Return to Transcripts main page


GOP Senator Opposes Republican Tax Plan; Roy Moore Reportedly Staying in Senate Race. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 15, 2017 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with some breaking news just in.

We have just learned that Roy Moore plans to go nowhere. He's going to stay in the race and fight, despite an attorney for his campaign holding a news conference in minutes, that according to a Moore campaign source.

And now there are scenarios of how to get Moore out of the race, or how to defeat him, at the very least.

I want to bring in CNN's Tom Foreman.

If Moore does not step aside, as indicated by this source, and the wishes of the Republican Senate leaders, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is presented as the next best Republican option, and tries to mount a write-in campaign, how messy would this process be?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It could get very messy.

Look, Jeff Sessions could reclaim his title as an Alabama senator again in two ways. He could run as a write-in candidate against Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, counting on his immense popularity as a 20-year senator from that state to knock them both out in the December special election, or, if he waits and Moore wins, two-thirds of the U.S. Senate could vote Moore unfit for the job, and then Sessions could be appointed senator by Alabama Republican Governor Kay Ivey, also a Republican.

Either way, it could be a win for President Trump. And here's why. Remember, the president has made it very clear he wanted Sessions as attorney general to oversee the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, because he wanted somebody who was engaged politically and friendly here who could in that position if they wanted to warn the White House about any serious issues coming up over here, steer the investigation, and potentially smother any final report, making the whole matter a lot less threatening to the president, Jake.


But Sessions recused himself, leaving supervision of the investigation to his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. If Sessions leave, Rosenstein could then be promoted to the top job. And he has no reason to recuse himself. And he's already said he

doesn't want the Russian probe to be a fishing expedition into everything the president does, all of his affairs. That could raise questions about Mueller's position and the future of the whole investigation, which would be a big win for the White House -- Jake.

TAPPER: Interesting, so a win for the White House. They don't have to have it so Jeff Sessions is attorney general anymore. Maybe a win for Sessions because he gets a nicer boss, the people of Alabama, as opposed to President Trump.

But Republicans also have some other pretty good reasons, Republicans in the Senate, they might want Sessions back in the chamber. Explain those.

FOREMAN: Yes, sure.

Republicans hold 52 seats out of 100 in the Senate. And their slim majority will get even slimmer if they lose one of those to the Democratic side over here and the independents who caucus with them. So, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the first to start floating Sessions' name as saying maybe he's a possible solution to the Roy Moore problem, someone who with two decades of experience in that very job, someone who could be relied upon to maintain the status quo.

Here is the one thing we really don't have answered at all yet, though. How does Jeff Sessions feel about all of this? After all the abuse he's taken from President Trump, is he interested in his old job -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's the big question, of course. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Also in politics today, we could be just hours away from a critical moment for your bottom line and for Republicans in Washington who desperately need a win in this Trump era.

With House Republicans getting ready to vote on what could be a historic plan for taxes and tax reform on the Senate side, marking -- markups, rather, are moving along right now with a rollback of Obamacare's individual mandate shoehorned into the Senate version of the bill.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Phil, the House is not including this repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate in their bill. We're already hearing there is some Republican opposition to the Senate tax reform bill.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, yes, Jake, believe it or not, it's not even related to the individual mandate.

Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, who has made very clear the pass- through rate, essentially what things like S-corps, entities like that pay on the individual side, has been his primary issue. He said what the Senate and House bills do on that front is not enough. He is a no, something that underscores that, Jake, whether it's the

individual mandate, various rates or just the individual cuts altogether, there are no shortage of major issues even as the House prepares to pass their first bill.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, House Republicans are just 24 hours away from a major legislative victory, the passage of a GOP tax plan.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: We have more -- even today, we're have more meetings with members who are working to get to yes and who ultimately will vote for the bill. So, we're going to pass the bill.

MATTINGLY: But it's in the Senate where a pitched battle has broken out between Democrats and Republicans over late-night changes to the Republican proposal.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: It addresses problems noted by members on both sides and it will give Americans bigger paychecks, more opportunities and a more prosperous economy.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Is there a summary anywhere? I mean, we got 100-page document and a table, but surely somebody on the majority side has a list has -- an abbreviated list of every change that you made at 10:30 last night. What is making you do this do us?

MATTINGLY: At the heart of the fight, whether middle-class taxpayers will actually see relief in the bill. Republicans now relying on the repeal of Obamacare's individual mandate to finance just that, $338 billion to target things like an increase in the child tax credit and reduction in the plan's rates for middle-income taxpayers.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: In short, the goal is to repeal an unpopular tax from an unworkable law in order to provide more tax relief to middle-class families.

MATTINGLY: But with it comes clear policy and political dangers for Republicans.

The CBO says the repeal would lead to 13 million fewer people with health insurance over 10 years. Premiums on average would go up by 10 percent each year, and Democrats now seizing on another potentially damaging element. The plan sets every tax cut for individuals to expire at the end of 2025, meaning, without congressional action, every single taxpayer, including those in the middle class, would see a tax increase, all as the corporate tax cuts slashed from 35 percent to 20 percent remains permanent.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Taking money away from the middle class and working people's health care, so they can do tax cuts for the rich.

MATTINGLY: GOP lawmakers, who say they are still on track to pass the bill by Christmas, have brushed off those attacks, saying a future Congress would never allow those increases to actually occur and focusing instead on what sources in both chambers say has been the driving force behind the whole process thus far.


SCALISE: I have high conference the Senate is going pass this bill.

I know the House is going to pass this bill. I'm one of those people who believes failure is not an option.

MATTINGLY: Before the end of the year?

SCALISE: Yes, before the end of the year.


MATTINGLY: And, Jake, that political imperative really has been the driving force.

There is no shortage of potential thorny policy issues. And yet, as we noted, the House is on the precipice of passing this. But, again, you look over at the Senate, and whether it's Ron Johnson, whether it's Susan Collins on the individual mandate, perhaps Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake on deficit issues, there are real hurdles that they will have to overcome.

The big question now is, does the political imperative or the policy issues win out in the end? Right now, GOP leaders think it will be the former.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

We have lots of breaking news to talk about with the panel. Stick around. We will be right back.


TAPPER: We're back with our "POLITICS LEAD" and my panel. Let's talk about tax reform. And Kristen, you just heard Phil Mattingly say that Republican leaders are hoping that the political imperative of Republicans needing a win and a win of delivering tax cuts to millions of Americans, that they hope that outweighs whatever policy concerns some Republicans might have whether it comes to deficit spending or eliminating the individual mandate which could cause premiums to go up for other people, et cetera. Where do you see this shaking out?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, let's just talk about the political imperative for a moment. So on the one hand, you do have this hunger for Republican -- from Republican voters who said, we sent you to Washington, we expect results. But then, let's look at the political imperative on the other side. So I think -- earlier this week I looked at the Cook Political Report's ratings of all the different House races. And I think there are about 37 House Republicans who are either in toss-up races or lean Republican races and 17 of them are in California, New York, and New Jersey. Places that would be hit by these state and local tax deduction changes.

TAPPER: Getting rid -- getting rid of allowing deductions if you have high local taxes.

ANDERSON: Right. So it's hard to separate out the policy and political implications here because not everyone will be affected by any tax reform bill in the same way. Different states, different constituencies are going to get helped or harmed in different ways, which makes the politics of this so incredibly trick.

TAPPER: I had heard Republicans in California talking about how much they hate this bill. Conservatives, Trump supporters not liking this bill because they have done the math and think their taxes are going to go up because of the elimination of this one deduction.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they are but you know, the party writ large needs a win, right? The House, the Senate, the party needs a win on taxes. They need to cut taxes, they need to free up capital, people can invest, companies can invest. They need to continue the pro-growth story that's been thus far under this President that one thing that I think Jen would even agree with me on, this terms of, you know, stock market, $5 trillion increase in the stock market and overall value since the President came in. You know, cutting these -- all of these regulations has really done a lot to generate a great deal of economic growth in this country and this tax cut will do more.

TAPPER: Ron Johnson, a Conservative Republican Senator from Wisconsin coming out against the bill today. How significant do you think that is?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE: Pretty significant because sometimes it has a domino effect and other Republicans may feel they have license to say, oh, I've been concerned about this one piece in here and I can't support it. There's some interesting political dynamics here because many Republicans, as David said, feel we have to have a win, our party needs a win. And many Democrats are licking their chops at some of the things in this bill that they want to run against next year. Who's rate? We may not know until 2018 after we see whether the bill passes or not.

TAPPER: I want to interrupt with some breaking news just in to CNN. New developments in the Russia investigation and that controversial dossier, some of which has been corroborated by U.S. intelligence officials, other parts have been debunked, some -- a lot of other parts still up in the air. Let's get right to CNN's Manu Raju. And Manu, this dossier was compiled by a former British spy named Christopher Steele. What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And the company that actually was behind that dossier is an opposition research called Fusion GPS and the Co-Founder of that Fusion GPS is Glenn Simpson. He testified behind closed doors yesterday before the House Intelligence Committee for nearly seven hours, and, Jake, we're getting some new details about what Glenn Simpson told the House Committee about the dossier. Now he said -- he told the House investigators that he -- that Christopher Steele, that British agent, did not pay for his sources who are the basis of that dossier, that included those allegations of Trump and Russia connections. Now in addition to that, he defended the dossier, Simpson said behind closed doors that nothing in there has been disproven. He also said some of it has been corroborated.

And he also said, Jake, he's still in touch with Christopher Steele, the British agent, and that's also interesting to Congressional investigators because they have had a hard time getting in touch with Steele, who has not cooperated with their own investigation. So he provided some new insight to this committee as part of this -- their own investigation over Trump and Russia connections. Even though some people who have been named in that dossier, Jake, have disputed some of the things that are said in there. Of course, Trump himself has called the entire dossier a hoax. Steele tried to make the case a lot of this has not been disproven, a lot of this has been corroborated, and also saying interestingly that some of those sources, all of these sources cooperated with Steele voluntarily that they were not paid for giving Steele information, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Jen Psaki, Steele it turns out when Fusion GPS were originally paid by a conservative publication, the Washington Free Beacon. Then they continued the opposition research project. Then they hire Christopher Steele. When they were funded -- after the Beacon dropped out -- when they were funded by lawyers for Hillary Clinton and the DNC, how much do you think the fact that this dossier was funded essentially by Democrats undermines its credibility?

[16:50:25] PSAKI: I mean, I'm a little bias but I frankly think we shouldn't care. More of this dossier has been proven than disproven since it came out last year.

TAPPER: Not the lurid parts but the parts about the certain meetings.

PSAKI: Not the lurid parts. Sure. But certain meetings and there are pieces that have been denied, though they haven't been entirely disproven. That might be hard to do. Of course, that's a good talking point for the right and for Trump supporters, but ultimately the facts here are they keep adding up to corroborating pieces in the dossier. And the truth is the investigation and the whole discussion has moved past the dossier, given the steps that Donald Trump himself has taken since he took office.

TAPPER: And David, what do you make of the fact Glenn Simpson of this opposition research firm testifying behind closed doors to the intelligence committee that Christopher Steele, the British agent, did not pay any of his sources for information?

URBAN: I don't put a whole lot of credibility in anything these individuals say. I mean, it will all come out in the wash. It will come out in Director Mueller's investigation. I think the fact that you had to ask Jen the question, you know, is it -- is it biased that it was paid for by Democrats? Of course, it does. Of course, it's biased. You're going to pay -- your client -- your client wants a certain outcome. You're going to pay them to provide that outcome. They're going to -- so it's incredibly biased. Of course, by asking that question you almost prove the point.

TAPPER: Although I have to say in terms of opposition research, usually people want, you know, charges that will hold up in a T.V. ad or you don't want, like, made-up stuff. You want stuff that is effective that the person has no response to.

URBAN: Right. Well, what we're seeing right now how much of that is true behind closed doors, in front of closed doors. A lot of it has fallen away like you know, tissue paper you know, to put it mildly. You know, lots of these things are not true so we'll see. Director Mueller is going to do a great job. All these -- all of these House and Senate investigators, at the end of the day, if you're looking for some giant collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, I think the Democrats are going to be sadly -- waiting and waiting and waiting.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stay right there. We're just moments away from a press conference with Roy Moore's attorney. That's next. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We are awaiting a press conference just moments from now from the Roy Moore campaign as the Alabama Republican Party convenes an emergency meeting at the exact same time. My panel's back with me as we await this press conference. Kristen, what do you think President Trump should do in terms of taking a specific position on -- even if he's not saying it publicly, in term office conveying whether or not Moore should drop out or not? Can the Republican Party survive Roy Moore running and even winning?

ANDERSON: Well, people ask can the Republican Party survive Donald Trump running and winning? And it did, although in a very different form. It had sort of permanent scarring, changing effects on the party. So I think Roy Moore in the Senate does become a headache for his colleagues. I think Roy Moore in the Senate is a headache for Trump and his movement. It's certainly a headache for someone like Steve Bannon who said this is going to be my guy, I'm going to show you that Bannonism can come sweep America and we can elect all of your candidates.

For your first horse in the race to be someone who's accused of pursuing underage women is not a great look. So I think it would be good for Donald Trump to come out and say, look, I'm about making sure we have public servants who are fighting for the little guy, who want to make America great again. I think Roy Moore is a distraction. I wish he'd walk away. I think that would be a smart thing to do. It might risk him some backlash in Alabama, for sure, but I don't know that it puts Alabama at risk of becoming a blue state in a Presidential election, first of all. And I don't think that in the end a bunch of Trump voters will abandon Trump because he says this guy is a bridge too far.

TAPPER: Well, I don't think it hurts Trump, but I do wonder. And David, what do you think about you know, to have Senator Roy Moore walking around the U.S. Senate bad? URBAN: It's bad. It's bad. Look, I think it's a message -- I think you can't -- I think if he does win, I think there will be a move, as you heard from -- not to seat him and then to remove him. Alternatively, I think if Doug Jones wins, the Democrat wins the seat, he will vote -- there will be a lot of pressure on Doug Jones to vote with Mitch McConnell on all the votes, right? I mean, this would be -- it states that's not a -- not likely to re-elect him again. If he wants to get re-elected, he may switch parties. So I think if you see Doug Jones get elected, there will be plenty of Republican votes coming from Doug Jones.

TAPPER: Really? That's interesting. What do you think about Roy Moore, Senator Roy Moore? Because I think it's entirely credible that he stays to the race until the very end. That's -- in keeping with his character, he's a fighter. And then -- I mean, he was kicked off the Supreme Court in Alabama twice. And I think it's entirely possible he wins.

PSAKI: He could. I think if you're Donald Trump and you're Mitch McConnell, you want to avoid that, right? Because you don't want to be faced with the question of are you going to kick this guy, a pedophile, whatever you want to call him, out of the Senate? So if I were Donald Trump, surprisingly, he's not asking for my advice, I would because he doesn't -- he's not afraid to cross boundaries, call for the Governor to call a special election because --

URBAN: That's what I said earlier. The Governor has the ability to move this. Hopefully, after this meeting of the State Committee -- Alabama State Committee they'll call for that to happen. The Governor can move it. You solve the problem.

TAPPER: All right. Let's see what happens. David, Jen, and Kristen thank you so much one and all. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.