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INSIDE POLITICS

Senator Schumer Wants Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton To Testify In Senate Trial; Republican Pushback Against Schumer's Trial Requests; Michigan Democrat From Swing District To Vote For Impeachment; Marking The 75th Anniversary Of The Battle Of The Bulge. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 16, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

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JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. It is a very, very big week here in Washington. The House scheduled to vote Wednesday on two articles of impeachment. One says President Trump abused his powers. The other says he obstructed Congress as it demanded answers about his Ukraine policy.

Plus, the maneuvering for the Senate Trial intensifies. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer asked for four Trump insiders to be called as witnesses. Don't bet on that happening, but it's a warning to Trump allies who have their own wish list and this is week's vote is a tough one a very tough one for Democrats in competitive districts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's welcome Congresswoman Slotkin.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): I'm glad there is so much enthusiasm for civic engagement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin there, there the tough decision you just saw. Congresswoman Elizabeth Slotkin is a yes. That's more proof that the Democrats have the vote to impeach the President. This week that landmark vote on two articles of impeachment should come Wednesday. The inevitable House math means a Senate impeachment trial likely in January and the Democratic Leader on that side of the Capitol today laying down his marker and immediately causing a stir.

Senator Chuck Schumer outlining his trial demands in a letter to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Schumer's biggest ask for four more witnesses, all of them Trump White House insiders. Schumer's list includes the Acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, Former Security Adviser John Bolton and two key Mulvaney Deputies Robert Blair and Budget Aide Michael Duffey round out the lists.

Schumer knows Leader McConnell prefers no Senate witnesses but its smart politics to ask as a place holder of sources. We wait for the two leaders to try to negotiate the trial rules.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D) MINORITY LEADER: I don't know what they'll say. Maybe they'll say something exculpatory about President Trump. No one, no one has given a reason why these shouldn't testify. If President Trump is so certain that he did nothing wrong, what is he afraid of? What is he hiding when he says Mulvaney or Bolton or the other two witnesses shouldn't testify?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Schumer today also criticizing Leader McConnell saying it is, "Totally out of line for the Senate Leader to promise to coordinate every trial decision with the Trump White House". CNN's Manu Raju live for us on Capitol Hill. Manu, how are Senate Republicans who of course will have the vote, we think, responding to this proposal from Schumer?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's not been an official reaction from the Majority Leader's office yet, Mitch McConnell saying that they'll have these discussions with Chuck Schumer behind the scenes. But in talking to Republicans this morning the argument against the Schumer proposal is starting to take shape.

What Republicans I'm talking to are saying is essentially that there is no need to hear from these four individuals because that was actually the House's job. According to these Republicans, they say the House was the fact-finding body. That was the one that was supposed to hear testimony from these four individuals, and it was the decision by the House Democrats not to go to court to try to enforce their subpoenas, try to compel these people from coming forward.

They made that calculation not to pursue that route, and as a result, the Senate is left with what they have, which is the testimony from the existing witnesses, and there is no need in a Senate trial to act like a body doing the fact finding. You'll hear arguments start to take shape among Republicans as they push back against what Schumer is proposing.

Now, ultimately, John, the question will be how the votes come down on the Senate floor, because if Schumer and McConnell don't reach an agreement on witnesses or whether to have witnesses, Senators can move to actually have a vote on bringing forward individual witnesses or number of witnesses, and a majority of Senators could vote to bring some of those witnesses forward.

So if four Republican Senators were to break ranks and join 47 Democrats, then there would be a majority to hear testimony from the likes of Mick Mulvaney or John Bolton or the like. So that's where the key votes, the typical swing votes in the Senate. The Susan Collins of the world, the Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and others, who are upward in tough re-election races like Cory Gardner, Martin McSally.

Those people will be ultimately under pressure to cast votes about whether to hear from some of these witnesses who could provide information that could help the President or provide more information the public has not heard yet, or make the argument in siding with the Republican leadership to not hear from these individuals. So while this will play out in the coming days and weeks.

But at the moment you're hearing Republicans behind the scenes throwing cold water on what Schumer is proposing and expecting more a push back to come as members come back to town today, John.

[12:05:00]

KING: The first move but an important move in a very important game of chess we're going to watch play out in the next few weeks. Manu, appreciate the live reporting on this important day. On the Hill with me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins Rachael Bade with "The Washington Post" Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times" and Vivian Salama with "The Wall Street Journal".

This Schumer play is smart in the sense that he knows the answer was most likely to be no. Mitch McConnell has made it clear to the White House and in another setting he doesn't want any witnesses. But number one, the Democrats are driving the conversation here, they're forcing the Republicans to respond.

And number two this is Schumer's way of saying, if you look at the list, four people central to the questions of Ukraine. It's not an unreasonable list if you're going to have questions. Every one of them, you can see the logic for calling them. So when a Trump supporter or the President himself says, I want Hunter Biden, or I want the whistleblower, Chuck Schumer can say, you want those? You give me these.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's smart politics in part because the number one talking part for Republicans has been look, all these Democratic witnesses that came forward, this is all hearsay. Nobody spoke directly to the President or nobody heard the President say I need you to do this to get this, to get Ukraine to interfere in our election.

So if Republicans are going to continue to expose that you would think they would want to hear from the people who were talking to the President and so Democrats are going to sort of hit that over and over again and say, if you really want to get down to what happened, let us talk to these key witnesses.

I think that the real question is can he pick off three Senate Republicans, including those up for reelection, in 2020 who need to show that they're taking this seriously? Can Schumer convince enough of those Democrats or those Republicans to vote with Democrats to hear from these witnesses?

KING: And it is at the way McConnell keeps them from breaking is by promising them no whistleblower, no Hunter Biden, no circus.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right, and the tables are turned now, because throughout this House process where the Republican minority has been confidently pushing the fact that this has been an unfair process and that they wanted certain witnesses to come on board, so now the tables are turned where the Democrats are going to be the minority in the Senate trial.

And so they're preempt ably are ready starting to raise concerns, put their demands forward. So that when things start to get going, they can saying this is not a fair process and you know basically the Republicans are jeopardizing the entire hearing, and so it's going to be very interesting to see how they make their case moving forward?

KING: And it is interesting. We're going to focus and we're going to come back in just a few moments to the House math which the President will be impeached this week. The question is how many Democrats will decide to ban in their party of vote no on the articles. But that part is near inevitable as inevitable as you can get.

So you're looking at the Senate, where it is interesting, and again, Schumer trying to force a conversation here. Just listen to the two very different ways Lindsey Graham is in South Carolina pretty red state Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania a blue to purple state. Listen to how different they speak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): I think it would be extremely inappropriate to put a bullet in this thing immediately when it comes over. I think we ought to hear what the House impeachment managers have to say, give the President's Attorneys an opportunity to make a defense and then make a decision about whether and to what extent it would go forward from there.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I have clearly made up my mind. I'm not trying to hide the fact that I have disdain for the accusations in the process, so I don't need any witnesses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is just striking. Again now, there is no indication that Pat Toomey is going to break from the President. But listen to how - we should be fair, we should be thoughtful, we should listen this out. Lindsey Graham says, I'm voting no and I don't care what anybody says.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. And that's a reflection of the different composition of the Senate where you have a number of these members in purple state Republican Members who will be facing tough reelection battles, have Trump at the top of the ticket, and they're in a tough spot.

You have well over 90 percent of the Republican Party behind the President, but when you look at these independents, the picture is a lot more divided. It's not quite a majority of independents that support impeachment and removal, but it's in the 40s. It's a tough position.

KING: And so what happens at the White House? The Press Secretary was criticizing Chuck Schumer for releasing this letter late in the day. She should re-twitter after midnight. The guy she works for does a lot of things late in the night or early in the day depending on how you're prospective, I guess.

But how do they respond to this? Because the President did quiet down at the end of the week, but in the middle of last week, he was stirring for the whistleblower, he was stirring for Hunter Biden. Mitch McConnell was trying to tell him sir, no you have the votes to - you have the votes right now don't mess it up.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and that's why Schumer's letter is no coincidence that it comes as McConnell is under fire for saying he's going to be taking his cues from White House Counsel. The President has made it clear privately and publicly he does want witnesses to come here.

Now what Senator Schumer is proposing here a lot of it, I think Republicans would go along with it as for as the timing and that essence of that structure of the trial because it mirrors a lot of what you saw from the Clinton impeachment trial. And then he throws in this request for witnesses. So that's going to be the question for these moderate or retiring Senators how they're going to go here but they do agree with the structure.

Now, at the White House, they talked about this yesterday, the broad outlines. A lot of the impeachment people were out of town. You saw Pam Bondi doing her interview in Florida yesterday. They're meeting in person today to discuss this proposal though of course it's pretty unlikely that they're going to go along with what the Democratic Senator is proposing.

[12:10:00]

COLLINS: But he does have to meet with McConnell this week and they're going to have to come forward with what their proposal is going to look like. The question is whether or not McConnell can appeal to the President and say, no; it's not in your favor to have these witnesses called.

KING: But the question also is why is the President so afraid to have the people closest to him testify? In the sense that John Bolton, through his Deputy Fiona Hill, on the record saying, he thought this was a drug deal. What's happening? The bargaining with the Ukraine was a drug deal. He wanted no part of it, told his aides to go tell his lawyers about it.

Mick Mulvaney in that now infamous White House briefing said on camera, there was a quid pro quo. Get over it. That's how we do things. Then he tried to pull back. That's why the President doesn't want them testifying because what they're likely to say is not going to be favorable to the President.

But it's a counterbalance. So a lot of the weekend was spent on Jeff Van Drew a Democratic House member who is apparently soon to be a Republican House member who most people think is then eventually going to be a Former House member because of how this played out. But he was already a no. He was a conservative Democrat already a no facing a primary challenge now looking for a new home in the Republican Party as he looks for survival. We'll see how that plays out. Chuck Schumer says sure you can talk about that, but you should look over to the Senate I got some too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: A lot of our Republicans are troubled by what the President did--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like who?

SCHUMER: I'm not going to get into any names, but some of them have said we need to see more facts. There are a good number of Senator Republicans who are troubled by this, that's in private conversations, who say, I'd like to see all the facts. All we need is four.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think there are still minds to be changed in America and in the USA?

SCHUMER: Yes, particularly on what a trial is like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's interesting. This week will be about the House and about Speaker Pelosi and about her leadership of the House Democrats. But Chuck Schumer, there hasn't been a lot of legislating in Trump age in the Senate, there simply hasn't been especially not since the last year or so. Chuck Schumer is going to get a spotlight here, too, to see if he can, how he manages this, both the politics of it and the math?

LERER: I mean I'm not sure their minds to be changed. I think he is - he's over stated the case a little bit because when you do look at those numbers, what you see is this movement among independents. It's not from people who supported the President, right? It's from people who didn't support the President but wasn't quite sure about impeachment.

I think what the Republicans need to do is conduct a trial in such a way that it seems fair, and that their members the Cory Gardner, the people in the purple states can vote against removing the President, can vote to keep the President Trump in office without facing the critic that they didn't properly vet the charges. And the question is how you get there?

KING: But that's a warning sign from Schumer essentially that if Mitch McConnell, if you do what the President wants you may lose some votes because you know privately and you know this from wandering the Hill. Privately, while these Senate Republicans may do they don't want to say it publicly or they hope they're enforced to say publicly?

But they think this was reckless. They think it was horrible. They think Rudy Giuliani floating around Ukraine was reprehensible. Some of them say it was not impeachable in their view, but they don't like it. BADE: Yes. I mean, the difference between what you hear from members anonymously whether or not they will put their name on a quote and what you're hearing publicly, there is a difference of the a lot of them expressing private concerns. I think what Schumer has tapped into it and what he has realized is that it doesn't really matter what the President wants in terms of this trial? It doesn't even matter what McConnell wants, to some extent?

If these moderate Republicans decide sort of band together to talk to one and another and to figure out what they want? They actually have a lot of leverage and they can say you know Mr. Majority Leader look, we need to hear from certain witnesses or we're really not comfortable with you bringing in Hunter Biden. They really control a lot of what we're going to see, and the upper chamber and it again Trump might want something.

He might want to show trial that has nothing to do with these allegations but it's really going to come down to what these Senate moderate Republicans tell McConnell they need and what they're going to need for their reelection.

COLLINS: And McConnell was trying to protect them, he doesn't want to lose the Senate. So he also the reason, he is against these witnesses is not just because he knows that it's bad for the President to have these witnesses to coming out and talking about his conduct saying that it was improper, he also knows he doesn't want his members taking votes that could damage them when they're out for reelection.

SALAMA: Well, look the President--

BADE: McConnell was also on the ticket in 2020--

COLLINS: Right, he's got his own issues to worry about it, too.

SALAMA: But the President does not often do what's necessarily good for him, so there is no prediction for how any of this could go?

KING: The Leader is trying to bring him to the water. We'll see if the President drinks? Up next, the House does comes first and for several swing states Democrats is the tough call and they need to make it by Wednesday.

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[12:15:00]

KING: The list of House Democrats who are publicly undecided on impeachment is shrinking. This morning Elissa Slotkin of Michigan published a newspaper op-ed explaining her decision to vote yes on both articles in last hour at a contentious town hall in Rochester, Michigan, she explained it.

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SLOTKIN: The thing that's different for me is this very, very basic idea that the President of the United States would reach out to a foreign power and ask for an investigation for personal, political gain while we may not agree, I hope you believe me when I tell you that I made this decision out of principle and out of a duty to protect the constitution, and I will stick to that regardless of what it does to me politically, because this is bigger than politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:20:00]

KING: Wow. You see the contention in that room. Yes, some cheers, some boos some other noises. Watching that are more than a dozen other House Democrats who have yet to announce their intentions. This group has something in common. Their districts, yes, went blue in the 2018 House races but they also voted for President Trump back in 2016.

There you see it, right there. Welcome to politics in America. The Congresswoman saying, I will vote yes. The Congresswoman also saying, I understand I might lose my job for voting yes.

SALAMA: We saw a similar scene a couple weeks ago from Mickey from New Jersey where she held a town hall and got a lot of push back from people who like questioning the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry. This is a really dicey time for a lot of these people.

A number of them are freshmen members of Congress and they really have something here to prove to their constituents, and a lot of their constituents are not on board with this impeachment, so they're really having to juggle the demands of their constituents with what they think is right.

KING: I want to give as you jump in I just want to give Congresswoman Slotkin some credit. Whether you agree with her or disagree with her, I don't live in her district, but she wrote an essay explaining herself and then she did a public town hall a lot of these members now in both parties are - because these town halls do get contentious, because people do get up in your face, because guess what your opponents organize and send people into the room.

That's fair, this is America's politics but it takes courage to go into a room and do that and more and more politicians in both parties are just shying away from it because it is contentious I'm sorry.

LERER: I mean the political calculation, though, is that of the universe of people that would consider voting for someone like Congresswoman Slotkin, more of them are in favor of impeachment. The problem for her is that the people the Republicans who are opposed to impeaching the President who see this as a sham situation are motivated by that. So it's a commandant.

So we saw that even into places democrats who won in those Kentucky and Louisiana Governor seats, yes, they won. It was tight and they won in a red state. That's really hard for Democrats, but Democrats on the ground there argue that they won by less than they could have had impeachment not been happened, because impeachment was so motivating for the President's supporters. Now look, the election is not tomorrow - I don't really remember what happened last week so I assume - either. So how big a thing this is once we get to November, we don't know, but we know that the President is certainly going to keep bringing it up.

KING: Anybody who thinks they know is making it up. In the sense that, I remember I was covering the White House in the 1998-1999 Clinton impeachment. The Republicans were the prosecuting party, if you will. They lost five seats in the mid-term election where they expected to gain seats that was early just before as impeachment was playing out, Newt Gingrich ran ads against those Democrats using President Clinton's behavior. They lost five seats.

Then Newt Gingrich lost his job as Speaker and his - Bob Livingston lost his job when he was trying to commit. So don't predict the politics of impeachment. You would - wonder at the Hills, I just want to put up here, there's 15 House Democrats we're waiting to hear their decisions. They will be very mindful of what they just heard from their Congresswoman.

The ones that are faded there, there are 15 of them in all. I don't know if we can show off 15 first if we can. And then when you fade them away, the ones you still see there are in districts that the President carried by four points or more. So it's a more risky decision. Now, they insist they're doing this on principle, they're not doing this on politics, but politicians are politicians.

BADE: Yes, of course, that's part of the calculation I mean, as of last Friday the Democratic Leadership was expecting between two and six defections, but you have to sort of wonder if what we saw happen over the weekend makes moderates sort of recalculate what they're going to do?

We saw Jeff Van Drew had to switch parties because his polling in his district with Democrats was so bad because he opposed impeachment, went on Fox News blasted his own party. If they vote against this, you mentioned the base.

There could be people that don't donate to their reelection campaigns, which are going to be very contentious, so that also is risky even if they wouldn't be propelling some independent voters. But I do think that a lot of moderates, when I hear privately, is that they see this as a legacy vote. So if you're going to lose either way, why not just do what your conscience is telling you and for a lot of them they feel like they would vote for this.

KING: But to your point, if you're a Democrat member from a swing district, you have to win most of your votes from Democrats. Yes, you've got to reach out to independents. Yes, you're hoping to get a small percentage of Republicans and try to get some of them out there and try to build that over your career, but your base are the Democrats which is why we say of the weekend.

Matt Cartwright in Pennsylvania he says, I'm going to vote for impeachment. He says we may hear an innocent explanation when it gets over to the Senate, but he believed that it is important enough to impeach and send it to a trial. Angie Craig in Minnesota saying vote if this were a Democratic President trying to make the case she's doing this on principle on the evidence. Chris Pappas in New Hampshire the President of the United States has brought this upon us tough choices?

COLLINS: Very tough and that's where the White House is watching to see how they're responding to this because they think that if they're vulnerable enough that they can convince them not to vote with it. Now if they stand by and say if this is our principle we're going to vote our conscience here and say that he should be impeached that is something that the Trump Campaign doesn't want to see.

[12:25:00]

COLLINS: That's how they have been polling impeachment in these districts publishing that, making it clear how these voters feel about this, because they want to be able to pressure them, because essentially they want to get as many Democrats to votes against as possible. Which is why the Jeff Van Drew thing is interesting. If he was going to switch to become a Republican before the vote, wouldn't it better for the White House if he remains a Democrats votes against impeachment and then they can say here's another Democrat who voted against this?

SALAMA: There is also two articles and so a lot of number of these Democrats could presumably go for one ask not the other, and so that kind of gives them chance to say, well you know, I was very - I basically used my discretion in terms of trying to decide which one.

LERER: But that vote count is crucially important right? And the macro sort of narrative of how we're all going to look at this thing and how this is going to get translated down to voters in terms of who won or who lost in politics? Whether Democrats lose two votes or six votes' matters a lot I think there is a sense of impeachment fatigue a little bit among voters. There is a sense that the country knows how this is all going to play out? And maybe they do, but how it plays out matters a lot for politics?

KING: It's a great point, Elissa Slotkin. You saw the contentious town hall. She met with reporters on the way out and she said she has not been whipped by Speaker Pelosi or anyone else in the leadership. No arm twisting to get her to vote either way. But the Democratic consultants to your point were also telling these candidates, that A, vote your conscience. B, if you have to make a tough political call you need your voters and so you should probably stay with your party.

We'll watch how this plays out Wednesday? A very big week as we go to break, the Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Luxembourg today, paying tribute to those 75 years ago fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Today, 75 years later, we remember these great men. They sailed across an ocean to fight a war far from home to defend others they knew little of.

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