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Fates of White House Officials; Melania Trump Calls for Firing; Florida Recount; Pelosi Woos Votes; Michelle Obama on Bush Friendship; Kirsten Gillibrand on 2020. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. A busy day. Don't go anywhere though. Brianna Keilar starts right now.


I'm Briana Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, Jared, you're fine. Ivanka, you are safe. Everyone else, ask Melania Trump on this episode of survivor White House.

The secretary of defense on the border visiting troops, but why isn't President Trump there?

At this very moment, a judge in Florida is deciding whether thousands of tossed ballots will be put back into play.

And they won and now Democrats are announcing their first investigation as the House majority.

But first, intrigue and outrage in the West Wing and the East Wing. On irate President Trump and the first lady's bold power play could result in major changes at the White House. National Security Aid Mira Ricardel is headed for the exit after Melania Trump called for her to be fired. Homeland secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly may also be on the way out.

CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joining us live.

So, Kaitlan, is the administration headed for what looks like a huge shakeup here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it seems that that revolving door here in the West Wing seems to be spinning a little bit faster these days and Mira Ricardel, this national security aide, John Bolton's number one, had this broadside delivered against her yesterday by the first lady, Melania Trump, something very stung that we haven't even seen ever in this White House.

But, Brianna, she's still at work today. She's still the national security council, in her office, in the executive Eisenhower Building, next door to the West Wing. working away in her job. Now the question is whether or not she's going to stay on in that job or whether she's just being given some time to clean out her desk. But right now her fate seems to be unclear.

She's not the only one. John Kelly is as well, once again the chief of staff, after the president has been lashing out, not only at the chief of staff, but also at his office and his deputy, Zack Fuentes, for advising him to cancel that planned trip to a cemetery while he was in Paris for the end of the World War I commemoration on Saturday. The president was not expecting the negative coverage he got from that and now he's been lashing out since then at those staffers, reigniting that speculation about just how long John Kelly is going to last in the West When.

And them, of course, John Kelly's protege, Kirstjen Nielsen, the DHS secretary, seems to be a question of not if but when she is going to be fired, as White House officials are still trying to figure out who it is they're going to replace her with at DHS.

Now, Brianna, turnover after the midterms is very usual for any kind of a White House. But what we're witnessing with the president letting Kirstjen Nielsen twist in the wind essentially here, the same with John Kelly. And the first lady delivering that statement, calling for the firing of a national security aide is not normal.

KEILAR: It is not.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

First Lady Melania Trump's bold move caught officials in the West Wing by surprise. Sources say they were blindsided by her statement calling for National Security Aide Mira Ricardel to be fired. So what prompted such a private person as the first lady to make such a public move?

The woman with all of the answers, CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett here when some insight for us.

The first lady says that this national security aide, quote, no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House. I've never seen anything like this.


KEILAR: And it seems like it was the Africa trip that really did it.

BENNETT: It does. It seems the thing that started it all was the Africa trip and that there was not enough seats on the plane for the NSC to go along. And that seemed to have sparked a bit of a feud between the first lady's staff and Ms. Ricardel. And that escalated in many different ways we're hearing that was, you know, some retaliation, maybe some leaking of stories, maybe some planting of other stories about staff members, whatever it was, turned into a very big feud.

From what we've heard, there are other parts of this administration who have had problems with the sharp elbows of Ricardel as well. So this is not that unusual. What's unusual is that after trying several times to go through the channels of the president, the direct channels, or even the chief of staff, I'm hearing, the first lady's office decided this was the best course of action to put out this statement. And again today, here we are, we don't even know what the effect of the statement really is fully yet. And that's also so surprising.

KEILAR: It's interesting because in other administrations the losing end of the battle is rarely the first lady. I mean that's really the truth.

BARNETT: So powerful.

KEILAR: The first lady often is very powerful.


KEILAR: She has the ear of the president. In this case, though, Melania Trump had to almost negotiate with her president, with the president, her husband and the press.

BENNETT: Yes, it's so true. And I think the first chapter of this, the statement was very, very shocking. But the second chapter is going to be very interesting, too, because now the president and John Bolton need to figure out what to do with this very senior West Wing aide, if he doesn't let her go, if he doesn't fire her, it looks like there's going to be a rift with the first lady. If he does, certainly it's going to have implications for what kind of power a first lady does have in the West Wing with a department like the NSC.

[13:05:12] But, either way, this was something that Melania Trump, who you said doesn't talk a lot, doesn't put out a lot of statements, must have felt very deeply. She defends her very, very small staff and this is how she chose to handles it.

KEILAR: I picture your eyebrow going up as you -- as you saw this going down, what?

BENNETT: Yesterday was a very exciting afternoon.

KEILAR: It sure was.

All right, Kate Bennett, thank you so much.

BENNETT: Thank you.

KEILAR: Right now, Defense Secretary James Mattis is on the U.S.- Mexico border. He is defending the deployment of thousands of troops there. And with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen there at his side, embattled as we have just been talking about, General Mattis toured a base camp near the border. President Trump has ordered the deployment in anticipation of the migrant caravan, which he has called an invasion. Mattis is insisting that the soldier's mission was to help customs agents and border control.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: At the present, I do not anticipate military personnel coming into direct contact with migrants.


KEILAR: Florida Governor Rick Scott will recuse himself from certifying the state's final election results. That is what his attorneys are telling a federal judge at a hearing today. Scott had nothing to say, though, during a photo op with new senators on Capitol Hill.


QUESTION: Governor Scott, do you still contend that there's fraud going on in Florida with this recount?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, everyone, thank you very much. That's it. That's it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it. Thank you.

QUESTION: Governor Scott, do you accept (INAUDIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: TV folks, this is it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. That's it. Thank you. Thank you. C'mon, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, folks. Appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys. Let's go.


KEILAR: That was our Ted Barrett with a very audible question, very obviously ignored by Rick Scott.

We have CNN political director David Chalian here with his rapid fire take on the top political stories.

And let's start with that Florida recount. I mean everything's changing, so bring us up to speed.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, well, first of all, what is clear is that all Rick Scott wanted today was that picture of him with the other senators in that freshmen class to make it seem a fait accompli. As you know, Democrats are suing really to try and expand the universe of ballots that will get counted.

The big thing to circle on your calendar, Brianna, is tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. That's when all this initial recount needs to be compiled. All the counties need to have submit their recounted numbers. But there are some counties that are saying they're struggling to meet the deadline, perhaps like Palm Beach County. So if indeed a county doesn't meet the deadline, it's the original vote total that gets counted.

We will know a lot more tomorrow because we'll know if this actually is going to a hand recount.

KEILAR: Also up on The Hill, it is fascinating that the -- potentially the next speaker, although it's definitely chaotic, Nancy Pelosi, is really trying to round up votes here.

CHALIAN: Yes, she's now on the aggressive campaign, right? She's put out her letter and now the sort of wooing the votes begin. She's meeting one on one with a lot of the new members in the Democratic caucus and trying to get a sense, of course not only is she trying to sell herself as to why she'd be a good speaker, but also she's doing a vote tally and making sure that her position is as strong as she claims it to be.

I'll say, we have a brand new poll out in CNN today and we asked nationally Democratic voters, Democrats and the Democrat leaning independents, should the leader be Nancy Pelosi or someone else? And Democrats are split evenly.


CHALIAN: And that's going to be a talking point for some of the people that are trying to wrestle up opposition.

KEILAR: All right, this next story that you're going to tell us about is one of my favorites of the day. Michelle Obama, George W. Bush, besties? Who knew? Let's listen to what she told Bush's daughter Jenna.


JENNA BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH'S DAUGHTER: I got a text from my dad this morning that said send Michelle my love. And then I thought, you know, it's so interesting how people are so interested in you all's friendship. I mean that hug was like the hug that went around the world. Why do you think people are so hungry for that, though?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: Because I think the political discourse the way it's shown in the media is, it's all the nasty parts of it. We're all Americans. We all care about our family and our kids and we're trying to get ahead. We have different ideas about what's the best way to get there. I think in America's heart, that's where we want to be. And I think that our relationship reminds us that we can get there.


KEILAR: It's a message that does get drowned out. She's right.


I mean, listen, all the norms have been broken by President Trump as it relates to the president's club. But this is a relationship that is for -- Michelle spoken has spoken, because of protocol, she and George W. Bush, now whenever all the president's club gets together, they end up sitting next to each other. Clearly there is a rapport between them.

But what Michelle Obama was says that I think is lost in today's political environment is that notion that you can totally disagree. She told Jenna Bush, I disagreed with your father on nearly everything. But he's a good man. And his heart is in the right place. And I think what you heard there was Michelle Obama sort of bemoaning the absence of that in our -- in our modern day politics.

KEILAR: All right, David Chalian, thanks so much for your takes. We appreciate it.

Well, that didn't last too long. Top Democrats are launching an investigation of Acting AG Matthew Whitaker. They're planning that. We have details ahead.

[13:10:11] Plus, it's a bold move to show up for your first day before you're officially accepted for the job, right? I mean that would be crazy in any other job, right? But that's exactly what Rick Scott did. I'll be speaking live with his campaign.

And Nancy Pelosi wins the House, but her leadership role remains in question, yet Chuck Schumer did not win the Senate and is confirmed as minority leader. We'll ask Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to make sense of that next.


[13:15:00] KEILAR: Eight days since the midterm elections gave Democrats a leg up in Congress and ushered in a record number of female lawmakers, many of them being Democrats, now eyes are turning to 2020, which will likely see several women vying for the job of president.

Here with me now is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She is a Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And in your own words you're thinking about it, about running for president. So you've talked about that. You said you're thinking about it. You want to restore the moral compass. But I want -- how -- what is your thought process? What is the timing as you move ahead and eventually when it comes to go time, you either get in or you don't, what does that look like for you?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Well, for me it's really a moral question. And I -- I'm concerned about all the hate that President Trump has put into this community, into the country, the divisiveness and I really felt called to fight back as hard as I possibly can to restore that integrity, the moral compass, the truth of who we are as Americans. And we've always cared about one another. We've always believed in the golden rule. And so, for me, I'm just going to think long and hard about whether it's something I need to do. And each one of us are going to decide what to do in the months ahead about how best to fight against what's wrong and move this country in a better direction.

KEILAR: So during your re-election campaign, your opponent, who you defeated handily, we should note, but it was -- there was an issue made of whether you were going to serve out your full term, your potential presidential aspirations considered at least potentially from her perspective as a political weapon against you. You said you wanted to fulfill that. You wanted to fulfill the full six years, which would take us to 2024. So then how do you explain that change of heart to now be saying that you're thinking about it?

GILLIBRAND: Well, my plan is to be the best senator I can for New York. But as I said then, we all needed to be focused entirely in every way on 2018. And as you stated, the midterm elections were extraordinarily. The fact that not only did the number of women turn out to vote was exponentially different than before, but the number of women running for office changed. And so you've got amazing luminaries like Lucy McBath running on a platform of ending gun violence because she lost her son. You've got incredible gubernatorial candidates. We had several women running for governor across the country. And Stacy Abrams, she's still focused on making sure every vote counts, which is one of the reasons why I wrote this book, because it's all about women's suffrage, the right to vote, the fact that we worked so hard to earn this right. And I tell the story of 10 women who did extraordinary things and never gave up and so now that right is more important than ever and that's why we need to follow it up with real voting rights reform.

KEILAR: This is your book, "Bold and Brave." And it is 10 heroes who won women the right to vote. It is a children's book.


KEILAR: The illustrations are fantastic.


KEILAR: They're very fun, I should say.

What -- what went into this? Because I know it was actually one of your kids, right, who inspired to you do this?

GILLIBRAND: Yes. So I wanted to write these stories about these very bold and brave women who worked for several generations to earn women the right to vote. And in 2020, it will be 100 years since the 19th Amendment. And so lots of reasons to celebrate.

But in light of this climate, this call to action that women felt that they had to run, that they had to be the ones to protect their community, protect their families. The fact that, you know, we have Danica Rome (ph), first transgender woman, running against the guy who wanted to ban transgender in the bathrooms, is that justice. That bit of karma that really, I think, this election was about, that women just fought back as hard as they possibly could.

And so these stories are ten women who paved the way for all of us. People that are well-known, like Ida B. Wells, and people less well- known, like Mary Church Terrell. But it's a story of what each of these women contributed to making sure all women had the right to vote, to fight against racism, to fight against sexism, to fight against the challenges we had to earn that right. And then today, now, we just have to make sure those votes are counted in Stacey's race, but also to make sure we can have early voter registration so we can actually vote by mail and have all these basic reforms.

KEILAR: And in your book you're talking about voter rights of a different type.


KEILAR: There's this issue now that certainly is of utmost concern to your party when it comes to some of the limitations on voting that affects people who tend to favor Democratic candidates. This is a big issue for you. Do you see any similarities here?

GILLIBRAND: Very much so. I mean back then they just didn't want women to vote, but they had to first work for abolition to make sure we could end slavery. And then all the women that carried that torch so effectively, from Sojourner Truth to Harriet Tubman saving families from slavery, over and over again putting herself at risk, then turned their sights to, how do we make sure all women, black and white, have the right to vote. And then they spent the rest of their lives working on that.

Today women turned out to the polls in record numbers. But you've seen in these state legislatures around the country with exact match laws, like what Stacey Abrams is having to deal with in Georgia, where people were disenfranchised and they were -- you know, really, in that election, they were trying to make sure people didn't get the right to vote, that their vote wouldn't be counted. So we really have to protect voting rights in this country and have a full court press to make sure that we can.

[13:20:06] KEILAR: Certainly with this big election and with this book on your mind, I know you're watching the House where once Speaker Pelosi is trying to be -- it almost came out of my mouth, Speaker Pelosi. She wants to be speaker again.


KEILAR: She's wooing folks. And there's a big opposition within her party, make not enough to stop her, but it's vocal. And she is essentially saying, and those around her are saying, this pink wave election, and you're really going to get rid of the woman in leadership who is at the helm.

GILLIBRAND: Who gets things done. And -- and --

KEILAR: She's also been there a long time --


KEILAR: And there's a desire to have some fresh leadership, which certainly, you know, you understand as you consider a run for president. What do you think about this?

GILLIBRAND: Well, there's plenty of room for fresh leadership. But Speaker Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi, is the best person for this job. I mean she -- not only is she tough as nails, but she gets things done and she showed it by passing Obamacare when no one thought that was possible how much she cares about hard working Americans. Like, she knows that health care should be a right and not a privilege. And so one of the things she said about what she wants to do as the next speaker is make sure that that right is guaranteed and make sure that everybody has health care, no matter if they have enough money to pay the constant premiums and co-pays and deductibles.

In fact, we really need to take on the drug companies and we need to take on the insurance companies that are trying to continue to raise rates every year.

KEILAR: I look at this book, this children's book that you put out, and one day there's going to be a book about female presidents, female political leaders. And I wonder, especially as we look toward -- as you consider running, and there are a number of other women candidates who are definitely getting favorable ratings in this early prognosticating, and Hillary Clinton, who also says, you know, she's qualified to run. I wonder, though, I wonder what you think, as someone who supported her in 2008, as someone who supported her in 2016, do you think the window of time for her running, that she is -- has passed? Is she the person for the problems that the country faces? And I'm thinking specifically of you recently, or not recently, last year said that President Clinton should have stepped aside in the Lewinsky affair. Hillary Clinton recently said it was -- she rejected the idea that it was an abusive of power. It seemed very out of step with where the national Democratic conversation is. Is that reason for why she should not run?

GILLIBRAND: I think every woman should consider whether they want to run. And there's going to be several, which is exciting.

KEILAR: But what she -- what she said, is that what you could stand behind when you are considering a run? Or if you're not running or you're supporting candidates, that's -- I'm assuming that is not what you would want to hear your candidate say?

GILLIBRAND: I think Secretary Clinton will make her own decision based on what she wants to do and what vision she wants to share with America. And I think there are many women who will look at what President Trump has done to this country, dividing us, tearing us apart, really at the seams and destroying the lines between what's right and what's wrong. I think women will feel called to this moment as to whether they need to run, whether they need to share their vision for America.

KEILAR: How important is it for them to reflect the national Democratic conversation -- GILLIBRAND: I think every woman --

KEILAR: In the Times Up and Me Too era, in a way that we didn't see her doing?

GILLIBRAND: I think every candidate needs to run on their values, on their hopes and dreams for this country, on their vision for the country. I think that's what voters are going to be looking for, that passion, that authenticity about what's most important. And I think that's what the election in 2020 will be about, you know, who you're fighting for and why. And it's going to be about kitchen table issues, Brianna, things like health care, education, jobs. You know, how hard it is for families -- and I've talked to them all across New York State, how hard it is just to make ends meet to provide for their kids and then dealing with the struggles of everyday life. It's not easy, as you know as a young mom, I mean you know how hard it is for you --

KEILAR: Not quite a young mom, but I'll take it.

GILLIBRAND: You are a young mom and you've got a young baby at home.

KEILAR: I've got a young baby, that's true.

GILLIBRAND: And you know how hard it is for you to deal with making sure you provide for your child as best you possibly can, for both your children. And the fact that we don't even have a national paid leave plan in this country. The only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have it. The fact that we don't have affordable daycare or universal pre-k. These are huge impediments for the economy to grow. And so you need to fix some basic parameters to make sure an economy can grow that would overwhelmingly help parents, like women like you with equal pay for equal work. These are real issues of moral conscience. And the reason why we should be fighting for them is because we care about one another. And that's what's been lost under President Trump, this notion that I should care about your child as much as I care about my own child, that we should care about each American's children as much as we care about our own.

And until we restore that basic moral compass, as you said earlier, you're not going to understand why health care is a right and not a privilege is so important and why people should have access to good early childhood education and good public schools and why we should really fight for full employment, not just employment for some.

[13:25:04] KEILAR: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, thank you so much. We really appreciate you being here.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you, Brianna. Thanks for having me in.

KEILAR: Of course. Thank you.

So less than a week on the job, Matthew Whitaker is the target of an upcoming investigation already. We've got the details.

And George Conway is at it again, this time teaming up with other conservatives to keep the president in check. I'll be speaking with one of those conservatives next.