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CNN NEWSROOM

GOP Sen. Thom Tillis Changes Mind, Will Vote with Trump on Emergency Declaration; Class-Action Lawsuit Filed in Biggest College- Admission Scam in U.S.; The Man Behind the College-Admissions Scandal; Beto O'Rourke Launches Campaign, Hits Trail in Iowa; Senate Passes Resolution to Block Trump's National Emergency. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thom Tillis is up for reelection in 2020 in North Carolina. He needs the president's supporters to really get behind him. We'll see how much that ultimately played in. He says it was discussions that he had with the White House that reassured him of a - forcing him to change his vote.

One other Senate just announced his vote, Roy Blunt, who's a member of the Republican leadership, he's on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said he would buck the president, vote for this disapproval resolution. So that means, right now, Brooke, we're standing at the moment ten Republican Senators still who plan to vote against the president, joining the 47 Democrats.

So at the moment, 57 Senators will vote to send this to the president's desk. There's enough support to send this to Trump's desk, the first veto of his presidency on an issue so central to his campaign and to his first term here in office. But at the moment, it appears unlikely to get the 67 need to overcome a veto from this president. Nevertheless, a significant rebuke from the president. He's facing on the Senate floor momentarily but one Republican Senator they got to change his mind -- Brooke?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Manu Raju watching all the chess pieces moving about on the board there.

Stay with us. We'll see which Republicans surprise everyone and monitor that vote.

Meantime, why did it take the U.S. so long to ground those Boeing jets involved in two deadly crashes? The president says Boeing has to figure it out fast.

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[14:35:31] BALDWIN: A class-action lawsuit has now been filed in the wake of the biggest college-admission scam ever prosecuted in the United States. And outraged plaintiffs want the eight schools involved to pay up. They say the schools were negligent and denied students a fair process. And at least one claims her Stanford degree isn't worth as much because future employers may think she didn't get into her university the good old-fashioned way with hard work. Claire Wang is the editor-in-chief of the "Stanford Daily."

So, Claire, thank you so much for being with me.

To be clear, you're not part of this lawsuit but you do graduate next year. And do you think this scandal cast doubts on your Stanford degree?

CLAIRE WANG, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, STANFORD DAILY: I mean, thank you very much for having me, first of all. Also, I think, generally the sentiment around campus is a lot of uncertainty, a lot of disappointment especially for all those students who worked very hard to get in and made a lot of sacrifices in high school to get into Stanford and to make the most of their degrees. There's a lot of uncertainty about what this means for the future for our futures after we graduate and also, you know, for the admissions process now. So I definitely agree with that sentiment, that there's a fair amount of, you know, not being sure about what this means for our futures which I think is very normal.

BALDWIN: It is normal. And I feel for you and so many others who I'm sure got in, you know, by hard work. My goodness. It's Stanford. And the piece of the story that's also coming out it's the sailing coach has been fired for his involvement in this whole scandal. School officials say it doesn't have any evidence that other employees were part of this. You described the mood on campus as students being disappointed, but you, personally, just take your journalist hat off for one minute, and as a hard-working Stanford student, how do you feel?

WANG: I mean, personally, I definitely think that the accountability and the athletic process in the college admissions process is -- should be up for greater scrutiny given the current proceedings the university does say they're going to conduct their own internal review process. We're not sure what that looks like. They're redirecting the money that the sailing coach received and funneled into the sailing program so it won't benefit Stanford in any way. Not sure what that looks like either, but --

BALDWIN: What about the students, though? None of the students working with Stanford's coach actually ended up attending, but what do you think should happen to the students who did benefit on other elite college campuses? Do you think they should be expelled because in some cases they had no idea what their parents had done?

WANG: Right. Exactly. It's very unclear, you know, what sort of disciplinary action should be taken because so many of the students did not know, right, that their parents had taken this. It's not up to me as a student to decide how -- what sort of actions should be taking go forward but --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: What do you think is fair?

WANG: I definitely think it's, you know -- the institution should be subject to greater scrutiny at least, college athletics recruiting should have a stronger fact finding, fact checking process to check people's credentials and to Analyze at college consulting services should be subject to more scrutiny and the college admissions process in general, I think, greater accountability mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that spots are allocated to students who, you know, earned them with integrity.

BALDWIN: Integrity being the keyword.

Claire Wang, a lot of strong points. Thank you so much. Good luck there in your final year.

And on this story, we're getting new details on how extensive this scam was and on William Singer the man behind it.

Doug Belkin is a higher education report for he "Wall Street Journal."

Doug, good to have you on.

We know that Singer pleaded guilty to four charges earlier this week, admitting that he created this, quote/unquote, "side door" to help these wealthier clients get their kids into these top-tier schools. Just take me back to square one and how did this all get started.

DOUG BELKIN, HIGHER EDUCATION REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: He moved to Sacramento in the late '80s. He was a basketball -- high school basketball coach. He parlayed that into an assistant coaching job in Sacramento State and he opened up a shop helping local kids get counseling to get into college. The local high school there had won counselor, one guidance counselor for 2,200 students so there was a need and he filled it. He grew his business very slowly and steadily and began to raise his rates and ultimately moved to Newport where he took this to a whole other level.

(CROSSTALK)

[14:40:27] BALDWIN: When he took it to a whole new level, how would he make his move, so to speak, with some of these parents on this side door option?

BELKIN: So what we know is he offered a guarantee. And there's no college counselor who's legitimate who can guarantee a student that they're going to get an admission to any school because it's not their decision to make. They can prepare the student as best they can to put their best foot forward. That's what differentiated him from his competitors and that's what drew these parents to him.

BALDWIN: And 50 people, parents, coaches among them have been implicated in this whole thing. Do you think Singer had help outside of that, perhaps with his businesses, do you think more charges are forthcoming?

BELKIN: I think this is the beginning of a pretty broad net that's going to pull in a lot more folks at schools. The number of folks who were part of getting these kids tested and then cheating on the tests is -- seems extensive. This seems likely to continue to grow. BALDWIN: The whole thing -- OK. It will continue to grow and we'll

watch for that fallout. But this guy's plan was so comprehensive, the bribes, the lying about students' ethnicities, to utilize certain affirmative action programs, to doctoring photos, of everything of all of your reporting, what is the craziest thing you've learned about this whole story?

BELKIN: So what's the most interesting about this, he's taken a system that is essentially tilted and he took it to the most logical level -- the next level. Kids who are coming to these college counselors have so many advantages applying to school, you know. There's a line they can't cross. You can't lie. He did that all over the place. These fake I.D.s -- they didn't even participate in the sport, it's stunning that that was able to get by and eventually convinced these committees that these kids were, you know, elite athletes.

BALDWIN: When they had never played the sport. It's still stunning.

Doug Belkin, thank you for your reporting, with the "Wall Street Journal." Good to have you on.

I want to get us back to our breaking news back in Washington, D.C., where the Senate is still voting now to rebuke the president over his emergency declaration. The president will likely issue his very first veto because of this. Stand by. We'll tell you which Republicans have defected.

And a Gambino family mob boss shot and killed outside his home in the first murder of a crime boss in 34 years. New details about his last moments coming up.

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[14:47:35] BALDWIN: Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke campaigning in Iowa today after officially joining the crowded 2020 democratic race. O'Rourke ending his four-month stretch of indecision as this "Vanity Fair" magazine cover hits the street. It features a tousled O'Rourke wearing jeans, outdoors with pickup truck and family dog. Are you feeling a bit of deja vu? Perhaps you've seen this before. Take a look at John Edwards, circa 2007, cover image, "Men's Vogue," youngish, democratic presidential hopeful, outdoors, jeans, pickup truck, dog, same photographer, Annie Leibovitz. And both magazines owned by Conde Nast.

And let me throw one more on you today. O'Rourke's blue shirt and pose invoking President Ronald Reagan's 1981 "Time" magazine cover, blue shirt and hands stuffed into the back pocket.

Let's analyze all of this. CNN presidential historian, Tim Naftali, former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

Listen, everyone's having fun with these photos today, obviously, but what do you think of the comparisons?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Branding matters. BALDWIN: Branding matters.

NAFTALI: The O'Rourke campaign like all the campaigns that are interested in 20 are trying to find a way to connect. It's all about connecting with a group of Americans who are going to spend a lot of time getting your person elected. President Trump, one of his geniuses, one of his real strengths is he can connect, whatever you think of it, it's true. He can connect. So these poses, by Edwards, Reagan, in the case of Reagan he'd already one by Edwards and O'Rourke they're projecting the, I'm accessible. You know me. You've met me. I work at that ranch. I'm down the street from you. I'm someone you can believe, trust and like. That's what the message is saying.

BALDWIN: Which is the secret sauce in becoming the next president of the United States.

We're going to the U.S. Senate. We've got some news here. We've had this vote, this resolution to terminate Trump's emergency declaration.

I've got senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, standing by.

Manu, what's the scoop?

[14:49:53] RAJU: Yes, there are enough votes to pass this measure and send it to the president's desk setting up the first veto of his presidency on this effort to block the president's emergency declaration. This vote still ongoing but, right now, it appears to be almost called here, Brooke. I'm looking at the tally right now. And 59 yes votes, 41 no votes and 12 Republicans who are voting for this effort to block the president's emergency resolution. At the moment, it has not been officially called, but at the moment, this unofficial tally is 59-41. That is a sizeable rebuke to this president. A significant number of Republicans, 12 from the unofficial tally, 12 Republicans joining with the 47 Democrats to vote to block the president's emergency declaration to build the border wall along the border with Mexico, to try to divert federal funding to spend money for this project that's been central to his presidency, central to his campaign promise. But 12 Republicans we are seeing have defected, despite the pressure, public and privately, that the White House has put on. These Republicans have bolted. We're waiting for the exact tally to be announced here.

So 59-41 at the moment, Brooke. A significant rebuke to the president setting up his first veto to his presidency.

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you.

I've got Charlie Dent and Tim Naftali.

Congressman, first to you.

As a Republican, you were surprised that there weren't more Republicans, were it 12 as Manu and Phil are reporting, 12 Republicans so far vote to go terminate this national emergency declaration. You say not enough. CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Again, this is -- this is an

absolute assault by the president on Congress's article I authority under the constitution. The power of the purse authority is being trampled upon. Roy Blunt is an appropriator, very sharp guy. He's voting for this, for good reason. I'm really surprised that more haven't been jumping up and down screaming bloody murder over this assault on their own congressional authority. Some must be very worried about their primaries. That's the only explanation.

BALDWIN: I just -- I'm looking at some notes I was handed. Senators Gardner and Tillis, two of the most vulnerable, speaking of 2020, those are two Republicans who sided with President Trump.

Tim, to you on how this will likely be the president's first veto of his administration, can you compare first vetoes with previous presidents and where does this stack?

NAFTALI: This is a very different moment because this first veto is all about the strength of our constitution. There's always been a question, Brooke -- we are in a moment of a stress test for our institutions and Congress passed the test today as a former Congressman mentioned. This was an easy vote for someone that believes in small government and it believes in a strong Congress. 12 Republicans, at least, have sided with the Democrats to say to the president, you can't use the national emergency authority the way you've used it. That shows a strong Congress. That shows a Congress that understands its constitutional responsibilities. And so this will be remembered as a moment when the Congress is pushing back against President Trump. This doesn't compare to other first vetoes. This is far more significant.

BALDWIN: Congressman, would you agree to that, A. And B, take us inside the mind of these Republicans obviously some of whom feel strongly about the U.S. Constitution but some of them are voting against what they actually want in the end, which is this border wall?

DENT: Well, first, I agree with the prior statement. But it seems to me very clearly that Republicans are feeling real base pressure. I spoke with some House Republicans who contacted me after their vote, they voted to -- they voted to, you know, go against the president on this matter and they were getting a lot of complaints from, you know, Republican activists. I suspect that might have been a motivating factor for a number of these Republicans to vote against this resolution because there really is no good explanation for it. Because as an institution, Congress has to stand up for itself and for the president to be able to reallocate or reprogram dollars without congressional approval to the magnitude he has -- he's taken 35 percent of the entire annual military construction budget, $3.6 billion out of $10.3 billion. They have five years to spend that. But still, this is a big deal. I am just astounded -- what's going to happen now the president is going to rue this day. Tell you what. He needs the cooperation of Congress to reallocate and reprogram money, to transfer money. That cooperation is going to go out the window because of this emergency declaration. It's going to be much harder for the federal agencies to operate because it requires good will and faith and trust and now he's going to have to beg, literally, for any time he wants to move a nickel. This is a short-sighted victory for the president.

[14:55:09] BALDWIN: Congressman Dent and Tim Naftali, gentlemen, stand by.

We'll sneak a quick break in. The breaking news, the Senate has spoken, 59-41, in favor, essentially not of the White House. They're blocking the president's national emergency, with those 12 Republican Senators joining Democrats in this embarrassing rebuke for the White House.

You're watching CNN. Quick break. We're back with more of this in just a moment.

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[15:00:00] BALDWIN: We are back with a breaking news. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

So here you go.