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Trump Again Attacks Pelosi/Democrats over Impeachment; Impeachment Stalemate Continues Between House & Senate; Murkowski Concerned about McConnell Coordinating with Trump Defense; Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) Discusses Impeachment, Murkowski Concerns, Stalemate Between House & Senate. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 26, 2019 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me.

We're less than a week away from the start of a new year. And today, we are less sure than ever about if and when a Senate impeachment trial will start, and no less confused about where exactly things are headed.

So, now that I've gotten that off my chest, all of this is to say that the waiting game is still the whole game right now, when it comes to this historic moment for the president and for the country.

And that is exactly where the president is focusing today. On Twitter, in typical fashion, hitting the House speaker and Democrats for, on one hand, claiming urgency of impeachment through the House. And on the other hand, and as he sees it, holding the process up in the Senate.

So, here is the sustained state of limbo where the process is currently stuck. The Senate, still waiting for Speaker Pelosi to send the articles of impeachment over before starting the trial there. But Pelosi is still waiting for the Senate majority leader to lay out the Senate trial procedure before doing so.

And so the back and forth continues.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some people think that she doesn't know what she's doing. A lot of people think that. A lot of people have said it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Leader McConnell has not come up with a single reason why we shouldn't have witnesses and documents. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Look, we're at an impasse. We can't do

anything until the speaker sends the papers over. So, everybody, enjoy the holidays.


BOLDUAN: Quite honestly, politics aside, we hope that you did all enjoy the holiday. On to the next. Because it is clearly going to be a wild start to the new year.

Joining me right now, CNN White House reporter, Sarah Westwood, in West Palm Beach, Florida, where the president is traveling, and senior congressional reporter, Lauren Fox, on the Hill.

Sarah, first to you.

The president has been up and at it this morning. What are you hearing from the White House?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Kate. President Trump clearly eager to get to his symbolic day in court.

While he is anxious to have the trial date and procedures set for his Senate trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is clearly not eager to get there. This week, he says he's not anxious to see the start of the trial.

He claims that Speaker Pelosi isn't really exercising any leverage because she's holding something over the head of the Senate that Republicans in the majority don't actually want to deal with.

Now, President Trump set aside his own views of what he thinks the trial should look like. Previously, he had advocated for something theatrical, something that had a lot of live witnesses. He doesn't just want to be acquitted by the Senate. He wants to be vindicated by this process.

But he made it clear again this week speaking to reporters, he's OK with what it is McConnell decides to do. But right now, President Trump is caught in a standoff between congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats over what the trial will look like.

President Trump, according to sources, spending time at his Mar-a-Lago resort, is agitated about the uncertainty surrounding the trial. Again, he just wants to get this over with.

In fact, some White House aides had hoped they would have the trial started before Christmas, that it would be going on right now. Obviously, that's not going to happen as Speaker Pelosi continues to hold the articles.

We've had no reaction from the White House yet to Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican, being critical of McConnell's handling of the trial so far.

Of course, the unanimity we saw in the house among Republicans, something as a point of proud for President Trump, so he's not likely to appreciate dissent among the ranks ahead of the trial -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's for sure.

It's good to see you. Thank you so much.

Lauren, even with the capitol being a ghost town right now, are you picking up any indications of what could break the stalemate when it comes to procedure?

LAUREN FOX, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, first things first. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, has to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. It's unclear when that will to take place. We don't know when that's going to happen.

But she's been very clear. She wants to how this process will be structured before she sends them over.

McConnell has made it clear, once he gets those articles of impeachment, Kate, he doesn't necessarily need Schumer's blessing to bring a resolution to the floor and get the process started.

I think that's significant given the fact that we may never see agreement between Chuck Schumer and McConnell when it the underlying question of whether or not there are witnesses or not.

McConnell has made it clear he wants the Democrats' to lay out their case, the president's lawyers to lay out their case. Then they would have a decision to make about whether or not they need witnesses.

Democrats want to hear from witnesses. And Chuck Schumer saying he would force a vote on with the witnesses. Democrats don't have the votes to force witnesses to come forward. What they would have to do is a coalition of four Republicans.


Despite Lisa Murkowski's comments, I'm not sure there's enough Republicans to actually get a witness request over the finish line -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: One thing we do know for sure, there's no way of getting any of it until these folks decide to come back to the Hill and start getting after it.

Thanks, guys. Really appreciate it

Joining me now, is Pete Seat, a former White House spokesman for the George Bush administration and former spokesman for the Indiana Republican Party. CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen. And CNN political analyst, congressional reporter for the "Washington Post," Karoun Demirjian.

It's good to see you guys. Thank you for being here.

Karoun, who benefits from, as we put it earlier, a sustained state of limbo on impeachment? KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, at this point, I think

Democrats are hope they go will benefit by having new evidence come forward and by putting more public pressure on Republicans by giving basically - we're in a period of time where nothing new is coming up, except a few new documents and the president is having time to stew in Mar-a-Lago.

I think what they're banking on is the fact that this pregnant pause, basically, ups the pressure, maybe gives them a little more to put on the pile of evidence and say, look, we need to actually review this, you need to review this yourselves in the Senate.

But I think Republicans, on the other hand, are just kind of hoping that nothing else comes up so that they can be in the same place as before and Pelosi will feel so much pressure back in January to substantiate the impeachment process by sending the articles over, that she'll have to blink and do it anyway.

It's difficult to say who is going to win because not very much is happening now. And we're digging into that standoff. It's not really the people, the Senators, but it's the rank and file around the edges that are doing to be the ones to potentially flinch.

BOLDUAN: Yes, also, when it comes to the Senate, we often use the terms, leadership, rank and file, kind of a show of the order of seniority in the Senate.

When it comes to this, everyone's got an equal vote. There's no seniority. Everyone has their own vote to make a decision. That's everyone is looking at when we come back. And that's where Republicans and Democrats stand.

Hillary, as a Democrat, what do you say of the president's take? I read the tweet earlier. And I've heard it from other Republicans, which is there was urgency getting the impeachment through the House because there was a national security threat. Democrats believe that national security threat was/is President Trump.

But now that urgency doesn't seem to be there. That coming from the president.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, the president's wrong. All Speaker Pelosi is saying is it's the House's responsibility to kind of manage the trial in the Senate. They have to appoint House managers. And she doesn't want to be a part of a sham.

And what happened immediately after the House passed impeachment, is you saw Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, say to, you know, the country, no, we're actually supposed to be the jury. But we're going to coordinate all of our activities with the defendant here in the trial.

So, I think that the speaker is just looking for a sense from the Senate that they need to be honest with the American people, honest with the Constitution and do a fair process. And you saw a Republican Senator this week say the same thing.

Effectively, Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska, admonished Mitch McConnell to stop talking like that. It doesn't help Republican Senators when their leader starts saying that they're not interested in a fair trial.

So, I think that Speaker Pelosi is going to move this along. I don't think she has any incentive to delay this, you know, a single day when Congress comes back.

But I think by doing what she's done, she's forced everybody to realize that, in fact, you know, the Republicans and the president are the ones not looking for all the facts.

BOLDUAN: You know, Pete, as Hilary raises, Lisa Murkowski, Lisa Murkowski knows that everyone is watching her every word. And her speaking out, to say that she is disturbed by how McConnell is handling things and coordinating with the White House, what do you think she is really saying?

PETE SEAT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN FOR GEORGE BUSH ADMINISTRATION: Well, we're focusing on that one word "disturbed." But, if you read the entire article, the local interview she did in Alaska, she agrees with Mitch McConnell that we should use -- that the Senate should use the Clinton impeachment rules. She's on the same page, singing from the same song sheet.

So, we're focusing on this one word, when it turns out they're actually in agreement on this as of now. We'll see if others come forward. I doubt that will be the case. You know, if Murkowski is able to cobble together some coalition of more moderate Republicans that go to McConnell and say we're concerned.

But it but it sounds like they're all but it sounds like they're all on the same page.


And to piggyback on what Hilary was talking about, the House doesn't get to dictate how the Senate impeachment trial is conducted, just like the Senate cannot tell the House how to conduct the impeachment inquiry itself. The idea that Nancy Pelosi and the House can tell Mitch McConnell and his caucus how to do this is farcical.

This is all political. It's a political process. Not a criminal trial proceeding. And they're just playing politics with this delay.

BOLDUAN: But, I think -- I mean, let's all be --


ROSEN: It's politics.


BOLDUAN: It is politics on both sides. (CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: Right. It's a political process and I think that's what Pelosi's saying.


ROSEN: And I think that it turns into a negative political process for the American people if they feel like Republicans don't take it seriously.

I think most Americans are actually baked in on this, right? I think 45 percent of the country thinks Donald Trump shouldn't be impeached and removed from office, 45 percent think he should.

You know, what everybody's playing for is kind of that middle. And that middle is likely not going to have their say until November.

But how Senators conduct this, the credibility they have, will have an impact, not just on President Trump's election, but on several Republican Senators who are actually vulnerable this next cycle in Colorado, in Maine, in Arizona.

We saw that with Kavanaugh hearings and vulnerable Democrats.


ROSEN: I think we're going to see the same thing here with Republicans being very careful.

BOLDUAN: That's why this is by definition one of those votes that follows you.


BOLDUAN: No matter if, no matter how closely the voting public is paying attention to the procedure that is playing out on a day-to-day basis, the vote, in the end, and how you vote, is one of these things that will follow you.

And I can promise, anybody who's been watching this, obviously, has been a student of Donald Trump from any period of time, you know, one thing we know is that Donald Trump cares about -- you know he's paying attention to what Lisa Murkowski is saying, Karoun, because he has been touting over and over again that there no Republican defections. There was unity when it came to the House vote.

And even though we have no way of extrapolating from the interview that Lisa Murkowski did to how she's going to vote in the end, you know he's paying attention. He cares very much about it.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, we were just saying the fight is over the middle, right? The middle doesn't exist in a very obvious way in the House the way it does in the Senate. It's a handful of Senators. Most of them, Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski. Lisa Murkowski being the ultimate GOP Senator that ultimately voted against Kavanaugh in the end.

These are swing votes that are not going to change the outcome of this. I don't think you have 20 Republicans that are actually going to be able to vote to convict Donald Trump and oust him in office.

But they could change the political process that we go through. That matters because, if you have enough of those middle GOP Senators, the moderates say, look, I can't sell my constituents -- they're going to be re-electing me, in Collins' case, in a few short months, that it's a fair trial if we don't see witnesses.

You could have that blockbuster John Bolton witness moment or Mick Mulvaney, or something that the House doesn't actually do, that didn't grab the American viewing public.

And that's what's at stake right here. It's making that last political argument through some of these witnesses that have managed to stay out of the fray because of the White House orders, whether they get brought into this, and that imprint is on voters' minds.

Ultimately speaking, we're not talking about so many swingable Senators that it's maybe going to change the outcome of this whole process.

BOLDUAN: Exactly right.

Still, everyone, buckle up, January 6th, when they come back, it's going to be a wild ride, as Kate says, the biggest understatement of the year.

Good to see you guys. Thank you so much.

Pete, it's good to see you. I was back in Indiana and I did not see you. It was a travesty.

Thanks for being here.

SEAT: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.


Coming up, you heard from political analysts. But where do top Democrats in the House stand when it comes to impeachment? One of them joins me, next.



SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): In fairness, when I heard that, I was disturbed. To me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense. And so, I heard what Leader McConnell had said. I happen to think that has further confused the process.


BOLDUAN: That is Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski talking about impeachment. But what is the Senator really saying?

Is that the first sign of a crack in the Republican support of the president when it comes to impeachment? Or is that a Senator playing hard to get, politically, when she knows everyone is watching her every word? Or yet another option, is that a Senate juror actually just making the case that she wants to remain impartial until the trial begins?

Here with me now Democratic congressman from New York, Gregory Meeks. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks for being with me.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Good to be with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: You're tasked as being the translator, the Lisa Murkowski translator. When you heard Senator Murkowski say that -- as a backdrop, you have been on Capitol Hill for a long time. When you see a statement from the Senator like that, when she knows that her words are going to be watched, what do you take from that?

MEEK: She has concern. Seriously concerned when you hear your majority leader saying he's going to work hand in hand with the White House. You know, facts doesn't matter. What he's going to do is orchestrate the trial with what the White House wants and how they want to do it. That, taking that oath of office, that they will have to take shortly.


BOLDUAN: Do you see it, though, as a crack in Republican support of the president in terms of impeachment, or could she be talking about the perception of the procedure?

MEEKS: Well, I think what she's concerned about, and I think she should be concerned about it, as well as every Senator, which they would have to look at, is how they will be perceived now and in the future. Not only for what takes place right now, but how will history record them.

I often say that the camera of history is rolling. And it's going to watch to see what they're doing or not doing. Whether the truth and seeking evidence is really trying to be obtained or not.

So, I think she's concerned about what the perception will be of this process and how she and other Senators will look in the eyes of history.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about the process then. Has anyone been talking since the House and Senate left Washington? I'm not even asking for the content of the conversations. I'm talking actual contact.

Pelosi/McConnell, Schumer/McConnell. I mean, Pelosi/Schumer, even, since everyone's been away in their districts?

MEEKS: Well, I can't say for sure. I would imagine that Schumer has talked to McConnell. I mean, generally, that kind of language, that kind of conversation would take place during this break.

I would also imagine that Nancy has talked to Chuck. That's something that's -- you know, if not just about this, but we've got a whole lot of other work that we're looking to do.


MEEKS: We've got a lot of bills that we want to pass that we've passed that we want to get through the House. There's a substantial work to get done when we get back.

I would imagine if it's not about the impeachment, they're talking about the work we've to get done in both the House and the Senate.

BOLDUAN: And it's hard to that until you get through this huge moment in history in terms of the Senate trial.

And I know, and you have said this to me many times that, yes, any House majority can walk and chew gum at the same time. This is a huge moment in history when the Senate trial would begin.

When it comes to that, you need House managers to be named. Speaker Pelosi in the letter she sent to , as were you all leaving for the holiday, she said that, "The number of people who want to be managers is indicative of our strong case."

Do you want to be one of those managers for the Senate trial?

MEEKS: No, I don't, you know. If called to duty, you do it, of course.


MEEKS: I mean, I'm a former prosecutor. But you do want to know the proceedings. It's like if you are going to play baseball, you want to know the rules before you get in there.

And what Nancy wants to be clear about is, is this legitimate. Is this real? Are we going to really try to get to the facts to the truth? Or are we --


BOLDUAN: Did she ask your advice on -- if she would ask your advice on what type of person, what type of member you would recommend to be a House manager which would be a huge role, what would your recommendation be?

MEEKS: Well, we've got great talent. I mean, one of the things that --


BOLDUAN: I'm not letting you get out of this. You have got to describe something.


BOLDUAN: You can't say everybody.

MEEKS: No, we've got great talent. Because you look at the backgrounds of individuals, who have done this type of work before, who is -- maybe has been a trial lawyer or a prosecutor, in that regards, who understands how to question a witness. That's the kind of person that you want.

Who has the communication skills to try to make sure that you are conducting yourself in a manner that would uphold what we -- or what we want to be and want to see members of the United States Congress?

BOLDUAN: President tweeted this morning, hitting on something that I've heard from other Republicans, that there was this sense and declared urgency in moving the process forward in the House. Because, as Democrats have said, there was a real national security threat presented, which was the President Trump when it came to, obviously, what happened -- with what happened with Ukraine, and looking to 2020.

But then, what I'm hearing from Republicans and the president, on the other hand, is then there's this real or perceived lack of urgency in pushing forward, allowing the process to move forward in the Senate.

How do you square that?


MEEKS: Well, I square it this way. By the facts. There's only one person that has been trying to obstruct this process. Only one. And that's the president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: But the House moved ahead, even with that in mind.


MEEKS: Because it is the House's responsibility -- you know, I know this is not an actual trial. This is a process within our system. And it's political in nature. But an actual process to break it down, to equate it, what we did was basically issue an indictment. And when you're indicting, you don't have to go through all of the rigorous procedures that you need to go through when you're at a trial.

We put forward and had enough facts from enough credible witnesses to indict. There was reasonable cause to indict this president for the two counts that he were impeached with.

BOLDUAN: But if there's urgency in that, why isn't there urgency in getting those articles to the Senate to move it forward before today? Well, if in fact, what the urgency -- what is necessary is to know

what the process is.


MEEKS: And that's what Nancy is asking. Tell me what the process is. If we knew what the process was, then there would be an urgency to get it over. But you don't want to do something unless you know what the process is. You need to know what the rules before you engage.

He's already said -- everyone knows you've got to take an oath of office before the Senate trial begins. He's already said he's not going to abide by that oath. He said it.

BOLDUAN: Let us see what happens January 6th. Until we when you get that call to be House manager.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Congressman, for coming in, Congressman. Have a happy holiday.

MEEKS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, it's one of the most important issues to voters in the 2020 presidential election. It has been the topic of probably the fiercest topic in the Democratic primary. Now Pete Buttigieg's health care plan may create a whole new point of contention.

We'll be right back.