Return to Transcripts main page


Tax Reform Bills Top Jam-Packed GOP Agenda; Leadership Showdown Plays Out At Watchdog Agency; NYT: Trump Now Questions Validity Of Access Hollywood Tape; Trump Doubles Down On Roy Moore Support; Graham: If Moore Wins, GOP Gets The Baggage. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 27, 2017 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Happy Monday, everybody.

President Trump back from his holiday travels and facing bitter partisan divisions and distractions, some of his own making, of course. Very soon he is meeting with key Senate Republicans as they all prepare for a make or break week to get a big win on the board with tax reform.

The next several days will be crucial and in no surprise at all, they are up against the clock -- again, a deadline of their own making -- again.

Also, this morning, one agency, two people claiming to be its leader. How does that sound for a fun Monday at the office? Trump's appointee, Mick Mulvaney, yes, his current budget director is now telling employees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that he is in charge.

The small problem there, the deputy director of that consumer watchdog is saying exactly the same thing and she has filed a lawsuit.

Let's get to it all, the office politics and the congressional politics. First, the Republicans race against the clock with no small thing hanging in the balance, the nation's tax code and national debt.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is on Capitol Hill with all of this side of the story. So, Suzanne, all eyes are on the Senate again. What are you seeing as lawmakers are set to return?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I mean, people are scrambling to try to get something done and we're really talking about just days if not weeks, 12 official days for them to be on the clock here and working.

So, yes, within the hour or so you've got the president meeting with Senate Republicans from the Finance Committee. Five members including Orrin Hatch, leader of that committee really trying to push forward some of the priorities here. They are desperate. They are looking at the clock here. They've got to get something done substantively, legislatively. So, that is the priority. On the Senate Budget Committee side, that is where you're going to see as well.

The president will be engaging with Senate Republicans for lunch tomorrow here on Capitol Hill, and they are going to ushering, pushing through this tax reform bill. What is on their agenda here for the week?

Take a look at this, Kate. This is the to-do list. This is a long one. Passing the sweeping tax overhaul, as you know, trying to overt a government shutdown. That deadline by December 8th, a federal budget there.

Funding children's health care program, renewing the key surveillance program, keeping, or banning, the Iran nuclear deal. That is something that has to be worked out and of course, discussions around immigration and the DACA policy.

What are we seeing here when it comes to tax reform? That is the best hope. That is perhaps the only hope that they think can get this through. On the Senate side, they can only afford Republicans to lose two votes.

Otherwise, it just does not happen, and it fails, and so these are some of the key players that you'll see behind the scenes negotiating. What do you want? How do we make this happen here?

Ron Johnson so far is a no. The reason why, he says, there is not enough for small businesses. Not enough big tax breaks for them. It's all leaning towards the big corporations. Then those who have been expressing concerns for some time.

Senator Susan Collins, she has problems with the idea of repealing the Obamacare individual mandate that millions of people will end up not having health insurance. You have people like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, who are saying that they're looking at this and the federal deficit, no way.

That the expense is too big and some of the wild cards, of course, Senator Murkowski as well as Senator John McCain and Ted Cruz. All of them asking some similar questions.

So, it's far from certain, Kate, whether or not this will be pushed through, but Republicans are optimistic, and they are potentially looking at this Thursday.

BOLDUAN: Optimism abounds as they come off a thankful Thanksgiving break. We'll see how long it lasts. All of 2.5 minutes on Capitol Hill. Great to see you, Suzanne. Thank you so much.

All right. So, from that optimism to, I don't know, just the oddest of odd showdowns for leadership of a financial watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A short time ago, President Trump's appointee, his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, showed up for his first day on that new job.

Carrying a big bag of doughnuts. He also delivered an uncertain future, though, to the watchdog agency he has often criticized calling it a sick joke and a source tells us also inside the bureau right now is Leandra English. That's her.

She is the Obama-era holdover, who filed a lawsuit against the president just last night saying that she is actually the acting director and should be the one bringing in doughnuts today.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is outside the agency's offices. So, Jessica, this takes awkward office politics to an entirely new level and it's a hugely important agency. What is going on right now?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Kate. Not only are they both in the bureau right now, but they are also both actively asserting their roles as acting directors. Most recently in a pair of dueling e-mails.

[11:05:01] So, around 8:00 this morning, Leandra English sent out an e-mail to the entire staff welcoming them back from the Thanksgiving break, but then also notably signing it, acting director.

Well, it was an hour and a half later where Mick Mulvaney then fired back in a much lengthier e-mail to staff. He put it this way. He said, it has come to my attention that Ms. English has reached out.

This is unfortunate, but in the atmosphere of the day, probably not unexpected. Mick Mulvaney then continued to say that all of the staff should disregard any communication from her, and then took it a step further saying that if she reached out again, communicated further, that the staff should report that communication to the general counsel.

So now this fight, this showdown, not only playing out over e-mail, but also in the league system. Leandra English filed a lawsuit in federal court last night saying that she is entitled to this position as acting director.

But, of course, this is also a political fight as well. Democrats are questioning how Mick Mulvaney could possibly lead this agency, considering the fact that he's railed against it, and also voted to dismantle it as a member of Congress. Here's what he said in the past --


MICK MULVANEY, TRUMP APPOINTEE AS CFPB INTERIM DIRECTOR: It's a wonderful example of how a bureaucracy will function if it has no accountability to anybody. It turns up being a joke, and that's what the CFPB really has in a sick, sad kind of way because they are run by essentially a one-person dictator who believes he can't even be fired by the president but for cause. We have created perhaps inadvertently the very worst kind of government entity.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHNEIDER: So the White House arguing that it is well within the president's power to appoint Mick Mulvaney as acting director until a permanent director is named. Of course, Leandra English is bringing this to court.

She's filed for a preliminary injunction as well as a temporary restraining order and both of them now, Kate, asserting their positions as acting director. So, it's clear that the court needs to move fast here before there is a real showdown -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: They are like fast, as in like three hours ago before the doughnuts showed up, and everyone showed up for work. Let's see what happens. Great to see you. Thanks so much, Jessica. It's just amazing.

Joining me right now to discuss all of this, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, Chris Cilizza is a reporter and editor-at- large for CNN Politics, and Page Page, CNN legal analyst.

Guys, great to see you. Chris, first to you. What the heck is going on here with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? I mean, we all stopped being amazed at how --


BOLDUAN: Silly Washington can be, but this is -- this is wild.

CILIZZA: I mean, it's not a joking matter, but the thing about it --


CILIZZA: -- I'm struck by two things. One, it's so awkward as someone who's anti-confrontation, I can only imagine the halls there. And number two, like, if Mulvaney gets up to use the bathroom, like, is someone running in, putting up the other person's stuff, like her lamp?

It's just -- it's just -- it probably shouldn't happen. To your point, something that should have been resolved before this. Most people knew Richard Cordray was likely to run for governor of Ohio, which is why he would leave this position.

What's difficult here is the courts have to step in immediately. You can't -- whether you think this is a bad agency or a good agency, you can't have a federal agency where there are two bosses, both of whom are there, sending out competing e-mails about who's the boss.

No one, Democrat or Republican, can think that's a good use of the government's time. You know, so we just need a ruling sooner rather than later on this. It's a situation that if you live in Washington, you think, ah, well, I could sort of see how this happens.

If you live outside of Washington and already don't like it, which basically 75 percent of the people who live outside of Washington don't, this affirms why you don't like it. BOLDUAN: It's silliness. I mean, Page, please, be the arbiter of justice here. Who is on the right side of the law at this moment from the what you can see? Is it clear?

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's not clear, Kate, and the problem is you have two different laws that may apply here. The law that is set up the CFPB specifically states that the deputy director does step in when the director is unavailable.

And clearly if there's a resignation, the director is unavailable so that sounds simple, but there's another law, the Federal Vacancies Act, which seems to give power to the president to appoint an acting director in a situation like this.

So, there's a conflict between these two laws. The White House, the Department of Justice says we're right. The president gets to make this decision. But obviously, Ms. English and her lawyers think they have a good argument as well. That's why I agree with Chris. A judge needs to step in and very quickly, because it's not crystal clear from the law.

CABRERA: And a top attorney at the agency is siding with the president on this one says the president is on sound footing. I mean, as Chris pointed to, that has been political, and were caught in partisan cross hairs since its creation. Republicans hate it, Democrats back it and created it.

[11:10:08] One of the members of Congress who helped create the agency, Barney Frank, he said this today about all of the Republican criticism that you heard a lot from Mick Mulvaney. Listen to Barney Frank.


BARNEY FRANK (D), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS CONGRESSMAN: They do not give you one single example of abuse. They talk about an agency out of control, a bureaucratic -- you would think there be would horror stories. Say, here's what they did that was wrong. They caused this problem. You will not find, and I hope people will ask these critics what is an example of what they did wrong?


BOLDUAN: Do you hear this from your sources as well, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Look, this is a -- you know, Chris was talking about the fact this is Washington sort of run amok. Page was talking about the really -- I think frankly interesting differences in legal opinion because you do have two laws that collide on who is the rightful boss over at the watchdog agency.

But all of this is a story -- the reason we're talking about this is because of the very deep political divide over whether this agency should exist at all. You talked about the fact that there has been, you know, sort of a Republican versus Democrat fight, since it was established.

That happened even before it was established. Elizabeth Warren, when she was in academia came up with this idea to have this independent watchdog agency to protect consumers. Of course, that happened and picked up steam in the wake of the financial meltdown, which is why it was and is in the Dodd/Frank bill aimed at trying to remedy and regulate some of the problems that led to a lot of people really being on the short end of the stick.

Consumers and people who are not kind of Wall Street titans. So, this is going to have to be, I think, adjudicated in the courts by a judge, but then it's going to have -- no matter which way they go you're going to see know legislative fight over this.

I think if the judge rules in favor of the president, that the Vacancies Act rules and that the president has a right to appoint whomever he wants, regardless of the statute, you'll see a fight to try to fix the statute or to even maybe even fix the Vacancies Act.

CABRERA: Let me quick ask you, Dana, tax reform. The likely vote in the Senate this week. The president meeting today with key committee members. The president heading back to the Hill tomorrow. Are the people to watch still the same people to watch after a week home?

BASH: That's a great question, because we know walking the halls of Congress together that what people hear at home really sometimes changes how they feel. Ron Johnson, maybe he's not going to be a hard no? We don't know until we actually get to talk to people back home.

But it's not just the constituents who have been potentially lobbying senators, and the president, we just saw from Twitter was on the phone with Senator Steve Daines, who had concerned about this. You'll see a lot more sort of massaging and changing of the details to try to get to that magic 50 votes, which the Republicans need.

CILIZZA: And just to add to Dana's point, the CBO report, you know, look --

CABRERA: Actually, Chris, that's exactly what I wanted to ask you about. That's another new element. This new report from CBO that was out, I think just yesterday saying that the big benefits of the cuts go to those making more than $100,000 a year.


CABRERA: By 2019, those making less than $30,000, they're going to be worse off. Do you take that new report, a new element, in conjunction with this fight? We're talking about over the consumer watchdog agency. President Trump called the agency a disaster. President Trump also ran on a very populist message. Where has the president's populist message gone?

CILIZZA: Well, I mean, they would argue, and they have argued every time the CBO reports something out that it's not really -- it's not the be all end all. That they are making conservative projections when, in fact, President Trump will grow the economy in ways that will bust those projections.

You know, I mean -- sure, I suppose that it's possible, but the CBO wallet takes things from Republicans and occasionally Democrats has been the sort of -- gold standard or at least a -- a way that you can judge -- OK, does this at to the deficit? Health care, how many are losing coverage and those sorts of things.

So, I guess, you can try to say that it doesn't matter, but if your alternative is, well, what I think is going to happen, I'm not sure that that's a worthy replacement. I think you have to watch, Dana mentioned this, the deficit stuff.

You know, the CBO also found it's going to add to the deficit. Look, pre-Donald Trump Republican Party would have a huge problem. Let's say if Democrats introduced this bill a huge problem with the additional deficit on this bill.

[11:15:10] Do Ron Johnson, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, that Jerry Miranda's quote from Kansas, he's quoted in his local paper over the weekend expressing doubts about it. So, it's not just the folks who we identify. I think it's a broader group.

Now those people can be brought along, but to assume that it's down to McCain, Murkowski, Ron Johnson, and Susan Collins, I think there's more doubts and concerns out there than just that.

CABRERA: Well, and fixing a past provision is a lot more than eliminating $1.4 trillion added to the deficit when you are talking about the makeup of this bill. I mean, this is like a major kind of way this whole thing is structured. Guys, great to see you. Let's see what happens.

CILIZZA: Thanks, Kate.

CABRERA: In an hour and then another hour.

Still ahead for us, the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, we all heard the president's vulgar comments back then and heard him admit that he said those vulgar comments back then. But now the president has reportedly been telling folks that the tape might not be authentic? What's changed?

Plus -- the president's attack on the Democrat running in the Senate, running for the Senate in Alabama. If that's his way of endorsing Roy Moore, will it work with Alabama voters? Let's see.



CABRERA: President Trump seems to be going all-in for embattled Alabama Republican Senate Candidate Roy Moore blasting Moore's opponent, Democrat Doug Jones on Twitter multiple times. Here's just one.

"As a Schumer-Pelosi puppet who would be a disaster," the president tweets. But there is also this that we need to add in. The "New York Times" is now reporting that President Trump, here it is -- sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.

He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently. If we must, let's take a walk down memory lane. Here is then Candidate Trump in October of last year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it. I was wrong, and I apologize.


CABRERA: It's pretty clear, but I guess not. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is following all of this now from Alabama where the Senate race is unfolding and they are getting closer and closer to that special election date.

Kaitlan, what is the White House saying about this? Are they responding to questions about what the president's view today is on that "Access Hollywood" tape?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: No response yet from the White House on that, but we heard from the president right there admit that he said those things and apologized for what he said on that audio.

But just a little more than two weeks to go before this Senate race here in Alabama comes to an end, we're seeing the president really double down on his criticism of the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones and repeat his support for that very contentious Republican candidate, Roy Moore who has been accused of sexually assaulting women as young as 14 when he was in his 30s.

Now we know that the president has doubted the women who have accused Moore saying, asking why they came out just weeks before this high- stakes Senate race for something they're saying happened almost 40 years ago.

And we also know speaking of that "Access Hollywood" tape that the president has drawn comparisons between the allegations made against Roy Moore and the allegations that were made against him during the president's campaign last year when after that "Access Hollywood" tape, several women accused him of sexual assault.

We're expecting to see Roy Moore here tonight in Fort Payne, Alabama. He's going to speak at a rally, where, Kate, it's hard to see how these questions of these allegations don't come up.

BOLDUAN: Continuing to follow him. If he answers the questions, though, that continues to be a question. Kaitlan, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Let's discuss this and more, John Hammontree, a member of the editorial board, which endorsed Moore's opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, and Ned Ryun, a CEO of a conservative grass roots group, American Majority. Gentlemen, great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

John, let me start with you. When you see the president's tweets as he laid them out, is there any doubt in your mind the president, even though he hasn't necessarily said it, the president's endorsing Roy Moore here?

JOHN HAMMONTREE, MEMBER, AL.COM EDITORIAL BOARD: Yes. It's an interesting sort of non-endorsement. He is attacking his opponent and refusing to come right out and endorse Roy Moore, trying to have it both ways, but he said way back when he came back and campaigned for Luther Strange, that if Roy Moore was the nominee, he would support Roy Moore and that he would do all he could to get him elected. This may be the first step in that.

CABRERA: Another step in that direction, I guess. Ned, here's what other Republicans are saying right now about that race. Basically, you lose either way. Here's Lindsey Graham.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't know what winning looks like with Roy Moore. If he wins, we get the baggage of him winning, and it becomes a story every day about whether or not you believe the women or Roy Moore, should he stay in the Senate? Should he be expelled? If you lose, you give the Senate seat to a Democrat.


BOLDUAN: Show me the win here, Ned. How is Lindsey Graham wrong with that?

NED RYUN, CEO, AMERICAN MAJORITY: There's a couple lessons to be learned from this whole situation, Kate. First of all, it really is Exhibit A as to why the D.C. establishment to stay out of primaries.

Because let's not forget, Mitch McConnell's people were going through Alabama intimidating, persuading people not to run in the primary against Luther Strange. It's almost inevitable you would end up with Luther Strange versus Roy Moore. That knew --

[11:25:06] BOLDUAN: Are you adding the president into that? Because the president endorsed Luther Strange and --

RYUN: That was one of the situations, Kate, where I strongly disagreed with the president. I felt that, A, it shouldn't have happened and B, a bad endorsement. I made that very clear both on Twitter and other places.

That to say also a reason why we should be very careful about how we work through this primary nomination process. I watched Lindsey Graham's comments yesterday on ABC. If we think easy to run on Roy Moore in 2018 think again. I would add this, Kate. If you think it's going to be easy to run with Mitch McConnell in 2018, think again. That's why you see a lot of these Republican nominees running for Senate in 2018 distancing themselves from him.

And the thing you see about the reason the special election is as important as it is, Mitch McConnell can't keep his House in order.


RYUN: And there are too many GOP senators --

BOLDUAN: Right, but, do you think -- forget Mitch McConnell. Do you think it's easier for those who were up for re-election to run with Roy Moore at their side?

RYUN: I will say this. I do not think it will be easy. I think most of feeling highly nervous about it, from John Thune to Lindsey Graham and others leading into 2018, those are on the ballot or not on the ballot associated with him.

I think what's going to happen is you're going to see this get sorted out. I do think Roy Moore will likely win because I think Doug Jones is too far to the left for most of Alabama and the Senate has to decide what to do in regards to Roy Moore in the Senate.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. John, one of the reasons that the president isn't condemning Roy Moore, according to CNN's reporting and others, is his own history. The "Access Hollywood" tape as we just discussed from the election. Now this reporting from the "New York Times" that Trump is saying, telling folks that the tape isn't authentic, and does that make any sense to you?

HAMMONTREE: No. I mean, I think -- Donald Trump now kind of has buyer's remorse. He's looking at the way Roy Moore has handled his denials, deny, deny, maybe I could have gotten away with that a year ago.

But in the same way that Donald Trump kind of stumbled over it and it was clear that he was likely guilty of a lot of what he was accused of doing, I think Roy Moore has had the exact same missteps.

His denials don't ring true and he is avoiding the press even more than Donald Trump did. You know, Donald Trump is kind of doing it's a paint by numbers to Doug Jones. I mean, Doug Jones, is very in favor of the second amendment.

You know, it's hard to say somebody with his record as a prosecutor as weak on crime. He's just planting him as this far left liberal when the reality is that he's a moderate Alabama Democrat.

BOLDUAN: But Ned, I'm sorry to harp on this, but seriously. The president admitted he said it on the "Access Hollywood" tape, and admitted that he was wrong. So, suggesting this to anyone even in private is -- I mean, I know folks don't like the word, but that's a lie. I mean, why would the president lie about this now? RYUN: You know what? Clearly, I just think what he did last year was the right thing. You know what, I said something appropriate. I apologized move on. I'm not really sure why he feels the need to revisit this. He has spoken to that subject.

He's apologized for it and moved on. So, I don't really agree of going back and revisiting, accept what you did, accept that it was inappropriate and move on. We're all imperfect human beings in an imperfect world. It is what it is.

But I think the thing that I would want -- the thing about what's taking place in Alabama right now, Kate, I'm not really sure what Donald Trump says or doesn't say will actually have impact on how the way the people of Alabama vote.

He said his piece. I encourage him to move on and actually start harping on these GOP senators as to what they're doing on tax reform. But again, I don't really think there will be much of an impact on what he says or doesn't say in regards to what happens on December 12th.

BOLDUAN: It's fascinating, and John, nodding your head on that one. One point of agreement there. Great to see you both. Appreciate it. Thank you.

Embattled Senator Al Franken, on camera for the first time since allegations that he groped multiple women. His response, his accusers, and what he says about his political future.

Plus, has Michael Flynn flipped? The new sign that Trump's former national security adviser may now be working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Be right back.