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Can Trump Raise Low Approval Numbers?; Can Republicans Avoid Government Shutdown?; Interview with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2018 - 4:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Deal or no deal? Tough to know, if leaders don't know what President Trump is willing to sign.

THE LEAD starts right now.

With just hours until the federal government runs out of money to function, President Trump turning talks upside-down and undermining his own party's position on the Hill, as we learn that the Democratic votes may not be there to get any deal done in time.

West Wing dispute. The president clashing with his own chief of staff after John Kelly says the president's views on immigration and the wall have evolved and become more informed, and President Trump says, no, they have not.

Plus, Apple pay -- President Trump taking a victory lap after Apple says it's bringing tens of billions back home to the United States. Why isn't this further sunny economic news reflected in the president's popularity?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Trump started today fuming at his chief of staff, John Kelly, a source familiar with the matter tells CNN's Kaitlan Collins, a report he denied just minutes ago.

The point of contention? That wall you heard then candidate Trump talking about, it was one of candidate Trump's most memorable campaign promises.

Now, facing a looming government shutdown and difficult battles over immigration reform today, what that wall need entail is very much an issue. Indeed, the president's exact position on any number of important

issues today has been causing confusion among his staff and among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Trying to broker a deal to avoid a government shutdown, Chief of Staff John Kelly went to Capitol Hill this week, and in one meeting with Democratic lawmakers said that the president's campaign promises on the wall and on other issues related to immigration have been uninformed during the campaign, a story first reported by "The Washington Post" and not denied when Kelly was asked about it by Bret Baier.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There's been an evolutionary process that this president has gone through as a campaign, and I pointed out to all of the members that were in the room that they all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed.

He's very definitely changed attitudes towards the DACA issue, and even the wall, once we briefed him when I was at DHS.


TAPPER: But President Trump this morning pushing back against his own chief of staff in a tweet -- quote -- "The wall is the wall. It has never changed, nor evolved from the first day I conceived of it."

The problem is, of course, is that when you look at the record, the president's views have absolutely evolved. In North Carolina, November 2016, the president said this will be a real wall.


TRUMP: It will be a real wall, folks. It will be a real wall.


TAPPER: But, at other times, the president has been more clear that not all of it will be a real wall. Some of it will be a fence.


TRUMP: I'm very good at this. It's called construction.

QUESTION: So, part wall, part fence?

TRUMP: There could be some fencing.


TAPPER: And what will this real wall look like? In August 2015, then candidate President Trump said it would be made with precast planks of concrete.


TRUMP: It comes 30 feet long, 40 feet long, 50 feet long. You see the highways where they can span 50, 60 feet, even longer than that, right? And you do a beautiful nice precast plank with beautiful everything, just perfect.


TAPPER: And how high will this wall be? Well, in February 2016, Mr. Trump said it would be 35 to 40 feet high at a cost of $8 billion.

A week later, however, he said Mexico's opposition to the wall meant it would grow.


TRUMP: The wall just got 10 feet high higher.


TAPPER: By the time of the CNN-Telemundo debate, the price tag had grown to up to $12 billion, and new comments from a different Mexican politician made the wall's height go up again.


TRUMP: The wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me.


TAPPER: So, extrapolating from that, this wall of concrete is now up to 60 feet high.

Today, the president estimates it will cost not $8 billion or $12 billion, but $20 billion. And the real wall he promised voters keeps changing as to whether or not it's going to be made of concrete. Here he is last June.


TRUMP: We're thinking of something that's unique. We're talking about the southern border, lots of sun, lots of heat. We're thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy and pays for itself.


TAPPER: So, a concrete wall, no, then a solar wall, but now, by October 2017, the wall was also going to need to have some transparent parts.


TRUMP: We have a wall that's this thick and you can't see what is on the other side. So, we're going to need some see-through abilities.


TAPPER: All of which is to say that the notion Chief of Staff Kelly said anything other than an obvious fact in observing that the president's views on the wall have become more informed and have evolved is preposterous.


As Mr. Trump's close friend Tom Barrack recently told us for our documentary on the president's first year, which airs tomorrow night, leading with clarity is not necessarily Mr. Trump's style.


TOM BARRACK, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: From my point of view, having known the president as a businessman for 40 years, this man reigns and manages by chaos, so his method of governing is by curating discomfort and various points of view.


TAPPER: Now, that chaos sometimes may be purposeful and may accomplish a great deal. Other times, it's pretty obvious it is not and it doesn't.

Take another one of the president's tweets this morning on government funding. House Republicans hope to gain support from Democrats in Congress by tying a short-term funding of the government to a six-year reauthorization of CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Now, the White House's official policy was in support of that move, CHIP being part of this short-term extension. But then the president tweeted -- quote -- "CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30-day or short-term extension."

Another example, last week in a meeting on DACA -- that's the bill to provide legal status to undocumented citizens brought here as children, the so-called dreamers -- the president's direction to bipartisan lawmakers was, I will sign whatever you send me. Let's get it done.

Then a bipartisan group did just that with a bill they think can pass the Senate, and the president said, no way, I don't like that bill.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, he seems frankly totally confused.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm looking for something that President Trump supports. And he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign. As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: That's a pretty harsh statement considering it's coming from the Senate majority leader, who supports President Trump. He is publicly stating Republicans on the Hill don't know what President Trump supports, they don't know what he's for, and they're concerned that they're just spinning their wheels, all the while the dreamers and kid who rely on CHIP, they have their backs against the wall, however high that wall might be and whether or not it's see-through or has solar panels.

Let's get right to my political panel.

This type of infighting between the president and his chief of staff about the wall, it's kind of the last thing that they need right now because they really need to have direct leadership, you know, charting the course, Susan, on how to resolve this government spending shutdown.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": That's right. This is the president's fight. You know, the president, a Republican House, Republican Senate, this is part of his task to keep things going, especially since he first seemed to get things on track by saying he would sign whatever they brought to him, by seeming open to a compromise that would include taking care of the DACA kids, and then reversed himself.

I wouldn't describe -- you described Mitch McConnell as confused. I would describe him as enraged.

TAPPER: And when you heard Mitch McConnell there, David, whether he's enraged or confused, he's frustrated, because he's looking for leadership from the president, and he doesn't know what he -- what the president wants him to be doing.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, also, listen, I think the majority leader is frustrated because he needs to pick up 10, 11, 12 Democratic votes along the way.

To counter what Susan is saying, the Republicans control the House, they control the Senate, they do control the White House. However, as everybody knows, we need 60 votes in the Senate to get anything. Even to pass anything, we're going to need Democrats along the way, so if the government shuts down, you can look to Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin and others in the Democratic leadership as not participating and helping shut the government down.

TAPPER: Paul, where do you think it goes? We got the countdown clock there, 31 hours and 51 minutes, 15 seconds.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's like that Carrie Underwood song, Jesus, take the wheel.

It would be comical as a Democrat, except we're all in the bus, and there's no driver. We need presidential leadership. But we're not going to get it. Donald Trump is not going to evolve. He's not going to change. He's not going to show leadership. Congress needs to. John McCain a few weeks ago, he made a remarkable

speech about how Congress should go back to regular order. I have worked on the Hill. I have worked in the White House. In the last 50 years, so much power has moved to the presidency.

We all just expect the president to lead. All in all, that's worked out OK for our country in the last half-century. We're in a different era. This president is incapable of clear leadership. You just showed it.


BEGALA: Just a second, David.

What we need to do, even though the Republicans running the House and the Senate, is that the Congress has Congress has to lead. I understand Senator McConnell is enraged and frustrated. He needs to pass a continuing resolution that funds the government, and Donald Trump will sign it.


URBAN: I agree with Paul.

We both worked on the Hill, Pal. We passed 13 spending bills. You would need a subcommittee markup, a full committee markup. It went to the floor. We passed them all before the end of the fiscal year, and magically, the Congress could do their job then, but they can't do it now.

TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who is at the White House right now.

Jeff, one Democrats telling CNN that the mood among Senate Democrats is resolute and united against the short-term spending bill. So, it doesn't appear the votes are there in the Senate. As David pointed out, they need nine Democrats, assuming all Republicans vote for the continuing resolution, but the White House seems to be moving ahead with it anyway, saying president does support it.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I talked to a White House official just a short time ago.

And they do feel confident of those votes in the House. Like you mentioned, they do believe the Freedom Caucus members will be on board. It will take one call from the president to get them on board, they believe.

But it is a concern among the senators and the House, Democratic senators and the House. Marc Short, the legislative director here at the White House, told me earlier that they simply do not know if they have those 10 votes.

But, Jake, after a day of all of this, one thing here is clear. The president and the White House are at the very center of this confusion and finger-pointing over one of the most basic functions of government. That is keeping it open.


ZELENY (voice-over): On the eve of a potential government shutdown, President Trump trying to place blame on Democrats.

TRUMP: I really believe the Democrats want a shutdown to get off the subject of the tax cuts because they work so well.

ZELENY: Never mind that Republicans are in charge at the White House and on Capitol Hill. But at times today, it was difficult to tell, as the president openly contradicted the GOP strategy to fund the government past a Friday deadline.

The president sparking confusion when he said the children's health insurance, or CHIP, should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30- day or short-term extension.

But that's exactly what Republican leaders are trying to do, hoping to persuade Democrats to vote for the spending bill by including money for the children's health program for six more years. That sweetener left House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sour and unusually colorful.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: This is like giving you a bowl of doggie doo, put a cherry on top, and call it a chocolate sundae. This is nothing.

ZELENY: It's the latest chapter in the long-running tale of Washington dysfunction.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The president is like Abbott. Leader McConnell is like Costello. You do it. They point at each other. Nothing gets done.

ZELENY: With the House set to vote on the spending measure tonight, Speaker Paul Ryan brushed aside the criticism, but acknowledged the drama.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm optimistic we're going to get there, but we cannot allow this vital, primary work to be layered into or minimized as Washington melodrama, and that's our big problem right now.

ZELENY: The bipartisan breakdowns started with the failure to reach a deal over immigration and fixing DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

A new CBS News poll finds nearly nine in 10 Americans favor allowing the dreamers to stay in the U.S., but supporters are divided over whether the issue is worth risking a government shutdown; 57 percent of Democrats who support DACA say it is, while only 25 percent of Republicans do.

With the potential shutdown looming, the president flew to Pennsylvania to tout the economic effects of the tax overhaul. It's also the site of a special election Republicans are trying to win, and candidate Rick Saccone was there to greet the president at the steps of Air Force One.

TRUMP: A real friend and a spectacular man, Rick Saccone.



ZELENY: So, as the president flies back here to Washington, Jake, you can be sure he is also going to start working the phones focusing on some of those Republicans.

Also, keep an eye on some of those Democrats from red states. They may have an incentive to vote to keep the government open. They have their own midterm election campaigns to think about -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny for us at the White House.

Let me bring my panel back.

David, I would be remiss if I didn't take advantage of your knowledge of Pennsylvania. Obviously, you're a Republican, you're supportive of President Trump. Is that district going to be competitive, the Pennsylvania 18th?

URBAN: Listen, I think the fact that the Democrat running is running basically as a Republican, right? Marine Corps veteran, touting his pro-gun credentials, pro-life credentials. He said he was going to vote against Speaker Pelosi, said he was willing to work with the president, it doesn't sound like much of a Democrat.

The guy is trying to run as a Republican. It's a Republican district. Rick Saccone is a good guy. He is going to win.

TAPPER: All right, Susan.


BEGALA: What about equal time?

TAPPER: You want equal time? OK.


BEGALA: Why isn't Conor Lamb running as a Republican? Why is he a Democrat?

It's a Republican district. Trump won it by 17. There's something going on. People are abandoning the Republican brand in droves. It's a tough pickup for Democrats, as hard a district as there is in the country for the Democrats to win.

If they do, it's catastrophic. The fact that they are running a neck- and-neck race right now, Conor Lamb, a young Marine, prosecuted drug dealers as assistant U.S. attorney, he's a model Democratic candidate for that district.

TAPPER: All right.

Susan, let me ask you. I want to ask you about -- Lindsey Graham spoke with Dana Bash earlier today about the threat of a shutdown. Take a listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You can't blame President Trump for a broken congressional system.

But we do need a better partner down at the White House.

[16:15:01] I feel very comfortable and confident that we're going to rise to the occasion, or else (ph) we'll all look like idiots. Not just the president has a problem, we all have a problem.


TAPPER: Again, this is a close ally of President Trump, not historically, but in the last six months, golfing with him, likes him, has been supportive of him, saying that congressional Republicans need a better partner in the White House.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Yes, and he's been the best friend Trump has had in the Congress, someone with credibility with Democrats, but also with the president, but he says critical things to the president in notorious meeting, pushing back against the characterization of African countries. And I think that means that you are in trouble with Donald Trump when you push back with him, and you saw him now in the interview trying to talk to Donald Trump. I think that's where his message was directed in that interview.

TAPPER: Yes, I think that happens quite a bit. Everyone stick around, many lawmakers say it's an essential safety net for sick children. So, can Democrats afford not to pass a short term deal with a long term fix for the CHIP program? We'll talk to the number two Democrat in the House, Congressman Steny Hoyer, Republican -- I mean, Democrat of Maryland, coming up next.

Stay with us.


[16:20:26] TAPPER: And we're back with our panel, and the politics lead.

But, first, as Congress appears to slide closer to a potential government shutdown tomorrow with members of both parties saying that they will reject a stopgap measure to keep the government open just another month.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, joins me now.

And, Congressman, thanks for joining me. I guess the big --


TAPPER: -- the big question for Democrats, is it worth shutting down the government if the Republican short-term government funding deal doesn't include provisions for the Dreamers?

HOYER: Look, this is not solely about Dreamers. Republicans have had 120-days plus. We overwhelming -- as a matter of fact, every Democrat voted for a 90 day-extension in September, to give us time to reach an agreement on some of the important issues. The most important of which was working funding caps so that we would know how much we're going to spend in the coming year.

We asked for the same deal that Paul Ryan made with Senator Murray for four years running, and we've still not had that agreement. So, we're asking for an additional time, but the Republicans have not done anything in the time that was given to them to get to the issues that we need to follow. Including, for instance, in this bill, there's been a major, major disaster in two states and Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. No supplemental relief here.

We don't have community health centers included in the bill. Yes, they include SCHIP, but a lot of the CHIP children go to community health centers, and they're not funded in this bill.


HOYER: So, there's a lot of things that Republicans have not done that we're saying, look, don't ask us to vote for just kicking the can down the road when you don't address in the time we give you any kind of compromises which will get a majority of votes in the House of Representatives.

TAPPER: OK. This bill would fund the government through February and they include measures to directly try to appeal to you and Democrats in the House and Senate, including, as you know, six years of funding for children's health insurance, as well as provisions to delay some unpopular Obamacare taxes you could do that, keep the government open, use the next month to negotiate everything you're talking about, plus help Dreamers. Aren't you worried about that? About voting against funding CHIP?

HOYER: I don't know that the bill helps the Dreamers. I'm not sure where you get to that on, Jake.

TAPPER: No, no, you could negotiate in the ensuing months.

HOYER: Well, of course, we could negotiate for the last 90 days, last 120 days, Jake. We haven't done that. They're just asking to kick the can down the road again. They have not said they're going to negotiate with us. They have not or what the agreements that we think are necessary to move forward will be.

So, that they're just saying, look, we haven't been able to do our work, we Republicans, we haven't not passed a single appropriation bill and Senate to the president. We haven't set caps for 2018 spending.

We are a third of the way into the 2018. The Republicans have a responsibility to say, look, here are the funding levels. We did that when we were in the majority. They need to do that as well.

Very frankly, they have the votes to keep the government open. All they have to do is cast those votes. You need 218 votes, they have 241 votes.

Exercise your responsibility as majority, as the people who have been given responsibility by the American people to run this House. Don't look to us to just kick the can down the road without any agreements from you on priorities that we think are important.

We think SCHIP is important, by the way. Paul Ryan said he would not put noncontroversial bills in with controversial bills. That's exactly what he's doing today.

We're all for CHIP. We're going to have an opportunity to vote on making CHIP go forward on its own.

TAPPER: Right.

HOYER: We Democrats are going to vote for that. We're for CHIP. We ought to do that.

I told the majority leader two months ago, two and a half months ago, when he put a partisan CHIP bill through the House, I said, Mr. McCarthy, that's not going to work. Let's come together and reach an agreement. We didn't do it.

Now, they can move it because OMB has made it much easier to do in terms of paying for it, but we want to see that bill passed. It could pass on suspension this afternoon.

TAPPER: So, let me ask you and show you, first of all, how Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan are describing the Democrats' stance. Take a listen.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Look at mistakes are going to be shutting down CHIP in days -- Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon, Virginia, Washington state.

[16:25:07] These are states that are running out of CHIP money if this does not pass. I can't imagine why somebody would want to vote against doing that.


TAPPER: Isn't it possible that voters might punish Democrats in the midterms if they -- if these programs shut down because you vote against this government funding bill?

HOYER: Look, this is the crowd that shut down government for 16 days purposefully if we didn't repeal Affordable Care Act. Paul Ryan did not put this bill on the floor, SCHIP, that he talks being so concerned about, until long after the authorization had ran out in September. Paul Ryan put a partisan bill on the floor knowing full well that it would not pass the Senate, and it didn't pass the Senate.

Paul Ryan knows that he can put the CHIP bill on the floor this afternoon, and it will pass, probably unanimously, and certainly will get every Democratic vote. Paul Ryan is trying to blackmail the Democratic Party into doing what he wants without, in fact, coming to agreements that are necessary to move this country forward.

I think it's pretty disingenuous and I'm disappointed with the speaker.

TAPPER: All right. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, thanks so much for joining me. Good to see you as always, sir.

HOYER: You bet.

TAPPER: Breaking news just in about the testimony of one of President Trump's closest confidants, Hope Hicks, in the Russian investigation. We're going to bring that to you right after this quick break.

Stay with us.