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Border Talks Break Down As Friday Deadline Looms; Bipartisan Negotiations Hit Snag Over Limit On Detaining Migrants & Wall Funding; Democratic Hopefuls Campaign In Early Voting States; "Tens Of Thousands" Of Isis Fighters Still In Syria, Iraq. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 11, 2019 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Good morning everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Jim Sciutto. It is happening again. Instead of a deal, and that had been the talk this recently as Friday, we now have a very public breakdown in talks on Capitol Hill for a border deal settlement. That means with the deadline just days away, we could see what neither says they want, yet another government shutdown. With big effects across the country, we saw that.

HARLOW: Huge implications. The sticking points right now, familiar ones. How much money should go to a border wall, or barrier? How many undocumented immigrants can be held in detention facilities? Today is crucial, because today, lawmakers try to work on a fix. The deadline again is Friday, but they have to come up with something much sooner than that. Phil Mattingly, CNN Congressional Correspondent, joins us. How key is today?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's just-- It's really important. To put it as bluntly as humanly possible, in terms of a timeline, if Congress wants to move, and actually get something done by the Friday deadline, they need to make significant progress today. And, you're going to see the top four bipartisan negotiators on that conference committee, two Republicans two Democrats, meet this afternoon at 3:30 to essentially try and resurrect where they were on Friday, which was optimistic that a deal was actually in the offing.

Now guys, if you go back to the weekend, why this all actually blew up, I'm told that there was some progress being made on the barrier issue, on the wall issue, that the funding levels of that had been tossed back and forth, and they felt like things were moving in a good direction. The issue, or the reason everything fell apart this weekend, was on those detention beds.

Now more broadly, this is a significant issue for both Democrats and Republicans, and they knew that going into these talks. It wasn't something that was just going to be easy to get through, but the primary issue that broke things up this weekend was related to a cap on detention beds, or places where undocumented immigrants could be held inside the country. So, not at the southern border.

Democrats have proposed capping it at 16,500. Republicans have said that's essentially a non-starter and the fact that it's even in the talks right now is a poison pill designed to essentially sink the talks altogether. Democrats say look, if you want to move up on boarder barrier funding, this is essentially the price of that.

And, the reason is this, it's Democratic opposition to the Trump Administration's Immigration Enforcement Policy. They believe this will put impose limitations on how the Trump Administration can go after, or try to detain undocumented immigrants throughout the country. They believe that is an important policy position to be held where Republicans have made clear they are not willing to move forward on that. And, as such, things essentially broke down entirely this weekend.

That is why this meeting this afternoon between the top four bipartisan lawmakers is so crucial. They will need to decide whether or not they still see some opportunity for a broader deal. Remember this isn't just about boarder barrier funding, or detention beds, or just DHS funding altogether. This is about a package of seven Appropriations Bills that they want to try and move through to fund through the end of September, or if they don't believe that there's an opening there, whether or not they need to start considering short- term options.

Now, I'm told both sides are looking at short-term options right now, but the big question is, are there any short-term options that the White House would actually accept, or that both parties in either chamber could agree on. At the moment the answer is no. We'll see if that clears up as the day goes on, and I guess more broadly we'll see if any of that optimism that existed late last week can come back to the table. Given how tight the deadline is right now, there's a lot of questions right now whether or not, as you guys noted, we might be heading back into a shutdown, which I can tell you no Republican or Democrat I'm talking actually wants at this point.

HARLOW: Right. Well, what are they gonna do about it?

SCIUTTO: Listen, and then thousands of folks who'd be affected by it. The federal workers, that they have to be waiting on pins and needles for a settlement.

HARLOW: Of course.

SCIUTTO: Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

In hours, President Trump, he will take the wall funding battle right to the border. A stop in El Paso, Texas, but not everyone will welcome him with open arms there.

Abby Phillip is at the White House, and Abby, you know, we spoke to a Republican mayor of El Paso just a few minutes ago. He said the president is wrong on his claims about crime, and the border at the barrier. But, you also have a democratic hopeful who's going to be there. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right Jim. President Trump heading to the border today to basically take his argument for more border security and border wall funding down to Texas. But he's going to be greeted by some counter protesters and by that 2020 hopeful Beto O'Rourke. But, as he leaves Washington, he's leaving these talks in a really bad place essentially. He had his Acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, saying over the weekend that he believed the talks were basically leading toward another shutdown. And, President Trump has spent so much of the last several days attacking other Democrats saying but they are standing in the way of talks proceedings.

So essentially, as he goes down to the border, it's basically President Trump against the government here in Washington. It's very likely that we could be facing at another government shutdown. And President Trump is going to be making that case in a rally setting. Remember these are the places where President Trump is the most loose, the most free essentially, and it could be a place where we could see many more attacks on Democrats. Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Abbey Phillip at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining us now Republican Strategist and Former RNC Communications Director, Doug Heye, and former White House Communications Director under President Obama, Jen Psaki. Thanks to both of you, as always.


SCIUTTO: Doug Heye, I want to start with you, because clearly, neither Republicans nor Democrats, they want another shutdown. No appetite for that. That was true of the last shutdown.

HARLOW: Right. It happened.

SCIUTTO: I wonder of the president has a different appetite here, because during the last shutdown, we heard that his pollster, Brad Parscale, we are talking about in the swing districts, this issue works for his voters. Is that still true, and could the president say, you know what, my wall, shutdown is worth it?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. I think that may be the case. The one thing that we saw in the polling was that, you know, the good news was in the eye of the beholder. So, we saw a huge majority of the country saying, you know, that this is a mistake, and it's President Trump's fault. So, Democrats took heart in that, but Donald Trump space said keep fighting Donald Trump. So, Trump and his administration took part in that.

It's why we were in the situation we were before, and part of why we are where we are right now. Where, you know, it's very similar to last time when there was a lot of good news. We thought we were going to avoid the shut down and then all of a sudden here we go again with the shutdown. We're back at that same point. It's like Yogi Berra said, "It's deja vu all over again." Unfortunately, this isn't whether or not it's good news for Trump, or bad news for Trump. Well, for Democrats, it's bad news for any politician in Washington right now, I would say.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and think of those work-- We did we went through this, right? Air traffic controllers, it has an effect. FBI agents, it has an effect.

HARLOW: And yet, they still went to work. So many of them unpaid.

Jen, to you, the cost of this, the $11-billion total price tag, and then $3 billion of that, that the US economy will never make up, because of the last shutdown. And yet, Mick Mulvaney, still says shutdown is still on the table. How can that still be an option when the polling was so bad for the administration on this one, and blame them? And, the money that's not recoverable for the economy, which is a good point for the president, the economy. Why is that still on the table?

JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I mean not to mention, as Jim alluded, to that tens of thousands of Americans who were left without a job, without a paycheck, without an ability to cover their health care, etc.

I think watching the interview yesterday, Mick Mulvaney had an audience of one, which is Donald Trump. And, that has been true for nearly every senior administration official who has gone out to speak on the president's behalf over the last two years. Even his statement that he wasn't ruling out a shutdown, that was directly speaking to the president who wanted to hear that. Who was Doug also spoke to? He's really speaking to his base here. I think that's the reasoning for it.

But the truth is, a shutdown is not good politics for anyone. It's not good for the Democrats. It's not good for the Republicans, and it's certainly not good for Donald Trump. The difference we have from last time, fortunately for the American people, is that this is very fresh for politicians in Washington. Even though they're removed from the struggles of everyday Americans, they saw how impactful this was, because it was covered, because people were, you know, losing their cars and losing their homes, and I think they feel that more deeply. I hope they do at least.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and you hear stories now. People still digging themselves out of the debt they built up just from the shutdown, because it's only been a couple of weeks. But Jen, on the politics, I do have to ask you, you know, the initial issue was the dollar figure. It appears that Republicans, at least, have come down, and if the president will sign it, from $5.7 billion, figure around $2 billion has been thrown around. But now the issue of ICE detention beds seems to be, if not the, key sticking point, a key sticking.

There are risks for Democrats here. Are there not, for being portrayed as not giving the border patrol the facilities they need to hold illegal people who cross the border illegally? Are you concerned Democrats overplayed their hand?

PSAKI: It's a harder issue to message. There's no question about that, Jim. I do think, this is a bigger policy issue. And, a bigger policy debate than the wall, and wall funding in many ways. Now, the number of beds and detention beds that the Democrats argue, is that, it's with, there's no way to hold the administration accountable. That they're abusive. That ICE is abusive. That it is multiple times larger, the cap, then there's no cap, than it needs to be. And that 16,000 is, 16,500, is a reasonable cap.

Now, there's some debate about whether there should be an exemption for criminals. And I think if this is an issue that it comes down to, I'm certainly hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can come to some sort of an agreement. But, it is a bigger policy issue in many ways.

Now Democrats have given on funding for the wall, which many Democrats on the left of the party don't support any funding at all. So, that is a give, they want something in return.

HARLOW: Let me give you, our viewers, I know you guys know these numbers, but here are the official ICE numbers, as of Sunday, as of yesterday. In terms of immigrants and ICE custody, 48,747. So, the Dems saying camp beds at 16,500. You've got almost, you know, a little over two and a half times that in ICE custody.

Now Doug, you know, Senator Lindsey Graham says, the president will never have that. He said on Fox News, I promise you this, Donald Trump will not sign any Bill that reduces the number of bed spaces available to hold violent offenders who come across our border. Now, it's not just violent offenders that are in ICE custody. I understand that, but what's the play here by Democrats? And do you think it'll be effective?


HEYE: Well, I don't think we know yet. Obviously, they're trying to make a move that moves on administration policy again. It looks like it may be somewhat of a moving of the goalposts. And again, you know, as I said earlier, a lot of this is in the eye of the beholder. Democrats feel the politics will benefit them. Republicans, with a smaller number, but a more intense base, feel that the politics may help them.

Ultimately, I look at this in the same lens that I viewed that 2013 shutdown that I worked, unfortunately worked through. We had that shutdown because we thought that our members, Republican members at the time, needed to do what we call touch the stove. That they would touch the stove, determine that it's too hot, and we would never go there again. The reality was in 2013, and then in the 2014 elections, there was no political price. Right now there's no political price for Republicans or Democrats to play. That'll be in the upcoming elections.

So, that's why they're still in this space. We can go through this process. It's obviously a negative one. But, if there are no negative electoral impacts for them, Republicans and Democrats feel that they can at least get up to this threshold again.

SCIUTTO: Jen, you heard me reference before Republicans confident, or at least the Trump administration's confidence, that this issue works for them in swing districts for 2020. They're already looking forward to 2020 on this issue. What is Democrats polling on this in the presidential race going forward? I have to think they've done their own to see, you know, whether they overplay or underplay their hand here?

PSAKI: Sure, well I think Democrats, the ones running for president, and ones who are not, are also calculating that their base across the country wants to see them fighting for DREAMers, for DACA being made permanent. And, that there are only certain leverage points they're going to have throughout the year, and this is one of them. And, that's really unfortunate, because of the impact it will have on government workers, and people across the country. But, they're calculating that if they're going to give wall money, that they need to get something in return. That they can then tell Democrats across the country about. And, if that's lowering the cap, if that's making, you know, DACA permanent, that's what Democrats really want in this calculation.

But they know that people are watching and when Senator Schumer sort of buckled, or Democrats buckled, about a year ago around DREAMers, that really didn't play well among Democrats either. So, they're mindful of that as well.

HARLOW: All right. Doug Heye, I thank you. Jen Psaki, nice to have you both.

SCIUTTO: And you think, folks at home watching this would be affected by it. I think, I feel like, political pawns in this.

HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE) It's not working for them.

SCIUTTO: You say you guys have a date. You're looking at 2020 data, or whatever. But I can't-- How am I going to pay my mortgage?

HARLOW: A thousand percent. All right so, still to come for us, talking about 2020, two more Democrats, over the weeken,d jumped in. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. Both senators are in. Both drawing-- attacked the president already. Plus the top US commander in the war against ISIS is speaking out and contradicting President Trump. We will tell you what he said.

SCIUTTO: And the embattled Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, says that he is not going anywhere after comments over the weekend sparked a whole new controversy. We have a response this morning from the governor himself.




SCIUTTO: Democrats are already campaigning in early voting states hoping to take on President Trump in 2020. Can you believe it?

HARLOW: I can. SCIUTTO: Two years away. Yes, we can. Right now, Senator Cory Booker is speaking to students in Sumter, South Carolina. South Carolina, of course, the first southern state to hold a primary.

HARLOW: At the same time Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Kamala Harris were on the airwaves this morning. Klobuchar appeared on Good Morning America. Harris talked to the radio host on The Breakfast Club. At least nine candidates in the Democratic Party have already announced. Two others launched exploratory committees. The field is, of course, going to grow much broader than that. We are still waiting on-- Look at that. A number of candidates to make decisions about running including former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders.

SCIUTTO: So, how do they stand up? How do they claw their way to becoming a Democratic nominee? Things may, believe it not, have to get a little dirty. Here with us Alexandra Wilkes, she's former, she's Senior Vice President rather, for America Rising Corporation, a PAC that does opposition research on Democratic candidates. Specifically, monopoly searches as it's known, you know, called the dirty little secret of politics. And, this happens in both parties, within parties, and across party lines.

ALEXANDRA WILKES, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AMERICA RISING CORPORATION: Absolutely, and you know, it's not as, sort of, dark and dangerous as the term might, you know, sort of, could note. It's really more about a mundane, sort of, review of public records. You know, we're looking through research that's publicly available to our researchers in DC. We're sending out our trackers to film candidates in the field. Our war room is constantly monitoring candidates for we're building--

SCIUTTO: Yearbooks?

HARLOW: (INAUDIBLE) to say that.

WILKES: Yearbooks are on our list, and actually it illustrates, you know, the point that not everything is digital in our society today.

HARLOW: That's true.

WILKES: So, our field researchers actually go out there, to libraries, to courthouses, to make sure that we're covering all of our ground.

HARLOW: One really interesting point that you've made is that in the 2016 election, before Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination, aside from, you know, second only to the GOP, the bulk of the research, and demand on her, was from the Sanders camp, and supporters of Bernie Sanders. So, you have to think about that in the context of what's going on now in the early 2020 contenders for the Democrats.

WILKES: Absolutely and so, we're sort of, supplying all the information out there. Obviously, it's to the benefit of Republican candidates ultimately. But, the Democrats sometimes find our information to be quite useful as well. A really good example of this, is that recently, through public information requests, we figured out that Joe Biden gave a speech at a Michigan College. He charged a handsome sum for it, about $250,000, $200,000.


WILKES: and in that speech he praised a Republican Congressman, Fred Upton. And, those remarks were reused, and add, supporting Upton. So, Democrats on the ground there are not too happy with that as he looks to run for president.

HARLOW: Can you also point to that as a sign of bipartisan.

WILKES: Well sure. Well, within the Democratic primary right, it's not playing as I think the (INAUDIBLE) would hope it would.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you again, because going back to Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign. One defense you'll hear from Trump, or his supporters is that dirt offered on Hillary Clinton and the famous Trump Tower meeting, or even the WikiLeaks emails that that's just opposition research. You know, it's no different from other stuff that might be gathered from domestic sources. Do you accept information supplied by foreign countries, or is that a red line in this field for legal reasons.

WILKES: Well look, I mean, I think that we would certainly, were always suspect of any information that's coming into, you know, coming into our research rooms and where our researchers are looking at things. And so, you know, we would absolutely look at, you know, sources like that with scrutiny. But, I will say that--

HARLOW: You would take it.

WILKES: Well, I mean we don't really run into this problem. Like I said, it's more about this mundane review of public records. It's not nearly as, sort of, glamorous as, you know, people sort of, might make it out to be.

HARLOW: But, I think that's such a good question into Jim's point. How do you vet the information and where it's coming from, because as we know, you know, there are conduits, and third parties, through whom some of this information that is gathered by and tracked by Russian intelligence goes through?

SCIUTTO: That's how WikiLeaks was used, right? As a middle man, as a matter of fact.

HARLOW: I mean, exactly. So do you have sources to do that, so you know where it's coming from, and know if it's something you should alert the FBI about.

WILKES: Sure, I mean, we have-- we work with actually a nationwide team of former law enforcement officials. Our researchers are top in the business. They are looking at these sources. Incredibly, you know, it was incredible scrutiny, because our clients ads have to hold up against fact checkers. Nobody wants to have a mail piece, or an ad pulled down, because it's incorrect.

HARLOW: But I'm not just asking on incorrect, or being not factual. I'm saying if it comes from a hostile foreign power, do you scrub enough to find out where it comes from, and alert the Feds, if needed?

WILKES: That really hasn't been a problem that we've run into in our business. Like I said, we are really reviewing, sort of, the tax records out there, you know, publicly available information. What people are saying on, you know, podcasts and you know, speeches from way back when. It's really sort of more-- a less glamorous review of the public records rather than information from our adversaries.

SCIUTTO: Are you concerned about fakes because a lot of information is faked. I mean, there's the fake news it was planted by foreigners, but also, you know, domestic sources of fake documents. I mean, you've had fake documents planted. Is that something that you can do, and now we're in the era of deep fakes, right? Where even you worry about audio or video can be faked, although we're not quite there, but still. I mean, is that a serious concern today, about some of the data that you come across?

WILKES: You know, not for us. I mean, like I said, we go through and we painstakingly try to corroborate everything that we come across. So, whether it's, you know, a speech that was given, we're going to try to get the primary source for that speech. We're going to try to make sure that it's the best source available, because like I said, you know, if for no other reason, we have a pecuniary interest in making sure that our clients don't lose money, or time on fake information. So--

SCIUTTO: You, like journalists, I guess you're good as your-- the quality of your information.

WILKES: Exactly.


HARLOW: Thank you.

WILKES: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: Nice to have you, come back any time. All right.

SCIUTTO: Just a reminder, my colleague sitting right here, Poppy Harlow, tomorrow night she's going to host a CNN presidential town hall with former Starbucks CEO, an Independent candidate for the presidency, Howard Schultz. That airs at 10 o'clock Eastern Time tomorrow only on CNN. A few people know Howard Schultz better than Poppy Harlow. It's mostly TV.

HARLOW: I want people to send me their questions for him. What do they want to know. Most of tomorrow night will be questions from the audience. I'm also interested in what all of you want to know from Mr. Schultz.

SCIUTTO: Be sure to tune in. Meanwhile, this hour a top commander in the Middle East says that President Trump's plans to pull out troops from Syria will go ahead. But, he also insists that the fight against ISIS is not over. Thousands of fighters still there in a Syria and Iraq. We're going to go live on the ground in Syria. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



HARLOW: A top General, a really important General in the fight against ISIS in the Middle East, is directly contradicting the president's claim that ISIS has been destroyed in Syria. He says the fight against Isis is not over. Listen to this.


GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, US CENTRAL COMMAND: "I'm kind of aligned with where the intelligence community is on this. They've talked about tens of thousands that have been dispersed and disaggregated from the area-- They're dispersed and disaggregated, but there is leadership there, there are fighters there, there are facilitators there. They still have some access to resources and, of course, they still maintain this kind of perverse ideology."


SCIUTTO: Thousands of ISIS fighters still there. Ben Wedeman joins us now live from Eastern Syria. Ben, you've spoken with some of the residents fleeing ISIS. A face up view of the situation on the ground. Tell us what they're telling you.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN WAR CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they're telling us is that the situation inside that town Baghouz Al-Fawqani is dire. Not only is there bombardment bombing from the US-led coalition, but they say there are also incoming rounds from Syrian.