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Senate Judiciary Committee Debates Supreme Court Nominee; Feinstein Opposes Gorsuch Nomination; Senate Heads Toward "Nuclear" Showdown Over Gorsuch; Russia: At Least Nine Killed In Metro Station Blast; Soon: Egyptian President Arrives At White House. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- two huge tests for President Trump, one involving his choice for a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court, one of the most important decisions any president makes and one that has the longest and lasting impacts on the country.

Right now, the Senate Judiciary Committee is debating whether to advance Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination and then three crucial, possibly brutal days of debate will follow.

The big question, will Republicans end up pulling the legislative nuclear option to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed, and what does that mean for the country and the Senate going forward? We'll have our eyes on that throughout the hour.

Meantime, the second big test involves U.S. foreign policy. President Trump's diplomatic skills tested this hour with Egypt's president joining him in Washington.

Later this week, he's going to be meeting with the king of Jordan. Both of those meetings are the prelude to his high-stakes meeting towards the end of this week with China's president visiting Donald Trump, stakes Mr. Trump has raised by saying the U.S. might act alone if China doesn't get suffer when it comes to North Korea.

A lot to get to this hour and a lot we're keeping our eye on, a lot of moving parts. Let's talk about the next step right now for Neil Gorsuch and his nomination. That takes us back to Capitol Hill.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty and Ariane de Vogue are covering all aspects of this for us. So Sunlen, they've been under way. They've been debating it for a little over an hour now in the Senate Judiciary Committee. What have we learned so far?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the big news coming out of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing so far this morning -- and they've been under way for about an hour now -- is that the ranking member on that committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, for the first time announced how she'll vote. She says she opposes Neil Gorsuch's nomination. Here's what she said just a few minutes ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Unfortunately, based on Judge Gorsuch's record at the Department of Justice, his tenure on the bench, his appearance before the Senate, and his written questions for the record, I cannot support this nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: And importantly, in addition to not supporting his nomination, a spokesperson for Dianne Feinstein confirms to CNN that she will also vote no on cloture later this week. That's important. That essentially means that she will be filibustering along with many of her other fellow Democrats, his nomination.

And it basically gives one more vote to the Democrats, inching this closer to a point really of no return, the point where they have lockstep numbers to block his nomination. That would force the Republicans, Kate, to do what they're promising to do to change the Senate rules, invoke the so-called nuclear option.

BOLDUAN: Yes, exactly. Sunlen, thanks so much. Let's talk about that math, Ariane. The math is very important to hear the ranking Democrat on this committee, finally really hearing from her own mouth, where Dianne Feinstein stands on this nomination. Where does the math stands right now, and is anything really likely to change before they come to a final vote?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, it sure looks like we're heading toward the Republicans having to trigger that. This Judiciary Committee meeting -- Gorsuch is not there, right, but the members are delivering these remarks. We expect him to advance out of the committee on party lines by the end of the day, at least, because there's more Republicans than Democrats.

But already there's been some fireworks. The Republicans are defending and praising him. You heard Grassley say, you know, he's a mainstream judge and then you heard Feinstein say she couldn't support him.

In general, the Democrats are concerned about these issues. First of all, Merrick Garland, they're furious he never got a vote. They called this seat a stolen seat. They also think he's been evasive in his testimony on questions like 9/11, the work he did as a DOJ lawyer and corporate issues.

And finally, they're probably going to target women's health issues. Remember, Donald Trump said during the campaign he wanted a pro-life judge, so the Democrats say that gives them license to ask questions about that.

But Kate, at the end of the day, really, we're taking another step in changing the way the Supreme Court nominees are chosen. That's a big deal. Not only for the Senate but for the Supreme Court. BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Sunlen, Ariane, thank you so much. Keeping a very close eye. We'll be dipping into this hearing as we hear from important senators.

Joining me now to discuss, though, CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin is here, chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN Supreme Court analyst, Joan Biskupic joining me now.

So Jeffrey, on the makeup of this committee, what we've been listening to for a little over an hour now, 11 Republicans, nine Democrats. He will get approve and move on from the committee. They're debating it, they're having their say.

What's the most important thing you've heard so far? What have they told us when they're kind of -- we call it a debate, but basically, they're having their say.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: They're talking over and at each other. You know, we can get caught up in the nuclear option, in the vote and all that. I mean, what's important is that Neil Gorsuch is going to get confirmed.

And this means there will be a very strong conservative voice on the Supreme Court for the next 20, 30, 40 years on issues like abortion, gay rights, campaign finance.

[11:05:11]This is what really matters, I think, to the country. Whether he gets on with 55 votes or 61 votes I don't think matters that much, but I think it matters a great, great deal that Justice Scalia is going to be replaced by another conservative, as opposed to a moderate like Merrick Garland would have been.

BOLDUAN: And you talk about campaign finance. That's already been brought up in the hearing. We've heard that discussed. Many issues being brought up. Also Merrick Garland being brought up many times, Gloria. Who are you watching in this committee?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm watching the person that's right in the split screen with you, which is Senator Leahy, because while we know he's going to oppose Judge Gorsuch, he hasn't said whether he would actually support a filibuster.

And that's because he's an institutionalist in many ways and probably goes back to the days in the Senate when it was assumed that a president who is elected ought to be able to get his Supreme Court nominee through the Congress.

I mean, I remember when Lindsey Graham didn't like Judge Sonia Sotomayor, but he thought, this is the president's choice and ought to be able to be given the benefit of that choice because he won the election fair and square.

So, I think what we're seeing before our very eyes here today, and it will continue all week long, is a really seed change in the way the Senate operates. And the rules of the Senate, if they have to change and if it becomes just a majority to approve a Supreme Court nominee, would a legislative filibuster then be the next thing to go if you believe in dominos?

And then would the Senate become just like the House? And so, I thinks we watch this, we have to kind of take a look at this and what it's going to mean to the way the Senate operates overall in the future.

BOLDUAN: Talking about members of the House, they say that would be a great thing!

BORGER: Talk to the American public maybe not so much.

BOLDUAN: You may get a different answer. Joan, Gorsuch sat for more than 20 hours of testimony in front of this very committee over multiple days. Where Democrats are opposed to him I'm hearing a little bit of everything as they're kind of speaking today. Do you think where the opposition stands, is it about Neil Gorsuch, his past, maybe not offering answers where they wanted, or is this more, do you think, still about President Obama's pick, Merrick Garland, never getting a hearing?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: No, I think this is about Neil Gorsuch at this point. Certainly, they're very disappointed in what happened last year with Merrick Garland, but what Senator Feinstein's laying out, what Senator Leahy is laying out right now has to do with the man himself.

And not just how he's going to affect cases down the road, but we've got very important battles coming to the Supreme Court that he will have a hand in, probably as soon as later this month. We have a good church/state battle coming up, the travel ban litigation is coming up.

And what Senate Democrats appear to be doing is detailing his record and how it will play out in a very immediate way that has nothing to do with the politics of Merrick Garland. I think they're trying to close that chapter and say, something really important is happening here.

Try to get the American people's attention, even though I think no matter what at this point, he'll get out of committee, and with those 52 Republicans and at least three Democrats now who will support him, he will be on the Supreme Court by the end of this month.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk, though, about where the court has stood since the death of Antonin Scalia. It's been 4-4.

TOOBIN: Right.

BOLDUAN: How has it been impacted, Jeffrey? Have they avoided cases? Have they -- what has happened? What's been the impact, and that matters when you talk about there's someone that's going to fill it, or if something were to change and they would need to look for another nominee?

TOOBIN: It matters in that the liberals have done really well for the past year. There was a major affirmative action case last year involving admission to the University of Texas where diversity was allowed to be a factor in consideration.

They struck down the Texas antiabortion laws, which established very strict requirements on abortion clinics, and the Supreme Court said those were illegal because they impacted a woman's right to choose abortion.

I mean, in case after case, either on 4-4 ties or with Anthony Kennedy joining the liberals, the liberals have done really well. I think we can expect that trend largely to end, although Anthony Kennedy is sometimes a wild card.

I mean, it is likely that the court will basically return to the status quo of where it was when Justice Scalia was on the court with a 5-4 conservative majority most of the time, though not all of the time.

[11:10:02]And you know, we are waiting for the next vacancy, which would be the real World War III in terms of confirmation with Ruth Ginsburg, 84 years old, Anthony Kennedy, 80 years old, Steven Brier, 78 years old.

BOLDUAN: Liberal leaning or the swing vote moderate is what you're talk being there and who would President Trump replace if there is another retirement. And that actually is an important factor in the conversation that we're having right now, Gloria. What does how this fight plays out, when it moves to the Senate floor -- how do you think that changes, or does it not, what this fight looks like next time?

BORGER: Well, I think first of all, if they use the nuclear option this time, which looks like they're going do, it seems to me that the next time around, it's going to be even more vitriolic.

BOLDUAN: Gloria, can I ask a dumb question to someone who -- I covered --

BORGER: You never ask a dumb question.

BOLDUAN: This one might actually be. I'm setting myself up. If they change the rules, can they change it back? Why not --

BORGER: That is not a dumb question. I believe once you go down that road, you've opened Pandora's Box.

BOLDUAN: Which is impossible, yes.

BORGER: Once Harry Reid did this, I believe in 2013, and correct me if I'm wrong, Jeff, but in 2013 for other judicial appointments, other than the Supreme Court. Everybody was saying, well, the next step is the Supreme Court. And lo and behold, here we are at the Supreme Court and then the next step, could that be legislative filibusters, you know? So, I think it's very hard to undo something that you've done that's as important as this is.

TOOBIN: But just to answer Kate's question, it is at least possible under the rules to go back to the older rules.

BORGER: It is. It is.

TOOBIN: But as you point out, unlikely though that may be.

BORGER: And why would any party want to do that if they were --

TOOBIN: In the majority.

BORGER: -- this is what elections are about.

BOLDUAN: Yes, when has changing the rules in the Senate engendered more bipartisan effort and kumbaya nature? Great to see you, guys. Thanks you so much. Again, we're keeping our eye. Lindsey Graham is talking right now in committee. He's a big yes on Neil Gorsuch. We'll watch this play out and bring you the big moments.

But I want to turn to breaking news overseas, right now CNN has been following all morning breaking news out of Russia's second largest city, an explosion at a subway station in St. Petersburg. Russia state-run media's now reporting at least nine people are dead, dozens hurt.

Officials saying that the blast came from an unidentified explosive device in one of the subway cars. CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank is here with a little more on this. We also have Matthew Chance with us from Moscow.

Matthew, let me first go to you. What is the very latest that we know about the blast?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know that much. We know that the blast has been placed inside this subway station in the center of St. Petersburg, a Metro station called Sennaya Square. We know that there were nine dead, about 50 injured, according to the local government authorities.

And, of course, these horrific scenes are being broadcast all over Russian television right now and posted online, stills, images, social media, all of absolute chaos that followed the blast on this Metro train, a blast so powerful that it sheared the doors clean off.

The platform is splattered with blood and so are the walls. The twisted metal is all around. The casualties are strewn all over the platform as well. There's absolute panic. Eyewitnesses reporting that people were bloody, some people had their hair on fire as they tried to escape the carriage of the train.

One person told us, "I felt an explosion underneath me. Everything was filled with smoke and there was panic." TASSM the Russian state news agency, spoke to somebody who was on the train who was hit by the explosion, and he said that in the Metro car, everyone expected dead.

As people were taking us out, everybody was covered in blood. So, absolutely horrific scenes in this, Russia's second biggest city, today -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And honestly, still early moments here, a lot still to be known, as you mentioned, Matthew. So, Paul, no claim of responsibility yet. This is all happening in realtime and still playing out. What do you believe is the universe of possibility here? What's your gut telling you here?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, the working assumption is that this was jihadi terrorism. And for global jihadi groups like ISIS and al Qaeda, Russia, not the United States, Russia is now their top target because of this brutal Russian intervention in Syria.

The fact that so many Sunni civilians inside Syria have been killed in these Russian air strikes has angered but also energized these global jihadi groups. And as Vladimir Putin himself has said, up to 7,000 Russian nationals and citizens of former soviet bloc countries have traveled to Syria and Iraq, joined groups like ISIS.

They've emerged, especially the fighters from the Caucasus region as the elite fighters of the terror group and have been involved in international terror attacks.

[11:15:08]Including that Istanbul airport attack back last June, which was carried out by a number of Russian nationals from the Caucasus region.

The fact that this appears to have been a significantly powerful device may point to some kind of terror training, terror experience overseas in Syria or Iraq, or, perhaps, in the Caucasus region.

And we've already seen ISIS carry out one huge attack against Russia, and that was the October 2015 Metrojet attack of that airliner leaving from Sharm El Sheik Airport. Where was that airliner heading? St. Petersburg.

BOLDUAN: And also reports there was a second undetonated device here. I mean, that obviously speaks to there are very likely could be more than one person involved with an attack like this, right?

CRUICKSHANK: It certainly could point towards that, but we don't know that yet. And you'll recall, in New York City last September, there was that Chelsea bombing attempt and those devices left in New Jersey. That was just one guy, so possible one individual, but given that the strength of this blast, multiple devices, you're looking at a more ambitious plot.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Paul, thank you so much. Matthew Chance is working his resources in Moscow. We'll return to this. Thank you, guys, so much.

Coming up for us, the Senate Intelligence Committee is starting their very key interviews in the ongoing investigation into Russia, and this gets to Russian ties to the Donald Trump campaign, Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. The House investigation seems to still remain at a halt.

Plus this -- the big diplomatic test this week for President Trump, meetings with leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and China. How this week could affect U.S. foreign policy in a very big way going forward. The stakes at play.

And what about the president's nominee for the Supreme Court? Will Neil Gorsuch get enough support to lock down his confirmation, or will Republicans have to use the nuclear option? If they do, what does it all mean? Keeping an eye on the Senate Judiciary Committee right now. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:20:56]

BOLDUAN: Today kicks off a crucial week of diplomacy for President Trump. We're going to show you live pictures of the White House, where President Trump will soon be welcoming the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to the White House for important meetings today, basically throughout the entire day.

Then on Wednesday, President Trump will be meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan. At the end of the week, President Trump will be welcoming China's president to his Mar-a-Lago resort for two days of meetings there.

This, of course, is after some tough talk from President Trump on China. In an interview with the "Financial Times," President Trump said "China has great influence over North Korea, and China will either decide to help us with North Korea or they won't. If they do, that would be very good for China. If they don't, it won't be good for anyone."

Meantime, speaking of foreign policy and overseas, today President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is in Iraq at the invitation of the Joint Chiefs chairman for an important visit there.

Let's discuss all of this with my panel. Alex Burns is here, CNN political analyst, national political reporter for "The New York Times." Barbara Starr, of course, CNN's Pentagon correspondent. Michelle Kosinski is CNN's senior diplomatic correspondent, and Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN military analyst and former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thank you all so much for joining me.

A very big week on the foreign policy front. Michelle, this is the first visit to the White House for an Egyptian leader since 2009. When you kind of look at this, as we're going to be waiting to see the Egyptian president arrive a little later this hour, what does President Trump want to get out of this important meeting?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question. I mean, I think there's a lot more at stake for Egypt here. They're being welcomed back into the fold. I mean, the red carpet is practically being rolled out for him, so this is a huge deal for Egypt.

Look what it says about the U.S.'s view of his presidency, his legitimacy in the world. So he's sending a message to his own people. What he wants, of course, is additional aid from the United States and a stronger relationship.

So what Trump has to gain is really a new look at the relationship and what he hopes will be a strong ally in the fight against ISIS. Trump and his administration have repeatedly admired how El-Sisi has gone after Islamists in his country. The Muslim Brotherhood is his enemy, really.

He jailed tens of thousands of people. But on the other side, activists and experts and many analysts have harshly criticized how Sisi has handled that, so it will be interesting to see how the relationship evolves.

If President Trump wants Egypt to do a lot more in the fight against ISIS, though, the U.S. will have to help Egypt financially with that task.

BOLDUAN: Barbara, what's the view from the Pentagon on the stakes of this meeting, what maybe President Trump needs to get out of it from the Egyptian president or what the Egyptian president is looking to get out of this meeting?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what both militaries, the Egyptian and the U.S., have a long history of cooperating together over the years -- exercises, training, and use of Egyptian bases. But the world has changed with President El-Sisi in power in Egypt.

A lot of criticism of his human rights record. Like Michelle said, the U.S. wants him to go after terrorists, wants him to go after the Brotherhood, to go after ISIS, which is very much taking hold in Sinai, a big concern there about that.

So, they're going to want to see some work done on counterterrorism by the Egyptians. That is likely to be a very big thing, and Russia looms not just over the horizon, but right in the Egypt. In recent weeks, we've learned that Russian troops are in an air base in Western Egypt, just across the border from Libya, making their moves into Libya and trying to influence the situation there.

So President Trump may decide he wants to talk to El-Sisi about limiting Russian influence on yet another front in North Africa, or maybe it doesn't come up at all. We don't know.

BOLDUAN: Yes, but a lot, of course, we do not know, but we do know, at least in telegraphing a little bit of the topics, Colonel, that the White House wants to talk about the fight against ISIS with the Egyptian president.

[11:25:08]Is the coordination -- what is the coordination in your view about the fight between the United States and Egypt in the fight against ISIS? Give us your perspective.

COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think that basically, Kate, the coordination is not where it needs to be, so El- Sisi is focused on his domestic issues, as Barbara mentioned the Sinai, and of course, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt itself, so those are the primary concerns that El-Sisi has. He has not put forward any significant aid to any of the forces fighting ISIS in Syria right now.

He's more concerned, of course, with Libya. So what he's doing is he's opening his area to the Russians to go into Libya, to do something there, in case ISIS gets stronger there, which it has every indication of doing.

And I think what President Trump will probably want to do is get the Egyptians to work even more closely with the United States and Turkey in the effort to go fight ISIS on the ground in Syria. So I think that's what we're going to see, and that's also I think why the Jordanian king is next up on the roster of visitors this week.

BOLDUAN: Right. And Alex, as the colonel points to, this is a big week. I mean, this is a quick -- a huge shift to foreign policy when you list what else is on the docket for the president this week. What is this week about?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's about, you know, we spoke about the Supreme Court earlier on the show, but I think that for President Trump, this sort of list of big, diplomatic meetings is a real test of the presidency a la Trump, right, that we all remember during the campaign.

That he really told voters, especially his strong supporters, that the only reason why the United States wasn't getting what it wanted on the world stage was because we had these weak, naive leaders who didn't know how to negotiate.

He told that story in domestic policy, too, and he's quickly found, his voters have quickly found that it is actually much more complicated than that. So, I think now we'll see the same challenge that the president went through on the domestic change over the last few months on the international stage.

If he's meeting with China's president, he's made an awfully long list of promises for what kind of concessions a really tough, really smart negotiator in the American presidency ought to be able to get from his opposite number in China.

BOLDUAN: Michelle, let me ask you one thing. I mentioned that Jared Kushner, senior adviser, son-in-law to the president, is in Iraq right now at the invitation of the Joint Chiefs chairman. It has a lot of folks -- when it comes to big -- when it comes to diplomacy and big, thorny issues, the president seems to be leaning more and more on Jared Kushner for that, for all -- I mean, like Mideast peace is part of his purview as well as negotiating with Mexico. I mean, there's tons of things on his plate. When it comes to foreign policy, who is running it?

KOSINSKI: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Does it come from the State Department? Is it Jared Kushner? Is it the U.N. ambassador?

KOSINSKI: Once again, that's a question that everybody has here in Washington. I mean, to generalize this, what isn't Jared Kushner working on these days? He's tasked with everything from spurring American innovation to solving the Mideast peace crisis, you're right.

So, it's a complicated web of influences, from what we hear from sources. You know, we were talking to a senior GOP member of Congress not long ago, and I asked him that question point blank -- is Jared Kushner the de facto secretary of state?

And he said, no. I mean, he's familiar with these discussions. He said that he does have a lol of influence with the president, the president trusts him implicitly. Another source told me that Kushner projects the strong air of confidence, seemingly in all areas, even where he doesn't have a lot of knowledge or experience.

But what this member of Congress appreciated was he listens, he tries to get the knowledge, he reads a lot, and he's listening, apparently, to Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis. Tillerson also meets with the president quite a bit. It seems like every week they're having a meeting.

So Kushner has a ton of influence, obviously. Tillerson and Mattis have kind of aligned themselves together. They both influence the president's thinking, and they kind of each now have separate spheres and separate jobs.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. And this week will be fascinating to see how these meetings play out. Again, we are waiting for the Egyptian president to arrive at the White House, keeping an eye there to bring you that arrival when it happens. Alex, Barbara, Michelle, Colonel, thank you all so very much.

Coming up for us, we're going to head back to Capitol Hill where the Senate JUDICIARY COMMITTEE is debating President Trump's Supreme Court pick. Will Neil Gorsuch get the nod? Will he have enough votes to be confirmed, or will Republicans need to go nuclear?

Plus, tee time and health care, President Trump and Republican Senator Rand Paul coming out of a golf game with a new stroke of optimism, if you will, on a possible deal to repeal and replace Obamacare, really? How real is it? We'll discuss.