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Republican Party Embroiled in Racial Controversy; Some Republicans Urging Trump to Declare National Emergency to Build Border Wall; McConnell Left D.C. with Shutdown on Track to Become Longest Ever; D.C.'s Deadlock Hits Utah Town with 5K Furloughed Federal Workers. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 11, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's a wall now separating hundreds of thousands of Americans who work for the federal government from their paychecks.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Zero for the wall, 0.00 for nearly a million federal workers and contractors missing their first paychecks today, as President Trump adds longest shut down in American history to his resume.

He's the GOP lawmaker who once compared migrants at the border to livestock and immigrants to dirt. Today, Democrats and Republicans are slamming Congressman Steve King for new comments embracing the term white supremacist. But will he face any real punishment?

Plus, one of the people who found her said it was like seeing a ghost. A 13-year-old girl missing since actually sober after her parents were murdered is found alive. What we're learning now about her daring escape.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead, day 21 of the federal government partial shutdown, now tied with the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

It is a complete and utter failure of one of the government's most basic responsibilities, because today, for nearly one million Americans, FBI agents and Border Patrol officials, doctors trying to cure diseases, inspectors trying to keep your food safe, today is payday without any pay -- 0.00 is the amount federal workers who are either furloughed or still working without compensation are seeing on their paychecks today.

This is the paycheck of William Striffler. He's an air traffic controller at Newark Airport in New Jersey. He worked 64 hours this pay period. His wife is pregnant with their first child. It's a baby girl due next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM STRIFFLER, FEDERAL EMPLOYEE: This should be one of the happiest moments of our lives. And we have this hanging overhead, and it's really an unfortunate situation to have to worry about that.


TAPPER: The effects can be felt across the nation.

Miami International Airport will begin closing a terminal early because of a shortage of TSA agents. A spokesman for the airport saying that federal screeners are calling in sick at double the normal rate.

That's a story first reported by CNN, and falsely and, frankly, immaturely, attacked by the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security and then retweeted by President Trump.

Tampa International Airport is starting a food bank for the roughly 700 government employees who work there. And "The Washington Post" reported on a tip sheet provided for Coast Guard employees to get by without pay. The sheet says they should consider holding a garage sale or baby-sitting, dog-walking or serving as a mystery shopper.

Bankruptcy is a last option, the document advised. And while federal employees such as William Striffler work without paying, the elected officials responsible for the shutdown are being paid without work.

At 2:00 p.m. today, the Senate adjourned for the weekend. A short time later, the House adjourned as well. President Trump had not one sympathetic word today for the employees of the organization he heads, the federal government, getting all those 0.00 checks today.

But the president has been tweeting about the reason he will not sign a government spending bill, tweeting in part -- quote -- "The steel barrier or wall should have been built by previous administrations long ago. They never got it done. I will."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us now.

Kaitlan, yesterday, the president said he would almost definitely declare a national emergency. It sounds like he's backed off that a bit?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he just held an immigration roundtable here at the White House. And he said he's not going to declare a national emergency right now.

That seems to reverse days of what the president has said, signaling that he would in fact declare a national emergency, and not just his remarks, but also White House aides who have been exploring ways to get funding to build that border wall if he did declare a national emergency, and also the White House legal team prepping a legal defense for if they did do so, since it likely would have gone to court.

Now, right now, the president is saying he's not going to declare a national emergency. But, Jake, he left room open to do so.


COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump backing off his threat to declare a national emergency to fund his border wall today.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we're not looking to do right now is national emergency.

COLLINS: The president making that comment during an immigration roundtable at the White House after warnings that he would likely set off a firestorm of critics if he bypassed Congress to build his signature campaign promise, though Trump still maintains he can if he wants to.

TRUMP: I have the absolute right to do it.

COLLINS: Washington is in a deadlock 21 days into the government shutdown and the White House has started exploring ways to pay for the wall without Congress, after talks with Democrats went nowhere.

TRUMP: The only way you're going to stop it, only way to stop it, without question, is with a very powerful wall or steel barrier.


COLLINS: Despite warnings Trump could face a lengthy legal battle if he did use his emergency powers, Senator Lindsey Graham urged him to do so after their meeting today, tweeting: "Democrats don't want to make a deal and will never support a border wall. Mr. President, declare a national emergency now. Build a wall now."

That comment despite Graham saying last week a national emergency was a -- quote -- "fallback position," but not all Republicans are on board, including Senator Chuck Grassley, who said: "The president should not do it. I think it might be a bad precedent."

This as Vice President Mike Pence, who was led shutdown negotiations on Capitol Hill, paid a visit to the Customs and Border Protection headquarters today.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I also know that we do this in the midst of a partial government shutdown. That's no doubt created anxiety for families that are gathered here today.

COLLINS: Making this pledge to the border agents who aren't getting paid:

PENCE: This president and this administration will keep fighting to build the wall and give you the resources and reforms you need to do your job. That's my promise.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, the president also-called on Democrats to come back and vote, even though there's nothing for them to vote on because the White House and Democrats can't come to an agreement and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said he will not bring a vote to the floor unless it's a deal that the president himself has endorsed -- Jake.

TAPPER: all right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you so much.

My panel is with me.

It sounds, Kirsten, like the president is even ramping up the rhetoric. He's backed off maybe a little on the national emergency. But today he called the invasion -- he called the situation on the southern border an invasion. It seems like it's getting even more fraught, even more intense.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's really -- it's really hard to see how this is going to end.

I think that he originally didn't want to do this and got pushed into it by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. And now he seems to be all in on it, because he's not willing to go against his base, despite the fact that a lot of people are suffering, and that despite all the claims that our economy is so amazing, a lot of Americans still live paycheck to paycheck.

And you were just talking about what's happening in Tampa. And that's the truth of a lot of people. So I think that -- and then I think that the second part that's so troubling is that he's making up things about what's happening at the border. There's no invasion.

I mean, we were told we were being invaded by a caravan. And we were never invaded by a caravan. We were told we were going to get diseases from children, unaccompanied children. We never got diseases from unaccompanied children.

So he's just doubling down on this and calling it a crisis, when there just is no crisis. It's a crisis he created.

TAPPER: You disagree?

ALFONSO AGUILAR, FORMER CHIEF, U.S. OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP: Well, certainly, there is a crisis. The problem is that president is not very good at articulating his point and using factual information.

I agree that disease is not a concern, or there's no link between illegal entry and a rise in crime. Those are false arguments. But we have over 300,000 people detained at the border last year. That's a large number of people. That's a huge burden for the Border Patrol.

We have an incredible increase in asylum petitions. That overburdens administrative immigration judges. And, finally, the bulk of opioids are coming through the southern border. If he were to stick to the facts, I think, and use a less toxic narrative, I think he would be in a better position to show that defending the wall is not unreasonable.

In fact, a lot of Border Patrol officials and former officials, the former Border Patrol chief under the Obama administration believes in strategic fencing. There should not be a huge debate.

The president has made it a debate, a huge debate, because of the way he talks and because he uses some facts that are just not true.

TAPPER: Yes. Just to give one more -- one point of fact and to offer some clarity here, of the narcotics coming over the southern border, most of them, a majority of them are coming through legal ports of entry, through -- not being smuggled across between fences.

That's not to say it's not a problem, but a wall wouldn't necessarily solve the problem.

AGUILAR: Right. Well, but it overburdens the -- you already have a Border Patrol that is overburdened.

If they have also to think of undocumented immigrants or immigrants trying to enter irregularly through other parts of the border, that's a problem.



SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what -- I'm just -- I'm still unclear about what the wall would do.

And I think the majority of American people are unclear about what would the wall would do, which is why they do not support the building of a wall. I think this talking point about how the border is -- the Border Patrol agents are overwhelmed, and there's an increase in asylum seekers, I want to reiterate, it is not illegal to seek asylum in this country.

The way to seek asylum in America is to present yourself at ports of entry. And just a month ago, the Trump administration shut down the most -- the busiest port of entry in our hemisphere because they didn't want to process the asylum seekers.


And so, yes, there is crisis at the border, a crisis that the Trump administration created, because they did not want to process asylum seekers.

AGUILAR: Let me correct you on the law.

The law actually allows you, if you're going to petition asylum, to enter, not only through ports of entry, through anywhere.


SANDERS: The Trump administration has said you have to enter through ports of entry.

So, again, it is confusing for folks. And so now we have today folks are not getting their paychecks. There are more than a few people in this country who live paycheck to paycheck. The American people do not support the building of this wall.

And I think it's time for the Trump administration take some responsibility over the government.


AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there's two big questions. Where is the urgency from Congress, number one? They're gone. They took early Friday off. They're going home, which I think is kind of incredible, because I think Speaker Pelosi would have a huge opportunity, given the energy of the freshman class, to stay and camp out over the weekend and say, we're ready to vote.

Mitch McConnell where are you? There's tremendous political opportunity. But then from the White House, where are the specifics? If you want to get something done, I'm still unclear what he wants.

The 700-mile wall is not going to happen. He should pick an area, a highly trafficked area where a fence can make a difference. Use the San Diego fence as an example of an effective wall that works. Yes, it needs to be repaired some areas.

But he really needs to get specific about what he's asking for. But while everyone's talking past each other, Congress is going home and Trump doesn't have a clear ask, nothing's going to happen.

SANDERS: But this is only Donald Trump's fault.

This is not a both sides-ism, everyone needs to do their part. Congress did their part. Nancy Pelosi passed the Republican appropriations bill. It's Mitch McConnell who needs...


TAPPER: Senate Republicans did pass the government funding bill.


AGUILAR: Both sides are entrenched. Both sides have to be flexible.

SANDERS: No. The American people don't want the wall. What are we being flexible for?


AGUILAR: And you have experts saying that the wall works.

SANDERS: What wall?


SANDERS: Are we talking about fencing, or we talking about the "Game of Thrones"-style wall Donald Trump keeps talking about on Instagram?

AGUILAR: Those are talking points. Look, we can disagree.


AGUILAR: I understand if -- it takes two to tango.


POWERS: No, can we clarify what he's done?

He shut down the government because he couldn't get what he wanted, OK? I mean, that's what happened.

And we have to always go back -- and I'm saying this on every show. What he originally promised to do was negotiate with Mexico -- or get Mexico to pay for it.


POWERS: And so he wasn't he wasn't able to do that. He wasn't able to fulfill that promise.

AGUILAR: I agree. I agree.

POWERS: And so then because he wasn't able to fulfill that promise, he came back and he demanded that the Democrats agree to this.

So he's the one who shut down the government. The Democrats were never going to support this wall.


AGUILAR: I agree with all those points. But I think if you get to this point, Democrats, for the good of the country, have to be willing to negotiate.

And they're saying, we're not going to negotiate, period.


SANDERS: ... support that the American people do not support, opening up the government.

Previous polls, 57 percent of Americans do not support shutting down the government for the wall. And new polling out from Priorities USA says that more than 70 percent...


POWERS: It's also rewarding really bad behavior.


AGUILAR: The way forward should be to consider funding for the wall and also at the same time...


TAPPER: The one thing that's clearly true is that there remains -- and this has been the case for decades now -- an immigration -- a comprehensive immigration bill that could be done and could pass.

And this president, probably more than any president, in the only Nixon can go to China kind of way, could sign it, and we could move on.

But he won't do it.

POWERS: I actually disagree that it could pass.

I think that -- I don't -- first of all, even if President Trump wanted to do it, this has never...


AGUILAR: Democrats will never get it done.


POWERS: No, that's actually not what I was going to say.

They actually have never -- Democrats have been the leaders on immigration reform, and they have put forward bills. And they have never been able to get Republicans to agree to anything.


TAPPER: Just finish up.

POWERS: Seriously.


POWERS: The point is -- OK.


POWERS: I don't even remember what I was saying.


TAPPER: I think you were saying that it couldn't pass. Why could it not pass?

POWERS: Yes, I'm just saying because it's been repeatedly tried to pass over and over and over. And we are now in a 10 times more toxic environment than we have ever been before.

So if it couldn't have passed before, I don't see why it would pass now, I mean, especially because I think the Republican Party has moved so far to the right on immigration. And I think Democrats have moved very much to the left on immigration. And so they're even further apart than they have ever been.

TAPPER: So, we're going to keep talking about this. Everyone, stick around.

Stiffed by the shutdown, real people with real bills, gas tanks and dinner tables to fill, where's Congress?

Then, we're waiting for another update on the unbelievable reappearance of Jayme Closs, a 13-year-old girl who went missing for months after her parents were murdered, and reappeared alive -- what we're learning about her daring escape.


Stay with us.


TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is already headed home to Kentucky even though federal workers missed their first paycheck today. Now, remember, this is the same guy who said in 2014, he is the person who gets the United States out of shutdowns.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill.

Phil, it's almost as if from the outside it seems that McConnell's going out of his way to stay out of the fight.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's conspicuously absent, which is amazing considering he was central to so many deals on fiscal cliffs, on shutdowns during the Obama administration and the reason why, at least as far as I'm told by his advisors is really threefold.

First and foremost, he believes this is a negotiation between Democrats and the president. The president is leading Republicans on him on this. He's going to let the president lead.

The second is because remember, Mitch McConnell put a bill on the floor to keep the government open one that was unanimously passed in the Senate, that they understood the president would eventually sign that the president decided not to sign.

[16:20:00] So to some degree, there's an element of being burned here.

And the third and I think this is important one is he's also reflecting his conference. Look, Republicans are frustrated. They've been skittish. But the vast majority of Senate Republicans don't want to do anything to buck the president. As long as that's the case, McConnell is not going to go out of his way to do that either.

That being said, as you noted, the Senate is adjourned. The House is adjourned. Lawmakers are more or less gone from the Capitol at this point in time, and there's a level of frustration amongst the rank- and-file.

Take a listen to what Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I'm a little bit frustrated though. Wednesday or Thursday, yesterday afternoon at 1:45, we had our last vote and folks pretty much skedaddled for the airport.


MATTINGLY: Jake, the impasse is just real right now. There is no sign of any movement going anywhere whether lawmakers are in town or out of town, everything is frozen and that looks like it's going to be the way it is regardless of who's negotiating for the time being -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

Our national lead, the price tag going up every single day the shutdown goes on. In 2013, the shutdown cost American taxpayers $2.5 billion.

CNN's Tom Foreman did the math. That could have paid the salary of 1,400 teachers for 30 years, or 1,300 cops for three decades. It also could have put a good dent in the border wall funding President Trump is now demanding. But right now, no one is benefiting from the shutdown.

CNN's Scott McLean is in Ogden, Utah, where the shutdown is taking a toll across the entire city.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sign says it pays to live in Ogden -- just not these days. This panoramic former frontier town in Utah is caught in the middle of a partisan battle being waged in Washington. Ogden has one of the highest concentrations of federal workers in the west. Right now, it's hurting.

Whitney Snitchler is one of more than 5,000 federal workers affected in Ogden alone. Most worked for the IRS or the Forest Service, and most are furloughed but Snitchler is working without pay, no money but still bills to pay a gas tank to fill and two kids to feed.

WHITNEY SNITCHLER, FEDERAL WORKER: I don't think that we should be held captive like our paychecks should be held captive just because it's something that they need to like brawl out.

MCLEAN: With no money on the way, she plans to ask the bank for a loan and likely the food bank for help.

She's hardly alone. Local Catholic pantry says federal workers per day are now relying on its shelves for the first time.

LAURA THOMPSON, FEDERAL WORKER: I've never done this before.

MCLEAN: Laura Thompson is a longtime federal worker who never imagined she would be here.

THOMPSON: I pay my taxes. I do what I'm supposed to do. I shouldn't have to be without a job.

MCLEAN: With her savings already gone, she's registering with the food bank and lining up to the basics -- canned goods, bread and vegetables.

She voted for President Trump but not for this.

THOMPSON: I agree with the wall, but it shouldn't be on us federal workers' backs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not volunteers.

MCLEAN: Adding insult to injury, workers suddenly find themselves without pay in a city that's seen the cost of housing rise 69 percent in just the last five years.

MIKE CALDWELL, OGDEN MAYOR: The federal employees are part of the ecosystem that helps support all of these small business owners and shop workers.

MCLEAN (on camera): It's a ripple effect.

CALDWELL: Correct, absolutely right.

MCLEAN (voice-over): And those ripples are spreading. Ogden's main federal building sits smack in the middle of an historic downtown. It's now almost empty.

At this bookstore, the owner says sales are down by half and this restaurant has cut back its hours. Other restaurants are just scraping by.

Waitress Hollie Clavel has seen her lunchtime tips dropped by two- thirds since the shutdown started 21 days ago.

HOLLIE CLAVEL, WAITRESS: I have two penny pinched. I have to decide, you know, which bills are prioritize, you know, cut out all the extras.

OK, enjoy.

MCLEAN: President Trump has suggested workers are willing to sacrifice their pay to secure the border.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But this really does have a higher purpose than next week's pay.

MCLEAN: Clavel, an immigrant herself, agrees.

(on camera): Are you willing to sacrifice personally for it?

CLAVEL: I'm OK for the safety of this country to do what it needs to be done.

MCLEAN (voice-over): That view wasn't shared by furloughed workers protesting the shutdown in Ogden. Many say they're getting desperate. LYNN STRATTON, FEDERAL WORKER: I have enough for one more mortgage payment and I got to go to CarMax tomorrow and sell my car.

MCLEAN (on camera): You're going to sell your car?

STRATTON: I have to.

MCLEAN (voice-over): There's hardly consensus on who to blame for the shutdown, but there is on one thing.

STRATTON: We just want our jobs back and we want them to make it right now.


MCLEAN: Now, Lynn Stratton there wasn't able to sell her car this morning, so instead she asked the bank to defer her mortgage payment which it did.

Twenty-six hundred federal workers in Utah have applied for employment or unemployment insurance since the shutdown began in this country.

[16:25:00] The IRS is also planning to recall a significant portion of its workforce to process this year's tax refunds. That is actually though the worst case scenario for many of these employees because it means they won't be eligible for unemployment because they're working even if it is without pay -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Scott McLean in Ogden, Utah, thank you so much.

He's been making racist comments for years, but has he hit the tipping point? Are Republicans now actually going to stand up to Congressman Steve King?

Stay with us.