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Kavanaugh Takes Seat on Supreme Court; Hurricane Michael Targets Florida; U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley Resigns. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired October 9, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

We begin with a stunning development in American diplomacy today. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has submitted her resignation and is leaving at the end of this year.

That has started the speculation game as to why. Haley hers eliminated the first conclusion so many people jumped to, saying her only plan for the 2020 presidential race is to campaign for President Trump.

Here she was.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The U.S. is strong again. And the U.S. is strong in a way that should make all Americans very proud.

I have given everything I have got these last eight years. And I do think that sometimes it's good to rotate in other people who can put that same energy and power into it.

No, I'm not running for 2020. I can promise you what I will be doing is campaigning for this one. So I look forward to supporting the president in the next election.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a number of people that would very much like to do it. It's a great position. And Nikki realized that. She's -- she's -- I think she's helped make it a much better position, if you want to know the truth.

I think it's become maybe a more glamorous position than it was two years ago. Maybe. I wonder why. But it is. It -- yes. I mean, she's made it in a very glamorous position. She's made it a more important -- more importantly, a more important position.

So we have, I can almost say, many people that want to do it, and they're very good people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Let's go to CNN senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth and CNN, White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

And, Richard, just to you first, why now?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm sure she has a plan. But many people speculate about her government aspirations. We don't know yet. We will know in a few years.

There are a host of reasons possibly. And why now? I just got to tell you, by the way, the French ambassador just seconds ago said Nikki Haley was one of the most talented and authentic U.S. government officials I have ever met.

They may not have liked the Trump positions in foreign policy, ranging from climate change to the U.S. Embassy move, but they really liked Nikki Haley here. They called her a friend. Even the governments that didn't like the U.S. at times, the Bolivian ambassador just now saying, yes, we may be a dysfunctional family, but he had a chance to rip her, considering what he has said directly to Donald Trump in the Security Council table, passed on the opportunity.

Nikki Haley feels that she's done her U.N. time. As she said there in the Oval Office, sometimes, government officials, well, they have to know when to stand aside. It has happened before. And there are other reasons why the others have left, but still surprising. Nobody thought she was going to last four years here under a Trump administration. She would want to do something else.

BALDWIN: Richard, I want to come back to you.

But, Kaitlan, what was the White House totally blindsided about this? Or did they know?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was one of the best kept secrets in this West Wing, even though it only lasted for a few days.

But Nikki Haley did go to President Trump last week and said, hey, I was being serious about that deadline of leaving at the end of the year. But President Trump didn't tell a lot of people, which is pretty surprising for a president who does gossip about staff positions pretty often, Brooke.

But even the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, wasn't aware that Nikki Haley was preparing to leave. And here's what he had to say once he did find out that this news had happened.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I want to thank Ambassador Haley for the good work that she's done. She's been a great partner of mine for the now five months that she and I had been working together. And I want to wish her very well in whatever comes next for her.


COLLINS: And, Brooke, we know that when Pompeo took over as secretary of state, we thought Nikki Haley's status diminish a little bit in the West Wing, because when Rex Tillerson was still the secretary of state, she wasn't the go-to for President Trump for advice, because he and Tillerson didn't get along.

But Pompeo, when he came along, kind of filled that void a little bit.

BALDWIN: Richard, I was listening to you earlier saying basically that Nikki Haley has been a rock star at the U.N. Our foreign allies, of course, they really know and they trust Jim Mattis and Nikki Haley.

And now with her departure, who would step in, steer the ship on foreign policy.


ROTH: Yes, we asked these diplomats now entering a meeting, and nobody wanted to touch that.

But you can bet they're cabling with their home governments about the possibilities of what it might mean. John Bolton, the national security adviser, despises the U.N. And if he had his way and influence, which he could, he might prefer a more hawkish figure.

People that the U.N. felt that Nikki Haley, even if they didn't like the U.S. policies at times, felt she was a moderating figure that helped the U.N. avoid a budget axe or even worse. U.N. officials echoing that, telling me she stopped more of a destruction of the U.N. organization.

So it will be very important what kind of ambassador, as you heard Donald Trump say, was a celebrity type of figure here. You could be a behind-the-doors type of quiet diplomacy person, or does Donald Trump want someone who's out in front? It was an easier ride for Nikki Haley when Rex Tillerson, who hated the camera, was in office.

Now it's not notable that she didn't tell Pompeo or Bolton that she was leaving.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

We saw pictures -- just jumping into the guessing game, the name Dina Powell has been floated. There's a picture of her fishing over the weekend with Nikki Haley. We know Ambassador Haley earlier this morning was gushing about Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner this morning.

Here she was.


HALEY: I can't say enough good things about Jared and Ivanka. Jared is such a hidden genius that no one understands.

I mean, to redo the NAFTA deal the way he did. What I have done working with him on the Middle East peace plan. It is so unbelievably well done. And Ivanka has been just a great friend. And they do a lot of things behind the scenes.


BALDWIN: So, Kaitlan I mean, you have folks on one side of the aisle who would think it would be crazy to have Ivanka Trump as the next ambassador.

And nepotism aside, though, other folks may say stranger things have happened.

COLLINS: That's right. And people aren't saying no to that.

Let's remember that President Trump nominated his doctor here in the White House to be the Veterans Affairs secretary at one point in this administration. So really we are looking at a vast pool of candidates that President Trump could pick, but the obvious names are Ivanka Trump.

She's surfaced, of course. You saw Nikki Haley heaping praise on her there. Dina Powell, who also within this administration at a prior time, but is now back in New York working for Goldman Sachs. So she's already in New York, where she would be needed to live for a position like this. She remains a favorite of President Trump's, and he still talks about her often.

So those are certainly two options that are being talked about, but also Ric Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, that's another person has been floated as a potential name for this.

President Trump, Brooke, said that we could find out in two to three weeks who he wants to name as the successor, but, of course, that does seem to be a placeholder for the president. It could be after the midterms that he names someone permanent to take the Haley spot. And she's not leaving until the end of the year.

BALDWIN: Got it.

Kaitlan Collins and Richard Roth, great to see both of you. Thank you.

Let's open this conversation up further, a man who actually interviewed her not too long ago, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, host of "THE AXE FILES" here on CNN. He served as a senior adviser to President Obama.

David Axelrod, always a pleasure. Good to see you.


BALDWIN: As we work through the whole why and why now piece, a person close to Nikki Haley offered this explanation.

Quoting this person: "She wanted to make her own announcement now, not after the midterms, when there is a wave of people leaving if Republicans lose."


BALDWIN: What's your reaction to the news and is that feasible?

AXELROD: Well, but look, I think both the timing and the fact that she's leaving make sense.

She's gotten a great deal out of this position. A lot has been said about what she brought to it, but, remember, she was the governor of South Carolina. She clearly has aspirations. Now she's added this major foreign policy credential to her portfolio.

And she had probably maxed out on what she was going to get out of this position. And it does make sense to me that both she and the president would want her to resign before the midterms, so it doesn't look like a reaction to a midterm election that may not be that friendly to the president.

BALDWIN: Mm-hmm. And I want to come back to your point on the portfolio in a second, but I just want to throw to a clip.

You interviewed Ambassador Haley within the last year. So here's a clip of her talking about how the administration is handling Russia.


AXELROD: You have consistently made a very strong statement about what the Russians did and why we can't tolerate it. Why can't the president do that?


HALEY: David, I think through those actions, the president has acted. That's a question you will have to ask him.


BALDWIN: OK, first of all, great question. She deflected.

But, I mean, this is a woman who has managed to get away with saying things that not many others in this administration have been able to. What were your impressions of her?



Well, my impressions was that she walked -- were that she walked a very fine line. She defended the president on many different fronts. But when it came to questions like this, she demurred. She deferred the question.

And she's managed to do that. She's managed to carve out her own identity, while being a strong voice for many of the president's policies.


BALDWIN: Why do you think she's been able to do that?



AXELROD: I think -- I think she's been able to do it in part because she's a little bit -- she's in New York. She's not in Washington. She's out of -- a little bit out of the line of fire. And I think that she offsets some of those moments with other moments.

And I also, by the way, think that there are probably people in the administration who are happy that she's speaking out on issues like Russia to offset the president's reticence on it.

But in the main, she's been a very strong voice for his policies on Iran and North Korea and some other issues. So, she has gotten herself -- she has created a little running room for -- as herself.

But, Brooke, here's the thing, she was a politician before she came to this job. She's going to be a politician after this job. She's got great political instincts, and she made sure what she did was she went over Trump supporters who were suspicious of her because she was not for him in 2016.

And so this service has helped her with that group. And she's added, as I said, this foreign policy credential. So she's maintained her identity, while winning over the Trump people. She's -- as a matter of pure politics, she's done a pretty good job.

BALDWIN: This morning, she was sitting there, though, and she was saying, this is not about 2020.

But, David, if she's trying to build up her portfolio, to use your word, governor check, ambassador, check, what would be next for her? How would you advise her if she does have presidential ambitions?

AXELROD: That sounds like a leading question.

I think that she is going to be a -- I think she will at some point be a candidate for president. I would be surprised if she were not. And I think what she was doing today was preparing for the post-Trump era, whenever that comes. If he should decide not to run in 2020, you can be sure that she will be at the front of the list of possibilities.

And if he does run and either wins or loses, there's still 2024. She's relatively young. She will be certainly in the mix for that.

But what she recognizes with her comments today is that the party is really in the thrall of Donald Trump right now. That's where the base of the party is. And she punched her card with those folks, so that whether it's 2020 or 2024, no one could accuse her of being disloyal to Trump. BALDWIN: So true.

David Axelrod, thank you.

AXELROD: Good to see you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: more than three million people in the path of Hurricane Michael as it heads towards the Florida Panhandle with winds over 100 miles an hour. I will have the latest track as the storm continues to gain strength.

And Justice Brett Kavanaugh promising to be impartial as he takes a seat on the nation's highest court. We are live in Washington, D.C. with details on the cases he is set to rule on.

And, later, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp tells CNN what made her change her mind and vote no on Kavanaugh, although it's putting her reelection at risk.



BALDWIN: Another major storm is spinning toward the Florida Panhandle. Hurricane Michael is threatening the Gulf Coast. And Florida is right in its path.

Forecasters say it will likely make landfall tomorrow as a Category 3. And we are getting our first look inside the storm. These are pictures that were taken just a couple of hours ago from the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida's governor warned people to evacuate now.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: You cannot afford to wait. Acting quickly and decisively is the most important thing we can do right now. You have got to take care of yourself, three days of food, three days of water. Have your medicine. Know your evacuation route.

Make sure you have fuel in the -- in the gas tanks. So check on your neighbors, check on your family, have a plan.


BALDWIN: Millions are already heating those evacuation orders.

CNN has live team coverage as we follow the storm.

Erica Hill is standing by along the Panhandle there in Destin for us.


[15:21:13] BALDWIN: Erica Hill, let me go to you on this could all be happening right around this time tomorrow, so that your backdrop will be vastly different.

Tell me how people are preparing where you are.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It will be vastly different.

So here in Destin, I can tell you some stores and businesses right around us are already closed, Brooke. Offices here closed at noon and facilities for the county, for Okaloosa County.

A few stores still open. We were at a Target earlier. They told us they plan to stay open until 10:00 p.m. tonight. The bread aisle was bare, but you could find most of what you needed elsewhere.

Here's what I have learned, though, in talking with the county sheriff's office and also with the mayor, Mayor Gary Jarvis. So, earlier today, he told me a lot was learned in Opal back in 1995.

Even though this storm came on quickly, people know what they are dealing with in this area. He said they heed the warnings. The sheriff's office telling me the same thing, that they have seen a better response to these evacuations than they have in the previous three storms.

Mayor Gary Jarvis of Destin also telling me there is a legitimate concern, obviously, for tourism, because, specifically in Destin, this is a major, the main economic driver. That said, he thinks he's confident that his city will be back up and running by the weekend, Brooke.

A lot of fall breakers down here. This is incredibly important obviously for them economically in terms of tourism. What people are watching, of course, is just about 45 miles east of me, which we just saw Allison talking about, Panama City, Panama City Beach.

There's a lot of concern there. And the mayor, who ran a fishing charter for 40 years, until he sold it in June, told me he's been spending the last day or so helping friends get their boats ready, because they still need to move them out of the way.

BALDWIN: Oh, bless him. Well, hopefully, Destin will be back up and running for the weekend. But, yes, we will be keeping a close eye on where you are, Panama City over the next 24, 48 hours.

Erica Hill, thank you so much.

Coming up next: Brett Kavanaugh officially takes his seat as the ninth Supreme Court justice and is the latest shining example that Trumpism is working in Washington. So says a former Trump biographer. We will talk to him about why he thinks that is next.


[15:27:55] BALDWIN: Brett Kavanaugh is in the middle of his first day of work as a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

His first oral arguments kicked off at 10:00 this morning. At a ceremony to celebrate his confirmation, Justice Kavanaugh vowed to be fair and impartial, despite his dramatic confirmation process.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, ASSOCIATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: My focus now is to be the best justice I can be.

I take this office with gratitude and no bitterness. On the Supreme Court, I will seek to be a force for stability and unity. My goal is to be a great justice for all Americans and for all of America.


BALDWIN: Let's go to CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider, who is outside that great, beautiful court.

And, Jessica, you tell me, what do we know about his first couple cases?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, no big blockbusters just yet on this first day.

But, of course, Justice Kavanaugh taking his seat next to his eight fellow justices to hear those oral arguments this morning. So this morning, it was two cases involved involving federal criminal sentencing laws and the definitions of violent crime, so nothing too exciting there.

But tomorrow it could be a bit more interesting. There's an immigration case up basically pertaining to when the federal government can detain without bond immigrants who are awaiting their detention hearing. So that could be a bit more interesting, with immigration, of course, a bit more of a divisive issue.

Also tomorrow, another case involving maritime laws and product liability, so really no showstoppers just yet, Brooke, nothing too exciting, but really that didn't stop Justice Kavanaugh from jumping right into the fray here.

He asked several different questions at seven different points throughout the oral arguments this morning, and sort of cheering him on from the front row, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Of course, Justice Kennedy retired earlier this summer. He was essentially Justice Kavanaugh's mentor.

Justice Kavanaugh clerked for Justice Kennedy. Also sitting in for these oral arguments, Justice Kavanaugh, his wife and his two daughters. And Chief Justice John Roberts, he marked to the occasion by welcoming Justice Kavanaugh into the very elite club of justices for the Supreme Court. And he put it this way, Chief John Roberts saying, "We wish you a long

and happy career in our calling," so really brushing aside any of the contention that had brought Justice Kavanaugh here. It was a very cordial atmosphere inside the court.