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Senator Lisa Murkowski Is A Senator To Watch In An Impeachment Trial; All Eyes On Rotating List Of Senators To Watch In A Trial; Team Trump Hones In On Impeachment Messaging; CNN Poll: Donald Trump Approval Stays Steady Since Taking Office; Donald Trump Raises More Than $100 Million For Reelection. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 25, 2019 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: --this morning but in a break from tradition the Duke and Duchess of Sussex Harry and Megan, they're spending their holiday Canada in marking baby Archie's first Christmas they released an adorable Christmas card.

Thank you so much everybody for being here with us on the special edition Christmas edition of "At this hour". "Inside Politics" with Manu Raju starts right now.

MANU RAJU, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to a special holiday edition of "Inside Politics" Merry Christmas. I'm Manu Raju. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Republican Senator speaks out against GOP leadership, saying she's disturbed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's handling of the impeachment trial.

And Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi calls the House impeachment vote, "Inspiring", but President hopes it inspires his 2020 supporters. We look at the President's fiery campaign push. Today President Trump's message is a warm holiday wish sent alongside the First Lady.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We say a special prayer for those military service members stationed far from home and we renew our hope for peace among nations and joy to the world. On behalf of the entire Trump Family, we wish everyone a joyous and Merry Christmas and a very happy, happy New Year.


RAJU: We begin this hour with a key Republican Senator feeling, "Disturbed" after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to work in full coordination with the White House on an impeachment trial. Now it's been exactly one week since House Democrats voted to impeach President Trump on obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, those articles of impeachment of course still in the hands of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Congress right now is on a holiday recess leaving the impeachment issue at a full stalemate in Washington. Back home in Alaska, the moderate Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski tells CNN affiliate Katie about her reaction after hearing what McConnell said. She said "In fairness when I heard that I was disturbed. To me it means we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense. And so I heard what Leader McConnell's had said I happened to think that that was further confused the process".

A reminder of course that Senator Murkowski is on our list of key Senators to watch in the weeks to come. She's not up for reelection until 2022 but she has been known to break from party lines before including voting against Brett Kavanaugh the Supreme Court nominee.

Now here to share their reporting and their insights with us CNN's Lauren Fox and PRS's Tamara Keith and also Asma Khalid with NPR and from West Palm Beach, Florida Michael Shear with "The New York Times." Now, let's talk a little bit about Murkowski because she can raise concerns about the process but ultimately the key question is how does she vote? How does she vote on compelling witnesses to come testify?

Does she vote against any sort of rule that does not have a deal or witnesses and documents. How does she vote on acquittal? She also criticized House Democrats in her statement there too. It's not clear where she'll ultimately come down.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly and we have been trying to get Lisa Murkowski to talk us about sort of how she feels about witnesses? How she feels about what the President was accused of when it comes to the call between him and President Zelensky? And she really has avoided being in the spotlight.

This is notable because it's really the first time we have heard from her. And what she's saying there is essentially Ii don't like the way Mitch McConnell is conducting this process, but I didn't like the way Pelosi was conducting it either. I would just keep in mind that yes, she's an independent minded Republican here but she is not always someone who votes against the Republican Party line either so certainly someone to watch very unclear which way she'll fall in this impeachment trial.

RAJU: Yes. And that's what the Democrats are hoping that there will be this - at least four Republican Senators will break ranks they'll vote with the Democrats. That could lead to 51 votes to compel witness testimony. But look at the list of the Senators to watch here. It's hard to see where that four vote coalition comes across.

You have Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, yes, he is retiring but he also is close to the Republican Leadership. Susan Collins of Maine, she's over someone who is in the middle but tends to vote with the Republicans, she is up for reelection. Go down the list of those other Republican Senators.

Some of them need the President for their own reelection. You have Mitt Romney, who's been critical of the President. Where does that fourth vote come from? It seems like that would be difficult for Democrats to get. TAMARA KEITH, WHITE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Right, and as you mentioned,

initially there was a lot of talk of what about these Republicans who are up for reelection in purple to blue states like a Corey Gardener. If he loses Republicans, if President Trump starts campaigning against him, he has no winnable coalition.

He and some of the others have really been trying to thread this needle. President Trump has made it clear that he would see a vote against his wishes as a vote against him. Typically people are dead to him after that.

RAJU: Yes. And Republicans know that warning. They've seen that happen. Most of them don't run for reelection after they have crossed the President. The Republicans, how they've handled the course of the Ukraine saga has been interesting to watch. I've spent the last few months asking direct questions to Republican members about revelations that have been come up.

Was it okay for the President to ask for an investigation into his political rivals? Why didn't the President mentioned corruption on his phone call with President Zelensky even though this was apparently was what was seeking.


RAJU: When you get a chance to drill down on Republicans, ask them specifically about what has come out through the course of this scandal, you get this.


RAJU: Why don't you want to answer the question? Is it okay for the President to ask a foreign country to investigate the Bidens?

REP. MARK AMODEI, (R-NV): Our job is to look at a case if it comes over here, when it comes over here.

RAJU: But the President definitely asked for these investigations. Is that okay?

SEN, ROY BLUNT, (R-MO): There are probably a whole lot of countries that would like a meeting in the White House.

RAJU: Key strategic ally.

BLUNT: Suddenly they're a key strategic ally and I never heard that before the last eight weeks.

RAJU: that's almost like saying why don't you frame your questions differently. Why didn't the President mentioned the word corruption and instead asks Ukrainian President to investigate the Biden?

REP. SCOTT PERRY, (R-PA): Well, that's almost like saying why don't you ask frame your questions--

RAJU: Is it ever appropriate for a President to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival?

REP. DOUG COLLINS, (R) RANKING MEMBER: Let's stick to the facts. The President asked a country to participate in a case that happened in 2016. That's 100 percent legal.

RAJU: He also said Biden on the phone call he also said Biden.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It happens every day in America dealing with other countries.


RAJU: Now, Michael Shear you spent a lot of time also interviewing Republicans but when we get to the Senate trial, do the Republican Senators need to present a clearer defense of the President's actions or should we expect more the way the House Republicans have answered this, criticizing the process and then when you get to the merits, sidestep the question?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, look I think you're going to get a little bit of both. There are going to be some Republican Senators who are fierce allies of the President and they're going to give the same kind of answers that those folks gave you.

I do think that there might be others like Collins and Murkowski and some of the more independent minded Senators who are going to be more interested in coming to grips with the sort of meat of the case, the heart of the case. I think that's why we should all be very skeptical of the idea that Senator Murkowski and Senator Collins are actually going to vote with the Democrats on the process questions of sort of whether witnesses, the procedures of the trial, whether witnesses are called or not.

Because I think those are the kinds of votes that typically Senators, even independent minded Senators aren't likely to break with their leadership on. There's sort of a tradition in the Senate that those kinds of votes tend to be the procedural votes tend to be the ones that everybody sticks together.

Then I think when you get to the heart of the case, when it's actually on the floor of the Senate, you might get some Senators who are actually more interested in grappling with it.

RAJU: Now, if there is a prolonged standoff, this could actually step on the Democrats' message too. The Democrats have said the President is a clear and present danger. He needs to be removed from office. But the Speaker has withheld the articles saying she wants to understand what the Senate process is first before they could name Impeachment Managers. But Democrats have said they need to act now because of the urgent threat to the 2020 elections.


REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE, (D-TX): The President was engaged in wrongdoing and is a clear and present danger. REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA): The danger persists. The risk is real. Our

democracy is at peril.

REP. RICHARD NEAL, (D) CHAIRMAN: Impeachment is reserved for moments of grave danger when the constitutional order becomes dangerously out of balance, moments like this one.

REP. EARL BLUMENAUER, (D-OR): I'm pleased we're in no rush to send them over to Mitch McConnell to have an unfair, biased process.

REP. STEVEN COHEN, (D-TN): Speaker Pelosi does not want this to go on for a long time.

REP. DAN KILDEE, (D-MI): I think what the Speaker is trying to do is make sure that the trial itself is not a sham, that it's not a joke. This is not some sort of a rush job.

REP. AMI BERA, (D-CA): Minority Leader Schumer is doing the right thing trying to get those parameters set. I think Speaker Pelosi at the right time will send those articles over.


RAJU: Now that's going to be the question coming out of the recess. January 6th when the House returns they vote on January 7th is when how she is going to deal with this. She initially said after the impeachment vote she was hoping for a fair process, but then after when we pushed on it she got some backlash.

She said well, we want to know exactly what the process? We don't know who the managers are? That's the message she delivered to her caucus last time in the letter saying the House solemnly honored our oath of office by passing the articles of impeachment. It now remains for the Senate to present the rules under which we will proceed.

We can then appoint managers. The vote on the floor was over lawmaking inspiring and the number of people who want to be managers is indicative of her strong case. But it is interesting because she doesn't say in this letter we must have witnesses, we must have documents. That's the only way we'll turn over the articles. She's saying she needs to have understanding of what the process is? It sounds like it's only a matter of time before--

ASMA KHALID, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: It does, it does sounds like it's a matter of time but I think part of the difficulty for her is that this is sort of a political quagmire and it's political messaging at this point.


KHALID: The longer she delays the easier it is for Republicans on the counter you know attack to say well, look, if this was such a grave danger, why have you continued to delay this process? And that's a political argument, that's not really sort of a process argument that is just a political messaging argument. And so I do think the longer she delays for whatever reason, it just becomes a difficulty of messaging when you've got Republicans on the other side saying that if this was so important, why have you just continued to hold things up.

RAJU: Yes, and you've had especially some of these freshmen members who have been difficulty getting behind an impeachment inquiry let alone voting for impeachment. Now they're saying we need to get this out of our lap, let the Senate deal with it, this is not the House's issue anymore that will be something for the Speaker to deal with and in the weeks to come. Up next, Trump's big 2020 plans to cash in on impeachment.



RAJU: That's an ad from Team Trump released right before the holidays. The campaign tried to fire up supporters and cash in on opposition to the Democrats' impeachment push. Just take a look at the home page of from this morning a funder raising pitch to clearing "It is us against them in the impeachment war".

CNN's Boris Sanchez joins us live from West Palm Beach. Boris, President Trump is on vacation lots of visitors that you're hearing about. Tell us about those and it seems that impeachment still on the middle of his mind?

BORIS SANCHEEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right Manu. Impeachment has loomed over the President's time here during the Christmas holiday at Mar-a-Lago since he got here. He tweeted out a series of attacks on Democrats, clearly still upset about impeachment.

Last night as he was arriving at Mar-a-Lago ready for a Christmas Eve dinner, he was asked specifically about Nancy Pelosi. He was asked if he prayed for Pelosi while he attended church earlier in the day. Remember the President criticized Pelosi for saying that she prays for him. The President refused to answer the question, saying simply, "We're going to have a great year".

Notably about those guests you mentioned, a colorful crowd here at Mar-a-Lago as always. Yesterday cameras captured the President alongside Alan Dershowitz a staunch ally of the President a frequent defender of President Trump's policies a controversial figure to say the least and someone who's been speculated to potentially be joining the Trump Legal Team. So keep an eye out for that.

Also here Alex Ovechkin, the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals player captured on social media giving a jersey to President Trump last night. Manu.

RAJU: Boris Sanchez, keeping an eye on all the elements there and Florida with the President is vacationing thank you. Michael Shear, bringing you back into the conversation here, the President has been using of course impeachment as we set to rally his base, but what kind of impact are we seeing on independent voters? Of course the independent voters are the most significant in any election certainly in next year's election the key races. Are we getting a sense of whether it has really moved voters or moved voters themselves moved on?

SHEAR: Yes. Look, I mean, I think there is a couple of things. First of all, the polls have suggested that the sentiment of the general public has not really moved over the last several months as all of this has unfolded on Capitol Hill. You and I were there every day and we saw the ins and outs and the back and forth.

But the American public has remained remarkably steady. I think generally speaking in Democrats, Republicans and independents. I was struck actually there is no doubt that the President will use and is using impeachment to fund raise and he's on Twitter and he's angry about it. But I was actually struck on Saturday when he delivered a speech to a bunch of young conservative activists here in West Palm Beach, that he delivered a long - more than an hour long speech that really didn't dwell on impeachment.

It hit all of the highlights that we've come to be familiar with from immigration to all of the other fake news and the media and all of the stuff that we've heard from all of his "Make America Great" again rallies. And I suspect that that as soon as this is all over he will not forget about impeachment.

It will always be a part of the campaign, but I really think that we're going to see him go back to his greatest hits and the things that got him to the White House in the first place. That raises the question whether or not what all of this will amount to in the end when we're actually toward the end of 2020 and facing Election Day.

RAJU: Yes, painting himself as a victim clearly that has been his strategy from the campaign season to now. What's remarkable too is that just look at these poll numbers through the course of his Presidency - where you see revelation after revelation after revelation. The President has hovered in the high 30s, low 40s. Right now he's at 43 percent according to CNN's latest poll from December 12th, an uptick of a few points since September when he was dealing with all of the questions surrounding the impeachment scandal.

We've had the Mueller investigations, allegations the President obstructed Justice, tried to undermine that investigation. We've had revelations involving the President's dealings with the hush money scandal to keep quiet those alleged extramarital affairs. One thing after another the President remains steady at 37 to 43 percent.

KEITH: And here's the other thing. The economy is good. The unemployment rate is at a record low. The stock market is at a record high and Donald Trump's approval rating is in the 40s. It is truly remarkable. On the plus side he has all of these things. On the negative side he has all of these things.

Americans made up their minds about Donald J. Trump before he was elected, certainly by the time he was inaugurated. And they're not changing, it is a remarkable thing. There truly is nothing that is changing people's minds.


KEITH: Democrats are cemented against him. Republicans have really consolidated behind him. There haven't been many people straying from the President except the ones that were kind of against him from the start. And independents are pretty split. This is not normal.

RAJU: Yes. The question is you know he's maintained this unity among that base. What does he do with those people who are of course suburban voters? People who revolted during the midterm campaign?

The message from the Trump Campaign heading into 2020, they're already planning a very busy 2020, a couple events are already on the calendar heading into Florida, heading into Iowa, Ohio in January. But also the message is also they're trying to push on the issues of the economy, health care, impeachment. Let's see if the President can stick to those messages. This is what the campaign had put out on their website.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're enjoying the hottest and strongest economy this country has seen in 50 years. The U.S. has added more than 7 million new jobs since President Trump was elected. Remind your relative that the Democrats' proposed government takeover of health care would take away the health insurance of 180 million Americans. Impeaching President Trump has been all that Democrats can think of since day one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump asked for nothing in exchange for lethal military aid to Ukraine.


RAJU: So this is on a website launched by the campaign but some fact checking here. Of course, the Trump Administration is trying to kill the Affordable Care Act in court right now. That would include the preexisting conditions, protections that are included in that law. The President did ask for investigation into his political rivals.

Several witnesses testified they saw a link between that and the delay of military aid to Ukraine. The economy of course was on an upward trajectory toward the end of Obama's time in office. Is this an effective argument do you believe in trying to paint that contrast with Democrats when it comes to courting those independent voters?

KHALID: I mean, if he can stay on message around the economy, I would say it is largely an effective message in sort of key suburban swing districts. That is a message he tried to present in 2018 and spent a lot of time reaching out, connecting with Republican base voters in 2018.

And I think to Tam's point earlier, one of the things we did see is a consolidation of his support. Certainly there were districts across the board where he lost voters. But I would say when you spent time with evangelical voters, when he spent time with voters that said I voted for him because of the economy if anything they have felt vindicated because they have seen wins from him. I would argue that culture wars are something he has never been able to stay away from. He has already rating in that territory.

RAJU: It is a political clearly but if you're the Democrats, do you focus on impeachment? Do you go back to these domestic issues? Or do you focus on the chaos in the White House? How do you prosecutor the most effective argument against the President in 2020?

FOX: Well, I spent a lot of time talking to some of those moderate Democrats from places that President Trump won in 2016. Their message was really what they had won in the week during impeachment. They had passed the NDAA, basically a defense authorization bill. They also had passed USMCA a big trade bill that was good for their districts.

I had one moderate member who had passed this very sort of Arcane Bill that was tucked into the NDAA that he couldn't stop talking about because it helped his district. That's the kind of messaging you're going to hear from Democrats who have to win over the independent voters. They're not going to be talking about impeachment. In fact, many of them say you know I get some calls on that both positive and negative but that's by and large the economy is the bigger deal back home.

RAJU: Yes. The question is who can make that argument most effectively in 2020. It will be quite a year and it's also bit quite a year in Washington we'll review the biggest political stories of 2019. Stay with us.



RAJU: Welcome back. There's absolutely no shortage of action in U.S. politics in 2019 from the head to head battles between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump to the most diverse field of presidential candidates ever. CNN's Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash takes us inside the biggest political stories of the year.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It has been quite the year in politics. Here are the top nine political stories of 2019. It didn't get as many headlines as other big political stories, but make no mistake about it, the President's success in getting his judges on the bench will have implications for years to come.

Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who is focused like a laser on this the Senate confirmed a record 50 circuit court judges. McConnell took to Twitter posting that is already the most in any President's whole first term since 1980.


TRUMP: Constitution of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: President Trump announced his reelection campaign the day he was inaugurated a historically early start that his team took advantage of, raising more than $165 million, nearly 100 million in this year alone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's much more efficient two years out to try to find a possible donor. It's a consider advantage the other side won't have because you just can't replace time.