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McConnell Says Trump Will Sign Budget Deal, Then Declare National Emergency to Fund Border Wall; Interview With Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI). Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 14, 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]

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's why a number of Republican senators are saying very clearly they want to hear exactly if the president will support it.

I actually caught up with Ron Johnson, who's a Wisconsin Republican senator. I said, are you going to support this deal? And he said: "Waiting to see what the president is thinking. Doesn't make much sense to support something he's going to veto."

And even John Thune, the number two Republican in the Senate, just told reporters they're waiting to see what the president will do, because they're not willing to cross the president on this issue.

Democrats will say, put something on the floor, get a veto-proof majority, if necessary, but a lot of Republicans don't want to go there. They want the president to get behind this, which is why we're in a bit of holding pattern and the president again causing major anxiety on Capitol Hill, on the eve of this shutdown deadline by tomorrow night -- Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us with the play by play.

And Dana Bash is here with me. She's CNN's chief political correspondent.

Dana, why wouldn't these Republicans vote for the bill and call his bluff, or at least put it on him to shut the government down?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly.

This is which comes first, the chicken or the egg? So is it going to be incumbent on these senators and members of the House, but less so in the House, because it's run by the Democrats, and they're going to almost certainly put it on the floor.

The Senate, it's different. It's run by the Republicans. And they have -- just as Manu laid out, they have experience now with passing something that they thought the president was going to sign, only to have the president rip the rug out from under them back in December. And then the government shut down. So the question is, what will they do now? Will they try to push him

again, thinking he can't, you know, make the same mistake, frankly, politically, that most of them believe that he made again.

CABRERA: Right, because he was blamed for the shutdown.

BASH: He was blamed for the shutdown.

CABRERA: His poll numbers started going down. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were impacted with no paychecks.

BASH: Yes. And despite the fact that he argues, the president argues, that, well, it shined a light on the problem at the border, it shined a light on the notion of border security, he lost. He lost on policy. He lost politically.

And so the question is, what now? Kaitlan and Kevin Liptak, our reporters at the White House, are hearing now a shift in tone from their sources. It is different from what I was told from people who spoke directly to the president. And this is reporting from just yesterday, that he did intend to sign it.

The difference is real. The difference is, they have the 1,000-plus pages, and that is always a very, very big potential pitfall when you have a giant bill. I mean, this is the reason there has historically been a big fight over, you know, these big bills, because you don't always know exactly what is in it.

CABRERA: And people can pick it at it.

BASH: Exactly.

And in fairness to the president, he should be going through it to see what's in. Everybody should be going through to it see what's in it, so they don't just pass something quickly and then find out later, oops, it's not exactly what we thought it was.

But having said all of that, just before coming on, I spoke with a senior Republican who's got his pulse on sort of the political ramifications here, who said that it's pretty clear the president does understand that it was bad politically the first time, and it would be worse a second time if there's a shutdown, even if it's short, because he needs to get his head in the game, not just about saying it's the base.

He needs to broaden his coalition, finally, if he does want to win reelection.

CABRERA: All right, Dana, stand by. Much more to discuss.

Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan is with us on Capitol Hill now.

Congressman, first, your reaction to this new reporting that aides to the president say they are less certain he will sign the spending bill? REP. DAN KILDEE (D), MICHIGAN: Well, this is what happens when we

have an unstable and erratic president. And that's something that we have come to understand about this presidency.

The problem, though, is not so much him, because that's predictable, that he doesn't know what he's doing from one moment to the next. What's not acceptable, though, is that people like Mitch McConnell and others in the U.S. Senate, who have been here and a part of this institution for a very long time, would completely give over the authority that their voters vested in them to an erratic, irresponsible president, when they know better.

They negotiated this agreement in good faith, Democrats and Republicans, the House and the Senate. We are going to vote on this legislation tonight. The Senate should put it on the floor, and if they're petrified of the president and want to show that by voting with him and shut the government down, that's on them.

I don't think they will do that. I think if, given the chance, they will rise to the occasion and they will show the American people that they can be a part of a governing coalition that does not necessarily include this erratic, unstable president.

CABRERA: What do you make of his change of heart? Because our reporting in the last 24 hours was exactly the opposite, that he was ready to sign this, he didn't see it as everything that he wanted, but it was a down payment on his border wall, and he was going to get the rest one way or another. He didn't need Congress to do it.

[15:05:03]

Do you think he's listening to someone else? Is there right-wing media playing a role here?

KILDEE: I'm sure that has something to do with it.

It's very hard to predict Donald Trump's behavior. He either does not care about the consequences of the decisions that he's making or he doesn't know enough about those consequences to make an informed judgment.

This is an example of how unprepared this person is for the office that he holds. The fact that he does not know, in this moment, what he should do, the responsible thing that he should do, is quite an indictment of the president of the United States.

CABRERA: CNN reported earlier that the president was privately griping that Democrats, your party, outplayed Republicans on this. Do you agree? Did your party outplay the GOP?

KILDEE: Well, we certainly accept the deal, and so do the Republican members who negotiated it. So I don't think it helps anyone to do a victory lap on this.

I think this has been a colossal failure in many ways, that the government had to be shut down for 35 days for us just to get to this point.

Now, looking at the budget agreement itself, I'm fairly pleased with it. There are some elements that I don't like, but that's the nature of compromise. The problem wasn't so much who got the better deal, who did better.

The problem was that the starting point for the president was so bad that it doesn't feel like there is any reasonable compromise that could have incorporated some of the things that he was asking for. So it may have just been too much for him to expect that he was going to walk away from this with some kind of a victory, when the positions that he has been taking, the positions that he's taken so far, are really untenable.

The threat of shutting the government down because there's a disagreement over what form border security should make is not a position that the American people want their president to take.

CABRERA: I hear what you're saying. There is something to be said, though, isn't there, about this bill being released just last night, all, what is it, 1,600 pages or something. Have you even read it all?

KILDEE: We have gone through the detail.

Now, let's be clear. Most of what is in this budget is information and language that has been in previous budgets, the descriptions of the various programs. There are moments when we get legislation that is so overwhelming and completely misunderstood, like the 2017 tax bill that the Republicans rushed to the floor before the ink was dry.

But this is the budget of the United States. It's the results of long deliberations over the appropriations process. The people involved in those negotiations have very clear understandings of what is in them. We have to look at those areas that are new or additional.

And I have been taking a look at that, and I'm relatively pleased with what I see. But I don't think it's a fair argument to say that this is like another piece of legislation that nobody ever saw before. It's the budget of the United States of America. People around here spend almost all of their time focusing on budget questions, so I don't think that's a fair criticism.

CABRERA: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke just moments ago. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I have just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump, and he would, I would say to all my colleagues, has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill. He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time.

And I have indicated to him that I'm going to prepare -- I'm going to support the national emergency declaration. So, for all of my colleagues, the president will sign the bill. We will be voting on it shortly.

And with that, I ask the chair to lay before the Senate the conference report to accompany House Joint Resolution 31.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: OK, the news is changing in real time here. You just heard from Mitch McConnell. He says the president is going to sign the bill, but he's going to declare a national emergency. And Mitch McConnell says he supports that.

Your reaction?

KILDEE: Well, I hope the Senate acts fast, before the president changes his mind again. He seems to change his mind on an hourly basis.

I'm glad that they're moving forward. I do think it's an abdication of Leader McConnell's responsibility that he has to wait for permission from the president of the United States for him to do the job that he was elected to do. That's disappointing.

Obviously, we want to see this bill passed, and we want the president to sign it. But, frankly, we won't need the president's signature if the Senate delivers a vote that's based on the true support for this legislation. We won't need the president's signature if the House were to deliver a vote, based on what I know to be the true support for this bill.

And the fact that the president's going to make an emergency declaration, many of us have serious questions about whether or not he has that authority. It may be that Leader McConnell felt that it's something that he had to give the president in order to get permission for him to take this vote to the floor.

That's a really disappointing commentary, I suppose. But if we get this bill passed and the president signs it, I guess that's a step in the right direction. But it's not a very good way to run a government.

[15:10:05]

CABRERA: Congressman Dan Kildee, thank you very much for being with us.

KILDEE: Thank you.

CABRERA: Dana Bash is here with me.

Your reaction to this reporting...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: That was remarkable.

I mean, I think we witnessed and we were maybe even a part of real- time reporting. As you said to the congressman, news is changing extremely fast.

First, you know, we hear from Kaitlan Collins that they're hearing that the president is not so sure. Manu talking to Republican senators saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, I'm not going to put my name on this, I'm not going to give you my aye vote unless I know it's actually going somewhere, unless I know the president's going to sign it.

And then Mitch McConnell, maybe he just picked up the phone and called the president and said, I need you to say yes, so I can go out and I can announce it to calm everybody down, to get this through, so we don't have another shutdown.

CABRERA: I know. My mind went straight to those federal workers we were talking about, another potential shutdown.

BASH: Right. Well, exactly, exactly.

But this was just warp speed, what just happened. And this is a move that a majority leader generally makes, to go to the Senate floor and make an announcement, so that his members and members on the other side of the aisle hear it loud and clear.

CABRERA: And fall in line.

BASH: Right. And that's what he did. But the fact that -- I get what the congressman is saying, that -- you know, he's -- obviously, he's a Democrat trying to say that Mitch McConnell's trying to get permission.

And -- but I think it's bigger than that, that McConnell wants a big bipartisan vote. He wants Republicans to vote for this. And he wants to make sure that, when he does put it on the Senate floor, it's going to get through.

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: But this piece of the national emergency declaration.

BASH: That's a big deal. That's a big deal.

CABRERA: That is a big deal. And does -- is there Republican support for that, even?

BASH: Yes.

Well, the fact -- and we're going to have to dig a little bit more on this. I'm sure our colleagues are outside the Senate floor trying to talk to the majority leader as he's walking off the floor, if he does, because the fact that he said that he would support it, would not be surprised if that was part of the give and take that he had in the conversation with the president or with somebody at the White House, because Senator McConnell has been very, very clear, not just privately with the president, but publicly, that a national emergency is a terrible idea. But from the president's perspective, he's getting a terrible deal, a

deal that the Democrats did pretty well on, and he didn't, after all of this time. So, it's a give and take that it seems finally that Mitch McConnell is in the middle of and capitulating on, because this is the way to get the president to sign this bill and avert a shutdown to say, OK, you know, you can do your national emergency.

This is not going to be the end of the discussion. It's the beginning of the discussion, the debate, and probably the -- almost certainly the court fight over that national emergency.

CABRERA: Let's see where the discussion is headed right now on Capitol Hill.

Our Phil Mattingly is there.

Phil, what are you hearing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in about 20 minutes, the Senate is going to hold its first vote or a series of votes to actually move forward the spending bill.

And I think Dana kind of nails it. What essentially occurred, at least what we heard from the Senate majority leader on the floor and what I have been told from people -- and, to be clear, this is moving pretty fast right now -- is that the majority leader spoke to the president.

And the president, he was making clear that he had some reservations about the bill, as Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak from CNN were reporting earlier, that some people were concerned that he might not sign it at all.

And Mitch McConnell moved away from his opposition to a national emergency. It was essentially a trade-off. He was opposed to a national emergency. He made clear both publicly and privately he was opposed to a national emergency. And if this was the deal that was going to get the president on deal with the spending bill, this was something the majority leader was willing to do.

And I think, Ana, it underscores frankly what we have heard from both Republicans and Democrats alike in both chambers over the course of the last couple of days. This was the only way out. There was no plan B here. And more importantly than just keeping the government open on Friday night, this would clear the decks of a lot of issues, spending issues, spending crises, spending deadlines until the end of September, something both House Democrats and the majority over there and Senate Republicans and the majority in that chamber want to be able to get off their plate to be able to move on, on their agenda, on their proposals, their bills, their nominations in Mitch McConnell's case.

This was the trade-off. It was a trade-off that apparently had to happen to be able to move this forward. And now they are moving forward; 3:30 will be the first votes. The Senate should move pretty quickly after that. The expectation before things got a little dicey over the course of the last 90 minutes was that the bill would pass comfortably in the United States Senate.

When the House reconvenes later this evening, they expect to pass it comfortably as well. So that part hasn't been in question. The question has been the president. The Senate majority leader going to the House floor and announcing that essentially he has made a deal with the president to be able to clear the way for this spending bill, not only to pass both chambers of commerce, but also to be signed into law.

The trade-off? The president is going to declare a national emergency, and at least the Republican leader, who is very skeptical of the idea, is going to support him when he does that, Ana.

CABRERA: Let's listen in as the conversation continues right now inside the chamber.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: ... final four who did the negotiation. None of us sitting in that room, was this an agreement that any of one us individually would write.

[15:15:10]

Certainly, I was one of the four, and I know that. But there are also things in the bill that I support and things that I disagree with, but that could be said by all four of us, Republicans and Democrat.

You try to find as much common ground as you can. Everybody had to give something, but we ended up with a bipartisan compromise. We had to deal in facts that are based on reality, not rhetoric based on political fantasy. Democrats have always supported border security.

CABRERA: The Democrat from Vermont, top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal analyst, here.

Now we're hearing, Jeffrey, that the president is prepared to declare a national emergency as he signs this bill, so sometime in the next 24 hours, we presume. We know there will be legal fights. What should we expect?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there is a statute, a law on the books, that allows the -- a president to declare national emergencies and spend money outside of what Congress has authorized. And all recent presidents have done it.

They have never done it in anything like these circumstances, where the Congress has explicitly not decided to spend the money that the president is asking to spend. Also, the fact that the president has waited so long to declare a national emergency may be an argument that there is no national emergency, that the fact that he waited for Congress to act and then -- and only then declared the national emergency may argue against him. But the statute does give the president wide latitude. And I

anticipate that many lawsuits will be filed as soon as the president tries to spend any of this money. And it will be up to the courts.

And I have to say, I don't think it is clear how that will be resolved. I think it's a complicated legal question, the breadth of the president's authority under the National Emergencies Act. And then we will see.

But the one thing is for certain, it will be a court fight. And it may last for a quite a few number of months.

CABRERA: So if there is a court fight, assuming that's where this goes, does that just then hit pause on this whole national emergency? Is that how it would work?

TOOBIN: That's a great question. That would depend on whether a judge would issue a stay in the case.

The president certainly is not going to stop just because a lawsuit is filed. He would only stop spending the money if a court told him to stop. And, certainly, one of the initial requests from the plaintiffs, whoever those plaintiffs turn out to be, and there will certainly be a lot of them, will be for some sort of injunction for the money not to be spent, but that's a decision for the judge.

And the injunction could likely be appealed to an appeals court and then probably to the Supreme Court. So every step in the legal process will be highly contested.

But one thing I think we can safely assume is that the president and thus the administration will not hit pause on spending this money unless a court tells it to hit pause. And that will be one of the contested issues.

CABRERA: All right. Stand by, if you will.

I want to play the rather contentious moment when Mitch McConnell interrupted Republican Senator Chuck Grassley on the floor. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Allowing these tax credits, incentives to lapse has created uncertainty for investors and the industry about the availability of these...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would the senator yield?

GRASSLEY: ... jeopardizing the long-term investments necessary for the development of these biofuels. I hope the next time I get a chance to have the floor, I won't be interrupted.

I yield the floor and put the rest of my statement in the record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Both Republicans, not exactly seeing eye to eye there.

BASH: Yes, I'm not -- in fairness to Senator Grassley, I'm not sure if he knew what -- the reason why he was being asked to be quiet, so that the president -- so that Mitch McConnell -- I don't know the timing of this, but if you're -- if this is what you were saying, if he was being -- was he being interrupted for Mitch McConnell?

CABRERA: That's my understanding as well.

BASH: Yes. So that's why, because he didn't -- he didn't understand that Mitch McConnell needed to come to the floor and say, I just got off with the president, I want to end the drama.

CABRERA: Mitch McConnell said, I have breaking news.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I want to tell you, you, Senator Grassley, and everybody else in this chamber, he's going to sign it, no more guessing games. I put a call into him, I got him on the floor, I got him to commit, I had to give something, a pretty big something, which is, philosophically, Mitch McConnell is against the notion of a national emergency.

[15:20:00]

CABRERA: In fact, I thought he had said earlier this week he would fight the national emergency declaration, should the president take that move.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: He did, but this is what happens -- this is the art of compromise.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: You don't always get what you want. And what Mitch McConnell wanted and wants more than anything else right now is, keep the government open and get on with it and move on, at least in the short- term.

And to do that, to get the president to say, OK, it seems pretty clear that he had to acquiesce to a national emergency and make that part of what he was saying to not just senators, but for the president, heard him say it on the record in the Senate chamber.

CABRERA: All right. Where do we go from here? That's the big question.

Dana Bash, thank you so much for being my anchor buddy here as we walk through everybody with this.

BASH: Thank you.

CABRERA: We will continue our coverage of this breaking news.

Got to squeeze in a quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:11]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: I have just had an opportunity to speak with President Trump, and he would, I would say to all my colleagues, has indicated he's prepared to sign the bill. He will also be issuing a national emergency declaration at the same time.

And I have indicated to him that I'm going to prepare -- I'm going to support the national emergency declaration. So, for all of my colleagues, the president will sign the bill. We will be voting on it shortly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: You heard it here in real time. We brought you that, as Mitch McConnell made the announcement, the president will sign the bipartisan spending bill to avoid a shutdown.

But he will also declare a national emergency.

Let's go to CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, we have been like zigging, and then he's been zagging. What happened?

(LAUGHTER)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's follow the bouncing bill, is the way it's been today, Ana.

I think Mitch McConnell did something very stunning there a few moments ago, to see the Senate majority leader really get out ahead of the White House and announce what the president of the United States is going to do with something as big and important as preventing another government shutdown, another costly government shutdown.

I don't think you can, you know, underline that enough. That is a really stunning thing to take place, because, typically, what you would have, Ana, as you know, is the president would come out in some kind of pool spray or the White House press secretary would make an announcement or put out a statement.

And, Ana, I'm getting the sense from talking to my sources over here, over here at the White House, that the right hand doesn't really know what the left hand is doing. There are aides describing all sorts of things behind the scenes.

I talked to one official earlier this afternoon who said, listen, we just got this bill in the middle of the night, it's over 1,000 pages, it takes time to go through all of this. But, as you -- the hand- wringing is just audible over here, as you have some aides very worried that the president is not going to sign this thing and plunge the entire country back into a government shutdown.

And you saw some of that reflected in the reporting that came from my colleagues Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak earlier this afternoon. But as Dana Bash and I were reporting earlier this week, there were strong indications that the president wanted to sign this, intended to sign this, was likely to sign it because there were these concerns that the president, real political concerns, that the president just could not afford politically to do this all over again.

And so I just think it is just so striking and so stunning to see the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, get out ahead of this. We were hearing from our Capitol Hill colleagues just in the last couple of hours, Ana, that there were senators saying, we don't know what to do. We don't know whether to come out and support this thing, because we don't want the rug pulled out from under us, like the president did to us last time.

And so I think all of that past was prologue, and the president really, I think, got preempted a little bit here by Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell came out and basically said to the president of the United States, the jig is up, the game is over, and it's time to, you know, get the country moving past this wall on the border cliff that we have been dealing with over the last several weeks.

Just a stunning move by Mitch McConnell to get out there and put an end to all of this, if that's, in fact, what's going to happen. Of course, the president could pull the rug out from under him again. But I don't think -- I don't think the president would do that, if Mitch McConnell were to get out in front of the cameras.

That, I think, is a pretty clear indication that we're finally coming to an end of all of this brinksmanship, Ana.

CABRERA: CNN political analysts April Ryan and Kirsten Powers are joining our conversation here.

Jim Acosta, thank you for your latest reporting.

ACOSTA: You bet.

CABRERA: Let me go to April Ryan and get what you are hearing and why you think the president had this sort of change of heart in the last few hours, it appears, from going to he's going to sign it, all indications are he's going to sign it -- we were hearing from senators in his party earlier today that everybody was pointing him that direction, this is what you should do, this is what's best for you, this is what's best for the country, and then there was all of this drama.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

Well, you know, at the base of this, Ana, is the fact that the president is not getting the $5.7 billion. That's at the base. He wants $5.7 billion. He's getting $1 billion-plus. So what he's going to try to do, in declaring this state of emergency, if this is, indeed, what's going to happen, he's going to try to start grabbing funds, from different agencies, be it Defense, wherever, to fund this wall.

And then you're going to see court action from Congress. They're going to go and try to stop this. Congress, you have to remember, is the spending authority, as well as the taxing authority.

They don't want to see this, but the president has said that he didn't want a government shutdown, but it's not over until it's signed or it's spoken, you know.

And -- just being here for the last two years in this White House -- or two-plus years -- you know, it didn't sit well with the president.