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Rep. Diane DeGette (D-CO) Discusses Trump's Comment about Rep. Dingell's Husband, Impeachment; Pelosi Delays Sending Articles of Impeachment to Senate; Russian President Backs Trump in Impeachment Battle; Final 2019 Democratic Debate Tonight. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 19, 2019 - 13:30   ET



REP. DIANE DEGETTE (D-CO): But the fact that he would go there against somebody who was a World War II veteran, who was in the House, longest serving member of the House and somebody who was so successful legislatively in their own district, it's just wrong.

And, look, Donald Trump does this to lots of people. That's his default. And I just think we need to go to a better place.

That's one thing, when I was presiding yesterday over the debate, I told the speaker, I would make sure that we had a level of decorum in the House that was benefiting this very solemn occasion. And I think we achieved that on both sides of the aisle.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And yesterday, you were sitting there, you were at the front of the House chamber with this seat to the impeachment of President Trump, this view to the impeachment.

I wonder, how was this different from the Clinton impeachment, which you witnessed shortly after becoming a member of Congress?

DEGETTE: Well, to me this was very, very serious. Because what the president did, trying to influence a foreign country's affairs in order to impact his own reelection campaign.

I used to be a constitutional lawyer, and I researched it. It is very, very -- it's the most serious thing that's happened in any of these impeachments, and so it was really a solemn day.

With the Clinton impeachment, what he did was wrong, but it didn't have an impact on his official duties as president of the United States. So I thought both of the proceedings were different.

But I will say yesterday I did feel, for the most part -- not everybody, but for the most part, people on both sides of the aisle really, really understood that this was a somber occasion, and acted accordingly.

I thought it went smoothly. I thought it was a strong debate. I disagreed with my Republican opponents, but I thought that they were respectful, for the most part.

KEILAR: Congresswoman DeGette, thank you so much for joining us.

DEGETTE: Thank you.

KEILAR: One person who backs the president against his impeachment is Vladimir Putin, and he's completely using all of the president's talking points in doing so.

Plus, tonight, the 2020 frontrunners face off in the final debate of the year on CNN. And the new blow to Obamacare will play a big role.



KEILAR: President Trump is now the third U.S. president in history to be impeached. The House passed both articles of impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. And now the Senate will hold a trial to decide whether to convict Trump and remove him from office.

But before that happens, the House has to send over the articles of impeachment, something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she's not willing to do until a clear and fair path forward is presented.

Let's talk about this with CNN national security commentator, Mike Rogers, along with former House GOP investigative counsel, Sophia Nelson, and former Democratic chief counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, Julian Epstein.

Both of you were working on the Clinton impeachment on opposite sides of the aisle. You on the Oversight Committee, you on the Judiciary Committee. So we've happy to have your insight, as well as yours, Mike.

I just want to gauge all of you as you saw the speaker hedge on whether she's sending over the articles.

What was your reaction? Good idea?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Personally, no. I thought it interjected another layer of politics. If you're in the middle and you're still trying to figure out, is this thing for real, is it not for real, is it just political. To me, this just drips and looks like more politics. I'm trying to shape the narrative I want you to believe in.

They would have been better off do the impeachment, make the vote, send the articles, and then they can make any conversation they want of what it looks like. But having Schumer come over and negotiate with Nancy Pelosi about holding back so we have different kind of leverage looks really political.

KEILAR: What do you think?

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: I disagree with Mike. I think Nancy Pelosi is smarter than we're giving her credit for. I think it's strategic. And I think she's trying to get some leverage in a process where the

Judiciary Chairman Graham and the Leader McConnell have been clear they're not going to be impartial jurors, that they want this over. They don't want to have witnesses. And I think she's trying to leverage it.

If she holds the articles, that means he remains impeached without his day in court, if you would. Yes, there would be a backlash but it's a good strategic move, I think.



KEILAR: Please.

EPSTEIN: I applaud what she's trying to do, which is she's trying to honor the constitutional process. She's an institutionalist, the way Sophia is and perhaps Mike is.

But I think she has limited leverage. What she did last night was a little ad-libbed. I'm not sure it was vetted inside the Democrat caucus entirely. They're still trying to figure out their way on this.

And she has limited leverage because I don't think she'll be very persuasive to McConnell.

McConnell is happy to say, keep your articles of impeachment and we'll just sit over here. We're not anxious to have a trial. The poll numbers are not breaking favorably for Democrats. They're breaking slightly against them.

What she has to be careful of is the message. In the House, they were saying we need to get this done relatively quickly and we don't need to call witnesses. Now she's saying, well, let's extend the process out in the Senate and let's call witnesses. Those two messages are a little contradictory.


I understand the reason for it. The Senate is a trial. It's an insider's argument.

But to most of the public -- and the game the Republicans are playing now is the public is exhausted by this now, they think it's politics by other means. They are trying to drum the tribalism that has become American politics. It's the Palestinians versus the Israelis. It doesn't matter how strong your argument is. It's what team you're on that matters. It's this culture of contempt we're talking about. Republicans are playing the cynical game.

That's what Nancy Pelosi has to drive for. It's the institutionalists versus anti-institutionalists.


KEILAR: That's a tough road.

NELSON: Remember, there's an obstruction of Congress article for a reason. They won't hand over documents. They could have argued it in the Judiciary. They chose not to do that and they chose to pursue this path.

I take exception a little bit to you saying she doesn't want to call the witnesses. I don't think that's true. I think they would have loved to have Bolton and Mulvaney and all these people testify, but the president made clear that wasn't going to happen.

EPSTEIN: You're making two different arguments. You're making an argument on the merits and you're making an argument on the limits the House had, given what they were trying to do in their schedule.

I'm making a more political argument about how it comes across to the public.

NELSON: Understood.

EPSTEIN: At one point, she said it needs to be done quickly, we don't need the witnesses. Now she's saying the opposite. Will that persuade McConnell? Not unless that argument is going to be persuasive to the moderates in the Senate.

With the poll numbers kind of stuck at 47-47 right now, maybe breaking up a little against the Democrats, I'm not sure that's going to be highly persuasive.

I think the Democrats have to make the best case they can to get more witnesses, get more information on the table. But I think there's limited effort.

KEILAR: I love this counter-intuitive sort of role reversal we're having.


ROGERS: I've been enjoying this.


ROGERS: We should let them go.

KEILAR: Totally.

I'm not going to let you off the hook.

As you're looking at this and Nancy Pelosi is making this decision -- and it seems like, you know, articles are probably going -- they're going to head to the Senate. No one I've spoken to thinks they're being held indefinitely or anything.

But to Julian's point, are Democrats losing the public on this? Are they losing public opinion? And if they are, how do they shape an acquittal in the Senate that appears just like it's going to happen?

ROGERS: I think we're losing -- average folks are looking at this as a political event. They're not rising to the level this is a big constitutional crisis.

If you talk to average people outside the Beltway and punditry, they look at this differently. They're not spending every day all day. I think they are exhausted by this.

Quick story, I was in Atlanta, coming out of the hotel, there was a debate between the valet and the doorman. One said, Trump has to go. The other said, I want to keep Trump. The reason he wanted to keep Trump, he said, I don't care about all the political things that are happening. I thought this was interesting, my 401K is up to $8,000. Think about that.

And so he saw a very different view of what was happening, and this is two people, really similar circumstance, not a demographic, by the way, that Trump would normally get. And that's what you're seeing magnified across the country.

So when they do political things on impeachment, Americans see that. They don't see the constitutional -- even though I said publicly I think it was wrong what the president did. They don't have a chance to get there because their lives are not centered around it and the constant deluge we get.

I worry that this is going to make a mark on the country.

KEILAR: I want to move on to talk about Vladimir Putin. But the audible groan when you were saying the 401K thing, people care about their 401Ks more than they do, or how they're doing economically than--


NELSON: It says something about who we are. I wasn't groaning at Mike. He's right.


NELSON: It's just sad we care about judges and 401Ks versus anything that can happen. That's a dangerous place to be. It's not a good place.

KEILAR: Let's talk about how, hours after being impeached, President Trump got some support not from within his own party but from Vladimir Putin during his annual news conference. Let's listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): This is just a continuation of the internal political battle. One party that lost the elections, the Democrats, is now trying find new ways by accusing Trump of collusion with Russia.

But then it turns out there was no collusion. This can't be the basis for the impeachment.

Now they came up with some pressure on Ukraine. I don't know, what is the pressure. But this is up to your congressmen.


KEILAR: What did you think of that?

ROGERS: He's a trained KGB officer. He's engaged in information operations against the United States. Everything he does is calculated.

That is not necessarily even for domestic consumption here in the United States. That's for around the world.


Russia goes to places -- America is broken. Look at America right now. They're broken. That's why you need to engage in the kind of activity that we're trying to do in your neck of the woods, wherever that is.

They're very active, the Russians are very active in Latin America, the Middle East now, and they're spreading this message, America is broken, they're not the great world leader, they've been knocked off their pedestal.

And what you saw Vladimir Putin do is just feed that fire. I would argue coming to an informational operation near you 2020, that's the same messaging that the Russians will engage in again in American politics.

NELSON: All roads lead to Putin, quoting Nancy Pelosi. That's all I'm going to say. She keeps saying it.


KEILAR: Final word --


EPSTEIN: -- Putin, a year ago, expressed his love for the Communist system who Reagan was famously responsible for tearing down. The fact that Republicans associate themselves with this nonsense is absurd.


EPSTEIN: The case for impeachment, the factual case is very, very strong. The evidence laid out is very strong.

The big question is, why are we stuck at 47-47. I think the answer is the public square is starting to die and that should be very troubling for all of us.

We have stopped listening to each other. We have become like the Palestinians and the Israelis, the culture of contempt. We have nothing but contempt for the other side's point of view, and that's very, very difficult.

You see it in impeachment now. The process is breaking down. American politics are broken. We can't come together in. In '98 and '74, there was a public square. The public rendered a verdict. Now it's completely split the way the electorate is.

That's very troubling, not just for impeachment, but for our ability to govern. There's something fundamentally wrong in American politics.

KEILAR: Julian, Sophia, Chairman, thank you so much for this discussion. I really appreciate it.

The president and first lady said that their teenage son was off limits in political discussion. The president actually just put his son right into the political discussion. We'll talk about that.

Plus, tonight marks the final debate of the year among the 2020 Democratic frontrunners. But the biggest topic likely won't be impeachment. It's going to involve former President Obama.



KEILAR: Here we are just hours away from the final Democratic primary debate of 2019 where seven presidential candidates now are going to be taking the stage in Los Angeles. This is the smallest group of candidates to square off yet.

CNN's Mark Preston joins us now from L.A.

Mark, the smaller group means more potential actually to be heard, to have a heated moment. What do you expect tonight?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's three things, Brianna, I'm certainly looking forward to tonight. See if this actually happens. An extremely important debate, final time you'll probably hear from the candidates until we get into the new year when all eyes focus in on Iowa.

Let's talk about 2020 and beyond first. Tonight, there's going to be a real disagreement, difference, debate about the direction of the Democratic Party. Is liberalism going to win out over centrism?

You'll see Joe Biden, former vice president, in the middle of the stage flanked on both sides by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. You wonder what that debate will look like.

Number two, the pointed attacks. Will we see the attacks from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at Joe Biden? See Pete Buttigieg trying to go after Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders? You'll see Joe Biden certainly against the field. Amy Klobuchar as well seems to be willing to take it to anybody on the stage.

In the last debate, we thought Pete Buttigieg would be the focus of the criticism. That's not the case. Will we see that tonight?

And last but not least, the moment. Who really needs a moment tonight? Andrew Yang certainly needs a moment. While he's done well with that loyal following, he still needs to do better to make sure he has enough gasoline in the tank to make the next debate. Of course, that's on CNN next month in Iowa. He needs that moment tonight.

Amy Klobuchar needs a moment to try to broaden her appeal beyond Iowa. Pete Buttigieg, a moment tonight could help add more credibility to his campaign, which has slowly and steadily gained traction as we've seen other the fall out.

Look at the rest of the field. Does Elizabeth Warren a moment? Does Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden need a moment? Not necessarily, Brianna. They are pretty well set where they're at.

Of course, they want to have a great debate performance tonight, but it's not do-or-die for them -- Brianna?

KEILAR: I can't believe we're end of the year and all this will get so real next month and these debates matter so much. We'll be watching with you.

Mark Preston, thank you so much.

Don't forget. You can watch tonight's debate. That's right here on CNN, starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Soon, we're expecting the president to meet with the Democrat who is set to switch parties.


Plus, Speaker Pelosi's daughter will join us live on her mother's glare at Democrats who applauded impeachment.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN on this Thursday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We've been saying it for days, historic moment for the nation. President Trump, the third U.S. president ever impeached. But the hours of partisan jabbing we saw on the House floor may pale in comparison to what's coming next in the Senate trial. That is once we get to the Senate trial.


The next step is for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send those articles of impeachment to the Senate.