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Lawmakers Brace For Funding Showdown Over DACA; Human Error In Hawaii; Romney Slams Trump Amid Senate Buzz. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:39] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

Some pictures here. Look at that crowd, a great crowd. This is San Antonio, Texas paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King on this Martin Luther King federal holiday.

Great crowd there in San Antonio. Back here in Washington, take a peek here and count them down. In just four days, your government will run out of money and shutdown. Now, some of you probably think that's not such a bad idea.

Lawmakers and the president seemingly at an impasse over how to reach a compromise on immigration. President Trump blaming the Democrat saying they're the ones holding up a deal.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're ready, willing and able to make a deal on DACA, but I don't think the Democrats want to make a deal. And the folks from DACA should know the Democrats are the ones that aren't going to make a deal, OK?


KING: And while, yes, many Democrats say they are willing to force a shutdown over the immigration question, they're not the only ones saying that.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: The majority of my caucus, myself included, we will not fund the government without a DACA deal.

REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R), FLORIDA: If we don't have any measurable progress towards a DACA deal, I am not going to vote for a stopgap measure. And I'm asking Republican and Democrats to take that position. We're in congress, and regrettably, Congress is an institution that only acts when it's force to.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly is live from Capitol Hill. Phil, you're in for a very interesting week ahead. Have the weekend events affected -- how has the weekend events affected the possibility of a shutdown?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think the most interesting element is we're all trying to figure out, OK, what's the fallout of the vulgar remarks from the president in the Oval Office? I think it's two folds based on Democrats that I've spoken to and based on the readouts and phone calls between top Democratic aide and lawmakers over the course of the week.

One, it's hardened the resolve of those Democrats who feel like this is the moment to have the shutdown. This is the moment to hold out on a spending bill, to make this fight actually happen. But I think the more interesting one is the second, and that is, those lawmakers who were very uncomfortable with the politics of a shutdown, uncomfortable perhaps with the politics of shutting down the government on account of undocumented immigrants, they did not necessarily think that was a political winner.

They, I'm told, are starting to move towards those Democrats who feel like this is their moment. And that obviously creates serious problems.

Look, the House has a ton of issues. Speaker Paul Ryan needs to figure out a way to get 218 of his own members, of his own conference to be able to pass this short-term spending bill. If that actually happens, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs Democrats.

Now, you heard what Senator Coons said there, a majority of his caucus is not going to vote for a funding bill. Well, Majority Leader McConnell doesn't need majority of the Democratic caucus, he needs 10, 11, or 12, depending on whether the Republican votes shake out.

What has changed over the course of the last four or five days is Democratic leaders are starting to settle in on the idea that the fight might be worth it, now might be the time and this might be the issue. They feel like they have the upper hand, they feel like there is a bipartisan proposal that is on the table. They feel like the president's comments have certainly kind of put him on his heels on this, and this might actually occur.

I will say this, John, you know this as well as anybody. Usually at this moment, cooler heads start to prevail around Wednesday night, maybe Thursday afternoon. The adults in the room start to come in and say, maybe this isn't the best idea we've ever had in the world, but this is a real internal debate inside the Democratic Party most notably in the Senate right now.

Is this the moment to have this fight? And I can tell you over the course of the last four or five days, while it certainly isn't definitive, it is absolutely trending towards the direction that the answer right now is yes, John.

KING: Phil Mattingly, again, as I noted, just Monday. We'll be in touch all week. Phil, thanks very much for that reporting.

And let's pick up where Phil left off. The president has a role and responsibility in this, obviously. He's the president of the United States. The Republicans controls both the House and the Senate.

But let's start with the Democrats. They're emboldened. The wind is at their back when it comes to elections, if you look at special elections in 2017. They believe on this day -- November is a long way off, but they believe on this day that they are very well position to take back the House and maybe, maybe they'll be able to pull off the inside straight they would need to get the Senate back.

Would they risk a shutdown or would that blow up that calculus?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be a big disaster for them politically if it led to a shutdown. It's a huge risk to shut the government down. Presumably, the president could get blamed for a lot of this, especially in the run-up to this, but, you know, the politics of a shutdown are very, very tricky. So not everybody is in line in the Democratic caucus to go along with this hardline strategy.

What probably going to happen this week is that the Republican leadership is going to put out a short term spending bill to keep the government open probably until mid-February sometime.

[12:35:07] They will not have any immigration proposal in there. They'll try to negotiate a side immigration bill before this March DADA deadline. And we'll see how those talks progress

And then the Democrats are going to make a determination about whether they want to dig in and block this short-term spending bill, which you're probably going to see is a division between the House Democrats and the Senate Democrats.

The House Democrats want to take a hardline like they did last time. There are growing numbers of Senate Democrats who also want to take that hardline, but we don't know where Chuck Schumer is going to be. We don't know where other top Senate Democrats are.

Presumably, at the end of the day, if they see progress moving on immigration, they'll say it's not worth the risk to shut the government down.

KING: But you know where Chuck Schumer's heart is. The question is, he wants to try get to the majority and you've got those 10 senators, Democrats, up in 2018 from Trump states. Some of them, Joe Manchin of West Virginian or Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, states that Trump won by 20, 30, 40 points.

So that's a tough calculation for the Democrats. Are they willing to plant their flag?

MOLLY BALL, TIME: I think it's possible to over think this. I mean, I remember the last time government -- not that thought shouldn't go into their legislative process, you know, but I remember the last time there was a government shutdown in 2013 and it was the Republican- controlled House that was primarily to blame for that. And there was so much pontificating about how the Republicans were shooting themselves in the foot politically and this was going to be a disaster for them. That everyone is going to remember this during the midterms. 2014 midterms went pretty well for the Republicans, and there was still a Democrat in the White House. And that was the thing that the voters who came out in 2014 were focused on.

The elections we've seen so far in the Trump era, that Trump's been in the White House and voters have been focused on that fact. And I think that, you know, absolutely a shutdown is very unpredictable in terms of how the politics of it play out. But if people next November are primarily still reacting to Trump, they are not going to care what role Democrats played or didn't play in the legislative process in Washington where they control none of the apparatus.

JOHN MCCORMACK, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: And to that point, I mean, the last time there was a shutdown, it was in October of 2013 which gave a whole year where you had, you know, the ObamaCare, of debacle. I mean, there are many other issues that ended up overtaking it. And (INAUDIBLE) we don't know how long this will last.

Republicans in 2013, the numbers, just the generic number turns strongly against them. Obviously it's not that (INAUDIBLE). We just don't know how long the timing would affect us not being in the election year.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG: But I do think the fate of the DACA people, some of them -- you know, these are people who came here as children, their parents brought them here as children, is also really very important parallel to know the fate of the shutdown deadline. And March will be here like that.

Different than the implications of some of the administration's other immigration decisions such as the protected status or changing that for folks here from El Salvador, folks here from Haiti. Put all that aside, the DACA group includes young adults who have gone to college, who have served in the military, right. And Americans across the political spectrum including swing voters, including suburban Republicans have a sense of sympathy and appreciation for these folks.

So, even as a separate question from the shutdown, the Democrats have a decision to make which is if they don't push hard enough for DACA, they lose momentum. Their base kind of, you know, creates a fissure. And if they -- and they also miss the opportunity to really press Republicans on this.

KING: And you saw that Republican congressman, Carlos Curbelo from Florida, he's in a very tough district, saying, I won't vote for this unless we do the DACA bill. It's the leverage question. If they trust their President Trump, we'll deal with them in a way and get an acceptable deal.

Do the government shutdown first, have another month or so to deal with DACA, they would. But that's one of the fall outs from the other day, Democrats thinking the president is moving back to a little harder line position, and we better get this in the spending negotiation where we have leverage. We'll see, it's a very big week ahead.

Up next, this front page from Honolulu says it all. Oops! How pressing the wrong button led to 38 minutes of panic in Hawaii.


[12:43:28] KING: Phoenix, Arizona last hour. Look at that. A parade in Phoenix celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. the national holiday today. Great images there from Phoenix.

And now, (INAUDIBLE) in our political radar, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the United States is destabilizing the world with its stance toward Iran and North Korea. During his annual news conference, Lavrov also said a withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal would be further evidence in his view the United States is not a reliable world partner. He did not specifically mention President Trump.

Shortly before his death, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke favorably of Donald Trump's presidential run. That's according to the Wall Street Journal which quotes a new book about the late justice written by one of his longtime friends.

The book says Justice Scalia was, quote, thought it was, quote, most refreshing to have a candidate who's pretty much unfiltered and utterly frank. Though the author cautions, that was from the early days of the presidential campaign.

The FCC Chairman Agit Pai promising he'll make sure incidents like this weekend's false alarm Hawaii will never happen again. State officials say human error is what caused Saturday's emergency missile alert to be sent out accidentally. They said an employee simply pressed the wrong button. Pai says his commission is investigation the mishap and also looking at warning systems nationwide.


AJIT PAI, FCC CHAIRMAN: Part of the issue that we're looking at is, are there steps we need to take, federal state officials working together to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again. But we are looking very closely at some of the steps that we need to take to make sure the vulnerability we saw in Hawaii on Saturday is not replicated around the country. We need to make sure that there are no more false alerts in any state in this country, and that's what we are intending to do.


[12:45:09] KING: That would a great result but hard to say whether that's any consolation to the people of Hawaii who spent 38 terrifying minutes believing this might be the end. That nuclear war had begun and that they would be the first casualties.

That's how long it took for that oops message to go out saying that alert was sent in error. Listen here. A reporter for a local T.V. station says her family had nowhere to hide. They spent those 38 agonizing minutes clinging to one another.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARA DONCHEY, KPRC REPORTER IN HAWAII: There was a mad scramble to figure out where to go. They were on a beach House on the north shore so there weren't a lot of options. And they decided to hide out in the garage at some point and waited out.

The phones were jammed and nothing was getting through. So they were hugging each other, they were crying, they were very, very upset and stressed and they were also worried about me. So for that amount of time, and 38 minutes is a long time to feel like you're potentially going to die, that was incredibly traumatic for them.


KING: Just to hear that sentence, 38 minutes is a long time to think that you're potentially going to die. I mean, this is a stunning problem, a stunning question, and now let's hope. Hawaii says they're going to add a second or third layer to have the safeguards put in place, the employee has been reassigned, but what a dramatic story.

TALEV: Right. And of course -- I mean, the immediate concern is that people might act crazy in the moment or just get very upset and hurt themselves. The longer term concern is if there is another threat, people might not believe it because of what happened last time.

And then the question of what can the federal government do? And my understanding at this point is that this is -- the inclination is to keep this as a state system because states use their alert systems for other things besides incoming missile threats. But the federal government is taking a look at what it can do to kind of help coordinate our backstop so that -- to try to minimize incidents like this from ever happening.

KING: And what should the federal -- was the federal response in the immediacy, was it appropriate? There are -- the president was golfing at the time. He didn't put out a statement for quite some time. Last night, the president said it was good, the Hawaiian officials stepping up, taking responsibility, taking accountability.

And I want you to listen here. This is James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence who suggests he thinks the president should have taken this moment to step forward and reassured the country that, primarily the citizens in Hawaii but then the country, OK, this is a mistake, we're going to get to the bottom of it, all is well.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I do think as far as the White House is concerned, that there's kind of a lost opportunity here for the president to be the reassurer in chief.


KING: Fair?

RAJU: In some ways, yes. I mean, look, he has -- he boasts often about the reach of his Twitter feed, and this is something that he could have used his Twitter feed for good presumably if he was in fact briefed during that 38 minutes that there was no threat, this was a false alarm. Presumably, the president could have said, all is OK here. People, do not panic. And he chose not to do that.

I think there was a lot of questions about exactly what was the president told during that 38 minutes and why didn't he act? I don't think he's answered that question yet.

MCCORMACK: Well, this wasn't entirely a state problem, I would day. And, you know, should the president be on Twitter during a tense moment like this? I don't think so.

I mean, you have people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz during the campaign saying the president couldn't be trusted with the nuclear codes. I think that people don't want the president popping off on Twitter with whatever comes into his head at a time like that.

KING: All right, everybody sit tight, hold the thought.

Up next, Mitt Romney feels political buzz. He's running for Senate by sounding off again on President Trump.


[12:52:56] KING: A bit earlier today, a hint from Mitt Romney about just what kind of Senate candidate he'll likely be if he makes a run. This morning Romney responded to the president's s-hole comments on Twitter.

"The poverty of an aspiring immigrant nation of origin is as irrelevant as their race. The sentiment attributed to POTUS, that's president of the United States is inconsistent with America's history and antithetical to American values. May our memory of Dr. King buoy our hope for unity, greatness and charity for all."

That form Romney this morning following a New York Times report over the weekend that Governor Romney texted a friend that he definitely plans to seek Utah's open Senate seat. How exactly would Romney handle the Trump factor if Trump chimes in?

Included in that Times story, this from the lieutenant governor of Utah, Spencer Cox. "I think if he wants to be a check, it won't hurt him here like it has others." The lieutenant governor referring to other lawmakers who's been damaged for stepping toward -- criticized President Trump just like among those.

Now, let's start the conversation there. Mitt Romney is generally a cautious guy but he's been a fierce Trump critic. Is he willing to come out and say, send me as a check, or is he going to come out and say, when I agree with the president, I'd be with him like this tax cut plan but when he does things like he did in the Oval Office, is there a middle ground here?

RAJU: It's interesting because Utah is an interesting state. Not necessarily a pro-Trump state even though it's a conservative state. KING: A lot of questions remember in 2016 about Ed McMullen. It didn't turned out that way but.

RAJU: That's true, and the congressional delegation is not totally on board with Trump. In fact, only Orrin Hatch, who is retiring, was the one who is supportive of him. So it'll be interesting to see that how -- the role that Romney plays.

It does seem that almost certainly he's going to run. That was the expectation for Hatch's retirement. They had multiple conversations going in. It would be a shocker if he didn't. But presumably, Romney wants this opportunity to have this voice and to presumably push back on the president when he feels he needs to.

KING: But I tell you, a big race that will get national attention because he was the presidential candidate, because of who he is, and it underscores the very tension we talk about almost every day. The Republican Party still having a conversation with itself about how to be and how to handle their president which most -- many Republicans, some publically, most privately will tell you it's toxic.

[12:55:02] MCCORMACK: Well, it's important that -- I mean, Utah is not Arizona. I think late in the primary -- fairly early in the primary, Trump had them behind him and the day -- when he won in Arizona he also got blown out in Utah. So I think that Mitt Romney can free to run as a check and again, most would be a check.

Most Republicans are fine with people like Justice Gorsuch and tax cuts. But I think that he will be one of those rare voices who will speak out consistently.

BALL: Yes. I mean, in a lot of ways, I think this is easier for Mitt Romney than it is for a lot of current Republican members of the United States Senate who are terrified to say what they really think about the president and the things that he sometimes says.

Romney has chosen a path already where he says exactly what he thinks and sort of lets the chips fall where they may. Now he's hugely popular in Utah, he's hugely popular with members of the church of latter-day saints, and they are extremely pro-immigration. You will not find a more, you know, pro-immigrant, pro-immigration group of people than the Mormon church.

And so there's a deep sympathy for Mitt Romney, particularly on this issue. And I think that, you know, to the extent that he can run by -- it will be a very interesting race. What I'm interested in this is how does the president react and does he starts going off on Romney?

KING: Excellent point. One of the many fascinating dynamics of 2018.

Thanks for joining us on the INSIDE POLITICS. Enjoy your MLK Day. See you back here tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break.