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Day Four Of A Partial Government Shutdown; Trump Spoke With The Turkish President Erdogan About U.S. Pull Out From Syria; 8-Year-Old Boy Has Died While In Custody Of U.S. Custom And Border Protection; Economy Is Not About To Collapse But The Markets Are Heavily Down And May Possibly Might Go Low. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 25, 2018 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:21] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Merry Christmas, everyone. I'm Dana Bash in today for Brooke Baldwin.

Families are coming together on this holiday. The same cannot be said, however, here in Washington for two political parties still deadlocked on funding the government.

So today, Christmas day, is day four of a partial government shutdown and President Trump is not giving an inch. He spoke to reporters just before he sent seasons' greetings to U.S. troops. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't tell you when the government is going to be open. I can tell you it's not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they would like to call it. And I will call it whatever they want. But it's all the same thing. It's a barrier from people pouring into our company -- into our country from drugs.


BASH: Now just a brief CNN fact check here on a border wall stopping drugs coming into the U.S., both the DEA and homeland security officials say drugs mostly enter through legal ports of entry. So it's doubtful a border wall would have a major impact on drug flow.

But what is certain right now 800,000 federal employees won't get their next paycheck if the shutdown doesn't end soon. And the President says federal workers back his wall. Listen.


TRUMP: The people of this country want border security. It's not a question of me. I would rather not be doing shutdowns. I have been at the White House and I love the White House but I wasn't able to be with my family. I thought it would be wrong for me to be with my family. My family's in Florida, Palm Beach, and I just didn't want to go down and be there when other people are hurting. But it's going to all work out. But many of those workers have said to me and communicated stay out

until you get the funding for the wall. These federal workers want the wall. The only one that doesn't want the wall are the Democrats.


BASH: CNN's Abby Philip is at the White House.

Abby, Merry Christmas to you. Do you have any sense of which federal workers he was talking about who tell him they support the wall and keeping the government closed in order to get money for it?

ABBY PHILIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Dana. Merry Christmas to you, too. It's really not clear what President Trump is talking about here. And I don't think federal workers who work for him and his administration's political appointees really count when it comes to this question of whether the government should remain closed until he gets his border wall.

But it's just one of several dubious claims that the President made in that ten-minute question and answer that veered in all different kinds of territory. At one point, he claimed that immigrants were coming over the border to San Diego and trampling over people's front lawns by the thousands. So this is just part of an effort by President Trump to raise the stakes here to make it clear that he wants the border wall or nothing at all.

But he is also trying to have it both ways claiming both that he needs the money for border wall funding but also that the wall is already being built. He said that yesterday in the oval office he approved a contract to build 115 miles of wall. But again, that is one of those things that we really don't know what he is talking about. And the White House hasn't responded to our request for comment about how the President could have single handedly doled out a federal contract to build a wall on the border.

But, Dana, we are in the fourth day of this government shutdown. The President is here in the White House. He seems a little unhappy about it. Yesterday he said he was here all alone, poor me. He said that in a tweet. And now today, he says that he wasn't able to be with his family in Florida.

But at the same time he is making it clear that he is not backing down from his demands for a wall. He is shifting a little bit on his definition of what exactly a wall is. He said maybe it's a fence, maybe it's those steel slats, but at the end of the day we don't know what the number is. What is the magic number for President Trump? What does he want from Democrats? And I think today, we didn't get any more clarity on that front at all. We just got more grievance, complaints from President Trump just like yesterday and the day before that - Dana.

BASH: Pretty extraordinary. I mean, how many times are we going to say that in these Trump years? But it is still is pretty extraordinary to see in here a president on Christmas Day in the oval office doing more than thanking the troops and calling the troops, which is kind of the standard fare.

Abby, thank you very much for that.

Let's go now to CNN political commentator Tara Setmayer who once served as a GOP communications director on Capitol Hill.

And Tara, you and I were talking about the fact that, you know, beyond that, you also have been very bold in immigration policy for years. First off, tell me what you think about this strategy policy-wise of pushing the envelope, shutting the government down partially in order to get money for a wall.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you are assuming there is a strategy. Unlike shutdowns in the past, there actually has been some strategy going into what they were willing to accept, on how long they were going to do it, how long it was going to go. I don't see that this time around. It seems to be impulsive. We know that the President has made this a priority since his campaign.

But he had an opportunity to negotiate with Democrats last year for $20 billion in funding, $20 billion, not five, in exchange for DACA. That was a good deal and he should have taken it. But unfortunately you had the far right wing immigration hawks tank that deal because they called DACA amnesty and then everything fell apart. Because the President was ready to make that deal.

So since then, Democrats now, they have less incentive to make a deal because the P.R. battle is being lost. The President himself said that he would be responsible for a shutdown. So that took that political chip off the table for Republicans. So Democrats, really, at this point have no incentive to really a deal any quicker than when Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker. So the American people, federal workers, border patrol officers by the way who are also working without pay, we make that clear, as long as it is a shutdown, because they are not one of the agencies that has already funded. They are homeland security, 88 percent of essential personnel of homeland security has to work today with no pay.

They are all caught up in this political brinkmanship. And frankly, the President throwing a temper tantrum because he wants the wall now. He had a chance to do it with a better deal and now he has blown it.

[14:06:57] BASH: But see, that is really - you mentioned why he didn't take the deal. And I think that is really important. He laid down the line early despite saying during the campaign and early in his presidency that feels for the so-called Dreamers, the kids brought to this country with their parents who were undocumented.

And you are right, he did leave $20 billion for the wall on the table and some other immigration policy changes that he really wanted. So if he didn't change then, do you think there's any chance that the reality of a democratic house and other political realities coming ahead could change that?

SETMAYER: Well, I think that he eventually is going to face the reality of the bad P.R. that this is. Because that's the only thing that moves this President. He doesn't care about hurting families, he doesn't care about federal workers, who in a "Washington Post" story there were federal workers who talked about, said they couldn't buy Christmas presents or they are going to return some. There was a federal workers who just lost his wife and said he couldn't buy a headstone.

I mean, this impacts people on a daily basis. I don't know what federal workers he is talking about. What the billionaire cabinet officers that we have or his millionaire counselors like Kellyanne Conway and others that are, you know, that this doesn't affect them? I don't know what the hell federal workers he is talking about that are cheering him on with this. But the everyday people who this affects who start not getting paychecks, the President is going to feel that.

And Senate Republicans are not happy about the shutdown either. They have been on record like senator -- Kansas senator Pat Roberts, he is not thrilled about this. Other senators as the holidays go by and people start to comeback and pay attention, I see the President not sticking to this too much longer because he is not going to be able to explain why people are paying this price.

BASH: But, Tara, the people who he has cared about the most over the past two years, his base.


BASH: I mean, he is right that, you know, they expect him to keep the campaign promise and that the messaging that he is giving to them, what he is telegraphing with his multiple tweets, with his unusual, you know, press conference on Christmas day, is I'm fighting for you. So what -- do you really think that he considers this a P.R. problem when that is his focus, his base?

SETMAYER: Well, he may not yet but when the pressure starts to -- the longer this goes on, the worse it becomes for him. Because the American people need to understand, well, why are you doing this exactly?

We already get $4.8 billion for border security. And you have seen that he is already started to change the language he has used. Now it's whatever you want to call it, fencing or, you know, a sort of a fence, a wall. So you are going to find - they are going to find a way, Democrats will give a little more money. Trump will come off the $5 billion. And he will find a way to use language so that it seems like he is actually gotten a win here.

But, you know, because his base -- you have people out here that are sending money to some fraud guy to build a wall. I mean, his base is obviously not tethered in reality about how these things work. And the President was willing to lie about a 115 mile border wall contract to make it seem like he is doing something.

The American people don't -- most people don't understand the government procurement process and I don't blame them, it's difficult. But the President doesn't dole out contracts. Like this is not how things work. So he is going to start -- I think we are going to start to see him say more erratic things that are not true, that are provably false in order to make it look like he is doing something to his base.

[14:10:36] BASH: Tara, I want to you quickly listen to some of the senators who are leaving, either who were defeated or retiring and as they give their farewell address talk about the state of Washington.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: A traditional farewell speech in the United States Senate is full of accomplishments and thanks. I'm going to skip half of that.

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), FLORIDA: What in the world has happened to civility and to humility in our nation's public discourse?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: How low can you go? The answer it seems is always going lower.

MCCASKILL: Peter Morgan, an author, said no family is complete without an embarrassing uncle. We have too many embarrassing uncles in the United States Senate.


BASH: I mean, I remember the days and it was not that long ago where I would sit in the Senate chamber and listen to the farewell speeches and they were about accomplishments and about relationships built and about legislation achieved through compromise. That's kind of depressing but it is reality.

SETMAYER: It is. But you know what is even more embarrassing, Dana? The fact that Republicans has sat back and enabled this this president to do what he has done and to behave this way without consequence. That to me, as a conservative, as a Christian, watching what is going on here, especially here during the time of Christmas, watching this President's unhinged behavior, self-centered, narcissistic behavior in the last couple of days is really boggling to me.

Putting our military in the middle of this, using them as political pawns, again. And for, you know, senators now as they are leaving, well, you know, Democrats -- I have never agreed with Democrats so much in my life on the idea on decency. I may not agree on policy but just the basic decency and the lack there of it, I agree with them. They are right.

But it was the Republicans who sat back and cravingly allowed this because they were afraid of backlash. And so, you know, I'm not going to give a cookie to the Republican senators who have spoken up now as they are leaving on their way out the door. But it's going to be the ones that are there now, moving forward. What they are going to do? Watching this President's behavior, his words, what he has been doing for the last couple of weeks, between Mattis and Syria, and what is happening now with this shutdown, are they going to step up and say this kind of behavior is not acceptable? That's really where it lies is with them.

And I just want to say Merry Christmas to all of those federal workers out there who are working without pay but still hold the line with us, despite this President's temper tantrums. Thank you and Merry Christmas to everybody.

BASH: Thank you, Tara. Merry Christmas to you. I know you have a very important meal waiting for you that your mother is cooking.


BASH: Send pictures.


BASH: All right. Tara, thank you very much.

SETMAYER: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And we have this breaking news, an 8-year-old boy in the custody of U.S. customs and border protection died on this Christmas morning. Officials say the boy was a Guatemalan national. Last night, a border patrol agent noticed the child was ill, sent him and his father to a hospital in New Mexico. The child was diagnosed with a common cold and a fever. He was released. Hours later his symptoms became more severe, he started vomiting and went back to the hospital where he died shortly after midnight. An exact cause of death is under investigation.

This is the second child in a month who has died while in U.S. custody. A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl became ill and died after being apprehended by border agents. Her funeral is planned in the next hour in Guatemala.

And still ahead, has the U.S. government national security decisions making basically stopped working? That's the fear from sources inside the administration after defense secretary James Mattis' abrupt departure. We will discuss that.

Plus, Trump takes on the fed again. This as fears heighten over the state of the economy. The President says there is nothing to worry about. Is he right?

And it is Christmas and Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth deliver messages of unity on this Christmas day.

Back in a moment.


[14:19:08] BASH: Just one week left until defense secretary James Mattis leaves the job. And or Barbara Starr reports that Mattis showed up for work today at his pentagon office today, Christmas day. This after delivering a final Christmas message to the troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Since Washington crossed the Delaware at Christmas at 1776, Americans troops have missed holidays at home to defend our experiment democracy. To all you lads and lassies holding the line in 2018 on land, at sea or in the air, thanks for keeping the faith. Merry Christmas and may God hold you save.


BASH: And we are learning a little bit more about what led to Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria. Two sources tell CNN that in the weeks before national security adviser John Bolton ordered senior officials to meet directly with coalition partners and that he wanted to assure them the U.S. is staying in Syria until Iran is out of Syria.

Well, Trump spoke with the Turkish President Erdogan about U.S. pull out from Syria basically saying America is leaving it to the Turks. Turkey in exchange has promised not to target the Kurds, who have been a key U.S. ally in Syria.

Joining me now to talk about that and more, David Sanger, national security correspondent with the "New York Times" and Kim Dozier who covers national security for "the Daily Beast."

Wow, am I lucky to have both of you experts on Christmas day. Appreciate you both.

Kim, let me start with you on this situation in Syria and in particular this promise from the Turks that they are going to take care of the Kurds. Give us the context of why that matters and why that is a potential dubious claim.

[14:21:02] KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, the problem is by saying they are going to take care of the Kurds, they mean they are going to target some of those Kurdish forces who have been working alongside U.S. and other coalition forces to fight ISIS, doing most of the fighting and the dying.

But my understanding is that Turkish leader Erdogan had gotten more and more concern that John Bolton and others were transforming the Syria mission into an infinity mission by expanding it beyond just defeating ISIS to staying there until Iran left. And so that is why he had agitated against Kurdish forces, asked for this phone call that we all keep talking about, this pivotal phone call with President Trump in which he made the offer, hey, 99 percent of ISIS is defeated. We will take care of the rest. And Trump heard something that he long wanted to hear. That an ally was willing to take care of the problem. Unfortunately, that was done in a way that left other allies feeling very betrayed.

BASH: And part of the reason, just part, of the reason we are told that the defense secretary is leaving is because he, among others, had made a promise to the Kurds that he would not abandon them in their fight there against ISIS.

DOZIER: Absolutely. And, look, the U.S. has had a history according to the Kurds of enlisting their aid and then leaving them high and dry. So Kurdish officials I have spoken to have said, you know, they have just gone and done it again. And even today, high-ranking Turkish officials are saying publicly that they are going to move their forces into that border town inside Syria of (INAUDIBLE) and possibly clear U.S. Kurdish-allies out in a violent and deadly way. And that is exactly what Jim Mattis had promised wouldn't happen to them.

BASH: I want to turn to North Korea, David Sanger, because I don't know anybody in the western world who knows more about that than you. And so, let's start with the tweet that the President sent, one of ten, I believe, that he sent yesterday where he was talking about North Korea and he said briefing my team, working on North Korea, progress being made, looking forward to my next summit with chairman Kim.

David, progress being made?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Pretty remarkable that he takes the view that there's something to meet with Chairman Kim about. The most interesting thing that has been happening in the six months since the Singapore summit is that not much has happened since the Singapore summit.

The North Koreans are continuing to manufacture nuclear weapons by the assessment of U.S. intelligence. They are continuing to expand their missile bases. They have not conducted missile tests. But I think what's really remarkable about this, Dana, is that the President himself right now can't get past the administration's own statement that you have to go get the North Koreans to dismantle their equipment first to denuclearize first. And the North Koreans coming by and saying, no, no, by denuclearization we mean the whole peninsula. And that means the Americans pull back. And that American nuclear threat against North Korea is reduced. And this reveals is some of an absence of process here by which the administration could that this is a position the North Koreans have long taken and how to go deal with it.

BASH: Yes. I mean, and we have seen this movie so many times. Here is a U.S. President having the same hurdle that his predecessors both Democratic and Republican have had, which is the policy of the U.S. being denuclearized before it will talk and North Korean leaders saying, no. It is not going to happen.

David, I also just wonder, what message you think it sends inside Pyongyang that this tweet that the President came couple of hours after a federal judge in the U.S. gave a massive judgment to the family of Otto Warmbier, describing in details how the North Koreans, you know, abused him and tortured him. No mentioned of that from Trump.

[14:25:24] SANGER: No. No mentioned of that even though he had talked about it a lot back a year-and-a-half ago when he was on the sort of fire and fury mode.

BASH: He did. SANGER: And you know, I think his instinct of meeting with Kim Jong-

un even after Otto Warmbier's awful death and, you know, clearly murdered at the hands of the North Koreans, I think the instinct was the right instinct. But what he has captured himself in this point is going from one extreme to the other. The extreme in the summer of 2017 was if you don't do everything immediately, we will go to war. And the extreme right now is to basically forgive the North Koreans almost everything to show that his diplomacy is working. And so what he has lost is the happy medium and the North Koreans recognize that he is unlikely to go to war with them and unlikely to really press the North Koreans to fulfill the commitments that the President believes he set in Singapore and to fulfill many human rights commitments, which is really what the Warmbier tragedy is all about.

You know, the other thing the North Koreans are watching is the Syria decision.

BASH: Exactly.

SANGER: What have they learned from this? That the President really does not want to have troops overseas, that he thinks the way to defend the United States is from inside its own borders. And so I think the North Koreans are concluding if they keep pressing, they might actually convince him to withdraw troops from South Korea. It will be a pretty reasonable assumption especially given what the President has said about not keeping troops in countries where we have trade deficits.

BASH: Right. We are almost out of time, but Kim, real quick. I mean, that's such an excellent point. I mean, how many times during the campaign did we hear the President question why do we have so many troops on the DMZ? And we know from reporting that people like secretary Mattis have said to him with the map explaining, I know that was in Woodward's book or I have lost track of the books now, this is why. So there definitely is a link there, not to mention the fact that the President over the Christmas holiday has been tweeting about negotiating with and talking to players like Un and Erdogan.

DOZIER: Absolutely. And America's both allies and frenemies understand that this is what Trump wants. That he doesn't like having troops deployed overseas. And so that's why you got Turkey pressing its advantage in Syria. And you have the Taliban will be able to press its advantage in Afghanistan hearing that he wants to get out thereof and the same thing with North Korea. They are using that sort of momentum to soften the sanctions against them with China and South Korea and put President Trump in a difficult situation to try to turn it back to hard ball in future.

BASH: Well, on those happy notes, thank you so much for joining me. Merry Christmas to both of you. Appreciate it.

SANGER: Happy holidays to you.

BASH: Thank you.

And back to our breaking news for the second time in a month, we are learning a child has died in border patrol custody. This time an 8- year-old boy who fell ill. We will discuss what happened next.