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Trump Writes Letter to Pelosi: I'm Cancelling Your Trip; Federal Employees Not Getting Paid During Shutdown Includes 550 Coast Guard Personnel. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And they're approved in a couple of different ways. Sometimes it's actually the congressional leadership that starts the process and says, this is a trip we want our members to go on. We want them to go to these countries abroad and meet with officials and meet with U.S. troops. If they're on the right committees that need to learn information in these areas, it's appropriate for them to go. In recent years, it's gotten a bit of a crackdown. They don't let congressional members go on some of these boondoggles, if they can catch them that is, of so many years ago where they would essentially, you know, go off on the government dime with government transportation to fancy places, perhaps in Europe or overseas, golf trips, that kind of thing. That doesn't happen very much anymore. There has to be a justification. So Speaker Pelosi and whatever members are traveling with her, you have to ask yourself, does the speaker of the House, in her position in the line of succession, have good reason to go to Afghanistan, to Egypt and Brussels? Perhaps Brussels being NATO headquarters is worth noting.

The president, as commander-in-chief, presumably can pick up the phone and say to the Air Force, don't give them an airplane. I can't see any reason why he couldn't. And even if he, you know, just had that order verbally saying, I don't want them to go, don't give them an airplane, I think you could presume that the Air Force is not going to challenge the commander-in-chief.

So I come back full circle. What the president is doing here is making a political partisan case, as he says in his letter, I think he calls it a public-relations event in his words. He's making that partisan political case again. He's not saying that the military air is not available for them. He's not saying the aircraft aren't available. He's not even saying the trip's not worthwhile given her position and her responsibilities. He's calling it a public-relations event. I suspect the troops in Afghanistan and the military families who have their troops in that war zone feel very differently about that.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Such a strong, such a strong point.

And I'm just wondering, as you and I are talking, do you think the folks in the Pentagon are -- do they get a heads up that -- of all of this? Do we know? Or are they learning as we're talking?

STARR: Let me be very candid with everyone, the Pentagon we're talking. I mean, this quite seriously. We're talking 20,000 people. So somebody knows.


BALDWIN: Somebody knows.

STARR: Yes. I mean that seriously. The military aircraft that carry congressional members around the world, most of the time, are based out of Joint Base Andrews here just in the suburbs of Washington where we see Air Force One often take off and land. So the Air Force, which runs that program essentially, they have a special headquarters over at Andrews that does the logistics and planning and they're very familiar with it. I suspect, at the highest levels of the Pentagon, there's some awareness of this.

But what we are seeing, time and again now, to be very blunt, are partisan decisions being made by the White House that do impact the military. And in the rank and file, you're beginning to see a lot of reaction. The question, so why is this happening. What's behind all of this? What's the president up to? What's he going to do next? I must tell you that, more and more, that's the conversation that you do hear in the Pentagon hallways.

BALDWIN: Barbara, thank you so much.

And just think of those -- you think of those troops who are there and you think of those military families and the fact that the president referred to a trip to Afghanistan as a public-relations event. I cannot imagine that is sitting well with them.

Barbara Starr, thank you. Stand by.

STARR: Sure.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger, I've still got you.

And, you know, this to me just exemplifies, both sides are digging in, the president saying this isn't going to end any time soon. Obviously he's so worried he doesn't get his money for his wall, I have to imagine he's thinking, pure politics.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: This is pure politics. And my producer is reminding me that the president went to Iraq early on in the shutdown, himself. A handful of days into the shutdown, so it's rich that he's telling Nancy Pelosi that she can't. And for all we know, by the way, she may be deciding or have decided that she wasn't going to go because we're in the middle of a shutdown here and that she needed to be back in Washington to negotiate. We just -- we have no idea because this is nothing that Pelosi would talk about publicly.

To get back to your question, this is politics. And was Nancy Pelosi -- let me just be fair here -- was Nancy Pelosi playing politics when she said to the president, sorry, you're not allowed to come up to the Hill to do the State of the Union because we're in a shutdown and --

(CROSSTAKL) [14:35:18] BORGER: Yes. She's stirring the pot there and she knew exactly what she was doing. And the White House was really quiet about it, which surprised everyone, and now they've, you know -- now they've just sent this -- this letter to her, this rocket to her, and so the ball's in her court. We'll have to see what she says. But while they volley back and forth, in the meantime, people like the one you're about to interview, people are struggling and this looks bad for everyone.

BALDWIN: Gloria, thank you.


BALDWIN: I have retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, who just hopped on the phone with me, a former spokesperson at the Pentagon and the State Department and can also just speak as a military veteran.

Admiral, when you first heard this news that the president is now informing the House speaker that her trips to Egypt, Brussels and specifically Afghanistan -- which our folks on Capitol Hill were surprised, this wasn't out there, the fact that she was going to this war zone -- it's has all been postponed and he referred to it as a public-relations event. What are you thinking?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST (via telephone): I have to pick up on what Gloria is suggesting. The denigration of this all into politics and that's really unfortunate because there are people who are really still serving our national security interests that are suffering here. I would never call a trip by congressional delegation to a war zone as a P.R. stunt. They go there because they need to understand the missions that they're funding and that they're sending their constituents off to fight. That's a real -- that's a -- that's an insult to call this a P.R. event. The president does have within his powers, he has the ability to cancel or curtail a congressional delegates' visit because they're using military access. But it's a stretch in this case to paint it on the shutdown and the cost incurred because, again, there's an enormous cost of putting troops in the field, deploying them and the cost of visiting them is not exorbitant.

BALDWIN: Can you also, Admiral, just talk about by outing or publicizing the fact that the House speaker and this congressional delegation have these plans to go to Afghanistan, to a war zone, and now that it's out there publicly, does that -- we don't know what her response will that even be, but how much does that put her and other members of Congress at risk?

KIRBY: It would have put them at greater risk if he hadn't canceled the trip. But since they're not going, there's no risk to them now because they're not doing it. It does speak, though, to Gloria's point of -- this entire shutdown and how inappropriate it is for him to simply curtail or cancel this just to get political points and that's unfortunate, because these visits are important and our congressional representatives have every right and every responsibility to go to these war zones and visit the troops. BALDWIN: When he ends this graph, when the president ends this,

Admiral, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.


KIRBY: That's an empty platitude. He knows darn well that you can't go visit the war zones on commercial. You can get only so far.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

KIRBY: But if you want to go into countries, you have to be -- to be transported by military means and, quite frankly, you need to be transported on the ground by military means and protected by military means. Like he was when he visited them in Iraq. It was physically impossible to make a trip like this to a war zone without the troops, without the support of the military, without the support of federal dollars.


BALDWIN: And he knows that? He was just in Iraq.


BALDWIN: He was just in Iraq.

KIRBY: Exactly. Exactly. Even though it took him a long time to get there, it's exactly right. That is a facetious and completely politicized comment.

BALDWIN: Admiral Kirby, thank you.

Gloria Borger, do you know any more about this trip?

BORGER: I do, and that's because of the great reporting of Jeremy Diamond, of our White House staff, who has spoken with the White House official who is telling him that Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to leave today, that she was scheduled to leave this afternoon. And, according to Jeremy's reporting, that the administration worked with the Air Force and the Department of Defense, and basically took away the rights to the plane from the speaker. And their argument is, that if she had traveled for a weekend, that it would have guaranteed that federal workers would not get a paycheck because effectively no deal could be reached without her. So it seems to me that this is the last-minute thing and that they're now trying to blame Nancy Pelosi for taking this trip to a war zone, which they are portraying as a vacation of some sort, to go to Afghanistan for, what, three days or four days, whatever it is, and that therefore the reason people remain out of work is because of her.

Again, to get back to why they're all in the sandbox theory, they are. Because that's what this is.

[14:40:50] BALDWIN: Gloria, stay with me.


BALDWIN: I've got former Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent on the phone with me.

Congressman, your reaction to this letter from the president of the United States.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (via telephone): Wow. These congressional delegations, I'm assuming that's what this is, this is a congressional delegation, called a CODEL, and Nancy Pelosi apparently was going to go on this and with military air. That is not uncommon. I have never heard of the executive branch canceling the plane in this manner. Now, I don't think the president should do that if that's what's, in

fact, happened. Nancy Pelosi could probably still go on this trip. She could fly commercial. I have flown commercial on CODELs myself. That's not the desired way to travel to Afghanistan, but potentially, she could, at least to Brussels and Egypt. It appears this is just simply a retaliatory move by the president because of Nancy Pelosi's sort of disinvitation for the State of the Union. And I don't think she should disinvite the president to the State of the Union, personally. She should let that go on. But at the same time, the president shouldn't cancel a military air flight at the last second like this.

BALDWIN: And what do you say, Congressman -- actually, it's sort of two-fold, one, to, you know, the brave members of the military who are in the thousands still in Afghanistan, their families back here at home as they hear the president refer to this as a public-relations event, A? B, when you think of the 800,000 federal workers who are still going to work and not getting paid and all their families who are dealing with all of that because of both parties, what's your message there?

DENT: Well, look, this shutdown should be ended immediately. They should reopen the government. That said, the president traveled during the shutdown. He went over to Iraq over the holidays, Christmas holidays, and Nancy Pelosi's traveling now to Afghanistan. I think the president and members of Congress should go to places like that where our troops are serving. But the bigger issue is, I am just alarmed by the lack of urgency that all parties seem to be engaged in this shutdown. I dealt with the 2013 shutdown that lasted for 16 days. I was parked in Washington every one of -- every second just to deal with that issue. I mean, there was a sense of urgency, almost a sense of panic among the members of Congress to get the government reopened. I just don't get that sense right now. And so for the 800,000 workers, I can see why they're very disappointed in the elected leadership. And many people around the world are watching what's happening right now and they see a crisis of political leadership in the United States and they're not always sure who to blame.

BALDWIN: So disappointing.

Congressman, I appreciate you hopping in on the phone. We're just trying to get reaction to all of this. If you're just joining us, we have just learned that it's the return volley essentially from yesterday as we were reporting that the House speaker essentially was saying -- she was telling, not asking the president to change the date for his State of the Union. It was supposed to be January 29th, but because of the government shutdown, she says essentially no-go, you can do it from the Oval Office. Obviously, the president isn't thrilled about that, therefore, issues this letter, which we have a copy of, in which he is essentially saying to the House speaker, well, I'm going to inform you that your upcoming trips to the NATO headquarters, Brussels, to Egypt and to Afghanistan have been postponed. If you want to go, you can fly commercial. He's referring to this -- these trips as public-relations events. So that's what's going on.

We've got a lot more people who will react to this breaking news here out of Washington, as Jim Acosta referred to it, the playground.

[14:44:29] Quick break. Back in a moment.


BALDWIN: We are back with this breaking news. This is a letter that the president has now sent to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that she will now no longer be able to go to these upcoming trips, Brussels, Afghanistan, Egypt, unless she wants to fly commercial in light of this government shutdown, he says, referring to them as public-relations events. We're getting news as far as when she and this congressional delegation was actually planning to leave.

Let's go back to the White House and our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

It sounds like they were about to leave today?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. According to my colleagues, Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Diamond, Manu Raju, the House speaker was scheduled to leave this afternoon and essentially the president pulled her ticket, pulled her plane, and denied her that ability to fly on a military aircraft on this upcoming congressional trip. We're still waiting on some kind of response from the speaker's office. But this just came out to the White House pool in just the last couple of minutes. This is from a senior White House official describing what the president did in this action. It says, "He postponed her ability to use military air as he made clear in the letter. She can still go, but most do so commercially. If she had gone on this trip, she would have guaranteed that 800,000 federal workers would not have received their second paycheck because she would not be here to negotiate any kind of deal."

[14:50:20] The president, as he's been trying to do the last couple of weeks, is trying to put the onus, and I guess, transfer ownership of this shutdown from himself to the Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as we saw earlier today. She's not having anything of that. And she said, even to the reporters in the room at that press conference earlier today, she's still not going to have a wall. She's not in favor of a wall and so on. So in terms of the particular as to why this shutdown is grinding on, both sides are very far apart.

Getting back to some of the theatrics of this afternoon, yes, the White House is confirming that they pulled this speaker's plane just as she was about to embark on this congressional trip.

Obviously, you know, there are lots of different implications in all of this. One of the implications that's been raised is why the White House would disclose publicly that the speaker of the House, who is in the line of succession to the presidency, why the White House would be, I guess, revealing the fact that the House speaker was scheduled to travel to Afghanistan? Now as you know, Brooke, when the president travels to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, those details are kept top secret. They are kept under a very tight lid for security reasons. And the president of the United States, in issuing this letter that was tweeted out by the press secretary to the entire world, disclosed that the House speaker was heading to Afghanistan. Now, obviously that didn't reveal exactly when she was going to be landing in that country, but there's that implication. And, I think, that question will be put to the White House.

The other thing I suppose that could be asked in all of this, Brooke, is if the president of the United States is going to deny, I suppose, taxpayer-funded transportation to the speaker of the House, I suppose you could game that out and say, well, what about all the government provided transportation that is used by cabinet secretaries, that is used by top officials in the White House who have Secret Service protection, and so on. And so I suppose if you go down this rabbit hole, you sort of get your arms around just how childish all of this is becoming.

That is the latest at this point. The White House justifying this trip being canceled for the House speaker by saying, she shouldn't be using government employees and government aircraft when there's a shutdown going on. Essentially throwing back in her face what Nancy Pelosi was saying yesterday, that you shouldn't have a State of the Union with all of those security, you know, precautions being taken, which is paid for by the taxpayers, in the middle of a government shutdown. This is just going back and forth like a schoolyard brawl with no end in sight.

BALDWIN: Yes. So he's having her put off a trip to a war zone that he has yet to visit. Got it.

Jim Acosta, thank you.

ACOSTA: That's true. You bet.

BALDWIN: Keep in mind, while these leaders fight it out, millions are impacted by this government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands aren't getting paid, including 550 Coast Guard personnel who aren't getting paychecks because of this shutdown.

And among them is Coast Guard Petty Officer Seth Buswell. His wife, Beth, joins me now.

Beth, thank you for being with me. We were going to talk a while ago, but we've had all this breaking

news and this letter from President Trump.

Here you are. You have two kids. Your husband isn't getting his paycheck. I imagine you were already fairly ticked off, and now you're feeling how?

BETH BUSWELL, WIFE OF COAST GUARD MEMBER: Well, I think we're scared. I really do. I'm personally scared. I don't know if I'm ticked off, but I'm just -- I'm frustrated, I guess, frustrated and scared that nothing's happening in terms of getting pay and reopening the government just so, you know, my husband can get paid and his buddies can get paid.

BALDWIN: What scares you the most?

BUSWELL: Just -- just not being able to meet our expenses, not being able to, you know -- we're lucky we live in military housing but I've been in contact with many spouses who say they are worried about rent payments and car payments and just -- it's -- you know, the uncertainty. When I married my husband, there was a lot of things that I signed up for, being separated for long periods of time and things like that, but the one thing that really kept us going was financial security and a guaranteed paycheck and it's not guaranteed right now and it's not something we -- we're prepared but we weren't prepared for it, if that makes sense.

BALDWIN: It makes sense and moving every 18 months or so, not really being able to get a job because what do you say to an employer, I'll be in town for 18 months because I've got to bail because my husband's in the Coast Guard. You've got these two kids who are 7 and 4 and you mention these other military families and I hear you say you feel this gratitude because you aren't having to deal with paying rent or mortgages but tell me about these other wives or spouses who see, you know, February 1st is doomsday.

[14:55:23] BUSWELL: It's really -- February 1st is really honestly it is doomsday for many families. That's when, you know, credit card bills that they couldn't pay. They'll start paying late fees. Rent -- rent happens and if you don't pay it, you have rent fees and just those little fees and late fees they kind of add up and it's harder and harder to dig your way out of it the longer those fees pile up.

BALDWIN: Do you think -- do your kids understand something isn't right?

BUSWELL: From the very point when I decided to have kids, I wasn't going to hide them from anything or shelter them. So my kids know that, you know, daddy's not getting a paycheck right now so we're having to cut back on things. We just -- we try to create a sense of normalcy as much as we can for our kids and my husband goes to work every day and wears his uniform. I do all the things we need to do thanks to the angels in my life, my kids are still able to participate in their afterschool programs, so -- my kids know because kids in general are intuitive. I've worked very hard on trying to minimize all of this from them as much as possible. BALDWIN: Thank you so much, Beth, for coming on. It's so important

to hear from wonderful people like you. And thank your husband for us for serving this country for 16 years. Keep at it.

BUSWELL: I will.

BALDWIN: And, hopefully, this will end soon.

BUSWELL: You know what? I hope so, too. I really do, for the 800,000 of us. I really -- I really do. I hope it ends soon.

BALDWIN: Thank you, Beth.

Our special coverage continues after this. We'll take you live to the bus that was supposed to take this congressional delegation to the plane.


BALDWIN: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.