDERA: Ryan Holets with a smile escorted them to the airport.

What does it mean to you that Ryan and his family haven't given up on you, that they're still trying to help you?

CHAMP: I think that he really believes me in. He's my personal angel, you know, on earth here. I don't know where he came from, but I'm really happy. I'm really happy he's here.

LAVENDERA: But when officer Holets and the rehab team arrive at the airport for their flight to Florida, Crystal and Tom unravel.

CHAMP: I don't want to do this. I'm happy. I'm fine being here. I don't want to do this.

LAVENDERA: Ryan Holets looked on heartbroken.

HOLETS: We tried. We tried to get them into the rehab and they wouldn't go.

LAVENDERA: Crystal and Tom missed the flight.

HOLETS: I think that's a testament to just how strong addiction is and what it makes people do isn't logical.

LAVENDERA: Do you give up on them? HOLETS: I'll never give up. I won't.

LAVENDERA: You could walk away if you wanted. Why don't you?

HOLETS: I can't. I just can't. They're hope's parents.

LAVENDERA: Ryan Holets still has hope. Ed Lavandera, CNN, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

(END OF VIDEO TAPE)

BALDWIN: That is incredible. Thanks to that officer and I hope they get the help they need. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.