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Aides Resign from Van Drew's Office; Booker Looks to Change Rules; Boeing May Curb Production. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired December 16, 2019 - 08:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:32:37]

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Six aides for freshman Congressman Jeff Van Drew quitting after sources said the New Jersey Democrat who strongly opposes impeachment is getting ready to switch parties. Five of the staffers signing a resignation letter saying, quote, sadly Congressman Van Drew's decision to join the ranks of the Republican Party led by Donald Trump does not align with the values we brought to this job when we joined his office.

Joining us now is Mitch Landrieu, CNN political analyst, former Democratic mayor of New Orleans.

Good to see you this morning.

I'm just curious what you make of this coming not only from the staffers resigning, but the fact that we are essentially waiting to hear from Congressman Van Drew that he is, in fact, going to move over to the Republican Party?

MITCH LANDRIEU, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think it's a surprise what he's going to do. He's been telegraphing it for a couple of days. And, of course, it's not a surprise that his staffers quit. I mean I don't know them, but my sense is they think he betrayed a trust, you know, that they put in him when he declared that he was going to run as a Democrat, caucus as a Democrat. So neither one of these things is surprising and, quite frankly, I'm not sure that his switching parties is very consequential.

HILL: Not very consequential for the state? For the country? I mean --

LANDRIEU: Well, for the stakes and for the balance of power in Congress. And so my sense is that there's going to be a lot of turmoil in his district. I don't know what his re-election's going to look like. But if this is a one off in terms of how the impeachment process goes or what happens post that, I think is for the most part inconsequential.

HILL: All right, let's move on to 2020, because plenty to talk about there, as we know, including this letter from Cory Booker, where he makes the case that the current rules to qualify for a debate, right, that there has to be a certain threshold of donors in addition to, as we know, polling numbers, he's saying, look, it needs to be one or the other. It was signed by eight of his fellow candidates, including frontrunners. The DNC says the rules are fair. This is what they are. You didn't object earlier this year.

Where do you stand?

LANDRIEU: Yes, I -- actually, I have really mixed feelings about this. I think Senator Booker makes a really good point. Diversity on the stage is important. Openness is important.

On the other hand, the rules seem to have been applied to everybody fairly and we have had a gargantuan number of debates. At some point in time the reality is the field has to be called.

You know, my instinct on this, if I were making the rules, was to open -- keep it open until the first folks vote. But, you know, you could go either way on this one.

HILL: You mentioned the diversity, and that is central to his argument.

[08:35:01]

And he says there needs to be more diversity and he essentially blames the DNC rules for this, saying, he knows it was an unintended consequence of the DNC's actions but the unintended result doesn't live up to the values of the Democratic Party. As you say you're conflicted and you brought that up, how much of a focus should that be for the DNC?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, I think it's an important issue and it's one that we ought to look at. And, obviously, diversity, in my opinion, is always a strength, not a weakness.

Be that as it may, all of these candidates started off, they were all on the same foot, all of the same rules applied to all of them and the voters or the ones -- or the polling are the ones that are making those decisions.

All things being equal, I would open it up, but I certainly understand the position of the DNC. I think Cory's got a good position as well. I'd love to see him on that stage as long as he can be there, you know, but we'll see.

HILL: That being said, there has been no shortage of discussion about how crowded the stage can be. And, yes, while it's important to hear from everybody, but how difficult it can be for candidates to, in fact, get their message out. Joe Biden talked a little bit about that back in September. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's still ten people. There's still one minute. Tell me your life story in a minute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). I'm talking to you. BIDEN: No. No, no, no, I know, I'm being a bit facetious.

Look, I think everybody knows these aren't debates. These are one- minute assertions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Is there a better way to do this so that you continue to hear from the candidates but it's more substantive?

LANDRIEU: Well, I think that's the other side of it. Listen, as somebody who's been through, I mean, a large number of debates, it is really impossible for the public to get to know who the candidates are if you only have 30-minute -- I mean 30-second responses. So the field, at some point in time, has to get culled.

When that exactly is, I mean, who the heck knows. I think after Iowa and New Hampshire, the field, by definition, is going to get reduced to four or five candidates. Whether this month is the right time to do it or next month, who knows.

It seems to me that we've had a large number of debates already and I'm not sure the public's going to keep watching, ad infinitum. And, at some point in time, the debates have to stop and then we have to start getting a vote.

So, I mean, I think everybody is ready to get after it at this point and all things being equal, you know, it's time to get to who the top candidates are going to be.

HILL: All right, well, we'll be watching to see how it does narrow down and when, to your point.

Mitch Landrieu, always good to have you with us. Thank you.

LANDRIEU: Great. Thank you.

HILL: And you can catch the next debate, the PBS News Hour/Politico Democratic Presidential Debate live from Los Angeles. You can watch it right here on CNN, also your local PBS station. Our coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Thursday night.

BERMAN: I'd go further than that. You must watch it. Not just can, you must watch the debate.

HILL: You're not like kissing up to the bosses or something here?

BERMAN: No, I'm just saying, I'm just saying, people need to watch.

HILL: It is important to watch.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

All right, infighting on President Trump's health care team. Two top officials called to the White House and told to work it out. The story behind this genuinely astounding bitter public feud. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:42:17]

BERMAN: This story is really something. A month's long spat between two of President Trump's top health care officials is boiling over. Both, it seems for now, have managed to keep their jobs after a meeting mediated by Vice President Mike Pence and the acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney last week.

CNN's Rene Marsh has the very latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX AZAR, U.S. SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: So thank you all for joining us and I'll now hand things over to Administrator Verma.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The bitter battle between two of President Trump's top health care officials is now out in the open. Health Secretary Alex Azar and the Medicare/Medicaid head Seema Verma.

CHARLIE DENT (R-PA), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I think it's extraordinarily unusual for two top-level people in the health space to do so. You know, we've heard of these types of interesting (ph) battles before, usually in the national security space between state or -- and DOD or the NSC.

MARSH: It's been a series of tit for tat incidents. A source close to Verma described the clash. Azar undercut her plan to replace Obamacare. Verma slammed his plan to lower drug costs right in front of the president.

Then Azar tried to keep her from flying on Air Force One to this Medicare announcement championed by her team.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are making your Medicare even better.

MARSH: Azar's aides, according to "Politico," said there was no room on the plane.

The two also feuded over who would become Verma's chief of staff. That prompted a gender discrimination investigation by outside counsel that found no evidence of wrongdoing, the source says.

Verma reports to Azar and her allies believe he undermined her decisions in ways he would not for a man. One criticism of Verma is she had no prior experience running a large government agency. A former department official who speaks with current staff said Verma is also criticized because she prioritizes her brand and sidelines key staff from decision-making. The Department of Health and Human Services would not respond to specific questions about the feud, but said, quote, Secretary Azar and Administrator Verma's top priority is to advance the president's health care agenda. Adding fuel, a series of embarrassing headlines about Verma spending

$3 million tax dollars on public relations firms to boost her profile. And a request for $47,000 in reimbursement for stolen jewelry and belongings while on a work trip. The department defended Verma, but an internal audit is underway.

DENT: The fact that these two people who are charged with implementing health care policy are at odds with one another, you know, certainly isn't helping the administration.

MARSH: And that's the larger problem for the Trump administration.

[08:45:01]

TRUMP: Wow. We're going to win with health care. Repeal and replace that garbage known as Obamacare.

MARSH: Trump's most ambitious health care promises like replacing Obamacare and lowering drug costs are stalled. A former agency official and a Verma ally told CNN they partially blame the feud.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, in that meeting moderated by White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Vice President Mike Pence, a senior administration official tells CNN it was made clear that the feud between the two must end and that official believes that the feud is now in the past. We'll wait and see.

Back to you guys.

HILL: Wow, what a feud.

All right, Rene, thank you.

A source tells CNN Boeing could make a key announcement today about its troubled 737 Max jets. Just ahead, we'll speak with a factory manager who raised concerns about the planes long before the two deadly air disasters.

That's next.

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[08:50:01]

BERMAN: CNN has learned that Boeing may suspend or reduce production of its troubled 737 Max jet and could announce that decision after the stock market closes today. The planes were grounded worldwide in March after two fatal crashes that killed 346 people. Months before those crashes, a senior factory manager warned Boeing management of serious problems in the production line.

Joining me now is Ed Pierson, former senior manager at the Boeing 737 factory in Renton, Washington. Also joining us is his attorney, Eric Havian. And, Ed, I want to start with you, because you worked in the factory that made all the planes in the 737 program for over ten years. You testified to Congress that since late 2017 you saw problems build up because of a delay in parts, employee fatigue, out of sequence work, breakdown in communications and schedule pressures. That's a lot more than just the faulty software which is what Boeing blames for these crashes. So explain your concerns and how Boeing responded to them.

ED PIERSON, FORMER SENIOR MANAGER AT BOEING 737 FACTORY: Sure. Just to be clear, I actually worked at the factory for three years. I worked for Boeing for ten years total.

And as far as what I saw again was just a factory in disarray. And we had a lot of things going on, as I mentioned to Congress, and those problems just continued to cascade for many months and that's when I brought my concerns to the attention of the senior management.

BERMAN: And what did they tell you when you brought that concern?

PIERSON: Well, I sent e-mails and I eventually met in person with the general manager, explained my concerns, asked him to consider shutting down the factory because I felt like it was just not worth the risk and, you know, it didn't really get that support.

BERMAN: We did reach out to Boeing for this story and this is what they said. Their statement is, Boeing -- the suggestion by Mr. Pierson of a link between his concerns and the recent Max accidents is completely unfounded. Mr. Pierson raises issues about the production of the 737 Max, yet none of the authorities investigating these accidents have found the production conditions in the 737 factory contributed in any way to these accidents.

What do you say to that?

PIERSON: Well, I respectfully disagree. I think without investigating a factory where two brand new airplanes are built, you really can't make a statement like that.

I also would refer Boeing back to the final accident report. There's mention repeatedly in the report of airplane issues with the flight control system, there was maintenance messaging, there was pilot messages, there was speed altitude flags on their primary display. There was a lot of things going on. And, actually, if you look at page 37 and 284 on the report, they talk in detail about a part that was installed originally by Boeing.

BERMAN: Eric, you say in your 25 years of experiencing representing whistleblowers, the response to Ed's concern was the worst you've seen.

Why?

ERIC HAVIAN, ATTORNEY FOR ED PIERSON: Well, because he was extremely credible. He had very specific information. I mean we sent binders of information to the federal regulators. And normally when we provide that sort of information on behalf of our whistleblower clients, the federal agencies will jump at it because they have insider information that they usually didn't know before.

And here all we got was stonewalling. I mean the NTSB, we had to keep hounding them and they finally agreed to give him a 15-minute interview, which ended up stretching to an hour, an hour and 15 minutes because we were -- we were cajoling them to do an investigation of production. And the same with FAA, they wouldn't speak to us at all.

Finally, Congress, after all this time, basically directed them at the hearing we just held, Representative Maloney and Representative Meadows, from opposite sides of the aisle, directed the FAA finally to interview production people and to interview our client to get to the bottom of these production problems. But it -- but it took -- it took, you know, over a year of arguing with these regulators and finally it had to be Congress that told them they should do their job.

BERMAN: Ed, what do you make of the decision, which does seem imminent, that by the close of today there could be an announcement from Boeing to halt or reduce production of the 737 Max jets?

PIERSON: You know, I really don't have a comment on that. I just say that I'm really encouraged, as Eric mentioned, that Congress got FAA to agree to do an investigation. I mean talking to the employees, you know, that worked in the factory in the front line, that's pretty important. And so I'm just encouraged by that. I don't really have any comments about their production plans at this point.

BERMAN: Well, Ed Pierson, thank you for joining us. Eric Havian, thank you very much for being here as well. This is what happens when people come forward and speak their minds. Appreciate both of you.

HAVIAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: "The Good Stuff" is next.

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[08:59:13]

HILL: Time now for "The Good Stuff."

A wrong number turns out to be the right call in New Mexico. Bernice thought she was calling a medical supply company. She was trying to get a walker before her grandson's wedding. Well, turns out, she was actually calling the county D.A.'s office. She was off by a digit. But, luckily, she left a voicemail and the people who got it didn't brush it off. Instead, they decided to help, surprising Bernice with a new walker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We might have purchased three walkers before we got it right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much do I owe you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Zero.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, well, you brought me lots of hugs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Lots of hugs. How about that, three walkers before they got it right. Kept at it. I think that's lovely.

BERMAN: That's awesome. But I want to know if I call the D.A.'s office by mistake and say I want ice cream, will they bring me ice cream or --

HILL: Well, I would say there's only one way to find out.

BERMAN: I know.

[09:00:00]

HILL: They're probably not open yet because it's New Mexico, but in a couple of hours if you want to give it a shot, let me know how it works out.

BERMAN: It's like Santa's workshop in New Mexico. That is awesome.

All right, this is the beginning of an historic --