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Republicans Move Forward on Tax Bill; Interview With Former CIA Director Michael Hayden; Black Caucus Members In Talks To Get Conyers To Resign; Another Former Staffer Alleges Harassment By Rep Conyers; Pelosi Meets With, Says She Believes Conyers Accuser. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 28, 2017 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: "Until now, it was not possible for me to conceive of an American president capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, free press or the First Amendment."

Those are pretty strong words. What made you say that?


I think a free press -- look, as director of CIA and NSA, I have had my issues with the free press. They have said some things I wish they hadn't said, but it never created a judgment on my part that we could do without a free and occasionally imperfect press.

But it has to be free. Otherwise, who we are as a people are at risk. And now you have the president undercutting the legitimacy of the institution of a free press. And that's what made me frightened, Jake.

And I wanted to kind of speak out and try to remind our countrymen this isn't normal. This is contrary to who we are as a people.

TAPPER: And, General, I do want to note that since that attack on CNN International on Saturday, we have seen the Libyan media dismissing a very, very real CNN report which exposed the slave trade in that country, Libyan media saying, well, President Trump calls it fake, so maybe this isn't real.

We have seen the Egyptian government decry CNN International coverage of the mosque bombing as deplorable. What does that say to you?

HAYDEN: Well, what it says to me is that the president saying this gives headroom for every autocratic regime on the planet to go ahead and use the space.

Our president, frankly, Jake, has provided them to do the kinds of things they wanted to do in the first place, but they knew earlier would risk the ire and perhaps the response of the American government. Now I think they feel free to do that. And one final point, Jake. I

fear that institutions on which we rely are being injured, and it may take a long time for those institutions to come back, even after we get beyond this.

TAPPER: Well, and I believe, and correct me if I'm wrong, but you're probably not only talking about the institution of the free press, but the institution of the intelligence community, from which you come, which has also been attacked many, many times by President Trump.

HAYDEN: So, look, you have this operating in parallel here. You have got the undercutting of the legitimacy of the free press. And over here, you have got the president saying he now believes American intelligence because I have got my guys running American intelligence.

Jake, that's a serious harm to the American espionage community. And I don't know how long it's going to take for us to get beyond that after a Trump administration.

TAPPER: General Michael Hayden, thank you. And thanks to everyone else on our panel.

A major step forward for Senate Republicans on the tax bill, but will President Trump's feuding with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer hurt the Republican Party's chances of getting it passed?

That story's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

And a huge victory for Republicans today, their tax bill moving forward, passing out of the Budget Committee after the president came to the Hill and gave a rally the troops speech.

Let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.

So, Sunlen, what's next?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, next, Jake, is Republicans continuing to usher their bill through. Yes, they have a partial victory today, in that they got this bill out of the Senate Budget Committee, but that is just the first step before their ultimate goal of getting this tax bill passed here in the Senate, and, of course, then reconciled with the House version.

So a long way to go right now, but certainly a key victory after President Trump came up here and, as you said, rallied the troops, so to speak, at the Senate policy luncheon, speaking with Senate Republicans. And we did hear from many Republicans leaving that meeting confident, feeling a bit emboldened here that they can push this through. We heard from many Republican senators saying that the president had a

certain level of engagement, went one-on-one with senators in the room and getting a sense a little bit of his negotiating style. We know at least one side meeting President Trump had here with Republican Senator Susan Collins, also Lindsey Graham, Senator Alexander in that room.

So really giving a sense here of the president getting personally involved, not only trying to twist arms, but certainly trying to wheel and deal a little bit as they try to push this through.

TAPPER: So there were a lot of Republican senators that were on the fence. Just to be clear, are they now off the fence? Are they now pro this legislation?

SERFATY: Yes, this is the tricky part here.

Just because this bill got through the Budget Committee doesn't mean that it has a potential fate when they hold this for a full vote on the Senate floor. There are many senators that were on the Budget Committee, not the least of which Senator Ron Johnson, who decided ultimately to push forward and vote for it in the Budget Committee, but that does not mean he's a yes on the Senate bill when it goes to the floor.

And we saw Ron Johnson afterwards saying, look, I'm voting to push this forward, but he still has considerable concerns about pass- throughs. Many other senators as well have considerable concerns about the individual mandate repeal being in this bill, about debt and deficit, of course.

So those are things that the Republican Party currently, Jake, are still grappling with. And that doesn't mean that just because it advances today that they still won't have to face it.

TAPPER: And, Sunlen, we're also learning , you mentioned how the president lobbied Senator Susan Collins, Republican from Maine, over to the yes column.

Talk a little bit more about the things that he expressed support for, including this bill that helps stabilize the Obamacare health care markets. Tell us about that.

SERFATY: That's right. Susan Collins, health care, of course, a big issue for her. She's expressed some concern about the bill, concern about the inclusion of the individual mandate.

And coming out of not only the lunch, but an individual meeting he had with Susan Collins today, it appears there was some sort of agreement reached, senators leaving those meetings say that Trump says he will get on board with the Alexander-Murray bill, which reinstates cost- sharing deduction payments, CSR payments, plus a bill that she introduced with Bill Nelson to provide more seed money for high-risk pools.

[16:40:26] That's if she supports this tax bill, Jake, if it includes the individual mandate, so a lot of ifs there, but certainly one sense that the president is getting personally involved and trying to make deals with Republican senators -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill, thanks.

We have to point out that the Republicans are taking a gamble with this tax plan. Sure, you might get a temporary tax cut and the next Congress might end that, extend it or end it. But either way, it comes with a cost.

The Senate bill alone could increase the deficit by at least $1.4 trillion over the next decade. That's according to the latest estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

What would offset that and our already $20 trillion national debt? Republicans argue that CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, is underestimating the strength of the economy and its potential that will be unleashed by this tax bill.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman.

Tom, this bill seems to go in many ways against the fiscal responsibility that Republicans have been preaching about for decades. Why stay down this tack?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's take a look at the numbers and think about it.

The Congressional Budget Office, as you mentioned, says $666 billion is what the deficit is going to work to this year. This is a live readout right now where it stands at the moment. This is the difference between how much money the government takes in and how much more it is putting out.

And if the Republican plan goes through, the CBO estimates that this number is going to jump way up, so that each year, if you averaged it out of 10 years, it would be about $807 billion. That is a whopping, scary number for budget hawks.

So why would Republicans, who always call themselves budget hawks, be willing to risk this and the potential punishment they could get from their base if this goes badly? To understand that, you have to look at what's happened with the deficit and public opinions about it.

We will start over here at about 2000, back when the deficit was lower, around say $300 billion, $400 billion a year. Look at public opinion back then. Only about half the people said it was a very serious matter that needed to be tended to.

But then we move on, we hit the recession in 2008. Barack Obama gets elected afterward. In dealing with it, boy, the deficit jumps way up here to much, much bigger numbers and so does public concern about it. Suddenly, we have 75 percent of the people saying they think this is a very serious matter. But then under President Obama and continuing under President Trump,

the economy starts getting better. The deficit comes back down out of the stratosphere into a more manageable range. And look at public concern now, Jake. It's back to about half the public being seriously concerned about this.

TAPPER: But, Tom, do voters care about a lower deficit? I mean, they do think it's an issue. Do they care at all that this tax bill is going to increase it?

FOREMAN: Sure, people care about it, but, look, this is a Pew result recently that showed 66 percent of the people, Democrats and Republicans, don't believe there will be progress reducing the deficit in the next five years anyway.

They're like a family with a credit card saying we'd like to use it less, we just don't know how. The Republicans are betting as much as people do care about the deficit, they care about this promise of lower taxes more -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Be sure to tune in tonight to CNN for a special live debate on taxes. As this bill advances in the Senate, Republican senators Ted Cruz and Tim Scott will face off against independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. I'm going to moderate with my CNN colleague Dana Bash.

That all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern this evening only on CNN.

And some breaking news from the hill. There is now a move under way to force Congressman John Conyers, Democrat of Michigan, to resign amid even new allegations of sexual harassment -- that story next.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with some breaking news in the "POLITICS LEAD" today. Sources telling CNN that several members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the House of Representatives are in talks to try to get embattled Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan to step down, to retire from Congress, in light of more sexual misconduct allegations against him. This comes as a second former employee has now come forward. His former Deputy Chief of Staff who says that Conyers made three sexual advances towards her during the time she worked for him. Let's get right to CNN's Sara Ganim. And Sara, you spoke with this former employee. What did she tell you?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Deanna Maher actually worked for him in the 1990s and says that his office had a culture of sexually inappropriate behavior and that the congressman himself set that tone. She described three incidents of sexual harassment to us. The first one in 1997 when she says she was told to stay in a suite in Washington and John Conyers walk into her bedroom and took off his clothes.


DEANNA MAHER, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF TO JOHN CONYERS: And I was really tired so I got into bed and all of a sudden John Conyers walked into my bedroom. Another time I was instructed to drive him to the airport and he was driving erratically, erratically -- he was a terrible driver, erratically. Thank God he was-- he was erratic, OK, because his hand was feeling me all over my -- what do you call it, my abdomen.


GANIM: In a third incident in 1999, Maher says that Conyers put his hand up her dress during a town hall meeting in his home district and then whispered to her that, "she had great looking legs." Maher is the fourth woman to come forward with sexual misconduct claims against Conyers. He's denied any wrongdoing, although he admits he settled one case in 2015. Jake.

[16:50:16] TAPPER: And Sara, members the Congressional Black Caucus that Conyers helped formed year also ago, they're now in talks trying to get him to resign with some dignity I suppose?

GANIM: That's right. My colleagues on The Hill are essentially looking for a way for him to get out of this with some ease, without trampling on his 50-plus-year-long legacy in the House. This is something that leading Democrats have been struggling with over the past few days. Earlier in the week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi got into a bit of hot water after calling Conyers an icon and refusing to criticize him after these allegations. She later met with one of these alleged victims and said that she believed the woman's accusations and finds the behavior to be unacceptable. But clearly, as these allegations have trickled out, people behind the scenes are saying that's it's time for some of this to result in some bigger consequences. Jake.

TAPPER: All Right, Sara Ganim, thanks so much. Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. She's one of the co-sponsors of the Me Too Congress Act Legislation that would seek to change how Congress deals with this issues of sexual harassment. Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.


TAPPER: You've said that Congressman Conyers should step down if the allegations are accurate, that the Ethics Committee needs to determine whether or not they are accurate. This now the fourth women, when you hear this woman speaking out about her experiences with Conyers, do you still have that position or do you believe her?

SPEIER: I believe her. I believe the women. I think there's a pattern here. It's pretty clear. And I think that there needs to be action taken in a swift manner. Now it has been referred to the Ethics Committee. If they are -- if we're going to pursue that, then it needs to happen rather quickly. I think it's not going to take a lot of time to interview these women. It's not going to take a lot of time to determine whether or not the actual payment from the member's allowance was made because of sexual harassment. And if so, I think it's a very clear case.

TAPPER: We just reported that some members of the Congressional Black Caucus are in talks to try to get him to resign. Do you support their plan?

SPEIER: Well, I think the Congressional Black Caucus is a very persuasive group of people, and I think that -- I think they're making a good decision if that's the manner in which they're approaching this. It's a tragedy on a number of levels because Mr. Conyers has a very storied history in terms of the civil rights movement. But this conduct is unbecoming a Member of Congress and there is no staff member in this building that should ever have to deal with that kind of conduct.

TAPPER: I want to play a bit of what Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had to say about Congressman Conyers over the weekend.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: John Conyers is an icon in our country. He's done a great deal to protect women.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe John Conyers' accusers.

PELOSI: I don't know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward. That's for the Ethics Committee to review, but I believe he understands what is at stake here and he will do the right thing.


TAPPER: Now Pelosi since said that his behavior is unacceptable. I guess I'm a little struck by this whole John Conyers as an icon thing that I'm hearing from Pelosi and the CBC and, again, with respect, from you as well, I mean, Harvey Weinstein was a film icon, Charlie Rose and Mark Halperin were journalistic icons. Bill Cosby was a comedy icon. I can go on and on. Why is Congress acting like they are somehow special if their members get caught doing unacceptable things for women? I mean, who cares if they're iconic if they were actually sexually harassing and assaulting women?

SPEIER: Well, first of all, Jake, you're absolutely right. They're totally unrelated and it doesn't matter if you're an icon in business or film or media, and if you conduct yourself in that manner then you are no longer privy to those roles that you held. So you can, on the one hand, say someone is a good journalist, but the fact that they have conducted themselves in a fashion that was sexually harassing, you know, taints it. There is no question about it.

TAPPER: I want to turn to Senator Al Franken. He told Minnesota Public Radio that he couldn't be sure more accusers would not come forward. What do you think of that?

SPEIER: You know, I guess I'm a little tired of the dance because that would suggest to me that he, in fact, knows that he has done those kinds of things and done it more frequently than has come forward. So in the end, you know, we're here representing the people of our districts, but we're also here representing this institution. And if you bring disgrace on this institution then I think it's time for you to go.

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Earlier this month, you mentioned you knew two current members of Congress who had harassed women, one from each party, but none of the people that have come forward you are or been accused publicly, it's neither of them.

SPEIER: That's correct.

TAPPER: Is there any way you can tell us who those people are?

SPEIER: So, Jake, I am really here to talk about protecting these victims. If these victims want to come forward then I would support them in doing so. But you know, when you're a victim and I've talked to many of them, they sat in my office. They are tortured by the experience that they have had. And some of them want to able to close that chapter and move on with their lives. They should have the right to do that. So if they want to come forward, certainly they have every right to do so, but if it's going to somehow impact their settlement or if they feel they're going to turn into mincemeat and be trashed by, you know, talking heads then I can understand why they wouldn't.

TAPPER: All right, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, thank you so much.

SPEIER: Thank you.

TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, I'm going to see you again at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for the CNN debate on taxes. Wolf Blitzer is next in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Stay with us.