Return to Transcripts main page


Patrick Shanahan Takes Reins from Mattis as Acting Defense Secretary; Politicians Use Instagram Live to Speak Directly to Voters. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 1, 2019 - 12:30   ET


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: I read some of stuff that he had written for the firms he worked for.

[12:30:05] Was there any mention at all, particularly given the current tension between the United States and Russia of any concern, him to his parents or anything like that leading into this trip?

DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF MAN DETAINED BY RUSSIA: No, there wasn't. Paul was mostly worried about the family golden retriever who had a vet appointment last week and about his parents slipping on the ice in the Michigan winter. He was not concerned about his trip to Russia.

MATTINGLY: All right. David Whelan, I know this is a difficult time for you and the family. Thank you for sharing the story of your brother. Please keep us updated if there is anything you learn going forward. We appreciate it.

WHELAN: Thanks very much, Phil.

MATTINGLY: All right. We'll be right back.


[12:35:14] MATTINGLY: On Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan's first day on the job, he says, quote, I now look forward to working with President Trump to carry out his vision, alongside strong leaders.

Shanahan takes over for General James Mattis who resigned shortly after the president's announcement to withdraw troops from Syria. Administration officials tell "The New York Times", the president is giving the Pentagon roughly four months to withdraw those troops in Syria.

I want to bring in CNN's retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, former spokesman with the State Department.

You're pretty familiar with the building.


MATTINGLY: Before we start, I want to pull up the list, take a look at these four headlines in terms of what kind of challenges a new defense secretary is facing, just in the course of the last couple of days. You got North Carolina. You got Turkey, Syria, ISIS, Israel as well. You got Afghanistan. You obviously have China and the Asia Pacific region as well.

Right off the bat, what is your sense of challenges Acting Secretary Shanahan faces?

KIRBY: There are lots. I mean, as you just pointed out, there's a lot going on with the world. That said, he's got a great team round him that combatant commanders, all are sort of regional experts and where they are. If he's got the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all the chiefs of the services, all of them can help him kind of navigate his way through these things.

Seventy-five percent of the defense secretary's job is budget, is program, is building the capabilities, is working with Congress, is trying to get the man train and equipment done with the military. His experience of Boeing will help him do that. Now, he just has to work on the learning curve that he doesn't know, which is the foreign policy aspect.

But again, I think there is a lot of expertise in and around the Pentagon staff to help him do that.

MATTINGLY: So, it's interesting. I want to play sound from the president when he was in Iraq and he was talking about Mr. Shanahan and he said this. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our friend Shanahan is a good man. He's done a good job. He's a good buyer. I wanted someone who could buy. I am getting a lot of money and I don't want it to be wasted.


MATTINGLY: And one of the critiques, if you will, and to be frank, we cover Congress. I've heard a lot of Democrats come out and raise concerns of any kind about Secretary Shanahan. That he doesn't have foreign policy experience, doesn't have diplomatic experience. But to your point, that he's been on the acquisition side, he's been on the budgeting side and that brings real cache into the department.

KIRBY: Yes, that's not all bad. I mean, don't get me wrong, he still needs to get familiar with operations and sort of Secretary Mattis is much more familiar with that than he was the buying stuff. There is an argument that there is a steep learning curve for him, but I do believe that if he puts the effort into it and really studies it, gets out and about, talks to allies and partners, he can mound that challenge.

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Can I say that I agree, but the one area that we haven't talked about and the thing that is probably the steepest is navigating this president, right? What all of the president's secretaries have come to find is that putting aside the expertise they need to run their particular agency, one of the biggest things they have to figure out how to do is to navigate the president's whims and Twitter attacks and the sense that whatever might be the sort of general direction of the department that they have to cater to the whims of this president.

And I think especially in this kind of the defense, foreign policy word, that can get really tricky really fast. You know, does Shanahan do what the building wants in North Korea, or does he do what the president wants in North Korea. And those things have been in tension quite a bit for the last two years and I think it's going to increase.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But in a way, Shanahan has the advantage that the admiral is kind of referring to, right? Which is that he's got this sort of business acumen, or at least Trump sees him as having that sort of -- but he is not in a role where he is not running the treasury. He's not being put into Fed chair. He's not going to be doing something that could directly affect the economy in a way where the president just says, oh, wait, that's not what I wanted and start ridiculing him shortly thereafter.

He is going into a role where he has a learning curve, too. You know what, Trump? Trump doesn't know that much about foreign policy, or he didn't when he entered and chose not to listen to anybody and go by his own gut. If Shanahan decides to study is it in a different fashion, he comes in without -- Trump likes to hire generals, but he doesn't like when the generals tell him what to do. He doesn't listen at that point, right?

So, this is not a general. He is not going to be coming and say, I know because I've been shaking his finger. He's going to be coming in as somebody likes me, right, and yet it's his job to learn, and I'm guessing that he's going to be studying up on this stuff differently than the president.

KIRBY: Plus, he's been there for 18 months. So, he is not unfamiliar with all the challenges, foreign policy and capabilities-wise that Mattis had to deal with. And remember, he is still just acting. So, we really don't know how long he is going to be there.

MATTINGLY: I will play this really quickly and have you response here. The key issues are right off the bat in Syria.

[12:40:02] And take a listen to what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said just this morning.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The decision the president made on Syria in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel. The counter ISIS campaign continues. Our effort to counter Iranian aggression continues. And our commitment to Middle East stability and protection of Israel continues in the same way it did before that decision was made.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: I know the individual sitting next to him was not too keen on quick/immediate pull out of U.S. forces. What's your sense right now to drill down on that? Quickly, where do things stand?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Yes, the president had lunch with Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, over the weekend. He seems to think that President Trump has backed off from his very quick pull out that he was considering to get a better understanding of what the negative impact of pulling out of Syria in a month.

We are hearing from "The New York Time" that it may be several months, maybe four months of time before the American troops will remain in place and have a slow pull out. The president tweeted multiples time saying I was never going to pull out quickly. I always wanted to do a slow deliberate pull out.

I think that may be a sign that the president is hearing from the people who are worried about all of the disasters that can happen if we just pull out of Syria without taking the time to do it right.

MATTINGLY: Make a bold statement, talk it back a little bit, as you hear from him. But it would be interesting to see, no question, about how this plays out.

Thanks as always for your insight.

Up next, taking a page from President Trump's playbook, politicians are using Instagram and Twitter in new ways including this would be candidate, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who shared a berry cobbler recipe on Twitter while wearing, of course, New Year's Eve flannel.


[12:45:55] MATTINGLY: Some of new members of Congress have a message, but you may have to follow them on Instagram if you actually want to hear it. The 2019 class is using Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to directly talk to their supporters and their haters. Take a look.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been known to cook on Instalive while talking policy shared this photo on the platform in November, with a caption: Squad.

Now, part the said squad is incoming Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who had this message in November: Move over, guys. Rashida is here.

And in December, Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar shared this fan art of the group with all the females in Congress surrounding them. On this one, getting elected to Congress is amazing. Getting to serve in Congress with all these powerful women is better than I could have imagined.

Now, it's not just the squad capitalizing in social media. Incoming Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw from Texas has shared his New Year's resolution on Twitter last night. Resolution number one: I'm going to finally going to figure out my wife's taste in clothes to I can buy better gifts. A chance of success close to zero. I feel you, Congressman.

Resolution number three: I'm going to figure out what Pilates is.

All right. I also have no idea what Pilates. So, I apparently have a lot in common with the congressman.

Look, this isn't just limited to new members of Congress. This also seems to be the theme of the moment for everyone. You talk about Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Warren last night having a beer.

What is going on, Karoun?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, I was clearly the most media literate at this table, no.

I think everybody is trying to be hip and cool and tap into an electorate that doesn't usually vote, that they really, really need, especially if they are Democrats. You are trying to speak to your generation and it's not even your generation. It's the next generation down, which means that they may not even be on these platforms. But that's another thing entirely. They are trying to find the votes where they don't exist yet.

Find voters where they don't exist yet, and appeals to them with the message that says, look, I'm totally in touch with you, you want to hear what I have to say, so get to know me first. I don't know if it's going to work with 60-something-year-old woman saying, I'm going to get a beer, go off camera, come back, watch me drink it. It's really going to appeal to like, you know --

MATTINGLY: I believe --


DEMIRJIAN: But who knows, right? We are talking about it.

MATTINGLY: We actually have that. Senator Warren, last night, I believe from the friend of the show. We had to bring it up with Elizabeth Warren holding beer while opening beer. It appeals and it also got a critique from "The Daily Caller". A conservative Republican that says, Liz Warren follows Democratic trend, pops open a beer and cooks dinner on Instagram live. How do you do, fellow kids?

If you want to know what that's a reference to, watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that you were once a police officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was part of a special task force, a very young- looking cop who infiltrated high schools.

How do you do, fellow kids?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad you called me.



SHEAR: Can I just say though, as the sort of old guy on the panel here? Like some of this is what politicians have done forever, right? You remember Bill Clinton went on with the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show which people under a certain age would not remember. He was trying to go where they thought the young voters were. And that's all that's happening here. That's a different age.

My suspicion is in the same way that the Arsenio Hall Show for Clinton didn't dramatically change the dynamic of politics in Washington, neither was this, right? This was kind of on the margins and where they can get the extra few votes or that extra little bit of support. It's not going to change anything.

Elizabeth Warren's fortunes in the presidential campaign are going to rise and fall on a lot of other things besides the Instagram feed.

OLORUNNIPA: And it's also about sort of figuring out how to be a happy warrior in the Trump era.

[12:50:02] I mean, you can spend all of your time attacking Trump and trading Twitter barb with Trump and that turns a lot of voters off. But if you can figure out a way to sort of make yourself more personable, talk about the things that have nothing to do with the president per se, or talk about the president while you're cooking dinner, that may draw in more voters who just don't like the fighting in Washington and are upset they are having a government shut down for two weeks. And it seems like Democrats and Republicans can't get along.

So, if you do something like cooking dinner or chatting with people online, that is something that can allow voters to see you as a normal human being and that just a fall for President Trump.

MATTINGLY: It's interesting. Kind of going off your point. You covered the Obama administration, and the complaints that they kept going around us, they'll do anything they possibly could to figure out a way to get around going straight to the media, they have to deliver their own message.

President Trump perfected to the thousandth degree with Twitter and this is that, right? This is delivering your message straight to your support. New voters may not want to support you, but with your supporters that you want to organize and move things forward. And I guess, is that what this is? Is it something bigger? Is it --

KELSEY SNELL, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, NPR: I think it's both that and wanting to be more human to voters. That was something we heard about Hillary Clinton. People didn't feel like they connected with her and understood her as a person. Democrats are clearly trying to combat that going into 2020 where they can be a person of the people. Someone you want to grab a beer with, as we heard all the time with George W. Bush. He was the guy people wanted to have a beer with and people wanted to vote for him.

And I think maybe Elizabeth Warren took that literally in that last video, but that seems to be a big part of what that is.

SHEAR: They get to that in the last minute, right, that was the problem with Hillary Clinton, once her persona was established, you can't graft on that. And I think the Democrats have decided let's do this at the beginning. You want to establish that persona as people are being introduced to you.

MATTINGLY: I'm all for it. It's interesting. I mean, I don't know about cooking insta mac and cheese. There's nothing wrong can being human.

All right. Up next, President Trump seems thrilled to be losing Republican critics in the Senate, like retiring Senator Jeff Flake.


TRUMP: I retired him. I'm very proud of it. I did the country a great service.




SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: The president needs to know that the Senate will not stand for him firing Mueller.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: This is a made up fight so that the president can look like he's fighting, but even if he wins, our borders are going to be insecure.

FLAKE: You can't blame other people for what the president says. It was obviously insensitive and appalling frankly.

CORKER: Lying is unbecoming of a 13-year-old, but very unbecoming of a 71 or 72-year-old president.


MATTINGLY: You all see the senators, I see Manu Raju always.

Some candid moments from Republican Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. But their time attacking the president as public service is in about 36 hours over. Both retired in 2018.

But anyone take the mantle as the GOP Trump critic in chief? The number two Democrat seems to think so. Senator Dick Durbin told "The Associated Press," aid almost half of their caucus is up for reelection. They just saw what happened in 2018. I think once they do polling back home, not all of them, but many of them find that independence is rewarded. I wonder if red state Democrats, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp and

Claire McCaskill would agree with that. I would need a little more to be convinced.

But you deal with the soon to be members of the Republican conference on a daily basis. What do you think?

SNELL: I also remain to be convinced on this point because Republicans gain seats in the Senate in this election. The lesson in the Senate was not necessarily running away from Trump is a good thing. Plenty of the people who won -- who beat people like Heidi Heitkamp were very favorable to the president.

Also it's interesting to look at Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, for example, because of both of them criticized him but they voted with the president fairly consistently. There is a big difference between criticizing the president when you are asked about something in a hallway and voting against his policies. I just -- hose things have not connected. I can't identify senators who would be the person who would step forward and be -- the one who would vote against the president.

MATTINGLY: Look, we'll put something up. You have Senator Cory Gardner from a purplish, bluish state in Colorado. When he's had some issues, he'd spoken.

These are three that could be speaking up. Ben Sasse never held his tongue. But to your point has voted with the president on conservative things. Senator Mitt Romney is coming in. He was a sharp critic.

You are on the hill with me. What's your sense right now of how this kind of plays out?

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, I think Mitt Romney is in the best case to challenge it because he had a national platform before. He was a real low level senator, but people know he is facing his name.

Ben Sasse is a little bit bolder about challenging Trump when it comes to trade, when it comes to foreign policy, he has taken those votes. Cory Gardner never takes the votes. Everybody moves. Cory Gardner didn't move.

So, I mean, you're right. It's going to be hard to find the person, but there is gimme issues that make sense for the GOP person to break with Trump on that goes to foreign policy, it goes to trade issues and immigration issues from the right states. We have to be willing to step up and Romney is not in that type of state. I think other than Sasse, he's the best bet but he's very young and they have to make it safe for people. They are not moving.

MATTINGLY: We have to see. We got rock 'n' roll. A lot ahead.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

Brianna Keilar starts right now.