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Sarah Sanders is Interviewed on Conflict between Trump and the Democratic Party; Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) is Interviewed about Conflict with Trump. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 23, 2019 - 08:30   ET

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


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[08:32:32] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The legislative agenda in Washington may be at a standstill this morning after President Trump cut a White House meeting on infrastructure short and announced that he cannot work with Democrats until they end their investigations into his administration.

So, what happens now? Joining us now is White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good morning, Alisyn. Great to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you.

So explain what the president means. When he says you cannot do infrastructure under these circumstances, what does he really mean by that?

SANDERS: Look, I think he was very clear yesterday. He came out and addressed the press right after that meeting where he spoke with Speaker Pelosi and a number of other members of Congress, where he laid out, look, it's real simple, you can't go down two tracks. We're either going to have to agree that we want to solve problems for the country, we want to come together, we want to work together, we want to address some of the big things facing our country, like lowering prescription drug prices, taking care of our health care system and fixing it, protecting preexisting conditions, fixing our roads, our bridges, protecting our borders, or we can fight.

You can't literally have a meeting like Nancy Pelosi did yesterday just an hour before she got to the White House where she accused the president of a crime, said he had engaged in a cover-up, and then show up and pretend like nothing's happened and let's just sit down and talk about roads and bridges. It just doesn't work that way. She knows that. Nancy Pelosi's problem is that she's totally lost control of her party.

CAMEROTA: Well -- SANDERS: She's got the far left wing telling her what to do, maybe some of the moderates that actually want to get something done and she's lost control and at some point --

CAMEROTA: Well --

SANDERS: She has to make a decision of which direction she's going to take.

CAMEROTA: I mean, just to be clear, Congress says they actually can do two things at once. Congress says that this isn't a problem. I mean the Democrats in Congress say this isn't a problem. So is the president saying that he cannot do infrastructure while he's being investigated?

SANDERS: I think it's a complete lie that Democrats in Congress think they can do two things at once. So far we haven't seen them do anything.

Nancy Pelosi has had the majority in the House for months and is yet to accomplish a single thing. They haven't gotten --

CAMEROTA: Well, hold on -- hold --

SANDERS: They literally haven't gotten anything done since she's taken over.

CAMEROTA: Wait a second. But, hold on a second, from January 3rd to present, which is not that long, the House has passed 248 bills. The Senate has passed 161, a total of 379. That's not nothing.

SANDERS: Yes, it's not -- tell me what significant pieces of legislation that they have passed that are going to change the course of the country.

Look, there are a lot of big problems that our country is facing. The president is willing to take administrative action to fix some of those if Congress is unwilling to do their part. They know that we have a security -- a national security and humanitarian crisis on the border. At least they're finally admitting that, yet they still haven't done anything to help address it.

CAMEROTA: Well --

[08:35:17] SANDERS: They know that we have a major humanitarian crisis there.

CAMEROTA: I mean the --

SANDERS: The administration requested money just two weeks ago and they've yet to even respond to help provide additional funding to address it.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, as you know -- Sarah, hold on, let me just -- let me just get a couple things in there. As you know, they're interested in a deal for dreamers. I mean that's

one of the things that they are interested in talking to the president about. At one time he was interested in that as well. So they want something comprehensive.

But -- but just before we get to that for one second, I just want to --

SANDERS: But, Alisyn, they have yet to present anything.

CAMEROTA: Hold on, hold on. Just -- just -- I don't want to get derailed to that -- I just want to say, it -- it's the president who is saying that he can't do infrastructure while he's being investigated. He is the one who walked out of the meeting. So just so that we're clear, he's saying that bridges are not going to be fixed until he's no longer investigated? Is that what we hear from the White House?

SANDERS: So far what we've seen from the Democrats in Congress, Alisyn, is that they are incapable of doing anything other than investigating this president. They spend all of their time attacking him. And the fact that they would have a meeting an hour before they are set to arrive at the white House, where Nancy Pelosi literally accuses the president of a crime and then wants to walk into his office and sit down as if nothing happened, that's just -- that's lunacy. That's not even in the realm of possibilities.

The president absolutely wants to get infrastructure done. He wants to secure our border. He wants to do things that help our veterans. He wants to improve our education system. He wants to do all of those things.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SANDERS: But Democrats have been unwilling to work with him. We've laid out a number of plans. You say that the Democrats want to fix the thing on -- with dreamers. They've done nothing. They've literally done nothing. We've put forward plan after plan, proposal after proposal and they have been unwilling to do anything.

CAMEROTA: I mean, but Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said that they had a deal on this and then it fell apart because of the president.

SANDERS: That's not true. They didn't have a deal that fell apart because of the president. They had something that we had agreed to but it fell apart because of the court system. It had nothing to do with the president. It had to do with the fact that the previous president took an illegal action and courts have ruled and that changed the entire way that the process worked.

We've put forward a proposal. We've laid out legislation last week that we supported through Senator Graham. We laid out a more extensive policy proposal to fix the long term immigration system, to have a merit-based system.

CAMEROTA: Yes. SANDERS: Democrats haven't responded to any of it. We've actually been working and doing things and all they're doing is spending their time attacking this president and investigating.

CAMEROTA: And just to be clear --

SANDERS: And at some point they have to make a decision.

CAMEROTA: Just to be clear, your merit-based plan will include dreamers?

SANDERS: It -- it -- the plan that we've laid out at this point doesn't because that's such a divisive issue we purposely didn't include it.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SANDERS: But, look, we're willing to talk about these issues. But Democrats haven't been willing to do anything.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, look, if you're -- if you're talking about a merit-based plan, don't you start with dreamers? I mean we -- there are ivy league educated immigrants here who were brought here through no choice of their own, they want to cure cancer. I'm not making this up. I mean we've actually interviewed some of these dreamers. Isn't that where merit-based starts?

SANDERS: Again, we're not -- we're not ruling those things out, but we purposefully left that out at the beginning of the conversation. Democrats are welcome to come back and say, we like the rest of it, we want to do this, but they haven't even done that. They haven't responded at all. All they do is attack and -- and say that this could never work, it's dead on arrival, yet these are the same types of plans that they were putting forward --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SANDERS: And, in fact, many of them voted for in previous Congress when the plan came through Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy and others.

CAMEROTA: Sarah, one last thing about yesterday. You know that Chuck Schumer and some Democrats say that it was actually President Trump's pre-plan -- premeditated plan to walk out of the meeting. Had he ever really intended to stay for that infrastructure meeting?

SANDERS: Absolutely. We sent a letter the night before laying out the priorities that we wanted to talk about, what we actually considered to be infrastructure. That's another problem that we've got to get solved on the Democrats side is they -- they themselves have yet to define what infrastructure means to them. The president sent that letter the night before and said that was what he wanted to talk about, but --

CAMEROTA: But that letter was about NAFTA. That letter was about the new version of NAFTA. And, in fact, I think it --

SANDERS: Alisyn, you must not have read the entire letter.

CAMEROTA: Just -- just let me --

SANDERS: It said --

CAMEROTA: Let me just -- let me get the question --

SANDERS: OK. Sure.

CAMEROTA: That it was that you couldn't talk about infrastructure until the USMCA, the new NAFTA, was addressed.

SANDERS: No, it didn't say you couldn't talk about it. It said we need to get USMCA completed so that we can fully focus on infrastructure. But it also laid out --

CAMEROTA: Right. So there was no plan.

SANDERS: But, hold on, Alisyn, it also laid out, let's talk about and let's prioritize what infrastructure means for you and what it means for us. We -- they wanted us to put together pay for's, yet they didn't even know what they were paying for. You first have to define and lay out what it is you want to see in the package, then we can determine how much that's going to cost and where we're going to get the money.

CAMEROTA: There --

[08:40:10] SANDERS: But we haven't even gotten that far down the process and that was what yesterday was supposed to be about until Nancy Pelosi had a closed door meeting to talk about the impeachment of the president, which is ludicrous on so many fronts, and something that the American people clearly don't want, which is why she's struggling so much to determine which path she's going to take.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Well, the reason that people --

SANDERS: She does that and then shows up here an hour later is just -- is crazy.

CAMEROTA: I mean part of why people think that it might have been a premeditated walkout by the president is because 15 minutes later the posters, the placards, were already printed.

SANDERS: The placard had been printed weeks ago. And if you look at the president's Twitter feed, he actually tweeted the same graphic on April 20th. So it's not like this was some new talking point or some new moment. That's something we've been talking about since the end of the Mueller report when we -- it was determined that there was no collusion and no obstruction.

The fact is, we considered that case closed. I think most of America did.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SANDERS: It's time for Democrats to get on board. They don't get to do a do-over because they didn't like the outcome.

CAMEROTA: Well, I --

SANDERS: That's like me telling my kids, I'm sorry you didn't win your soccer game, but that's OK we'll just play it over. You know, that's not how life works. They lost. It's time to move on.

CAMEROTA: Right. But, I mean, you know that they think that the Mueller report raised more questions than it ended up answering. But I don't want to get derailed by that.

I do want to find out, do you -- are you saying that the president is not going to work with Democrats on, say, the budget?

SANDERS: Look, we're continuing to have some conversations at staff levels. We want to get things done. We'd like for Democrats to get serious about doing their jobs. We'd like for Democrats to come to the table and do more than attack this president, do more than push this phony investigations.

CAMEROTA: And if they do come to the table with a budget or for NAFTA, the president will come to the table also? He will work with the Democrats, despite what he said yesterday?

SANDERS: The president's already -- the president's already done his part on USMCA. He already negotiated between Canada and Mexico. He got the deal done. Now it's Congress' job to vote on it.

His part in getting the most historic and biggest trade deal in the history of our country, he did that part. Now Congress has to do theirs. And I don't know if they can take time out of their busy schedules of investigating this president to do the work of the people. That's a question you'll have to ask the Democrats.

CAMEROTA: But infrastructure is dead for the moment? You're saying infrastructure is dead? The president has no more interest in talking to Democrats about that?

SANDERS: We certainly have interest, and that's what the president said yesterday. He came in calmly, in command of the room and said, I want to do infrastructure, I want to get these things done, but you guys have to make a decision on whether or not you want to work with us or whether you want to spend all of your time attacking me. And so far we haven't seen them show any ability to do that.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, they did show up for the meeting yesterday.

But let's move on because the president just --

SANDERS: An hour after accusing the president of a crime. That -- I mean, Alisyn, that would be like your --

CAMEROTA: But -- but, again, they say they can walk and chew gum.

SANDERS: That would be like John telling you that he thought you were stealing from the network and then sitting down in the chair next to you and saying, but no big deal, let's just move forward. Like that's -- that's impossible --

CAMEROTA: John would never accuse me of something like that.

But --

SANDERS: I would hope not.

CAMEROTA: But, Sarah, Rex -- the president just tweeted, Rex Tillerson, a man who is, quote, dumb as a rock and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be secretary of state made up a story, he got fired, that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany. I don't think Putin would agree. Look at how the U.S. is doing.

Now, let's remember, it was President Trump who chose Rex Tillerson as the secretary of state. So the idea that he is -- was totally ill equipped, how do you explain that?

SANDERS: Look, the president's meeting with Putin went extremely well. The president has made clear that having a relationship with Russia is better than not having one.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SANDERS: I think everybody can agree on that, that that's a good thing.

But at the same time, no one's been tougher. The president's been very well prepared, not just for that meeting, but the dozens and dozens of meetings that he's had with other foreign leaders.

CAMEROTA: It's hard to know since no notes are ever released after these meetings and there's not a transcriber.

SANDERS: That's -- that -- Alisyn, that's insane. The fact is, the president walked out of the meeting and did a press conference immediately following, as did a number of his aides who were participants in some of the small group sessions, like Secretary Pompeo and others. So the idea that there was no transparency is just ridiculous and it's just simply false.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

Sarah, we really appreciate you being here. We know that you have a busy day and that you need to go. Thank you for taking time to be on NEW DAY.

SANDERS: Absolutely. Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: John.

[08:44:44] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, our next guest is the number two ranking Democrat in the Senate. He will have a much different take as to what happened inside that meeting and the meaning of it, than Sarah Sanders just did. Dick Durbin, the senator from Illinois, joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So was it a temper tantrum or was it a polite and calm breakup? The president's three minute demolition of an infrastructure meeting raises all kinds of questions about who will do the business of the country for the next 18 months or so.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, he was in the room where it happened.

Senator, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

If we can I'd like to have you to respond to a couple things the White House press secretary just told us moments ago.

Number one, he said that Democrats are incapable of legislating and investigating at the same time. Is that true?

Senator Durbin, can you hear me?

CAMEROTA: I don't think he can.

BERMAN: I think one of the problems is, is that he's incapable of hearing me right now.

CAMEROTA: That is really stonewalling, what he's doing right now. It's truly stonewalling.

BERMAN: The impressive thing is how stoic he was looking that whole time, completely unconcerned with the fact that he can't hear me, either that or completely mesmerized by my questions.

[08:50:07] Look, we're trying to get Senator Durbin up here in a second. If we can, I think I'd like to talk about the Sarah Sanders interview you just did. It was really interesting to me -- well, now we have the senator back, so we'll pause on that.

CAMEROTA: Oh, OK. I look forward to hearing that. That's a cliff hanger.

BERMAN: Senator Durbin, we were just talking about you behind your back. Thank you for joining us and thank you for waiting out the audio problems.

Sarah Sanders was just on moments ago and said that Democrats are incapable of legislating and investigating at the same time.

Can you do both?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Of course. And every president, without exception, has been subject to investigation of some sort. And most every president hated it and did everything they could to discourage it, but then went on about the business of the office.

Yesterday, we were invited, what I thought was in good faith, for a bipartisan conversation about a pressing national problem, infrastructure and transportation. We prepared for it ahead of time. We arrived on time as required or expected of us, and the president had choreographed this appearance where he gave a three or four (INAUDIBLE) walked out of the room.

In the highlight reel of the Trump presidency, if you had a camera in the room, you would have included that moment. It was a petulant moment. It was an awkward moment. And, sadly, at the end of it, the American people were the losers.

BERMAN: You called it petulant and awkward. Nancy Pelosi called it a temper tantrum. The president took issue with that and said it was calm and polite.

What did you see?

DURBIN: What I saw was I -- I'd say to Ms. Sanders, a carefully choreographed decision to confront the Democratic leaders in Congress and then to walk out to the Rose Garden and tell his side of the story with prepared posters. You know, that is not how you govern a country. Not a great country like America. And here we are, invited by the president to come down there, in good faith show up for the second time for this conversation.

Where do we go from here? If this president has said he's not going to be president, not going to use the office as he was given this opportunity by the American voters until all investigations come to an end, I have news for him, in a transparent, accountable democracy, investigations never end. All of us, those on the Capitol side, those on the White House side, have to accept the reality that a democracy requires investigations.

BERMAN: Well, will you answer the question you just asked, where do you go from here? What will Democrats do if the president won't sit down at the table and work with you?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you, we're doing virtually nothing in the United States Senate. An empty chamber that just lurches from one of Mitch McConnell's judicial nominees to another. That's all we've done for weeks and weeks and weeks. We don't address the basic issues the American people sent us to look at.

Why aren't we dealing with the cost of prescription drugs? It's number one on the agenda for the American people. Why aren't we dealing with infrastructure? We know it's critical to our economy and countries like China are running rings around us with their investment in their people, as well as their infrastructure. You can go through the list, whether it's preexisting conditions, this president is absent without leave. He has decided, for whatever reason, not to engage the Congress. Mitch McConnell is complicit in this. And we're wasting our time.

BERMAN: Well, what about on the House side, because another one of the things Sarah said is that since the Democrats took over there, and since Nancy Pelosi has been House speaker, she said they've passed no significant legislation. DURBIN: Ms. Sanders should take a look at the actual record. What

Nancy Pelosi has done with her Democratic majority is to address the very issues I mentioned. When you ask the American people about their opinion of politicians, they think that we need to be really hewing to a different standard, making certain that we have reform in mind.

HR-1, the number one bill passed by Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats, addresses this issue of restoring the integrity to campaigns and to our congressional process. The president and Ms. Sanders think that's worth nothing. Mitch McConnell won't even call the bill and yet the American people think it's a high priority.

BERMAN: You said this moment yesterday, this three or four minute speech the president gave to you behind closed doors and then walking out to the Rose Garden, that it will go on the highlight reel of the Trump presidency.

Is this a moment -- do you see this as a significant moment or a turning point somehow?

DURBIN: I do, because I think the president has declared that he is not going to be the president. He's not going to lead or work with Congress until investigations come to an end. That, I think, is an unreasonable request. No former president that I know of has said such a thing. He shouldn't say such a thing. He should get on about the business of America, the things that need to be done to make lives better for the working families across this country, to make us more competitive in the world, to address some of the gnawing concerns people have of whether they have sufficient savings for retirement, how they're going to pay for prescription drugs.

Come on, Mr. President, be the president. Don't get so petulant that you walk away from this field of battle. We need to engage one another and work with one another to solve these problems.

BERMAN: Sarah said that the issue was that Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, accused the president of a crime just an hour before this meeting. Said the president was engaged in a cover-up.

[08:55:02] Do you think the president's engaged in a cover-up?

DURBIN: I can tell you this, if you read the Mueller report, as I have, and I invite the American people to read it, time and again this president engaged in conduct that could easily be categorized as a cover-up and obstruction of justice. Why did Mueller call for his prosecution? Because he believed there was an office of legal counsel opinion that stopped him from doing that.

Nevertheless, I think people in a reasonable position, including a recent Republican congressman from Michigan, came to the conclusion the president obstructed this effort for a Russian investigation. So what Nancy said -- Nancy Pelosi said yesterday was not really unsupported. In fact, it was supported by the Mueller inquiry.

BERMAN: You're talking about Justin Amash, Republican from Michigan. Very quickly. You're on House Senate Foreign Relations as well. We

understand that the Pentagon is briefing the administration on plans to send possibly 10,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East. This would be out of concern of Iran.

What do you make of that?

DURBIN: I make of this a real genuine concern. We had a briefing earlier this week, a bipartisan briefing, where Secretary Pompeo came before us and it was very clear that John Bolton, the security adviser to the president, Mr. Pompeo are moving us closer and closer to a confrontation with Iran. For those of us who believe that two existing wars in the Middle East by the United States are enough and that we shouldn't engage in a new war, this is provocative conduct on the part of this administration. They walked away from a nuclear agreement that kept nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranians, which I think was a terrible mistake. They provoked them by declaring their Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist force and now more provocation suggesting we're going to send in troops. It's time for the American people to speak out against this.

BERMAN: Senator Dick Durbin, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Really appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, I think I got to hear your questions to him, so that -- that works.

BERMAN: Yes. At the end, he earned them.

CAMEROTA: Thanks. I didn't have to wait.

BERMAN: A victory.

CAMEROTA: That was excellent.

All right, there's this deadly tornado outbreak in Missouri, so CNN's coverage continues after this very quick break.

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