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House to Vote on Spending Bill as Government Shutdown Looms. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 18, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


TAPPER: Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Down to the wire. The hours are slipping away amid urgent efforts to prevent a government shutdown tomorrow night. President Trump's comments have only added to the confusion about what he wants. Can Congress pass a spending bill in time?

[17:00:25] Hope delayed. The House Intelligence Committee delays its interview with top White House aide Hope Hicks. Sources say there's concern about what she would be willing to discuss after a former White House strategist, Steve Bannon, refused to answer dozens of questions from the panel.

And Russian spy ship. Loaded with electronic surveillance gear, a Russian spy ship heads back toward and on the latest mission to track U.S. submarines and intercept U.S. communications. What can the U.S. Navy do about it?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump tonight is facing a chaotic effort to keep the government running. His own mixed messages have left lawmakers scratching their heads about where he stands. The government will grind to a halt tomorrow night. Looking at the clock, counting down with, what, just 31 hours to go unless Congress can pass a spending bill.

Let's go right to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, can the president stop the shutdown?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We'll have to see, Wolf. Time is running out on the White House and Republicans in Congress as a government shutdown is now a little more than 24 hours away, and despite that need for urgency, GOP leaders are trying to decipher the president's tweets in search of some kind of clarity as to what he wants.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Republicans may be in charge of both the White House and Congress, but with a government shutdown looming, don't tell that to President Trump. DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really believe

the Democrats want a shutdown to get off the subject of the tax cuts, because they work so well.

ACOSTA: And is pointing the finger at Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you responsible for the government shutdown, sir?

TRUMP: Could happen, we'll see what happens. It's up to the Democrats.

ACOSTA: But here's the problem. The same Republicans who are trying to craft a short-term spending bill to avoid a shutdown are openly saying they're confused by signals coming from the Oval Office in both the House...

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: We have seen a number of communications from the White House over the past year or so that are somewhat internally inconsistent with what ends up happening.

ACOSTA: ... and the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure what the president means.

ACOSTA: As Republicans were working on a plan to prevent a shutdown that would also fund the Children's Health program known as CHIP, the president blind-sided his own party with a tweet, "CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30-day or short-term extension."

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he's clear where the president stands.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I didn't see what he wrote, but I've spoken with the president. He fully supports passing what we're bringing to the floor today.

ACOSTA: But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi complained the legislative process had gone to the dogs.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), 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.

ACOSTA: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Republicans to muzzle the president's Twitter account.

SCHUMER: The one thing standing in our way is the unrelenting flow of chaos from the other end of Pennsylvania avenue. It has reduced the Republicans to shambles. We barely know who to negotiate with.

ACOSTA: Another area of confusion? Immigration. One day after White House chief of staff John Kelly said the president had evolved on the wall he wants for the border...

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There's other places we think about 800 miles additional wall to include the 600 that are already in place, the fencing would suffice. So he has evolved in the way he's looked at things.

ACOSTA: The president insisted he hasn't changed his views, tweeting, "The wall is the wall. It has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it."

In Pennsylvania, the president said he's not upset with Kelly and blamed the media for taking the general's comments out of context.

TRUMP: I think he's doing a great job. I think General Kelly's done a really great job. He is a very special guy.

ACOSTA: The president is also facing questions of whether he used an official White House event in Pennsylvania for campaign purposes with GOP congressional candidate Rick Saccone, who greeted Mr. Trump at the airport.

Earlier in the day, the president tweeted, "Will be going to Pennsylvania today in order to give my total support to Rick Saccone, running for Congress in a special election." Aides to the president later insisted his stop near Pittsburgh was a White House event. But the president still gave a shout-out to Saccone.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The president earlier today told reporters he plans to go back to Pennsylvania to hold a campaign rally for Rick Saccone, promising to fill up a stadium. After losing a recent special election in Alabama to the Democrats, the president's focus on a special election in Pennsylvania is a clear signal Republicans are wringing their hands over the potential for big losses in the midterms this fall, Wolf.

[17:05:12] But the president just arrived back here at the White House from that trip to Pennsylvania. He did not take questions from reporters. He went back inside the residence here to deal with the "s-word" he's dealing with this week. That is "shutdown" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

Things are moving very rapidly up on Capitol Hill. Let's go right to Republican Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina. He chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, controls a big block of Republican votes.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), CHAIR, FREEDOM CAUCUS: Thanks, Wolf. It's great to be with you.

BLITZER: I know you've got a lot going on. I understand you just spoke to the president directly, a little while ago, during your meeting with the Freedom Caucus. Where does he stand?

MEADOWS: You know, the president has been very consistent. He does not want a shutdown. He wants us to go ahead and deal with the immigration issue, and, yet, he doesn't want to hold our military men and women hostage.

So that was the message that he reaffirmed to me, again, just a few minutes ago. And it's all about trying to make sure that we put up enough votes here in the House to do that.

You know, as of right now, there are not enough votes to pass it on the House floor, but discussions are ongoing with leadership, and hopefully, we'll -- we'll get to a path where we can send it over to the Senate and let them, hopefully, finish the job.

BLITZER: Give us a little bit about the president's mood. Did he think that this can pass? Did he think you guys in the Freedom Caucus would support him?

MEADOWS: Well, I mean, the Freedom Caucus has supported the president consistently sometimes when other people have not. And so I don't know that I want to characterize a personal conversation I had with the president as much as the message has been consistent is, let's go ahead and make sure we keep the government open, make sure that we do what is best for our military men and women, and, ultimately, make sure that we secure the border.

And so, you know, it was not a contentious phone call. So I can say that. Obviously, the president wants to make sure that Congress does his job, and the American people, quite frankly, want to make sure we do our job, as well.

BLITZER: So are you on the same page? I -- I believe he supports a short-term 30-day spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. Will you vote in favor of it?

MEADOWS: Well, currently, I'm not in favor of that, because at this time we've passed three short-term C.R.'s. And I guess the question is, is why is this short-term C.R. going to be any different than the others that we've passed?

It's time that we start the normal appropriations process once again, make sure the power in the first rest in Congress, and yet, here we are passing a fourth C.R., which, for your viewers, is a continuing resolution. But it really is about punting, and so, hopefully, we can come to agreement on a few things here in the next hour or so that allows us to stop this cycle and get back to representing the people that should be our first priority.

BLITZER: You need 200 and what, 18, 217 -- 218 votes, if everyone shows up, in order to pass this spending bill. But do you think -- assuming the Democrats don't support it -- maybe one or two or three might -- but do you think you have the votes, the president has the votes to get this done today?

MEADOWS: Well, currently, there are not enough votes. Negotiations are ongoing. I wanted to make sure that, since we had agreed to come on, we didn't know it -- it would be at this critical time, but instead of cancelling on you, I wanted to make sure I gave you and your viewers the latest update.

But hopefully, within the next hour or so, we'll be able to reach some type of an agreement to -- to put 218 votes in the House floor up tonight.

BLITZER: How many of your members in the Freedom Caucus, as of right now, like you, are not yet ready to vote in favor of it?

MEADOWS: Well, we don't normally give out our whip count, Wolf, and, obviously, for tactical reasons, we don't do that. I can say that, if there is not any Democrat support currently, there are not enough votes to get to 218, and that's about all I am willing to be specific on.

And, yet, the conversations are ongoing. I just spoke to the speaker earlier. He has an idea that might break this log jam. I'm looking forward to hear that here in a few minutes. So as soon as I leave from you, that's where I'm headed.

BLITZER: Well, what do you want? What does the Freedom Caucus want in order to justify a "yea" vote?

MEADOWS: We have been all about focusing on our military. And so one of the options that we threw out is to make sure that the pay raises for our military men and women would continue on for a full year. Go ahead and fund that for a full year. Make sure that the maintenance for our aircraft and ships, that that is funded for a full year.

So even -- even that ask doesn't seem to be too great. It's about giving certainty to our military men and women, something that should be bipartisan, but, unfortunately, we've not seen a whole lot of Democrat support on that.

[17:10:10] BLITZER: Do you think the vote's going to happen tonight, or will it be delayed?

MEADOWS: I've been told that they're going to hold the vote. Whether they have the number of "yeses" or not is what is being reported. Obviously, I anticipate that there will be a vote sometime tonight to send it over to the Senate.

BLITZER: Do you think the speaker, potentially, the speaker of the House potentially risks losing, let's say, more moderate votes?

MEADOWS: No. I don't see -- I think that this is one of the few times where moderates and conservatives are together, where defense hawks and the Freedom Caucus are together. It's about trying to do business in a different way and finally saying enough is enough. Let's give some certainty to our military. We're unified on that. Perhaps the differences is more on the tactics that we're using versus necessarily the overall strategy.

BLITZER: Will a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance program be included in this legislation tonight?

MEADOWS: It will be included. You know, it's interesting. You led in with a Nancy Pelosi quote, which I find it very interesting when she is, you know, giving a graphic description with a cherry on top, that she's describing the CHIP reauthorization in that way. I can tell you that we're going to support the CHIP reauthorization, and for many of us, we believe that the time is now to go ahead and get that done.

BLITZER: I asked the question because, as you know, the president tweeted this morning: "CHIP should be part of a long-term solution, not a 30-day or short-term extension." He's changed his mind since earlier in the day when he tweeted that, right?

MEADOWS: Yes, but, really -- really, it's not about that. I can tell you that tweet, understanding what's behind it, is -- is, indeed, I think, putting CHIP reauthorization in there. You would think it would be more a bipartisan thing.

But I can tell you that he has been supportive of that. He's told me that personally. He wants to make sure we get that reauthorized.

And as you know, we've already voted twice to fund that here in the House with Republican-only votes. And so let's go ahead and get that done. That's part of not kicking the can down the road, as well.

BLITZER: But do you think he actually understands what you guys want? Six years, not a 30-day extension, of CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance program, a six-year extension?

MEADOWS: He...

BLITZER: Because that tweet this morning seemed to underscore that he really didn't understand what the legislation included.

MEADOWS: Well, no, I think he knows all very well what the legislation includes, but you would think that with a CHIP -- CHIP reauthorization, we would be getting Democrat votes.

I think that's his frustration, you know. He's been asked to reauthorize that, you know, from Democrats and Republicans and conservatives, as well. And to not get any Democrat support for a critical thing for children's health was a disappointment to the president.

BLITZER: As you know, the president campaigned as a great negotiator. And you've been talking to him probably on a nearly daily basis throughout this process. Are you impressed with his negotiating skills?

MEADOWS: Well, I'm impressed with his negotiating skills. I can tell you that I would prefer to not have to negotiate with the president of the United States. It certainly creates an interesting dynamic that is not one that I would wish on anybody else.

BLITZER: The problem you have, though, even let's say you get 218 votes tonight in the House of Representatives. It goes to the Senate. The Senate, you need 60 votes. There are 51 Republicans. If Senator McCain can't make it back from Arizona, you only have 50 Republicans. It doesn't look like, as of right now -- I could be wrong -- but it

certainly doesn't look like there are ten Democrats in the Senate who will join you. That could throw this thing off, right?

MEADOWS: Well, certainly. What nine or ten Democrats in the Senate does can always throw us off, and that's why when everybody says, "Well, the Republicans control the House and the Senate," this 60-vote cloture rule that I am not a fan of would indicate that it gives a disproportionate power to ten Democrats.

So yes, you're exactly right. Your analysis is there. And yet at the same time, we're hopeful that our Democrat colleagues will see the merits of going ahead and keeping the government open.

BLITZER: One question about the military, because the president also tweeted this morning, Congressman, "A government shutdown would be devastating to our military..."

MEADOWS: Right.

BLITZER: "... something the Dems very care little about."

Do you agree with the president? Because the military is not going to shut down. It's an essential service. The U.S. Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, they're going to be operating full speed ahead.

MEADOWS: Well, you know, some of those national security, what you called essential services would continue. And you're right there.

But there's a whole lot of support systems that would not be there. You know, for example, the whole procurement side of things on missile defense and other things, you know, when you look at the fighting men and women, will they continue to get their paycheck?

The answer is yes, but we're talking about 700 billion dollars, and some of those things, in a government shutdown, do not continue on, and -- and so that's what I think the president is talking about. Certainly, something that most of my members are very, very concerned about.

[17:15:15] BLITZER: Do you think the president is playing politics with the U.S. military?

MEADOWS: Well, I think the people playing the politics right now is trying to get a clean DACA bill and trying to hold up the military as hostage. So it's not the president. It would be the Democrats on that.

We have time. We're making good progress on this whole immigration issue, but, you know, at this point to suggest that we're going to hold our military hostage, because we're concerned about a possible, future deportation of DACA recipients sometime in the future is not the time or the place to have the argument.

BLITZER: Well, on the DACA, the DREAMers, the 700,000 or 800,000 DREAMers that are here, do you support legislation that would allow them to stay and potentially have a pathway to citizenship?

MEADOWS: You know, right now, I'm a co-sponsor of the Goodlatte bill with some modifications in terms of helping my ag workers and those folks back home. I come from the very strong ag community. We've been hearing from them.

And so I'm certainly willing to look at a support in that particular bill, as you may know. It actually allows for those DACA recipients over time to get a green card and ultimately not have a special pathway, but become citizens. And so I've been supportive of that particular bill. Whether it's that bill or something else that supports the Trump agenda, we're willing to be there.

And Wolf, I apologize. I'm going to have to run to this other meeting, but last question, if you've got one, and then I'm going to have to leave.

BLITZER: All right. One final question. And I'm grateful to you, Congressman, for joining us. This is a critical moment. Millions and millions of people are going to be affected if there's a government shutdown, so I just want to be precise with that.

You must be so frustrated, and I know you. We've spoken on many occasions. This could be the fourth short-term spending bill passed since last September alone. Republicans, as you know, they control the House, control the Senate, control the White House. Why can't you all get on the same page and get this done?

MEADOWS: Well, you know, that's a very insightful question. I can tell you that, perhaps, you need to get a Democrat here to ask that. Because the last short-term C.R.'s that we've done, we've actually passed with Republican-only votes until we get to that 215 or 218 threshold, and then we've had a few Democrats that have come on board after that.

But I can tell you that, if it's a long-term solution, I am all in for that. You wouldn't want to run your business or your home economy the way that we're doing this, and so I'm all for a long-term solution. Hopefully, we'll get there, Wolf.

BLITZER: What time is the vote tonight? Do you know?

MEADOWS: You know, right now, I think, you know, sometime 7 or 8 p.m. time range, but I don't know that that's actually been set. That's above my pay grade. Leader McCarthy will make that call.

BLITZER: You've been very gracious with your time. I know you've got a lot going on, and we're very grateful to you for coming in and doing this interview. Appreciate it very much.

MEADOWS: Thanks, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Congressman Mark Meadows joining us, from North Carolina.

The breaking news we're following, the hours are quickly ticking down as lawmakers wrangle over a short-term spending bill to keep the federal government going. President Trump's mixed messages are adding to the confusion about what he wants.

And a sophisticated Russian spy ship heads back towards the U.S. East Coast. Can the U.S. Navy do anything from keeping it from intercepting very sensitive communications?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:23:10] BLITZER: President Trump, he's now back here in Washington, awaiting word on whether Congress can pass a spending bill to keep the government running past tomorrow night. In the scramble to avert a government shutdown, the battle lines are being drawn.

Let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's up on Capitol Hill. So what is the very latest, Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Congress is less than 48 hours to a potential shutdown, and threat of a shutdown is very real at this moment on Capitol Hill tonight.

House leadership says that they are continuing to push towards a vote on the short-term spending bill, potentially in the 7 p.m. hour tonight, but things are very fluid behind the scenes.

Earlier today, we heard Speaker of the House Paul Ryan really confident that he would be able to get the votes needed to pass through the House tonight. He said that they are in a good spot.

But hours later, as evidenced by your remarkable interview with Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, who came out on TV cameras after that meeting with his == with the House Freedom Caucus and saying, "Look, we don't have -- we don't support this yet. I don't believe that the House Republican leadership has the support."

Mark Meadows is going to march over at this hour to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and present, potentially, another plan to leadership. He got off the phone with President Trump. He says he wants to extract some more concessions from leadership.

So this just underscores how fluid everything is, how the last-minute, you know, corralling of votes is going on in real time up here on Capitol Hill.

That's just on the House side. On the Senate side, equally as tricky. As of tonight, Senate Republicans do not have the votes they need from Senate Democrats to get it passed through, and that's only if the House sends their bill to them at some point.

A lot of finger pointing already going on up here, Wolf, and there's certainly no absence of complicated, fast-moving dynamics at play. But the only two di dynamics right now that you need to remember is that, as of tomorrow midnight, the government runs out of money, and as of now, there is no one clear path forward to avoid that.

[17:25:08] BLITZER: Yes. Could be a real disaster unfolding. All right, Sunlen, thanks very much. With a stopgap spending bill now being debated on the House floor,

let's bring in our specialists. And Dana Bash, are we headed towards a government shutdown?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That very well could happen, absolutely could happen. You know -- there might be a way for everybody to take a breath and agree to do a few days so that it technically doesn't shut down. But as Sunlen just laid out, and as you discussed with Congressman Meadows, first and foremost, the votes aren't there for the current plan in the House of Representatives, and that is to fund the government for a month and include what they thought on the Republican side was a sweetener, which is to fund the Children's Health Program, a sweetener to get Democratic votes.

Even if they get the Republicans on board, in the Senate, it is a big open question, and it looks like at this point, the Democratic strategy is to hold firm, say no, vote against it if it comes over there, and hope that, if and when there is a government shutdown, that they have leverage to get more of what they want.

But already, Wolf, I mean, I'm getting e-mails from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, those who are, you know, trying to sort of make the politics of this very painful for Democrats who would vote "no" in the Senate, one about John Tester from Montana, saying he votes "no," he's going to keep 44,000-plus children from getting insurance in his state.

We're going to see those kinds of talking points all over the political map, if, in fact, Democrats vote "no" and the government shuts down over the weekend.

BLITZER: Sabrina Siddiqui is with us of "The Guardian." Sabrina, it's a difficult enough measure to begin with, but when the president is sending confusing, conflicting messages to members of the House and the Senate, that complicates it even more, especially that sort of confused tweet this morning about the Children's Health Insurance Program.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN": Right. It was very clear from the president's tweet that he did not have a clear understanding of what was actually in the proposal put forth by House Republican leaders.

and when you have already opposition from fiscal conservatives and defense hawks, as Congressman Meadows was expressing to you, it undermines the Republican leaders to then not have the certainty that the president would even support the proposal that they're bringing to the floor.

It certainly doesn't provide incentive for some of those Republicans who are skeptical about this bill to hold the line.

I also think that it's important to recall there has never been a shutdown of the federal government when one party has controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, and so that's also why Democrats feel so confident that they have the upper hand here, and that Republicans would be more likely to incur the blame if there was actually a lack of a compromise by the deadline on Friday.

BLITZER: David Axelrod is with us, as well. You remember the last government shutdown in 2013, David, during the Obama administration, driven by a bunch of conservatives in the House. The government does shut down the spending for a while. Are Senate Democrats right now copying what the conservatives did then?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, Wolf, they're using the only leverage that they have, since the Republican Party controls the White House and both Houses of Congress.

Look, Democrats are under enormous amount of pressure to act on this issue. There's a great deal of support in the country, and, certainly, among Democrats for these 800,000 DREAMers. This can be kicked down the field several times, and Democrats feel moved to try and force the issue.

Is it a calculated risk? It is. They are calculating that the party that runs both Houses of Congress and the White House will be blamed for the shutdown. But there's also counterpressure from Democrats around the country, and there's also some impetus on -- because of the presidential race.

And let's be honest. The president's statements and his inconstancy on this issue has added fuel to the fire.

BLITZER: I was surprised he left Washington today, went off to what seemed like a campaign rally outside of Pittsburgh at a time when he was clearly needed in Washington to deal with all these issues. But that's -- that's another matter.

Bianna, the whole notion right now is that, even if the House passes it, it might not pass the Senate. You need 60 votes in the Senate. The Democrats want the DREAMers to get permanent legal status here as part of this arrangement. The Republicans say you've got to leave that for another day. You can't do that as part of this bill.

But one thing the Republicans are willing to do is allow 9 million kids to have health insurance as part of this deal. It's going to make it difficult for a bunch of Democrats to vote against it, and they're going to be accused of neglecting these children.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as of this morning, people didn't even know whether the president supported including that in a C.R. Of course, there was a lot of confusion surrounding his tweet which the White House had to clarify, in fact, that he does support adding that on. But I think when you talk about Democrats in Red States, as of last week. They were publicly saying that they do not want a government shutdown that they are in this for the long run, that they're constituents did not put them in office for a government shutdown. Of course they're eyeing the midterm elections. You saw the conflicts within the own party between those who were thinking about 2020 and eyeing at 2020 presidential election, those who were concern about the midterms. That seems to have changed.

And it's interesting because now you have Democrats in red states who tend to agree with Mark Meadows in what he told you in the sense that what's another C.R. going to do? This is going to be the fourth one. They seemed to be very disillusioned with agreeing to anything at this point only to kick the can down the road. Where does that get down with their constituents? Not very far. And obviously, the majority of Democrats in the country support putting their foot down on this, DACA is not included.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes. Bianna, then it's unlikely, at least as of now, they're going to get 60 votes in the Senate, even if the House later tonight passes it. Now, a very fascinating interview today with Senator Lindsey Graham, he's a key player on trying to get a bipartisan compromise going that would allow the DREAMers to have legal status here in the United States, eventually a pathway to citizenship. On a plain excerpt from your interview, you had this exchange about that very ugly meeting, and the vulgar words that were made by the president on -- during that meeting in the Oval Office last week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can you tell me what happened in that meeting in your own words?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: No, I can tell you this.

BASH: Why not? Why can't you --

GRAHAM: Because, I want to make sure that I can keep talking to the president. I told him what I thought. And that's more important to me than anything else. As we --

BASH: But he did call those country shithole countries, you can confirm that?

GRAHAM: You can keep asking me all day long and I'm going to tell you the same thing, why don't you ask me is he a racist?

BASH: That was my next question.

GRAHAM: OK. Why don't you to ask me?

BASH: Do you think that he is a racist?

GRAHAM: Absolutely not. Let me tell you why. You could be darkest charcoal and lily white it doesn't matter, just as long as you're nice to it. You could be the Pope and criticize him it doesn't matter, he'll go after the Pope. You could be Putin and say nice things and he will like you. Here's what I found, he's a street fighter. Its' not the color of your skin that matters. It's not the content of your character. It's whether or not you show him respect and like him. And if he feels like you're off-script, you don't like him, he punches back. And as President of the United States, the only advice I can give you is that the street fights over, we need a leader. And you got here by being a street fighter, you beat me, you beat everybody else. And as president, you have the ability to bring this country together. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Once a fierce critic as you pointed out in the interview. And now, he's a close friend, they played golf together, they work together, he's got problems from time to time. But this relationship is clearly important.

BASH: It's important. It's hit a rough patch with this immigration situation. There's no question about it, which is why I was trying to press him. And I thought it was fascinating that he's answered to, he's not a racist, was explicitly saying he's somebody who just wants to be loved. Because that, obviously, has been Lindsey Graham's M.O. for the past almost year, thinking he can affect policy, the policy that Senator Graham and other Republicans even some Democrats care about. And convince the President to go their way by, you know, killing him with kindness is the term that I use. And guess what, here we are, and the rubber's hitting the road on these DREAMers issue, and it hasn't worked. He said he's not giving up, but it hasn't worked.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens in after, what, 30 hours or so to go. Everybody, standby, there's more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. One of the President's closest aides was expected to testify tomorrow before the House Intelligence Committees on Russia meddling investigation. Now, it looks like they're highly-anticipated testimony is being put off. Stand by. We have new information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:38:42] BLITZER: There's breaking news in the Russia investigation. The top Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee has just put a -- put out a statement about the newly-released transcripts of the committee's interview with the co-founder of the firm behind the Trump-Russia dossier. Representative Adam Schiff's statement says, among other things, "Those transcripts reveal serious allegations that the Trump organization may have engaged in money laundering with Russian nationals. Our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is joining us right now. Manu, these are pretty explosive charges.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They, indeed, are, Wolf. This is the first time we're getting a peek into exactly what Glenn Simpson told the House Intelligence Committee when they met behind closed doors last year. The committee voted today to release these transcripts. They were vote that occurred on a bipartisan basis. And the thing that Democrats in particular are pointing to here, are those questions about potential money laundering that may have occurred with the Trump organization. And any ties to Russian and Russian nationals was part of this alleged effort to launder money. This is something that Glen Simpson testified that it's something that may have occurred, and what Schiff is saying here in the statement is that this is some area that the committee should investigate further because up until this point, it's not been part of the investigation. It's uncertain whether that's going to move Republicans who have been very skeptical of what Glenn Simpson said and certainly skeptical of this organization, Fusion GPS, Wolf. [17:40:07] BLITZER: Trump organization did engage in money laundering with the Russians. It would be with the knowledge or approval of the Kremlin and constitute powerful leverage over the President of the United States. Also, very, very serious charge. Manu, you have some new information about Hope Hicks, the Communication Director over the White House, a close aide to the president, her appearance before the House Intelligence Committee has now been delayed. Tell us why.

RAJU: Yes, a surprise move for Hope Hicks. Her testimony was highly anticipated before the committee tomorrow given her close ties to the President. Her role as Communications Director her witness to a lot of things that happened in the White House including controversies with the firing of FBI Director James Comey as well as how the Trump -- the White House helped in the crafting of that statement after it was revealed that Donald Trump Jr. met with the Russians at Trump Tower. In addition to everything that happened during the campaign season, well, today, that appearance was delayed. After the committee pulled the plug amid questions about whether or not she would essentially do what Steve Bannon, the Chief -- former Chief Strategist of the White House did earlier this week. And not answer questions about the transition and not answer questions about their time in the White House, that's exactly what Bannon did earlier this week.

Now, the question is exactly why Bannon did that. According to a letter that his Attorney sent to the committee leaders, Wolf, he says very explicitly, the Attorney says that the White House did not authorize Bannon to talk about his time after the campaign season because it could implicate executive privilege concerns. Well, last night, John Kelly, the Chief of Staff of the White House, said something a little bit different, saying -- suggesting that executive privilege was not the reason why Steve Bannon did not talk to the committee and answer their questions. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon testified yesterday, didn't answer a lot of questions, refused to answer some before the House Intel Committee. Did the White House tell him to invoke executive privilege?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

BAIER: No?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve has had very, very little contact with the White House since he left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: But, again, Wolf, the attorney of Steve Bannon said in this letter on multiple occasions, they have been in communication with the White House, they did not authorize him to speak about these key issues. And when I had the chance to talk Mike Conaway who's the Republican running the House Russia investigation, I asked him about why Steve Bannon did not answer these questions, whether or not the White House was involved. This is what-- this is what Conaway said: (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Last night, General Kelly said that the White House did not instruct Bannon to invoke executive privilege. They said that there was very little communications with Bannon. Is that your understanding after sitting down with him in that -- for 10 hours?

REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R-TX), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: All I know is, he would not answer the questions over a certain timeframe that we have legitimate questions for, and that's where he's going to comply with the subpoena to compel him to answer those questions.

RAJU: And the reason for him not complying was because the White House told him not to?

CONAWAY: Well, unless you guys heard that after yourself, all I know he didn't answer the question and we expect our subpoena to be complied with, and we're working with his lawyers to make that happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MONO: And, Wolf, Conaway later told me that they would not limit their questions when Bannon does return later this month before the committee. He said that he still expect him to answer those questions in the transition in the White House. We'll see if Bannon and the White House agree, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Manu, thanks very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. The breaking news in the House Intelligence Committee has delayed its interview with Hope Hicks, the top aide to the President. But it's just released earlier testimony about that infamous Russia- Trump dossier. We're back with a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman, Jim Himes, of Connecticut. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So, you just heard the intelligence committee just released the transcripts, testimony by the Fusion GPS Co-founder Glenn Simpson confirmed behind the Trump-Russia dossier. Adam Schiff, your colleague, the top democrat on the committee, in a statement, he says that Simpson's testimony potentially reveals serious allegations of Trump organization may have engaged in money laundering with Russian nationals." And then goes on to say, that laundering-- that money laundering, it would be with the knowledge or approval of the Kremlin, and that potentially could constitute powerful leverage over the President of the United States. Steve Bannon in the interview with the author of the "Fire And Fury," that new book, Michael Wolff, he also spoke about money laundering. Tell us about this.

HIMES: Well, Wolf, I want to be a little careful about exactly how I characterize it. Look, what happened today was the committee voted at -- because Glenn Simpson requested that this happened, voted to release the transcript to these testimony, so what you're -- what you're -- what you're telling people about and what people can go now and see for themselves are some things that Glenn Simpson said. [17:45:00] Now, Glenn Simpson is a former Wall Street Journal

reporter, he's done a lot of work on financial crime, he's done a lot of work on topics of money laundering, and I guess I would characterize the way he said it to the committee as something that he suggested should be looked into. So, again, I think we got to be -- particularly, those of us who were on the committee, careful about not letting the story get bigger than it is. It's a transcript that is now available for people to read. It will give you a feel for the kinds of things that are being done in this investigation. And, look, people can form their own conclusions based on what they see in the --

BLITZER: Well, how serious are these allegations of money laundering by the Trump organization with Russia?

HIMES: Well, let's be clear, they're just that. They're Glenn Simpson's opinion, they are allegations, they are suggestions. That is not a verdict. Obviously, there are -- they are -- if there's any truth to them, they would be very, very serious. Not likely, Wolf, to be something that the Congressional investigations would uncover. We don't have the resources or the expertise to pursue that kind of thing. I would just assume that since that would sort of point to the criminal realm, that this might be -- and I do say might be because I don't know -- one of the topics that might be of interest in the Special Counsel Bob Mueller.

BLITZER: Yes, Steve Bannon also spoke about potential money laundering allegations in that new book and the interview with the author, Michael Wolff. Did he provide Glenn Simpson any evidence to you of money laundering by the Trump organization?

HIMES: He did not provide evidence. And I think that's an important point. He made allegations that, again, the public can now read, and those are precisely what they are, allegations. They're very serious allegations. And again, not once that this investigative committee probably has the resources to pursue, but one would hope or assume that if there is anything to those allegations, that those who live in the criminal realm, that is to say the Special Counsel Bob Mueller, would be doing the investigation of those allegations if he feels that there's reason to do so.

BLITZER: As you know, your committee released the transcript unanimously, Democrats and Republicans. Why did the committee find it so important to make this document public?

HIMES: Well, again, it was requested by Glenn Simpson, and there had been a lot of speculation, there had been a lot of press reports about what was in that testimony. So, at the request of Glenn Simpson, the committee voted to do so. This is not unprecedented, right? An arrangement was made with Carter Page to release that testimony; with Mr. Prince, an arrangements was made in advance to release that testimony. Generally speaking, the committee is not going to do that, but when there are extenuating circumstances, when there is an agreement or when there is a compelling reason to do so, the committee might do it.

BLITZER: Congressman Himes, thanks so much for joining us. I know you guys got a lot of work to do on this investigation. Appreciate it very much.

HIMES: Yes, thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, a sophisticated Russian spy ship is on a course towards the United States, the east coast of the United States. How close will it get? And what are the Russians up to?

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[17:52:22] BLITZER: Tonight, the U.S. military is watching out for a Russian spy ship that appears to be on a very suspicious course. Let's bring in Brian Todd. Brian, where is this spy ship now and where may it be heading?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the last sighting we were told about by a U.S. official had this Russian spy vessel, the Viktor Leonov near the Dominican Republic, but it appeared to be moving north at a rapid pace. Tonight, U.S. military officials are tracking the Leonov's coordinates because there are so many potential American intelligence targets in its path.

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TODD: Tonight, a sophisticated Russian spy ship is making its way toward America's east coast. A U.S. military official tells CNN the ship named Victor Leonov was seen leaving Trinidad and Tobago in recent days and was last spotted near the Dominican Republic.

MICHAEL KOFMAN, RUSSIAN MILITARY EXPERT, CAN: Russian intelligence- gathering ships don't come around for (INAUDIBLE) as their flag waving.

TODD: A U.S. official says the Russian spy vessel has lurked along the east coast of the U.S. before, passing sensitive Navy installations, like Cape Canaveral, which handles underwater operations; King's Bay, Georgia, home to nuclear ballistic missile submarines; Norco, the world's largest naval complex; and New London, Connecticut, another major submarine base.

What kind of intelligence would the Leonov like be after this time?

KOFMAN: So, the Leonov probably will hunt around for signals, intelligence, what communication they're going to intercept (INAUDIBLE) whatever it can get its hands on in terms of various emissions and will try to track or pick up signatures below surface of U.S. submarines. And more than likely, the U.S. military, the U.S. Navy will respond to it, and the ship will, of course, be looking to see what additional data it can gather from the various ships or aircraft the United States Navy sends in order to shadow it.

TODD: The Leonov's deployment comes as Vladimir Putin's naval and air forces have recently ramped up their operations around the world with provocative moves. Russian fighter jets buzzing American warships. Its ships steaming through the English Channel near Britain, and Russian vessels have even been spying on undersea internet cables. KOFMAN: And the reason why they want the map of it so that in future conflicts or crisis, they actually have the opportunity if they can to attack it, destroy it or otherwise tamper it.

TODD: A dangerous game that has observers concerned tonight about a hunt for Red October style confrontation at sea. If a ship captain or a pilot miscalculates and fires on an adversary. What does Vladimir Putin get out of this game?

MICHAEL KIMMAGE, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT ADVISER: It's a way in which Russia can really create fear. And perhaps it sees in that fear a kind of leverage. One doesn't have the leverage that's there in a normal diplomatic relationship, so this is the kind of leverage that Russia may be seeking with this spy ship. And that should be of great concern to the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:55:08] TODD: This is also part of Vladimir Putin's grand strategy, experts say, not only of projecting Russian naval power around the world, but also signaling to his American and NATO adversaries to stay away from his turf. Those naval bases in the Baltic and Black Seas, the Pacific, and in the Arctic Ocean, that the Russians value so much. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, there are indications that U.S. vessels routinely spy on those installations. Is that right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. In fact, some of the confrontations that Russian ships and planes have had with American warships and fighter jets have been in those very regions, especially in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. The Russians seem to get very jittery when American forces are in that area. And they make very provocative maneuvers.

BLITZER: Potentially, a very, very dangerous situation. All right, Brian, thanks very much. Coming up, our breaking news, the hours are slipping away as lawmakers scramble to prevent a government shutdown tomorrow night, but there are signs of deadlock right now up on Capitol Hill, where the President's mixed messages have only added to the confusion.

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news: deadline looming, the clock is ticking. And tonight, lawmakers may be voting on a bill to prevent a crippling government shutdown before the money runs out. We're tracking uncertainty about the vote count and where the president stands.