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INSIDE POLITICS

Little Progress as Shutdown Turns Five Days Old; Decision on 2020 White House Run Looming for Democrats; A Look Back and Ahead in the Mueller Investigation. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 26, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that he's willing to see this out this fight to play out for potentially weeks, if the Democrats don't come closer to what he's asking for?

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, I can tell you, his resolve is very firm. He believes that his negotiating team has made, you know, several offers that would result in a compromise but still money for border security. And yet, at the same time, it hasn't been received by my Democrat colleagues in a manner that would suggest that they're taking his resolve seriously.

I can tell you that if they believe that this president is going to yield on this particular issue, they're misreading him, they're misreading the American people because his intent on making sure that not only he follows through with this commitment to the American people but that he makes sure that our border security that there's less drugs, less terrorists, less human trafficking, drug trafficking that takes place.

RAJU: You don't think there's any way that he would accept the $1.3 billion dollars the Democrats are saying, they'll not going to move off of? Do you think there's any way that he would accept that?

MEADOWS: I'd say no, no evidence that would suggest that he would come even close to 1.3. I mean listen, they were at zero, he is at $5 billion. You know, the average person says, well, certainly there should be a compromise. So that compromise is not $1.3 billion which is less than they actually had in the Department of Homeland Security bill just a few months ago. So I don't see that as a reasonable counteroffer with my Democrat colleagues, Manu.

RAJU: And before I let you go, I just want to see if you have any concerns at all that in the new Congress, House Democrats will have the majority, if the Senate Republicans are going to be not as resolute as you are on this and that they may try to cut a deal with the House Democrats to keep -- to reopen the government at least on a short-term basis. Do you have any concerns that the Senate Republicans are not as resolute as you and the president are on this fight?

MEADOWS: Well -- I mean, obviously there's -- I don't want to speak for my Senate colleagues. I have -- had a number of conversations with four or five different Republican senators that are fully engaged in conversations with those senators across the aisle for this. And I think they understand the president's position but they also understand that we have to have a secured border.

This is not something that can really be kicked down -- the can can't be kicked down the road and planted for another time because we've been doing that for decades. It's time now to make sure that we hold firm and that we do what we told the American people we would do. Hopefully, there's a compromise. I can tell you that, you know, being inside the room, hearing the negotiations, the president and his team has consistently been willing to make reasonable offers. Hopefully, some -- one of those reasonable offers will be accepted soon.

RAJU: Well, Mr. Meadows, thank you so much for joining us and for your insight. We really appreciate it. We'll see you back here in Washington.

MEADOWS: Bye.

RAJU: And we also want to welcome our international viewers who have just joined us and your reaction to Mark Meadows, saying that, you know, he's talking to the president, the president is willing to hold firm. He's not going to go anywhere near what the Democrats want, 1.3 billion for border security.

Meadows is right. This could go on for a while.

JOHN BRESNAHAN, CONGRESSIONAL BUREAU CHIEF, POLITICO: Yes. He also hedged it a little bit. He also said there was no evidence that Trump was talking to him. So he did hedge it because you have to be careful when you're talking about Donald Trump that he could change the parameters of what he's talking about.

RAJU: So maybe Meadows is concerned he could get undercut by the president?

BRESNAHAN: I don't think so right now. I mean, look -- I mean, let's play this out. If they don't do a deal this week, Democrats will come in and take charge of the House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will put a funding deal on the floor. It will pass in a Democratic majority, and then it will go to a Republican-run Senate and then what happens?

RAJU: Yes.

BRESNAHAN: Mitch McConnell will ask his colleagues what they think and if he thinks they need to pass it --

RAJU: And that's why I asked him that question at the end because I see that scenario possibly playing out. The House passes something and McConnell feels a lot of pressure from his guys to reopen the government. There's a lot of frustration among Republicans and they passed that short-term bill already by a voice vote.

Do you think that could happen that Congress tries to move and overcome any presidential veto on this? SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think that's certainly possible because, look, Republicans want to be able to back up the president on his policies but they are not willing to risk a shutdown over it. I mean, time and time again, I mean, there is a coalition among House

Republicans led by Mark Meadows who do --who have agitated for a shutdown standoff. But the vast majority of Republicans think the shutdown is not a good idea. Shutdowns are never a good idea and they want this to end as much as -- as quickly as possible.

RAJU: And the president seems to think this is a good idea.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Well, sort of. Yes but he also was sending Mike Pence up to the Hill behind the scenes to try to cut a deal before Christmas. So he's kind of trying to figure out what his play is. And I think this terrible tragic death of this second child is going to add a new element of pressure to the shutdown negotiations.

[12:35:06] The president may try to say this is evidence of the need for a wall, but I think Democrats are going to say, if you want us to give you money, what you need money for is taking care of, you know, these very fragile children who were in your care. And from that call today, the briefing call with DHS, we learned that other than these two children, it had been a decade since you had children dying crossing the border. Only a handful half a dozen adults dying over the past year.

So, I think the death of this second child has changed the administration's perception of the problem. I think there is a willingness now to try take things seriously. The Homeland secretary preparing to make a visit herself, the CBC engaged, discussions of Mexican health officials now about whether there's actually a virus problem. So when something of that proportion, that's where the epic tragedy enters the shutdown talks, it injects a new element into the final discussion.

RAJU: Real life --

TALEV: Absolutely.

RAJU: -- consequences to this fight.

Up next, an update on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who had surgery for cancerous nodules in her lung late last week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:37] RAJU: Topping our political radar, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is out of the hospital and recovering at home after surgery. The 85-year-old had two cancerous nodules removed from her ft lung on Friday. Ginsburg has had previous (INAUDIBLE) of cancer but the court said last week there's no evidence of any remaining disease in her body.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms finding out this Christmas that everyone is a food critic on Twitter. The mac and cheese she make got panned as overcooked by some of her followers including one who said, the photo, quote, dried out my contact lenses. The mayor took the critiques in stride saying, you just have to add more cheese at the end then mix it up to make it juicy.

And we now know what was said on the other side of a Christmas eve phone conversation President Trump had with a young girl who was patched through to the White House after calling NORAD to find out where Santa was. The president raised quite a few eyebrows for asking the seven-year-old if she still believed in Santa since as he put it that's a marginal age, right? Here's both sides of that call for context.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What are you going to do for Christmas?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably put out some cookies and then we're hanging out with our friends, so that's pretty much all.

TRUMP: Oh that's very good, you just have a good time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: Are you still a believer in Santa?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am.

TRUMP: And you're seven, it's marginal, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes sir.

TRUMP: Well, you just enjoy yourself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Classic moment there.

Up next, a look at which Democrats to watch next month for possible presidential runs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:46:28] RAJU: It's the heart of the holiday season so you know what that means. A number of Democrats are having heart to heart talks with their families about whether to run for president in 2020. Here's a look at who's expected to announce their decision by early next year according to CNN's Dan Merica. Former Vice President Joe Biden, for one, has said that he knows he needs to make up his mind by January, Senator Kamala Harris said recently it'll be a family decision she makes over the holidays. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg telling the AP recently keeping his January or February is about as late as you could wait before announcing.

So, let the countdown begin. I wonder what do you think, Sara, is the Democratic message to beat Trump? I mean, there's controversy after controversy after controversy engulfing the White House but how do they -- what do the Democrats need to focus or what can they do successfully --

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I would suggest any Democrat has any idea how to successfully beat Trump and I don't know that any one of them knows how to do it. I mean, I think they're walking a fine line and you've seen that in the way we saw the midterms play out. I mean, on the one hand you need to not alienate the Trump voters because you need to be able to appeal to these white working class voters who have voted for Democrats in the past and fled them and voted for Trump this time around. Maybe they have a little bit of buyer's remorse but you can't run around slamming Trump like, you know, he's like Satan reincarnated or something like that because it's not going to win these voters.

On the other hand, like we saw with Ocasio-Cortez, you need to find a way to invigorate the Democratic base and that is something that Hillary Clinton really failed to do. It's part of the reason that she lose. And so for a Democrat to be able to do both of those things, to be able to walk that fine line, I don't think that anyone has the sort of the special sauce yet. And it's still very early and I think you learn once you start campaigning, and so we'll see.

RAJU: And that's the (INAUDIBLE) between the base and -- or moderate pragmatic, to resist versus work with Republicans (INAUDIBLE). And also, there's doesn't seem to be tons of satisfaction with the current field. If you look at a new poll from USA Today, a Suffolk University Poll saying today, asking how do they feel about the president's people running for president? Most people want somebody entirely new to run for president. The field is incredibly wide open right now.

TALEV: Yes, there's somewhere between 18 and like 40 candidates, right? And, you know, increasingly, the membership of the Democratic Party are women and people of color but overwhelmingly, those prospective candidates are not. Some of them are, some are women and some are people of color but a lot of the candidates and a lot of the people leading those very early polls, even too early to call polls, it's more like sort of like gut check or something like that are white men. And so I think there are a couple of battles inside the party.

What's the right face for that candidate? What's the right background for that candidate? Is it an insider, is it an outsider? What does outsider mean anymore? Does it mean you'd never held elected office or does it mean you're not from Washington? And it's going to take a few months to even begin to see the (INAUDIBLE).

Right now, Beto is the guy sucking all the oxygen out of the room. The guy who didn't win the race but I think it's really too soon to know where things are going.

RAJU: And where are does some of the big names in the Democratic Party come down to get behind some of these candidates. Politico has a headline today, Brown, Sherrod Brown starting to get a meeting with President Obama, former President Obama as he considers a presidential run. Sherrod Brown wants to run for president. Two, maybe he has a chance, maybe he doesn't. Who knows at this point? How much do you think the President Obama's endorsement would mean a lot?

I assumed he's probably stay out though for some time.

BRESNAHAN: Oh I think he would stay out of the crowd --

RAJU: Unless Biden gets in.

BRESNAHAN: Unless Joe Biden gets in. But I also think Brown is a very interesting candidate because the battleground will be the same as it has been the last couple of cycles.

[12:50:03] Can they -- it will be can a Democrat play in the Midwest? And Sherrod Brown, you know -- I mean, Trump won Ohio by nine points. I mean, you've got to be able to beat Trump in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. You have to be able to be competitive there, but then you also have to take the message to Florida and other places. And we know what the battleground is going to be.

Which Democrat fits in the best?

MURRAY: (INAUDIBLE) you have to be able to beat Trump. Trump is just not going to lose on his own accord and I think that that's what a lot of people bet on in the last presidential election, that he was going to go down in flames because of his own words and actions and it did not work that way last time. I think if you're a Democrat, betting it's going to happen this time, you're probably not going to be the one --

RAJU: And perhaps legal problems is piling up which we'll need to talk about next. What can we expect from the Russia special counsel in 2019?

[12:55:29] RAJU: Wall Street's meltdown and the government shutdown may be stealing the headlines as 2018 comes to a close but the Mueller investigation still been the story of the year. And promises more big developments after the calendar turns.

To recap, four people have been sentenced to prison, one has been convicted in court, seven people implicated, have entered guilty pleas and a total of 36 have been charged. Now looking ahead to January and February, we're expecting a movement in the cases against Rick Gates and Paul Manafort along with the trial of former Michael Flynn associates.

Now March should also be busy. Manafort is expected to be sentenced. Michael Cohen will report to prison and there'll be a status hearing in the Flynn sentencing on the 13th.

And joining us now is CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon and Sara have been covering this so closely, the Mueller investigation. But Shimon, you have questions about what will happen in 2019 particularly when it comes to the president. What's happening with Mueller and Trump? What are happening in those discussions between the president and Mueller's team?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So to me, the biggest question is going to, what's going to happening with the president and whether or not he actually has to follow up with Mueller to do answers to the questions that already been submitted. Does Mueller force him to come in and actually do an interview? I know there's been a lot of people who don't believe that's the case but I don't think that we have seen a resolution on that and I don't think that's over yet.

And obviously, there are still a lot of other open issues, certainly, the Rick Gates issue, his cooperation. That's still very much ongoing and we still have no idea just how much help he's been providing the Mueller team.

RAJU: I mean, do you think we could get to a point in 2019 where there could be a subpoena from the Mueller team for this president?

PROKUPECZ: That's possible. I think a lot of people believe that that issue has already come up and the Mueller team has moved on from that. I'm not still sure and we have nothing to indicate that that's happened except people like Rudy Giuliani saying whatever they may say on any given day.

I still think the president whether or not he has to go before Mueller is going to be a big question.

MURRAY: And I think we can't roll out that, you know, Mueller's team might change their approach if they have gotten their first round of answers from the president and they feel like he lied, they may feel more emboldened to try and push for a subpoena than they did before.

RAJU: And we've heard that those answers were kind of (INAUDIBLE) on some accounts, they're saying, I don't recall and, you know, you didn't provide much insight. But you also have questions about what's going to happen to Roger Stone.

MURRAY: This is like my lifetime question now. It's what is going to happen to Roger Stone? For months, we've had that, you know, his associates held in, they've been interviewed by Mueller's team, they have appeared before the grand jury. So the big question is, you know, will they actually decide to bring some kind of charges against Roger Stone? We know that Mueller's team is now formally asked for the transcript from the House Intelligence Committee from Roger Stone's appearance and turned it over. So, it tells you that Mueller's team has at least some suspicion that Roger Stone may have lied while he was under oath and he was testifying to Congress. And we saw Mueller's team has, you know, brought charges against other folks for that and use it to pressure them into cooperating.

So, you know, what is going to happen to Roger Stone if he does face charges? How would he react and what happens to this sort of cast of characters surrounding him? Jerome Corse said he's expected to face legal trouble. He's still officially is not facing any charges. And will we see, you know, this cast of characters grow? Will we see folks go in for more follow-up interviews in the new year?

RAJU: Will we see any of them turns also? When will -- I think the question everybody has is, when will this end, right? This -- I want to take you back to 2017. The White House lawyer at the time, Ty Cobb, predicting a quick end to the Mueller probe. He said, "I'd be embarrassed if this is still haunting the White House by Thanksgiving and worse if it's haunting him by years end."

He told Reuters, -- he also said, "I think the relevant areas of inquiry by the special counsel are narrow." That was August of 2017.

PROKUPECZ: Right. And, you know, there's been a lot of speculation -- again, it's all speculation that the Mueller team has been trying to do this quickly but I think what we're seeing is that Mueller is doing this at his pace. And no matter what anyone says or no matter what anyone thinks, this is going to get done when it's done. And we may be sitting here for several more months dealing with this because there still so many open-ended parts of this investigation that are ongoing. And every time we think we've reached a finale, something new happens. Something else comes up.

And I still think, what's the big bombshell that's to come? I still don't think we have that yet. If that exists. We still don't have that yet.

RAJU: And when will the report come? We'll we get into a big fight about releasing the report. Will there be a fight in Capitol Hill to subpoena --

PROKUPECZ: And then Mueller will probably have to go before members of the Congress and that's going to open it up.

RAJU: This is not ending anytime soon.

Thank you guys so much for joining us. And thank you for watching us and for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. Right now, Dana Bash takes over right now.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, everybody. I'm Dana Bash in for Brianna Keilar.