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CNN NEWSROOM

Soon Senate Votes on Bills That Won't End The Shutdown; Wilbur Ross Says Don't Quite Understand Why Workers Need Food Banks; White House Invites Leaders for Meeting with Trump Tomorrow; Freshman Democrats Urge Pelosi to Offer Trump A Compromise; Baldwin Interviews REP. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA); Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Cohen to Testify Before Prison Date; Aviation Unions Say Airline Safety Deteriorating by The Day. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 24, 2019 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. In just a few minutes we will all be watching Washington dysfunction at its finest. The Senate is set to hold two test votes on proposals to end the shutdown that will in reality do nothing because they won't pass despite knowing that, before they vote, lawmakers admit there is no plan B. No back-up scenario, no way out of this mess as of today and that means hundreds of thousands of workers like the ones right here on your screen will miss their second paychecks tomorrow. How does the White House see it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARA TRUMP, DAUGHTER-IN-LAW OF THE PRESIDENT: It is a little bit of pain, but it's going to be for the future of our country and their children and their grandchildren and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary. There are reports that there are some federal workers who are going to homeless shelters to get food.

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: I know they are and I don't really quite understand why. There's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I've met with my individual staff members and god bless them. They're working for free. They're volunteering, but they do it because they believe government service is honorable and they believe in President Trump and they're working as hard as ever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Word to the wise. If you're a billionaire or even a millionaire, just don't say that or anything remotely like that, because you just don't get it. I have heard from federal workers across the country sleeping in cars, rationing asthma medicine for their kids, going to food pantries for the first time in their lives. These are men and women who are showing up to work keeping us safe and not seeing a penny. So, to both sides, end this and end it now. CNN's Phil Mattingly is up on Capitol Hill for us, so Phil, talk to me about these votes that we'll be going nowhere.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, in about 30 minutes you'll see two Senate votes. One is on the President's proposal, $5.7 billion for a border wall in exchange for what he says is a compromise, temporary protections for DACA and some pretty significant changes to south American migrants, things that made it clear to Democrats were not a compromise. We know all of one Democrat plans to vote for that plan, Joe Manchin. The Democratic proposal, it is a clean extension, reopening the government until February 8th. We know three Republicans at this point in time plan on voting for that proposal. Democrats need 13. That is also likely to fall short. Brooke, what's most important right now I think is what's going to be what happens after the vote? We talked about this a couple times. Sometimes you need to see things fail for an opportunity to reach a deal. After the vote, you'll see as many as 15 Senators both Democrats and Republicans take to the Senate floor and start talking about there needs to be a way out. Senators in both parties are frustrated, House members very frustrated on the rank and file. They want this end. They're just not totally sure how yet. The how has not been answered. You'll see the Senators express that frustration on the floor. The biggest question has stayed the same for 34 days, the dynamics are, Democrats won't negotiate on border security until the government is reopened, the President won't reopen the government until he gets his border wall. If those stay the same, nothing changes overall h. Can these new efforts and can the failure of these two votes in 30 minutes' drive change to one or both of those dynamics, Brooke?

BALDWIN: Looking forward to the OK, now what, phase of all of this which I'm sure we'll be discussing later on during the show. Thank you so much, Phil.

Speaker Pelosi accepted the dare but President Trump is the one who blinked and had to admit there would be no State of the Union address until the shutdown ends. He tweeted late Wednesday, "I will do the address when the shutdown is over. I am not looking for an alternative venue for the State of the Union address because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House chamber." This is the speaker now reacting to Trump's concession.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The President accepted the fact that the State of the Union should be at a time when we can talk about the State of the Union when government is not shutdown. I'm glad we could get that off the table because I know it was a source of many questions, should we rent the equipment for the State of the Union, should we have our families come in?

[14:05:00] It is so unimportant in the lives of the American people in terms of, especially those who are victims of the shutdown, hostages to the President's applause line in a campaign speech. Thank goodness we put that matter to rest and we can get on to the subject at hand. Open up government so we can negotiate how best to protect our borders. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Abby Philip is our White House correspondent. Abby, my goodness, that was mighty polite and quick not in the President's nature.

ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Very uncharacteristic of President Trump. This fight between the two of them over the State of the Union have been likened to something over a proxy war. It's Pelosi and Trump looking at each other square in the face and seeing who would blink first. President Trump was the one to do that. Now the reasoning might have something to do with what he hinted out in his tweet last night announcing this, the history and the grandeur, the splendor of that House chamber that according to our sources, the President wanted to deliver the speech there. He did not want to be the first President in many, many, many years to not deliver his State of the Union address at the capitol, so he decided to let Nancy Pelosi have this one. Now, what does this mean for the government shutdown? There are some who think this could signal an opening for a potential thaw. So far, we haven't seen that at all, however, what we are hearing now from White House sources is that they are considering, perhaps, having yet another meeting here at the White House between the Republicans and the Democrats in the House and in the Senate over the shutdown issue as early as tomorrow. Now, Nancy Pelosi and President Trump have not spoken in real life except on Twitter and through these speeches in over two weeks since the President stormed out of a situation room meeting here at the White House more than two weeks ago. If this meeting does, in fact, happen tomorrow it would be the first opportunity for them to sit down face-to-face yet again over the shutdown but, frankly, we don't really have a sense from either side here what the compromise might look like, what it could be, but President Trump is clearly conceding to Nancy Pelosi that something like the State of the Union, perhaps all the pomp and circumstance that comes with it needs to be postponed until people are getting paid again. The real question now is when will that be and will it be any time in the near future considering that they are really just aren't speaking right now, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Except over Twitter as you so astutely pointed out. Abby Philip at the White House. Thank you.

So, President Trump, gives Speaker Pelosi a win and House Democrats are hoping she'll return the favor, sort of. 30 of them signing their names to this letter asking her to offer the President a vote on funding for border security if, if he agrees to open the government and one of those Democrats is Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton from Virginia. A pleasure to have you on, welcome.

JENNIFER WEXTON (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Let's just start with this letter, what are you asking Speaker Pelosi to do?

WEXTON: We're asking her to go to the President and suggest that should he reopen the government, that we will agree to debate and put forward the funding that he's asking about, that we will have a full and fair debate and hearing on it, give folks from DHS an opportunity to come in and justify why these funds are need and allow everybody to call witnesses, you know, have testimony, the regular order as we're supposed to be having here in Congress.

BALDWIN: So, if the promise is there, the guaranteed to reopen government, would you be willing to compromise and approve the five plus billion that Trump wants for some kind of barrier or wall?

WEXTON: I would be willing to listen to debate and hear from the experts about what kind of barriers are needed and whereabout what other measures could be used more efficiently and effectively to combat the transport and the entry of illegal contraband and drugs --

BALDWIN: Would you would you be open to the 5 billion or is this your way, President Trump, listen, we'll listen to you, just open the government.

WEXTON: I'm always willing to listen. What I want --

BALDWIN: What about the 5 million?

WEXTON: What has been missing from this discussion is any justification of why those funds are needed and why they're the best way to deal with this problem? I don't think anybody is looking to waste taxpayers' money and further damage our country in the interim.

[14:10:00] BALDWIN: You have 30 people including yourself who signed on to this letter, but is this something that might be catching on in the Democratic caucus? Do you think even more Democrats would be willing to listen as you're explaining to me?

WEXTON: I think we all want to get back to having a full and fair discussion, to debating the issues that are before us, to getting back to regular order. That's something that's been missing. It's time to get this whole debate and the whole crafting of legislation to come from the bottom up instead of the top down.

BALDWIN: If you're the White House and listening to this interview right now and they're hearing you and Democrats saying, OK, OK, we'll listen. There's a big difference between, OK, we'll listen and OK we'll give you money for your wall. You understand why that hasn't been good enough for them and why we're still in this mess.

WEXTON: What we need to know is why is this the best way to spend the peoples' money? How is this the most effective and efficient way to stop drugs and contraband from coming in our country?

BALDWIN: Sure. We have also -- so many stories, sacrifice from federal workers and when you juxtapose that from what we have heard from the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and also Trump's daughter-in- law, Lara Trump, if you haven't heard it, here you go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, there are reports that are some federal workers going to homeless shelters to get food. ROSS: Well, I know they are and I don't really quite understand why

because as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake say of borrowing from a bank or a credit union are in effect federally guaranteed. So, the 30 days of pay that some people will be out is no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it.

LARA TRUMP: It is a little bit of pain, but it's going to be for the future of our country and their children and their grandchildren and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, Congresswoman, I want to ask you about your letter to Secretary Ross in a second and your invitation to him, but first -- how can they understand the need to reopen the government if they don't seem to understand the severity of the shutdown?

WEXTON: That's one thing that's been so striking about this entire process is the complete lack of empathy from the President on down through his administration, complete lack of understanding of what the day-to-day life is for regular people, you know, in this district and what people are going through who do have to live paycheck to paycheck, who don't have the luxury of borrowing money from their parents or tapping into savings. This is something that I hear every day from constituents who are really, really suffering and there's no empathy at all coming from the administration.

BALDWIN: And what response have you gotten from secretary ross's office for people who don't know, you've written this letter and invited him to go with you to the capitol area food bank, what has he or his staff said?

WEXTON: We haven't heard back yet, but the offer stands, you know. I'm happy to go with him to the food bank here in the D.C. area or he can come to my district in Loudon County, see the good work that's being done in the Blue Ridge and Loudon and sadly, the people who are having to come and get donations from food pantries, federal workers who have been laid off.

BALDWIN: Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, thank you.

WEXTON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: We are moments away from those two key Senate votes on the government shutdown. Will bring that to you live as soon as that begins?

Before he reports to prison, President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen is now being hit with a subpoena to testify before the Senate intelligence committee. We'll look at the unanswered questions he could be facing there and is it still safe to fly? The head of the air-traffic controllers union says this during shutdown is now causing and I quote, routine mistakes and poses a major safety risk. I'll talk live with an air-traffic controller. Is no paycheck impacting his ability to do his job? You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. [14:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: He has been accused of forcing people to keep quiet about Donald Trump and now Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen may be compelled to talk about his former boss. A source close to Cohen says the Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed him to testify before the panel in mid-February, just a day ago we were reporting that Cohen turned down speaking for two House committees citing threats from President Trump and his current lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the source says, Cohen has those same fears if he testifies before the Senate which would likely be behind closed doors. It would also be the second time Cohen goes before the Senate intelligence members. Remember, after his first time Cohen did not tell the truth about the Trump Tower Moscow project and he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

So, with me now is our legal analyst. Richard Ben-Veniste, welcome back. And when I first heard about this, I thought, hum, if you're team Cohen, might this have been a strategy at all to force a subpoena?

[14:20:00] RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR, WATERGATE: It's likely that the subpoena was a subject of negotiation with Mr. Cohen's attorneys, but I think what we see here as a committee which has operated more than any other in the past couple of years on a bipartisan basis and they're calling for his testimony in private session rather than in open session and there's certainly entitled to get it. Afterall, Cohen testified under oath falsely before them certainly about his involvement with the Russia project and Mr. Trump's pursuit of that project and that -- and then we have the recent flap with "BuzzFeed" over what exactly was said and what motivated Cohen and that, I with the Russia project and Mr. Trump's pursuit of that project and that -- and then we have the recent flap with "BuzzFeed" over what exactly was said and what motivated Cohen and that, I think, is one of the most likely subjects for his testimony before the Senate committee.

BALDWIN: You mentioned -- we talked about the Russia project. Since this will likely be behind closed doors, would that mean that Michael Cohen would have no restrictions on testimony that he could talk about those sorts of things not just about the payments paid to those women or the tax medallion business but anything in the scope of the Mueller business, would that be fair play?

BEN-VENISTE: I don't believe there would be any restrictions that are imposed unless they are negotiated and perhaps Mr. Mueller has some restrictions that his folks would like to see imposed, but we won't know about that at least in the short-term.

BALDWIN: And then what about, if you're President Trump and we saw his tweet this morning essentially celebrating quieting Cohen, that as we had been reporting the last 24 hours prior to the subpoena, that he would not be testifying publicly in front of the House oversight committee, do you see, you know, if he goes in front of the Senate intel behind closed doors, is this a win for the President?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, I don't think this closes public testimony from Mr. Cohen before the House or any other appropriate body. I think it perhaps delays it. His surrender date is early march and it's probably less difficult for them to arrange his appearance before his surrender date, but even that can be worked out. All of these questions about security and so forth are also things that can and should be worked out. The Congress has a right to have open hearings when they deem it appropriate and presumably that ought to occur with appropriate deference to the special counsel.

BALDWIN: Sure.

BEN-VENISTE: But the Congress has its own priorities and its own obligations.

BALDWIN: Sure. We'll see what happens with the Senate. Richard, thank you so much, sir, I appreciate it.

BEN-VENISTE: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Moments from now, two key Senate votes will be happening to address this government shutdown. Both are expected to fail, but of course we'll keep an eye on the whole thing and play that out for you.

Let's talk more about the real-world impact of this government shutdown. So now you have the air-traffic controllers who are waving the pro-verbal red flag here operating on long hours, on little sleep and without any pay. I'll talk to one of them about the current state of the airline safety next.

[14:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: A dire warning today from the unions that represent the people who ensure our safety in the skies, the unions for pilots and air-traffic controllers and flight attendants issuing this joint statement. They are concerned that their members have not been paid in more than a month and they also say this, quoting them. "In our risk-adverse industry we cannot calculate the level of risk currently at play nor predict the point at which the entire system will break. It is unprecedented."

Air-traffic controller Albert Navarro is with me now. Albert, thank you for being with me and, gosh, the quote, that we cannot calculate the level of risk, what does that mean to you?

ALBERT NAVARRO, AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLER WORKING WITHOUT PAY: We have the safest air space system in the world and we intend to keep it that way. Right now, air-traffic controllers throughout the country are working like we are getting paid, but in reality, we're not getting paid. We are digging into our savings accounts. We are charging expenses on to credit cards. Everybody's worried. We don't know when this will end and now, we're approaching a time when we may miss another paycheck.

BALDWIN: I read that you said basically on a good day you have to be perfectionist to do your job, so you tell me what it's like -- you tell me what it's like when you're sleepy, stressed, you're trying to drive an uber in your off-hours to make ends meet, tell me what that's like.

NAVARRO: Well, look at the staffing levels nationwide. We're at a 30-year low. The air traffic academy is closed, so we're not able to get the trainees that we need in order to help with the staffing crisis. Equipment. There are so many modernization projects that have been put on hold. Staff support specialists. They're not coming into work, so we don't have a quality assurance. We do not have classes being taught that are key to safety and this just adds already compounded stress on to an already stressful job.

BALDWIN: And for -- air-traffic controllers, you guys are the ones in those towers calling the shots making sure you're communicating with these planes to make sure they're not hitting one another, to make sure that x plane lands here and y plane lands there. What is the biggest challenge to your job right now?

NAVARRO: Well, I'd like to quote President Paul Rinaldi last night when he said that the national air space system is an economic engine for this --