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Republicans Tax Bill; Little Room for Defectors; Trump Meets with GOP; Pro-Tax Reform Ads; Showdown over Consumer Watchdog. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 27, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:29] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

One agency, two bosses today. President Trump installs a key ally as interim leader of a consumer watch dog office. Democrats call it a big power grab that will help big banks.


BARNEY RANK (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Nothing could be more contradictory to Donald Trump being the friend of the little guy than trying to undermine the most effective agency for the consumer in the financial area that we've ever had.


KING: Plus, a key House Democrat steps aside from an important committee post, ending a sexual harassment investigation.

And a Democratic senator, accused of groping women, returns to work.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: The Ethics Committee is looking into all this and I will cooperate fully with it. Listen, I know I have a lot of work to do to regain the trust of people I've let down.


KING: And Alabama picks its new senator two weeks from tomorrow. Leading Republicans are disgusted with their candidate and furious at their president.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't know what winning looks like with Roy Moore. The moral of the story is, don't nominate somebody like Roy Moore, who could actually lose a seat that any other Republican could win.


KING: We begin the hour, though, with crunch time on Capitol Hill. An urgent week as President Trump and the Republican Congress try to keep one of their big 2017 promises. Top of the docket, tax reform. Perhaps the least enviable person in Washington, Mitch McConnell. He plans a Senate vote this week, but -- and it's a pretty big but -- he still doesn't have the votes. Yet the Senate leadership projecting optimism and they've got back-up on the way, at least they hope so.

President Trump meeting this hour with members of the Senate Finance Committee. Tomorrow, the president travels up to the Capitol to rally Senate Republicans during their weekly lunch. Mr. Trump fired off this gut check earlier this morning, tweeting in part, the tax cut bill is coming along very well. Great support.

Remember, though, the president has promised over and over tax cuts would be done by Christmas. As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham puts it here, the future of the Republican Party on the line.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Failure is not an option when it comes to the Republican Party cutting taxes. To every Republican senator, the fate of the party's in our hands, as well as that of the economy.


KING: With us this morning to share their reporting and their insights, Michael Shear of "The New York Times," Eliana Johnson from "Politico," CNN's Manu Raju, and Jackie Kucinich from "The Daily Beast."

It's not just tax cuts. Congress is back from the Thanksgiving break. They have a very short stretch to keep the government open, come up with some spending plans, wade through some other potential issues, like immigration, you know, the easy stuff. But with tax cuts first and foremost on the agenda, the political imperative is we must do something for Republicans to get one thing done this year. Obamacare repeal will not happen. Infrastructure will not happen. Is that enough when you have some significant differences still over the details?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's an open question whether or not they can get tax reform through both chambers, reconcile it. The difference is between the House and the Senate version. There's still some substantial differences between the two, like the state and local tax deduction a big one for one, how to deal with the repeal of the individual mandate, which is in the Senate bill but not the House bill. Those are just -- this is just a taste of some of the key differences between the two chambers.

But, of course, the first big test is trying to get it out of the Senate this -- as soon as this week. There are a handful of members who are still concerned about the deficit projections, like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, two people who are not fans of this president. Susan Collins of Maine is almost certainly going to be a no.

However, I would think that there's probably a good chance of getting at least the Senate version done because of the fact that, at the end of the day, a lot of Republicans realize that this is our one chance to do something significant this Congress and there's an opportunity to get it done.

KING: This fight -- and we can show you some pictures. At least -- we're going to show you six or eight senators here who have voiced reservations. That's not all of them. There are more than a dozen senators who, for one reason or another, whether it's the deficit, whether it's those state and local income tax deductions, some other -- some think it's more tilted toward corporations, not toward small businesses.

And we went through this. It's a different issue, but it's similar to the Obamacare debate. You have legitimate, philosophical policy differences among these Republican senators. And unless you've been hiding over the past 10 months, simple math, 52, which meanings they can lose two and Mike Pence can break the tie.

You had some great reporting over the weekend about how, you know, the president's meeting with Finance Committee members this hour. You would think that's a good thing. He's the leader of the Republican Party. You want to get to the finish line. But as we learned in the Obamacare debate, there's some trepidation about the president being so hands-on and involved, and his team.

ELIANA JOHNSON, "POLITICO": Yes, you know, one of the persistent problems for this administration I think has been its salesmanship of big pieces of legislation. On the health care bill we saw the president come out and call the House bill mean. And they've had similar problems selling this tax reform bill. Their main pitchman for the bill had been two multimillionaires, Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, and Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary. And that's not exactly -- those aren't exactly the faces the administration might want, though they have selected them, for a bill that they're trying to convince voters will help middle class Americans.

[12:05:31] The president goes in today and he's often said unexpected things and is somewhat of an unknown. But I do think the question of whether this is really a Trumpist (ph) tax reform bill is an interesting one and the administration really is going to have to do a hard sales job to convince senators -- those senators, you know, on -- who are undecided that this is a bill that will help middle class Americans and not simply corporations because it does cut the corporate tax rate so much.

MICHAEL SHEAR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, and that's really the question is, where is the sales job, right? I mean there's a -- there's an inside Washington effort that, you know, as you talked about the president will do over the next couple of days, but where is the big sort of effort to sell this to the country, right? I mean there were a couple weeks, if not months ago, a couple of trips that the president made out, you know, to sort of -- a little couple of forays into some Democratic places and think, OK, maybe we'll bring, you know, some Democrats along. And then that sort of fizzled and there really hasn't been much of that. Think back to the -- some of the previous tax reform, tax change

efforts that really where you had a Republican president really trying to -- and succeeding in drawing eight, 10, 12 Democrats across the line. This isn't happening. The president's got a trip this week, but there's sort of an anemic effort to really say to the country, this is what I want to do. And it's sort of left to become a Washington (INAUDIBLE).

JOHNSON: I think -- I mean you remember President Obama barnstorming the country for Obamacare coast to coast.

SHEAR: Right.

JOHNSON: And we just haven't seen that from this president or this administration.

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, this president isn't good at that. I mean that's one of the problems, one of the flaws here. He has trouble staying on message. He has trouble selling something that even is in his best interest. And once he gets in front of those rallies, he doesn't really stay on task. He can give a speech, of course.

But when it comes to actually going out in the country, he kind of gets wrapped up in what has been these campaign rallies, for all intents and purposes, that have been very effective for him. And he hasn't -- for all of the talk about the president's business acumen, what a dealmaker he is, he hasn't really shown, on any of these top line issues, that he can actually seal the deal.

KING: And so that's the big challenge this week. Again, he's having lunch with Finance Committee members today. Then he goes up to Capitol Hill tomorrow, the weekly Senate Republican luncheon. Republicans only. There is zero indication any Democrats are coming over. There was a hope, if you went back weeks or months ago, they might get a couple Democrats, especially with the Obamacare mandate repeal in the Senate bill. It looks like they get zero Democrats.

So they've got two to lose here. Nothing in Washington this year has gone the way it normally does. However, there is a rather traditional effort underway as these are -- from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, running radio ads against some of those Republican senators on the fence. Let's just get a little sample.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the best gift Senator Susan Collins can give Mainers this holiday season? The gift of tax relief. That's right, the tax reform bill could mean an extra $2,511 in the pockets of Montana families. But first, it has to become law. So call Senator Ron Johnson and ask him to support the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The time for reform is now.


KING: TO the point all of you were making earlier, we do not have the traditional White House political operation, coordination between the White House political shop and Capitol Hill in terms of the messaging, the marketing, booking the Sunday shows, getting interest groups to run TV ads. But you do have some interested parties. The Chamber of Commerce wants this bill to pass. Its corporate members would benefit if this bill does passes. Will the traditional approach work once this year?

RAJU: Who knows. I mean it's interesting, though, those three members who they are targeting --

KING: Right.

RAJU: Steve Daines is one that you would not originally anticipate someone to be a little squeamish about it, but he tweeted that he did have a conversation with Trump over the weekend. He thinks some of his concerns can be alleviated.

Ron Johnson, even though he said he's opposed to the bill, I would be shocked still if he came out and voted no at the end of the day. A lot of his concerns could be alleviated by then.

But, you know, even though some of these outside groups are supporting this bill, I've also been surprised at the lack of opposition from the other side on air really going after some of these members. There just has not been as much of a concerted effort. Perhaps one reason why is that this bill is -- has very poor numbers in the eyes of the voters. Some 20 some odd percent actually support this legislation. You have not really seen much mobilization, certainly not to the extent that the health care push was from the left earlier this year.

KING: And --

JOHNSON: And I do think, you know, to that point, that their -- Democrats are assuming two things. The first is that there's such a slim margin. Republicans have shown great ability to get in their own way. And the second is that the Trump administration will fumble somehow, even though there are so many things working in their favor on tax reform. But I think the Democrats are just assuming they don't have to do much to tank this bill. That Republicans are -- have shown a great ability to, you know --

[12:10:13] RAJU: Do it themselves.

JOHNSON: Yes. Well, you know, to administer self-inflicted wounds.

KING: And part of that -- part of that has been the president himself, which is why I keep coming back to the point, will he help or hurt at this crunch week for the Senate Republicans in that the House Republicans passed their Obamacare repeal bill. The president celebrated it and then called it mean and undermined it.

That -- to the point you made, Michael, (INAUDIBLE) about the populism. The new CBO, Congressional Budget Office, analysis of the Senate Tax plan is not good for Republicans as they're trying to make this case. It says if you make less than $30,000 a year, you will pay more in taxes by 2019. By 2027, if you're under $75,000 a year, you will pay more in taxes and that 13 million fewer people will have health insurance and the deficit will go up there. So, again, this is the, we don't know what they're negotiating behind closed doors right now. That's the Senate bill as we have it now. It will not be the final bill. There will be tweaks before they vote on it. But the PR strategy of this selling as a middle class tax cut, it's dicey.

JOHNSON: It's true. And also when you take the corporate tax rate, in addition to that, and some of the other things that are coming out about this bill. For example, the private plane issue, I think a week or two ago, it does undermine the message that they're trying to send, that this is a tax cut for middle class Americans.

KING: Their biggest argument now is, we need to do something in 2017. Therefore, get it through he Senate, get it to the conference committee. Sorry, America, that's Washington speak. Get it to the conference and maybe -- but we'll see if this works out. And, don't forget, if you want to know more about this bill, want to see a great debate about it, CNN holding a town hall debate on the fight over tax reform tomorrow night right here on CNN. Two Democrats, two Republicans -- Bernie Sanders is an independent, we should get that right -- will debate this tax bill tomorrow night right here on CNN.

Up next, well, at least he brought the donuts. A fight over who's actually running a key consumer protection office here in Washington.


[12:16:11] KING: Welcome back.

Talk about an awkward day at the office. This morning, the two people who say they should be in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau both showed up to work here in Washington. Mick Mulvaney, the president's pick to lead the consumer watch dog on an interim basis, strolled into the office. Right there you see him, donuts. A good way to make a first impression. And White House officials say he took the reins with, quote, full cooperation from agency staff.

But it's an open legal question as to whether Mulvaney is really the new boss. Late last night the previous director's hand-picked successor sued to stop Mulvaney from taking over. This morning, both she and Mulvaney wrote agency staff introducing themselves as the new director. Yes, your government at work.

The lawsuit has sparked a big partisan fight over a little heard of agency. Democrats see this watch dog as government at its best, stopping the big banks from taking money out of your wallet. Republicans view it as a classic example of overreach and overregulation, including this guy.


REP. MICK MULVANEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: 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 been in a sick, sat kind of way. MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Because they're

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.


KING: And so the president has put in charge, on an interim basis, a man who you said in there as budget director, in his previous life as a conservative congressman who don't want this agency. And so is it simple -- is it fair to say the White House goal is to put Mick Mulvaney there to, if not dismantle this agency, at least remove its teeth?

KUCINICH: Well, this isn't the first time the president has done this. Remember Scott Garrett (ph) is his nominee to run the XM Bank. Someone who said that the XM Bank shouldn't exist. So this is -- this is part of a playbook that they've used before. So just game -- based on the evidence that we've seen from this administration, that seems like exactly what they want to do.

RAJU: Yes. And, look, Dodd-Frank was legislation that was enacted by a Democratic Senate and House with an overwhelming majority. There was virtually no Republicans support other that I think Scott Brown in the Senate voted for it. And Susan Collins of Maine.

This was a bill that most -- this -- part of the CFPB, the Consumer Financial Protection Board, was one of the thing that Republicans despised the most in this legislation. So no question about it that Mick Mulvaney coming in here is an effort to gut and undermine this agency that they believe is part of overreach. And it's part of, as Jackie said, a pattern throughout the administration to go after what they thought was overreach by the Obama administration and to gut what the Obama administration did through regulation and gut the regulations, like you're seeing similarly in HHS as well.

KING: Right. And, again, this isn't funny, but it's somewhat humorous. We're going to show you a full scale -- this is the website that shows the agency website. That's the about the director page. That is what you get today if you go to about the director at this agency.

And before you jump in, Michael, I just want to say, this was a classic fight in Washington. This was the big Elizabeth Warren in academia thought about this, that you need an independent watch dog agency to, you know, don't trust the politicians to stand up to the banks.

The agency has its -- it's what got Wells Fargo to pay $100 million fine after staffers were found creating bank accounts to generate business, for Citibank to pay $700 million in fines for misleading credit card companies, Bank of America, $727 million for misleading customers, and it passed on $11.7 billion to consumers. So if you're -- if you're an advocate of the agency you say this helps the little guy and why is the so-called populist president, who said he was going to be their voice, now putting in a critic in charge? SHEAR: Right. And, look, to Jackie's point, the -- you know, the other

good example of the -- this administration putting in place people who are there to sort of undermine what the previous administration had done. EPA is another good example with Scott Pruitt.

[12:20:05] But I think there's also a bigger issue at stake here than just the substance of what CFPB does, and that is the question of independent agencies, of which there are many in Washington that were set up either by Republican or Democratic congresses over the decades specifically to keep them from the kinds of pressure that any one administration could exert.

And I think the outcome legally of this fight -- there was a lawsuit filed last night -- the outcome of this fight between what are essentially dueling pieces of law that are in place, does the president have the ability to put a new director in, does the director come from the existing agency, that has ramifications. How that's resolved I think has ramifications beyond just the sort of financial implications and financial issues that we're talking about. And how do these agencies operate going forward?

JOHNSON: Yes, behind the dueling director drama I think are two things. The first is, the Trump administration's broader rollback of regulations. You saw it -- you see that at the XM Bank, and the CFPB. But also, not necessarily to the point you're making, Republican's substantive critique of what the CFPB has done, but their constitutional critique of an agency that is not subject to the congressional appropriations process and that there's a -- where there's a lack of clarity about who the agency head is accountable to. And you saw Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas come out today and say this agency is simply extra constitutional. And so while our critique may not be having any agency with the mission exists, they want it accountable to Congress or to the president. They want clarity there.

KING: And let me read a little bit of what Senator Cotton said because it's just -- the president does this. You ask immediately, does he get back-up from his own party. And on this one the answer's yes. Senator Cotton saying the president should fire her immediately and anyone who disobeys Director Mulvaney's orders should also be fired summarily. The Constitution and the law must prevail against the supposed resistance.

However, this agency was created during the previous Democratic administration. If you have a Republican president, a Republican Senate and a Republican House, fact of life in Washington, why don't they just introduce legislation to either abolish it or amend how it operates to make it more to their liking? Is this a -- I don't know what the right word is. Is it a more cowardly way of doing it? Is it more of a power play to do it?

RAJU: It's probably the only thing that they can do because they don't have the votes to get -- certainly to gut Dodd-Frank or to get rid of the CFPB. You're going to need 60 votes in the Senate, then eight Democrats. That's not going to happen. You'd probably lose some Republicans too with that. There is -- has been legislation in the House, and I believe it has actually passed the House but has not gone anywhere in the Senate.

So this is one thing when Trump and -- is going to take to voters in 2018 and take to 2020. While they may not get big legislation through, they've done things through the administrative process to change the way Washington works or to undermine the previous administration. And this is another example of it.

KING: It's a great drama. Mulvaney gets over there. Again, he's the president's budget director. He's put in charge on an interim basis. The woman who thinks it's her job is there today. Everyone at the agency gets an e-mail from Mick Mulvaney saying please disregard any instruction you receive from Miss English in her presumed capacity as acting director. If you receive additional communications from her today in any form related in any way to the function of her actual or presumed official duties, please inform the general counsel immediately.

This is a great -- this is like a "House of Cards" drama.

JOHNSON: Yes, I really see Mulvaney's appointment as the beginning of a process of defanging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and as part of the Trump administration's larger efforts to roll back regulations, which I think is generally an under covered story of the administration.

KING: Absolutely Right. Absolutely Right. It's a -- that's the one thing they have done. The judicial appointments and the regulatory rollback -- we all focus on Obamacare repeal, rightly so, tax reform debate, rightly so, but it's a lot that's happened behind the curtain, if you will. And by the end of this day, or by the time you join us here tomorrow, I hope, we'll probably have a ruling from the judge, at least the first ruling. This one's going to go on a little bit through the courts. We'll probably have the first one, if not today, by tomorrow.

Up next, two top Democrats trying now to weather sexual harassment allegations and the ethics investigations that come with them.


[12:28:37] KING: Welcome back.

Two prominent Democrats now fighting to keep their jobs. Senator Al Franken and Congressman John Conyers both now facing ethics investigations for alleged sexual misconduct. This weekend, Senator Franken spoke publically for the first time since several women accused him of groping. He says he's ashamed and embarrassed, but he says he will try to regain the public's trust.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I'm just going to do my job and I'm going to go forward. I'm going to take responsibility. I'm going to be held accountable. And I'm going to try to be productive in the way I speak about this.


KING: Congressman Conyers, under pressure from Democratic colleagues, announced Sunday he would step aside as the ranking Democrat, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, over allegations of sexual harassment and office abuse, workplace abuse, which he denies. An attorney for one of his accusers says it's unfair that the congressman can tell his side but her client can't, she says, because she signed a confidentiality agreement.


LISA BLOOM, ATTORNEY FOR CONYERS ACCUSER: She worked for him for many years. She's a Democrat. I'm a Democrat. This is not a partisan issue.

Congressman Conyers, please release her to tell her side of the story. She has a powerful story to tell.


KING: Let's start with the congressman in the sense that he was under pressure from colleagues. He did step aside as the ranking Democrat, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans are obviously in the majority.

[12:30:02] It seemed a messy process over the weekend. These allegations first came out last week. It was during the -- Thanksgiving break, so you're waiting to get in touch with people. He has every right to consult his attorneys and everything else.