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Source: President Trump Told Schumer He Would "Look Foolish" If He Accepted Dems Proposal to End Government Shutdown; Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Mitt Romney Blasts Donald Trump In Washington Post Op-Ed; President Trump Trashes Top Former Generals. Aired 8-9pm ET

Aired January 2, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:14] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

The government is shut down. At least six cabinet positions are unfilled, including defense secretary, and the president of the United States is telling us all to enjoy the ride.

In his second tweet of 2019, the first was to plug a former aide's book, President Trump said, in all caps: Happy New Year to everyone, including the haters and the fake news media, 2019 will be a fantastic year for those not suffering from Trump derangement syndrome. Just calm down and enjoy the ride. Great things are happening for our country.

Now, that was at 8:00 a.m. yesterday. A short time later, he compared a retired highly decorated four star general to a dog and says that he has a big, dumb mouth. Enjoy the ride, everyone.

He continued today online with falsehoods about the border wall and on camera with this. A cabinet meeting notable for how few actual confirmed cabinet members were in the room. To his left, the acting defense secretary. To his right, the acting interior secretary. That's in addition to the acting attorney general, the acting chief of staff, and acting EPA administrator.

That's a lot of acting, considering they aren't on a stage or in a movie, they are in real life. Oh, and speaking of movies, did you notice what was on the president's desk? It's a movie-type poster of the president with the words "sanctions are coming" November 4th, apparently riffing on the first "Game of Thrones" episode and the idea that "winter is coming."

But what's weird is given its prominent placement is that the president didn't say anything about it during all his riffing. He didn't mention anything about the poster. Sad.

The president did have a lot to say on other topics, a good deal of it factually questionable, some of it flat-out false, and all of it a pretty good preview of what "enjoy the ride" could actually mean in the coming year.

So we're going to start our keeping 'em honest segment right now by going through point by point what the president said today, starting with his broadside against his former secretary of defense. Now, he might have been inspired by something he mentioned at the top, a tweet attacking Stanley McChrystal.

In the tweet, he said: "General", in quotes, McChrystal got fired by a dog like Obama. Last assignment, a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover.

OK. So, that was yesterday. And today, the president attacked his former defense secretary, retired four-star general, James Mattis.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But what's he done for me? How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. Not too good.

I'm not happy with what he's done in Afghanistan. And I shouldn't be happy. But he was very happy, he was very thankful, when I got him $700 billion and then the following year, $716 billion.

So, I mean, I wish him well. I hope he does well. But as you know, President Obama fired him and essentially, so did I.


COOPER: Keeping 'em honest, if "essentially fired" means "did not fire," what the president said would be true. It doesn't mean that, however. General Mattis resigned in protest of the president's policies and even released a letter detailing their differences.

Now, there was a long, proud tradition of that in the military and in U.S. government service, but you don't see it much anymore, because people these days want to stay as close to power, as long as they possibly can. But Mattis resigned. And his resignation letter is polite, but very clear about his opinion on the president's actions.

Now, because of that letter, the president got angry and moved up Mattis' departure date, essentially shoving mouth in door. That is what you get for loyal service to this president. So, enjoy the ride.

Another thing that happened today was also unusual, not something you hear every day, an American president doing really what no American president has done until now, endorsing this Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and asking for a new Russian presence there.


TRUMP: Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan, Russia.

So, you take a look at other countries. Pakistan is there. They should be fighting. But Russia should be fighting.

The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. But why isn't Russia there, why isn't India there, why isn't Pakistan there? Why are we there? And we're 6,000 miles away.


COOPER: OK, so there's a lot to unpack. Keeping 'em honest, we were there and are there because of 9/11, because the Taliban gave safe haven to al Qaeda. That's initially why the U.S. went. The U.S. has to stay there because of the continued concern the country could again become a breeding ground for extremists.

And you can argue about whether the United States should still be there and the coalition should still be there, what impact that's been, what we've had -- what impact it's had.

[20:05:05] But it's pretty clear why we went there.

As for the claim the Soviet Union's adventure in Afghanistan was because of terrorism, that's not true. It was an effort to grow the Soviet empire. And it's unclear why an American president would welcome any new Russian intervention anywhere, as the president did today.

How's the ride so far? Is it enjoyable?

The president also wrote off the people of Syria today, because he seemed to say that the country has nothing to offer in the way of loot.


TRUMP: So, Syria was lost long ago. It was lost long ago. And besides that, I don't want -- we're talking about sand and death. That's what we're talking about. We're not talking about, you know, vast wealth. We're talking about sand and death.


COOPER: No vast wealth. In the past, as you know, the president has talked about taking the oil, as he says, from Iraq, as in plundering Iraq's oil. He also has a habit of equating longtime allies to shopkeepers paying for protection.

He did it again today, while at the same time claiming that European leaders really, really like him.


TRUMP: I think my relationship -- I will tell you, with the leaders of Europe is very good. A lot of them don't even understand how they got away with it for so many years. I'll say to Angela and I'll say to many of the other leaders, I'm friends with all of them, I'll say, how did this ever happen? And they sort of go like, I can't believe it either. They can't believe it.

You know why, because there are presidents and other people within administrations in the past that allowed them to get away. Like, some of them would say, no, they never asked us to pay.


COOPER: Now, keeping 'em honest, alliances such as NATO are not pay- for-protection schemes. This is not hiring a certain cement contractor with ties to the mob so you don't get any union problems on your construction site. You can Google that one.

With our allies, to be sure, there are legitimate disagreements over how much member nations spend on their own defense. On their own defense. NATO is not like a golf club. There are no dues. There are no green fees.

The president, we should add, also said things today that are not untrue and not necessarily outlandish. He raised questions that other presidents might not, certainly, but even when he just did that, there was often something else, an iffy claim, an exaggeration or boast thrown in. Take a look.


TRUMP: We have an area that I brought up with our generals four or five weeks ago, where Taliban is here, ISIS is here, and they're fighting each other. I said, why don't you let them fight? Why are we getting in the middle of it?

I said, let 'em fight. They're both our enemies. Let 'em fight.

Sir, we want to do it -- they go in and they end up fighting both of them. It's the craziest thing I've ever seen. I think I would have been a good general, but who knows?


COOPER: Who knows?

This is not a new claim. The president has often said he knows more than the generals or our generals as I said, or my generals. What's new is how many of his generals he has actually driven away or insulted.

What's new is how the consequences of the things he says and does are beginning to be felt, whether it's the shortage of people to run crucial cabinet departments, or the sagging stock market or hard times from farmers and manufacturers caught in a trade war that the president has said again and again are easy to win. And even now, he shows no sign of recognizing that what he said today can come back and bite him tomorrow. Enjoy the ride.

So, there's that and there's the shutdown. We have breaking news on that, as well. Today, the president invited lawmakers to the Situation Room, presumably to work out a deal to reopen the government. Maybe it was just a photo op. The president hope to fund the wall he once said Mexico would pay for.

Tonight, CNN has new reporting on how the president may see a possible deal with Democrats who control the House starting tomorrow.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins us now with that.

So what did and what didn't happen in this meeting in the Situation Room today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, where to start? This meeting already had an air of drama to it, because it was held in the Situation Room, which White House officials was so they could communicate what a big crisis they believe is happening on the border. But they didn't need to hold it there to have some drama, because there was already plenty in the room.

As soon as this meeting got started, when the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was supposed to be giving this briefing on what's happening on the border, but Nancy Pelosi interrupted her and said that the Democrats wanted to lay out their plan to reopen the government. That's when Chuck Schumer started with his plan, telling the president, proposing essentially that the president sign after they could pass these six bipartisan Senate bills. And then over the next 30 days or so, they could negotiate the DHS funding then.

Now, that's an idea he pressed the president on several times, three times, in fact, according to what an aide in the room or an aide familiar with the meeting told us latter on. And the president eventually responded, quote, I would look foolish if I did that.

Now, I talked to a White House official who was in that meeting, as well, and talked about what was going on, and they essentially said that when Chuck Schumer proposed that, they said, well, OK. If we do agree to that, the president does sign this bill and we move forward over the next 30 days to negotiate what we're going to do to keep DHS funded for the long haul, will you come up off your hard line of only funding $1.3 billion for border security?

[20:10:09] Now, the Democrats did not signal that they would, so the White House essentially said, what would be the point in us agreeing for the president to sign these six bipartisan Senate bills if you're not going to move forward and come out any higher on that funding?

So, essentially, Anderson, what we're left at is an impasse. There was a deadlock and they did not come to any agreement during that meeting.

COOPER: OK, so do we know -- how long is the White House prepared to let the shutdown go on for?

COLLINS: Well, things have changed. When the government initially shut down partially, White House aides felt confident they could clear things up in a couple of days, and they could message it properly. But they did fear the longer it went on, the worse it would look for them.

And now, here we are, in its third week of this shutdown, 12 days now. And White House officials do not feel that there is an end in sight, especially after that meeting today, which they didn't expect a lot of progress and for them to waltz out of there with some grand plan to reopen the government. But they say that things could be worse now between the White House and Democrats than they were when we started this 12 days ago.

COOPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it.

Earlier tonight, I spoke with a lawmaker who was not in the Situation Room this afternoon, but might influence the outcome, independent senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, here's that full interview.


COOPER: Senator Sanders, the president says he's not budging. The Democrats say they're not budging. So where do things go from here?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, I think the American people are going to have to stand up and tell Donald Trump that when he told us several weeks ago that he wanted to shut down the government, that he was wrong. And that right now, we have 800,000 federal employees not getting paid.

When Trump tells us he's concerned about national security, you got people in our airports, on TSA, you got people in the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The FBI, who are not being paid. This is an outrage.

And I think that while Trump told the American people he wanted this shutdown, I think he has got to understand that is not in the best interests of this country. And what we have got to do is pass what unanimously passed the U.S. Senate, every Republican supported it. And that is an extension of the government, at least until February, to give us a time to work out a longer understanding.

COOPER: You know, Mitch McConnell reiterated today that he won't put the continuing resolution, that the House Democrats plan to pass tomorrow up for a vote, because the president said he won't sign it. Is it at possible that there could be enough Republican support in the Senate to override a presidential veto?

SANDERS: Well, I don't know the answer to that one, but I do think -- and this is a very profound point -- that the Republicans in the Senate and I know all of them, you got a lot of decent people there, they have got to understand that the Senate is an independent part of the United States government. They don't work for President Trump. They work for the American people and their constituents.

And we need senators, Republican senators, to stand up to this president and tell him that he cannot always get his way. He cannot simply shut down the United States government and cause a lot of suffering to a lot of people.

I was -- I went through TSA today in Burlington, Vermont. And I know this is true all over this country. You've got a lot of workers who don't make a lot of money. That I have got to pay their mortgages, they've got to pay their child care. They are asking why this government is shut down and why they are not being paid.

And I ask and I beg my Republican colleagues, stand up to Trump, do the right thing for this country.

COOPER: But as you know, I mean, this is now -- the Republican Party is the party of Donald Trump now. It's his party. And there are a lot of -- there are some Republican senators who are going to, you know, who are living in fear of facing a primary challenge if they go against the president.

SANDERS: You know, Anderson, I do know a lot of what you just said is true, but that's not what American democracy is supposed to be about. You know, when you've got a president, every American remembers that.

He sat down with Schumer and he sat down with Pelosi a few weeks ago and he said, you can blame me. I'm proud to shut down the United States government. And that there are not honest Republicans in the Senate saying, Mr. President, that's not the way we should do business.

So you're raising the right question, but in a democratic society, in our form of government, the Republican Party should not be -- Trump is the leader, but he is not the dictator of that party. And we should have members standing up and representing their constituents, and not just the whimsical approach that this president consistently takes.

COOPER: The president told Senator Schumer today that according to our reporting, that he would look foolish if he backed down. Is he right about this? I mean, this is something that he vigorously campaigned on and promises were made --

SANDERS: This is -- this is what drives the American people crazy. Eight hundred thousand workers today, including the FBI, including the TSA, including very decent people who are trying to support their families.

[20:15:03] They go to work every day. Imagine the feeling that they have. They go to work and they're not being paid. They're being humiliated.

And you have a president who is much more interested in his own ego, in what people will think than he is in terms of these 800,000 workers, and the millions of people in this country who access those services. So I think it's time for the president to grow up and to listen to the needs of the American people, and not just his own ego.

COOPER: Your soon-to-be Republican Senate in the colleague, Mitt Romney, I'm sure you're aware, he wrote a pretty tough critique of the president in "The Washington Post," which was published last night. And about that today, the president said that he hopes Romney is going to be a team player.

Do you believe he will be? Do you believe he's going to stand up to the president, as you have encouraged other Republicans to do, to be kind of a Republican foil to some of his policies? SANDERS: Well, look, you know, the nature of American politics is,

when you have a Democratic president, Democrats generally follow that precedent. But, you know, I was -- I'm a great -- you know, somebody who has a lot of respect and appreciation for Barack Obama. But when I thought he was wrong, I opposed him. Others did, as well.

And what we need, whether it's Romney or any other Republican, you've got a lot of smart people, to say, Mr. President, we are part of your team. I don't want to tell the Republican Party how to operate. They'd do well enough without me.

But to say to the president, look, we're all part of the team. But you're not the dictator. You cannot simply tell us what to do and we are supposed to collapse in support.

And by the way, this president changes his mind every single day. He lies a whole lot of times. So, I think it is terribly important as we enter the New Year for Republicans in the House and the Senate to say, sorry, Mr. President, we cannot be with you in every instance.

COOPER: Just lastly, I want to ask you about an article published in "The New York Times" today. In it are allegations describing episodes of sexual harassment and demeaning treatment as well as pay disparity in your 2016 campaign.

I wonder, were you aware of those allegations during the campaign? And if you do run in 2020, how can you ensure something like that doesn't happen again?

SANDERS: Good -- good question. And the answer is, Anderson, I'm very proud of the campaign we ran in 2016. We started at 4 percent in the polls, we wound up winning 22 states, 13 million votes. I think we changed the nature of political discourse in this country, raising issues that are now kind of mainstream, which were then considered extreme and fringe.

But when our campaign grew from, I think we started with three or four paid employees, and over a period of a few months, as the campaign exploded, we went up to I think 1,200 employees. And I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right in terms of human resources, in terms of addressing the needs that I'm hearing from now that women felt disrespected, that there was sexual harassment which was not dealt with as effectively as possible.

What I will tell you is that when I ran for re-election in 2018 in Vermont, we put forward the strongest set of principles in terms of mandatory training, in terms of women, if they felt harassed, having an independent firm that they can go to. And I think that's kind of the gold standard for what we should be doing. So I certainly apologize to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately. And of course, if I run, we will do better next time.

COOPER: And just to be clear, you seem to kit that you did not know at the time about the allegations? Is that correct?

SANDERS: Yes, I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.

COOPER: Senator Sanders, appreciate your time. Thank you.

SANDERS: Thank you.


COOPER: We should note, we invited someone from the White House tonight to talk about the shutdown. They never responded to our invitation.

A lot more ahead tonight, including what House Democrats plan to do when they take control tomorrow.

And later, Mitt Romney's broadside against the leader of his own party. What he told Jake Tapper about keeping the president honest and what another Republican told me. You'll hear from Senator Jeff Flake ahead on 360.


[20:23:11] COOPER: President Trump says he'll let the government stay closed as long as it takes to get a budget deal that pays for his border wall. And the breaking news underscores it. The president telling lawmakers he can't accept the Democrats' offer to reopen the government because he, and I'm quoting here, would look foolish if I did that. Meantime, hundreds of thousands of breadwinners are either furloughed or working without pay.

Before the break, we heard from the White House. I want to check in now with CNN's Phil Mattingly at the capital.

So, Phil, you're talking to lawmakers and staffers who were in the meeting with the president today. Is there any sense at all that there's a way out of this, at this point?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The short answer, Anderson, to be blunt, is no. And I think the reality here on Capitol Hill has not changed that much over the course of the last couple of days, and that is that both sides are extremely dug in. Both sides, at least from the president's perspective and from Democrats' perspective believe that they have the political winning hand, that their bases are behind them, that their rank and file is behind them. And at this moment, nobody is willing to blink.

Now, keep in mind, there are staffers here on Capitol Hill in both chambers, on both sides of the aisle that have gone through many of these fiscal crisis before and have many ways to the lead thread the needle and get themselves out of them if their leaders will allow them to do that. And the reality here is frankly the leadership level is not at that point. And it's unclear right now when they will reach that point.

As one Republican official told me earlier tonight, someone who's been through multiple fights, the biggest thing we need right now is time, because at this moment, nobody is willing to break. COOPER: So if no deal is in the works, what exactly happens next?

MATTINGLY: What you're going to see tomorrow, you're going to see the first legislative action that we've seen over the course of this 12- day shutdown. And that is House Democrats in the new majority will take votes on something to reopen the government. But the reality on that is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican allied with the White House, has made clear he's not going to move forward on that.

Interesting enough, even though the meeting today, it was made very clear it was not successful in any way, shape, or form, some people here on Capitol Hill are saying, look, it's something.

[20:25:02] At some point, you need something to give. At least people are starting to talk to one another.

The president has invited lawmakers back on Friday for another meeting after the leadership elections tomorrow in the House. Perhaps that will shake something loose. But when you talk to staffers, the biggest thing they say right now is there needs to be blowback. When are you going to see blowback? Everyone's pointing to the same day, Anderson, January 11th. That's when the bulk of those workers who are furloughed or working without pay right now will start missing paychecks.

In the past, that has been the trigger that brings lawmakers to the table. Saying, look, the pain is a lot, it's time to figure out a solution here. Obviously, January 11th is not just a couple of days away, that's almost a week and a half away at this point. And that is the timeline they keep hearing.

We're not talking about days right now. Given how dug in everybody is, given the political incentives right now that seem to align with lawmakers going further from one another as opposed to coming back together, we're talking about weeks and as I noted earlier, there's no clear end, no clear deal in sight, no clear pathway out of a shutdown that's about to stretch into its second week, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, appreciate you there. Thanks very much.

Joining us now is former RNC chief of staff, Mike Shields, retired Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, and Julie Hirschfield Davis, congressional correspondent for "The New York Times."

Good to see you all.

Mike, is the president right? Will he look foolish if he takes the Democrats' deal?

MIKE SHIELDS, FORMER RNC CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think these are all a big negotiation and these negotiations are public. These are public fights. So, how each party looks really, really matters. This isn't about as Charlie is going to talk about, appropriations,

funding, the dollar amount, whether we got steel slats or concrete slats. These are about priorities. I used to work for Newt Gingrich and, you know, we had a government shutdown that lasted 27 days. That was a case where President Clinton said, you're not spending enough, and I'm not going to sign your appropriations bill until you fund it to the level I want.

And that's precisely what President Trump is doing and he's communicating that. And so, he's -- whoever loses this is going to look bad, right? And so that's a public fight, a public negotiation, and a public communications effort more than anything.

They're pretty far apart today. You had the Democrats go to the White House today, they couldn't even listen to a briefing by Secretary Nielsen without interrupting or stating their talking points, the White House that has hair talking points. This is a talking points public fight.

COOPER: Yes. Congressman Dent, how do you see it? If the president doesn't back down and the shutdown continues to drag on for weeks, is it Republicans in Congress who will end up looking like the foolish ones?

CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN, PENNSYLVANIA: Well, right now, I think the president ought to take the deal that Nancy Pelosi is offering. I would actually take that deal. Separate out these six bills. They should fund the Department of Interior, Agriculture, the IRS, that has nothing to do with border security. Take care of that and confine the fight to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, and then once the government has reopened, I would just have a serious negotiation between the House and the Senate and the president on this $5 billion for border security.

And if I were the Democrats, I would simply demand that you take care of the Dreamers, the TPS population, I would also maybe insist on a Mueller protection bill and force the president to make a decision. But this can be easily resolved. Republicans are not doing well in this fight, in my view.

Look, the president owns this shutdown. He pretty much admitted as much. So, really, right now, the answer is getting the government reopened. And I recommended doing just what the Democrats proposed before Christmas. This is an easy way out.

COOPER: Julie, how hard is it for congressional Republicans in the White House who says the president will accept a certain deal, only for the president to then say he won't, sometimes just hours later?

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think that's been a challenge for both sides. And certainly, Senator McConnell lived through that a couple of weeks ago, when Senate Republicans were assured by Vice President Mike Pence that, you know, the president was going to be behind a deal to have a stopgap spending bill and basically punt this fight until February. And so, the Senate passed that legislation and then hours later, the president indicated that he wouldn't sign that bill. And that's how we got to where we are now.

And so, I think that does make it very difficult for them. And that is, I think, why Senator McConnell is in the position that he stated this evening, which is, he's not going to be in the position of putting a bill on the floor that is not going to pass, or that cannot get signed by the president, because if he does that, then he presents the president with kind of an unwinnable situation there, where he has to either decide to veto a bill to reopen the government or cave on a fight that he clearly does not want to back down on.

COOPER: Mike, I mean, the president this morning said that, I'm quoting welcome Mexico I Mexico is paying for the wall and much of the wall has been fully renovated or built. I mean, that's just not the case. I mean, why say things which are demonstrably and provably not true?

SHIELD: I don't know. My advice is not to keep bringing up the Mexico funding part of this. It just keeps coming back and hurting him.

But look, I think where the president is on this in the short-term a short-term battle versus a long-term war.

And going back to my example of the Bill Clinton/Newt Gingrich fight, we, Republicans lost that fight in the short-term, but in the long- term, Bill Clinton signed a balanced budget. He signed Republican bills on the funding levels that we wanted on things like Medicare.


I think the President is trying to establish going into 2020 that he's serious about border security and the Democrats aren't. And the rest of these things that he sort of come out everyday in tweets or the details that we're goings to focus on now, while we're in the fight, he's trying to set up a longer-term sort of difference between the two parties here.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Dent, is that something you think he could win in setting that up, that kind of long-term fight?

CHARLIE DENT, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Boy, I'll tell you what. The party that makes the policy demand one of these funding fights usually ends up owning the shutdown. Look, I don't see an easy way out right now. There should be an easy way out, but what can happen now is Senator McConnell is going to be under tremendous pressure from some of his own members. Say members like Susan Collins, Thom Tillis, Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst, senators who are going to be up for election.

And, you know, so McConnell has to make a decision. Do I support the president in his possession or do I help my most vulnerable members in this election cycle, who certainly are not going to want a prolonged shutdown? And if I'm McConnell, I have to be more answerable, I think, to my members, who elect me as majority leader. So I think this is a -- I think the Senate Republicans are going to be in a really tough spot here over the coming -- over the coming days, the longer this thing drags on.

COOPER: Julie, I mean the President has made it clear, he won't accept anything less than $5 billion for his wall. Has he set himself up so that anything less than that will look like he's lost the battle? Or to Mike's point, this is a public negotiation and if he accepts less, it's just all part of the deal.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean I think he has in a lot of ways painted himself into a corner here. He continues to come back to this $5 billion figure. He even shot down the $2.5 billion proposal that Mike Pence floated with Democrats a couple of weeks ago right before the shutdown took effect and said, no, no, no, $2.5 is not enough. It has to be $5.6, so every sort of off-ramp that even people inside the White House and republicans on Capitol Hill and certainly Democrats have offered, he keeps refusing to take.

So I think, sure, he could decide that he's going to come down from that number and have a negotiation of the kind that Congressman Dent was talking about, but there's no indication that he's willing to do that. And his comment in the meeting today that he would look foolish if he were to accept a package of bills to reopen most of the government while continuing to negotiate on these other issues really gives you the sense that he is not going to change that position. That's where he is.

COOPER: Yes. Julie Hirschfield Davis, appreciate it. Mike Shields and Charlie Dent, as well. Thank you.

Up next, is Mitt Romney positioning himself to take over the role of Jeff Flake as one of the most vocal Republican critics of President Trump in the Senate? We'll talk to Jeff Flake, what does he think about Romney's eyebrow eyebrow-raising op-ed in the president's new attacks on him today. What the departing Arizona senator says next, he joins me.


[20:36:50] COOPER: When president-elect Trump was forming his cabinet, his once rival, Mitt Romney auditioned for the job of secretary of state. You probably remember that. When he didn't get it, he ran for the Senate, readily accepting the president's endorsement.

Now as Romney prepares to be sworn in, he's making something very clear and very public. He's not happy with the president's leadership, trashing his character and inability to rise to the, "mantle of the office", in an op-ed that a lot of people have been talking about today. This certainly did not go unnoticed by President Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think people are very upset with what he did. He hasn't even gotten to office yet. He hasn't even gotten to office. And he was very happy when I endorsed him. So, you know, I don't know what changed. With Mitt, I hope he's a team player, but if he's not, that's OK, too.


COOPER: Jake Tapper got an exclusive today with the incoming senator, who expounded on his concerns.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I work with the president, as I would, frankly, with any president, which is on those areas where I'm in agreement, we'll be able to work together. Where I disagree, we'll point that out. But in matters that relate to the divisiveness that's been part of our political environment, I'll speak out if I feel the need to.

The Charlottesville response by the president was something that gave me great concern. The support for Roy Moore in the Senate race was something that I was very, very concerned about. His attack on the media. I wrote an entire piece about that.

So I've laid out time and again places where I disagree with the president. And I think it's very important for a president to demonstrate the qualities of integrity and honesty, forthrightness, empathy, and respect for the institutions of our democratic republic. I think those are all parts of the job.

Well, you know, after he was elected president, it was very much my hope that he would rise to the occasion, rise to the mantle of the office. After all, becoming president of the United States is quite an evaluation for anybody. And he had said during the campaign that he could be extraordinarily presidential. When I hear that, I think of Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson and Roosevelt and Kennedy and Eisenhower and I think of those qualities. And I think that while he spoke of that and while that was my hope, I don't think he's followed through on that front.


COOPER: Outgoing Senator Jeff Flake was caught up in the midst of all of this. The president's remarks that he hopes Romney won't be another Flake. I spoke to senator flake earlier.


COOPER: Senator Flake, first of all, what's your reaction to the President injecting you into the situation between him and senator- elect Romney, using it as an opportunity to insult you before you leave the Senate?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I wasn't surprised by the tweet, but anyway, I thought it was a great op-ed that was written. I think it said things that need to continually be said. And so I applaud Mitt Romney for saying that.

COOPER: Do you think it's wise that senator-elect Romney chose to kind of throw down a preemptive gauntlet before he's even sworn in? He's, you know, been strongly criticized by the president's allies, including his own niece who, as you know, is head of the RNC.

FLAKE: Well, I heard the interview that Mitt Romney gave and he said that he wanted to basically tell the voters of Utah and the people he represents what he's going to do when he gets here. And I think laying that out in an op-ed before you start is a good time to do that. So I think it was a good thing.

[20:40:06] COOPER: One of the things he said in the op-ed is, and I'm quoting, he said "The president has not risen to the mantle of the office." At this point, do you believe that the President can actually rise to that standard? I mean It's been two years. Is it even possible?

FLAKE: Well, there's always hope. I think a lot of us hope when we weren't supportive of him during the campaign, I certainly wasn't that would rise to the occasion. And he did appoint some good people initially. There were some good policies that came from that.

But in terms of the character issues that Mitt Romney spoke of, we really haven't seen much gain there. And it does make a difference around the world, in how the world views us. And, you know, basically, the President does exhibit kind of the character of the nation. And as Mitt Romney said, I think we've fallen short in that regard.

COOPER: Are any of your colleagues concerned that there may be a vacuum for a Republicans or elder statesmen of swords in the Senate, someone seek to become a voice of -- you know, taking a moral high ground. Certainly, you know, Senator John McCain was certainly probably the most prominent voice in that regard, who would challenge the president. You, yourself, have criticized the president. I'm wondering, there's not -- you haven't had a lot of company in doing what you've been doing, aside from Mitt Romney, do you see that changing?

FLAKE: Well, I think you will have some that come out in the next two years. Certainly, Lamar Alexander is a real defender of the institution of the Senate. I expect that he'll stand up when he thinks that the institution is being threatened. And I think others will stand up, as well, as we go further, as people, and in my concern, not just on the policy side or the character or how our nation is viewed, but just -- if you just dismiss all of that and just talk politics, at some point here soon, Republicans are going to have to decide whether or not they want to be tethered to the president politically.

And that's going to be, you know, what's really going to be interesting in the coming months, because if you look at the midterms, the Senate was very difficult for Republicans to lose, but losing 40 seats in the House and looking at where we are in terms of the suburbs, in terms of women and minorities, you know, we're in for a rough ride in 2020, if we don't make some changes.

COOPER: But there's also senators like, you know, Lindsey Graham, who was one very critical of the president, has now been defending him on whole host of matters. He's up for re-election in 2020, worried about a far-right primary challenge in South Carolina and there are others as well, who I assume are just afraid of alienating the president and the president's hard-core supporters.

FLAKE: Well, this is very much the president's party, when you look at the base and look at those who vote in Republican primaries. I think that is clear. That won't always be the case, but it certainly is now. And so somebody who wants to run for re-election two years from now has to decide, you know, where they are. Sometimes, you may be fine in a primary, but you simply can't win a general. So it's going to be a difficult, very difficult political scenario out there for people to try to navigate.

COOPER: When do you expect to decide whether or not you're going to mount a campaign for the 2020 Republican nomination?

FLAKE: Well, like I said, I hope that somebody does run. I'm been consistent in saying that. I know that there are others far more willing than I am, to do that. But I do hope that somebody runs to remind Republicans what it means to be conservative and to remind the country what it means to be decent, as well. Because there is not a future for a party that simply governs on anger and resentment. It can only go so far.

COOPER: Senator Flake, appreciate your time. Thank you.

FLAKE: You bet. Thanks.


COOPER: Well, tonight, there's in evidence that President Trump isn't exactly a "thank you for your service" kind of guy when it comes to some retired generals. Ahead, his new attacks on some of our top military minds, including the man at his side for the last two years. Would the president have done any better? Hear what he says, next.


[20:48:02] COOPER: Well, on this, his first full day as president, Trump's acting defense secretary, one can only imagine what Patrick Shanahan must have thought sitting next to the commander in chief at today's cabinet meeting. The one where the president falsely suggested that what happened to the man that proceeded Shanahan for the last two years, Jim Mattis.


TRUMP: I wish him well, I hope he does well. But as you know, President Obama fired him and essentially, so did I.


COOPER: Essentially, he didn't. Mattis resigned. As we mentioned earlier, just not true. I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. So Barbara, just to be clear, the president did not, in fact, fire Mattis, essentially or otherwise. Mattis resigned.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's absolutely right, Anderson. Look, the President did force him to leave two months earlier than he had wanted to, but the day Mattis went to the White House to talk to the president, he had a resignation letter written out in hand, and we know that there were copies even waiting back here at the Pentagon to distribute to reporters. He went to resign and he did that.

And the reason he did it was for many reasons, but over the weeks and months prior, the secretary began to feel that the president simply was not listening to any of his advice and that he could no longer be effective. He resigned.

COOPER: Mattis isn't the only general that the president has been going after in recent days.

STARR: That's right. General Stan McChrystal, everyone will remember, he, indeed, was fired by President Obama from his command in Afghanistan for remarks he made to the news media. And General McChrystal, over the weekend, he's retired, he's a private citizen, he can say what he likes in this country, he questioned Mr. Trump's morality and ability to tell the truth. The president lashing out at McChrystal, saying in a tweet that he had been fired by Obama, fired like a dog.

That led to Admiral William McCraven, also four star, also retired, also a critic of President Trump coming out and defending General McChrystal, saying that he was one of the finest officers he ever served with.

[20:50:04] But here's the bottom line. We now have President Trump trashing -- there is no other way to put it -- on Twitter General McChrystal, General McRaven and retired General James Mattis, all three of them. It remains to be seen. These are three of the most respected military leaders of a generation. How will this play in the rank and file? Anderson.

COOPER: It's also weird he said the thing about how he met so many good looking generals who are applying for jobs. That they're better looking than Tom Cruise.

STARR: I don't know what to say about that. You know, good looking is in the eye of the beholder. I'm not sure --

COOPER: But it's just interesting that that's like a criteria, as if it's like --


COOPER: Casting for a movie or TV show as opposed to actual combat.

STARR: Well, you know, he is a reality show person. I suspect he thinks -- he thinks he wants generals who look like generals. You want generals who know what they're doing, who know when they send young Americans into battle, possibly, unfortunately to their death, that they know what they're doing. They know what the risks are. And those young people have everything in hand to stay alive through combat.

COOPER: Yes. Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

COOPER: Well, the President's remarkable revision is history on Mattis came after one of the president's first tweets of the New Year as we touched on earlier, trashing general and as he put it, he put that in quotes, Stanley McChrystal who by the way commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The attack came after McChrystal suggested the president is dishonest and immoral. McChrystal defended retired admiral William McRaven who led the Osama Bin Laden raid after he too was scolded by President Trump. If the president feels he needs better military perspective in the White House, he seems content just looking in the mirror.


TRUMP: I think I would have been a good general, but who knows.


COOPER: Well, who knows. The world will never know, General Trump, in part, because the president never set foot in a combat theater until last week with his trip to Iraq. The closest he came to serving uniform was his teen years as a student in the New York Military Academy which is a prep school. His parents sent him there to straighten out his behavior apparently. The president's hot and cold relationship with the armed forces, includes his missed opportunities to serve in war time. Randi Kaye looks at the questions over what kept him out of Vietnam.


TRMP: The Vietnam War was a disaster for our country.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Donald Trump was 22, all that stood between the future president and the Vietnam War draft was a diagnosis for something called a bone spur. It became an issue for Trump during the 2016 campaign.

TRUMP: What?

KAYE (on camera): Trump claimed bone spurs, calcium buildups in his heel kept him from serving in Vietnam. Now, keep in mind Trump had already received four deferments for education. This 5th one for a medical reason, the bone spur came in the fall of 1968, only after Trump had finished college and classified as 1A or unrestricted military service.

(voice-over): Meanwhile, the president couldn't remember which heel had the alleged painful spur.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which foot did you have the bone spur in? TRUMP: You'll look it up in the records. It's in the records.

KAYE: His campaign tried to clear things up, releasing a statement claiming it was not one heel, but both heels that had bone spurs. Trump's explanations about why he didn't serve had long been a topic of inquiry. In 2015, he was asked about it on ABC.

TRUMP: I had a minor medical deferment for feet for a bone spur of the foot, which was minor.

KAYE: And for his 2015 biography on Trump, author Michael D'Antonio asked Trump about the bone spurs. He says Trump took off his shoes in an attempt to provide proof.

TRUMP: I have spurs on the back of my feet, which at the time prevented from walking long distances.


TRUMP: So I would be -- it would be very difficult to march long distances. Very healthy, but in the back -- in fact, it's here. You can see it on both feet. I have spurs.

KAYE: D'Antonio says he never actually saw the spurs. Yet in 2016, Trump described the spurs to "The New York Times" as minor and temporary. The Times also quoted Trump as saying, I had a doctor that gave me a letter, a very strong letter on the heels.

In that interview, Trump was short on detail. He couldn't remember the doctor's name who had diagnosed his heel spurs. That doctor, "The New York Times" just recently reported, was podiatrist Larry Bronstein, who rented office space from Trump's father Fred Trump.

The doctor's daughters told the Times that Trump's diagnosis was a favor to the family in exchange for preferential treatment. The paper also reports Dr. Bronstein benefited from lower rents, according to another doctor who worked with him. No documentation was provided to back up these accounts.

TRUMP: I always felt a little guilty, and I was always like other people frankly that didn't serve because I have people that served, I have friends that served. And they're very proud of it. Some are no longer with us.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


[20:55:13] COOPER: A reminder don't miss full circle, it's our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You get to vote on some of the stories we cover and get all the details. Watch it week nights 6:25 p.m. Eastern on

We'll have much more ahead on the high drama flaring up between incoming GOP senator and the president who endorsed him. Will Mitt Romney become the new face of the Republican so-called resistance to President Trump in Washington? We're going to trace some of their complicated history and a lot more to come from CNN's exclusive interview with Romney today. It's a fascinating interview. Jake Tapper did it. Stay with us.


COOPER: Chris Cuomo is off tonight. And this hour, 360, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate and the gauntlet that he laid down to the current president. Mitt Romney is the incoming freshman senator now from Utah.