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Romney Joins List of GOP Senators to Vote Against Trump's National Emergency Declaration; Beto O'Rourke Enters Crowded Democratic Field; Nadler: Whitaker Didn't Deny Talking to Trump about Cohen Case; Trump Speaks to Reporters as Senate Votes Soon on Blocking National Emergency. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:13] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

This morning, a pitch battle between the president and lawmakers is about to come to a head. Senators are expected to vote on whether to cancel President Trump's national emergency declaration for the border wall. At least six Republicans, and honestly it has probably changed in the last five seconds, have publicly stated that they will be voting against the president.

Mitt Romney has been something on the fence. He declared just moments ago that he is joining that group to go against the president.

So is the president about to face an embarrassing rebuke from his own party and be faced with putting forth his first veto? We will soon find out.

This morning, the president took to Twitter in what could be a last- ditch effort to try to keep Republicans in line, writing this, "If at a later date, Congress wants to update the law, I will support those efforts, but today's issue is border security and crime."

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill. Kaitlan Collins is at the White House watching all of this for us. This will be coming to a head later this afternoon.

Sunlen, let me start with you.

What are you hearing from the Hill at this moment?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, certainly there's some sort of last-minute scramble afoot on Capitol Hill among Republican Senators, those who are allies with President Trump to try to at least minimize the Republican defections when they vote later today. There's not the expectation that this will not pass. The expectation is that there are now currently enough Republican Senators voting with the Democrats to vote against President Trump and send the bill to his desk for him to veto. Right now it is really all about minimizing the Republican defections, minimizing the embarrassment essentially for the White House. I just spoke with Senator Lindsey Graham up here on Capitol Hill a few

minutes ago. He in his words barged into the White House last night. He essentially crashed a White House dinner with two other Republicans up here. He made something of a last-minute pitch to President Trump. Graham told me that his message to President Trump said, "I don't expect you to give up any of your powers of the presidency. Do what you think is necessary. But if you could find a way to sit down and bridge the gap here, prospectively, it would be in everybody's best interest."

He is trying to push president to make changes to Mike Lee's proposal to limit presidential authority for future national emergencies. That is something President Trump turned down. But Graham is saying be open to it. He said, "I do not know if it will bear fruit. President Trump did not make any assurances. But there's potential here." And said anything can happen here.

Again, Graham telling me he expects this will pass and certainly Republicans have the numbers to pass this to send it to President Trump. It is all about minimizing those defections -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Real quick, before I get to Kaitlan on what the president is saying here, are Republicans on the Hill taking this tweet as an attempt to bridge that divide or bridge the gap as Graham is getting at?

SERFATY: Certainly right now eyebrows are raised. I think certainly people are reacting to that tweet. I mentioned that to Lindsey Graham. He is saying there's potential. We'll see what a few hours this will bring and whether the efforts are fruitful. I think people are indicating that magic can happen on Capitol Hill. The feeling at the end of the day is that this gets sent to President Trump's desk for a signature. We'll see how far that tweet goes on Capitol Hill here today -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Magic can happen on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, if it does, you are always part of it.

Kaitlan, the president rejected this idea of limiting the power to declare a national emergency in the future. Is he now open to it? Would you like to try to translate the tweet? What is the White House telling you?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is the question the Republican Senators will have before they vote today is just how concrete is this tweet? Yesterday the president called into the Senate Republican lunch and put himself on speaker phone and said if they voted yes on this emergency declaration that the president wouldn't try to use his power in this manner again. The president said he wasn't going to do that. I'm actually told that that dinner at the White House when the president was having dinner and Lindsey Graham and in his words barged, in actually got pretty contentious as they were arguing over this trying to tell the president that it could help stave off the embarrassment today and he wouldn't suffer such a big defeat in the Senate today and the president didn't seem open to that idea. That was evident on Twitter when the president said he was going to veto this measure. Now with the latest tweet where the president is saying if they get through this he will be open to changing it in the future is going to be a big surprise to people in the West Wing and the president's White House counsel who have been ad investigation the president against making a move like this. As you have seen the president has changed his position on this so many times. It's a question of is this what the president wants or is he advised against it by people here at the White House? While his allies on Capitol Hill are saying something entirely differently?

[11:05:31] BOLDUAN: A preview, a sequel, a redo, a movie that they have seen before in terms of not knowing the president's position and what do they do with it. Regardless, it is up to members of the Senate no matter what the president tells them, promises them or doesn't. What do they think about presidential power and constitutionality? Do they vote to cancel it or do they vote to stick with the president? That is the question before them. They will have to vote in just a little while.

Guys, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

We will be watching of this play out and bring it to you.

We are watching that and watching this. Beto O'Rourke now officially running for president of the United States. He made the announcement this morning. He is on a three-day swing through Iowa speaking to folks at a coffee shop earlier this morning. Listen to a little bit of what Beto O'Rourke said.


BETO O'ROURKE, (D), FORMER CONGRESSMAN & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This setting right now, the very first event of our campaign for president is an example not only of the way that I wish to campaign across this country for every single American, and I can care less your party persuasion, your religion, anything other than the fact that right now we are all Americans and we are all human beings and we do everything within our power for one another, for this great country and for every generation that follows. This is democracy.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Leyla Santiago is following O'Rourke.

How is he being received in Iowa this morning?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was interesting. Before Beto O'Rourke arrived here, I was talking to voters who said they had learned about the event through Facebook and word of mouth and many of them were undecided, waiting to hear what he had to say, saying I am waiting to be inspired. I checked in with some of the voters after the fact. One woman in particular. I said were you inspired? Are you still undecided? She said her plans are to vote for Beto O'Rourke. This was a small crowd who liked what he had to say. He talked about education, about health care. That was the very first question. They asked about things that impact rural America given that we are in the southeastern part of Iowa. His campaign is making no secret of the strategy in terms of they are going to places where they are focusing on places here during this three-day Iowa trip that was won by President Obama and then in the very next election won by President Trump. So they are kind of targeting the forgotten.

In a way that is sort of hearing him talk in this small coffee shop felt like a bit of a flashback to the midterm campaign when he was up against Senator Ted Cruz. He raised $80 million. Now, he did not win. It was a narrow loss of three points. He is hoping that he can engage those young voters, inspire people to come on his side, but the question is, how will he differentiate himself with so many candidates? This is a very crowded field. He said, "I plan to be myself." He was asked again by another reporter and he resisted saying he didn't want to compare himself to other candidates. He is just going to go out and do his thing. He also yesterday when I spoke to him said that he wanted to take that same approach in terms of grass-roots efforts, no pollster. Today he did acknowledge that there will be some differences in how he will approach a national campaign now as he tries to get the Democratic nomination.

BOLDUAN: Leyla, stick around.

I want to add to the conversation. CNN's senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, on this.

Nia, as Leyla is pointing out, he complimented the other Democrats in the race and said at the end of the day they are kind of all the same team and that is how he wants to look at his approach to the race. He took questions on a bunch of different topics, some answered and some he didn't. He said there's no sense in campaigning if you know the answers to every single question. That sounds like the emerging theme, if you will, of his early campaign.

What are you hearing? What is Beto O'Rourke telling us, telling Iowans and how is he going to approach?

[11:10:11] NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think his theme is that he can be all things to all people. He can appeal to the Bernie's and the folks who might like Biden because Biden is more of a moderate. If you look closely at Beto O'Rourke record he is more of a new Democrat than somebody like Cory Booker or the folks further left like Bernie Sanders. I think that is his message. He doesn't want voters to be able to pin him down. He is enabled by the fact that he doesn't really have much of a record. He left a light foot print in Congress. He doesn't have to go back to Congress and vote on anything. He is not going to be associated necessarily with the folks on the Hill right now. So I think that is -- he is almost like the sort of empty vessel that you can pull whatever you want into him. You can think that he is electable because he almost won Texas, for instance. He is able to win so much money. You can think he is a progressive because he has big grass roots followings. I think this is contingent on his part. Let's see if it's effective.

BOLDUAN: It's a long race. It's a long way in Iowa. Being undefinable as long as you can maintain it. There may be real advantage in that. I'm told Jeff Zeleny is joining us from Beto O'Rourke's next stop in

Burlington, Iowa.

Jeff, what do you think of the fact that he is doing smaller stops throughout Iowa as the first way he is kind of rolling out his campaign?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Kate, it's really interesting. He is finally in the race. That has been a big question. That is what voters here have been wondering and actually waiting for him. I think the fact that he is here is significant. The fact that he took questions at the first event does not sound like a big deal, but that's what voters want to hear. I do believe there's a lot of talk today not specifics. He has a little bit of time to develop those. That is something that will just organically happen. The differences between the Democratic candidates, he will be asked if he agrees with Elizabeth Warren's position on taxing the wealthy. He will be asked if he agrees with other peoples' position on this. He may want to stay undefined and positive. He can do that to an extent, but the race takes shape around him. So he can only control so much of that.

I think what is significant is what he is doing and where he is doing it. He is doing this on the eastern side of Iowa. I can see the Mississippi River just about a block away from me here retracing and reverse the steps of huckleberry fin. These are counties that President Trump won in 2016 and President Obama won twice. That is why he is here and making the argument that he can go places that some other Democratic candidates have not yet gone.

BOLDUAN: You are telling me, when he tells "Vanity Fair" in the huge profile, I don't have a team counting delegates and he says he is doing this on feel, I'm able to meet them and bring them in, we can do it, I know this might not be the most professional thing you have ever heard, but I just feel it, you are telling me there might be more than just feels in terms of his planning and where he is headed.

ZELENY: There better be. This is a presidential race. He can do some things on feel. He'll need to get people who count delegates. I have been talking to a lot of people who have met with Beto O'Rourke for hours. I'm talking senior campaign advisers, some from the old Obama world, some from Bernie Sanders' old campaign. He is asking lot of questions. I'm told that one job interview took three to four hours. He has been collecting a lot of information. This is not the rag tag pulling up the cart here. He will be right here behind me. There's more strategy than you might think. But we'll see when he actually puts the meat on the bones here.

He is going to see some adoring fans. He is also, though, going to meet some voters who have already met a half dozen other candidates and who like what Kamala Harris has to say about things and who like what Cory Booker has to say about things. He is about to enter a primary race which is so much different than simply running against Ted Cruz.

BOLDUAN: I also just realized what the new theme for the 2020 race is going to be for the show. It's over your shoulder. It's come, sit, drink, enjoy. That is going to be the theme throughout this hour going forward for the 2020 election.

It's great to see you guys. Thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, former Acting Attorney General Matt Whittaker facing more tough questions on Capitol Hill. Why can't Democrats and Republicans agree on what he said? We will talk to a member of the House Judiciary Committee next.

[11:15:13] Blizzard conditions and hurricane-force winds as a bomb cyclone slams into the Midwest, leaving more than 1,000 people stranded on highways. Next, we will have the latest on who is getting hit the hardest and where it is heading next.


BOLDUAN: House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says former Acting Attorney General Matt Whittaker didn't deny talking to President Trump about Michael Cohen's criminal case. That he didn't deny. Whittaker had a closed-door meeting yesterday with committee leaders to clarify his public testimony from last month. It sounds like clarity is not what happened here because the top Republican on the committee, Doug Collins, says there's no evidence coming out of this, there's no evidence that Whittaker discussed the Cohen case with the president. Are you confused? I am too.

Here is what Jerry Nadler told CNN this morning.


[11:20:24] REP. JERRY NADLER, (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: He did not admit to discussing with anything. When presented with the opportunity when asked by Mr. Collins at the end of the interview if it was correct that he had not spoken to the president about the Cohen case, and he said that that had not been his testimony. So presented with a direct opportunity to deny that he spoke to the president, he refused to do so.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now is Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, from Pennsylvania.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for coming in.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN, (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I'm pleased to be with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

You sit on the Judiciary Committee. Have you been able to get clarity from leaders, if there's day light between top members of your committee? DEAN: I spoke to committee staff who were present yesterday during

the interview of former Acting Attorney General Whittaker. What I think is important is to compare and contrast what he said under oath --


BOLDUAN: I'm so sorry, Congresswoman, President Trump is speaking in the Oval Office. We need to go to it.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is booming. We're the envy of the world. Other economies are not doing well and we are doing record business. We are very happy about that. It is very great to have the prime minister of Ireland with us.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is your reaction to Beto O'Rourke in.

TRUMP: I think he has a lot of hand movement. I said, is he crazy or is that just the way he acts? I have never seen hand movement. I watched him a little while this morning doing I assume a news conference. I have never seen anything quite like it. Study it. I'm sure you will agree.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Who is the bigger threat, Beto O'Rourke or Joe Biden in.

TRUMP: I say whoever it is, I will take them all. Him or her.


TRUMP: Whoever it is, I will take him or her on. I think with the economy doing so well and with all of the things we have done with the tax cuts the biggest in our country with people having a lot more money in their pockets, with 401Ks hitting record numbers. They have never been considered great investors by their wives or by their husbands and now they are considered great investments. The market is hitting almost new highs and I have all of the records. Every record for the stock market, so I think it's going to be very tough to beat. If you look at African-American, if you look at Hispanic or Asian unemployment we have the best records in the history of unemployment. So I think it's going to be tough for somebody, but, you know what, whoever it is it makes no difference to me whatsoever.



TRUMP: I will be coming at some point during the year. I missed it last time and I would have loved to have been there. It's a special place. I have a very warm spot. It's a great place.

(CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How long do you know the Boeing planes will be grounded?

TRUMP: I hope it is for a short period of time. They have to find out what it is. They have to find out what it is. I'm not sure that they know. I thought we had to do it. We had to take a cautionary route, the grounding of the plane was a big thing, as you know, you are involved with.


TRUMP: The grounding was a big thing. It's a great company. It's a truly great company. Hopefully, they'll figure it out very quickly.


TRUMP: It was a big decision. It's also one of our largest exporters. One of our truly great companies of the world. They have to figure it out fast. They know that. They are under great pressure.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you still a great supporter? (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: I was. It wasn't that I was a supporter. I predicted it was going to happen and I was right. People laughed when I predicted it. They won by about two points. I was standing out on Turnberry. We had a press conference and people were screaming. I think you were there. People were screaming. I said, no, I think it is going to happen. People were surprised I made the prediction because President Obama made the opposite prediction. I was right. And I will tell you, I'm surprised at how badly it has all gone from the standpoint of a negotiation. But I gave the prime minister my ideas on how to negotiate it. And I think you would have been successful. She didn't listen to that and it's fine. She has to do what she has to do. I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner, frankly. I hate to see everything being ripped apart right now. I don't think another vote would be possible because it would be very unfair to the people who won. That will be tough. I thought it would happen. It did happen. Both sides are very, very cemented in. It's a tough situation. It's a tough situation. It's a shame. Frankly, it's a shame. There was no reason for that to happen. They could have had the vote and it should have gone smoothly. Unfortunately, it didn't. Very complicated issue. Actually, the issue on the border of Ireland is one of the most complex points.

[11:25:41] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think it should be extended - (INAUDIBEL)?

TRUMP: I think they will probably have to do something because right now they are in the midst of a very short period of time, the end of the month. They are not going to be able to do that. So --


TRUMP: I would like to see --


TRUMP: Excuse me -- I would like to see that whole situation with Brexit worked out. I would like to see -- we are talking to them about trade. We can do a very big trade deal with the U.K. We are also renegotiating our trade deal with the European groups and literally individual nations and also with the hall. It's very sad to see what's happening there. There was no reason. I'm sure you agree with that.

Do you have any feeling on Brexit? Maybe I should not let you do it.



VARADKAR: We have a different opinion. I regret that Brexit is happening and U.K. was a really important part of the European Union. They are gone now and that's their decision. Most important thing for us in Ireland is that their decision to leave shouldn't cause problems in Northern Ireland where people vote to stay. We shouldn't have a hard border or anything to obstruct the peace process. We want to make sure there's trade between Britain and Ireland. I believe in free trade. I think it will be a few years before the United Kingdom sorts itself out. In the meantime, the European Union is available to --


VARADKAR: -- talk trade with the U.S.

TRUMP: We are talking about trade with the European Union. They have been very tough over the years. They were unwilling to negotiate with the Obama administration. They were unwilling before that to be honest. I'm not just blaming President Obama. They are willing to talk to us. If they don't talk to us they will do something severe economically. The European Union treats us very, very unfairly, I have to say that. They treat the United States and they have been for many years, for decades, they treated us very unfairly. It will probably work out. They are negotiating otherwise we will do something that will be good for the United States.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Considering the vote today - (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: No, no, I don't know what the vote will be. It doesn't matter. I will probably have to veto. It's not going to be overturned. The legal scholars all say it is totally constitutional. It's very important. It's really a border security vote. It's a vote for border security. It's a vote for no crime.

We have a border situation, also, but it is slightly different than yours. Ours is not actually complex. We have very, very bad laws that are

archaic put in by Democrats and Republicans didn't fight hard at the time. We have Catch and Release. We have chain migration and all sorts of things that are horrible. The world is laughing at the laws that were passed. We will have a very strong border and a lot of wall going up. I don't know if you see it or want to see it. We are building a lot of wall and there's a lot of contracts being let out tomorrow and over the next week for additional many, many miles of wall. We will have hundreds of miles of wall up fairly soon. It's going to make a very big difference. We also have to change the laws because whether it is visa lottery, whether it's chain migration, Catch and Release or anything else, they are horrible, horrible laws.

I want to just commend our Border Patrol and ICE. What they have been doing. And our military has been fantastic. We are building a lot of barbed wire areas where people are pouring through they are not going through. They have done a fantastic job. We built some temporary fencing and permanent fencing with the military. They have done a fantastic job. But the Border Patrol, they are capturing, catching, grabbing, doing whatever they have to do, thousands of people, thousands of illegal aliens a month, 75,000 last month. The job they are doing, they are apprehending. Call it whatever you like to use. But they are apprehending thousands and thousands of people a month.