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Vice President Mike Pence Took A Swing And Hosted Group Of Congressional Staffers And Aides; President Donald Trump Is No Longer Willing To Sign The Short-Term Funding Bill And Keep The Government Open; Shooting at California Bowling Alley Leaves 3 Dead, 4 Injured; Ellen DeGeneres Backs Up Kevin Hart; Netflix Pulls Comedy Episode after Saudi Arabia Enraged; Trump Once Loved Generals, Now He Feuds with Them; Pence Meets with House, Senate Staff as Shutdown Enters Week 3. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 5, 2019 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: And today, a new group of people got together to try to end it, not the President, not speaker of the House, no senators. Today, vice president Mike Pence took a swing at it playing host to this group of congressional staffers and aides. They talked border security and steps to potentially end the government shutdown taking what one source calls baby steps towards some sort of resolution. They didn't focus on a specific dollar amount for border security, which is the point that had slammed the brakes on negotiations President Trump has been a part so far.

Let's get to our White House correspondent Boris Sanchez.

And Boris, a source inside that meeting saying baby steps, which is not entirely negative, but someone very close to the President doesn't even have that bright an outlook.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. As we have during all of these negotiations, all of the back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, we have heard two different outlooks on where things stand right now.

Just yesterday it was the President and the Republicans saying that things were productive and Democrats saying that things got nowhere. Today we are hearing from an aide on Capitol Hill that baby steps were taken. And now we are hearing from acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who is apparently frustrated by this process.

What we understand took place during this meeting is that Democrats essentially asked Republicans and the vice president for a justification, an official justification for that $5.6 billion, $5.7 billion that President Trump is demanding for his border wall. From what we understand, and according to a source, Republicans essentially said we will get back to you on that. They had promised to present something to them either later today or tomorrow. We know they are expected to meet again tomorrow.

I want you to listen to what the acting chief of staff told Jake Tapper in an interview that was recorded shortly after that meeting. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I know that speaker Pelosi had said she didn't want to get even more than $1 to the border wall. President Trump has talked about $5.6 billion. Is there any give in the $5.6 billion in terms of whether or not it has to be for a wall or whether it can be for more generally border security?

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think the President said it was $5.6 billion for border security including the wall. We recognize that things like technology and border crossings are important. But certainly a barrier is important.

We didn't make much progress at the meeting which was surprising to me. I thought we had come in to talk about terms that we could agree on. Places where we all agreed we should be spending more time, more attention, things we can do to improve our border security. And yet the opening line from one of the lead Democrat negotiators was that they were not there to talk about any agreement. They were actually, my mind, to stall. And we did not make much progress.


SANCHEZ: The acting chief of staff there saying that he believes Democrats were here at the White House to stall. That's actually a preview of an interview you will see tomorrow on "STATE OF UNION with Jake Tapper." Mulvaney could not be there for the interview live, of course, because as we have reported he is heading for a retreat to Camp David tomorrow with the President as the administration tries to outline its priorities for 2019 -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House.

Again, Jack Tapper and Mick Mulvaney tomorrow morning on "STATE OF THE UNION" here on CNN. That's at 9:00 a.m. eastern and pacific.

Here's how we got here now. December 11th a possible government shutdown becomes a reality when President Trump meets with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and then incoming House speaker Pelosi. Trump insists on the need for a border wall and he floats $5 billion. The Democrats are unwilling to go beyond the existing funding of $1.3 billion for funding for border security in general. Trump then says this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it.


CABRERA: A week later on December 19th the Senate passes a continuing resolution that will temporary fund the government and keep border security funded at the current level. It doesn't include money for Trump's border wall. Still, the next day then House speaker Paul Ryan tells them the house is ready to expect that same bill and he expects the President to sign it. Republicans seem confident Trump is on board.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there any doubt that Trump will sign it?

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: No, there's no doubt at all.


CABRERA: No doubt at all. But hang on, just hours later warning signals from the White House. A senior White House official tells CNN pressure from ultra conservative members of the House freedom caucus could cause President Trump to change his mind. Conservative media voices like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh also join the chorus against compromise.

And now the President is no longer willing to sign the short-term funding bill and keep the government open. He wants his wall. The House moves quickly and they pass a funding bill that gives President Trump $5 billion for that wall. The bill more symbolic than anything else. There's no chance it ever passes in the Senate. Therefore at midnight on December 22nd, the government partially shuts down.

Trumps heels in and he digs them in at $5 billion for his wall. Democrats not badging from the $1.3 billion they originally offered for border security.

Behind the scenes, Trump's aides start reaching out to Democrats with offers. Here is then acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.


[16:05:17] MULVANEY: We have insisted on five but the discussions now are between 1.6 and 5.


CABRERA: We are told the exact ask was 2.5 billion for a comprehensive border and immigration proposal and that was made by vice president Mike Pence. Democrats swiftly reject this. The following weekend, White House's aides begin backing away from President Trump's demand of a physical wall.

Outgoing chief of staff John Kelly in fact tells "the Los Angeles Times" quote "to be honest, it's not a wall."

And then Kellyanne Conway and Senator Lindsey Graham both say this.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The government filed shutdown --


CONWAY: No. No, no.

BASH: It has shut down over a wall.

CONWAY: That incorrect.

BASH: The President said in the oval office, he said very, very clear.

CONWAY: It is shut down because of border security.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The wall has become a metaphor for border security.


CABRERA: Twenty-four hours later, the President contradicts his own advisers and allies by tweeting quote "an all concrete wall was never abandoned as has been reported by the media. Making clear this shutdown is about the wall. Not border security in general, not a metaphor."

Days later, the President then contradicts his own vice president saying 2.5 billion for his wall isn't acceptable, it's 5.6 billion or nothing.


TRUMP: they are not 2.5, no. We are asking for 5.6 and, you know, somebody said 2.5. No.


CABRERA: Let's discuss with commentary writer and editor for the "Washington Examiner" Siraj Hashmi and White House reporter for the "Washington Post" and CNN political Analyst Josh Dawsey.

So Josh, you h have new reporting in the "Washington Post" today about senate majority leader Mitch McConnell's role in all of this or lack thereof. You write quote "the top Senate Republican has also complained to allies about how unreliable the President was as a negotiating partner and how the President listened to what McConnell viewed as unproductive voices according to two people familiar with the discussions."

So Josh, what is McConnell's role? And is he the only one who is frustrated?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: You see Mitch McConnell has kind of step back from active parts of these negotiations. What really happened is Mitch McConnell and the Senate were told by the White House that the President was going to sign the short-term spending bill in December to keep the government open. They passed it and then the President, you know, heard from a number of TV commentators, as you said, from Mark Meadows, Lindsey Graham, from some more, you know, are reliable kind of star war conservatives who told him if he did this it would be seen as a retreat, as capitulations, as not following through on his campaign promises.

And because of that he decided to reverse course and shut the government down. And that frustrated McConnell because McConnell thought he had an agreement from the White House to keep it open.

So what you have really seen since McConnell has been some of these meetings. He was at the White House in the situation room twice this week, but he has been very -- not public facing. He has made very few comments. He has complained, you know, that Trump reneged on the previous deal and is essentially said, you know, this is up to Trump. It doesn't matter what I want to do because if he is not going to sign it it's not a fight worth having. So I'm going to let him negotiate on his own. And that's what we have seen for the past couple of weeks.

CABRERA: Let me read a tweet we just got, guys, from the President just moments ago. He says vice president Mike Pence and team just left the White House. Briefed me on their meeting with the Schumer/Pelosi representatives. Not much head way made today. Second meeting set for tomorrow. After so many decades must finally and permanently fix the problems on the southern border.

Siraj, it sounds like he is not giving in. So where does this go?

SIRAJ HASHMI, COMMENTARY WRITER/EDITOR, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, the bottom line is the Democrats don't want to give President Trump a political victory because if this were really about money, then President Trump probably would ask for way more than $5.6 billion. It's a far cry from the $25 billion he requested earlier in 2018, you know. It's actually going to be a game of chicken in which mounting pressure from federal employees who are furloughed and what they don't get their paychecks and can't pay the rent and their bills, that's going to put a lot of pressure on both sides to come to the negotiating table and come to a solution.

And I think what we have to remember here and acknowledge is that with the negotiation, both sides should be able to come away with a win. And, sure there are might somebody compromise on both ends, but they should be able to come to a solution that will benefit the American people.

CABRERA: Josh, your paper is also reporting that the White House really hadn't understood the potential impact of a government shutdown. What can you tell us about that?

DAWSEY: Well, before we take it back to as far as tax returns go, you know, rebates, as far as food stamps, as far as national parks, one of the folks in the Trump White House are kind of newcomers to federal government in a lot of ways. I think they have kind of realized as this has gone on the problems that come down the road. You know, really over the Christmas holidays there weren't painful reverberations to a large degree because people were traveling, people were at home, a lot of things were closed anyway. But now that we are coming back and you are going to see paychecks

start being missed and, you know, lots of parts of the government that cannot open, I think the White House is realizing increasingly that something has to be done in a few weeks. Even as the President says, you know, it could go months, it could go years. Around him, his core group of advisers don't want it to go that long because they think this is going to get more painful as this it goes as Siraj just said.

[16:10:39] CABRERA: The reality is some people do live paycheck to paycheck. Some people rely on their tax refund to pay their bills, to pay their mortgages. The President was asked about safety nets for these unpaid federal workers. Here's how he responded.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are saying months and possibly a year for this shutdown. Do you have in mind a safety net for those who need their checks?

TRUMP: Well, the safety net is going to be having a strong border because we are going to be safe. Many of the people you are discussing I really believe that they agree with what we are doing.


CABRERA: Siraj, do comments like that make it harder for the President to hold this line when he seems to lack concern for the workers who aren't getting paid? Where is the empathy?

HASHMI: Well, President Trump also said that he is willing to declare a national emergency in order to build the wall and circumvent the legislative process. And I believe there is -- everyone actually benefits from the legislative process working. But if President Trump actually goes through this national emergency, you know, Congress in the past have passed statutes that allow the President to go and use his own executive power to say build something like a border wall in order to protect the homeland.

Now, if he ends up doing that, then the Democrats have lost their leverage and they would have to reopen the government. So maybe that is a method that President Trump will go through.

CABRERA: Josh, we are starting to see some cracks among Republican senators like Susan Collins and Corey Gardner. They both indicated they support ending the shutdown without securing the wall funding. Do you expect more Republicans to join them?

DAWSEY: Well, if it goes on and on, yes. But those cracks so far have been very small fissures. For the most part our Republicans in the House and Senate have been aligned and fortified behind President Trump in the stance for a wall. Mitch McConnell, I think one reason he hasn't gotten more involved and been more concerned is that most his members are not ready to, you know, make a deal unless the President's happy at this point and the House the same way. So I think you are seeing some fissures that could grow if the shutdown goes on for, you know, months and months and months. But I don't think we are at a breaking point yet.

CABRERA: Again, we are now into day 15. The longest shutdown ever here for the government, 21 days. Keep that in mind.

Josh Dawsey, Siraj Hashmi, thank you. Appreciate it, guys.

HASHMI: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: A programming note, April Ryan who you saw questioning the President at that event on Friday will join us live tonight in our 7:00 hour here on CNN. Stay tuned for that.

Coming up, was that video of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supposed to embarrass her, to harm her in some way? Well, it didn't seem to work. She is mitting back at her critics big time on social media. That's up next.


[16:16:28] CABRERA: More than a year ahead of Iowa caucus Elizabeth Warren is kicking off her push for the Democratic nomination with visits to several Iowa towns this weekend. Her trip comes as Nancy Pelosi is reclaiming the House speakership and looking in her position -- locking in her position as the most powerful woman in politics.

But it is the new generation of Democratic women who are staking their claim in the spotlight. Just hours after being sworn into congress, Michigan House Democrat Rashida Tlaib made headlines with this comment about President Trump.


REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: Now when your son looks at you and says, mama, look, you won, bullies don't win. And I said baby, they don't because we are going to go in there. We are going to impeach the (bleep).


CABRERA: Some on both sides of the aisle say Tlaib went too far with her language. President Trump had this response.


TRUMP: I thought her comments were disgraceful. This is a person that I don't know. I assume she is new. I think she dishonored herself and I think she dishonored her family. Using language like this in front of her son and whoever else was there, I thought that was a great dishonor to her and to her family.


CABRERA: But in an exclusive interview with CNN affiliate WDIB, Tlaib stood by her comments and the language she used.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TLAIB: I think no one expects me to be anything but myself. The girl from southwest Detroit, the little sass and attitude. I think, you know, President Trump has messed -- met his match. I can tell you I have talked to a number of my colleagues, including congresswoman Maxine Waters and Al Green and others who were very smiling and telling me we live your spirit. We welcome it.


CABRERA: CNN chief media correspondent and anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES" Brian Stelter is with us now.

So some criticism, Brian, for Tlaib, but she is also getting some serious support from at least one other young Democrat who just came to Congress.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has become one of the most famous people in the country, thanks to her surprise election win in the primary and since she has been tweeting up a storm ever since.

She had this response to the controversy, the criticism of the "f" word. She said Republican hypocrisy at its finest on display here saying that Trump admitting sexual assault on tape is just locker room talk but scandalizing themselves into fake outrage, when my sys says a curse word in a bar. AOC saying here, GOP lots entitlement to policing, women's behavior a long time ago. Next.

And this is what she does really well. She uses twitter to respond to controversies, to attack the GOP, and she has done over and over and over again on twitter racking up millions of followers. She's actually surpassed Nancy Pelosi just in that twitter account of followers. And look, twitter is not real life. Twitter is not the political world, but it's a reflection of where the passion is in the Democratic Party right now.

CABRERA: Where the passion is everywhere.

STELTER: And I think, you know, we talk about this curse word controversy, it was really more about the word impeachment, I think. Civility is long gone in politics. But this was about impeachment. And what we are seeing was a movement among some in the Democratic Party to push impeachment to the forefront. That's what these congresswomen want, these newly elected representatives who come from really blue districts. But then you have a lot of other Democrats trying to calm that talk down, trying not to get too far ahead of themselves. It's a really interesting tension within the Democratic Party. And to me that's what this controversy was really about.

CABRERA: I want to talk more about the social media comments, some of the controversies including this other one involving Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier this week. She was targeted on twitter by an anonymous user who posted this video of her from when she was in college. The person who posted it described it as America's favorite comic (ph), know it all, acting like the knit witch she is. Now this was justify a spoof of the dancing scenes from the breakfast

club and Ocasio-Cortez didn't stay quiet in the face of this latest run of criticism tweeting this video of herself dancing outside her office on Capitol Hill and saying, wait until the GOP finds out congresswomen dance too.


[16:20:48] CABRERA: She's like, yes, take that.

I think it's so interesting, though, because Donald Trump is so savvy when it comes to using twitter and social media. And that's been a huge advantage in some respects for him and his ability to communicate with his supporters.

STELTER: Definitely.

CABRERA: Do you think he's met his match now?

STELTER: In many ways he has met his match with her and with these other newly elected lawmakers who you using not just twitter but Instagram and You Tube in new ways. I mean, AOC what she does on Instagram doing live chats with her supporters. She is not necessarily bringing in new folks that are critical of her but she is deepening support from her voters in her district and fans across the country. And that's why I say she has become one of the most famous people in the country already. It's partly because of conservatives criticizing her and attacking her. There has been lots of FOX News segments about her.

The dancing video conservative were not up in arms about. But a lot of other things she has done conservative have been angry about and have been criticizing her about and it's made her more and more famous. She's using twitter and Instagram really well to capitalize on that. And I think most importantly she is bringing it back to policy. You may love or hate her policies, but she is trying to bring it back to policy.

She is on Anderson Cooper's "60 Minutes" program tomorrow. Copper has an interview with her tomorrow, biggest news program in the country. And what is she doing? She is talking about taxes and the green new deal. So she is trying to capitalize on the interest in her personality and bring it back to policy. And you know, we will see it that's successful or not.

CABRERA: All right. Brian Stelter, thank you for your take.

Don't forget, Brian's show is tomorrow morning on 11:00 eastern here on CNN, "RELIABLE SOURCES."

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's for fame remark getting criticized by some of her Democratic superiors in the House. Listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't like that language. I wouldn't use that language. I don't -- again, establish any language standards for my colleagues. But I don't think it's anything worse than the President -- what the President has said.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: I don't really like that kind of language, but more to the point I disagree with what she said. It is too early to talk about that intelligently.


CABRERA: Joining us now, the longest serving woman in the U.S. House history, Ohio congresswoman Marci Kaptur now serve be her 19th term.

Great to have you with us, congresswoman. First I want to get your take on how some of these new congresswomen, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez are handling themselves.

REP. MARCI KAPTUR (D), OHIO: I haven't seen everything that they have done, but I have certainly heard about it on the news. I think there's a lot of enthusiasm and energy that comes with being elected to the Congress of the United States. And people sometimes are overwhelmed by the responsive audiences and coverage in the media. And I think sometimes you can see people go overboard. And perhaps that's what happened.

I didn't see everything myself, but I kind of agree with Michelle Obama in looking at the current administration, the President of the United States, which he goes low, we ought to go high. I agree with Michelle.

CABRERA: Some could argue the opposite though because so many Trump voters I talked to have said the big part of the President's appeal is that he is not politically correct. He sounds like the average Joe, salty language and all. Is there a double standard?

KAPTUR: Well, let me say this as a daughter of the working class. I'm very offended by those who think that those who come from the working class are somehow subhuman and that they use foul language all the time, that they drink beer with a whiskey shot in the glass. I remember one Democrat who tried to present themselves that way to the public.

I see things on television that offend me greatly by political people who try to appeal to the working class. Let me tell you, the people in the working class fight for their families. They fight for this country. They work hard. Many of them have had the rug pulled out from them economically, many are losing their pensions. They have deep concerns about an infrastructure bill and the ability to earn their way forward in this economy, which is very lopsided. So it's very interesting to me some of what comes out of the mouths of very important people in this society and those who hold power.

And I would just say to the people of the working class, I am proud to represent them. I know their strength and their deep honor. I know how hard they fight for this country and love this country and they don't need to be demeaned. [16:25:08] CABRERA: But why do you think those two young Democrats,

women in Congress, are getting the kind of attacks and criticism that they are facing? Is it because they are women?

KAPTUR: I think that women have been held to a higher standard, that's for sure. And I think that people who are elected for the first time, when people are applauding you and they attach their being to you, it's really an extraordinary experience. And you have to learn how to contain that. And so I think that there will be a learning conserve. And I expect great, great things from these newly elected officials including the women who were just sworn in, including my sister from Detroit and from New York City.

And cultures there are different sometimes than what I might represent here in northern Ohio. But I think that they have great talent and they have great passion and they need to use it in a way that is effective.

CABRERA: OK. I want to ask you about the shutdown that we're on now into day 15. There was a meeting this morning. No members of Congress but some of the staffers were there with the vice President, with Jared Kushner, with secretary Neil Nielsen of DHS.

President tweeting just a few minutes go, no head way was made on the shutdown.

Now, I know, you know, before you could point to Republicans having the House, having the Senate, having the White House. But now we are in a situation in which the Democrats have control of the House. Do Democrats have to come to the table and negotiate because at this point aren't Democrats partially responsible for the situation as it exists?

KAPTUR: Well, I will tell you, I think there's a tremendous responsibility on every elected official at the federal level right now. And it's unfortunate that the Senate did not send the bill that we passed in the House, which was actually the Senate bill to reopen the agencies of the government of the United States, and to leave the issue of homeland security, border security, security for the people of this country, finish that up in a few weeks.

They chose not to do that. That tells me that senator McConnell, the leader of the Senate, can't reach an agreement with the President of the United States. So I think they need to talk to one another. But to hold the entire government or at least seven of the departments hostage to their inability to reach an agreement is very -- puts the United States in a very bad position. You can see the way the markets are reacting. You can see the way in which it's going to impact our economy. So we had, I thought, the first bills that we passed in the House were reasonable. We took up Republican bills. Bills that had passed the Senate. All they had to do was move them to the President.

CABRERA: You have served on the subcommittee for homeland security. Do you believe the southern border needs to be more secure?

KAPTUR: I believe that we need to protect the American people and to use our dollars very wisely. And I can tell you --

CABRERA: What needs to happen with those dollars?

KAPTUR: I think that we need added border security. If you go to Loreto and see 16 lanes of trucks coming both ways that are not inspected for the most part, what are we going to do about inspection? That's where a lot of these pay loads come into this country. The same is true with our ports. The same is true with airplanes. If you build a wall I could say to the President, airplanes can fly over it. You are not really getting to the heart of where drugs are coming into this country. Here at the northern border where I live, more drugs are coming in through there. Building a wall at the southern end won't help. So I --

CABRERA: So make your case to the President right now here on CNN, say we need to do x, y, and if you want to get the money to end the shutdown.

KAPTUR: I think that we need to have a discussion with the President about what the problem is. What the problem is. And if his goal is to try to stem the illicit drug trade into this country, we can talk about what needs to be done in our ports of entry that are much more than the southern by the way. That includes the whole California coast, increase the U.S. mail system of fentanyl coming in from China. We can talk to him about the unrest in Latin-America and what we need to do down there in order to settle things down a little bit working with our allies in the region. And also getting rid of the production fields in Mexico.

I mean, there are many things we need to do, but I think the President is summarizing everything in one word, wall. That will not solve the problem.

CABRERA: Congresswoman Marci Kaptur, really great to have you on. Thank you for being with us.

KAPTUR: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, three people are dead after a shooting at a bowling alley in California. Witnesses reporting people diving under benches, on lanes. We are live next.


[16:33:03] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: What should have been a fun night of bowling turned tragic in Torrance, California. Three people are dead, four injured after a shooting at a bowling alley. Investigators are now searching for at least one suspect.

And Paul Vercammen is joining us from southern California with the latest.

Paul, do we know if anyone got a good look at the shooter and gave a description to police?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's interesting, Ana, because if they have a name in mind, they aren't saying right now. However, they are revealing that they are carefully pouring over security cameras inside the bowling alley and karaoke bar and they believe a lot of the clues will be right there.

Now, imagine the terror, Ana, for these people out for a night of fun. This is a popular bowling alley in the area. Also a karaoke bar and, all of a sudden, shots fired.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People started to run inside the karaoke and shouting gunshot, gunshot, gunshot. And so we, being in the space, some persons within our space heard gunshot. I did not heard it.


VERCAMMEN: So three are dead and people had gathered earlier today outside of this bowling alley, many of them saying that they knew some of the victims. They have told us they believed the victims are 28 years old, 28 years old, and 20, all males. Two people were transported to a local hospital. Two others treated here and released.

And I can tell you, Ana, this was just gut wrenching earlier today when these people were wondering what in the world they were going to tell the survivors of these victims. One of them saying her brother- in-law killed, what do I tell his 5-year-old son -- Ana?

CABRERA: Oh, heartbreaking.

Paul Vercammen, thank you.

Coming up, Ellen DeGeneres publicly vouching for Comedian Kevin Hart despite backlash over those homophobic comments he made years ago on social media. Why she says Hart should still host the Oscars.

[16:35:05] Plus, experience the incredible story of comedy great, Gilda Radner, in her own words. "Love, Gilda," a CNN film, airs tonight at 9:00 here on CNN.


CABRERA: Ellen DeGeneres getting mixed reviews for defending Comedian Kevin Hart and personally pleading with the Academy Awards to have him host the Oscars. Hart, and an actor/stand-up comedian, backed out of gig when a number of his old tweets surfaced that featured homophobic language, anti-gay slurs. The Oscars asked for an apology, Kevin Hart initially declined, only apologizing when he announced his decision to say no to the gig.

Here he explains this decision to Ellen.


KEVIN HART, COMEDIAN: I don't want to step on that stage and make that night about me and my past when you got people that have worked hard to step on that stage for the first time and receive an award. I'm taking away from all those moments because the night is focused on something else now. In this case I just said I'm going to walk away because I felt like it was a conversation that was just going to continue and continue and continue. I would much rather say I'm sorry again and walk away. Because I'm -- I want to be done with the conversation.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST, ELLEN: So I -- I called the Academy today because I really want you to host the Oscars. I think that -- I was so excited when I heard that they asked you. I thought it was an amazing thing. I knew how important it was and it was a dream. So I called them, I said Kevin's on, I have no idea if he wants to come back and host, but what are your thoughts? They were like, oh, my god, we want him to host. We feel like that maybe he misunderstood, it was handled wrong or maybe we said the wrong thing. But we want him to host. Whatever we can do, we would be thrilled. And if he would host --




CABRERA: With us now, Michael Musto, a columnist with, and Dean Obeidallah, comedian and host of the "Dean Obeidallah Show" on Sirius X.M.

[16:40:09] Michael Musto, let's start with you, because the last time you were here on CNN you said you didn't believe Kevin Hart had evolved since had he those tweets. But now you have Ellen, who is an icon in the LGBTQ in the community, giving him a platform, even calling the Academy on his behalf. Does this change your mind at all?

MICHAEL MUSTO, COLUMNIST, NEWNOWNEXT.COM: No, not really. Kevin was doing better before when he did the apology and stepped down. Now he's back in the mix. I don't know why Ellen wants to be Mary Poppins, the facilitator and peacemaker. She's a member of the LGBTQ community but he back tracked from the apology and now is muddying the waters by blaming what they call trolls, the people that drug up these comments of his of wanting to destroy his persona. Ellen has enabled that. By calling them trolls, he wants to hold them accountable for his past action, you're smearing the queer community once again. If he wants to prove he's involved, I know some people that can he work with to help the LGBTQ youth.

CABRERA: So are you surprised that Ellen DeGeneres is defending him?

MUSTO: I think she means well, and I think she's trying to make the peace. I'm all for second chances as well, if you go through the proper process. Roseanne proved that she didn't go through the proper process, no career. You have to just flat-out apologize, don't blame other people for holding you accountable, and prove that you're evolving.

CABRERA: Dean, the Oscars doesn't have a host. It's in limbo. The Academy has --


CABRERA: How about you guys pair up? Kevin Hart did say, if I come in and I host, you know, it's all going to be about me and it's going to create, you know, deflect the attention from where it should be. Is he right about that?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, COMEDIAN & SIRRIUS X.M. HOST, THE DEAN OBEIDALLAH SHOW: It's hard to say. I think the media attention would certainly be elevated because of his history and what went on. I'm not part of the LGBTQ community so I defer to leaders in it. Don Lemon had a great panel last night on his show. But as a minority myself who have had people demonize my community, as a Muslim, you have to show sincerity. It's going to be going to organizations and meeting with people, more than words, apologizing to grassroots leaders, not just going on TV where you'll have an icon on the celebrity LGBTQ community say something and not to do the work. You have to do the work. Then it would be a great moment for Kevin to evolve and, as Don Lemon said yesterday, become an ally of the community. If they were to evolve and show sincerity, I was wrong, I'm not like them anymore. I'd like to see him evolve that.

MUSTO: He hasn't given us the words. But if he were to host the Oscars and give us the words, and if every word he says from now on in interviews is going to be in favor of young, vulnerable gay people, LGBT people, then I'm all for his comeback.

CABRERA: In all seriousness, who do you think should host the Oscars? Who would be a good host?

MUSTO: There are plenty of people, Laverne --


CABRERA: OK, there's some names.

Dean, I want to get to this because this is something you feel strongly about. We're talking about Netflix pulling an episode of the show "Patriot Act," making it unavailable in Saudi Arabia, because the host, Hasan Minhaj, talked about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi that enraged the Saudi government. Here's a clip.


HASAN MINHAJ, COMEDIAN: Just a few months ago, crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, A/K/A/ MbS, was hailed as the reformer that the Arab world needed. But the revelations about Khashoggi's killing have shattered that image. And it blows my mind that it took the killing of a "Washington Post" journalist for everyone to go, oh, I guess he's really not a reformer. Meanwhile, every Muslim person you know was like, yes, no (EXPLETIVE DELETED). He's the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.



CABRERA: Dean, Netflix bowed to the Saudi government's request to pull this and, yet they say that they are supporters of artistic freedom. Can they do both?

OBEIDALLAH: No. In their statement, it should have ended, LOL, because they had pulled a clip, an episode because the Saudi government went to Netflix, an American comedy company based in California, and said this violates our cybercrimes policy. They didn't want to be criticized. Two reasons. The crown prince doesn't want to be laughed at. People who are strong leaders want you to be afraid of them not laughing at them. You can't make jokes about the leaders. I've performed there.

Second, and I think maybe more importantly, he is Muslim and talked as a Muslim on that episode. He does not represent Islam and does not represent our faith accurately or positively or in any way sadly and Saudi's 2 percent of the whole Muslim population. But as Muslims, we're called to answer for the ridiculous oppressive policies of women backwards policy. That upset them because you have a Muslim saying to other Muslim, Saudi does not represent our faith. I think that's what troubled them more than anything. The criticism, they've been criticized left and right. Was wrong by Netflix. And Hasan Minhaj would be a great host of Oscars, the young there --


[16:45:13] MUSTO: He is kind of the optimist, Kevin Hart.


MUSTO: But he's speaking to truth. Unfortunately, the law that Saudi Arabia is citing that they violated on Netflix calls upon anything against something that impinges upon public order. If somebody tells the truth and the public might revolt, we don't want that. And Saudi Arabia say place, let's face it, when people have mysteriously disappeared sometimes, like I'm going to probably soon.

OBEIDALLAH: It's an important thing we have to stand up. And strong leaders want to silence comedy. That's part of it. We've talked before about Donald Trump attacking the Correspondents Association and then saying, change your format, and they did. And I'm not saying Trump is like MbS at all. I'm saying strong men, leaders like that don't want to be laughed at. Thy want to be feared and that's the reality.

MUSTO: But if you were in charge of Netflix, what would you do?

OBEIDALLAH: I never --


CABRERA: Netflix is available in over 190 countries, so let's remind everybody of that.

Thank you. MUSTO: It was on YouTube and it was also on two months before it was pulled.

OBEIDALLAH: It was seen. It made an impact.

CABRERA: Gentlemen, got to run. Thank you both.

Good to have you with us, Michael and Dean. Good to see you. Happy New Year, gentlemen.


CABRERA: Coming up, John Kelly and James Mattis become the latest generals to depart the Trump administration. We'll take a closer look at what could be driving the president's feud with military men he once praised.


[16:50:07] CABRERA: When President Trump first took office, he made headlines for all the generals he brought in. In fact, more generals into the upper echelon of his administration than any other modern president. There was James Mattis, the secretary of defense. John Kelly, first DHS secretary, and then his chief of staff. General Michael Flynn was the president's first national security adviser, and we all know how quickly that changed. H.R. McMaster replaced him. But now they're all gone after very public and messy breaks with a president who, by the way, had this to say about himself.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I would have been a good general but who knows.


CABRERA: Joining us now is CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen. He just wrote a piece for entitled, "Now Trump Is at War with the Generals."

And in it, you say, "Trump believes he was elected to end foreign entanglements and that alliances like NATO are ripping off the United States. While U.S. military leaders are keenly aware that NATO allies have been fighting shoulder to shoulder with them since the 9/11 attacks."

Peter, how fundamental is that difference and world view between the president and generals and what does it mean for the president and the Pentagon going forward?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Ana, I think it's fundamental because the decisions to relatively quickly pull out of Syria, to apparently half the number of troops in Afghanistan, the continued attacks on long time Western allies, whether Canada, Germany, or Britain, for their supposed lack of funding for the NATO alliance and somehow that that's ripping off the United States, these are all things that the president has said repeatedly. And certainly, it's not the world view of Mattis or McMaster or any of the sort of senior leaders in the military who tend to view NATO as a very good thing. It was after all the only time NATO's ever invoked Article V, which is a collective right to self-defense, is after 9/11 and NATO countries continue to work in Afghanistan alongside the United States there. So, you know, I think it's a fundamental disagreement. And I'm not saying that Trump is necessarily wrong about all of this, or that there are plenty of Americans who might agree with him. Certainly, President Obama shared some commonalities with President Trump, which is they both got elected in one way or another to get us out of these expensive overseas wars. And both of those presidents see that as part of their, you know, campaign promises they need to deliver on.

CABRERA: Retired Admiral James Stavridis just wrote a piece in the new issue of "Time," entitled, "Why Trump's Generals Have Abandoned Ship." And he says, "In the end, each of them had to ask themselves, at what point does my serving in this White House become less a guardrail and more an enabler. And what will it ultimately mean that the hard-won credibility of my life and career supported the work of this administration."

Peter, what's your reaction to this?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, let me just quote General McChrystal, who is a four-star general, who ran Joint Special Operations command, who recently said in an interview with ABC News that if he was asked by President Trump to join the administration he wouldn't. And he said that the president was both dishonest and immoral in that interview. So, I mean, Admiral Stavridis, I think, his piece kind of outlines where a lot of four-star leaders of the military are, which is they don't really trust the president, had he don't trust his instincts. Some of them wouldn't work with him even if they were asked to. And we've also seen the president pick a fight with Admiral McRaven who was the architect of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. These are the leading military figures of our era and the president is at war with them. Just like the fact, as you pointed out in the beginning, there wasn't a group of people that he more warmly embraced two years ago when he came into office.

CABRERA: The president has raised some broader concerns shared by many in the American public about the duration of the U.S. involvement in international conflicts, 17 years, in Afghanistan, for example. Peter, do leaders on the ground and the military need to be held more accountable for the strategy and the setbacks there?

BERGEN: Of course, they do. But there's a simple way for accountability and that's to bring somebody else in. And President Trump, in that freewheeling discussion at the White House just a couple of days ago, said that Mattis hadn't delivered in Afghanistan. Now, I think, you know, I think you could debate whether that's true or not, but the point is that the president is the commander-in-chief, he can get rid of generals he thinks aren't performing. And there's a long and honorable tradition of this in the United States. Lincoln got rid of quite a lot of generals that he didn't think were performing during the Civil War. I'm not saying we're in that kind of situation. But of course, generals should be held to account if they aren't delivering. But Afghanistan is not an easy war to win. These wars are not like fighting in the Pacific in World War II or in Germany at the end of World War II where you can deliver a decisive blow because the enemy is kind of a conventional army that's amenable to that kind of defeat. We're in different kinds of conflicts, which will go on for a long time.

[16:55:34] CABRERA: Peter Bergen, thank you. Good to have you with us.

BERGEN: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, President Trump tells congressional leaders he's prepared to keep the government shut down for months, even years, if he doesn't get funding for his border wall. What's the plan of attack for Democrats? Congressman Eric Swalwell joins us next.


[16:59:38] CABRERA: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Hello on this first weekend in the New Year. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. Glad you're with us today.

It was the vice president's turn today. For two straight weeks now, 14 days and counting, nobody has succeeded in negotiating an end to the partial government shutdown that has stopped paychecks to about 800,000 American workers. The president, who has the power to end it right now, is holding out for his border wall money. Your money, not Mexico's, that congressional Democrats say is not coming.

Today, Vice President Mike Pence gathered congressional aides and Homeland Security officials to see if they can make some --