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AT THIS HOUR
Top Of Trump's Agenda For 2018: Big Bipartisan Deal; Deadline Day: GOP's Grassley Wants Answers About FBI Texts; Trump Intensifies Attacks On FBI, Calls Bureau "Tainted"; Trump Promises Big Infrastructure Push In 2018; McConnell: Ryan Disagree On Entitlement Reform. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 27, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- all right, thanks to you all for joining us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. I'll see you back here tomorrow. My colleague, Dana Bash, picks it up now.
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in for Kate Bolduan. Back to work and looking ahead to his second year in office, President Trump is hoping to strike a big bipartisan deal. He plans to unveil the framework of an infrastructure plan first thing next year, and a White House official tells CNN that the current proposal would allocate $200 billion to repair the country's bridges, roads, and airports.
Let's get straight to CNN's White House correspondent, Abby Phillip, who is live in West Palm Beach, near Mar-a-Lago. So, Abby, the size of this proposed plan is going to be critical. Never mind how it's actually done. What are hearing from White House officials about it?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Dana. The $200 billion is well short of what the president promised during the campaign when he told his supporters he would support a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
Now, ironically, that's probably the size of a bill that some Democrats would be more willing to support. They're saying that the $200 billion is simply not enough. The White House says that number is a floor, not a ceiling for how much they're willing to spend.
And they're hoping that that $200 billion will spur state and local money to the tune of $800 billion, as well. At the same time, the president is also going to have a hard time getting Democrats in an election year to want to support him after nine months of trading barbs back and forth.
Earlier in the year, the White House had made some overtures to unions who were also very supportive of infrastructure spending in general. It's unclear where that outreach has gone. White House officials say more meetings are planned for January and the president is planning on hitting the road to talk about this infrastructure bill and sell it during the state of the union address later in January. BASH: And Abby, you mentioned something that's really critical, the whole notion of whether he can get bipartisan support on this, because there are a lot of Republicans in Congress who want nothing to do with this kind of infrastructure bill. So, to get anything done, he would have to get bipartisan support.
The Democrats have found themselves, they think, pretty successful in being the party of no against Donald Trump. Do you think something this important, policy wise, might change that?
PHILLIP: That's a really good point, dana. The Republicans now have an even slimmer majority in the Senate. They have only 51 votes. The president is going to need at least nine Democrats to get onboard with an infrastructure plan.
And as you mentioned, a lot of Republicans do not believe that infrastructure spending, especially deficit spending on infrastructure, is something that they ought to be doing.
It's going to be very difficult for Republicans and for Democrats to sell cooperating with the president on a proposal like this in 2018, a really, really big midterm election year that Democrats are hoping will determine control of the House or the Senate next year.
BASH: Abby Phillip, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Now to new developments in the Russia investigation. As some Republicans continue to accuse Justice Department officials of political bias against Donald Trump and favoritism towards Hillary Clinton.
They may soon get some answers about controversial anti-Trump text messages exchanged between two FBI employees during the campaign. Today is the deadline for the deputy attorney general to respond to a request for more details from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
We've seen Republicans, including the president seize on these texts, as evidence of political bias within the investigation and within the department of the FBI. And Democrats, though, say that they are confident that this investigation is still going strong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE FRANCIS HOONEY (R), FLORIDA: I'm very concerned that the DOJ and the FBI are, whether you want to call it deep state or what, are off the rails. I don't want to discredit them. I want to see the directors of those agencies purge it.
And say, look, we've got a lot of great agents and lawyers here, those are the people I want the American people to see and know a lot of great work is being done, not these people who are kind of a deep state.
REPRESENTATIVE JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm worried about anyone in the position that the president is in, trying to take down the very institutions that we hold dear. I don't think the Mueller investigation is anywhere near being completed. And so, I think we will just wait and see on that regard. As for the House Intelligence Committee, I think there's a very significant effort underway by the majority to try and shut it down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Joining me now to talk more about this is Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining me.
Let's start with the deadline today that the Senate set for the deputy attorney general to turn over more information about anti-Trump texts.
[11:05:09] I know that this is a Senate committee, not the House where you serve, but what is your expectation? Do you think Congress will get anything to put those texts in context?
REPRESENTATIVE WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: We should. The bottom line is this, when you have Congress doing its role on oversight, the administration should respond in a timely fashion. The Department of Justice hasn't always done that on these current investigations and I hope they hit this deadline today.
BASH: Congressman, before you were elected to Congress, you worked for the CIA for nine years. You know the culture of that agency and presumably you have a good sense of the FBI, as well. Do you think that the FBI is filled with liberals who wanted to elect Hillary Clinton?
HURD: I don't know about that, but I will say this. In my almost decade serving in the intelligence community, I had the awesome opportunity to serve shoulder to shoulder with a lot of real patriots in the FBI. And so, I have full trust in the bureau.
But one of the things that we should be doing in Congress is fulfilling our oversight role and making sure that the right trade craft is being used. This is something that we have to make sure and ensure that the people that are law enforcement, are federal law enforcement, and our intelligence communities are protecting.
That they can trust that these institutions are doing things the way they're supposed to be doing, and so I think this is an important part of our role. But I firmly believe that the men and women that are out there chasing bad guys and putting people in jail, you know, they're not paying attention to what's going on up in the beltway. They're doing their job and keeping us safe.
BASH: No question and they should be commended. It's probably hard for them to ignore what's going on in the beltway with the president of the United States tweets to his millions of followers over the Christmas holiday, attacking the agency, the FBI that they work for. Just one example, he called the FBI tainted yesterday. Do you think those tweets are helpful or a good idea?
HURD: What, he called the FBI what? I didn't hear that.
BASH: Tainted. Yes, you probably can't see it on the screen, but he called it tainted.
HURD: Well, again, the -- we have to ensure that the political leadership of these organizations are operating with the same level of focus and discipline that the rank and file are doing throughout the field offices around the country and those that are operating overseas --
BASH: But do you think that the FBI is tainted?
HURD: I don't. I don't. But, again, our work is to make sure that they're doing things the way they're supposed to be doing and you know, if uncorroborated information was being used in investigations, that's a -- that's a serious allegation, something that needs to be looked at.
And that's why these committees are, you know, both in the House and in the Senate, are going to move forward in a methodical fashion, in a deliberate fashion, to make sure that we have answers and get it to the American people. And so, that's something that I know I'm committed to and my colleagues are committed to doing, as well.
BASH: And Congressman, these attacks from the president against the FBI really seem to have ramped up, big-time, after it became clear that Michael Flynn was cooperating with the FBI and special counsel's investigation. It looks like the president is worried. What do you think?
HURD: You know, that's one assessment of that. I don't have any opinion --
BASH: What's your assessment?
HURD: -- on whether this has changed over time. I haven't looked. My goal is to make sure we're being deliberate and following the facts wherever we may. One of the things they wish we were talking a little bit more about is how do you counter disinformation?
Look, it's very clear that the whole reason it started was Russian influence in our elections. And it was clear, and we saw that with the information revealed by the number of social media companies that have testified openly over the last couple of weeks and months.
But we haven't had enough conversation of, how do we have a strategy to counter disinformation? We know it's happening, we know how they did it. But how are we going to be prepared in the future when the Russians try to do this, to stop it from happening?
BASH: That's an important point. Do you feel that the White House needs to be more aggressive, and by more aggressive, I guess, I mean, aggressive at all, in raising this issue, to make sure that that kind of interference from a country like Russia doesn't happen again?
HURD: Well, I know there are many conversations happening at the National Security Council, which is the entity that drives the strategy. This is, this is a tricky issue. It's part of covert action and it's very clear from the National Security Act of 1957 that the CIA was responsible for covert action.
[11:10:08] But the CIA can't do things in the United States of America, in English language and so, this is going to have to cause and require a change in how the intelligence community and federal law enforcement operates.
And so, this is -- this is a complicated issue that I know folks in the National Security Council are focusing on. This is something us in Congress, we should be talking about, as well.
And I think, you and your colleagues, you know, having conversations about how do we, you know, what should we be doing in the future is a valuable part of this whole strategy because those in the media are going to play an important role in making sure that we can ensure the integrity of our elections.
BASH: No question about that. Let's talk, Congressman, about the year ahead and what Congress and the White House can get done. First and foremost, let's talk about immigration. Your Texas district, it runs along the Mexico border.
The DREAMers are going to lose legal protections by March if Congress or the president, if either of them doesn't act. Will you support any bipartisan deal to give DREAMers legal status if it's coupled with border security?
HURD: Of course. This, to me, you know, the issue of DACA and DREAMers is real simple. These are a million young men and women that have only known the United States of America, 97 percent of them are in school or are working, 5 percent of them are entrepreneurs.
These are people that are contributing to our culture, to our history, to our economy, and we can fix this. And for those that want to make sure that border security is involved, one of the problems that -- it's 2017 and our border is not secure.
We do not have operational control of our border and the reason is, is that we're not looking at all 2,000 miles of our southern border at the same time. And the only way to do that is by leveraging technology and manpower. And I think that's something that can be done in the span of a year or two, and so I think --
BASH: You're clearly for -- you're clearly for allowing the DREAMers to stay legally, but a lot of your Republican colleagues, as you well know say that's amnesty and they are going to fight you and the president tooth and nail. Do you think that that's going to cause a problem, looking ahead to the 2018 election?
HURD: I think the number of folks that are against this are actually smaller than most folks realize. I think having a Donald Trump in office who has shown a commitment to securing our border and wanting to solve this problem, I think that's a real opportunity for some of my colleagues that may be on the fence on this issue, in order to -- in order to get on the right side, in my opinion.
And so, this is something that's going to be important and it's the possibility of getting addressed, as early as middle of January. But we need to address the uncertainty and again, for me, these are young men and women that are contributing to this great place we call America, and let's make sure they continue to belie able to do that.
BASH: Before I let you go, Congressman, CNN is learning that the president wants to make a new infrastructure plan an important piece of his "state of the union" address January 30th. It's going to propose spending at least $200 billion on infrastructure projects over the next decade and so forth. Is that something that you believe that you and your Republican colleagues will get onboard with?
HURD: Look, the devil, of course, is in the details, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done on infrastructure. I know in earlier segments, you were talking about the $200 billion not being big enough.
But I think that's something that can be leveraged with state and local and even some private dollars, and I think we have an example of a framework of that already. It's the North American Development Bank.
The North American Development bank leverages federal dollars from the U.S. and dollars from the government of Mexico to do infrastructure projects along the border. I've seen them impact my communities by helping with sewage, creating sewage projects, to, you know, clean water projects, as well.
We had kids in my district that couldn't drink the water because there was too much arsenic in it. So, I think that is an example of how we can leverage federal dollars for this. But one of the things I want to make sure is when we think about infrastructure, we have to think about the rural parts of the country, as well.
I represent 29 counties, two time zones, it takes 10 and a half hours to drive from one corner of my district to the other. And in some parts, there's more cows than people. But we have to make sure that they have high-speed internet access and that infrastructure will be able to help benefit the rural communities, as well.
BASH: Congressman, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, as you drive all those miles and miles along your district on this holiday week. Appreciate it.
[11:15:08] HURD: Well, thank you. I hope you had a Merry Christmas and I wish you a Happy New Year.
BASH: You too. Thank you.
And coming up, hours into an overseas flight, a jet is forced to turn back after the crew discovers one passenger isn't supposed to be onboard. What happened? Stay with us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: After a year filled with partisan fights over Obamacare and tax cuts, political leaders say they want to try to, wait for it, engage in bipartisanship. The White House says the first big initiative of the new year will be a major push on infrastructure and the president says he's optimistic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Infrastructure is by far the easiest, people want it, Republicans and Democrats. We're going to have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure, as you know. I could have started with infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So could infrastructure be the kumbaya moment in Washington we've all been waiting for? Joining me now to discuss, political White House reporter, Eliana Johnson, CNN's political writer, Juana Summers, and CNN Congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly. Thanks guys for coming in. Phil, is infrastructure really the easy one?
[11:20:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, the president is right on the fact that Democrats and Republicans both want to do this. Here's the issue, they've wanted to do this now for years and years.
You were on the Hill covering it every single day. This was always the white whale. Not years and years, but this was always kind of the white whale. Everyone agrees that something has to be done. The roads and the bridges, everything is terrible. Everything needs to be fixed.
Joe Biden really has a problem with regard to airport and several other entities. How you do it is a huge issue right now. The president's idea is whether he starts with a $200 billion fund and then tries to lever it up to $1 trillion with state and local spending, private investment, as well, that's not enough for a lot of Democrats.
That's already too much for a lot of conservatives in his conference. Infrastructure is always something that on the top line everyone agrees to, but on the details becomes extraordinarily difficult.
The odds are I think when you talk to people who have been working on this, it's worth noting, the White House has been on the Hill working with Democrats on this for a couple of months.
BASH: Now that's interesting.
MATTINGLY: Whether it be new Democrats. Other people have been on the Hill reportedly working with them behind the scenes on this. The question is, can they bring those Democrats, perhaps some red-state Democrats who were up in 2018 in the Senate along while they bring conservatives along who don't want any type of major spending initiative. If they can bridge that gap, it's certainly possible. Is it easy? No, not at all. BASH: No, because I mean, you're exactly right, the notion of fixing the country's roads, bridges, as you just heard from Congressman Hurd, the fact that a lot of rural areas still don't have high-speed internet, which is mind boggling and terrible, that is kind of a no- brainer.
The president's right. That idea is easy. But then the devil is in the details, right, Juana, when you talk about how are you going to get that money out to the local cities and states and so forth.
Is it going to be federal spending? Is it going to be tax credits, which is probably what a lot more of the Republicans want? That's going to be a hard kind of, you know, compromise to make.
JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Absolutely. The devil's in the details and I think to Phil's point, it's also in the timing. We're barreling very quickly towards 2018 here. It is an election year and it's an unpopular position for the Democrats to work with the sitting Republican president in many of these competitive districts across the country.
So, the idea that he's going to see a lot of Democrats get onboard, I'm a little skeptical. It's interesting to hear that they've been meeting with folks on the Hill from the White House and what have you.
But I think the timing is a little off here and this is something that's going to be very difficult to do in an election year where Democrats think they really have a shot to give Republicans a run for their money in both chambers.
BASH: Yes. Because, look, let's be honest, the partisanship has been very deep on both side of the aisle. Democrats feel that they have been quite successful in following what the Republican playbook was when President Obama was in the White House, which is no, no, no, no, no, no, we're not going to work with you.
They didn't have much of an opportunity because the big heavy lift was Obamacare, which they were never going to vote to repeal and the tax reform, which ended up having Obamacare, part of the repeal of the individual mandate in it, but this is different.
So, the question is whether Democratic leaders are going to want to hold their rank and file or whether they'll let them go, particularly those who are in tough re-election battles in red districts and red states to come back and say, look, I can work with the Republican president because that will play well back home.
ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": You know, I question how well that would play back home with Democrats when the energy in the Democratic base is really on an anti-Trump platform. So, I think it will be hard for Democrats to cross the aisle, for many Democrats to cross the aisle.
Republicans are really between a rock and a hard place because it's not only that they have a slim margin in the Senate now. It's increased from 52-48 to 51-49 with the loss in Alabama, but it's also the things they're working on.
It's not Obamacare and tax reform anymore, but they're working on infrastructure and entitlement reform, those are things that divide the Republican Party. If they're going to get anything done in 2018, they need Democratic cooperation.
I think a much more challenging legislative agenda, if you thought 2017 was challenging, I think 2018 will be much more charging for the GOP.
BASH: Now, let's take a listen to what the Republican leaders in the House and Senate, Paul Ryan, the House speaker and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader are talking about. It's not infrastructure, it's one or two other things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, will Congress take up entitlement spending next year?
REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: Yes, we will, and Bob and I actually see a lot of these things very similarly. We have to address entitlements. Otherwise, we can't really get a handle on our future debt.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think the Democrats are not going to be interested in entitlement reform. So, I would not expect to see that on the agenda. And what the Democrats are willing to do is important because in the Senate, with rare exceptions, like the tax bill, we have to have Democratic involvement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So, is this just classic Paul Ryan, just made a career out of understandably wanting to fix the entitlement system and Mitch McConnell coming in as a practical realist?
[11:25:03] MATTINGLY: Leave it to the majority leader to bring his patented anvil, quietly, calmly, perhaps understated on to the head of the grander ambitions of perhaps his colleagues in the House.
Look, when you talk to Senate Republicans who are deeply involved in this process and are looking forward to what's coming next, they understand, 51-49 is a very slim majority. They understand that they swung for the fences twice through a proposal, through proposals where they could only -- they only needed a majority vote.
They're not going to do that again. They're not going to use that mechanism again. And because of that, they need at least nine Democrats to do anything they want to do. There are not nine Democrats that exist, regardless of how President Trump did in ten specific Democratic states, that are going to help them overhaul Medicaid.
That are going to help them do major changes to food stamps. That are going to help them touch Medicare in any way, shape, or form, and because of that, when you talk to the Senate majority leader and some of his top aides, they recognize, we're going to have to look for other alternatives here.
But there's no question about it. This has been the speaker's grand ambition. Tax reform, clearly one of his grand ambitions. But since the power points that we all watched with the slides and when he was budget chairman, this is something that he wants to do.
If you want to get him on an extended riff during a press conference, start asking him about this stuff and 9 minutes later, he'll finish his answer.
BASH: And he's right. There's no way to fix the debt and the deficit without dealing with entitlement. The question, again, is how you get there.
JOHNSON: I think the election of Donald Trump also showed that the Republican base is far more, you know, conflicted about entitlement reform. And far more, you know -- they're far more --
BASH: The president promised not to touch --
JOHNSON: The president promised not to entitlements and they're not with Paul Ryan. They're with Donald Trump on this and so I think it will be a real challenge for Republicans to go it alone on that.
BASH: Juana, I want to show our viewers the to-do list that Congress and the president have just in January alone and this is like must- pass stuff for the most part. Spending bill, that's definitely must pass. They got to keep the government running because they kicked the can to January.
CHIP reauthorization, that's the health plan for needy children. That is a must plan. Disaster relief, same thing. DACA border security, the deadline is technically March, but, you know, you're hearing a lot of talk about trying to get a deal for the DREAMers before that.
And then, of course, it's, Phil, as you know, Obamacare fixes that were promised to Republicans like Susan Collins, as part of the tax reform bill. That's a hefty agenda.
SUMMERS: It's an incredibly lengthy list and I think it's a lengthy list that comes so far, as you've seen in the Trump administration only having one really marquee legislative victory so far. I think it will be interesting to see what strategy members of leadership take.
Are they going to work with this president to achieve some of these things on this to-do list, or do they end up working around him in spite of conflicts and priorities there?
MATTINGLY: I would just note that two things. One, these are things that have to get done. They can't punt them anymore. They continue to punt. They can't kick the can anymore. The Senate majority leader wanted this all wrapped up at the end of this year.
These are things where conservative Republicans are going to have to essentially eat it on some level, particularly on the DACA fix. But we look at the grand what 2018 will mean, what this will all mean for the elections. Nothing matters until they get that to-do list done.
And I will point out, the Obamacare fixes, the Alexander Murray fix, the cost sharing reduction subsidies plus the $15 billion reinsurance fund that Susan Collins wanted. The majority leader knows that has to get done. That was a broken promise.
Susan Collins was very disappointed with what happened there. We talk about a 51-49 majority, you need Susan Collins on everything. It's time to deliver for Susan Collins and I think keep a very close eye on that because, again, House Republicans don't want it.
Somehow, some way the majority leader will find a way to finagle that in or at least is planning to. If that falls apart, he's got bigger problems as they look forward to that agenda.
BASH: In the next panel, we'll talk about how Susan Collins is the most powerful person in Washington right now, but we're going to leave it there. Thank you, all. What a great discussion. We learned a lot.
New this morning, President Obama sitting down for an interview with Prince Harry. And the former president gave a not-so-subtle swipe at the current president's use of social media. That's next.