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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Attacks Late Congressman; Nancy Pelosi Delays Sending Impeachment Articles to Senate; Rep. Jeff Van Drew Announces Switch to GOP with Trump. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 19, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:01]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Thank you so much. And good luck.

RUSSELL LEDET, TULANE MEDICAL STUDENT: Thank you.

SYDNEY LABAT, TULANE MEDICAL STUDENT: Thank you.

LEDET: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Get those photos framed, guys.

I'm Brooke Baldwin.

LABAT: We will.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

I know you will.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: What is the strategy behind Speaker Pelosi not immediately sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Constitutional extortion? That's what one Trump ally is calling Speaker Pelosi's attempt at power play, as she signals what she is waiting for before handing over the articles of impeachment.

President Trump railing against dishwashers, lightbulbs, the Clintons, Comey, a deceased congressman and his widow. The stunning rant that only served to highlight how rattled he seems.

Plus, Democrats facing off tonight in the final presidential debate of 2019, but the number of lecterns on the stage is shrinking.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead today on this, the day after the historic vote, and questions about what's next in the case against President Donald Trump, only the third president in all U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

Now, the Constitution prescribes a trial in the Senate next. But what that trial will look like or when it might take place is a mystery as of now.

In an unprecedented move, Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated she will not hand over the articles to the Senate until Democrats see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plans for the Senate trial and deem them to be fair.

President Trump today accusing Pelosi of being afraid to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

And as CNN's Lauren Fox reports to us now, it is unclear what leverage Democrats actually have here, if any.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Frankly, I don't care what the Republicans say.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER (voice-over): A testy House speaker putting a stop to mounting questions about her next move on impeachment.

QUESTION: To that end, you have talked and criticized Senator McConnell.

PELOSI: Any other questions?

FOX: Though she didn't say when today, Nancy Pelosi signaling it is only a matter of time before the House sends over the impeachment articles to the Senate. But, first, she wants Senate leaders to cut a deal on what the trial would look like.

PELOSI: When we see the process that is set forth in the Senate, then we will know the number of managers that we may have to go forward and who -- who we would choose.

FOX: After that news conference, Pelosi met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who proclaimed the two were on the same page.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Leader McConnell is planning the most rushed, least thorough, and most unfair impeachment trial in modern history.

FOX: He and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expected to negotiate the parameters of the impeachment trial, including whether witnesses will be called.

Schumer asking for four witnesses, including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Is the president's case so weak that none of the president's men can defend him under oath?

FOX: But the Republicans are quick to fire back, claiming Pelosi's decision to hold onto the articles is proof Democrats have a weak case against President Trump.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): They realize they have got a pig in a poke. And maybe they never send it over because they will be exposed for how shallow their thing is.

FOX: But there are no constitutional rules for when Pelosi is required to transmit articles. But during President Bill Clinton's impeachment, House Republicans sent them over immediately.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The Senate's duty is clear. The Senate's duty is clear.

FOX: McConnell arguing Pelosi's decision is an opportunity to skip a contentious trial.

MCCONNELL: it looks like the prosecutors are getting cold feet in front of the entire country and second-guessing whether they even want to go to trial. They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process, but now they are content to sit on their hands. This is really comical.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOX: And, of course, Jake, this is important, because the House of Representatives, they are having their very last votes of the year right now. Not included in that, a vote on the House managers.

That's a signal that we do not expect Nancy Pelosi to transmit those articles of impeachment before the new year -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Lauren Fox on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all of this.

Jackie, I understand that the Pelosi people think that Mitch McConnell wants to get this done quickly and that he has some vulnerable members. But what leverage does she actually have here, if any?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a good question.

There is a couple different schools of thought here. If you slow down the process, perhaps some of these court case has the Democrats have pending will come through. Perhaps you will get a witness to testify because of that.

But it is putting a lot of chips in an uncertain pile, right? I don't gamble, so that's not the right thing. But it is a curious...

[16:05:07]

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Close enough.

KUCINICH: Yes. It is a curious strategy, because you are right. It's unclear how this puts any pressure on moderate Republicans at all.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It is also not clear to me that Nancy Pelosi thinks she has leverage. Right?

I have read the stories on this and seen her comment on it. It seems like some of the stories have been a little overwritten. Seems like she wants to wait on the process, see who the managers are, and then, at some point, there has to be a bill about who the managers are, how to pay for this as well.

It seems perfectly reasonable to wait until January to do it. But I don't think she senses she has any leverage with Mitch McConnell. She has met Mitch McConnell, right?

KUCINICH: Yes.

HENDERSON: And so the idea...

TAPPER: Yes.

HENDERSON: She knows -- what would the leverage be, right? Oh, I have this thing over here that you don't actually want. And if you don't give me what I want, I am not going to give it to you. He doesn't necessarily want to go through with impeachment.

Holding on to it, I don't know how that gets her leverage.

TAPPER: But, Kirsten, what it does do is, it allows Republicans to fill in the blanks. For instance, you just heard Mitch McConnell saying they rushed this through and now they are holding back, they are talking about how maybe Democrats don't think their case is strong enough.

And Josh Holmes, who is McConnell's former chief of staff, he tweeted: "Bottom line, if the House refuses to move towards trial, they are dropping the case. It's a much bigger win for President Trump than an acquittal, because it's an explicit admission they didn't have the goods to even present the discussion in front of anyone other than themselves."

Now, obviously, that's spin, but -- and I'm sure you disagree with it. But doesn't this move lend itself to Republicans filling in the gaps of what the explanation is?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I mean, they can.

But I think, based on talking to people in the House leadership, that they do feel like the president really wants to be exonerated. He doesn't just want a resolution that passes or something that's -- where there's actually no trial, where he's exonerated. So they do feel like they have some sort of leverage. We could debate whether or not that's true, but they feel that. They also feel like they want to try to get at least what they got in the Clinton impeachment, basically to have some sort of agreement on what the rules are going to be. And, ideally, that would involve some people testifying, but, at a bare minimum to have some agreement on that.

And they say that would influence the type of House managers that they choose. So they need to -- they're negotiating. And I have to say, I understand everybody reveres Mitch McConnell, and he's the process man, and he's -- kind of will do anything.

But I wouldn't underestimate Nancy Pelosi, and she is kind of consistently underestimated. And I think that she has almost always ended up being right in the decisions that she's made, even when people were criticizing her along the way.

TAPPER: So, assuming that it does go to a Senate trial -- and I think it's probably a safe assumption that it will happen at some point.

A source tells CNN the White House is weighing four staunch allies from the House to be the House managers, Jim Jordan, John Ratcliffe, Mike Johnson, and Mark Meadows. Everyone except Meadows met with the White House counsel this week.

What do you make of those picks?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Standard. It's what you would expect.

These are people that were sort of stars or performed or were good at making the case for the president when it was in the House. But one of the interesting things about what Pelosi did was, she drew a line in the sand. She said, I'm not going to send -- she didn't just say, I'm going to hold back and let's wait and see, it's my prerogative. We have got to pass the rules.

She said, I'm not sending this over until I believe it's fair. So, by definition, whenever she sends it over, she's saying it's fair. And so if she sent it over tomorrow, then apparently she just undercut Chuck Schumer's whole case, because she's saying it's fair that it went there.

So she has to extract something from Mitch, in her opinion, for it to be fair, and I just don't -- I don't think "Cocaine Mitch" is going to back down. I think he's going to do what he thinks. And he's perfectly fine. He will just keep confirming judges every day while he's waiting for it.

TAPPER: I invite our friends -- I invite our viewers to Google "Cocaine Mitch" to find out what he's talking about.

It's an affectionate term, OK?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Kirsten.

POWERS: Kind of the way Mitch McConnell is treated, like, so reverentially, over the fact that he will be unfair, right?

I mean, it's just -- like, this isn't -- the things that he has done are unethical, like what he did with Merrick Garland. And the idea that he would just refuse to even try to have a fair process, and that that's somehow something we should laud, I just disagree with that.

And I do think, in the end, she's going to send them over. And I don't think it's going to mean that she necessarily agrees. She's going to try to get him to be fair. If he's not fair, that's on him. That's not on Nancy Pelosi.

TAPPER: Jackie, we have heard McConnell complain that Schumer wrote a public letter about what he wanted, instead of meeting with him face to face.

I don't know how sincere you found that, but that was a pushback from McConnell on that.

KUCINICH: Yes, but this was after McConnell had gone on...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: FOX.

KUCINICH: FOX -- it was either or something local -- and said, I'm not an impartial juror. I'm here to defend president.

[16:10:01]

I'm paraphrasing, of course. So there's a little bit tit for tat. And you're going to have that throughout this process. But you're going to see an interesting role reversal, where Democrats are going to be complaining a lot about the process, which you saw Republicans doing a lot in the House.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have got more to talk about.

President Trump impeached and unhinged, perhaps -- the attack on a deceased Democratic congressman that even left Trump's own spokeswoman somewhat speechless this morning.

Then, it's almost as if he watched yesterday's impeachment debate. Vladimir Putin's defense of President Trump, it sounds kind of familiar.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:07]

TAPPER: And we are back with the politics lead. President Trump trying to act as if being impeached is no big deal. All evidence to the contrary however if you watched the president's two-hour diatribe last night, his longest campaign rally to date, filled with attacks on the Clintons, Comey, made up conversations, outright lies and more.

President Trump even suggested the late Democratic Congressman John Dingell, a World War II veteran, the longest serving member of the House and a famous son of Michigan, the state where Trump was, Dingell was in hell, an insult that caused his widow, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan, preparing for her first Christmas without the man she loves to, in her words, be brought down in a way one cannot imagine, making her healing harder -- as CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't feel like I am being impeached.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After becoming the third president to be impeached, President Trump is counting on a vigorous defense in the Senate. But now, he is worried about when he'll get it.

TRUMP: The Senate is very, very capable.

COLLINS: After finding out the Democratic-controlled house may delay sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate, Trump lashed out at House Speaker Pelosi.

TRUMP: They happen to have a small majority and they took that small majority and they forced people.

COLLINS: This comes as the president is still deciding who should play a role in his defense.

Sources tell CNN some of his associates have privately argued that his White House counsel Pat Cipollone is better suited for making a legal argument, not a political one like the Senate trial will require.

TRUMP: We have a couple of others that we are going to put in. But Pat has been fantastic as White House counsel.

COLLINS: While Cipollone is still expected to lead the defense for now, Trump has questioned if people think he will be good on TV.

Last night, Trump attempted to dismiss the gravity of being impeached during his rally in Michigan.

TRUMP: I don't know about you but I am having a good time.

COLLINS: But his anger was obvious. Trump mocked his development rivals, attacked the news media and at low point suggested John Dingell, the Democratic congressman from Michigan who died after serving 59 years in the House, was is in hell.

TRUMP: He is looking down. Maybe he is looking up, I don't know.

COLLINS: The late congresswoman's widow, Debbie Dingell, who also serves in the House, telling that CNN family should be off limits.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): The rhetoric, the bullying, the viciousness isn't OK. And there are too many people across the country that are beginning to think it is OK.

COLLINS: Today, Speaker Pelosi said Trump's attack on Dingell is a sign of his insecurity.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Let us pray. Let us pray for the president.

COLLINS: And the person who speaks for Trump struggling at first to defend him.

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You'd have to talk to the president about that.

COLLINS: Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham later explaining it by claiming the president is under attack.

GRISHAM: We all know the president is a counterpuncher. It was a very, very supportive and wild crowd, and he was just riffing on some of the things that had been happening.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, the president was asked in the Oval Office, did he regret that comment he made about John Dingell or would he apologize to his widow Debbie Dingell? He answered questions about other topics but did not answer those.

TAPPER: Hmm. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

We should note that Congressman Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey just formally became a Republican. He announced this while meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEFF VAN DREW (R-NJ): I believe this is a better fit for me. It is who I am. It is who I always was, but there was more tolerance of moderate Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It is worth noting, of course, that Congressman Van Drew has voted with Democrats which he used to be nearly 90 percent of the time. He also tweeted last month, quote: In light of the recent revelations regarding White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, we must stand up against white supremacist terrorism and the racist rhetoric that encourages it, unquote.

Kirsten, your response?

POWERS: Well, I don't think those kinds of tweets would work very well in the Republican Party. And the idea that you would go from being a moderate Democrat to a Trump Republican that's just a strange choice.

You know, it's not -- it's not as though you are going from a moderate Republican -- I mean, a Democrat to a Republican maybe in the George W. Bush era or something like that. I could see that. But today's Republican Party has moved so far to the right I just -- something about it doesn't add up other than the fact he is doing it because he thinks it will help him win.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, it looked as though he was going to be primaried if he did not support impeachment.

SHIELDS: And now, he has support of the president in a district where the president won. Remember, we needed 19 seats, we now need 18 seats. Thirteen Democrats are sitting in seats that Trump won by six or more, now 12, because he was one of them.

And so, you know, the math equation for the Democrats is bad on this when it comes to how this helps House Republicans.

[16:20:02]

It also hurts the morale. When you were one of those moderate Dems that had to go walk the plank for this and you know you are sitting in a district that Trump won by six or seven or eight points and you see someone switching parties, you know this is a big problem for you and you have to go home and explain it.

So, this is a morale booster for the Republicans, I can tell you. When you have a party switcher in either party, it has a significant impact on the sort of confidence that happened right in the middle of impeachment.

TAPPER: Let's go back to the Dingell story because moments ago, the president refused to answer questions about whether he will apologize to Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. Of course, he did answer questions about impeachment, as Kaitlan mentioned. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Will you apologize to Congresswoman Dingell?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you so much. T Thank you, everybody. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And, Jackie, we should point out, there have been some Republicans who have offered criticism of President Trump on this. Not harsh criticism and not a lot. But for instance, Republican Congressman Paul Mitchell, who is also a Michigan congressman, tweeted: John Dingell was a well-respected man and I consider Debbie a close colleague and friend. To use his name in such a dishonorable manner at last night's rally is unacceptable from anyone, let alone the president. An apology is due, Mr. President.

KUCINICH: This is not the first time the president has upset a widow. It is not the first time he has gone after a war hero who had passed away who -- and gone low like this.

We've seen this from the president. But the bottom line is, this doesn't make the people he attacks look bad. It makes him look bad. And it makes him look bad to voters like suburban women who have been upset with the president's demeanor, perhaps not his record.

But they don't like what he says and how he acts. This hurts him with that demographic. And that's other than just being obscene and untoward for lack of a better word. This is the least -- the things I think people who really -- I'm sorry. I'll stop.

TAPPER: Jackie -- one of Jackie's points, this isn't the first time the president has gone after a war hero and dead member of Congress and insinuated that the family was ungrateful. In fact, Cindy McCain tweeted to Debbie Dingell: I'm terribly sorry. Please know I am thinking of you.

Meghan McCain, the late senator's daughter, writing: This is horrific. Just horrific. It's hard for me to eloquently say how disgusted I am by this. I am so -- I am so deeply sorry the Dingell family has been subjected to this vile. Is this what the Trump family version of Be Best is bullying widows at a public rally? Sick.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, we heard it last night. And the first time I heard it, I mean, my stomach just dropped. And every time I hear it -- I mean, it is disgusting every time you hear it.

I don't know what makes the president behave in this very disturbing way. The crowd seemed to be also not entirely sure what to do in that moment. Nancy Pelosi said cruelty is not wit. Just because someone laughs at what you said as some of the people did doesn't mean you're funny. And this isn't funny.

And he might say, this is a joke and he likes to be a performer out there, a third rate Rodney Dangerfield when he is out in front of those supportive crowds. Let's hope this is the last time he does it. I think it will be, unfortunately. I think this goes to his state of mind, very frustrated with his impeachment. So, he's going after people.

TAPPER: The White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham saying he is a counter-puncher, John Dingell has been dead for months. I mean, this wasn't counter-punching anything.

Mike, just quickly, I mean, do you think if the president were listening to you, would you suggest that he apologize?

SHIELDS: Yes. He shouldn't have said this. I think when he is riffing in front of the crowd and he does get into "I am going to make a joke" and it was a terrible in poor taste horrible joke and he's paying a price for it because people are speaking out against it.

He doesn't get much out of things when he apologizes. I think he's learned that. His supporters don't want to go apologize for anything, because they're like, hey, a Republican finally stands up and fights. That's what his supporters want.

I think when he does apologize, it's not like everyone goes, oh, OK, great. Thank you. They just keep attacking him --

TAPPER: When you ever see him apologized?

SHIELDS: There's been a few times when the president has backed down from a position, let's put it that way.

TAPPER: OK.

SHIELDS: And he gets attacked anyway. So, he's not going to apologize.

But it doesn't -- the apology is not the point.

TAPPER: Yes.

SHIELDS: He shouldn't have said. He should have never said it.

In her words, from her tweet last night, I think what Debbie Dingell said are pretty powerful.

TAPPER: She has been on the show.

It is horrible, Congresswoman Dingell, that you have to go through this. We know what pain you're in.

Coming up, boy, this sounds familiar. Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyebrow-raising reaction to President Trump's impeachment. That's next.

Plus, leaving down before his boss arrives. The new details about why the administration's top guy in Ukraine who testified during the impeachment inquiry is really leaving his post ahead of schedule.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:29:51]

TAPPER: In our world lead today, it was one of the most popular Republican arguments against impeachment that we heard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BRAD WENSTRUP (R-OH): When they didn't win at the ballot box, they pursued a Russian collusion narrative with special counsel Robert Mueller had to waste time and taxpayer dollars to prove false. When the Russia collusion malicious deception didn't work, Madam Speaker, Democrats sought a new path forward to impeach President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)