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Tropical Threat in Gulf of Mexico; Pelosi's Letter to Caucus; Senate Approves Paid Family Leave; Collins Announces Run for Re- Election; McConnell Rejects Witnesses in Trial. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 18, 2019 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It appears there will be no government shutdown before the holidays. The House approved the nearly $1.4 trillion spending plan. It includes a pay raise for military and civilian federal workers, money for election security and funds for gun research, which hasn't happened in decade. Also a repeal of three health care taxes that helped fund Obamacare. The measure still needs to clear the Senate and President Trump must sign it before the government runs out of funding on Friday.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is in the hospital after suffering a heart ailment in prison. His lawyer says he was admitted to the hospital Thursday and is in stable condition. Manafort is serving a seven and a half year sentence in Pennsylvania for financial crimes that were discovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

BERMAN: Tomorrow night's Democratic primary debate will go on as scheduled. Who predicted that?

CAMEROTA: Um, you?

BERMAN: Thank you.

A labor dispute between a California union and a catering provider that threatened to derail it has been resolved, tentatively. All seven Democratic presidential hopefuls participating in the debate said they would not attend if they had to cross the union's picket line. Workers are expected to ratify the deal next week.

Most importantly, you can watch the PBS "Newshour"/"Politico" presidential debate live from Los Angeles on CNN and your local PBS station. Coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night.

CAMEROTA: You're like psychic. I mean so what is going to happen during the debate, since you know?


CAMEROTA: Since you're a seer. BERMAN: There will be a debate is what -- is my prediction. All I was willing to predict that the idea that a union dispute would stop it, that was not any --

CAMEROTA: You -- you were right. You were right.

BERMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, there's some dangerous weather developing to tell you about, including a new tropical threat in the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the northeast are bracing for bitter cold.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is here with the details of all of that.

Hi, Chad.


It is now three degrees for a windchill factor around Chicago and Milwaukee. And it's not going to warm up much today. The wind is going to blow out of the north and it's going to feel cold. Even the high at 20 will never ever feel that warm.

So let's get to it. There will be some snow squalls in New York City later on today. Also through upstate and even into parts of New England. All lake effect. So if you're not in the lake-effect zone, you're probably not going to see very much.

The cold air does pull out, though, by Sunday for New York City. You'll get almost to 50. And I say almost because it's probably never going to get there. But even Chicago warms up from what feels like right now three to 48. That's 45 degrees difference.

Now, here we go in the tropics. Probably not going to get a name, but certainly a lot of moisture coming out of the Gulf. A circulation for sure. And then a lot of rain over parts of Georgia and Florida. That would be Christmas Day and into the day after Christmas. We'll have to keep watching that. That could slow down some travel plans.


CAMEROTA: OK, Chad, thank you very much for keeping an eye on that.

MYERS: You bet.

CAMEROTA: So Democrats are impeaching President Trump today, while, at the same time, passing some of his campaign promises. How House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is walking this tight rope and why, next.



CAMEROTA: We are just hours away from the House vote on impeachment. In a letter to her caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling on her Democratic colleagues to act, adding, if they do not, they will be derelict in their duty.

Dana Bash joins us live from Washington with more on Pelosi's leadership.

She has really had to keep a lot of plates spinning here, Dana.


And, you know, when it comes to the president, you want to know how much she gets under his skin? Just read that letter that he wrote her last night. She responded in kind more succinctly calling it really sick.

But all of this actually elevates her even more inside her party as she leads her fellow Democrats through impeachment.


BASH (voice over): These days, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a cult- like figure among Democrats for going head-to-head with President Trump. Sunglass clad, coming out of an Oval Office meeting after Democrats won back the House where she said this.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats.

BASH: Taking an image Trump tweeted as an unhinged meltdown, making it her own social media profile picture.

A show of strength against a president who doesn't like to be challenged.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.

BASH: But with impeachment, the skills that got Pelosi where she is in the first place, a leader who knows how to manage her diverse Democratic caucus, are being tested. Debbie Dingell is on her leadership team.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): The one thing I've learned about Nancy Pelosi since I've been here is, she does listen and she understand the importance of building consensus.


She did not move forward on impeachment without knowing that that's where her caucus was.

BASH: Part of knowing her caucus, making sure vulnerable Democrats had victories on other bread and butter issues to talk about back home.

BASH (on camera): The fact that there's a trade deal and it's going to be voted on the day after impeachment, the fact that there's prescription drug legislation that particularly moderates can go home and talk about, that's not an accident. DINGELL: No, it's not an accident. She knows what she's doing.

BASH (voice over): On display at this contentious Michigan town hall with Elissa Slotkin.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): We will talk, of course, about the impeachment inquiry, but we will also talk about really big things like the USMCA or sort of the next agreement after NAFTA, as long -- as well as prescription drug legislation.

BASH: The speaker understood cutting a deal with the administration on trade --

PELOSI: Defend the Constitution --

BASH: Announced an hour after a milestone speech on impeachment, allowed Democrat Slotkin to talk up the president in her Trump-won district.

SLOTKIN: I have to give a lot of credit to both the president and the president's negotiator.

BASH: On the progressive side of the caucus, you hear the same thing about Pelosi's leadership style.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): I think she's done a really good job of navigating very difficult waters.

BASH: Progressive Caucus co-chair, Pramila Jayapal, fought Pelosi hard and won some concessions on a key prescription drug bill Pelosi wanted done before Christmas.

JAYAPAL: Sometimes, you know, I'm sure she's irritated with us, and sometimes we might be irritated with her. But it has to do with what we're fighting for. And at the end of the day, I do think she recognizes that if this is an ideological value for you and you make that clear, she's not going to try to talk you out of it.

BASH: Last fall, during a visit to her hometown of Baltimore, Pelosi described her role as a leader as one of a master weaver.

PELOSI: In other words, I'm at the loom. And every member, whatever generationally, geographically, gender identity, whatever the philosophical differences, whatever it is, all of it is a strength to us. And so you weave it and weave it and you value every thread because it strengthens the tapestry of what you are creating.


BASH: And as we head toward this morning's - the historic vote later today, it's worth remembering that the left put a lot of pressure on Pelosi to impeach this president as soon as she got the speaker's gavel back. And she got just as much pressure from the right in her caucus, people in Trump districts saying, please don't even consider impeachment. And she didn't get there until she felt comfortable that the majority of her caucus, now the vast majority, said, let's do it. BERMAN: Can I say, overwhelming majority, Dana.

BASH: Yes.

BERMAN: And, in fact, fewer defectors than I think people anticipated a week ago.

BASH: I agree.

BERMAN: And fewer defectors than the Clinton impeachment on either side. The Republicans lost more votes than Nancy Pelosi will on impeachment under Clinton. And the Democrats did too. So it's a pretty impressive, you know, whip you (ph) just did there.

BASH: It is except, you know, she is careful to say, internally I'm told by many sources, vote your conscience. That she's -- despite the fact that she did send that letter saying, you know, this is -- it's important to hold the president accountable, she -- this isn't one of those legitimatize victories that she is, you know, doing some arm twisting. This is one of those where people have to decide on her -- on their own. And I don't think that's rhetoric. I think that's real internally.

CAMEROTA: Remember when that faction of Democrats didn't want her to be speaker? It's hard to imagine what today would look like --


CAMEROTA: Had they gotten their way.

BASH: Good point.

CAMEROTA: But, Dana, we also understand that you had some sort of communication with Rudy Giuliani. What is he sharing with you?

BASH: Well, we spoke yesterday and it, you know, was part of conversations I think he's having with several outlets. On the eve of this historic day, the president being impeached, we believe, for conduct that he was taking at the behest of and in coordination with Rudy Giuliani asking the Ukrainians to investigate. Of course, Giuliani, just last week, came back from Ukraine doing the kind of investigation that he says is necessary, looking at the president's political opponents, looking back to 2016. But particularly the Bidens.

And what was most fascinating is, I asked him about the fact that there were reports that the attorney general, Bill Barr, is not happy that Giuliani is still at it. He told me that he doesn't think that's true, that a mutual friend told him that that's not true. But most importantly he said, if that were true, the president would tell me. And the president and I are on the same page on this issue, he said. And that the president supports what he's doing. So just kind of digest that for a second. The president is supporting his personal attorney to do the kind of investigating that led to the very impeachment we're going to see on the House floor today.


CAMEROTA: This is what Democrats say. They're like, and he's still doing it. This is why they say they are having to move with such urgency and speed because they point to Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine.

OK. Well, just glad I made that point.

Dana, thank you very much for all of your reporting.

BASH: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: And what kind of pressure does this put on Republicans? Not just in the House, where they will vote today on impeachment, but where the Senate, where this is going next. There are several Republican senators up for re-election in swing states. They could be in serious trouble over this. We'll discuss, next.


CAMEROTA: The president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, has pushed for paid family and family medical leave -- family and medical leave, I should say, for federal employees. And now it is getting Senate approval.

CNN's Kate Bennett is live in Washington with more.

Hi, Kate.


This is something that Ivanka Trump has really taken initiative on since before there was a Trump administration. She actually mentioned it during the Republican National Convention that this was going to be something she's going to focus on. And to her credit, she pushed it through. The president is expected to sign this.

This is a statement from Ivanka about the importance of it. Let's take a look. As the country's largest employer, the United States government must lead by example. This will mark a huge -- all caps -- step forward towards making paid leave a reality for all Americans.

And, you know, the United States was woefully behind when it comes to paid federal leave for employees -- family medical leave for employees. Just the United States and New Guinea were the only two countries identified by the United Nations of industrialized countries that didn't have this. So certainly getting up to speed is something that Ivanka Trump has been really working on.

She met with more than 60 lawmakers on both sides of the aisle -- and we know how contentious this Congress is -- trying to push this through. She's made it part of her vast portfolio.


Certainly this is something 25 years ago the Family Medical Leave Act was passed but did not include a paid leave. So workers were guaranteed their jobs but they weren't guaranteed pay. This is a big step forward. And I think we're going to see Ivanka Trump now moving ahead, pushing this in the private sector now that the federal government has adopted it and the president is expected to sign. Could be as early as this week. Ivanka Trump will likely turn her sights now to the private sector and push this initiative in her visits to businesses and other industries.


BERMAN: All right, Kate Bennett for us in Washington. Thanks very much.

The House is now just a few hours away from impeaching President Trump. It doesn't look like a single Republican will vote yes, that the president abused his power by asking the president of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens or that he blocked Congress from investigating the matter.

So what pressure does this now put on Senate Republicans? Several of whom are in tough battles for re-election.

Joining me now, CNN political commentators and two former Republican congressmen, Sean Duffy and Charlie Dent.

And, Charlie, as fate would have it, Susan Collins of Maine just sent out a letter announcing she is running for re-election. This will be a tough bid for Susan Collins in this state. How do you think she feels this morning as she watches this vote in the House and knows she has to weigh in, in the next several weeks?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first let me say, I have a high regard for Senator Collins. She's an outstanding senator. But she is in a really tough spot. What's likely to happen for her is that I've always said, these swing state Senate Republicans who are up for re-election have the most to be concerned with politically because what's likely to happen is the president's going to be acquitted and the Democratic base is going to be energized. And there's nobody in the -- in the United States Senate who has been more independent or more moderate, frankly, than Susan Collins. Maybe Joe Manchin. But that's it. And it would be a tragedy to lose Susan Collins.

So she's in a -- in a tough fight. They're -- the bases on both sides are unforgiving. We -- I don't think any Republican wants to get the Jeff Van Drew treatment. We saw what happened when one Democrat, Van Drew, deviated from party orthodox. He's just been drummed out of the party. And I suspect the same thing could happen to Republicans in the House. I'm not saying the same thing in the Senate. But that's the reality that we're living in, the tribal nature of politics.

BERMAN: Do you think there's any chance she would stand up and vote yes on removing the president, or vote against the Senate leadership and say, yes, we need to hear witnesses? Is that something Susan Collins would need to do to express her independence?

DENT: Well, she expressed her independence many times, but Susan Collins, I think, is one of a few senators who could likely, assuming there's no agreement reached on witnesses by the leaders, I could see her voting her district and her state and her conscience and insist of some witnesses being called, both for the president, as well as, you know, the Boltons and the Pompeos and the Mulvaneys. I could see her doing that. It only takes three or four of them to do so.

BERMAN: Sean, along those lines, what is Mitch McConnell afraid of? Why is he afraid to hear testimony from John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney or these others?

SEN DUFFY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I -- well, I think where Mitch is at is he said, listen, this has been a partisan effort. We saw in the House that -- and we had this conversation, John, you, me and Charlie, you know, Republicans wanted to call witnesses, you know, in the House during the impeachment process. They were stonewalled. This was a Democrat political effort. Mitch has seen it for what it is and said, listen, we'll take what evidence the House has presented and -- and we'll decide on it.

But going back to what Charlie said, I -- I think we would -- because as --

BERMAN: Do you think -- do you think -- do you think, Sean -- do you think, Sean -- do you think, Sean, that what John Bolton has to say or what Mick Mulvaney has to say under oath, that it will exonerate the president?

DUFFY: And so if you wanted to call them, John, Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff had a chance to actually go through a court proceeding and call them in the House.

BERMAN: But that wasn't my question. Sean. That wasn't my question.

DUFFY: They chose not to do that.

BERMAN: It wasn't my question.

DUFFY: But that's -- but that's my point, that's what could have happened.

BERMAN: That -- but that's not my question.

DUFFY: But that's -- but that's the reality, John.

BERMAN: Do you think -- do you think --

DUFFY: But the reality --

BERMAN: Do you think that if they testified under oath, that it would exonerate the president?

DUFFY: Well, do -- do you -- oh, yes, I do think it would. But do you -- do you think that if it was -- if it was -- if it was going to help impeach the president, then Adam Schiff wouldn't have called him and wouldn't have waited and gone through a court proceeding in the House before they have the vote today? I think they would have. So I think that is the case in point. If this was, you know, nasty evidence against the president, that the

Democrats in the House would have waited. They would have gone to a court and they would have called these witnesses.

BERMAN: They asked. Let me just say -- let me just say, as a point of fact -- as a point of fact, they asked.

DUFFY: They chose not to.

BERMAN: They didn't subpoena. But they asked and they were told no.

DUFFY: Right.

BERMAN: The question is, does the Senate want to hear from them and will their testimony in any way exonerate or not exonerate.

And, Charlie, I want to ask you this --

DUFFY: But, John, you -- you know, they -- they would have compelled -- they would have compelled their testimony via subpoena in court action if they thought it was going to be beneficial.

BERMAN: I don't know that that's true. I don't know that that's true. They -- I don't know that that's -- I don't know that that's true.

DUFFY: They chose not to compel the testimony. They didn't do it.

BERMAN: They asked them to come. They chose not to come.

DUFFY: Well, it is true.

BERMAN: They didn't subpoena them -- they didn't subpoena them because they didn't want to wait the several months in a court fight.


BERMAN: Charlie, I want to ask you about something that David Axelrod wrote overnight, Charlie.

DUFFY: Exactly. Exactly.

BERMAN: Axe wrote, there are many Republicans who will stand by the president tomorrow despite his conduct because they are fearful that to do anything else would arouse his ire and cost then their seats. And there are many Democrats from swing districts who will cast votes for impeachment knowing that it could make their re-elections more difficult but believing the oath they swore to uphold the Constitution requires it. History will be kinder to those who put the country first.

How do you think, Charlie, that history will judge those making votes today?

DENT: Well, I would -- I would urge all members to think about their legacies more than their re-elections. But I would also point out that I don't think -- I don't think that members in either party right now in the House feel that there's any political advantage for them to deviate. Like I said earlier, look, they don't want to get the Jeff Van Drew treatment. I -- we were -- I was on your show last week with Rick Santorum, John, and I saw a poll in Oklahoma that showed that Kendra Horn's district in Oklahoma, that she was 52 percent were against impeachment, 45 percent were for it. Now that's -- you know, that's Oklahoma.

So I -- what I'm saying is, there's some political risk for her, but not as much as I would have thought. She's probably better off voting to impeach at this point and keeping her base together. So I think most of them are just doing that, they're protecting their flanks. I'm not saying that's the right thing to do, but that's what they're all doing.

BERMAN: And Kendra Horn is, in fact, voting yes on impeachment. Anthony Brindisi from New York, Trump plus 15 district, is voting yes on impeachment. He'll join us next hour.

Sean, there are some Republicans -- life-long Republicans who have worked to elect Republicans as president. I'm talking about Steve Schmidt, who was John McCain's campaign manager, John Weaver, who ran John Kasich's campaign --


BERMAN: George Conway, Rick Wilson also who are getting together to form this political operation basically to try to defeat the president. And not just that, to defeat Republicans who are supporting the president.

I want to read you what they wrote overnight. National Republicans have done far worse than simply march along to Mr. Trump's beat. Their defense of him is imbued with an ugliness, a meanness, and a willingness to attack and slander those who have shed blood for our country, who have dedicated their lives and careers to its defense and its security and whose job it is to preserve the nation's status as a beacon of hope.

They're basically say that there are Republican members who are enabling the president's behavior. How do you feel about that?

DUFFY: So, listen, there is a very, very small sliver of the Republican Party that are never Trumpers and they still exist out there. And you've just named a few of them.

But if you look at the Republican Party and their support for Donald Trump, I mean you haven't seen any kind of, you know, party base support for a president, you know, probably in my lifetime for a president like Donald Trump has right now with Republicans. So this is a very small and unique group that doesn't agree with the president but calls themselves Republicans.

And I look at the whole picture here. If you're -- if you're a Democrat or Republican and you vote against -- as Republican vote against Donald Trump or as a -- as a Democrat if you vote in favor of Donald Trump, what you -- what happens is you lose your base, right, because your base wants you to -- you know whether it's impeach Trump or support Trump, that base will fall apart. And if you don't have a base and you're going to go home and try to get re-elected, it becomes really tough.

And so what's happening here isn't like Axelrod said, like, oh, just Republicans want to support Trump and Democrats are doing their constitutional duty to impeach him. What's happening is people are looking at their districts or their states and saying, what do my people want me to do? And looking at the politics of the vote is actually looking at what's best for the people that you represent because it -- to get re-elected, you have to do the will of the people that sent you to Washington. And that's what's happening in the analysis all across the country right now as the vote comes out in the House today.

And I think what you're going to see is Republicans stick with the president. You're going to see, to a lesser extent, Democrats, you know, vote to impeach the president. And the chips will fall where they may and we'll all forget about this, John, you know, probably by March or April and we'll be on to the next story. And in 2020 on Election Day, very few people will remember impeachment because it will be a long -- a long ago memory.

BERMAN: Charlie, quick last word?

DENT: Look, I don't agree with going after congressional Republicans because they'll, go after the moderate members who actually has pushed back against Trump in many cases. But what they're right about is that Trump needs to be defeated. This ugly nativism, protectionism, NS Isolationism is not good for the country. The Republican Party needs to get back to free markets, strong national defense, constructive international engagement, and social tolerance. That's where we need to be as a party because this is not cutting it right now. There is no future in this as a party. I think we all know.

BERMAN: Charlie Dent, Sean Duffy, thanks so much --

DUFFY: But putting America first, Charlie --

BERMAN: Thanks so much for being with us today. I appreciate you both being with us.

DUFFY: Putting America first is really important for our country and that's (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: I think we all --

DUFFY: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Are proud Americans.

Thank you, Sean. Thank you, Charlie. Appreciate it.


CAMEROTA: OK, very interesting to hear their take at this hour. Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you "CNN

NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

For our U.S. viewers, an historic day in America as the House gets set to vote to impeach the president.


NEW DAY continues right now.