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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Anger Erupts as Senate Committee Votes on Trump's Attorney General; Ted Cruz Reacts to Gorsuch Supreme Court Pick; Trump Picks Gorsuch for Supreme Court; Over 900 State Department Employees Disapprove of Travel Ban; Trump Was Unhappy with Travel Ban Rollout; Trump Meets with Supreme Court Groups. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 1, 2017 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So what I think we're seeing is that the Democrats on the Hill are responding to the base. The base has been pushing Democrats really to stand up, take a more forceful stand, do some unprecedented things. Democrats have still been operating as though this is business as usual and it's not. The House is literally on fire. And some Democrats are still trying to find the keys to unlock the front door. That's not --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hang on a second. Senator Ted Cruz is talking. Let's listen.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS: -- the Second Amendment. My home is the Democrats in the Senate will set aside their anger at the election results and will recognize that the people have spoken, and will confirm Judge Gorsuch, who I think is a worthy successor to one of the greatest justices to ever sit on the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you disappointed he didn't pick you?

CRUZ: Not remotely. I'm thrilled with Judge Gorsuch. I'm thrilled to be here in the Senate representing 27 million Texans. It has been the privilege of my life and continues to be the privilege of my life.

And I think the Senate is going to be the battlefield. The Senate is going to be the battlefield for Supreme Court confirmations. The Senate is going to be the battlefield for Obamacare, for tax reform, for regulatory reform, for rebuilding our military, for keeping this country safe. And I jump out of bed every day for the opportunity --

(CROSSTALK)

CRUZ: -- to be on the field, as you put it, as Teddy Roosevelt put it, in the arena. Right now, the Senate is the arena.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said it was the most important day of the Trump presidency so far. What do you want next from him, what do you seek from him as the next most important?

CRUZ: What I think is critical for President Trump, and it's also critical for the majorities in both Houses of Congress, that we deliver on the promises we made. This election was a mandate for change. The American people spoke --

BERMAN: Ted Cruz there, the Senator from Texas, talking about the various nomination battles, and also talking about the Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, judge from Colorado, up right now, Ted Cruz supportive of him, saying he didn't want to be Supreme Court justice.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, really.

BERMAN: Saying he wants to be in the Senate.

BOLDUAN: Or in the White House. But we digress.

BERMAN: Stand by, everyone, there is a lot going on.

We have more breaking new. Democrats, as we've been talking about, boycotting the confirmation hearing of one of President Trump's -- two of President Trump's nominees. Details next.

This is CNN's special live coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:36:01] BOLDUAN: Let's get straight back to Capitol Hill where there is a lot going on right now. Senator Sessions, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Again, other committees being boycotted by Democrats. Democrats boycotting votes on other cabinet picks by Donald Trump. A lot going on.

Let's get the latest. Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju standing by.

Manu, what do you have?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, Kate and John. I'm standing outside the Senate Judiciary Committee where they just approved on a party line vote the Jeff Sessions nomination to be attorney general.

And I'm standing with one of the members of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, a Democrat.

Thanks for chatting with us.

You'll be in charge of dealing with Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Some Democrats don't want to filibuster this nomination. They're worried about this potentially being problematic, risky, blowing back in their face. This is a conservative replacing a conservative. What do you think about the approach of some of your members to take a moderate stance on him?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D), CONNECTICUT: I believe there must be a 60-vote threshold has there has been for all of the recent Supreme Court nominees, including all of President Obama's nominees, Kagan and Sotomayor, both were approved by that kind of 60-vote margin. The reason is very simple. The Supreme Court is different. It's a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, with awesome power. And that appointment ought to be by a broad national consensus reflected in 60 votes, not by razor-thin majority. I believe our Republican colleagues will agree and will avoid changing the rules.

RAJU: So you want your party to go all out, filibuster, do everything you can to block this nomination from getting -- block him from getting his confirmation?

BLUMENTHAL: I have reached no conclusion as yet. But I'm very concerned about a number of opinions and rulings made by Judge Gorsuch on privacy rights, particularly women's health care, as well as worker and consumer protections, public health and safety. And if I reach the conclusion that he is out of the mainstream, I will use every tool available to block his nomination.

RAJU: But aren't you worried, though, that Republicans could change the filibuster rules, make it a 51-vote threshold, and then next time around, when Donald Trump names someone, presumably replacing a liberal justice, it could tilt the court further to the right. Are you worried about this approach right now?

BLUMENTHAL: Let me be very blunt. No decision I make as a United States Senator is more important than my vote on a Supreme Court nomination. And I will consider each one on the merits and take every one individually, because every one of them has a vote that can affect real life consequences for the entire country. And put aside all this gobbledy-gook. I've argued cases before the United States Supreme Court. I have reverence and respect for this institution. I want to make sure it's above politics. And I hope for a bipartisan vote.

RAJU: Senator Blumenthal, thank you for joining us.

John and Kate, thank you.

[11:39:24] BERMAN: Manu Raju up in the Senate getting key information right now about what committees are not voting.

Plus, right now, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Badder Ginsburg is answering questions just hours after the president announced his pick to fill the empty seat alongside her.

And this, as we're getting more breaking news. We just learned who the Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, the judge, called after getting the nomination. I have to tell you, we were surprised when we heard this. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: We're just getting some breaking news regarding President Trump's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. His first call, we're now learning, according to Capitol Hill producer, Ted Barrett, after his announcement and after his speech was to Merrick Garland, President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Of course, that nomination went nowhere in the Senate, something that has been a huge source of tension between Democrats and Republicans.

BERMAN: No hearings, no nothing.

BOLDUAN: No hearings. A lot of Senators not even taking meetings. It was a huge issue in the campaign, you will remember. That's a picture of Merrick Garland right there, just as a reminder.

We also just saw -- here is video of it from just moments ago -- President Trump's Supreme Court nominee in a first media availability with Vice President Mike Pence. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:45:08] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Good morning. Thank you very much.

Welcome, everyone. This is the first opportunity to meet with Judge Gorsuch. I think the president made an outstanding appointment. We're all thrilled and looking forward to getting the confirmation process started.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all for being here.

It's my honor to escort Judge Gorsuch to Capitol Hill for his first meeting. We look forward to members of the United States Senate discharging their constitutional duty and getting to know this judge. As they do, they will come to understand the enthusiasm the president of the United States has for his appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. We're making him available to members of the Senate.

Again, we're grateful to the warm hospitality of Leader McConnell today.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Some Democrats are already saying Judge Gorsuch is out of the mainstream. What is your response?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. Appreciate the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Just watching the brief meeting and brief statements made by Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence, and Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. And also standing there, was former New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, who will shepherd this nomination through.

We did not hear from Judge Gorsuch, but that's the tradition. We won't hear from him at all --

BOLDUAN: Until his confirmation hearing.

BERMAN: -- until his confirmation hearing. He doesn't want to say anything that will get him into trouble.

We're joined by Melissa Hart, professor of law at the University of Colorado Law School; and Jonathan Adler, Johan Verheij Memorial professor law and director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western University.

Melissa, to you first. You know Judge Gorsuch. We were surprised, just because of what's

happened the last year or so in Washington, to learn that his first call last night after speaking before the country and receiving the nomination was to judge Merrick Garland, who, of course, got nowhere in his nomination for Supreme Court? Are you surprised by that phone call, knowing Judge Gorsuch as you do?

MELISSA HART, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO LAW SCHOOL: To be honest, I'm not surprised. One of the things that makes Neil Gorsuch a good judge is that he's such a good man. He understands that the process that happened last year with Merrick Garland's nomination was deeply troubling, it was unconstitutional and wrong. Merrick Garland should be on the Supreme Court right now. And I think Neil's call to him is the kind of graciousness that exemplifies who he is as a person.

BOLDUAN: Johnathan, Melissa points to it, this is a good example of the kind of situation where the Senate is right now, Republicans were able to get their Supreme Court nominee in Neil Gorsuch because Merrick Garland was iced out. And now Republicans are saying go along with us.

JONATHAN ADLER, JOHAN VERJEIJ MEMORIAL PROFESSOR OF LAW & DIRECTOR, CENTER OF BUSINESS LAW & REGUALTION, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVRSITY LAW SCHOOL: Well, Senate Republicans have the majority. Unfortunately, there's a long tradition of obstructing judicial nominees, a long tradition of denying presidents their nominees in the last year of their term. It's happened for quite a few people in the lower appellate courts. It's unfortunate it happened here. There's no question Neil Gorsuch is supremely well qualified, supremely respected across the ideological spectrum, one of the foremost appellate judges in our country and clearly the sort of person we want on the Supreme Court.

BERMAN: We haven't seen what happened to Merrick Garland for this long, in this way. Melissa, you're quite fond of Neil Gorsuch, you think he's good man and a good judge in Colorado. He may be ideologically on a different part of the spectrum than you are. Do you think Democrats should be concerned about him from a political standpoint?

HART: You know, I think it's a question that I struggle with. I think that Judge Gorsuch should be confirmed. I think he certainly will reach conclusions in cases that I'm sure I will disagree with, that other Democrats will disagree with. But I don't think that can be the standard in the confirmation process. He's obviously qualified. He is a brilliant man. He's a beautiful writer. He is the kind of person who would make a good Supreme Court justice. In this instance, I think particularly since he's replacing a man with very similar ideology, it would be a mistake for the Democrats to give up political capital fighting this man who is clearly an incredibly qualified judge.

BOLDUAN: I think a lot of people are saying, of course, Jonathan, that they're going to hold their political capital and fight out the next -- fight over the next nominee. There's been so much written now about how Gorsuch of course clerked for Justice Kennedy. How do you think

How do you think his nomination impacts when and if Justice Kennedy would require and give President Trump another vacancy?

ADLER: It's possible that it might make Justice Kennedy more willing to retire. On the one hand, Justice Kennedy will certainly like to see one of his former clerks on the bench with him. Judges are often very fond of their clerks and like to see their clerks succeed.

I also expect that Justice Kennedy, like a lot of us, might have been worried about whether President Trump would nominate jurists that have the sorts of qualifications and intellect that we usually want from judges, and I would think that the nomination of Neil Gorsuch would be reassuring in that respect.

So, if Justice Kennedy or any other judges were waiting to make a decision until they had some sense of what sorts of people the president would nominate, I would think that this nomination sends a reassuring sign.

[11:50:53] BERMAN: Melissa Hart, Jonathan Adler, thanks so much for being with us, guys. Really appreciate it.

HART: Thank you.

ADLER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Also new this morning, President Trump apparently not happy with the rocky roll-out of his travel ban order executive order despite --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: It's not a ban.

BOLDUAN: Oh, I'm sorry. I did that again. Despite the White House calling it a massive success story. You'll hear why.

BERMAN: And President Trump is not the only one. More than 900 State Department employees now officially speaking out against the ban.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Their blunt message directly to the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Republicans applaud the tougher security measures President Trump's executive order put in place with the travel ban, but more than 900 State Department employees have now signed on to a memo to formally voice their disapproval.

BERMAN: It is a big unusual number.

CNN's Elise Labott is at the State Department on this with more details and what some of these employees want going forward -- Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Kate, dissent is a culture here at the State Department. There's a lot of attention paid to the input of the career service officers and civil servants even though they serve presidents from both parties. So, what diplomats have done, as they've done in the past since the Vietnam era, is put forward a dissent cable, which really criticizes the president's new policy on refugees and the visa ban. Sorry to call it a ban. Then basically, 900 is bigger than any time, certainly, in the more than a decade that I have been covering the State Department, and I have heard in recent memory.

And what they're saying is this policy, although it might intend to protect Americans, they say it's not going to make Americans safer. It's going to actually prevent those efforts because it's going to alienate a lot of allies, and it's also going to increase anti- American sentiment and possibly even, you know, produce even more radicalism. These diplomats put in this cable. It's from diplomats around the world, civil servants from around the world. They are sending this to the new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is about to be confirmed later today, and hoping that he will try and calm some of the chaos that is here at the State Department, not only about the policy itself, but the way that the State Department was completely left out of the roll-out -- guys.

[11:55:41] BERMAN: Heck of a welcome message to get when you walk in the door as the new secretary of state.

BOLDUAN: And here's your memo of dissent.

BERMAN: Elise Labott, thanks so much.

BOLDUAN: President Trump said Saturday that the roll-out of the travel ban was going very nicely. The White House is also calling it a massive success story. What changed? I asked that because we're now learning the president himself, apparently, was not happy with the way it was carried out.

Let's discuss right now. Symone Sanders is back with us. Mark Preston is back with us. And now joining the fun, Joseph Borelli.

Great to see you?

Joseph, do you think Donald Trump should be upset with how this travel ban was rolled out?

JOSEPH BORELLI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think partially so. Any time you are still explaining away some policy you've enacted four or five days afterwards to try to clarify what it says, what it doesn't say, what the narrative around the situation around it is, I think you can make a case that it could have been rolled out better. That said, by whom?

(CROSSTALK)

BORELLI: Certainly, by the administration. Certainly, by the administration. On the flip side, though, there does seem to be --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: What John is asking, though, is does Donald Trump need to take responsibility for that?

BORELLI: I think maybe perhaps some people in his cabinet, some people in the administration might want to rethink the strategy that they've had in pushing out policies.

This is something they knew would be somewhat controversial. They could have done a better job in sort of conflating it with things that President Obama had done before, where the list came from, how this relates to previous policies of administrations going back 20 years. That could have been done better, no question.

BERMAN: Mark Preston?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, yes, yes and yes. Yes, Donald Trump needs to take responsibility. Yes, the administration needs to take responsibility.

I would say this. I'm kind of shocked that there's an acknowledgment because we haven't seen that so far in this administration --

BERMAN: That's a good point.

PRESTON: -- where there's been a bit of a fumble on a major policy issue.

BERMAN: Although he is blaming other people. He is not taking the responsibility himself.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And this -- maybe this hesitancy to acknowledge a fumble led to awkward moments with someone that we've known for a very long time, Sean Spicer, now the press secretary, Symone. When it came to a debate over is the ban or not? I think we have some sound kind of taking a short walk through history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It can't be a ban if you are letting a million people in. If 325,000 people from another country can come in, that is not a ban.

(CROSSTALK)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISOR: This is a ban on travel -- prospective travel from countries trying to protect terrorist from coming in the country from countries that have a history of training and exporting and harboring terrorists.

SPICER: It's a 90-day ban to ensure that we have further vetting restrictions. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: All right. We're going straight to the White House right now where Donald Trump is meeting with Supreme Court groups. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- in deciding who to pick for the United States Supreme Court.

And Leonard, you were fantastic. All of you were. Jim DeMint. I don't know if Jim is here, but they were great, Heritage. You really helped. The rollout has been fantastic.

I don't know how anybody can oppose it, frankly. I don't know how anybody can oppose.

It really has been a beautiful thing to see.

We had a very successful event. He's a terrific person, by the way. Got to know him reasonably well before we did the announcement and he is just a spectacular man. I think is going to be a spectacular -- you tell me how would they go about opposing him? He is perfect at almost every way.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got an impeccable record.

TRUMP: Yeah. Federalist really did a great job.

So, we're going to be talking about working with the judge and maybe making this a fast process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hear, hear.

TRUMP: And nominating a justice of the Supreme Court as one of the most important things that I can do as president. I've always said as I watch presidents, I say the most important thing. I think I want to refine that a little bit. I think probably defense of our country might be now, you know -- otherwise, we don't need the Supreme Court so badly, right? And we're doing well in that regard. Very well. I think we have problems that are a lot bigger than people understood. I think I was left something that had a lot of problems, but I think we'll straighten out those problems. I think we'll straighten them out very strongly.

Judge Gorsuch is an exceptionally --