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McConnell & Pelosi in Standoff over Senate Trial; Buttigieg A Big Target as Democratic Candidates Face Off in Debate; Biden Keeps Frontrunner Status after Debate; S.C. Senate Candidate Jaime Harrison (D) Discusses Economy & Hopes to Unseat Lindsey Graham. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2019 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: After a truly historic week in which Donald Trump became the third U.S. president to be impeached, Washington is quiet this morning. Congress packed up and left town for the holidays leaving huge uncertainty about what is going to happen when they return.

At the center of it all, a high-stakes game of chicken it seems between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi saying she's not sending the articles of impeachment over to the Senate until they know what the process in the Senate trial will look like. McConnell responding with, quote, "fine by me."

This potential delay not sitting well with President Trump, however.

Here's what Senate Lindsey Graham said after meeting with the president at the White House last night.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): He thinks he should have his day in court sooner rather than later. I don't know what they're up to in the House. This is a political stunt. It's not funny. It tells me they don't have confidence in their case.


BOLDUAN: CNN congressional reporter, Lauren Fox, is on Capitol Hill for us. CNN's Boris Sanchez is at the White House.

Lauren, let me start with you.

So it seems this is coming down to who is a better poker player. But they left town with all this hanging out there?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: After a busy week on Capitol Hill, Kate, it's quiet for the first time in a long time in Washington.

There's certainly a posturing game happening right now when it comes to whether or not Nancy Pelosi is going to be sending those articles of impeachment over.

Essentially, the House voted yesterday on USMCA and other bills to end out the year. They have didn't vote to approve House managers, the lynch pin for sending over the articles of impeachment. We're in a holding pattern until lawmakers get back in January. That's significant.

Although, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, was arguing, if she doesn't want to send the articles over, that's fine. He argued, if they think they have leverage over not sending over something that the Senate doesn't want, then they have another think coming. That is not at all where Republicans are at this point.

What you see is the president getting frustrated, but it's not a level of frustration from McConnell. He's arguing, "Fine, don't send them" -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And the poker game continues.

Boris, what does the White House do in the meantime?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, essentially just wait for Nancy Pelosi. The White House strategy is stunted by her holding back the articles of impeachment. It is frustrating the president.

Trump asked allies and aides what Nancy Pelosi is doing. He's angry, not over just being impeached, but the potential for this trial, which he's been asking for, for week, could potentially being delayed.

Look at what he tweeted last night. The president writing, quote, "After the Democrats gave me no due process in the House, no lawyers, no witnesses, no nothing, they now want to tell the Senate how to run their trial. Actually, they have zero proof of everything. They will never even show up. They want out. I want an immediate trial." With a patented exclamation point at the end there, Kate.

We should point out an interesting tidbit in our reporting. There have been conversations in the White House about whether Pat Cipollone is the right person to lead the White House's defense in the Senate. The president has been quizzing some of his aides.

Allies have told CNN there's questions whether Pat Cipollone can deliver the TV moments President Trump is looking for in this trial. Of course, as we reported before, President Trump wants to make a show of this trial and wants to bash Democrats.

There's questions how other of the president's allies might get involved, congressmen in the House, like Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, et cetera. Still an open question, effectively in a holding pattern, as Lauren said, waiting for Nancy Pelosi's next move -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, guys, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Joining me now, CNN global affairs analyst and staff writer for the "New Yorker," Susan Glasser, and CNN global affairs analyst and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot.

Good to see you guys.

Susan, does anyone have leverage or a hand up or is this a momentary side show? In the end, the trial is going to happen. And right now, the votes are definitely not here.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Kate, what you said is correct. The trial is going to happen. They're debating. It's a shadow-boxing sort of dance over the contours of it.

Democrats recognize that their power over this process ebbed when they passed the articles of impeachment and it moves to the Republican- controlled Senate. I think this was an idea that gained steam in days in Democratic legal circles. Larry Tribe, of Harvard, was pushing this.

It seemed very implausible. I was up on Capitol Hill for the debate on the articles themselves that morning. Nobody really thought something like this would happen. But Pelosi made a quick decision to see what they could get by, just suggesting I'm going to hold this up. She hasn't actually showed her hand that much.

Now you see the president's response and you see there's daylight between the Senate Republicans and the president. Mitch McConnell saying, fine, we don't really want a trial. Donald Trump saying, wait a minute, I want to do it now.


I want to make one other point. You showed Trump's incredibly inaccurate tweet about the trial. The bottom line is it's hard to convince even Republicans, even die-hard supporters of President Trump, that anything remotely approaching a fair trial will be held when key witnesses have been withheld by the administration. That's the bottom line.

The president is on trial on very serious charges. Whether we've turned our political discourse into a circus, but that doesn't eliminate the fact that these are very serious charges.

And John Bolton, the national security adviser, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and Mike Pence, the vice president, are all involved in this story. None of them have given testimony. That's just unbelievable.

That was not the case in the Nixon proceedings and the Clinton proceedings, neither of which had the exact same facts. But let's be real. The key witnesses haven't testified because the president has refused to let them.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right.

I want to ask you about the 1999 model, which continues to be referenced over and over again recently.


BOLDUAN: In one second.

But, Max, you think Pelosi has leverage here. Please explain.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: She has a lot of leverage because you're seeing the fact that President Trump really wants a trial. He wants to be acquitted very quickly in the Senate so he can spend the rest of the election year going around saying it's a partisan witch hunt. I've been acquitted.

Nancy Pelosi is denying him that opportunity by saying the only way we'll send the articles of impeachment to the Senate is if there's a guarantee there will be a fair trial.

That's what the American people want. There was a poll just this week showing 70 percent of the public wants to hear witnesses in the Senate trial. And we all know --


BOLDUAN: That's not just Democrats. That's Democrats and Republicans.

BOOT: Right. That's Democrats and Republicans.


BOOT: It doesn't matter whether it will affect the outcome or not because it's clear Republicans made up their minds they're not going to look at the evidence.

But the country has not made up their minds. There's a trial that needs to happen for the benefit of the country. As Susan was suggesting, there are still witnesses we need to hear from as we heard from witnesses in previous impeachment proceedings.

I think it's a fairly clever bit of political jujitsu that Speaker Pelosi has pulled off. She's wrong-footed McConnell and Trump, is denying them what they most desperately want, which is a very fast sham trial followed by an acquittal.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about 1999. Both Democrats and Republicans have referenced the 1999 model for impeachment.

Susan, you covered that trial. Remind folks what Senate leaders worked out and how different it is from now.

GLASSER: There's two key points relative to this conversation we're having now. Number one, it was a different era in Washington.


GLASSER: There was a bipartisan agreement on the rules package. That was very important to both the Democratic leader in the Senate at the time, Tom Daschle, and the Republican leader. Number one, they had a bipartisan consensus that nobody thinks is possible over the basic procedures for the trial.

Number two, very importantly, both parties had a united interest in trying to keep it from being a spectacle. The nature of the trial, remember, was on the allegation that the president of the United States lied about whether he had sex about a former intern under oath.

They didn't want Monica Lewinsky to testify in the Senate and to be talking about inappropriate sexual matters on the floor of the Senate. A, we have sort of shredded our dignity collectively, nationally in the intervening 21 years.

But it's most important for people to realize is that Monica Lewinsky already testified extensively under oath. She spent hours with the grand jury empaneled as part of Ken Starr's independent counsel investigation. There was testimony in the House.

There was an enormous record of witness testimony that the Senate trial was already dealing with.

That's a totally different context than the situation we're dealing with here where the president of the United States, for the first time in history, blanket refused to participate and to hand over documents and allow witnesses to testify in the House proceedings.

So again, the comparison is bandied about a lot. The bottom line for me is that there's an enormous amount of evidence that the House proceedings gathered despite President Trump's stonewalling.

But, as Max said, the country I think should hear and is required to hear from these public officials, paid by your U.S. taxpayer dollars, and refusing to testify in a legitimate constitutional procedure because President Trump has ordered them not to.

It's very simple actually. It's not that complicated of an issue when you boil it down to that.

BOLDUAN: A lot of this when you strip away just the details is actually quite simple.

GLASSER: That's right.

BOLDUAN: It's not that complicated.


Here's a quote from Pelosi speaking to "Politico," "Fear is never a word used with me. You should know right away." Pelosi adding, "I'm never afraid and I'm rarely surprised."

I read this, and I think one thing I know from covering Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi, you won't find two better tactical politicians, Max, at this moment. That's one of the things that we are -- that we are, have been, and will be seeing playing out in the next weeks here.

BOOT: Right. This is like a world championship chess match between two grand masters who have been at it for decades and know what they're doing.


BOOT: Remember, Speaker Pelosi ran circles around Donald Trump during the government shutdown and really handed his lunch to him on that. She knows what she's doing. Trump does not.

But McConnell knows what he's doing as well.

I think it's clear we'll have a trial. In the end, it's just a question of, what are the terms of the trial. Pelosi is exercising leverage which Republicans didn't understand she had. That's empowering Senator Schumer, the other key player here, of course, to negotiate rules with Senator McConnell.

Basically, all that the Democrats are asking for is something very similar to the rules that they had for Bill Clinton's trial, which were approved unanimously by the Senate.

At the end of the day, as Susan said, even though there was a fuller and richer documentary record for that, they still heard from three witnesses in the course of that trial.

I find that Senator McConnell's objections are completely incoherent. On the one hand, he and other Republicans are saying they had the most rushed process in the House. They didn't do a thorough investigation. They didn't hear from all of the key players.

Now he's saying, we're not going to do a thorough investigation either in the Senate. We're not going to hear from the key players either.

So if they're so upset about the rush in the House --



BOOT: -- general position --


BOLDUAN: You hear it on both sides. Go fast. Go slow. Rushing.

BOOT: Right.

BOLDUAN: Being diligent. It's game on. We'll be seeing this in the coming days.

BOOT: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you guys. Thank you so much.

BOOT: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the final Democratic debate of the year had the fewest candidates and a full plate of substance. How did the discussion about a wine cave bubble to the top? That's next.

And later, a prominent Christian magazine says President Trump is profoundly immoral and should be removed from office. What does this mean for the president's support among evangelicals?



BOLDUAN: The final Democratic debate of 2019 now in the history books. The stage was smaller, with only seven candidates making the cut. It allowed for some big moments.

For the first time, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a real target after rising in the polls. Buttigieg drew fire for his limited government experience and high-dollar donors.

His opponents zeroing in on a big-dollar fundraiser he held at a Napa Valley winery, making wine cave oddly the buzzwords of the evening.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): And I've never even been to a wine cave. I've been to the Wind Cave in South Dakota.

ANDREW YANG, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't have to go shake the money tree in the wine cave.


BOLDUAN: That wasn't even all of them.

Joining me now, Laura Barron-Lopez, CNN political analyst, national political reporter for "Politico," and Arlette Saenz, CNN political reporter.

Good to see you guys.

Laura, first, who knew what a wine cave was before last night, seriously?

But one of the biggest questions going into last night was whether or not Buttigieg would be the main target, first, and, second, how he would handle the incoming. What are the reviews you're seeing this morning?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Like you said, in the November debate, we were expecting the attacks to come then and they didn't. I think the candidates wanted to wait to see if Buttigieg had staying power. He seems to have that in Iowa and in New Hampshire. So this time around, they went at him.

I think he kind of absorbed a bit of the incoming. But those are definitely conversations I think will continue, especially the one between him and Warren about transparency. The core of it is about money in politics.

What was unique about that moment was, shortly after it, Warren's campaign issued a statement, which was very rare for them to do in the middle of a debate. They decided to that, which shows they're very much focused on this back and forthwith with Buttigieg right now.

BOLDUAN: It sure does.

Arlette, the candidate you've been following on the trail for the entire campaign, the frontrunner, Joe Biden, did not take so much incoming. And he's still the frontrunner looking at the polls. Does that surprise you? Did it surprise them? What does it mean?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I think the candidates heading into the debates have to calculate whether it's worth taking the risk of going after any of the candidates, but particularly the frontrunner.

As we've seen in the past, some of the candidates who have been vocal in their criticism of Biden on the debate stage, they're not there. Kamala Harris dropped out. Cory Booker didn't make the debate.


But Biden had his strongest debate performance to date so far. He wasn't facing the attacks. It was Pete Buttigieg who had the incoming fire. Biden was sharper, a bit more crisp in answers.

He gave a really strong answer when it came to talking about the need for bipartisan corporation. That's something he talks about on the campaign trail.

He also noted that he has a reason to be upset with Republicans, given the personal attacks against him and his family. He still believes they need to work together.

Another person who had a strong night was Amy Klobuchar. This format, the smaller debate stage, gave her the opportunity -- she's a lower- tier candidate -- to have a little more of the spotlight and make her case why her experience and track record of winning is going to be important as Democrats select their nominee.

BOLDUAN: Laura, I'll venture to say that wine cave is not going to be the driving issue of the race when we get to Iowa and New Hampshire. Where does everyone's focus turn now in terms of the campaigns?

BARRON-LOPEZ: We're in crunch time. Three of those seven that were on stage last night are going to have to spend a lot of time in Washington. It will be interesting to see how --


BARRON-LOPEZ: -- the coming Senate trial for candidates like Warren and Sanders and Klobuchar, how it works for them as they try to be in Iowa as much as possible in the final weeks.

I think what we'll see is them trying to zone in on their message, the very core pillars of their campaign arguments.

For Buttigieg, that's about unity and inclusion and being the moderate voice. For someone like Warren, that's focusing on her corruption platform, which is really at the core of his entire agenda.

BOLDUAN: Laura, great to see you.

Arlette, thanks so much.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, as Democrats attack the president., one reality is hard to ignore. The president has good news coming from the economy. And new poll numbers may have his challengers cringing right now.

We'll be right back.




PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: In the Trump economy here, we have wages going up, and primarily in the lower end of the income stream, the blue-collar workers. The Republican Party under President Trump has become the party of the working class.


BOLDUAN: That was White House trade adviser, Peter Navarro, this morning. The White House may have more fuel in that message with new poll numbers out that show Americans are more confident in the U.S. economy than they have been in nearly two decades.

And 76 percent overall consider economic conditions right now good or very good. That's the highest share to say that since February of 2001. Nearly seven in 10 expect the economy to be in good shape a year from now.

So with that good news on the economy, how do 2020 Democrats run against that when the economy is, of course, always part of the equation?

Let's discuss. Joining me is Jaime Harrison. He's associate chair of the Democratic National Committee, former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. He's now a Democratic candidate for Senate in South Carolina hoping to unseat Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Thanks for being here.


BOLDUAN: Talk to me about the poll numbers. When you look at these poll numbers, this is the highest share to say that the economy is good since February of 2001.

How do you or any Democrat run against that when we know the economy is a huge factor in everyone's vote?

HARRISON: I can tell you how I'm running against it in South Carolina. Just today, in the "New York Times," there was a story about north Charleston. And this is a city outside of Charleston, but it has the highest eviction rates in the country.

You have young parents, young folks getting ready for the holidays but now they have to move themselves and their kids and go to someplace else in order to live.

It's because the rents in north Charleston are increasing at astronomical rates, but the wages are so stagnant that people can't keep up. It's those types of hardships.

When you dig deep into the statistic and you go into some of these communities, particularly rural communities, the people are hurting.

But we have Senators like Lindsey Graham who are not focused on the issues that people are dealing with on a day to day basis.

The tariffs have decimated South Carolina. We have this small company in Allendale County where their tariffs increased from $200,000 a month to $1 million a month, where they had to lay people off.

There's a lot of hardship going on right now.

Wall Street may be doing well, K Street and Washington, D.C., may be doing well, but people on Main Street are still suffering. And those are the people I'm working for each and every day.

That's why we built this new movement. That's why Lindsey Graham -- we're only two points down from Lindsey Graham right now in this U.S. Senate race.

People are hungry for change. We're going to give them that change. We're going to bring hope back to South Carolina.

That's why I tell folks, come to


BOLDUAN: Let me ask you. Oh, geez. I just spilled water all over my desk. I'm sorry, Jaime.