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Republicans Reach Final Tax Bill; Tax Bill Vote Watch; Trump Rejects Russia Meddling. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 14, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:44] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump's working the phones, trying to get his biggest priority, tax reform, across the finish line by Christmas. But health concerns on the Republican side in the Senate are making a difficult vote a bit trickier.

"The Washington Post" today out with a stunning report. Nearly a year into his presidency, the president still questions the intelligence that Russia meddled in last year's election.

And Republicans in panic mode about 2018 after the Alabama Senate results, while their candidate Roy Moore still won't call it quits.


ROY MOORE (R), FORMER ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: In this race we have not received the final counts to include military and provisional ballots. This has been a very close race and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: Well, I understand the frustration a little bit. It is a close race. But I'd say, look, it's time to move on.


KING: We begin the hour with this, top Republicans today brimming with confidence they will keep their promise to deliver giant tax cut legislation to President Trump by Christmas, and that the American people will soon see results.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This tax cut will mean less of a paycheck going to Washington and more to the hardworking person who earned it. Again, that's the whole purpose of this bill, bigger paychecks for the people working hard to provide for their families. What comforts me greatly is the fact that the results are going to produce fantastic results that will improve the lives of hardworking taxpayers in this country. I'm convinced that this is going to help repatriate capital. I'm convinced this is going to launch more investment in businesses and in workers. I'm convinced this is going to give bigger paychecks, a simpler system.


KING: The House speaker is pumped. This has long been his largest priority. Here are the big pieces of the final deal according to sources who described it to CNN. It would slash the corporate tax rate from the current 35 percent down to 21 percent, all individual rates would also go down, including for top earners.

Critically, the individual mandate, some would say the backbone of Obamacare, would be undone. Democrats not in on the deal-making. The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, says her party has done everything it can.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: We still continue that fight. I think this is a (INAUDIBLE) victory. If, in fact, it does happen, we don't have the votes to take it down unless some of the Republicans see the light. If they do pass the bill, they'll lose in the court of public opinion and we have to hold them accountable.


KING: Let's begin with CNN's Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, despite the public confidence on the Republican side, you have two Republican senators who have been missing in recent days because of health issues, Arizona's John McCain, Mississippi's Thad Cochran. Are Republican leaders certain they can get this deal to the finish line?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, they know they have the deal. Now they need the votes. And obviously that's kind of the age-old question, when will they get there, how will they get there. And the health of those two senators, Senator John McCain and Senator Thad Cochran is certainly a wildcard they weren't expecting. Something Speaker Paul Ryan just talked about. Said, basically, we always assumed the Senate was going to go first in this process, voting as soon as Monday. Now that's up in the air. He said he didn't know if the House or Senate was going to go first because they're waiting to see what happens with these absences.

Now, Senator Cochran's spokesman said he's in Washington. He full plans on being back to vote on the tax bill early next week. Senator McCain's office put out a statement last night saying he's still receiving normal treatment that came over the course of that cancer treatment right now. Still recovering from that.

I can tell you that Senate leaders expect both will be back. But as the speaker alluded to, that kind of raises some questions. And that just adds to kind of the questions that stand right now in the U.S. Senate in terms of where the votes are.

John, we covered this obviously a lot when the Senate was dealing with the tax bill the first time around, keep the eye on Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Marco Rubio and Bob Corker. Obviously Corker was the only of those four who voted against the original Senate tax plan. Leaders feel like they should be able to keep all their votes together.

But the issues are complicated. Susan Collins had some specific asks that she got in the Senate bill, wants to make sure those are in the final compromise. Also has some health care legislation, separate and apart from tax reform, she needs to have addressed.

Senator Jeff Flake, he had a very important, more gradual phase-out of the expensing provision over in the Senate, wants to make sure that's in the final deal. And Senator Marco Rubio has long had a problem with the scope of the child tax credit, wants it to be more refundable, said last night he expects it to be more refundable. That is an open question because that costs a lot of money.

So, John, obviously a lot of things to keep an eye on right now, but the health of two senators has certainly risen to be one of the top issues.

KING: It would be nice if we actually had the paper, we could look at it, and analyst it and break it down. Wouldn't that be nice. Transparency. Some day.

[12:05:05] Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Molly Ball with "Time," Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight, Michael Bender with "The Wall Street Journal" and CNN's Lauren Fox.

A huge priority for the president. They seem to be there. They've seemed to be there on a couple of things previously this year. Is this finally it? Will the president get his tax cut bill by Christmas?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: I think that tax reform has been the priority for Republicans. And after failing on the Affordable Care Act, they know they can't mess up on this. I think the margin is going to be incredibly tight on the Senate side, but I think that they're going to get there. And I think that leaders are feeling pretty confident right now. And as the conference report and some of the details in that conference report were revealed yesterday, a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill seemed pretty optimistic about what they were hearing.

Senator Susan Collins was saying that, you know, she wants to look over the full bill when the text comes out, which we expect could happen as soon as tomorrow. But, you know, she didn't say, I'm a hard no on the provision so far. So that's a good sign for GOP leaders.

KING: Let's talk about some more of the details for people at home thinking how will this affect me if it takes effect pretty quickly? It caps the state and local property tax deduction at $10,000. Mortgage interest rate deduction capped at $750.000. That's down from a million in an earlier proposal. Keeps the medical expense deduction, keeps student loan interest deduction, keeps graduate school tuition tax benefits. They've tried to do some things to essentially make sure you keep your House math and keep your Senate math.

What about the American people? They're still trying to sell this as a middle class tax cut.

MOLLY BALL, "TIME": Right. And what you hear from Republicans is that despite the unpopularity of the bill as it's currently being measured, they believe that people will see results from the bill pretty much immediately, see their taxes go down next year and that that will make enthusiasm among the public for the bill.

It doesn't look like a real political winner right now and this is actually very reminiscent of the argument you heard from Democrats about Obamacare, right? The process was messy. It looked unpopular at the time it was passed, but they were sure people were going to start benefitting from this and everyone would see that they had actually done a good thing. It didn't really work out that way and it was really a stone around their necks for years.

KING: 2010 midterms was the first example, you're right, and then consecutive as we go by (ph).

BALL: Yes.

KING: But why is that? Why is that? You know, Washington is cutting your taxes. You would think just, that sentence, people out there would say, great, I don't like Washington. Washington can't get much done. I'll take more of my money instead of giving it to those guys.

But there's -- Quinnipiac asked the question, will the -- will the GOP tax cut, cut your taxes? Overall, 16 percent of Americans say yes. Only 16 percent of Americans think they're going to get a tax cut. Thirty-two percent of Republicans do, 7 percent of Democrats, 14 percent of independents.

Is this -- just because this is being done by Congress in Washington and therefore if they said it's Thursday the American people would doubt it?

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, I think so. I think there was the calculous -- a big part on the calculous on the Republican side is that at this point done is better than good. And you saw -- you played the clips of Paul Ryan there, who's unequivocal that despite some of the analysis of these proposals, that this is going have a major economic benefit.

And, you know, actually, yesterday, Janet Yellen kind of backed him up on some of this. so there is some -- there's some -- there is some argument for that there. But this thing can easily be painted as, you know, as a giveaway to corporations and the rich. Their -- as your state you put up there, there are some tax cuts for the middle class, they go away, and it can easily be pointed as the biggest cuts are for corporations. Long-term benefits are for corporations.

The same groups that Trump explained about repeatedly from the campaign trail about having outside influence. So he can -- I mean it's a big cut here to the corporate tax rate which trump can and will claim as a victory, but he's going to have -- it is going to be a very tough sell out in America.

KING: How does -- the president won, if you go back through the blue states turned red, you do your Michigan, you do your Wisconsin, you do your Pennsylvania, that was populist Donald Trump, I am your voice. If a lot of those people who thought he was their voice don't get a tax cut, what is he going do?

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I'm not sure what he's going to say because I mean you've seen this process where he's not really been involved in writing the bill that much. It's been a very Capitol Hill germane process. And ultimately he has to hope -- there's estimates about job creation and so on, but those may be a long way up. They may not materialize. Ryan's been saying that people's wages will go up by $4,000 a person essentially and there's a lot of economists who say that's probably not true. And ultimately voters -- the economy's doing well is the one that we should note, so it may not be that this bill helps Americans, but the economy overall is doing well and Trump will probably get some credit for that.

KING: To Perrey's point, the president doesn't want to get into the details on this one. There were a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill that thought at key moments of the Obamacare debate the president got involved or said things that set them back. What is the sense right now? Is the -- can the -- is the president important to get this through the finish line, or if you're Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, do you want the president, sure, call people up, stay pass it, but just stay out of the way?

FOX: I think it depends on the individual member of the Senate. I think with Susan Collins, the president might have less influence than he would have with someone like Rand Paul. And that's what we saw the last time around. So I think it depends on individual members and the relationships he's established with those.

[12:10:01] KING: All right, we'll watch this. And, again, maybe by the time we meet this time tomorrow we might actually have a tax bill we can read, as opposed to a deal cut behind closed doors. We'll see how that goes.

Up next, President Trump and the Russian President Putin seem to share the same doubts about who meddled in last year's election.


KING: Welcome back.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his year-end press conference today and insisted again Russia did not meddle in last year's election.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): This is all dreamed up by people who in the opposition to Trump serves to make sure that everybody thinks that what he's doing, but he's (INAUDIBLE) is illegitimate. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Putin's denial hardly breaking news, but it is a big deal 11 months on the job, President Trump still shares President Putin's view. An extensive, meticulously sources account in "The Washington Post" today details how the president bristles at the suggestion Russia helped him win, and that his daily intelligence briefing is structured to avoid angering him with Russia mentions.

[12:15:12] Quote, the result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, "The Post" reports. A situation in which the personal insecurities of the president, and his refusal to accept what even many in his own administration regard as objective reality, have impaired the government's response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

The story goes on to say, quote, Trump has never convened a cabinet- level meeting on Russian interference or what to do out it, an administration official said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said, there's an unspoken understanding within the National Security Council that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.

Joining our discussion for this bloc of the show, one of the authors of that report, Greg Miller of "The Washington Post."

It's fascinating reporting. We know the president bristles at this. But just to see more than the president's reaction, the domino effect across the government. Russia, nobody disputes except the president and President Putin, meddled in the election. Most of those people think Russia is continuing to try to meddle in our affairs.

If the president of the United States won't call a cabinet level meeting on this and say, this is a big deal, then how do you deal with the next election and the one after that?

GREG MILLER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Correct, and that's what we really set out to try to examine in this story. We all know that he has refused to accept this and he objects to it and calls it a hoax and fake news and everything else. But what does that mean? What does -- and, in fact, it effects every -- every order of the national security apparatus. Almost every agency that deals with Russia, the CIA, the State Department, the Pentagon, Homeland Security, FBI. I mean his recusal is an impediment to their ability to deal with this issue, to get guidance from the National Security Council, to get a clear instructions from the White House on what to do. And then there are other instances in which, because of his impulses, they seek to undo some of the punishments that the Obama administration put in place before Obama left office.

KING: So it paralyzed the United States government, more or less, or at least ineffective response, the United States government. What does that mean for 2018, for 2020? I mean my reading the story again, it just reminded me, Putin has won, right? BALL: Well, essentially, I don't -- I have a strong sense of how this affects the ability -- but it does seem that -- it does affect the ability of the government to respond to these kind of threats, that there is a need for some kind of response to the threat of Russian cyberattacks. And if the government effectively has its hands tied in multiple agencies, that gets more difficult and the threat becomes more of a threat.

KING: And I want to play this sound. You guys mentioned it in the story here. This is the president on January 11th. A time where people were trying to tell him, put this behind you. Just go out and say Russia meddled. Say Russia meddled. Get it over with. You don't have to say anything about your win. Your win is legitimate, sir. Just please say they meddled so we can move on.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as hacking, I think it was Russian, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.


KING: You're around the president a lot covering the White House. He just can't stop. He couldn't put the period there. And then, in the account in "The Washington Post" today they say t that he like walked out of that room thinking, I shouldn't have done that. I regret that. That was a mistake.

BENDER: Yes, that's right. He -- and I was with him in Asia when he sided with Putin on some of his concerns about the ongoing nature of this. And I was talking to other reporters and we had the discussion with editors about trying to go back and figure out exactly what he said and when. And that's one of the, I think, real successes of this piece is it really delineates that desolation from him over the last year and shows him, in effect, as a man isolated in the White House. I mean that clip you just played, according to Greg's reporting, is one of the times when his White House advisers were most successful in trying to convince him that the intelligence he's been -- he's being given is accurate and meaningful.

KING: Right. And the part that's stunning when you see it, and when you see it reported so clearly, is the why. Is the why. I get -- I get the president -- I get the instinct reaction, like I won the election. I'm not going to let anyone say that Russia helped me win the election. I get that part.

But when over and over again you're told, a, here's the evidence, Mr. President. B, it's important as a county we deal with this and put the Russians on notice that we're not going to tolerate them doing it again. End of story.

This is about when the president was briefed about this during the transition, I believe this is. Clapper -- the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper -- functioned as a moderator, yielded to Brennan, the CIA director at the time, and others on key points in the briefing, which covered the most highly classified information U.S. spy agencies had assembled, including an extraordinary CIA stream of intelligence that had captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation.

This is not a we thing. They president the president, forgive the term, with a slam dunk case and he still just will not accept it. Which begs the question, why?

BACON: Because he think it undermines his election win, obviously. But the stunning thing is, in last December I was (INAUDIBLE). I'm not surprised at it now. We're a year. He has the job, you know? And so in some ways I'm still shocked he still will not -- move on that issue at all.

[12:20:07] Also what Greg is reporting I thought, and he talked about this a little bit (INAUDIBLE) is it not -- I'm not as surprised it's a way that Donald Trump just ignores evidence is not a shocking conclusion. But the fact that it's -- changes how government policy works, how he's briefed, it changes -- the president sets a tone. I think that's important to talk about is, how it affects the rest of the government. This is not just a Donald Trump issue. It's of Donald Trump running the government and shifting it because of his view that he can't concede on the Russia issue at all.

BENDER: That was pretty amazing. That was actually one of the question I had about that piece was, you talk about them kind of putting the briefing together so as to not irritate him and to avoid eruptions. Did you get the sense that anything meaningful or kind of how they judged what they would put into the written report? I mean because the inference there is he put it in a written report and it doesn't get read. But is there -- I mean is there -- did you get a sense at all that that meaningful information that was being kept from him in order --


BENDER: Or how they weighed that?

MILLER: No, and that's a good question. So the intelligence officials we talked to emphasized, look, the materials there were not holding stuff back. That the president absolutely has to know that these are professional intelligence officers. The PDB has put together by career staff intelligence officers every day. They're not going to do that. But the way it's present is -- the way it's structured, the way it's tweaked, the way the issue was raised, a sequence in which certain subjects to raise. All of that plays into account to avoid an eruption from him.

KING: That part is striking there. So these -- you have intelligence professional who are working hard enough to begin with who have to sit around in the morning and saying, we've got to tell the president this about North Korea, we've got to tell him this about Iran, even though we think this Russia stuff's more important, move it to the bottom because if we tell them that first, we go off the rails? I mean that's -- I'm sorry, that's like, what?

BALL: Right. Well, and even if it's still in there. that has the effect of downplay it.

KING: Right.

BALL: That has the effect of reducing its significance.

KING: Right.

BALL: And, you know, to me the real disturbing implications of this, as sort of -- as Perry alluded to are, the president's complete imperviousness to unfriendly facts.

KING: Right.

BALL: And his insistence on seeing absolutely everything, including a major policy issue involving American national security. He can only see it through the lens of his personal interests and how he is perceived. That is the -- that is his main -- that's his load star and anything that affects that in any way, even if it's factual, even if it's important and being testified to by all of these sources, he will not accept it.

KING: Right. And to your point, all fact are facts, but these are critically important facts. It's a national security issue. It's an attack on democratic institutions. And the president of the United States should be leading the response, not complicating the response by not acknowledging this.

Greg, we really appreciate you coming in to share that reporting.

MILLER: Thank you.

KING: Up next, Republicans reckon with 2018 as Roy Moore refuses to let 2017 go.


ROY MOORE (R), FORMER ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization and our religion and to set free of suffering humanity. And the battle rages on.

In this race, we have not received the final count to include military and provisional ballots. This has been a very close race and we are awaiting certification by the secretary of state.



[12:27:42] KING: The race the Republicans desperately wanted to end is over for everyone but Roy Moore. While Moore says he'll wait on the state certification process to make it official, the Democratic senator-elect already looking forward, Doug Jones, says he's grateful that President Trump called and invited him for a White House chat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: I think that we have to find any number of areas. I mean I can -- I'm not going to rattle off right now, but I have told and I've consistently said this, even in the primary, that if the president has things on his agenda that I think are good for the people of Alabama, then I'm absolutely going to work there with him.


KING: Republicans in Washington looking forward too and they don't like what they see. The Alabama stunner causing a giant case of Republican jitters, if not outright panic, as campaigns try to sort what 2017 is teaching us about what's to come in 2018. For Democrats, Tuesday's upset provides new hope they found a pathway forward in the Trump era. First, their own base is clearly energized, led by African- Americans Tuesday night in Alabama. And also, in Alabama, like Virginia and New Jersey last month, we saw a suburban revolt against Trump's GOP. For Republicans, the verdict in Alabama quite sobering. If they can lose in Alabama, they can lose anywhere.

Let's take a look. Just want to show you some of what we're talking about. Just look at Jefferson County, Birmingham. Look at the margins here. Yes, the Democrat is going to win Jefferson County, but African- American voters in Birmingham, in Montgomery, elsewhere in the state, came out in droves. The Democratic base energized to come out even in ruby red Republican states.

And you move over to the suburbs. Shelby County, yes. Roy Moore won. But that margin is nowhere near what Republicans need in these suburban areas that used to be their bread and butter. This is the troublesome. So you say, oh, well, t hat's just Alabama. Roy Moore was a bad candidate. Well, it's not just Alabama and it's not just where you have bad candidates.

It happened up here in Virginia. The Democrats won the governor's race. Look at the D.C. suburbs up here, 60 percent to 40 percent in what used to be reliably Republican territory in the suburbs. There are Republican congressional seats in these suburbs in Virginia and elsewhere in the country.

That also happened, Republicans can write it off, it's New Jersey, it's blue, but it also happened in the New Jersey governor's race. And, again, the margins in the suburbs, Democrats up, Republicans down. That is a slump. When you look at all three of these states, 2017, how does it carry over into 2018. That's why Republicans are nervous. Democrats are coming out to play. Republicans are suffering in the suburbs.

[12:30:02] Take a look at these numbers if you want to explain the Republican panic heading into 2018.