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President Trump to Celebrate Christmas at Mar-a-Lago; President Trump Announces Plans to Work on Bipartisan Bill on Infrastructure; Police Attempt to Thwart Thieves from Stealing Delivered Packages During Holidays; Wildfires Continue to Threaten Large Parts of Southern California; Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney Discusses Achieving Life Goals; Interview with Congressman John Sarbanes. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired December 23, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:09] RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everyone. I'm Rene Marsh in for Christi Paul. Thanks for joining us.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. This is CNN Newsroom. And President Trump is at his Mar-a-Lago resort this morning, starting his Christmas vacation with a game of golf.
MARSH: And the president is there celebrating his first major legislative win, tax reform. Despite his excitement, aides telling the president to avoid the traditional end of the year news conference, fearing questions about Russia could overshadow the tax bill.
BLACKWELL: Those concerns come as investigators interview the president's long-time personal assistant as part of the investigation into a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and several Russians.
MARSH: And Democrats are accusing the White House and Republicans of trying to shut down the Russia probe. House Speaker Paul Ryan's spokeswoman responded, saying Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants the investigation to continue to suit her political agenda.
BLACKWELL: CNN's Dan Merica joins us live near the president's resort there in Florida. Dan, what can we expect from the president as he starts this Christmas break?
DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, he's certainly celebrating signing that tax bill into law and he has done so this morning by going, we assume, to play a round of golf at his golf club here in Florida. It is his 107th day at one of his properties as president, and his 84th as president going to one of his golf clubs. He owns a number of golf clubs around the country. Democrats have criticized this, saying that it boosts the Trump organization's bottom line by giving the presidential stamp of approval, but the president has not stopped. And he again this morning headed out with a pool of reporters to his golf club to, we assume, play golf.
We've asked the White House for what else he's doing, they have not responded to us. But this is a place that's welcomed President Trump for many years with open arms. It's a place he's very comfortable. My colleague Kevin Liptak has reported that people at Mar-a-Lago often see the president walking around, chatting with him, and he has this informal kind of kitchen cabinet of advisers who are here and really offer a sounding board.
Now, that is a little bit different than what it's like at the White House where chief of staff John Kelly has instituted a more tightly controlled, restricted regime where he doesn't get as much feedback from friends and informal advisers. Here he's a little more free, and we might see that play out on Twitter, for example, a mode of communication he often uses to weigh in and to talk about news of the day.
Going forward in 2018, President Trump is going to have to, you know, take that tax bill that he signed and sell it. Asked in the White House yesterday whether he would plan on traveling to sell the bill, here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think I'm going to have to travel too much to sell it. I think it's selling itself. It's becoming very popular. But I think you'll see something on February 1st when they open up the paycheck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MERICA: President Trump is the consummate salesman, branded himself as such when he ran for president. He says he's not going to have to sell this bill, it will sell itself. Many Democrats plan to make that difficult. And he will have to at least step out the White House and convince Americans that this bill, which is unpopular with a majority of Americans, is good for them, because it really comes down to whether the Republicans hold the House and Senate in 2018. If Republicans can convince Americans this tax bill is good for them, it is far more likely they'll be able to hold both those chambers.
BLACKWELL: All right, Dan Merica for us in West Palm Beach. Dan, thank you.
MARSH: Well, let's discuss. We have Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic," Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Time," and Andre Bauer, CNN political commentator and former lieutenant governor of South Carolina. Good morning to you all. Thanks for joining us.
Ron, I'm going to start with you. The president, as we know, is already thinking about 2018, so why don't we discuss? So they have tax reform, they have that victory. Unemployment is in a pretty good place at this point. If the Republicans choose to run on the economy, is it enough to secure their control of power?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, first of all, happy holidays to everybody, merry Christmas.
Look, the single biggest factor in modern midterm congressional elections really for the last 25 years or so as our politics have become more polarized and parliamentary are attitudes towards the president. That is the pivot.
As we look at the last roughly, as I say, 25 years, somewhere between 82 and 87, 88 percent of the people who disapprove of the president vote against his party in the midterm elections. Comparable numbers who approve vote for the president. That is in fact what we have been seeing in these off-year elections -- 93 percent of the people who disapproved of President Trump voted for Doug Jones in Alabama, 87 percent who disapprove voted for Ralph Northam in Virginia, the Democrat.
[10:05:00] If his disapproval rating stays where it is, in the 58 percent to 60 percent range, Republicans are looking at a tough election. There is just no way around it. That is the way our politics works.
Now, the best asset, though, that they have, as you note, is that the economy continues to chug along. People's perceptions of the economy are improving, but I would say so far their judgments about President Trump seem to be disconnected from their views about the economy. It is more of a personal assessment about the way he comports himself, the values, and the way he approaches the presidency. And that is the big weight that is dragging down Republican prospects at this point in the midterm.
MARSH: All right, well, let's go to the Republican on the panel. Andre, what do you make of what Ron just said? I mean, the president's approval ratings are pretty low. Congress isn't looking like it's in any better shape. How nervous are you as a Republican for 2018?
ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I actually think Ron hit it pretty well, but I'm not nervous at all. Quite frankly, I'm one of these guys who would like to see a whole bunch on both sides lose because I believe in term limits. I want to see different people come in with new ideas. I am so sick of these people that go up and make their entire life serving in Congress.
Look, I was one of those guys that went in as a novice into politics and went just with the intent to serve a few years and the next thing I know I became a cog in the wheel and I had been there probably too long after 14 years even though I went in as a very young man. You change, the office changes you, and we need a change in Washington.
That being said, the president has done a good of delivering, but I do think the Republicans are going to have to work better at making that resonate with the voter that they are making their lives better. And they've got to work on that.
An infrastructure bill to say, hey, we're working across party lines, try to soften the president a little bit and say we want to work with Democrats to make people's lives better. We're willing to borrow money for projects that substantially help infrastructure, they help congested roads, they help moving products, goods, and services to help so many Americans. And that's what Republicans are going to have to work on. They do have an image. They have to sell this bill better than they did this year.
MARSH: Lynn, I want to bring you into the conversation. Most Americans do not like this tax plan. It now stands at 55 percent who oppose it. And then when you look at how many people signed up for Obamacare, nearly 9 million people, but the Republicans wanted to repeal it. The Republicans are also taking the strategy of kind of discrediting Mueller and his investigation, but the majority of Americans approve Mueller and his investigation. Lynn, my question to you is, are Republicans listening to Americans, or are they just checking off a to-do list?
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": The answer is both, and this is where you have the hard part of going into the 2018 midterm elections, where the -- everything that you just put on the plate here is ammunition for Democrats to try to nationalize these House races. And even in a heavily -- we're talking about where the swing seats are, not every seat that's up is going to be impacted by this because some seats are solidly Democrat or Republican.
In those few seats, you're going to have the other aspects of Trump come in, to build on what Ron said about this, being a pivot of a president. There are new factors that -- President Trump embraced the Alabama Senate candidate. He lost, but who had credible accusations of being a child molester. Poll after poll shows that it's the swing suburban Democratic women that decide a lot of these contests. You cannot tell me that this is not a big problem for Republicans going into this.
And you talk about infrastructure going into next year. If the Republicans go ahead with welfare reform, then that is another issue that is race-based and polarizing and it may play to Trump's base. It also could solidify Democrats.
MARSH: Andre, quick answer to this, because I want to move on. Do Republicans distance themselves from the president? I mean, in 2018, to Lynn's point, he endorsed Luther Strange, he lost. He endorsed Roy Moore, he lost. Do you think that they use him or distance themselves? Quickly.
BAUER: I think more than not we'll use him. There are some districts where it probably doesn't help, but there are other districts, absolutely, states like South Carolina where you tie yourself to the president, you're going to be the next person that wins a nomination in the election. So it's different throughout the country. And there will be polling to see how well he favors in their districts.
MARSH: Ron, quickly for you, what is Democrats' strategy in all of this? Are they setting themselves up to disrupt the balance of power? What will they run on?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think we've seen a very clear pattern, first of all, in not only the polling, but the results of the actual elections that have reconfirmed the polling where Democrats are getting larger than usual turnout in an off year among minority voters and millennial voters, and as Lynn was saying, are seeing a big movement in their direction among college-educated white voters, especially women. [10:10:03] Republicans are holding their base of blue collar, rural,
evangelical older white voters, but they are not turning out at the same rate as Democrats are, and that is what you would expect at this point when you have twice as many people saying they strongly disapprove as strongly approve of the president's performance. There is an intensity gap, no question.
Democrats I think in the midterm election as it was in 2010 and 2014 for the Republicans, the implicit message is cutting Donald Trump's presidency in half. I think in most swing districts, Democrats will be comfortable running on the idea of whether you want to enable or constrain Donald Trump for two more years, and I think that will be at the center of the message. Whether or not Republicans choose to run next to him or away from him, as I said, the reality of the past 20 years or so is the president's approval rating is just a huge shadow over every contest in the midterm election.
MARSH: All right, I think some would argue the Democrats need more than we're not Trump, but we're going to move on. We want to shift gears to Congress. They just left for a vacation, the holiday, but they left a lot of unfinished business. They still need a long-term spending bill, they still need to figure out children's health care, CHIP, they still have to figure out funding for Puerto Rico, so there's a lot on the table. You mentioned infrastructure. Lynn, should they savor the victory they just experienced? Do you think it's going to be new year, new problems and they won't get much done with all that's left on their plate?
SWEET: They are going to have a new problem in the Senate, and that is that Democrats are going to have a little more leverage with the arrival of the new Alabama Senator. That will bring down the ratio of Democrats/Republicans to 51/49, meaning it will be easier, let's look at it from both sides of the aisle. Now you only need one Republican who can gum up the works by making a demand, and there will be many on whatever issue it is from roads to whatever. And now it means that the Democrats have more leverage because they may be willing to supply some votes, especially on an infrastructure bill, and that seems to me to jump ahead one of the only ways you could get some legislation to help the DREAMers in Congress.
MARSH: All right, they say they may be able to work on infrastructure, at least that's what McConnell said. The president thinks so, too, but we'll have to wait and see. Ron Brownstein, Lynn Sweet, Andre Bauer, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.
SWEET: Thank you.
BAUER: Many blessings.
BLACKWELL: All right, you heading out for Christmas? Are you driving, flying? Allison Chinchar will look ahead to what you have to look forward to. Allison?
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Let's talk about some rain, maybe snow and ice, the three things you really don't want to contend with when you travel. We'll take a look at the hot spots coming up.
MARSH: Police say thieves are swiping Christmas packages right off people's doorsteps. CNN's Dan Lieberman is following that story. Dan?
DAN LIEBERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, guys, we did a ride along with police in New Jersey and as they tried to stop the package thieves before Christmas. We have that coming up next.
BLACKWELL: The Thomas fire in California is now the state's largest wildfire since the 1930s. Now this began December 4th, and the fire has burned an area larger than New York, Washington, San Francisco combined. It's about 65 percent contained now. Almost 3,000 firefighters are battling what you're seeing on your screen, and although weather conditions have improved over the past few days, there is no rain expected to help in the near future put out the fire.
MARSH: Unbelievable images, and millions of Americans are getting ready to travel this holiday weekend. Take a look at these pictures out of Los Angeles. Yes, OK. Not good, going nowhere fast. Those cars are lined up bumper-to-bumper, slowly making their way to LAX airport.
BLACKWELL: Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar. Allison, the weather is great in L.A., but they first have to get to the gate to get on the planes.
CHINCHAR: I was going to say, would you rather sit in your car in the sunshine, or sit in your car and have snow on top of your car? Take your pick.
Well, we have rain, we have snow, but the biggest concern right now is actually ice. I don't care if you have four-wheel drive or you think you're the best driver in the world, no one can drive on ice. And the problem is for folks up around here where you see this purple color, especially western Massachusetts, it's been icing for at least the last three hours and likely going to continue before we can get that to transition over into a rain/snow mix.
Areas of Buffalo now starting to see theirs transition into snow from ice, so they are probably happy about that. And more snow is going to continue for much of the northeast. Widespread, you're talking two to four inches, but there are going to be several spots that could see in excess six inches of snow. And Boston, once you go just outside of it, that's when you're going to start to see some of the heavier amounts of snow as well.
So the question becomes what does that mean in terms of travel concerns, because a lot of cities up and down the east coast are going to potentially have some delays today due to the weather. For example, Boston, but also New York, Washington, D.C., even stretching all the way down towards Charlotte and Atlanta because of how far that rain will come down. Even some thunderstorms expected across areas of the southeast. That system begins to push off the east coast tomorrow, so now we make way for our next system over areas of the Midwest. Now we're talking cities like Chicago, Detroit, as well as Cincinnati.
So the next question becomes, what does this mean for your forecast for actual Christmas Day? For a lot of folks it means you're going to be dealing with much cooler temperatures. Take, for example, New York City going from a high of 55 today down to only 39 for Christmas day. And it's not just folks in the northeast. Even ones in the south are going to feel a little bit of a chill once we get towards Christmas day. Say, take, for example, Atlanta -- almost 70 degrees today. You're going to be looking at highs in the mid to upper 60s down to a high of only 43 on Christmas Day.
BLACKWELL: There are no reindeer in the graphics package. I'm disappointed. No reindeer. Where was it? All right, Allison, thanks so much.
[10:20:05] MARSH: All right, well, holidays also mean exchanging gifts, and with more and more people shopping online, the gifts are often left on people's doorsteps, making them easy targets for thieves. Let's bring in CNN digital correspondent Dan Lieberman. Dan, what are police doing to make sure that people aren't stealing other people's Christmas or holiday?
LIEBERMAN: Hey there, guys. Well, it's happening all across the country. Package thieves are snatching up people's holiday gifts. So in the days leading up to Christmas, I spent time with one police department that's using a clever tactic to try and stop the Grinch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see, he's thinking about it, thinking about it, then he walks right up to the front there. And he goes ahead and takes the package.
LIEBERMAN: It's something that's happening all across the country, some of it caught on camera.
Are you seeing more packages being stolen this year?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I think it's becoming quite the epidemic.
LIEBERMAN: One survey found 23 million Americans have had a package stolen. And this holiday season may be the biggest heist yet with more than a billion packages being delivered as more people do their shopping online.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That one, as well. We're going to be running two teams, make sure everybody is vested up.
LIEBERMAN: This police unit is trying to catch package thieves in the act.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got a flat-screen TV. We have what's made to look like a Blu-ray player over here.
LIEBERMAN: Someone trying to steal this will be disappointed when they open it up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
LIEBERMAN: There's nothing in here. As you see someone trying to steal this, you'll jump out and arrest them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have two surveillance teams on packages that are placed at people's doorsteps. The chances of one of them being stolen is possible.
LIEBERMAN: Lieutenant Reiner says it's all too easy for thieves to snatch up these packages.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is, you know, a prime example of how easy it is to commit one of these thefts. The package is clearly visible from the road on a high-traveled street.
LIEBERMAN: So far his department has recovered more than 100 items this season that they hope to return to their rightful owners.
So what do we have here? We have a blender.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have blenders, we have makeup, sneakers. We have some higher-end items.
LIEBERMAN: Packages have already been returned, but a lot of people are still missing their gifts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all have families and we want to put smiles on our children's faces Christmas morning, and just to find out an individual stole a package is really, you know, it's heartbreaking.
LIEBERMAN: So the police didn't catch any package thieves while we were with them, but we did talk to some of the biggest shippers out there, and they say that if you have a package stolen, to call them and file a police report. Back to you guys.
BLACKWELL: And Dan, so we saw some cameras there. Are those proven to help at all?
LIEBERMAN: Yes, they are. Police are actually using them. People are sending in the video files, and they've been able to make identifications from these home surveillance cameras, so it is making a difference, but, obviously, it's pretty hard to catch when there are so many package thieves out there.
BLACKWELL: Yes, I'd imagine that. Dan Lieberman for us, Dan, thanks so much.
LIEBERMAN: You got it, happy holidays.
BLACKWELL: To you, too.
New reaction from Russia on President Trump's decision to provide weapons to Ukraine, saying the move will further inflame tensions between the U.S. and Russia.
MARSH: And a former marine is accused of planning to attack San Francisco during the holidays. We have details on how the alleged plot was stopped.
[10:28:11] MARSH: Welcome back. I'm Rene Marsh in for Christi Paul.
BLACKWELL: And I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.
MARSH: Now the president is starting his morning at his golf course. He's celebrating after Christmas came early in the form of his first major legislative win, tax reform.
BLACKWELL: But this end of the year high could be overshadowed by new developments in the looming Russia investigation. The president wanted to celebrate the win with the traditional year-end news conference, but his aides told him not to.
The House Intelligence Committee began questioning Trump's longtime assistant over the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians back in June of 2016.
MARSH: All of this may be making Republicans nervous as they head into the 2018 midterm elections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly concerned about losing both the House and the Senate to Democrats.
BLACKWELL: New this morning, Senator John McCain released a statement supporting the president's decision to provide Ukraine with anti-tank weapons. Here's the statement. "President Trump's reported decision to provide Javelin anti-tank munitions to Ukraine marks another significant step in the right direction and sends a strong signal that the United States will stand by its allies and partners as they fight to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity." This decision is years overdue, he says.
MARSH: The president's move comes amid escalating clashes between Ukrainian soldiers and the Russian-backed separatists. Joining us now, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. Elise, Trump also just allowed Ukraine to buy weapons from U.S. companies.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Rene. And look, what they say is these anti-tank munitions are considered lethal weapons, but what the U.S. says and what the State Department said in a statement last night is these weapons are considered defensive in nature, because they are not going after someone.
[10:30:09] The Ukrainians are defending their territory, and that's why, you know, these anti-tank missiles can puncture the kind of armored vehicles that the Russians use. Now, we had some new reaction from the Russians this morning. Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov in a statement said that this action is going to create new bloodshed. Let me read a little bit of this statement. "The United States in a certain sense," he said "had crossed the line announcing the intention to transfer weapons of direct damaging action to Ukraine. American weapons can lead to new victims in our neighboring country to which we cannot remain indifferent."
And so a lot of people are afraid this could be a pretext for Russia to launch new attacks, new strikes into Ukraine to try and further its grip on the country, Rene.
BLACKWELL: Elise, I think it's important also for people to remember how we got here. The U.S. officials had been in standing in solidarity with Ukraine, but there has for years since the annexation of Crimea been this question of to what degree do you allow the Ukrainians to defend themselves with this lethal and nonlethal weaponry? And now this is a major step, I think, the punctuation of senator McCain points that out.
LABOTT: Right. This is the first time we're looking at this kind of lethal weaponry. Again, the U.S. calling it defensive in nature against Russian aggression. President Obama did allow what President Trump allowed earlier this week, is for the Ukrainians to buy American-made light arms. You see that shoulder-fired missile right there. Some of those are considered light arms. Sometimes those are considered, like small ones can be considered anti-tank missiles.
But look, the U.S. has had a bit of a dilemma over the years because clearly there is Russian aggression in Ukraine, but they've also been looking for the Ukrainians to make certain reforms of their own. The Ukrainians are not completely without some concerns about human rights violations and such, and there's been a concern about further escalating the situation.
But apparently, and officials have said this has really weighed on President Trump, and I have to say for all of the criticism of President Trump that he was going to bow to the Russians, that he was going to recognize Crimea as Russian territory, that he was going to lift those sanctions, that never happened. This is, in fact, a stepping up of, you know, a tougher policy towards Russia it seems if you look at the actual actions that are taking place.
BLACKWELL: All right, Elise Labott with us this morning. Elise, thank you so much for breaking that down for us.
The FBI says a terror attack has been averted in San Francisco. A former U.S. marine is accused of plotting an attack at Pier 39 sometime during the holiday season.
MARSH: Everett Aaron Jameson told an undercover FBI investigator that he wanted to show his support for ISIS. According to "The Modesto Bee," his attorney says Jameson denied the allegations in the affidavit. Many people in southern California may have seen the sky light up last
night. That light came from the launch of SpaceX rocket. It took off from an Air Force base near Santa Barbara. People from downtown Los Angeles to the Inland Empire reported seeing it, some even posted pictures on social media about an alien invasion. But the Ventura County sheriff's office let residents know there was no reason to be alarmed. However, Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, he decided to have a little bit fun with it. He tweeted that this was a "nuclear alien UFO from North Korea." Well, the rocket was carrying ten satellites into orbit. It was SpaceX's 18th successful launch of the year.
We'll be right back.
[10:35:24] BLACKWELL: Clemson is set for a rematch against Alabama in the college football playoffs. And in today's "Difference Makers" --
MARSH: Coy Wire talks with Clemson's head coach about inspiring others to chase their dreams.
COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, everyone. This week's "Difference Makers" is presented by the new 2018 Ford F-150.
The stage is set. Clemson squaring off against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day in the rematch of last year's epic national championship game. The Tigers know all about climbing their way to the top, just like their head coach Dabo Swinney, whose climb to the top of the coaching ranks including clean gutters to help put himself through college.
WIRE: You've come a long way from cleaning gutters to stay in school.
DABO SWINNEY, FOOTBALL HEAD COACH, CLEMSON UNIVERSITY: You got that right.
WIRE: What message do you have for people out there chasing their dreams?
SWINNEY: You got to believe in it first. Your belief and your hope in the future has to be greater than any circumstances that you might have in the moment. There's hope in the future. There's power in the present to deal with whatever you're dealing with. And then you got to have a vision for it and you have to take action.
WIRE: When those big life moments come up throughout the season, what's maybe something of a reminder you give your team before the big life moment happens?
SWINNEY: You know, it's one of the things I said to the team when we went up to the White House was this is a great moment. There's going to be other great moments along the way in your lives, but it's always about how you live in between them.
We don't get defined by a trophy or some big accomplishment. We're going to ultimately be defined by how we live day in and day out. And just a daily focus, a formula for excellence, and apply it and live it every day.
[10:40:05] WIRE: As a former NFL player, there are very few coaches who make me want to put on a helmet again, but Dabo Swinney is one of them. He's one of the most positive, good energy people you'll ever meet.
BLACKWELL: All right, the president got a win on tax reform. He says the next big legislative on his agenda will be the easy one, a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan. And he'll get Democratic support. Well, let's ask one of those House Democrats. He's with us after the break.
[10:45:18] BLACKWELL: President Trump is now looking ahead to the 2018 agenda. At the top, or maybe near the top of the list, finding a way to work with Democrats on issues, including infrastructure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really do believe we're going to have a lot of bipartisan work done, and maybe we start with infrastructure, because I really believe infrastructure can be bipartisan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: But are Democrats ready to work with the president on infrastructure? Let's ask Democratic Congressman. Congressman, good morning to you.
REP. JOHN SARBANES, (D) MARYLAND, ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Good morning. Good to be here.
BLACKWELL: Good to have you. So let's start here with the question based on the president's context there. Will it be, as the president called it, the easy one to get Democrats in on this $1 trillion public-private partnership on an infrastructure plan? Are you in?
SARBANES: Well, it would have been a lot easier if we hadn't just given a trillion and a half dollars away in tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthy in this country. That's money that we could have used for this infrastructure proposal, whatever it may be.
I mean, you know, Democrats from the beginning, from the beginning of the presidency, have said we're willing to try to do something on infrastructure. We all know that we need that in this country. We'll have to see what kind of proposal comes forward, but as I say, there's a lot of money that we just gave away in the form of tax breaks to big corporations, the wealthy in this country. I would have liked to see that kind of investment go to the infrastructure proposal.
BLACKWELL: We've got a lot of ground to cover, and I want to get to DACA. And first let's listen to what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said about DACA and the DACA fix by the end of the year. This is what she said at the beginning of November.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I have to see what the spending bill is, but I fully intend that we will not leave here without the DREAM act passing, with DACA fixed, and I've made that very clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: So, you know, many of the DACA recipients, these are the deferred action on childhood arrivals, about 800,000 undocumented people who came to the country as children, no fault of their own, are disappointed by the decision that there is no DACA deal. The Hispanic caucus has confronted Senator Schumer, leader Schumer over in the Senate. Are you disappointed that this promise was not kept, and should Democrats have kept that promise and required a DACA fix before going home for the holiday break?
SARBANES: I'm disappointed. I mean, it was a key element we were pushing for. We weren't able to get it into the short-term CR. I think the important thing is that the leverage we think we have when it comes to an ultimate deal on the budget, and we're going to be coming back to that in January, we still have that leverage. I think we're still going to press to make sure that the DACA situation is addressed. As you say, these are young people who came here, they didn't make the decision to come, but once they were here they took advantage of the opportunity to work hard. Many of them served their country. They shouldn't be left in a state of limbo and anxiety, so we have to address that.
The president said let's get it done by March. I hope he stands ready to be a partner in that effort, and the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. So we'll continue to press on that, and I think we will have the leverage in January to reach some kind of solution that will make sense for everybody involved. It is a very important issue.
BLACKWELL: And there is bipartisan support in both chambers for a DACA fix. We'll see, though, if Republicans will require, as the president has suggested, some funding for the wall in exchange for a DACA fix.
But I want to move on to Russia. We know that a spokeswoman for Speaker Ryan has responded to the request from Leader Pelosi not to curtail the House Russia investigation in the Intelligence Committee by saying, in effect, that Leader Pelosi never wants the investigation to end, and it will end when it's complete.
But the virtue of this House investigation, it has become so politicized. What's your degree of confidence that there will be anything more than just partisan reports that come out that really don't get to the heart of some legislative fixes that can happen to prevent what we saw in 2016?
SARBANES: It has gotten politicized, and there's, obviously, some partisanship at work here, but, you know, I think there are still some Republicans, I hope so, in Congress who understand we have to approach this in an independent and fair minded way. We've got to make sure, for example, that Robert Mueller, the independent counsel, is allowed to proceed with his investigation unimpeded.
[10:50:04] I'm very concerned about what appears to be a coordinated effort to sort of undermine that. And we've got to let him do his job, finish his job, do the investigation he was appointed to do, finish his assignment. And I think in Congress we have a responsibility to approach this in a way that's not about being Democrats and Republicans. It's about being Americans concerned for the country, wanting to understand what happened last year in the election with Russian interference and so forth, and get to the bottom of it. Let's proceed, let's get the findings, let's deliver them to the American people, and let's move forward in a way that's good for the country.
BLACKWELL: About this time last weekend, we were having a conversation about an interview that Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier had back in California that she said there was a rumor on Capitol Hill that President Trump was going to deliver a speech on Friday the 22nd, which was yesterday, in which he would fire Robert Mueller or call for the firing of Robert Mueller. Actually, Rod Rosenstein has to do it, but just as a technical element. That did not happen. The White House has said repeatedly, and the president himself has said he's not considering firing Mueller. Is this much to do about nothing, although we're hearing noise from or complaints from Republican congressmen? The White House has brushed off these concerns about firing Mueller, and the rumor proved not to be true.
SARBANES: Well, look, there's definitely been some stepped-up efforts in Congress to discredit Robert Mueller's investigation and undermine him and get in the way of it. I hope that they'll back off on that because I think he's conducting it in a very fair-minded and independent fashion. It would, obviously, be a huge mistake for the president to fire Robert Mueller. I think if that happened, that's a red line that would be crossed and you'd have a lot of people demonstrating in the streets. They are getting ready for that potential right now.
So let's give Mueller the opportunity to finish the assignment he was given by our justice system. It's our justice system. It's our democracy. Robert Mueller is the person who's been appointed. He's a straight arrow. And what I'm concerned about is when these Republicans attack the investigation, and by the way, at the beginning they were all very supportive of Mueller. They said he's independent, he's fair minded, he's the right person for the job. Now recently they are singing a different tune. So what's changed?
BLACKWELL: You don't have serious concerns about some of the text messages that were exchanged specifically relating to the president, the ones we saw from the investigator, Mr. Strzok, you don't think those are significant and valid concerns?
SARBANES: I'd be concerned if Robert Mueller hadn't himself taken the steps to remove that person from the team, but he did it. To me, that's proof positive that Mueller's the guy you want. He's going to conduct this investigation in an independent way, he's going to do it fairly, and he's going to try to make sure we get to the bottom of these issues. So I trust him, and we ought to let him do his job.
BLACKWELL: Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland, thank you so much for being with us this morning.
SARBANES: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: Quick break, we'll be back.
[10:57:56] MARSH: Well, in the season of giving we want to show you how you can help our 2017 top ten CNN heroes continue their important work.
BLACKWELL: You can also have your donations matched dollar-for- dollar. Here's Anderson Cooper.
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ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. Each of this year's top ten CNN Heroes proves that one person really can make a difference, and again this year we're making it easy for you to support their great work. Just go to CNNHeroes.com and click "donate" beneath any 2017 top ten CNN Hero to make a direct contribution to that hero's fundraiser on CrowdRise. You'll receive an e-mail confirming your donation, which is tax deductible in the United States. No matter the amount, you can make a big difference in helping our heroes continue their life-changing work.
And right now through January 7th your donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $50,000 for each of this year's honorees. CNN is proud to offer you this simple way to support each cause and celebrate all these everyday people changing the world. You can donate from your laptop, your tablet, or your phone. Just go to CNNHeroes.com. Your donation in any amount will help them help others. Thanks.
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BLACKWELL: Nominations for 2018 are open and we're waiting to hear from you.
MARSH: Go to CNNHeroes.com to make your nomination.
BLACKWELL: All right, so this is fun. A mom and dad in Ohio put a personal touch on gifts to his teachers this year.
MARSH: Each teacher received a bottle of wine, but the label was replaced with a picture of their son and caption that said "Our child might be the reason you drink, so enjoy this bottle on us." Their other son says it's a pretty fitting gift, so they know how their son is.
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DJ SOMMERS, OLDER BROTHER: It was more of a thank you, because I know I can't spend six hours in a room with my little brother and they've been doing that every day for however long he's been in school.
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BLACKWELL: So the family says that everyone thought the gifts were pretty funny.
MARSH: Must be a naughty kid, huh?
BLACKWELL: If my mom was handing out drinks for having to deal with me, it could have been moonshine, something a little harder than a little cabernet.
MARSH: Not for Fred, though.