Return to Transcripts main page


CNN: Trump Eyeing Replacements for Kelly, Nielsen; Anti-Pelosi Dems Warn she won't have Votes for Speaker; Brush Fire Sparks Overnight near Los Angeles; Soon: Mattis to Visit U.S.-Mexico Border; Trump "Invasion" Talk about Caravan Decreased after Election. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 10:30   ET



MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": So the president is clearly in a bad mood. I think the double whammy of the midterms and the Mueller report - the Mueller investigation sort of seeming to rev back up have clearly gotten inside his head. And the trip to Europe probably didn't help any. And so, you know when he gets angry, he tends to lash out. And that can fall on whoever is sort of within his radius.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Molly, David mentions there the questions at CNN reporting that he spent more than 10 hours this week answering those written questions from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But also, he claimed a tremendous victory in the midterm elections - really not typically with the House gains for Democrats expanding since election night. Is the president coming to realize that these next two years are going to be very different from the first two years in terms of investigations, not being able to push legislation through Congress with Republicans controlling both Houses? I mean, is that really the realization here?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I think it is hard to tell because in one sense he seems to have embraced split power on Capitol Hill saying he thinks he can negotiate with Democrats. And in fact, having Democrats in charge of the House will not a result he wanted and not a result that's necessarily going to help him, does give him a foil and a possible avenue to triangulate and try to show the independent voters in 2020 that he's a negotiator and a deal maker and a pragmatist.

I think for the president, the reason we are seeing so much of his aggressive personality is because he is now in cycle. Presidents always do what they think works until it is proven it doesn't. And even though it didn't work out so well for his party in Congress in the midterm elections it still hasn't impacted him. And I think until he sees his behavior impacting him, I think especially because he is now running for reelection and especially because you're going to have Democratic chair men in the House hit his White House with subpoenas and requests and all sorts of demands. I think you're going to see him as aggressive as he was in the 2016 campaign. And that will continue through the next election unless there is a change of course that he deems necessary because he sees data that he actually believes is telling him he should change course.

SCIUTTO: And even if he ignores that that tells him that. David Drucker, Molly Ball, thanks very much.

Several Democrats on Capitol Hill with a warning for Nancy Pelosi saying that she will not have the votes to become the next House Speaker, is that actually true? We're going to ask the lawmaker who plans not to support her. That's next.


[10:37:07] SCIUTTO: We are awaiting a moment on Capitol Hill. Any minute now, the newest members of the House of both parties will gather for a class photo there on those steps but after picture day. Incoming freshmen Democrats have a high pressure task ahead. They will have to decide whether to support Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker. 10 new incoming members have already said they will not vote for Pelosi. Two incumbent Democrats say they are 100 percent confident that Pelosi will not have the votes to be speaker. But Pelosi told our Dana Bash that she is certain she will win.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: 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 our jobs than others.


SCIUTTO: There you go. Well, one of the members of the House who says that they will not vote for Pelosi is the Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins from New York State, Buffalo area. And he joins me now. Congressman, thanks for taking the time.

REP. BRIAN HIGGINS (D), NEW YORK: I'm glad to be with you, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: So, two years ago, we saw 63 Democrats chAllynge Pelosi's leadership. Although in the end most of them did end up voting for her on the floor. Why is this leadership chAllynge different in your view?

HIGGINS: Well, let me just say this. You know I'm not a social member of Congress. I don't have a personal relationship with the Democratic leader. Those that do say she is a good person and a person of integrity. That's not the issue here.

The issue is after 16 years of the same leadership we need a new direction. And that is what people voted for this November. I think that's what people are looking for in the new Congress.

SCIUTTO: But wait. For Democrats, at least, and as you know Republicans made Pelosi or tried to make her a voting issues. She was in a lot of ads both on the local and national level and yet Democrats gained to you know by some estimates close to 40 seats. Why do you think her leadership during this cycle was negative rather than positive?

HIGGINS: Because Congress is the most powerful branch of the federal government and the most powerful branch of that is the House. The House is under performing. We talked about lowering prescription drug prices for 20 years. Prescription drug prices are at a 20 year high. We talked about -- you want to help people with preexisting conditions, let them buy Medicare at 50 as an insurance option. And you watch how quickly private insurance will change their behavior.

It is just utilizing the power that you were elected to exercise. I don't want to defer to a leader. I want to get back to what they referred to here as regular order. That is getting the power to the individual members in the traditional role of the committees. I'm in the House Ways and Means committee. We have broad jurisdiction over many issues that could change the direction of this country and the communities from which we come.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this because inevitably when you have a split House there will begin to be some talk of cooperation across the aisle.

[10:40:02] But you know the state of the relationship between the two parties right now. Are there areas of potential cooperation between the Democratic controlled House, the Senate and the president? You mention prescription drug prices.

HIGGINS: I think lowering prescription drug prices, allowing people to buy Medicare at age 50 to provide them real protection for preexisting conditions because Medicare is always covered preexisting conditions and how about nation building right here at home?

You know we have spent over $200 billion in the last 20 years rebuilding the roads and bridges of Iraq and Afghanistan. Let's invest a trillion dollars to create $11.5 million jobs, 192 jobs a month to rebuild the infrastructure of America and put Americans to work. This, what is going on here is Congress has been underperforming. They had been marginalized. They have been marginalized by the White House. It is Congress that has the constitutional power to make a budget, to make laws and Congress just needs to get back to what it was originally intended to do. There is a reason Congress was dealt with in the first article of the Constitution.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this just from a political perspective realistically. Can you see a large number of Democratic House members voting along with Republicans for a bill supported by the president? Is there political incentive for them to do that, do you think?

HIGGINS: Let me tell you a story. Last March I was with the president. We talked about infrastructure. And he went on for a good 10, 15 minutes about how we should fund infrastructure in a more traditional way. So what happened? He was probably told by the House Speaker at the time that there weren't the votes for it. So what did they do? They advanced a $1.5 trillion bill that really wasn't a bill as evidence by the fact that there was no House or Senate bill to support it. I think the president wants to do a trillion dollar infrastructure bill that is financed in a traditional way. Democrats won that. You will see great economic growth that could exceed four percent. Last time we had four percent economic growth, we didn't have a budgetary deficit, we had a budgetary surplus.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Brian Higgins, thank you for taking the time this morning.

HIGGINS: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: We do have a live pictures now -- those of the new members of your House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats, dozens of them in this cycle. They're going to gather for their class photo before they get into the hard business of choosing leadership positions including that question of whether Nancy Pelosi will again be Speaker of the House. We're going to bring that to you live when it happens. Meanwhile, we're going to take a short break.


[10:47:12] SCIUTTO: These are live pictures from Capitol Hill there as the new members of both parties in the House of Representatives taking their class photo as you look there. There are a lot of firsts in this incoming class, the first Native American women, two of them to serve in Congress, the first Latina woman to serve from the state of Texas. And you see a tremendous amount of diversity there in that photo for these new members coming in.

This, a tradition every year they take that photo, the new comers. And very soon after this, they're going to have to get to the hard work of choosing who their new Speaker of the House is going to be as Democrats take control of the House. We're going to continue to follow the horse trading that's happening behind the scenes as they make that decision.

Meanwhile, in other news, the death toll is now climbing to at least 50 people in the California wildfire wildfires. And this morning, residents in the southern part of the state are facing a new one - a new wildfire, the so-called Sierra Fire started just overnight east of Los Angeles. You can see firefighters using bull dozers there trying to fight the flames and create barriers to stop the progress of the flame.

This, while thousands of other firefighters battle other wildfires across the state, those are the three big ones there, the Camp Fire up north, Woolsey Fire, Sierra Fire, there are also Hill Fire close to Los Angeles. Combined, those fires have destroyed more than 230,000 acres, thousands of homes like these.

First responders are also dealing with more high winds, low humidity in the forecast. That sadly means more fuel for the fires. Most people were driving away from those fires. An ICU nurse in Paradise, California was driving the other way, right into the flames.

On Thursday, Allyn Pierce used his truck to help evacuate people as the hospital he works at went up in flames. Pierce's truck was briefly trapped by the flames but after he was freed, Pierce did not head for safety. Instead, he turned around and drove back to that hospital. You can see the scorch marks there on his truck.

Allyn Pierce joins us now on the telephone. Allyn, thank you for joining us. What a remarkable act of bravery. What made you do it?

ALLYN PIERCE, ICU NURSE, CHICO, CALIFORNIA (via telephone): I don't know how brave it is to get trapped in a fire, but heading back to the hospital that seemed like the safer thing to do at the time. And when I got there, there were other team members that were also trapped in the fire. We headed back to the hospital. And then, people from the community started arriving and needed assistance and we set up a triage to try to take care of them.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. And I'm sure there were a lot easier things you could have done. When you got back to the hospital, how many people were you able to help?

[10:50:05] PIERCE: It was probably closer to 20 that showed up with fire. I mean there were fire crews there, law enforcement, medics, nurses and hospital doctors that could make it out. We set up - we just set up a small you know triage emergency hospital using the training that we have had for this. And you know just a combination of preparedness, but also improvising, breaking into the hospital to get equipment, to get IV bags and equipment and medicine and be able to treat the patients that were coming through.

SCIUTTO: We have been showing pictures that you took from inside. I mean, it just seems you are surrounded by the flames as you were driving there. You recorded a good bye message to your family. You must have been -- you must have been frightened.

PIERCE: I think the word is terrified. I stayed calm, but I was terrified.

SCIUTTO: What did you tell them?

PIERCE: You have seen the pictures. The fire was right there. I told them things like I'm trying my best to get out of here. If this doesn't work out, I love you all. You know, I was just thinking of my family and my friends. I knew my wife and children were down safe. That took a lot of the fear out of me where I was able to keep my head about me. And that would made it a lot easier when I was at the hospital helping people that I didn't have to worry about them.

SCIUTTO: It had to be terrifying to leave a message like that. Again, we have been showing pictures of your truck, you know the lights melted, the sides burned, blackened. We understand Toyota heard your story. They're going to get you a new one.

PIERCE: They are. But I still have been driving that every day. That truck is still working just fine. The rear passenger door is welded shut. But it mostly works. Mechanically it is working just fine.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, it is a remarkable story. Thank you for what you did there. Not a lot of folks would have done that.

PIERCE: I think anyone I work with would have. SCIUTTO: Take care of yourself and we hope the community recovers quickly.

PIERCE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, Secretary of Defense James Mattis is set to arrive in Texas any moment now, more on his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border. That is next.


[10:57:03] SCIUTTO: This morning the U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expected to arrive in Texas any moment now to visit troops - thousands of them stationed at the Mexico border. Last month, President Trump announced a plan to deploy as many as 15,000 troops to the border states of Texas, Arizona and California, this in response to the migrant caravan full of people seeking asylum slowly moving and still hundreds of miles away from the border.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is following the latest. Barbara, how has the Pentagon justified the continued presence of thousands of troops along the border?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Jim. What the Pentagon is saying is they are doing this at the behest of the administration which wants the military support for border control authorities who are leading the mission to stop people from coming across the border seeking asylum in crossing points that are not legal crossing points. That is the stated mission that the U.S. military is in support. They are laying concertina wire. They're trying to harden these points at which they think the migrants may try and cross.

But in Texas in particular where Secretary Mattis will be this morning and later today, there is a big question if any migrants are even going to show up. Right now we know that there are some migrants, way to the west trying to cross near Tijuana in California. None so far in Arizona and back in Texas there is no indication of any migrants yet even headed that way.

There are caravans deep in Mexico near Guadalajara, near Veracruz. This is hundreds of miles away. So it's raising the key question. The concertina wire has been laid. The barriers have been put up. What do all of these hundreds of troops in Texas that Mattis is going to see, what do they do now because they are only there for that mission and to support border authorities, they will not be encountering migrants themselves. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Have you spoken to officials in the Pentagon who fear that they were used here for a political stunt pre-midterms?

STARR: Well, I think there is no question that any military person - and yes, some of them have said this very privately -- knows there were political overtones to this.

Think of it this way. There was the rush to get all of these troops. There are about 5,900 of them, nowhere near 15,000. You know before the midterms, you heard President Trump talking or tweeting about the threat of the caravans every day. That is all somehow just gone away. And they used active duty troops because they have the authority to send them right away, not National Guard. So, sure, there is a political overtone to it. I think there is an acknowledgment of that.

SCIUTTO: All of those guys are going to miss Thanksgiving with their families as well. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, as always, thanks to you. Thanks to everyone out there for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto. It's always good to have you with us. "At This Hour" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.