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Trump Calls for Unity, End to Partisan Investigations During State of the Union; Trump: If Congress Fails to Act on Wall, "I'll Get it Built"; Washington Post: Warren Listed Race as "American Indian" for Texas Bar; Trump Touts Progress Against ISIS in Syria; Trump Makes Claim About Illegal Immigrant Crime; Trump Focuses on Border Battle, Ignores Shutdown in Speech and Calls for Unity and an End to Partisan Investigations; Interview With Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA); Lawmakers Hope to Reach Deal Averting Shutdown By End of Week. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 6, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:12] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

The State of the Union is bipartisan? Well, the president is hailing the virtues of compromise as yet another government shutdown looms just nine days from today. In his 82-minute State of the Union speech to a sharply divided Congress, an address he had to postpone because of the previous shutdown, the president gave no ground on a wall, offered no concessions, notably to Democrats, and threw in a warning against, quote, "ridiculous investigations" of him, his administration, his businesses, his campaign. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An economic miracle is taking place in the United States and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.



SCIUTTO: However, on border issues, the president did not declare a national emergency, as some expected, an end run it would be to finance a wall nor did he threaten another shutdown, he didn't even mention the word shutdown. He did call the, quote, "lawless southern border" an urgent national crisis and a threat to all Americans.

We're going to break all of this down in the hour ahead beginning with our Joe Johns at the White House.

Joe, a State of the Union speech can serve as a reset for a president who's had setbacks. There seem to be something of a reset message there talking about compromise. What happens now? Is this White House going to deliver on compromise?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's a pretty good question, Jim. Look, this was the president's first State of the Union address since Democrats took over the House of Representatives and if you listen very carefully, the president struck many of the unifying themes of bipartisanship that Americans have come to expect from the State of the Union address no matter who delivers it.

Of course this was Donald Trump and it's still Donald Trump and, in fact, a lot of that message of compromise was directed at the Democrats who have now taken over the House. They're beginning their investigations. They're waiting for the report on the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election to drop so that message was directed at them. Listen to this soundbite in that context.


TRUMP: We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good.


JOHNS: Now here's the contradiction. On the president's signature issue, that border wall, he essentially doesn't want to compromise. Hear what the president had to say.


TRUMP: In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall. But the proper wall never got built. I will get it built.



JOHNS: So what we know is a conference committee on Capitol Hill almost as we speak is trying to put together some plan to give the president something of what he wants on his border wall, no indication of how close they're going to get and as you know, Jim, there's a possibility the president going it alone by declaring a national emergency. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: And some opposition to that from several Republicans.

Joe Johns, thanks very much.

One word we did not hear from the president at all -- shutdown. Nine days until the next shutdown deadline and we are hearing, as Joe was saying there, that there are talks on the Hill between Republicans and Democrats. They seem to be making progress.

Let's bring in CNN politics congressional reporter Lauren Fox.

Do we have any sense of the outlines of what this bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans are talking about on the Hill and is there any quid pro quo? Is there any concessions going in both directions?

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, what we do know is there is some tepid optimism this morning on Capitol Hill when it comes to those border negotiations. We do know that Republicans and Democrats are trading proposals back and forth. We know there are still key sticking points over the border wall over how many detention beds there would be the border.

All of that getting negotiated but some things to watch. At 10:00 a.m. this morning, border officials will brief the conference committee in a closed door meeting about exactly what they need at the border, and I think that's an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to move a little bit off their talking points. They can say, look, this is what border officials said they needed. They needed a barrier here. They needed more officials here. They needed more technology there.

All of that could be sort of the grounds for a negotiation. So a lot of lawmakers very optimistic about where things are moving but there are still key sticking points and we should remember, there's still a key question.

[09:05:02] Does the president of the United States sign whatever they give him? And when I talked yesterday to Richard Shelby, he's the Senate Appropriations chairman, I said, you know, do you think the president could sign this? And he said I think if we got a deal he would be open to signing it, he said, but listen, I don't have any guarantees of whether the president is going to sign this piece of legislation so a huge question mark even as lawmakers on both sides of the capitol find some common ground, try to move forward with this conference negotiations -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That's an ever green comment right there. No guarantee that the president will sign this legislation.

Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with Ayesha Rascoe, she's White House reporter for NPR, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today" and Vinca LaFleur, she's a former speech writer for President Clinton.

Thanks to all of you for joining this morning.

Susan Page, you've seen a few State of the Unions speeches in your time.


SCIUTTO: It's not unusual for a president to say let's all come together, you know, that we are Americans not Republicans. Do you see the president backing up those words with action, particularly on the key dividing issue right now which is the border ball? Because that's going to require a compromise?

PAGE: Yes, presidents always call for unity and they always say the state of the union is strong regardless. We hear both of those things last night. I think you -- I think the State of the Union can't be pulled out of the context of a full presidency. You have to think about, what has a president done leading up to the State of the Union? What's his history of what does he do after the State of the Union?

And there's no context that puts President Trump as someone who reaches out to the other side. He has pursued a presidency that relies on getting support from his base and counting on that to maintain his political strength and I think we should have every expectation that's what we're going to see going ahead.

SCIUTTO: Vinka, the numbers last night, CNN's polling, other polling showed by and large people, a large majority had a positive reaction to the speech. I think the key number there was independents that showed that they were happy with this, and that's going to will be really the decisive factor in 2020 going forward.

From your perspective as a Democrat, do you see the president moving in a direction here that could be a successful one for him?

VINCA LAFLEUR, FORMER CLINTON SPEECHWRITER: Well, I do want to say the approval ratings for the speech certainly reflect who actually watched the speech, and so I do think there were probably a lot of Democrats who just didn't tune in.

SCIUTTO: Well, there -- and our own polling showed that there was a larger portion of Republicans who watched but those independent figures were almost across the board very positive for the speech.

LAFLEUR: So I think Susan is right. I think ultimately what really is going to matter is what he says and also what he has said up until that point and we know because of excellent reporting that, you know, hours before the speech he was saying all sorts of things that were very divisive and not at all about unity including about Democratic leaders in Congress. So very it's difficult to take the president at his word on issues like unity.

In contrast, though, I think for me one of the lines that stood out in the speech were, I wonder what the president had in mind and it stood out to me as a speech writer because it rimed rhyme which is an unusual thing to do in a speech for sentences when he said there can be no peace and legislation if there is war and investigation.


LAFLEUR: And just the way that sentence was constructed, he wanted us to remember it. He made it easy to remember so I wonder where that will go and I don't think that sounds like an olive branch to Democrats.

SCIUTTO: And that was a line where I think the president was expecting applause and did not get applause.

LAFLEUR: He did not get it from anyone.

SCIUTTO: From either side of the aisle.

LAFLEUR: From anyone.

SCIUTTO: It was notable. Ayesha, you heard Lauren Fox on the Hill. We know we have this

bipartisan group of senators from Ways and Means, et cetera, discussing. Do you have any sense based on your reporting as to what that agreement looks like? Because I've spoken to a lot of Democrats and you've heard some of this in their public comments, that seemed to be saying they're willing to give money for this border wall, which would seem to give the president what he wants here.

Are Republicans offering anything in return?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: It's not really clear right now. It does seem like Democrats are saying that they will accept barriers at certain points, maybe where it makes sense as long as it's not this medieval wall which everyone seems to have moved back from. But it's not clear what Democrats will get in return other than showing that they do care about border security and that is important for them to be able to make that argument, that they're -- because that's what the president is trying to argue, that they don't care at all which obviously that's what they want to kind of counteract and say, we do care, we just want kind of sensible border security. We wanted more modern and not just a big wall.

SCIUTTO: Susan, there's a lot of talk about what the president can claim victory over. Right? They say, well, give him something he can claim victory, got some money for the wall but listen, Republicans -- Democrats, rather, have thrown down the gauntlet as well here. Nancy Pelosi until recently her position was not a single dollar for the wall and seems to have made a political judgment that no works for them so what is -- how do Democrats come out of this claiming a victory as well? Because there are going to be parts of the Democratic base who would say you gave into the president on the wall?

PAGE: You know, the shutdown we just went through clearly to the Democrats' advantage but there is some nervousness among Democrats that they could take this too far and the riskiest thing I think that Democrats worry about, including Nancy Pelosi, is being open to being portrayed as not caring about border security, because the wall is separate.

[09:10:03] For Democrats the wall is separate from having smart border security. So I do think there is -- are the ingredients there. Certainly this conference committee, the 17-person conference committee that's meeting, they could reach a deal that gives both sides something to claim credit for.


PAGE: In about an hour and a half and the question really is, will the president take the deal? Will it be a deal that he can claim credit for that Democrats also can sign on to? And that we don't know.

SCIUTTO: You hear a lot from the president's biographers that -- in the president's view -- he's a zero-sum guy. Right? The idea of a win-win deal is not one that appeals to him really, right? He wants to be able to claim victory. And I think when you look at the broader messages of his speech beyond the wall, you know, hitting at Democrats on the abortion issue, certainly, and that's something we've heard consistently, attacking them on investigations, do you see a president -- do you see any sign this president will be less combative in the next two years than we saw in the first two years?

LAFLEUR: No, absolutely not. And the point about being combative, you know, there's a line in the speech at the beginning when he says America is winning every day and I'm thinking winning what? You know, what's that about? We're not in a contest right now. So, no, I think he will continue to be just as combative and on the question of the wall, just coming back to semantics as a speech writer, he did try out a new phrase. It's not a wall anymore, it's a smart strategic see- through steel barrier.


LAFLEUR: Which doesn't fit --

SCIUTTO: It's a little longer in a tweet, right?

LAFLEUR: It is a little longer, but you know he tested it out, it's got nice alliteration so I do think at some level that's an effort to move the dialogue a little bit, although he himself came to it. Now I think every intention of this president is to stay pugilistic because that's what his base likes actually.

SCIUTTO: And his reelection strategy is it appears largely a base reelection strategy.


SCIUTTO: You'll hear from his adviser Brad Parscale and other that in their numbers in the key swing districts that the wall works for them regardless of the fact that a broad majority of the American public does not think a wall is necessary.

LAFLEUR: That's right. That's right. But another thing that stuck out to me, he used the word moral, a moral duty, in talking about the situation with our border with Mexico which he refers to again as a very dangerous southern border which I don't think is how most Americans think of it, and I think we need to be very alert to the language that he's using just to talk about this whole set of issues, and not be drawn too deeply into the narrative that he's trying to create.


LAFLEUR: You know, immigration has been a topic of debate for a very long time. It's a huge issue and it's foundational to our country and who we are as Americans.

SCIUTTO: And even making a connection between crime and immigration, which the numbers just don't support.

LAFLEUR: That's right.

SCIUTTO: We fact-check that last night. We're going to fact-check it later in this broadcast. The numbers just don't support that.

LAFLEUR: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Immigrants commit fewer crimes.

Ayesha, the president did not declare a national emergency last night. There was some discussion of that possibility leading up to this. How should we read that? Just -- he's biding his time to see if that's necessary or do you think he's listening to the many Republicans who said don't go there, Mr. President?

RASCOE: I think it is very complicated. I don't know that there was ever really any plan to declare a national emergency in the State of the Union because it would have overshadowed everything else that he was doing and I think President Trump does like the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union, and kind of appearing as larger than life. And if you declare a national emergency in the State of the Union, anything -- nothing else is going to matter and so I don't think it was really something that the White House was really expecting to do but they have this in their back pocket.

The problem is you have Republicans who could go against that and have come out in opposition to him doing this. And so the question is, does he have enough support? And it would be really embarrassing to this president to declare a national emergency and then to have Congress come back and kind of overturn that.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Particularly Republicans. You know, who have been very vocal.

RASCOE: It would be an embarrassment so they have to think about that now.

SCIUTTO: Susan, one of the most memorable moments last night was this moment where the president gave a shout-out to the record number of women in Congress, many of them wearing white. I think we have that moment here. It was memorable. I mean, memorable for -- and there they are celebrating that, I think, and he even said as he gave the shout-out, you weren't expecting this. Tell me how you felt with that, and was that one of those moments of outreach that has value?

PAGE: You know, a speech that goes on for an hour and 23 minutes, what are we going to remember? One of the things we're going to remember is that scene because it is different. It's the first time we've had so many women in Congress. 89 Democratic women, almost all of them wearing white in a nod to the suffragettes, the color of the suffragettes, and in a symbol of their solidarity. And, you know, when they stood up and cheered, they were not cheering President Trump.


PAGE: They were cheering themselves.

SCIUTTO: Each other. Yes, I'd say it was such a powerful image. My son as he was watching coverage this morning. That stood out to him. He said all those women, why are they wearing white? And it generated a conversation and one worthwhile for all of us.

Ayesha, Susan, Vinca, thanks very much to all of you.

Lots more to discuss. Still to come, President Trump makes his case for the border wall but do all the facts add up? We're going to test it.

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, HOST, NEWSROOM: All the facts add up when they tested. And another major controversy hits Senator Elizabeth Warren days before she's expected to officially announce her 2020 run. How this latest crisis could impact her campaign.

Plus, President Trump says that virtually all of ISIS-held territory in Syria has been liberated. Is he right? We'll be live on the ground there to test that claim that's coming up.


SCIUTTO: President Trump made a lot of claims in support of his building a wall last night, but were they true? We're fact-checking him. Listen to what he said last night about immigration crime. This is a key connection he makes all the time. Listen to the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Year-after-year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens.


SCIUTTO: There's the president there, making that claim, and is one he's made many times. So what are the facts about this? Are immigrants more likely to commit crimes?

[09:20:00] Here's what we know about stats on immigration and crime broadly. Two-thousand and eighteen study by the libertarian Cato Institute which reviewed criminal conviction data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, of course, Texas a border state, found that immigrants whether legal or illegal are in fact less likely than native-born Americans to be convicted of a crime.

Have a look at the figures there. It's a big difference there, in fact, about half as likely. More broadly, when you look across the country, generally, there's been a decrease in the number of violent crimes, this according to the FBI. Other studies have found that murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault have not increased alongside an uptick in undocumented immigration since 1990.

Have a look at this, and keep in mind, these are national studies here. No increase in murder rate, robbery and aggravated assault to go with that rise in immigration, illegal immigration. That illegal immigrants do not contribute to an increase in drug overdoses and DUI or engage -- that they engage in crime less than their American or illegal immigrant peers.

And let -- this is a claim that the president has repeatedly made that undocumented immigrants, both during his campaign -- he's made this claim as a justification for that wall, and of course we should note to attract attention to this claim, this is the second time that he's invited family members of victims of such crime to the State of the Union.

So our verdict on this one, as we run it through the Cnn fact-checking team, a misleading claim at best. Joining me now for his reaction to this and other claims by the president during his speech, Senator John Kennedy; Republican from the great state of Louisiana, also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So first on that issue because we've just come out of this fact-check here. You've heard the president make this connection before, you're from Louisiana, not exactly a border state, but you're very close to the Mexico border.

If this is truly a national crisis, why does the president fudge the facts here? Why not stick to the facts as you're making this argument, particularly when, as you heard the president last night, makes a claim that he wants a more bipartisan, more cooperative environment?

KENNEDY: I can't answer that, Jim, that you're going to have to ask the president that one. The way I look at it is -- the way -- they're giving me directions here from the side, I'm sorry. The way I look at it is illegal immigrants commit crimes, legal immigrants commit crimes, non-immigrant Americans commit crimes, that is not really the issue with respect to immigration.

The issue with respect to immigration is that, in my opinion is that legal immigration, I think we all concede and agree with, makes our country stronger, but illegal immigration is illegal, and one way -- and you know how I feel about this. One way, not the only way, but a big part of the way to curtail illegal immigration is through a wall.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Again, you heard the president mention bipartisanship a number of times as you know --


SCIUTTO: The key, there's some agreement here, here's money some money for the wall. What we didn't hear from the president is an offer in return. He's demanding money --

KENNEDY: Right --

SCIUTTO: For the wall, he's saying that this is a crisis. What is he willing to offer Democrats again at the table? I mean, as you know better than me, Washington is about horse training here, why not an offer from the president to say, OK, listen, work with me on this, I will work with you for instance on permanent protection for the Dreamers?

KENNEDY: One of the most difficult lessons I've learned in life and in politics is that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. I think the president does deserve credit for trying to be conciliatory last night. He's not a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy.

I think he believes if you turn the other cheek too far, you just get it in the neck, and that hurts him sometimes in terms of reaching people. They don't want to hear his ideas. The president -- and maybe this is one of those cases, the president has put a plan on the table.

I think he is willing to trade border security for DACA relief. He has talked about the importance, as has Speaker Pelosi, the importance of securing our ports of entry, for example, and the -- and the use of technology in terms of border security.

The times I've talked to the president on this issue, he's never been angry with Speaker Pelosi, he's never said an ugly word, and he's always told me, look, I'm willing to sit down with the Democrats and try to work something out here. This is really not meant to be a political statement, this is just my point of view.

I think -- I think the ball here is in Speaker Pelosi's court.

SCIUTTO: Well, but --

KENNEDY: And she's got to decide whether she thinks or wants -- thinks a barrier or wall or whatever we're calling it today, whatever the politically correct term is, whether it's necessary or not, and whether it's politically palatable to her.

[09:25:00] SCIUTTO: But you -- but you know as well as me -- and then listen, I will grant you that the speaker has been -- has dug her heels -- other Democrats have dug their heels --

KENNEDY: Sure --

SCIUTTO: On this issue, saying at times, not a single dollar for the wall, although we have heard signs from her in the caucus that maybe they will give money here. But let's be frank, again, you know as well as me that to get this done, you're going to need compromise on both sides.

KENNEDY: Sure --

SCIUTTO: What does that compromise look like in your view? If you were sitting in that room with 17 bipartisan senators and lawmakers, what would be your proposal to get this over the finish line to avoid another shutdown?

KENNEDY: Well, if I were king for a day, I'm not and I don't aspire to be. The first thing I would do --

SCIUTTO: Well, let's imagine --

KENNEDY: I would -- well, first thing I would do is go right to the bottom line with the speaker. I would ask the speaker to attend the meetings because she's calling the shots behind the scenes, and I would -- I'd probably get everybody out of the room, and I would say madam speaker, look, let's cut to the chase here.

Are you going to agree to any sort of wall, barrier, fence, whatever the politically correct term is, whatever the term she's most comfortable with, and if she is, if she's willing to work with us there, then we can come up with an agreement. It would probably include other forms of border security.

It would include some sort of legal protection, my guess is for DACA. But if she's not willing to do that for whatever reason, she doesn't think it's necessary, she doesn't want to do it because of the politics, then we're wasting our time, and it's time to move on.

I think what's going to happen if that happens on the 15th is the president is going to declare a national emergency, it's not my preferred choice, but unlike some of my Senate colleagues, the sun will come up the next day and it will probably be tied up in litigation, which I regret, but eventually, the courts will decide.

SCIUTTO: But how do Americans -- what do you say to your constituents? It's Congress' job by the constitution to make decisions about how money is spent here, and I know that there's this national emergency law passed in the 1970s, but the fact is, it has never been used for a significant funding request like this that a president can't get through Congress.

And as you said, your Republican colleagues, some of them, big supporters of the president, John Cornyn among them, and said this is a constitutional question. Why is that not a constitutional question? Should that be up to the Senate and the House to be able to sort this out rather than throw it to a national emergency declaration?

KENNEDY: Good question, number one, Jim, I think if it's litigated and it probably would be, the constitutional issues would be raised. Number two, White House has some good lawyers. My guess is they're not going to act in terms of a national emergency without basing it on statutory power that the president already has.

Now, who gave the president that statutory power? The United States Congress. You can debate whether we should or shouldn't have done it, but we did it. And I've done enough research, I'm not an expert in the area. But I've done enough research to know that if the president decides to go that route, his claims will be heard.

He won't be thrown out of court for frivolous litigation.

SCIUTTO: Senator John Kennedy --

KENNEDY: Look, I'm not recommending, Jim --

SCIUTTO: Sorry, go ahead --

KENNEDY: We ought to work -- we ought to work this out, but just speaking for me personally, I'm not willing to just say to Speaker Pelosi, look, it is possible to secure 1,900 miles of real estate without a barrier because I don't believe that, and I think experience shows that it's not true.

And I think I say this gently and with all the respect I can muster, I think Speaker Pelosi has got to decide here how much -- how important policy is here and how important politics is here. I know she doesn't like --

SCIUTTO: Well --

KENNEDY: The president.

SCIUTTO: To be fair, to be fair, the president will have to decide as well because you know --

KENNEDY: Sure --

SCIUTTO: They get together -- they get the ball over the line, you know --

KENNEDY: Absolutely --

SCIUTTO: Both sides are going to have to work together. Senator John Kennedy, always appreciate you having been on the show, wish you the best of luck.

KENNEDY: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Days before Senator Elizabeth Warren is set to give a major 2020 announcement, in a new controversy surrounding her heritage, could that threaten her potential run?