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Senate Taking Vote on Funding Bill; Ginsburg Underwent Surgery; Trump Signs Criminal Reform Bill; Trump Says Shutdown Possible. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 21, 2018 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:23] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Breaking news coming out of the Supreme Court on the health of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is resting now in the hospital after undergoing surgery today to remove two cancerous nodules from her left lung. We're going to get to that in just a moment.

Also right now, the Senate is taking its first key vote on a series of bills that would fund the government until February.

Senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill for us.

Tell us what's happening here.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right now they're in a vote to determine whether or not to proceed to that House passed measure that would keep the government afloat but also add $5 billion to -- for the president's request to build that wall along the southern border, as well as border security.

Now, this bill ultimately has no chance of passing the Senate. So this is just a first procedural vote. They're going to need a simple majority of senators to agree to take that bill up. And already we've seen one Republican senator vote against it. Jeff Flake of Arizona voted against it.

I just had a chance to talk to him. He says this is not the way that he wants to proceed on this. So Republicans really can't afford to lose many more votes because all the Democrats are voting against this.

And even if they were, Brianna, to get enough votes to take up the measure, they will not have enough to get it out of the Senate, where they're going to need 60 votes to do that. And there's only 51 Republican senators. The president -- you already have Jeff Flake voting no. So you do the math. They don't have the votes.

So then what's next? And that's the big question going forward. Bob Corker of Tennessee just told me moments ago they're going to have a meeting over at lunch right now with the Republican leaders to discuss how they can get out of this. He himself has not decided how he's going to vote, Corker, but McConnell -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a meeting with the president earlier today with other senators. They said they had a good conversation. They're going to continue to discuss how to proceed.

But at this point, Brianna, the question is, will the president accept any deal that does not include funding for his border wall because getting that money out of the Senate is just simply not going to happen. The votes are not there. So where do we end up? Which raises a lot of expectation they're headed into a partial government shutdown by the end of the night.


KEILAR: All right, the clock is ticking. Manu Raju, thank you.

Meanwhile, the president of the United States writing his own chaotic script, surprising his advisers with a tweet announcing a military withdrawal from Syria. That was the last straw for Defense Secretary James Mattis, who resigned after being unable to change the president's mind.

I want to bring in CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta there on the North Lawn of the White House for us.

So this is not a quiet time before Christmas as it sometimes is. What are you hearing on both the reaction to the Mattis resignation and the shutdown?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, I think at this hour what is probably more critical is this looming shutdown (INAUDIBLE) for the next days and weeks to come. But, in the meantime, there's a shutdown that is looming and it sounds as though the president at this point is digging in his heels. He is right now meeting behind closed doors with a group of Republican lawmakers. They've been talking about this criminal justice bill that just got passed and that he is going sign.

But in the conversation that has gone on for almost an hour now, the president has been saying essentially that it's Democrats' fault if there's a shutdown later on tonight. He said at one point behind closed doors, we are going to work very hard to get something passed in the Senate. It is totally up to the Democrats as to whether or not there's a shutdown. The president tweeting earlier this morning, the Democrats now own the shutdown.

But, Brianna, as we know, there is such a thing as videotape where I suppose these days it's digital video that exists on a server inside the bows of every news organization across the planet which shows the president saying 10 days ago that he would own this shutdown if he can't get the funding needed for a wall on the border with Mexico. And so, at this point, the president is trying to rebrand something that he had already branded as his own shutdown.

And I suppose we're going to be hearing that when this video emerges from this meeting the president is having with lawmakers right now. The press is in there. Presumably they'll have a chance to ask some questions of the president. And when that video emerges, you're going to see the president really digging in his heels at this point. We've gotten some nuggets coming out of that spray, but he apparently, at this point, is determined, hell bent on having a shutdown, because he is not going to be getting this funding for this wall unless something miraculous happens over the course of this afternoon, whether it be -- perhaps he'll reverse course again. He reversed course yesterday. It seems perhaps he'll do it again.

[13:05:05] But talking to Republicans up on Capitol Hill, advisers to the president, Brianna, it is very clear there is a weariness setting in here in Washington where you have people who are even loyal to the president and they're mostly saying this privately, they're not willing to say this publically, that they fear, with this shutdown, the surprise resignation of the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, that the wheels are coming off and the president will probably try mightily, when we see the videotape emerge, to demonstrate that the wheels are still on over here at the White House. But that -- that really is running counter to the assessments of a lot of people in Washington just before Christmas here, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, this shutdown scheduled at a critical moment with Jim Mattis retiring, really sending shock waves through all of Washington and around the world on that. Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

ACOSTA: All right.

KEILAR: We have a lot to discuss. I want to bring in Senator Tim Kaine, the Democrat. He's a Democrat on both the Armed Services Committee. He's also on the Foreign Relations Committee.

I want to talk to you about the resignation of Jim Mattis. I think this is such a critical story.


KEILAR: I want to touch first on the shutdown because we are keeping an eye on the Senate floor here as these votes are proceeding. So let's just talk about that very quickly.


KEILAR: This would happen at midnight without a deal on the border wall or on border security. You hear Democrats stressing more border security. The president is blaming Democrats when it comes to not being able to get an agreement. Would you be OK with a $5 billion price tag if it's about border security but not the border wall, or is the price tag the issue too?

KAINE: Brianna, actually it's neither that's the issue because Democrats have voted again and again for border security money. We did a comprehensive immigration bill in 2013 with $44 billion in it. The Republicans killed it in February with $5 billion of border (INAUDIBLE) exchange for protecting dreamers. The president killed it.

Here's why we are here right now. We just did a bipartisan deal with the White House two days ago. Two days ago. Two nights ago it passed out of the Senate with a 100-0 vote, Democrats and Republicans. We've got a bipartisan deal for a continuing resolution through February 8th. It keeps the government open as we harsh out the border security issue.

After doing the deal, the president said, I'm backing out of the deal. I want $5 billion or I will shut down government, injuring 800,000 federal employees, many of whom live in my state. That is unacceptable. We had a deal with the White House. It was bipartisan. And what is he proposing? Give me $5 billion or I will punish 800,000 workers and shut down critical agencies that serve the public at Christmastime.

I don't negotiate with bullies and I don't think the Senate should negotiate with bullies. The president should be a person of his word and stick with the deal that they agreed to two days ago.

KEILAR: If he doesn't, as he seems disinclined to do, is the $5 billion OK if it's more broadly for border security?

KAINE: You're going to have to -- well, what, it -- letting him bully us by threatening to lay off federal employees? You can never accept that as a negotiating tactic. I think when you take an oath of office to be president or senator, threatening to shut down the government is a violation of the oath of office. And there's only one person that's been talking about a shutdown with a gleam in his eye, in tweets and in press conferences as recently as 10 days ago saying, I'm glad to take it on my shoulder, Donald J. Trump is about to be the Grinch that stole Christmas for all these people. He's the only person who wants a shutdown and he seems intent on doing it.

KEILAR: Let's talk about the resignation of the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who says he's not aligned with President Trump. You tweeted that this should alarm every American. Why?

KAINE: Absolutely, Brianna, because if you read Secretary Mattis' letter, it's very powerful. I come from the state that is the most connected to the American military. I'm on the Armed Services Committee. I have a son who's a United States Marine. Secretary Mattis basically said this, I've been doing this for four decades. The two pillars of American national security have to be build strong allies and stand up to authoritarian adversaries. Those are our pillars. And, Mr. President, you do not share either of these values. And for that reason I have to step away from the job.

When somebody with Secretary Mattis' background, who's one of the finest public servants that I have ever worked with, say about the commander in chief that he does not believe in supporting allies and he is willing to kowtow to authoritarians, that should make every American very, very nervous.

[13:10:08] KEILAR: The president has not -- well, he hasn't said, but reportedly, and we've reported this at CNN, he wants to not only pull troops out of Syria, but cut the troops, the American troops in Afghanistan in half.

KAINE: In half.

KEILAR: So you're talking about bringing home 7,000 of the 14,000 who are there.


KEILAR: Lindsey Graham, your Republican colleague in the Senate, said that this could create essentially another 9/11 attack. Do you worry about that?

KAINE: I do. There are a number of problems with the proposal. At a minimum, Brianna , this is what's puzzling, we've had two hearings about Afghanistan in the last two weeks here in the Senate where we've had Pentagon officials before us, once open and one in a closed hearing, and I specifically asked, are you going to be making any recommendation to change troop strength up or down? And they said, no. Similarly with Syria, they've been up briefing us about what they're doing. So the president's actions are clearly sort of both counter the advice of the Pentagon leadership, but in some ways he's not even asking for their advice.

And the combination of these announcements, we'll pull out of Syria, what about the Kurds? They fought side by side with us in Syria to defeat ISIS on the battlefield. If we pull back from them, we leave the Kurds open to being slaughtered by the Turks. The fact that this announcement was made apparently right after a phone conversation between President Trump and Erdogan of Turkey, who has said that their plan is to go try to wipe out Kurds is extremely suspicious. If somebody who has allied with the United States and fought side by side with U.S. troops on the battlefield then finds the U.S. abandons them and they get wiped out, no one will ever want to stand with the U.S. military again because they won't be able to trust us.

KEILAR: All right, Senator Tim Kaine, thank you so much for joining us on this very busy Friday.

KAINE: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Up next, we have more on our breaking news out of the Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two cancerous nodules removed from her lung this morning. We'll give you details on that.

Plus, questions mount over the Russia investigation, as President Trump's acting attorney general rejects advice from an ethics official and chooses instead to not recuse himself.


[13:16:48] KEILAR: All right, we have breaking news.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is recovering today in the hospital from lung surgery to remove two cancerous nodules.

We have CNN's Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic to tell us what is going on here.

What can you tell us?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: OK, first of all, we are probably talking about the most watched justice of the nine.


BISKUPIC: She is 85 years old. She's been on the court 25 years. She's the leader of the left on this very tightly divided 5-4 court.

When she fell on November 7th and cracked some ribs, which we all reported on at the time, doctors who examined her discovered the nodules in her lungs and then discovered that they were malignant. Today she had the surgery. But in between, Brianna, she was out in public a lot. She was on the bench. She was doing her job. She was making speeches. So they are must have -- the -- her medical advisers must have presumed that they could be handled in due course.

KEILAR: I am so sorry to interrupt you, Joan.

BISKUPIC: Oh, my gosh (ph).

KEILAR: The president is speaking at the White House.


KEILAR: He just signed the criminal reform bill. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A very busy two or three days. It's been very positive. Things are happening that haven't happened in our government for a long time.

The other night, as you know, we had a vote on border security and I think we want to discuss this just for a second. But the House of Representatives voted 217 to 185 approving strong border security and the money necessary to take care of the barrier wall or steel slats, whatever you want to call it, it's all the same. And it was a tremendous evening for the Republicans to be honest with you because the level of spirit, the level of happiness, a lot of people came out, they said they have never seen one man in particular, he's been there for over 20 years, he said, I've never seen spirit or enthusiasm like this.

They came from all parts of the country. A couple of them came from other parts outside. So I say all parts of the world in order to vote. And they voted. And it was an incredible vote. And we were told that you would never get the House to vote. Well, we were able to get the House to vote. And it wasn't that we did it. They did it. They were incredible. So I want to thank, in this case, House Republicans, because what they did was rather incredible.

And now the Senate is looking at it. We just had a meeting with some of our great senator Republicans. And it lasted for a long time. Tremendous enthusiasm for border security. And I think I can speak for them very strongly when I say they want to see something happen on border security. They want the security of safety. They want safety for our country. Drugs are pouring in and we've done an incredible job considering we

have no barrier. But drugs are pouring into our country. Human trafficking is at the all-time worst in history because of the Internet. And the human trafficking problem is a problem that has gone on through the ages, but it's never been worse because of the Internet. All over the world, this isn't the United States, this is all over the world.

[13:20:05] So we need border security. And the Republicans in the Senate, as you know, are taking it up today. And it's really up to the Democrats -- totally up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have the shutdown. It's possible that we'll have a shutdown. I would say the chances are probably very good because I don't think Democrats care so much about maybe this issue. But this is a very big issue. It's an issue of crime. It's an issue of safety. It's an issue of, least importantly, dollars. Spent $285 billion a year on illegal immigration. We have to finally do it. The wall will pay for itself on a monthly basis. I mean literally every month it pays for itself.

So we're talking about small amounts of money. Think of it, we approved and we got good Democrat support, our military last year, $700 billion. Recently, $716 billion for the military. And here we're talking about $5 billion. So it's a tiny fraction, but, unfortunately, they've devoted their lives to making sure it doesn't happen. And that wasn't for what should happen, that was for political reasons.

So we are going to be working very hard to get something passed in the Senate. There's a very good chance it won't get passed. It's up to the Democrats. So it's really the Democrat shutdown, because we've done our thing. When Nancy Pelosi said you'll never get the votes in the House, we got them and we got them by a big margin, 217 to 185.

So now it's up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have a shutdown tonight. I hope we don't, but we're totally prepared for a very long shutdown. And this is our only chance that we'll ever have, in our opinion, because of the world and the way it breaks out to get great border security.

Ronald Reagan tried many years ago -- got a note from a member of his family -- many years ago tried to get a wall. And he fought for a long time during his entire term and he was never able to get a wall. And I consider him to be a great president. He knew what he was doing.

We are going to, one way or the other, we're going to get a wall. We're going to get a barrier. We're going to get anything you want to name it. You can name it anything you want. But we cannot let what's been going on in this country over the last 10 years, we just can't let it happen.

Now to a very positive note, criminal justice reform. Everybody said it couldn't be done. They said the conservatives won't approve it. They said the liberals won't approve it. They said nobody's going to approve it. Everybody's going to be against it. It's been many, many years, numerous decades --

KEILAR: All right, I want it bring in Jim Acosta at the White House and Manu Raju on The Hill. All of this happening as this specter of a shutdown is looming over us and the chances of it happening are probably very good, Jim Acosta, that's what the president just said.

ACOSTA: That's what he just said. And you saw the president there as we were just talking about a few moments ago trying to rebrand this shutdown that he said he would own. Remember, ten days ago, sitting in the Oval Office with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders, he told them not to worry, he would own the shutdown if the government shuts down.

And now the president, I guess, afraid of whatever political consequences may lie ahead of him, saying just a few moments ago as this tape was feeding out that it's the Democrat's shutdown. That it's up to the Democrats to prevent a shutdown. Well, that just goes completely against what he said ten days ago. And so the president is trying to have his shutdown and blame it on the Democrats, too. But my sense of it is -- and keep in mind, Brianna, the last government shutdown, there were -- there was a lot of analysis afterwards that said, you know what, maybe the Democrats overreached on that one and that shutdown probably could have been, you know, laid at their feet. But this time around, there's just no -- that's just not going to happen.

KEILAR: And, Manu, there is a concern by Republicans as well, just this constant -- the shutdown after the shutdown after the shutdown. I mean this isn't what they want to be seeing.

RAJU: Yes, no question, especially on the last days of all Republican control of Congress. Senate Republicans are really uncertain about the next steps. Right now, on the Senate floor, they're voting to take up that House-passed bill that would add $5 billion to the president's demands to fund his border wall and for border security measures.

Now, it's uncertain whether it would even pass this first initial hurtle to take up this measure, but it has no chance of passing the United States Senate. So right now, behind closed doors, senators are meeting over lunch to discuss their next steps on how to proceed.

[13:25:03] But the question is, how do they get around the fact that the president appears dug in and the fact that the Democrats are saying that they will not give money to the president for his border wall. I just asked Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who was in that meeting with the president this morning, if the president had dug in, if he showed any flexibility whatsoever, and she said the president is very insistent on border security. So a lot of questions about what the president may ultimately accept. The senators are going to continue to discuss that this afternoon, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Manu and Jim, thank you so much.

Stay with us for more on our breaking news and it's coming at us from every direction, whether it's the shutdown that is going to happen, probably very good, the president says this evening, and also his decision that prompted his defense secretary to really revolt and resign.