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Freedom Caucus Founder Mark Meadows Will Not Seek Re-Election; Joe Biden Holds Lead Heading into Tonight's Debate; Impeachment Witness Taylor Told to Leave Ukraine Before Pompeo Visit. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired December 19, 2019 - 12:30   ET



MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: -- he loves the politics, loves the games. He was a little bit more involved during the impeachment fight of course but not that (INAUDIBLE) I'm not surprised he's looking for his next step.

But I think with some of these other members, they don't have a lot of optimism of taking back the House. They just voted to impeach the president. They're constantly asked about this controversial tweet and this controversy and what do you think about the Dingell comments like we're talking about before. So, it's just for a lot of these members, it's tough being in the party.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And a lot of them came in, in the Tea Party years of 2010 and 2014. Where they were going to stop the bailouts, they were going to balance the budget, they were going to shrink the government. They're about -- the president is about to sign a spending plan that makes a Barack Obama look like a fiscal hawk. It includes a new federal entitlement, federal paid daycare, paid family leave for federal workers advocated by the president's daughter, not by Democrat. It includes new money to investigate gun violence and the impact on America.

It is not what the Tea Party ran on in 2010 or 2014. It's not even in the same galaxy as what the Tea Party ran on.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No. I mean, because look, President Trump isn't an ideologically-based Republican like a lot of these folks, you know, in the House were. I mean, he has kind of embraced some of the Republican positions along the way as sort of a way to maintain power in Washington, but he doesn't fundamentally believe much of the things, especially, you know, folks like Meadows who, you know, sort of have this very conservative point of view that, you know, Trump is going to only embrace when it sort of helps him for other reasons not because he fundamentally believes it.

KING: But he was willing to forget everything he ran on to become an ally of this president. There's just -- just look at his ads, go back to his first campaign and look at his ads and look at what's happened especially on the domestic front of the Trump presidency (INAUDIBLE). Leader Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House last hour saying our party is fine.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The health of the party is very strong, let's talk about that. Last Congress, when we had retirements, I was sad about that. I wish we didn't have as many. For those who are afraid about Republican retirements, I would not be.

The thing about the Republican Party, we don't believe this should be your entire life. With the Republican Party, we're healthy and we bring new blood in.


KING: There were 241 House Republicans after the president's election, there are 197 now. So if they're bringing in new blood, they're bringing in less new blood. If you look at the governor's races last year, look at the state legislative race last year. This happened to the Democrats during the Obama presidency, it's very similar. The country seems to rebel against the president even though the country has a history and we'll see what happens next year of re- electing the last several presidents.

In every other level, the president's party especially Obama years and the Trump years suffers.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It suffers and also -- I mean, Kevin McCarthy talks about bringing in new blood but you are losing several key members who either were in line to regain their chairmanship should they have taken control of the House back again and losing just a lot of institutional knowledge.

I was looking through the list earlier again today and, you know, you have Mike Conaway leaving, a top guy on Ag, Intel for a while. Mac Thornberry, very influential figure on House Armed Services. Greg Walden who has been -- has led the NRCC and has a powerful role on House Energy and Commerce.

I mean, these are big names that are -- that have decided for whatever reason in the Trump era that it's time for them to go.

ZANONA: And women minorities they may add in the party are fleeing as well.

KING: And the president is meeting today with Jeff Van Drew who has spent the last several days trying to decide whether he's a Democrat or Republican, trying to figure out how he can survive his no vote on impeachment. So if they bring in some new blood there, it's a principled guy who knows exactly where he stands.

Up next, just hours after impeaching him, the House is about to give President Trump a very important win.


[12:38:25] KING: Topping our political radar today, the House is set to vote on and pass the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement shortly, handing the president a big victory even as -- just after he's been impeached. The House Democrats agreed to back the USMCA after the Trump administration agreed to strengthen efforts to enforce labor and environmental rules. The Senate likely to vote on that deal early next year after the impeachment trial.

It's likely going to be months now, maybe even longer, it could be years before the Supreme Court gets a chance to decide the fate of ObamaCare. The federal appeals court agreed the law's individual mandate requiring people to buy insurance is unconstitutional, but the appeals panel kicked the case back to the district court level to consider whether the rest of the Affordable Care Act remains constitutional without that mandate.

And Vladimir Putin defending President Trump today telling reporters the president was impeached, quote, for made-up reasons. In his annual news conference in Moscow, the Russian president said he doubts that President Trump will be removed from office since Republicans controls the Senate. He also played a little bit of pundit here describing the impeachment process nothing more than made-up Washington infighting.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is just a continuation of the internal political battle. One party that lost the elections, the Democrats, is now trying to find new ways by accusing Trump of collusion of Russia. This can't be the basis for the impeachment.

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


KING: Pretty remarkable to watch that.

Up next, it's debate night for the Democratic White House hopefuls.


What the race looks like now heading into a very, very busy 2020.


KING: Quick impeachment news update from Capitol Hill, the Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer just finished a meeting with the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He says they are on the same page when it comes to impeachment strategy now that the articles will go over to the Senate for trial. Leader Schumer though not saying when he expects -- when Speaker Pelosi will send those articles over. He also told everybody Merry Christmas.

[12:45:09] Moving on, tonight is the final Democratic debate of this year with just six weeks to go before the first votes of the 2020 race. Who's on the stage has changed? It's a smaller and most notably less diverse field representing the party this evening in Los Angeles, but who is leading the pack has stayed pretty consistent. In our latest CNN poll just out this morning, Joe Biden continues to hold the national lead. He gets as you see there, about a quarter of the vote.

Bernie Sanders is second at 20 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is at eight percent, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg now rounds out the top five at five percent.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is out in Los Angeles for the debate. Jeff, last debate of the year, Iowa just around the corner. What are we expecting?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, so much has changed since the last times these candidates were on stage. It's only been a month ago, impeachment has dominated the headlines but the contours of this race have changed. What we're watching for tonight is perhaps not at center stage, Joe Biden, he is still there without question, very resilient as we end the year here. But Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, they have been tangling and going back and forth with, you know, at each other over transparency, over healthcare, over fundraising.

Bernie Sanders has been joining in on that as well, also going after Pete Buttigieg. So tonight the question is will Pete Buttigieg actually show that he can take a punch? Will the candidates actually deliver one? They largely have shied away from doing so.

So the, you know, the center of this conversation here is still about healthcare, certainly given the ruling yesterday, what is the shape of healthcare. Elizabeth Warren has been changing her message on that as well. You'll remember she always said, I'm with Bernie, I'm with Bernie. Now that has, you know, slowed her candidacy. She lately has been saying she wants to give voters more of a choice. So look for her to be pressed on that.

But, John, the biggest difference tonight are those who not on the stage. Kamala Harris, of course, dropped out. Cory Booker is still in, not on the stage tonight, but this is what he said in a new campaign ad.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You're only going to see this ad once because I'm not a (INAUDIBLE). I won't be on tonight's debate stage but that's OK because I'm going to win this election anyway. This election isn't about who can spend the most or can slings the most mud, it's about the people.


ZELENY: So Senator Booker is clearly trying to draw some attention on this, but of course he wishes he was on that debate stage.

John, another person we're looking at tonight, Amy Klobuchar. She's done very well in these last several debates. She is the one who, you know, started to raise the questions here about the reality of healthcare. So look for her to try and come on strong tonight as well, John. The final debate of the year, 46 days until the Iowa caucuses.


KING: I thought I was the only one counting. Jeff Zeleny counting the days to Iowa. What a shock. Jeff, have a great night in Los Angeles, see you soon. Let's bring it back into the room.

It's interesting because the coverage has been clouded out, if you will, by impeachment, which has -- I just want to show you the race -- which has the race pretty static at the moment. We have Joe Biden still on top. He's at 26 percent, down a couple points but within the margin of error since our poll in August. Bernie Sanders up a little bit, that's been interesting. Elizabeth Warren has been under attack, taking some dense if you will, seems some progressives have drifted back at Senator Sanders. But you have this top -- I call that the top-tier there, Mayor Buttigieg, Bloomberg not on the debate stage but all the TV spending a hundred million dollars, apparently he get up to five percent. He's just -- he is banking on Biden faltering and there's an opening for him.

But let's just start with who is on the stage. Twenty-six percent, there's Joe Biden. He is the leader, that's not strong enough to call him a frontrunner, is it?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Well, I mean, he's literally running in front. I mean, we can call him a frontrunner, right? But he's definitely not the -- not running away with it, is the way I would say it. We've seen undecided voters, that number shrink, but there was a Marist poll not long ago that had a staggering number for I can still be convinced to back somebody else. I think it was 80 percent so it's still a very, very fluid race.

It stops being a fluid race when you have to vote. Once you've voted, once you've caucused, once you've voted in the primary, that's it. Your major commitment. So these folks are all wrangling for that last-minute, you know, maybe I can pull some people away, maybe the 10, 15 percent undecided will come to me if I have a strong show.

KING: And I don't know the answer, what is the impact of impeachment both for the first question is on Democratic voters in the short term. Forty-six days in Iowa, a week after that in New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina coming quickly after that. What does it do? What is the impeachment of the president especially some Democrats think for some reason, you know, this could help Trump and that's one of the conversations. Who knows what's going to happen 10 months from now.

But my question is, in the short term, does it help Joe Biden if you ask the Democratic supporters no matter who you support which candidate has the best chance to beat Trump, and that is an overwhelming Biden lead, 40 percent there. Does it help him with impeachment front and center right now just as voters plan to vote that he is still viewed that way? I guess he has to prove it in the debate tonight, but.


SHEAR: Well, one of the things -- I mean, you know, the timing, the exact timing of the Senate trial is a little bit up in question given what we've been talking about today. But assuming that the Senate trial were to happen and that the acquittal, essentially, were to take place, what, a matter of days before the Iowa caucus, I mean, that does have the potential to send a message to Democratic voters that if you were counting on some other constitutional process other than an election to get rid of Donald Trump, you know, that's not going to happen. And, you know, and refocus people's minds on the question of who can beat him. And that could benefit Biden.

KING: I just want to quickly remind people of what I call the blur just around the corner. Enjoy Hanukkah, enjoy Christmas, enjoy your holiday celebrations because this is what comes next. Today is the sixth Democratic debate, January 14th is the seventh debate, then Iowa, another debate, New Hampshire, another debate, Nevada, another debate, South Carolina, Super Tuesday. The blur starts before you know it.

Tonight's debate is the PBS NewsHour/Politico Democratic debate. It will be live from Los Angeles right here on CNN and on your local PBS station. Covers starts here 8 p.m. Easter. Don't want to miss it.

Up next, almost every vulnerable House Democrat voted to impeach the president. The question now is will that help or hurt next November?



KING: Some interesting impeachment related news here from CNN's Kylie Atwood. You might remember impeachment witness Bill Taylor. He's the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine at the moment. Well, he has been told, Kylie has told to leave the country ahead of a visit plan by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. A source telling CNN the secretary is expected to visit Kyiv in January. And sources telling Kylie Atwood that Taylor who already planned to leave his post in January, is being told not to be there when the secretary goes.

You might remember he offered some quite damning testimony against the president, questioning Rudy Giuliani's role in Ukraine and then one of the text messages you're seeing he thought it was crazy, he thought it was crazy that U.S. military assistance was being withheld from Ukraine. Why? Are we that thin-skinned as secretary of state that, you know -- at a time, number one, Mike Pompeo is likely to leave in January to run for Senate even though he says that's not the case. He is doing behind-the-scenes work to build a campaign team. Number two, though, there's been a morale problem. Why not stand up with this guy? SHEAR: Right. Well, look, I mean, if the reporting is right, it does suggest that there is a desire to make sure that these two kind of opposing forces don't collide, the opposing force is being, you know -- that what Bill Taylor represents to the president of the United States which is part of the deep state bureaucracy, deep state foreign policy folks who essentially helped create the impeachment mess that he's in, and, you know, Pompeo. They don't want that picture together, and, you know, if Donald Trump were to see, if President Trump were to see that picture, I mean, I think the fear is, according to the reporting, that that is something that could set the president off and they don't want to do that.

KING: President Trump who met again the other day with Rudy Giuliani at the White House doesn't like the guy who told Congress this.


BILL TAYLOR, TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT IN UKRAINE: There appear to be two channels of U.S. policy-making and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular. As the acting ambassador I have authority over the regular formal diplomatic processes, including the bulk of the U.S. effort to support Ukraine against Russian invasion and to help it defeat corruption.

At the same time, however, I encountered an irregular informal channel of U.S. policy-making with respect to Ukraine unaccountable to Congress. A channel that included then Special Envoy Kurt Volker, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and as I subsequently learned, Mr. Giuliani.


KING: It is the meat of the Democrats' impeachment case that this alternative channel was helping the president do his personal political business in Ukraine, not U.S. national security business in Ukraine. So the foreign policy establishment likes Ambassador Taylor, I think likes Secretary of State Pompeo. He's a West Point grad but persona non grata?

KNOX: I guess. I mean, this is the second diplomat in Ukraine that Mike Pompeo hasn't supported. You know, obviously, stood on the sidelines while they pushed out Marie Yovanovitch. I mean, I think it's a totally unnecessary stage management. It's not like -- I don't think Trump is going to pouring over photos of Mike Pompeo's trip to Ukraine. But it's not implausible to say that Mike Pompeo keep him at arm's length.

ZANONA: But, you know, to hit on your point, the low morale right now at the State Department throughout this whole Ukraine saga, they were just so disappointed with how these officials and diplomats have been treated by the Trump administration. And then to see them not stand up and to ask them to leave early I think is going to really hurt a lot of folks over there.

KING: And why do you want to poke the Mitt Romneys, the Susan Collins, the Cory Gardners of the world, the people who don't like when the president dumps on people like a Vietnam veteran Bill Taylor who served his country for 40 years I think.

KIM: Exactly. I mean, when we've seen folks like Mitt Romney comment during the House impeachment inquiry, he's been quite but when he has spoken out as when we've seen these perhaps unnecessary attacks against these diplomatic officials, and I think that is one way to kind of rub them the wrong way, especially when he needs support of the Republicans in the Senate.

KING: But again, this is an administration that does things its way. That's his call, I guess.

Thanks for joining us today in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere, a very busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.