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U.S. Servicemembers Killed in Possibly Suicide Blast in Syria; White House Reacts to U.S. Servicemember Deaths in Syria; Pence: ISIS Defeated, Caliphate Destroyed; Pelosi to Trump: Delay State of the Union During Shutdown; Private Businesses Step Up to Help During Shutdown; U.S. Coast Guard Not Being Paid During Shutdown. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired January 16, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

We start with breaking news this morning. American servicemembers on patrol in Syria killed in a possible suicide blast claimed by ISIS.

I want to warn you the video we're about to show is horrifying.

It happened in the northern town of Manbij near the Turkish border. There's surveillance video of the moment before the explosion. You see a busy market area, people walking down the sidewalk, including what appears to be a young boy walking into frame. Then the sidewalk explodes.

ISIS is claiming responsibility. In claiming responsibility says that a suicide bomber carried out the attack. But the spokesman for the U.S. fight against ISIS says they are still gathering information as we speak. Although, we have yet to confirm the exact number of casualties, but we do know U.S. servicemembers are among the victims.

We'll cover this tragedy from the Pentagon to the White House.

But I want to begin in northern Syria, where CNN's Clarissa Ward is for us right now. She's joining me on the phone.

Clarissa, what are you hearing now?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Kate, we're hearing exactly what you just said, that a number of U.S. servicemen on regular patrol in the town of Manbij were killed by some kind of explosion. ISIS claiming responsibility for it. We were just in the town of Manbij, Kate, the day before yesterday. This is a town that was under is control until about September 2016, at which point the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or the SDF, took control of the city. We found the U.S. base right there on the outskirts of the city flying the U.S. flag. A number of U.S. servicemen are based there. There's also a regime and Russian presence just about 10 minutes away from the city. Listen, the difficulty you have with towns like Manbij is that even

when you clear them out, even when you talk back the territory, it is very difficult to deal with sleeper cells. We have been hearing from a number of commanders, Kurdish commanders and others, that this is the problem they're facing now on the ground in a lot of territory that they currently hold. The difficulty of trying to deal with the mentality of the people trying to root out those ISIS sleeper cells that tell exist there. Manbij is a town, Kate, of about 100,000 people. It's a large town. We were just by this explosion two days ago. It's a bustling street. There's a large market there. That makes it a very tough target for a group like ISIS, if it is confirmed that ISIS was responsible for this -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: So chilling to think you were there just two days ago.

Clarissa, thank you so much. We know that you're safe and careful, but now more than ever, please be careful, my friend. Thank you so very much.

Let's go to the White House where Abby Phillip is to get some reaction.

Abby, these will be the first deaths since the president announced the withdrawal about a month ago. Are you hearing anything from the White House yet about this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. This is a time of enormous turmoil in the president's policy toward Syria. This death comes at a really sensitive time when the White House is trying to sort out exactly what the process is going to be.

Shortly after the news of this death broke, we did get a statement from Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, saying not much, except that the president has been fully briefed. She said, "The president has been fully briefed and we will continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Syria."

For any specific questions she is directing you to the Department of Defense. But the Department of Defense is without a permanent leader now. The secretary of defense, James Mattis, left his post at the end of last year. It's now held by an acting secretary. But this is also coming at a time when President Trump -- and the reason for James Mattis's departure is this policy in Syria.

President Trump has been saying repeatedly that ISIS is defeated. Listen to what he said shortly after making this announcement that you would pull troops out of Syria.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them and we've beaten them badly. We've taken back the land and now it's time for our troops to come back home.


PHILLIP: A central disagreement with his military leaders was that claim. Is ISIS, in fact, defeated?

It seems the White House isn't backing down from that. Just minutes ago, Vice President Mike Pence is speaking at a conference right now. Shortly after this news broke, he said, repeated that ISIS has been defeated and the caliphate has been destroyed. There's no backtracking from the White House on that claim. Again, this death over in Syria really calls into question whether that is true and whether there are pockets, as the president was briefed in Iraq, not long ago, according to our sources. His military leaders told him when he visited Iraq that ISIS is not totally defeated, they are still a problem in the region. The question is, has that broken through to this administration. It seems this death will put a finer point on that situation on the ground in Syria -- Kate?

[11:05:23] BOLDUAN: The big question, what, if anything, does it do to the consideration of the withdrawal they are planning out right now.

Great to see you, Abby. Thank you so much.

Maybe much more to come from Abby. We'll keep posted.

Joining me now to discuss this is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He's also served in the Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently service in the Air National Guard.

Congressman, thank you for coming in.


BOLDUAN: We don't know all the details. Clarissa Ward is on the ground. She was there just two days ago in this very town where this explosion took place. We do know that American servicemembers have been killed and we know that the Pentagon is preparing to have to notify these families of the horrible news. What's your reaction right now?

KINZINGER: It's tragic. And our prayers go to the families sitting by on this pending notification. This is the mess of war, world terrorists. This is why people sign up to go destroy the people that would do stuff like this.

I think the message from this is we may have liberated territory that ISIS held, but ISIS and terrorism and radical jihadism is an idea that if you retreat from it, it will grow. You have to stay on the offense militarily. You also have need to stay on the offense of ideas. You to win the next generation of Muslims to understand that this is wrong so they can reject it within their own religion. Similar to how we won the Cold War. There was a military component, but there was a social component. That's how we're going to win here. Retreating from a fight against ISIS is only going to send the wrong message and pour fuel on the recruiting efforts of ISIS.

BOLDUAN: You heard Abby lay it out. We know what the president said back on December 19th. He said very clearly, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria." And Mike Pence saying ISIS has been defeated even today. This is one of the reasons why they have cited they are pulling troops out of Syria because they say they have defeated ISIS. It doesn't necessarily make it so, even though they may continue to say it. ISIS claimed responsibility here. Do you think this attack will convince the president to change course on the withdrawal?

KINZINGER: I don't know. I certainly hope so. I hope, through this terrible, tragic situation, he understands this is a terrorist group that he may want to leave but they're not going to quit the fight. There's always a saying in these groups that America has the watches, but we have the time. We'll never be defeated on the battlefield. Where we can be defeated is at our heart and our will. I wish people understood, this is going to be a long-term fight. This is probably going to take more decades, I hate to say it, not necessarily in Syria, but this fight so that we defeat them militarily but also they're rejected within their own ideology. But to retreat from that -- actually, if you're a recruiter for ISIS you say, look, they pushed back the caliphate but they left, we won. It's fire for more recruits in the future. It's not our choice whether or not to fight terrorism. That's decided for us. Our choice is where we fight them. I'd much rather fight them in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, than here at home.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, the president's announcement to withdraw troops from Syria, do you think that contributed to this attack today?

KINZINGER: No, I'm not going to say that. No. I do think the announcement to withdraw was wrong and it could have fueled ISIS recruiting efforts because they can say, look, we defeated the United States. But this was contributed by a very evil person or people with no regard for human life, that would do this against American soldiers, that would walk into cafes with innocent children and blow themselves up all in the name of what they think their god represents. This is a cancer that needs crushed. And it needs rejected within the ideology of Islam.

BOLDUAN: I do wonder your view on -- you say this is a boon for recruiting for ISIS, this announcement. Are U.S. troops less safe after the president has made this announcement? Before today, there has been only two U.S. deaths killed in action in Syria since the campaign began there in 2014/2015. Do you think we're going to see more of this now?

KINZINGER: I don't know. Again, I think to say yes or no is a leap but I don't know. And understand this. I do know this. I know when America retreats, chaos fills a vacuum. We were critical against President Obama for leaving Iraq. That's a debate we can have all the time. You have to maintain that same level of criticism then when it's the president that's of your party or anything else. This is a fight we have to lean forward on. The American troops are very, very able to defend themselves in a fair fight. But when you send somebody, whoever this terrible person was, to walk into a crowd and blow themselves up, that's a tough thing to defend against.

[11:10:21] BOLDUAN: I do wonder, Congressman, another one of the reasons the president cited getting troops out of Syria is he didn't want to have to make any more calls to the family members of those killed in action. That's exactly what the president is going to be preparing to do again right now. What's your message to the president right now?

KINZINGER: The message to the president is this: America doesn't retreat. When you sign up to be president, when you run for it and swear in as president, you take on the mantle of having to do tough things like this. You will make decisions that will get Americans killed or injured. You will have to make these call calls. That's what happens when you live in a fallen world and you're the greatest country in the world that's the target of these people. I couldn't even imagine having to do that part of the job, but it's what you sign up for.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you so much for coming in. Again, thank you, always, for your service.

KINZINGER: Any time. Take care.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, the record-breaking government shutdown is taking a growing toll on Americans coast to coast now. Airports in disarray, U.S. servicemembers are now going unpaid. And the White House says it could get a lot worse.

Plus, can the government shutdown shut down the State of the Union? That might be what happens. What Nancy Pelosi is asking for right now. That's coming up.


[11:15:54] BOLDUAN: The government shutdown enters day 26. Now could the State of the Union address be the latest thing on the chopping block? A short time ago, we learned that speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is asking the president to postpone his planned address to Congress scheduled for the end of this month. Minutes ago, the speaker said, with this, she is not playing politics.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is a housekeeping matter in the Congress of the United States so we can honor the responsibility of the invitation we extended to the president. He can make it from the Oval Office.


BOLDUAN: CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, following this on Capitol Hill.

Phil, this is a little bit of a surprise today. What are you hearing about this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The rationale is that both the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service, who are crucial players in the security effort, which is bringing the full government to bear given the sheer number of VIPs and top-level officials in the building for an address, those two agencies are currently not being funded. The workers are either furloughed or they're working without pay. Because of those restraints, Speaker Pelosi is saying it should be pushed off.

Here's a key point on this right now, obviously, twofold. One, the president has been planning, we're told, that the speech writers working on this speech, if the government shutdown is still shut down, are planning on taking this mantle and making it a major push to fund the border wall and kind of lay it all out there about why they believe Democrats are in the wrong. So there's some politics behind this two while the speaker isn't saying so.

But another key point that need to be kept in mind is that Speaker Pelosi is the one who decides this. This isn't so much as ask as it is a tell. The speaker invites the president. Yes, they agreed on the date of January 29th. In order for a State of the Union to occur, particularly in a joint session in Congress, both the Senate and the House need to pass resolutions to give it a green light. As of this moment, the Senate and the House have not done that. Speaker Pelosi has a lot of say on what passes on the floor. She can control whether or not this happens. We'll have to see how the White House reacts.

But more broadly, all this underscores is, right now, nobody's seeing an end to the shutdown at any point in the near future. Leaders haven't spoken. This is the first communication between Democratic leaders and the White House in more than a week at this point. Over in the Senate -- Kate, you are familiar with how gangs work in the Senate. Often, they get together. Very not often are they successful. Right now, the gang of bipartisan Senators has put together a draft letter circulating amongst the people that have been meeting or met once up to this point. Inside that letter, it says, quote, "We respectfully request that you join us in supporting a short-term continuing resolution of three weeks to give Congress time to develop and vote on a bipartisan agreement that addresses your request."

That draft letter was addressed to the president. It's still unclear, A, how many people will sign it and, B, whether it gets sent at all. At this point, I'm told, there's no newly scheduled meeting of this group to meet. But also note, of the section I just read, the idea of a short-term C.R., a continuing resolution for keeping government at current funding levels for the 25 percent that's not funded, has been proposed to the president both by Democrats and by Senator Lindsey Graham. As to the circulation of this letter, it has been rejected several times. It's unclear why anybody thinks this is going to shift and the president is going to shift.

Sources that I'm talking to that are involved with this group of Senators don't have a lot of optimism right now. But people are talking and that's better than people not talking. Whether or not that leads to anything, I think, is still very much an open question -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Things can change quickly, especially if they get some Democrats to sign onto this, then you have Democrats on the record saying we're willing to go through regular order and have a conversation and debate this, which would include a conversation about the border wall. So that could be something that might tip the scales.

But I do -- so you, of course, were spot on. When it comes to the letter from Nancy Pelosi to Donald Trump, she says that she suggests that they work together to find another date. But as you're laying out, she's not suggesting. She's telling him.

MATTINGLY: Can you replay the part where you said I'm spot on again?


BOLDUAN: Never again. No.

[11:19:58] MATTINGLY: I think that's a good point. This is an initial offer saying, look, we can work together to change the date until after the shutdown, or as she proposed, you can submit it in writing, which, historically, for a period of time, was something presidents did for the State of the Union, then we can work together and get that done. But she is the ultimate decider on this. She is the one who will decide whether or not a joint session of Congress will occur for a State of the Union.


BOLDUAN: So, Phil --


MATTINGLY: If she decides not to, it won't happen.

BOLDUAN: Is it wrong to say that Nancy Pelosi has said the State of the Union address, in the form that we know it, it's off?

MATTINGLY: I think that's fair at this moment. The initial entreaty was, hey, let's work together and try and figure out a new date. But if she sticks to this. Now, to your point, things can happen fast. Nothing has been happening for so long that perhaps this jars something back to the table, perhaps this is a mechanism people use to start talking again. Perhaps the White House uses this as a point to fight even further. We don't know what's going to happen next on this. But, yes, at this moment, I would say, if you're planning on spending the night in the capital in January 29th, you're probably not going to see a State of the Union address, at least not live on the House floor.

BOLDUAN: No one's planning to do that other than you. I'm just saying.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you.

Yes. The Senate and the House are still (INAUDIBLE)

Great to see you.

MATTINGLY: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Coming up, the president's top economic advisor has a new warning on how the shutdown is hurting the U.S. economy. It's bad. But how bad is it going to get? That's next.


[11:26:07] BOLDUAN: Moments from now, at the White House, President Trump will be meeting with a group of lawmakers in search of an end to the partial government shutdown. There's a big elephant in the room today. The White House economists now believe that the shutdown will be twice as bad for the economy than they originally predicted. The situation grows more dire with each passing day as the longest government shutdown in history enters its 16th day. According to the "New York Times" the administration calculate that is the shutdown reduces quarterly economic growth by .13 percent for every week that it goes on. So far, that means nearly half a percentage point of lost growth.

And it is affecting real people in a very real way. The IRS is officially now calling 36,000 furloughed workers back to work to process tax filings and refunds. But again, those workers still aren't going to get paid while they're doing this work.

That's also the case for 40,000 active-duty members of the Coast Guard. It's believed to be the first time in U.S. history that any members of the U.S. military have gone unpaid during a shutdown.

Let's talk more about the real-world impact. Jessica Dean and Rosa Flores are following all of this for us.

First, Jessica, in Washington.

Jessica, it sounds like private businesses, in the face of the shutdown, private businesses are starting to step up to help. What are you learning?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Kate. What's important to remember is this is happening all across the nation. We happen to be in Washington, D.C., right now. What we're seeing is renowned chef, Jose Andres, opening up this restaurant, a popup of sorts, for any federal worker in the area. Any federal worker can show their I.D. and get a free hot lunch or dinner. They also have meals to take home to their families. They said they're expecting to serve at least a couple thousand meals just today. Andres is known for going to disaster zones, Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires. When he announced this was opening, he said this is a disaster of a different kind but it is a disaster, and they want, in his words, he wants to do something about it. Inside, they're serving those hot meals.

I also found out this doesn't work without volunteers. A lot of the furloughed workers are the ones inside cooking up these meals as their colleagues come through the line to get a hot meal. It is Washington, D.C. But we have seen Coast Guard members in Ohio, who are baking bread because they don't want to buy bread. We've been talking to people who are now thinking about getting a second job. These are very real impacts for people's bottom lines. It's the uncertainty. These people don't know when they're going to get a paycheck again. It's one thing to plan for that. It's another thing to know that it has no end in sight.

So here in Washington, this is what's being done. We've also heard in other parts of the country, Kate, that different restaurants are offering free meals for people with federal I.D.s and their families.

BOLDUAN: Jessica, thank you so much.

Let's go from Washington -- Jessica mentioned the Coast Guard. Let's go to Miami where Rosa is.

Rosa, what are you learning about the impact on the Coast Guard specifically and why they're not getting paid?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, there's a lot of frustration. Families trying to scramble to make ends meet. But it's important to point out the service that these men and women do. These brave men and women stop drug traffickers and human smugglers coming from Central and South America. They patrol our ports. During hurricane season, these are the men and women that rush to rising waters and conduct dramatic rescues to take people to safety.

Instead of getting paid yesterday, they actually received notice. Here is part of what that notice said. Quote, "Today you will not be receiving your regularly scheduled paycheck. To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our nation's history that servicemembers in a U.S. armed force have not been paid during a lapse in appropriations."

Nearly 42,000 U.S. Coast Guard personnel are also active-duty military.