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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Supreme Court Upholds Block of Trump Asylum Ban; Trump Forcing Government Shutdown?; Incoming Chief of Staff Called Trump's Push for Border Wall "Simplistic" and "Absurd" in 2015. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 21, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news from the Supreme Court: a surprise move, the now majority solidly conservative court -- or so we thought -- handing the president a big legal loss in his fight to keep asylum-seekers out of the U.S.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

(BELL RINGING)

TAPPER: And there's the closing bell.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Right now, the end of a miserable week for the markets, the Dow closing now around 400 points, 422 on the board right there, meaning that the market is on track to have its worst year in a decade, as investors worry about the prospect of a global economic slowdown.

This is all part of a critical moment in the Trump presidency. And, frankly, the headlines tell the story of the chaos, upheaval in Washington, a tailspin, U.S. allies on edge.

In just the past few days, President Trump has ordered all U.S. troops out of Syria, ordered plans to move 7,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. He has seen the quit of his defense secretary, James Mattis, regarded by both Democrats and Republicans as helping to keep the president's erratic impulses and ideas in check, Mattis quitting in protest, unable to reconcile fundamental beliefs about the role of the United States in the world with President Trump.

Just minutes ago, more bad news for the president, the Supreme Court upholding a ruling to block President Trump from being able to implement new restrictions for asylum-seekers. Oh, and did I mention that the federal government is on the brink of a shutdown, just eight hours away, a shutdown President Trump said he would be proud to own in the name of fighting for a border wall?

Yet among the hundreds of thousands of people who will be affected, as many as 54,000 Customs and Border Protection employees, including Border Patrol agents currently working to keep the U.S. border secure.

They will continue to work, except they will be doing so without a paycheck.

Merry Christmas.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, just minutes ago, Vice President Pence, Jared Kushner, incoming Chief of Staff Mulvaney all running to Capitol Hill to try to salvage some sort of deal.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they seem to be on cleanup duty right now.

And we do know that they did go into Chuck Schumer's office, the three of them, in there for a good 10, 15 minutes or so. And they have left his office, but it's unclear what kind of decision they came to. Now, that comes after Senate Republicans were here at the White House earlier today, where we're told the president essentially dug in on his demands for a border wall, though he didn't offer specifics to them about what it is he wants, leading to a lot of question and essentially just a lot of chaos here in Washington right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

COLLINS (voice-over): Washington in upheaval tonight as a partial government shutdown looms and the abrupt resignation of the defense secretary sinks in.

TRUMP: This is a very big issue.

COLLINS: President Trump not looking to calm fears about either in front of the cameras today.

TRUMP: I hope we don't. But we're totally prepared for a very long shutdown.

COLLINS: Just hours before a midnight funding deadline, Trump making clear he wants to pin blame on Democrats.

TRUMP: Totally up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have a shutdown. We need border security.

COLLINS: Despite declaring this just last week:

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. I'm not going to blame you for it.

COLLINS: Senate Republicans rushed to the White House for a last- minute meeting today, so last-minute, one aide told CNN they had trouble getting past Secret Service. That meeting not appearing to accomplish much, and Democrats still show no signs of caving.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: You're not getting the wall today, next week or on January 3, when Democrats take control of the House.

TRUMP: We're totally prepared for a very long shutdown.

COLLINS: Despite aides signaling earlier this week that Trump would likely sign the short-term spending bill, even if it didn't include funding for his border wall...

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: You have got to be kidding me.

COLLINS: ... criticism from conservatives got under his skin. And now he's digging in.

TRUMP: This is our only chance that we will ever have, in our opinion.

COLLINS: Washington on the brink of not just a government shutdown tonight, but also a showdown, after Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest over the president's abrupt decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, sending shockwaves throughout the Capitol.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: The loss of this man heading up the Department of Defense is a very serious crisis for this country, and really for the world.

COLLINS: Trump refusing to answer any questions on Mattis' departure today.

TRUMP: This is such an incredible moment, what we have just done, criminal justice reform, that I just don't think it's appropriate to be talking about anything else.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: He didn't want to talk about it anymore there in the Oval Office. But now with the vice president, the incoming chief of staff and the president's senior adviser and son-in-law leaving Chuck Schumer's office, and they weren't there for very long, Jake, which is raising questions about what it is that could have gone on behind closed doors, but since they are meeting with Chuck Schumer, it would seem to be that they believe the Democrats have got some leverage here.

[16:05:07]

Now, President Trump was scheduled to go initially to Mar-a-Lago for his holiday vacation about an hour ago, but he's still here at the White House, and right now, as long as this shutdown is still on, there are no plans for him to travel to Palm Beach tonight, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

I want to go to CNN's Phil Mattingly. He's live on the Hill for us.

Phil, this meeting with Pence, Kushner, Mulvaney, Schumer at the Capitol, it just wrapped up. Do we know anything about this? Is there any deal afoot? PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in the words of one

Republican senator who I ran into on my way over here, he said, look, something is better than nothing. And nothing is what Republican senators and frankly Democrats in both chambers have been dealing with for the better part of the last 24 hours or so, basically resolved to the fact there will be a shutdown if President Trump does not move off his decision to currently veto anything sent his way that doesn't include $5 billion.

How it's being read in terms of Jared Kushner, Mick Mulvaney and the vice president coming to Capitol Hill from Republicans that I'm talking to via text message now is that they believe there is an opening. Perhaps the president, even though in that private meeting with Republican senators earlier today, he did not give a hint that he was willing to back down, that perhaps there is an opening.

Jake, there is also another meeting that went on earlier today, just about an hour ago, that's worth keeping a very close eye on. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, two outgoing Republican senators, met behind closed doors trying to find some type of pathway forward.

Among the options, I'm told, that might be in play is trying to bring back a bipartisan appropriations measure that had about $1.6 billion for border funding, fencing specifically. The real question is, would House Democrats agree to that, and would the president be willing to drop from $5 billion all the way down to that level?

The fact that talks are actually happening right now, that is worth more optimism than anything we have seen over the course of the last day or so. Whether or not they actually reach a resolution, Jake, even the most optimistic people up here think it's a heavy, heavy lift at this point, but they're willing to let this play out, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this with my team of experts.

How does this end? Fast forward for us. It looks like there will be a shutdown. But even if there isn't one, how does it resolve itself, do you think?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, it's going to resolve itself at some point by somebody in Congress having to bend the knee and deal with the president who is single-mindedly focused on this border wall.

Listen, this is not a president who has been very subtle about what his interests are, and his interests are catering to his base, and the base wants the wall. That is a campaign promise they want to see happen.

He can step away from that at his own political peril and ultimately, even with the shutdown ongoing, I think it plays into Trump's hands of proving to folks like Bannon and all the Steve Millers of the world that the government is really ineffective, government isn't as necessary as people think it is, because, unfortunately, many people will not be feeling the impact of this shutdown; 75 percent of the government will continue running.

So it plays right into the hands of those who would prefer to see government take a back seat.

TAPPER: Where is the plan in this? Do you think it was a mistake of President Trump to put the bar at $5 billion for a border wall, as opposed to, I would like to see some border security measures in the bill?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it was a mistake to say that this is the only way to secure the border. I really I was an optimist.

I thought he was going to use this to negotiate improving areas where we have the wall. There are some certain areas you need to extend the wall. And then modernize the rest of the border using technology and manpower and other things to get true southern border security.

And maybe that still happens. Maybe someone talks him into being able to go out and make the case that he did more for border security than anyone else. And I think that any notion that $5 billion is exactly what the base wants -- I do think they want border security, and if the president came out, I think he's in a pretty good spot to do this, not the way he's doing it.

But if he came out and said, here's how I'm going to get southern border security to do more than anyone, just as I laid out, that could be a win for him. Maybe that's why they're up on the Hill saying, hey, is there a way out of this?

I hope that's the meetings, vs., it's this or nothing. Again, I'm an eternal optimist. He does like to make a deal. If that's the deal he cuts, I think everybody could go home happy. If not, he's going to ride this. I think this is a serious mistake.

He's going to impact markets and everything else into the new year that will not help him in the long run.

TAPPER: The argument that you're hearing from people like Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, is why not just pay $5 billion for the border wall?

Democrats were willing to pay $800 billion for stimulus. I'm sure you disagree. Why?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think Democrats' view is that this not our immigration problem, that immigration reform is a broader problem than just building a wall.

As, you know, Mike said, actually building a wall is virtually impossible in a significant portion of the border. So this is nothing more than campaign rhetoric. If he is serious about protecting this country and dealing with immigration, then he will deal with dreamers, then he will deal with process, and he will deal with immigration reform.

[16:10:05]

But he's not. He's just interested in sort of campaign rhetoric. The thing that's interesting to me is that people are so surprised that this is all going on or that they think that the president cares if the government shuts down.

This is a guy who brought his company to bankruptcy three times, so he didn't have to pay anybody and, you know, put people out of work. He didn't care. He's not going to care now. What he cares about is that Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter were criticizing him yesterday. That's what he cares about.

And so how do you negotiate that? They're not in the room there with Chuck Schumer and Mike Pence.

TAPPER: You know, she is saying that, but there was a comment from Stu Stevens, the Romney aide, Romney adviser, who wrote -- quote -- on Twitter -- "Republicans voted for a guy who cares more what Ann Coulter thinks than General Mattis."

And there is some truth to that.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is a lot to unpack there, right, OK?

So let's go back to the wall. Right? So I don't think the president envisioned putting a wall across the entire southern border. I think we have been down that. I think he's looking for money to build a wall in the places you can build a wall and to use other -- you know, other means, as the congressman correctly pointed out, ground surveillance, radar, aerial.

There's lots of things you can do to have an improved southern border.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But that's not what he's asking for, $5 billion for a border wall.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Because there is still a giant portion of the southern border that can be secured by a wall.

TAPPER: But is it worth shutting down the government?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I think that this president -- this is a read my lips kind of moment, right?

(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: We remember what happened with that.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: That's what I'm saying. And so if he doesn't kind of hang tough and fight the fight here, people are going to go back and remember it.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: Illegal immigration has gone down. He ought to be declaring victory on some level.

HAQ: This is a 2020 engagement tactic for him.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You agree with that?

(CROSSTALK)

HAQ: He's already tweeting it out -- as of today, tweeting to his supporters to put money themselves towards funding a border wall. This has far less to do with any security policy.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: And I have talked to some of the members in the House. They're getting blasted. Right? Their phones are getting lit up. It's not just Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Right. The conservative base wants the wall.

URBAN: The conservative base wants it. But, you know, to the congressman's other point, though, you have got to be careful here closing the government down. My concern is the economy. Right?

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: The government shutdown will last two, three weeks. No one will miss a paycheck. We have all seen this movie.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: They get paid later on.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And I think we're between paychecks right now.

URBAN: Yes, we have been here long enough to see that is how it all gets plays out. We know there's some showmanship, some brinksmanship, some politics.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Right.

ROSEN: But the president has been silent on the market.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: The congressman points out correctly, that is a longer-term concern for this administration. They should be concerned about and the effect, the long-term...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Well, you saw the markets are down, on schedule to have the worst year in a decade.

Bigger picture. We talk about and we have been for the last two years about the chaos of the Trump presidency. And the president does seem to thrive in chaos. So some of it is by design.

Does this week feel different to you, with the resignation of Mattis, with the announcements about Syria, the trial balloon about Afghanistan, this government shutdown? It looks like it's going to actually happen. Does it feel different?

ROGERS: I would argue up to this point his unpredictability has got him some successes in office, places where Republicans were trying to do for 20 years, couldn't quite them done, he did get them get over the edge.

And you have to give him credit for that. This feels different for me, because I just don't believe that the Syria or the Afghanistan announcement was well-thought-out. And that worries me a little bit. That's -- this is no way to withdraw from any region.

Listen, I have been to those places, been to all of them. Been to all of them multiple times. And I do worry about what happens in the aftermath. And we have seen this before.

And, you know, Republicans, me included, were coming at President Obama pretty hard over his policies in Iraq and other places. And my argument is, where are -- the Republicans need to stand up there and say, if that's your policy, then tell us what it is.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Listen, if this government, if this nation wants a war in Syria, we should have a full-throated debate on it and the Congress should vote on it. We're acting...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We're going to have a lot more of this, and we're keeping you guys here. We're going to have a lot more talk about this.

Before he even starts his new gig, President Trump's incoming chief of staff has been found calling the border wall idea -- quote -- "absurd and childish." The clip that CNN's KFILE found, that's next.

Plus, more breaking news: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the hospital after having surgery to remove cancerous nodules. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by with the diagnosis. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:33] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We have some breaking news for you in the politics lead now. As it appears the federal government is headed for a government shutdown at midnight tonight, Eastern Time, all over the president's campaign promise of a border wall.

We are also learning that his pick to be acting White House chief of staff once had rather harsh words for President Trump's push for a border wall. The audio of Mick Mulvaney was just uncovered by CNN's KFILE team.

KFILE senior editor Andrew Kaczynski joins me now.

Andrew, where did Mulvaney make these latest comments and what did he have to say?

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN KFILE SENIOR EDITOR: Yes, so Mulvaney made these comments in a local news interview in South Carolina in August 2015. And what is actually kind of interesting about them is he doesn't just sort of insult the president's view on immigration, calling it simplistic, but also says that a wall, physical barrier, won't actually stop undocumented immigrants from crossing the border. And he says people he talks to at the border, farmers, ranchers, don't actually want it.

Let's take a listen to what Mulvaney said.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The fence doesn't solve the problem. Is it necessary to have one? Sure. Would it help? Sure. But to just say, build the darn fence and have that be the end of immigration discussion is absurd and almost childish for someone running for president to take that simplistic a 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, and that's what the ranchers tell us, is that they don't need a fence.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

[16:20:04] KACZYNSKI: So the other thing I think that is interesting about these comments is later on in the interview, he actually says Trump's appeals during the campaign and Mulvaney was a congressman at the time where he says, you know, build the wall and things like that, he said these are just basically appeals that go to a motion and don't actually get the job done.

TAPPER: All right. Andrew Kosinski with CNN's KFILE team, very interesting, thanks so much. It's fascinating stuff.

That could have been you, Hilary Rosen, what Mick Mulvaney said, calling it --

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: My favorite thing is when Republicans get caught telling the truth.

TAPPER: Calling the border wall proposal, border fence proposal, simplistic, absurd, almost childish, doesn't really stop illegal immigration. Sounds like something you probably said.

ROSEN: Here is the thing that interests me today in particular. Which is everybody is so overwrought about Mattis resigning and the president being so stubborn about Congress and not listening to people and the like. He is exactly who he said he would be on the campaign trail. The difference this week is that Republicans in Congress and elsewhere are finally starting to believe that.

But they voted for him. They knew exactly who he was. It's not like he's changing his tune. He has consistently said, I'll shut the government down no matter what if I don't get my way. I don't care what these yahoos on Capitol Hill say. You know, I don't believe in troops in, you know, wars across the world.

I mean, he has always been this person, this reckless, this irresponsible. And yet Republicans voted for him anyway. And now they're like, oh, my god, what are we going to do? The president is so irresponsible.

TAPPER: Let me ask, because, you know, removing U.S. troops from Syria and withdrawing potentially U.S. troops from Afghanistan, that's not just a Trump proposal. I mean, it's possible, if a different Democrat, not Hillary Clinton, but if a different Democrat were in the White House right now, he or she might be making that proposal.

ROSEN: President Obama wanted to do it.

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: And this is actually what helps him resonate with a broader swath of the American public, is the fact that a lot of these proposals are simplistic. Now, those of us who have worked in policy and frankly those of us who have visited the region in these times of war realize that these are actually very complex issues that affect people on the ground, that affect our allies, and affect our national security directly here at home.

But to say I want to withdraw troops from Syria can be seen as a win. To withdraw from Afghanistan could be a political win for him. It is, however, a national security near-on disaster, because there is no planning and no strategy on how to follow it up.

I do not think it is an accident that John Kelly leaving the White House and immediately afterwards, you have these precipitous announcements. The idea that there were adults in the room who are going to manage any of these relationships and that these were going to be done by consensus is no longer true. And nobody should be suspecting, let alone the Senate, that Trump will operate that way.

TAPPER: That's probably true that both Kelly and Mattis leaving is because the president wasn't listening to either of them when it comes to Syria or Afghanistan.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Or maybe they weren't listening to the president.

I would say this. You know, I hear what you're saying about these regions, very important. But if they're that important, why are we not engaged in a national debate on this, a full-throated national debate? We are operating with the same authorization for use of force for 18 years now. Eighteen years.

TAPPER: Preaching to the choir. I don't think there's anyone here who disagrees with that.

URBAN: The Congress has had an opportunity to debate this, year in and year out. Everybody now is so up in arms. We had no authorization to go into Syria. We're operating on the use of force to destroy, you know, ISIS and al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 to roll into Syria.

Some folks have said, listen --

ROSEN: Nancy Pelosi has been very vocal on this --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: My point is, why is everybody wringing their hands? Why is everybody wringing their hands now? We've had 4,000 folks die -- 4,000 U.S. service members, 20,000 wounded, severely, in Afghanistan. And 17 years -- trillions of dollars spent.

And Lindsey Graham says if we leave the place is going to collapse in a matter of weeks? What are we doing there?

TAPPER: OK. It's a fair question.

HAQ: Yes, we went down from 100,000 to something like 40,000 now down to 14 in Afghanistan, right? And no really person can tell you what the huge progress that and change have been made.

I will say this. But this is a challenge of not having it be done with allies and with any sense of strategy and coordination is that we are leaving people in the lurch and it's not just the people in Afghanistan and Syria, neighboring countries. Israel, for example, completely blindsided by what Iran is now going to do. We are handing over an entire region to Russia. We are also abandoning the veterans who have served in Afghanistan, who want to know that what they did was worth it.

URBAN: I think we should have a debate about it.

TAPPER: And also, I don't think anyone disagrees with you, we should have a debate about that. And there should be a new authorization for the use of force --

(CROSSTALK)

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: I do believe Congress completely failed in their mission in this. I called for this when I was in Congress, after Congress. I think it's absurd that Congress capitulated completely --

[16:25:01] URBAN: They abdicated their responsibility.

(CROSSTALK)

HAQ: Corker has an easy way to deal with this.

ROGERS: However, that said, the first consequence of an irrational decision was his -- the one person that America stood behind was General Mattis. That was the first casualty of this decision.

And listen, if you pull away from an area that we know is fostering ideas for further attacks, which is the Taliban -- remember, they've closed down 174 girls' schools in the eastern provinces. They have burned schools, shot women. We in the United States said we're going to ask 50 percent of the population to come forward and be a part of the solution for stabilization in Afghanistan. I think it will be a stain on our national character when we walk away from these women who are participating in making Afghanistan a safe and stable place.

TAPPER: All right. As bipartisan anxiety grows over the resignation of Secretary Mattis, I'm going to talk to one former secretary of defense next, a former Republican, former secretary of defense.

Plus, we're keeping an eye on the breaking news on Capitol Hill where the vice president, Jared Kushner and Mick Mulvaney are currently negotiating as the hours tick away before the shutdown.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)