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One-On-One With House GOP Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN); Netanyahu: Israel Won't Release "Thousands Of Terrorists" In Deal; Parents Of American Hostage Meet With National Security Adviser. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired January 31, 2024 - 07:30   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Tom Emmer is joining -- going to join us next to discuss the state of immigration, impeachment -- all the things going on on Capitol Hill next.


Well, overnight, Republicans pushing forward with their impeachment of DHS Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas as hope for a border security bill, at least in a bipartisan fashion, in Congress is fading fast. Senate Republicans debating whether to shelve an emerging deal amid staunch opposition from former President Donald Trump.

Now, even if a deal manages to make its way out of the Senate, Speaker Mike Johnson and Republicans have declared it all but dead on arrival in the House. And Johnson bristled at the suggestion that Trump and his political aspirations have anything to do with that GOP opposition.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you simply trying to kill this to help him on the campaign?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): No, Manu, that's absurd. We have only a tiny, as you know, razor-thin -- actually, a one-vote majority right now in the House. Our majority is small. We only have it in one chamber, but we're trying to use every ounce of leverage that we have to make sure that this issue is addressed.

I have talked to former President Trump about this issue at length and he understands that. He understands that we have a responsibility to do here.



MATTINGLY: Joining us now, Republican Congressman from Minnesota, Tom Emmer, taking no shortage of questions from Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. He is the majority whip in the House and he's endorsed Donald Trump for president in 2024. Congressman, I appreciate your time this morning.

I know there's an old adage on the Hill -- those who actually know whip counts don't actually talk about them and those who do talk about them don't actually know. But when it comes to impeachment, do you think your conference will be lined up to move forward on that on the House floor?

REP. TOM EMMER (R-MN): Well, the process was pretty heavy last night. Personally, I believe it's appropriate. It's been a year-long process, very thoughtful and detailed.

And you've got a -- you've got the head of Homeland Security who is charged legally with securing our southern border. And Phil, he's not only failed to do that, he's willfully disobeyed existing law which requires that you detain certain individuals. And instead, he's created this mass catch-and-release program, which has resulted in things like --

In my home state, about a year ago, they had an individual on the terrorist watchlist come across the border. They had him and they released him into the country. He was here for a year before he was picked up. He's a member of Al-Shabab -- the terrorist group Al- Shabab.


EMMER: He was picked up in Minneapolis recently.

So the process is moving forward and I expect the articles will pass out of committee and then we'll pass it off the floor.

MATTINGLY: When it comes to process, the precedent here -- there hasn't been a cabinet official impeached in 148 years.

And we've had several constitutional scholars weigh in, including one who said, "Whatever else Mayorkas may or may not have done, he has not committed bribery, treason, or high crimes and misdemeanors. I urge principled Republicans who care about the constitution to oppose those in their party who are seeking to impeach and remove Mayorkas." That's Alan Dershowitz, who is a defender of Donald Trump in the first impeachment.

And then, there's also this. Take a listen.


JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR: I don't think they have established any of those bases for impeachment. The fact is impeachment is not for being a bad cabinet member or even being a bad person. It is a very narrow standard.


MATTINGLY: That was Jonathan Turley, who also agreed with your assessment during the Trump impeachment efforts, which they were political. There wasn't enough due process and lacked precedent. How do you respond to that?

EMMER: Oh, I think there's been plenty of due process. You've got an individual who has testified before every other committee in the Senate and in the House perhaps more than any other cabinet member. And yet, he won't come in and testify in front of the Homeland Security Committee to explain why it is he has literally been violating -- willfully violating the Immigration and Naturalization Act by failing to detain individuals who are coming across our southern border illegally.

And there are other legal violations. I have great respect for all of these constitutional experts but the facts speak for themselves.

And I think what you'll see coming out of committee now -- because I'm assuming those interviews have been taking place before all the debate -- what you're seeing coming out of committee is I believe they will find that he has willfully disobeyed existing laws. He has willfully violated or abused and ignored the parole law --


EMMER: -- in this country. And that's why I think ultimately, he should have resigned long ago.

You've got 8.3 million people that come across the border under his watch and --


EMMER: -- 1.75 million people got away. This is outrageous.

Remember when Jeh Johnson, who was under the Obama --

MATTINGLY: No, there's a -- sure, I --

EMMER: -- administration, said 1,000 a day was a -- was a crisis.

MATTINGLY: There is no question --

EMMER: And this is well beyond that.

MATTINGLY: On the numbers, we are at a level that we've never been. Democrats acknowledge that as well at this point.

I should note that the DHS team says that they have been trying to negotiate for that testimony, which hasn't taken place yet. Obviously, the process is still moving forward.

But it's also happening as there are efforts to try and address the crisis at the southern border. Republicans have passed their own legislation, H.R.2. There's a bipartisan group in the Senate that is working towards their own deal.

And The Wall Street Journal editorial board, traditionally conservative, says quote, "Grandstanding is easier than governing and Republicans have to decide whether to accomplish anything other than impeaching Democrats. Mr. Mayorkas is an easy political target but impeaching him accomplishes nothing beyond political symbolism."

The point being you guys have a piece of legislation -- in a sense, working toward a piece of legislation and yet, that seems to have been rejected out of hand.

Is legislation just off the table at this point unless it's your bill?

EMMER: No, I think that's your interpretation or the journalist community's interpretation. Nothing's off the table.

The fact is the House passed the strongest border bill in the last 20 years. It would do things like end catch-and-release.


EMMER: It would do things like restore the Remain in Mexico policy. Reform the broken asylum process and deal with this parole issue, which seems to be way too flexible for the administration because they're not enforcing it.



EMMER: We did that. The Senate is having discussions but we don't have a deal out of the Senate. And what has been leaked out of the Senate suggests things like increasing parole by up to 50,000 people a year. If that's the case, Phil, it's going to be really hard for us to get the votes passed on the House floor --

MATTINGLY: I think what -- I think what's difficult, sir --

EMMER: -- but we've got to see it first.

MATTINGLY: No, no, no -- and I understand and I agree. Seeing the legislation would be a positive step here and I feel like that this has been dismissed out of hand because of things like whether or not the 5,000 threshold is a valve to turn something on or off, or whether or not that's a minimum. And I've been told it's the latter.

But when you hear things like some of your colleagues have said it raises some of the questions that I've had. Take a listen.


REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): Why would we do anything to try to help improve that dismal number with a border bill being drafted in the Senate that isn't really serious about border security?

Joe Biden doesn't need Congress. Why are we always feeling that Congress needs to do something about the southern border? We don't have to do a damn thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: And I think that gets at the gist of why I'm asking if there is no legislative solution and why things are being dismissed out of hand. That's a member of your conference.

EMMER: No. I think what you're hearing is the frustration that we don't have a sincere intention to secure the southern border coming from Joe Biden and this administration.

You brought up the 5,000. Again, I go back to Jeh Johnson under Obama, who said 1,000 illegal immigrants coming across our southern border in one day is a crisis.


EMMER: We had 302,000 come across our southern border in the month of December alone. An all-time record high.

The idea that you would send over something -- again, you said it and I agree with you totally that we have to see legislative text before we say that we can't support something.


EMMER: But if, in fact -- if, in fact, you're talking about more than one person coming across our southern border illegally that can't be tolerated any longer.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, it's -- we do have to see the text. We'll see if they actually get to that point.

I do want to ask you before I let you go because you're a respected member on Capitol Hill. I covered Capitol Hill when you were there. People in your conference like you. Democrats respect you.

The former president, when you were the conference's choice to be speaker, dismissed your bid. He called you totally out of touch with Republican voters, a globalist RINO. He individually called House GOP members to whip against you. Afterwards, he told associates he was proud to have quote "killed your effort."

Last week, you endorsed him for president. I know you're laughing but last week you endorsed him for president. Given kind of the history that I laid out, was that a hard choice for you to make?

EMMER: No. Donald Trump is going to be our candidate. The bottom line for me is we must win this next election. We cannot afford four more years of Joe Biden's failed economic policies, open borders -- all the problems that have come up around the world because of his inability to state a course of action and frankly, take action. So we -- this country cannot afford another four years of Joe Biden.

Donald Trump is going to be our nominee and he'll be the next President of the United States.

MATTINGLY: And all House Republican leadership is behind me. Congressman Tom Emmer of Minnesota. A lot of Minnesota fans on this set and my colleague, Poppy Harlow -- she sends her best to your home state. Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

EMMER: Thank you, guys.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, there are. That was a fascinating interview, Phil. Where does it -- where does it leave you thinking anything is going to happen?


HARLOW: OK. All right.

To this now. Chinese President Xi promising Biden that China won't interfere in the 2024 election. What this says about the state of the U.S. relationship with China.

MATTINGLY: And CEOs from several major tech companies on the hot seat today in the Judiciary Committee as it is set to ask questions about online safety for children.



MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, there is a new potential roadblock in the Gaza hostage negotiations after a broad framework for hostage release and ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel was agreed to. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out the freeing of thousands of prisoners or pulling troops out of Gaza as part of any deal with Hamas.

On Tuesday, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with the Qatari prime minister urging that, quote, "...all possible efforts be brought to bear on Hamas to secure the release of hostages without delay." Later that night, Sullivan met with the families of Americans still held hostage by Hamas.

Joining us now, Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg who were part of that meeting via Zoom. Their 23-year-old son -- and we've talked about him -- Hersh was badly wounded and kidnapped by Hamas in October. I appreciate both your time this morning. I can't imagine how difficult this continues to be for you on a day-to-day basis.

Rachel, the meeting that you were a part of with the National Security adviser -- what was your takeaway coming out of that meeting?

RACHEL GOLDBERG, MOTHER OF ISRAELI-AMERICAN HOSTAGE HERSH GOLDBERG- POLIN (via Webex by Cisco): My takeaway coming out of that meeting is that Jake Sullivan, Antony Blinken, President Biden, and Bill Burns are all extremely serious about getting to a finish line for a deal that will see the release of these remaining 136 hostages. That is really what I felt.

MATTINGLY: Jon, I think the concern that we've heard from families, both in Israel but also here, has been that sentiment is not shared by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Do you have any sense of that at this moment?

JON POLIN, FATHER OF ISRAELI-AMERICAN HOSTAGE HERSH GOLDBERG-POLIN (via Webex by Cisco): It's hard to know. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is actually interested in bringing home these 136 hostages. I think right now he's at a pivotal moment. His legacy is at stake.

And this is the opportunity for him to say hey, what happened on October 7 happened on the watch of my government, but rather than leave these people to stay and wither in Gaza, I'm going to do the bold thing. I'm going to make a deal and I'm going to bring them home. And I hope and think that he's thinking in that direction, and we're doing everything we can to encourage him at this point to continue to push in that direction.

MATTINGLY: It certainly feels like the public sentiment has moved further in that direction over the course of the last several weeks.

Rachel, in the meeting with Jake Sullivan -- and I understand where U.S. officials are on that -- did they give any information about family members? About what they're hearing from the ground? There seems to be so little at this point.

GOLDBERG: Hearing from the hostages, you mean?

MATTINGLY: Just -- yes, hostages. Any information about what's happening in Gaza right now with hostages?


GOLDBERG: Oh, there's absolutely no information. There has been no information for 117 days. And the six American U.S. citizens, as you know, are still being held there. We have no information. And I think that the motivation, as I said before, is very sincere, genuine, and bullish from the Americans, the Qataris, the Egyptians are all pushing hard.

And as Jon said, I think Benjamin Netanyahu has a real moment here to be a hero and bring home and help get out these 136 remaining people. And I think that he will be remembered forever as being the person who saved this situation and went on from this being the last part of a legacy.

MATTINGLY: Jon, when we've spoken to you guys in the past I've always been struck by the strength that you guys have brought to this. I can't imagine it as a father.

What drives you each day at this point?

POLIN: So, as you can see, today is day 117. And what's driving us today is the same that's driven us for every day until now, which is we have one goal. This is the clearest mission we have ever been on in our lives, and the goal is bring home our son and the other 135 hostages. And it's hard to know every day as we chip away at this whether we're successful or not, but it feels like we're in this moment. Things are coalescing in the right direction and we've got to push ahead.

I don't know if you can see but Rachel is sitting in the Israel Knesset for meetings in one part of Jerusalem. I'm in the other part of Jerusalem sitting in a tent outside of Benjamin Netanyahu's house just trying to be here and to show our awareness of the situation and encourage the prime minister to do the right thing right now. And we are pushing on all cylinders to make this deal come to the end that we're all hoping for.

MATTINGLY: The work matters. Your voices have a significant effect. We are constantly thinking about Hersh and those who are being held.

Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg Polin, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

POLIN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Wow. What a fight by those parents.

Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush under investigation by the Department of Justice for alleged campaign corruption. She responded to that. We'll tell you what she said.



HARLOW: Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush, of Missouri, is defending her personal security spending again as the Justice Department now investigates her campaign for alleged corruption. She pushed back yesterday against accusers, insisting she has not used any federal dollars but is paying her husband for his security services.


REP. CORI BUSH (D-MO): I retained my husband as part of my security team to provide security services because he has had extensive experience in this area. I am under no illusion that these right-wing organizations will stop politicizing and pursuing efforts to attack me.


HARLOW: Previously, the Office of Congressional Ethics also investigated her husband's security work for her. They did close that probe after determining those payments were legitimate. The House Ethics Committee, though, is still investigating.

Well, today, we are expecting to find out just how much donor money was spent by Donald Trump on his legal fees. Sources say it is in the tens of millions.

MATTINGLY: And for the first time in 148 years, House Republicans are barreling toward the impeachment of a cabinet secretary. The latest on the efforts to oust Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas.