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INSIDE POLITICS

Standoff Over Senate Trial Likely To Last Weeks; Stocks On Track To Mark Another Record High; 2020 Democratic Candidates Take A Break From The Campaign Trail For The Holidays. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 24, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00]

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): ... at the very minimum will require votes from all the senators on each of the witnesses, and about each of these sets of documents, and I don't think my colleagues, Democrat or Republican, are going to want to vote to withhold evidence in such an important trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that's a no-go for him. Now, Republican sources tell me that McConnell is open to going to the floor without Schumer's support on a rule that would lay down the ground rules for a trial.

And during the Clinton trial, John Bresnahan that was not -- that didn't happen there. They cut a bipartisan deal. It was approved a hundred to zero, it laid out the ground rules of the debate.

But the rub here is that Chuck Schumer wants a deal first of witnesses and documents to be agreed to as part of the rule setting the ground rules.

Mitch McConnell says let's put off those issues to at a later date and Republicans are in line with what McConnell is seeking here. Do you sense that this is going to lead -- if there's any chance that McConnell and Schumer could come to a deal here?

JOHN BRESNAHAN, CONGRESSIONAL BUREAU CHIEF, POLITICO: I don't know, I think it's too early to tell. I think McConnell wants to see how this plays. He wants to use the Clinton model, as you know how the Senate proceeds on this impeachment trial.

And what he is saying is in 1999, there was no deal for witnesses when they came to the floor. You have to also remember in 1999, then Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott, he didn't want to trial. He wanted to get rid of it if he could have.

And in this case, Schumer and Daschle didn't want a trial. Of course, Senate Minority -- then send Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle, he was the Democratic leader, he didn't want a trial either. In this case, Schumer does want a trial. I mean, everything -- every

day he gets, you know, impeachment trial is a win for Democrats in the way Schumer sees it.

So I think, you know, as we talked about before, I think -- I'm not sure McConnell would try and go and say, just force it unless he can convince his swing member -- his swing State Republicans that you know, this is the way to do this. I mean, there's great -- regardless --

RAJU: Yes, and that's the question.

BRESNAHAN: Right, yes.

RAJU: And that's the question.

BRESNAHAN: Yes. Big risk, yes.

RAJU: And we actually have a list here of the possible senators to watch here in an impeachment trial, the people who could actually break ranks. We will see.

Most of them are holding their cards close to their vest. A lot of them have a reason to do that. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee being one of them. He is someone who is Republican who is retiring, a very close ally to Mitch McConnell, someone who has yet to say exactly how he will come down some of these questions.

Susan Collins of Maine, of course up for reelection; Joni Ernst of Iowa, although she told me last week she does not want to hear from Mick Mulvaney. She does not want to hear from John Bolton as Chuck Schumer wants. Cory Gardner of Colorado in a difficult re-election race, probably the most vulnerable Republican in the Senate.

Martha McSally of Arizona, but she needs the President supporting her primary. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She has broken with the President, including voting against the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Mitt Romney, he is someone who's a frequent critic of the President.

Thom Tillis, he's a North Carolina Republican, but he needs the President's support in his reelection. He has aligned himself increasingly and you see the three Democrats there.

Lauren, it's hard to see where the four votes come from, because each of them generally are going to side with the President in some of these key questions.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS U.S. CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER And one of the most remarkable shifts I sort of saw in the Senate was early on, when McConnell was talking about a short trial, you heard some moderate Republicans arguing, well, perhaps we need to see how this will go and perhaps we want to hear from more people.

Over time, that started to shift because the reality of having to vote on witnesses that's not just Democratic witnesses, perhaps they would have to vote on, it could be some Republican witnesses like a whistleblower. That becomes very contentious for someone like Susan Collins, who is in the well of the Senate and has to make a decision about whether or not she wants to vote with the President, who wants to hear from the whistleblower or whether or not that would be problematic for some of those independent voters she needs to win back in Maine.

RAJU: And Susan Collins is an interesting case study in all of this because she's always typically a sought after vote. She typically votes with Republicans. She breaks ranks every once in a while. She's a rare moderate in the Republican side of the aisle.

She is up for reelection in a state where it's leaning Democratic, but she also needs a Republican base. Trump will be competing for the one electoral vote in that state. So whether she breaks for the President remains to be seen.

There was an interesting tweet that was from a couple days ago when Lindsey Graham was saying that Susan Collins showed unbelievable courage during Kavanaugh's confirmation, had a steady voice. And then just last night, Trump retweets that and says, "I agree 100%."

Perhaps working the jury, potentially, the President needs to keep these Republicans on his side.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think what is so fascinating about that list that you put on the screen, Manu, is how it seems as though each one of these members has a really different view of this, and it impacts each one of their situations so differently.

For some like Mitt Romney, and maybe Lamar Alexander, someone like that, it's about their legacy. For someone like Cory Gardner and Susan Collins, it is about this upcoming election. For someone like Lisa Murkowski, who knows what her motivation is behind all of this.

And I think that's part of the challenge that Mitch McConnell has in front of him. You know, hurting these cats in all -- in the same direction, and that's why I think he is increasingly more interested in getting this done quickly with as little drama as possible.

[12:35:06]

RAJU: And some groups have tried to take advantage of the uncertainty here including a Republican outside group that opposes the President, putting up this ad targeting some key senators including Alexander, Romney, Collins and Murkowski saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Key witnesses in the Ukraine scandal must testify in the Senate impeachment trial. These witnesses include Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, Mike PompeO, and John Bolton. Call Senator Romney and tell him these witnesses must testify.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: You think that will work, Margaret?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Romney is a good one. If you're going to make a bet, maybe Romney is the right guy to make the bet on.

Well, I think when you're talking about what could be brought into the Senate trial, you talk about witnesses and documents as a badge, but they really are two different things and the documents are much less volatile in terms of kind of what could happen on the stand.

They are important though because it goes to these questions about executive privilege and that it could create a precedent. It could create a precedent for the Executive Branch, not for the Senate.

So if I were Mitch McConnell and I was looking to make a deal, I might blink first on the documents before I blinked on the witnesses.

RAJU: And we'll see if there's any deal to be had. Right now, it doesn't seem that way. But a lot of questions in the days ahead.

Next, the stock market soars on track to hit another record high today and the President of course, weighs in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:51]

RAJU: Topping our political radar today, the Defense Department has identified the U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan as Sergeant First Class Michael J. Goble. The 33-year-old was from Washington Township, New Jersey.

He was assigned to the Army's First Battalion out of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for Goble's death, even as peace negotiations between the group and the U.S. continue.

On Wall Street, it is a shortened trading day for Christmas Eve, but stocks are on track to get another record. Markets closed yesterday in all-time high and no surprise, President Trump weighed in on the state of the economy from Mar-a-Lago during a teleconference with members of the military this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But our country has never done better economically. We just set a stock market record yesterday. That would be the 135th in less than three years of my presidency.

So we've never had an economy anywhere close to this. Our unemployment numbers are the best we've ever had. The African- American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, the numbers are incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So this is clear, the message that the President wants to convey heading into reelection. But can he stay on message and focus on the economy? Those are -- that's the area that he gets the best polling numbers, but he gets diverted very quickly. Can he stay on message? There's no signs that he --

NOBLES: Well, that is a big question. It is the number one feather in his cap going into this campaign. And traditionally, if you're a Republican President with a good economy, you're on a fast track to re-election.

And it also has put a lot of these Democratic candidates in a difficult position, right? And 2020 is my main beat right now. And you see, these Democratic candidates have to explain away these good economy numbers and essentially saying, you know, despite that the stock market is at a record number, we are at full unemployment. Really, it's not that great out there.

And I think that is somewhat of a gamble to make that argument to people because you're not inside each one of these homes and you really can't tell what people's bottom line is.

If you're essentially trying to convince people that the economy isn't as good as it actually is. You know, that could end up determining who wins or loses the election.

The question is, as you mentioned, Manu, can President Trump continue to focus on that and not these other outside distractions.

RAJU: Yes, we'll talk more about that in the segment ahead. And a quick programming note, if you're looking for New Year's Eve plans, one epic night, two best friends ring in the New Year with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen. New Year's Eve Live begins at 8:00 p.m. on CNN.

But before we go to break, just a quick check in on what we know you're focusing on right now, my kids, certainly and some of you are, Santa's Christmas Eve progress. You're looking at live pictures right now of NORAD which is tracking Santa's flight. You can see him right now over Russia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:47:42]

RAJU: Right now, the 2020 Democratic candidates take a break from the campaign trail for the holidays. But it's not a break from trying to sway those elusive, undecided voters.

Senator Elizabeth Warren's campaign went so far to e-mail her supporters, "When you're catching up with people you haven't seen in a while, it's the perfect time to talk to them about why you're on Team Warren, too."

Now, many people may want to avoid talking politics for the Holiday, clearly, because they don't. But for a lot of voters, there is a sense that the time is now to really consider their vote.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg have been courting one slice of that group -- the moderates.

So CNN's Jeff Zeleny, spent time with both men and the voters somewhat torn in the middle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I'm going to have to look at is with Mayor Pete, is -- how could he be effective? Would he be as effective as Joe Biden in the healing part of it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe's got the age on Mayor Pete, too and that's part of his experience. I think Mayor Pete can step in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We already had years of Joe, so I know what he can do. With Pete, I feel good about all of his ideas and he is so articulate. I love that, too. So what's a guy to do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Ryan, you spent a lot of time in Iowa, how fluid is the race right now?

NOBLES: It's really fluid right now, Manu, but what I think is starting to develop here is a consolidation of the moderate and progressive wings of the base.

And the question here is, do both sides retreat to one candidate and we end up with a two-person race by the end of Iowa? Or is the factions going to continue to be dispirited? And you're going to see folks who say, well, no, I think Pete Buttigieg is a better carrier of the moderate message than Joe Biden.

And on the other side, Elizabeth Warren, maybe better than Bernie Sanders or vice versa. And, you know, there's still a lot of enthusiasm right now. But it's incredible, even at this point in how many of these events I'm going to an Iowa where you still have many undecided voters showing up.

RAJU: And clearly, the candidates are taking advantage of it. Here, looking at the top four candidates by total events, John Delaney, who is nowhere in the polls, but has had 237 events over 83 days. There, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Bernie Sanders have had a ton of events --

NOBLES: Bernie Sanders planning on spending New Year's Eve in Des Moines.

RAJU: Wow. A lot of them maybe moving there. Maybe --

NOBLES: A party that ends at 9:00 p.m.

RAJU: Right.

[12:50:10]

RAJU: There you go. You think Iowa is going to be just as effective -- just as much of a significant stage, this time around? These past days? But given the crowded field, is it really going to have this much of an impact? Or do you think this race could draw on even after Iowa?

TALEV: Yes, I think it has an impact. It's the first major contest. It's the contest where you spend the most sort of time on the ground. But because it's such a crowded primary, there is certainly the possibility that you have different voters in Iowa than you have in New Hampshire than you have in South Carolina than you have in Nevada.

And so many choices that people -- it's just not -- it's just not clear yet. And that's why you see strategies like the Bloomberg strategy that's betting, that thinks there's a good enough chance that after three or four contests, it's not completely locked in. The momentum is not entirely behind one or two people --

RAJU: Which hasn't worked before. But maybe they'll work this time.

TALEV: Well, no one has ever had the --

RAJU: No one has ever had that kind of money.

BRESNAHAN: It's just so big.

RAJU: No question about it and we can see it is thinning on the field, too pretty soon. Michael Bennet, the Colorado Senator has not had done -- haven't had much traction in this race sent an e-mail -- his campaign did -- yesterday to supporters saying that he needs $700,000.00 in order to launch an aggressive paid media and organizing program in New Hampshire.

They are saying that they will be forced to make some decisions if they fail to reach that goal, but Lauren, these senators are going to have the difficult choice or they'll be forced to stay in Washington if this trial takes place in the Senate impeachment trial in January. They could lose some key time courting these voters in Iowa.

FOX: Yes, I was asking Dick Durbin who is the Democratic Whip about this exact issue. Are you hearing from members who need to be back on the campaign trail? And he said, look, I'm telling them what I'll tell you right now. This is your first responsibility. It is to be here and be part of the Senate impeachment trial.

Yes, they're probably going to lose some time on the ground in Iowa. And of course, I think some Republicans and the President might be thinking about that as well.

Well, but this is their responsibility. They are going to be in the Senate for this impeachment trial without cell phones and without being able to talk for penalty of being removed from the Senate chambers. That's where we are.

RAJU: Yes. They will talk, I'm sure, afterwards but not to voters. NOBLES: But, Manu --

RAJU: We are going to see how much of an impact. We'll talk more about that. Before we go to break, Senator Cory Booker is known for his dad jokes on the trail until he shared some of his best seasonal zingers. Brace yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What did the car say to the dreidel? Let's go for a spin.

What do you call a cat on the beach during Christmas? Sandy Claus.

Why does Santa have three guards? Because he likes to ho-ho-ho.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:57:10]

RAJU: Congresswoman Cynthia Axne, actually one of the vulnerable House Democrats is back home in her House district after voting yes, on both Articles of Impeachment.

Now, the "Associated Press" caught up with her during a Town Hall Saturday where impeachment was not a top issue, saying quote, "I get plenty of feedback. We get plenty of calls into our office from folks who are on both sides. Iowans care about the issues. They may not agree with my vote on impeachment, but they have bigger things to worry about."

Now, she is one of the 31 House Democrats who won in states and the districts that the President carried in 2016. She is a freshman. She won. But what does it tell you, John that this was not a major issue in her Town Hall.

Now one Town Hall doesn't mean everything. But do you think this is really going to be a defining issue for these House Democrats in difficult districts who voted yes on impeachment.

BRESNAHAN: I think it will be. I don't think it will be maybe the one issue. I mean, look, Trump is going to be the dominant issue in 2020. And for anybody, a Republican or Democrat on the ticket is you know, are you for Trump? Are you against Trump? Where are you on Trump?

So I mean, I think it's going to be -- impeachment may not be by itself alone, but how do you respond to Trump when you vote? How did you act in response to what he did? Did you, you know -- were you for him or against him?

So I mean, he is such a dominant figure that, you know, that will be the issue.

RAJU: Yes, and there are --

BRESNAHAN: Trump is the issue.

RAJU: Yes, exactly. And one of the interesting thing is that a poll that was taken by NPR and PBS testing Midwest voters, of course, important key battleground in the 2020 election for the President, for keeping the House Majority for the Democrats.

They tested the issues that are important to the voters. Now, impeachment was not asked as part of this, but it did register economy at 35 percent, healthcare 26 percent, 11 percent and 10 percent. And then for immigration and so on, education and gun policy rounding out the top five.

What does that tell you about kind of where we are heading into 2020? With the President's reelection? Him being impeached? The one President who is facing reelection being impeached? How much do you think that eventually turns the electorate to come --

NOBLES: I actually think that what it shows us is that impeachment doesn't matter, whether you are being for or against it. And I think that's one of the most remarkable things being on the campaign trail, is how little the topic of impeachment is even brought up.

And I'm talking about in Democratic circles, even if you're in Republican areas. This is not the dominating concern for most Americans. It doesn't affect their daily lives. They are far more concerned about jobs, healthcare, you know, what's impacting their kids on a day-to-day basis, climate change, how they pay for college -- those kind of things.

So, you know, I think there is some political expense that both sides are going to have to suffer for this. But the idea that this will be the dominating issue that decides the 2020 election, I think remains to be seen.

RAJU: And that's explains why that Nancy Pelosi has made it so clear that she does not want to talk about impeachment. She constantly talks about her domestic agenda, and one reason why they pushed to get impeachment done.

TALEV: And move back to healthcare, which is what --

BRESNAHAN: And always that trade bill.

RAJU: Yes, okay, we've got to go. Thanks for joining us on this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

[13:00:10]

END