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Trump Abruptly Rescinds Military Aircraft Use for Congressional Trip Overseas. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:11]

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

And we are in the thick of this breaking news here. Day 27 of the government shutdown is quickly becoming more bizarre, more childish than anyone expected.

President Trump moments ago canceling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's overseas trip to Brussels, Egypt and the war zone that is Afghanistan hours before the speaker and her congressional delegation were set to leave, saying in part -- quote -- "In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally inappropriate."

This is the president's words here in this letter. He goes on to write: "Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative."

Now, this comes after the speaker urged President Trump, really told President Trump to move his State of the Union address because of the shutdown related to security concerns, although the Secret Service said that they would be fine.

The House speaker's bags were packed. She was supposed to leave this afternoon. This is unprecedented.

Let's start with our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, and our CNN congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, getting reaction there on Capitol Hill.

But, Kaitlan, starting with you out of the White House, so, does the president have the authority to do this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he does, actually. He's the commander in chief. He's in control of the military aircraft. And that's essentially why you see in that letter that is tinged with sarcasm where the president says, I essentially invite you to fly commercial.

Of course, that's inviting her to fly commercial into a war zone.

BALDWIN: To a war zone. COLLINS: Now, Brooke, what this really is largely indicative of is where we stand on these shutdown negotiations.

Now, the government's been closed for -- partially for 27 days now. And if you thought we were any closer to reopening the government, the two key people who are going to be the decision-makers to reopen the government are Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi sent the president a letter this week suggesting he cancel his State of the Union address. And the president after a very uncharacteristic period of silence from the White House responded by essentially inviting her to fly commercial into a war zone.

That really lays out where we are right now as far as where these -- how these negotiations, as Manu can tell you, between the Hill and -- or between Democrats and the White House are going nowhere.

Now, the White House had been caught off-guard by Nancy Pelosi's letter about the State of the Union. They didn't know how to respond, but typically with this White House and especially with this president, you would see them shoot back pretty quickly. They didn't.

They didn't say anything. You did not hear from White House officials, at least not publicly commenting on anything on the record where they would say what their feeling was on Nancy Pelosi's letter.

And during the president's lunch with a bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday, he didn't even bring the letter up. That is not like President Trump to do that. And now you can see why that is, because look at the timing of when they released this letter, announcing that they were not going to allow Nancy Pelosi to use military aircraft to take this trip.

That comes just shortly before she was scheduled to depart. So, clearly, they waited until her bags were packed, and now she's being faced with these optics of a bus being there ready to pick her up to take her to go to the plane, and that plane is not going to be there for her.

So, it really does give you just an indication of how far apart Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi truly are. Now, the White House's argument here, Brooke, is, look, Nancy Pelosi is the House speaker. She is going to be a very key decision in whether or not we reopen the government and whether or not she can come to a compromise with President Trump.

And she was about to go on this seven-day international trip, part of which was going to be in Afghanistan, something they revealed that was not widely known in Washington. And that is something where typically you're not going to be able to negotiate back and forth with the White House discussing how to reopen the government.

That's how they're looking at things right now. How are we going to make any progress and reopen the government if Nancy Pelosi is not in Washington? That is their justification essentially behind this. And you can see that in the president's letter, though. Brooke, this is very clearly retaliation as well.

BALDWIN: Mm-hmm.

Manu, what do you make of Kaitlan's point there from the White House, saying, well, we are day 27 of this shutdown, and, you know, the last person who should be leaving Washington is the sort of chief negotiator on the Democratic side, Speaker Pelosi? What kind of reaction are you getting?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the one thing is that there are no negotiations that are even happening at this point. The last time there was a face-to-face meeting between the president and Nancy Pelosi and others was when the president left that meeting abruptly and, according to the Democrats, he pounded his hand on the table, stormed off because he was concerned that the speaker would not agree to his border wall or agree to fund that border wall, even after the government was reopened.

The president stormed off. They have virtually not spoken ever since that very contentious meeting. So there are no negotiations that are happening. And people have left town during the shutdown, even the president himself traveling, of course, to Iraq. He also went to Louisiana. He went down to Texas.

[15:05:10]

He has taken some trips, so Democrats are taken aback by this. They were not expecting this letter. The speaker's office has not yet formally responded. I did catch up with the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, as he was leaving the area near the speaker's office.

He was surprised by this, too but he sharply criticized the president, saying this demeans the office. He called this so petty and childish, but that's essentially, as Kaitlan was saying, where we are in these talks right now, nonexistent back-and-forth theatrical moves to try to embarrass the other.

The speaker herself defend her decision to delay the State of the Union or ask for a delay in the State of the Union today, not just citing security concerns, because I asked her about the Department of Homeland Security, saying, look, we can secure the State of the Union.

she said, it's more about workers' pay. She said the president may not want to pay his workers, but we Democrats do. That's Pelosi saying that, so very tough words being exchanged, this latest volley coming from the president, pushing back, not -- a sign that they're nowhere near close to resolving this government shutdown, as the House will still be out of session until Tuesday, after Martin Luther King Day.

The Senate likely will likely be out after tonight until Tuesday as well. So, even if Pelosi were to go on these trips, it doesn't matter, because they're not going to resolve this before early next week.

Politics at play here, and a lot of workers' checks left hanging in the balance, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you.

And, Kaitlan, we're looking at live pictures. Can you imagine being these kids on a tour of Capitol Hill where all this is going on? Just through there is live pictures of Nancy Pelosi's office.

And we have a shot -- we're ready for it -- of I guess the bus that would have gone to the airport to take this congressional delegation, including the House speaker, on -- to this trip overseas, Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan.

So, two of my favorite veterans are with me, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby are with me.

And, so, General, let me just start with you. I haven't heard from you yet. On all of the above, what are your thoughts?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm sorry, Brooke. I thought you had called me on here to talk about the maturity level of members of our government.

But in terms of this particular issue, it's just -- it's just confounding, just a very strong surprise. It's a back and forth. I wish we would be able to listen to listen to Beth, your Coast Guard spouse who was on before, and pay attention more to what she's saying is, let's get people back to work and allow folks to get their paycheck again.

That's the important thing on both sides. But certainly the president has the authority to do this, and I'm sure John will back me up on that. He runs the Defense Department. And they're the ones that shuttle folks around.

But this was more than likely an important trip to Brussels, because it's prior to the NATO ministerials, and NATO is very important in terms of their contributions to Iraq. I'm sure there were members of the House Armed Services and Appropriations Committee on that trip, as well as possibly Foreign Affairs.

Going to Cairo or Egypt, also important. We have military forces there as part of the multinational force operations in Egypt, peacekeeping force. And then certainly there's a lot of discussion about what's going to happen next in Afghanistan. And members of Congress need to understand what's going on, on the ground, as you said before.

So, it was an important trip, but certainly debates going on in Washington is also important.

BALDWIN: Admiral, let me come to you in just a second.

I have just been handed some tweets from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham here. Here we go.

"I wish our political leadership could find the same desire to work for common goals as those who serve our nation in uniform and other capacities." He goes on: "I'm glad the speaker wants to meet our troops and hear from our commanders and allies. I'm very disappointed she's playing politics with the State of the Union. President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate."

Lastly: "One sophomoric response does not deserve another. Speaker Pelosi's threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political," which is precisely where this started yesterday, the volley from the House speaker, and now the return, as I said earlier, nanny nanny boo boo, from the president of the United States.

Admiral Kirby, to you on all of this. What do you think?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, Brooke, I would associate myself with what General Hertling said.

I think it's really a pity that this has now just become about partisan politics and about who's going to win this showdown over the shutdown. And, meanwhile, we have got men and women, our Coast Guardsmen in particular, that are out defending -- by the way, we have more maritime boundaries in this country than we do terrestrial.

[15:10:10]

And they're supposed to be out there -- and they are -- defending those maritime boundaries, and they're not getting paid. And I think that's where the focus needs to be.

I do think that a trip like this to theaters, whether it's Brussels or Afghanistan, certainly are important. I think the nation's business appears to have been in the offing here, real legitimate concerns that they should be looking at from a congressional and appropriations standpoint.

It's unfortunate that they're not going to be able to do that. But what's really unfortunate is, the shutdown continues. And it's not just the Coast Guardsmen. It's civil servants across the federal government, not just in D.C., but across the country, that are paying the price for this.

And I'm beginning to worry that now this is really becoming a significant national security issue that both sides are ignoring.

BALDWIN: Let me take a half-step back and just ask you, General, why are trips like this from members of Congress to places like Afghanistan, again, as I mentioned, yes, the president went to Iraq -- he's yet to visit Afghanistan. Why are trips like this important?

HERTLING: Well, they're important to some, Brooke.

And I would say certainly the speaker and the House Armed Services and Appropriations, it's important to see this. There are a lot of CODELs that go out. John and I -- Admiral Kirby both know that. We have had to escort them when they arrive in theater. Some are just there to get a feel for what's going on, but some -- and

I would assume the speaker is one of those -- are really trying to get some information for some tough decision-making coming up and to guide her leadership in the Congress.

The kinds of things -- this is certainly not a P.R. trip. It's not a vacation. She's going to the headquarters of NATO, which contributes a lot to security around the world, again, Egypt, which is right in the thick of things right now in terms of the Middle East, and Afghanistan, which is there is a lot of debate about.

She needs to hear from the people on the scene, not just the Americans, but also the local citizenry and local government, about what they're seeing in terms of how the U.S. is portraying themselves. And she will get an earful, to be sure, in all three of those places, because some of the things that have been occurring in Washington, D.C., are certainly being reflected in foreign countries.

KIRBY: I would just add too, Brooke, I don't know the nature of this particular CODEL, but to piggyback on to the general's point, most of them are bipartisan.

Most of them have representatives from both sides of the aisle.

HERTLING: Right.

BALDWIN: Great point.

KIRBY: So this is not -- they're not typically political events. They are truly fact-finding missions and they're important for the nation's defense.

BALDWIN: Yes, great point.

Gentlemen, thank you so much, as always.

And with me now, "Washington Post" columnist Max Boot, who we were planning on talking to you about your piece today about Republicans turning into drunken frat boys, which perhaps goes along with this, although you talk to Republicans, and I'm sure they'd say the same about the Democrats in this case.

But as far as...

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: The age might be lower than college level here.

BALDWIN: But it's just not funny.

Again, I go back to this Coast Guard wife who says she's scared. She's so scared. And you have these volleys back and forth. We just found out that the plane was actually standing by at Andrews Air Force Base, standing by to take this, you know, group of members of Congress overseas.

BOOT: Right. I have to say, as a parent, I'm kind of familiar with this sort of behavior, which she started it, he hit me, go to your rooms.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Not giving you dinner.

BOOT: Exactly.

This is where we are. There needs to be some adult supervision in Washington, but there's very little. There's a lot of political gamesmanship. And the nation's business is not getting done.

And I think we need to remember who is ultimately responsible for this. It is really, I think, President Trump, who has set this fiasco in motion with his demand for a wall, which is a response to an imaginary crisis. There is not a border crisis. And even if there were, the wall would not be the solution.

And now we're having the government shut down for almost four weeks, and no end in sight, because of this unreasonable demand. This is just the height of irresponsibility for the president and his Republican backers to close down the government over this.

And, of course, now you're seeing the whole thing kind of devolve into in this kind of petty back and forth of slights flying each way.

BALDWIN: I mean, I thought for a half-second yesterday that when we got the news that apparently Lindsey Graham had gotten this letter with, I think, 10 senators on both sides of the aisle saying, all right, let's reopen the government, that was like this iota of progress, and now then the news from Nancy Pelosi saying, you're not having your State of the Union, and the president saying, well, I'm pulling your plane and you're not going overseas.

Who will be the adult in the room?

BOOT: Well, that's the question, Brooke.

And what I don't get is, why is everybody dependent on President Trump? We have seen he has no interest in making a deal. He could have made a deal on the wall last year.

BALDWIN: But because he has the power to say no.

BOOT: Well, but he doesn't really have the power if Congress overrides him by two-thirds majorities in both houses.

So why don't the adults in the room, if there are any left on the Republican and Democratic sides, get together and say, forget this? We don't need the president. The president is basically the hostage of his base.

[15:15:02]

He's listening to Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. You're never going to have a reasonable agreement with him. So why don't they get together with people like Mitch McConnell, who is in fact a dealmaker, and make a deal?

BALDWIN: OK.

I'm talking to my executive producer, who just got in my ear as I was listening to you.

Tell me again, Eric (ph)?

Take a break.

Max Boot, thank you very much for that.

Where are the adults in the room is the question. We're going to take you back to Capitol Hill and this bus that was standing by to take the members of Congress to the plane that was apparently standing by at Andrews Air Force Base.

Quick break. Back with more breaking news next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We are back with the breaking news here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for tuning in here and this back and forth between the House speaker and the president of the United States.

[15:20:03]

Sunlen Serfaty is our correspondent there up on Capitol Hill, where the bus was to take this congressional delegation to Andrews and then off to this trip overseas, which the president has now pulled that military plane.

Sunlen, did anyone get on the bus?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There were indeed lawmakers on the bus.

The bus is taking quite a trek, Brooke, on Capitol Hill. It started over in Rayburn, picked up a few members at House office building. It stopped here at the Capitol, picked up a few more members.

I believe it's idling right behind me. If we can show a shot of the bus right there, it's a military bus. It has a U.S. Capitol Police escort. It's idling right now in front of the Library of Congress.

I think this moment really speaks to the confusion on Capitol Hill, the fact that many lawmakers thought that they were going to indeed leave on this CODEL this afternoon after finishing up some of their business in the House.

And that confusion was echoed by some of the lawmakers that talked to my colleagues up here on Capitol Hill. Congressman Lynch, he said that, of course, this delay is due to the flight issues that are going out now, obviously a reference between the spat between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President Trump. And just an odd picture right now, as lawmakers are eager to potentially go on this CODEL. A lot of confusion, and we saw through the windows lawmakers talking back and forth to each other. Very clear it's not -- they don't know what they're doing right this moment.

As I said, the bus appears to be idling just a short -- about a block away from the U.S. Capitol right now -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: They don't know what they're doing, says Sunlen Serfaty. I bet they don't.

Sunlen, thank you for that update.

Let's go to the White House now.

Jeremy Diamond is our correspondent there are in our bureau there, Jeremy Diamond with some new reporting on how the president is now -- how is he responding to this news?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we saw just today, of course, with the president making this decision to cancel Nancy Pelosi's trip just hours before she was supposed to leave.

That was the only response that we have seen so far from the president to Nancy Pelosi's request yesterday to delay this speech of the State of the Union speech that the president was set to deliver later this month.

But the president's campaign in the president's name is also fund- raising off of Nancy Pelosi's decision to ask the president to move that speech. He writes in a fund-raising letter to supporters that "Democrats have illegitimately disinvited me from making" his scheduled appearance.

Of course, Nancy Pelosi asked the president if he would work with her to move the State of the Union address to a different time. So far, the president has not directly responded to that. All we have heard from him so far again is this response in terms of a tit-for-tat of canceling Nancy Pelosi's trip abroad.

But, again, we're still waiting for the president beyond this fund- raising letter, beyond this letter about Nancy Pelosi's own trip, to actually say whether or not he will deliver his State of the Union later this month or what else he intends to do instead -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, so the campaign fund-raising now off of all of this.

Jeremy Diamond, thank you for the update.

And now I'm told to go -- let's go back to Sunlen Serfaty, because I hear, Sunlen, you're walking towards the bus with -- carrying some of these lawmakers. So do you have an update?

SERFATY: No update here. In fact, we have lost eyes on the bus, unfortunately, Brooke. I don't know if that's a sign of progress or not, whether they are indeed making their way potentially to the airport or not, at this point still TBD.

We saw it make two stops here in the Capitol complex, one in the Rayburn House Office Building, picking up some lawmakers. They idled here in front of the Capitol for quite some time, picking up some more lawmakers.

And as we talked about just a few minutes ago, some confusion whether or not they were actually indeed going to proceed on this CODEL or not. We saw the bus drive off.

This is a rather large Capitol complex. It's filled with many buildings, many different office buildings for many of the members of Congress. So it could be that they're picking up many other members of Congress. It could be that they're just waiting to get direction, what indeed is happening and if indeed they are going on this CODEL or not.

We are looking for the bus right now, Brooke. We will get to back when we have more.

BALDWIN: OK, Sunlen, I appreciate it.

And, again, just reiterating. Some of our White House reporting on the plane issue, and so you have these lawmakers on this bus. And according to our reporting from Kaitlan, Jeremy and Manu, the administration -- quote -- "worked with the Air Force and Department of Defense" and basically took away the rights to the plane, this military plane, from the House speaker.

So, quick break.

Let's talk to David Axelrod, his reaction to this mess, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:29:26]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Why would you want to go overseas with government shut down, with people missing their paychecks? And if we don't get this back open, they could miss their paycheck again by next week.

So I think it's appropriate that we would get back together. It would not take long. And we could solve this problem.

QUESTION: Shouldn't this have happened in discussion with the speaker, rather than an abrupt notification that it was canceled?

MCCARTHY: I don't -- I couldn't imagine that she would even think about going. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the interaction. The president does this in a way that was not indicative...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: I didn't read what it is.

But I -- I'm just shocked she even would think that she would leave the country. Why would you leave the country with government shut down and you're speaker of the House?

(END VIDEO CLIP)