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Brock Long Out as FEMA Chief; Interview With Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN); Trump Intends to Sign Deal to Avoid Shutdown. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 13, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

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BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But, on the other hand, we have these comments from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders:

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to see what the final piece of legislation looks like. It's hard to say definitively whether or not the president is going to sign it until we know everything that's in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Caitlin Dickerson is an immigration reporter for "The New York Times."

Caitlin, pleasure to have you in. Welcome.

CAITLIN DICKERSON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you.

BALDWIN: All right, so two sources who have talked directly to Trump tell CNN that he plans to sign this bill to avoid this shutdown.

Why is he even hedging?

DICKERSON: I think he's hedging because this is a really hard moment for the president, right? I mean, he was so confident about this border wall.

He seemed unwilling to back down. He shut the government down over it. And here he is now presented with this proposal that really doesn't provide any substantive money at all for a wall. He can lean and say there's some money for 55 miles of fencing, but all that money in this proposal, it has to go toward ideas that had already been put forth, plans that had already been put forth, not for the wall, not for the president's wall.

So I think this is a really tough moment where he's thinking about how he might be able to spin this as a positive, if there's anything that he can try to squeak in at the last minute, but it's not looking very promising.

BALDWIN: He's been clear that he hasn't been happy with the deal, the terms. He obviously also says he doesn't want another shutdown. So, hopefully, after this ends, and the deal is signed, what are his next steps?

DICKERSON: I think he might try an alternative route to get the wall funded. That's possible. He could go back to the idea of creating a national emergency, for example.

But I think if you look at the one big lesson that the president may have taken away from the government shutdown, which was incredibly crippling and demoralizing to a lot of people, and also from what he's been hearing from elected officials on both sides of the aisle since this debate began, which is that they really don't support the border wall.

There isn't a whole lot of evidence behind it. So he could try one of these alternative methods, or he could decide that he's going to be satisfied with fencing and move forward to some of his other immigration ideas, where he can move the needle further and get more support through that from his base.

BALDWIN: I want you to listen to something. This is what the president keeps saying about the status of his wall, the wall. Here he is today.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're building a lot of wall right now with money that we already have. And when people see what we're doing, I think they will be very surprised. We're doing a lot of work and we have planned to do a lot of work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: But the facts tell a different story.

So, first, as of the end of January, no new barriers have been built since Trump took office. About 120 miles of replacement barriers have been approved. This shutdown deal allows for 55 miles of additional barriers, and all of it adds up to far less than the 1,000 miles the president had originally proposed.

So what does he gain from repeating something that's clearly not true?

DICKERSON: I think he's trying to suggest to voters and his supporters that there's going to be some sort of physical reinforcement. It's -- they're really committed to that idea, as is the president, of physical divide between Mexico and the United States.

It's true that 55 miles of fencing may be put up, which is pretty meager in the grand scheme of things, and billions of dollars less than what the president asked for. But, as this was sort of the most basic promise of his campaign, the one that he may have repeated more than any other. And so he's got a sort of cling to any little success.

BALDWIN: To build something.

DICKERSON: To build something.

BALDWIN: To build something.

There is also the cost of building the wall that the bipartisan deal fell short. We know he wanted the $5.7 billion. It's coming in at 1.3 for those 55 miles of barriers. He says he's considering reallocating money from other places. But Senator Ted Cruz has this whole idea of getting El Chapo to pay for it.

Is that just totally far-fetched or what?

DICKERSON: We have heard from Mexican authorities suggest that it is indeed far-fetched to try to get any other entity to pay for the wall, other than the United States government.

I mean, look, what we hear from the Border Patrol itself and from its agents is that a physical wall isn't all that important to them. So I think it's quite possible that once we get past this juncture, and we start talking about what is in this proposal, which is a lot more money for immigration detention, more money for those Border Patrol facilities where too young migrant children who died during Christmastime, they were held in those types of facilities.

Once we get to those issues, where there are actually substantive problems, and where, quite frankly, the president can also see some more wins come through, I think it's possible that he and Ted Cruz and others back away.

BALDWIN: OK. The deadline is Friday. Caitlin Dickerson, a pleasure.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much.

For the Democrats, though, who would like to unseat President Trump, the race for the White House is quickly turning into a race for who can embrace the most progressive policies, unless your name is Amy Klobuchar.

The Minnesota senator is taking a much more cautious stance on hot- button issues like Medicare for all, the Green New Deal. Here's what she told Anderson Cooper last night.

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SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The smartest transition right now would be to do a public option. And you can do it by expanding Medicaid.

You can expand Medicare. I'm on both those that do that. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So not Medicare for all?

KLOBUCHAR: I am happy to look at it as an option, but I'm not on that bill right now.

I'm in favor of it simply because I see it as a framework to jump- start a discussion. We need to put out a negotiating bid here. I don't see it as something that we can get rid of all these industries or do this in a few years. That doesn't make sense to me or reduce air travel.

But what does make sense to me is to start doing concrete things and put some aspirations out there on climate change.

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BALDWIN: And Senator Klobuchar has some company. Senator Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who has yet to officially announce his candidacy, he backs fighting climate change and some tweaks to Medicare, but he hasn't signed on to these plans pushed by potential rivals.

And Ron Brownstein is a senior editor with "The Atlantic" and CNN senior political analyst.

Ron, thank you for being with me.

Let me dive in this Gallup poll. This was taken just after the midterms. And it shows that 54 percent Democratic voters and Democrat-leaning independence want the party to become more moderate. And that's compared to 41 percent who want it to go farther left.

Do you think the Democrats backing these more progressive policies need to calibrate those positions later, given where the voters are?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, there's an audience in the Democratic coalition. And that audience is bigger than it was 20 years ago for these kind of progressive policies that we're talking about.

But it's not the entire Democratic coalition. And if you think about Klobuchar and Brown in particular, both of them, the core of their presumptive coalition would be working-class white voters, blue-collar white voters, especially in the middle part of the country, and those voters are not unvarnished to the left.

I mean, many of them would identify as moderate conservative. More of those voters were the blue-collar voters. And, for that matter, African-American voters identify as moderate or conservative than among the college-educated whites who are the most liberal part of the party and a more natural constituency for some of the other candidates than Klobuchar or Brown.

So it makes sense, given who they are most likely to be targeting, that they would be a little more hesitant than others about some of these more vanguard positions. BALDWIN: Do you think pragmatism, AKA, electability, ultimately is what gets them the nomination?

BROWNSTEIN: Not solely. I mean, I think it is an important -- because clearly Democrats have said that their top priority is someone who can be Donald Trump.

But, historically, Brooke, voters tend to think who they -- the person who wins primaries is the one who's most likely to win the general election. I think that what you have got in the Democratic primary electorate, it's evolving, it's changing, and you have really three big buckets.

You have these well-educated white voters who are a little more than a third of the vote. You have minority voters, who are probably going to be about two-fifths of the vote. And then you have these blue- collar whites, who are down to about a quarter of the vote. And, of course, you have men and women as kind of the dividing line in each of those categories.

And I think what we're going to see is candidates filling those different lanes. And the question will be both, who can consolidate their own lane and who can kind of reach out beyond their natural base of support.

BALDWIN: Sure.

"The Washington Post" today quotes Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat who co- leads the Problem Solvers Caucus, in this way. And this is what he says.

"We won the House through the middle. Our party has to be open and recognize that. And if we don't, and insist that everyone takes a hard-line view on everything, A, I don't think that's going to attract votes in the next election, and, B, it puts our majority at risk."

And then says that the middle is key to winning elections. But you still have representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leading the charge to the left. So which message do you think voters were actually trying to send last November?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, he's right. I mean, the only way you get to a majority in that, there are not 218 seats that are deeply ideological on either side, right?

And the only way you get to a majority is by winning places that are less ideological. I mean, 60 percent of the House Democrats are now in districts where the median income is above the national average; 60 percent of them are in districts where there are more college graduates than the national average.

Those Democrats are not going to be real enthusiastic about voting for a bill that tells all their constituents that they can no longer have private health insurance. And it's interesting. Back in the '90s...

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Way back.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, or in the 2000s, the big fault line in the Democratic Party was around cultural issues, social issues like guns, because they had a lot of rural blue-collar members who didn't really want to go down the road of legalizing the undocumented or banning assault weapons.

That's going to be much less divisive this time. Democrats are not going to find it hard to unify around things like the DREAM Act or uniform background checks. What is going to be more divisive is how far to go in expanding the role of government and whether these members from these white-collar, relatively affluent suburban districts that have recoiled from Trump and become big new parts of the Democratic coalition are willing to raise taxes or expand the role of government, as someone -- as much as some of those members from safer districts want.

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And I think many of them won't. And I think that they will not get to 218 for those kind of ideas. They're much more likely to produce incremental ideas, like, for example, promoting renewable power, rather than banning fossil fuels.

BALDWIN: And you mentioned, though, raising taxes, which brings me to Bernie Sanders, another -- again, he hasn't thrown his hat in the ring officially, but he's a potential candidate. And he says he wants to save Social Security by raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more.

And it's interesting because, yet again, these moderate Democrats will have to answer for this.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

Well, look, I mean, I think there is willingness of Democrats particularly to roll back part of the corporate tax reductions that we -- that the Republicans passed. But, yes, I mean, I think there are limits and it's changing what Democrats or who Democrats are willing to tax.

Don't forget when the so-called fiscal cliff -- remember that, under President Obama, when the Bush tax cuts ran out? They didn't want to raise taxes on anybody under $400,000 a year. That would not have been the case in the Democratic Party 20 years ago.

But now a big part of their coalition are these relatively well-off voters who are drawn to the party more around cultural and social issues, especially in the age of Trump, because so many of them view Trump as morally unfit and a racist to be president. And those voters are now part of the coalition. They're going to be -- and it's hard to imagine a Democratic House that you completely ignore them, because they are the marginal seats that give you control of the chamber.

BALDWIN: Ron Brownstein, why do I feel like you sleep and dream about all of this? Just a feeling.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Ron Brownstein, you're the best. Thank you very much on all of that.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Just into CNN, Congress now 0-3 in trying to interview the former attorney of the president Michael Cohen. He is again dodging his commitment to testify. I will talk to one of those lawmakers who was supposed to question him before Cohen heads to prison next month.

Plus, a 10-year Air Force intelligence agent has just been charged with spying on behalf of Iran. So we will talk about what was compromised, including the code name of a secret Pentagon program.

And an update about the convicted serial killer who's confessed to killing 90 people. So now he's drawing portraits of his victims. Look at this. Hear how these haunting illustrations could solve decades-old cold cases.

We will be right back.

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BALDWIN: Forget about the art of the deal. Michael Cohen seems to be mastering the art of the dodge.

For the third time, the president's longtime personal attorney has delayed testifying before a congressional committee. And this time, the head of the committee wasn't having it, especially when Cohen was caught on camera out to dinner after he said he had to miss his closed-door session with the Senate Intelligence Committee -- quote -- "due to post-surgery medical needs."

Listen to the chairman of the committee respond.

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SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I can assure you that any goodwill that might have existed in the committee with Michael Cohen is now gone.

He clearly rises to one of the people that I would go to every length I could to make sure that we got his testimony. I would prefer to get him before he goes to prison. But the way he's positioning himself, not coming to the committee, we may help him go to prison.

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BALDWIN: Today, Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, said Cohen will testify before he goes to prison. And in a statement Tuesday, Davis said this -- quote -- "The medication Mr. Cohen is currently taking made it impossible for him to testify this week. We believe Senator Burr should appreciate that is possible -- that it is possible for Mr. Cohen to be in pain and still have dinner in a restaurant."

Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

So, Congressman, a pleasure. Welcome.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: What a pleasure. Thank you for having me, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So, Cohen, third time not showing up, even though he is going to prison next month. What -- how would you characterize his strategy on this?

CARSON: I don't know if it's a strategy. I think it speaks more to his character, or lack thereof.

Look, we're hoping to get him before the House Intel Committee before he starts his prison term, so we can ask him questions that he didn't seem like he was willing to answer the last time we talked to him. We're hoping he will be more forthright going forward.

BALDWIN: You think he will? You feel confident he will?

CARSON: It's hard to say. I mean, he's proven himself to be very inconsistent. So we will see.

BALDWIN: OK, we just saw Senator Burr. Let me let me pivot to this. I want to focus on Senator Burr, who has suggested -- chair of the Senate Intel -- suggesting that there is no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

Is that the view on the House side as well?

CARSON: Well, before I publicly state my opinion, I'm hoping that we can conduct our interviews in a way that is uninterrupted or unimpeded, the way we saw a year ago, unfortunately, by our Republican colleagues.

Chairman Schiff is very capable, given his experience. We have the creme de la creme, if you will, of folks who are on our committee. We hope to ask the right questions on behalf of taxpayers and the U.S. citizens.

BALDWIN: All right, so I'm feeling your confidence, but, again, the question is, would you agree that you believe -- would you agree with the chairman in saying no collusion? Is that how the House Intel Committee feels?

CARSON: I'm unwilling and unable to make any statement at this time.

BALDWIN: I understand. I understand. Is your committee poised to subpoena that interpreter in the Trump- Putin meetings?

CARSON: I think -- I think everything is on the table at this point.

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I think we want to get to the bottom of this. I mean, Director Mueller has done a great job with his investigation. Perhaps we will unearth things that he has yet to unearth. And so I think that's the beauty of kind of this three-pronged approach that we have been taking on behalf of taxpayers, on behalf of voters, and on behalf of our country.

BALDWIN: So is that a yes?

CARSON: You know, we're not ruling anything out right now, Brooke, so this is going to be an interesting journey.

I'm sure you will be with us along the journey.

BALDWIN: OK.

Let me ask you about the chairman of your committee, Adam Schiff. He expressed concern just this past Sunday that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, hasn't adequately scrutinized the president's finances. Here he was.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: There has been reporting that when it was alleged that the special counsel had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, that the president moved to fire Mueller.

And the way they talked him off the ledge is by promising that that reporting wasn't true, that the special counsel hadn't subpoenaed Deutsche Bank.

Well, if the special counsel hasn't subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, he can't be doing much of a money laundering investigation. So, that's what concerns me.

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BALDWIN: So my question in hearing the chairman, my question was, well, how does he know for sure what Mueller has or hasn't looked into?

CARSON: Well, again, I think the original intent of Director Mueller's investigation was to and is to unearth criminal activities that may have taken place.

Ours was primarily to look at the influence or extent of Russia's influence on our electoral process. And in the process of our questioning, we have unearthed criminal activity. And so the beauty of this three-pronged approach is that we're going to see things that perhaps Director Mueller didn't pick up and vice versa.

And I think that's how the legislative branch has operated. You have the executive branch. So, the founding fathers, as complicated as they were, they were brilliant in setting up three separate, but equal branches of government.

BALDWIN: Sure.

I have to ask you about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, because she has now responded to the president calling for her resignation over anti- Semitic tweets, saying that she has learned from her mistakes and is essentially asking the president if he will do the same.

So, Congressman Carson, what do you think of the president and vice president? Why do you think they're stepping up attacks on her?

CARSON: Well, I think President Trump is speaking to his base. I think he's signaling to his base that he's with them.

Ilhan, who is a good friend -- she's like my little sister in many ways -- you know, she's a genuine person. I believe her statement. I know who she is. She's not anti-Semitic. She's a loving person. She has a wonderful world view.

Look, all of us have said things that we have had to walk back. I think that's kind of the nature of being in politics. But, going forward, there are talks right now, there are discussions. I think that this whole controversy has opened up a different kind of dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jewish brothers and sisters.

So, good things have come as a result.

BALDWIN: Has she expressed her regrets to you privately?

CARSON: She and I talk regularly. Again, she's not anti-Semitic. She's not an anti-Semite.

She has strong relationships with the Jewish community. She has strong support from the Jewish community. Again, these kinds of dialogues have to be ongoing, they have to be honest. No one is above reproach. No one is above condemnation.

I'm not, Brooke. You're not, as near perfect as you are. None of us are. No group is, no organization.

BALDWIN: Hardly, yes.

CARSON: And so, as human beings, we have to understand that and at least be objective enough to take criticism, to understand critiques, learn from those critiques, if we drop our egos, and move forward.

BALDWIN: Amen.

CARSON: Amen.

BALDWIN: Congressman Carson, thank you. CARSON: Always an honor. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you, sir.

Amid all of the controversy surrounding her, though, Congresswoman Omar is digging into her role as one of the newest members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

And moments ago, during a hearing on Venezuela, she got into this exchange with the special envoy, Elliott Abrams.

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ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA CONGRESSWOMAN-ELECT: In 1991, you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.

ELLIOTT ABRAMS, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If I could respond to that...

OMAR: It wasn't a question.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS: ... an attack.

(CROSSTALK)

OMAR: That was not a question. That was -- I -- I reserve the right to my time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Abrams was named to his current post as point man on the Venezuelan crisis last month, after the U.S. recognized Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate present.

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Abrams has been criticized for some of his previous work, including downplaying human rights abuses in Central America while serving in President Reagan's State Department.

Just ahead: on the run and wanted in the U.S. This former U.S. military officer is now charged with spying for Iran.

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BALDWIN: More breaking news right now.

FEMA Chief Brock Long is planning to leave the agency, and an acting administrator has been named. CNN's Rene Marsh is with me now from Washington.

And, Rene, what do you know?