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Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) Interviewed on House Republicans' Inability to Pass Defense Appropriations Bill as Potential Government Shutdown Looms; U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to Testify to Congress on Accusations of Weaponization of Justice Department; Pennsylvania's Governor Announces State Will Automatically Register Eligible Voters Upon Issue of State I.D. or Driver's License; Pennsylvania Governor Launches Automatic Voter Registration, Fareed Zakaria's Exclusive Interview with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 08:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. So glad you're with on this Wednesday.

Let's get started with five things to know. In just hours, Attorney General Merrick Garland will testify publicly in front of the House Judiciary Committee. What we just learned is that he plans to tell lawmakers accusing him of weaponizing the Justice Department.

MATTINGLY: We are just 10 days away from a potential government shutdown and infighting within the Republican Party is threatening hopes for any deal. We'll check in on that.

HARLOW: All eyes on the Federal Reserve today. Officials there set to decide whether to keep the pause or raise interest rates. The Fed will also release a fresh set of economic projections.

MATTINGLY: And Iran's president sitting down with CNN's Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview. We'll show you his response to the five Americans freed this week and the $6 billion in unfrozen assets that were part of the deal.

HARLOW: And striking writers and the heads of Hollywood studios get back to the negotiating table today hoping to iron out a new contract after more than four months without a deal.

This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts now.

The U.S. government will run out of money September 30th. What day is today?

MATTINGLY: It's the 20th. That's not a lot of time.

HARLOW: Ten days. Ten Days. Next Sunday. Only 10 days from now. MATTINGLY: That is unless Congress can get its act together and pass

a bill at least on the stopgap side of things to keep the lights on. But infighting among House Republicans, that has certainly stalled the process.


REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): This is not conservative Republicanism. This is stupidity. The idea that we're going to shut the government down when we don't control the Senate, we don't control the White House, it's a clown show.

REP. VICTORIA SPARTZ (R-IN): I offered to help, but ultimately it's the decision of a leader, if leaders want to lead or not.

REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): I don't know whether we will have the votes or not, because I've got a lot of conservative friends who like to beat their chest and thump around going, oh, this isn't pure enough.


MATTINGLY: Joining us now is Republican Congressman from California David Valadao. He's a member of the House Appropriations and Budget committees, so he's been in the thick of the spending process throughout the course of this year. Certainly, the deadline is approaching. Sir, you are not considered a firebrand. You're not considered a show horse type on Capitol Hill. As you look at things right now behind the scenes, is there going to be a shutdown in 10 days?

REP. DAVID VALADAO (R-CA): Well, we really hope not. Obviously, there is a lot of us who are working behind the scenes trying to find a way to make this get through. But as you all saw yesterday, there was about five members that voted against their party and, sadly, we are getting closer and closer to that day.

MATTINGLY: To that point, you said something, you were quoted earlier this week where you were talking about the appropriations process, the committee and the work they have done. You basically made the point they are not even willing to support the defense appropriations bill. That's supposed to be the easy one. And to that point, did you ever think you'd be in a place where Republicans wouldn't be able to coalesce behind a Republican defense spending bill?

VALADAO: No. This one is a totally new one for us. And obviously, it's frustrating for all of us.

MATTINGLY: I think a lot of that frustration has filtered out. I know there was a lot behind closed doors, but certainly we've heard some publicly. Your colleague, Congressman Mike Lawler has been very clear about his views, but I want to play -- you heard it earlier. I want to play something else he said. Listen.


REP. MIKE LAWLER, (R-NY): This is not conservative Republicanism. This is stupidity. The idea that we are going to shut the government down when we don't control the Senate, don't control the White House.

These people can't define a win. They don't know how to take "yes" for an answer. It's a clown show. You keep running lunatics, you're going to be in this position.


MATTINGLY: You're not known to be as fiery in how you describe your colleagues, but to that point, do you agree? Is his assessment kind of spot on in the reality right now?

VALADAO: The reality is I think there are some members that probably will never ever get to a yes. And I think we went into that knowing that. But we have to go through the motions, we have to try to pass the bills. And obviously, they keep talking about continuing to move appropriations bills. But the same people who are saying that are the ones voting against the rule to bring the appropriations billings to the floor. And if we can't move approach appropriations bills to the floor, we have no other option.

And it's putting us in a position where as the day gets closer, we're going to have to start working across the aisle and finding some folks who are willing to support any sort of funding mechanism so that we don't hurt our military, we don't hurt the American people. And I think it's that's got a lot of us really, really frustrated right now.

MATTINGLY: To that point, there has been some reporting from my colleagues Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju reporting that there have been discussions, some quiet discussions between Republicans and Democrats about whether or not to coalesce or if there is a pathway to coalesce now before going through the six or seven more motions you would need to go through to get to that point. Are you a part of those conversations? Do you think something like that would work?


VALADAO: I do believe it could work. It just depends on what's on the table, what's being asked for. Obviously, we are at $33 trillion in debt right now, and spending is a big deal for a lot of us at home, and it's something that we want to try to be as responsible as we possibly can on. But again, when you can't get those five, remaining five out of the 217 that voted yesterday, five of them voted against us, voted against our military, and it's kind of left us in a position where we're going to have to start negotiating a little earlier with the other side than we expected.

MATTINGLY: Are you worried, are you concerned about Speaker McCarthy's job at this point? You supported him.

VALADAO: Obviously, I am a big supporter of the speaker. I think he has done a great job. I don't believe anyone could have done better. What's being asked of him is something that's just not attainable. And no matter what he does, there is going to be criticism. The problem is there is such a small majority that they are in a position where they can play the types of games that you see yesterday, dropping pieces of the legislation on the bathroom countertop. These are just childish games, and the reality is we have to govern.

And for Republicans to be successful and to get our priorities forward, funding our military, making sure that we are responsible with taxpayer dollars, making sure that we do everything we need to do, that we promised our constituents that we would do, we have to pass bills. And just voting no is not how our do that.

MATTINGLY: One more before I let you go. You're a frontline member. You've won races, you've lost races. All of your races have been tough with a lot of spending on both sides from outside, and on your campaign. You have supported the impeachment inquiry, the launch of the impeachment inquiry. Are you concerned about what that will do to you politically given kind of the race -- the races you tend to end up in?

VALADAO: So no matter what I do, I am going to get attacked. So worrying about what attacks are going to come from the left or the right, the reality is I can't focus on that. The races that I have run and won and lost, I mean, obviously, they are frustrating. They are hard to go through. But as I have proven before, I am not afraid to make tough decisions even when it's against my own party.

But obviously, what we see going on in the White House and some of the situations with this are extremely concerning, and I think the reality is I think the American people have to have trust in their elected leadership. And this might be part of the process to getting to that point where we can actually trust our leadership. And right now Joe Biden is the one under the spotlight, and I think deservedly so.

MATTINGLY: I think you guys are under the spotlight, too, at least for the next 10 days as well. Congressman David Valadao, we appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

VALADAO: Any time. Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: In fact, there is a clock monitoring them under the spotlight.


HARLOW: House Republicans are getting their chance to question attorney general --

MATTINGLY: Help me count the clock, Poppy.

HARLOW: -- I know you do. Merrick Garland on live television that's going to happen in just two hours from now where Garland will testify before the House Judiciary Committee. We are expecting him to forcefully rebuke his Republican critics who have accused him of weaponizing and politicizing the Justice Department. CNN has obtained excerpts of what the attorney general will say in his opening remarks. He will tell the committee that the Justice Department's, quote, job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else about who or what to criminally investigate.

Melanie Zanona is live on Capitol Hill. Good morning. Phil and I have been talking all morning about the fact that, I mean, to put this out there, you often get prepared remarks, but to put these sentences out there now is sort of a prebuttal to what he knows is coming.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Oh, yes, absolutely. We are expecting a very forceful defense of the DOJ and its independence. And that is because Garland is going to be facing some of his toughest Republican critics on that committee. Some of them have called to impeach Merrick Garland. Some of them are threatening to defund the agency. So it is a really crucial moment for both Garland and the DOJ.

I want to read a little bit more from Garland's opening statement. Here is more of what he is expected to say when he goes before the committee today. "As the president said and I reaffirm here today, I am not the president's lawyer. I will also add that I am not Congress's prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people. Our job is to follow the facts and the law wherever they lead, and that is what we do."

Now, Garland is not expected to say much, if anything, about the ongoing criminal investigations into Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden or into former President Donald Trump because those are active investigations. And that is likely going to infuriate some Republicans on the panel. They really want to grill Garland, especially about the Hunter Biden criminal case. That has become central to their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

And some of the questions they have, they want to know about the appointment of David Weiss as special counsel. They want to know about the now defunct plea deal. And they also are going to ask him about this testimony from these IRS whistleblowers who have claimed that the DOJ mishandled and politicized that case.


So we are expecting a lot of heat and potentially a lot of fireworks later today, guys.

HARLOW: Melanie, you had the line of the day yesterday about House Republicans. They may be in the same galaxy, but not on the same planet.

ZANONA: That applied to quite a few issues, yes.


HARLOW: Fair enough. Thanks for the reporting.

Pennsylvania's Governor Josh Shapiro has just made it easier for people in his state to vote. He is going to join us to explain why he's also going to respond to Republican critics who don't like how he did it. That's ahead.


MATTINGLY: Some very big news on voting rights in a very key swing state. Pennsylvania's governor has just announced his state will now automatically register eligible voters to vote when they get a new state-issued I.D. or driver's license. Now, 23 other states plus Washington D.C. have some form of automatic voter registration. But few of them are likely to play as pivotal a role in the next presidential election as Pennsylvania.

Joining us now is Pennsylvania's Governor Josh Shapiro. Governor, we appreciate your time. We kind of want to dig in on the implementation of all this in a minute. But one of the primary criticisms we heard yesterday when this was announced from Republicans in the state legislature was, why didn't you go through them? Why didn't you go through a legislative process, work with the other side on this? Why move forward on your own? What's your response to that?

GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO (D-PA): Let's be clear about something. I have been very open during my campaign and my time as governor about my belief that we should be an automatic voter registration state. We worked on the process. I'm well within my legal authority. And we put out a process that is secure and safe. It goes through our DMV process, which already includes safeguards to ensure that the person registering to vote is eligible to vote.


This is an important way to expand voter participation, which I think in turn strengthens our democracy. I'm firmly on the side of promoting and protecting our democracy.

If there are those that want to make it harder for people to vote, then they're going to have to account to that. But the bottom line is I'm well within my legal authority. This is good for our democracy, good for voter participation.

HARLOW: You mentioned what the DMV or what checks there are, right, from the DMV, et cetera. I just --- was wondering if you could please respond directly to Stephen Miller, former Donald Trump aide who tweeted this: "I can promise you there will be no citizenship verification." Just want to give you a chance to respond directly to that.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, look, I'm not going to respond to Stephen Miller. That guy's a dope who can't tell --

HARLOW: Yeah, I'm not asking you about what Stephen Miller, Governor, but just about what he raises, because I think he raises a question others may raise. So just to the substance of what he right, right?

SHAPIRO: Well, he doesn't raise any substance. Here is the actual substance. When you go to get a driver's license, when you go to renew your driver's license, you have to bring identifying documents in order to be able to secure that driver's license. The same documents that are required in order to be able to register to vote.

We're relying on a system that already has safeguards built into it to allow someone to be automatically registered to vote. If you choose not to register to vote, if you want to opt out, that's perfectly fine. But we think we need to make it easier for eligible voters to participate in our democracy, and that's exactly what our system does here.

Listen, Poppy, I went to court more than 40 times to defeat people like Stephen Miller and others who tried to thwart the will of the people here in Pennsylvania who made up all kinds of ridiculous claims after the 2020 election. And I won every single time in court and defended the will of the people here in Pennsylvania, defended the right to vote.

And here in Pennsylvania, we value our freedom, we value our democracy. And voting is central to that. And now it's easier for eligible voters to have their voices heard here in the common.

HARLOW: And I think that's why it's important for people to hear from you all the checks that are there.

MATTINGLY: It brings up something I've been thinking about when you saw the response to this and from who was responding, the experience you had back in 2020 and obviously and running in 2022, the concern that this just gives feeds kind of new threads for the same people who questioned the results in 2020.

Now they can say, hey, look, they did this on their own. He did it unilaterally. This was all to kind of get votes to rig the election. And I understand you're stipulating that should not gauge how you operate as governor. However, it is simply a reality of the time we live in as the response the last 24 hours has shown.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, I think Phil, respectfully, I think you're just giving their lies too much oxygen. Here's what I know happened in Pennsylvania. Not only did I defeat them in court 40 times, not only did we prove that many of their lawyers lied in court and their licenses were stripped away from them because they lied, including Rudy Giuliani.

But I put together a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the 2022 election who said no to extremism, no to lies, and elected me, the governor, because they wanted me to be able to ensure the continuation of free and fair, safe and secure elections here in the Commonwealth. This builds on that work we've done.

Voter participation is central to our democracy. And those who are standing up trying to make it harder for people to vote, that's anti- Democratic, that's anti-freedom. And that is not the way we do things here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

HARLOW: I want to turn the issue to the ongoing strike that could get a lot bigger. The UAW striking against all three big automakers we just had Senator Chris Murphy on, who knows we as Democrats should all stand with all the demands, he essentially said of the auto workers. One of those, as you know, Governor, is a four-day work week, right?

Electric vehicles, AI technology should make some of this work faster to accomplish. I thought Chris Christie's response to that was notable, and I just want your reaction here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think it's going to wind up turning Americans off. Everybody would love to be able to get paid for when they don't work, but in this instance, that's not what it should be.


HARLOW: Bernie Sanders, though, says if the bosses are going to benefit from this better technology, the workers should, too. They should have more time with their families, more time at home. What do you think?

SHAPIRO: Well, look, I stand with the striking UAW workers. They deserve to share in these record profits that the executives are taking home.


I think what we have seen is just a greater gap between what the executives are making in companies and what the workers who are putting the product and the services out on the field are earning. We need to shrink that gap. And I stand with the UAW striking workers.

They deserve better than what they're getting, or at least what I've read has been proposed on the table for them. So, I stand with them, and I'm hopeful that the two sides will continue to have meaningful dialogue, that that gap will close, and that going forward, UAW workers will be able to share in these record profits.

MATTINGLY: All right, Governor Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania laid a lot of things out during your campaign, delivering on those things on several fronts over the course of your first number of months in office. We appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, coming up, Fareed Zakaria's exclusive interview with Iran's President, how he responded to the release of five American prisoners and the $6 billion that were unfrozen as part of that deal, next.



HARLOW: All right in an exclusive interview to bring you this morning. Our friend Fareed Zakaria sat down with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Here is part of that interview.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Let me start by asking you about this prisoner release that took place. I know relations between your government and the United States are still very strained. But does this deal mean that you are able to work with the United States government on issues of mutual interest?

EBRAHIM RAISI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN: In the name of the Creator, the most compassionate, the most merciful, praise beyond to God, the sovereign of the world and many blessings. The issue of exchange of prisoners, that is at the core of your question.

We did something that was prompted by humanitarian motives. And those individuals who were imprisoned in the United States whom up to the point that we were informed, our information indicated that they were unjustly imprisoned. But the folks who were imprisoned in Iran, they had committed crimes

and their complaints had gone through the legal system and they were condemned.

And there was an opportunity for this exchange to take place. And this exchange was, as I said, prompted by purely humanitarian motives. And I do think that the accomplishment was something that led to the happiness of the families of the prisoners, as well as having been able to show the true face of our humanitarian motives and efforts.

ZAKAIRIA: As you know, the US. Government says that the people in Iran were unjustly arrested and imprisoned. But there was also a piece of this deal which was the release of several billion dollars of money which has been earmarked to be used only for humanitarian reasons.

It is being monitored from Qatar. Will Iran abide by that part of the agreement and use that money only for humanitarian reasons?

RAISI: Well, you see, these funds belong to the people of Iran. Up to now they were unjustly and unfairly blocked. These were funds belonging to the Iranian nation. Naturally, when these funds come back, they will have to be spent towards the needs, towards objectives that address the needs of the Iranian people.

And we will certainly keep to the core of our belief that the objective is to spend those funds to respond to the needs of the Iranian people.


HARLOW: Quite an interview and certainly the timing couldn't be better. Fareed Zakaria joins us now. Fareed, good morning. Can we start on the last point there? Because that has been the point of the most criticism of this deal is the money that is now freed up Iran's money for it to use. What did you make of his answer? Was it clear to you?

ZAKARIA: I think he was trying as hard as possible to kind of assert Iran's sovereignty and its ability to do whatever he wanted with it. I think if the clip had run a little longer, you'd see, at the end of it he says, of course, we always honor our agreements.

So, there was a kind of an indirect way of saying that they would, in fact, keep to the deal. The deal is very tightly structured. The money goes drip by drip. And if they do not satisfy the monitors that it is being spent on humanitarian issues, the money stops flowing. So, I think they have no option but to follow the agreement.

MATTINGLY: Fareed, it's been striking the last several days. U.S. Officials have been so quick and so unequivocal to say this does not change anything about the broader relationship between the two countries, which is essentially nonexistent at this point. As a longtime observer and after this conversation, this lengthy interview, you think that's accurate?

ZAKARIA: I do think it's accurate. It was a very tough interview in the sense that I suddenly asked him what I thought were difficult questions, but he responded very bluntly about what he sees as America's Hegemonic designs in the Middle East.