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Interview with Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois; Kavanaugh Has Votes to Be Confirmed to Supreme Court. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 5, 2018 - 16:30   ET


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I sat on the floor and listened very carefully to Senator Collins' presentation much. I respect Senator Collins. Susan has been my friend for many years and worked on many things. But I respectfully disagree with her.

I don't know how she and others can come to the floor and say how credible Dr. Ford was, how the allegations she made were so specific, and yet they dismissed them.

[16:30:08] I asked Dr. Ford, my first question at the hearing, what is your degree of certainty when it comes to the fact that it was Brett Kavanaugh who attacked you? She said 100 percent -- 100 percent. I don't know how you can walk away from that statement.

I think it was clear that she believes he was the attacker and said as much under oath. The FBI investigation avoided all the corroborating and character witnesses which she suggested they meet with. That didn't leave a very credible result.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: It did -- it was striking, because we have been speaking all week to folks who are sex crimes investigators, prosecutors, et cetera. And they say that often victims remember details of the attacker, the laughing, perhaps a hand over the mouth, et cetera. But not necessarily the exact time on the clock, or the street address, et cetera.

Did those words from her almost similar to President Trump questioning her story during his rally, were those words particularly striking to you?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you, when the president decided to mock and ridicule Dr. Ford, he went a step too far. His appalling conduct, which we witness on a regular basis, reached a new low at that Mississippi rally. And I'm afraid it sent a message to an awful lot of victims of sexual violence.

That, be prepared. You're going to be mocked, ridiculed, even shunned. That's a terrible message to come out of this episode.

SCIUTTO: One of your Democratic colleagues, of course, Senator Manchin, West Virginia, he voted yes, as well. Granted, a deep red state, but Democrats were not able to stay unified on this. Your reaction to Manchin's yes vote. DURBIN: Well, there's an awful lot of people who think we crack a

whip here, since I guess that's my title. And we have all these ways to twist arms and discipline our members.

It just doesn't work that way. Individual members have to reach their own conclusions, particularly on historic decisions. We can talk to them. We can give them our point of view.

Ultimately, they make the decisions. That's what the Senate is all about.

SCIUTTO: Are you disappointed, personally, in Senator Manchin?

DURBIN: I'm not going to say that. I will say I had hoped he would vote the other way. But Joe is my colleague, we have worked on many things and I hope we continue to in the future.

SCIUTTO: The midterms are just about a month away from now. Republicans convinced, and there is some evidence in the polling, frankly, a tightening of the generic ballot lead for the Democrats. Republicans convinced this is an energizing -- this fight has been an energizing issue for their voters.

Do you believe this will energize Democrats to get to the polls?

DURBIN: I know it will. And I have seen the polling data that's coming back from my home state of Illinois in congressional races, and I know that the challengers to many incumbent Republicans are doing very, very well, breathing down the necks of those incumbents.

This debate in Washington is not going to change it. People are more concerned about preexisting conditions, the availability of health care, and whether they can elect men and women who will stand up to this president when he steps over the line.

SCIUTTO: What about women in particular? Of course, it goes without saying that women -- I've heard this, and I know you have, as well. People close to me, people, your constituents, et cetera. They watch this with particular attention and emotion and reaction, particularly Christine Blasey Ford's testimony.

What do you say to them now? Some who might be disappointed that Democrats were not able to stop this nomination from their perspective?

DURBIN: My message to them is don't be discouraged at all. The day is coming, and soon, where we are moving more toward justice when it comes to the relationship with women, sexual violence and harassment.

I will tell you, as a father of daughters and granddaughters, I want them to be able to grow up fear-free when it comes to the country they live in, and the society they live in. This is not a setback. What we're going through today, it is a step forward.

SCIUTTO: If Kavanaugh is confirmed, again, all indications are he has the votes, if people stick with those votes tomorrow, the decisions of this court, particularly that key position, because Kennedy, who Kavanaugh would be replacing, of course, had been a swing vote on so many 5-4 decisions, giving this court a conservative slant for decades on so many issues. Congress could pass, for instance, gun control legislation. A court could reject that on issues like Roe v. Wade, on issues like with redistricting, with intense political ramifications.

How do Democrats counter that?

DURBIN: Well, we do our best to pass good laws, and hope that we'll be in the majority to do so. The Supreme Court does have the last word, and many of these cases, and at this moment, if Judge Kavanaugh goes forward to be on the Supreme Court, he would make up the 5-4 difference, we think, in terms of conservative versus progressive.

But, you know, tomorrow is another day. We don't know what the next vacancy will be. We don't know what the next opportunity will be. We're going to be prepared and take this next election very seriously.

SCIUTTO: Final question. I was able to speak to one of your colleagues on the judiciary committee this morning, Senator Kennedy.

[16:35:04] And he said something that strikes me as a bipartisan -- bipartisan agreement. And that is that the court politically is in trouble here. He used the words -- the process is a mess. He said that the court is viewed by a large percentage of American people as another extension of politics, and that this process added to that impression among the American public.

What does Congress do about that?

DURBIN: Well, I tell you, the Senate used to have a standard of 60 votes. Had there been that same standard applied to this situation in this Supreme Court vacancy, it might have been a much different debate. It could have been a much different nominee.

So we have kind of gone beyond that. I don't know that we can ever put that back in the bottle. But if we can move to the point where we require bipartisanship, when it comes to the selection, it would make a significant difference.

SCIUTTO: Senator Dick Durbin, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.

DURBIN: Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: Let's go back to our panel now for reaction to the senator, but also on that bigger issue there.

Both sides agree, Paul Begala, I've heard this from a lot of folks, that the court emerges from this wounded. It was already wounded. And those confirmation battles, the votes are getting more and more partisan over the last ten years. But this fight, particularly divisive.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. The court is not on the level after today. Americans ought not have faith in their Supreme Court.

I say this as a licensed attorney. It breaks my heart to say that. It began for me with Bush versus Gore, where the court is not supposed to play a role in the presidential election.

I have read the Constitution. They're supposed to let the House of Representatives decide if the Electoral College can. They stepped in, gave the election to the guy who lost the vote.

And this notion that it started with Robert Bork is particularly offensive to me, because Robert Bork was voted down because his views were antithetical to most Americans. He believed that segregation was constitutional. He believed that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. He believed that Senator Turner could be turned away from a lunch counter, because of the color of her skin.

His views were outrageous. And I thank god every day that the Senate voted him down. Somehow that becomes an unfair treatment? No.

So I think we have terrible politicization of our courts now. And really, the person responsible is Mitch McConnell.

SCIUTTO: Adolfo, do you agree with that?

ADOLFO FRANCO, FORMER ADVISER, JOHN MCCAIN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I can't disagree more. First of all, I want to go down memory lane or history here. But, of course, my opinion, Judge Bork's positions were completely distorted.

SCIUTTO: Let's put that aside for a second and talk about today.

FRANCO: This is the third Democratic smear, in my opinion. The first was Bork, the second was Clarence Thomas, and now we have this one.

SCIUTTO: Are you saying that the allegations against Thomas and -- were --

FRANCO: I think --

SCIUTTO: Manufactured?

FRANCO: I think -- I believe that I think Justice Thomas had to right when he said this was a high-tech lynching. And --


FRANCO: Well, I believe that in both these instances, Democrats have not had the votes to defeat these nominees on the merits and have turned instead to smear campaigns against these people without corroboration, without evidence whatsoever.

And I think Senator Collins' position today was the correct one. And that is, at the end of the day, there is -- this isn't a job interview, notions of due process and fairness. And the accused has rights, as well. So if you can't corroborate the witnesses that you yourself identify, can't corroborate or can't produce evidence, there is no instance that someone cannot make something up in America. That's an --

SCIUTTO: I want to hear from both of you.


FRANCO: Rewriting our jurisprudence.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Without relitigating Clarence Thomas and everything else, just one point, though, that Harry Reid was the one who -- the nuclear option to change it from 60 votes to 50.

SCIUTTO: With the 60-vote margin.

SETMAYER: That's right.

BEGALA: For the lower courts, not the Supreme Court.

SETMAYER: I know, but he started that. And we warned about it then. All right, it's going to come back to bite you guys. And here it has.

But, look, here's -- the implication about this whole corroboration and that someone can just smear someone and there's no presumption of innocence, you cannot sit here and say that you believe that something happened to Dr. Ford and then make the allegation that, well, it was a smear and that they just came out of nowhere and she was a political pawn used by some political operative, Democratic operative, to take out a good man in Brett Kavanaugh. You can't have it both ways.

This is cover. It's a cover for people who just think that they would rather put the political partisanship of a Supreme Court nomination ahead of women in this country who have experienced sexual assault. You cannot say you legitimately believe her, but think she was mixed up and didn't know who her accuser was.

Plenty of survivors have approached me and said, I may not remember certain details of that day, but I damn sure remember who my attacker was, including my own mother, who was a survivor of sexual assault.

[16:40:02] So that is an insult. Either you believe her or you don't. And clearly, Republicans do not.

And the message they have sent now to women is that, well, we believe you sort of, but not if it gets in the way of someone standing in political power.

SCIUTTO: All right. Nina, that became something and we heard from Senator Collins, something of a talking point, which is, yes, of course, something happened to her, but not Kavanaugh.

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Jim, also, this moment set a strong foundation moving forward. I believe there is promise in the problem. But just even going back to the president's rally, it's not just what Senator Collins had to say. But it was women and men in that audience in Mississippi who were agreeing with the president. See, this is bigger than just the Congress. This is about the United

States of America. And we really lose that point, men and women. Women were in that audience with President Trump, cheering on his mocking of Dr. Ford.

That is a revelation that we do not want to deal with in this country. We don't deal with sexism and the generational implications of that, and then sexual assault, and we certainly do not deal with racism and the generational implications of it.


SETMAYER: Just really quick, Susan Collins lent credence to Donald Trump mocking Dr. Ford by saying, I don't know. I don't remember. I don't know. And then in her defense, she gave him --


SCIUTTO: We're going to have a chance to discuss it more, so much to discuss on this breaking news, including how this will help or hurt Republicans and Democrats in the midterm election.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: The major breaking news. Brett Kavanaugh has the votes to be confirmed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, a lifetime appointment. Let's go if we can to the politics a bit here. Polls show consultants say Republicans enthused by this battle. Midterms though more than a month away and after all Democrats are the ones who lost this one. And Mark Preston told me earlier today is like anger is a great driver and the Democrats have the anger. I mean, do they have the advantage in the midterms following this?


SCIUTTO: In the House, specifically, yes.

SETMAYER: Yes, in the House. I think it's different in the Senate. You have a different dynamic when it's statewide. And because they have a tougher ground to defend, Democrats do as oppose to the House where everybody's up for re-election, so in those suburban swing districts where you have women, college-educated women who are independent that could go either way, I think this could be a motivating force.

You can see now that politics has infected every aspect of our life and even now something like the Supreme Court which is supposed to be a partisan neutral branch of government, the Founding Fathers set it up that way. You know, they warned us about factions, the Founding Fathers did. They didn't like the idea of parties and I think that they would be very upset with seeing the way the Supreme Court now has been factionalized in a way that I think should be disturbing to everyone the integrity the Supreme Court is at stake. So, if that's a motivating force, I think you're going to see women

already have in record numbers are running for office, women already in record numbers are coming out. That's only going to be amplified by this.

SCIUTTO: Adolfo, I imagine you're hearing from Republicans who are energized themselves.

ADOLFO FRANCO, FORMER ADVISER, JOHN MCCAIN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I think very energized. I think this is the Kavanaugh bump. Let's just talk about some specific races if we can. First of all, the generic battling the last week or so is showing this going dramatically in the opposite direction in favor -- in favor of the Republicans in both Houses and in both -- in the certain and Senate races.

But everyone has known that the real question was the Senate because of the favorite environment and we have with retirements and in the midterms with a party in power with the House. I think Heidi Heitkamp voted the way she did because she's already toast in largely it was -- it was in the Kavanaugh situation and you know 12 points down. I think this vote today will help mister Braun in Indiana. I think Joe Donnelly is in trouble. I think it will hurt Claire McCaskill very much in Missouri.

I think the only one that was helped today was Joe Manchin. I think Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee is helped by this. And I think Congresswoman McSally in Arizona. But I think the other big news of the day is 3.7 percent --

SCIUTTO: Sure, but let's set aside --

FRANCO: The employment numbers are important as the direction. You know, I have to hand to my friend Alex Acosta at the Department of Labor. that's going to play in with this enthusiasm factor.

SCIUTTO: For sure. And we are going to be clear to talk about that the next block reported early but one note Nina, we noted looking at the calendar that it was around this time in 2016 that the Access Hollywood tape came out. That put Trump's at the time chances people thought they were over, and then a month later Trump was elected. It's a month away, the midterms. Does this kind of thing fade -- well for both parties, does this fade as a voting issue by Election Day November?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it does. I mean certainly on the Democratic side we're going to make sure that it does not fade. That's for sure. But your point about the Access Hollywood tape is a great reminder to us to not to overthink that you know these situations -- because we thought we did think -- Democrats did think that President Trump would never be President Trump. And again, I go back to the woman factor. I mean, we know that overall, he got the majority of white women to vote for him even with that Hollywood Access tape. So we do still have some serious problems in this country and women need to look in the mirror as well as men.

SCIUTTO: Speaking of women, in a poll this week 55 percent of women were opposed to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination Paul Begala. Are Republicans accepting the Democrats at least on the House side, is that a driving number, a decisive number in your view in the House?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is. This is -- this election will prove Newton's third law of motion. A reaction there's an equal and opposite reaction 2016 the story the election aside from the Russians stealing it and Mr. Comey stealing it was the collapse of my party with white high school educated men, right, the white working-class which was the heart of the Democratic Party.

We collapsed with him and Mr. Trump excelled with them. The equal and opposite reaction of that is highly educated women, college-educated women, simply white women. women of color have already been in the Democratic Party. Thank God. That's why we have a Democratic Party. But college-educated white women who always been Republican, President Obama lost them by six points and he's pretty good politician.

They're coming to Democrats in overwhelming numbers. This will only put kerosene on that fire. Satisfied people don't vote, OK. All those guys who were all ginned up and Adolf0 was exactly right about the polling. They're all gassed up because they're -- they had to get their guy Kavanaugh on the court, right? He's going on the court. They're calm and happy and they go back to watching football and there's no big deal. It might be a good fight on the MMA --


[16:50:51] BEGALA: But the women are going to be furious.

FRANCO: I completely disagree.


SETMAYER: And then those guys will go and say we got to vote for Trump, and that's the difference here, the different dynamics.

SCIUTTO: I do want hear -- I want to hear --

FRANCO: Yes, look, Jim, because I think is there's one in person -- let me -- I think this is totally being misread and overplayed by the Democrats. The fact of the matter is, the election is only 31 days away or so and this is going to be portrayed I think correctly by Republicans that this good man was treated unfairly. Let me finish it this way. I think women have sons, they have husbands, and they have -- they have they have boyfriends and I think this is going to be just as Senator Collins said and just as Senator Fischer said, and just as Senator Ernst said, and these are women, and these are women that voted for Mr. Kavanaugh is going to say this is about due process and fairness. And the idea -- the idea that --


SETMAYER: We should have had a due process processed then like a --

FRANCO: But you know -- you know --

SETMAYER: That's not what we did --

FRANCO: You know what they want to do. There is no statute of limitations in Maryland. She can file charges tomorrow, Dr. Ford. Why didn't she do that? Let's --


TURNER: I hope she does. I mean, you keep -- you guys are saying that on the one side but Dr. Ford doesn't get that same compassion. You saying, well I have a son and I want -- and I definitely want him to be treated fairly in this society. But we do need to come to grips with the historic injustices in this country and deal with what we can do right now. I want to say --

FRANCO: And there's evidence -- and there's evidence pointing to that?

TURNER: --is that -- is that -- first of all I wasn't a court and the fix was in from the beginning. I mean, the fix was absolutely in from the beginning.


SETMAYER: They didn't investigate the evidence that she had.

SCIUTTO: One at a time. One at a time guys.

FRANCO: Evidence, that's the problem. That's your talent. This is -- this is simply believing someone without any corroboration with the witnesses that she put forward.

TURNER: Who -- I mean, who most likely the person up there lying? It was judge Kavanaugh.

FRANCO: That's not our system.


SCIUTTO: Quick final -- quick final words before we go.

SETMAYER: Our system does not limit who he's going to investigate. With the court of law, they would have investigated the calendar, they would have investigated the work history of Mark Judge, they would have investigated the house.

FRANCO: Have her -- have her file charges. Have her file charges --


SETMAYER: You cannot say there is no corroboration. That is a straw man.


SCIUTTO: Well, it's an open (INAUDIBLE) going forward. We will see how Dr. Ford reacts going forward. Listen, thanks to all of you. There are a lot of unresolved issues here though it appears that Kavanaugh has the votes. Trust me, we're going to continue to come -- cover it. More breaking news coming out of the White House, what President Trump thought of Senator Collins speech a short time ago.


[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: President Trump has a major political win with Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation appearing to be a certainty tomorrow. It will be the President's second pick on the Supreme Court of his term following Neil Gorsuch. Let's get right to CNN's Jeff's Zeleny at the White House. Jeff, President Trump was indeed watching Senator Collins speech. He's no doubt pleased with how she ended it.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, there's no question about it. We are told that the President was watching the speech just off the Oval Office in the dining room. He was actually going to be signing an FAA reauthorization bill. He had some House members over but he asked them if they wanted to watch it so they all watched it together. Aides described him as being in a very good mood and this is why. This is cementing his legacy, his conservative legacy on the Supreme Court, getting a second appointment in just his second year in the presidency is extraordinary.

So the President -- I was largely a bystander through this process throughout the day today but he certainly was pleased at Senator Collins's speech on the Senate floor.

SCIUTTO: And I understand you've heard that there was a president who lobbied Senator Collins but it wasn't President Trump.

ZELENY: That's right, Jim. We're just learning that just a short time ago. It was President George W. Bush who was on the phone in recent days with several senators including Susan Collins trying to reassure her of any concern she had about Judge Kavanaugh's character. Now Judge Kavanaugh, of course, worked for a long time for the Bush family. He was an associate counsel in the Bush White House, a staff secretary to President Bush.

So I am told by someone familiar with these conversations that President Bush was having several phone calls with senators who weren't sure which Brett Kavanaugh sort of believed the -- and one that they were hearing allegations about, the one that they saw in a heated moment at the hearing last week, but it was President Bush, not President Trump who was making calls to Senator Collins.

But Jim, we cannot overstate what a moment this is going into the midterm elections for this administration for this White House. It has galvanized Republicans. Of course, it has stirred Democrats of passions as well. But President Trump will be taking a victory lap on this. We have not heard from him and we don't expect to today. But tomorrow night he has a campaign rally in Topeka, Kansas, be sure he'll be talking about it and touting it there.

SCIUTTO: Of course, he is. Good economic news today as well, unemployment rate down 3.7 percent, historical since 1969 last time it was that low. ZELENY: 1969.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks very much. Be sure to tune in to CNN this Sunday morning, CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." Republican Governor of Ohio John Kasich, he will join. It all starts at 9:00 Eastern time, 12:00 p.m. Eastern as well on Sunday morning. Our coverage on CNN continues with the "SITUATION ROOM" right now.