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North Korea Fears; President Trump Speaks Out in New Interview; Interview With New York Congressman Eliot Engel; Life-Threatening Winter Weather as Holiday Weekend Begins; Trump Calls for "Good Old Global Warming" in Tweet on Icy Weather; Trump: 'I Can Do What I Want' with Justice Dept; Will Trump Work with Dems on DACA? Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 29, 2017 - 18:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: What might the president be planning?

Four more years? Mr. Trump says the news media outlets that he rails against will essentially beg him to win reelection. We're sorting through his curious claims about journalism, presidential politics and 2020.

And climate confusion. As a deep freeze blankets much of the country, the president tweets that Americans could use some good old global warming. Does he understand what climate change is and how it differs from changes in the weather?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, as President Trump vacations in Florida, he's firing warning shots at his political and global adversaries in new tweets and in a revealing new interview.

There's a lot to digest this hour, including the president's new demands for a deal on immigration. He's telling Democrats there will be no agreement to protect the so-called dreamers from deportation unless Congress funds his promised wall at the U.S.-Mexican border.

And we are also following all the stunning claims and contradictions in the president's interview with "The New York Times." The president arguing that the Russia investigation makes the U.S. look bad, even as he says he believes that the special counsel will treat him fairly. The president also declaring he has an absolute right to do what he wants with the Justice Department, raising new questions about his intentions and whether he might cross any legal lines.

And CNN has learned there's growing concern that North Korea may be on the brink of provocative new military action sometime after the 1st of the year. U.S. officials say the newest intelligence suggests Kim Jong-un's regime is moving to launching another ballistic missile.

This hour, I will talk about those stories and more with the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Eliot Engel.

And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, I want to go to CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray with the president in Florida.

So, Sara, the president was discouraged from holding a year-end news conference, but he's found other ways certainly to vent in these closing days of 2017.


This president has been largely out of sight this week, but in an unplanned encounter with a reporter, he clearly had plenty to get off his chest, including a number of complaints about the Russia investigation.


MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump in full vacation mode and hosting Coast Guard members for golf at his Palm Beach club.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said to come use my course. I didn't know I would be flooded, but that's OK. You guys go have a good time.

MURRAY: But pressing pause long enough to rail against the Russia investigation in an interview with "The New York Times." While he didn't call for an end to the special counsel's probe into potential collusion between Trump's presidential campaign and Russian officials, the president insisted its damaging.

"I think it's a very bad thing for the country," he told "The Times," "because it makes the country look bad. It makes the country look very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out, the better it is for the country."

In the impromptu interview at his golf club, Trump insisted 16 times that no collusion has been uncovered in the various Russia investigations, reiterating the frustration he's aired publicly.

TRUMP: The Russia story is a total fabrication. There has been absolutely no collusion. Are there any Russians here tonight? Any Russians?

MURRAY: Trump also lamenting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, insisting such a move wouldn't have happened under former Attorney General Eric Holder.

"I don't want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that I will say this. Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him," Trump said.

But even as more Republicans take aim at special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump predicted he will get a fair shake. "There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign. I think I will be treated fairly."

Despite the swipe at Democrats, Trump appeared uninterested in trying to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e- mail server.

"I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter," he said of Clinton's e-mails.

Turning back to his legislative agenda, Trump said he is hoping to work with Democrats on health care, infrastructure and immigration, tweeting: "The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration et cetera. We must protect our Country at all cost!"

But Democrats may see little reason to cooperate with a president with a 35 percent approval rating, according to the latest CNN poll.

Even amid those low ratings, Trump is already gearing up for his reelection campaign, telling "The New York Times" he's sure to win another term because of his accomplishments in office, "But another reason that I'm going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there, because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes."



MURRAY: Now, the president also took to Twitter to complain about the media's coverage of his approval ratings, insisting that his numbers are on par with where President Obama's were at the end of his first year in office.

But if you look at nearly any reputable poll, you can see that President Trump's numbers lag behind nearly all of his predecessors, including President Obama -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Sara Murray in West Palm Beach, thank you for that report.

And let's talk more now about the president's interview and his take on the Justice Department and the Russia investigation.

We're joined by justice correspondent Evan Perez.

So, Evan, the president said something that really got a lot of people focused and that was that he said he has the absolute right to do what he wants with the Justice Department.

Fact-check that for us. EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, he's not speaking like a president. He sounds a lot like a king or somebody who feels that he can do whatever he wants with the Justice Department.

And that's not really true. The Justice Department reports to him. It's part of the executive branch, but if he were to give an order to the Justice Department for an investigation, say, of his political enemies that is not based on any legal merit, I think he would get pushback from the career people there and probably even from the Jeff Sessions, the attorney general.

I think that's part of why he's had such a problem with the Justice Department and with the FBI, because he knows that he can't really order them to do anything that he wants them to do.

KEILAR: And to that point, he said that the former attorney general, Eric Holder -- quote -- "totally protected" President Obama.

So, that was his characterization of how that worked. And he said that he, Trump, has -- quote -- "great respect for that."

PEREZ: Yes, there's a lot that was packed into that very short little bite there from "The New York Times" interview.

And look, I think what he's telegraphing, again, is that he's very unhappy with Jeff Sessions. We have heard it before. And I think he knows that what Jeff Sessions, or he believes, rather, that what Jeff Sessions did by recusing himself in the Russia investigation, which, by the way, he had no choice to do, given his role in the campaign, he feels that that has cast a cloud under his administration.

It's true, but it's part of his way of expressing that frustration. I think he thinks that what Sessions has done has been unforgivable. You keep hearing that.

KEILAR: And his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort now caught up in the web of the special counsel investigation. It's so interesting to hear Trump talk about it because he really distances himself. Like, he only worked for me for "a few months." And yet this was a key player at a key time in the Trump campaign.

PEREZ: Oh, absolutely.

But you hear that repeatedly from people at the White House. And I think it is part of the strategy, it is a political and legal strategy, which is to distance the president from any of these people. He barely knows Paul Manafort. I have even heard people at the White House say that he barely knew Mike Flynn, who was his national security adviser. I mean, we have pictures.

KEILAR: Their offices are like feet away from each other.


PEREZ: Because everybody has been fired except for Mike Pence. Everybody is gone. So, I mean, the amazing thing is that there is

this repeated effort by the White House to distance themselves -- to distance the president, rather, from Mike Flynn and anybody else who has gotten caught up in this investigation.

KEILAR: Really interesting. Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Now let's get reaction to all of this from Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel. He's the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Sir, thank you so much for being with us today.


KEILAR: So this interview has Trump saying 16 times that there was no collusion. And he also says that Democrats agree that there is no collusion.

I am assuming that is some news to you, that characterization of how Democrats feel.

ENGEL: Well, we know that, first of all, that Russia interfered with our last election.

What we don't know is what kind of collusion there was with the Trump administration. And I and others believe that there probably has been a great deal of collusion. It's why the president is always sort of toning it down or putting it down.

And it's very, very serious, because Russia is not a friendly nation. It's an adversarial nation. And I don't care who Russia was helping, whether it was Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. I don't want the Russians interfering in our democracy. And the president seems to always dismiss it and say there's nothing to it.

But we know there is something to it. It's not a matter of is there anything to it. We know it is. We just want to find out if there was collusion with the Trump campaign.

KEILAR: He refers to Dianne Feinstein, Democratic senator, and he seems to say that she's saying that there's no collusion.


If you look at her comments, it's more closely that she is saying that it seems like things are pointing in the direction of obstruction of justice. So when you see him basically using that as something to exonerate himself, what does that tell you about how he views the possibility of obstruction of justice as a direction of this investigation?

ENGEL: The obstruction of justice, of course, is something that is very serious.

And, you know, what bothers me is that the president often talks -- he talks about the Justice Department, that he basically controls it. I mean, he's president of the United States. He's not a king or an emperor or dictator, and he just doesn't seem to understand that he is subjected to the same laws that we are all subjected to.

So he just has this annoyance when anybody wants to find out the truth. All we're looking for is the truth. Mr. Mueller is impeccable, has an impeccable reputation. He's a Republican. He's certainly not out to do in the Republican president.

He's out to find the truth. And I have confidence in him. And I believe that we will get to the truth. But it's looking awfully suspicious about Russia and looking awfully suspicious about the president's inability to point a finger at Russia for interfering in our democracy.

KEILAR: He said in this interview in response to a question about whether he would ask the Department of Justice to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails, which is something that some of your Republican colleagues have called for, he says he has the right to do whatever he wants with the Justice Department.

What did you think about that?

ENGEL: Well, he doesn't. And, of course, he's not a king nor an emperor. That's a very, very scary attitude and a scary statement.

I wish they would just leave Hillary Clinton alone. She lost the election. And they keep trying to drag her back as some kind of whipping gal. But that's ridiculous. We're looking to see what the president is doing or has done or what his administration is doing or has done and what his campaign is doing or has done.

And they can use Hillary Clinton to try to distract everybody, and they can use a lot of different things, but the bottom line is, Mueller is there as special counsel. And I want him to just work his work. Let him find out where the bodies are buried, if there are, or if there are not. I think he's fair. Even the president thought he was fair.

But right now we hear in Washington rumblings about attempts to try to degrade him or make Mueller seem as if he's biased. That's not true. And I look forward just to seeing what Mueller comes up with, pro or con. I want the truth. I'm not looking to go after anybody. I think the truth, we need to know the truth.

KEILAR: As the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I do want to see what you thought about what he said about North Korea and China, because he said that essentially it is really up to China to really deal with North Korea. What is your opinion on that?

ENGEL: Well, you know, the president has said so many different things. It's almost like it's flying by the seat of your pants.

Yes, North Korea is very serious, probably the most serious situation we have now. The president has called Kim Jong-un, who was a terrible person, all kinds of names, little rocket man, things like that, which aren't really helpful. This is a very important diplomatic standoff.

KEILAR: But is China the key here?

ENGEL: I think China is one of the Keys. And Russia may be one of the Keys, too. China is supplying North Korea with oil. Russia has taken in guest workers from North Korea, which brings the regime a lot of revenue.

And China and Russia are not my cup of tea, but if we need to work with them to try to get North Korea to back down, and that might not even be possible, but we need to try, and we don't...

KEILAR: I want to ask you. You said China's supplying oil to North Korea, because that is something that the president says. We haven't been able to confirm that with U.S. sources. That is coming from South Korea.

Is that the case, as you understand it? You have factual understanding that China is supplying oil to North Korea? Or it just stands to reason?

ENGEL: No. Well, it stands to reason. And the president said it, and I assume that part of it is true. But the question is, we need to use...


KEILAR: I just want to be clear, Congressman, because he seemed to indicate, it seemed like he might have been saying that he got it from FOX News. And I'm just -- have you been briefed and told that indeed this is the case?


ENGEL: No, we have not had a classified briefing on this.



You do believe that China is one of the keys here. We also heard him reiterate this claim, that China is giving oil to North Korea. It seems to stand to reason, as you say, but the U.S. Department of Treasury released these images, which I want to show you. This is what we have been talking about.

The Treasury Department said that this is a North Korean ship. They didn't say what the other ship was. So you're still awaiting more information on this, right?

ENGEL: I'm awaiting more information. But I want to tell you that I have been to North Korea, Pyongyang, twice.

And I will never forget when we met with the high-level officials there. It was just after Saddam Hussein had been deposed. And he said to us, Saddam Hussein didn't have nuclear weapons and look where he is today, implying, of course, that the North Koreans would never give up on obtaining nuclear weapons.

And, frankly, I think it's been a failure in multiple administrations that we let it get to this point, where it is very difficult, because there's no way that North Korea can beat the United States in any kind of a war. But the fact is, a million people or more could die if there was ever, God forbid, a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.

So I think, instead of calling names, I think instead of pointing fingers, we really ought to get down to quiet diplomacy, because I think North Korea is on a very bad road. And we are, of course, waiting in a few days or weeks that they may have another missile test.

KEILAR: That's right. And I want to get to break in and talk about that with you afterwards, because North Korea has warned that their next test could be an atmospheric test, a very scary thing.

We will discuss that with Congressman Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, after this.



KEILAR: We are back now with the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel.

And as we do get more information on the missile threat from North Korea, Congressman, we want to talk to you about that. If you could just stand by for this next report, because right now I want to bring in CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you learning?


U.S. officials are telling me tonight they are seeing signs that North Korea might be preparing for yet another ballistic missile test. They had wondered over the last several days, could it be a missile test, could it be a satellite launch?

It's beginning to look like the preparations and the moving around of the equipment means a potential missile test. It still remains to be seen if the regime carries through and actually goes ahead and conducts a test.

They don't see it as imminent. They say sometime after the new year. That will make the timing very sensitive, because, of course, we are heading to South Korea hosting the Winter Olympics. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is traveling to Canada to meet with the allies after the 1st of the year to discuss North Korea.

A lot of sensitive timing, a lot of effort to keep the situation on the peninsula quiet and calm during this period. Earlier today, Defense Secretary James Mattis visited with Pentagon reporters in an end-of-the-year visit. And he was asked about North Korea. He said he's not impressed right now by their test program, but he also said that he's very much on the page of diplomacy buttressed by economic efforts.

It's not just words, he said. There are economic efforts. A very clear sign that the defense secretary, very much like the State Department, is looking for the allies to do more in the realm of both economic sanctions and diplomacy -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr, thank you for that report.

I want to get back now to Congressman Eliot Engel.

You heard Barbara's report there. And the North Koreans, we know, have warned that the next test could be an atmospheric nuclear test. Are you concerned that this may be what we see for this next test, and if not this next test, that it will come soon?

ENGEL: Well, of course I'm concerned. And I think that's the biggest thing that we have to face in our foreign policy.

You have a regime that doesn't really care what the world thinks. The U.N. just sanctioned them again. This is not going to be easy. So, what we need to do is involve our allies and involve countries that can, perhaps, influence North Korea.

But we have no guarantee. This to me is the most dangerous situation that we face today in the entire world.

KEILAR: If North Korea tests a nuclear missile, how should the U.S. respond?

ENGEL: Well, I think we have to respond again by slapping sanctions. It hasn't worked in the past. You know, we had the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the United States. And there was never a nuclear war because there was a deterrence.

They understood if they made certain moves there would be a price to pay. I think, at some point, North Korea is going to have to understand that as well. And so I think that perhaps that will ultimately make it, make it less likely that there would be a war.

But they have to understand that we're not just going to sit there and allow them to get stronger and stronger at a point where they can bully everybody in the world.

KEILAR: Do you worry Kim Jong-un's risk tolerance is higher than that of the USSR during the Cold War?

ENGEL: Yes, I do worry that. I do worry that.


That's why it's so important that we have to not only take matters into our own hands, but involve other countries, involve our allies and, as I said before, involve China and Russia as well. I don't think that China necessarily wants to see North Korea

strengthened in terms of its nuclear arsenal. And I don't know that Russia wants it either.

We need to just do it. But, instead, we seem to be falling back and forth and insulting him on the one hand, Kim Jong-un, and talking strong about him on the other hand, insulting China in the one hand and talking strongly about them helping us in another hand.

I think there needs to be more consistency. And I think we need to do it with the rest of the world. This is not a game. This is our most serious situation in the world in a world that has lots of serious situations.

KEILAR: It's a very scary one with real consequences.

I do, while I have you, want to talk to you about a different story that we have been watching, and I know you have been watching because you represent a portion of the Bronx, not the area where this deadly fire occurred last night, but this was the deadliest fire since 1990 that killed at least 12 people in an apartment building there in the Bronx.

The New York Fire Department says the fire was started by a 3-year-old child who was playing with burners in a first-floor apartment. Do we know anything more about how the fire was able to spread so quickly, aside from the fact that the door was not closed to this apartment? We know that the stairwell had a chimney effect. But what about measures that should have prevented the flames from spreading so quickly?

ENGEL: Well, we don't really know what right now.

Anyone who knows those buildings, they're generally walk-up buildings and they are four or five stories now. There are lots of them all over the Bronx. I'm from the Bronx. I was born there. I still live there. And I represent a portion of it.

But they are still investigating. They want to make sure that the landlord provided everything that was supposed to be provided. And we really just don't know. It's just a shame, because apparently, if the mother, when she ran out with her children, had slammed the door, that would have saved a lot of lives.

What happened, from what I understand, the fire, the smoke went all the way up to the fifth floor and made it impossible. People were found dead in the hallway trying to get out on the steps. And some people went out on their fire escapes. And that saved some lives.

It's just a terrible tragedy. It just breaks my heart. I was not far from there just about three days ago, maybe about 10 blocks away from them. And it is just a terrible, terrible thing.

KEILAR: So upsetting.

Eliot Engel, thank you so much for talking to us about all of these things today. And a happy new year to you.

ENGEL: Thank you, Brianna. Same to you.

KEILAR: Just ahead, we're going to talk about the president's declaration that he has an absolute right to do what he wants with the Justice Department. Does he understand the scope and limits of his power?

And President Trump points to record cold temperatures across the country to cast doubt on climate change.


KEILAR: Tonight the president's surprise interview with "The New York Times" is offering a new window into his thinking as he heads into his second year in the office as well as the midterm elections. His views on the Russia election and his power over the Justice Department are getting some of the toughest scrutiny. I want to bring in our analysts and our specialists to talk about this.

Susan Hennessey, starting with you, Donald Trump is asked in this interview if he's going to order the DOJ to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. And this is what he said, quote, "I have the absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department, but for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly" -- and he's talking about the Russia investigation -- "I've stayed uninvolved in this particular matter," talking about the e-mail investigation.

Legally speaking, does he have the right to do what he wants to do with the DOJ?

HENNESSEY: So, he is the head of the executive branch. So the president does have very, very broad authority to set priorities, fire people, sort of the way he might carry that out.

That said, this is yet another example of a pretty dramatic overstatement by the president. He can't discharge those authorities in a way that has sort of a corrupt purpose or violates the law. Separate from sort of the legal issue, there's a really, really strong normative tradition within the Department of Justice and sort of bifurcating. Some decisions are made at a political level. Those decisions that are -- where there's a need for political accountability.

But then a lot of important decisions are made by career officials, really, really carefully separated from any kind of political considerations from the White House in order to avoid sort of perceptions of politicization, which is exactly what the president seems to be attempting to create now.

KEILAR: Domenico Montanaro, you are the lead political editor of NPR. Thanks for being with us.

And so, clearly legally speaking, there are some hurdles for the president when he makes this claim, but politically speaking, what are the hurdles? Because, in addition to their being legal lines, there are also political realities about what a president can and can not do.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, LEAD POLITICAL EDITOR, NPR NEWS: Absolutely. And when it comes to, you know, what I think Susan is talking about, when it comes to presidents in the past not trying -- trying to maintain optical difference between the White House and the Department of Justice.

[18:35:00] I mean, any time you watch a hearing for any attorney general, that person is going to be asked, "Can you make a decision that's separate from the president of the United States? Can you be independent of the president if you need to be?" And they have to say "yes." If they can't say "yes" to that, then there's no way that they're going to be confirmed. And the president is supposed to know that. And that's why the president normally will stay away from trying to, you know, influence the Justice Department into specific investigations.

Now, of course he has the right to fire someone like Rod Rosenstein, who's in charge, ostensibly, of the investigation at this point, because he's the acting attorney general below the -- below Jeff Sessions as the attorney general, because he recused himself from the investigation, Sessions. So he would have to fire Rosenstein to be able to then oust Mueller, because the president can't directly affect that. But that would be his end around. And that would be that -- the sort of the similarity to the Saturday Night Massacre from the -- from the Nixon administration.

KEILAR: Or he could fire someone like, hey, Jim Comey, right, which he did. And then you see this whole can of worms that it opens for him. I mean, Perry, it seems like -- it seems like -- and this isn't the first time we've heard him say something like this. Does he really have an appreciation for where the boundaries are?

BACON: I don't think he does. I think he's trying -- what I see him doing is more trying to set limits. He's trying to suggest -- he's trying to brow-beat Mueller a little bit, I would have to say. To say, "I'm innocent. There's no collusion, so if you -- so if you indict me, I'm going to make sure the rain of force of the the Republican Party is going to come against you."

In reality, though, if Trump tried to fire Mueller or Rosenstein, his presidency would be dramatically changed. It would mean basically, is the House was run by the Democrats, that he would be probably impeached immediately after this. So I think it would be a mistake, times ten. The Comey thing was a huge story. Getting rid of Rosenstein or Mueller would be that times ten. So he really can't do this politically, I don't think.

KEILAR: Yes. The ramifications of doing something like that. Because you've heard Democrats say, David Swerdlick, they're concerned that he might fire Mueller. Some people have said they think it's more likely that he would get rid of Rosenstein. Doing either would be like a political mushroom cloud. SWERDLICK: Yes, I agree with you, and I agree with Perry. I heard,

in that interview, the president putting down a marker. Right now, they don't want to go full-steam ahead with getting rid of the Mueller -- with the Mueller investigation or Mueller, because they understand that their political problems ratcheted up tremendously after he fired Director Comey.

But he was reserving the right to, so that later on down the road, the circle titans, they can say, "Look, we've been saying all along, we have the power to do this." And I think that is what he was trying to talk about.

MONTANARO: And he's -- the fact of the matter is he's almost putting a threat out there. He's saying, "Be fair. As long as you're fair to me, then everything will be fine and I'll leave it alone."

But remember, he did this during the 2016 campaign, too, with the Republican National Committee. He said, "As long as you're fair, then I'm not going to run independent." And he held that as a cudgel over their heads. And I think if you read between the lines, he's doing something similar here.

KEILAR: He certainly does have his rhetorical markers that he puts out there.

All right. I'm going to have you guys stick around. We have so much more to talk about, including something the president said this morning. Just ahead, the president is making new demands of Democrats. Will that encourage bipartisanship in the new year?


[18:42:58] KEILAR: And we're back now with our analysts as President Trump sets new terms for a potential deal with Democrats on immigration.

So David Swerdlick, we've heard the president wax optimistic about working with Democrats in a number of areas: infrastructure, health care, and also on DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who come to the U.S. as children, no other home besides America, and find themselves in danger, potentially, of being deported and not being allowed to work here, sometimes go to school here.

So at the same time, then, he tweets at Democrats today and he says, basically, no DACA without a wall. So what do you really think the prospects are for bipartisan cooperation in 2018?

SWERDLICK: So with that tweet today before the holiday -- or during the holidays, I think he actually, in a way, may have done the Democrats a favor by letting them know they need to be singing from the same sheet of music next week when they have the scheduled leadership meeting at the White House to talk about this.

There's pressure on both sides of this, right? F or Democrats, this is something their base wants, to protect the DREAMers. For Republicans, though, they don't want to further shrink their base or shrink their party by having something drastic happen to the DREAMers, including the president has hinted at that. And he knows that he can only afford to lose one vote in the Senate on any deal that's done. So both sides have to figure out a way to navigate this.

KEILAR: Is this going to be, Perry, a big immigration fight in January?

BACON: I think it will, B. I think this is a little bit of bluster from Trump. I think he probably knows that the wall he talked about during the campaign is not going to be built. And you've noticed the camp -- his staff have sort of downplayed it.

I do think this is a situation where he's demanding some kind of heavy border security measures that Democrats are going to likely be very opposed to. And I think he's going to insist upon those. I do think we're headed toward a fight that's going to be pretty intense here.

KEILAR: Do you think that these markers being laid out came as a surprise, Domenico, to any Democrats?

MONTANARO: No. I think that this is sort of the usual way that Trump sort of talks about a lot of this stuff. And I think that the Democrats are probably thrilled about this kind of thing. Because as you head into 2018 and Democrats traditionally during midterms need to fire up non-white and younger voters, this is an issue that resonates with them. And the longer this kind of immigration fight and talk of immigration, you know, moves through 2018, Democrats are happy to have that fight.

KEILAR: Someone -- when you look at the map for 2018, you have...

MONTANARO: And I think that the Democrats are probably thrilled about this kind of thing, because as you head into 2018 and Democrats traditionally during midterms need to fire up non-white and younger voters, this is an issue that resonates with them.

[18:45:04] And the longer this kind of immigration fight and talk of immigration moves through 2018, Democrats are happy to have that fight.

KEILAR: Sunlen, when you look at the map for 2018, you have ten Democrats up for re-election in the Senate who are from states that Trump won. So, they are getting squeezed there. And it was with their aid that Trump and Republicans were able to continue funding the government. A lot of Democrats in the House voted against the funding bill.

There could have been a government shutdown if some of those Democrats had said, no, no, no, we want a deal with the DREAMers. They didn't do that. Maybe perhaps not surprising, but did they give up leverage?

MONTANARO: Look, it's a potential -- there's a potential for backlash whenever Democrats appear to be politicizing something that's pretty serious and that they ostensibly want and want to implement. So they can't look like they're turning down a deal. But as President Trump is coming and saying, you know, forget it without a wall, I'm not approving this, then at a certain point, even the liberal base realizes that the president's not really being -- negotiating in good faith.

KEILAR: I want you all to weigh in on this next question. One other part of the interview that stood out was where Donald Trump said, we are going to win another four years for a lot of reasons. He's talking about the presidency, obviously. Most importantly because our country is starting to do well again and being respected again. But another reason that I'm going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes.

Susan Hennessey, what are your thoughts on that?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: It is an incredibly revealing comment. You hear prior presidents, Barack Obama, George Bush, talk about being profoundly transform in their first year of office, sort of by the gravity of the endeavor they are engaged in. You know, Trump, a year in, appears to still be talking about this like it's a reality television show, like it's all about entertainment.

KEILAR: It is kind of, a little bit, like a reality television show.

HENNESSEY: I also think it's a furtherance of his attack on sort of the media, right, saying that the media is not here to just report the facts as they stand. They have some sort of personal bias. They are in it for the ratings. You know, they are part of this game as well.

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I would think that he's right on the fact that his presidency has created more interest from the public and my guess is that if Hillary was president or Obama, there is more stories getting read on certain websites, I think that is true. But there's a Pew report showing he's had much more negative media coverage in part because of than Obama or George Bush or Bill Clinton did in his first year in office.

So, the media -- his approval ratings are terrible. So the media is helping him do much better in terms of winning the election, because he's the lowest -- he's most unpopular first-year president we've had in a long time.

MONTANARO: He's a guy on camera who also wants to be a producer, you know? He's like, hey, I want control.

KEILAR: Hey, what's the matter with that?

MONTANARO: I want control over the lighting and the cameras.

KEILAR: I know some people like that.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it is typical Trump bluster and think he's overstating his value. The first African-American president was big news. The first reality show president is big news. Let's say if there's a woman president next time, that will be big news. We in the mainstream media will be just fine.

KEILAR: But this has been a wild time.

SWERDLICK: It's been wild, but yes, there's always news, President Trump, always news.

KEILAR: There's always other news, although there's a lot of news to cover with this president.

Thank you so much, David Swerdlick, Susan Hennessey, Domenico Montanaro. Thank you so much, Perry Bacon. We appreciate it.

Dangerous wind chill warnings across much of the nation tonight. Standby for the latest holiday weekend forecast.

And as Americans bundle up, the president is doubling down on his skepticism about climate change. Is he confused about the difference between weather and global warming?


[18:53:11] KEILAR: Tonight, we are monitoring life-threatening weather conditions across much of the country. Temperatures are plummeting. The record lows as New Year's Eve approaches with millions at risk from dangerous wind chills.

And CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar is in the weather center with a brand-new forecast.

Tell us what you're seeing there, Allison.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, a lot has changed since this morning. This morning when we were talking about wind chill advisories and warnings, we were talking about less than 10 million, but that number has jumped huge. Now, we are over 30 million people under some type of wind chill alert, watch, warning or advisory. This takes into account not just the temperature, but also the wind that will be out there.

So, this is going to be the feels like temperature. What it feels like on your body if you are standing outside. For example, tomorrow morning as you are waking up in Boston, it is going to feel like minus 13. It gets worse though as the next wave moves in, because Monday morning it's going to feel like minus 22. Chicago, minus 16, Sunday morning, minus 23 on Monday.

The reason you're noticing two separate waves is because we have the current one now. We get a temporary break for some folks, and then the next wave begins to come through especially Sunday into Monday. Now, the thing to understand, it's not just going to affect the Midwest and Northeast. They may have colder number, but the cold air is going to dip as far south as Texas and Georgia.

Take a look at this -- Dallas may not even hit 30 for a high temperature on Monday. Atlanta, Georgia, may barely make it above freezing for their high temperature on Monday. The thing that makes this such a big issue is what the impacts are to

your body, OK? You naturally have a layer of heat that's on the exterior of your body. It surrounds you, but when you start to factor wind in, that exterior layer gets blown away. It makes it very difficult for you to tell how quickly you lose body heat and hypothermia can set in with just as much as two to four degree body temperature change.

[18:55:07] So, this is why it's so important for people to understand. And unfortunately, Brianna, adding insult to injury, a lot of these areas are also going to get snow on top of that. These are the winter weather advisories and winter storm warnings that are in effect for areas of the Midwest and Northeast.

Now, notice widespread you're looking at numbers about two to four inches. However, the areas that will have the highest numbers are going to be along the Great Lakes. That means yes, even the town of Erie, Pennsylvania, Brianna, could get an additional foot of snow on top of the nearly six feet that they've already seen in the last week. This is going to be as we make our way all the way up to the New Year.

KEILAR: Wow, Allison Chinchar, thank you so much for bringing us that.

Now, the president is taking some notice of the frigid weather across the country, even as he enjoys sunny Florida, which sounds lovely and in the process, he is raising some new questions about his views on and understanding of climate change.

Our government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh is here with this.

So, Rene, the president managed to make a tweet about the weather controversial.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPODENT: Yes, weather is very political, especially coming from the president. His tweet certainly plays to the base, but it also highlights how out of step President Trump's policies are with science. It also magnifies his misunderstanding of a science behind climate change.

And tonight, scientists are calling the president's weather tweet irresponsible.


MARSH (voice-over): The president using the cold snap in the U.S. to cast doubt on climate change. Tweeting in the east, it could be the coldest New Year's Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming our country, but not other countries, was going to pay trillions of dollars to protect against. Bundle up.

It's the same argument Senator Jim Inhofe made on the Senate floor.

SEN. JIM INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: We keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, and I asked the chair, you know what this is? It's a snowball. It's just from outside here. So, it's very, very cold out.

MARSH: Inhofe and the president mistakenly suggesting cold weather means climate change is in the president's words, a hoax.

PETER FRUMHOFF, CHIEF CLIMATE SCIENTIST, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: It's a little bit like saying that if everybody around me is wealthy, then poverty is not a problem. It misses the bigger picture. Local weather is not an indicator of changes in local climate.

MARSH: NASA says 2017 was one of the warmest years on record, and 97 percent of climate scientists agree climate change is real and poses a threat.

This map from the University of Maine shows while we are in a deep freeze, the rest of the planet is above average.

Scientists say devastating hurricanes from Florida to Texas to Puerto Rico and deadly wildfires out west were exacerbated by rising temperatures.

FRUMHOFF: For the president who dismissed the seriousness of global warming, something causing hardship to Americans today and will continue to do so in the future is completely irresponsible.

MARSH: The effort to undermine science has been ongoing since he took office. His EPA has sidelined climate science and scientists, wiping references to climate change from its Website, removing scientists from the agency's advisory boards.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.

MARSH: And rolling back many environmental regulations, including the Obama era clean power plant, an initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants and rejecting an international agreement to fight climate change.

TRUMP: The United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

MARSH: The trillions of dollars in Trump's Thursday tweet was an apparent reference to the potential cost of the Paris climate accord to the U.S. economy -- an estimate that's been disputed.

The United States now the only country in the world not a part of the initiative.


MARSH: Well, the president sees pulling out of the Paris climate accord as a way to save the country money, but the Government Accountability Office released a report in October that said that the U.S. government has spent more than $350 billion over the past decade in response to extreme weather events and, Brianna, they predict we will end up spending even more if more isn't done to curb carbon emissions. KEILAR: Great report. Rene Marsh, thank you so much for that.

And stay with CNN on New Year's Eve, especially if you are in Duluth, Chicago, Fargo or somewhere near there. It's going to be cold. You should stay in with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohn ringing in 2018. That will begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Brianna Keilar. Thank you so much for watching. To our viewers in the U.S. and around the world, a very happy New Year.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" with Poppy Harlow starts now.