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McConnell Pushes Ahead on Legislation Anticipating Impeachment Drag; Report Shows U.S. GDP Rose 1.9 Percent in 3rd Quarter; Pro and Anti-Impeachment Ads Hit TV Airwaves. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 30, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- so using that as a legislative piece of leverage as well. But I also think always something to remember with the Senate majority leader is that he's never trying to get out in front of his conference. And the Republican conference right now in the United States Senate is largely keeping their powder dry and is often in different places on this when you talk to them privately. There are people who are all in for President Trump, don't think that they should move forward, and there are people who are a little bit wary about what they've seen.

And as such, McConnell is never going to get out in front of them. He wants to protect the people that are going to be up for tough re- elections. And I think he always needs to keep in mind that that's the case as well.

Also, and I know everybody kind of says that this is a cop-out. He's going to be a juror. He'll have his moment, he'll have his time where he'll have to weigh in. Now is not that time.

And the third and final thing because I'm going too long and about to get yelled at here by Jess, the reality is nobody knows what's coming next. And I think you can't underscore that enough. That part of the reason people are a little bit wary here particularly over in the upper chamber is they don't know what's coming next in this investigation. There's a very limited amount of information coming from the White House about what's coming next. And so people are just kind of waiting to see, waiting to see. Attack on the process, wait on substance, John.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: He is the longest-serving leader for good reason. He knows how to count. Phil Mattingly live on the Hill. Appreciate it. No one is going to yell at you, I promise.

Let's come back here in the room. It is interesting in the sense that, you know, McConnell wants to keep his powder dry or at least keep most of his cards tight on the substance of impeachment because he doesn't know what it's going to happen, he doesn't know what's going to look like by the time the House gets to act and sends it to the Senate which is just smart. Especially he's the majority leader and he's up for re-election next year.

But he does want -- he knows what will happen, he's been around long enough to know what will happen if they do vote to impeach in the House. The Senate is going to be paralyzed. So, we have 17 days until the November 21 deadline to fund the government. Sixteen of those days the Senate is supposed to be in session, 11 days the House is supposed to be in session. Zero to 12 of the spending bills required to keep the government open have made their way to the president's desk.

So, you know, he is right, you know, he can -- I'm not accepting his political argument that's up for them but he is right that, you know, we cut some work that we kind of get paid to do that we better get done.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's largely -- McConnell is definitely leading the charge there but that is the argument that a lot of Senate Republicans have been making against House Democrats. That we have actual legislative work to do, we have to fund the government, there is a pending trade deal that a lot of us want to get ratified. And hoping to kind of use that argument back towards them. And there was a school of thought, I was talking to some Republicans maybe over the last few weeks saying impeachment could perhaps help the prospects of the USMCA trade deal because Democrats are kind of desperate to show that they can get something done in addition to being in this controversial impeachment inquiry.

But, I mean, you and Phil are exactly right there. And, you know, smart as senior Senate Republicans have told me that we don't know what we don't know. I mean, we are learning something new every day from this impeachment inquiry from these various witnesses. So I think while some of the president's most vocal defenders in the Senate want to go out there and kind of lean on their seats a little bit to defend him, most are really keeping their powder dry.

KING: And to that point, let's just -- McConnell again, you can look at the transcript of his speech this morning, railing against the Democratic process. Listen here as he gets asked a couple of questions about the substance. He's a lot more careful.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lieutenant Colonel Vindman says that what he heard on the president's call is so concerning that he worried that it might undermine U.S. national security. Does it concern you? Are you worried about the president's behavior at all?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Look, I'm not going to question the patriotism of any of the people who are coming forward. The action is in the House now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But what do you make of these allegations?

MCCONNEL: I said I'm not going to comment on the merits of what's going forward. We're watching what happens in the House.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: He's watching what's happening in the House and all his colleagues around him are watching him. He is the most important player here for how. If there's going to be a break in the Senate, I'm not saying there is, but if there is going to be any kind of a movement, it's going to come from him. His position to other senators now is eat lunch at your desk, stay out of the hallways so reporters can't ask you questions about it.

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And figure out how many different ways you can say I'm not going to comment on that. Which I think McConnell is a pretty masterful at doing. He does that quite a lot. He is good at the process, you know. Inside that building, he knows how to work the process. And so I think he's trying to shift the subject to something that is more beneficial to him.

But I have been struck by how little McConnell has defended President Trump. He's criticized the process, but he has not come to Trump's defense even countering him by saying I didn't tell you that that call was perfect which I think is a telling sign.

KING: That was a rocket to the White House essentially saying that you better get your act together because if you say things that are not true, we're not going to carry your water over here. We'll defend you if we can defend you but we're not going to defend you if what you say is not true. That was a rocket from McConnell.

So, is he impacted by this? He has said the Senate rules require him to have a trial if the House votes on articles of impeachment. There are conservatives pushing the idea that they could just vote to table it. Without having any proceeding, just vote to put it away. McConnell has said, no I can't do that. That's not the way the rules work.

Will he accept? Does he care about hits like this on Fox?


[12:35:00] LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: This is McConnell's moment. He needs to show the American people that the GOP stands united behind the man that they elected to lead this country. McConnell must also stop acting like his hands are tied. At the very least, McConnell can and should aggressively push for a blisteringly short impeachment trial, giving Democrats maybe an afternoon to put on their sham case. I think that's too generous.


JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, McConnell, his legacy, he can just point scoreboard when it comes to justices. I mean, that's how McConnell has built his fortress within the GOP. I don't know that Laura Ingraham keeps him up at night now. If he starts tearing about it at home, perhaps, but until that happens I don't think that Laura Ingraham is going to move Mitch McConnell.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Far-right media has not been a fan of Mitch McConnell for quite some time.

KUCINICH: Very true.

KING: That's very, very, very, very true.

Up next, a murky report clouds the U.S. economic picture looking ahead. That's not good for a president seeking re-election.


[12:40:58] KING: Topping our political radar today, all eyes on Wall Street now squarely fixed on the Federal Reserve chairman who traders expect will announce another interest rate cut this afternoon following. That announcement follows the latest GDP report which shows the U.S. economy expanded by 1.9 percent in the third quarter. Look closely at the numbers though and it's a mixed bag that could complicate the Fed's decision.

Our Chief Business Correspondent Christine Romans breaks it down.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: A quarter below two percent two quarters in a row of decelerating economic growth, this is an American economy that feels like it is growing, yes, but that growth is slowing. So what's happening?

Look at this summer, 1.9 percent economic growth. That's down from the spring. And really when you see these two quarters in a row of deceleration, that's the first time we've seen that in about a decade. So what's happening?

Well, you had a GM strike, that was a very deal. You have the Boeing issue, the 737 jets are still grounded. You have a trade war that has cooled business investment. You look at some of these business investment numbers and they're down three and four percent.

The consumer is still strong. The consumer, a big part of the American economy is still spending and appears to be confident but some of these other pillars of economic growth seem to be petering out just a little bit. So, where do you go from here? Well, the president has said that it's the Fed's fault. It's not the trade war that's a problem here, it's the Fed's fault. And in fact, the Fed does meet today. Another interest rate cut is expected, the third, a 25 basis point rate cut.

It really puts the Fed in an interesting position here. You get too close to zero and you don't have the ammunition if there really is a true slowdown or even a recession. The Fed just doesn't have the same ammunition to try to goose the economy. But the president is actually cheerleading the negative rates that you're seeing in Japan and Europe. Those are a sign of distress. Those are a sign of a much weaker economy than we have here.

So, the Fed today and what the Fed Chief Jerome Powell under attack by this White House by the way, what the Fed chief says about the path forward, the durability of this economic expansion in the face of the trade war and these other hits, that would be crucial. John?

KING: Christine, it will be. Christine Romans, appreciate that. The president will be watching as well as everybody else. He's on the ballot next year.

Up next for us, a look at the impeachment ads as a way to run with or away from the president in 2020.


[12:47:52] KING: Depending on where you live, the impeachment debate might also be finding its way into your non-news television viewing. Just in the past month a sample here of the impeachment ads pro and con.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Contact your senators today. Urge them to put country over party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impeachment is a scam.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Impeachment is a bunch of bull.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will Mitch defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic or protect Trump at all costs?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Radical Democrats led by Adam Schiff are determined to impeach President Trump. They have that power unless we take a stand and defend our president.


KING: Now the Trump campaign and these groups, you see the numbers there supporting his re-election have spent about $3.4 million on TV ads on impeachment this year. Tom Steyer and groups who favored impeachment have spent about $7.6 million. These groups are concentrating in states like Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada.

2020 theme there maybe.

KUCINICH: Interesting selections.

KING: But it is interesting and it's something to watch. You know, Washington is now dominated by this. The parties are polarized by this. The question is, you mentioned this early in the program, impeachment is not a legal trial, it's a political process. And so do these ads sway people in the places where you have vital senators or in the short-term House members?

KUCINICH: You know, I'm not sure. Because, you know, when I was in Ohio a few weeks ago, people weren't even bringing up impeachment to me. They were talking more about healthcare and climate change and granted these were Democrats because of where I was. But I do wonder if at this point in the cycle whether this is actually shaping public opinion and whether people are actually paying attention. Perhaps in places like Iowa and South Carolina but I do -- I wonder how much of an impact is having.

KING: And a bit more flavors as we continue the conversation. Democrats are trying to take back the Senate, now in Republican hands. So you have ads after the Republicans senators viewed as vulnerable. The Republicans hope, the odds are long but they hope to take back the House. So who are they targeting? Democrats in tough districts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are patriots who have always protected democracy. Will our senator? Tell Martha McSally, tell Susan Collins, tell Joni Ernst to put country over party.

[12:50:08] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Focused on a witch hunt and your Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer, Abigail Spanberger, Matt Cartwright is siding with them.


KING: In those key races, impeachment is going to be without a doubt part -- how much of it is healthcare, how much of it is impeachment as we get closer to the actual impeachment articles in the Senate. Who knows.

KEITH: I just -- I've spoken to consultant types who say that this is just the beginning. That there's going to be an ad war about this. That -- during Clinton, there were ads targeting vulnerable House members and senators and this is what America is in for. It's not just going to be, you know, hearings on cable. It's going to be ads. It's going to take over.

KING: One test next week, there's some governor's races including one in Kentucky. Think of it as a red state, but it's a tough tight governor's race. Matt Bevin is the Republican incumbent on the ballot, and he himself brings it up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Matt's proudly pro-life, against sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, and against impeaching our president.


KING: Pretty clear strategy there, gin up Republican turnout.

KIM: Well, Bevin himself has much bigger problems right now so he's clearly pointing to the impeachment strategy and allying himself with President Trump to get him out of his political troubles. But certainly, impeachment is going to take over a lot of the 2020 conversation. I would also point out there are some practical implications too because several of the candidates who are running are sitting Democratic senators. They would be jurors in an impeachment trial, and as the schedule is unfolding, it would likely interfere right into the last few frenzied weeks of Iowa campaigning and that could be a problem for several of the candidates or could be a bonus giving them the national spotlight to make their case.

KING: When we come back, one of my favorite traditions in American politics. New Hampshire's open for filing.


[12:56:31] KING: Let's end with a quick lightning round. Get some other fun political stories into the program.

We told you yesterday the former attorney general and former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions is considering a comeback. Republican Congressman Bradley Byrne is already in the Alabama Senate race so Sessions if he jumps in, would be a primary challenger. Seung Min Kim had a chance to run into the congressman yesterday. Byrne said in an interview Tuesday that Sessions' entry would not make, quote, any difference to me and vowed to stay in the race regardless. Here's the fun part, quote, the president is very angry with Jeff. I think the president will be very vocal against him, Byrne said. For Jeff's sake, the congressman said I don't want that but I think that's the reality of what he's facing.

KIM: I mean, that's kind of the political equivalent of bless your heart there. But -- I mean, he's certainly right. I mean, I've been talking to a lot of people who have been watching that race very closely over the last couple of days, obviously, the former attorney general has made known that he is actively considering the race. Now he has until November 8th to decide so we should find out in the coming days.

But the president will be a problem for him. You know, there are some cases where the president may have been able to bury the political hatchet but I don't think for this one. And this is going to be a big problem for Jeff Sessions if he really decided to run.

KING: But you did not ask the congressman about the president. He sort of kind of --

KIM: Exactly.

KING: -- he was ready to say that.

KIM: The question that I asked Congressman Byrne actually was just your general reaction to the fact that Jeff Sessions may run again. And, you know, he said Jeff and I are friends, I have the utmost respect for him. And then there was a pause and then he launched into that.

KING: And then he launched into that. I mentioned before the break there's a great tradition in New Hampshire where candidates can show up to file their own candidacy papers or they can send someone to do it for them. But there you have the South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg with the long-time -- long-serving New Hampshire Secretary of State Billy Gardner as we say in the hood, in the office right there filing his own papers there. It's a big tradition in New Hampshire. The filing period opened today. A little flashback, I want to show, Billy Gardner needs an interior decorator. This office looks almost exactly the same. That is 1991. That is Hillary Clinton filing the paperwork for then-Governor Bill Clinton. Terry Shoemaker over her shoulder works for the Clinton campaign. There's a guy there who has color in his hair. He used to work for the Associated Press and cover politics. We won't see who that is.

It is a tradition. It's great. It's fun.

VISER: It is. And this time you have almost a candidate a day pretty much. The filing deadline goes until November 15th. There's also this speculation of who else -- can anybody else get into the race. They've got until November 15th if they want to be on the New Hampshire ballot which is a crucial one.

KING: I remember one day back in that same race, 1991, where they said Mario Cuomo was coming. He never showed up. OK.

A big confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill today, John Sullivan the deputy secretary of state, the president's ambassador for Moscow. Guess what, game seven of the World Series is tonight, and it came up.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Should the Astros win tonight in game seven, I will be wearing Astros gear and serving his staff (INAUDIBLE) crab cakes and (INAUDIBLE) and whiskey. Should the Nationals win continuing the already historic trend of the visiting team winning every game thus far in the Series which has never happened past five games, he will wear Nationals gear and serve my staff Texas barbecue and Shiner beer.

JOHN SULLIVAN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: I just wanted to note that until tonight, the pending World Series champions are the Boston Red Sox.

KAINE: All right, fair enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, I'm afraid this nomination can't proceed.


KING: The secretary is correct about that. Until tonight, Red Sox Nation reigns. But game seven.

KUCINICH: You know, go Nats, first of all. But I think this is one of these great traditions in the Senate and in the House where these -- where lawmakers make these hometown bets and end up having -- whether it's beer or food, it really is one of the things that are -- that's wonderful about.

KING: The senators can come here and serve us all --