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Sharp And Rare Rebuke Against President Trump From An Unlikely Source; A Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers Is Sitting Down For The First Time To Kick Off Talks To Try And Avoid Another Government Shutdown. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 30, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN: ... 2016 when Bernie Sanders runs against Hillary Clinton and embraces single payer Medicare For All. Hillary Clinton says, pie in the sky, pipe dream, never do it, and basically, the establishment agrees.

But by 2018, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and obviously, Bernie Sanders are signed onto Bernie Sanders' legislation that would establish Medicare For All.

So it shows you where the party is moving. A very important person who has not signed on to Medicare For All, former Vice President Joe Biden, right, who is ostensibly the front runner, Kate, if and when he decides to run. And the concern among the Biden group, Biden wing of the party is, this gets rid of private insurance.

Lots of people who may not agree with Republicans on healthcare do not want to get rid of private insurance and we lose their votes in a general election and it's too dangerous. But the liberal base of the party very much wants it. That's a conundrum and it's why what you said is exactly right, big issue going into 2020.

KATE BOLDUAN, ANCHOR, CNN: And it is complicated. I think the health insurance industry employs like 500,000 people in the country.

CILLIZZA: Correct. And it would not be cheap. Bernie sanders' Medicare For All proposal estimated cost $1.3 trillion per year.

BOLDUAN: Yes, well, neither party can claim the mantle of deficit hawk anymore. So we'll see where they end up with that. Chris, thank you. It is great to see you.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a sharp and rare rebuke against President Trump from an unlikely source, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Coming up next, a top Republican on the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations joins me to respond.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:00]

BOLDUAN: It's not something you hear very often if ever. The Senate Majority Leader publicly rebuking President Trump. Mitch McConnell is now pushing for effectively a statement by the Senate, the whole Senate it would be, warning of the dangers of pulling out of Syria and Afghanistan too soon and too fast. A statement that really is in direct conflict with the President's plans in both countries. Listen to McConnell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCH MCCONNELL, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to us here at home.

My memo would also urge continued commitment from the U.S. military and our partners until we have set the conditions for the enduring defeat of these vile terrorists. While it is tempting to retreat to the comfort and security of our own shores, there's still a great deal of work to be done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So with that statement and this amendment, what exactly is senator McConnell trying to tell the President and will the President listen is an important question? Joining me right now, Republican senator, Rob Portman of Ohio. He sits on the Homeland Security and Foreign Relations Committees. Senator, thank you for coming in.

ROB PORTMAN, U.S. SENATOR, OHIO, REPUBLICAN: Hey, Kate. Good to be on with you again.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Do you support the Majority Leader on this one?

PORTMAN: ISIS is weakened, but ISIS is not destroyed in Syria. So yes, we've got to continue to work with our allies and everybody wants to get our troops out. There are about 2,000 troops there, by the way, but we've got to do it in a slow and concerted way, in other words working with our allies and our regional partners.

And we also have to protect the Kurds as part of this and I am sure that Majority Leader McConnell spoke about as well, is that these Kurds have stuck by our side, and so there needs to be an understanding, particularly with Turkey, that we're not going to leave the Kurds to a - what could be a disastrous result for them.

So I think for both those reasons, we need to move very slowly and we need to work with our allies in the region.

BOLDUAN: And I mean, it's one thing to say this to the President in private, but in trying to have this amendment and this statement coming from McConnell just yesterday on this issue, can this be viewed as anything other than a direct rebuke of the President's foreign policy? His position, what he wants to do with regard to this?

PORTMAN: Well, I think it reflects what a lot of us are concerned about. But I will say, Kate, I mean, the President has started the discussion. And as I said earlier, people want our troops out. There is no question, we don't want to be spread as thin as we are and we do have involvement in a lot of countries, a relatively small numbers of troops compared to where we were with Afghanistan and Iraq in previous administrations, but we still have a substantial commitment.

BOLDUAN: Yes, but it's not really a discussion coming from the President, right, Senator, I mean, he is the one that says, they're coming home.

PORTMAN: Well, he said they're coming home, but my understanding from talking to members of the administration including some comments that members of the administration have said including Secretary Pompeo and also John Bolton, the National Security adviser, is that they are look at a withdrawal that will be more thoughtful and more carefully planned with our allies to avoid some of the problems we've talked about.

The other thing that I've been promoting, Kate, and I think makes sense is to have a regional strike force no matter what. In other words, in other places to have the ability to respond quickly, because that's what we really missed last time when we precipitously pulled out of Iraq in the Obama administration, there was a relatively small number of ISIS fighters who came into Iraq, but we weren't able to respond, and soon, they had almost two-thirds of the territory.

It took a long time for us to push that back and it's taken us a long time to have these relatively good results in Syria. They're not destroyed yet. They're weakened, no question about it and we've got to be sure that we can respond quickly.

BOLDUAN: And with Syria, a lot of it comes down to intelligence. This morning the President is attacking the leaders of the intelligence community over their assessment of threats posed by ISIS, Iran, North Korea and more. Their assessment contradicts much of his policies. And he said and tweets this morning that they are wrong and suggested that they need to go back to school. I mean, who do you believe? Do you think the top brass of the nation's intelligence apparatus are wrong?

[11:40:07]

PORTMAN: Well, I didn't see the tweet. I thought I saw the tweets this morning. I missed that one. I have a Twitter alert on my phone for the President's tweets.

BOLDUAN: They were lengthy tweets. He says they're wrong and he says that they should go back to school.

PORTMAN: Yes, I haven't seen the tweet. But let me just say this. I think that there is a continued threat certainly from ISIS. The President has acknowledged that. I've heard that he understands they're still in existence not just in Syria but globally and we have to be cognizant of that.

My understanding is the assessment also had to do with North Korea and their move toward nuclear weapons and that we still have a long way to go there. I am not saying that it's not positive what we're doing. It's very positive. I mean, for the first time in three or four administrations, finally

we're getting some movement in the right direction. But that they still have this capability and not just to produce --

BOLDUAN: But Senator, does it bother you, because the President clearly thinks that the assessment coming from intel leaders, he thinks it's in contradiction to what he's saying. He thinks that. Does that bother you? Do you think they're in contradiction, because the President does?

PORTMAN: Again, I haven't seen his tweet so I need to look at that. But I think we need to work together with regard to the intelligence community and their assessment. They're not always right. They're not always historically accurate, but that's the best we have. We need to rely on them. So I think about WMDs in Iraq as an example where they weren't exactly accurate. So, yes, we need to have oversight here in Congress and people need to be sure that we're getting the right information. But it's the best we have. And of course, we need to rely on them.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the shutdown really quickly. Negotiators are meeting today. You are pushing for a bill that would effectively ban any government shutdowns in the future. I asked another Republican, Congressman Tom Reed about it yesterday and he doesn't support that idea. He says that it lets you all off the hook, effectively. That you're abdicating your responsibilities. What do you say to that?

PORTMAN: Well, I haven't talked to Tom about it, but I do know we have half of the Republican conference already cosponsoring our legislation over here in the Senate and there's a companion bill in the House that's bipartisan introduced by Republican and Democrat and t there's just a lot of momentum for it right now, Kate.

I can't tell you the number of my colleagues who are coming up to me and saying, "This is it." After going through this 35-day shutdown, it was so painful. We don't want to do this again. And there are different ways to get at it.

One of the things about our bill that I like is that it deals with what Congressman Reed is talking about in the sense that it says after four months, when you haven't been able to come to an agreement and you have this continuing resolution in place, meaning spending from the previous year, then the spending is reduced by 1%. Why do we do that? It's to get Republicans and Democrats to the table the precise issue he is talking about so that people are feeling like they're accountable to coming up with a result which is an appropriations bill, a spending bill. We want spending bills. We don't want continuing resolutions forever because that way, you don't get reform of government, you don't get predictability.

So I think it's a good way to do it. By the way, 54% of the spending we're talking about is now defense spending. And so this notion that somehow Republicans wouldn't mind the 1%, I think they would mind it. I would mind it. A lot of people would. So it's a significant way to deal with the issue he raises and others

have raised. We need to stop the shutdowns. That's the most important thing. So let's never do that again.

But second, we also need to provide an incentive to get the appropriators in particular, the appropriations committee members to do their work so that we have spending bills, so they're done on time and so that we can indeed have better government for the people we represent.

BOLDUAN: A core responsibility of the Congress, keeping the government funded and running.

PORTMAN: Constitutional responsibility.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, sir. Thanks for coming in.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Kate. Good to talk to you, as always.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. Coming up for us, we're going to ask a Democratic congressman who's part of these negotiations to avoid another government shutdown as I was just talking about with Rob Portman. We're going to talk to him about where negotiations are going to head today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:45:00]

BOLDUAN: In the next couple of hours, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is sitting down for the first time to kick off talks to try and avoid another government shutdown. But before they begin, they're already on the clock.

The pause that was agreed to by Congress and the President only gives them just over two weeks now to get a deal done. And the President this morning already laying out what has been in the past, his line in the sand, saying this on Twitter, "If the Committee is not discussing or contemplating a wall or physical barrier, they are wasting their time."

So what do negotiators do with that? Is there any room for compromise now than before? One of the negotiators sitting at the table today is joining me right now, Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar from Texas. Congressman, thank you for coming in.

HENRY CUELLAR, U.S. CONGRESSMAN, TEXAS, DEMOCRAT: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: The President laid out something of a position this morning on what he can accept from the talks. No talk of a wall or a barrier is a waste of time. So are you open to discussing or contemplating money for a wall or physical barrier at the border?

A wall is a 14th Century solution to a 21st Century issue. Where we live, I live on the border. I don't just go and visit a couple of minutes or a few hours and say, "I know the border." So I know what works down there. If you want to stop drugs, most drugs come through ports of entry. So we've got to put canines, the latest x-ray machines, personnel at the ports of entry.

If you want to stop people, keep in mind that 67% of the people that we have here illegally came through a visa. So even if you put a wall, they're going to come in and come through a legal way. So we've got to secure the border. I want to do it the right way.

BOLDUAN: So you're saying no, you are not contemplating money for a wall or physical barrier at the border? You're already a no on that.

CUELLAR: That is correct. But again, I'd be willing to go in with an open mind.

[11:50:06]

CUELLAR: Any time you sit in a conference committee, you listen to the negotiators.

BOLDUAN: Those two things don't seem to go hand in hand. You're will to go in with an open mind, but you're already saying going in, you're a no on any wall or physical barrier.

CUELLAR: Yes, that's correct.

BOLDUAN: If it's called a fence, does that change it for you?

CUELLAR: No, a fence - look, we have 654 miles of fencing right now. They got built under the Clinton administration, mainly under the Bush administration and some under the Obama administration. We already have 654 miles.

Under the Secure Fence Act, President Bush said build 700 miles and we're just a few miles away from that, you build 700 miles so we can have full, comprehensive immigration reform and what President Trump is doing is moving the goalpost. We want to secure the border, but we want to do it in a smart way, a strong, smart, effective way.

BOLDUAN: Another negotiator, another Democrat, Senator John Tester, he told "The New York Times" noting that there had been - there is a wall in portions of the border, he told "The New York Times" this, "I think to take that" -- meaning talk of a wall -- "off the table entirely, this is my opinion, okay? Would be not the best direction to go." So he is indicating a willingness. Is John Tester wrong?

CUELLAR: Well, again, the Senator who is a Ranking Member on Homeland Appropriation is going to take his position. I have a different position. We all have a different position on how we settle this, but again, we're negotiators. Appropriators, Democrats, Republicans, senator, House members, if we don't have an outside influence, let's say President Trump, we can sit down and work a compromise because all of the members on this conference committee are appropriators --

BOLDUAN: Compromise is an important word here, but Republicans are not going to see what you're saying as any kind of openness or any kind of compromise. You're saying absolutely no on the border, any kind of physical barrier at the border being funded to keep the government open, correct?

CUELLAR: That is correct and again, go ahead.

BOLDUAN: No, no. I totally understand, one other issue in the negotiations passed and today is a new day, but another potential issue that has been discussed is DACA and DREAMers. The President had suggested and it was rejected, a three-year reprieve for protections for them. Steny Hoyer, Democratic Majority Leader, he said yesterday, he doesn't expect that to be a part of the negotiation, DREAMers and DACA protections. So right now from your perspective, is that also off the table?

CUELLAR: Well, again, let's keep in mind, the makeup of the committee, we are all appropriators. We have a House bill and a Senate bill. The purpose of a conference committee is to look at two different bills and put them together.

I support DREAMers. I support full immigration reform, but again, under the timeframe we have, under the timeframe that we have and what we have to get done, we're looking at two bills and we're going to conference the differences between the House and the Senate, that's what appropriators do.

BOLDUAN: Do you think DACA and DREAMers is likely to be part of it?

CUELLAR: Again, I wish it would, but under the circumstances, the timing that we have here especially the way the --

BOLDUAN: You're skeptical.

CUELLAR: Yes, I am skeptical especially the way the President said, give me a wall and I'll give you temporary DREAMers. The Supreme Court already declined the case. So the Supreme Court already gave us some time, so he's not giving up anything at all. So again, that's another discussion, but right now, there is a House bill, a Senate bill, the role of the conference committee is to get two different bills and put them together.

BOLDUAN: Right now, Congressman Henry Cuellar, the negotiator, is a no when it comes to any physical barrier, a wall being part of it. Thank you so much, Congressman. We'll see what happens coming out of the meeting.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate it. Thank you. That's an important note today. We''ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:55:00]

BOLDUAN: We are now aware of five meetings between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Today, a new report is shedding new light on how in- depth one of those encounters really was at the G-20 Summit in November and how there were no U.S. officials involved. CNN White House reporter, Jeremey Diamond is joining me now with more

details. Jeremy, what are you learning?

JEREMEY DIAMOND, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, CNN: Well, a Russian official is telling the "Financial Times" that President Trump and President Vladimir Putin discussed this situation in Syria, discussed this confrontation at the time between Ukrainian and Russian ships during a 15-minute long meeting and they're saying that there were no U.S. officials there, just the First Lady, a Russian translator and the two Presidents.

The White House so far is declining to confirm or deny that there were no U.S. officials present there. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders did tell me, though, in a statement that the President reiterated to Putin why he canceled the meeting. But again, neither confirming nor denying there were other U.S. officials present and addressing the question of why?

This has been something that has dogged this administration. Of course, the question of why this President continues to meet with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, not once, not twice, but multiple times without any other U.S. officials present or requiring that the translator in question give him his notes as happened at the G-20 in 2017 -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

[12:00:09]