tv At This Hour With Kate Bolduan CNN December 29, 2017 8:00am-9:00am PST
hello. happy friday. a surprise old school talk storm for president trump that sparked a lot of discussion this morning. in an interview with the new york times, the president addressed a wide range of topics, but his shift in tone on the special council investigation really stands out. the president repeatedly saying there was no collusion with russia and that he thinks robert
mueller will treat him fairly. but adding the russia investigations make the u.s. look very bad and the sooner it is worked out the better it is for the country. more now from cnn's ryan nobles in west wapalm beach. the president implied he should be more like president obama's attorney general eric holder. >> these comments are pretty revealing. it shows he's smarting from attorney general jeff session's decision to recuse himself in the russia investigation. the president repeated numerous times in this new york times interview he thought that was a mistake, that sessions had no reason to step aside from that investigation. but he took it a step further when he compared sessions to former attorney general eric holder and how eric holder treated president obama. he said, quote, it's too bad that jeff recused himself. i like jeff. i don't want to get into loyalty, but i will tell you that i will say this.
holder protected president obama, totally protected him. when you look at the things that they did and holder protected the president. and i have great respect for that. i'll be honest, i have great respect for that. of course this issue of loyalty has been a theme with president trump. you will remember back with the flap between me and the former fbi director james comey, comey testified at one point the president called him in and suggested that if he was going to stay in his job that the president would require loyalty from james comey and that it wasn't very long after that that comey was forced out of his position. the president also doesn't get into too many specifics as to what he means by this loyalty that eric holder showed to barack obama, but it's clear that he wishes that jeff sessions had demonstrated more of that early on in his tenure. >> so much more to talk about that we want to dissect about this interview. but you have more reporting on
new staff changes coming at the white house. what are you hearing? >> yeah. and these are not high profile staff positions by any stretch but it does give us insight into the white house thinking going into 2018 and perhaps their concern about what could happen in the upcoming mid-term elections. they are bringing in a political expert to kind of run the white house political shop. this comes after some pretty harsh criticism from the current political director there who has been criticized by a lot of former trump allies. now he will stay in place, but it will be destef know in charge of the political operation with an eye towards saving the republican house and senate coming up in the 2018 mid-terms. >> thanks so much. let's talk about more of this now with cnn national security analyst shawn turner, david
swerdlich and joe walsh. david, i will start with you. this was an impromptu interview. the president said 16 times there was no collusion. he did this entire interview without any advisors or aids near by. in some ways it is reminisce sant of the campaign trail. don't you think? >> yeah. i think the president wanted to do two things at once. saying in collusion 16 times to make clear that he was still pushing his narrative that there is nothing to see here, nothing was done wrong, the investigation is about nothing. and at the same time, having -- doing an interview at lunch in florida without aids present and saying that he had confidence that mueller would be fair as a way of suggesting that he's relaxed, he's calm, there is a storm swirling about him, but that he's not worried about the ultimate outcome. >> surprising to hear the president take that approach given what we have been hearing from so many in his party. he says he has faith in mueller. he's not bothered by the length of this investigation.
are you happy to see the president taking this position now. >> i think so much -- go ahead. >> that was to you, joe. >> so much of this, when you really look back on this year is so self-inflicted. i mean, the president said that this russian investigation makes the united states look bad. we know that russia interfered in the election. finding out what happened and how it happened to make sure it doesn't happen again, i mean, that makes the united states look good. imagine how different this year would have been if after trump won he led the investigation to find out what russia did in our election. it's been so disappointing that he still can't bring himself to acknowledge that. >> and, yet, he is saying at this point in this interview the mueller investigation can take as much time as it is. it is not going to bother him. it doesn't matter to him, per
se. although, as you point out, bigger picture, he was worried about how it makes the country look. but you have been really outspoken about your former colleagues in focongress who ha been attacking mueller's credibility and attacking this probe. should the president tell them to cut it out? >> absolutely. and what trump is doing right here is good cop/bad cop. look, i think it is disgusting and offensive that my former colleagues and fox news and everybody is maligning robert mueller. but they're not doing that, anna, if the president didn't want them to. and, so, it is perfectly easy for trump to come out last night and say, you know what, mueller will be fair. these republicans, they have his blessing, anna, to go after mueller. i think that's a horrible thing. >> shawn, in this same interview president trump says i have the absolute right to do what i want with the justice department. of course this was in response to a question about whether the
hillary clinton e-mail investigation should be reopened. it wasn't directly in response to this mueller investigation. but the bottom line, does he have the absolute right to do what he wants with the doj? >> well, i think that when it comes to senior officials at the doj, certainly the president has the right to have senior people in positions that he think serve his interest. but the president has to be very careful here. traditionally and i think eric holder said this, it is absolutely true. there is a wall that is put up between political figures in the administration and the justice department. the justice department needs to have the ability to operate independently. if you look at some of the things this president has done with regard to the justice department, for example, interviewing potential other candidates for attorney general, certainly the allegation that he asked director comey to end the investigation on mike flynn, interfering with regard to pile, that certainly creating the
impression that the president thinks he could do whatever he wants with the justice department. when we look at what happens in other countries with regard to their ability to abide by democratic principals, we look at the ability for justice systems to operate independent of politicians. and so in this country i think we need to uphold that principal and i think the president has struggled to do that with some of his interference with the justice department. >> one word that has been used a lot is loyalty. he said it is too bad jeff sessions recused himself from the russia investigation. when he was asked whether trump thought holder was more loyal to obama than sessions had been to him, he said i don't want to get into loyalty, but i will say this. holder protected president obama, totally protected him. he went on to say, when you look at the things that they did and holder protected the president, i have great respect for that. i'll be honest. so, david, if you are jeff sessions and you read this, what
might you be thinking? >> i think if you are attorney general sessions, you take that as a slight shot across the bow again from the president who is, as you say, still smarting from the fact that sessions early on recused himself. but the comparison to holder is almost funny. he didn't have meetings with kiss lee yak prior to coming in and then the russia investigation. so holder was never in this situation. the obama administration had their share of investigations. but there was never this issue where the actions of holder were in direct conflict with what the president's inner circle was being investigated about as there is with attorney general sessions and president trump in this case. also i think president trump still sort of doesn't grasp or doesn't want to grasp this idea that other political figures, other figures in his cabinet have their own you power centers and responsibilities. the attorney general is not the
president's personal lawyer. he's the attorney general of the united states. >> is it a fair characterization to say that holder totally protected obama because he did bring up the irs scandal, the fast and furious investigation. >> yeah. look, i worked in the white house as part of the administration during this time. it is not a fair characterization. look, there is no doubt there was a relationship between president obama and attorney general eric holder that preceded his appointment as attorney general. but one of the things that's certainly different with regards to that relationship and the current relationship is that eric holder maintained a very strict wall between the administration and what the work of the justice department. there was never a scenario where the president of the united states, the previous president of the united states, asked attorney general holder to take any action with regard to a particular investigation because there was widespread understanding that would have been a completely inappropriate thing to do. so i think that maybe from the outside looking in people see
the closeness of that relationship and they make presumptions. when it came to the work of running the justice department, there was a clear wall that needs to be maintained. >> so, joe, do you have a problem with the president suggesting that the attorney general should be shielding the president from allegations of wrongdoing by his administration? >> yeah. look, i have a real problem with trump going after sessions. the attorney general should remain independent and trump ought to leave him alone. but, look, there are plenty of us who believer rick holder was not the paragon of independence. holder and obama were best friends. holder did protect obama, many of us do believe, on a number of occasions. i don't think there was an independence there. i get why trump is saying that. but he's got no business demanding that sessions is loyal to him. sessions loyalty is to the constitution, to the rule of law. >> gentlemen, thank you all for
your thoughts. happy friday. happy new years. we appreciate your time this afternoon or this morning still. there is a lot more to dig through in this wide ranging interview with president trump, including a surprise admission from the president. why he is saying he has been soft on china. plus -- cnn was in one puerto rican town as the lights turned on for the first time in three months. we'll tell you why thousands of others on this island will still be without power into the new year.
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president trump is blasting china after he says the country was caught red handed giving oil to north korea. he says i have been soft on china because the only thing more important to me than trade is war. oil is going into north korea. that wasn't my deal. now, china is pushing back this morning saying it has completely and strictly complied with the sanctions. but new questions are being raised. south korea just announced it seized a hong kong registered ship and it caught giving oil to a north korea vessel. these satellite images of what
appears to be that illegal exchange. let's bring in alexander field, joining us live from beijing. how are the chinese now defending against this accusation from president trump? >> well, look, first of all, they are defending themselves in no uncertain terms. we know the trump administration wants to see these sanctions against north korea be effective. that means they need time to implement these sanctions. the sanctions need to be felt and fully enforced. there is really no other good option when it comes to dealing with north korea, if you want to paraphrase what we have been hearing from the trump administration for months now. the trump's administration interest is in cutting the flow to north korea. that oil is critical for its economy, critical for north korea's military. we know china is a large source of that oil. china has signed on to the sweeping resolutions that go after that oil that reduce the supply that flows into north
korea. but now questions are being raised about whether north korea has been successful in skirting those with ship to ship transfers prohibited under the terms of the sanctions. south korean media out loulets showed chinese ships were doing these transfers with north korean vessels. then you have this strongly worded tweet from president trump saying that china had been caught red handed in allowing this to happen. chinese officials responded to the south korean reports and also to questions about that tweet from president trump and they have said unequivocally yet again they are doing everything in their power to fully uphold all the tenants of the security council resolutions. they say if they get evidence of any chinese companies or vessels violating these, they will be dealt with. they are not conceding there is evidence of that at this point. >> thanks. i want to bring in the former senior advisor to president
obama and vice president biden. so you have a column in foreign policy where you give the president some credit for getting china on board with sanctions against north korea writing trump's madman routine has helped motivate increasingly punishing sanctions targeting the north and it has encouraged beijing more to implement that. as a result, the diplomatic vice on pyongyang is ditightening. >> thanks, anna. we don't know exactly what the veracity of the information is. i think there is no question that china has done more than they had done previously. but there is probably also little question that they aren't doing enough. i'm also highly skeptical they're ever going to turn the screws all the way on kim
jong-un's regime in korea because at the end of the day his government in beijing fear a collapse of north korea more than they fear north korea nuclear weapons. i'm highly skeptical we could ever get the chinese to put enough pressure on north korea to make kim jong-un cry uncle. >> it seems like if they are getting all this pressure, it appears to have be having the reverse effect. instead, we're seeing an acceleration of the nuclear development and their program. no? >> yeah. i think we are. look, kim jong-un is going for -- i mean, he's had a nuclear capability since at least 2006 when they exploded their first nuclear weapon in a test that year during the george w. bush administration. what's really concerning over the past year is the possibly development of the capability to strike the united states homeland with the development of
an intercontinental ballistic missile. the reason he is seeking this capability is not to strike the united states but for regime survival. he's seen other reogue nate nations bite the dust. i don't think any amount of pressure is going to make him completely capitulate. which is one of the reasons i'm concerned about the trump's administration's maximalist approachdiplomacy. the only outcome that will be left is war. >> i want to ask you about increased pressure on china, specifically, when it comes to trade because in this new york times interview, president trump makes a direct and clear threat to china saying so china on trade has ripped off this country more than any other element of the world and history has ripped off anything. but i could be different if they are helping us with north korea. if they don't help us
korea, i do what i always said i want to do. what would be the reaction from china? and how would that impact their policy towards north korea? >> that's a great question. there has always been a tension between the president's impulses on trade, which are to get very tough and protectionist with china for the trade imbalance for intellectual property theft, et cetera. and the desire to have chinese cooperation on north korea. this was a tanension we had to deal with during the obama administration. trump said he wasn't going to impose some of the harsh measures like high tariffs against china as long as beijing cooperated with us. he's made this threat over and over and over again that if they don't cooperate they will slap more tariffs on the chinese. if he does, more likely to see the chinese retaliate in some form and certainly cooperation
on north korea will go down. >> thanks for the insight. >> thanks for having me. >> up next, the endless wait for power in purr terto rico. some residents are being told their power won't return until this summer. we'll go to san juan right after the break. i'm all about my bed. this mattress is dangerously comfortable. when i get in, i literally say "ahhh." america
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we're learning new details now in that deadly fire that swept through a bronx apartment building. fire officials say they believe it was start bid a three-year-old boy playing with burners on a stove. this stairway of this building acted like a chimney allowing this fire to spread very quickly. 12 people are dead now, including four children. several others are injured. some still fighting for their life. the fight to survive continues in puerto rico. it has been 100 days since hurricane maria ripped through
the island. now months later, thousands are still in the dark. no power, no hot water, no reridr refrigerati refrigeration. you met with residents who got what they asked for this christmas. the lights are back on. >> right. it sort of depends on where you are. because right now in san juan, where we are right now, the majority of the people have power. but when you go in the interior, when you go to the southeast, when you really get up into the mountains, it's a completely different story. it's more than just a flip of a switch. finally a hint of what life was like before hurricane maria. after more than four months without power, one of the lucky few just got power.
>> she's able to take a hot shower. that's what she's excited about, a hot shower. in southeastern puerto rico has a power substation, enough to power part of the town, not a permanent solution, not enough to turn the lights back on for all 38,000 people. >> always known for its agriculture. now it is known for that area. where hurricane maria came in with 155 miles an hour winds, knocking out electricity immediately. the mayor says he doesn't know when power will be restored, so he believes they were the first to deal with maria and they could be the last. >> the mayor was born in these mountains near the coast. he calls maria a monster that destroyed them. >> he's saying the urban area could get power very soon, but
this area, the mountainous area, it could be summer before they see it, which take note, summer is when the hurricane season begins. >> miles away from town, high up in the mountains where the power lines are, she has little hope her home will be back to normal soon. maria ruined more than furniture. it ruined her life. for now, new paint is all she can afford to fix any of it. >> she has no idea when she'll get power back. i'm asking her if she thinks it will be soon. >> without power, sheryl and her children lost more than the lights. without power, they don't have water. >> the mayor says the problem, constant bureaucratic delays. for a month they had power workers here, but not enough materials to actually carry out
the work. the mayor calls this is a start. he says they need more generators, power pools, capables. the u.s. army admits a shortage of supplies is part of the reason it took so long to get power back to people. >> she doesn't have to wash clothes by hand anymore. >> back in town, she will spend tonight in a home, overjoyed. but for the families up in the mountains, the sun sets on another night as they wait for their gift to arrive. >> and we should note that family, those two little kids in the mountains you just saw there, they actually haven't had power since hurricane irma, before maria. right now they are 115 days without power. they just were able to establish
a signal on their cell phone last week for the first time as well. but here is one more number i want to throw out at you. that is 69. 69% is what the government is reporting in terms of power generation. generation, however, very different from distribution and clients with service. so the government right now not giving any sort of indication as to how many people on this island, 100 days after maria, can actually turn the lights on at home. >>my, oh my, the things we take for granted. i have to ask you real quick because i know covering the hurricane has had such a personal impact on your family who was affected who had great devastation in their town, too. how are they doing? >> right. so i'm from an area up in the mountains in the interior. there is still great need there right now. we visited the shelter earlier this week and there are still families in those homes, rather in that shelter that don't have
power, that don't have water. depending on a generator just like the families you saw in our piece. so i think people are starting to see this as a new normal, waiting and hoping for power, the greatest need right now on this island, to be reestablished. i'm lucky to report my family is okay. but they are just like the rest of the puerto ricans on this island, dealing with a tarp on the roof and a home with no power. >> incredible resiliency by those people. thank you. still ahead, a new year and a new staffing shuffle inside the west wing. it comes as one gop lawmaker is sounding the alarm about a democratic wave in the mid-terms, predicting double digit losses in the house. that's next.
the white house will be making some staff changes in the new year. an aid to president trump tells us johnny destefano will take on a larger role, over seeing more top administrative offices. now, that office has been under fire since the republican senate lost in alabama, virginia and new jersey. this could be a part of a bigger change coming to the white house
and the west wing taz trump administration braces for what could be a politically challenging 2018. josh, thank you for waking up early this holiday week. why this change? what is the concern about the white house's current political operation? >> so the white house and the republican party suffered two pretty devastating defeats in virginia. the governor's race there and then in alabama where a democrat did what was seen as somewhat of the unthinkable, winning a senate seat in alabama. the white house is fearful that 2018 could be a very difficult year. and should republicans lose the house, it makes it not good for the president. you will have a lot more investigations, more probing, the agenda will be stalled and we have a political shop coming under a lot of criticism for its communications with the committees, for its kind of preparation for this.
and i think as 2018 rolls into place and as we see a new year begin, we are trying to bolster that a bit and get ready to stem the tide of some of these defeats. >> do these shortcomings have anything to do with the amount of turnover in the administration, given "the wall street journal" reporting the highest turnover rate in the first year than any administration in the past four years. >> it is a disorienting for senior staffers in the white house when you have dozens of people who have left in the first year from the chief of staff to the chief strategist. when steve bannon left earlier this year, he was seen whether it was an accident or not, he was seen as the chief political advisor, the strategist. he was talking to advisors and the president for positioning for 2020. there hasn't been a david axelrod type in the white house to lead these high level meetings to really organize the white house's political efforts.
it is very crucial in 2018. you have a president with fairly lower approval ratings at this point, a difficult map across the country. states like nevada, arizona where republicans are going to struggle to win and some concerned donors and party activists who say if we lose congress it doesn't matter what else is going on. this is goal number one. >> what are you hearing from republicans in congress? are they bracing for big losses? >> yes. we quoted mark meadows yesterday saying he was afraid they would lose 15, 18 seats. that said, before the tax bill passed you saw even deeper concern among republicans. they were fearful of going into a mid-term election with nothing to show legislatively. with this tax bill there is a hope that they will be able to sell it. that it will become more popular when people see their tax returns. and that some of this will turn the tide by november. you know, obviously in politics,
months is an eternity. i think they are trying to get a place. >> i have to ask you about your tweet because you spoke to a senior advisor about the president's interview with "the new york times." here's your tweet. asked trump advisor for thoughts on new york times interview. the person responded what interview. what does that tell you about this white house? >> so it tells you about the president played golf yesterday and a reporter for "the new york times" was at the golf club. he was a guest of a friend of the president, someone the president enjoying counseling and talking to and after he played golf and had lunch he came over, talked to mike and sat down for 30 minutes or so and just talked to him. it's something that a lot of aids of people around him try to limit those interactions, try to stop the kind of press conferences, really want to kind of contain the message,
particularly when they feel they will bait him. but you have a president who's proclivities are to talk to the media. he enjoys give and talk with the reporters and sat down yesterday and just decided on a whim for an interview with the new york times. it is difficult to imagine any other president, democrat or republican, just deciding, hey, i want to do an interview with the new york times. i'm going to do it, no staff there. but that's the way this president operates. he has lived this way for 71 ways and feels like i'm the president of the united states. why change now? >> different than past administrations. no press conference from this president. i guess this one counts in terms of getting some questions answered. from the washington post, thank you again. >> thank you for having me. happy new year. >> bipartisan deals on tax reform, doca. the president wants to make it happen next year and dps should come to the table. a political reality check next.
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>> president trump repeating his calls for the democrats to come to the table to work on some of his biggest agenda items. he told "the new york times" we could make a great health care plan, a great infrastructure plan through bipartisan ship and do immigration and doca in particular, we can do something that's terrific through bipartisan ship. i want to bring in phil mattingly. what's the reality of these bipartisan deals, really of any of this stuff next year? >> it is a tough road. when you talk to both democratic and republican aids on capitol hill, they acknowledge they are in a wait and see type of position. 2017 was a very, very partisan year. when you look at what's going to happen in 2018, you need to look at it through two lens, the
politics and the policy. these intertwine on some level. on the politics, 2018 is an election year. there are ten democrats from states that president trump won, many of which he won very handedly up for election in 2018 in the senate. that would lead one to believe at some point they will be willing to come across the aisle and want to on some level support something that president trump puts on the table. but that hasn't been the case up to this point. and the senate democratic leader chuck schumer has gone to great lengths to protect them. you also have republicans. if they feel like the tax bill's approval ratings are going up, they might want to give winds to democrats up for tough re-elections in those states. but also it is the policy. look, in 2017, when it came to health care, no democrat was going to get on board with repeal and replace. when it came to a tax bill, some democrats were considering coming over at various points but the second you put in the repeal of the obama care
individual mandate they all left. what president trump has been talking about whether it be infrastructure or smaller pieces of health care bill, those might actually float. but it is important to note we will get answers to these questions within the first couple weeks of 2018, by january 19th, a spending bill has to be done. that's something they have to agree on to be able to move forward. as you noted there is also the issue of doca hanging out there right now. take a look at what the president tweeted this morning. it says, quote, the democrats have been told and fully understand that there can be no doca without the desperately needed wall at the southern border and to end the chain migration and lottery system, et cetera. we must protect our country at all costs. this is what i'm talking about when it comes to the policy. on the top line, these are things that democrats and republicans say they want to agree on and, b, believe there are parameters for a specific deal. what the president laid out in that tweet, whether it is a wall, which democrats say they won't support or whether it is migration, which they have
serious difficulties with or involved in these discussions, the idea of interior enforcement, that could be problematic for democrats, too. what you are seeing here is on the top line, that republicans and democrats say they both need. the devil is in the details and the politics are absolutely going to play a role. the policy on it will decide whether bipartisan things is something that comes to fruition by the end of the year. >> i suppose the republicans are going to need democrats on some of these key agenda items. they can't do everything with just 51 votes in the majority in the senate. we will get back with you in the issue as we continue into the new year. joining us now as we look ahead, former presidential writer is ned ryan with the training organization in the american majority and strategist and executive director of the correct the record super pac is
a partner with the forward solution strategy group. the president says there are many bipartisan deals to be done in the new year because he said we can do bipartisan health care and infrastructure and daca. isaac, is the president right? >> democrats have been at the table for months waiting for trump to come to the table and negotiate. when he has even thrown a hint of that he has done it in bad faith, right? remember back in september when trump worked the democrats to find a fiscal funding formula and passed a vote on that. at the same time he alluded to by the end of the year he would work with democrats to the solution to the daca crisis and didn't come through on it. we have seen this president break his word time and time again through continued efforts for repeal and replace and effort to throw 23 million americans off their health care and xenophobia. we know who donald trump is because he told us.
if we don't listen it's our fault. we have to be continue prepared to negotiate. >> when you look at health care, infrastructure, daca, of those different things, which one would you be most comfortable with if you saw the president reach out and make a deal with democrats? >> probably infrastructure. it's definitely something that can be addressed in a bipartisan fashion. i get nervous when he talks about a trillion dollar infrastructure plan and cuts in foreign aid. that makes me nervous to add to the def stit. that would be the starting point. we can get enough democrats to agree our country needs infrastructure. i'm not sure anything will happen in 2018. 2017 laid the ground work. i thought there might be some of the red state democrats that might be willing to negotiate on the tax bill.
he was willing to negotiate on the deduction if the democrats would come to the table. no democrats came to the table and i'm not sure when we get down to the details how many democrats are going to talk about infrastructure. i think with daca, trump laid this out in a tweet and also in the interview. his supporters want a wall. they believe that there should be a wall and if there is no wall, there is no daca. that will be hard to get democrats to say we will fund your wall if you give us daca. i don't see that happening. >> let's ask you about that. because i will say that there are other members of the president's own party who really, really want to see the daca legislation happen. those dreamers be protected including jeff flake who voted for tax reform. to that point that was just made, is that make or break for the democrats?
will this red line be something they can't refuse because it's so important to protect dreamers? >> i think democrats are prepared to work on the daca issue with trump on the administration. they called for reform and they called specifically for fixing daca. >> if the red line is the wall. there is no deal without the wall. >> they promised mexico would pay for the wall. i also want to go back to something ned said about democrats not being at the table and said chuck schumer sent an open letter to chuck schumer that said democrats are ready to negotiate. one, we don't want to add money to the deficit with debt for tax cuts for the rich which trump did by over a trillion dollars and wanted tax cuts for the 99% and not the 1%. we know 50% of the value goes to the wealthiest 1% and 80% at the mark. >> on a couple of fronts, first of all, that whole issue of
deficit spending, i'm curious to know where democrats were when obama added $9 trillion to our debt. i will agree with you on the second point. i was frustrated with that tax bill that they were not more concessions made to small business and the individuals. i felt that is cheated towards the corporate. i agree with you on that, but going back to the first issue, i think trump understands his base, one of the top issues he ran on and that he won, they expect a wall. not a virtual wall, a physical wall. i see this as a bright red line that trump understands. he is willing to negotiate and again that's part of the art of political compromise. i will give you something as long as you give me something i really want. it will be push and shove. how badly do the democrats want a daca compromise? >> we will see. >> we are only going to get it if there is a wall. >> we the continue your conversation during the