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Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) Discusses Trump's Comments on Her Husband & Impeachment; McCarthy Press Conference; Obamacare Likely to Take Center Stage at Tonight's Democratic Debate; Gloves Have Come Off Between Democratic Candidates. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 19, 2019 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Something happened last night as the impeachment vote was taking place. The president was taking the stage in Michigan at the same time for a campaign rally that was riddled with a laundry list of grievances and attacks. The longest speech of his presidency, in fact.

But it was one moment in particular that stands out, the moment when the president decided to attack Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and her late husband, John Dingell, the dean of the House, the chamber's longest serving member, who died earlier this year.

Here's what the president decided to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So she calls me up like eight months ago. Her husband was there a long time. But I didn't give him the "B" treatment. I didn't give him the "C" or the "D." I could have.


She calls me up. It's the nicest thing that's ever happened. Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He's looking down, he would be so thrilled.

I said, that's OK, don't worry about it. Maybe he's looking up, I don't know.


TRUMP: I don't know.



BOLDUAN: Then, this morning, here is the president's press secretary defending him.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Why do you think the president said that overnight?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You would have to talk to the president about that. He was at a political rally. He has been under attack and under impeachment attack for the last few months and under attack politically for the last two and a half years. I think that, as we all know, the president is a counter puncher.


BOLDUAN: "The president is a counter puncher."

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell is joining me right now.

Thank you for being here.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): Thank you. It's good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Congresswoman, you can respond to Stephanie Grisham if you would like. But I really do want to know, in the moment when you heard President Trump's comments what happened in that moment? How did it feel?

DINGELL: Well, I kind of felt kicked in the stomach. I didn't know exactly what had been said. And actually, a reporter called me and said -- asked me a question about, how did I feel about the president saying my husband was probably in hell.

I loved John Dingell and this is my first holiday without him. We had a love affair. And he had been having a hard time.

But I don't want to politicize anything about him. He was a great man who loved his country, who was a World War II veteran, who earned his burial at Arlington Cemetery, and believed in bringing people together. So it was a sad night.

But I'm back here. I'm working for the people of my district. And that's what I'm focused on, delivering for the hardworking men and women of my district.

BOLDUAN: No question, anyone who's covered you, it's not like that would deter you in any way.

You responded to him almost immediately. And your response, I have to say, it really hit me straight in the gut because, let me just read the last sentence for our viewers.

You wrote to the president, "You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder."

People just aren't often that real or that open about their feelings. Why did you do that?

DINGELL: Because I think sometimes people forget that we're human beings. The United States House of Representatives and the Senate are representative bodies, we're not perfect. We're human beings that go through the same experiences that the people that we represent do.

It wasn't a political moment for me. It was just a really cheap shot at a man who I know who loved his country.

Look, the president called me and told me he was lowering the flags and I was very grateful. I want you to know that I didn't take that for granted because I know what he had done to other people and that really meant a lot.

But my husband earned the honors he had gotten. And by the way, wasn't -- did not -- was not viewed in the rotunda. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi called me and asked me what I wanted and I didn't want anything that anybody wasn't sort of given. Former members don't normally lie in the capitol and I didn't want anything like that.

I wanted him to be with his friends. And I wanted his friends to pay tribute to what his life had meant. And that's what we did, at the church that we were married in, that I taught Sunday School in, and if we happened to be in D.C. on a Sunday, went to mass in.

BOLDUAN: The details, I don't really care what the details are because here's the thing. Anyone who has covered you or takes a second to listen to you, knows that you're not a bomb thrower. You take a measured approach, especially when it came to impeachment.

You were one of 230 members who voted for impeachment. So I am left wondering, why do you think the president is targeting you. If you strip down the details, what essentially you heard from the president last night was he believes he gave you something and, in return, was expecting something.

DINGELL: I don't know why he did. I'm not -- I'm not going to get into the weeds like he did. Michelle Obama taught us, when they go low, you go high.

I'll tell you something, I feel John's love today and I feel his hands, because if you had been on the House floor this morning, Republicans and Democrats were talking or hugging and they were all coming over to hug me.


They arranged from a wide diversity of people, from Liz Cheney, who I've known since she was a child and we lived in the same neighborhood, she went to school with one of John's daughters, to all of the Michigan members who were just devastated about what was said. I mean, Gomez from Texas. They all came over to tell me and then they started talking to other people.

After such a divisive day yesterday, if this, in a little way, gets people together feeling like community, then I guess I can take the hurt.

Although I miss him a lot and it's going to be a lousy Christmas.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I'm really tired of getting emotional on air with you, Congresswoman. This must end.

There's another moment that I want to ask you about and it has to do with impeachment. It was the moment that Speaker Pelosi was walking to the House floor for the impeachment debate. You joined her in that moment. You held hands and you walked in together.

Can you take us to that moment? What did you say? What words did you share?

DINGELL: Actually, she reached out and had me walk with her. I had been over in the Statuary Hall for a reason and I told her I had been to mass that morning. She and I are both Catholic women whose faith really matters. And I needed God's comfort yesterday and I just wanted to start the day off that way. I shared that with her.

We both knew that yesterday was not a good day for this country. It was a sad day for this country. She's my friend. She's given me a lot of good advice since I've been a member.

You know what's really unique about her is, when John was dying, she gave me emotional support. And when I wanted to fall apart the day he died, she's the one that told me to get back up and make the plans and do what John would expect me to do.

That's the kind of woman that Speaker Pelosi is, a wise woman.

BOLDUAN: Putting politics aside, as you said, it is so hard, grief is so hard to deal with in private. It's so much harder to deal with in public. You have done it with such grace.

Thank you.

DINGELL: Thank you. I hope everybody has a good holiday season.

BOLDUAN: You, too. You, too, especially.

DINGELL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: On that note, back to the hard life of politics right now. Top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, is speaking about the impeachment process. Let's go to it.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): -- very strong. Let's talk about that. The last Congress when we had retirements, I was sad about that. I wish we didn't have as many. I wished Congresswoman Poe did not retire.

I had never met a man named Dan Crenshaw before, this new young Navy SEAL, who's now probably the strongest Republican on social media talking about policies and ideas. It's healthy. For those who are afraid about Republican retirements, I would not be.

If you take the average of the retirements, based upon if you look at the president's votes and others, it's in R-23.

A Republican is going to replace Mark Meadows. I wish Mark Meadows would say. He's been a great member. But from the point where you look back, the thing about the Republican Party, we don't believe this should be your entire life.

I watched Steny Hoyer, and he's a dear friend of mine, but he said in his speech the other day that he's been here 38 years. I don't think that's what our founders designed or thought of.

With the Republican Party, we're healthy and we bring new blood in.

What's happening with a lot of retirements, when you look across -- and in 2010, I happened to be the recruitment chair. And remember, in 2010 is when Republicans defeated 63 Democratic incumbents.

If you measure us today of where we are as a party of those who are running for office, we have more than 100 more than we had then. We have more women Republicans running for Congress than any time in the history of the Republican Party, from veterans and others. So we're stronger.

If you sit today -- I watched Speaker Pelosi say she had a jump in her step - a swing in her step. That may be true because her conference is going to be a little lighter and a little smaller, And the Republicans' is going to be stronger after today.

If you're asking me about the party and about retirements, Republicans are going to replace.

I think the question to Speaker Pelosi, when she started this impeachment, she promised her own members that the public would be for it. We found that not to be the case. She promised they would be stronger. They're going to be smaller. We're the stronger conference after it.

I just don't find that any of this was healthy in any aspect that you measure. It definitely is not healthy for our government but it's definitely not healthy for America itself around the world.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If you could respond to an earlier question about, can you defend Trump's remarks about John Dingell.

But my question would be, this week, federal prosecutors revealed that Lev Parnas, Giuliani's associate, received $1 million, came up during his bail hearing. As you know, some of Lev Parnas' money was sent to your committee. You donated it.

Can you respond to both the development in the SDNY prosecution, what that means for now the linking of Dmitry Firtash, the oligarch to Parnas, and what that means for the investigation?

MCCARTHY: I don't know. The investigation will continue to go forward. I thought you were going to refer to when you said what happened this week. I thought you were going to refer to the judge based upon what happened with the FISA court and the FBI spying on the campaign. That was a great concern to me as well.

The question on John Dingell, I knew John Dingell. I knew Debbie Dingell. I served with them both. I think they're both very good individuals. I think they served -- John served his country very well, very proud.

When John passed away, if you watched on the floor and you heard my speech on the floor, a tribute to him. And I find him a very strong individual, a very bright individual. I think he made a great contribution to America.

We may differ philosophically and sometimes in principles but I considered him a friend.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Now that the House has voted on articles of impeachment, what will House Republicans' role in the Senate be? Are you planning on having some of your members prep the Senate as they prepare for a trial? What will that look like?

MCCARTHY: We will do anything the Senators need if they want information. We have a lot of members that spent a lot of time on this. That's up to the Senate and the president of who he wants to represent him. But anything that we can be helpful, we will.

Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you consider last night's House Republicans' defeat a failure to the party?

MCCARTHY: A defeat, well, let me first gauge that. I feel it was a defeat to the Constitution, that the rise of impeachment would become so low that you didn't read the Constitution to take it.

I'd consider it a defeat in the idea that we didn't hold the same standard that the speaker asked us to hold in March of this year, at least at that time, that impeachment was so divisive that it would have to be overwhelming, compelling and bipartisan.

What I watched last night, the only bipartisan vote was against impeachment. A Democrat who's actually running for president voted present.

So the question you probably wanted to ask was to the speaker. Unfortunately, she would not take any questions when it came to impeachment.

I would think, if Nancy Pelosi thought impeachment was so important that she had to put this before the American public, that she wrote a timeline, that she selected committee chairmen based on in the future, that she spent two and a half years working on this, the press conference the day after impeachment that she has weekly, I thought she would have welcomed questions about impeachment.

Unfortunately, she told you they were Republican talking points and she would not take your questions. I never thought a speaker would act that way.

I guess the only thing I could take from that, she's embarrassed of it. She understands how weak it is. She understands her own criteria was not met, constitutionally was not met. She probably failed on all parts.

I hope I answered your question.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: USMCA passed today. And the speaker argued that the Democrats deserved some credit for strengthening the product over time, for improving the enforcement mechanisms.

Do you think that the final product that's going to pass is stronger than what was -- what initially came out? And how would you summarize the way that the negotiations have taken place over the last several months?

MCCARTHY: Well, you started by saying the speaker believes the Democrats need some credit for bringing USMCA up. The only reason USMCA was brought up was because they impeached the president.

If she thinks the credit belongs for impeaching the president is why she brought it up, I'll let her have that credit. But the credit for the bill itself, no.

What did she talk about? Less than 1 percent of the overall bill. I don't think it's better. It actually put doubt into some people of whether they would vote for it.

USMCA talks about the United States, Mexico and Canada.

BOLDUAN: That was Kevin McCarthy speaking to reporters just now.


Coming up for us, squaring off. The Democratic candidates get ready to take the stage for the final debate of 2019. What role will impeachment play?

And, will a major ruling on Obamacare take center stage?



BOLDUAN: The final Democratic primary debate of the year now just hours away. It will be the smallest debate stage yet. Seven candidates on stage. Eight Democratic candidates not making the cut this round.

Obamacare likely to be front and center again following a new appeals court ruling on Obamacare. The court says an individual mandate is unconstitutional, sending the law back to a lower court to decide if it can stand without this key provision.

CNN political director, David Chalian, is on the ground in Los Angeles at the site of tonight's debate from Marymount University. Also with me, CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel.

David, with health care front and center again, what are you expecting tonight?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: I think you'll see all these Democrats use that court ruling to say these are the stakes in this election. This is the issue they use so successfully, as you know, in 2018.

I'm curious to see, is it just the unified front, this is why Donald Trump has to be defeated, or do we see some of the proponents of a more modest approach, the non-Medicare For All club, Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, using this to say the Democrat Party cannot be having this internal debate about an extreme overhaul rather than an enhancement to what it is.

Because this court case makes clear to Democrats -- this is the argument they're going to make to the country -- that Obamacare itself needs to be protected and the protections in that law need to be protected.

BOLDUAN: Since the last debate last month, the gloves have come off between candidates. Warren and Buttigieg, Biden and Buttigieg, Biden and Warren, and on and on. Where are the attacks going to be coming from tonight, do you think?

CHALIAN: I think you are right, there's been a lot of that kind of skirmishing out on the campaign trail.

I would watch for two things. One, who is going to take on Joe Biden? He's still the frontrunner in this race. He has been through the entirety of it. He is this national frontrunner. But when other candidates have tried to take him down a peg, it hasn't always worked to their benefit. Does someone try to do that?

The other thing is Elizabeth Warren has been more aggressive on the trail about taking on Biden and Buttigieg, specifically, Bloomberg as well. Does she take that to the debate stage or leave that to the campaign trail? Does she want to do that in front of millions of campaign voters? I'm curious to see that -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Then, Jamie, of course, impeachment is going to have to be on the debate stage. This is the first debate since the president has been impeached. It happened just last night. What do they do with that? JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It's actually very good

timing for them because Nancy Pelosi hasn't sent the articles over.

There's a little political leverage here. Trump likes to be a winner. Right now, he is a loser. He is impeached. We all think he will be -- that the votes will go in his favor in the Senate and then he can say he's exonerated. But right now, from a tactical point of view, that's very helpful for them.

There's also a "Washington Post"/ABC poll that I think is very helpful for Democrats, and that is most Americans, 71 percent, including 62 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Independents, think that President Trump's aides should be allowed to testify in the Senate. So we may see that come up.

BOLDUAN: And we know that Donald Trump will be a target, obviously, Jamie, tonight.

I want to play something from the president last night because it gets to politics now. Listen.


TRUMP: The dishwasher, the dishwasher, right? You press it. You remember the dishwashers, you press it, it would be like an explosion. Five minutes later, you open it, the steam pours out. Now you press it twelve times, women tell me, they give you four drops of water.


BOLDUAN: Women tell me you only get four drops of water, despite the very outdated notion that men don't run dishwashers.

David, you're going to weigh in on that.


GANGEL: Last night's rally, even by Donald Trump standards, was, I think, unhinged. Anyone who thinks he's not bothered by impeachment, he's bothered by impeachment.

But just from a political point of view, he needs women voters. He needs those suburban women voters. Comments like that do not help.

BOLDUAN: David, have you ever run a dishwasher?

CHALIAN: I have. I have run a dishwasher. I'm not sure how successfully, but I have run dishwashers, yes.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to the vote, the women's vote and what suburban women mean, it's everything.

CHALIAN: It is. This is exactly what helped deliver the majority in the House to Democrats in 2018.

That brings us to this moment in American political history. He has been driving those female voters away. It's in every aspect of his polling when you look at the president's standing.

This is a huge, huge to-do list item for them, to try to get some of those female voters back. This does not help.


BOLDUAN: Yes. Dishwashers. That's how we ended today. It's really a remarkable thing.

Great to see you guys.

Reminder, the -