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AT THIS HOUR
Democrats Retake House, Pelosi Expected to Reclaim Speakership; Democratic House to Vote on Reopening Government; Record Number of Racially, Ethically Diverse Women Enter House of Representatives; House Democrats Plot Investigating Trump; Pelosi Says Indicting a Sitting President an "Open Discussion"; Russia Formally Charges Paul Whelan with Espionage; Interview with Rep. Cheri Bustos; Senator-Elect Mitt Romney Speaks Ahead of Swearing In; Sen. Bernie Sanders Apologizes for Sexism Claims. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired January 3, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:01] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera, in for Kate Bolduan. Great to have you with us on this Thursday.
AT THIS HOUR, the sound you hear is the political glass ceiling being shattered in our nation's capital, and a seismic shift for Donald Trump's presidency. The new 116th Congress preparing to be sworn in just moments from now, making history with a record number of women becoming the most racially and ethnically diverse ever.
This new Congress also ushering in a new era of divided government in Washington. Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives, ending Republican majority rule that's protected President Trump.
Nancy Pelosi expected to make history again, reclaiming her powerful role as speaker of the House, and saying this morning that she won't rule out the possibility of an indictment or an impeachment of President Trump.
All of this happening on day 13 of the government shutdown with no end in sight.
CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is joining us now from Capitol Hill.
And, Phil, break it down. A busy day. What can we expect?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. History will be made, barriers will be broken, the House will come into session around noon. That's where everything will begin.
Everything people will first keep an eye on is the accession or reaccession of Nancy Pelosi. Her vote on speakership will happen at the end of the 12:00 p.m. hour, maybe into the 1:00 p.m. hour. She's expected to have the votes. Ana, that means Nancy Pelosi will be the first person to return to the speakership in more than six decades, since Sam Rayburn, coming to the top of the Democratic caucus. As you noted, leading the way for House for Democrats in a now divided government situation in Washington, D.C.
She'll also not just have to deal with the White House or Senate Republicans who still hold the majority, but also her own caucus. We talk about all of the new members that were swept in in the Democratic wave in November, some of whom have a very diverse background, not just in their lives but also ideologically. She'll have to deal with that and navigate that over the course of the next coming weeks and months.
First, right out of the gate, well, you know, you already talked about, the 13th day of the government shutdown. That will be the first major priority for Democrats. As soon as tonight, they will vote on two separate proposals to reopen the federal government. Those proposals aren't expected to go anywhere in the Senate, still controlled by Republicans. And the president has made clear he rejects them. But for new members coming to Washington, there's a recognition they have to deal with the crisis essentially right off the bat.
It's not just the government shutdown. Democrats have made clear that while investigations will be something they key on, oversight is a key piece of a co-equal branch of government, they also want to prove to the people who sent them here they can legislate as well. They will move quickly in the coming days on a package that will include new ethics legislation, campaign finance, something that would require the president, any presidential nominee to turn over 10 years of tax returns.
You're going to see them start to move quickly right out of the gate. No real expectation that legislation the House Democrats pass has a lot of future, given the divided government. But, again, it's not just investigating they want to take part in. They also want to prove to people they can legislate.
Keep an eye on the next coming hours. Ana, we're talking about potential gridlock and where Washington is going from here. It's also nice to appreciate the changing of power and the new Congress coming in and all of these new members. You can see a lot of them walking behind me now with their families, being sworn in to their first two years of Congress.
CABRERA: That set to happen at the top of the hour.
Phil Mattingly, thank you.
One thing to watch in this new world order is the power of women on Capitol Hill. A record number of women, 127, to be exact, are set to take the oath of office minutes from now. That includes the first Muslim congresswoman to wear a hijab in the House, who tweeted out this picture. Also, the first black Congresswoman from Massachusetts. The first two Native American women elected to the House. One of them, Sharice David's, on the right, is also the first LGBTQ woman to represent Kansas in Congress.
CNN congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is joining us now.
Sunlen, what else do we know about this group of record-breaking women?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, it is a record-breaking group, no doubt, bringing in new back backgrounds, experiences, definitely some new perspective here in Washington.
First, let's look at the numbers. And 126 women will take office today. That's including 43 women of color. And notably here, 106 of those women, they are Democrats. Just 21 women in the new Congress are Republicans.
And notably, this will be the most diverse Congress ever. We have talked a lot about this in the aftermath of the midterm elections. Today, 56 African-Americans, 42 Hispanic and Latino members, and 10 LGBTQ members.
We have heard a lot from these members, the new members, as they're arriving here in Washington. I want to highlight one touching moment posted on social media last night by Illhan Omar. She's one of the first Muslim-American women here in Congress. And she posted this to Twitter, this photo with her father last night. She said, "23 years ago, from my refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington, D.C. Today, we return to the same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress."
Certainly, many of these historic firsts will be celebrated today.
[11:05:15] Just a few minutes ago, I was on the House side of the capitol where I met up with Deb Haaland, an incoming member from New Mexico. She was one of the first two Native Americans to take office. Here's what she said about this moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: Tell me about the moment today when you are sworn in. What will you be feeling? You're part of the historic firsts here in Congress.
DEB HAALAND, (D), CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT, NEW MEXICO: Yes, you know, it's -- I still -- it's hard for me to grasp that. So I will -- I'm super proud to be representing New Mexico.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And what you can't see there, she was surrounded by her family there, including her mother. And she was in a wheelchair and kind of patting her mother's shoulder. Clearly, this is family affair for so many people, especially a lot of these women taking office now.
I should say when I spoke with a lot of them in the aftermath of the midterms, when they came up here for orientation, a lot of them said, yes, we should take a moment, I hope we celebrate these firsts, but then it's time to move on -- Ana?
CABRERA: And politics aside, it's great to see the infusion of diversity in this new Congress.
Sunlen Serfaty, thank you.
Joining us to discuss further, Lauren Fox, CNN Politics congressional reporter, and Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief at the "Daily Beast."
Lauren, Pelosi taking over. A new Congress in place. What does it mean for President Trump?
LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, it's a big change for President Trump because you have to remember the first two years of his presidency, he had members in the House and in the Senate all Republicans supporting him in charge. That changes starting today. And for months, Democrats have been plotting how they plan to investigate President Donald Trump. That will be from every committee in the House, from the Judiciary Committee to the Oversight Committee, to even the House Ways and Means Committee. The chairman, Richard Neal, has the power to ask for President Donald Trump's tax returns using an obscure IRS rule. So you will expect a major change here in Washington today. I don't know if the president even understands how gravely his situation is going to change.
CABRERA: New investigations about to get under way, the Mueller investigation, meanwhile, continues.
The Justice Department guidelines, Jackie, suggest a sitting president can't be indicted. But here's Nancy Pelosi's take on that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I do not think that that is conclusive. No, I do not. It's not the law. Everything indicates a president can be indicted after he's no longer president.
UNIDENTIFIED NEWS HOST: What about a sitting president? Could Robert Mueller come back and say, I am seeking an indictment?
PELOSI: I think that is an open discussion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Jackie, how significant is her answer there?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, she's leaving the door open. And that said, Democrats have also been really careful not to look like they're overstepping their bounds, not to look like they're racing toward impeachment even though there's a liberal member of the caucus going to introduce articles of impeachment today, I'm sure much to the soon-to-be speaker's dismay. But what you have heard from soon-to-be Speaker Pelosi and the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, is that they're going to go where the facts take them. They're not going to race toward one conclusion or the other. They're going to exercise, this is a big responsibility, and they're going to be very surgical about what they go after and what they investigate.
CABRERA: Lauren, as we discussed here before, not all Democrats support Nancy Pelosi as speaker, especially some of the new blood. In terms of dynamics, do you expect infighting among Democrats like we saw with Republicans when they head the majority.
FOX: Yes. You have to think back to 2010 where you had conservatives coming into the new House majority, which in 2010 was Republicans, and that made an impact. It was difficult for Speaker Boehner to navigate. And I expect it will be difficult for Speaker Pelosi to navigate because she not only has young liberal members of her caucus, but she will also have many members who won in districts that the president won in. And if they want to be re-elected in 2020, they have a very different vision than some of those younger liberal members who are coming in. It's going to be a lot to tackle. But you have to remember, Nancy Pelosi is a tactician. She is somebody who is very, very comfortable navigating these difficult political waters. Expect her to take that on very easily.
CABRERA: And on the flip side, Jackie, what does today mean for McConnell and Republicans, especially in the Senate there, who will likely be receiving a C.R. bill from the House that the Senate already passed once, that could reopen the government?
KUCINICH: Right now, Mitch McConnell is not bowing to any pressure from his newly minted Democratic majority in the House. He is saying he's not going to pass or bring anything to the floor that the president won't sign. What will the president sign? We don't know, save what he -- the $5 billion number, which Nancy Pelosi said is not going to happen. So we're truly at an impasse at this point. And you know, on some level, you can't really blame McConnell because the president has cut off the legs of Republicans a couple times now over the past couple years where there's been indications he's going to go along with something, and then he pulls back. So it really, the more so than I think normally, the power is in the White House to end this shutdown.
[11:10:27] CABRERA: Bigger picture for both of you, what do you expect the top priorities to be for the Democrats?
FOX: Well, Democrats want to prove that they can legislate. That's why, as Phil mentioned earlier, they're planning on voting to end this government shutdown today. You know, they don't want this to just be about oversight. They want to prove that they can legislate. They will introduce a bill later today, H.R.-1, and it makes sweeping ethics changes. It deals with campaign finance and voting rights. They want to prove to the American people they were elected to do a job, and it wasn't just to keep President Donald Trump in check. They want to make sure the American people understand that they can legislate. I think that's going to be their priority starting today.
CABRERA: Jackie, quick final thought?
KUCINICH: Yes, I would say on the oversight front, look for investigations from both Oversight and Reform and Judiciary on the family separation policy. And in addition to that, of course, the Intel Committee will pick up that Russia investigation that they don't feel like the Republicans really took that seriously.
CABRERA: All right, Lauren Fox, Jackie Kucinich, thank you both.
Jackie, you're back with me coming up.
Breaking news. Paul Whelan, the U.S. citizen being held in Russia, has been formally charged with espionage, according to his lawyer.
CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is joining us in Moscow with more details -- Matthew?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, thanks very much. In the past few minutes, we've managed to make contact with the lawyer, the Russian lawyer who has been appointed to represent Paul Whelan in the espionage case against him. He confirms to us on the telephone that Paul Whelan has now, indeed, been formally charged with espionage under the Russian criminal code. And he's being held in prison, which is a big former KGB prison, actually, in a suburb of the Russian capital.
According to the conversation we had with the Vladimir Zherebenkov, who is this lawyer, he said that Mr. Whelan is in good condition, also his mood is very good, and he's been treated well, according to the lawyer, by the authorities and the prison authorities. They have been treating him well.
He wouldn't be drawn on anything about the specifics of the charges against him, so he said he's not allowed to talk about that for legal reasons. But he said that the lawyer, they have applied for bail on the basis of them saying there's a possibility that that bail could be granted, that Mr. Whelan may be permitted to leave that prison at some point, but that appeal has not been heard yet. He also said, theoretically, the relatives of Mr. Whelan would be allowed to visit him in that prison. No date yet, he told us, for a court hearing has been set -- Ana?
CABRERA: Matthew Chance, in Moscow.
Paul Whelan, the American held there, now officially charged with espionage. More on that and much more other breaking news right after a quick break.
[11:17:48] CABRERA: Welcome back. All eyes are on Capitol Hill today where, in just moments, Democrats will retake control of the House. Democrats flipped at least 40 seats in the 2018 midterm elections. One seat still sort of up in the air in North Carolina. There are record numbers of women who will be sworn in for the first time. First from both parties that are ready to bring fresh voices and energy to the new Congress.
Let's bring in Democratic Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who was the first woman elected to represent her district in Illinois. She's also part of the new leadership team as chairwoman of the Congressional Campaign Committee. Thanks for being with us.
REP. CHERI BUSTOS, (D), ILLINOIS: Sure. Thank you.
CABRERA: History being made today. What goes through your mind when a woman becomes speaker again and a record 102 women are sworn in as your colleagues in the House?
BUSTOS: I think we're seeing history in the making. It's not only a record number of women. Nancy Pelosi is not only the first female speaker in the history of the United States, but she's also the second female speaker in the history of the United States. Look, I think by our very nature, we're relationship builders. We want to work together. I don't care if there's a member with an "R" after his or her name, we'll look for ways to come together. I think, more than anything, Ana, we have to make sure that we build the confidence in Congress again from the American public. They look around, I'm standing here in the United States capitol, they see this as a very dysfunctional place. I hope with a record number of women we can make it more functional and do the hard work at hand for people back home in districts like mine, from Peoria, from Rockford, from many smaller towns in between all of that.
CABRERA: It's important for our viewers to recognize, too, you won as a Democrat in a district that Trump carried as well.
BUSTOS: I did.
CABRERA: So Nancy Pelosi said this morning it's still an open question whether a sitting president could be indicted. What do you think? Can a sitting president be indicted?
BUSTOS: Well, I'm a former reporter. So I did what you're doing for a living. I did that for almost two decades. And as you know, Ana, what you do is follow the truth, when it comes to an investigation. We are in the middle or maybe at the tail end of an investigation that Robert Mueller is heading. I don't want to make any judgments on what will happen next until we see what that investigation shows. And I think if we, as members of Congress, follow the truth at every turn, forget about any politics, then we'll end up in the place where we should end up, and I'll just use the truth as my guide.
[11:20:20] CABRERA: It is day 13 of this shutdown now. Mitch McConnell and the president have said that the Democrats' plan today to pass a clean C.R. bill and try to reopen the government is a non- starter. So are you going to have to budge on this?
BUSTOS: Well, I don't think you go into any situation and think it's got to be my way or the highway. What I find interesting is we've got the president of the United States, the author of "The Art of the Deal," yet rather than coming to the table and saying he's willing to negotiate, we sent him legislation before the holidays, and he was unwilling to sign that. We are saying, Mr. President, we'll give you $1.2 billion toward your wall, which is, by the way, a very incomplete way to address border security, a wall. It's 2019 now. And we have technology. We need to make sure that we have Border Patrol that is fully staffed. We need to stop the bad actors from coming in to our country, but I come from farmland, where we want people to come into our country and work on our farms. We can't fill some of those jobs. So my view on this is that you have to come to the table with a willingness to have a little give and take. And that is what's expected from people, at least from my part of the country, in the middle part of the country. They expect us to sit down and negotiate something that, in the end, will work.
CABRERA: Right. But at this point, nobody is really negotiating. Everybody seems to be dug in, in their corners. I know in your home state, there are more than 6,000 federal workers that could be impacted as this shutdown continues. Just how long are you willing to let this go before really coming to a compromise?
BUSTOS: Well, if I could take the reins and lead this process, I would have it end today. We're going to vote on a package that the Republicans in the Senate approved before the holidays. Not any changes. We've got money in there for border security.
CABRERA: Right, but if the president and Mitch McConnell in the Senate are saying that's a non-starter, what more are you willing to give if you say you're willing to negotiate and willing to compromise. What's the number you're willing to throw out for border security that's above the $1.2 or $1.3 that's already been suggested?
BUSTOS: Well, the American public plays a role in this. We're willing to come in and say, we've got money for border security. That component of reopening the government we can revisit within a month. There's all kinds of give and take right now that we can have just to reopen the government. Most of the spending packages will get us through the end of September. We have a shorter-term component that will at least get the government open and operational. And we still have another month where the president can say he'll give and take, where we, as the Democrats in the majority of the House, will give and take, and on the Senate majority, the Republicans in the Senate, they have to be willing to give and take as well. This place, again, where I'm standing right now, the U.S. capitol, will not be functioning until we are willing to work together and all of us give a little and take a little. That's how we're going to get the government reopened. That's how we're going to pass a trillion-dollar transportation package. That's how we're going to bring down the cost of health care and prescription drug prices and clean up the mess here in Washington. It's going to take a little give on each side.
CABRERA: All right, Congresswoman Cheri Busto, it's good to have you with us. Thank you, and good luck. We hope bipartisanship does, indeed, take place in the next 116th Congress.
Breaking news, we just heard from Senator-Elect Mitt Romney on Capitol Hill. Let's listen.
MITT ROMNEY, (R), SENATOR-ELECT, UTAH: It's certainly, an opportunity for us to work together on things where we agree. I actually said prior to the primary in an op-ed that I wrote in the Utah papers that I would work with the president on places where we agree, where we disagreed I would point that out. But that if the president were to say things that were divisive of a significant nature, I would call him out on that. And I have, by the way, in regard to Charlottesville, attacks on the media, the Roy Moore endorsement, the Khashoggi approach. I've continued to point out places where we differ. And that's the great nature of this representative democracy, which is, where we agree, we come together, where there are disagreements, we express those openly and honestly. That allows people to have trust in one another. And I look forward to being able to have a trusting relationship with the president and with others despite differences from time to time.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you found more support or pushback?
[11:24:53] CABRERA: That wraps that dynamic day on Capitol Hill.
Meantime, several women are speaking out about sexism while working for Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign. Up next, details on the accusations and hear what Senator Sanders has to say about that.
[11:29:49] CABRERA: Senator Bernie Sanders speaking out following a shocking report from the "New York Times" that says several women who worked on Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign experienced sexual harassment, pay disparities and targeted disrespect. One woman, for example, claims a campaign surrogate asked to touch her hair and then ran his hand through her hair in a sexual way.