Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Says He's Not Perturbed About Looming House Investigations; McConnell Blocks Bipartisan Bill to Safeguard Mueller Probe; Flake Vows to Block Judges After GOP Blocks Mueller Protection Vote; Seventeen Democrats Vow to Vote "No" for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker; Saudi Prosecutor Seeks Death Penalty for five in Khashoggi Killing; All 67 Florida Counties Face 3PM Deadline Today to Submit Machine Recount Totals; U.S. Futures Lower After Another Turbulent Day; Judge Allows Florida Voters More Time to Fix Signature Problems. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto picks it up right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. The president of the United States wants you to know that the White House is running very smoothly and the U.S., he writes, is the envy of the world because of it. This is the same White House where a top National Security aide lost her job because the first lady decided she did not deserve the honor of working there in the same White House where an official tells CNN the president is, and I'm quoting here, "pissed at damn near everyone."

HARLOW: Children, cover your ears. Part of his sour mood is directly traced to the midterms where he's still clamoring and claiming Republican losses were caused by illegal votes. That is despite all available evidence. All evidence. But that didn't stop the president when talking about voter IDs from going as far, as you say, you even need an I.D. to buy cereal.

And don't even get him started on Florida where the deadline for wrapping up machine recounts is now just six hours away. Much more on that ahead, but let's go to Abby Phillip who joins us at the White House with more this morning.

The president says it's running as smoothly as ever. Any news to the contrary is not real. That's his take. You're hearing something much different. What is your reporting on what's going on inside the White House?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy. Well, you know, departures here at the White House are never typically done in an orderly fashion. And I think that what we're seeing already with the departure of the Deputy National Security adviser Mira Ricardel is exactly that. But there are more departures to come, according to our sources. President Trump is in a mood for change, and he really wants to move

on some of these positions that he's been unhappy with for quite some sometime. Perhaps at the top of that list is his Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Now President Trump was asked about this in an interview with the "Daily Caller" yesterday and he basically confirmed that this issue is on the horizon for him in terms of how he's going to deal with it. He says, "So you know, always in an administration after the midterms you make changes, so I'm looking at things and I've got a lot of options. A lot of people want to come in, a lot of politicians that have had very successful careers that are very good, want to come in, so I'm looking at things. I haven't made any decisions yet. I will be making a decision on Homeland Shortly, but I've not made any decisions. But I will be making changes on various things."

So he seems to be very clear about this. Homeland Security is on the chopping block, but also potentially his own chief of staff who is also close to Secretary Nielsen could be on his way out the door.

Poppy, there is a lot of dysfunction here at the White House because the president is unhappy with how things are going. He wants changes and he plans on making them as soon as he can -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: OK.

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip, thanks very much.

We're joined now by CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon, and from "Politico" and CNN political analyst Rachel Bade.

John, the president has said this before, even when the facts seem to belie the claim that everything is running smoothly in the White House. Does his base believe that?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the base doesn't care because they hired him to be a disrupter. As Doug Brinkley said on air a few days ago, this is a bull who brings his own China shop with him.

The problem is the major disconnect with reality. You know, the president's vision of a well-oiled machine contrasting with everything we know from talking to everyone else in the administration. He's captain chaos. That's actually not good for the administration. And contrary to his claims there in that statement. You know, we got the B team right now, and it's going to be replaced by the D team. That's not a good enough reason to have an appetite for change.

HARLOW: Rachel, to you. The president's claims, with no evidence, in this interview last night, and I hesitate to even bring them up because they're not based in fact but it's important because the president is saying it and people are listening, right, that, you know, last night his words were, you know, to buy a box of cereal, you need to have a voter I.D. Not the case. He erroneously claimed that people are driving around, putting different hats on and then going in to vote again. It's just not the first time he's done this. Listen to what the

president said at a campaign rally in July to the same effect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card. You need I.D.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: A, Rachel, does he think there are no controls on voting? B, do you need an I.D. to buy groceries and cereal? And C, what does the president think he's getting here?

RACHEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, of course not. I mean, look, the president is doing right now, he's bitter. He -- you know, on election night, he thought he had grown the Senate's margin to something like 55 Senate Republicans. It's easier to try to blame things on voter fraud in his mind, even though there is no evidence on that, than to actually sort of take the lesson there, which is that his party didn't do as well as -- nearly as well as he had hoped and, you know, Senate Republicans had thought.

The president had a really rough week. You know, he lost the House.

[09:05:02] The Senate right now, Democrats just took Arizona. There is recounts still going on in Florida. Some problems even in Mississippi, which is, you know, a red territory.

HARLOW: Right.

BADE: And this comes off of a -- sort of a tough trip to Paris, where he was blasted for not going to that ceremony to honor American -- fallen American soldiers. He is the number one European leader he had a good relationship with, Macron, publicly rebuked him. It's just been a really tough week for the president. And you know, he's clearly lashing out.

I just think it's going to get worse for him. So we'll just have to see how he handles that. But clearly he doesn't want to take anything as a defeat. And so he's trying to redirect the problem right now to, quote, "voter fraud."

SCIUTTO: Yes. Imagine that.

John and Rachel, please stay with us. There is a lot more to talk about going forward.

HARLOW: Right. Yes. Bracing for a showdown, Nancy Pelosi's push to take back that speaker gig facing growing opposition. You got 17 Democrats who now say they are no votes, they've signed this letter. Five other Democrats have said as much, according to our reporting, but not signed it yet.

SCIUTTO: That's remarkable after big wins in the House. HARLOW: Huge. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

What is Pelosi doing today to guarantee or fight for the votes she needs?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she's definitely lobbying very hard people who she thinks are a natural alliance will be, congressional members of the Black Caucus, as well as bipartisan groups. But I have to tell you, guys, do not underestimate Nancy Pelosi. This is a revolt. It is a tough fight here. But I covered her 18 years ago when she first made history as first female speaker of the House under George W. Bush. She is not somebody who plays around. And she is being very tough about that as well, saying that she will call their bluff when it comes to the final vote.

You mentioned the state of play. You've got 17 House Democrats who have signed this letter pledging that they will not vote for her as speaker. You've got five additional House Democrats saying that they will not, but have not signed that letter. But if in fact they go through with it, it could make it very difficult to get the number she needs.

For the speakership, there's also something else happening, which is people are publicly now saying they might consider going up against her if she doesn't have those type of numbers. They might lobby against her. One of them a very familiar name, Tim Ryan. He challenged her back in 2016 unsuccessfully. Now framing this as a way to protect this new Democratic majority.

And you also have the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Marcia Fudge. She is not committing to this, but she says she is actively exploring it. So what are we going to see in the next couple of day and weeks to come? November 28th, look out for that. That is the secret ballot. House Democrats will go ahead and decide and vote on who they want to see as speaker quietly.

Now under current caucus rules they have to go ahead and vote for that nominee when it comes to the full House floor in January. Unless those rules change. That speaker would need 218. So we're going to take a look at those numbers. In the meantime, you've got a heck of a lot of lobbying that's going on. Pelosi on the one side and very outspoken, some of them new, newly elected Democrats who say look, we want to switch it up, flip it up, and just make a difference and make a change.

HARLOW: I'm fascinated by this. And our colleague Dana Bash had a big long profile with Nancy Pelosi that everyone should look up on CNN.com, and talks about this and many other things.

So, John, to you, I mean, this isn't the first time we've seen talk like this. After the 2016 election, you had the 63 Democrats who vocally opposed Pelosi. But then when it actually came down to it and they had to vote, they voted for her. Is it different this time? AVLON: Look, I think Nancy Pelosi's negatives are still very high.

Certainly nationwide, Republicans have run against Nancy Pelosi for decades. And look, she is a San Francisco Democrat. That's shorthand for what a lot of folks in the Midwest don't like about the Democratic Party. That said, she's actually not on the far left of her caucus. She's sort of in the center. And she's probably in the stronger position than those folks would say.

I think they've got a point about a generational change. Democratic leadership is old. They've been there for quite awhile. But the question is whether Tim Ryan from Youngstown, Ohio.

HARLOW: Right.

AVLON: Can really muster enough votes to topple her and whether they'll want to send that message of disunity. Remember, the threshold is 218. My guess is that she pulls it out. But she shouldn't underestimate the polarizing figure that she is nationwide. And that's what the Democrats are responding to.

SCIUTTO: Rachel, is the argument here for the Pelosi critics that this is, OK, great, we had a great performance in 2018, but this is about setting up for 2020 and making the party have appeal beyond its base going into the next election.

BADE: Yes. Her critics are basically arguing that they did well despite Nancy Pelosi being at the top of the party. And that if she was not around, and Democrats couldn't attack a lot of these candidates calling them Pelosi puppets, some of whom lost on election day, that they would have done better and even picked up more seats.

I do think that this is different than what we have seen before because previously when, say, 63 Democrats voted against her in caucus, they did so secretly and they didn't put their name to their vote.

[09:10:10] Right now what we see is 17 incumbent and candidates actually putting their name on a piece of paper.

HARLOW: Right.

BADE: By the way, that has not yet been released. So --

HARLOW: Right.

BADE: But these people, a lot of them, have confirmed that they've signed the document saying they will not vote for her on the floor. And 17 right now is enough to tank that vote.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

BADE: The question is, can she use the next two months to sort of put all this pressure on these members, try and pick them off with promises of committee assignments. HARLOW: Sure.

BADE: You're going to see -- I wouldn't be surprised if Obama starts making calls for her. She's had top Democrats from the past come back and make calls on these people. And she's trying to specifically lean on female candidates saying, do you really want to oust a woman? Don't you want a woman in charge?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BADE: So we'll just have to see. She's got two months to do it. And it's going to be a battle.

SCIUTTO: No, you've seen that argument. You see Chuck Schumer lost seats in the House. Grant it, the math was different there. He's keeping his job. But why would a woman? You've seen that from a lot of Pelosi supporters out there.

HARLOW: Interesting.

BADE: Right. And I would --

HARLOW: Yes. Go ahead.

BADE: No, I was just going to say, yes, I've heard Nancy Pelosi supporters make that argument, too. But also Schumer was not the one who helped usher through the Obamacare provisions, you know, when Obama was in the White House.

HARLOW: Right.

BADE: I think that Nancy Pelosi has a more toxic sort of atmosphere around her than Schumer does right now. But you're absolutely right, he didn't pick up any seats. They lost seats. So the question is, why should she be pushed out?

SCIUTTO: John Avlon, Rachel Bade, thanks very much, as always.

It is deadline day in Florida. We are just hours away from machine recounts of votes there. And we will have the latest.

HARLOW: Plus, Senator Jeff Flake says he'll vote against judges if Republicans block a vote on a bill to protect the Special Counsel Bob Mueller. They need his vote. This could get ugly.

Also, tragedy builds in California. 58 people now killed by these wildfires. More than 300 missing. We will take you there live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: Democrats are vowing to ramp up investigations into President Trump, and the president says simply, bring it on, telling the "Daily Caller" in an interview, quote, "they can do presidential harassment, put very simply, and I'll be very good at handling that and I think I'll be better than anybody in the history of this office. And in a certain way, I look forward to it because I actually think

it's good for me politically because everyone knows it's pure harassment. Just like the witch hunt, the Mueller witch hunt is pure harassment."

There is that word repeated many times. Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, he sits on both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees in the House. Congressman, thanks very much for taking the time.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Of course, good morning, Jim.

SCIUTTO: That word presidential -- that phrase rather, presidential harassment has become the new buzz word, not just for the president, but for other -- you've heard it from other Republican leaders as well. But I wondered, does the president have a point there where if a democratically-controlled House becomes defined by investigations of this president that, that will actually be good for him politically?

SWALWELL: Well, Jim, what the president calls presidential harassment, we call the end of presidential immunity. He's had two years of free passes where he's cashed in on access to the Oval Office, he's tried to end the Mueller investigations, he won't show his tax returns when there's questions about financial entanglements that drive foreign policy.

But I actually think, Jim, he's going to see that Democrats are going to immediately put forward four issues that he has said he supports to see if he's serious. Infrastructure, the Dream Act, background checks on firearm purchases and reducing the cost of prescription drugs.

We want to collaborate where we can, but we will also investigate where the Republicans were not willing to and do our oversight duties.

SCIUTTO: As you know, on the Senate side, the Republican Majority leader there, Senator Mitch McConnell has refused repeated attempts to allow even a debate on legislation to protect the special counsel Robert Mueller. We saw yesterday that the retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake, he's now vowing not to vote on Judicial nominees unless there is such protection.

And that matters because there's only a one vote Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. In your view, does the special counsel need legislative protection from a potential presidential decision to fire him?

SWALWELL: Yes, Jim, and this is about the rule of law and not about any individual person. This could be another special counsel, but right now, Mitch McConnell is subverting the will of the majority in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee, a majority of its members, bipartisan passed legislation to protect Bob Mueller.

And most people at home, they think when they vote for a senator, vote for a member of Congress, that if they put forward legislation, it gets a hearing and it gets a vote. They know that it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be passed, but they expect that it's going to be voted on, and Mitch McConnell is trying to subvert the will of the majority.

And we're going to build momentum in the House here with legislation we have to protect Mueller, and we hope that with the outside voices, the 900 protests going on across the country, that we can build momentum on the inside in the Senate as well.

SCIUTTO: So, you're saying regardless of what the Senate does, the House is going to pass a measure to protect the special counsel and in effect put the ball in the Senate's court?

SWALWELL: And it's actually going to start before the new Congress takes place. We've got a budget battle coming forward. Republicans have not been able to use their own majority to pass a budget in the last two years, they've needed Democratic votes.

And we're going to insist that if you want Democratic votes across the aisle, that the rule of law is so important in our country that you must protect Mueller in that budget legislation. And so we're willing to work with them on that, but if they're not going to protect Bob Mueller, they're going to have to find the votes on their own.

SCIUTTO: Would you shut down the government without --

SWALWELL: Well --

SCIUTTO: Much protection?

SWALWELL: Jim, the Republicans are the majority, they have the House, the Senate and the pen at the White House. So they are expected to deliver the budget.

[09:20:00] They come to us because they can't do that, and we're going to say if you want our votes, we think that the rule of law that no person is above it, is an American principle and we're going to stand firm on that.

And if they can't come up with votes on their own, they're going to have to work with us and I think we can avoid a shut down.

SCIUTTO: On to the selection of the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, 17 Democrats have now signed a letter saying they will not vote for her. And those are public, not in private, that's public statements, bolder than -- bolder opposition to her than often we've seen in the past.

You are a supporter of the speaker Nancy Pelosi. Has she -- has her leadership run its course for House Democrats?

SWALWELL: No, and the American people are counting on her when it comes to healthcare protections. Healthcare, I think was top of mind at the ballot boxes this past midterm, Jim, and she was the architect of the Affordable Care Act. Most of these candidates ran on protecting healthcare and we need our most skillful player in the game in these late earnings as we wind down the Trump administration.

But Jim, I'm excited that as people look to the future of the Democratic Party, we did elect 26 candidates born after Watergate. So you're going to see transformational leadership coming. But right now, I think the stakes are too high to have someone come in, you know, in the late innings who's never been in a situation like this before.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if I can. I know you've been following closely the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, today we learned that the Saudi public prosecutor, he's announced death or at least capital crimes, the possibility of a death sentence for five people involved.

But again, placing separation between this operation and the Crown Prince. Do you believe it's credible that the Crown Prince -- that an operation like this would happen without his knowledge? And do you see the Trump administration going along with this, in effect putting distance between Khashoggi's death and the Crown Prince as you know, a very close ally of this administration.

SWALWELL: It's not credible, Jim, I expect the administration, they should be pushing to learn more about this. But Jim, before we go into -- you know, the prosecution of these killers, where is Khashoggi's body? Doesn't his family deserve the closure of, you know, dealing with his remains?

I would insist on that first. Finally, people ask, you know, why do the Democrats want to see the president's tax returns beyond, you know, the fact that we've seen it for the last 40 years, the last president.

Well, it's instances like this. Now, his financial entanglements, particularly the investments he's had from the Saudis and the Russians are driving foreign policy decisions. And without knowing, you know, his financial interests, we're not able to interdict and intervene when the president acts in a way that is contrary to American foreign policy.

SCIUTTO: Congressman, Eric Swalwell, thanks very much this morning.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, fascinating. And ahead first, to Florida we go, the drama just building there, overnight election officials in Broward County finished their machine ballot recount, but this morning, a judge in Florida will allow some voters more time to correct signature problems.

SCIUTTO: Plus, a quick check on the market before the opening bell there. U.S. futures pointing lower this morning as you can see there, the Dow closed down as well yesterday 206 points, we'll see if stocks can make up those losses in today's session, we'll be on it, stay with us.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARLOW: All right, welcome back. This morning, a federal judge in

Florida has extended a deadline for voters with mismatched signatures to essentially try again. Well, moments ago, Florida Governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott announced a plan to appeal that ruling.

And this comes as officials in Florida work to meet a 3:00 p.m. deadline on the recount. A deadline that is, by the way, today in fewer than six hours. Sixty seven counties, all of them, must submit their machine vote totals, Broward County wrapped that up last night, Palm Beach warning this morning, they may not finish.

Let's go to Steve Bousquet who joins us, Tallahassee Bureau Chief for the "Tampa Bay Times". You're outside the federal courthouse, the live trucks, all the reporters are around you, this is starting to look a whole lot like 2000.

Walk us through how this judge's ruling this morning on the signature extension deadline this Saturday, what actually happens? I mean, does that mean for these 5,000 voters, they essentially go to their home, knock on their doors and say try your signature again? It just seems pretty arbitrary.

STEVE BOUSQUET, TALLAHASSEE BUREAU CHIEF, TAMPA BAY TIMES: Right, Poppy, what's going to happen is, and there are about 5,000 people who fall into this category. They're everywhere. And things have gotten so much professional, more professional with the Republican and Democratic campaigns.

The candidates and the parties know exactly who these people are. They've probably got the names of all those people who had a signature mismatch. So it's probably incumbent upon the candidates and the parties to track these people down.

Obviously, Bill Nelson is behind in this race. Bill Nelson has to find as many of these people as possible. And do the math. Even if all 5,000, which is not going to happen, were Democratic voters who vote for Bill Nelson, it only cuts his deficit in a little bit less by half.

HARLOW: Right.

BOUSQUET: So Rick Scott went into Atlanta, into the Federal Appellate court in Atlanta this morning, he's asking for a stay of Judge Walker's --

HARLOW: Yes --

BOUSQUET: Order, and --

HARLOW: Yes --

BOUSQUET: Walker is hearing other cases as we speak, including one that would extend the deadlines.

HARLOW: Right, I mean, we are -- sort of our minds are boggled even covering this stuff about how many lawsuits there are, and Judge Walker is quite a character, right? I mean, he used this analogy. He said "I feel like Captain Kirk in the episode where the triples are starting to multiply in terms of the number of lawsuits here.

And it's getting nasty.