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Father of Girl Who Died in Border Patrol Custody Disputes DHS Claims; Texas Federal Judge Strikes Down Obamacare; Growing Speculation Trump Will Face Primary Challenge; Trump Ends Year with Cabinet Shakeup; Mulvaney Called Trump "A Horrible Human Being" in 2016; Giuliani Muddies Water on Legal Pressure on Trump. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 17, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Ed Lavandera, thank you for reporting what we have so far.

We want to bring in CNN Political Commentator, Ana Navarro, who is with us.

You've been following this closely. And, again, on the story out of New Mexico with this little girl, there's so much we don't know. As we pointed out, this father says he has no complaints as to how they were treated. I want to get this reaction to the death of this little 7-year-old.

ANA NARVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's just so damn sad and heartbreaking. I really can't take, you know, the image of little Jakelin, 7-year-old Jakelin out of my mind. I think it speaks to the larger problem. I really -- you know, I really wish that folks in Washington didn't do political posturing over this issue.

It is a humanitarian crisis and it's one we need to figure out how to solve in a pragmatic and also compassionate way. I would hope that they would do things and look at things like opening up refugee centers in places where refugees could seek political asylum in the United States in their own countries instead of making a 2,000-mile treacherous journey to then have a very small chance of making it in.

I think, you know, the international community, including the United States, led by the United States, needs to do something about addressing the problems in those countries. Corrupt governments that have allowed the mushrooming of gang violence that have made those countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador some of the most dangerous countries in the world with the highest violent death rates in the world. We have to look at the root cause of it and figure out how to address it.

This is happening in our hemisphere, in our backyard, and we just can't turn our eyes away to the human tragedy that is happening there.

BALDWIN: Appreciate your passion and we'll follow it.

Let me totally switch gears and ask you about this headline, this district court judge last week in Texas striking down the entire Affordable Care Act, including the protection for pre-existing conditions. As "The Washington Post" put it today, the Republicans are to blame if the law with no alternative is not revived by a higher court.

We covered the midterms closely and that was a key issue -- it was a winning issue for Democrats. If your party doesn't figure this one out, how worried are you that it might backfire on Republicans come 2020?

NAVARRO: I think it's a huge problem. Listen, be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it. And Republicans have been wanting to repeal Obamacare. It looks like this judge has just tried to do so in this court. Let's see if it is upheld by higher courts. It's a problem.

Brooke, there's nothing more difficult in politics and in life than taking something away that has already been given. It is easier not to give something than it is to take something away once people have gotten accustomed to it. There are a lot of people relying on Obamacare, on the pre-existing condition exclusion, relying -- 26- year-olds relying being on their parents' health insurance.

There's a lot of people who got insurance for the first time in their lives, relying on those subsidies. I think there's going to be hell to pay in the ballot box. And I think we saw it already in November. It was the one polish where Democrats laser focused and it worked for them.

BALDWIN: It did work. It did.


NAVARRO: Look, I'm sitting here in Miami, and the district I'm in, this is the highest number of Obamacare cases anywhere in the nation and where we saw a Democrat win what had been a Republican seat for decades.

BALDWIN: There you go.

Looking ahead, though, Iowa. We've got new numbers out of Iowa. Trump's favorability among Republicans is up but 60 percent said they would welcome a Republican challenger. I know there's no love lost between you and this president. And imagine you would support someone opposing him. I'm imaging. I could be wrong. Do you think there could be another Republican, Ana, who has a chance at challenging him, A, and if there's, is that risky at dividing the party further?

NAVARRO: The party is already divided. As far as dividing it further, I'm not sure there's that much risk.


BALDWIN: That doesn't worry you?

NAVARRO: Really the question -- no because I feel the party is very fractioned between people who now define the Republican Party through the Trump prism and people who define the Republican Party through what it was before Donald Trump decided to become a Republican.

As a Republican, I would hope that there are other voices that are traditional Republicans that have traditional Republican values and ideology that have been long-time Republicans, not opportunists, Johnny -- Donnie come lately to the party like Donald Trump has. I think he has very strong support.

He has done and said 100 things during the campaign and as president that should have made Republicans really peel away from him, and they haven't. And so, you know, I think beating Donald Trump in a Republican primary will be very, very difficult. He's going to have to --


[14:35:48] BALDWIN: Do you think anyone -- is anyone up for the task?

NAVARRO: I can't think of any that I can readily think will give him a realistic challenge.


NAVARRO: Will John Kasich do it? I hope so. Would Mitt Romney do it? I don't know. Would Jeff Flake do it? I don't know. Look, even if they are to be sacrificial lambs, I hope this happens so there are debates and policy and values and ideology and principles and character is debated and Republicans are reminded of what it used to be like. Sometimes you take one for the cause. And I hope there are Republican leaders who come out and who risk -- take the risk and do it for the right reasons.

BALDWIN: Ana Navarro, thank you. Thank you very much.

NAVARRO: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, how much turnover has there been in the Trump administration? My goodness. Look at these faces. Look at these faces. We'll take a look at the latest big name to go and who may be next.

And tough talk from the spokeswoman for the first lady. What Stephanie Grisham says people just don't get about Melania Trump.


[14:41:13] BALDWIN: President Trump is ending the year with another cabinet shakeup. Ryan Zinke is out as secretary of the Interior and Mick Mulvaney is in as acting chief of staff to replace John Kelly, leaving at the end of the year.

CNN Politics Reporter and Editor-at-Large, Chris Cillizza, joins me now with your predictions and the part where you get to say, I called it.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. Well, given the amount of turnover with the Trump administration, I don't know that I should take too much credit. But you're right, this was way back in March. It feels like a millennia go. Pretty good/bad for the Trump administration. All this top row gone Jeff Sessions, H.R. McMaster, Ryan Zinke. The three holding off, Mattis, Carson, DeVos. I'm surprised DeVos has stuck around. You say you're picking and choosing. Not really. I'm not going to go through all of these. You only have two hours, Brooke.

I want to make this point. Katherine Tempest works at the Brookings Institute here in Washington. She's done the math. A-list staff members, not junior staff, senior staff, 65 percent turnover, Brooke, to this point in Trump's presidency. That routs the total turnover for the first four years of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Not normal.

The latest to go, Zinke. All of this stuff -- first of all, he was under investigation repeatedly, including by the inspector general at the department. But all of this falls under was he using his office for his own personal benefit? I'm surprised, candidly, Brooke, he hung on this long. In a normal administration, one operating by the traditions of politics, he is gone six months, maybe even further ago.

BALDWIN: Mick Mulvaney will be stepping in for this chief of staff role. He did have some choice words with the president in the last couple of years. Tell me about that.

CILLIZZA: Mulvaney is a fast riser in the administration, head of Office Management and Budget and acting White House chief of staff.

But like almost everybody else, while Donald Trump was running as a Republican, he had some choice words to say about him. This comes from a debate in 2016 when Mulvaney was still a member of Congress from South Carolina. Let's play it.


MICK MULVANEY, OMB DIRECTOR AND INCOMING ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, I'm going to support Trump, doing so as enthusiastically as I can -- given the fact I think he's a terrible human being. The choice on the other side is just too bad.


CILLIZZA: Paul Ryan said he was disavowing Donald Trump, speaker of the House, disavowing Donald Trump, wouldn't campaign with him anymore. Then Trump won. Then Republicans made a deal that they were going to go along because they were afraid of their own base, didn't want to lose. Mick Mulvaney saying the guy he works for, aka the president of the United States, is a terrible human being.

Back to you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza, thank you for the latest ins and outs of the Trump administration.

[14:44:42] Coming up next, fiery words from First Lady Melania Trump's spokeswoman. Why she's picking a fight with a CNN contributor.


BALDWIN: Today, the first lady's spokeswoman is jumping to her boss' defense in a fiery op-ed, in the wake of falling poll numbers, her favorability falling by double digits in a new CNN poll, and after CNN Contributor and Author, Kate Andersen Brower, ripped Mrs. Trump for saying this.


SEAN HANNITY, CNN HOST, HANNITY: What's been the hardest thing that you have to deal with?

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say the opportunists who are using my name or my family name to advance themselves.


BALDWIN: Brower's response is this: "Really? After all the pain she has witnessed as first lady from meeting with the Parkland survivor to visiting with children separated from her parents at the border, has the media really been the most difficult part of her job? If so, that's a big problem."

[14:50:04] The first lady spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, called Brower's opinion an unnecessary attack and added this: "The media consistently ignores the first lady's work. Her comprehensive Be Best Initiative is focused on helping children. Yet, somehow she is still characterized as a reluctant first lady."

With me now is our White House Reporter, Kate Bennett.

Kate, you know Stephanie. The fact that she took the time to write this and to write it, of all places, here on, what is the backstory? And what do you make of her criticisms?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: The backstory is that I think she felt strongly about responding to Kate Andersen Brower's op-ed. We have often seen her punch back. She's not different from her husband that way when she feels attacked and it's an unnecessary attack.

I think both women have excellent points to make. I think the first lady's answer to Sean Hannity were about the hardest part of her job was maybe not the best answer but as someone who covers the first lady full time I will tell you that the story I wrote about the first lady's visit to the aircraft carrier on Osprey, historical visit, stayed on top for most of the day.

The first lady is a bit ham strung in a way. She started off her tenure as not being in the Oval Office and she's also dealing with a country -- this is just stating a fact, coming off eight years of feeling like they knew their first lady quite well, Michelle Obama, who would go on talk shows and do things with Jimmy Fallon, carpool karaoke and felt very relatable to her.

Melania Trump is very different, very private. It makes it a challenge. As she is doing things, as Stephanie Grisham says, which are very typical first lady things, visiting hospitals, victims of tragedies, talking to the military, what's always going to happen with her is the mystique when she does speak will probably be more amplified than the actual event itself, and that's also a seed effect of this news cycle.

I know from covering her, Brooke, many times we'll be on a trip or event with her that is newsworthy in any other news cycle but her husband will have something happen that day.


BENNETT: Exactly. And unfortunately, the news these days is dripping from a fire hose. The things that will make headlines will upset Stephanie Grisham, the first lady, and be the juicier, more gossipy thing. But Kate Andersen Brower makes a good point, she's not found her footing. She speaks from her gut, perhaps not what should be said, but what she feels like saying.

So, you know, it's six of one, half dozen of another. Both have points, but until Melania Trump becomes more sort of known and does more interviews and is able to break through that news cycle, we might end up with more of this.

BALDWIN: We may, indeed. Her husband just keeps making news.

Kate Bennett, thank you very much.

It's important to hear from everyone, including Stephanie, on Everyone, go read it for yourself.

[14:53:35] Coming up next, Rudy Giuliani goes on TV, muddies the waters when it comes to the mounting legal pressure for President Trump. But he also revealed new information about the Trump campaign's communications with the Russians. We have that for you coming up next.


BALDWIN: You are watching CNN on this Monday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We begin with this. President Trump and his team are placing blame and causing confusion as his legal jeopardy grows. With no less than 17 separate investigations currently under way by one tally, the president in a wide-ranging Twitter rant lashed out at his favorite targets, Robert Mueller, the media, and his former fixer, Michael Cohen, for cooperating with the feds. Trump calling him a rat, while falsely claiming that the FBI broke into his office. The truth is that the FBI had a search warrant.

And Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, picked up where his client left off, branding Cohen a serial liar and pathetic. Giuliani says there's no way the president will sit down for an interview with the special counsel.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: He is special counsel.


WALLACE: He does want to interview the president.