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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Democratic Wave in 2018?; Interview With Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 26, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Russian oligarchs who financed part of his enterprise and his inexplicable admiration, bromance for Vladimir Putin.

And so I think, in some ways, we're doing this despite the president. And I think he is a very reluctant signatory to the recent national strategic policy that was announced.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: North Korea is certainly front and center in terms of national security threats to the U.S. and elsewhere in the region.

Now Russia raising its hand as voluntary mediator. Would you consider them a trustworthy mediator in talks or the possibility of talks with North Korea?

CONNOLLY: Well, you know, Ronald Reagan used to quote the Russian proverb, you know, trust, but verify.

The Russians have certainly been a partner in some major diplomatic breakthroughs, for example, the Iran nuclear agreement. The Russians were very helpful and have been helpful in implementing it.

So where we can take Russian help and we can verify that they don't have some hidden agenda that is working against our interests, we should do so.

In the case of North Korea, we have so little leverage, we need the Chinese and we need the Russians to put pressure on the North Korean regime.

SCIUTTO: Ohio's Republican governor, of course, former presidential candidate John Kasich, he wrote in "The Washington Post" that the United States and North Korea should not, in fact, be anywhere close to the brink of war and that there are in his words "several roads not taken" with Kim Jong-un.

I know that this is an issue close to your heart. You visited the border earlier this year...

CONNOLLY: That's right.

SCIUTTO: ... there, the demilitarized zone. Do you agree with Governor Kasich?

CONNOLLY: I do.

I think talk of war is reckless. And I think, frankly, President Trump's tweets, threatening tweets, are very unhelpful and actually help Kim Jong-un in terms of his goal to make the North, North Korea, a nuclear state.

I think there are lots of avenues still available to us in terms of toughening sanctions, banking relationships, merchant insurance, all of which Governor Kasich's talked about in his op-ed piece. And I agree with him.

Let's use every lever we have got, but let's also dangle some promises to the North that if they behave, if they roll back their nuclear program, there is some kind of carrot. So far all we have talked about and used are sticks, and that's been very ineffective.

SCIUTTO: The Trump administration announced over the weekend that it was cutting the U.N. budget by $285 million. You heard from Nikki Haley, of course, the ambassador to the U.N., saying in, in her words, "We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked."

Is that a useful tool for the U.S. in terms of leverage in the U.N., leverage with its international partners to kind of wield the budgetary stick?

CONNOLLY: This is, I think, a very counterproductive move on the part of the Trump administration.

And we have seen it in other Republican administrations as well. We helped created United Nations. The United Nations has extended the ability of the United States diplomatically all over the world. The United Nations has been able to put peacekeeping forces into places of conflict, so we didn't have to do it, and it's cheap at the price.

Sometimes, there is going to be conflict. We have got a world community now that, you know, has differing opinions, but by and large the United States has prevailed on most major issues since the founding of the United Nations.

And, you know, flawed though it is as an institution -- every institution is -- it has really been a wonderful adjunct to U.S. diplomacy. It is self-defeating for the United States to pull back and make this level of cuts, when the United Nations has been an instrumentality for pursuing, I think, Western values and democracy all over the world.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Connolly, thanks very much.

CONNOLLY: My great pleasure.

SCIUTTO: Please, run right back to your family. Enjoy the rest of the holiday.

CONNOLLY: Happy new year.

SCIUTTO: OK. Bye-bye.

Democrats are lacking to ride an anti-Trump wave to take over the House in 2018. But could GOP legislative momentum turn that tide? My political panel on what to expect right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:24]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to the lead. I'm Jim Sciutto back with the panel now.

The polls showing Dems with a big 2018 advantage, and that that advantage is expanding, but I have to ask you, Amanda Carpenter, first, you got tax reform passed. And I know that today the majority of Americans think that it's mostly for corporation, rich people. It's not very popular.

Do you think that will change over the course of 2018 as many Americans begin to see small tax breaks, bigger, fatter checks at pay time?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do think it's going to change. I think it's going to change a lot more in 2019 because of the way the tax tables and everything resets for that filing year.

I wish it were going to change sooner, but, really, just withholding, you will see a bump in paychecks. But the big stuff comes in 2019 and I really fear that might be too late for Republicans.

SCIUTTO: Symone, I'm curious what you think. It's a big Democratic advantage now, but November 2018 is a long way off, and yet between now and then, folks are going to see -- or many Americans are going to be seeing a few extra hundred dollars in their paychecks.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and their premiums are still going to go up on their health insurance. Still the wealthiest Americans will see more than a few extra dollars. They will see $75,000 more in their paychecks.

And Democrats across the country are going to continue to beat this dead horse until you can't beat it anymore. The fact of the matter is that this is a bill, this is now a law for the wealthiest individuals, not for middle-class Americans.

And I definitely think Democrats the House is absolutely in play. I think we can win the House next year because this is just an unpopular bill, and the Republicans have yet to sell this to the American people. It's really hard to sell something that is bad, Jim. Really hard.

CARPENTER: Really quick, for the life of me, I can't understand why the Democrats want to run against Republicans on the tax cuts when they have so much other material. [16:40:05]

You have the Russia investigation. You have Me Too. You have all of Donald Trump's character issues. And you want to run against the tax cuts. Good luck.

(CROSSTALK)

SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG: Democrats need an economic message, along with the character attacks.

I think Hillary Clinton tried to run against Donald Trump's character and temperament and qualifications, and it fell flat. Voters want an economic message.

Democrats view this tax bill as one way to get through that economic message that Republicans are only trying to help the wealthy.

Republicans have a hell of a sales job between now and 2018, because polls show this bill is unpopular. This is going to be their major accomplishment, along with the trifecta of repealing the individual mandate and opening up ANWR to oil drilling.

But, look, the 2018 elections, there's going to be a lot of policy debate. What it's really turning on is Democratic enthusiasm right now. There are millions and millions of voters who are angry and appalled that Donald Trump is president, and they don't like the Republicans who are defending him, and they're going to take it out on them at the ballot box.

Unless Republicans can do something to turn that tide, it's looking bad for them.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You saw that on the flip side, right? Lack of excitement on the Republican side, you saw that in Virginia, but you also saw that in Alabama.

Speaking of 2018, Utah's largest paper, "The Salt Lake Tribune," serious takedown really of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.

It includes these words, the editorial, saying that he has -- quote -- "an utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power."

What was remarkable is Senator Orrin Hatch tweeted out this with thanks, it seems, before he actually read the editorial.

But I wonder, looking ahead, Sahil, does Orrin Hatch have a fight on his hands for reelection?

KAPUR: Interesting you asked that, Jim.

I spoke to Orrin Hatch's spokesman about an hour ago and he attacked the "Tribune" editorial board. I'm just going to read one part of his quote. He said they were -- quote -- "baselessly attacking the service and integrity of someone who has given 40 years to the people of Utah."

He called it an unquenchable thirst for clicks, playing off their criticism of the senator. But, look, he also told me that Senator Hatch plans has to announce by the end of the year, as he has said, whether he is going to retire or at the very latest by the time he returns to Washington next week.

This is going to be a huge battle. There has been a holding pattern among Republicans in Utah for a long time because Hatch has had that seat for 40 years. If he steps down, there is going to be quite a fight I think for that, in primary season for that seat. And it's going to loom large, I think, overall on the election.

Republicans are still favored in deep red Utah regardless.

SCIUTTO: Amanda Carpenter, are we going to be reunited with the ghost of Mitt Romney in this race? That's been talked about.

CARPENTER: Yes, I think this is all about Mitt Romney, which is why I find this seat so fascinating.

Senator Hatch was signaling he wasn't going to run. And then in December, Donald Trump goes down to Utah, talks to people there. And then all of a sudden you see Steve Bannon in Alabama bashing Mitt Romney to pieces, calling his family out.

And I think if you're Donald Trump and you're worried about a potential 2020 presidential primary challenger, there are very few people who could do it. Mitt Romney has the money, he has the name I.D. And in that Alabama race, Mitt Romney was teeing off on Roy Moore, saying, you know, how terrible he would be for the Republican Party.

And then you look right there, Orrin Hatch starts talking about how great Roy Moore is. And then this week you see Orrin Hatch, you know, over the top praising Donald Trump for the tax bill.

So there is a lot going on there. And I think, you know, if I want to get conspiratorial here, the White House got Orrin Hatch to block Mitt Romney from that seat to keep him from having a path to Washington, to challenging Donald Trump.

SCIUTTO: And we saw Steve Bannon take some shots at Mitt Romney. Didn't work out so well in Alabama on that.

Symone Sanders, you're going to love this question, because senior White House officials are telling CNN that President Trump is eager to be front and center in next year's races.

SANDERS: Yay!

SCIUTTO: Do Democrats relish that possibility?

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Yes. Please, bring it on. I worked a governor's race in 2014, Jim, where you couldn't even utter

the words President Obama or Obamacare, because it was just -- it was toxic for midterm races.

So this is going to be the same thing for Donald Trump. I want -- Democrats want Donald Trump to bring it on, on the campaign trail, because Republicans are going to have to run away from him. His approval ratings are historically low. The only major legislative accomplishment that he has is a tax bill that is a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and hurts middle-class Americans.

And maybe he will do something for the dreamers, but that's that just speaks to the legislative prowess of "Chuck and Nancy" -- quote, unquote -- and not necessarily Donald Trump. We want him on the campaign trail. Bring him. Come on, because we're going to take back the House.

CARPENTER: Careful what you wish for.

(CROSSTALK)

KAPUR: He's not backing away from it. He said he's very eager to get involved in the 2018 elections. If he goes down, he's going to go down swinging.

CARPENTER: He likes those rallies.

SCIUTTO: We're going to have to leave it there.

Symone, Sahil, Amanda, I'm ordering you to go back to your families. Enjoy the rest of the holidays.

We are counting down the biggest political stories of 2017. That's after the break. And they all have one thing in common. I will give you one guess. Rhymes with President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back. Whether you thought it was the best year in political history or the final year in political history, there is no doubt that an entire year's worth of political news was crammed into each week of 2017. And our Jake Tapper is here to sort out the biggest stories of a wild first year of President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Gather round, family, and friends. You'll be talking about 2017 for generations to come. The first year of the Trump Presidency shattered the status quo. Cultures of harassment were exposed, travel bans were debated, protests erupted, and I seem to recall something about Russia. Here are, in our view, the top seven political stories of 2017.

President Trump signed executive orders banning U.S. entry from seven Muslim-majority nations, which sparked worldwide protests and disagreement among the courts before a revised version was upheld.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to take our case as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court.

[16:50:05] TAPPER: The administration also ended the DACA program, affecting some 700,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: The DACA policy produced by the last administration could not be sustained.

TAPPER: The fate of these so-called DREAMers was left in the hands of Congress.

TRUMP: Hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Mr. President, I will not be complicit or silent.

TAPPER: In 2017, some Republicans went rogue, openly displaying disdain for the President of their own party.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think the debasement of our nation will be one that will be remembered most for.

TAPPER: Critics such as Jeff Flake of Arizona and former Trump supporter Bob Corker of Tennessee announced they would not seek re- election to the Senate.

FLAKE: It's not enough to be conservative anymore. It seems that you have to be angry about it.

TAPPER: Both will remain in office until November. Working with Republican Senators John McCain, Ben Sasse and Cory Gardner who have expressed condemnation of Trump at different times as well.

TRUMP: We're going to get a health bill passed. We're going to get health care taken care of in this country.

TAPPER: Republicans tried to repeal and replace ObamaCare, received insufficient support, removed the bill, regrouped and were left reeling after repeat defeat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.

TAPPER: The most dramatic courtesy of Republican John McCain.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We promised to repeal and replace ObamaCare and we failed.

TAPPER: The GOP had no major legislative victory all year until December.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: Merry Christmas, America. TAPPER: A $1.35 trillion GOP tax plan passed with a partial repeal of

ObamaCare handwritten edits and absolutely no Democratic support. A White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, began with a torch-lit march around a Confederate monument. One of these white supremacists rammed his car into a crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The President initially failed to call out the white supremacists.

TRUMP: I think there's blame on both side.

TAPPER: Even strong conservatives condemned his response.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Trump did today was a moral disgrace.

TAPPER: Passionate demonstrations filled the streets.

AMERICAN CROWD: Nazis are not welcome here.

TAPPER: And nationwide symbols of the Confederacy were vandalized or officially removed.

TRUMP: You're fired.

TAPPER: It was more than a catchphrase, just ask Press Secretary Sean Spicer or Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci or Chief of Staff Reince Priebus or Chief Strategist Steve Bannon or National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and, of course --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you believe you were fired?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FBI: I take the President at his word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.

TAPPER: The Trump administration had more than a dozen resignations, firings, and reassignments in its first year.

The #MeToo movement ushered in an era of accountability, ending careers and launching a battle for moral high ground. Allegation the that Republican Roy Moore sexual assaulted teen girls as an adult led Alabama voters to elect their first Democratic Senator in 25 years.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office.

TAPPER: Fellow Democrats forced Senator Al Franken to announce his resignation after several women said he acted inappropriately.

LEEANN TWEEDEN, ACCUSER OF SEN. AL FRANKEN: He just mashes his mouth to my lips.

TAPPER: Several others in Congress, including Trent Franks, John Conyers, Ruben Kihuen and Blake Farenthold resigned or announced early retirements after facing accusations of their own. But in response to questions about the President's past actions, the White House was defiant. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER UNITED STATES DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: That's the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system.

TAPPER: The leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies unanimously concluded that Russia interfered in the Presidential election. But did President Trump's campaign help them in their effort?

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia.

TAPPER: FBI Director James Comey was leading the investigation until he was fired. Now an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is digging deeper. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to misleading the FBI and Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was indicted. The Senate Intelligence Committee questioned Donald Trump Jr. for hours about his meetings with Russians in Trump Tower.

Is he being forthcoming?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: There are a lot of legitimate questions that this individual needs to answer.

TAPPER: All this as the President and his supporters playing defense tried to accuse the Mueller investigation of bias.

Those were our top seven political stories of 2017, but with the Russia investigation still ongoing and control of the Senate at stake, 2018 is sure to present unprecedented political headlines of its own. I'm Jake Tapper, stay tuned.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Jake wrapping up really an incredible year. Coming up next, analysts predicted a less than happy holiday for iPhone X sales as the company explains why you might eventually have an iPhone graveyard sitting in your drawer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:55:00] SCIUTTO: We are back now with the "MONEY LEAD." Apple stock closing this hour slightly down after reports of slower demand for its new iPhone X, but five new lawsuits over Apple's covertly slowing down older phones could be an even bigger problem for the company. Court filings claimed that Apple damaged their user experience, forcing some people to drop more cash on upgrades. Apple last week admitted two to slowdowns what many critics were saying all along to ease the burden on older dying batteries. The issue affects certain models older than the iPhone 8. But Despite the criticism, Apple says it will keep on slowing down phones as they age. Expert case if your iPhone does feel sluggish, try replacing the battery instead of the entire phone. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @JIMSCIUTTO or tweet THE LEAD CNN. That is it for THE LEAD today. I turn you over now to Brianna Keilar, she's filling in for Wolf on the "SITUATION ROOM".