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Trump Threatens to Declare National Emergency to Build Wall; John Bolton Contradicts Trump on Troop Withdrawal from Syria; Joe Biden Closer to Decision on Presidential Run; How the Democratic Fight is Shaping Up for 2020. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 7, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] REP. ADAM SMITH, (D-WA), CHAIR, HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMTTEE And Mick Mulvaney said it best before working for Trump and when he said this is a childish idea to think a wall will protect us. What has been done, walls have been built along portions of the border, the portions that make sense.


SMITH: We've made massive investments. We have tripled the number of border security agents. We have drones and sensors and we have planes. A wall is a colossal waste of money for a crisis that doesn't exist. The border security money that we've spent has worked. The number of unlawful crossings has gone down dramatically in the last 15 years. The number of undocumented people in this country has gone down. That has worked. The crisis on the border is the asylum seekers. And again, they're not trying to sneak in. They're turning themselves in. That is what we need to address. The wall doesn't help anything.

BOLDUAN: So the negotiations going nowhere.

I do want to ask you about another very important topic. The very big news overnight about Syria. The president has gone now from troops are coming home now, which meant 30 days, and then four months, and then John Bolton announced overseas troops will stay until ISIS is defeated and the Kurds are safe. Do you know what the timeline is?

SMITH: Look, this is very similar to the border wall issue. It shows that our president literally doesn't know what he's doing. He is making it up as he goes along based on the whims of, I guess, what he sees on FOX News or what his mood is. Because John Bolton raised the two issues blindingly obvious. Look, I don't want us to have troops overseas any more than is absolutely necessary but the two big questions, if we pull out of Syria, what happens to ISIS and to the Kurds.


SMITH: That is blindingly obvious. But the president just blew right past it to say let's pull them out. The biggest problem --

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: Do you in some way applaud him for changing course?


BOLDUAN: The president.

SMITH: The president hasn't changed course.


BOLDUAN: That actually raises a very important question I want to get your take. Who speaks for U.S. foreign policy? Is it John Bolton or President Trump?

SMITH: The president does. He's the president unfortunately. And when you say do I applaud him for changing course, he's changing course like a drunken sailor. There's no thought behind it. What we need is actually rational policy in Syria on border security. All we have is the emotional rantings of a child. And he goes back and forth depending on what the last person said to him.

BOLDUAN: And the most immediate --


SMITH: And that undermines our credibility.

BOLDUAN: As a chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, for the 2000 servicemembers who are overseas in Syria or, quite frankly, any servicemember in any combat zone right now, what is the policy? Are they coming home now?


BOLDUAN: Do you know if there's another timeline?

SMITH: Nobody on earth knows because the president makes it up as he goes along and that is terrible. Look, if you want to come and make a case, look, we've been in Syria for this long, it is time to pull out, here is why. And by the way, you can't just pull 2,000 troops out of an area like this. You have to do it intelligently. There's logistics involved and you have to have a plan. But this president doesn't operate on that universe. He operates on the whims of his emotions. And the message that sends, even if it the right policy, to pull all the trips out of Syria, the way he's going about it is disastrous for everybody involved. Have a clear coherent thought and then organize the policy in a structured way. This is ultimately why Secretary Mattis left. It wasn't just the decisions. It was the way the president made them. Like a 4-year-old. And we cannot govern the world and have relationships with allies when he flits all over the place with no intelligent rational, whether it is the border wall, whatever it is, it is what he likes to feel like in the morning. At some point, he'll have to take a briefing and he'll have to read a book and fully understand what is going on in the world, instead of just making it up as he goes along. Because we're all going to pay a horrible price for it. BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you so much for coming in.

Congratulations on your new chairmanship. Let me know if you are the person that goes over to brief the president. I would be interested on how that conversation goes.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for your time.

SMITH: I'll wait for the invite. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Still ahead, we'll have much more on the White House changing story on withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.

Plus, the president said he's negotiating a location for a second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-Un. What does that mean?

[11:34:27] Stay with us.


BOLDUAN: As it stands right now, it is clear as mud with the president's policies regarding U.S. troops in Syria. At first, the quote was this, "They're all coming back and they're coming back now." And because of that, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned. Now a different timeline from the national security adviser, John Bolton, is emerging. Listen.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We're going to be discussing the president's decision to withdraw, but to do so from northeast Syria in a way that makes sure that ISIS is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again. And to make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured.


BOLDUAN: So now what is the timeline? Are U.S. troops coming home from Syria or not?

CNN's global affairs analyst, Max Boot, is joining me now. He's advised several presidential candidates on foreign policy and he's a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations.

Max, good to see you.


[11:40:07] BOLDUAN: So what do you make of this?

BOOT: I'm wondering if Jim Mattis can unresign. This was such a bizarre --

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: Can't undo that one.

BOOT: I don't think you can. But this is such a bizarre spectacle. What you're seeing is a new U.S. policy on Syria every single week. It changes week by week. So now we've gone from the troops will pull out now, which the Pentagon briefed reporters as meaning within 30 days, and then the next week Trump said, no, no, they said it will be more like four months. And now Bolton seems to be saying they won't come out at all until those conditions will be achieved, which is not any time soon, which is the defeat of ISIS. And who knows what the policy will be next week. This is just utterly baffling and confusing.

BOLDUAN: The president tweeted this morning that what we're hearing from Bolton is nothing different from what his original statement was.

BOOT: That is the most bizarre thing of all because it is completely different. You could go to the video. You can go to Trump's own Twitter feed right now and look at the video in which he said they are coming home right now. He said that three weeks ago. That is very different from what John Bolton said on Sunday.

BOLDUAN: And he said, they asked me for six months more and he said no, they asked me for --


BOLDUAN: And would Jim Mattis have resigned if this was what President Trump announced.

BOOT: No. The reporting was James Mattis went to Donald Trump after he said he was pulling the troops out and begged him to reconsider, to say what John Bolton is now saying, and Trump refused so Mattis left. This makes zero sense even by the standards of the Trump administration, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I asked this of the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee a few minutes ago, who speaks for foreign policy. When John Bolton says what he says, it that the position of the United States government?

BOOT: I don't think anybody knows answer to that question and that is very dangerous, that is very destabilizing. This is why you have a policy coordination process that in previous administrations they have worked very hard to get on the same page so they have one message coming out from the administration. In this administration, you have multiple messages coming out from the president himself, for starters, because the president himself says different things on different days but then you have his aides saying something entirely different so nobody knows what the policy of the U.S. actually is.

BOLDUAN: Lindsey Graham seems to be reassured. Listen to him.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I applaud the president for re-evaluating what he's doing. He hasn't changed his mind. But he's listening to a lot of good advice. And President Obama would never do that and you saw what happened when a president shuts people out. This president is not shutting people out. He has a goal in mind of reducing our presence. I share that goal. Let's just do it smartly.


BOLDUAN: If this is how quickly things change, should Graham be concerned?

BOOT: Of course not. We've seen this with Donald Trump. He could say different things on different days. Who knows what he will say tomorrow. The notion that he's permanently changed his policy on Syria is absurd. We don't know where he'll end up because he doesn't know what he will end up or what he thinks himself.

BOLDUAN: Quickly, North Korea. They're negotiating a new location for the second summit. What do you think?

BOOT: Well, I think this is a very dangerous moment. Because we already had one summit in June in Singapore where Kim Jong-Un issued the empty assurances of denuclearization and it is clear since then he has no intention of actually denuclearizing because we know that North Korea is expanding the missile program and expanding the nuclear program. There's no indication they're going to make major concessions. If you read Kim Jong-Un's New Year's Day address, he wants more from President Trump, such as lifting of sanctions, before he would consider doing what we already thought he would do in Singapore. And some of the Trump aides have tried to hold the line. For example, in September, Mike Pompeo said there could be a deadline until 2021 for North Korea to disarm and Trump undercut that. He said there's no timeline and it will take whatever it takes. So the sense I get is Kim Jong-Un thinks he could play this division within the administration by going over the heads of the hard-liners and get major concessions from President Trump himself.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Max. Thanks so much.

BOOT: Great to see you.

[11:44:18] BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: What is Joe Biden going to do? Sources tell CNN that the former vice president is getting closer to deciding if he'll make a third run for the White House. One insider telling CNN that right now he's leaning toward yes and the final decision will come soon. How soon is soon and what is Biden considering?

Let's go to CNN political reporter, Arlette Saenz. She's here with more.

Arlette, what are you hearing about this?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Kate, Vice President Joe Biden is back from the holidays and he's headed into crunch time. We expect a decision about his 2020 run will be coming in the next month, but there's a possibility that he may not formally announce something until a little bit later. One ally that I spoke to yesterday who recently spoke with former Vice President Joe Biden said the former vice president is leaning towards a run, but ultimately this is going to boil down to a family decision. But that ally said that the vice president is aware that he needs to make a decision quickly and that he needs to start acting pretty quickly and early in the process if he is serious about running.

Now, former Vice President Joe Biden has been hearing a lot of encouragement from across the country trying to get him to run. In fact, his younger brother, Frank, did a radio interview earlier this morning where he says he's absolutely been pushing him to run. That's really no surprise there. But donors and activists are really eager to hear what his plans are, to have him out there starting to make that message in what's going to be a crowded Democratic field. You already had Elizabeth Warren in Iowa this past weekend. Julio Castro will be making an announcement about his plans later this week on Saturday. For now, it's just a waiting game whether Biden is going to jump in.

[11:50:28] BOLDUAN: And waiting they are.

Thank you so much, Arlette.

So while Biden is making up his mind, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren is already hitting the trail, making a campaign swing through Iowa this weekend. Listen.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We need to think big, fight hard. Here's how I think of this. What do we need to change? First thing we need to change is we need to change Washington.


BOLDUAN: So how is the Democratic fight shaping up for 2020 already?

Joining me now to discuss the race for 2020 nomination is another possible contender, former Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe.

Governor, great to see you. Thank you for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. Pardon my cough and my cough drop. Regardless, let's move on.

You laid out what you think Democrats need to do to beat Donald Trump in 2020. You laid that out very clearly in your view in the "Washington Post." One line in it reads as follows: "Ideological populism and relentless negativity is playing on Trump's turf. The reality show star will always win that race to the bottom." So essentially you're saying don't get in the mud with Donald Trump.

But, Governor, have you talked to any of the Republicans who tried to beat him in 2016, he'll say that doesn't work. Just ask Jeb Bush.

MCAULIFFE: First of all, he's a compulsive liar. There's nothing Donald Trump says that is truth, so you have to hit him on the falsehoods he has. But I think Americans are yearning for is an optimistic leader, realistic, who's got plans that can actually be implemented. As I think about the things we've gotten done in Virginia, the record amount of economic investments, we stopped the Republicans from shutting the Planned Parenthood clinics down, led the nation. I've restored more felon rights than any other governor in history. But we drove a new economy. Number-one state for cyber, number-one state for data. We invested a record amount for education. We need to put out real ideas of where we think this country needs to go and how we're going to get there.

My only point is we can't be making false claims to get in the pigpen with Donald Trump who makes false accusations. He is a lying populist. That is what he is. He says things he thinks people want to hear but no chance of becoming law in this country.

BOLDUAN: Well --

MCAULIFFE: My point is, Democrats, let's rise above it. People want elected officials, believe it or not, Kate, they want to get things done. They want to create jobs, they want good education, they want the roads to work, they want to be able to move and see their kids play a ball game. I'm just concerned that a lot of ideas I've seen so far, some have no chance. Good aspirational goals, I'm all for it, but we have to have realism. That's what America is yearning for.

He owns this shutdown we have today. I remind you, Kate, that we have 800,000 people. They now can't pay their rent, can't buy their groceries. We have a lot in Virginia. I met a woman last night and she said, Governor, I'm broke. I have no money. This was created by Donald Trump -- and I hope we get it resolved. He's a very emotional, unstable man. I think one of his mood swings, hopefully, he moves the other way. We need to reopen the government and then have a real honest discussion on border security. But he owns this shutdown. He is in a real pickle. Unfortunately, he's caused a lot of problems for so many Americans.

BOLDUAN: When we talk about the Democratic Party, and as you just said, you want them to be achievable, realistic promises they're making. You raised in your op-ed as a federal jobs guarantee, something that is not realistic. That's a policy pushed by Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and Corey Booker, all may also run in 2020. What do you say to them?

MCAULIFFE: I say the idea we're going to guarantee every person in America a $15 government job is realistic. What we need to talk about -- we have 79 million open jobs in America today. Do what we did in Virginia. I did the first work force development performance grant in America. We have 166 credentials that have so many open jobs. We'll pay for you to go get a credential, we'll move you right into the work force. That's what we need is realistic solutions. We have a lot of open jobs today. But promising people, everybody a guaranteed job at $15 an hour when we have 79 million high-paying jobs -- I had 40,000 cyber jobs open in Virginia last year. Starting pay was $88,000. You needed a two-year degree, community college. We'll pay for that so you can do it with no debt. Why do we teach cybersecurity in Virginia beginning in kindergarten? We've redefined our cybersecurity system. The want a results-oriented progressive who delivers on the things that they promised. That's my only point, Kate, I'm trying to make.

BOLDUAN: I can see coming through this that you're also touting the successes you've been able to pull off in Virginia as well, which leads me, of course, you've said you're considering running.


BOLDUAN: What's your timetable like?

[11:55:08] MCAULIFFE: I think I have to make a decision by the end of the first quarter. I have a lot of supporters. Some people say, well, he's been around for a long time. I'll put my record up. I've held this party for 40 years. I was chairman of the Democratic National Committee. I got our party out of debt for the first time in history. I built our first small donor database. I built our first national voter field. I've been fighting for this party for 40 straight years and I am very proud of it. But I have a lot of supporters. I think by the end of the first quarter, most people have to make a decision. I do think Vice President Biden is probably running from my conversations with him. I think he's terrific. I hope Joe gets in the race.


BOLDUAN: And if he gets in, would you still get in, even if he gets in?

MCAULIFFE: He's going to make his decision. Mine will be totally independent of what the vice president does. I've always been a fan of Joe Biden's. I hope he gets in the race. Kate, the more the merrier, I think it's good for democracy. We're going to beat Trump. We're going to beat Trump, if he's still there. Who knows the answer to that question. But we're going to beat him because we're going to have a positive realistic agenda. People want results. They want people to get things done. What did people want for governor in Virginia? I had tough economy, rebuilt it. I inherited a huge deficit, left a big surplus. That's what people want.

BOLDUAN: I have to get things done, too, which is pay my bills.

Great to see you, Governor. Thanks so much.

MCAULIFFE: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Be right back.