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President Trump is Firing Back After Mitt Romney Writes A Scathing Op-Ed; Day 12 Of The Government Shutdown And The President Is Just Hours Away From Two Key Meetings. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 2, 2019 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're seeing these ports of entry with weeks of a wait just to be able to go in and say I want to seek asylum, and so now you're seeing migrants turn to something else which is what we saw their Monday night, early Tuesday morning, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Leyla, thank you for the reporting and the big picture analysis. Appreciate it very much.

Top of the hour, good morning everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim Sciutto has a well deserved day off. And President Trump is firing back this morning after Mitt Romney writes a scathing op-ed. The incoming senator slammed the president's character saying he has not, quote, "risen to the mantle of the office." More on this growing clash between Republican incoming senator and the Republican president in a moment.

But it is day 12 -- morning 12 of the government shutdown and the president is just hours away from two key meetings, one with his cabinet officials, the other a high stakes meeting with congressional leaders of both parties will take place in the situation room. Can they hash out any sort of a deal? Let's go to the White House and begin with Boris Sanchez this morning. The meeting with congressional leaders in the situation room. Why?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Poppy. We actually just learned the time for this meeting is set for 3 p.m. The White House confirming that. It is notable that this meeting is taking place in the situation room, an area of the White House that's typically reserved monitoring international crisis and military operations overseas. It sort of underscores how this administration feels about the issue of immigration and how perhaps the president feels about immigrants, noting that he's repeatedly called them invaders right before the midterm elections.

We should point out the last time that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi were here at the white House, things did not go well. They spent about 40 minutes to an hour arguing, not showing any sign of budging on their positions over the government shutdown because of President Trump's demand for border wall funding. This time it's unlikely that cameras will be there to capture the scene, but based on statements that we've seen from both sides already, there likely will be fireworks. Here is a statement from Nancy Pelosi, a tweet that she out regarding

this bipartisan package of bills that Democrats are expected to vote on in the House tomorrow. She writes, quote, "Donald Trump has given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly and quickly pass our plan to end the irresponsible Trump shutdown, just the first sign of things to come in our new Democratic majority committed to working for the people."

Notably in that bipartisan package of deals, there is zero dollars for the president's long promised border wall. It is unlikely that he will sign it. And here is a statement from press secretary Sarah Sanders put out very late last night, addressing that. She writes, quote, "President Trump made a serious good faith offer to Democrats to open the government, address the crisis at the border and protect all Americans. We've heard nothing back from the Democrats who so far have refused to compromise."

Again, that meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. Previously a source on Capitol Hill suggested the entire meeting was quote, "a stunt on behalf of the White House and not actually an attempt to start serious discourse about reopening the federal government." We'll likely get an earful from lawmakers after that meeting, Poppy.

HARLOW: No question. Boris, thanks very much. So now to Mitt Romney, the incoming senator, Republican senator, and a blistering op- ed about President Trump just a day before he assumes the Senate seat. Let me read you part of it. This morning Romney writes, quote, "the Trump presidency made a deep descent in December, the departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president's thoughtless claim that America has long been a sucker in world affairs, all define his presidency down."

Romney goes on to write, "With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership and qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent shortfall has been most glaring." Sunien Serfaty joins me this morning on Capitol Hill. Not mincing his words and now the head -- the chair of the RNC, Ronna Romney McDaniel, I should note, calling it disappointing and unproductive. Significant on a number of levels there for her.

SUNIEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Significant on so many levels, Poppy. And not the least of which she calls Mitt Romney the freshman senator -- incoming freshman senator. And keep in mind that is her uncle that she is talking about, certainly coming to the defense of President Trump in this spat. But certainly, Mitt Romney's words were very harsh for the president, not only talking about his policies, but perhaps the most cutting critique of Romney's was about President Trump's character. You read at the top how he talked about how the administration he believed, has taken a deep descent in the month of December.

[10:05:00] He goes on to say, quote, "to a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation; a president should unite us and inspire us to follow better angels. Our president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect." And President Trump this morning, he did tweet about this op-ed and in part says, "here we go with Mitt Romney but not so fast. The question will be is he a Flake?"

And that in reference to the former Republican Arizona senator, Jeff Flake, who took on the (inaudible) the chief critic of Republicans here in the Senate of President Trump. And this of course brings up the question, is that the role that Mitt Romney is going to take over as he becomes a new senator? Tomorrow will he take over that mantle and continue to challenge President Trump potentially, not only words but how he votes in the Senate floor. Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, that's a question; not just what he says, but what he does. Sunien, thanks very much. Joining me now is Mitt Romney's former health care policy advisor, Avik Roy. Avik, thanks for being here. Good morning.


HARLOW: I'm good. Happy New Year. You read the op-ed. Wow, what do you think?

ROY: You know, what's interesting is the tweet from Trump this morning saying, well, is Mitt Romney going to be another Flake? One subtle thing about Mitt Romney that a lot of people don't realize, Poppy, is that on the core issue of immigration, Mitt Romney and President Trump agree. Mitt Romney in a town hall Provo, Utah last March boasted that he thought he was more conservative on immigration, or more hawkish on immigration than President Trump was.

So that's one big difference between Jeff Flake who was more center to center left on immigration and Mitt Romney who on the core threshold issue that animates a lot of Trump voters, Mitt Romney actually agrees with him. That op-ed, yes, he criticized President Trump on his tone, on his temperament. On policy Mitt Romney made a point on agreeing with the president. He agrees with the president's tax policies, he agrees with the president on China. He agrees with him on immigration. So not so much a criticism on policy.

HARLOW: So then why do it? And by the way, attack his character, the most sort of fundamental thing, the character of this president. Why do it right before he assumes the seat? What do you think his goal is? You know him, you've worked with him, you advised him.

ROY: Well, I think Mitt Romney is a guy who very firmly believes in a certain -- what the president should be in terms of a moral leader, in terms of a temperamental leader, what the tone and bearing of a president should be. And that's what he is most offended by about President Trump. And I think that's what he wants to be in the Senate. He wants to be the guy who represents that, maybe more traditional Republican approach to politics that he feels that the president has deviated from.

HARLOW: Do you think that in a sense he wants to fill somewhat of the role that John McCain held in that sense?

ROY: In a certain way, yes. I think what Mitt Romney wants to do is he wants to be the champion of that traditional pre-Trump Republican Party. But again, a lot of the difference between Mitt Romney and the president is not on policy. It's more on tone, temper, as more on bearings. John McCain was a maverick on policy as well as on tone. I think that's one big difference between Mitt Romney and McCain.

HARLOW: Let's take a little walk down memory lane. Between these two men, listen.


SENATOR MITT ROMNEY, (R): Being in Donald Trump's magnificent hotel and having his endorsement is a delight.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I like him a lot. He is a friend of mine, I like him a lot.

ROMNEY: Donald trump is a phony, a fraud.

TRUMP: He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, Mitt drop to your knees and he would have dropped to his knees.

ROMNEY: These discussions I've had with him have been enlightening and interesting and engaging. I have enjoyed them very, very much.


HARLOW: I suppose it depends on the day or the moment. Let's see how this plays out. How do you see it playing out when Mitt Romney actually is sitting in the Senate and has a vote, a key vote on key issues?

ROY: I think a lot of Republicans have been waiting for six years basically since Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee in 2012, for someone who could be called a champion of the traditional pre-Trump Republican Party. And Mitt Romney is presenting what we might call an opening style and saying he is the leader of the pre-Trump Republican Party. Now that he is going to be on Capitol Hill, he's going to be in Washington, he is going to have a lot of opportunity to be that spokesman for the Republican Party that, up until now, at for the last six years, hasn't really been around, or at least hasn't had that visibility that Mitt Romney can bring it.

HARLOW: And words matter a lot. What you say and what you write is so important; when the world is listening. Message to the president (inaudible). The president mentioned Flake in his response, and Jeff Flake voted with the president on almost everything. And it sounds like you're saying Mitt Romney will likely do the same.

ROY: Again, I think that one thing that's under appreciated is that on immigration specifically, let alone the broad range of Republican issues where Trump has been a relatively mainstream Republican President, the immigration issue is one where you can say Trump has deviated from a more traditional Republican view of opening up to immigration. Mitt Romney and Trump are pretty similar on immigration. When Mitt Romney ran in 2012 he attacked other candidates on the Republican side for being what he - how he felt at least, soft on illegal immigration opening up to a magnet - opening America up as a magnet to illegal immigration.

[10:10:00] So on that, he's with Trump, and Trump and Romney could work together on that potentially.

HARLOW: Very quickly before we go, I don't know if you saw this, but Ronna Romney McDaniel who chairs the RNC - she is Mitt Romney's niece - just tweeted about the op-ed calling it, quote, disappointing and unproductive. Do you agree?

ROY: Well, I think for the people who are looking for that champion of the pre-Trump Republican party, Mitt Romney is serving as that vehicle and wants to be that vehicle. I think it's good for Republicans to have this debate. What should the Republican party stand for both in terms of tone and temperament and in terms of policy? You need a champion on the other side to that, and Mitt Romney wants to be that champion.

HARLOW: Avik Roy, nice to have you. Thanks very much.

ROY: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Still to come with the new year still bringing a second Trump summit. Will it bring a second Trump summit I should say with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. New questions surrounding the regime could complicate matters big time. Also, new year, same fears. U.S. stocks down as 2019 trading begins. We're live on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. And just days after taking a major step towards a 2020 run, Senator Elizabeth Warren set to make her first trip to Iowa, of course. We'll discuss.


Welcome back. North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, with a warning to the U.S. in his New Years Eve speech, but did President Trump get the message? Chairman Kim says the North may have to take a new path, his words, if the U.S. leaves sanctions in place. In response, here's what the president wrote, quote, "I look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea posses great economic potential."

Let's get to our Global Affairs Analyst and former Deputy Secretary of State during the Obama term, Tony Blinken. Good morning. Thanks for joining me.



BLINKEN: Good to be here.

HARLOW: So Kim Jong-un talks about this new path. He doesn't clarify what that new path might be, but it's if the U.S. doesn't change course, doesn't pull back on sanctions, et cetera, which is a nonstarter for the U.S. at this point. David Sanger has a new piece this morning in The Times, which is fascinating, and he writes, quote, "President Trump finds himself essentially back where he was at the beginning in achieving the ambitious goal of getting Mr. Kim to relinquish his nuclear arsenal." Did the June summit just change optics or did it change any reality? Given where it seems like we are, it sort of, you know, square one here.

BLINKEN: Yes, I think David's piece is exactly right. We are - this is a little bit groundhog day and we are kind of back to square one. We've seen the administration and the president in particular careen widely from fire and fury a little over -

HARLOW: Right.

BLINKEN: - a year ago to falling in love with Kim Jong-un, and yet we find ourselves pretty much back in the place that we started. It's good that the temperature is lower than it was back in the fire and fury days, but Poppy, the problem is this thus far at least. The president's been played by Kim Jong-un, and the art of the deal looks a lot more like the art of the steal. Kim's been legitimized by the meeting that he had on the world stage with President Trump. Economic pressure on the regime is less. We're divided from our closest ally, South Korea. And we've gotten very little if nothing in return. Yes, it's good that they've stopped testing -

HARLOW: Right.

BLINKEN: - but at the same time, their program has continued to move forward. They continue to enrich. They have not removed a single nuclear weapon. So the problem is this. There's just a lot of hard work to be done, and making grand declarations - which is the president's tendency - as opposed to doing the hard work of seeing if we can actually negotiate something is what's missing.

HARLOW: And look, David's piece I think rightly and importantly points out the timeframe here and this approach to North Korea is different than with Iran because you're dealing with a regime that already has somewhere between -

BLINKEN: That's right.

HARLOW: - 20 and 60 nuclear weapons, right, rather versus -

BLINKEN: That's right.

HARLOW: - Iran, which was in the development stage. But the pushback, as you know, from the State Department where you used to be Deputy Secretary of State now is, look, rhetoric matters and tone matters and the escalation has been tempered and the rhetoric has been way toned down. Isn't that some progress?

BLINKEN: It is, no. And it's much better that the - as you say, the rhetoric is down. Tone does matter, but at the end of the day, substance matters more.


BLINKEN: And here's the challenge, Poppy. If we really want to get serious about this, we need to do a few things. We need to make sure that the pressure is sustained, that we don't give countries like China a pass on renewing economic relations with North Korea. At the same time, there's a lot of work to be done internally in terms of deciding what we're prepared to give once we get something from North Korea, organizing our allies, and then getting the North Koreans to take the first step, which is basically declaring everything they have, which they haven't done to date.

HARLOW: Right.

BLINKEN: This is painstaking diplomacy. It requires a lot of work internally in the Situation Room. The administration has not been particularly good at that. It requires a lot of work externally in lining up our allies and working with China. So it's doable, but thus far we're at the starting gate. We're no where near the finish line.

HARLOW: Let me also ask you about important diplomacy right now that is in the beginning stages between the U.S. and Russia on the American citizen, Paul Whelan, who's been detained. We just heard from Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who's in Brazil, and he said hopefully within the next few hours we will get access to Paul Whelan. We know that the U.S. Consulate is now open to him. We don't know a ton about his story other than that his family says he was there for a wedding and he was detained on Friday. What's your read in terms of what would be happening behind the scenes that the State Department right now and how do you see this playing out?

BLINKEN: Well, you're right, Poppy. We don't know a lot, and I certainly don't know any more that's been written and the press reported on CNN.


[10:20:00] BLINKEN: But what this looks like at least is the Russians simply doing tit for tat.

We've gone after various Russians for spying in one way or another on the United States. And what they'll do in response and other countries have done in response is just arbitrarily pick up someone who isn't responsible or guilty of anything just to create pressure and leverage on us.

That's what this looks likes for now. Russia has responsibilities under the Geneva Convention and under basic diplomatic protocols. They have responsibilities to give us access to our citizen.

They have a responsibility to put forward what the actual charges are against the person. So we're waiting to see what happens. I imagine the State Department is very actively trying to get that information and trying to get that access.

HARLOW: And by the way, the kind of legal process trial that Maria Butina will go through here in the United States is so different from what an American citizen would face in Russia and that's a huge concern. Before you go, you have a great op-ed this morning.

Let me read the headline for folks in Washington Post. "America First is only making the world worse." You write, "Here's a better approach." But at the same time, you know, we -- we have seen in some key nations this global tilt to the right.

You see Pompeo, right, is in -- in Brazil right now with the newly elected president. Look at Italy, look at Hungary. So this is -- it's an America first piece but really when you look at the global tilt, right, what's your read?

BLINKEN: Well, here's the concern Poppy. I wrote the piece with Bob Kagan. Bob's the center right, I'm from the center left but we both share a concern that at the very time the world is getting more, not less dangerous, there's a general tendency in the United States to pull back and to no longer support the global role that America's played for more than 70 years.

We're seeing nationalist, populist, demagogues on the rise, autocracies (ph) on the march, democracies divided. And then problems like climate change, mass migration, cyber warfare that no single nation can deal with alone and no wall can contain.

So what we asked ourselves was is there a foreign policy of responsible global engagement for the United States that most American's can support learning from the lessons of the past. That's we tried to put down in the Washington Post today at least to start a conversation.

HARLOW: Look, it's an important conversation and -- and a fascinating piece and everyone should read it. Tony, thanks very much for your time.

BLINKEN: Thanks Poppy.

HARLOW: A major sit down over a major shutdown. It will happen in a few hours. The president is said to meet with congressional leaders at the White House, but is it all talk? Will there really be any action?


Welcome back. Senator Elizabeth Warren will take a four city tour of Iowa this weekend. The first caucus state in the presidential nominating process. It is her first visit to Iowa since announcing that she has formed an exploratory committee for the 2020 presidential race. CNN's senior politics writer and analyst Harry Enten joins me now. Iowa, Iowa, Iowa.


HARLOW: We're going to be saying it a lot.

ENTEN: I love it. And there's a lot of fast food joints in the state so I'm very excited about going. HARLOW: There -- my father was born in Iowa. There are a lot of great things in Iowa. I am a big fan of the state. She heads there. Is it the best litmus test?

ENTEN: I think you have to be competitive in Iowa if you're going to win a nomination. I mean you just look back over the last few cycles. Right. Hillary Clinton won in Iowa. Donald Trump came in a close second place. And you just go back through the years. If you're not competitive in Iowa, forget about it.

HARLOW: She took questions this week on Monday from reporters and oppressor (ph), strategic given the president's attacks on the press?

ENTEN: I -- I -- I think perhaps so. I mean look, I think Elizabeth Warren recognizes at this particular time that her stock is probably fallen a little bit in the eyes of the press, right, given the Native American DNA ancestry controversy and I think she recognizes that the best way she can change their mind is by going out in front of them.

HARLOW: How much is that going to follow her because we know the president is going to get -- let that thing go.

ENTEN: I mean yes. I mean look, the president has his Twitter account. The press is going to follow that. So it's probably not going to be let go but the way she can perhaps, you know, control it is by going on and speaking with the press.

HARLOW: When we look at the CNN polling that we're doing with the Des Moines register, which is interesting. On just Iowa specifically, if you look at her favorability in Iowa, it's 64 percent favorable versus 20 percent unfavorable.

That's pretty good. In terms of recognition and the likelihood that she would be there choice for democratic nominee, she comes in fourth below Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke; she's at 8 percent.

ENTEN: Yes. I -- I mean look; it's not a very strong position. It's not a bad position to be in, right. I mean look, Iowa polls will go up and go down as the candidates become better known.

To me that's (ph) a little more alarming for her is that even though her favorable rating is at 64, her unfavorable rating is in the 20s. So for people who are about as well known as she is, her unfavorable rating is a little bit high.

HARLOW: Yes. And Hillary Clinton's unfavorable rating here, though, is 49 percent. So it's a little bit better than that.

ENTEN: I would say so. She's not Hillary Clinton.

HARLOW: There you go. But there are those who have made analogies between her campaign and her candidacy in Hillary Clinton. Both women, both baby boomers, I mean but there's a lot of differences; more differences one would say than similarities on that but what do you think, Harry? ENTEN: I -- I -- I -- look, I think they come very different political backgrounds in different parts of the party. Elizabeth Warren's a progressive hero. If you look at her voting record she in fact, has the most progressive record according to

Hillary Clinton, of course, I think had to fight some charges that she wasn't progressive enough from the left. I'm not sure those were necessarily right, but they are very different politicians.

HARLOW: You write, this morning, an interesting piece everyone should look up on Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar score high on electability. Elizabeth ...