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Homeland Security Secretary Under Fire; Interview With Florida Congressman Ted Yoho; Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; Tillerson Warns World: Don't Be Complacent on North Korea; White House to Keep Working to Reach Deal on DREAMers. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 16, 2018 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:05]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Close the deal. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham appeals to the president to stop provoking racial outrage and start negotiating an agreement to avoid a government shutdown. Will Mr. Trump take his advice?

Complicit amnesia. The homeland security secretary accused by Democrats of conveniently forgetting the president's vile language. We will take you inside the hearing where the questions were tough and the emotions were raw.

Steve Bannon subpoenaed. The president's former chief strategist reportedly is being ordered to appear before the special counsel, even as he's facing Russia investigators in Congress. This hour, we're learning about a new problem with Bannon's testimony.

And White House calls. The president's doctor reveals the results of the president's medical exam, declaring he has no concerns about his cognitive ability. Does this put to rest concerns about the president's mental fitness?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, an open display of anger and frustration over the president's vulgar remarks about immigrants of color.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, alluding to Mr. Trump's crude language, says negotiations are turning into what he calls an S-show, and he's pleading with Mr. Trump to close the deal. At a heated Senate hearing, Senator Dick Durbin reaffirmed he heard Mr. Trump disparage African immigrants using words he calls a vile and racial in tone.

But the homeland security secretary under oath insists that she doesn't remember using that kind of language. That prompted Democratic Senator Cory Booker to accuse her of convenient amnesia and complicity. Also breaking, as Steve Bannon appears before the House Intelligence

Committee, "The New York Times" reports the former White House chief strategist has been subpoenaed to testify in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

This hour, I will talk with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal and Republican Congressman Ted Yoho. And our correspondents and specialists, they are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, a government shutdown could happen within days and talks on immigration right now, they clearly are a hot mess.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're running out of time, Wolf.

President Trump tried to put to rest questions about his health. So, we had the White House doctor announce the results of Mr. Trump's physical exam. The doctor told reporters inside the White House Briefing Room the president is in excellent health.

The president attempted to do some surgery of his own, cleaning up some comments he made last week about immigrants coming in from certain countries, comments that were described as racist.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump tried again to clean up his comments on immigrants coming from what he referred to as shithole countries. Visibly annoyed, the president snapped at the press when we asked about his remark that he would like to see people entering the U.S. from places like Norway.

(on camera): Did you say that you wanted more people to come in from Norway? Is that true, Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want them to come in from everywhere. Everywhere. Thank you very much, everybody.

ACOSTA: Just Caucasian or white countries, sir, or do you want people to come in from other parts of the world, people of color?

(voice-over): In another sign the White House has grown weary of the questions, two aides of the president stood right in front of the press and shouted during another event with the president of Kazakstan.

The president is insisting he's no racist and that he did nothing wrong, including that Senator Dick Durbin, who heard Mr. Trump refer to African countries as shitholes at a White House meeting, totally misrepresented what was said.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This has turned into an S- show and we need to get back to being a great country. ACOSTA: But Durbin's Republican colleague Senator Lindsey Graham, who

was also at the meeting, is all but confirming the president made the remark.

GRAHAM: I'm not going to talk about the meeting, other than I know what I heard and I know what I said.

ACOSTA: Graham appeared to be speaking through the media directly to the president, urging him to behave more like he did in a separate immigration meeting in front of the cameras last week, when he appeared open to a bipartisan deal.

TRUMP: Because this should be a bipartisan bill. It should be a bill of love.

ACOSTA: Graham blamed the president's apparent new hard-line stance on White House advisers, including his chief of staff.

GRAHAM: I will say, I don't think the president was well-served by his staff. I think the president that we saw Tuesday is -- that that Donald Trump exists, and, somehow, by 12:00 on Thursday, something happened, and I don't think he was well-served by his staff. But he's responsible for the way he conducts himself, and so am I. Can't blame that on the staff, but I do believe the staff was...

QUESTION: Would that be General Kelly?

GRAHAM: Pretty much missed the mark here. I think General Kelly is a fine man, but he's also a part of the staff.

[18:05:02]

ACOSTA: The latest White House melodrama is unfolding just days before a possible government shutdown. Democrats want a spending deal that would protect young undocumented dreamers from deportation. The White House is demanding that no strings be attached to the spending bill.

In exchange for protecting the dreamers, Mr. Trump is insisting Congress give him billions of dollars to build a wall on the border, tweeting: "We must have security at our very dangerous southern border and we must have a great wall to help protect us."

But the president's racially charged comments have poisoned talks with Democrats, even as the White House offered up a new reason why Mr. Trump is no bigot.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I think that is an outrageous claim. And, frankly, I think if the critics of the president were who he said he was, why did NBC give him a show for a decade on TV?

ACOSTA: The White House responded to questions about the president's fitness for office, presenting the results from Mr. Trump's recent physical exam, which included an assessment of his neurological health. DR. RONNY JACKSON, PRESIDENTIAL PHYSICIAN: His overall health is

excellent. Are there a few things he could do to make himself a little healthier with the diet and exercise? Absolutely. He's tracking that and I'm tracking that. We're working on that. But, overall, he has very, very good health.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's physical exam, the White House Dr. Ronny Jackson said Mr. Trump made a point of asking for a test of his own cognitive abilities. As Dr. Jackson told us in the Briefing Room, Wolf, the president passed that test.

But the doctor also noted that that is not the same thing as a psychological exam, which, of course, was not performed during the president's checkup -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you, Jim Acosta at the White House.

Let's get more on today's fiery Senate hearing featuring the homeland security secretary and a lot of questions about the vulgar and racially charged language attributed to the president.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us right now.

Jessica, outraged Democrats clearly aren't buying what the secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, claimed, that she doesn't remember exactly what the president said.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are buying it at all, Wolf.

And, of course, that led to a very contentious back-and-forth all throughout this hearing. The homeland security secretary, she stuck to her stance that she did not hear the president utter that curse word that's grabbed the most attention. But, of course, that explanation just does not satisfying Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen under oath and under fire.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: President Trump reportedly said the most vulgar and racist things I have ever heard a president of either party utter.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Did the president of the United States use that four-letter word in combination with any other words?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: You said on FOX News that the president used strong language. What was that strong language?

SCHNEIDER: Answering each version of the question virtually the same way. LEAHY: You were in the room. You're under oath. Did President Trump

use this word or a substantially similar word to describe certain countries?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I did not hear that word used, no, sir. Apologies, I don't remember a specific word. I don't specifically remember a categorization of countries in Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it possible he said the word at the meeting and you didn't hear it?

NIELSEN: Anything is possible, yes, ma'am.

SCHNEIDER: Secretary Nielsen set the scene inside President Trump's Oval Office meeting with lawmakers.

NIELSEN: The president used tough language in general, as did other congressmen in the room. What I was struck with, frankly, as I'm sure you were as well, was just the general profanity that was used in the room by almost everyone.

I remember specific cuss words being used by a variety of members.

DURBIN: I'm not going to ask you to say those words here. But I will just say for the record, Senator Graham spoke up in a way that I respect very much, countering what the president had said about countries in Africa, reminding the president that his family did not come to America with great skills or wealth, but they came here, as most families do, looking for a chance to prove themselves and make this a better nation.

And in defense of Senator Graham, his strong words repeatedly exactly the words used by the president which you cannot remember.

SCHNEIDER: She also tried to explain the president's reported preference for immigrants from white-majority countries like Norway.

NIELSEN: What he is specifically referring to is the prime minister telling him that the people of Norway work very hard. And so what he was referencing is from the merit-based perspective we like to have those with skills who can assimilate and contribute to the United States.

LEAHY: Norway is a predominantly white country, isn't it?

NIELSEN: I -- I actually do not know that, sir, but I imagine that is the case.

SCHNEIDER: After repeated questioning, Secretary Nielsen grew exasperated.

NIELSEN: Sir, respectfully, I have answered this. I have been very patient with this line of questioning. I'm here to tell you about the threats our country faces and the needs and authorities that are needed by the Department of Homeland Security. I have nothing further to say about a meeting that happened over a week ago.

SCHNEIDER: But Democratic Senator Cory Booker said he was seething and would not relent from the questioning, criticizing Nielsen for not remembering the president's exact words.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: You're under oath, you and others in that room that suddenly cannot remember. And that you could even say in your testimony that Norwegians were preferenced by him because they're so hardworking.

[18:10:07]

NIELSEN: I didn't...

BOOKER: Excuse me. Let me finish.

NIELSEN: Happy to.

BOOKER: The commander in chief in an Oval Office meeting referring to people from African countries and Haitians with the most vile and vulgar language, that language festers. When ignorance and bigotry is alive with power, it is a dangerous force in our country.

Your silence and your amnesia is complicity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And now, of course, all eyes are on Congress when it comes to a deal on DACA.

But in the meantime, the battle is playing out in the courts. The Justice Department announced today that it will appeal the recent Ninth Circuit ruling. That ruling blocked the president's efforts to end DACA. It also mandated that the administration resume receiving DACA renewal applications.

The DOJ today took that unusual step of appealing both to the Ninth Circuit and directly to the Supreme Court at the same time. Wolf, this is really unusual. And it really speaks to the administration's efforts to get a ruling, hopefully favorable to them, of course, at the soonest possible time.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

All right, thanks very much, Jessica Schneider, reporting for us.

Let's get to the breaking news on the Russia investigation right now, the breaking news involving Steve Bannon, who is in the spotlight, reportedly under subpoena right now by the special counsel.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us.

Manu, first, let's talk about Steve Bannon's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee today behind closed doors. What are you learning? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been a

contentious hearing that's lasted virtually all day long, after Steve Bannon refused to answer questions about his time with the Trump transition after the campaign season, as well as his time in the White House.

Now, he has said to have cited that he cannot answer those questions because of executive privilege. It's unclear if he actually asserted executive privilege at the direction of the White House. The White House itself would not say explicitly whether or not they told Steve Bannon not to answer key questions.

But, today, Bannon would not disclose information that the committee was seeking about a range of topics, including what he knows about communications that the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey Kislyak, among other issues.

It was so contentious that the Republicans the Democrats on the committee agreed to issue him a subpoena on the spot in the committee to compel him to disclose this information behind closed doors. This is according to a source familiar with the matter.

Now, another person who was in the meeting, Tom Rooney, emerged and discussed the issue at play. He said that: "I certainly think the committee respects executive privilege. It's when does that attach is the question that is sort of dominating the day."

And that was several hours ago. Wolf, as I said, he is still behind closed doors. We do expect this to end soon. And we do expect Congressman Schiff Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, to answer questions as soon as this is done.

But he's been in there since 9:30 this morning in what has been a very contentious hearing because of his refusal to answer questions, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it keeps going on and on.

"The New York Times" at the same time is reporting that Steve Bannon is also being subpoenaed by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to appear before a federal grand jury.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. And this is separate from the subpoena that he was hit with today from this congressional committee.

This is from Bob Mueller's team to testify before a federal grand jury as part of its own investigation into Russian meddling, potential obstruction of justice as well. What we do know, though, is whatever privilege that Bannon is citing behind closed doors as a reason why he cannot disclose certain communications, it will be much harder for him to do that before Bob Mueller, when he does go before his grand jury to answer questions as part of his investigation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Amidst all of this, the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was back in a federal courtroom today, along with his co- defendant, Rick Gates. What did we learn about the timing of their trial?

RAJU: Yes, in fact, this trial could occur just weeks before the midterm election. As you will recall, the special counsel wanted to start the Manafort and Gates trial in mid-May, May 14, to be precise.

But the judge in the case today said that was much too quick. She wanted to delay that until later in the year, said that September- October is a better time frame. That could push everything back right in that very contentious time before the midterm elections, when Republicans will be fighting to maintain their majority in the House and the Senate.

So we will see if that's the time frame that plays out, but not the time frame the special counsel would like, much sooner than that, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you mentioned, we're standing by to hear to get a readout on this extraordinary hours and hours of testimony Steve Bannon is providing the House Intelligence Committee.

[18:15:03]

You see the doors locked there right now, but they will be emerging fairly soon. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat, we anticipate he will make a statement. Perhaps other members will as well. We will have live coverage of that coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Manu, thank you very much.

Let's talk about all these breaking stories with Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a Democrat on the judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want to get to the Russia developments in just a moment, but I want to get to your expected vote. Will you vote to shut the government down if there's no agreement that will allow the dreamers, the hundreds of thousands of dreamers to remain legally here in the United States?

BLUMENTHAL: My hope, Wolf, is that we can still reach common ground.

There is a bipartisan compromise that is very encouraging. The effort to blame each other at this point I think is premature. But I voted against the temporary, kick-the-can-down-the-road, temporary solution last time around because it failed to provide protection for the dreamers against mass deportation, a betrayal of American values, and I probably will again.

BLITZER: You're talking about this bipartisan agreement that Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin and others have put together. But the president of the United States has flatly rejected it. BLUMENTHAL: The president has been kind of a ping-pong ball on this

issue. As Senator Graham said so vividly today, the president that showed up at that Thursday meeting when he rejected this compromise seemed to be a different person than the one on Tuesday, who said, I will accept a bipartisan compromise that includes the essential elements of everything that needs to be done here.

And so I think there still is a possibility that the presidents...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But if they can't get it done by Friday, will you short a short-term continuing resolution, a spending bill that would avoid a government shutdown?

BLUMENTHAL: I would probably oppose it.

BLITZER: You would probably oppose it, even though millions of Americans would suffer if the federal services that normally are provided to them would not be available?

BLUMENTHAL: There is no reason, Wolf, that we cannot reach a compromise on DACA.

BLITZER: But if you can't, I'm just wondering, if you can't, you would still say shut the government down?

BLUMENTHAL: I want to see the terms and the reasons that there would be a shutdown.

But I think we need to stand on principle here. The importance of this program to dreamers who are right now going through the anguish and anxiety of their status being undetermined or expiring, I think, justifies taking a strong stand.

BLITZER: Do you support this compromise worked out by Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin and others? Would you support that if it were included?

BLUMENTHAL: I would support it.

BLITZER: Even though there's money for a wall, for border security in that agreement?

BLUMENTHAL: That's why it's a compromise, Wolf.

And the amounts of money are way less than the president has advocated over a 10-year period, and yet it provides for security. We all agree there has to be border security. There are other parts of it that I think are unnecessary or inappropriate, but that's the nature of a compromise. And I hope we can improve it.

BLITZER: The president says the Democrats will be blamed if there's a government shutdown. What is your response to that?

BLUMENTHAL: The Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House.

They have it within their reach and their responsibility to avoid a shutdown. I think it can be done.

BLITZER: I don't know if you have had a chance, but that hearing today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and you're a member of the Judiciary Committee, I assume you sat through most of it.

It was pretty extraordinary. The secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, she couldn't remember the words that the president uttered during that extraordinary meeting the other day, words about Haiti and African countries.

We all know that one specific word that Senator Graham and -- Lindsey Graham apparently confirmed was used by the president. Do you think she was telling the truth when she says she couldn't remember?

BLUMENTHAL: Whether she believed she was telling the truth, it was inherently unbelievable.

For someone to fail to recollect, basic memory, a statement that dramatic by the president of the United States, or the absence of it, defied belief.

And that's why Democrats were frustrated and infuriated. She wanted to move on. In response to the question I asked, she said specifically she wanted to avoid that further questioning on it.

But words matter. The president doesn't speak for me when he talks like that. And I don't think he talks for most Americans.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Steve Bannon appearing for hours today behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee, and now, according to "The New York Times" subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

What does it tell you about Mueller's mood right now, about Mueller's strategy?

BLUMENTHAL: Robert Mueller is moving ahead inexorably, meticulously, methodically with this investigation. This subpoena indicates that he will leave no stone unturned. He will not tolerate defiance or noncooperation with his investigation.

[18:20:06]

And the grand jury is considering evidence that will lead to additional indictments and criminal charges.

Whether Bannon is cooperating and simply wants a subpoena as cover, so he can tell the president he had no choice, or genuinely is refusing to answer questions, his claim of executive privilege is absolutely unfounded.

BLITZER: Behind closed doors at the House Intelligence Committee, he's still apparently inside that room right now, members are leaving saying they're frustrated because he is citing executive privilege, refusing to answer questions.

That's why you heard Manu Raju report just a little while ago the House Intelligence Committee has already issued him a separate subpoena to come back.

BLUMENTHAL: And that claim of executive privilege will have no validity if it's ever tested in the courts, if he drives it to that point.

BLITZER: Why would it have no claim?

BLUMENTHAL: Because he's not a member of the Cabinet and he's not president of the United States.

BLITZER: But he was in the White House for a long time, for months.

BLUMENTHAL: And he is no longer there.

He basically has no valid claim to defy the judicial process, to say that he is somehow immune, that he has a legal shield from valid corporation at this point.

BLITZER: Can the president cite executive privilege and prevent him from talking?

BLUMENTHAL: The president hasn't done so. And that question could arise if it were a Cabinet officer, if it were a present member of the White House staff.

But Steve Bannon is long gone. And I think it would fail in the courts if it were tested.

BLITZER: Because in that new book that came out, he talked about that meeting at Trump Tower with Russians, including the president's son, and others, as being unpatriotic. But then he went one step further in that new book. He spoke about money laundering being at the heart, not just obstruction of justice or collusion, but money laundering. What's your reaction to that?

BLUMENTHAL: That revelation is profoundly important.

As you know, because I have said it before with you, I believe that Deutsche Bank is an essential element of this investigation. It goes back more than a year, when it came to light that Deutsche Bank was involved in money laundering involving Russians. Deutsche Bank has loaned money to -- tens of millions of dollars to Donald Trump and his family.

So that is probably one of the likely areas of focus. But the other reason that that relationship is very important is that, whatever his claims of privilege, whether it's Fifth Amendment or executive privilege, he may well have waived them in that book.

In other words, when you go to the world and start talking about what happened in the White House or facts that may implicate you in a crime, the Fifth Amendment privilege or the executive privilege or any other privilege can be waived.

BLITZER: And you know Robert Mueller and his team, they're following the money, as we like to say. We will see what emerges on that.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Once again, we're awaiting the end of Steve Bannon's appearing before the House Intelligence Committee. You see those locked doors there. At some point, he is going to emerge. Members will emerge as well. We anticipate statements. We will have live coverage.

Stand by for that.

There's other breaking news we're following on immigration and the imminent threat of a potential government shutdown.

Republican Congressman Ted Yoho, there you see him. He's in the House of Representatives. He's standing by. We will discuss when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:26:59]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the White House declaring tonight it's still working on a deal to try to protect young immigrants known as dreamers after vulgar remarks attributed to the president threw negotiations into chaos.

There is now an imminent threat of a government shutdown on the first anniversary of President Trump's inauguration.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Ted Yoho. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Sure, Wolf. Great to be here. Happy new year to you.

BLITZER: Happy new year to you as well.

You're also a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

YOHO: Right.

BLITZER: What do you need to see in a spending bill, a temporary spending bill, to get the vote, in other words, to vote yes?

YOHO: Well, Number one, I hate to have a temporary spending bill.

This is the fourth one since the end of September, 1st of October. It's crisis management at its worst. What I like to see, if we're stuck with this, which it looks like we're going to be, is a clean spending bill by itself. Don't put DACA with that. DACA is too important of an issue to tie to something that we must pass.

You know, you have got people's lives at stake with DACA. And we want a policy that's best, not just best for America, but is best for the people that are involved in that, you know, that are caught up in that program, but also for the citizens of the United States of America.

So we shouldn't rush through this on a must-spend emergency spending bill. We have talked to leadership. We're going to have discussions about this. We have got until March. And that was an arbitrary deadline. We could pass it, put it down or pass that.

The important thing is, let's get it right so that future generations don't have to struggle with this as we have.

BLITZER: Are you announcing tonight, Congressman, that you would vote for a short-term continuing resolution if the dreamer issue were not included in that package?

YOHO: I can't announce that because I have the seen the language. Once I see the language, I can tell you.

You know, I haven't -- I have heard different variations of what may be in there. But until I see the language and have time to read that, and we go through it in our office, it's hard to comment on that.

But I would like to -- short of -- you know, the ideal thing would be to have a spending bill like we're supposed to. Keep in mind, the House passed all 12 appropriations bills over to the Senate. The Senate failed to act. So, we're going to have to do something to keep the House -- the government open. Nobody wants the government shut down.

[18:30:00]

But saying that, if they load this up with a bunch of things that shouldn't be in there, that don't pertain to spending, they're going to have a fight on their hands. And we'll see what comes out. We're going to have a conference tonight, and then we'll have a meeting after that to see which way we're going to go.

BLITZER: You're talking about the House Freedom Caucus.

YOHO: Right.

BLITZER: A lot of your colleagues, members of the Freedom Caucus, say they're not going to vote for another short-term spending bill. Will Republicans, and President Trump, for that matter, take the blame if the government does shut down Friday night? The Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House.

YOHO: No, I don't think so. I mean, it's Congress in general. I mean, again, we passed 12 appropriations bills. The Senate didn't do anything. And one senator in the -- in the Senate can filibuster and shut the whole process down. You know, I've been here for five years, and I've seen the Confederate

flag issue shut down the appropriations process, so we had to go into an omnibus or short-term spending. We saw some other issues that came up that shut down the process. It's a broken process that we need to fix.

And let's hope that the beginning of this year, right now, we come out with a budget, we do our appropriations like we're supposed to, so that we can go on and fix the other issues in this country. National security, jobs, infrastructure. Those things.

And let's move for the American taxpayers and build on tax reform that we did in 2017. It's so important to move the country forward instead of getting stuck on this stuff.

BLITZER: There's been a debate about the exact wording. But it's clear that the president's message in that controversial immigration meeting last Thursday was that he wants more Norwegian immigrants and European immigrants to come to the United States, fewer immigrants from Haiti and African countries. Is that racist?

YOHO: You know, I wasn't in that meeting. I've heard that in the news. I haven't heard the president's words, per se. And I'm hearing, you know, people said he said that. Other people said he didn't say that. So not being in that room, if there's transcripts, that would be the thing to look at. I think...

BLITZER: If he said it, if he said it, if he said those words, and you know the controversial words we're talking about, if he did say it, do you believe that would be racist?

YOHO: No, because I don't know what the intent behind that. Was he talking about having skilled people to come in that will benefit our economy, you know, versus unskilled laborers that, you know, they don't create the jobs.

We've got a lot of immigrants in our district. We've got a lot of ag workers. We've also got entrepreneurs that come in and create jobs in America.

And if you go back to the policies the president has passed, you know, Theodore Roosevelt, come into this country if you have something to provide it. You know, it's not something that's changed. It's just we've got a mess on our hands that we have to bring a resolution to this.

And that's why I don't want it tied up in the spending bill. If you put it in a short-term C.R., it's going to be jammed in there, and you're going to get garbage. And it's something that future Congresses and the American people are going to have to deal with, and it still leaves that group of people hanging out there that came over here -- you know, they didn't have a choice. They came over here. Their parents brought them in here illegally. And so let's fix this and do at the right way so that we're not back here in another short- term C.R. trying to ram something through.

BLITZER: What do you mean by skilled immigrants, skilled workers?

YOHO: Well, you know, if you look historically, the ones that have maybe engineering degrees or doctor's degrees, you know, architects, things like that that we've done historically in the past. You know, and I'm talking from the early 1900s, the Theodore Roosevelt age. When we brought in workers that had specific skill sets.

And I know we have different visa programs to do that. But it's a broken system right now. When you have a lottery system or chain migration, those are things that we need to reform. And that's what, you know, the American taxpayers where I come from, the constituents there, they want to protect the American citizens. After all, those are the ones that put us in office.

BLITZER: But Congressman -- Congressman, I don't know about your ancestors when they came over to the United States, but I suspect they didn't have a whole lot of skills. They were probably very poor. But look what they achieved while here in the United States.

YOHO: Sure.

BLITZER: My -- my parents came over the same way. They didn't have many skills, but they achieved a great deal, because this country gives these people great opportunities.

YOHO: Opportunities.

BLITZER: So you can't ban these people from coming to the United States, right?

YOHO: You're absolutely right. And you hit on something that's the most important thing. It's opportunity. Talk to people, why they came here. It's for opportunity. It's for security for their family. It's for a better life for their family.

And so that's the thing that we have to protect in America. And those ideals are neither Republican or Democrat. Those are American ideologies that I would hope Republicans and Democrats would come together to fix that problem so that people can come in here in a legal process that's not a -- just a cumbersome...

[18:35:09] BLITZER: But Congressman, how are they going to have that opportunity, excuse me for interrupting, if you're only going to allow the skilled architects or software engineers or people with those kinds of educational backgrounds to emigrate to the United States?

YOHO: Well, we -- we've got a whole guest worker program for our agriculture and labor. I mean, there's ways to bring in people. But it needs to be an organized way that people can come into this country.

BLITZER: Tell us about -- tell us about those ways. How do you do that? How do you make sure that there are workers who come in, work really hard, and have an opportunity, their kids do well in school, and they eventually become like you, a member of the United States House of Representatives? How do you do that: guarantee they will have a place in this country...

YOHO: I'm glad you asked that question.

BLITZER: ... not just highly-educated, wealthy, English-speaking immigrants?

YOHO: What I was referring to is, I just don't want open borders where everybody can come in or a system called DACA that was unconstitutional that the previous president did.

We want it to where people can come in, whether they're the skilled worker that's the entrepreneur. I've got a family right now in my district that's been here for 15 years. They've created jobs. They've got over 20 people employed. But they've got to go back to their host country every two years, and they've got to stay out for two weeks. And they've been doing this for probably 15 years.

We've got a program, and we've worked with Chairman Goodlatte on Judiciary, to where people can come in. The unskilled workers, they can come in, they can stay for a period of five years, they can go back to their host country and come back. And this is something that should be resolved. I see it as an easy fix.

But when you start tying this stuff into a must-spend bill, a short- term resolution, you're not going to get a good product out of that. And the American people deserve a good product along with the people that are stuck in that system.

BLITZER: One final question, Congressman, before I let you go.

YOHO: Sure.

BLITZER: The 700,000 or so DREAMers, and we're all talking about those DREAMers right now who were brought to this country as kids illegally by their parents, you want them to stay in the United States? You want them to have not only legal status but also, eventually, a pathway to citizenship, is that right?

YOHO: Wolf, I can't answer that in a short period of time. We have a program where people can work through that system. It's not a giveaway. You know, just because you came in here through no choice of your own, it's not an automatic thing. There's going to be some requirements in there. And that's a longer conversation.

But the sentiment up here, and my feeling, being a parent, is people that have been here, there has to be a way we can work them into society where they're not living in the shadows and they can contribute, not that they're not contributing, but they can contribute down the road so that they can experience what we experience in this country, the American dream that comes from the opportunity that you talked about. And that's the most important thing that people want to remember: what America stands for. And we want to make sure we preserve that.

BLITZER: But you're willing to give them an opportunity to have legal status? Because some of your colleagues say that would be amnesty, and they don't even want those 700,000 DREAMers to stay in the United States. But you say let them stay, is that right?

YOHO: Well, and you brought up a great point, because as soon as you start talking about it, one side says you're giving amnesty to everybody, the other side says you're trying to deport everybody. And that's why it's never been fixed.

And that's why I credit President Trump for having that meeting, bringing both sides together, to start the conversation. If you never have the conversation, you can't resolve this problem.

We've got a situation where there's 7, 800,000 people here that came in, with no choice of their own. Their parents brought them in here illegally. But they've been here, as you brought up, since you know, 15 -- ten, 15, 20 years. What do you do with them?

You know, and I talk to a lot of people and they say, "Well, deport them all." I said, "Give me a solution, and deportation's not, because they play baseball with your kids. Or you know, they go on Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts outings with your kids. They're part of the community." Let's -- we've got to figure out a way to get people into this country where they can be here legally. But at the same time, you've got to have border security.

BLITZER: All right.

YOHO: You have to have enforcement of laws on the books, and then you have to have an immigration system so we don't repeat this in another 15 to 20 years.

[18:40:00] BLITZER: Congressman...

YOHO: That's the most important thing.

BLITZER: ... Ted Yoho, we've got to leave it at -- on that note.

YOHO: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks, as usual, for joining us.

YOHO: Have a great day.

BLITZER: Just ahead, there's more breaking news. Furious at the president's display of vulgarity during an Oval Office immigration meeting, key senators slam the president's advisers and warn that the immigration talks are, well, a mess.

And with former top Trump adviser Steve Bannon grilled by lawmakers and reportedly subpoenaed by the special counsel, is the president's inner circle feeling the heat?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:44:38] BLITZER: President Trump's former top strategist has been answering questions before members of the House Intelligence Committee for hours now, all behind closed doors. But a lot of those questions he's refusing to answer, according to

sources inside who say he's citing executive privilege. We anticipate he will emerge fairly soon. Since 9:30 this morning he's been there. And there will be statements from members emerging, as well. We'll have coverage of that. Stand by.

But I want to get some reaction. Phil Mudd is with us. Phil, he was also subpoenaed, according to "The New York Times," by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to testify before a federal grand jury. We're talking about Steve Bannon. What does that say to you?

MUDD: Well, a very simple story here. Robert Mueller doesn't sit on his hands. But he's also methodical. You've seen the circle of the inquiry go tighter and tighter into the president's circle. And now you have the very innermost part of the president's circle, his strategic adviser.

The reason they're doing this, Wolf, when they're looking at things like financial and phone records, you want to have those interviews done with the lower level folks before you walk in with someone like Steve Bannon, because you not only want to hear about what kind of facts he cites, what he talks about in terms of President Trump, you want to hear whether he confirms or contradicts the interviews that happened earlier.

If he contradicts them, then you know that somebody has lied, and again, something that Mueller has shown us he's willing to charge people with lying. Two of the people who already pled guilty are people who pled guilty for lying to the FBI. Really interesting, he's getting to the center of the story here, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Dana, you know, the members of the House Intelligence Committee were apparently very frustrated, according to Manu Raju, our congressional correspondent, that Steve Bannon wasn't answering a lot of questions, citing executive privilege. And they have now gone forward, a pretty extraordinary move, and already issued a separate subpoena to him to come back and force his testimony.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, which is going to force a question of whether or not invoking executive privilege is appropriate for someone like Steve Bannon, who was not Senate- confirmed. He was a member of the president's staff.

And certainly, there is a history of this going both ways. Just on a very different topic, I remember Condoleezza Rice, back during the Bush administration, when she was the national security adviser, there was a huge toing and froing about whether she should come testify in public about various things going on in the Bush administration.

Finally, they agreed that the answer is yes. But that kind of tug-of- war about executive versus legislative branch has gone the other way in the past. So, we'll see how that goes. But this is going to open up that question, not just for Steve Bannon, but for others who are going to argue, you know what, I gave the president of the United States my advice, I had conversations with him as his aide and it's not appropriate for me to tell you, members of Congress. BLITZER: You know, David, apparently the members of the House

Intelligence Committee and Robert Mueller, the special counsel, they think he has answers to issues that he himself raised in this new controversial book by Michael Wolff, not just collusion, alleged collusion or obstruction of justice, but also money laundering.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENATATOR: Right. I think the rubber really meets the road in the case of the special prosecutor's investigation, because if Mueller has subpoenaed him, if he brings him in to testify in front of a grand jury without an attorney and gets those answers on the record like Phil was talking about, then he's going to be able to match that testimony up with Jared Kushner, with other people that Mueller has interviewed, with lower level staff people.

And Steve Bannon is going to be on the hook for those answers and other people are going to be on the hook for any discrepancies.

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, questioning is still continuing behind closed doors over at the House Intelligence Committee, since 9:30 this morning. They're asking and asking, and apparently they're not getting a whole lot of answers.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, of course, Wolf, this is questioning involving members of both political parties. So, you can expect some probably very aggressive questioning coming from Democrats, a lot of questions that they're going to want answers to. And, of course, Republicans sort of have their own agenda, their own direction. They might want to be taking this interview, so these dueling priorities which tend to extend the interview process a little bit.

But also, I mean, Steve Bannon is not only someone who served as a top White House adviser to the president, but he was there during that crucial final stretch of the campaign. He's been in touch with president Trump as sort of an informal adviser as far back as 2011, is when he first met him through David Bossie, former chairman of Citizens United.

So, he's really someone who has a lot of insight to offer. I personally can think of a ton of questions I would like to ask him in that setting, so I can imagine the lawmakers would like to ask him as well.

BLITZER: You know, and, Phil, you've not only used to work at the CIA. You also worked at the FBI. It's a moment when Mueller says, you know what, you're going to appear before a federal grand jury, you're subpoenaed to do it, but sometimes that's simply a ploy to get him to cooperate, right?

MUDD: I think so. And, remember, we keep talking about executive privilege and whether he'll cite executive privilege. There are two categories of things here.

[18:50:01] And Dana was talking about this a moment ago. When I served -- and I served at the White House as well. If Congress wants to ask about advise you're giving to the president, I think a presidential adviser should say that's a red line, I can't talk to you about my private conversation with the president. How could he ever trust in the future?

That is different from what we are having here. We are not having a conversation about DACA. We are having a conversation about whether Steve Bannon witnessed illegal activity that violates federal law. So I think this question of executive privilege gets blurrier when we're talking about not a general policy question, but Mr. Bannon, did you witness financial transactions and conversations about sanctions? Did you witness illegal activity? That's what I think the key question is.

BASH: I think you are right, Phil. The question, though, is whether it's about the campaign, which is at least when it comes to the congressional committees, particularly the House, their focus is still collusion, and whether or not that happened during the campaign. And it seems as though what Steve Bannon is saying, I don't want to talk about things that happened while I was in the White House after the president was elected, which is a whole different sort of kettle of fish.

BLITZER: But spoke about a lot of those things in the interview with Michael Wolff in that new book.

BASH: He did.

BLITZER: So, the argument is, you've already spoken about it. How can you, you know, cite executive privilege, David, right now?

SWERDLICK: Well, I think he will do it as long as he can get away with it. I think that all of the things that were talked about in that book, if I'm special counsel Mueller, what I want to get to, Wolff, is this question of, does he have different version of events about that meeting? This is the campaign now, not during the White House tenure. Does he have a different version of events about what happened in that meeting in Trump Tower with that lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya then what Paul Manafort and what Jared Kushner said and if he thinks that was anything to do with money laundering or if he thinks this went up to President Trump.

BLITZER: We are still waiting to see if any of the members emerge and make statements. The doors are still closed over there. Steve Bannon still behind closed doors, appearing before this House Intelligence committee.

We'll have live coverage once they emerge. Stand by for that.

Also coming up, Kim Jong-un's regime accuses President Trump of lunacy as the U.S. secretary of state tries to ramp up diplomacy. CNN is with secretary of state at a high level emergency summit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:02] BLITZER: New tonight as North Korea denounces President Trump as a lunatic, the United States is moving more fire power to the region, deploying six nuclear capable B52 bombers to Guam. At the same time, the U.S. and Canada are hosting summit on the North Korea nuclear threat.

Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski. She's traveling with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. She's joining us from Vancouver right now.

Michelle, Secretary Tillerson says the international community must keep the pressure on North Korea. What else are you learning?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right. And, you know, Wolf, this wasn't a time for the tough rhetoric, or talking about the military option or doing anything to escalate tensions. In fact, this was a time for these country toss acknowledge that the talks that are going on right now between North and South Korea, even they're still just about the Olympics, could be a positive.

But that doesn't mean that the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea should let up at all. In fact, it should be intensified. And that there needs to be new consequences for any new aggressions by North Korea. But one of the biggest goals --

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately looks like we lost our connection with Michelle Kosinski. She's in Vancouver covering this summit. The foreign ministers from nearly 20 nations led by the United States and Canada have been meeting to discuss the North Korea nuclear threat.

I think we reestablished our connection with Michelle.

Michelle, just pick up that thought you were making.

KOSINSKI: OK. Wolf, right. I was saying one of the biggest goals here was for the 20 countries here, and even those that aren't, Russia and China, to send this unified message that they still agree that a nuclearized North Korea moving forward is unacceptable.

And Secretary of State Tillerson made a different kind of argument. He used big visual behind him of all the air traffic over the Korean peninsula on any given day representing more than 150,000 plane passengers. To hammer the point home, that these are all the lives that could be at risk in the immediate sense every time North Korea fires off a missile.

Here's part of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This progress is encouraging but we cannot be complacent. Kim Jong-un's regime continues to threaten international peace and security through unlawful ballistic missile and nuclear test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: Another goal here, Wolf, was to assess how this pressure campaign is going. How can sanctions be better enforced, put a little more pressure on China and Russia, should there be new sanctions, how do you better stop North Korea from continuing to smuggle banned items in and out.

But, you know, some of the bluntest comments today came from the Japanese foreign minister who said he thinks that North Korea by holding these talks with South Korea is just buying time to continue its nuclear program. He warned the world not to be naive or blinded by what he called North Korea's charm offensive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Michelle, thanks very much. Michelle Kosinski, reporting from Vancouver. That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.