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Senators, Kushner to Push for Criminal Justice Reform; Michelle Obama: 2020 Dem Field Wide Open; 10 Key House Races Remain Undecided; Pelosi Talks About the Gender Bias in Congress. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired November 13, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:31:05] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Congress is back today and it's a mix of post-election meet-and-greet and huge challenges. Newly elected members who take office in January are here for orientation. That's always fun.

But the current Congress including members who just lost their seats have a wadi year end agenda. The government needs a new spending bill by December 7th. The president demands millions in border wall funding in that plan. And don't hold your breath, but remember on the campaign trail he also promised a post-election plan to cut middle class taxes.

Plus this bipartisan surprise. The New York Times is first to report presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and a bipartisan Senate group have a prison reform deal that would shorten and reduce the use of some mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, eliminate a regulation that triggers longer sentences, the use of a gun in connection with the initial crime at play, and retroactivity extending a reduction -- reducing sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine for some convicted offenders.

Now, Kushner presents the plan to the president today. The challenge on the Hill, help me those of you who went to Hill, is Mitch McConnell who's apparently said you prove to me you got the votes and I will bring it to the floor.

Is there, in 2018 Washington after this election going to be an actual bipartisan significant achievement?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The question is, does President Trump support it? That's kind of where it's going to ultimately come down because the president is going to face pressure from both sides. He did have his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions who was opposed to this. We'll, that's not an issue anymore but there are some voices in his ear who probably will lobby against it like Tom Cotton who is very concerned about this.

KING: You mentioned Tom Cotton. Just let me interrupt you for a second. This is what he wrote in August. "Under no circumstances should Congress cut mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes or give judges more discretion to reduce those sentences. That foolish approach is not criminal justice reform, it's a jail break." He goes on that. RAJU: And the question, will there will be some Democratic senators who believe this too tough so they want it to go further. So that coalition there to get through both chambers is going to take a lot of presidential leadership. So the question is, does Trump want this?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The one-plus in -- on the positive side of the ledger of getting this done is, he's probably going to have Lindsey Graham as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee who is very much for prison reform, criminal justice reform. And even people like Dick Durbin who have -- he's worked with Lindsey Graham, again, one of the top Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

Also, remember last week, Chris Christie was at the White House. You know what he was doing? He was having a meeting on prison reform. Can you imagine only in this Trump Shakespearean world would this happen. Chris Christie who put Jared Kushner's father in jail when he was U.S. attorney in New Jersey, imagine he gets the AG job, works with Jared Kushner on criminal justice reform. It could happen, folks.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: And there's peace in the Republican Party at last.

KING: The world turned upside down.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: But I think, look, Democrats have the House, their margin looks better than they had once expected in the Senate. I think there will be a real question about whether the liberal Democratic senators think like let's just hold out. And maybe, you know, they can get a better deal on this in the new Congress. So that's also another dynamic there (INAUDIBLE) the president.

BADE: The House has a version of this bill that only does prison reform and does not reduce mandatory minimum sentences. But or my understanding, the only reason why it doesn't go that far is because they were concerned that Trump would say this is weak on crime, I need to look tough and we are not going to pass something like this.

So, I do think that there is bipartisan oversight in the House and it could very clear -- very easily clear if it moves to the Senate.

KING: So the question is, can you do and we could put up the calendar. They're not here very much, they got four weeks to the end of the year and they're only here most usually about half the week when they come through. They have to pass the government spending bill. You see the dates there, the working dates, the legislative dates there.

They have to pass a government spending bill. The president said during the campaign when he sort of bit his own tongue and accepted the last temporary spending plan that he was prepared to shut down the government if he didn't get his full border wall funding. That's the lucrative.

BADE: I think the question here is what the Democrats do honestly because of course Republicans are going to push for this in both chambers.

[12:35:03] I think that in the Senate, I've heard that there are some Democrats who like a lot of the other appropriations packages and so they potentially want to do some sort of deal, but House Democrats right now specifically, a lot of those that were just elected, they want to hold a line right now. They do not want to do a sort of deal and give Trump his $5 billion border wall financing. So, I think we could see Democrats potentially fractured in how they handle this situation.

RAJU: Yes, and remember there's $1.6 billion that was approved by the Senate. There's a bipartisan deal in the Senate for $1.6 billion.

BADE: Right.

RAJU: Trump wants a lot more than that. Will he be satisfied with something in between? Will Democrats be satisfied with something in between? We don't know yet.

The president may want to fight this very hard knowing that it's going to get a lot harder for him in the new Congress.

LERER: I think politically, it's really hard for Democrats because the president made this election a referendum on immigration, on the border wall in the final weeks. So these Democrats are saying, well, look, you know, we won. So why do we have to give in on this issue?

And if, you know, they were to give in on this issue is that, you know, sort of negating the promises that they made to their voters. So I think it's really tough for them to play in the House.

KING: To that point, they also know it steams him and when he get steamed, that's what helps the Democrats with these suburban voters. So there maybe -- the campaign may not be over, it's just a possibility.

Up next, Michelle Obama weighs in on the current crop of 2020 contenders and one possibility she says, maybe right under her own roof.


[12:40:54] KING: Topping our political radar today, the defense secretary James Mattis says there's been no change in the military's support mission at the southern U.S. border, the region he's planning to visit tomorrow. Secretary Mattis says troops will continue their task of obstacle and placement as he put it, as a migrant caravan continues to make its way north through Mexico. Secretary Mattis says that mission not expected to change though he added, quote, we'll have to see what the future holds.

Auto tariffs and whether the United States should slap them on foreign carmakers, a topic of discussion at the White House today. President Trump taking up that issue with his advisers after studying the impact such tariffs would have on national security. He previously cited national security concerns to justify tariffs on other foreign goods. And the trade war with China meanwhile Vice President Pence telling the Washington Post, brace yourself. The administration ready to, quote, more than double the tariffs already imposed on Beijing unless the Chinese Government makes major concessions on an array of economic and trade issues.

And the last first lade says the current first lady seems content with going it alone without with her advice anyway. In a new book, Michelle Obama says she told Melania Trump help was just a phone call away if she ever needed it, extending a courtesy Mrs. Obama says Laura Bush offered her during that transition. Mrs. Obama telling ABC Mrs. Trump though hasn't called or reached out.

She was also asked on Good Morning America who she'd like on the Democratic ticket in 2020.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I think at this point everybody is qualified and everybody should run. I might even tap Sasha. Sasha, you got some free time?

I'm going to be looking closely at who handles themselves and each other with dignity and respect. So that by the time people get to the general people aren't beat up and battered.


KING: I don't have my Obama birthday book at hand, but I believe Sasha is still too young, correct?

RAJU: Yes. And good luck with that hope of not having these candidates tears each other apart.

BASH: Also, I remembered 2008, it wasn't exactly a walk in the park when she and her husband were battling Hillary Clinton. It's the nature of the beast unfortunately.

LERER: Right. Some Democrats will make the argument that had Hillary Clinton been beaten up a little bit more, she might have emerged a slightly stronger candidate. That there's a benefit those attacks because it prepares the candidate for the general in some regard.

KING: You don't think Bernie Sanders beat her up enough?

RAJU: She ignored though all the texts (INAUDIBLE).

KING: What's your list, 30, 40? Never mind.

BADE: 150 right now.

KING: OK, that's the bait list. We're going to start from now listing, (INAUDIBLE) it down.

Up next, the races still have not been decided one week later. And before you go to break, check out the Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer posting a picture of his visit with the newest Democratic senators. The Republican pickups, Arizona and Nevada.


[12:47:57] KING: The midterm election one week ago today. But we're still counting not just in that Florida Senate recount but also some House races still out. Those of you who you know your civics will understand there's something missing here.

Here's what we called so far, 225 seats for the Democrats, 200 for the Republicans. What's missing? Ten, right? There are 435 House seats. There are 10 other races where people are ahead but we haven't called them yet.

As it now stands, if they ended the way they are now, it'd be 231 for the Democrats, 204 for the Republicans. That would be 39 Democratic pickups in Republican districts, only three flips for the Republicans that way.

Let's take a quicker look at these 10 districts. Let's just bring them out here. First, let's just take a look at it. One of the things that makes it interesting, these 10 districts, they're from coast to coast. You have a Republican trying to hold onto his seat in Maine. Republican trying to hold onto a Republican seat now incumbent in Georgia.

Couple out here for Republicans in California. I'll stretch it out a little bit. A couple for Democrats, three for the Democrats in California. What makes this interesting as you look as we continue to count the votes as week later is that if you just bring this back out, which of these seats would be pickups?

Of the seats, Republicans are now leading their Republican seats. Democrats have a chance if the vote total holds to pick up at least six more seats. These are six Democrats leading if you bring the East Coast back in. Six Democrats leading in districts currently held by Republicans. So Democrats had a big day last Tuesday, they have a chance to build on it as this plays out. At least six more potential pickups for the Democrats as we continue to count the votes.

And as we do, this programming note, votes are still being counted in critical midterm races. CNN will bring you tonight "Election Night in America Continued" as we continue to count the votes here. That's tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern.

And when we come back, some fresher members of Congress facing serious Pelosi pressure you might call it. Their calculations and hers, next.


[12:54:19] KING: The fresh faces of Congress get their first taste of Capitol Hill today its new member orientation begins. The Democrats can expect some quality time with Nancy Pelosi. And some aggressive lobbying from Pelosi allies who say she is the best choice to be the next speaker. Congresswoman Lois Frankel put it this way to Politico.

"I think it would look ridiculous. We have a pink wave with women who brought back the House. Then you're not going to elect the leader who led the way? No, that would be wrong."

But many of the new members are on record saying they would never vote for Pelosi for speaker. As Pelosi works this new math challenge, remember she's the only woman ever elected to be speaker and she's guided by earlier battles to rise up.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: When people said, oh, there are a lot of the women supporting Nancy to run. And they said, why, do the women have a list of things they want us to do.

[12:55:07] Why don't they just make a list and give us the list. This is the Democratic Party in the year 2000.


KING: That was the men saying, why don't you get a list from the women and maybe we'll do some of the things they want? So she's done this before. Does she understand this is a little different?

BASH: Yes. I mean, I think so. You know, we've all talked to her. I went with her to Baltimore where she's from, where it all started, where she grew up for this series "Badass Women of Washington". And, yes, she understands it's different, it's a different time, it's a different climate that there are so many people who ran against her.

She didn't say this is me making an observation right now. Isn't it interesting that Nancy Pelosi who has, you know, maybe close to a new 40-seat pick up is being questioned about whether she'd stay as a leader in the wake of her victory? And Chuck Schumer who had losses, nobody is questioning whether he should stay there.

It's really noteworthy and I think -- look, I think that there's definitely a gender issue here.

RAJU: And I think that's the argument that her allies are going to be -- are already making. I mean, they're saying, look, she had been attacked throughout the country, all these money dumped on her, look what happened, it didn't work, there's no reason to remove her. Now the question is, you know, we're all doing different -- web accounts to determine whether or not these people who voted no, you know, we -- about 23 members both current and incoming have said they'll vote no on her on the floor

Now, the question is, will they actually do it when it comes time for that actual floor vote in January. That's the big open question a lot of belief that a lot of them will not do and ultimately vote for her.

BADE: And Pelosi right now, she -- the way she sort of getting at this people issues, reaching out folks who supported these candidates financially or otherwise when they were actually running and getting them to sort of do this whisper campaign. You know, Pelosi is probably going to be speaker, you know, trade carefully. You know, you're going to -- you don't want to be in her bad graces, et cetera. You could potentially get committee assignments.

For example, (INAUDIBLE) supported a whole of bunch of Democratic women who are elected on last Tuesday, and the leaders of (INAUDIBLE) currently reaching out to some of these candidates including candidates who said they will be no on the floor. So, you know, it's just like, it's a whipping effort both from Pelosi but also her antagonists right now are trying to get these candidates to sign a letter so that they can put something out publicly saying she hasn't have the votes right now.

It's -- I mean, I think everybody says, you know, don't bet against Nancy Pelosi. But it's definitely going to be a different sort of race than she's ever had.

LERER: (INAUDIBLE) about the Democratic Party bench in the House. Like the party needs to find a way and I think that's something they are looking at to get more younger members involved and that something that a lot of the members out in the campaign trail talked about that. So that could be a way of appeasing some of those Pelosi --

KING: Is she part of some solution that (INAUDIBLE) is current number two and number three or are you bringing a number four, five, and six and promise they'll move quickly. That's the calculation. That would defend on the math. I want just play a little bit more from your interview with her because one of the things she does not lack is confidence.


PELOSI: I have a broad base of support in the country financially, politically, and otherwise which is valuable to our caucus. None of us is indispensable but some of us are just better at their jobs than others. I want women to see that you do not get pushed around. And you don't run away from the fight.


KING: Sometimes you play one card at a time in a fight. She's playing a lot of cards right there. I raised the most money. I have other supporter on the country. At the end otherwise, you mentioned part of this, would you like to be on Ways and Means or would you like to be on the committee on widgets?

RAJU: That is one -- you can't downplay that. That is probably the most significant thing for a lot of these members coming in. She makes those decisions about where you sit and how you stand within your caucus. And whether you're going to be effective or not. And that's why people are (INAUDIBLE) votes --

BASH: It is old school politics and she knows how to play it. She says she learned how to count votes from her father who was a congressman and then the first Catholic mayor of Baltimore and she never -- KING: She's got the index cards?

BASH: She does not have the index card.

KING: The new age (INAUDIBLE) and everything.

BASH: She said she doesn't, I asked.

BADE: But also just going back to the segment you just did, I mean, there's a whole bunch of House races that are still uncalled and, you know, Democratic leadership thinks at lest half of them are going to go for Dems which totally grows her margin. She might have -- she might be able to lose as many as 20 members on the floor. And, you know, I was talking to somebody who has voted against Speaker Ryan on the floor just a few hours ago, and he was like, you cannot underestimate or understate how difficult it is to vote against your party and it's -- there's a lot of pressure and this is coming from somebody who doesn't like Paul Ryan (INAUDIBLE). It's just a lot of pressure on them.

RAJU: Her votes are assured, it's going to be much harder for those votes to go vote no because she will remember that as long as they serve.

KING: She has that good memory. She has a very good (INAUDIBLE). I can tell you that.

Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts right now.