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Mitch McConnell Opens Door to End Government Shutdown; Mourning Military Families Won't Get Government Death Benefits; Nearly 400 Pages of New FBI Texts Sent to Capitol Hill; Women Dominate SAG Awards Show; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 22, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- bill to fund the government that the majority leader said as you said that he intends to deal with the Dreamer issue and he also talked about bringing it up on the Senate floor as part of a level playing field.

I've been communicating with several Democrats that are going into a meeting as we speak, a Democratic caucus meeting, to discuss the way forward. But the people I've been communicating with say that barring anything that is really explosive that happens behind closed doors among Democrats, which is entirely possible, given this climate, I should say, that they feel like they are in a path towards reopening the government.

We'll see how that plays out exactly, we'll see whether this vote that is scheduled for almost a little more than an hour from now at 12:00 Eastern actually takes place. But the words, the language that Mitch McConnell used, all eyes, all ears were on that, especially among the -- about a quarter of the Senate that has been meeting across party lines, behind closed doors, for the past two days. The people who call themselves the commonsense caucus, Democrats and Republicans, listening very careful to that.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Encouraged if not 100 percent satisfied that Mitch McConnell is giving them as much of a promise as he can that they'll bring up the issue of immigration on the Senate floor. And you talk about this bipartisan group of senators, anywhere between 20 or 30, you know, we saw Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham there. I think they were trying to talk sense to everyone involved in this. In a way they see themselves as a backstop going forward, Dana.

BASH: That's exactly right. And that is exactly the term that several of them have used with me, that even though what the Senate majority -- Senate majority leader, rather, did on the Senate floor was rhetoric. What they have formed with regard to this very large group is a backstop, that they're going to make sure with this very large coalition of votes that the majority leader and the Democrats continue to work together to get to the point where they deal with all of these issues, but most particularly with the Democrats have been demanding, which is dealing with the Dreamers and giving them legal status at the very least and obviously many of them want a path to citizenship.

BERMAN: All right. Dana Bash, we'll let you get back to reporting. If you hear more from inside that Senate Democratic meeting, let us know immediately.

BASH: I will.

BERMAN: Thanks so much.

Joining us now, CNN political commentators Robby Mook and Kevin Madden, and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

And guys, thank you so much for being with us.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

BERMAN: I think we are seeing very publicly here the deal-making process play out in front of our very eyes. I mean, make no mistake, Mitch McConnell spoke last night after so many of us went to bed and felt the need to say something again this morning to try to make even more clear how much he is giving on this, Ron. How much closer do you think we are to a deal this morning, Ron Brownstein?

BROWNSTEIN: I think it is inexorable, right, John? I mean, both sides need a way out. I mean, on the one hand, the polling shows that if you add up the president and Republicans in Congress, and more people blame Republicans than Democrats for the shutdown. On the other hand, history shows you pretty clearly that a shutdown cannot force a president to do something he doesn't want to do. I mean, Democrats were on the other side of this with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in 1995 and 2013, and I think they understand that the leverage created by a shutdown is limited.

I mean, there are still big problems here, but -- and finding a resolution to DACA that may not -- the problem probably won't be the Senate, it will be the House and whether Paul Ryan holds to the so- called Hastert Rule, the majority of the majority. But fighting this on the heel of a government shutdown is probably the wrong place to have that fight.

BERMAN: Robby Mook, I get the sense that trusting Mitch McConnell is not something you love doing, you know, as a process, but we did just hear from him this morning. He did just seem to move the ball a little bit in terms of what he's offering Democrats. Is that enough? Should that be enough for the Democrats behind closed doors in this meeting right now, Robby?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'm going to be optimistic here. I think it is encouraging what he said. I do think Democrats, as long as they feel certain that they're going to get these votes on key issues, that they should take the deal and move forward. And I believe -- I agree with everything that Ron just said, the one thing I would add, though, is I think that the shutdowns that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama dealt with were the result of Republicans in Congress doing whatever it took to make that shutdown happen to gain leverage.

I think this is an example where the president created the shutdown. I believe the consensus that is forming now was always there. It's just the president blew up the bipartisan agreement that was beginning to form. And I think the best thing that has happened here is the president has been cut out, you're hearing Republican senators even saying we're moving forward, we're going to get something done, that's the key here.

Cut out the president. He's been totally irresponsible and reckless. They should pass a bill and get it to his desk.

BERMAN: Just one housekeeping note here, we did just learn the Senate is now in recess, Mitch McConnell spoke.

[10:35:04] You know, as of now, they're scheduled to come back in at noon and vote on this. Senate Democrats may want a little bit more of a delay to give themselves more time to line up the votes here.

Kevin Madden, before I dig in here, your reaction to what we have seen so far this morning.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Right. I think this was clearly an attempt by Senator McConnell to see some leverage here. And I think it again shows that he has offered yet another gesture to Democrats to find a way to get out of this shutdown. And I think this is -- I think Ron's right, everybody is looking for a way out. This was a way for Chuck Schumer to get out of this.

The question on whether or not he takes it will still be up in the air. But the Republicans I have talked to up on Capitol Hill, they do believe that this gesture towards Democrats will help build pressure on so many of those moderate Democrats that think that Schumer has misplayed this, and they are looking for a way to just -- to get a vote.

This has not had the backlash. I think the blame has been spread around enough where it -- they haven't seen the backlash against Republicans that many Democrats had anticipated. So they're all looking for a way out of it.

BERMAN: And, Kevin, you think the term you've used is the Republicans have already covered the spread here on a shutdown.

MADDEN: That's right.

BERMAN: What do you mean?

MADDEN: That's right. I mean, when you're the party of limited government and you're the party that controls all three branches, you would expect that the Republicans would have been, you know, soundly, you know, to blame in so many of the polls. But the fact that you have a lot of polls showing that it has been spread around, that -- I mean, if you had told many Republicans that they would go through a shutdown and get out of this with a tie, many of them would have taken it.

BERMAN: You know, Robby Mook, then what's the messaging from Democrats as they walk out of this meeting? If they take your advice, and I wrote it down, you know, take the deal and move forward from Robby Mook there, and they listen to you, I know that. What's your advice on messaging when they walk out of this meeting?

MOOK: Well, I actually -- look, I think this is a moment where everybody is going to do better by celebrating bipartisan agreement. I really believe that. And I actually -- I agreed with a lot of what Lindsey Graham was saying here. The ultimate end goal here is good policy. These Dreamers should be allowed to stay. Our military should be better funded. The list goes on and on. There is actually tremendous consensus here.

I think the big loser in this entire situation is the president. He's been cut out by his own party, they can't even work with him. I think Democrats are going to win by default if Congress comes together and passes a bill because it sends a message that this president is not leading. He is a source of dysfunction, not a dealmaker. That's for sure.

So I think we should get the good policy that we as Democrats want and have stood up for and I think that will go a long way with the voters.

BERMAN: Ron, you want to get in?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, slightly different take from Robby on the role of the president. There's no question he's been an erratic, not helpful force in this, but ultimately, he may be needed if there is going to be some resolution to DACA.

We have been on this ride before. As you listen to Lindsey Graham, it is entirely possible that given the chance to vote in February there will be 60 Senate votes for a package that includes some kind of legal status for the DACA recipients, some border security and perhaps as a more distant reach some adjustments to legal immigration.

Well, in 2006 and 2013, bipartisan Senate coalitions did exactly that on the even tougher issue of the 11 million undocumented. When it went over to the Republican-controlled House, they refused to even vote on it. That seems to me still potentially at the end of the road. Unless Paul Ryan is willing to pass a bill that a majority of Republicans oppose, this may hit a dead end, too.

And the -- probably the best way to avoid that is for the president to bless any package. There may be no other way to get a majority of House Republicans to vote for anything that includes legal status unless ultimately you have the president's imprimatur and cover on that because otherwise Paul Ryan reportedly made a commitment when he became speaker that he would not bring an immigration bill to the floor that did not have a majority of the majority, the so-called Hastert Rule, and that may loom as kind of the brick wall at the end of even a hopeful road in the Senate.

BERMAN: All right. Guys, we got to leave it there.

Robby Mook, Kevin Madden, Ron Brownstein, thank you all for being here, watching this all unfold before our very eyes. Appreciate it.

Two soldiers killed just days ago in a training accident. But with the government shutdown, their families are not receiving death benefits. Stay with us.

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[10:43:48] BERMAN: All right, this morning, two military families dealing with the deaths of their loved ones already just days ago on a training exercise now dealing with even more pain. Because of the government shutdown, they will not receive the emergency death benefits.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with the story.

We're seeing the real-life consequences, Barbara, of this government shutdown.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, if you want heartbreak, listen to this, John. There was an Army Apache helicopter with two officers on board in the early morning Saturday hours that crashed in a training accident at Ft. Irwin, California. Both of those Army officers killed in that crash.

Saturday morning, it comes after the shutdown. Their families should be getting $100,000 each from the government in emergency death benefits to help them through the expenses in these early days. They are not getting those benefits. The Army confirming those benefits will not be paid because of the government shutdown. We can presume and hope that they will get paid after the shutdown is lifted.

There is a military charity, the Fisher House, very well known in military circles, that is stepping in, trying to fill that gap and provide some assistance to the families. It is not clear if that is actually going to work out for them.

[10:45:03] But consider this, whether you fall in the line of duty and a training accident, whether you are killed in action on the front lines, as long as this shutdown continues there are military families that are not going to get this help that they so much need at their worst times. And, of course, U.S. military personnel also reporting for duty, but they are not getting paid until all of this is over, John.

BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon. We may be moving closer to a deal today to at least end this tragedy. Thanks so much, Barbara.

Republicans on Capitol Hill right now combing through pages of text messages from an FBI official who was let go from Robert Mueller's probe. Stay with us.

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BERMAN: New this morning, lawmakers on Capitol Hill getting their hands on a new batch of text messages between two FBI officials who worked, albeit briefly, for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. We're talking about 400 pages of text.

[10:50:09] Joining me now, CNN justice reporter Jessica Schneider. Jessica, what are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, well, these texts of course have become -- they've become the focus for Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly criticized the FBI. So this latest batch was partially released over the weekend by Homeland Security chair Ron Johnson. They're texts between FBI agent Peter Strzok, who worked on the Clinton e-mail server investigation and then the Russia probe until he was pulled off this summer for anti-Trump texts. And they were between him and an FBI lawyer Lisa Page with whom Strzok was having a romantic relationship.

So in that handful of texts that were released this weekend, there is this one from July 1st, 2016. It was about then Attorney General Loretta Lynch's decision to accept the FBI's decision on the Clinton matter when she essentially recused herself after she met with Bill Clinton on board her plane.

So here it is. You see Peter Strzok, he texts, "The timing looks like hell, will appear to be choreographed." That's when the attorney for the FBI, Lisa Page, she eventually texted back, "And, yes, it's a real profile in courage since she knows no charges will be brought."

So in releasing that text message, Senator Johnson, he wrote to the DOJ in response, he said it appears by those texts that Attorney General Lynch knew that no charges would be brought when she made her announcement to let the FBI handle the investigation.

And in addition, Senator Johnson is also requesting that the FBI hand over text messages that were exchanged between Strzok and Page on their personal devices. He said some of those may actually contain official business.

And also, John, he's asking for more info because apparently there are some sort of technical glitch that prevented some of the texts between December 2016 and May 2017 on exactly the same day that Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. Some of those aren't being turned over just because they can't be retrieved by the FBI. So it continues to be a Republican rallying cry -- John.

BERMAN: And Jessica, I understand there is new tension between Devin Nunes, the controversial chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and the FBI. What is going on here?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. So it all relates to this memo that Nunes has drafted. Nunes and several other Republicans, they want to release this classified memo. In it they accuse the FBI of abusing surveillance laws but of course there is pushback from Democrats, also the intelligence communities because they say that this memo could compromise sources and methods.

So we have heard from the FBI, they confirmed to us that they have asked for a copy of this memo, but they say so far their request has been declined. So there has been a lot of back and forth, John, with lawmakers here and now it appears the FBI also wants to get its hand on this memo before any public release if any. But so far they're not getting it from Chairman Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Schneider for us, thank you very, very much.

A new offer in a way from the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. Democrats, we are told, looking at this as a positive development. Are they closer to a deal to end the government shutdown? New developments. Stay with CNN's special live coverage.

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[10:57:49] BERMAN: So it is the awards season, thank goodness. Actress Kristen Bell kicked off the Screen Actors Guild Awards and took on the issues facing the country. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIRSTEN BELL, HOST, SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS: We are living in a watershed moment and as we march forward with active momentum and open ears, let's make sure that we're leading the charge with empathy and with diligence, because fear and anger never win the race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: CNN's Stephanie Elam live in Los Angeles with some of the night's highlights -- Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. I feel your glee about awards season. And last night, at the SAG Awards, the movie to beat was "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." And it held on to win. Outstanding Performance by a Cast, Sam Rockwell also winning, and also Frances McDormand winning.

And then on the TV side, that miniseries "Big Little Lies" was expected to do well and it did for Nicole Kidman winning, Alexander Skarsgard winning as well. But also take a listen to Nicole Kidman because she took this moment to really speak to a bigger trend in Hollywood as far as women over 40. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICOLE KIDMAN, ACTRESS: Twenty years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives. So that's not the case now. We have proven and these actresses and so many more are proving that we are potent and powerful and viable.

I just beg that the industry stays behind us because our stories are finally being told. It is only the beginning. And I'm so proud to be a part of a community that is instigating this change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELAM: She really took the moment to write out a speech. She says she had the flu and been working until 1:00 in the morning but she was prepared for that one moment. And also on the TV side, worth noting that "This is Us," a fan favorite, also won for that show, Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble. And Sterling K. Brown won as well. He took away the actor and also gave a phenomenal speech that kind of made you feel like you just needed to go out and be a better person -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Stephanie Elam for us in Los Angeles. Stephanie, thanks very, very much.

All sorts of new developments on the government shutdown. Could it be inching closer to some kind of a deal?

Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Kate Bolduan. And just minutes from now on Capitol Hill the Senate will be holding a critical vote that theoretically would pave the way --