Return to Transcripts main page

AT THIS HOUR

Kavanaugh Nomination Advances to Final Floor Vote; Tense Protest Outside Susan Collin's Office in Maine. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 5, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00] MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLILTICAL ANALYST: Now, I suspect Susan Collins already knows how she's going to vote. Susan Collins probably already has her plane ticket booked on Saturday out of Washington, D.C. She certainly is playing with a lot of drama here right now. But there's time, I think, for Democrats to try to persuade no votes.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I want to unpack and underscore something Dana said earlier. We went in today with these four key votes, and now we're really just talking about Flake and Collins to see if they change. Here's why. As Dennis said, it's impossible to imagine Lisa Murkowski at this point having voted no on procedure to vote yes. That would be a very difficult thing to explain, and it would sort of defy logic. Joe Manchin, I think, is in a very similar situation on the Democratic side. And Phil Bredesen, who is the Democratic nominee in Tennessee, to understand the critical cross currents of Democrats in the deep-red states. He's not a Senator, but he put out a statement after not announcing his intentions. Chuck Schumer asked these folks, please, do not say how you're going to vote. Wait until the very end until it's clear. Phil Bredesen came out with a statement saying he was a yes for Kavanaugh. The Ford delegations and testimony gave him pause, but I'm not a sitting Senator and I don't have access to the FBI investigation they have, so I'm still a yes. So if Joe Manchin's yes vote was an indication, this is how a red-state Democrat who wants to get through in a deep-red state goes, you have to be for Kavanaugh, Bredesen sort of followed that lead. It leads me to believe Manchin is totally unlikely to reverse his vote now. That would be a very difficult position for him back home.

That leaves us with Collins and Flake. I will just say, 24 hours ago, we all sat here and we saw -- we started reading tea leaves. They both came out and said this was a full and thorough FBI investigation. Flake also came out and said there was no corroborating information. So he didn't have anything new to go on. Which led us all to believe they were going to be yes votes. I will just say their procedural vote confirms that fact. So I think we will be in such a dramatic surprise moment if either one of them, at this point -- and again, anything could happen -- would reverse their vote. What we see now is sort of fitting the pattern that the tea leaf reading beginning yesterday allowed us to head up.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: What we don't know is, A, if they finally made up their mind, and what are their sort of outstanding questions they have. Who are they talking to? Obviously, we saw Brett Kavanaugh come out with this op-ed and basically say he could be an independent, nonpartisan justice on the Supreme Court. Clearly some sort of lingering questions about that in the wake of his testimony on Thursday.

But I do agree with David. This idea, Manchin is basically already broken with his party. Hard to see him now going back and siding with his party on this in West Virginia, a state he's figured out. It's a red state. He's somebody who has often been independent from the Democratic Party. He didn't back Obama in 2012, for instance. He's come out against big Democratic initiatives and Democratic votes, so hard to see him flipping on that. But my goodness. Collins will be the woman of the hour at 3:00. Talk about someone who can make for a dramatic moment, right? Here she is, on the one hand, voting to proceed and saying wait to see what I have to say at 3:00 p.m. And my goodness, all of us will be waiting to see what she's going to say.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Dana, in order for the final vote tomorrow to be defeated and Kavanaugh not become a United States Supreme Court justice, it's not enough that just Susan Collins flips and changes her vote tomorrow. Jeff Flake has to do the same thing. If it's just Susan Collins, it's a 50/50 tie and the vice president, Mike Pence, he breaks the tie in favor of confirmation. So in order for the defeat of Kavanaugh as a United States Supreme Court justice, both Flake and Collins have to flip. Because it's unlikely Joe Manchin or certainly Lisa Murkowski are going to flip.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Manchin can't be the deciding vote.

BLITZER: Yes.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He doesn't want to be the deciding vote. But he might -- he might not --

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: He wasn't the 50th vote today. He was the 51st.

BASH: Yes. That's right. He was the 51st.

The only thing I will say about the sort of idea of Manchin voting yes now, it's hard to see him switching. That's my instinct. I'm waiting to see if that's the actual case. But he could make the argument, just saying, Manchin could make the argument, what this is, this is -- be careful to use the technical terms -- but it's a procedural vote in order to allow the process to go forward. That's the sort of simplest way to say it. He could make the argument, I didn't want to block him from getting a final vote but I wasn't going to vote for him. He could make that argument. I think at this point it's doubtful, given how much of a political hit he could take for doing that, and how difficult it is to explain. Remember, we were talking about this earlier, this kind of stopped happening in the big way when John Kerry, back in 2004, was for it before he was against it --

(CROSSTALK) BASH: -- which was actually an OK thing to do because he was voted on different votes, but it was impossible for him to explain. We'll see what happens.

But to your point, Wolf, you're right. At this point, it is hard to see, with the math, Kavanaugh not getting approved if you include the tiebreaker. So the question now is the politics and, frankly, the agonizing decision that each of these enormously important players are grappling with.

[11:05:32] HENDERSON: And what do they think of their political futures? Jeff Flake obviously not running again in Arizona because he would likely lose, because he's been so critical of a President Trump. What does he imagine his future to be in the Republican Party if he bucks them? What does that mean for where he goes? He's been talked about as somebody who might run for president. Can you run for president as a Republican if you say no to what has been a Republican dream for decades, to control the Supreme Court?

BLITZER: Let me point out, the president just issued a statement on Twitter: "Very proud of the U.S. Senate for voting yes to advance the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh."

BORGER: Don't forget, though, that Flake voted yes in committee. Flake is a conservative.

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: Flake wants to get to yes here, I would assume. Even if he does decide to run for president, that makes it more likely he would want to get to yes. But he is Hamlet like, and he has been, and he's struggled publicly with this. And so he's hard to predict. But if you were to look at all the data points on that, you know, you would have to come out somewhere like he's a likely yes here, particularly, given what David said before, which is that he came out of that room, that secure room, and said he was comfortable that they had done a thorough investigation. Whereas other people came out and they -- particularly Democrats, said they weren't so thrilled about it.

PRESTON: This moment in time, this micro moment in time that we're analyzing and discussing and really going over and picking apart is so historic in many ways because what we're talking about right now is going to have a lasting impact for generations and generations. Even in the near term, the midterm elections, however this vote turns out is going to energize one of the political parties that will have an impact in November, which will have an impact on the control of Congress, which will have an impact on which legislation moves forward. What we have seen in the Senate is a total deterioration of any kind of comity, not that there has been a lot of comity there, but it has been at an all-time low. What we've seen -

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

PRESTON: Well, you could argue there's been comedy in there as well. But this is point that John Dean made this morning, and I thought to

myself, wow, it was really smart, and of course, really smart. But John Dean said, never have we seen a Supreme Court justice write an op-ed and do a television interview basically campaigning for the job. We know the judiciary in many ways is political. We have done our best to try to keep it depoliticized. We have now seen the judiciary go full-blown politicized now. I think we're, as a nation, and as a government, we're in a lot worse shape right now than we talk about every day.

BORGER: Well, and the op-ed was, if you read it carefully, the op-ed was the justice, the judge one more time saying, you know, I didn't mean how I sounded.

(LAUGHTER)

And he knows that that was the big issue coming out of that was judicial temperament and he had to, he felt, and our White House reporters are saying that was his call, that he felt he had to come out there and explain again why he was so aggressive and why he was so rude, particularly to people like Senator Klobuchar, when she asked him about whether he had ever blacked out from drinking. So he needed to -- he knew that a lot of people were wondering about his temperament, including a former Supreme Court justice yesterday who came out, Justice Stevens.

CHALIAN: He's most concerned about the Senators, I think.

BORGER: Yes. Yes.

CHALIAN: So the White House was fully onboard, our White House team reports, with that op-ed, because I think the vote, the final vote tally was and, quite frankly, still at the moment remains somewhat uncertain. But going -- when they published that op-ed last night, that's because he wasn't done persuading the Senators he needed.

BORGER: Right. Of his bad -- why he gave that performance.

BLITZER: Assuming the votes will be there, whether 50/50, 51/49, tomorrow, a big win for the president of the United States and for the Republicans, just a few weeks before the midterm elections. And when you add the very, very positive economic news today, 3.7 percent unemployment in the month of September, a 49-year low, a 49-year-low, that's pretty dramatic stuff, if you think it's the economy stupid, that voters vote on as well.

[11:10:06] CHALIAN: If you were to design in a laboratory, what could I do as a Republican who is sitting in power four weeks out from the midterm election that could really make my case for me to the American people and get my base really jazzed, you would put a conservative justice on the United States Supreme Court to permanently move the ideology of the Supreme Court for a generation or more. And you would have the lowest unemployment in generations. Those are two pretty good things to do four weeks out from election. There's no doubt. If indeed Kavanaugh gets on the court, this is going to be -- I would be hard pressed to find a different point in the Trump administration that would be as politically successful and potent a moment as this one would be for the president.

BLITZER: Let's go --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes.

Let's go to Jeff Zeleny, our White House correspondent.

Jeff, there are a lot of smiles, I take it, over there at the White House right now?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's no question. And the president, I'm told, was watching the vote right there on the Senate floor just a few moments ago, like everyone else. Most cloture votes are not as dramatic, but the president is in the residence of the White House this hour watching all this unfold.

The White House is still confident of the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, but not certain, of course. Just like everyone else, they do not know how Senator Susan Collins is going to vote this afternoon. The president at this point is largely a bystander in one of the very central processes here.

But speaking with aides and advisers to this president and watching him as he's been out at campaign rallies throughout the week, he intends to make this an issue either way. And there's a school of thought that if Judge Kavanaugh would happen to fail, that is an even bigger midterm election issue, a rallying point for conservatives. But make no mistake, this president, this White House, certainly Leader McConnell, want to get this confirmation through. So at this point, they are feeling confident.

The vice president was here as well watching all this unfold, ready to head up to the Senate at a moment's notice if he was need. He's going to continue on with his schedule, which includes flying to New York City but he will be back this evening, I'm told, if he is needed for a weekend vote to break a tie there.

So we're not expected to hear from the president. He does not have any public events on his schedule. But of course, he will weigh in as he sees things unfolding there.

But there's a sense of relief here in some respects that they're moving forward on this, Wolf, but it's an uncertain outcome. And again, the president largely a bystander at this point, of something that is one of the most pivotal points of his administration so far.

BLITZER: It's one of the most important decisions any U.S. president could make, nominating someone to sit on the United States Supreme Court. It's a lifetime, a lifetime appointment.

Stand by. We're going to get back to you.

Ariane De Vogue is our Supreme Court reporter.

Ariane, you're getting new information about family, supporters of Judge Kavanaugh. They're pretty excited as well.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right, there were supporters in the room, guests of McConnell, and after this, they were hugging and happy, streaming out. They feel like they got over their first hurdle.

Keep in mind, we think that one of the reasons that "Wall Street Journal" op-ed was penned last night by Kavanaugh is he knew some, maybe Collins, maybe Flake, had questions about his judicial temperament, because we have seen two sides of him. The first time we saw him, he was talking about his opinions, he didn't touch politics. The second time, after the allegations, he came out blazing, evoking the Clintons and glaring at the Democratic Senators. He knew some of his people knew that in order to thread the needle here and maybe win back some people who were concerned with his judicial temperament, that he had to put his voice out there in a way of saying don't worry. It's going to be all right.

And one last thing, Wolf, keep in mind, this is a titanic shift we're looking at in the Supreme Court if Kavanaugh is confirmed. He's taking the seat, if it works, to Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was so key on those hot-button issues. Really a big, big moment here.

BLITZER: On several of those hot-button issues during the confirmation hearings, and, Ariane, you covered them very thoroughly for all of us, he really wouldn't spell out where he stands, saying, I don't want to announce my positions in advance since these are the issues that will come before me if I'm a Supreme Court associate justice.

DE VOGUE: Absolutely. Remember, during those 31 hours before these allegations came out, we saw Judge Kavanaugh, the judge, being so careful, saying I'm not going to tell you how I might vote on these particular issues. And back then, that was the focus because everybody was -- his vote, everyone thought, was going to be very close. But it was all based on what he and his jurisprudence would do to shift the court for Donald Trump. So that's why McGahn, who is up there somewhere on the Hill watching this carefully, that's been their goal all along.

[11:15:13] BLITZER: Very significant moment.

Ariane, thank you very much.

Once again, just to recap, 51-49, that was the vote in favor of advancing the confirmation process for Judge Kavanaugh. There will be a final vote at some point tomorrow. There will be extensive debate leading up to the final vote, but 51-49. That obviously is very, very close.

The president, as Jeff Zeleny was pointing out, he was watching it closely, Gloria. I'm sure he's very, very thrilled, and he's going to use this to try to help Republican candidates who are up for election.

BORGER: Right, and our White House reporters are reporting that the president actually was watching this, as one might expect. But we should also make the case that this plays both ways politically. Which is that if the Democrats lose this, this could energize their base, just as much as --

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: But their base is already so energized. They are so on fire, ready to vote against Trump in the midterms. I don't know how much more energized they could get.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESTON: This solidifies this. This solidifies this.

BORGER: This could affect turnout on the Democratic side. More on the Republican side, obviously, because there were more Republicans who were likely to sit on their hands. Yes, more Republicans likely to sit on their hands. And they obviously support Kavanaugh. So you could find that both sides can use this to their advantage.

PRESTON: And can we point out, too, perhaps, could we perhaps see Republicans say, look, the economy is doing really well, we appear to have the Supreme Court right now. Maybe I don't need to come out and vote? Maybe I'm not a true Trump supporter.

BASH: I also think it's interesting just focusing on the midterms for a second that there are several red-state Democrats up for re-election fighting for their political lives. And we don't know what Manchin is going to do at the end, but everybody else voted no.

BORGER: Yes.

BASH: You know, OK. You can take the -- take it the way it should be, which is that they don't think he's qualified or there are other reasons. But on the raw politics of it, I think it's noteworthy that they thought it was OK to defy what the president wants in a state where they want to get re-elected, and the president won by double digits. It's very interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I think -- I mean, just on the politics of it, there has been real concern about depressing that enthusiasm among Democrats. And that is the only negative, because probably for these Democrats, the only way to tip the balance is to hurt themselves with Democrats, not help because --

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: Yes.

HENDERSON: And they obviously felt differently. Heitkamp voted no. She's down 12 points. She's probably sort of making a different calculus than McCaskill is, who is in a very competitive race. Donnelly, in Indiana, in a competitive race as well. I think the Senate is one thing. The House is a completely different thing because you have these districts that Hillary Clinton did really well in. You have suburban white women who are going to be decisive, but we don't know necessarily how suburban white women are going to be energized by this. Perhaps, maybe they'll be turned off by it. It's unclear. We have seen, in obviously some of the polling, that they're moving away from Republicans. But you also see in some of the rhetoric from Judge Kavanaugh, from Donald Trump, saying, listen, think about if this was your husband, think about if this was your son. You wonder how, in the end, they'll come down on this.

CHALIAN: Wolf, I just want to add to the point you're making on the raw politics of this. The difference between a state like Missouri or Indiana, where McCaskill and Donnelly are, and West Virginia, where Joe Manchin is, there's a natural Democratic base in those states of Missouri and Indiana.

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: That doesn't exist in West Virginia. So it's a totally different calculus in that way.

I think you're precisely right, Dana. Had Donnelly or McCaskill -- and we'll see, those are razor thin races so I don't know this is going to be the determinative thing of that. But if they had voted no, there was a real risk at depressing the Democratic base or they voted yes, the real risk of depressing the Democratic base they desperately need in order to win in those states. I think West Virginia politically is so different than the other red states.

BORGER: Can I say something about Heidi Heitkamp? We mentioned her. We all saw the interview she did yesterday. And what struck me about Heitkamp, I mean, she's, what, a dozen points behind. Trump won her state by double digits. She's in real trouble. The easy vote for her politically would, of course, have been to support Kavanaugh. And when she spoke, she said, I didn't see how I could do this, and something to the effect of, and forgive me, I don't have the exact quote, but I couldn't do that given my life experience.

CHALIAN: Yes.

[11:20:04] BORGER: And it was sort of one of the most honest moments I have seen in politics in a long time. She seemed a little teary. She seemed to know that this was going to hurt her tremendously, and she's behind. And yet, she kind of teared up. And there's more to her story, I think, maybe we'll learn it. But it was something you don't often see in politics.

BLITZER: She voted no on the vote to advance this nomination.

We're going to continue our special coverage. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:25:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

The fate of Brett Kavanaugh still too close to call. Just minutes ago, Senate Republicans managed to end debate by a tight margin and send the Supreme Court nomination to a final vote probably tomorrow.

One Republican defected, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski. She was offset, if you will, by red-state Democrat who crossed party lines, West Virginia's Joe Manchin. Up until this morning, that 51-49 majority would be viewed as an assurance that Kavanaugh could get confirmed. But after a week and more of unbelievable twists and turns, don't count the votes until they're cast.

Republican Susan Collins voted in favor of moving forward toward the final vote but underscoring the threat that she could still vote against Kavanaugh possibly. She says she will announce her final decision this afternoon.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill, watching it all, breaking it down.

Manu, watching the Senate floor just now, you could sense that the Senators knew this was a huge moment. But what does this now mean for the final vote?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a remarkable amount of uncertainty here on the Hill. Leaders in both parties flatly do not know what is going to happen to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. All eyes are going to be focused on two Senators in particular, Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, Susan Collins, of Maine.

Because of Collins' decision to make an announcement later today about how she will ultimately vote, a sign that perhaps her vote may not be the same as her vote to advance the nomination to a final vote.

Now, on Joe Manchin's side, the West Virginia Democrat, he's expected to release a statement soon, expressing his position. And an aide to Manchin tells me he often philosophically likes to vote yes on the procedural votes on nominees to move to a final vote, so perhaps the final vote may not be the same.

We expect Lisa Murkowski, she's not made a comment yet. She's been on the floor for the last 20 minutes or so talking to leaders in both parties, but it's hard to see her changing her vote after voting no to block this from proceeding.

And Jeff Flake had announced last week that he was already a yes on confirmation. So it's expected he'll probably still be a yes after he voted to advance the nomination to a final vote.

So that is why the focus intensely on Collins and Manchin and whatever they say ultimately will decide Kavanaugh's fate -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Manu. The math is uncertain. The theater even more unbelievable. And the way you put it all together is pretty remarkable.

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Let me get over to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. She's been in the halls of the capitol where there have been protests throughout the morning. What are you seeing right now?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate. This is the remnants of what was a few moments ago a very tense situation outside the office of Senator Susan Collins. Of course, the Maine Republican, such a key voice here. We did just see her vote yes to advance Brett Kavanaugh's nomination, but still a big unknown how she will vote on the final confirmation. We know she's going to announce that at 3:p.m. today.

And that certainly elevated the tensions between protesters outside her office. A small group of anti-Kavanaugh protesters got in something of a clash with pro-Kavanaugh protesters, a group of women, and they were yelling at each other back and forth, shame, shame, shame, underscoring how both sides of the aisle and both sides of the issue, there are certainly impassioned emotions. At one point, I saw a woman come over here and put her hand on Susan Collins' plate here on her office and said a prayer.

Susan Collins' office, for the last week, really has been besieged by protesters. And it's been interesting to note that they have been very calm, and protesters have been able to come in. Members of Susan Collins' staff have taken notes and listened to them. And it's been more or less a somewhat calm situation. But certainly, the dynamic here elevating the tension at this very important moment for Senator Susan Collins.

I did speak with some protesters earlier today. They said they spent about an hour sitting down with Senator Collins' staff yesterday, telling personal stories of their own sexual abuse. They are encouraging her to vote against Brett Kavanaugh. They expected a sit- down with the Senator today. They said that's what they were promised. They came into the office earlier this morning. They said the Senator was not going to be taking any more meetings with constituents. And those protesters were from her home state of Maine.

So again, Kate, tense moments, high anxiety here on Capitol Hill, especially outside of these offices of these key Senators.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and also showing the key role of the staff here and how they handle, how they listen, and how this plays out, but also underscoring the intense pressure on Collins right now.

Sunlen, thanks so much. Let us know how it's going there.

But I want to get over to the White House now, where Jeff Zeleny has been.

The White House clearly is watching this moment to moment very closely. Are they feeling confident right now?

[11:30:01] ZELENY: Kate, no question. The president was watching that vote in the Senate. He's not, you know, necessarily a lover of the Senate or of procedural votes but that was a dramatic moment. He was watching it, I'm told, from the residence of the White House.