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Trump's Border Wall Standoff Plunges Government into Partial Shutdown; U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis Resigns; GOP Senator Lindsey Graham Warns Against Reducing Forces in Afghanistan as He Visits U.S. Troops; U.S. Military Ordered to Plan Major Withdrawal from Afghanistan; Massive Storm Threatens Holiday Travel in the U.S.; Church Puts Fence Around Nativity Scene to Send Message to Trump. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired December 22, 2018 - 06:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Our breaking news, the federal government officially partially shut down.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN HOST: There are human beings who are going to be asked to work without pay or going to be told to stay at home.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If I were Chuck Schumer, I would turn the phone off and go sit by the pool somewhere and wait until January 3rd.

TRUMP: Let's get out, let's work together, let's be partisan and let's get it done.

BAKARI SELLERS, ATTORNEY, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER POLITICIAN: We had a deal made, but he was listening to the Ann Coulters, the Bill O'Reillys of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the consequences of a president who walked away from the deals that the republicans and democrats together had agreed upon.


BLACKWELL: Good Saturday morning to you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

SANTIAGO: I'm Leyla Santiago in for Christi Paul this morning.

BLACKWELL: For the third time this year alone the U.S. government has shut down at least partially. This after lawmakers tried and failed to get the votes to pass a spending bill with border funding for the wall that the president wants. Midnight came and went.

SANTIAGO: So the question now -- how long will this shutdown last? Thousands of federal workers may have to wait. A lot of them continuing to report to work when all they want on that Christmas list, a paycheck.

BLACKWELL: Indeed and now the week after he told democratic leaders that he would be proud to take the blame for a border wall shutdown, President Trump says it's the democrats' fault. The shutdown caps a rough week for the White House after a dramatic court appearance from a Former National Security Adviser, resignation letter from the Secretary of Defense, and the worst week on Wall Street in a decade.

SANTIAGO: All right listen we are covering this from all angles this morning and lots to talk about with CNN White House Correspondent Abby Phillip and CNN National Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. Let's start with Suzanne. Walk us through the last hours of the negotiation, what we should expect today, and how people are - are reacting.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Sure, the lights are on here, but it's eerily quiet. What is going to happen is mostly behind the scenes but we're told that the Senate will reconvene at noon. That is when we'll hear from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but we expect much of what is going to happen is behind the scenes, private negotiations between republicans as well as democrats over the phone, making calls, trying to figure out if there is a deal to be made here.

Most people have gone home. We are told that lawmakers will have 24 hours to be called back if it's necessary for a vote. But essentially they're going to be trying to work out something. What happened last night, it was about 8:30 when folks essentially went home. That's after Cornyn, the Whip, said, look, we don't have the votes that are going to actually pass anything. And so what happened yesterday was that you had the Vice President Mike Pence, as well as OMB Director, Mick Mulvaney, as well as Jared Kushner come here to the White House, they met with top republicans as well as the democrats to see if they could craft something. They did not come up with anything.

Trump was insisting on the $5 billion for the border wall. There was $1.3 billion that was on the table as part of the current deal. Democrats did not budge from that. And then as you might know, it was last week, just a couple of days ago really, when the president had agreed to a deal that both House and Senate said was okay, and he did, as well, to $1.6 billion. They didn't have the votes for anything on the Senate side and they needed that 60 votes. None of the democrats went along with that.

Now what you have is the blame game that continues to go on. A statement from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer essentially saying that this is the Trump shutdown and that they will do everything in their power when the democrats have majority in the House come January to get the government open as quickly as possible. One of the breakthroughs that did happen yesterday, and Pence did break this tie, was to essentially keep the negotiations continuing, to keep the debate going on. But the key questions now are going to be will the president accept anything less than the $5 billion? What kind of language would that be? How long will this take? Is this something that could happen the next 48 hours? Then finally, is the president's word worth anything here? They had a deal that everyone had agreed to including the president

days ago, and it was basically blown up. And so if they come forward and say this is the deal that we're going to vote on and there is no other deal that we're going to vote on but this one, will the president (inaudible), or will he try something else again. That is what lawmakers are asking themselves this morning.


SANTIAGO: Yeah. It's a very fair question. Suzanne Mulveaux, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: President Trump says he canceled his trip to Florida so he could stay in Washington to wait for democrats. That's the word from the president. CNN White House Correspondent Abby Phillip joins us now. More than waiting for democrats, we hear Suzanne talked about the vice president, the acting chief of staff, the senior adviser going up to try to chart the way forward on the negotiations. Are they moving forward, and, you know, what more is the president doing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not entirely clear if Victor, if there is real progress being made. The question of what President Trump himself is doing is a really important one. This is, as you know, the person who prides himself on being the dealmaker-in-chief. But he has been here at the White House while others have shuttled between the House and Senate side on Capitol Hill on his behalf trying to make a deal.

One of the things that we had of those negotiations is that the president still wants to push for a substantial amount of border security funding. Exactly how much that will be is anyone's guess at this point. But one of the senses that we are getting is that it is not likely to be the $5 billion that he pushed for in the House bill. Meanwhile, the president here at the White House, as you mentioned, canceled that trip to Florida. He's also been very busy trying to rebrand the shutdown which just a week ago he claimed he would take full credit for. Listen to what he said in a video the White House produced and put out yesterday.


TRUMP: Call it a democrat shutdown, call it whatever you want. But we need their help to get this approved. So democrats, we have a wonderful list of things that we need to keep our country safe. Let's get out, let's work together, let's be bipartisan and get it done. The shutdown hopefully will not last long.


PHILLIP: In any event, most of what he said in that video really contradicts what he's been saying all week. In fact, he said on twitter just yesterday that he believed if there was a shutdown it would last long and the president has not been clear about where he is willing to compromise in terms of border security funding. All that being said, it just leaves us feeling in many ways like Washington is trying to get to a compromise but both sides are still not talking with great detail about what exactly it would take to end this shutdown.

President Trump still isn't going to Florida, but you do get the sense here at the White House that the minute that this situation is resolved he will be heading down there. And clearly he is eager to do that. He talked quite a bit about how he has canceled his Air Force One flight down there. Meanwhile, Melania Trump, the First Lady, and the president's son, Baron Trump, are still heading to Florida to spend the Christmas break at Mar-A-Lago. Victor, Leyla.

SANTIAGO: Abby Phillip, thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: So more than just the back and forth between politicians. What is really at stake during this shutdown? Well at least 420,000 federal workers are expected to work without pay until lawmakers can make a deal. About 380,000 employees will be placed on furlough as we head into the Christmas holiday.

SANTIAGO: Essential services, so we're talking about things like Social Security, will still get funded. You can expect your mail to be delivered, that's always important this week. Federal employees who keep people safe, we're talking about the military, law enforcement officers, those will keep working.

BLACKWELL: Now as we said, the 420,000 employees working without pay behind that number, there are families who may be living paycheck to paycheck and the paycheck they were counting on may be coming late.

SANTIAGO: So let's go ahead and bring in Randy Irwin from Washington. He is the National President of the National Federation of Federal Employees. Randy, thanks so much for being with us this morning. Let's just start with, what are your members telling you? What's the biggest concern right now?



IRWIN: It's sad that this is happening around the holidays. Government shutdown means that those 380,000 workers that you're talking about are going to be without pay, and they weren't really prepared for this. And so you know, they -- you know, they bought all their Christmas presents, they've put money on their credit cards, and they don't know -- now they're not sure how they're going to make the rent.

They're not sure if -- if they don't have a paycheck come in and who knows how long it could last, they're not going to be able to keep the heat on. They're -- they're concerned about their mortgage, it's -- it's a lot of concerns. These are real people who will have real families and real financial obligations and they had the carpet ripped out from under them with the shutdown and this furlough.

BLACKWELL: So Randy, democratic leaders in Congress call this the Trump shutdown. The president now says the democrats own the shutdown. [06:10:00]

This is after last week when he said he would be proud to take up the mantle of shutting down the government for border security. Who does NFFE, your organization think is responsible for what we're seeing now?

IRWIN: This is Trump shutdown. Let's be real here. There was months and months to work out some kind of a negotiation. And the truth is he doesn't have the votes for the border wall. Because of that he's putting everybody in a predicament. Forcing the shutdown, doing it around the holidays, and you know, he's obviously being supported by the republicans in Congress. We're an organization that works equally with both republicans and democrats. It's want way we operate. We need do that to best advocate for our members. So for us, it's not a partisan thing. Let's be real, they're shutting down the government, and Trump has taken ownership and is the one that deserves the credit for it.

SANTIAGO: Randy, your organization represents 110,000 employees. You were saying many of them were caught off guard so I'm going to assume that many hoped a deal would go through before midnight. What is the outlook? What is the hope? Are they hopeful that something will change before January 3rd, before there's a new control in the House?

IRWIN: I think they are hopeful, but you know, you really can't prepare that way. You can hope, but if you got to feed your family and get through the holidays, I mean, people kind of assume that, one, this shutdown isn't going to go on for very long. The president is out there saying he wants this to be a long shutdown. That means an even -- for people who are living paycheck to paycheck -- and let me tell you, we've got a lot of people in our organization, some are making as little as $26,000, $27,000 a year, they are, you know, they cannot sustain a cutoff of their income for any period of time.

They have to plan as though they're not -- it doesn't matter if they're going to get paid a month later. They have to plan as though it's not coming. The other thing is, you know, in the past, Congress thankfully when there's been a furlough has paid workers who have been furloughed. There's no guarantee of that. And so for a worker who's being furloughed, you've got to plan as though your revenue is shut off and it's never coming and for a family who's making in the $20,000, $30,000, low $40,000 kind of range, this is just pulling the carpet out from under them, and you can't really plan for that.

BLACKWELL: The expectation is is that once the government gets up and running and 100 percent as that Congress will, as part of the legislation to get the government open again or open the government, will reimburse the federal workers for back pay. That is your expectation, right?

IRWIN: It is our expectation, but we have seen efforts in the past thankfully that have been thwarted. There will be an effort by some in Congress to make federal employees pay for the dysfunction here in Washington. BLACKWELL: Let me get one in here. You talked about preparation and

planning. And there are several degrees and categories of preparation. The family preparing for potentially being without income, but also the preparation from the departments, from the administration. What degree of communication was there headed up to midnight so that people knew who would be required to or requested to show up and work, who would be impacted and affected, and those who would not?

IRWIN: It's some of the worst preparation that we've seen. When there's been shutdowns in the past, there were weeks leading up to it in the days ahead of time. You know, as employee representatives, we were having conference calls with the agencies and how it was going to be rolled out was very clear. Where this time around two days ago people thought that there probably wasn't going to be a shutdown. You weren't seeing the behaviors from the agencies that you would have really expected. I was talking to a lot of people in our organization. You know, I had talked to a lot of members, and a lot of them had no idea whether they were going to be furloughed, whether they were on the accepted list so they weren't going to be furloughed. So the preparation was very, very poor this time around. Everybody was caught with their pants down.

SANTIAGO: Wow. Great insight. Randy Irwin, thank you very much.

IRWIN: Thank you for having me.

BLACKWELL: So in addition to the shutdown and what we saw at the Department of Defense, this was also the worst week on Wall Street in a decade. Investors, I mean they're just looking for some relief and a lot of people wondering when this slide will end. We'll talk about that.

SANTIAGO: Plus, is the Acting Attorney General already in the president's dog house? This just weeks after being on the job. Details on that next.



BLACKWELL: Well, any honeymoon period for Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker did not last long. CNN has learned President Trump has ripped into Whitaker at least twice in the last few weeks. Multiple sources say the president was frustrated that federal prosecutors, whom Whitaker oversees, filed charges against Michael Cohen that made the president look bad. None of the sources suggested the president directed Whitaker to stop the investigations. The top democrat on the house intel committee found the news unsettling. Adam Schiff tweeted, "The President of the United States should not be discussing any criminal case in which he has been implicated with the Acting Attorney General. This is wrong, unethical, and eviscerates post-Watergate policy. Whitaker should not need an ethics opinion to know this is inexcusable."

SANTIAGO: The Supreme Court has dealt a bit of a blow to the Trump Administration's new asylum ban. The high court upheld an order by a federal judge in California that blocks the policy. It would have temporarily banned migrants who illegally cross into the U.S. from the southern border from seeking asylum outside of the official ports of entry.

A district court ruled the ban conflicts with immigration law. And here's an interesting tidbit -- Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberals with the 5-4 ruling. The Justice Department plans to continue fighting for the ban.

And it was a rough, very rough end to an awful week on Wall Street. President Trump, not so happy about that. The Dow closed down 414 points on Friday. For the week it fell 6.9 percent. That's the deepest weekly plunge since the recession in 2008. President Trump blames the Fed chair for the downfall and according to Bloomberg, Trump is even thinking about firing Jerome Powell, blaming higher interest rates for the market hits.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Money and Politics Reporter Christina Alessi has more from the Stock Exchange. Christina, good morning to you.

CHRISTINA ALESSI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Leyla a brutal week in the market. The Dow and the S&P now on track for the worst December since the Great Depression and their worst yearly performance in a decade. This week the selling began in earnest on Wednesday when the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. Investors got really nervous that the Central Bank was weaning this economy off of easy money.

Look, we've had historically low interest rates now for over ten years. That's helped boost the economy. When interest rates are low, consumers are incentivized to buy houses and cars and, of course, stocks. Rising interest rates might have the opposite impact. That's what spooked Wall Street. Add to that, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell disappointed investors by making it sound like more interest rate hikes were already baked in for 2019 and that sent the market even lower.

Adding to the negativity, President Trump who tweeted on Thursday that he was willing to partially shut down the government over border wall funding even after one of his economic advisers tried to assure the market that a short and partial shutdown would not have lasting economic impact, the president took to twitter to emphasize the shutdown could be long.

On Friday the Federal Reserve tried to repair some of the damage. New York Fed president clarifying that the Fed will monitor what's going on in the financial markets and future hikes really depend on economic data. But overall, a very volatile week for Wall Street that ended with investors still deeply concerned about the impact of the ongoing trade war with China, a global economic slowdown and the stimulus from the tax cuts wearing off. Victor, Leyla.

BLACKWELL: Christina, thank you. Right now the U.S. government is partially shut down; thousands of employees getting hit in the wallet. We'll look at who's affected and how long this could last. SANTIAGO: Plus, the news that sent shock waves around the world

really triggered alarm bells in Washington. We're learning new details about President Trump's reaction to the resignation of James Mattis.



SANTIAGO: For the third time this year the government partially shut down this morning after the White House and Congress failed to reach a deal to keep it funded. At issue here, a highly charged fight over money for President Trump's border wall. Lawmakers tried to make a deal, but it's still kind of unclear how close they are to striking any sort of agreement sparking concerns that this may last well after the New Year.

BLACKWELL: So who is affected? Well, 75 percent of the government already has funding in place through this coming fall. But in various departments and agencies, 420,000 government employees are now working without pay. Let's go through them. At Homeland Security, 55,000 TSA workers will remain at their posts; 55,000 custom and border agents and officers are without pay, too. They will stay there, too. At transportation, 24,000 air traffic controllers remain on the job, so will railroad inspectors. At the State Department, passports will be issued, but not at every passport office and at government facilities where workers are furloughed and the offices are closed, obviously. The Smithsonian museum in D.C. is still open through January 1st on the regular schedule. It's unclear what happens beyond the 1st. The Justice Department will mostly remain open and operate; the Russia investigation will certainly continue.

In addition the Agriculture Department will continue food safety inspections but other services stop like research. And folks at NASA, they're put on leave of absence without pay. Now at the Interior Department, the national parks, some services at parks are closed, as well, like restrooms and visitors centers.

SANTIAGO: Joining me now to discuss further, reporter and co-author of "Political Play Book," Daniel Lippman. Good morning to you Daniel.

DANIEL LIPPMAN, CO-AUTHOR OF "POLITICAL PLAY BOOK": Good morning. Thanks for having me.

SANTIAGO: Let's get right into the back and forth. We just heard from the representatives of thousands of federal workers talking about how this is real, these are families waiting for a paycheck. So what do we expect it will take for a deal to be made here?

LITMAN: So negotiations are going to start again later today. But what it's going to take is that Trump and Republicans who are in the freedom caucus, they'll have to accept that they're not going to get billions of dollars for their border wall.

It's going to have to be labeled border security funding or, you know, a fence or anything that just does not include the name, the word "wall". That is just unacceptable to Democrats, and they feel like they have America on their side since they won the Midterm elections in the House.

And so, you know, Trump has accepted caves on this before, and he looked until earlier this week that he would accept a deal until he got so much criticism from the right that he worried that he might lose his space in 2020.

SANTIAGO: Given insight on both sides here, why do some believe this makes him look strong while others believe this makes him look weak. Why two extremes here? Why do we see belief on both ends?

LIPPMAN: So I think for people who view Trump as weak in this, is that Republicans still control the whole of government, and yet they can't even keep the lights on. That's kind of the argument for saying that there have been three shutdowns in the last couple of years.

And you have this repeated fight and it just does not go away because Trump is obsessed with the border wall and it's a $25 billion project and very little of it has been actually appropriate. For those of you that says making Trump look strong is that until a couple of days ago, when he indicated he would not budge, many people thought that he was going to get rolled.

Remember Ann Coulter said this is the end of your presidency. This is very dangerous because one of your prime promises during the 2016 campaign that got voters on your side was to build a wall and to protect the country, and yet, that has not happened under President Trump.

SANTIAGO: We see the clock there ticking on the amount of time that the partial shutdown has now been in place. That's also ticking toward when Democrats will take over in the House.


SANTIAGO: So January 3rd, we'll see a big change. Do you think that, that plays a role here in how Democrats and Republicans approach this?

LIPPMAN: I think it definitely does because Trump's leverage for getting border wall money only decreases as that January 3rd date approaches. Because Nancy Pelosi, when she's -- you know, speaker of the House will not accept any border wall money or even last border security money.

And I think both sides also feel like this is a limited shutdown. This is not open-ended because every expectation is that if it continues until January 3rd, the first active Nancy Pelosi in power will be to, you know, get the government lights back on.

And so during the holidays, just -- the pressure is not there, and plus, many of those Republicans who were defeated, they don't seem that interested in making a deal. They just want to get on with their lives and you know, get their next post congressional gig. SANTIAGO: Right. In the meantime, 800,000 workers dealing with

uncertainty right now. Daniel Lippman, thank you so very much. So how are federal workers --

LIPPMAN: Thank you.

SANTIAGO: Dealing with that shutdown? In the next hour, we will talk to the policy director of the American Federation of Government Employees. More insight there.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CO-HOST, NEW DAY SATURDAY: President Trump angry over Defense Secretary James Mattis' resignation. But it's not his departure that has the president fuming.


BLACKWELL: Thirty eight minutes after the hour now. President Trump is angry over Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' resignation letter. A source close to the White House tells Cnn that the president, quote, "hates the letter, but hates the coverage more."

He's upset that Mattis was often called one of the adults in the room. Now, General Mattis' abrupt resignation stunned U.S. allies, took all of Washington by surprise. And it came right after the president's announcement to pull the U.S. troops out of Syria.

Let's talk about all of this. Here with me now, Rebecca Grant; she's a national security and military analyst and the president of the IRIS Independent Research and Rear Admiral John Kirby, Cnn military and diplomatic analyst. Welcome back both of you.

And let me start here with you, Admiral Kirby. "The Guardian" and the "Washington Post" are reporting -- and this gets to both the Syria decision and General Mattis. That it was that call with the Turkish President Erdogan Friday ago, so a week ago yesterday.

In which there was the exchange that Erdogan said, I don't know why you still have U.S. troops in Syria. You say you've won, why are you backing the Kurds there in Syria? And the president said, you're right, it's yours, I'm getting out.

How does that correspond with the letter that General Mattis submitted with his resignation, talking about the strategic competitors and malign actors?

JOHN KIRBY, RETIRED ADMIRAL, UNITED STATES NAVY: Yes, it shows what the real dissidence was between Trump and Mattis with respect to what we're doing in Syria, and more broadly, Victor, on the power resident in alliances and partnerships. It also shows some of the schizophrenia of Turkey over this whole issue.

I mean, they have bristled at the support we've been giving to Syrian democratic forces, the Kurdish fighters because they view most of those Kurdish fighters as terrorist groups.

[06:40:00] On the other hand, they've kind of quietly welcomed American presence there in northeastern Syria because it has tended to keep Russia and the Assad regime and quite frankly, ISIS fighters away from their borders.

Although, they're not that worried about ISIS. So they're suffering a little bit of paranoia on this as well.

BLACKWELL: So Rebecca from your perspective, I read in your conversations with my producers is that you don't believe some of the concerns or you don't agree with some of the concerns that both Democrats and Republicans have expressed about the president's decision to pull out, the U.S. troops there off Syria?

REBECCA GRANT, ANALYST, NATIONAL SECURITY & PRESIDENT, IRIS INDEPENDENT RESEARCH: Well, the first point I'd like to make is that a lot is staying in the region. We'll have air power in Jordan and Qatar and the UAE. We have Navy forces, special ops are ready to engage at any moment.

There are thousand French forces still on the ground. So we still have a commitment there, and the ability to come back and bring in firepower whenever we need to. And I think finally, the Admiral is right. Turkey just couldn't take it anymore.

And Trump has to consider that our Mideast policy really rests on Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, not a happy trio. But there we have it.

BLACKWELL: Rebecca, listen to this interview, Wolf Blitzer spoke with Stephen Miller, senior adviser to the president, and how he frames the U.S.' involvement in Syria and the enemies there that the U.S. was fighting. Watch and listen.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO DONALD TRUMP: Let's defend our national security, let's put America first. But let's not spill American blood to fight the enemies of other countries, as is the case in Syria.


BLACKWELL: The enemies of other countries there in Syria. Do you think that's the appropriate framework for the work that the U.S. is -- U.S. military has been doing in Syria?

GRANT: Well, the U.S. military is working with our coalition. The defeat ISIS coalition consists of almost 70 countries and NATO and other groups. So I don't really agree with that. And I think we put a lot into it. Don't forget the reason that we had to extend operations up into Syria was to retake Iraq.

That's been accomplished, we still have 5,000 American forces in Iraq. And the Mattis strategy of surge last year in Syria has worked. Right now, we're down to about 2,000 ISIS fighters, they control less than 1 percent of the territory according to the coalition's report of December 4th. So Mattis did achieve a lot with his policy in Syria.

BLACKWELL: Admiral, has the U.S. been fighting other countries enemies in Syria?

KIRBY: No, I mean, the -- in fact, the idea that Stephen Miller put is ridiculous. Russia, Iran, Turkey, Assad have never really been all that serious about fighting ISIS or either -- and-or al Qaeda derivatives inside Syria.

Their focus has largely been on propping up the Assad regime so that they can have, particularly Russia and Iran, can continue to use Syria for their own national interest. Russia wants a foothold in the Middle East, it's been their only foothold for decades.

Iran wants a through-way to support Hezbollah in Lebanon. So they're not interested in fighting ISIS. We've not been fighting other people's enemies. ISIS is a global enemy, and as was pointed out, the coalition is now 74 nations strong. It's an international effort.

So it's very much on behalf of our own national security interests and the interests of so many other countries around the world who which, and with which we partner.

BLACKWELL: All right, Admiral Kirby, Rebecca Grant, thank you both.

KIRBY: Thank you.

SANTIAGO: Secretary Mattis isn't the only one upset with the president's desire to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan. One Republican senator who just returned from there says pulling out now could lead to another 9/11.


SANTIAGO: President Trump is pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria. We've now learned that he also wants to see plans to withdraw about half of the almost 14,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.

BLACKWELL: A Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has backed the president on a number of issues, but not this one. This week before that news broke, Cnn's Kate Bolduan traveled to Afghanistan with Senator Graham. His goal was to thank the troops and also make the case to President Trump that 17 years, after the 17 years, a secure Afghanistan ensures a more secure United States.

Here's Kate's exclusive story and a quick warning, the senator's language can be colorful.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Lindsey Graham is on a mission, a mission to connect with the troops, but also a mission to convince a president that after 17 years, Afghanistan is still a fight worth fighting.

You've been here so many times, why come back this time? What is -- what's this visit about?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I always come back as much as I can. One, if you're sending people up here to fight for your country, you at least owe it to them to kind of check in on them.

BOLDUAN: We had exclusive access to follow Graham on a whirlwind tour. He's been to the region more than 40 times. But this marks his first trip back to Afghanistan without his closest friend and confidante.

GRAHAM: This is the first trip without John McCain. This is a tough one. Just think there a minute ago how many times I've been here. But just almost all the time with John.


GRAHAM: And the president's going to make some decisions about Afghanistan soon. I hope he makes good ones.

BOLDUAN: From Kabul to Kandahar, his message to the troops, "we've got your back."

GRAHAM: Outstanding. How long you been here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About two and a half years.

BOLDUAN: But Graham doesn't seem so sure President Trump feels the same way. For one, the commander-in-chief has yet to visit any combat zone including where the fight against al Qaeda after 9/11 began.

GRAHAM: I would hope that the president would come over here. I know he loves the military, I would advise him to come over here and say thank you, sit down with President Ghani and the Afghan partners and tell them what you would like them to do better.

[06:50:00] Understand Afghanistan being Afghanistan is a completely different experience than talking about it in Washington.

BOLDUAN: And by being in Afghanistan this time, the senator says he received critical status updates from the top Afghan commando --

GRAHAM: The outcome in Afghanistan is important to the United States.

BOLDUAN: And also the top American commander of U.S. and NATO forces there. Both saying ISIS is on the rise.

GRAHAM: The ISIS threat in Afghanistan is far greater than I thought it was. If you get a peace agreement tomorrow between the Taliban and the Afghan government, that will not solve the threat to our homeland.

BOLDUAN: Yet, President Trump has made no secret he has little interest in committing U.S. troops to conflicts overseas. Look no further than his announcement to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now we've won, it's time to come back.

BOLDUAN: Even before that announcement, this was Graham's greatest fear about Afghanistan.

GRAHAM: The bad news, if we leave this place, it will go to shit in a year.

BOLDUAN: Seriously?

GRAHAM: If we pull out, if we go to zero, this place will fall apart very quickly, and we'll regret that decision at home. The people that we're holding at bay over here want to hit us again at home. So I hope people understand that these soldiers that you see around here and you talk to, they're a virtual wall against radical Islam coming to America.

BOLDUAN: What do you say to a president who ran on "we're not the policeman of the world"?

GRAHAM: I know what you're being told, President Trump about what will happen in Afghanistan. And here's the difference. This is the center of gravity. This is the place where it all started. If we're driven out of Afghanistan, if America is beaten after having spent all these years and this much blood and treasure, every Jihadist throughout the world will be on steroids.

BOLDUAN: What would happen if President Trump decides to pull everybody out tomorrow?

GRAHAM: You need to ask the question -- that question to our military leadership. I've asked that question, and they've given me a very blunt answer, this place would fall apart. We could if we make the same decision we did in Iraq, leave too soon, set in motion chaos that would make Iraq look like a walk in the park. And I think one of the most likely outcomes would be a second 9/11 coming our way.


BLACKWELL: It's important to remember that Senator Graham told Kate this before President Trump announced that he was withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria, and said he's doing so because ISIS was defeated. And before Cnn reported the military is being told to draw up plans to cut U.S. troops in Afghanistan by half.

SANTIAGO: Coming up, holiday travelers bracing for a rough weekend. But Santa, not really bringing the snow with him, it is the rain that could wreak havoc this year.


SANTIAGO: After a major storm on Friday brought grueling travel conditions, another storm this weekend could bring more travel headaches.

BLACKWELL: Another one, Cnn meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us now. Allison, good morning to you. Which cities are feeling it the most right now?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST: Right, so it's mainly going to be the focus in the northeast today. But that's likely to change for tomorrow. So let's break it down. Here's a look at what happened over the last 24 hours, again, this brought numerous cancelations and delays across the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast yesterday.

But we still have some lingering moisture today for states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and even New York. But here's the thing, some of those states don't need any more rain. The reason for that is we have about 70 cities, yes, 70 cities, that have already broken their annual rainfall record or are about to within the next week before we finish out the year.

Take a look at this. Wilmington, officially topping out at over 100 inches of rain for the year. Baltimore and Washington D.C., also breaking their record for rainfall for the year. So any additional moisture on top of this really is likely going to cause some concerns.

But those aren't the only ones. Again, we talked about over 70 cities. Look at this map. The red dots have already broken their record. The green dots are likely to by the timely finish out the rest of the year. And here's the thing, we have that other storm, it's on the horizon here, that's going to be bringing additional moisture enough for today.

The main focus for delays are going to be that system that's moving into the Pacific Northwest, but also areas of the Northeast. Your big hubs, New York, Boston, D.C., Philadelphia. Those are going to be some big concerns. Tomorrow, however, as that next system begins to push from the southeast all the way through states like Massachusetts and Maine, you're now going to have even more delays.

So unfortunately, Victor and Leyla, cities like Cincinnati, Atlanta and Charlotte which may be OK for today are likely going to have much bigger impacts tomorrow. So if you have flexibility, today likely looks like the better travel day. But we all know if your flights were board ahead of time, there's not much you can do at the last minute.

BLACKWELL: All right, Allison Chinchar, thanks so much. And again, thanks so much for the luggage carousel.


BLACKWELL: It's always a future --

CHINCHAR: Thank Haley(ph), yes --

BLACKWELL: Of holiday travel, yes, Haley(ph), thanks so much.

SANTIAGO: A judge in Oklahoma has put a fence around its Christmas nativity scene. And it's a part of sending a really strong message about immigration. Fellowship Congregational Church in Tulsa says the holy family was a migrant family, too.

BLACKWELL: And Church leadership says that just like Mary and Joseph, migrants fleeing to the U.S. are seeking shelter from oppression and violence. The church's pastor says everyone at their church has their own opinion on immigration, but everyone can do better.

SANTIAGO: That's quite the image right there. You don't see that very often. I mean, you even see not only with the nativity set are they showing it, but also with their signs, making a statement when it comes to immigration during this Christmas season.

BLACKWELL: Indeed, next hour starts right now.


DON LEMON, CNN: Our breaking news, the federal government now officially, partially shut down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are human beings who are going to be asked to work without pay, or gonna be told to stay home.