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Government Will Shut Down Tonight at Midnight; Trump Left with No Deal on Wall. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 21, 2018 - 21:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Jimmy, Merry Christmas, to you and the family if I don't see you. All the best, brother.


CUOMO: I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME. The partial government shutdown happens in three hours, midnight eastern. What's it over, a word, frankly, wall. They can't agree on building the two sides, but boy, can they agree on digging. The hole they're putting us in gets deeper every day.

We have the latest developments of what this shutdown means coming up and we're going to go one on one with the Freedom Caucus Republican who is pushing for the righteousness of this showdown, that's first up.

Does the President actually get a win here, even with his base? That's our great debate, and he was the last pillar of stability and strength in a chaotic administration. What does the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis mean for our fighting men and women? Forget about the politics. Think about them, a veteran is going to tell you exactly what it means. He says there has never been a more important time. What do you say? Let's get after it.

All right, I hate to say it, but it is happening. Partial government shutdown is imminent. The House and the Senate are adjourned until tomorrow afternoon-ish. What can that mean? We'll get into it.

But let's remember how we got here. Last week the President said he was "proud to own a shutdown in the name of border security." Now he's trying to put it back on the Democrats. What changed? I guess he remember that he's never owned a mistake throughout his presidency. It was the hard right freedom caucus that got to him. They pushed the President to take it this far.

So let's find out why. Let's bring in Congressman Ted Yoho and let him make the case to you.

Welcome to PRIME TIME. Merry Christmas in advance to you and the family.

REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA: Same to you, Chris. Thanks for having me on.

CUOMO: All right, why is this shutdown worth it? YOHO: Everybody is trying to avoid a shutdown and our goal is that we

pass something over to the Senate the 217 Republicans pass, and that's with about 17 members gone, so there's plenty of support on the Republican side. This is something that should have been done early in the year, March, September, but I can't change that. I can only say that we stood strong with what the American people gave us the majority for, for a short period of time, and that we delivered that to the President.

CUOMO: But you knew --

YOHO: And we gave it to the Senate.

CUOMO: But you knew that putting the features that you've put in this bill guaranteed a shutdown, not just with the Democrats, but within your own party, there's division about whether or not things like chain migration as you call it, family reunification, the way the first lady got her parents into the country, those are controversial things within your party, which is why you're a caucus. Let alone with the Democrats.

YOHO: Sure.

CUOMO: So you knew a shutdown would happen.

YOHO: Those are controversial but that's not in the bill. What's in the bill is the money for border security which we all agree on, I don't care what party. You have to have border security to have a secure nation. I mean that's indisputable. And so we put the money in there.

CUOMO: We got offered $25 billion by the Democrats for border security, remember that deal not too long ago.

YOHO: Well, yes but that some -- they also walked away from that, too, you know, back when they were negotiating that. This is something that we sent over there. This is something good and also got the disaster relief that's so need for the Southeastern states that got hit hard by the Hurricane Michael, just in my state alone, there's over 3 million acres of timber on the ground.

CUOMO: Right.

YOHO: $1.3 billion in timber going to waste and farmers aren't going to be plant their crops next spring if we don't have disaster relief, and that's something that we have to get in there.

CUOMO: Right. But Democrats aren't holding you up over that, Ted. I mean, this is about the wall and a lot of this has nothing to do with you. I know that your caucus is supportive of the wall but you know really can't make sense of it for the American people. You guys are talking about the same thing. The President calls it a wall.

YOHO: Sure.

CUOMO: Let's be honest, during the campaign, he sold it as something that was going to be new and of course there was the whole Mexico is going to pay for it, let's just remind people.

YOHO: You know what, I agree.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be made of hardened concrete and made out of rebar and steel.

It's not a fence. It's a wall. You just misreported it. We're going to build a wall.


CUOMO: And now, we often say you can't paint in poetry but he took it to another level. This as he campaigned in puppet talk (ph), it was never going to be a cement wall. That's not what the men and women protecting us on the border ever wanted. They want more of what's there, what they call Ballard fencing.

I stood in front of a down there recently with the CBP folks, who are, you know, working behind off, trying to keep us all safe. The Democrats say they'll fund it. They have funded it in the past. You guys are talking about the same thing. How come you can't get it done?

YOHO: We are. And as you know, Chris, I mean you've been around and your job is to educate the American people. There's a wall up there already. There is wall construction going on now.

CUOMO: Right now.

YOHO: Yes, in different parts of the country.


YOHO: And where custom border patrol, or ICE says we need a wall, is where we need a wall.

CUOMO: Right.

YOHO: And I've always said, I don't think we need a wall from sea to shining sea and I will not support that but I will support where the experts say we need this for border security.

[21:05:04] CUOMO: And the Democrats agree with you.

YOHO: Well, they agree in words but they don't agree in action.

CUOMO: $25 billion.

YOHO: Wait a minute, well -- yes, but they walked away from that. And then they --


CUOMO: They walked away because of the add-ons that Mark Meadows was writing about putting in this bill now, family reunification and all those other things about legal immigration.

YOHO: Those didn't get in there. It was a little over $5 billion for the wall and right a little over, almost $8 billion for hurricane disaster relief, and if you remember, President Obama had portions of a wall built.

CUOMO: Sure.

YOHO: George Bush, Bill Clinton --


YOHO: But the left today, the Democrats want to say this is Trump's wall.


YOHO: And so they're against anything that says Trump. This is not Trump's wall. This is America's wall. This is something, this is an American wall for American national security, and that's something that you and the media have a responsibility to get this out and get the partisan politics out of this.

CUOMO: Look, I literally went down there and stood in front of it, and said CBP is right, we need this. I've been down there lots of times, lots of journalists have --

YOHO: You have and you've done a great job.

CUOMO: But here is what I can't explain to the American people, the impasse because you going to have a shutdown that is supposedly done to help the men and women who are keeping us safe on the border but 54,000 of them at least at CBP are going to have to work without pay because of the shutdown. So you say you're doing this to help them but you're going to punish them.

YOHO: Wait a minute, let's get the facts straight. They're working without pay.


YOHO: They get paid bimonthly, which is probably the 1st and close to the 15th. So nobody's missed a paycheck yet. But there is this narrative out --

CUOMO: They would, right?

YOHO: If it goes past January 2nd because January 1st is a holiday. So if it goes beyond that, we can have this discussion. But right now, nobody is not getting paid, this is something that's going to be fixed within I would say 72 to 96 hours.

CUOMO: I hope so. I hope you're right.

YOHO: I think you'll see that happen and then let's focus on what really is impacting this country, it's our debt, our education system needs to change, and our scores are dropping around the world, and then you've got the ever-present what's going on, in the Middle East, North Korea, and then China, you know, and don't forget, Russia is now in the western hemisphere, they're not calling them military bases off the coast of Venezuela, but they're in a western hemisphere. This is something this nation under John Kennedy almost went to war with Cuban missile crisis.

This is something we need to take our focus off these, I don't want to call them petty fights because they're serious fights but we need to focus things that the nation is facing and these are serious threats to all of our nation and it transcends party politics.

CUOMO: Well, look, I like the last part of the sentence, right, because --

YOHO: That's good.

CUOMO: There's so much that transcends party politics.

YOHO: Oh man, I'll tell you what?

CUOMO: I keep pushing you men and women, maybe the Christmas spirit will make a difference or maybe you'll see, you can't rely on the President. I don't mean it as a criticism, I mean it as an observation. You guys have to do the job for yourselves and then see him as his proper role, which is not directing legislation. It's to sign it or not sign it.

Let me ask you about something else though in terms of how the President complicates the process. This report out that the President finds out about the Cohen charges, right?

YOHO: Right.

CUOMO: He doesn't like it. Understandable. What's not understandable is that he goes to his guy Whitaker and says I'm really mad at you. How could you let these guys have these charges come down at me? Isn't that concerning to you that the President of the United States goes to the acting AG and says I don't like these charges?

YOHO: Well, I'm not in his shoes, but I wouldn't like those charges against me, and so you know, we hear what he says, but look at what he's done already with the Mueller investigation. He's let that go on, and that's something I personally feel should go away. I mean, that's something that should never have started.

CUOMO: Do you think the President should stop the Mueller probe?

YOHO: No, I didn't say that.

CUOMO: I know you didn't. There's a reason because you know that would be dynamite politically if a President were to stop a probe he's involved in?

YOHO: I agree with that and that's not what I said, but I personally think it should never have started because it started under false pretenses with a FISA warrant that should not have been signed and you know that.

CUOMO: I do not know that.

YOHO: When you look at the first FISA warrant that got signed because of the Steele dossier concocted.

CUOMO: Only in part. And look, you don't know either, because you haven't seen the FISA document.

YOHO: Only in part so that's means part -- well, I've read enough of it, I read the intelligence briefings on it that I can't go into, but only in part, so I mean it's garbage. It should never have started.

CUOMO: Right. But the reason it started was because of Rod Rosenstein believing that there was a conflict and needed to have this done in a way that could be preserved. Rod Rosenstein the guy they brought in to submarine Jim Comey. So they like to --

YOHO: Yes, but Rod Rosenstein was a guy to signed the last FISA warrant and he knew at that time that it was concocted, and so you know --

CUOMO: He has never said it was concocted.

YOHO: No, but we know --

CUOMO: Look, I mean it all matters, because now you have the President yelling at the acting AG, who is his guy and I can't believe you think that's an appropriate thing for a President to do.

[21:10:07] YOHO: I'm not in his shoes. I don't have the facts around me that he does.

CUOMO: But you have oversight. You were elected, you raise your right hand. People put you in there to fight for them. Should the President call the acting AG and say I don't like this, it's bad.

YOHO: I'm not going to weigh in but should --

CUOMO: Come on, Ted, it's almost Christmas. Give me a gift. Should President Clinton get on, with the acting AG on an investigation that he is doing against president's life?

YOHO: Nope, I agree.

CUOMO: It was really wrong when the former president had that weird meeting at the plane, it was wrong.

YOHO: This is good. We're agreeing, it's Christmastime.

CUOMO: Yes, except I don't care about president's past. I worry about the man who is in there right now and we have unprecedented presidential interruption.

YOHO: There's two years of investigations going on, millions of dollars, a lot of time that we've spent up here. There has been no Russian collusion, and here we are --

CUOMO: You don't know that.

YOHO: Well, two years into it, I no know that.

CUOMO: 16 guys around the President lied about contacts with Russia, why they do that? Why they lie?

YOHO: So did James Comey, so did Strzok, and all this --

CUOMO: About contacts with Russians, James Comey?

YOHO: No, but about other thins and about the Steele dossier.

CUOMO: I lied to my kid about what the going rate is for teeth from the Tooth Fairy, doesn't have anything to do with the Mueller probe.

YOHO: Yes. Some -- those are OK. I'll let you deal with your child and god, but again we can focus on this stuff but look at where our country is. Look at the threats that we're really facing. You've got China building weapons that we can't defend against, hypersonic weapons. You've got China with their espionage. You have got Russia in our western hemisphere. You've got Russia backing out of the INF, not backing out, they haven't been compliant with it.

CUOMO: Right.

YOHO: And these are serious threats that threaten all Americans and the security we have in this nation, and so yes, these other things are important. Let the committees do what they're supposed to do and let's move beyond that and let's focus on it so that the President can do -- you know, you brought up the disruption that the President has. I disagree with you. You look at our unemployment rate. You look at the new starts in business, business confidence. You look at the stock market, yeah, it's taken a dive here, but compared to where it was four years ago, it's still doing great.

CUOMO: Yes, I know, he wasn't here four years ago though.

YOHO: I know it. But two years ago he was here --

CUOMO: Part of the reason the markets is tanking.

YOHO: -- and it was still doing bad.

CUOMO: Yes, but right now, he --

YOHO: The markets go up and markets go down.

CUOMO: I know but --

YOHO: It will adjust and it will be better.

CUOMO: But when you do what he's done with trade and when you create uncertainty the way he does, the markets respond negatively.

YOHO: What do you want him to do with trade, just ignore China and let them keep 367 billion --

CUOMO: My job to test what he does. Your job is to help shape what he does.

YOHO: You know, I appreciate what you do, but if you look at China, $367 billion trade deficit to their favor, $600 billion in intellectual property theft, and then the espionage and theft of military grade secrets.

CUOMO: All right, nobody's arguing to China --

YOHO: All right, so --

CUOMO: -- in different levels but it's how you address and what you do with it.

YOHO: If President Trump or a president doesn't stand up at this point in time in our nation, when are you going to do it? You're going to wait for another four years?

CUOMO: I understand the timing. It's about the tactics and the plan.

YOHO: I'm proud of what he's doing.

CUOMO: Tactics and plan matter to him. We'll see what it is, Ted. We'll see what he lays out.

YOHO: You and I agree on that. Your tactics and mine might be a little bit different than his.

CUOMO: I don't know.

YOHO: But he's a very successful person in what he has done, and so I still rely on that, his, I guess just business acumen that he has.

CUOMO: There you and I disagree. I cannot make a compelling case that the President was a great business businessman in his former life. A great sales man, yes, running businesses, I can't make that case.

YOHO: That's part of politics.

CUOMO: Well, he's great at that. Ted Yoho, thank you very much.

YOHO: Merry Christmas to you.

CUOMO: Best of Christmas to you and your family.

YOHO: Thank you.

CUOMO: I appreciate you being on PRIME TIME. We'll have you back soon.

YOHO: You have a great night.

CUOMO: All right. All right, so look, you can debate about which way it goes and what

other things should be happening, whether it's big enough or not, whatever. Is it going to happen tonight? It seems as though it is, a partial shutdown. We have a great team of reporters up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. There's a lot of yip-yapping going on beyond the scenes. Will any of it make a difference? Next.


[21:16:45] CUOMO: The House and Senate are now adjourned. That means the government shutdown begins at midnight eastern. Any chance it doesn't? If it does, how long does it go? We got CNN's Phil Mattingly and Kaitlan Collins joining us with the latest. Thanks to both of you for doing this late here.

Phil, is there any magic left in this moment?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly not tonight. I think the bigger question now is, not will there be a shutdown. That's guaranteed. It's how long is it going to go.

And Chris, in talking to people that have been directly involved in these negotiations over the course of the last couple hours, the word I'm getting right now is pack a lunch. It's going to take a while for them to get there and the reason why is two-fold. Basically, there's two key players here that everybody needs to keep a close eye on, there is President Trump, who made clear $5 billion was his threshold for the wall, he has going to come off of that.

Is he willing to do that and perhaps more importantly, do Republicans trust, after he appeared to do an about-face earlier in the week, that whatever his team says he will agree to, he will agree to in the end, and the other is Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi. Her level has been from the very beginning $1.3 billion in border security, none of that money can be used for the wall. Would she be willing to move off that, even a couple hundred thousand dollars, maybe a couple million dollars.

Those two questions right now remain unanswered and those two central points are the gulf that divides these two sides right now, a division that at least as far as I'm being told at these early stages on the brink of a shutdown, one we know is going to happen has not been bridged up to this point, Chris.

CUOMO: Remember when the Democrats had $25 billion on the table in exchange for a DACA deal? Well, it seems like a life time ago.

All right, so Kaitlan, Ted Yoho, Florida Freedom Caucus, congressman was just on, he says 48, 72 hours, wow we'll get this figured out. Nobody will get hurt. Are you hearing that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's what White House officials are hoping. They have realize this shutdown is coming in a matter of two hours and 41 minutes and however many seconds are ticking down. Now, they want to figure out how to blunt this, make it as short as possible because they know, if it lasts just a few days, they can message it properly. But if it goes on that's going to become a problem for the White House and it's going to be bad optics and they're fully aware of this.

But Phil makes the right point there. A lot of this all comes down to President Trump, because he can send the vice President, his incoming chief of staff and even son-in-law and senior adviser up to Capitol Hill for five hours, as they did here tonight, but the question in the end is, does the President agree with what they're on board with, because that is what Republicans have been waiting to hear, essentially to have the President articulate what it is exactly he wants and they didn't feel like they got that today.

The other thing is that President Trump is hearing this criticism from people that he's back pedaling on his signature campaign promise, building a wall and they feel like this is the last time to get the funds. And you hear people like Ted Yoho and other people who are going after the President saying don't back down from this fight, continue to dig in. So that is the messaging that the President has right now, Chris.

CUOMO: Complicated. Phil, Kaitlan, thank you so much. Good luck to both of you getting answers on this one.

All right, so Trump told Democrats to their face, actually to your face as well, remember, it was on live TV. I'll carry the mantle. The shutdown is on me. Now, he wants to say it's all their fault. Who is going to get the blame if Uncle Sam goes broke? Who wins here? Great debate, next.


[21:23:07] CUOMO: Who will win and who will ultimately be blamed for this shutdown? Great debate. Bakari Sellers and Nigerl Innis.

Niger, it's on you, the President said I'll carry the mantle of the shutdown because border security matters, end of story.

NIGER INNIS, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, CONGRESS FOR RACIAL EQUALITY: I think -- the only problem I have with what the President is doing now and what the Republicans in Congress are doing no you, is that I feel it's a little -- it's better late than never but I would preferred it a little earlier.

The fact is they should have taken a page out of Obama's playbook. President Obama when he came into power had a few top priorities. One of those priorities was pushing Obamacare through. Obamacare was not very popular with the American people. It lost Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts.

Nevertheless, Obama stayed focused. He stayed the course because he paid attention to his base. I'm going to shock you here by actually applauding the President for doing that and wish that President Trump had done so sooner. I don't think there's anything wrong with the President of the United States, whose number one responsibility is national security and protecting the American people and our sovereignty to shut down the government over this, blame or no blame.

CUOMO: All right, but hold on. First of all, it wasn't just the base that wanted health care reform when Obama came in, but I'll tell you what, Bakari, I think Niger's point is even stronger than he's making it, because the Democrats know that there is no new wall. This is about building more Ballard fencing which was there seven years ago and we need more of. And the Democrats acknowledge that, that's why they put $25 billion on the table not too long ago. Why get caught up in the word play? Why not just fund border security?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I have to complete your sentence, because they put $25 billion up but that was in exchange for DACA program that actually worked and gave them a pathway to citizenship.

CUOMO: Right.

SELLERS: What we're looking at now is simple a red herring. This wall is a $5 billion red herring. There are a few things. Why are we paying for this wall, when the President of the United States and everyone else were going on the campaign trail and chanting build the wall and who is going to pay for it, Mexico.

[21:25:15] Why can't Niger and every other Republican come up before you simply saying that was a lie. The President lied about that. That is coming out of your pocket.

CUOMO: Hold on, Bakari, hold on. Hold on. Let's get an answer to your question. Mexico paying for it, it was B.S., it was always B.S. And you know it. Niger, yes or yes?

INNIS: No, I don't think it was B.S. I think the President had intended as a candidate to leverage --

CUOMO: First time he went to Mexico to talk about it, he wouldn't mention a word about it and the Mexican President said better not bring up that wall because I'm not paying for it.

INNIS: That was diplomacy. But regardless of Mexico paying for it or not --

CUOMO: You're killing me now.

INNIS: The President is doing the right thing here and he's is also doing the right thing about something that is not really discussed, that is critical to reducing illegal immigration, and it's on the asylum question. They just cut a deal with Mexico, where asylum seekers, we know about the caravans, we know about the Russia and those were trying to seek asylum in the country, they will remain in Mexico and housed and even potentially given jobs in Mexico while they await proper procedure to see if those asylum claims are legitimate or not. That is a major change and a major victory for the Trump administration.

CUOMO: Bakari?

SELLERS: That's why I also say this is a red herring because what we need in this country is comprehensive immigration reform. I mean, part of the thing the Republicans don't want to talk about are when are we going to make sure that enforce our immigration laws against these large employers that are hiring illegal immigrants.

INNIS: Fair point, Bakari.

CUOMO: Fair point.

SELLERS: But to go just a step further, the Mexico talking point is very sensationalized. But to talk about this issue of the budget and where we are today, Congressman Yoho was absolutely false and incorrect. These government employees are working for free. No one gets a check prior to them doing work. You work those hours and then you get paid for those two weeks. So yes, those border patrol agents that you saw, those ones that we need to fund, we need to pay more and we actually need more border patrol agents, they will be working for free. The irony of this whole thing --

CUOMO: If the shutdown goes past their payment date. I get what you all are saying but they still have a problem.


SELLERS: They also have a problem and my only point is that this is stupid, and what happens is, you have a President and Ann Coulter, you have a President in Rush Limbaugh, and this is why the President's word is not worth anything. Because he made a deal with Mitch McConnell, he made a deal that he was going to sign it and then he listens to William O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and all of a sudden the government shuts down? This is the third government shutdown and you have the majority in the House, Senate and the White House, you cannot run government, you do not deserve the office if you cannot run government and you have three shutdowns. That is the talking point that's not being said.

INNIS: What he listened to is he looked at his own platform, and realized that one of the most important issues that got him the Republican nomination over 16 other well-qualified candidates that got him a large electoral victory, Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton in the general election and that was doing something about illegal immigration. He is starting to do so right now, that deal cut with Mexico to fundamentally change asylum crisis at the border --

CUOMO: The deal is not done.

INNIS: -- wall question and forcing the Democrats' hand is the right thing to do. He waited late to do it.

CUOMO: The deal is not done and something else, we're dealing with something that is symptomatic in this shutdown of a larger problem. He can't get deals done.

SELLERS: Correct.

CUOMO: He sold himself as a deal maker. It was a farce, because he's trying to do things on his own, because he can't get deals done. That's why the Supreme Court packed with conservative justices just had to cut him down, and say you can't change asylum law on your own. Stop trying. Go make a deal. And he can't do it. INNIS: They promoted judicial power over the executive branch. I think it had more to do, Justice Roberts who weighed in with the four other liberals and he's not a liberal, but he's certainly not rock conservative with some of his announcements.

CUOMO: Oh boy, are you kidding me? He was the golden boy for you guys.


SELLERS: This takes, immigration, if we're going to change our immigration system in this country, it takes a bipartisan, comprehensive approach.

CUOMO: 100 percent.

INNIS: Oh, you mean like DACA and President Obama's executive order, Bakari, like DACA and DAPA?

SELLERS: Yes, you need that to be a part of your comprehensive program.

INNIS: No, President Obama used an executive order to change immigration laws. That had nothing to do with national security.


SELLERS: -- does not mean you're correct but during that time, you had eight individuals --

INNIS: No, but me being correct means I'm correct.

SELLERS: -- who put forward a comprehensive immigration plan only to be ostracized by the far right of the party.

[21:30:06] And what I'm simply saying here is, there are people like you, right, and other Republicans, they are same people who believe that someone who had multiple bankruptcies is a good businessman, like the congressman said earlier. There are people like you who believe that building a wall is going to solve our immigration problem, and better yet, Mexico is going to pay for it.

What I'm trying to say and I think what Chris is getting down to is we need real leaders with real solutions and I'm tired of playing games, because right now, you're shutting down the government and 800,000 people at Christmas have uncertainty. No one can tell you when this is going to be over. 800,000 people at Christmas who work for you and I, who do the hard work every single day, and you want to come up here and spin yourself into a pretzel, that's fine.

INNIS: 75 percent of the government is still funded, number one.

SELLERS: What about the 800,000 people.

INNIS: There have been -- I believe the Senate just passed a resolution saying that government employees can get paid, the House is probably going to vote on that tomorrow morning but look, I have a choice of a President that --

CUOMO: Why inject the risk, Niger?

INNIS: I'm sorry?

CUOMO: Why inject the risk? You didn't need to do any of this.

INNIS: Because the President, and like I said before, I'm critiquing him, I think he should have done this back in September or in March, certainly after the election.

CUOMO: But this isn't the ACA.

INNIS: The President uses executive power to protect the people of the United States as opposed to a President like Obama who used executive power for DAPA and DACA.

CUOMO: Listen, Niger, you would be right if right now, there was absolutely no barrier anywhere on the southern border. Then you would be correct, because the President would be saying I need to build something. There's nothing there. There is something there. In fact, what is there is exactly what he said he was going to build anew. So it was always a farce. This is about more --

INNIS: And some places, yes.

CUOMO: -- more, not something new.

INNIS: Chris, you're right, and some places, there is border fencing, border security that is working very effectively. But you've been down to the border.


INNIS: You've talked to the border enforcement.


INNIS: And they said we need more resources.

CUOMO: Right.

INNIS: We need a wall.

CUOMO: And then you know what they do?

INNIS: I follow them.

CUOMO: And then you know what they do --

INNIS: So you don't pay them.


CUOMO: So you want to help the CBP but you'll shut down the government, and they don't get paid and they all say the same thing, we need barriers, but you guys cannot forget this part of the conversation, it is not a panacea. We are not a wall away from fixing the problems, and they have bigger concerns than the barriers.

INNIS: Absolutely. I do too.

CUOMO: And nobody is touching them and that's something we need work on. I got to go, Bakari, Niger, god bless you for making my show better.

SELLERS: Merry Christmas.

INNIS: Merry Christmas to both of you.

CUOMO: Merry Christmas to your families.

I appreciate it all.

The shutdown is not the only crisis, OK. Pulling out of Syria sent General Mattis packing, and now the fighting men and women, the people we say we care so much about, they don't know who has their back in the White House. Veteran is here to discuss being used and abused by D.C. next.


[21:36:30] CUOMO: All right, we know that Defense Secretary James Mattis vehemently opposed the President's plans to pull out of Syria and Afghanistan at this time, and in this way, but what does all this mean for the troops? Let's get perspective from Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. My brother, the best to you and the family for Christmas.



CUOMO: Thank you for everything you do.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you.

CUOMO: So we lose sight of ourselves, we are thinking politics, politics, politics. No, let's put up pictures of the four generals that were once there because this gave comfort, Flynn, McMaster, say, whatever you want, Kelly, Mattis. Now they're all gone. The fighting men and women, whom do they feel has their back? And I know they're not a monolith, but I'm saying what are your concerns, what is the level of popped eyebrows over Mattis being gone?

RIECKHOFF: This is a big deal. This is on a higher level than anything else. I mean Mattis is revered in the military community. He is the most popular leader I've seen in our time in the military. There are shrines to General Mattis in the barracks of marines and in the battlefield. He had I think an 84 percent approval rating in the active duty, 90 percent among the officers. He is on another level. People are very, very nervous. They feel uneasy. Mattis is a guy who has our back from the grunt all the way up to the general. People had faith and they trusted Mattis infinitely.

CUOMO: So him leaving hurts. The context bothers you just as much. When you heard about the Syria pullout, whether it was the timing or the politics, but you're generally a pretty even guy. You do not feel even about this.

RIECKHOFF: No, this is a very important moment, a very fragile moment in our country's history. We've never had a secretary of defense resign in protest.

CUOMO: Right.

RIECKHOFF: I mean what he said to the President is, you're not listening to me. That's what he basically said, and for the secretary of defense, who is also a retired general, to say that to the President, means that the President is not listening to the troops and that puts them in a very precarious position right now. People are just getting off planes and finding out, and people are really, really hit in the gut, because Mattis is not there to have our back. That's why Trump picked him, because he knew how popular he was, he knew how revered he was, and now he's going to pay a huge price and I think America is going to pay a price.

CUOMO: The guy so popular that even with a nickname like mad dog he was too serious to even let people call him that. That's how much integrity he had. So, you know, this is a tricky one for the ordinary civilian because we hear "bring them home" that's good. We want you home. We don't want our men and women out there on this missions that are called advise and assist and we know that's a lie. You know, we don't want you exposed to it. But then we hear something like what Lindsey Graham said. Let's play what his concern is.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Based on my assessment in Afghanistan, if we withdrew any time soon you're paving the way for you a second 9/11.


CUOMO: Now, that is a scary phrase for him to bring up. So how do you balance the, we want our people home with the risk of leaving?

RIECKHOFF: I think that's the job of the President every single day. What you want him to do is be even. You want him to be thoughtful. You want him to listen to military advisers and I think you have to look at the larger context of the last two years. The military has been getting jerked around every day from the sprinting of troops down to the border to the Trans ban (ph), to the parade, to NATO, you know, Mattis was blocking all that, Mattis was keeping us protected from all the politics. With Mattis gone, we don't know what's going to happen. We need someone an even hand on America's guns, on America's military.

When a cabinet level secretary resigns and all of the turnover we've seen, that's one thing. But this is the Department of Defense, the department of war. This is different, this is like the gun cabinet in the House. The rest of the House is getting wrecked but there's been a Rottweiler in front of the gun cabinet, right? And the Rottweiler is gone. So no one knows what is going to happen. And that's why this is such an important moment, not just for our military, but for our country and to the world.

[21:40:15] CUOMO: So a buddy of mine who I grow up with, who has been in and out of theater over there, he called me last night and said, remember what the problem is. You think civilian we'll come home, if it's really that bad, we'll go back. He's been in Iraq. He was in Afghanistan. I mean, you know the situations over there from your own experience. He says it's not how it works, Chris. If we have to leave, it is so much worse when we go back, it's like we were never there. Is that true? Is it that?

RIECKHOFF: Sometimes. It's not that simple. I think the point is, you have a thoughtful process, you want to have a deliberate process. You want to listen to the troops on the ground and this is a President who said he was going to listen to his generals. Well he's not listening to the generals. He made a very big political populist argument.

CUOMO: He says he knows better than the generals.

RIECKHOFF: Well, he made a populist argument that the generals, were his generals they're going to be on his side, it was part of why you should vote for him, right? And now he's not listening to the most revered general of our time. So, you know, we are looking to see what Mattis says afterwards. Is he staying there all the way until February? That would be surprising, I think to most of, when he comes out, he may be the most important voice in the world and then trying to talk to our allies, to try to talk other militaries and to talk to the American people.

CUOMO: What does it mean to you that the President says not joking around, I know better than these guys, and the Pentagon, other generals around, he doesn't listen to them.


CUOMO: To somebody who fought the wars yourself, and knows the men and women who are there now, what is the implication of that?

RIECKHOFF: It's laughable. I mean, the arrogance in combat is a dangerous thing, and especially when you're arrogant about the other people's lives, right? These are America's sons and daughters, there's nothing more sacred than the responsibility the commander in chief has to be thoughtful and when and how he sends those men and women in harm's way.

They want someone who understands their situation and listens to the people they trust and there's nobody they trust more than Mattis. So this is really -- you know, I got so many direct messages, tweets, texts, people really feel uneasy, and these are the people who are holding the line, these are the people who defend our shores, in our bridges and tunnels, this was their leader, so they're going to need answers quickly. CUOMO: Now, help the audience that's on the left side of this issue

understand the politics. Because, you know, Biden wanted to do this. Biden wanted to pull out of Syria, Obama was no rush to get into Syria with this whole red line thing, you know, the red line couldn't be red enough, no matter what they did, he wouldn't say they crossed it. So isn't this a good thing? Isn't the President just doing what the left wants?

RIECKHOFF: Again, what Mattis is saying you can't just rip out of there and leave people hanging. We have got allies that were expecting us to be there and tomorrow we're gone. You're in the middle of a fist fight with your buddy standing next to you, and you say bye, I'm gone, you left him in the fist fight alone and sometimes outnumbered.

That's what we're doing to our allies. When you yank you the out of there without giving any advance notice, without -- doing any diplomacy, giving our military leaders time to socialize that decision, you're leaving your allies hanging, you're also endangering the opportunity for future allies to stand up, if America leaves our allies on the battlefield, other allies are not going to step up. And that going to reverberate for generations, that's the cost here.

CUOMO: You can burn once, there's no second time.

RIECKHOFF: Yes, that's it.

CUOMO: That's why if I need backup I come for you.

RIECKHOFF: You got it.

CUOMO: P.J., thank you very much.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, brother.

CUOMO: Best for Christmas.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you. Merry Christmas.

CUOMO: Let us know how we can help the cause always.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you always, appreciate it.

CUOMO: All right. So did you hear, Trump's wall, the President is saying I'm going to build the wall, it's no longer a wall. He's proposing something else, like some kind of Jedi mind trick that's going on with the Democrats except it's child's play, it's obvious and it's B.S., and I'm going to take you through it, next.


[21:46:36] CUOMO: We are getting caught up in a wall and it's such a deception. Steel slats, walls, are they interchangeable. The President just tweeted this, a design of our steel slat barrier which is totally effective while at the same time beautiful. But in the past he has said concrete, remember that rebar, concrete. Mexico is going to pay for it. It was all B.S., it was never going to happen. You know, the idea we campaign in poetry, this is campaign in. Poppycock.

Now he's trying to switch it. Listen, I was down there. Show them the pictures. This is called a bollard fence, all right. This is what has been there, this is what they need more of, this is all that will be and it is enough for the men in CBP and the women down there. This is what they want.

Let's bring in D. Lemon. This is the frustrating part for me. This is a war of words. That's what they're building down there, and that's what they want. That's all their ever build down there.


CUOMO: There will be nothing else.

LEMON: Yes. So caveat is we need border security?


LEMON: OK, but here is the real thing, it's a farce. Are they going to start, they're going to be -- what are they going to -- are they going to redesign airplanes so people who fly over here from European countries or other countries who overstay their visas, which is the biggest immigration issue that we have, illegal immigration, that is the biggest one, so are they going to start changing that? Or are they going to simply tell people that it is a political tactic to get you riled up so you can become upset about what happens on the southern border.

There are ways to deal with the southern border. You don't have to build a game of thrones structure or at least -- who would build that, by the way, that sort of -- you don't have to put that out there to make people think like, we can do this, and da, da, da, da. There are shovels. You know what I mean by that. If you have a wall, people will shovel under the wall. You've seen the tunnels. You've been there, right?

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: You've covered it, right? And if you have a wall, you build a 30-foot wall, people are going to build and it doesn't mean there should not be some sort of structure there as they have the fence the bollard fences. It doesn't mean that should not be there. Every ounce of prevention I think is good, but to have our government hinge on something that is just a political promise and tactic --

CUOMO: A side I.G.

LEMON: It is ridiculous.

CUOMO: I agree.

LEMON: And they should be called out for it. And they should be ashamed of themselves. CUOMO: 100 percent and the motivation behind it is clear. If you put

back up Trump's tweet, he emphasized something in that fence, he emphasizes the top, the spikes.

LEMON: Yes, that's why I said "The Game of Thrones."

CUOMO: Let me tell you something, I talked to some people who were doing the job of protecting us. They are appalled by that. One, it's not the design that they want. And you know why they don't want it, they say our goal is deterrence.

LEMON: Not killing people.

CUOMO: Not cruelty. That's not what we want to do, that's not what we're about.

LEMON: There you go.

CUOMO: The President needs to understand that. This is what he wants. He wants the message of cruelty. That's why they separated the kids the way they did, that's why they lied about it. They like that message, Don, and that's the danger.

LEMON: It's a theater of the absurd, and we are, we should be a humane country, meaning we shouldn't be trying to kill people if they get over a wall or stab them to death and we should not be separating parents from their children. So there you go. People, you're being played. This is all a parse. He is upset because it's a campaign promise.

[21:50:03] There are ways to protect the border, including structures. But to build a wall -- listen, if you want to build a wall, that's fine. But to have the government being open or closed, people's livelihoods depending on something that you made it as a political promise, I think it's just ridiculous. And, again, you should be ashamed of yourself.

CUOMO: That is a perfect statement. In fact, I'm going to use it as a building block for my closing. We're like Nulty and Murphy.

LEMON: Yeah. So you owe me dinner.


LEMON: Yes. I'm going till 1:00 at least.

CUOMO: I think that's going to change.


CUOMO: It's not over yet. At 12:01. I owe your mother dinner. You can sit ask watch.

LEMON: I'll let you have it.

CUOMO: I'll talk to you later. LEMON: Bye.

CUOMO: All right. You heard Don. He's making a very strong point, that this is a function of make believe. Now, the President insists the wall matters so much, but you just heard, what about airplanes? Over 50 percent of the people come. Most of the drugs come through legit port of entries in containers, tunnels underneath. It's not a panacea. But he might want to listen to those around him who are making a very different argument, and you may want to listen to the one that I make. Our last of the year, next.


CUOMO: All right, here's what we have. Left, right, and reasonable. The difference among the three is on full display as this shutdown looms. Democrats don't want to fund the wall, but they will fund border security. In fact, they offered five times what's being asked for right now not too long ago to secure the border. The wall is all. That's the problem.

[21:55:12] The President sold a solid wall that would never be, and Mexico paying for it, which would never happen. The proof is that he changed. Listen.


TRUMP: At this moment, there is a debate over funding border security and the wall, also called, so that I give them a little bit of an out, steel slats. We don't use the word "wall" necessarily, but it has to be something special to do the job. Steel slats.


CUOMO: Listen, don't let him play you for a sucker. Take a look at the picture of me in San Ysidro. The picture from the mall. Put the picture up. All right, here's me with one of the nice CBP guys, I was down there with us working to keep us safe. See that thing I'm standing next to? That's called a bollard fencing. OK? That's the real name. That's what it is. He didn't come up with slats. There was never going to be a concrete and rebar wall. This is what they were building before Trump and what they want now.

And by the way, they won't tell you it's a panacea. They know that they have problems with people flying in and overstaying visas and in tunnels and container trucks that come through the port of entry. They don't think it's a panacea. He's playing it like it is. The irony is he'll shut down the government -- remember, it is him. Remember, he said it on live TV. I'll carry the mantle. I'll shut down the government because of border forces. The wall is that important. It's so important that he's going to shut down the government and force most of those men and women on CBP to work without pay. Ironic. Left, right, reasonable.

The President may not want to hear it from me, but maybe he'll listen to his new Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney. Here's what he said about this in 2015. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, CHIEF OF STAFF: The fence is an easy thing to sell politically. It's an easy thing for someone who doesn't follow the issue very closely to say, oh, well that will solve everything. Build the fence. The fence doesn't solve the problem. To just say build the darn fence and have that be the end of an immigration discussion is absurd and almost childish for someone running to President to take that simplistic of view. And by the way, the bottom line is the fence doesn't stop anybody who really wants to get across. You go under. You go around. You go through it.


CUOMO: How long can he last? I mean he gets a big amen, but that's the opposite of what the President says. Boy, I wonder if Mick Mulvaney will back away from that now. Please, Mick, don't back away. Don't do it. Jobs doesn't matter that much.

Just hours away from the third shutdown in one year. This hasn't happened in decades. It's not even over a critical issue. The wall is not border security. We're not a wall away, OK? The only way you get safer is if both sides work together and make reasonable change to the system, right? Because the President can change laws by himself. The Supreme Court just said that. Packed with righties. They still shut him down when he tried to deny people asylum based on how they enter the country.

Both sides have to make new rules. This shutdown is on the President because he has caused such division, he can't even broker a deal on a side issue like this with the Democrats, who have already offered to fund the barrier construction, like just a few weeks ago. Left, right, and reasonable. Put up the money for the physical and then get to the real barriers to entry.

A system that can't House, process, judge, place, or protect with this amount of flow. Rules that don't accommodate mass caravans, ties the hands of the men and women keeping us safe now. How can we get anything done if the left and right can't even agree on what to call the damn barrier?

For Christmas, give us all a gift. If there's a shutdown, open it back up fast. Do your damn jobs. If the President is an impediment, how about this as an idea? Pass laws in veto proof fashion, 67 percent. It's barely a passing grade on any test. It's like a D- plus. Surely that many of you can come together for the American people, can't you? Now, that sounds reasonable.

Lastly, this is the final CPT, CUOMO PRIME TIME until the New Year. You have embraced this show in a way that I never imagined. Your guidance, your support has overwhelmed me and means everything. Our tiny team works harder than any group I've ever seen every damn night, and we do it for you. Thank you for giving us the chance. It is the best gift that we could ask for. Merry Christmas to you and your families. Let's get after it in 2019.

Thank you for being with us tonight and every night.

"CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon starts right now.

LEMON: I got to keep the place open while you gallivant around whatever play and --

CUOMO: You see the look on my face right now?

LEMON: Is that supposed to scare me? I ain't scare.

CUOMO: No, I don't want you to be scare, I don't want to chase you. I want to stand right there and take the beating.

LEMON: Well, you know, I can't live now because I have adopted you.