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The Situation Room
Pressure Builds On Israel; McConnell Rejects Bipartisan Insurrection Commission; Now, House Voting On Commission To Investigate January 6th Riot; New York Attorney General Joins Manhattan District Attorney In Criminal Probe Of Trump Organization; Thirty-Five Republicans Vote With Dems In Favor Of Jan. 6 Commission Defying House GOP Leaders Who Oppose It. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 19, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Our coverage continues right now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, who is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news: The House is set to vote at any moment now on a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, a new test of the GOP divide between the truth and Donald Trump.
The former president may be in greater legal jeopardy tonight, as the New York attorney general adds a criminal component to her investigation of the Trump Organization.
And Israel defies global pressure, announcing its military operation in Gaza will continue just hours after President Biden turned up the heat for a cease-fire.
Let's start our coverage straight over up on Capitol Hill.
Our congressional correspondent, Ryan Nobles, is joining us right now.
Ryan, the House vote on the January 6 commission will happen, we're told, at any moment now. Tell us what we can expect.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
Actually, right now, on the House floor, they're debating an issue over whether or not to keep mask usage on the House floor, a tactic by Republicans to cause trouble for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But shortly after that vote wraps up here in the next 15 minutes or so, we expect the voting to begin on the fate of this 1/6 commission bill. And we do expect that it will pass, and relatively easy. The question will be, how many Republicans will get on board in the
support and passage of this bill? We anticipate it could be somewhere in the range of 20 to as many as 50 Republicans, this despite the fact that House Republican leadership, Kevin McCarthy, the GOP whip, Steve Scalise, have encouraged their members to vote against it, despite the fact that it was a bipartisan agreement in the House Homeland Security Committee.
So, even if it passes the House, though, Wolf, it faces a tough sled here in the United States Senate. It will require at least 10 Republicans to vote for it in the Senate in order to be passed and then eventually signed into law.
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, earlier today stating that he is in opposition of the bill in its current form. So, at this point, Wolf, we are expecting a passage here in the House in just a few minutes, sometime within the hour, and then we will see what happens when it makes it to the Senate -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that's the big question.
A group of Capitol Police officers, as you know, Ryan, just sent a strongly worded letter to Congress expressing their deep disappointment with Republicans who are against the creation of this commission. Tell us what you're learning about that.
NOBLES: Yes, this is an interesting development, Wolf, certainly something that we don't anticipate here on Capitol Hill.
And we should point out that this is not authorized by the United States Capitol Police. They had nothing to do with the authorship of this letter. Instead, it comes from a group of, we're told, between 30 to 50 U.S. Capitol Police officers that were in contact with the office of Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin.
And Raskin circulated this letter to fellow chiefs of staff, both Republican and Democrat, to help with their deliberation as to whether or not they should support the bill.
And let me read to you a section of that letter.
It said -- quote -- "On January 6, where some officers served their last day in a U.S. Capitol Police uniform, and not by choice, we hope that the members whom we took an oath to protect would at the very minimum support an investigation to get to the bottom of everyone responsible and hold them 100 percent accountable, no matter the title or position they hold or held."
Now, as we need to point out, the Capitol Police had nothing to do with this. They have also made it clear that they never take a position, an official position, on any type of legislation. This came from the officers themselves, Wolf, in the moments before this bill is voted on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very important, though.
Ryan, thank you very, very much. We will stand by for that vote momentarily.
In the meantime, I want to bring in our CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, CNN political director David Chalian, and CNN senior commentator and former Ohio Governor John Kasich.
David, so what will tonight's vote, which we're about to hear, tell us about the current state of the Republican Party and its relationship, for all practical matters, with the truth?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, some Republicans are going to vote for the bill, obviously.
In fact, John Katko, the ranking member, Republican from New York who is managing the bill on the side for Republicans, who negotiated this bipartisan deal, he said everything in this bill is designed to remove politics from it, to take it out of being politicized.
Clearly, that's not what the leadership of the Republican Party is doing. And so what you see here, Wolf, is that the vast majority of Republicans are saying, we do not want, nor do we need an independent, bipartisan, authoritative accounting of one of the greatest attacks on our democracy that we have seen in our lifetimes.
And that is a stunning statement. So, their relationship here to wanting to get to the bottom of this is nonexistent.
BLITZER: Yes, that's really disturbing right now.
Jamie, you have been talking to your Republican sources. What are you hearing about how they're approaching this vote, the Republicans?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, I actually just heard from a Republican source with knowledge on the Hill who says that they believe the vote is going to be about 20, which is much less...
BLITZER: About 20 Republicans voting in favor?
GANGEL: About 20 Republicans for.
Last night, we were hearing it could be 38, 40. And the source says: "I think Kevin spent some time making calls to anyone he heard was thinking about voting for it, so we lost some from that" -- quote -- "Kevin is pulling out all the stops." That would be Kevin McCarthy.
Bottom line, yesterday, Donald Trump made a statement that said -- quote -- "Hopefully, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are listening."
That's who's still running the show. They were listening. Mitch McConnell came out against it today. Clearly, Kevin McCarthy has been lobbying all day against it.
BLITZER: You know, Governor Kasich, the FBI released new video today from the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. I want you to take a look at this. Watch this.
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BLITZER: What does it say to you, Governor, that so many of your fellow Republicans have no desire to get to the bottom of this deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol with the creation of this new commission?
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, first of all, I'm really, really surprised to hear the Capitol Hill police, independent of with the formal organization, take a position on this.
I was there for 18 years, and I never saw anything like this. They are basically saying, our lives were on the line, and we want this fully investigated.
And I will tell you, it is a dark day if the Republicans ignore what the Capitol Hill police officers, who are there to protect them, a letter, very unusual, very unusual letter, and that would be ignored. It's a tragedy.
Secondly, this guy Katko, who was the guy who negotiated this agreement, he did a good job on that. He's been hung out to dry. I have actually negotiated an agreement on the crime bill in '94. I was hung out to dry. I know what it feels like.
Katko, I hope, will hang tough. And I hope some of his friends will stay with him.
Finally, if they do not do the special commission -- it's going to pass the House. Then we will have a big debate in the Senate. Then what is going to happen is, there will be a select committee formed in the House. This is not going to go away.
Wolf, what happened on January 6 has left an indelible imprint on my mind, and it has left the imprint on millions and millions of Americans' minds. And for the Republicans to try to sweep this under the rug, it's a simple commission to investigate and get to the bottom.
I will tell you, I -- Wolf, there's words to describe about how I feel about this, other than I'm saddened, I'm disappointed, and, frankly, I'm angry.
BLITZER: Yes, and there are a bunch of Republicans who totally, totally agree with you. They're so angry at the leadership of the Republican Party, the leadership of the House and the Senate.
David, a lot of the concerns that the Republican leadership in the House and Senate have, apparently, are related to the midterm elections coming up next year. They fear a commission like this could drag on and on and go into 2022. CHALIAN: Yes. Some of them are just saying that flat out, that
politics in play here. They are concerned that it could indeed -- by the way, you know, you understand, Wolf, of course.
But this commission is set up to complete its work by the end of this year. Yes, they're concerned it could push into next year, the actual election year. I don't know why this should be a concern, because it's something that is to get us a factual bottom line on all that occurred in the lead-up to the attack, the attack itself, so that it can be prevented from ever happening again.
But they say they are concerned that all the talk and all the focus will be about this commission and that, instead, the focus will not be on their take on the Biden agenda, that it's wrong for America and going in the wrong direction. I don't understand why you can't have both.
I just want to add this point. When we talk about 9/11 and the attacks of 9/11, what's one of the first things you go to, to look at the historical record? You go to the 9/11 Commission report, that bipartisan, independent commission that is an authoritative document on that moment in our history.
That is what this kind of moment from January 6 is calling for. And yet one political party here believes it is going to harm their chances at getting back into the majority status.
BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right.
We learned a lot from that 9/11 Commission. And that's why so many people want to see a commission following this January 6 insurrection commission to learn what happened then to make sure it doesn't happen again.
All right, we're standing by for this vote momentarily. We will see what the House of Representatives does. We're going to have our panel stand by as well.
Also coming up, we're going live to Jerusalem, as Israel now refuses to bow to pressure from President Biden to de-escalate its offensive in Gaza.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: After 11 days of deadly fighting, Hamas officials have just told CNN that a cease-fire with Israel is -- and I'm quoting now -- "imminent," possibly within 24 hours.
CNN's Hadas Gold is joining us live from Jerusalem right now.
Hadas, I understand no comment, at least not yet, from the Israeli government on a possible cease-fire? What are you hearing? HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, nothing official yet from the
Israelis, but this just coming in recently, a Hamas official telling CNN that a cease-fire is imminent, possibly within 24 hours, describing there being a -- quote -- "positive atmosphere" around the talks, thanks to support, they say, from Egypt and Qatar.
Now, on the ground, though, I do have to say, Wolf, that, despite this talk of a possible cease-fire, Israeli media also reporting the possibility of a -- of a cease-fire coming within the next 24 hours, on the ground, it still does not feel as though things are calming down.
Red alert sirens are still going off across Southern Israel. More rockets are still being launched, and the Israeli military continuing their campaign.
GOLD (voice-over): Tonight, Israel pushing ahead with its Gaza offensive, now stretching into its 11th day, and seemingly unwilling to bend to growing U.S. and international pressure to back down.
Prime Minister Netanyahu refusing to back down, despite multiple phone calls with the U.S. president, who set a deadline, saying he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): And I especially appreciate the support of our friend U.S. President Joe Biden for the state of Israel's right to self-defense.
GOLD: The current U.S. assessment is that Israel is close to running out of fixed targets in Gaza, according to an official who is tracking the situation closely.
Israel defending its controversial decision to attack one such target, last week's bombing of the building hosting the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera in Gaza, saying that it was also where militants were researching and developing high-end capabilities for attacks against Israel, while admitting efforts to take out the leader of the Hamas militant wing have so far been unsuccessful.
At least a dozen now dead in Israel, following indiscriminate Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets fired en masse. The Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza says hundreds have been killed, civilian casualties of Israeli airstrikes on what it says are militant targets, but with countless others wounded.
The Palestinian Authority president now accusing Israel of committing war crimes.
MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT: (through translator): Vicious attacks on civilians, deliberate shelling of residential areas and institutions, destruction of infrastructure, as well as the killing of women, elderly and children is organized state terrorism carried out by the Israeli occupation and war crimes punishable by international law.
GOLD: Tensions now spreading north, where Israel responded with artillery, after rockets were fired from a village along the Lebanese coast.
Meanwhile, civilian suffering in Gaza showing no signs of abating, as international convoys en route to Gaza halted for the second day in a row amid ongoing mortar fire, displaced families in desperate need of humanitarian aid again left waiting.
GOLD: And, Wolf, a big question for many here is, even if a cease-fire is reached within the next 24 hours, what will fundamentally change about what is the relationship, what is going on in this region here that will pull Israel and Gaza out of this cycle of violence and have a lasting impact for the civilians on both sides of this conflict? -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that is so, so worrisome.
Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, thank you.
The White House is clearly watching all of this so, so closely.
Our chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is joining us right now.
Kaitlan, we know the White House has been taking a quiet diplomacy approach over these past several days. But the Israeli prime minister seems to be publicly at odds with President Biden's desire for this to wind down right away tonight. So what's your reaction? What are you hearing from inside the White House?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, their response seems to be getting a little louder, because, today, you saw President Biden had his fourth call with the Israeli prime minister since this violence broke out.
And the summary that we got from the readout was probably the firmest one yet that we have gotten so far. There was no longer those statements that you had seen previously, where they said Israel had the right to defend itself and they supported that.
And, instead, it was that language where President Biden said that he did call for a significant de-escalation on the path to a cease-fire. That is much shorter than what we had seen previously, where they just said he simply expressed support for a cease-fire generally, but officials later telling CNN he wasn't explicitly calling for one.
And so I think what this shows is that the president's patience is wearing thin here. And that is why he is delivering this deadline to Netanyahu. And the question ultimately, of course, is going to be whether or not they meet that deadline.
We have seen the reporting that Hadas just laid out there. I think the White House is watching that really closely to determine what that next step is going to be. But also what this readout resonate -- or what it really shows is that the pressure that you have seen building, not just here at home, but also internationally, is resonating within the walls of the West Wing.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, I want you to stand by. I have got more questions for you.
But I also want to bring Barak Ravid, the diplomatic correspondent for Walla News and a contributing correspondent for Axios, also joining us, Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Center for Middle East Policy.
Barak, this Hamas official says a cease-fire is imminent, but, so far, there's been no comment from the Israeli government on this. What are you hearing? You're well-sourced over there. What will it take for a cease-fire to come to fruition?
BARAK RAVID, CONTRIBUTING CORRESPONDENT, AXIOS: Hi, Wolf.
I think that, when it comes to these Israeli government -- and the Israeli government these days is pretty fractured. It's not that everybody at the top think the same way. Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks one thing. Minister of Defense Benny Gantz thinks another thing.
But I think that, when you talk to everybody, it goes between 24 hours minimum to 72 hours maximum. This is the time frame they're talking about. My own opinion is that I don't see this happening, I don't see a cease-fire before Friday morning. It's just -- there's not enough time. They need to convene the Cabinet.
Those things take time. But it's obvious that we're -- the wheels are in motion towards a cease-fire.
BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging that there's going to be a cease- fire.
Shadi, the president, President Biden, he asked the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for a significant de-escalation by today. Netanyahu seemed to slap that away, saying he was determined to continue this operation, his words.
What does that say about President Biden's influence right now?
SHADI HAMID, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: It says that maybe Biden's quiet diplomacy is too quiet.
And I think that, even with this latest statement, Biden is still hedging. So, he's saying he's calling for a de-escalation on the path to a cease-fire. So, we have a couple steps there. And I think this is -- there's still this frustration, and I think some degree of puzzlement, why Biden hasn't been able to be more out front and more actively engaged. I think, up until now, he's played a relatively minimalist role in
this and hasn't seemed very into it, let's say. And I think now is a time where a lot of people are asking, how much longer is this going to take?
Now, there is, as we have talked about, some promise that there will be a cease-fire by Friday, but it's possible that will only be a pause, and there could be a resumption of hostilities. So the key even then will be to how to sustain this so it actually lasts and it holds.
And I think part of the problem now is that Hamas says it won't stop until Israel stops ,and Israel says it won't stop until Hamas stops. At some point, someone has to stop first. And that's part of the challenge here is how to kind of disentangle that cycle.
BLITZER: I hope the Egyptians and the Qataris can do that. They have been deeply involved behind the scenes in trying to achieve that.
Barak, you have some reporting on Palestinians who have been protesting the situation in Gaza, along with the other underlying issues that ignited this latest conflict. You're reporting that Israel now fears all of this, even if there's a cease-fire, could potentially turn into a third intifada or an uprising.
Tell us what you're sensing.
RAVID: Well, I think that we saw in the -- in recent days demonstrations in the West Bank.
We saw how the Gaza crisis spills over to the West Bank too. And we saw thousands of Palestinians demonstrating and clashing with Israeli soldiers in scenes that we haven't seen for quite a long time, for several years.
And I think that around 25 Palestinians were killed in clashes with the IDF in the West Bank in recent -- in the last 10 days, which is quite a big number. And the Palestinian Authority is not getting any stronger. It's just getting weaker.
Abbas, President Abbas, just postponed the election. So, everything is very fragile. And when I ask very senior Israeli officials what they think about the day after the Gaza crisis, they tell me, the day after, we will have to do everything that we did not do in recent years and try to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, because we realized that, in recent years, all we did is strengthen Hamas.
BLITZER: Yes, what is also so worrisome is 20 percent of Israel's population, the citizens of Israel, are not Jews. They're Palestinian Arabs, Muslims, or Christians, and there's been so much concern from them as well.
RAVID: No, exactly.
BLITZER: And that is a serious problem...
RAVID: Yes. BLITZER: ... we have not seen in Israel over all of these years.
Kaitlan, clearly, this conflict is a distraction from President Biden's domestic agenda. Is there any appetite in the White House right now to really do what they have refused to do so far, address these underlying concerns that not only led to the violence with Hamas and Gaza, but now on the West Bank and the concerns of the Israeli Palestinian Arabs, two million of whom are citizens of Israel?
COLLINS: Well, I think, really now, it's not a matter of whether or not they have an appetite for it, Wolf, because it's something that they did not put at the forefront of their agenda when President Biden first took office.
But now here it is at the forefront of the agenda. It has dominated the news cycle for the last several days. President Biden has been asked about it at almost every single turn. And he has not yet spoken at length about it publicly. He has only offered short, quipped answers, and then said not anything really substantive to talk about his mind-set on this.
And a part of that, White House officials say, is because they want to do business behind the scenes. But, ultimately, of course, even if this cease-fire does happen, this is still an issue that is going to be moved up higher on that agenda list, whether it was something they wanted to prioritize or not.
BLITZER: I want all of you to stand by, because we're continuing to watch what's going on.
There's other important news we're following here in Washington as well. The vote on this proposed commission to investigate the deadly January 6 riot up on Capitol Hill, that vote is now under way.
We're standing by for the results. We will share with you when we come back.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The House of Representatives has now begun voting on a bill that would establish an independent commission to investigate the deadly January 6th Capitol insurrection. We're standing by for a final vote. You can see the vote counting. A few more minutes left. We'll see how many Republicans go ahead and vote for this commission. Much more of this coming up in just a moment.
Meanwhile, what started out as a civil, a civil investigation is now also a criminal probe of the Trump Organization. CNN's Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid has details of the former president's legal entanglements.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Today, the Trump Organization on notice. The New York attorney general has joined the Manhattan district attorney in its criminal investigation. Attorney General Letitia James campaigned on a promise to investigate Trump's businesses.
LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: It doesn't matter who you are. If you are betraying the public trust for personal gain, I will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.
REID: For the past two years, her office has been investigating the Trump Organization for possible fraud.
JAMES: What we are investigating is the fact that the Trump Organization inflated their assets for the purposes of obtaining loans and insurance coverage and deflated their assets, the same assets, for the purposes of avoiding and evading tax liability and/or limiting it.
REID: But that civil investigation has now turned criminal. James' office saying in a statement to CNN, we are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity along with the Manhattan D.A.
Earlier this year James said --
JAMES: Until we uncover some unlawful behavior or conduct, our investigation will continue as a civil matter.
REID: Her investigators have deposed multiple Trump Organization officials, including Eric Trump and Chief Financial Officer Alan Weisselberg.
Today, the former president fired up and lengthy statement saying, they failed to stop me in Washington so they turned it over to New York to do their dirty work. He has previously dismissed the investigation.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This is just a continuation of the witch hunt.
REID (on camera): This comes as the former president has just relocated to his New Jersey golf club where he is expected to spend the summer focusing on his political future. At this weekend he will attend a make America Great Again fundraiser as he attempts to build a political operation that will allow him to maintain his control over the GOP. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Paula, thank you, CNN's Paula Reid reporting for us.
Let's get some more on all of this, the state attorney for Palm Beach County Florida Dave Aronberg is joining us. Dave, thanks as usual for joining us. What do you think led these two separate entities, the New York State attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney, to now join forces on this criminal, criminal probe, not a civil probe but a criminal probe now?
DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Yes. Good evening, Wolf. It is unusual. I think one of the things is that the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has Trump's taxes. Remember, Cy Vance went up to the Supreme Court and back and up and back again to get those taxes. And under grand jury secrecy rule, you cannot share them. But if you are working with another prosecuting authority, then they can go ahead and do just that, and I think that's one reason.
Another thing is to avoid conflicts and turf battle. You would think this actually happens more often, that you conflict (ph) with each other, but it doesn't. And so it's important in a case like this for the two sides to work together because you don't want to give one witness immunity that's going to be prosecuted by the other authority.
You know, it is unusual but there's nothing about this case that is usual because, you know, you probably need more resources to deal with this, because we're talking about an unprecedented criminal case in American history, which would be the prosecution of a former U.S. president.
BLITZER: Yes. That's totally, totally unprecedented. What do you think -- why do you think the attorney general in New York State, Letitia James, is publicly, publicly announcing this criminal investigation?
ARONBERG: You know, Wolf, I think it's because she wants to encourage witnesses and potential targets to start talking.
It's put up or shut up time, and this is one way to pressure them. There's an old adage, first in, first to win. The first one to the prosecutor's door gets the best deal.
It's one thing for the attorney general to pressure someone by threatening them with a financial penalty. It's quite another when you're waiving around a pair of silver handcuffs. It's amazing how that can change someone's attitude.
BLITZER: Certainly is, all right, Dave Aronberg, we'll watch that together with you. Thank you, as usual, thanks very much.
Just ahead, once again, we're standing by for the results on the House vote on establishing a new commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news. The House of Representatives is voting right now to establish a commission to investigate the deadly January 6th insurrection up on Capitol Hill. Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is watching the vote counting. Give us the count so far. Break it down. They haven't yet gaveled. Meaning some members are still waiting to vote.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. But there have been enough votes cast in the affirmative for this bill to pass. Now, obviously, some members could change their vote so we're not declaring this bill officially passed, but with 245 members voting in the affirmative, it looks as though this bill is on its road to passage as you only need 216 votes in order to pass.
But the number that we're watching most closely is, of course, how many Republicans vote yes for this legislation. And at this point, it looks as though 34 Republicans have cast a ballot of yes in favor of this commission. That falls right in line with what we were hearing from Republicans as to their expectation as to the number of Republicans that would break ranks with their party leadership and support this bill.
So there's still around 25 members of Congress that have yet to cast their ballots. So there's still the opportunity for that number to grow in terms of Republicans.
We should also point out, Wolf, 159 Republicans at this point have voted no on this legislation. Every single Democrat that's voted so far, 212, have voted yes. So there's still a lot -- a little more than 11 minutes left to vote before the gavel will officially come down on this vote. It looks as though it's going to pass and it's going to do so in a bipartisan fashion.
BLITZER: Yes. So far, 246 in favor of creating this commission when we see seven Democrats and, what, 16 Republicans still have not voted. We'll see how that changes.
David Chalian, what do you think? Right now, what, 34 Republicans have gone against their leadership and decided to support the creation of this commission.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. We are now more than triple the amount of Republicans who voted to impeach the president for inciting the January 6th riot. You recall there were only ten Republicans that did that. So you now are seeing an increase in the ranks of Republicans who want to get to the bottom of January 6th occur here. This is sort of the anti-McCarthy crowd also apparently inside the Republican conference.
But, Wolf, as significant as this is that 34 Republicans broke ranks, and it is given where we are, I think the overall vote tally here tells you something about our politics. Why should this not be a unanimous vote today to set up this independent bipartisan commission to get an authoritative account of this attack on our democracy?
It seems that, that should be something that everyone could agree on. And yet we're noting in these very partisan times where Donald Trump is still in control of the Republican Party that 34 Republicans breaking ranks is a significant deal. BLITZER: Well, let's talk to one of those Republicans right now who voted in favor of creating this commission, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Congressman, thank so much for joining us.
Tell us why you voted to create this commission?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Well, Wolf, I think it's an easy vote. We need answers. We need to take ownership of what was done, of what led to it. This was an attack on our democracy and an attack on the number two, three and four person in line of succession for the presidency, which we spend billions of dollars a year to protect. It was the right vote.
I'm pleased by the number of my colleagues in my party that have voted so far. I wish it was significantly higher. But given, you know, all of the people that came out against it, it's a positive number.
BLITZER: So far, 34 Republicans including yourself voting in favor, what, 13 Republicans still have not voted. We'll see if that number goes up.
You say this, Congressman Kinzinger, you say, and I'm quoting you now, we cannot let fear stop us from doing what is right. Is fear what stopped so many of your Republican colleagues from supporting this new investigation into the January 6th attack?
KINZINGER: I think so. And I can't speak for every one of them, but I think fear plays a big role. It's fear of a primary, fear of losing my election, fear of even though he's not on Twitter, a Donald Trump tweet, which is amazing to me that people still fear that because he doesn't have access to that anymore.
But it's just the fear of -- and I think we've lost in American politics and in my party, what is the definition of leadership? Leadership isn't just looking around and figuring out what you have to do to get reelected. It's leading. And this is one of those things. It's putting us in the court of people that are not going to be politically motivated just to find out the answer. Who doesn't want to know the answers? Maybe they're good, maybe they're bad. But we deserve to know those.
BLITZER: 35 now. The number has just gone up, 35 Republicans have voted in favor of this commission.
But your House Republican leaders, the minority leader, the whip, they made it clear where they stand.
Does it give you any encouragement that the entire party wasn't in lock step behind them on this vote?
KINZINGER: You know, some encouragement. I mean, it's -- it's -- you know, you're looking for any kind of encouragement at any moment, so I'll take -- I'll take solace in it.
There was -- again, this is a number bigger than what I thought it would be, so that's good, but there's a lot of people didn't.
You know, I think what was sad to watch is, initially, Nancy Pelosi put out a commission which was partisan. We negotiated. Katko, John Katko negotiated a bipartisan commission, taking the politics out of it, and then the rug was pulled out from under him.
But I give John Katko a ton of props for his ability to stand strong, to stand against the winds in the party and say, this is the right thing to do.
BLITZER: Yeah. He's the Republican who negotiated the creation of this commission that would have an even number of Republicans and even number of Democrats, obviously.
Democrats made, as you correctly point out, Congressman, some significant concessions that Katko and the Republicans on the makeup of the commission. Is the lesson from this that there's nothing for them to gain from trying to find common ground with the GOP?
KINZINGER: No, I think it's -- hopefully the lesson is the opposite, which is you're getting, you know, close to 40 Republicans. It's now officially bipartisan. It puts pressure on the Senate.
There's an opportunity to work with Republicans on different things. We may not agree on every issue, and, frankly, you don't want a Congress that agrees on every issue. But you want a Congress that upholds the institution of democracy that can still talk to each other because I've always said, look, you know, politics was created to prevent violence. It's where all this steam and anger comes in. It's boiled down to an argument and the steam is let out.
Unfortunately, here, nowadays, we're fighting over masks. We're, you know, attacking each other outside of the halls. We've got to get a grip on that and coming to grips with what happened on January 6th is a really good start.
BLITZER: Senior Republicans saying they're concerned this new commission would harm their chances in the midterm elections coming up in 2022.
Are most of your colleagues more dedicated to keeping their jobs than getting to the bottom of what happened on January 6th?
KINZINGER: Well, I don't want to answer the question exactly like that because I don't know what they're more dedicated to, but I will say this. There's a lot that fear the re-election and they fear going against Donald Trump. There may be some that have principled opposition to this. I'm not going to question it.
But there are some that, you know, worry about, you know, what that's going to mean, the tweet that doesn't exist anymore. And, look, I think as a party, the best thing we can do for our future health is come to grips with what happened, take ownership of it, make corrections and be a party that respects the institution like we used to and move forward and win.
That's how you win. It's not by just doing whatever we have to do to raise money so that we can win in two years.
BLITZER: Are you afraid of your re-election?
KINZINGER: No, I don't fear any of that.
Look, I've been to tougher places. And for me, I'm at total peace with the decision I've made and my voters will make that decision. And I'll take a good case to them. And, hopefully, you know, people see the importance of upholding the institution of democracy.
BLITZER: You say you've been in tougher locations. You've served in Iraq and Afghanistan, clearly tough, tough locations.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation.
KINZINGER: Anytime, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much.
David Chalian, what do you think?
CHALIAN: Yeah, well, it was interesting to hear Congressman Kinzinger say he doesn't fear his re-election, and clearly he doesn't, even though he's keenly he may actually lose his re-election battle. But that was an argument he was willing to make. Liz Cheney is making a similar argument.
But here's the reality, 35 Republicans breaking with their leader and saying, this is important. We have to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6th.
This is the first glimmer of some real break in a significant way with the leadership inside the Republican Party and Congress right now which seems very committed to doing Donald Trump's bidding. This is the largest portion of Republicans we've seen since Joe Biden has become president to say, hey, there is something more important than just Donald Trump's wishes.
BLITZER: What do you think, Jamie?
GANGEL: Absolutely. This is not good news for Kevin McCarthy long term. David and I were talking about this the other day.
He wants to be speaker of the House. That is his whole goal. He pulled out all the stops here.
I'm told that right now, he is huddled in the back of the chamber with staff watching the vote count on a computer, that he was all day today pulling out the stops. He got Mitch McConnell to come out and make a statement, and 35 people broke with him, including, I'm told, two surprises, Rodney Davis of Illinois and French Hill of Arkansas. Neither one of those gentlemen are members of the impeachment ten. Neither one of them, I believe, are part of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
At best I heard yesterday, 38.
Getting to 35 after all of that pressure is a real problem for Kevin McCarthy. It is a solid break with a large group of his members.
BLITZER: Yeah, all the Democrats that voted in favor, 35 Republicans have voted in favor. Right now the vote, they still haven't gaveled, so it's not yet official, 251 in favor, 175 opposed.
Governor Kasich, it's obviously going to pass in the House of Representatives. But then it goes to the Senate where they need 60 votes, 50-50 split, the Senate needs 60 votes. Do you think there will be ten Republicans in the Senate who'll vote in favor of this resolution to create this new commission?
KASICH: Well, I don't have the answer for that right now, Wolf. But it's going to put a lot of heat on them over there.
But let me -- you know, having been in the House and having so many battles over there, I listen to both Jamie and David and agree with them and Adam. This is a huge deal.
You have to understand the pressure that was put on these members to just fall in line. Now, when they kick Liz Cheney out which I think is a very stupid thing to do, I started to say that they're going to create opposition inside the party itself. It is interesting today as you have the Senate beginning to weigh in, Mitch McConnell says he was not for this. 35 Republicans walked against the leaders.
And I can tell you what they were doing. They sat in their office. They talked to their staff, darn it, this needs to be investigated. This has to happen.
And what anybody in the staff would say, well, what about the politics? I think these 35 members say, forget it, who cares. I am here to do a job, we need to get to the bottom of this.
Thirty-five doesn't sound like a lot when you have so many voting the other way. But I've got to tell you, it's a big darn deal. And if I were the leaders, I'd be very concerned. And this may be the beginning of the breaking of the dam. I'm not prepared to say that yet, but there's cracks forming.
And it is a big blow to the leadership that they loss these people and that's going to give momentum over to the Senate to see if they can find the ten people to say they ought to get to the bottom of it. I think you're going to get Murkowski. I think you're going to get Romney.
You got a good chance to get to the 10, this ought to happen. But this gives me hope, somebody that stood against this nonsense for many years is good news.
BLITZER: I think I see Nancy Pelosi there, the House speaker. Let's listen in. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: -- 252, the nays are 175. The bill is passed. Without objection, a motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.
BLITZER: All right. There you have it. It is official.
The speaker, David, she specifically wanted to make this historic important announcement.
So, let's talk about where it goes from here. What's happening in the Senate because Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, he's opposed to this?
CHALIAN: He's opposed to it, and a lot of his members started coming out. Some of those that were more, oh, I want to look at this, let's see. Now people like John Thune or Roy Blunt, they are not at all on board at this.
So, when you look at the math in the Senate, I think the first place you look and this is what John Kasich was just saying, Wolf, you look at the seven convicted in the impeachment trial. OK, but guess what? Susan Collins is one of those seven, and Susan Collins said today she can't support this current version of the bill that passed. She would like to see some changes to the bill.
So, this is not a Senate Republican conference that's ready to show who the ten are that would join with Democrats and that is a fait accompli. This is going to be an uphill battle in the Senate.
BLITZER: This commission passed, 252, Jamie, to 175, 252 in favor, 175 opposed. Thirty-five, that's the official number, 35 Republicans joined all the Democrats in voting to create this commission. What do you see happening in the Senate as in the coming days, they're going to have to vote, they need 60 vote to break a filibuster and see if it gets approved there.
GANGEL: I think the Senate is on life support, because if someone like Susan Collins who voted for impeachment wants to make changes, well, maybe there are ten people who could agree to changes. What we heard today was that Mitch McConnell does not want this. And I'm not sure if he's going to change his mind and we may be back to square one. Nancy Pelosi has floated the idea of select committee. But right now, I would not be optimistic in the Senate with what Mitch McConnell has said.
BLITZER: Let's get Ryan Nobles, our congressional correspondent, into this conversation.
Ryan, why would Mitch McConnell, who was very critical of the, you know, of the former president in the events leading up to January 6th and the insurrection, why wouldn't he want a commission to investigate, to learn the lessons, to try to make sure it never happens again.
NOBLES: Most simple answer to that question, Wolf, is that it makes his life much more difficult in order to win back the Senate majority. And that's not just me speculating. This is something that we know he's discussed with members inside of his conference. It's something that we know the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy even talked about with members of the Senate earlier today.
It just complicates life so much more for Senate Republicans and House Republicans for that matter if you have an elongated, very public showing of this investigation through an independent commission. And even furthermore when you create a bipartisan independent commission, it makes it so much more difficult for these members that are going to go back to their districts and to their states to claim that the whole process is political and the whole purpose is not political.
It is going to be run by people that have nothing to do with Congress that are no longer elected leaders or never were elected leaders, and also don't owe anything to anyone. And that's the reasons they have been given these jobs.
And so, you know, you have to keep in mind what this would look like. Once the formation of the commission started, they would hold hearings, they have subpoena power, they would bring people in front of them and it would be done in a public fashion.
You can bet, Wolf, that we would be running these hearings from stem to stern on television because they would be so interesting and because of their importance to the American people as this commission tries to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.
Now, you know, John Katko on the floor today pleaded with his colleagues that the whole point of this commission was to take the politics out of the process. And that is why they put in provision to do exactly that. But you can't escape the political back draft to all this, Wolf, because of the players involved. Former President Trump would be involved. McCarthy would be involved because of his role on what happened on January 6th as well.
And that just makes that process so much more difficult as we head into the 2022 midterms.
BLITZER: Do we know, Ryan, when the Senate will actually vote on this commission, and if there potentially are ten Republicans, assuming all 50 Democrats voted in favor, are there ten Republicans will join them?
NOBLES: We do not have a timeline as to specifically when this bill will make it to the floor. The Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised on numerous occasions this week that it would make it to the floor.
I think the big question that we need to ask here over the 24 and 48 hours is will there be some sort of negotiations between Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats to fine tune the bill to bring those ten Republicans over the finish line?
A number of these Republicans who were incline to support this concept but said they did not like the bill said they wanted to make some changes, are Democrats willing to do that? That's the big question and that'll tell us whether or not those ten Republicans will come and cross party lines to vote for this bill.
BLITZER: We'll see if that happens. Governor Kasich, were you surprised that 35 Republicans in the House joined all the Democrats in favor of this new commission?
KASICH: I was very pleased, Wolf.
And let me also say, look, the heat is going to be turned up in the Senate, this is not a complicated question. The question is real simple, should we have a bipartisan commission to investigate what happened on January 6? Very difficult for somebody to run the other way.
I'm not telling you that McConnell can't win this thing but let's not be presuming there is not going to be a lot of work behind the scenes. And that some of those senators -- because remember, when senators got home, they're not answering to Mitch McConnell, when they go home, they got to answer to their constituents.
It's pretty simple. The heat is going to be turned up and the media is going to turn the heat up and it's going to be interesting to see where this goes. But the good news is with 35 Republicans, it absolutely puts more heat on the United States Senate, the Republicans there to do something, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, you know, it's interesting, David, those 35 Republicans not only went against McCarthy but they went against Trump as well who strongly demanded no commission.
CHALIAN: And this is the largest rebuke of Trump that we have seen from elected officials of his own party. I can't remember a time we saw like this. So, that is a significant deal.
And I agree with what Congressman Kasich is saying there, Governor Kasich is saying there, which is that I do think this 35 number, it is a dynamic thing now as it moves over to the Senate. And there will be calculations there.
But Mitch McConnell was getting out ahead of it to say, OK, folks, when it comes here, you know my position, I don't want this though.
BLITZER: Once again, 252 votes in favor of creating this commission, 175 opposed, 35 Republicans joined all the Democrats in voting in favor of this commission. It now goes to the Senate. We'll see what happens there.
To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Erin Burnett continues our breaking coverage right now.