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CNN NEWSROOM

Sen. Graham Pitches Border Security Plan to Trump; Bangladesh Election; German Chancellor Calls for Unity in New Year's Speech; Brazil's Bolsonaro to be Sworn in on New Year's Day. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired December 31, 2018 - 03:00   ET

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


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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A government stuck in limbo. The fight over U.S. president Trump's proposed border wall is far from over and it's keeping much of the federal government at a standstill.

Plus another five years as prime minister for Sheikh Hasina as opponents accuse her party of rigging the vote. She gets ready to lead Bangladesh for a third straight term. We'll have a live report on it.

And a new chapter in Brazil's history as the country prepares for a controversial new leader. Why some say Jair Bolsonaro is Brazil's Donald Trump.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

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ALLEN: It's all but guaranteed the U.S. will ring in 2019 mired in a government shutdown all because of the budget battle that is hinging on Donald Trump's border wall. Republican senator Lindsey Graham pitched a plan to Mr. Trump Sunday.

Graham told the reporters the president did not commit but was open- minded. But any deal still needs at least some support from Democrats. We get more from CNN Sarah Westwood at the White House.

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SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is holding out for funding for his promised border wall as the partial government shutdown drags into its second week.

Now, the president's allies have tried to muddy the waters about how much funding the president wants for a wall versus border security. It's also not clear at this point what the president considers an actual wall.

Outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly said that this administration actually abandoned the idea of a concrete wall along the southern border early in Trump's presidency.

He told the "Los Angeles 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 toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration."

Senator Lindsey Graham came to the White House on Sunday for a two- hour lunch and said he pitched the president on what he described as a potential breakthrough should it gain traction and that's a deal that would trade $5 billion in wall funding for temporary protections for the so-called DREAMers -- the young, undocumented immigrants protected by DACA.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: 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. And hopefully, we can get some serious discussions started maybe as soon as next week.

WESTWOOD: But keep in mind that Mick Mulvaney, the incoming acting chief of staff-budget director, has already signaled that the president is willing to back down off that $5 billion number. In fact, Vice President Mike Pence, last week, offered something in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion -- half of that -- and Democrats rejected it.

Now, keep in mind that Democratic congressional leaders haven't been invited back to the White House for further negotiations, so talks do still appear to be at a standstill -- Sarah Westwood, CNN, the White House.

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ALLEN: Senator Graham says he also spoke with President Trump about the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. The senator told CNN going into the meeting he was concerned about the president's surprise decision but afterwards Graham says he was reassured.

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GRAHAM: The Syrian decision caught me by surprise. I fear it's going to undercut all we have achieved and I will ask the president to reconsider.

I think the president has come up with a plan with his generals that make sense to me.

The goal is to make sure that ISIS doesn't come back. I think we're in a pause situation, we are re-evaluating what's the best way to achieve the president's objective of having people pay more and do more.

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ALLEN: Graham was clear that the president has not reversed his decision, saying the pause provides time to assess how the withdrawal would affect the situation on the ground in Syria.

Joining me now is Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School.

I want to get right to it because the outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly, is blaming the fired attorney general Jeff Sessions for the zero tolerance policy at the border that separates --

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ALLEN: -- children from their parents.

Is that accurate, what Kelly is saying?

JESSICA LEVINSON, LOYOLA UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: There may be some accuracy to it. But the truth is that President Trump ran on an agenda of being tough on the border and tough on immigration. And it is the thing that frankly he has been the most consistent about, is the stance of having a hard line, particularly when it comes to the border and particularly when it comes to what he alleges is national security.

So this particular policy may have come from attorney general Jeff Sessions but I'd say two things. One, it was clearly very consistent with what the president's message and agenda was and, secondly, the president had the power to say to Sessions, we need to find another way to do that, just as every president before Donald Trump has done.

ALLEN: Many liberal commentators say Donald Trump has manufactured a crisis at the border. There are definitely problems; we've seen the deaths of two children.

Crisis?

That's a question.

Is it a mess?

It does seem so.

Where does the administration go from here despite arguments regarding a border wall that's very unlikely to happen?

LEVINSON: I think what was interesting this weekend is that we see the administration trying out a new talking point and trying to pivot away from the wall, which I think increasingly they know they're not going to get the funding for, and saying when we said wall, we didn't actually mean wall, we just meant some sort of technology or some sort of policy to make it harder to cross the border.

So I think what the administration is doing right now is they're looking at the current House and the current Senate, they're realizing it's not going to get any better for them next week and next month, when they have, particularly, this new House of Representatives.

They're realizing that Mexico is not going to pay for this wall, Washington, D.C., is not paying for this wall. And so they're changing the rhetoric and really saying we just want more funding for homeland security.

ALLEN: Jessica, we've also heard from Trump ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, who says Mr. Trump now understands, as far as Syria, that we may not need to suddenly pull U.S. troops out.

How might the president have made this misstep, his decision caused his much admired Defense Secretary to quit?

LEVINSON: Well, I think what Mr. Trump did is he did what has served him well a lot of times, which is say I just want to pull troops out of Syria.

Now as we know, for the Secretary of Defense, this was just the last straw. He said this goes against the advice of everyone in your administration -- or almost everyone. This goes against the advice of all our allies.

And he says I need to work for someone who is a player on the world stage, who is an honest broker. I think what has happened a number of times in the Trump administration and what we're seeing happen with respect to this decision for the Syria troops is that someone said to President Trump, it's not feasible. You can't do it. You cannot just announce that we are pulling troops out. It would be a disaster.

And I think that he has now come to the conclusion that, that's right, we cannot pull troops out. And that's why we see surrogates like Lindsey Graham saying, maybe there is another road.

And we have seen this with respect to a number of different positions that the president has taken, where he goes out, kind of guns blazing and says we'll take this really aggressive step and then later he pulls it back. And I think that's what we are seeing with Syria, too.

ALLEN: We'll the way to see what happens. Thanks again, Professor, at Loyola Law School. We appreciate your insights.

LEVINSON: Thank you.

ALLEN: In Russia, at least three people are dead, 79 others unaccounted for, after a suspected gas explosion at an apartment building. It happened early Monday in the city of Magnitogorsk.

Local reports say the blast caused part of the high-rise building to collapse, trapping people inside. Rescue workers have so far pulled three injured survivors from the rubble, including a child.

Opposition parties are challenging Sunday's results in Bangladesh. They allege vote rigging after what appears to be a sweeping victory for this leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Officials say her party picked up at least 288 of 300 available seats and she is headed for a third straight team (sic). Election Day was marred by violent clashes.

However, also the prime minister is accused of cracking down opponents but she has also been praised for the way she has handled the economy. Let's get the latest on the election and the questions surrounding it. We're joined by CNN's Nikhil Kumar from New Delhi.

Nikhil, good to see you. The opposition says it wants a new election because it says this one was not fair and there are questions of vote rigging.

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ALLEN: Any chance there would be a new election?

NIKHIL KUMAR, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF: There's no indication of that whatsoever. As you said, the official results declared so far, the 299 of the 300 have been declared.

Sheikh Hasina elite political party is way ahead; 288 seats is what they want at least from the numbers that have come out. The main opposition alliance, only seven seats so far. We're still waiting for results to be confirmed from one seat.

The opposition, as you say, is crying foul. This follows questions and concerns about the ballot which took place on Sunday. They were already being raised in the run-up to the poll. Just weeks earlier, Human Rights Watch, said there was a climate of fear in the country and that all of it was casting a shadow over the credibility of the process.

Now we have this. Nonetheless, no indication that there will be a second poll. This morning from Delhi, the foreign ministry said Prime Minister Narendra Modi already phoned Sheikh Hasina to congratulate her on the victory.

So no sign at all that there will be a rerun. But these questions and concerns about whether or not this was, in fact, a credible ballot.

ALLEN: Has she addressed the charges of the election being unfair?

KUMAR: She hasn't, no. The officials who have spoken in recent days have insisted that this is credible, that the whole process and the run-up was credible and the results are credible and this is the verdict of the people.

They cite the government's achievements. You pointed out the economy in the introduction. This will be her third consecutive term. The previous two terms have been two stories. On the one hand, the story of human rights abuses, concerns about a crackdown on dissent, on voices that were critical of the government.

But on the other hand, the other story, a booming economy, the government making good progress on cutting down poverty and making good progress towards achieving a whole host of development goals.

So the officials are all stressing that this is what this is. This is an affirmation of that other story, the good story on the economy. But as you pointed out, the opposition and lots of other activists saying, no, the poll is not credible. o this is going to be an argument that we will have to wait and watch how it plays out in the coming days. ALLEN: Nikhil Kumar, we thank you for joining us from New Delhi.

Voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo went to the polls on Sunday in a presidential election that was supposed to be held two years ago. The vote was mostly peaceful but there were reports of deadly clashes at one polling station.

Analysts say the results will likely be contested because voting was pushed back to March in three opposition strongholds.

Sudan's president is defending the actions of police during violent clashes with protesters this past week. Omar al-Bashir says the officers showed model behavior. The government says at least 19 people have been killed in the clashes since the protests began almost two weeks ago. Amnesty International puts that number even higher at 37 people killed.

Fuel shortages and high food prices sparked these rare demonstrations against the president. Protesters say they will be out on the streets again on Monday.

After a challenging year, Germany's chancellor looks ahead to 2019. Angela Merkel may have been down at times but she is not out.

Also ahead here, Brazil's far right president-elect is just one day away from taking office. We look at the movement that put him there.

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ALLEN: 2019 isn't quite here yet. Close but Russia's president is out with his new year's message and a special announcement for Washington. Vladimir Putin says he is open to dialogue with Donald Trump.

Mr. Putin stressed that Russian American relations are essential to international security. The U.S. president cancelled a planned meeting with Putin at last month's G20 meeting after Kremlin forces opened fire on Ukrainian naval ships.

She admits her government has been disappointment to many Germans but Angela Merkel is nonetheless calling for unity next year. In her new year's speech, she expressed the values of openness, tolerance and respect in dealing with major issues like climate change and migration.

Atika Shubert reports the speech caps an especially difficult year for the chancellor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 2018 was always going to be a challenge for Angela Merkel. Saddled with last year's disastrous election results, it took two attempts to cobble together a reluctant coalition government.

The once indomitable German chancellor looked especially weak when, four months in, her own interior minister threatened to resign over migration policy. Then came the violence in the East German town of Chemnitz in August. Public anger over the murder of a local man allegedly by refugees boiled over on the streets.

But what began as a spontaneous protest against her migration policy was quickly hijacked by right-wing extremists, rampaging through town and brazenly flashing Nazi salutes before police.

The nation was stunned and Merkel was criticized for failing to visit the town herself in the wake of the violence.

By October, her Christian Democrats had suffered defeat after defeat in regional elections, what appeared to be the final nail in the coffin. She swiftly announced she would step down as party leader and would not seek re-election. After more than 13 years in power, the Merkel era was coming to an end.

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY (through translator): This fourth term is my last as German chancellor. At the federal election in 2021, I will not stand again as a chancellor candidate nor as a candidate for the bundestag and I will not seek any further political office.

SHUBERT: Where once Merkel was seen as the embattled elder, handing over the reins of Europe to a younger, more popular French president, Emmanuel Macron is now the one struggling with his own violent upheaval.

And it was Merkel that British prime minister Theresa May came to for help to fend off her own leadership challenge as she struggled to deliver a budget agreement.

Normally a leader in this position would be called a lame duck but Merkel has kind of flipped this around. She has stage-managed her own political exit. She has even gotten her chosen protege chosen elected to replace her as party leader despite a hotly contested race.

This has brought a measure of stability to Germany and that is something highly prized among German voters. In a recent survey, for example, two-thirds of respondents say they wanted to see Merkel stay in office until the end of her term and her party, the Christian Democrats, have rebounded in the polls.

Merkel may be a lame duck but, by default, she ends the year as the most stable and powerful leader in Europe -- Atika Shubert, CNN, Berlin.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ALLEN: In another part of the world, a new leader, the man sometimes

referred to as Brazil's Trump, will become the country's next president January 1. Jair Bolsonaro has already been busy, tweeting about implementing his controversial agenda. Shasta Darlington explores what Brazilians and the world may expect when he takes office.

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SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is known as --

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DARLINGTON (voice-over): -- Brazil's Trump, an anti-establishment politician who promises to drain the swamp and crackdown on crime. And like his U.S. counterpart, he campaigned on change and won.

Sixty-three-year-old Jair Bolsonaro is a seven-term congressman with a reputation for controversial comments, often aimed at homosexuals, minorities and women, once telling a congresswoman she was not pretty enough to rape.

He has a strong conservative base who, like him, are pro-life and against same-sex marriage. A former army captain, Bolsonaro wants to bring back law and order which he said was strongest under Brazil's former military dictatorship. Even though military rule ended in the mid '80s, Bolsonaro still believes in some of the old regime's brutal tactics.

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BOLSONARO (through translator): I support torture. You know that.

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DARLINGTON: It's tough talk that has resonated with voters tired of political corruption and widespread crime. Brazil has one of the highest murder rates in the world and Bolsonaro plans to fight fire with fire. Encouraging police to use lethal force on criminals.

Last month, Bolsonaro himself was stabbed in the stomach at a campaign rally by a man who police believed was mentally ill.

On the economic front, Bolsonaro promised free market reforms and privatizations. But as the head of South America's largest economy, he also said he would safeguard natural resources and warns that China already owns too much of its land.

Whether or not Bolsonaro makes good on his campaign promises to make Brazilians safer and more solvent is yet to be seen. He'll get that chance when he officially takes office in January -- Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.

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ALLEN: We are just hours away from ringing in a new year.

What will the weather be like, where you might be planning to be outside with fireworks?

We will find out next.

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ALLEN: It is almost 2019 all over the world. Let's look at the weather conditions for everyone getting ready to ring in the new year.

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ALLEN: You can stay indoors and ring in the new year with CNN. CNN New Year's Eve with Anderson Cooper and funny man Andy Cohen starts Monday at 8:00 pm Eastern, 1:00 am in London. They will be live in Times Square.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen. Happy New Year. Remember you can connect with me any time on Twitter @AllenCNN. "GOING GREEN" is next. I'll be right back with our top stories.

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