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AT THIS HOUR

Sources: Kelly Aware For Months Of Porter Abuse Claims; Senate And House Vote On Massive Spending Deal; Soon: Paul Ryan Speaks Ahead Of Major Budget Vote. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 8, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell us so far Luca is sleeping. We'll see how long that lasts. Giant hugs and kisses, congratulations to you all.

That's it for me. I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" starts now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. We have two major stories brewing in Washington right now. One on Capitol Hill, where Congress is expected to vote today on a giant budget deal that would keep the federal government running, but would also add billions, hundreds of billions of dollars in spending. All eyes are on the House. Are the votes going to be there?

And we'll get an update from the House speaker himself, Paul Ryan will appear before reporters later this hour.

Now, the other major story invokes that classic Washington question of what did he know and when did he know it? One of President Trump's top aides, Rob Porter, a key member of his inner circle, resigning after two of his ex-wives claim he physically and emotionally abused them.

Porter expected to be out the door for good by today. But the story is not going to end there. There is now a lot of criticism being aimed at Chief of Staff John Kelly. CNN learning that he knew about the allegations for months, but apparently let them slide, even praised Porter's honor and integrity as he put it, until the disturbing pictures came out.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins has the latest on the story from the White House. So, Kaitlan, walk us through the scramble inside of the west wing to defend Porter as these claims became public.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, scramble is the right way to put it. The White House is still scrambling today over how to contain the fallout of these allegations, and who knew what when.

Now the focus is shifting from Porter himself specifically because though the White House initially said he was going to stay on to ensure a smooth transition, we are now told that he could be out of the White House as early as today. But now the focus is shifting to what senior administration officials knew about these detailed allegations against him, because we have learned that not only did senior administration officials know in detail about these allegations last fall, we're also learning that the Chief of Staff john Kelly was aware of the allegations made against Porter as well.

Though, we are in the sure exactly what Kelly knew. But one thing is certain, even though these allegations were known to White House officials last fall, Rob Porter's stock here in the White House continued to rise.

And it is pretty much a given statement that the White House could not have handled the situation in a worse way here, Brianna, because not only were several officials coming out and defending Porter after these reports yesterday, the chief of staff specifically put out a statement where he said that he can't say enough good things about Porter.

Now, after there were several reports of backlash against those -- that statement from John Kelly, he later put out a different statement saying, quote, "I was shocked by the new allegations made against Rob Porter."

But John Kelly's role in all of this is really coming under a microscope here, Brianna, because he's the one who runs the west wing and it's not just this Porter situation. Several other things he's done lately have really come under a microscope to what his beliefs are, how he's running this west wing.

Not only the fallout from the Porter allegations and what he knew, but also his suggestion the other day that those who did not apply to become DACA recipients were lazy, and then his other things, he was saying the defending Trump's comments about the slain family in Niger after that soldier was killed.

There's also whatever he said to the civil war was due to a lack of compromise. So, a lot of focus from Rob Porter to John Kelly, what he knew, how he's running things in the west wing. That's where the focus is now -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

Now to the latest budget drama, Senate leaders reaching a two-year deal and now all eyes are on the House. I want to go to CNN Sunlen Serfaty for this very important day of voting on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, tell us where things stand right now.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, things up here on Capitol Hill are on track to get this wrapped up tonight to avoid a shutdown before midnight. But certainly, there are many steps that have to take place up here on the Hill today to make that happen in the end.

The Senate will go first on this massive bipartisan two-year budget bill. They likely will vote on it in the early afternoon. We don't have a time certain for that yet. That then kicks it over to the House.

And that's where as we have been talking in the last 24 hours, the bill faces a steeper climb, a lot of opposition from two main groups. You have House Democrats who are unhappy that this bill did not include a DACA fix.

And they have been pushing to get more assurances from the House speaker that he will hold a debate and a vote over DACA in the future, similar to how the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did over here on the Senate.

Also, you have House conservatives, a lot of deficit hawks who were unhappy with the adds that this bill does to the deficit, substantial adds to the deficit. That said, there is a feeling among House leadership this morning that they will be able to get there, certainly some confident tone struck by the House speaker this morning when he appeared on a radio show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:05:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have the votes in the House of Representatives to pass what looks like a done deal in the Senate?

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER (via telephone): I think we will. I feel good. Part of it depends on the Democrats. This is a bipartisan bill and it's going to need bipartisan support. We are going to deliver our share of support. I feel very good about Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Speaker Ryan saying he's confident that the Republicans will deliver their share of the votes. Of course, the House speaker has to face this task of calling together not only House Republicans but enough House Democrats to pass this through that.

The feeling up here and what aides are telling our team up here, Brianna, is that it looks very good for that vote to happen and for it to potentially get passed later today. Nothing is final until it is final up here.

KEILAR: That is right. Until the last member of Congress sings. Sunlen Serfaty on the Hill, thank you so much.

Joining me now is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry. Sir, thank you so much for being with us.

REPRESENTATIVE MAC THORNBERRY (R-TX), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: You bet. Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: OK. So, on this budget deal, when we listen to how you have talked about this, you really framed it as a choice, a clear choice, telling fellow Republicans who might be concerned about voting for a bill that increases deficit spending. You've said this, if you vote yes, you are voting to fix the military. If you vote no, you are voting against fixing the military and for the families of those 80 service members who we lost last year. It is that simple. I do want you to listen to what the head of the House Freedom Caucus said on CNN this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), FREEDOM CAUCUS MEMBER: We have got to figure a way to not only fund our military, but we have gotten to a point, Chris, where, you know, we hold our military men and women hostage. So, we have got to figure a way to correct that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So, that's Mark Meadows of the House Freedom Caucus. What is your response to him?

THORNBERRY: I think he's exactly right. The reason this is so late is because too many people have been trying to hold military hostage, and nearly everybody agrees. We got to do better by the military. But unfortunately, you've had some Republicans say, well, we don't want to increase spending unless we cut spending elsewhere.

Democrats say, well, I don't want to increase military spending unless we increase other spending and then you had the immigration issue. So, the military has become a political football while it is the first job of the federal government.

So, funding the military on its own is absolutely what we should do. But -- while we're trying to figure out how to do that, we have got to fix our planes, fix our ships, fix the training that has been deficient for too long.

KEILAR: But it is not just about fixing ships and fixing planes and keeping the military where it has been, right? This is also about funding a military that has an increased commitment to fight ISIS.

It has -- is going to continue to have a more permanent presence in the Middle East as well as other places to take on ISIS. We're talking about money for readiness to take on North Korea if need be. So, it isn't just about fixing these things that are broke or have fallen into disrepair, this is about expanding the military, right?

THORNBERRY: Well, you're right. It is about both. But don't neglect the human cost that comes from inadequate funding for the military. For example, we lost a lot of sailors a few months ago in Asia, part of the reason was some of those sailors were working 100 hours a week, some of them did not even know how to work the console in front of them.

So, to fix that problem, you need not only more training and readiness, but you need more sailors. So, they don't have to work 100 hours a week. We do have to increase the military. We do have to prepare for Russia, China, cyber, outer space. But we also have to have planes that fly and ships that sail and training that fits the mission.

KEILAR: Do you think there should be, though, especially, you know, a lot of Americans don't necessarily know about this expansion. Do you think that this needs to be part of a more open and honest discussion about the role of the military when you're talking about, you know, billions, hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money, instead of just making this part of a budget deal where maybe a lot of Americans don't really have an idea what is going on here?

THORNBERRY: Well, yes, I think you're right about that. For example, earlier this week, we had a hearing with secretary of defense, where he talked about the strategic situation we're in and all of the many challenges that are facing us at the same time.

But we have been working on this for a while, and if you look at the votes, when -- on the authorization bills, overwhelming numbers of Republicans and Democrats and both the House and the Senate supported funding at exactly these levels.

[11:10:09] Now, it is just the appropriation that writes the check to go with it. So, we have been talking about this for months. It just has been this political hostage taking that has made it take so long.

KEILAR: When you look at tax -- this idea of tax cuts, plus spending, which is what this is, this bipartisan budget deal is a lot of spending. It equals deficits and that's something that hurt your party under George W. Bush.

It really -- the GOP shrugged off the mantle of fiscal conservatism and that hurt the brand to bad political effect on your party. The tax cuts that you all just voted for added a trillion dollars to the deficit over ten years.

This budget deal adds about $300 billion over the next two years. How is this Republicans -- how is this not Republicans repeating an historic mistake? How is this different?

THORNBERRY: Well, it goes back to your earlier point. We need to make sure people know facts and the fact is the whole defense budget is 15 percent of the federal budget, 70 percent of the federal budget is entitlements and interest payments. So, debt is growing.

The sequestration law has not slowed that down. But what has happened is that military funding is about 20 percent lower today than it was eight years ago. And as military funding was cut, the world grew more dangerous and accident rates have been going up. So, we got to do first things first.

We got to defend the country, 15 percent isn't much to do that, so we got to make sure we take care of that, and then turn to make sure we deal with the debt situation, which means we got to focus on that 70 percent of the budget that is not affected in this bill.

KEILAR: I wonder where I see entitlement reform on the horizon here, sir. I want to change topics and ask you about the firing, the resignation, I should say, of the White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter.

CNN has reported that Chief of Staff John Kelly knew about allegations of domestic abuse, that had been made against Porter by his ex-wives since the fall. All the way back to the fall. But they kept Porter in the job. Kelly was seeing him as a very integral part of his team. He got more responsibility. What is your response to that?

THORNBERRY: I have no information about any of that. I don't know what General Kelly or anybody else knew. Obviously, if there is a history of abuse, somebody out to be removed from their position. I don't have any more information than that.

KEILAR: Well, he did know about it. So, if he didn't --

THORNBERRY: I don't know that and so obviously that's a question that needs to go to him.

KEILAR: You haven't -- there is many, many reports. He knew about it.

THORNBERRY: No, look, I'm focused on trying to fix our planes and ships and do the right thing by the military. I know you all cover a whole lot of issues, but the -- I am very laser focused to do the right thing by the men and women who are risking their lives for us.

KEILAR: All right, I want to -- Democrats, they're not going to let this go, though. So, this is something that then does become an issue for Congressional Republicans and for the White House as you guys are trying to focus on something else, as I just heard you very clearly say, especially after Kelly, the chief of staff, was on the Hill, talking about DREAMers, undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. and he called them lazy. Here's what Senator Jon Tester said about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JON TESTER (D), MONTANA: If John Kelly is covering this up, he needs to be held accountable. If he has to justify what he did, why he did it, he better have a good reason. Otherwise he's gone too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So, I hear you saying that, Congressman, you want to get things done. You don't want distractions as you try to get things done. In that light, is something like this -- is the chief of staff a liability for the president in trying to get stuff done?

THORNBERRY: Look, I have known of General Kelly in his military career. I have tremendous respect for him. I have no idea what he knew or didn't know and I'm not going to presume any of those answers, even Senator Tester just said if.

So, I know that there will be a lot of speculation back and forth, related to various people in the White House, but you are exactly right. If you are a soldier on a mountaintop in Afghanistan right now or standing near the demilitarized zone in South Korea, you are not concerned about the to'ing and fro'ing of all of these politics.

You're concerned about whether your equipment works, whether you're going to get paid, whether the government is going to shut down and those things. We need to take care of essential business first.

[11:15:01] KEILAR: Well, speaking of military equipment, I want to ask you about this idea of a military parade because you had told the Hill that you didn't, quote, "know that it is necessary." This is something that is already -- the president's request, going into effect by the Pentagon. What do you mean by that?

THORNBERRY: I was asked a very direct question, is this necessary? And my answer was, it is not necessary. Generally, whatever we do to honor and express appreciation for the men and women who serve in the military, I'm for.

But the best way to do it is what we were just talking about, making sure that the equipment and the training they have is the very best that our country can offer. That is what is most important.

And, again, I think for us, in Congress, under the Constitution, that is our job to build and support, provide and maintain the military forces of the United States. We need to do that.

KEILAR: So, if you're looking at -- because we know it would be a pretty big price tag for a parade. You would rather see that money going towards equipment, preparedness, this expanded role in making sure that it is funded.

THORNBERRY: I think we got to do first things first and the first thing is to make sure our military is adequately supported. No question about that. Now, I think General Mattis, Secretary Mattis said he would send some 2options to the White House on the other deal. I don't know what those are. But what I do know is we need to pass this bill today to get the military equipment in the shape it should be in.

KEILAR: Congressman Mac Thornberry, thank you so much for taking the time with us today. We appreciate it.

THORNBERRY: You're welcome.

KEILAR: Coming up, where do the Democrats stand on this budget deal? Do they stand with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who just delivered that record breaking speech on the House floor in a push to win concessions for DREAMEers? We are live with one of the top Democrats in Congress.

Plus, the Wall Street roller coaster continues. The Dow down triple digits right now. We're keeping an eye on the markets.

And take a look at this. It is parade day in Philadelphia as the city marks its first ever Super Bowl championship. The festivities starting just moments ago. Organizers say they prepared for as many as 2 million people to come out for the Eagles. We'll be right back.

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[11:21:29]

KEILAR: House Speaker Paul Ryan says he thinks he has the votes for a massive new budget funding the government for two years. But where does that leave a vote on an immigration bill with a path to citizenship for DREAMers that was a priority for Democrats during the last government shutdown.

I'm joined now by Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley of New York. He is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. Sir, it is great to have you.

REPRESENTATIVE JOE CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: Thank, Brianna. Good to be with you.

KEILAR: OK. So, you, will you just individually be a yes on this budget deal? Have you decided?

CROWLEY: I have decided. I will not support this bill. It does not meet the goals that I set forward for the American people, for my constituency, and I've decided I cannot support this bill.

KEILAR: Where does the caucus stand on this. Are you guys whipping votes?

CROWLEY: Well, our side is not fully whipping on this. I am talking to my colleagues about my position and why I feel strongly about the position. I think this process is broken. I think that this is no way to run a government.

And we're ballooning this debt, we're in the paying for it. The national debt is growing after the tax cut that will increase it by another 300 plus billion dollars over the next two years without paying for it.

And I think the American people are demanding that this government start to act like a government with a budget that is passed on a yearly basis and stop these continuous CRs.

KEILAR: Is that something -- do you know, that many Democrats share your sentiment? Is that something when you say you are talking to members of the caucus? Are you instructing them? Are you lobbying them to share your sentiment?

CROWLEY: I'm having conversations with them about why I feel this way and, yes, there is disappointment by many of us. In fact, the entire Democratic caucus, there is no path to citizenship for the DACA individuals.

Almost 800,000 people who are now against -- left in a state of limbo by Paul Ryan and the Republican caucus. Paul Ryan says he wants a deal, but refuses to put a clean Dream Act on the floor or a clean DACA bill on the floor.

And you know, I think the American people are very clear over 80 percent of the American people want to see this resolved and once again, they are failing the American people.

KEILAR: The House minority leader, Speaker Pelosi, who went to the floor yesterday with a long speech, actually just said something that I want to play about what she hopes the speaker will do, which is give some sort of assurances about a DACA vote. Let's listen to this.

We don't have it. OK. But she basically said that there are priorities in the bill that she has an unease with it, wants a vote like Mitch McConnell has guaranteed. This is part of the reason why she was on the floor yesterday.

If we can listen to part of that speech. I'm so sorry. This is -- I keep tossing to sound we don't have, but you listened to it. I doubt you listened to all eight hours of it, but I know you know the gist. What did she end up really accomplishing in those eight hours? 2 CROWLEY: I think what she ended up accomplishing is showing the passion that not only she brings to this, but I think Democrats have for these individuals, from a moral standpoint. We think it is a moral outrage that these individuals who are cultural Americans, they don't know the country of their origin.

They haven't been there since childhood or birth and it really is a moral outrage we're threatening to send these cultural Americans back. It is an economic issue as well. The president wants to curtail legal immigration, not just about the DREAMers or the DACA recipients.

[11:25:03] It is about legal immigration he's trying to curtail as well. Our country continues to grow. We need more immigrants in our nation. We don't want to become Japan, closed off to the world, and we're going -- no harder worker than any other American.

They want to contribute to this nation, contribute mightily, and they are incentivized to do that. They catch what Nancy Pelosi was speaking to yesterday.

KEILAR: I want to listen to something that the former Vice President Joe Biden said about what Democrats should be willing to do to get protections for DREAMers. He said this exclusively to CNN's Chris Cuomo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE PHILLIPINES: If you had a wall that provided us security that wasn't just an absolute waste of money, meaning national technical means to protect it and all these kids had a path to citizenship, I would be inclined to do that.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You would give Trump the political victory in order to get the DREAMer deal done.

BIDEN: I don't care about his political victory. I don't -- that's not how I view politics, whether or not it is a personal victory or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Congressman, I mean, he's not a member of Congress right now. So, you may have some considerations. He does not, but would you take his advice on that?

CROWLEY: I rejected the notion of a physical barrier, a physical wall itself, but I heard what the vice president said. He said technological advancements have been made. No question, I think the Hurd/Aguilar bill talks about more resources, a study to be done of -- about the border, both the northern border and the southern border, as well as the use of technological advancements to create a virtual barrier.

That is something we can certainly talk about, we'll continue to talk about. I don't care about the president's political promises either. I think the president needs to realize political promises don't always come true. You have to be straight with the American people. There is no value to building a wall. You can't live in it. You can't drive on it.

KEILAR: But he promised it and he was elected -- sorry to interrupt you. As many people will say, elections have consequences, you're looking at a -- you're looking at Congress controlled by Republicans in a White House controlled by President Trump. I mean, isn't that -- was that a sign to you that perhaps this is something that a large chunk of people, enthusiastically want?

CROWLEY: The Republican caucus could put a bill on the floor tomorrow to call for the creation of the wall. They haven't done that. They won't do it. They don't have the support of their own caucus to do that. That's their responsibility.

If the president is so bent on his political promise, talk to Republican colleagues and make him do it. It is not my political promise. I have my own political promise, I'm elected as well, and one is to not support a physical barrier, like the president is talking about.

KEILAR: Congressman Crowley, thank you so much for being with us.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

KEILAR: Congressman Joe Crowley. Moments from now, House Speaker Paul Ryan will speak live from capitol hill and this is coming as he claims to have the votes to avoid a government shutdown. We will bring that to you live as you can see it is about to get under way there.

Plus, the Dow falling from where we just saw it moments ago. It is down more than 400 points. Stay with CNN.

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