Return to Transcripts main page


Paul Ryan Says Trump won't sign current bill to avert shut down; Putin praises Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria; Trump defends decision on Syria as GOP lawmakers blast him; The Dow takes a major hit amid fears of government shutdown. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 20, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Pamela Brown in today for Brooke Baldwin on this very busy Thursday, a lot of breaking news to cover. There is a battle right now over border wall funding threatening to derail a plan to avert a government shutdown. Just minutes after he wrapped up a meeting with President Trump, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan made it clear the bill that passed in the Senate last night doesn't go far enough, at least not for the President.


REP. PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The President informed us he will not sign the bill that came over from the Senate last evening because of his legitimate concerns for border security. We want to keep the government open but we also want an agreement to protect the border.


BROWN: This morning the President said "When I begrudgingly signed the ominous bill, I was promised the wall and bored are security by leadership would be done by the end of the year. It didn't happen." House conservatives are urging Trump to get something done now before Democrats take over the house next month.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've got to be kidding me. Really? February 8th when Nancy Pelosi is speaker, do we really -- I'm supposed to believe -- we're supposed to believe that we're then going to build a border security wall and keep or promise from the 2016 campaign? No way!


BROWN: I want to get right to the White House with my colleague, Kaitlan Collins. A lot of kay organization chaos, uncertainty the name of the game.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is. It looks like Washington might be getting a government shutdown for Christmas after that last-minute lunch here at the White House, they came out and said President Trump informed him he will not be signing that short short-term spending bill that they felt pretty confident he was going to sign. It seems that the criticism from conservatives who have been revolting in recent days has gotten under President Trump's skin so much that he even followed one of them on Twitter last night when she said she would not vote for the President in 20 if there was no wall built and this was essentially seen as a last chance to get the funding before the Democrats take over in January. Where we go from here is an open question right now. When they came out, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy said they were going back to figure it out. When Sarah Sanders put out a statement of the lunch, they said they wanted border security that includes a wall. It seems there could be still a disagreement over that. It's unclear where we are heading from here but a lot of members of Congress have already left town for the holidays and President Trump is scheduled to leave in roughly 24 hours or so for a three-week long vacation in Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. Whether he's going to go if there is a government shutdown, we haven't heard about that but pretty much everyone in Washington is waiting to see what happens.

BROWN: Let's take a step back. How did we get here? It all started unraveling this morning when Paul Ryan scrapped his final conference as speaker when he received a call from the White House. Here to discuss CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Doug Heye, and CNN political director, David Chalian. Gentlemen, great to see you. A lot to discuss. David, the shutdown moment seems to have dramatically shifted in the past 24 hours. What's plan B?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It shifted back to where we were a week ago, pam, if you want to go that far back when President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office with the Democratic leaders and he announced to the world he would proudly shut down the government over border wall funding. Then is seemed as if he was going to cave on that. He got a ton of blowback from Fox News and all the folks inside his echo chamber, his base of support counting on him to deliver on this key, core campaign promise. He's adjusting to that blowback and trying to move back into a position where he's willing to potentially shut down the government over this.

[14:05:00] BROWN: Let's listen to that sound you alluded to with the President saying he's OK with shutting down the government over wall funding.


TRUMP: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, chuck. I will take the mantle, I will be the one to shut it down.


BROWN: Doug, did the President back himself into a corner here? Is there an escape route for him at this point?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right now, it doesn't appear there is. His conservative base thought Donald Trump wasn't going to fight on this issue at the end of the year. I was at Paul Ryan's remarks yesterday, I had a Republican member say to me they were worried that they were seeing what he called the Fox process of the President's supporters going on Fox News because that's the direct pipeline to the President. By going on those shows, communicating directly to the President, that's how they hope to flip them. In the short term that seems to work. What I worry about is the word fight. From my previous experiences in 2013 or the Bush tax cut expirations, when you hear conservative Republicans talk about fighting more, it tells me they don't have the strike to win a punch to win a round and ultimately to knock out your opponent. Clearly there is not even a plan B here, there is not a plan C or D, and that's a problem moving forward.

BROWN: This is what the President's base wants. They want border wall funding. But what about just the majority of American people? What is the feel about this, this idea of shutting down the government over the holidays over border wall funding?

CHALIAN: This is what's so intriguing about this. We talk so often about how the President far more often than not is messaging to his base, governing for his base, maintaining that floor of support and that he never goes below it because he has this fortified base doing very little, actually, to expand, Pam. What would be really interesting here is if indeed he ended up moving forward and funding the government without wall funding, that's a position that a majority of Americans support.

Our last poll showed 57 percent of Americans are opposed to the border wall. But that's not Donald Trump's approach here. That's why last week when you played that sound in the Oval Office, that again was making sure the folks with him were fired up. He was messaging to them. This is more on brand with him to cause chaos with 24 hours to go to the shutdown deadline and now throwing into the works this motion where he's just creating -- as Doug was saying, there's no plan B here. He's causing his own party to scramble on Capitol Hill.

BROWN: You heard Paul Ryan there say that, look, we have to basically go back to the drawing board, figure out ways to get more funding. So, what does this mean? Do you think that these antics are intentional, Doug?

HEYE: Oh, absolutely. Donald Trump has been sent a message from his base and he's sending a message directly back to his base. The challenge for the President is it's not just about his base. This vote yesterday passed on a voice vote. If you're John Cornyn and you're going to have a normal Christmas, it's incredibly frustrating. If you're Paul Ryan and you've been summoned to the White House and now put out there to speak, there is no normalcy for governing here. If Trump ultimately wins, he'll learn from that and do that more and more. There's no clear there's any path for victory for the President on this, just a path for satisfying your base and not winning a round or a fight but just throwing punches and fighting has hard as you can, whatever that means.

CHALIAN: It is a perfect end note to the two years of the Republican- controlled Congress working with a Trump presidency and White House. This is a perfect end note to that two-year session.

BROWN: I just want to do big picture, David Chalian. Is this the biggest break by Republicans you've seen when it comes to the President? You have the border wall funding and then of course this decision on Syria to withdraw troops. Is this the biggest break we've seen from the President's own party?

CHALIAN: It's hard to define what a break is. We saw over Saudi Arabia a few weeks ago in the Khashoggi incident, a break also with some of those sort of hawkish wing of the Republican party senators expressing concern to the President. We've also seen sometimes the house freedom caucus do this as well as Doug has described, get the President back to a base position when it looked like it was drifting away. Where we see no break from the party and President is among voters, supporters. That to me suggests we aren't really seeing a significant break. Position when it looked like it was drifting away.

[14:10:00] Where we see no break from the party and President is among voters, supporters. That to me suggests we aren't really seeing a significant break. We may see a little break with some legislators on Capitol Hill but this President has remade the Republican party in his image.

BROWN: That's a key point. David, Doug, thank you very much. Up next, the President under fire from leaders inside his own party over his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria. How did he arrive at this decision and why is Russian President Vladimir Putin one of the few world leaders praising this move?

And Facebook under fire. Some are asking did Mark Zuckerberg lie to Congress when he testified? And the selloff continuing on Wall Street. Take a look here, the market tumbling more than 500 points. We're going to take you live to the trading floor. We'll be right back.


BROWN: President Trump today taking to Twitter to defend his sudden announcement to pull U.S. troops from Syria tweeting "getting out of Syria was no surprise. I've been campaigning on it for years." Trump's announcement, though, did surprise and stun U.S. allies and the outrage is only growing today, much of it coming from the President's own party. Case in point, Lindsey Graham from the Senate floor.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: To say they're defeated is an overstatement and is fake news. We have been dishonorable. This is a stain on the honor of the United States. I hope and pray the President will reconsider this.


BROWN: Adding fuel to the GOP outrage, outright praise from Russia's Putin.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator: As far as ISIS is concerned, I agree more or less with the President of the U.S. we have spoken about this before, have really achieved substantial changes with regard to the militants in Syria and have beaten the forces in Syria.


BROWN: CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen is live in Moscow for us. The U.S. President finding praise from a U.S. adversary. Strange times.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is strange times, you're absolutely right, Pamela. On the one hand Putin was saying he agrees with President Trump, saying they're on the ropes. But then he went on to say he agrees with President Trump's decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria. It was interesting. In one of his tweets, President Trump said that he believes Russia would be sad or unhappy if the U.S. pulls out. Certainly, I was in a press conference with Vladimir Putin for four hours today and that unhappiness was not something that we saw there. He said he thinks the U.S. should pull out. The Russians have been saying they believe the U.S. should get out of Syria as fast as possible. Also, Pamela, one of the things that inevitably happen, Russia is the most power, especially in the area where the U.S. have been, that's the area that the Russians have been interested in. Certainly, the Russians will have a lot more freedom to do that in the future. Within of the countries or the country a will have almost no influence over the future of Syria and large parts of that region now will be the United States, Pamela.

BROWN: Fred Pleitgen, thank you for breaking it down for us. I want to discuss this with CNN military analyst Major General Spider Marks and former GOP communications director, Tara Setmayer who is now a CNN political commentator. General Marks, first to you just on the reporting we heard from Fred, that Russia is praising this decision. And I guess you could say of course Russia is. It's in Russia's interest for the U.S. not to be in Syria because it gives Russia more control over the area.

RETIRED GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Pamela. The issue here is to report that Putin might in fact be sad because the announcement is quite ironic. He's doing cheetah flips now that the United States is going to disappear from that region. This is all about our relationship with Russia and our relationship with Iran and essentially Moscow's relationship with Tehran, less to do with ISIS.

[14:20:00] It is very important as we look at this, the challenge in my mind is what the President has indicated he wants to do is a tactic. What we don't know is what the strategy is. There are a whole bunch of elements of power. The military is simply one of those. To exert influence in that part of the world, we have exclusively over many years used the military element of power. Right now, that is going to leave, that's a tactic, as I indicated. So, what is the strategy? That's where we're all a little bit befuddled here and it's totally predictable. And our allies don't know what the president wants to achieve. They were not included in this discussion for this decision.

BROWN: And Congress wasn't consulted. You have France saying we're going to stay the course because we don't believe that ISIS has been decimated and members of his own party have come out to scold the President on this move. Why don't you think there was more consultation, coordination on this? Why do you think the President did this unilaterally?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's impulsive. He's had a bee in his bonnet for a period, even campaigned on it. But after consulting with the military personnel in that reason, he seemed to back away from it. And even Israel, who was very concerned about this, they said they were hold ahead time but only a couple of days ago. This is something you would think would have been discussed months in advance making a major military decision like this given the instability in that region. It untrue that ISIS is decimated. I think he's using that in a wag the dog situation because the President is embattled with many areas with the Mueller investigation and his businesses and I would hope he's not using something as that part of the world as a way to distract. Now Israel is -- they're saying, listen, we're still going to conduct our operations there because you have Hezbollah that's digging tunnels that they just discovered from Lebanon and Hezbollah is active also in Syria and they're backed by Iran. This can't make our ally Israel happy either about what's going on there because it presents a strategic problem for them when the U.S. isn't present. This doesn't make sense for anyone, including our allies surrender region except for maybe Rand Paul, who is an isolationist.

BROWN: And again, the president has been saying, look, I have been telegraphing this for a long time, that I wanted to pull out of Syria. Now we are actually doing it. There's a difference doing what you say you want to do versus actually doing it. I want to ask you about General Mattis, Secretary of Defense. Our reporting from my colleague is that he was opposed to doing this along with other advisers to the President. So what kind of a signal is this to General Mattis? How do you execute a mission with such significance that you're so opposed to?

MARKS: Two things. The relationship between the President and Secretary Mattis is very personal. I would not presume that I know how that dynamic takes place. I've worked for folks who give you guidance you don't necessarily agree with but the order's a legal one and you're going to execute and prosecute a legal order. Jim Mattis has zero difficulty following orders and ensuring it's done well. There will be debate that takes place now in terms of how this withdrawal of U.S. forces takes place. My view is that it has to be deliberate and well planned out. There will be a timeline but it needs to be done in an orderly fashion. There's really no difficulty in terms of executing the task. At the strategic or policy level, there may be differences. At the end of the day, it's a legal order that the military folks with execute very, very professionally.

BROWN: Thank you both very much. Up next, it looks like Robert Mueller will get what he wants, the transcript of roger stone's testimony to the house intelligence committee. What does that say about the next step in the investigation?

And yet another surprise in the government shutdown saga. After saying he won't, President Trump now says he will. We'll bring in Chris Cillizza to sort this all out.


BROWN: Welcome back. We are keeping a close eye on the stock market. The Dow is down more than 500 points right now. I want to bring in Christina Alesci.

CHRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: It's a blood bath. The President undermined a deal to keep the government open and avoid a shutdown and that's what made the market turn red today. Make no mistake about it, the falling started after the federal reserve announced that weight hike. That was a surprise to many market participants, even though it had been forecast and talked about. This is essentially a fight between Wall Street and the federal reserve. President Trump has Wall Street as back on this because Wall Street has been addicted to easy and cheap money for a long time and the federal reserve is trying to wean the economy off of that. It is not playing out well. Virtually every sector from retail to tech is getting hammered today. What is most disturbing to most investors that I spoke to today is that the fact that on these dips, these big declines, there isn't too much momentum to buy, bargain hunting. Sometimes when we see the bargains go down, we see bargain hunters come in to get cheap stocks. But that's not happening.