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Trump Unwilling To Compromise On His Demand For Billions For Border Wall; Democrats Showing No Signs Of Budging For The Border Wall; Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: With no visible end in sight, sources telling CNN, President Trump is digging in, unwilling to compromise on his demand for billions for his border wall. Privately telling lawmakers, he will not agree to a deal that only includes $1.3 billion for border security.

Democrats also showing no signs of budging from their position, as they're now just three days away from taking control of the House, this as hundreds of thousands of American workers are left wondering, when will they see their next paycheck.

Joining me now is CNN's Boris Sanchez, who is live at the White House with the very latest. Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning Pam. Yes, those waiting for a breakthrough deal to end the government shutdown will simply have to keep waiting. Even within the Administration now, it appears that there is some disagreement over the meaning of border wall.

Just this weekend, the outgoing Chief of Staff, John Kelly, made headlines with an interview he gave to the "L.A. Times," in which he attempts to redefine what President Trump means when he says border wall. Take a look at this quote that Kelly gave the "The Times."

"To be honest it's not a wall. The president still says wall, oftentimes, frankly, he'll say barrier or fencing, now he's tended towards steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration." Lately we've seen surrogates for the president trying to describe his long promised border wall as some sort of barrier.

Just this weekend you had Kellyanne Conway speaking with our colleague Dana Bash on "State of the Union," suggesting that part of the disagreement between Democrats and Republicans is over semantics of what his barrier actually means.

This morning you had President Trump essentially take a wrecking ball to that writing in this tweet, quote, "An all concrete wall was NEVER ABANDONED," all caps for emphasis, "as has been repeated by the media. Some areas will be all concrete, but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a wall that is see through, thereby making it possible to see what's happening on both sides. Makes sense to me."

I did want to point out, the president also tweeted again on border security just a few moments ago saying that, "Border security is impossible without a powerful wall." And also calling on Democrats to return to Washington, D.C., to try to negotiate a deal that would reopen the government.

There are some optimists out there, including Senator Lindsey Graham who was here at the White House this weekend having a long lunch with the president. He was a bit optimistic, he tried to present an idea to the president that might offer a legal solution for Dreamers, legal status for recipients of DACA in exchange for border wall funding, an idea that we've seen before. He said the president was not committed to that. He did say though, that both sides have to sit down and start talking once again. Pam.

BROWN: And we should note in his tweet this morning, he said the concrete wall was never abandoned, something that's been reported by the media. That was coming directly from his outgoing Chief of Staff, John Kelly.

SANCHEZ: Yes, he was on the record, yes.

BROWN: On the record. All right, Boris Sanchez, thank you very much for that. And I want to discuss with Seung Min Kim, White House reporter for "The Washington Post" and Patrick Healy, Politics Editor for "The New York Times." Great to see you both.

PATRICK HEALY, POLITICS EDITOR FOR "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Hi Pam.

BROWN: All right, I first want to go to what Lindsey Graham said after having this two hour lunch meeting yesterday with President Trump. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: But after lunch, I've never been more encouraged, if we can get people talking we can find our way out of this mess. The president didn't commit, but I think he's very open-minded. I know there's some Democrats out there who would be willing to provide money for wall, border security if we could deal with the DACA population and TPS people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: All right, so Patrick, I want to go to your first. What do you think aobut what we just heard from Lindsey Graham, do you think a deal that involved DACA and TPS (inaudible) is something that the Democrats could get on board with and work with Trump on?

HEALY: No, the Democrats don't want to go down the DACA road, at least right now. I mean, what they're concerned about is, they don't want this to get fuzzed up with a number of different issues being pulled together. They want to pass a bill that reopens the government. That shows that the Democrats support government functioning, normally

and making sure that all hundreds of thousands of workers are getting their paycheck so they're not dipping into savings, into credit. And what they're open to, it seems like, is the border security issue.

But, you're hearing Senator Graham using these formulations like wall/border security. I mean, he's trying to sort of please, it seems like, President Trump who is so fixated on wall because he knows that Republican base, that his supporters very much want a wall or at least have gotten behind him certainly during the 2016 campaign and as president over a wall.

So, Senator Graham introducing DACA into this, at least right now for House Democrats, isn't the path that they want to go down. What it's going to have to come down to is whether President Trump still insists on calling something a wall and asking for several billion dollars for it or it morphs into some kind of looser border security bill.

[09:05:00]

BROWN: And as all of this is playing out, Seung Min, the president still hasn't really reached out Democrats to negotiate and it's still unclear what he will sign at this point, right?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER FOR "THE WASHINGTON POST": Exactly. I mean, it seems publically clear that he's not willing to budge from the $5 billion, but we also know that the White House has offered, privately, to Democratic leaders a small scale deal, about $2.5 billion in border security money wall funding as well as more money for immigration enforcement. But the mixed signals problem that one that has been a problem for the last several weeks as we've tried to navigate this shutdown.

Remember Mike Pence, the Vice President, has come to a lunch with Republican Senators and Republican Senators has left that lunch feeling pretty confident that the president would sign a, so-called, clean funding bill, which didn't have all the -- all the wall funding that Democrats oppose, but clearly we saw the president came out strongly a few days later and said he would not support that piece of legislation.

And in terms of discussions with the Democratic leaders, you're right, that there is none going on right now. The last time that the president talked with the incoming Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who is one major part of the equation here, was December 11, in a phone call after that dramatic Oval Office confrontation and the discussions with Chuck Schumer are being primarily led by the vice president and the acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney.

So, perhaps when Congress is fully back in session later this week, we will see more direct communication between the president -- or among the president and Schumer and Pelosi, but right now, these are discussions that are just simply not happening.

BROWN: They are clearly at an inpasse, and Patrick you had alluded to this, this sort of change and language over the border wall and the outgoing Chief of Staff, John Kelly, told the "L.A. Times" that the administration has abandoned this idea of a concrete wall and then you have Kelllyanne Conway telling CNN, just yesterday, that this is all about semantics and we shouldn't be caught up in the semantics of the wall and what it might look like. What do you make of the change in language, and by the way, we should note the president's tweet this morning claiming they didn't abandon the concrete wall. Go ahead.

HEALY: Right. I mean he's the President of the United States, right? So, you sort of start with him and not so much Kellyanne Conway and an argument over semantics. The President of the United States still says wall, he says it over and over and over again. And voters, regular people know what a wall is. A wall isn't a fence.

He seems to care so much about a wall, that he's going on Twitter contradicting his own Chief of Staff, John Kelly's on the record remarks, saying that they abandoned a wall. It's extremely important for this president to say to his base, who follows him on Twitter very closely, I am still for a strong, big wall, and we know what that is.

And the problem is, that runs smack hard into House Democratic opposition and a good number of Democrats in the Senate too, who don't believe that the threat to America is so great that you need to build a gigantic wall on the border and spend billions of dollars to do it or shutdown the government and prevent people from getting paid.

So, people can say all they want about the semantics, but the reality is, is that the president keeps doubling and tripling down on, we've never abandoned a wall, a wall is what we're going to get. He's going to either end up caving big time if they end up going with border security or you may see a very long shutdown, because this seems to be where the president wants to make his stand.

BROWN: What do you think Seung Min Kim?

KIM: I think that, again, the -- it's -- we'll have to wait and see how long this shutdown goes, because again, the two sides are very dug in and I want to point out that while we have the Democrats seemingly unmoving from their position and the president as well, Republicans on Capitol Hill, while they do want to support the president's policy roles, they do support a wall, they do support more border security, they are not willing to risk a shutdown or to agitate into a shutdown to achieve those policy goals and that's kind of the big difference between Congressional Republicans and the president.

And we'll have to see just as the shutdown goes on if Senate Republicans, if House Republicans particularly start to loose their patients with how long the shutdown goes on. If they're hearing from their federal worker constituents back home about their furloughs and the missing paychecks, and if that changes the calculus at all.

But, besides that, usually adds something extraneous to what should be a routine matter, funding the government, whether it was trying to defund Obamacare on the part of Republicans in 2013 or trying to add Dreamer protections earlier this year on the part of Democrats.

[09:10:00] That's the part of -- that's the side that usually looses a shutdown, but we'll have to wait and see.

BROWN: We shall, and as all of this is playing out, the politics of it, the blame game, there are 800,000 federal employees who are impacted by this partial government shutdown. Thank you both for coming on.

KIM: Thanks for having us.

BROWN: Meantime, New York is gearing up for the nation's most high profile New Year's Eve celebration and it's 2019, will get a soggy start when the ball drops in Times Square tonight. Our Chad Myers has the forecast. A very different New Year's Eve this year than last year, right Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Fifty degrees warmer this year than last year with the wind chill factor at midnight last year being five degrees below zero. This year it will feel like 45 above.

(WEATHER)

BROWN: Yes, it was pretty crazy. I left the house this morning in Washington, D.C. without a coat. So, Chad Myers, thank you so much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BROWN: And if you can't be in Times Square, the next best thing is, of course, to watch the ball drop live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen tonight starting at 8:00 eastern, only on CNN.

And it is officially 2019 in New Zealand. Fireworks lit up the night sky over Auckland earlier today and an impressive light show over Sydney Harbor in Australia. Spectators had to deal with heavy storms in the hours leading up to the big show.

And still ahead on this Monday morning, Elizabeth Warren seeing 2020? The Massachusetts Democrat just launching her own presidential exploratory committee. We have the very latest.

Plus, Russia arrests a U.S. citizen accused of spying. We are live in Moscow. And disturbing new video uncovered, showing staffers pushing and dragging migrant children at an Arizona shelter, we have the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

BROWN: Well, Senator Elizabeth Warren takes a first step toward a run for the White House. She announced just a few minutes ago that she is forming an exploratory committee. Time to go with that announcement, a new video playing up her childhood roots in Oklahoma.

I want to bring in CNN National Political Correspondent MJ Lee for more. She joins me now from Boston. Good morning MJ. MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey Pam, it is suddenly feeling like a 2020. Senator Elizabeth Warren announcing this morning, as you said, that she is forming an exploratory presidential committee. This all but confirms what we've already expected for awhile now, that she is, in fact, going to run for president and she is now the first major Democratic candidate to take formal action towards a presidential campaign.

She made the announcement in a four and half minute video and an e- mail to supporters. Here's a little snippet from that video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARNER (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No matter where you live in America and no matter where your family came from in the world, you deserve a path to opportunity, because no matter what our differences, most of want the same thing, to be able to work hard, play by the same set of rules and take care of the people we love. That's the America I'm fighting for and that's why today I'm launching an exploratory committee for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now, the video actually began with her describing her childhood in Oklahoma and her father suffering a heartache and working as a janitor and her mother getting a minimum wage job.

And Senator Warren says, that despite those hardships, she was lucky enough to become a law professor, and then, of course, a Senator and she makes the point in this video that not all other American families are as lucky as hers.

And the themes that we see in this video, Pam, themes like fighting economic inequality, fighting government corruption, taking on big banks and big corporations. These are themes that we have seen Senator Warren talk about on the national stage for several years now and these are clearly going to be the issues driving here presidential campaign.

Now, the reason that we are set up in the Boston area this morning is because this is where her staffers are looking for campaign office space for her eventual presidential campaign headquarters.

We are also told that she has, the Senator herself, has already spent hundreds of hours on the phone with political leaders and activists in the early states and her plans are to travel to those early states as soon as possible. But, of course, that all depends on what ends up happening with the ongoing government shutdown back in D.C.

This is going to be a crowded Democratic field, Pam, as you know, but what she does have working in her favor, at least today, is that she is, again, the first one out of the gate and those optics are certainly important. Pam.

[09:20:00] BROWN: Absolutely. MJ Lee, thank you very much. Live from Boston. And let's talk about what the poles are saying about Warren's chances in 2020. I'm going to bring in CNN Political Senior Writer and Analyst Harry Enten who joins me now. Thanks for coming on Harry.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICAL SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: My pleasure.

BROWN: All right, so let's go to the first situation here with the numbers. You say Warren's best performance in the 2018 midterms was one of the weakest for a Democratic senate candidate, even though she won by 24 points. Explain that. What stands out to you about those numbers?

ENTEN: Well, the fact is, Massachusetts is a very blue state. Hillary Clinton won there by 27 points, Liz Warren only won there by 24, and keep in mind that 2018 was a much better year for Democrats nationwide, so the fact that Liz Warren did worse than Hillary Clinton in Massachusetts suggests that, perhaps, she's a below par candidate.

BROWN: Let's talk about here -- the CNN pole. The CNN pole form earlier this month showing that she is fairly low on the list of front runners and Democrats choice for their nominee. Look at this full screen here. What does her home state poling tell us about a possible 2020 match up?

ENTEN: Yes, so usually if you look at people's home state poling you would, in fact, see that they are well out ahead. If you look at Joe Biden's poling in Delaware or Bernie Sanders poling in Vermont, they both poll particularly well in their home states.

But in Massachusetts, Liz Warren, when matched up against her opponents in a potential Democratic primary, she's actually polling third or fourth behind Biden and Sanders, which suggests something's quite wrong, right?

Because if the people in your own home state, the Democrats in your own home state are saying, you know what, maybe we prefer another Democrat, perhaps it says, when other people nationwide are exposed to Liz Warren, they may not like her as much.

BROWN: Very interesting. All right, let's talk about the "The Boston Globe" editorial page, urging her not to run. Here's what they said. While Warren is an effective and impactful Senator with an important voice nationally, she's become a divisive figure. A unifying voice is what the country needs now after the polarizing politics of Donald Trump.

What does your poling say about this? Does it back it up?

ENTEN: I think it does. I think Liz Warren, perhaps, should have run back in 2016. Her poling nationwide, her standing nationwide was a little bit higher, but obviously, if you look at the poling now, what you tend to see is that Liz Warren's favorable ratings are not that high among the general population.

And of course, remember, winning a Democratic primary is just the first step in winning the presidency. You then have to go on and win a general election and Liz Warren, her very liberal record, combined with the fact that Donald Trump has already gone after her has made her a very divisive figure nationwide, at least in mind of the public. And so, I think that's what that "Globe" editorial is getting at.

BROWN: Well, you say she's been a divisive figure, I mean there as the back and forth with the president, with Donald Trump. Of course the Pocahontas attacks that he launched at her, then she did that DNA test that came out, that she released. Do you think those attacks from the president have hurt her at all, nationally?

ENTEN: I think they have and I think that if you spoke with -- speak with most Democrats, they would suggest that, perhaps, Liz Warren didn't get the upper hand of that particular battle and I'm not sure it was a particularly smart move by her, especially in the lead up to the midterms, when most Democrats wanted to keep their eyes on the president and he was able to go after her.

But, I should point out, of course, we still have more than a year to go until the Democratic primary, so it's possible that Senator Warren could, in fact, pick up steam, and perhaps repair some of her standing.

BROWN: All right, Harry Enten, thank you so much.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, an American under arrest in Russia, accused of spying. He's been held for days, but details are just now beginning to trickle out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:00]

BROWN: Well, this morning Russia says it has detained a U.S. citizen on suspicion of spying. American Paul Whelan was taken into custody on Friday while, according to Russian authorities, he was carrying out an act of espionage. Matthew Chance has the very latest from Moscow. Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, thanks very much. Well, there's not a great deal that we have that we can add to that at the moment, because details have been very sketchy from the Russian side, as to what exactly happened.

We know that this individual, Paul Nicholas Whelan, as has been named more fully, was arrested on December the 28, so a couple of days ago, in Moscow, the Russian capital, while undertaking what the Russian authorities say were espionage activities.

The FSB, which is the lead counter in -- sorry the lead counter espionage agency in Russia had that statement to make but added nothing further. The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that the U.S. authorities in Moscow at the embassy have been notified about the detention. We've reached out to the embassy, they say that they've got nothing that they give us in terms of information or any detail at the moment.

As though when I spoke to diplomats here in Moscow a few minutes ago before we came on the air, they said that the State Department would be preparing a statement and once that's approved shortly it will be, obviously, made public. So, hoping to have a bit of clarity then about what exactly this is all about Pamela.

BROWN: All right, lots to discuss here. Matthew Chance, thank you so much. And joining me now, CNN Global Affairs Analyst, David Rohde. He is also executive editor of the New Yorker website.

[09:30:00]