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GOP Senators Introduce Version of Trump Immigration Plan; Is Trump's Infrastructure Plan Feasible; NYT: Trump Partly to Blame for Deadly Flu Season; Democrats Work to Release Memo. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 12, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:01] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The fate of DREAMers is taking center stage on Capitol Hill. Senators are set to begin a rare open-ended debate on immigration. A group of Republican Senators has released a bill and it closely resembles President Trump's proposal. Competing proposals will be introduced this week.

And CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill with the details -- Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianne, this is the first day of what will likely be a very lengthy process, could take a few weeks to debate this. And where honestly the end result at this point is just not certain. Later tonight, here in the Senate, we'll see them vote on a motion to proceed to the immigration debate. This essentially means that Senators are going to vote to open up debate. From there, it will pass. This will officially kick off the debate.

And as you said, what is notable about this is that it is going to be an open-ended process, where both sides are able to introduce their proposals. They'll certainly be many competing proposals for them to vote on. And one of those over the weekend by a group of conservative Republican Senators pushed for the White House framework for what they want to see in this immigration bill. Among them, a pathway to citizenship for the 1.8 million eligible immigrants, more than 800,000 of them who are registered for DACA, $25 billion in border security. The plan, though, has cuts to family migration and ends the diversity visa lottery. And for those two points, that is why many Democrats are against this proposal.

Again, 60 votes needed in the Senate to get anything through. And that's just half the battle. Over in the Senate, the path over in the House is just not certain -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Sunlen Serfaty, on the Hill, thank you so much.

I want to discuss this with my panel, Brian Lanza, a CNN political commentator and former communications director for President Trump' transition team, Mary Katharine Hamm with us, a CNN political commentator and senior writer at "The Federalist," and A. Scott Bolden, former D.C. Democratic chairman and chair of the National Bar Association PAC.

So, well, first off, I'm always a fan of seeing how the sausage is made over there in the Senate. They're going to let us see how it all goes down, which is never pretty I think for a lot of people. But --


KEILAR: Certainly, satisfies some curiosity, I will say.

You heard Sunlen laying out the difficulty of threading this really two different needles. What is the endgame when talking about the Senate, where Democrats have some say and the House where Democrats are outnumbered?

MARY KATHARINE HAMM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure. They made a decision, they made a promise they would have this debate. The debate is helpful to have people on record on what they actually think on immigration. Because the DREAMer kids are -- that's very popular. And doing something about that is very popular. There are other parts that Democrats do not like, like border security, that are also very popular. It is interesting to see everybody put their names on these things. I think there is a deal to be made here with the DREAMers plus. I think you can make that deal in a functional environment, but do we have a functional environment to make that deal? I don't -- I'm not sure.

KEILAR: Scott, what do you think? If you're Chuck Schumer, what are you looking -- you're looking at the popular provisions and saying, what?

A SCOTT BOLDEN, CHAIR, NATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION PAC & FORMER D.C. DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN: I've got the hard left on my side, that is looking at Chuck Schumer, if you will. I can get back to border security, maybe even the wall. I want to protect DACA, but I can't protect my flank if I'm Chuck Schumer if I agree with ending family migration and the family lottery. Because no one has really said a race neutral reason for why those two elements have to be in there. Because you talk about black people and Brown people and you really can't get around that part. That's going to be a problem for the Democrats and it is Donald Trump who lumped all this together. Here is an idea. Why don't you do DACA separately and then do the other four in some type of separate bill. Because moderate Republicans and Democrats want DACA done. That's a pretty simple idea, pretty simple for them to do.

KEILAR: Makes so much sense. Totally not going to happen.


You don't get to set the agenda because you didn't win.



KEILAR: You realize this last shutdown didn't really work for my folks, right? So but to that point, Brian, because the wild card in all of this is President Trump and he has these four pillars, you know, you have DACA, border security, you have chain migration or family reunification depending on how the two sides say it and visa lottery. Paul Ryan said he doesn't want to pass something that the president is not going to agree to. Is the president willing to budge on these other two pillars?

LANZA: I mean, the president is a negotiator. When you're looking at what the fix is here, it is a broader fix than just DACA and the border wall. You'll never have a long-term discussion about what to do with the 20 million illegals. We're talking about the DACA kids. Now is the opportunity for Republicans, they had in the election, they won on this issue, President Trump won on tough border security, won on tough immigration and ready to have the discussion now. It makes no sense from a leverage standpoint for them to give a little bit like sort of come up with a small little detail and punt to the other stuff on the side because it will never happen, because nothing ever really happens in D.C., unless there is real immense pressure that forces it to happen.

[11:35:24] KEILAR: I want to talk about infrastructure because that's the big thing today.

Mary Katharine, the president's plan, it is to have $200 billion in federal commitment with the idea that then you have state and local governments, private, public partnerships kick in a lot of money. It is really turning on its head how normally infrastructure is done. That one-to-five ratio is the other way, federal dollars go into that. Is that too much wishful thinking for Republicans to have any support for the president's bill considering they just signed tax cuts, they just signed a spending bill that adds $300 billion over two years and extra spending?

HAMM: It is so much fun to spend everyone else's money.


KEILAR: I want to go to the mall too, but on someone else's credit card.


HAMM: This is the problem with dysfunctional Washington, like the swamp is winning here. What it takes to make it move is to just pay everyone off. That's what we're doing here.

KEILAR: Republicans will go -- where are they going to be on this one?

HAMM: The constituency for getting mad about a bill is like Rand Paul and me.


HAMM: There is not actually a constituency upset about infrastructure. I do think we haven't done infrastructure real well in the past, with that preponderance of federal dollars. I'm open to doing it in different ways. But these things are likely to be rife with all sorts of abuse.

KEILAR: What do you think? Democrats -- they don't like this mix of the spending that he's proposing.

BOLDEN: Where are the states going to get it from? Given what you ran down? The states don't have money for this.



BOLDEN: The states don't have the money. The public private partnerships, sometimes they work, but they are very inconsistent. I'm a former chair of the Chamber of Commerce and we have done partnerships like that, but can it be effective, and can you get it done? The Democrats will be looking for jobs, job training, entrepreneurship training and education, so that we can get our -- not only our voters, but the communities of color back to work so that there is a real increase in employment in those communities.

KEILAR: Brian, what do you think?

LANZA: I think you're right, the swamp gets bigger and bigger every day. The add-ons make a simple project cost more, more complicated, but the process is what the process is. You're never going to corral 60 Senators, corral 218 Congressmen to move something unless there is a little self-interest. So it is sort of how the process works, where you're buying off a lot of people, but those people's interests are the constituencies they represent. That's how our system is created. As long as there is transparency and sunlight, and everybody is aware about it, it is fine. You can't have Republicans say they care about debt and they blow it up the way they blow it up. Be consistent, be factual.

BOLDEN: The red states, though, they got a lot of unemployed folks who are big entitlement. This bill itself, if gets them back to work, could work for Republicans and Democrats.

KEILAR: We'll see.

Scott Bolden, Mary Katharine Hamm, thank you. Brian Lanza, thank you.

Coming up, we're still waiting for President Trump to unveil that massive infrastructure plan at any moment now.

Also, a brutal flu season is showing no signs of letting up. My next guest argues that President Trump could help stem this public health crisis by simply telling us anything about his own flu shot.


[11:42:58] KEILAR: This deadly flu season is on track to break recent records and there are many more weeks to go. The CDC reports 63 children have died. There are more than 151,000 confirmed cases. Vaccines and anti-virus drugs are reported in short supply. 60 people out of every 100,000 have been hospitalized. And that is a higher rate than the deadly 2014, 2015 season for the same time period, then 44 people out of every 100,000 were hospitalized and that was a season where the flu killed 56,000 people. My next guest says problems in the White House are responsible for

some of this. In his article for "The New York Times," Donald McNeil says, "President Trump can claim credit for fact that no Americans died in plane crashes in his first year in office, he must also shoulder some blame for this and the connection to the White House is much easier to draw."

Donald McNeil, joining me now.

Sir, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

And the whole point of your article here is that leadership really matters when it comes to combatting the flu. Explain that.

DONALD MCNEIL, SCIENCE & HEALTH REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Leadership matters when it comes to battling disease, the same way leadership matters when you're fighting a war. You expect your generals to be able to be in charge and make the right decisions and to get support from above. And what happened unfortunately with the CDC this year, they had a director that had to resign, above her an HHS director that had to resign and it leads to a lack of political backing from the White House at a time when the country is facing a very serious flu season. And many more Americans are going to die of this than died in Afghanistan or iraq.

KEILAR: It is startling when you're talking about the numbers. And you lay that out very clearly.

So when you have turnover at the HHS, at the CDC, why does that matter? How does that affect this?

[11:45:00] MCNEIL: This is a problem that goes back for years. Health and Human Services is a fairly political agency and oversee the CDC and there isn't the kind of good tight relationship there is between the Department of Defense and the Pentagon, say. Their generals feel supported. The CDC, there is a real struggle not to be politically incorrect, not to do things that are going to offend congressional conservatives, not to say the wrong thing, and that's not good for health leadership in this country. You need to have your leaders bold and free to do what they think is the best thing, especially if they're good scientists.

KEILAR: So one statistic, you highlight a number of them. And they're also interesting. One is, you say, look, in any given year, about 40 percent of Americans get the flu. They get the flu shot by November each year, that's inadequate. You talk about a slight drop going into this flu season. And then if you look specifically at a certain cohort and Hispanic adults, you're looking at 8:00 percent drop. Why is that do you think?

MCNEIL: I asked and don't know. I wondered if maybe because of, you know, President Trump's hostility to Spanish language and Hispanics, maybe a cut back in Spanish language ads, maybe some, you know, cutback in the number of mobile flu clinics. But the CDC said, no, they don't know the reason. So I didn't try to put in.


MCNEIL: But the fact is that getting flu shots by November, which is when it matters, has been slowly declining over the years. And that's been a problem. This is --

KEILAR: What --

MCNEIL: It is an imperfect vaccine, but it is a whole lot better than nothing.

KEILAR: What does the president need to do?

MCNEIL: It would be nice if he told the truth about whether he gets flu shots or doesn't get flu shots. I realize that's a pretty low bar to reach, but he boasted in a radio interview in 2015 that he never had gotten the flu shot. He's never addressed it since, as far as I know. The White House physician who gave him the physical, where everybody concentrated on the mental health, nobody commented. I assume he's had one. I assume maybe he's given up his paranoia about the vaccines and maybe he ought to step forward and say, you know, I got one, it's protecting me. He's in the high-risk cohort. He's elderly and overweight by CDC standards and that's, you know, elderly with underlying morbidity is the most likely to sicken and die in this epidemic. Others could learn from his example if he would get up and speak about it.

KEILAR: Donald McNeil, thank you very much. We really appreciate it.

And up next, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are moving forward on a new plan to try and get their memo released after President Trump refused to declassify it last Friday. We'll have those details ahead.


[11:51:25] The political ping-pong is serving up a big week for the House. Adam Schiff is getting ready to sit down and talk about redacted materials. On Friday, the White House blocked the memo. President Trump tweeting, "It's very political and long."

It's the response to Devin Nunes' memo which suggests abuses of the Democratic campaign, but the Democrats are pushing back saying their version shows a different story.

For more, we're going to our CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, where does this fight go now?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, the next step on this is for the top Democratic representative on the committee, Adam Schiff, to meet with the FBI to hear about its concerns about the memo. Schiff is promising to listen to the FBI, and then redact whatever the FBI suggests to protect those sources and methods.

It was Friday when the president decided not to declassify the Democrats' memo. In a letter that was sent, he said it's significant concerns for national security and law enforcement if it was released. But the president, he did also leave the door wide open. The White House counsel in that letter said the president may be inclined to declassify the memo if the committee works with the Justice Department and the FBI to address some of the concerns in the memo.

But despite all that, Democrats are crying foul over that promise, saying that the FBI had expressed grave concerns before the release of the Republican memo, but of course, the White House released it, anyway.


REP. JIM HIMES, (D), CONNECTICUT: We're being careful here. You know, we don't want to establish -- we're uncomfortable with the establishment of a precedent where, for political reasons, and this is what happened with the Nunes memo, for political reasons classified information gets out there. Remember, the White House overrode the objections of the FBI the first time around. We're going to say, hey, we don't want to be political, we want the rebuttal out there. But we do want to listen to the FBI, something the president did not afford the FBI when the Nunes memo was released.


SCHNEIDER: There is still a chance the committee and the full House could vote to override the White House, declassify the memo, anyway, but sources say that route is unlikely, and Democrats are unlike to push for a vote until Adam Schiff meets with the FBI, maybe issues some redactions. But we're still waiting to hear when Adam Schiff meets with the FBI -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for that report.

So where do we go from here now?

Joining me to discuss, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Michael Zeldin.

Michael, just explain to us how this process of redacting would work. Does the FBI highlight specific passages, is it a give and take? What is it?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The FBI starts by saying, these are the passages about which we have concerns. That creates a discussion. Then they try to reach compromise. It may be the FBI is being overly cautious and could pull back a little from its caution, but that's the nature of it. And then hopefully they reach agreement. They determine this is a memo that now doesn't interfere with the national security interests or law enforcement interests, and then it can go to the president and the president can determine whether it's now suitable for release.

KEILAR: The Republican memo, which is already out and was not redacted, alleges surveillance abuses by the FBI. This memo, the Democratic memo, Democrats say paints the whole picture, but what you would expect is that it actually gives a little cover to the FBI, which is feeling, I think, pretty stung by that Republican memo. So because of that, how much does the FBI's desire to stick up for itself play into how they're looking at redactions here?

[11:55:13] ZELDIN: Hopefully, it doesn't play a large role. Hopefully, what the FBI is doing is its job and playing it straight and saying, we're looking at the content of the memo and we're determining that this content is good, this content jeopardizes law enforcement and national security interests, and therefore, it's not good, and that it's not sort of self-grandizing or self-protecting. There is a natural instinct to do that. But hopefully, they're playing it straight so when it goes back to the president, they have a clean memo that he has no choice, if you will, if he wants to be transparent, but to release.

KEILAR: Republicans have alleged some FISA abuses, manipulation of the FISA court. After this memo is released, do you think there will be reforms to the FISA process?

ZELDIN: The irony is, of course, just before the Nunes memo was released, a month or so, they had hearings on FISA. They reauthorized Section 702, which was the most controversial part of FISA, warrantless acquisition of information. There were a lot of proposals at that time to modify FIS, to give more protection to FISA, and the same people who came forth with this memorandum were against those reforms. So there's a bit of sort of irony, if you will, if they're now asking for FISA reforms when --


KEILAR: It's almost like it's political, Michael Zeldin.

ZELDIN: I don't like to say those words.

KEILAR: Thank you so much. Appreciate the insight.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Coming up, as we mentioned, President Trump will unveil a huge infrastructure plan any moment now. Stay with us.