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CNN NEWSROOM

Diverse Democratic Field Readies to Challenge Trump; President Trump to Deliver State of the Union Tomorrow; Trump Says He Won't Rule Out Another Shutdown or a National Emergency; Interview With Joe Lieberman; Lieberman, Ocasio-Cortez Spar Over Democratic Party's Future; Axios: Trump's Post-Midterm Schedule Has Been 60 Percent Executive Time; Embattled Virginia Governor Holds Cabinet Meeting; Trump: I Will Send Troops Back to Syria if ISIS Returns; Trump May Still Shutdown Government, Declare National Emergency; Majority of Americans Oppose Another Government Shutdown, According to New Poll; Embattled Virginia Governor Holds Cabinet Meeting. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 4, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] HARLOW: Those are cute little babies.

BERMAN: As Politico has noted, it all comes down to (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: It always does.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

HARLOW: It always does.

Nice to be with you.

BERMAN: It's great to see you again. Let's do it again.

HARLOW: I'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I will hand it over now to my other buddy, Jim Sciutto, who takes over for "NEWSROOM" right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, guys. And a very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.

A day before a delayed State of the Union speech, 11 days before the government could partly shut down once again, a brand new CNN poll reveals what Americans really think about all of this. This morning, almost 7 in 10 Americans say that the federal government is doing a bad job of governing, including 43 percent who say it is the worst job of governing in their lifetimes.

Only four Americans in 10 approve of the president's job performance and nearly two-thirds do not believe the president and Congress will make a deal on border security in time to head off another shutdown.

The president continues to all but promise to act on his own to fund his desired border wall, though Americans by more than two to one margin oppose an emergency declaration. And this morning, we are also watching the next move of the governor

of Virginia as we speak, Ralph Northam is meeting with his cabinet while he struggles to keep his job amid, really, an alarming scandal over racist yearbook photos.

Much more on that in just a moment but we begin at the White House with CNN's Joe Johns.

What is the president saying about these border talks? I mean, really, we just have days left before an agreement must be reached.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, he's on the record now, isn't he, after that interview with CBS News? After the longest shutdown in government history with the conferees on homeland security trying to get a deal before February 15th. The possibility of yet another government shutdown.

The president went through one. Didn't get what he wanted. Didn't get the money he wanted for his wall, and now once again, he's saying he's not ruling out the possibility of yet another shutdown, even though there could be court action, disapproval resolution in the United States Congress.

Here's what he said to CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS "FACE THE NATION" ANCHOR: Would you shut down the government again?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're going to have to see what happens on February 15th. And I think --

BRENNAN: You're not taking it off the table?

TRUMP: Well, I don't take anything off the table. I don't like to take things off the table. It's that alternative. It's national emergency. It's other things. And, you know, there have been plenty of national emergencies called.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: OK. So how does that play with the public? Well, our most recent polling suggests Democrats are more in a power position than the president on the issue of the wall, if he were to shut down the government because he didn't get the money for his wall, 57 percent of respondents disapprove of that idea.

Jim, back to you.

SCIUTTO: Joe, you look at the president's approval rating in this latest poll, 40 percent. Off its lows in the high 30s when the government was shut down. Where does the president stand approval wise compared to past presidents at this point in their administrations just ahead of their third State of the Unions? JOHNS: Well, if you look at the books going all the way back to

President Eisenhower, Mr. Trump is well down on the list. Almost at the bottom of approval ratings going into the third State of the Union period. Actually, the third year for the State of the Union. So he is at about 35 percent. And the only person below him is Ronald Reagan.

SCIUTTO: Interestingly. Joe Johns at the White House, thanks very much.

Lauren Fox, CNN politics congressional reporter, joining us now.

Interesting poll numbers on who Americans think should have the most influence in Washington today. Tell us what we learned.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this poll shows that 51 percent of Americans think the Democrats should be the one running government and only 40 percent think that the president of the United States should be. And, you know, we're going to get a sampling this week of what Democratic control of the House of Representatives look like. They have hearings on the president's tax returns.

They have a hearing on the president's policy when it comes to family separation on the border. They have a hearing with the acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. All of this coming this week on Capitol Hill. And watch that number very closely, Jim, as time goes by because a lot of Democrats are going to be hoping that it doesn't slip. That Americans don't think they've gone too far ahead of their skis in doing this kind of congressional oversight that a lot of Americans, obviously, were hungry for in the 2018 midterms. But be watching that number because Democrats could overstep and that number could start to slide.

SCIUTTO: A lot of folks saw the shutdown as this sort of Trump versus Pelosi standoff. What does this polling show us on Nancy Pelosi's approval?

FOX: Well, it's actually pretty good news for the speaker of the House of Representatives. You know, a lot of reasons why Democrats and Republicans were dug in on both sides is they felt like this was a good message for their base.

[09:05:02] Everybody felt like they were winning. And while the president's approval rating hasn't gone up, Nancy Pelosi's has gone up eight points since December. And it is at the highest point that it's been at since April of 2007.

So, Jim, some good news this morning for Nancy Pelosi in that poll.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Statistically significant as pollsters would say.

Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is meeting with his cabinet right now, as we speak, and considering his options. State and national leaders from both sides of the aisle have joined almost unanimously in calling for Northam to step down. At first he apologized and admitted appearing in a racist 1984 yearbook photo, the one you're seeing there. Then he insisted in really a bizarre press conference that it was actually not him in that picture.

CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles, he's live in Richmond, Virginia.

So, Ryan, an all-staff meeting right now. One thing we did not hear over the weekend was really anyone coming out in support of Northam staying. What's planned after the governor hears from staff this morning?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you raise a very important point there because the one thing that Ralph Northam has said over and over again is that he will only stay in office if he can continue to govern effectively. And he'll get a real read on just how effective he can continue to be by these two meetings that he's having today.

The one happening right now at 9:00 a.m., his regularly scheduled cabinet meeting. These are the most important allies and counselors that he has in his government. So far none of them have resigned as of yet. The question is, are they willing to stick by the governor during this difficult time?

The second meeting at 10:00 a.m. is being described as an all-staff meeting which will then cast a wider group of people that are around the governor, where he'll get frankly a very difficult conversation with that group as well to find out if they're willing to stick by him.

You know, Jim, this comes against the backdrop of virtually every elected leader in Virginia in some form or capacity, Republican and Democrat, saying that it is time for Northam to step down. Now that makes his life difficult, it makes it not easy to govern, but he can still practically be the governor, whether these folks want him out or not.

If he loses the support and if he loses just the human resources of the folks that work underneath him, that's where his life gets much more difficult. So those meetings will be important.

Jim, I should also point out, just in the last half hour, a new development. The Republican speaker of the House here in Virginia, Kirk Cox, who has called for the governor's resignation, made it clear to us just a few minutes ago that they will not be attempting to forcibly remove Ralph Northam from office. So impeachment is not on the table here.

It seems pretty clear, Jim, that if Ralph Northam is going to leave office, he's going to do it on his term. The question is, is that going to happen?

SCIUTTO: That's right. You look at the law for impeachment in the state. It seems to be about corruption while in office. So the question is, does that at least apply to this?

Ryan Nobles, thanks very much.

Joining me now to discuss this, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," and Toluse Olorunnipa, White House correspondent for the "Washington Post."

Susan, let me ask you. You've watched scandals like this play out for Republicans and Democratic lawmakers. Looking at the playing field right now, can Governor Northam survive this, in your view?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: No. I think everyone in politics realized over the weekend that he could not survive. That he's going to have to resign. Everyone except the governor himself. And I assume that after his meetings today, this is a realization. He can legally stay in office but by his own standard he will not be able to govern and he really risks damage to the Democratic Party in Virginia, which has been making great strides from a red state to a purple state to a state that has been looking pretty blue.

SCIUTTO: Toluse, I mean, it seems like here the governor attempting to take a page out of President Trump's playbook, to some degree. Just kind of stick with it and hope that the storm passes. But as Susan is saying, if his own staff and own party won't work with him, I mean, that lays out just the difficulty of remaining there as an effective governor.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. He is in a very tough spot politically. You have seen the playbook from President Trump in which he survived the "Access Hollywood" scandal and sort of just powered through a large number of other scandals over the course of his campaign and his presidency. He did have the loyalty of several members of his party, which Governor Northam right now does not enjoy.

He's seeing calls for resignation from the broad spectrum of people within his party all the way from national presidential candidates down to the local leaders in his caucus there in Virginia. And it does appear that it's going to be very difficult for him to survive this. If he decides that he wants to stick it out and fight for his legacy, the statement from the speaker of the House and the law within the commonwealth of Virginia make it very difficult for anyone to force him out of office.

It would have to be sort of Democrats calling on him not to be a distraction, not to be a drag on their election chances this coming November, that would have to sort of weigh on his conscience and cause him to resign. But so far, he's been reluctant to do that.

[09:10:03] And I don't know that this meeting this morning will change his mind unless maybe he hears from his cabinet that they no longer have confidence with him or then they no longer want to work with him. We haven't seen those calls yet. We'll have to wait and see if that happens.

SCIUTTO: Susan, you mentioned the challenges for the Virginia Democratic Party. But this is also about the Democratic Party more nationally trying to draw a sharp line between itself and Republicans on the issue of race. And I imagine that's why you've seen so many national candidates pipe in on Northam.

PAGE: You know, you mentioned that Donald Trump has survived scandals that were every bit as bad as this one, but that is one reason that Democrats feel it is unacceptable to have Governor Northam stay in office in this case because they have articulated for themselves a higher standard when it comes to things like racism and sexism in the wake of the Me Too Movement. I mean, that's one reason that Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota, found himself kind of forced to resign in a furor that would not necessarily have cost him his office in some previous time.

Democrats are responding to Trump by trying to demonstrate that they do not respond as he has responded to scandals like this one.

SCIUTTO: Right. Although with the Franken example, you do have some Democrats who had sort of, I don't know, second thoughts about that in retrospect, did they not? But you don't envision the same thing here. It's a clearer cut decision for Democrats, you're saying.

PAGE: That's right. And especially when you look at the lieutenant governor ready to step in, Justin Fairfax. An African-American himself, the descendant of an enslaved person. I think we were all struck when he was inaugurated and he carried in his co-pocket the emancipation papers for his ancestor.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

PAGE: You know, this gives the potential to have a figure who could step in for Governor Northam and repair some of the damage that's been done.

SCIUTTO: Toluse, State of the Union, delayed State of the Union now happening tomorrow. The president expected to use this certainly as a bully pulpit on the border issue but also possibly abortion. On the border issue, do you expect him to declare a national emergency tomorrow?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, the president definitely hinted that that might be on the table. On the one hand, the president has said the speech will be about unification. We heard from a White House official last week who said that the president is not going to make the speech just about immigration. He's going to talk about trying to bring people together and putting forward bipartisan ideas for a solution to the country's problems.

But if he decides to declare a national emergency during the speech that would definitely sour the waters and make it very difficult for Democrats to want to work with him on immigration or any other issue. So the president seems to say he has been setting the table over the last several weeks with the government shutdown and with his focus on the border for the declaration of a national emergency. It's not clear if he'll continue setting the table during the State of the Union or just go ahead declare it but the border and the immigration issue will definitely be front and center as the president addresses the Congress tomorrow.

And it's clear that he wants to do it. It's just not yet clear whether he's going to do it tomorrow or figure out a way to wait until February 15th. See if Congress can come up with something, and if they don't, declare a national emergency and move forward with building the wall on his own.

SCIUTTO: Right. And that likely being tied up in courts. It's actually not a final answer to that question, if he -- even if he does.

Susan, Toluse, thanks very much. We're certainly going to be watching the speech tomorrow. I know you will be, too.

The president says that the State of the Union, as Toluse was saying there, will stress unity. But he's got a tough crowd to convince, including a string of 2020 challengers. Joe Lieberman's take on that race, next.

Plus, layoffs start today for 4,000 GM employees just as the president is set to tout U.S. manufacturing in his State of the Union address.

And after ordering a full and rapid withdrawal of troops from Syria, the president admits that he might have to send them back if ISIS makes a comeback.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: Tomorrow night, President Trump finally gets his chance to report on the State of the Union. And not only will he face a lot more Democrats than last time. A lot of them plan to run against him in 2020.

Joining me now with his thoughts on that and much more, former senator from the state of Connecticut, former Vice Presidential candidate as well, Joe Lieberman. Thanks very much, senator, for taking the time --

JOE LIEBERMAN, FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR: Great to be here, Jim, good morning.

SCIUTTO: So tomorrow, the president will certainly be speaking about immigration, the wall, shutdown, et cetera. He's not giving up money for the wall, but it appears that Democrats, at least Nancy Pelosi and others not willing to give up a dollar for the wall. Do you see any solution to this standoff here?

LIEBERMAN: Well, stepping back from the rabid device of travel partisan politics of our day -- in the good old days, there's an obvious solution, which is that the Democrats want some reforms on immigration, particularly about the so-called Dreamers, young people brought here as minors, illegal by their parents, but really, totally Americans, legalize them.

And then the president wants something to improve border security, a barrier for part of it. So you negotiate -- you can't get everything you want in our system because if you try for that, you end up with nothing. And that's what both parties and the country have been getting for too long from Washington.

SCIUTTO: To be fair, the president has backed off his wall from sea to shining sea --

LIEBERMAN: Right --

SCIUTTO: Now it's a barrier for a few hundred miles. Democratic leaders seem to be sticking to now, not a dollar for the wall. I mean, it's as you can say, it's as definitive a position as the president's position here. Are Democrats making a mistake by not, as you suggest, being willing to deal?

LIEBERMAN: I think so, and I think it's not in the national interest. And look, in terms of consistency, what pretty obviously could be called a wall has been built under previous Democratic presidents along the border. I believe some was under President Clinton, some was under President Obama.

[09:20:00] It made sense. I mean, I'm very pro-immigration, but I don't believe we should open up our borders to let anybody come in here, we're a country of laws. And to enforce the laws, you've got to have a barrier and some places a wall on our borders.

So this has got to be about more than political advantage for either side. It's got to be about solving some problems, and you can only do that by negotiating -- here's -- why I'm a little optimistic, Nita Lowey, chair -- congresswoman from New York, chair of the Appropriations Committee in the House, now is chair of those conference, bipartisan conference committee trying to work out a solution so the government doesn't close again.

She's a practical, effective and I hope she can work her will.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching for it. I want to ask more broadly about the Democratic Party, because you have not been a fan of some of the harder left positions taken by the 2020 candidates so far.

LIEBERMAN: Right --

SCIUTTO: I wonder looking ahead to 2020, is it your view that a more liberal Democratic nominee would be less likely to beat President Trump in the general?

LIEBERMAN: It is. I mean, I think there's a real opening here for the Democratic Party in the 2020 election. One of the interesting parts of the 2016 election was that President Trump actually carried the independent voters. Right now in the polling, he's losing them by a lot.

Democrats with their presidential candidates are going to not get those voters back and get some of the Republicans who have not been happy with President Trump if they run a far-left candidate. I'll just say this about the congressional elections last year. The three or four new Democrats in the House who got the most

attention tend to be more to the left, but they're not representative of the new class. The new class is mostly center left --

SCIUTTO: Right --

LIEBERMAN: And not far-left. And that's how the Democrats regained the majority in the House, and that's how the Democrats have a chance to win --

SCIUTTO: Right --

LIEBERMAN: The presidency in 2020.

SCIUTTO: It's those candidates, they are the ones who flipped red to blue. Those are the kinds --

(CROSSTALK)

LIEBERMAN: Exactly, I mean, most of those districts that flipped from Republican or Democrat were not going to vote for a far-left Democratic candidate. And that's the message and the lesson for 2020.

SCIUTTO: You found yourself in something of a public spat perhaps, not desired with one of the -- one of the new --

LIEBERMAN: Right --

SCIUTTO: Left stars, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you told "Fox Business News" last month, that you thought certainly -- you certainly hope that she's not the future of the party there. She responded via Twitter and, of course, Twitter is the way people interact these days --

LIEBERMAN: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Saying "new party, who this?"

LIEBERMAN: Who this? Yes --

SCIUTTO: In effect saying, you're part of the past of the party.

LIEBERMAN: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Are you part of the Democratic Party's past?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I'm really -- I was blessed to be part of the Democratic Party's past in some pretty great years. The Clinton administration had the honor to run with Al Gore for vice president in 2000. And a lot of people think we won that election, and we got a lot done.

So I respect Congresswoman Ocasio -Cortez, she won fair and square. But she's only one member of Congress, as Nancy Pelosi said last Fall. There are a lot of others, and she shouldn't because of media attention define what the Democratic Party is about. The Democratic Party needs to be broader than her ideology is to be successful.

SCIUTTO: You worked with a lot of presidents, Democratic and Republican --

LIEBERMAN: Yes --

SCIUTTO: In your time in the Senate. "Axios" had really quite alarming report today where someone leaked from inside the White House the president's schedule from the last three months.

LIEBERMAN: Right --

SCIUTTO: And in that schedule, we saw that 60 percent of his time, more than half percent is spent -- is what's called executive time. The White House says he's making phone calls, he's watching TV, he's probably tweeting here and there. Is that a president who is serious about the office, who is spending that much time unscheduled?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I don't -- now, that we know that, I don't think we can make a judgment based on that. I mean, I'm going to make my judgment based on what he does publicly, what he gets accomplished. I think he's got -- President Trump has a real opportunity in the State of the Union tomorrow night to show he's a leader who wants to solve problems.

I think that's part of why he got elected, "The Art of the Deal". And making a deal means you've got to negotiate. So I think he's got some good news for the country tomorrow, certainly the economy is doing well, but he should reach out on infrastructure, and on immigration reform.

And say, let's work together to get something done for our country. That's the way, honestly, we make America great again.

SCIUTTO: Well, I know, there's a big appetite for that. Just quickly, before we go, you're aware of the problems facing the Democratic governor of Virginia --

LIEBERMAN: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Ralph Northam, do you believe he should resign?

LIEBERMAN: I don't, today. I mean, I think there's a rush to judgment that is unfair to him. One, he says he wasn't in that picture, two, I think we ought to fairly ask him, did he know the picture was on his page of that yearbook?

[09:25:00] And then three, really ought to be judged in the context of his whole life. You know, I pray every day that God is merciful with me because I know how imperfect I am. And I always feel that I've got to show the same kind of mercy to other people in judgment, until they're actually proven guilty. And I think he deserves a chance to prove what really is his essence.

Not to rush him out of office and, unfortunately, for political reasons. SCIUTTO: Senator Lieberman, thanks very much for taking the time,

always good --

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Jim --

SCIUTTO: To have a conversation.

LIEBERMAN: You, too.

SCIUTTO: President Trump renewing his promise to pull out U.S. troops from Syria, but offers a surprising new plan if ISIS were to regain power, turn around and go back in. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: President Trump is not backing down from his promise to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. But he is acknowledging that ISIS could regain strength if troops do leave the country. His solution if that happens, send them back in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

END