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Trump's 2018 Agenda; Pentagon Sued for Not Reporting; New North Korean Sanctions. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 27, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:43] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Dana Bash, in for Kate Bolduan.

The president may still be at his property in Florida golfing, but his aides appear to be working on his agenda for 2018, signaling what the president will want to tackle first, fixing America's decaying roads and bridges. A major infrastructure plan. The White House is telling CNN that the president will soon unveil a proposed $200 billion plan to repair the country's roads and bridges and airports with the hope that he would inspire local and state governments to pony up an additional $800 billion for other projects.

Now, not all Republicans are excited about this issue. So the plan would likely have to be bipartisan. Get support from Democrats in order for it to pass. But the president is serious enough and the question is if he's serious enough about wanting infrastructure to be a major part of this. It seems as though that this is going to be a big part of his agenda. So much that it's going to be part of his State of the Union Address, his very first one, on January 30th.

Let's go live to CNN's Ryan Nobles. He is live in West Palm Beach near Mar-a-Lago.

And, Ryan, so it isn't clear whether or not the president will get support from Democrats because we don't know any of the details of this, but that really is going to be the question, how will it be crafted in order to lure Democrats, assuming that you lose some Republican votes.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that is a big question, Dana, especially when you take into account that it seems as though the White House is content on this being the next big legislative push for this administration. And that means it is a bit of a gamble because, as you point out, there are far too many fiscal hawks in the Republican Party to push a plan like this through with only Republican votes. So that means bringing in some Democrats into the fold.

And while there is no doubt quite a few Democrats who are in favor of a major federal push to create some investment in infrastructure upgrades across the country, the big question is, how willing are they to go along with this White House and provide the president another legislative victory.

And there are also a number of big issues that Democrats care about, as well. And are they going to be willing to single out this particular issue and then be willing to deal with the president on issues like immigration, DACA reform, all those big ticket items that are all on the agenda. This is something the president is hoping he can push through. But, of course, Dana, the big question is, are Democrats willing to deal with this president in a year where they're hoping to take back control of Congress.


BASH: That is one of the big questions, Ryan, for sure. Thank you so much for that report.

Now, if the president can get Democrats on board for this infrastructure bill, he may have trouble getting it prioritized because there are a lot of 2017 agenda items that are already rolling over into the new year. Congress has until January 19th to come up with a spending bill to keep the government running. They need to allocate hurricane and wildfire relief, reauthorize funding for the Childhood Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and come to an agreement to deal with dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. And, last but not least, deal with Obamacare issues that are a holdover from this year.

So let's talk about all of this with CNN's congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly.

So, Phil, a lot on their agenda just as they begin to come back. What is your sense of how likely it is that they're going to be able to squeeze all of those things that we just showed on and yet also start looking realistically at some really major bipartisan initiatives, like infrastructure?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think the long list you just showed are must pass items, right? You've got to fund the government. Obviously a DACA deal needs to happen. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made very clear, if the bipartisan negotiation creates something, he promises something will be on the floor in January. The speaker of the House, while he's dealing with a much more rambunctious conference when it comes to DACA has also acknowledged that this is something that needs to be taken care of. CHIP, a reauthorization for five years, that's queued up. All of those things will be done.

I think the real question is, is coming out of those things, which a lot of Republicans will not appreciate the end game and many of them, whether it's the spending bill or DACA or anything else, will there be kind of an appetite to take on another big picture item. You talk about the speaker, who has very specific ideas of what he would like to do in 2018. You have the majority leader, who has very different specific ideas of what he'd like to do in 2018. And you have the White House, which has made clear that infrastructure is the pathway that they want to go down. What's the appetite, and probably more importantly, particularly when you look at the U.S. Senate now, what's the appetite of Democrats to actually negotiate? What's the appetite of Democrats to try and come on board with the president? Do those ten Democrats running for re-election in 2018 in states that President Trump won say, we need to come together with him on something, or do they, which they did for the entirety of 2017, say nothing you're offering is good enough for us. It's better for us to stay away from you, thus killing any potential opportunity for a deal.

[12:05:38] BASH: Because they feel, I'm sure you've heard this, as I have, that they've, you know, have done pretty well politically.


BASH: Not policy wise, but politically, in being the party of no, following the playbook of Republicans when Obama was in office.


BASH: Although I want to ask about Republicans because it's very clear from the president talking about infrastructure, then putting out there that he's going to make it a big part of his State of the Union Address, that he appears to at least want to try to move towards some bipartisan compromise. Do you get the sense from talking to Republicans in the hallways, as you do every day, that the president has built up enough political capital with conservatives over the first year in office, really appealing to the base, that he can afford to do some bipartisan work?

MATTINGLY: I think it exists. I think he -- he needs to understand that if he's going to move in that direction, he's going to have to take the slings and arrows from that side of things and not take them too personally. You're not going to get the freedom caucus to come along with an infrastructure plan that's going to pull 10, 11, 12 Democrats, right? And you have to be willing to kind of shed those and say, I'll work with you on something else later, be happy about it.

I think the biggest question right now and is kind of stuck in my mind is, whatever the solution is to DACA, and we don't know the exact specifics of it but we kind of know the parameters of what it is, is going to -- is it going to poison his relationship with Republicans, is it going to poison the speaker's relationship with his conference to the degree that they can't do anything for the rest of the year and it becomes kinds of an internal battle that they can't overcome, or can they quickly move on to something bigger and perhaps some type of bipartisan deal? I think that's why the first three weeks are going to -- before the State of the Union -- are going to be so crucial about what the direction of 2018 is actually going to look like.

BASH: Yes, and the question you're hearing from a lot and sort of the Steve Bannon wing is whether or not a deal on DACA, which a lot of people in the base call amnesty, no matter who it is, will depress the base, which they very much need to come out in a midterm.

Thank you so much.


BASH: Nice to see you, Phil.

And now let's bring in our political panel. Let's start with reporter Rebecca Berg, conservative columnist and radio talk show host John Phillips, and Republican strategist Evan Siegfried.

Thank you for coming in, one and all.


BASH: John, let's start with you. This is a campaign promise from the president. When I say this, I'm talking about infrastructure. You talk to Trump supporters every day on the radio. Is this a priority for them?

PHILLIPS: Absolutely. And I think it's wonderfully altruistic for him to start out wanting to get a bipartisan bill through. But he should have a plan b ready to go because I think that that is likely to fall apart almost immediately.

BASH: Why?

PHILLIPS: I suspect that Democrats will go into this being both greedy and difficult. They're going to be greedy because Trump's going to be left holding the price tag. So they're going to ask for the moon. And they're going to be difficult because once you've been part of the resistance, it's hard to go from saying the guy should be impeached to saying your bridges are irremissible.

So I suspect he's going to need more Republican votes than he thinks that he is. And I would do that by spending the money in red states. And when I spend money in blue states, I would make sure to target that money in districts where vulnerable Republicans are running for re-election.

BASH: Wow, that would be incredibly, you know, sort of blatantly political. Not saying that it's not maybe a smart, political strategy. But there are, obviously, also a lot of blue states that need -- that need that work on their bridges and roads.

Evan, the White House is telling CNN that Trump will propose $200 billion in federal spending on this. That's the floor they call it of what they're willing to spend. And the hope is that the states will add up to $800 billion. Unclear whether the states even have that kind of cash.

But just let's focus on the federal side of this. Is that going to be a problem for fiscal hawks when you're talk about $200 billion in federal spending?

EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, we had this conversation a year ago where the president was talking how he wanted to come out of the gate in his presidency and do a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that would mend public and private financing. But fiscal hawks balked. They say there's no way we're going to do a trillion dollars in government money. If the president had come out and then said, OK, a $200 billion floor to start, that would have been more receptive. But I think deficit hawks are very worried because they did hold their tongues a lot with the tax bill. And they're going to be sitting back and trying to say, we need to actually do something that's serious, which is why we've also been hearing about entitlement reform and other issues that have caused fiscal problems.

[12:10:06] So I think that the president going out and talking about $200 billion, that's great, but I don't know where the appetite is and I don't know how he gets the votes . I suspect this will be a dead issue by March.

BASH: Wow, that's quite a prediction.

Rebecca, you just heard what Evan said about the fact that a lot of Republican deficit hawks are going to say, thanks but no thanks. That would mean to avoid the prediction we just heard that it would be dead by March, Democrats are going to have to get on board.


BASH: Do you think that there are enough Democrats who are willing to work with the president on infrastructure to get this passed?

BERG: Dana, I think the key word in your question is enough, because it's certainly possible that the president could find some Democrats to come along with a plan like this, especially when you consider that infrastructure spending is something that Democrats want to get done and they've made their own proposal earlier this year to that effect. Whether they can agree on those details is going to be an open question.

But you do have, especially on the Senate side, ten Democrats running in states where Donald Trump won. Democrats who might be inclined to support something like an infrastructure bill being pushed by the president. It would be an opportunity for Democrats like Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Jon Tester in Montana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, some of those venerable Democrats running for re-election in 2018, to show their voters back home that they are willing to work with Donald Trump to pass some of his agenda.

But, of course, what we saw happen with tax reform was that Democrats, even those vulnerable Democrats running in those red states, stuck with the national party and Democrats unanimously rejected the Republican tax plan, rejected Donald Trump's tax plan. And so the question is going to be, is the political incentive greater for those vulnerable Democrats to work against the president when he has this low approval rating, when we've seen their base so energized by Democrats working against him. And that's going to be the key, I think, for the president in this case.

BASH: I think you're exactly right.

And, Evan, I wanted -- excuse me, John, I want to flip over to the base on the conservative side.

I've spoken to grassroots conservative leaders in recent weeks and they are really sounding the alarm for the Republican establishment. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CNSNEWS.COM: It may not be likely that the Republicans will lose their majority next year, but they may lose some primaries.

JENNY BETH MARTIN, CHAIRWOMAN, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS CITIZENS FUND: I think that the people in the Tea Party are going to look at those primary challengers and look to see, is this someone who could do a better job. We are looking at people who will look to taking out the Senate Republican leadership. And it's something that Tea Party Patriots, along with several other groups, have come forward and said we want to see happen.


BASH: So, John, this continued push by many in the base to challenge the establishment conservatives, this has -- this is no small thing when you're talking about what the president wants to accomplish, whether it's infrastructure or making the dreamers -- allowing them to stay legal permanently. That is going to make things even more complicated within the Republican Party, don't you think?

PHILLIPS: Yes, there are definitely Republicans out there who don't want to spend any money. And I can sympathize with them. In many ways, I'm just as cheap as they are. But that's -- that's not what he ran on. He ran on spending money. He ran on building bridges. He ran on building roads.

And let's not forget that this -- this is an issue that this president cares deeply about. He came into this as a developer. This is a sand box that he enjoys playing in. And if you look at nontraditional politicians that come from that world, that are developers, that come from the real estate world, people like Dick Reardon in Los Angeles, he earned his stripe rebuilding the city after the North Ridge earthquake knocked down freeways and red-tagged buildings. This is something that Donald Trump is eager to do. And I suspect he'll spend whatever capital he has to spend to make it work. And a lot of these deficit hawks will ultimately, I believe, fall in line.

BASH: OK, we're going to have to leave it there. Rebecca and Evan, I promise I'll get to you in the next one. Thank you so much for coming on.

And, coming up, a prince and a president sit down to talk about life after the White House and the danger of divisiveness on social media, and more.


PRINCE HARRY: Harry or William?


PRINCE HARRY: "Titanic" or "The Bodyguard"?

OBAMA: "Titanic."

PRINCE HARRY: "Suits" or "The Good Wife"?

OBAMA: "Suits," obviously.

PRINCE HARRY: Great, great, great answer.



[12:18:31] BASH: Three major American cities are suing the Pentagon for failing to report service member crimes to the FBI gun background check system. New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco claim that failure allowed the gunman in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the church shooting there, they allowed the gunman to buy weapons despite a previous military assault conviction that should have been made it illegal for the shooter to purchase a firearm. The Defense Department has told Congress it is investigating the database compliance issue.

And here we have justice correspondent Jessica Schneider to talk about why these three cities are deciding to use the legal route to -- the court system, rather, to sue.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. So these cities, Dana, Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco, they're citing the Sutherland Springs massacre. They say, of course, their citizens, they weren't directly affected, but they are worried that the lapses in the federal reporting system, well, it could affect them.

And the cities in the suit are putting it this way. They say that the -- they are directly impacted by the defendant's systemic and long- standing failures to report disqualifying conviction dispositions because they each continuously rely upon the accuracy and completeness of the NCIC database, which is the National Crime Information Center.

So really, Dana, these cities say, look, they're not asking for much more than the Department of Defense to do its job, to report to the federal database. So in this lawsuit, they're just asking for three things. They're saying that they want the Department of Defense to review their procedures, to submit monthly reports to a judge who's seated in Alexandria, Virginia, and then they just want these -- the Department of Defense to update the federal criminal database because, of course, if Devon Kelly had been in this database, he would not have been able to purchase this rifle that led him to go into this church and massacre 26 people.

[12:20:26] So it remains to be seen if this lawsuit will be able to proceed since these cities don't have maybe a direct case in this. They might not have standing. But we'll see. It's worth a shot for these cities.

BASH: And at the very least it will remind the public and put pressure on the Defense Department to do exactly that --


BASH: To be able to report this information to the FBI, which they should have --

SCHNEIDER: And just do its job, really.

BASH: Which they should have done beforehand.


BASH: Thank you for that report, Jessica.


BASH: And as Washington ramps up the sanctions on North Korea, our next guest says the recent rhetoric from Trump echoes the Bush administration's in the run up to the Iraq War. We'll get her take after the break.


[12:25:19] BASH: The U.S. slapped new sanctions on two North Korean officials this week, upping the ante even more on the Trump administration push to stop Kim Jong-un from getting a nuclear weapon. But if you listen to the president and his advisers, sanctions may not suffice and diplomacy may just be a lost cause.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has the potential of war with North Korea increased since this latest launch?

H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it's increasing every day, which means that we're in a race really. There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict. But it is a race because he's getting closer and closer.


BASH: Here's something that another national security adviser said 15 years ago about a different dictator which led to another rogue state being attacked.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER (SEPTEMBER 8, 2002): It is also a danger that is gathering momentum and it simply makes no sense to wait any longer to do something about the threat that is posed here. As the president has said, the one option that we do not have is to do nothing.

I don't think anyone wants to wait for the 100 percent surety that he has a weapon of mass destruction that can reach the United States, because the only time we may be 100 percent sure is when something lands on our territory. We can't afford to wait that way.


BASH: Joining me now is someone who worked in the George W. Bush National Security Council, who finds the Trump administration rhetoric eerily familiar, Kori Schake, is a distinguished research fellow at the Hoover Institution and also co-authored a book, "Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military," with the defense secretary, James Mattis.

Thank you so much for joining me, Kori. I appreciate it.


BASH: You believe that the Trump administration is dangerously boxing itself in on North Korea. And I want to show our viewers part of what you wrote in a piece recently. You wrote, the administration's statements strongly prejudice policy toward military action. They have not only drawn a red line, they've attached a countdown clock to it. President Trump will either fight a preventive war to disarm North Korea or will be forced in humiliation fashion to dismantle a scaffold of his own construction, calling into question American security guarantees.

So it sounds like you think the U.S. is sort of barreling towards war with North Korea.

SCHAKE: I really do. I'm really struck at how much the administration, particularly the president and the national security adviser, very much sound like the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003.

BASH: And -- OK. So let's dig deeper. Obviously, Iraq, in 2003, Saddam Hussein's regime, was different. I mean no two situations are similar.


BASH: When you talk about North Korea, they're really -- I'm sure you know far better than I, is no good -- there's no good military option. So what does that mean when you talk about a preemptive military strike against North Korea?

SCHAKE: That's exactly right, Dana. In the case of North Korea, even an American military attack, fought in close cooperation with our allies, Japan, South Korea, Australia, other countries in the region with their help and support, that could destroy -- target and destroy all of North Korea's nuclear weapons before they could attack us or our allies. That could destroy North Korea's ballistic missiles before they could attack us or our allies. And could very quickly destroy the 8,000 artillery pieces North Korea has aimed at their cousins across the inner-Korean border. You're still talking hundreds of thousands of dead South Koreans. And so the administration's strategy seems -- what I hear from the White House is them saying, we need to fight a preventive war and attack out of the blue on North Korea's weapons in order to prevent the risk that they might attack us. That's very much the rhetoric of the Iraq War in 2003.

[12:29:38] The two big differences are, the risks we are running for South Korea, Japan and ourselves, Iraq did not have the ability to attack the United States, even though they had weapons of mass destruction we were worried about and we feared they might have nuclear weapons. We know the North Koreans have nuclear weapons. We know they're aimed at us and our allies. And taking the risk of a preventative war insures we have those casualties rather than operating from confidence that we can deter them.