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Senate Republicans to Meet with Trump as Shutdown Looms. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired December 21, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is something that this Congress came together across the aisle to do. It is the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his senior adviser, who was a huge proponent of this, who pushed this, and it ultimately happened. Did not happen for decades. Did not happen during the Obama administration, and now it has happened. The president will sign that at 11:00 a.m. today.
All right, good morning, everyone. It is the top of the hour. 10:00 a.m. Eastern this Friday. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And Jim Sciutto, you will see him tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." We're so glad you're with us.
Republican senators are being summoned this hour to the White House in just half an hour. Why? Because a government shutdown, at least a partial one, is less than 14 hours away. Funding runs out at midnight for the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the Homeland Security Department among others, and President Trump's promise, just last week, to take ownership of a shutdown in the name of border security and not to blame Democrats. That was his promise, well folks, that no longer applies.
This morning, the president not only is blaming Democrats for blocking funds for his wall, he is demanding Republicans overturn a Senate filibuster rule so that they won't need Democratic votes. It's called the nuclear option. And by the way, McConnell has signaled no less than a dozen times that it will never happen. Still, the president is asking for it.
All the while, Washington and many other world capitals still in shock over the sudden resignation in principle of the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and looming U.S. troop pullouts from Syria and Afghanistan. Much more on that important move in a moment. But we begin on Capitol Hill this hour with our Manu Raju. Looking for a last-minute deal.
But you know what, Manu? The president's tune has completely changed, not accepting ownership for any of this, but it's he who won't sign anything that Congress gives him so far.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And people are deeply pessimistic here on Capitol Hill that anything can get resolved by midnight tonight. This morning's meeting could be very significant because they expect Republicans in that room to try to convince the president to adopt the position that they took on Wednesday night in which they thought the president was also on board with, which was to agree to a short-term funding bill to keep the government open up until February 8th, not have that border wall money, but punt that issue until a later date.
Most senators left town, expecting that the president would sign this, after he signaled that he would. But after he changed his heart yesterday and dug in, things are deeply, deeply uncertain as we head into this possible shutdown tonight. The president has signaled to his allies in the House, House Republicans like Mark Meadows who told me last night the president said he will not cave no matter what the Senate does. So expect around noon today, the Senate to come into session to take up a move to consider the House bill.
That first procedural vote could very well fail. That would just be 50 votes to begin debate of the bill. We don't even think there will be 50 votes to begin debate. But even if they were to get that 50 votes, they needed 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster. And there is no chance that that would happen. And also, Poppy, there's no chance that Mitch McConnell and Republicans would go along with what the president has been demanding this morning, which is to use the nuclear option to change the rules.
RAJU: To make it easier to pass legislation on a simple majority. Not only does Mitch McConnell oppose it, a number of Republicans oppose it.
RAJU: Even Orrin Hatch. Jeff Flake came out this morning. So they don't even have the votes to change the rules. All that means the one option on the table, short-term funding bill to keep the government open. The president has rejected it. So who's going to blink at the end of the day? We just don't know, Poppy.
HARLOW: Yes. You know, why you would ask your Republican leadership in the Senate to change the rules on something that you said you would proudly own, Mr. President, is a really important question this morning.
Manu, thank you very much. Let us know what you hear.
In half an hour, those Republican senators will be at the White House. Let's go there. Our Abby Phillip is following all of this.
So, I mean, the rules aren't going to change. They're going to need 60 votes. You're not going to get 60 votes for a $5 billion, you know, set of funding for the border wall. So is the president going to blink in this meeting?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems like this meeting at 10:30 where Republicans are going to be meeting with President Trump about the border wall and also about this funding bill is an effort for President Trump to really get his soldiers in line. And as Manu pointed out, they need 50 votes in order to get this first procedural hurdle to move forward. And that would mean all Republicans need to be in line and on the same page about what the plan is here.
Republicans were the ones in the Senate who passed a clean bill in the first place. So President Trump is actually in a position where he's convincing his own party to move forward with this new plan.
[10:05:01] Meanwhile, we spoke to Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House this morning. And it didn't sound very much like there was a plan at all for the president to go back to the drawing board in terms of negotiation with Democrats in order to get more Democratic votes to overcome the next hurdle, which would require 60 votes. So we are no closer here to avoiding a shutdown, and in fact, President Trump has been tweeting all morning about the shutdown, pressuring Democrats to vote in favor of his border wall, but also saying that if the government does shut down, this shutdown is going to last for a long time.
That means hundreds of thousands of federal workers and parts of the government are going to be on furlough until further notice. Meanwhile President Trump has already said that if the government shuts down, he's not going to Mar-a-Lago where he was supposed to be headed for 16 days for a winter vacation. That is still the plan as of right now, but of course, things can always change here at the White House, and we'll be looking for any news on that front as well.
HARLOW: Absolutely. You've got 800,000 workers' jobs hanging in the balance here, and paychecks ahead of the holidays if you can't keep this thing open.
Abby, let us know what happened in half an hour.
Let's talk about all of this with Toluse Olorunnipa, White House reporter for Bloomberg News. David Drucker is here, senior political correspondent for the "Washington Examiner."
Good morning, everyone. David, I thought that Mexico was going to pay for the wall. What happened?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, Mexico was never going to pay for the wall, and I think the president always knew that. And that was a sort of symbolic campaign promise that he wanted to make to show how serious he was about his border wall.
I think the bigger question, Poppy, is why did the president or the first two years of his presidency not make border security a bigger legislative issue? I mean, the president focused on tax reform, the president focused on repealing Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Those are all worthy Republican goals if you're a Republican, but for somebody who prioritized immigration overhaul and border security, he could have made this a central piece of his legislative agenda at the very beginning.
Spent the last two years trying to push all sorts of bills to change U.S. immigration law, improve border security, along the Mexican border. He chose not to do it. And instead, what he's dealing with now is $5 billion that he's asking for and that's not even going to pay for most of the wall, although it's a down payment. And there's no political incentive on either side of the aisle for him to get what he wants today.
DRUCKER: And don't forget, this House bill that was passed because they were able to add a sweetener at the end with all sorts of disaster relief money, which people really care about, is going to expire at noon on January 3rd when the new Congress is sworn in, and House Democrats are going to be able to pass whatever bill they can get behind or want to pass. And it's going to create a whole new negotiation with the Republican Senate.
And that's why I think we could be in for a shutdown that runs through the holidays unless the president blinks. But he's now put himself in a position where if he blinks --
HARLOW: So --
DRUCKER: -- he's going to look even worse than he was looking before.
HARLOW: But -- OK, but you know what. Guess what. Running the country and being president, Toluse, is not about how you look, right? It's about doing your job, making deals. And working with Congress to keep the government up and running, right? For the American people. What happens behind those walls at the White House in 22 minutes?
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes, the president is going to, as Abby said, try to rally the troops around, but it's not going to be the same type of situation that he had with --
HARLOW: But what can he do? Because even if he gets every Republican on board, you're not going to get 60 votes for this in the Senate if it has $5 billion in wall funding.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes, and I think that's going to be the mission of the senators that are going over to the White House to try to convince the president that this is a losing game. There's no out here, there's no end game in which he wins $5 billion for the border wall, and Democrats just cave. As David said, there's no incentive for Democrats to play ball with the president on this request that he's made because he hasn't offered them anything to bring them to the table other than demanding $5 billion for a border wall that they don't want and they believe that there are a number of Republicans that also don't believe that's a wise way to spend taxpayer dollars.
And the president's not offering anything as the deal-maker that he said that he was to bring them to the table. And Nancy Pelosi is going to be taking the gavel in just a couple of weeks and they would rather just wait out this president and say we're going to take power soon. You can throw what Chuck Schumer called a temper tantrum as much as you want, and shut down the government.
OLORUNNIPA: And you, as you said, will take the blame and have the mantle of this, and Democrats will take over and pass a very clean bill on January 3rd or January 4th. So the president doesn't have a lot of cards to play with but he's trying to show this base that he's taking this thing to the mat and fighting as much as possible for the border wall that he promised.
HARLOW: If we just step back for a moment and look at what this week and the last 48 hours have brought, you've got a government on the verge of shutdown, David Drucker. You have a stock market that continues to plummet off more than 1200 points this week alone. You have the resignation on principle by your Defense secretary that shocked you yourself as the president.
[10:10:02] You've got a shock, you know, withdrawal of troops from Syria and a pending withdrawal from Afghanistan. And then you have former Republican senator and former Defense secretary under Bill Clinton William Cohen, who told my colleague Jim Sciutto this last night. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: The president has taken a wrecking ball to every pillar of stability and security we've erected over the past 60, 70 years. He is systematically demolishing them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Former Republican senator, David Drucker.
DRUCKER: Yes, look.
HARLOW: And former Defense secretary. What are the implications of this?
DRUCKER: Well, I think that you're going to see a lot more concern among Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly in the Senate. And I have to say that we don't know necessarily what avenue that concern is going to take, but two things to keep in mind. Number one, Senate Republicans and House Republicans got behind a veto-proof majority for a bill in July of 2017 that limited the president's ability to cut deals with Vladimir Putin.
So there is some precedent on foreign policy issues for the Republicans on the Hill to push back against the president. Also, we shouldn't underestimate exactly how secure Jim Mattis at Defense made Republicans feel about Trump.
DRUCKER: There's been a lot of concern about his rhetoric and his policies, but they all thought to themselves, as long as he has Jim Mattis at Defense, it means he's not thinking of going too far beyond what we think would be best for the country and best for U.S. national security. With Jim Mattis gone, and not just gone, but the way he is leaving, you're going to see a lot more anxiety about the president's leadership than we have seen, and it's not -- we don't know yet exactly what form that's going to take, but I think we're at a different stage now in the relationship between Republicans on the Hill and the president of the United States.
HARLOW: Speaking of that, this just from the president. Toluse, I want your response to this. Let me read it in full. "The Democrats now own the shutdown." The president writes this morning. A week and a half ago, Toluse, the president says, I will own the shutdown, and everyone will like it because it's about border security. This morning, a completely different tune. Will voters see past that?
OLORUNNIPA: Well, you're probably going to see that clip of the president owning the shutdown from the Oval Office playing on repeat across television if this government shuts down over this weekend. And that will remind voters that the president said it very clearly, despite what he's tweeting today, that he would own the shutdown. So I believe the polling already shows that voters are likely to blame Republicans and the president for a shutdown if it happens, and more so than Democrats.
HARLOW: Yes. That's right.
OLORUNNIPA: And so he's trying to change the subject, but it's not looking like it's working so far.
HARLOW: All right. Thank you both so much. Toluse Olorunnipa and David Drucker, have a nice holiday.
DRUCKER: Thank you.
HARLOW: Still to come for us, Defense Secretary James Mattis out. Why? A fundamental disagreement with the president on how we treat our allies and our adversaries. His resignation that even shocked the president, ahead.
Also, acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker refuses advice from his own ethics office to step away from the Mueller probe. A probe he's been vocally critical of. So what now?
And here's a good news story for you. One CEO giving all when it comes to the season of giving.
[10:17:51] HARLOW: Welcome back. The resignation of Defense secretary James Mattis is sending shockwaves not only across this country but around the world this morning. A source tells CNN even the president was surprised when Mattis resigned in person before him. Moments ago, CNN learned plans right now are being drafted to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.
Barbara Starr joins me from the Pentagon. And look, this is the issue, this is the straw, right, that broke the camel's back. This is what Mattis went to the White House yesterday to try to change the president's mind on and he couldn't, and he has withdrawn.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. What a senior Defense official is telling us is Mattis actually had written the resignation letter before he went to the White House. He had about a 45-minute meeting with the president. And that the president was surprised that Mattis was going to resign, which may indicate the president really didn't understand who Jim Mattis always has been.
The red line for Mattis was the decision to get out of Syria because the U.S. had promised, he had promised Kurdish forces there that the U.S. would stay and help them. By leaving U.S. forces abandoning the Kurds essentially and there's a good deal of concern that they will now face a bloodbath at the hands of both ISIS and nearby Turkish forces. That is what Mattis could not live with, abandoning a friend on the battlefield.
And that is why you're seeing some of the reaction across Washington and world capitals about the resignation of Jim Mattis, and the latest person to weigh in is Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence. The top intelligence official in the United States. He issued a statement a short time ago and just one thing I want to share with everyone is the director says, and I quote, "In every aspect, Jim Mattis is a national treasure. He will be sorely missed."
I think there is an awful lot of people that feel that way. You know, Mattis basically is saying that he can no longer serve the commander in chief, and this is something that is being digested, if you will, not just amongst the capitals of our allies but amongst countries like Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and terrorist groups like al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban.
[10:20:08] They are all watching very carefully to see what happens next -- Poppy.
HARLOW: A national treasure. I mean, you can't put a finer point on it than that. Quickly, before you go, Barbara, the mood inside the military. Right? 1.3 million plus active duty members serving. What do they think?
STARR: I think it's very fair to say that this morning there is a sense of uncertainty. And that alone should be a shocking development because the U.S. military, if nothing else, does not like uncertainty, and commanders always want the rank and file to concentrate on their jobs and not worry about politics, and not be uncertain.
STARR: But I can tell you when I came into the Pentagon early this morning, several uniformed personnel stopped me in the hallway. Other reporters having the same experience, talking to uniform people. They do feel a sense of uncertainty and they do want to see what will happen next and what will happen in these wars in Syria and Afghanistan and U.S. military commitments around the world.
STARR: Will the U.S. now fully retreat? Poppy.
HARLOW: Yes, a very important question, Barbara. Thank you for the reporting this morning.
HARLOW: With me now, CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser and CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.
Good morning to you both. Susan, let me begin with you. New column. Here's what strikes me. Quote, you write, "When I started writing this column, the freak-out was over Syria. By the time I finished it, Mattis was resigning. Mattis was out."
What does the president's latest move on Syria, Afghanistan, the fact that Mattis could not stomach it, as Barbara just laid out, anymore -- what does it tell you about the state of affairs?
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Poppy, thank you. I think first of all, this is a day that America's allies had been dreading and fearing and hoping wouldn't come for the entire almost two years of the Trump presidency. This is a worst-case scenario from their point of view. And I have to tell you, even I was very shocked yesterday. The reason is not that I knew there was a rift, obviously, between President Trump and Secretary Mattis for a long time.
GLASSER: But I had been assured, as I'm sure many others had been, by sources close to Mattis for a long, long time, that he would not leave unless there was some absolutely unbridgeable gap or something absolutely directly that he was ordered to do by President Trump that struck at a matter of principle.
GLASSER: So in that sense, it's a worst-case scenario. And I feel like we can't underscore enough, A, the gravity of the situation, but B, the fact that it shouldn't really be either shocking or surprising that President Trump has brought things to this state. What was amazing about writing that year-end column yesterday and then having --
GLASSER: -- Secretary Mattis resign in the middle of it was that it was very easy to incorporate into an account of a year in which President Trump has made it very, very clear that he will not be constrained, that he is firmly in control of his national security team, and he is Trump unbound. I think that's the story of 2018.
HARLOW: Unbound. General Hertling, to you, when you take a step back and you look at this from the perspective of, you've got conservatives like Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, saying he is, in his words, distressed over Mattis. You know, saying having to leave this way. Marco Rubio, just go on down the list, Lindsey Graham. Right? But then you have Russia, a top lawmaker in Russia who calls Mattis' resignation rather positive.
I mean, this is like through the looking glass territory when it comes to who sees this as positive and who sees this as negative. Who will replace Mattis? I mean, what, General, do you believe would take this job knowing what it comes with and being in line with the president on all of these fronts, on the Syria withdrawal, on the Afghanistan partial drawdown? Are you confident?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm not, Poppy. And good morning. First of all, what I'd say is to echo what Susan just said and what you're hearing is, Secretary Mattis was somewhat of a unique individual because he was universally admired in the military.
HERTLING: People from the generals down to the privates. You normally don't get that with the secretary of Defense. Most soldiers don't care who the secretary of Defense is, but he's also the person in the chain of command between the combatant commanders and the president. And what drove all that admiration and trust was the fact that Secretary Mattis is a man of integrity and he served and he knows what the real deal is on the battlefield and in engagements with our allies.
I'd also say that over the last 12 hours, as Europe was sleeping when this happened yesterday, and that was my last assignment, I woke up this morning to all kinds of text messages and e-mails from former European colleagues concerned about this because they realize that the secretary was the guy that would smooth things out after the president was the disrupter.
[10:25:18] So having said all that, to get back to your question, who could replace him?
HERTLING: I don't know.
HARLOW: You don't know.
HERTLING: And it isn't going to be someone with his gravitas or his ability to move the bubble, and it shouldn't probably be a general because I think President Trump has had his fill of generals. They stand up to him, and that's what he doesn't like. So it's going to be probably a politician or someone who has the same ideology as the president, and that will be --
HARLOW: Susan, on Afghanistan specifically, right, we've learned there will be this imminent partial drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Lindsey Graham, Republican senator, so worried about it, he says that this is, quote, "paving the way toward a second 9/11." And then you have Joseph Dunford, General Joseph Dunford, America's top general, who just two weeks ago, gave this warning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN OF THE U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Leaving Afghanistan not only would create instability in South Asia, but in my judgment, would give terrorist groups the space within which to plan and conduct operations against the American people, the homeland, and our allies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Wow. So now what?
GLASSER: Now what indeed. Well, first of all, you should look out to see there are some thought that perhaps General Dunford might follow Secretary Mattis out the door.
GLASSER: And so that's one question, is whether he's even going to remain in the Trump administration. He was excluded, according to reporting in "The Washington Post" yesterday, he was excluded from the decision-making meeting at which the president decided to abruptly leave Syria. And again, you know, this is not just some process foul on the part of President Trump. It's been clear for a long time that his inclination was to leave Syria, was to leave Afghanistan. He said so publicly.
You have this insane -- and it is an insane situation, by the way, where the president of the United States has repeatedly approved policies that he then feels free to disagree with, both publicly and privately. This is not how any normal government works. And it is impossible for allies or partners to understand what is the policy of the United States.
You know, first of all, you have a situation where we know the president is much more complimentary of our enemies and adversaries than he is with our allies. So you have this situation of, you know, how are people supposed to keep fighting in Afghanistan and Syria alongside us? I mean I think the level of uncertainty right now in geopolitics courtesy of President Trump is through the roof.
HARLOW: Right. Look, remember, in Afghanistan, it's us and our NATO allies and that coalition doing this together.
Thank you both very, very much. General Hertling, Susan Glasser, have a good Christmas. Thanks again.
Still ahead, we are moments away from Senate Republicans who have been summoned to the White House this morning in just, you know, three or four minutes they'll show up there to meet with the president. Can they reach a deal or does the government shut down partially at midnight?