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Murkowski to Vote No; Trump Watching Senate Vote; Coons on Kavanaugh Vote; Flake Will Vote Yes. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 5, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you all for join -- so much for joining us on this momentous day. Dana Bash and "INSIDE POLITICS" starts right now.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for joining INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off today.

The drama could not be any higher right now on Capitol Hill. Senators voted 51-49 to advance the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Fifty-one to 49 that is as slim a majority and a margin as you can get in the United States Senate.

Now, the final vote is expected to be held at some point tomorrow. It is not over yet. All eyes are on three senators who voted yes today on that procedural measure, Republican Susan Collins and Jeff Flake, and Democrat Joe Manchin, any of whom could vote the other way when it comes to the actual vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.

Another holdout you see there on your screen, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. He voted no and is expected to stay that way for the final vote.

Now, as for Senator Collins, she told reporters on her way to the procedural vote that she won't announce her final vote on the nomination until 3:00 Eastern today.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I will be -- I will be voting yes on proceeding to the final confirmation vote. And I will announce my intentions on how to vote later today.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you made your mind up, senator? Senator, have you made your mind up on your final vote, though? Is it conceivable that your votes could be different between the --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, have you made your final vote -- your mind up?

(CROSS TALK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is your mind made up? Is your mind made up?




BASH: Boy, does that give you a sense of the intensity on Capitol Hill right now surrounding the senators. Protesters on the heels of Senator Collins there.

Now today's vote came after weeks of raw emotion and shocking allegations, confrontations and delays.

I want to get right to CNN's Phil Mattingly and Jeff Zeleny. They have both covered it from the start.

Phil, I want to get straight to you. You have some new reporting on Senator Murkowski's thinking.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, obviously she was the big news of that procedural vote, deciding to vote no, standing up quietly saying no, then sitting back down during the roll call. She just told reporters that she will be a no for the final vote as well, saying Brett Kavanaugh is not the right man and this time. Also saying that this was one of the toughest decisions she's ever had to make.

And I think it's really important to point to that. A lot of people have been watching the votes or these undecided senators and saying, well, what are the politics, what's the polling here, what's this going to mean for their re-election either in 2018 or 2020. These senators have been genuinely grappling with this in a very, very difficult way over the course of the last couple of weeks. They've gone back and forth. They're read FBI investigations. They've heard from constituents. They've met with sexual assault survivors. This is why this is such a complex issue. This is why this is such a complex vote.

Now, Dana, I will tell you, while we know now that Senator Murkowski's a no and we know on the procedural vote they did get the requisite number of votes to move it forward. As you noted, it's possible that Senators Collins, Flake, and Manchin could flip their votes to no at the final vote.

I will tell you this, as of late yesterday afternoon, I was broaching this possibility with senior Republican staffers who basically scoffed at the idea, how, on a confirmation, could you vote yes to advance and then no to confirm. Basically saying, you can't have it both ways. The politics of it are extremely nasty and it wouldn't play out well. Essentially, do what you need to do, set your decision and go forward.

And yet, here we are, 24 hours later, that's exactly what people are weighing right now. As you noted, the key thing to watch -- I just spoke to Senator John Cornyn, the number two in the U.S. Senate, is Susan Collins. At 3:00 p.m., what she says will go a long way to dictating what happens in that final confirmation vote. And Senator Cornyn, the whip and the second ranking Republican in the Senate, said Senator Collins has not shared the information about what she's going to say to anybody in leadership.

BASH: Maybe she doesn't know what she's going to say yet. I think that is entire possible.

Phil, thank you so much.

Underscoring what Phil just reported, that Lisa Murkowski was a no, voted against her party on the procedural vote, and she's now making clear that that is a full no. She's voting no on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

On that note, let's get straight to Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Jeff, the president was watching as the vote was taking place?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He was, Dana. He doesn't watch many procedural votes in the Senate, but he was watching like all of Washington and much of the country as well, watching that procedural vote. But we've not heard from the president, and that is interesting as well. For as loud and chaotic as things are there in the halls of the Senate and the halls of the Senate Office Building, it is very quiet here today, and that is by design.

[12:05:07] The president is -- is not saying much about this at all. He sent out a short message congratulating the Senate for moving this forward, but, boy, his tone has changed dramatically from the week.

You'll remember earlier this week, at that campaign rally in Mississippi, he was mocking Christine Blasey Ford, you know, throughout the rally. Last night, at a rally in Minnesota, he barely talked about Judge Kavanaugh. He said he hopes the Senate confirms Judge Kavanaugh. But, boy, he is not saying much. He wants this confirmation to happen. And then he plans to use this in the midterm election fight.

Regardless of what happens over the next 24, 36, 48 hours, if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, Republicans believe that this is a weapon for them in the midterm elections. Of course, Democrats believe it is as well. But the president does not have any public events and his schedule. His silence so interesting because at this point he is a bystander in this process. If the judge is confirmed and becomes Justice Kavanaugh, this will be a monumental development in the Trump presidency, having two key appointments to the Supreme Court. But as of now, Dana, it's out of his control. He cannot, you know, call senators and sway them. So he's watching like everyone else what is going to happen on Capitol Hill.


BASH: A major, major legacy moment that he has no control over.

ZELENY: Yes. BASH: It's so well put. Thank you so much, Jeff.

Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, Karen Demirjian, "The Washington Post" reporter, CNN's Abby Phillip, CNN's Gloria Borger and Mary Katharine Ham with "The Federalist."

Hello. Nice to see you all.


BASH: OK, so let's just start where, I guess, Phil left off, which is, so we now have three Republican yeses this morning. And the question is -- excuse me, two Republican yeses, one Democratic yes --


BASH: And the question about whether or not any of them will switch.

BORGER: Well, I think we don't know definitively the answer to that. I would -- I would put money on Flake not switching because we know he voted for the nomination in the -- in committee and I think he was trying to find a way to get to yes all along and was one of the people who called for this interregnum so you could -- you could have an FBI report.

It would surprise me if Manchin switched. I don't think, as a Democrat, I think Democrats would not want him to be the decisive vote, but I think it was a clear sign as a Democrat that he voted yes today.

And I think Collins, we really -- we really don't know.

BASH: And, Mary Katharine, talk to me from the perspective of conservatives and what, you know, what the real implication is, politically speaking on, in particular, Collins, because Jeff Flake is -- I mean maybe he has aspirations for a higher office. He's retiring. But Susan Collins right now, I mean she's -- she's really getting it from all sides. She's a senator who represents a blue state and yet she is giving -- is -- has the key vote that conservatives are really hoping that she'll deliver.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": Yes, I think -- I mean here state matters deeply in this calculation and it is different than the conservative base, which, of course, would like her to vote yes. I think that's part of this.

But, look, I think she has voted consistently on Supreme Court justices in the past, Democrat and Republican nominees.

BORGER: Yes (ph).

HAM: So I think it would have to be a very high bar for her to say no. This past two weeks has been contentious, obviously, and emotional and there's the moment of Me Too, plus there are the facts of this case.

And I think what Jeff Flake has said, and possibly Collins may be taking the same tack is, look, I want to experience this moment with everyone and I want to acknowledge pain and I also want to examine what is happening with this accusation. And there remains no contemporaneous corroboration of the party or the act or the alleged assault and Flake has noted this is not enough for me. I think it -- personally, it would not be enough for me. It is a -- to prove a negative from 35 years ago that you were not at a party of unknown location, date, and uncertain guest list is a very, very, very high standard. I would say nearly impossible. And none of us could meet it. And it's not one that I think should be enshrined for public servants of either party, man or woman. I think -- I think that's tough.

DEMIRJIAN: (INAUDIBLE) that's not really the standard, though, that these people that are on the fence have been using to judge this. I mean Lisa Murkowski came out and said after this vote that she thinks he's a good person. And she didn't make it about that. She made it about the court and what's going on with the court right now.

Kavanaugh will bring with him this scandal no matter what happens. It doesn't disappear as soon as he gets confirmed, if he gets confirmed. But the controversy will continue to follow him. And after the hearing, you know, there were questions about temperament, there are questions about, you know, candor and things like that. It hasn't really been proving or disproving the allegation -- Blasey Ford's allegation that has seemed to be what is really, you know, not -- sticking in these people's craws where the ones that have not made actually a decisions well ahead of time.

[12:10:07] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But on that issue --

HAM: With respect, I think most of those people had made up their minds before he ever testified. Many Democrats certainly. And there has been a full (INAUDIBLE).

DEMIRJIAN: Oh, 95 percent of the Senate, yes. I mean the last -- I mean the last (INAUDIBLE).

HAM: The goalpost moving on this for sure.

PHILLIP: But for Flake, who did mention temperament as an issue for him after last week's testimony, he actually made it pretty clear that he wasn't going to necessarily decide his vote based on whether or not he thought that Kavanaugh was too heated in his opening statement.

So, you know, the temperament issue is a real one. It explains why Brett Kavanaugh is trying to cover his tracks there. But I'm not convinced that that's actually enough for Collins and Murkowski to decide to vote against him in spite of everything.

BASH: Everybody stand by for one second because we have a senator joining us from Chill Hill who might be able to shed a lot of light on what's going on behind the scenes now. It's Chris Coons of Delaware.

Senator, thank you so much for joining me.

Before I ask you what you are hearing about the latest, I want to tell you what Jeff Flake said on MSNBC just a few moments ago. He said the following. He was asked, are you planning to vote yes tomorrow and his answer was, well, unless something big changed, I don't see how, I don't see what would, but, anyway, I'm glad we had a better process. We needed a better process.

Since you're the Flake whisperer these days, I'm going to ask you, what are you hearing and what are you sensing about whether or not Jeff Flake will be consistent? He voted yes on this procedural vote. Will he be a yes on final confirmation?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, Dana, it's very rare for senators who vote yes on cloture to then flip and vote no on final, but it has happened. There have been recent high profile very significant votes where that has happened.

I did have a conversation with Senator Flake this morning. Look, we are friends. We respect each other. A week ago today, I went into the mark-up of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Jeff had already announced he was a yes on Kavanaugh. We had a very spirited, very divisive, very bitter mark-up, and I still made a respectful plea really to him that he consider a week pause and we did have a week long pause for the FBI to investigate. I do think that was a positive.

I am not fully satisfied with the scope of that investigation. I agree with Senator Flake that it was a positive thing that we took this time to further look into the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. But, obviously, there are sharply different views about how that should inform our final vote, which is now scheduled for tomorrow.

BASH: And are you using the power of persuasion that you have proven that you have with Senator Flake one last time on the final vote?

COONS: I have reached out to all three, to Senator Collins and to Murkowski and to Senator Flake and I will make an appeal today for them to consider my sort of closing arguments. But I also know that they are getting input from absolutely everywhere. And so one of the things you have to do as a senator, if you respect someone and hope to continue to work with them, is make your best case, help them see how you see it and what the concerns are for the court, for the country and for our future, and then let them make their final decision.

I am very pleasantly surprised with Senator Murkowski. I have a friend vising me who's from Alaska, who came down with her daughter, and was one of the group that met with her yesterday. And I know this has been a very hard decision for her.

I hoped to have a chance to speak with Senator Flake again today, but I know all of these three senators are weighing carefully the impact on the future of our country that this vote will happen.

BASH: I'm sure. And with regard to Senator Flake, because, obviously, the two of you are so close -- you're close with all of them, but you have been in such constant communication. Is it your sense that he is -- that he felt that he gave the week and that was appropriate and he has said publicly he is satisfied with the report. He doesn't think that there was any corroborating information. That that is the biggest factor in his decision, or are there other things that he is weighing, temperament, which Judge Kavanaugh clearly tried to address in an op- ed this morning, and other -- and other issues? So I guess my question is, when you have these private conversations, and I don't mean to pry completely, but if you can shed a little light on what the -- where the -- where the opening is that you potentially see.

COONS: Well, I'm not going to speak to what Senator Flake shares in private conversations. I will say, here are the things that I raise when I get an opportunity to speak to a colleague and a friend. I do think that Judge Kavanaugh, although from his view defending his honor in front of the country and his family, was justified in being forceful, even irate. I do think he crossed a line in terms of the partisan edge that he brought to his defense last Thursday that a Former Supreme Court justice, John Paul Stevens, a Republican, has withdrawn his support for Kavanaugh based on that partisanship, that very sharp edge, I think is significant.

[12:15:25] Second, I think there are examples of a lack of candor where in questioning in front of the committee and intention between that questioning and what's in the record, there's reason to be concerned about Judge Kavanaugh's candor. And then last, I think Dr. Ford brought forward credible allegations that were not corroborated because corroboration wasn't looked for. You can't find what you don't look for. And so witnesses that were offered up by Debbie Ramirez and Dr. Ford were not questioned by the FBI, are not part of the record in front of us.

It is true, to be fair, that there are no new sort of bombshell allegations in this FBI report. And that in a number of ways, they confirmed things that were put in front of us by Judge Kavanaugh in his effort to sort of clear his name, but there is a lot of lack of clarity in this record. I left reading this report yesterday with more questions than answers.

BASH: Well, that's interesting.

You mentioned that a friend of yours went to see Senator Murkowski yesterday.


BASH: And my understanding is that she met with some survivors, victims of sexual assault, sexual abuse.

COONS: That's right.

BASH: She was also asked earlier this week, I believe it was Alaska Public Radio, a question about whether or not she has been a victim of Me Too. She had a very quick answer, but effectively it was yes. Are you sensing that this is becoming personal for senators like Murkowski?

COONS: Well, look, when you try and represent a state, when you enter public service, your own personal experiences, of course, come with you. I've had a remarkable week in terms of the numbers of personal friends, family friends, classmates who have come and shared with me their experiences of sexual assault. It is much easier to understand how it's possible that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford didn't come forward for 36 years if you have some personal experience and knowledge of what being a sexual assault survivor is like.

So, and I'll tell you, I think this has been a remarkable week for the country. I think Senator Murkowski really stands out as someone who has made that extra effort to listen to her home state constituents, to respect their experience. And I do think, as a Senate, we have a challenge here going forward to figure out how we demonstrate that to the country as a whole because for folks who've watched this confirmation closely, who are survivors, I think there will be a lot of bitterness and a lot of upset at the final outcome tomorrow if he's confirmed and it's important that we find ways to work together to send a message of support and of acceptance for those who are looking to the Senate for more advocacy.

BASH: I'm glad you mentioned that. That was going to be my final question, but you answered it without me even asking you, senator. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. I'm sure we'll be talking a lot soon. Thanks for joining us.

COONS: Thank you.

BASH: And we wait for Senator Susan Collins to explain her vote, her final vote, on whether Judge Kavanaugh should be Justice Kavanaugh. We'll bring that to you live when it happens.

We'll be right back.


[12:22:37] BASH: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

One of the outstanding questions has been the three senators who voted yes who had been on the fence. Two Republicans, Senator Flake, Senator Collins, and one Democrat, Joe Manchin, whether they would continue to vote that way when it came to the actual confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. This morning was just a procedural vote. The question is the actual vote.

Jeff Flake just spoke to reporters and he gave a pretty strong hint that he's going to stick with yes. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any plan to vote yes tomorrow?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: So unless something big changed, I don't see what would. But, anyway, I'm glad we had a better process. We needed a better process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you think of Murkowski voting no?


BASH: So, we needed a -- I'm glad we had a better process. Of course he's referring to the fact that he single handedly changed the last week by saying that there needed to be an FBI investigation. He then went and read the report. Yesterday he said that he didn't see anything to corroborate Professor Ford's accusations.

And I know your -- your paper has some more information about this.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Senator Flake talked to my colleague, Sean Sullivan (ph), and said that he's going to be a vote to confirm Kavanaugh unless something massive changes, but he doesn't see that actually as being a possibility at this point, which means we're down to two undecided senators, Susan Collins and Joe Manchin, one Republican and one Democrat. Isn't that lovely and fitting the way this all comes down.

And just to get into a little bit of nerd math right now, I mean, if both of them vote no, this is done. If one of them votes no, this is going to stretch out potentially through much of the weekend, because, as we know, Steve Danes (ph) from Montana is going to his daughter's wedding on Saturday come hell or high water, which means they'll hold the vote open if they have to or --

BORGER: Right decision.

HAM: Yes, we can all agree on that.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, yes, sure.

But the really interesting question, I mean I know we've been saying that this is an independent decision for each of these senators, but in a way they are all watching each other at this point, too.

BORGER: They definitely are.

DEMIRJIAN: Definitely. So what will Collins do now that Murkowski has said no? And she said no not at the last minute, she said no in the last procedural vote. She didn't have to do that this early.

And, I mean, I will eat this mug if Joe Manchin actually says how he's going to vote before Susan Collins say how she's going to vote because he may end up being the deciding vote here, and that's a very big deal when you're down to the last Republican and the last Democrat.

BASH: And that's the key. I mean you -- we all love nerd math when we're talking about such a razor thin vote, right?

BORGER: Right.

BASH: And so the key is, with Flake a yes, a firm yes, with Murkowski a firm no, Kavanaugh needs one more senator, right? Is my math right here?

[12:25:07] BORGER: Yes.

BASH: OK. And so who is it going to be?

PHILLIP: Who's going to be the person to seal the deal one way or another, either to kill his nomination or to keep it alive. I think that's a really big decision. It's a big decision for Joe Manchin, who, according to our reporting, does not necessarily want to be the person keeping Kavanaugh alive single handedly, but he may be if Susan Collins feels like she has the political capital to do it or if she wants to do it. And I think that that's one of the reasons why there is so much uncertainty because I think it's not just about what the individual politics of a yes or no vote is, it's also about the (INAUDIBLE) of being the fate driver.

BASH: Well, and if Susan Collins with -- exactly. And they're well aware of that. The fact that Susan Collins was sitting next to Lisa Murkowski --

BORGER: Oh, I know.

BASH: Talking about this on the Senate floor, in plain sight, after Senator Murkowski voted no on a procedural measure.


BASH: After Senator Collins voted yes and we have this window that's going to go until about 3:00 when we're going to hear finally from Collins. You never know.

BORGER: You know, and they were together on voting against health care, if you'll recall. And they are friends. And the thing that's interesting about Senator Murkowski to me is that she doesn't owe the leadership anything. She would not be in the Senate -- we were talking about that earlier -- if she had left it to the leadership. Because she had lost a primary and she came back and she ran. And she -- remember those bracelets she --

DEMIRJIAN: A write-in candidate.

BORGER: She had for natives in Alaska so they would know how to write in her name and how to spell it properly. And she never gave up. And she won. But it wasn't because the leadership in the Senate was behind her. And now, you know, she has spoken with McConnell clearly. We know that. And somebody at CNN reported that today. And, you know, I don't think he was ever counting on her. He didn't -- he didn't get her on health care and he knew that this was an important issue for her personally.

DEMIRJIAN: Also the native Alaskan issue was a big deal.

BORGER: And native Alaskan issue, absolutely.


BASH: Real quick.

HAM: When it comes to Collins, an important thing to remember about her is that the process is part of what she is concerned about. And I think that's -- it was wise of Jeff Flake to push for that, even if -- and this is the thing that conservative activists are upset about -- yes, of course, the goal posts were going to be moved at the end of the week and Democrats were going to say, I didn't expect them to say cover up and sham, but I know they were going to say insufficient.

But it was wise to push for that because it gives Susan Collins, and many undecideds out there who heard both testimonies and are not sure what to think, something to hang their hats on and say, look, the facts on the ground have not change. There remains no contemporary corroborating evidence. In fact, there's more contemporary corroborating evidence for the fact that devil's triangle was indeed a drinking game than there is for the actual assault. And I'm not being flippant. That is part of the charge against his candor. And those things have been investigated.

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: And it also --

HAM: Because that's where we are. We're investigating high school yearbooks. So I do think the process matters to her in examining whether the facts on the ground can change. It may matter to her.

BASH: Everybody stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including, remember we're less than five weeks away from Election Day. How all this plays into the midterms, especially for red state Democrats come November.