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Interview With Rep. Donna Shalala; The Lead Up To The President's First Prime-Time Oval Office Address To The Nation. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 8, 2019 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. In the lead up to the president's very first primetime Oval Office address to the nation, CNN has learned that presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is working the phones.

A source says that Kushner is hoping to convince lawmakers, including at least one Democratic senator, that public support for the president's border barrier will actually increase after the speech tonight and a visit later to a border on - the border on Thursday by the president.

In the meantime, the second longest government shutdown on record is just four days away from being the longest ever by which time some 800,000 federal workers will have missed a paycheck while scores of government services are stopped or curtailed.

CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House this morning. So what do we expect the president to say tonight? We have already seen him mislead. He and his advisers share some specious data and facts. Do we expect any new data tonight or more the same?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Jim, what we expect from the president tonight is for him to try to control the framing of the national debate about immigration so it's held on his terms as he tries to keep up the pressure on Democrats to fund his border wall.

And this primetime address from the Oval Office, the president's first, will come as his aides worry that the president's messaging on border security over the past few weeks has failed to resonate. They fear, for example, that his "build the wall" slogan has lost its effectiveness because he has used it so often and he's so far failed to break the gridlock on Capitol Hill.

This proposal to do a primetime address has been floating around the West Wing for about a week. Sources tell CNN that the new acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was a big proponent of this idea that the president expressed interest in doing the primetime address at Camp David.

And we expect the president to continue to try to frame this border security issue as a matter of national security as he threatens even to declare a national emergency to get funding through the executive power if legislative talks break down. And the president has continued to rely on a set of misleading data as has his aides and allies as they try to build up a sense of urgency and fear.

For example, even though the number of migrants apprehended at the southern border has fallen dramatically over the past two decades, the administration has tried to hype up the sense that there is a surge of migrants coming over the border. We did see a modest uptick between 2017 and 2018. But again, over the past 20 years that number has fallen dramatically.

The administration has also deceptively tried to create the sense that thousands of suspected terrorists are trying to come over the southern border when in fact just about 12 were encountered at the border over the past year and the overwhelming majority of suspected terrorists were stopped at airports from coming to the U.S. But nonetheless, we've seen the administration try to use these statistics to get that $5.7 billion number. But still, there is no end in sight for the shutdown, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And the vice president repeated that number again this morning. You can debunk it, they still repeat it. Sarah Westwood, thanks very much. I want to bring in CNN's Manu Raju. He's on Capitol Hill. He has more on Kushner's call.

So Manu, do we know which Democratic senator, for instance, in particular, that Jared Kushner and the White House wants to try to flip on this issue?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are trying to see if they can get at least one Democratic senator, Jim, for one reason, to make the case that there is bipartisan support for what the president is calling for on the wall.

But in addition to that, they are trying to encourage Republicans from not defecting from the president's line. The concern is growing among Republicans here on the Hill that the longer this goes on, the more Republicans are bound to defect, particularly as House Democrats try to push for individual bills to reopen the government begging this week, everything from the Treasury Department, the IRS, the Agriculture Department, the Transportation Department and try to say that these have nothing to do with the border fight, we should open those agencies.

Right now Republicans are mostly in line with the president. And Jared Kushner, I am told by a source familiar with the matter, is making the case privately that after the president's speech tonight and after he goes to the border on Thursday, public support will grow towards the Republican side.

Now Mike Pence, the vice president, also expected to come up to Capitol Hill, meet with House Republicans today. And one thing that they're going to have to talk to members about is this idea of declaring a national emergency, something that even some Republicans like John Cornyn of Texas are skeptical about in terms of securing the border. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS: I'm confident he can declare a national emergency. But what that means in terms of adding new elements to this in terms of court hearings and litigation that may carry this on for weeks and months and years, to me, injecting a new element into this just makes it more complicated.



RAJU: So if they decide to go down that road, they will have to convince these members that it is the right thing to do. But some Democrats seem morally (ph) okay with that because perhaps it could lead to resolution to this standoff now in its third week. And we will hear the Democratic official message tonight.

They expect to give that response after the president's address. They are demanding equal airtime to push back. No word yet on exactly who will deliver the message. But Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer want to make that message ahead of the push in the Democratic House this week to continue to be getting (ph) an effort to reopen elements of this government. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Manu Raju on the Hill. Thanks very much. Joining me now is Democratic congresswoman Donna Shalala of Florida. She was just sworn in, in fact, last week, to her first team - term. Congratulations, Congresswoman and thanks for joining us this morning.

REP. DONNA SHALALA, (D) FLORIDA: Thank you. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: So you heard there my colleague, Manu Raju, talking about a White House push in the hours before the president's address to try to get not just Republicans, but perhaps a Democrat onboard for the border wall. Do you sense, have you talked to Democratic colleagues either in the Senate or House who can be swayed by the president on this?

SHALALA: I sense Democrats want to get the government open. 14,000 people in Florida are federal employees. Look, a quarter of the people in my district get food stamps, will run out of food stamp money at the end of the money.

The president is holding hostage federal workers, people that get food stamps, people that get tax refunds, 500,000 people in my district alone, 70% of the people who pay taxes are going to get tax refunds, but only if we get the government open. So this hostage crisis is manmade by President Trump. It has to stop. And we have to get the government open.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. You've heard the president, you've heard his advisers. We heard the vice president again this morning sharing misleading, sometimes flat-out false claims to justify a border wall. Now the president will have the nation's ear tonight in his first Oval Office address. Are you concerned that the president will lie tonight to justify his border wall?

SHALALA: Well, look, he has been consistent in misleading all of us about the border wall. But this is about opening the government. We should not be holding federal workers, their families, the people that run the businesses in our community where they spend money, hostage. And we should not be holding poor children, low income working families, the elderly hostage.

And we should not be withdrawing food stamps and food from their mouths, which is exactly what is going to happen if this crisis continues until the end of the month. Tax refunds are critical in my district. And 70% of the people in my district get tax refunds. I want them to get those tax refunds. So let's talk about opening the government. We believe in secure borders, but we want the government open.

SCIUTTO: But let me ask you about that, because Democrats have in the past approved far more funding for a barrier, a wall at the border, up to $25 billion in a larger package, admittedly. But now Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is saying not a dollar to the president for the border wall. Do Democrats risk being portrayed as playing politics here as well like the president?

SHALALA: Absolutely not. We passed the bills that the Senate passed in the last term. We deliberately - and we're going to do it again this week, the appropriations bills that would open the government. We believe in safe borders.

Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Schumer are prepared to sit down with the president. But let's get the government open. This is ridiculous to hold the government and government workers hostage while we discuss how much money for a border wall.

SCIUTTO: What if the president tonight declares a national emergency as a way out for him politically but also to reopen the government? Would you accept that as an acceptable conclusion to this, taking the rare step of declaring a national emergency here, in effect, bypassing Congress to get that money?

SHALALA: Absolutely not. It's illegal, frankly. Look, the national emergency is not keeping the government open. It's irresponsible not to keep the government open and to be holding federal workers hostage and a whole generation of people who get food stamps, who need those food stamps, hostage.

And frankly, to tell the people in my district, 500,000 people, that they are not going to get their tax refunds. They depend on those tax refunds in the same way the federal workers depend on their paychecks. So let's get the government open and then we can talk about border walls.


SCIUTTO: I should note on that that it appears the president is changing the rules so folks can get their tax refunds. I do want to move on, though, to 2020 - SHALALA: That's not true because -

SCIUTTO: It won't work?

SHALALA: Because only 15% of the IRS workers are now in their offices. There is no way to get those tax refunds out with such a small number of employees.

SCIUTTO: I see. I see. Let me ask you, if I can, about 2020. As you know, a number of your colleagues, folks I imagine you know well on the Democratic side, have either thrown their hat into the ring or are close to doing it or considering doing it. I had Democratic Senator Joe Manchin on in the last hour.

And he said that Democratic voters in West Virginia, at least, will reject an extremist candidate, someone from the far left of the party and made the point that that would not be the best chance for democrats in 2020. I wonder if you agree, that to win in 2020 Democrats would be better off choosing a moderate than someone such as Elizabeth Warren from the left-wing of the party?

SHALALA: Look, we are going to have a free for all in terms of so many candidates running for president. I trust the American people. In particular, I trust the Democratic primaries to come out with a candidate that can beat Donald Trump, that can win back the White House so that we don't go through these terrible periods when we withhold food from children's mouths and create an artificial crisis on the border that is absolutely unnecessary.

We need responsible government. And that's what Democrats intend to do in that presidential election to talk about responsible government and about the things that are going on that clearly are changing the course of a country that we love.

SCIUTTO: Congresswoman Donna Shalala, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

SHALALA: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Still to come, we have new details about a potential second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Has North Korea earned the right to a second face-to-face meeting with the U.S. president?

Plus, more than a million ex-felons in Florida are getting back their right to vote. We are talking to the man who led that charge.


SCIUTTO: For the first time in his presidency, President Trump will deliver a primetime address from the Oval Office. He will focus tonight on border security and follow up with a visit to the southern border in two days. It's a make or break moment for the White House. His allies warn that his immigration message is not resonating. But will tonight's address help his cause or could it hurt it? Joining me now, CNN political commentator Alice Stewart, Republican

strategist, and CNN political commentator Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, a political action committee that formed out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Thanks to both of you for joining me this morning.

Alice, if I can begin with you, as you know, the president and his advisers have repeated a number of specious claims, statistics, many of which have been debunked. One of which was that there was a crisis at the border.

And I just want to show what the actual border number crossings are, just to remind folks. They are down to a fraction of where they were in 2000 and several years ago. If, Alice Stewart, there's truly a crisis, why does the Trump administration have to keep using figures that are repeatedly debunked?

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's a good question. I mean the facts should speak for themselves if this is such a crisis. And look, is this an issue of national interest? Yes. Is it an interest of national security? Yes. Is it an issue of national emergency? I don't think so. And if it was, it would have been two years ago when he took office and he should have done something over the last two years with Republicans in control of the House and the Senate.

Look, this is something that needs to get done for him. He made an important campaign promise on this and in large part won over his base by promising to build a wall that Mexico will pay for. But at this stage of the game, there is not enough support with - amongst Democrats to make this happen.

So he needs, in my view, broaden the message and not just make this about a wall, make this about a national security issue and stress, what I think is another important component of this, is the humanitarian aspect that should be weaved into this and law enforcement on the border, hiring more judges and also making this a broader national security issue and not just about his wall.

SCIUTTO: Nina, is it a national security issue? Is it a national security crisis?

NINA TURNER, (D) FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: Well, this certainly is not, Jim. And the president made promises based on lies. How do you know when President Donald Trump is lying? When his lips are moving. He is the ultimate lying king. It is truly unfortunate that he has duped his supporters.

I mean, Jim, the facts point to if he wants to deal with illegal immigration and the crisis in this country, then let's deal with comprehensive immigration reform, let's do things to beef up the security at the airport, for example. But he doesn't care. Vice President Pence is out there repeating his lies, so all the president's men are out there lying and women, too.

We do have a national crisis in this country. It's called clean water. Hello, Flint. Hello, Toledo, Ohio. Hello, Ames, Iowa. We have a good jobs crisis, as coined by former Labor Secretary Robert Rice. We have an infrastructure crisis in this country. We have a healthcare crisis in this country.

So there are plenty of things that this president could be using the power of his office to lift and to do and to make the change. But what does he do? He's sitting up here propping up his lies to sit up there and stir up anger and animus among his supporters. This wall is unpopular with the American people. But you think this president cares? No. He doesn't give - he doesn't care.


SCIUTTO: Alice Stewart, there was talk of some breaks within the president's own party here. You've heard, as you often do, not exactly highly critical language from Republican lawmakers but questions about how far the president is pushing this. And others have come out more directly, Susan Collins, Thom Tillis, to reopen the government here. You speak to a lot of Republicans. Do you sense widespread concern about the president's stand here?

STEWART: It's not widespread, Jim, but what I am hearing in talking with folks is that many Republicans do want to see some progress with regard to reopening the government. And certainly, when the first round of paychecks are not dropped in people's mailboxes they are going to be hearing from their constituents.

So Republicans are making their own way with regard to trying to make headway in siding with the Democrats on reopening the government. But overall, the ones that I'm speaking with with regard to the actual building the wall and following through on this campaign promise, they are lock-step (ph) with this president on following through on that commitment. They think that is an important campaign promise, it's something that their constituents support.

But right now there is not overwhelming unified consensus by Republicans to sacrifice shutting down - partial government shutdown in order to fund this wall. So I think tonight's message will be critical and hopes of moving the public needle and getting support for this wall and ultimately reopening the government, which is what all Americans want.


SCIUTTO: I was going to ask you what the dangers are for Democrats here, right? Because, yes, they were elected in what was a pretty big victory in the House to check this president, but also to deliver on an agenda. Democrats have an ambitious agenda in Congress on voting rights, on opioids that are threatened to be hijacked by this. Are you worried that Democratic lawmakers will suffer politically, as well, for digging their heels in so much here?

TURNER: Jim, I'm more worried about the 800,000 folks and their families that are suffering in this country. And the last time I checked, these Republican representatives, whether they are in the Senate or the House, that are siding with the president on this, the last time I checked, some of these 800,000 folks are their own constituents.

I had the opportunity yesterday to ride - I took an Uber ride in yesterday - and to talk to someone who actually works for the federal government, who expressed the hurt - said it was hurtful that this president would use them as pawns and not care whether or not they can pay their bills.

And it's not even just about them paying their bills. Having the conversation about their healthcare premiums not being paid. So this person drives Uber part-time, now finds themselves having to drive it full-time. So this is about those 800,000 federal employees and the people that they love and they have to support. That is our first, second, third, fourth, and fifth concern.

And so this congress needs to step up. None of them should get paid right now as long as those federal employees are not getting paid. This is scandalous, Jim. It is a sin and it is a shame and it is immoral. And not only should this president get this right, we need to stop passing budgets, Jim, by continuing resolution. But that is a story for another time.

SCIUTTO: That's a - yes - maybe in another lifetime. Alice Stewart, I wonder if I can ask you this, because big picture, this seems to be a broader strategy by the president here. Not a lot of interest in governing or legislative strategy or even foreign policy strategy, but just kind of hitting notes, political notes that he believes resonates with the base, whether it's the wall or withdrawing troops from Syria summarily (ph), which he's now backed off on. Do you see a strategy for governing here or just a strategy for reelection?

STEWART: Well, clearly, we are getting closer to 2020 and that is a concern for him and everyone else that is up on the ticket in 2020. A lot of these senators included. But at the end of the day, this president certainly campaigned on this issue, border security and building the wall, and it has not gotten accomplished. And his base and certainly we know conservative talk show hosts are starting to hold his feet to the fire for let's get some wins in the books for when you are running for office. And that's a critical component of this.

Look, he has had tremendous success certainly with a lot of the Supreme Court justices, reducing federal government regulations, unemployment rate at 50-year lows. He's got tremendous successes that he can hang his hat on. But his signature campaign issue on the border, he needs to make some progress on that. And he feels this is the best way to go about doing it is by shutting down the government and making this a priority and a call to action.

SCIUTTO: Well we should note, he supported the bills until he got calls from Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, et cetera.

TURNER: Hello (ph).


SCIUTTO: That appears to be where it's coming from. Alice Stewart, Nina Turner, thanks very much.

STEWART: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is missing her second straight day of oral arguments. She continues to recover from surgery to remove two cancerous nodules from her lung. Like yesterday, Justice Ginsberg will be able to vote on the case after reviewing written transcripts of the arguments before the court.

CNN learns that the administration is looking for a location now for another Trump/Kim summit. But should there be one at all? What progress did they make after the last one on that key issue of denuclearization? The short answer is not a lot.