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Pelosi Speaks After Nunes Leaves Russia Probe; Nunes Temporarily Steps Aside From Russia Probe; Top House Intel Dem: I Appreciate Nunes' Decision; Massie: Gas Attack Would Not Have "Served Assad's Purposes"; Senate Heading For Nuclear Showdown Over Gorsuch. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired April 6, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: -- today here we are 77 days, the Republican House departs for two-week break now for the Easter Passover holidays. Begin posing the same questions that the Republicans will face from their constituents, what had the Republicans done with the control -- their control of the House, the Senate, and the White House to produce jobs? Where are the jobs? Show us the jobs.
Democrats believe that we should focus every day on job creation and growing paychecks for everyone everywhere in our country. You heard me say that over and over again. We should be creating jobs, rebuilding America's infrastructure, investing in education that will drive the jobs of the future and unleash the full potential of our people and our economy and our country. Where is the infrastructure bill? They talked about infrastructure --
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're going to get back to Nancy Pelosi. We are waiting to hear from her and her reaction on one of the two breaking news fronts that we are covering here. Breaking news on two fronts, two dramatic show downs on Capitol Hill.
On the Senate side, we are looking at Republicans. Live look at House floor, Republicans are taking an unprecedented step today to push through President Trump's pick for the Supreme Court. A complex, but hugely important vote underway right now.
That would be getting underway that would pave the way for Neil Gorsuch to get confirmed and begin a lifetime appointment on the nation's highest court. It's also a vote that could change the Senate forever. That's why they call it the nuclear option. We'll be getting to that.
On the other side of the capitol, a huge development in the House Russian investigation. The embattled chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, stepping aside, at least for now, from its probe into Russia's interference in the U.S. election.
This comes about two weeks after a secret meeting at the White House over other surveillance issues and meeting that race questions about where the chairman's loyalties lie. The outcry afterwards effectively forced the committee to break down.
Let's start there. Nunes says he's stepping aside after a series of ethics complaints. The House Ethics Committee confirms it is investigating him. House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about this really surprising news of Nunes stepping aside just moments ago. Listen to Speaker Ryan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: First of all, Devin Nunes has earned my trust over many years for his integrity and his dedication to the critical work that the intelligence community does to keep Americans safe. He continues to have that trust.
And I know he is eager to demonstrate to the Ethics Committee that he has followed all proper guidelines and laws. In the meantime, it is clear this process would be a distraction to House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in our election.
So Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this particular probe and I fully support his decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: All right. Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju, who is live now on Capitol Hill. Manu, you were there when the speaker said that. News to everyone even though he was sitting there when the statement came out from Chairman Nunes. What are you picking up? What's going on?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, this is actually shock not just for people who have been following this investigation, but actually members on the House intelligence Committee. I talked to a number of them after this news broke. They had a meeting.
One of the regular meetings that they have twice a week. Thursday morning, today, as this news broke. Chairman Nunes did not even brief his members on this information.
In fact, the way that they learned this is that the members got a statement handed out by the staff members from Chairman Nunes saying that he was stepping aside. This came of course a surprise because for the last week or so, you've been hearing Democratic calls for him to recuse himself from this investigation because they believe that he's been too close to the White House.
Because they believed that he should not have briefed the president on that surveillance information that he said showed some incidental collection of Trump team communication with foreign officials and criticism, Democratic criticism of his decision to cancel a public hearing on Russia.
Nunes dug in and I asked him specifically if he would recuse himself. He had told me before why he would not. That is what people believed going into today. So this is even coming as a surprise to Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, who said this moments after Devin Nunes released that statement. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Just want to express my appreciation for what the chairman decided to do. I'm sure it was a very difficult decision for him, but as he mentioned I think it is in the best interest of the information. It will I think allow us to have a fresh start moving forward. I look forward to working with Mr. Conway. This I think investigation is of such critical importance that we need to get fully back on track.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now the question, Kate, is whether Chairman Nunes disclosed any classified information when he discussed that issue of incidentally collection.
[11:05:09]I had asked Mr. Nunes that repeatedly over the last couple of weeks and he insisted there was no classified information. I asked the same question to Adam Schiff. He did not want to go there.
Now the Ethics Committee in the House has confirmed that it's investigating whether or not Mr. Nunes has disclosed any of this confidential, classified information and, also, Kate, I asked Paul Ryan did you urged Devin Nunes to step aside. He did not answer that question -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: A lot going on, Manu. Thanks so much. I'm sure there's more to come on this. Jump back up when you have it. Let's talk more about this and also everything that's going on in Capitol Hill. Let me bring in right now Republican from Illinois, Congressman Adam Kinzinger is joining me now. Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM KINZINGER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me.
BOLDUAN: Of course. Your reaction to this news that's just developing of Nunes stepping aside from the Russia investigation in the House. What's you take.
KINZINGER: Well, I know Devin. I know he's an honorable guy. He became the story in what was going on. I think with that with the details of whatever these ethics complaints are. I don't know the details of them. I think he realized I'm becoming the story. I'm distracting from what needs to happen here.
And the other thing is, you know, we're going on recess to go back in our districts and I think he didn't want folks to have to answer those questions instead talk about our agenda. So I think from his perspective he did the honorable thing to just step aside and say let this settle.
BOLDUAN: Honorable. Do you think it was the right move?
KINZINGER: I think it was -- well, that's for him to decide because it's subjective. I think it was honorable. It's probably the right thing because again, he just said look, I'm becoming the story. I don't want to be the story. People deserve a bipartisan investigation. They need to have faith that's getting done.
BOLDUAN: He says he is stepping aside according to his statement because of this ethics investigation. They are investigating if whether or not he possibly mishandled classified information. It does make you wonder, that's basically his entire job description what he does as the chairman -- or even being a member of the committee is handling classified information. If that's being called into question, do you think he can be chairman of the committee at all while he's being investigated?
KINZINGER: I think so. I mean, the committee does a huge broad range of things and -- but in terms of that, look, I don't know enough of the details of it. This is all news to me frankly within the last half hour. I don't really have enough to comment, but I will tell you that if in fact that is something he is concerned about, he'll handle it well because this is a guy that's well into this. He understands the importance of the committee and he's going to try to do the right and honorable thing.
BOLDUAN: OK, Congressman, I do want to ask you about Syria and the chemical attack this week. You have been very clear on your position on this and your position on Bashar al-Assad. You want him out and you want to see action from the United States. After the president's press conference yesterday, are you clear, though, on what the president's position is here?
KINZINGER: Not really. I think he made it clear that he's not going to say what he's going to do. So you know, obviously that puts where people are murky about it, but I think he was very clear when he said two things.
Number one, my opinion of Assad a week ago is different than my opinion of Assad today. Obviously the chemical attack had a big part of that. The other thing he talked about this crosses many red lines.
Now I don't want to look too much into what that means he's going to do, but I think he understands that, look, we never accepted chemical weapons on the battlefield since World War I until this conflict.
We cannot as the free world allow this to stand without repercussions against the regime in the short term to say, if you use chemical weapons, not to mention all your other brutality. But if you use chemical weapons, the cost to your regime is going too far outweigh any benefit you get from choking children to death.
BOLDUAN: What do you want to hear from this president now, though?
KINZINGER: You know, I want to hear him be very clear. I thought his press conference yesterday was actually pretty good. I want to hear him be very clear in continuing to condemn these attacks. I hope he's formulating a military response.
Again, that military response doesn't mean we fully engage in regime change, but it can force the parties to the table and it inflicts massive punishment for dropping chemical weapons on children.
BOLDUAN: You need to see more. I think a lot of folks are saying that they need to hear at least what strategic objectives are from the position of the administration there. I had a fellow Republican of yours, a fellow colleague of yours. Fellow Republican Congressman Thomas Massie on yesterday. For our viewers just to remind them, this is what he said about the attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS MASSIE (R), KENTUCKY: I don't think it would have served Assad's purposes to do a chemical attack on his people. So it's hard for me to understand why he would do that if he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Congressman, you basically said he didn't really believe that Assad would do this. What do you say to that?
KINZINGER: I mean, I was awe struck when I heard somebody say this. Literally took the talking points out of Putin's mouth and out of the regime's mouth and recited them to an American audience despite the fact that the president and the American intelligence said it is not the regime and not Russia.
[11:10:13]That made me sick. Frankly, I was ashamed for him being a Republican saying something like that. It is obvious that ISIS did not steel these chemical weapons and steel an aircraft and drop it. Neither did the rebels.
This is Assad. He has a history of doing this. He has no compassion for his people. That's why he drops precision-guided munitions on schools and hospitals. And I hope he recants that statement because it's very obvious he was behind this.
BOLDUAN: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, always a pressure. Thank you so much.
KINZINGER: You bet, take care.
BOLDUAN: Thank you. All right, let's talk more about the implications though where we kind of started that conversation with the Congressman Chairman Nunes stepping away from the Russia investigation.
For more on this, I want the bring Manu Raju back in. We didn't let him leave quite yet. Also want to bring in CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza. Great to see you both.
So Chris, first to you. To quote John McCain in his new favorite metaphor, the shoes keep dropping off this centipede. That's what John McCain said. Not necessarily about this one, but he just says they're going to keep dropping.
This is a 180 for what Nunes has been telling Manu over and over again in the past month. Why do you think -- what do you think is behind this change?
CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, right, on March 28, Devin Nunes told Manu why would I when asked about stepping aside. This very question. You know, today, Devin Nunes steps aside. What's changed?
He's come under pressure from the fact that this continues to be a distraction. I think there was some sense. Maybe if we wait it out, this will go away. The path will move on and he can step back in. That's not happened.
You know, so I think at some point, the Trump administration and especially congressional Republicans have to figure out a way to get beyond this. To get the result of whatever comes out of this investigation to be seen as credible.
It's virtually impossible to have done that with Nunes given that visit to the White House and the way he handled it for that to have happened. So this clears the decks a little bit more, but I would say, Kate, and I've been using the "wither smoke" metaphor rather than the centipede.
Mike Flynn resigns after misleading Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. Jeff Sessions recuses himself after misremembering, according to him, conversations he had with Sergei Kislyak.
Now Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee steps aside after saying he wouldn't because of another thing tied to this. There's just a lot of smoke here that any reasonable person would say we need to figure out whether there's actually fire.
BOLDUAN: But here's the thing, Manu, and you've said this -- you've made this point many of times. Devin Nunes has the support of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan today still says that he has full confidence in Chairman Nunes. So was there momentum building within the building you're in or is it something else?
RAJU: You know, that's a great question, Kate. In fact, I asked Paul Ryan in the press conference on Tuesday about Devin Nunes. He said I have full confidence in him. He also noted that he did privately meet with the House Intelligence Committee and said that this is going to move this is going to get back on track.
Now does that mean that he urged Nunes to step aside? We don't know that yet. When I tried to get Paul Ryan to answer that question at the press conference, he did not respond. But clearly recognizing that it's a distraction.
Saying that in a statement that having Nunes on board was a distraction especially in light of the announcement by the House Ethics Committee that it is investigating whether or not Mr. Nunes had disclosed any classified information.
Now, I can tell you, though, Kate, yesterday and the day before, you could tell from Mr. Nunes that his demeanor had changed. He had grown a lot more uncomfortable. He would not answer questions at all.
He had been repeatedly briefing the press before all this controversy started, but even basic questions about hearing schedules and responding to Democratic attacks. Yesterday, when I tried to ask him about all those things, not answering any questions at all anymore about this investigation.
He was very terse and not pleased to being questioned about the investigation and also the controversy in his statements that have shifted repeatedly about some of his actions over the last couple of weeks. So I think a combination of that with concerns from the leadership that this could be a distraction essentially forced him to step aside.
BOLDUAN: Guys, thanks so much. Keeping an eye there. We'll talk much more about that. I do want to keep an eye on the Senate floor. We are going to take you back over to that side of the capitol where there is a very important vote that will be taking place in this hour.
[11:15:03]Joining me now is a member of the leadership, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota to discuss. Senator, thanks so much for the time.
SENATOR JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Nice to be with you. Thanks Kate.
BOLDUAN: So I want to ask you, I do want to ask you, let's talk about what's going on in this Senate today. They call it -- it's called the nuclear option. It's a major, major change in how the rules of the Senate. It's complex, but it's important. Let's start here. Will you be supporting the change in the rules today? Yes?
THUNE: Yes. Yes. I will.
BOLDUAN: So from that, everyone from top down has lamented this rules change is happening. Example after example of we don't want to do this. This is bad. We shouldn't be forced to do this. If that's the case, is there any way to explain that this rule change is a good thing that you guys are going to be doing?
THUNE: I think what you can say about it, Kate, is it does preserve the 230-year tradition of the United States Senate of confirming Supreme Court nominees with an up and down vote. A simple majority vote, a vote of 51. You know, what we're having right now is, of course, the Democrats are filibustering this nominee, which is that's the unprecedented part about this. That's never happened before.
And I think this all kind of got set in motion a little over three years ago when in 2013, the Democrats in the Senate basically changed the rules to allow a simple majority vote, an up and down vote for lower court and appellate court nominees.
And they hinted last fall during the presidential campaign, if Hillary Clinton had won the election, they were going to go all the way through and do this for the Supreme. So I think it's kind of everyone sort of expected this to happen. Nobody is very happy about it, frankly, but I think we are where we are. The Democrats are filibustering. We have to confirm this judge and so that procedure to do that is underway now in the Senate.
BOLDUAN: You definitely are where you are, but you guys are in control. You don't have to do it. I mean, you're going to be enforcing the rules change. Democrats after that 2013 change, Senator, they came to regret it. Are you going to regret this?
THUNE: Well, again, I don't think in my view at least what we're doing is this is the way it's always been done. Supreme Court nominees have always been confirmed at the 51-vote threshold. That was true for the two Clinton nominees --
BOLDUAN: But it has to go past this. It always goes past this step. It always has.
THUNE: Well, the only time the filibuster has been exercised on Supreme Court nominee has been by Democrats. Republicans have not filibustered under either Clinton or Obama, the two that he put forward. All of whom are now -- four of them are on the court and none of them were filibustered by Republicans at the time.
So I think what you're seeing right now is just simply what -- if we're going to get a nominee confirmed to Supreme Court, this is what it's going to take. If you can't get Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, I don't know who you can confirm. We can't leave the seat open for the next four years. So this is the --
BOLDUAN: But it comes --
THUNE: -- this is a procedure that allows us to get to an up and down vote on his nomination.
BOLDUAN: It does. It comes down to math, though, it's 52-48. That's what the American people voted in in terms of you only have 52 Republicans in the Senate. Are you worried you're going to regret this?
THUNE: I'm not personally, but like I said, I think everybody would rather this did not happen, but when the Democrats teed this up in 2013, and then basically said last fall publicly many of them that they were going to do this if they got the majority and won the White House, this year.
I think it sort of set us on this horse and on this track. But to me, it simply restores or preserves what's always been true of Supreme Court nominees. They've always been confirmed out of 51-vote threshold. So, do we -- does anybody like where we are. Everybody is going to be glad to get this behind us.
Because we got a lot of other things that we need to do legislatively concerning the economy and jobs. I think that's where we want the focus to be.
BOLDUAN: In the words of John McCain, Senator, and you've got to go, but in the words of John McCain, he says, whoever is going to help change these rules, they are idiots for doing it. Noteworthy John McCain is voting to change the rules along with you. Great to see you, Senator, thanks for your time.
THUNE: Nice to be with you. Thanks, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. The senator is going to vote. Let's get over to talk about where the vote stands right now because the voting is underway.
Let's go over to Sunlen Serfaty. She's been watching this. Sunlen, where do things stand right now in the Senate?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, voting is still underway, but the big headline is that Democrats -- that the vote is now has reached the 41 vote threshold, which means that Democrats are successful in their filibuster of Neil Gorsuch. This was as we had expected. We had known for the last few days that Republicans would be unable to reach that magic number, 60, to be able to break the filibuster.
So things are proceeding as we expected. This is a very, very small win and very temporary win for the Democrats to symbolically say that they had enough votes to filibuster Neil Gorsuch. This will after this vote concludes, set off a series of complicated procedural steps on the floor of the Senate by Mitch McConnell, one of those being invoking nuclear option.
[11:20:05]I want to point you to the floor there. As you know from covering your time up here at Capitol Hill, Kate, when senators are at their desk and working, they know it's going to be a long couple of hours. They know it's a very important moment for the institution of the Senate.
BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. What Sunlen is pointing to for viewers, we have the view of the Senate floor, the desks, that's where the senators are now. Not their office. Their desk in the Senate. That's what they do for historic moments, big votes, when they're going to be there for a long time.
That kind of sets the stage of what we're going to be watching playing out. Senator Thune says they are just getting back to regular order. They are going to be -- we will be seeing history happen today changing 200 years of history, over 200 years of history in the Senate when they change this.
We've got much more to discuss on this. Sunlen is keeping her eye on the floor. Sunlen, thanks so much.
So also for us -- President Trump is preparing to spend the weekend with the leader of the nation that he blasted repeatedly from the campaign trail on everything from trade to how to handle North Korea. Will President Trump sing a different tune, though, when he meets face-to-face with the president of China today?
Also this, President Trump says that he's changed his attitude towards Syria. After the deadly chemical attack that killed dozens including many, many children. What action will he take? What is the policy now towards Bashar al-Assad and Syria? Big question. Stay with us.
BOLDUAN: History in the making, you're looking at live pictures of the Senate floor where both parties are in the midst of a showdown over Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Moments ago, let's put it this way, they are still in the middle of this vote. This vote will fail.
This is to stop a Democratic filibuster. It appears right now, according to CNN's count that the Democrats do have the votes. They've passed the threshold to uphold the filibuster. That is basically an important step one. What then?
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected then to respond to this by invoking so-called nuclear option, to change the rules of the Senate to break that filibuster in order to move to a final vote to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed.
We are watching this play out as we speak. As you can see, it's riveting television to watch the Senate floor. Joining me to discuss and breakdown what this moment means and what is all happening, Alan Frumin. He is with me now. He is a Senate parliamentarian for nearly 20 years.
What does this basically mean? He's the referee for chamber's complicated rules. For all of us and everyone at home, Alan, this is very complicated. For you, this is your life's work. This is for a man whose job and life's work was to honor and maintain the rules of Senate. What is today like for you watching this happen?
ALAN FRUMIN, FORMER SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN: First of all, Kate, thanks for having me on the program. I was going to say I'm pleased to be here, but I'm not pleased to be here. This is a very unhappy day for the Senate. The Senate tradition of protecting its minorities is critically important in our federal government.
The Senate is the only place in the federal government where those not in power are not in fact powerless. That power, that influence is based on the ability of senators to engaged in full and untethered debate and the terms for that is the filibuster. This is a very unhappy day.
BOLDUAN: What is happening right now? What is the Senate, what is the person who is sitting in the chair that you sat in for so many years, what is the parliamentarian doing right now on the Senate floor?
FRUMIN: Well, she's -- I can't see the floor at this point in time, but I assume, it's Elizabeth Macdonough, my successor as Senate parliamentarian. She's sitting there and monitoring absolutely everything that takes place on the Senate floor. She's prepared to give advice to the presiding officer.
Both in terms of possible point of order that Senator McConnell will make and her advice to the chair on how to handle that. She will also prep the chair about what she anticipates Senator McConnell will do after he makes this point of order.
And actually she will prep the chair as to when to expect the point of order to be made and what would be involved in ruling on that point of order, what will be involved handling anticipated appeal from that ruling.
BOLDUAN: And Alan, let's be real clear on this one. The chair is a rotating schedule of senators who sit in the chair. It's the parliamentarian that the senators are always looking towards to basically say what do I do now? What do I say, right?
FRUMIN: Yes, that's correct. It's up to the parliamentarian to understand the rules and the precedent of Senate and to advise the presiding officers based on that.
BOLDUAN: So depending on who you talk to, Alan, Democrats before, Republicans now. Democrats in 2013, they change the rules. They said they were back into a corner, they had to do it. That's what Republicans are saying about this one. So both parties are a little bit guilty of this, right?
FRUMIN: Yes, I agree with you. Neither party comes into this with clean hands. First of all, we are not talking about a change in the rules. We are talking about a change in precedent, which interprets the rules. The rules say what the rules say, but the precedent says what the rules mean. That's what really matters.
(Inaudible) precedent as was the case in 2013 with Senator Reid, who established the precedent. This if this plays out as everybody anticipates will establish a new precedent as well.
BOLDUAN: I've asked this question and you would be the one person who really knows the answer. If they wanted to, if the will was there to do it, could they change the rule back after they -- after they had in layman's terms, after they do pull this nuclear option.
FRUMIN: Yes, they could. They could change the rule back by unanimous consent or they could -- well, they could undo or vitiate the precedent from 2013 and possibly the precedent that's about to be established here. That could be vitiated, i.e. wiped out, nullified by unanimous consent. It would also be possible to actually amend --
BOLDUAN: Alan, let me jump in real quick, the only reason I'm interrupting is to go to the Senate floor and listen to Mitch McConnell, the majority leader right now. Let's listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Barasso. Mr. Bennett --