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McCain to Miss Vote on GOP Tax Bill; Manchin: Franken Should Not Resign over Sexual Allegations; Amtrak Passenger Train Derails in Washington State; Trump to Lay Out America First Strategy for National Security. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:08] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: When it comes to the Republican tax bill, what is the appropriate line today? It's a done deal? It's not over until it's over? Don't count your chickens until they hatch? Maybe now you can. The Republicans and president seem more confident than ever. They're headed to their first big legislative win, but it is not without last-minute drama. Senator McCain's health has been a huge question mark and we know he will not be in Washington for this week's votes.

Let's get the latest from Capitol Hill. CNN congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty, is joining me with the latest.

Sunlen, where do things stand?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republican leaders, Kate, believe they're in a good spot and they have the votes and they're pushing to get this on President Trump's desk by Wednesday for his signature. The voting will start here on Capitol Hill tomorrow in the House, potentially, the Senate will vote either tomorrow night or Wednesday at some point, sending this to Trump for his signature on Wednesday.

There are still some Senators who here on Capitol Hill have not said how they'll vote yet. A few wild card Senators, Susan Collins, Mike Lee, Jeff Flake, but Republican leaders are confident they will come around. And certainly, some favorable statements went out by Collins and Lee over the weekend indicating that they likely will get to yes. So all systems go, pushing towards the vote this week. And certainly, it is a big sign of confidence they are pushing, of course, without Senator John McCain, who traveled home, as you said, over the weekend to Arizona.

But as you know from covering your time here on Capitol Hill, Kate, nothing is final until it's final. This is, you know, the waiting game before the votes are actually cast.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. Let's see what happens. Because it's not like something has changed almost every day.

Great to see you, Sunlen. Thank you so much.

For more on this, bring in Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, of Pennsylvania.

Great to see you, Congressman. Thanks for coming in.

REP. CHARLIE DENT, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thanks, Kate. Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

You said over the weekend that you like what you see in the final bill. Are you a definite yes on this?

DENT: I'm still reviewing the bill. It's obviously complex. What I do like, the fact that it brings the business tax code into the 21st century. It's long overdue that United States have a tax code that's competitive with the other major economies of the world. I do like the fact that, for many Americans, this will be simpler, that the standard deduction will be doubled, and the rates will come down. And an average family of four making about $73,000 a year will get a little over a $2,000 tax reduction. So that's good. The child tax credit is doubled and it's refundable up to $1400. There's things in here I do like. I think, overall, it has a very good chance of passing both the House and Senate as I understand it.

BOLDUAN: And one of the major driving forces behind this by Republicans was to simplify the tax code, as you mentioned. Listen to Paul Ryan's promise.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're making things so simple, we're making things so simple, you can do your taxes on a form the size of a postcard.


BOLDUAN: Right. "The New York Times" analysis of this latest version is the following, the quote is, "No taxpayer will ever see the postcard-sized tax return that has been promised."

Did Republicans fail in that regard?

DENT: Well, Kate, I guess what I would say, I've never been one waving the postcard around.


BOLDUAN: Paul Ryan has.

DENT: Yes. In my district, nearly 70 percent of income tax filers do not itemize. The fact that their standard deduction will be doubled and their rates lowered will lead to the fact that more people will not itemize, and so, for them, I suspect this process will become simpler. I'm not going to say it's going to be so simple for a postcard but, for a lot of folks, this will be less complex than it was. BOLDUAN: But -- and after this, no matter where the votes fall, comes

another deadline that you guys will be up against, obviously, the government funding running out come Friday. How confident are you at this moment that the government will not shut down?

DENT: Well, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I'm working very hard to make sure there is not a shutdown. I believe it will pass a continuing resolution that will fund the government into January. We'll probably add the children's health fund --


BOLDUAN: Just to January?

DENT: Add some -- well, no. That could be -- that would be a longer extension. A full reauthorization, I hope, and also emergency funding would probably be included in this bill as well. They will probably add a defense appropriations bill, but the Senate would strip that out. Bottom line is, there should not be a government shutdown, although accidents can happen.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. But regardless you think that the -- you think this kicks this -- was already kicked two weeks and you think we're going to kick this another month?

DENT: Yes. Yes. Only because we need a budget agreement, a bipartisan budget agreement. That will not happen before Friday. It will happen early in the new year. And once that bipartisan budget agreement is reached, then the Appropriations Committee, on which I sit, will need about a month, probably - well, 30 days, I think we'll do it closer to 20 days, to write the actual omnibus appropriations bill so we can complete the fiscal year '18. That's what should happen.

[11:35:24] BOLDUAN: Again, what should happen. Let's see exactly how this plays out.



DENT: Accidents happen.

BOLDUAN: Some call them accidents. Some call them unforced errors. They're totally avoidable if everyone would get to work. Anyway.

Something else out this morning I want to ask you about. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he now thinks that Al Franken, Senator Al Franken, should not resign over the sexual misconduct allegations he is facing. Here's what he said on CNN this morning. Listen to this?


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D), WEST VIRGINIA: The political rankering here, it's just unbelievable to me how you can destroy a human being's life and his family and everything that they stand for, without giving him a chance.

I definitely think he should not resign. I've seen a person that -- his own caucus has turned on. It just made me sick.


BOLDUAN: His own caucus has turned on. What do you make of this? Is -- do you think there's a possibility that Franken doesn't resign after saying he would?

DENT: Well, I don't know if Al Franken will resign or not. I would just say to you, I saw Representatives Conyers and Franks resigned and that was appropriate under those circumstances. The Franken case is more complex. I think he should have been afforded a bit more due process than he was. Having said that, with these cases, and in his case, when I first heard the initial allegation, I said that was before he was a member of the Senate, but then other allegations came out. I'm hesitant to say too much. I don't know what else there is. But I think he probably should have been afforded a bit more due process than he was. And when I was in the House --

BOLDUAN: Really?

DENT: When I was on the Ethics Committee, and Speaker Boehner was very good at forcing resignations of members who either misbehaved or with some allegations of misconduct. And some could say that we're pretty aggressive about doing that. And there might not have been enough due process because, ultimately, those cases were going to come to the Ethics Committee in each instance. But often times, to avoid the institutional turmoil, you get people to resign. And maybe that's what -- why Al Franken is resigning because he will go through a very arduous process that will be very difficult for him and his family.

BOLDUAN: What do you think is different about the Franken case?

DENT: Well, I guess -- by the way, in the House of Representatives, the Ethics Committee only has jurisdiction of current members and staff in the Congress or in the House, rather.

BOLDUAN: That's right.

DENT: And we can only go back three terms. You can only go back three terms. Some of the allegations about Senator Franken, the initial one anyway, predated his service in the Senate. You may remember there was a case with Mark Vitter years ago, the D.C. Madam case, and the Senate Ethics Committee reviewed that --


DENT: -- and they chose not to sanction him. They chose not to sanctions him because the alleged violations occurred prior to his time in the Senate. And so now, again, there have been allegations about Al Franken since those initial ones, you know in the campaign trail where there was inappropriate touching or accusations of that. But I never heard an accusation against Senator Franken of mistreating or behaving inappropriately with his staff or Senate staff. So I think there's a bit of a nuance that's different than some of the other cases.

BOLDUAN: Do you think, in the end, that Al Franken has -- would have a leg to stand on if he decided to not resign after announcing he was going to?

DENT: I think it would be tough to put that genie back in the bottle. Once you announce your resignation, it's pretty much time to go. He was right when he said the people of Minnesota would go through quite a bit and his family would go through quite a bit if he continued his service. That said, I think that maybe more due process should have been afforded.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thanks for coming in. Always appreciate it.

DENT: Thank you, Kate. Great to be with you, as always.

[11:40:08] BOLDUAN: Thank you.

We're going to give you an update on the breaking news we were following that has been coming in this hour. An Amtrak passenger train derailing in Washington State, now hanging over a busy interstate there. We will go live to the scene. Be right back.


BOLDUAN: All right. We are continuing to follow breaking news. An Amtrak passenger train has derailed. Part of the train is dangling onto Interstate 5 in Pierce County, Washington, according to Washington State's Department of Transportation, their Twitter page.

Washington's governor, Jay Inslee, just tweeted out this, "Thank you to the first responders on the scene. We're praying for everyone on board the train and ask everyone to hold them in their thoughts." That from the governor.

Also receiving this just in from the sheriff's department. The Pierce County Sheriff's Office in Washington tweeted out there are injuries and casualties reported, saying there are numbers to come. This is their preliminary information, that passenger train was headed southbound. Injuries and casualties reported. And they will have much more to update. The scene still really unfolding.

Let's get some more perspective here. Danae Orlob, she's on the phone. She's an eyewitness of what happened or is happening right now.

Danae, can you hear me?

DANAE ORLOB, WITNESS (via telephone): I can.

BOLDUAN: Can you tell me what you saw and what you're saying?

ORLOB: I was on the opposite way. I'm far away from it now. We came around the corner and it's sobering to say the least. It was, you know, we're casually carpooling having a fun conversation and you knew when you saw it something horrible happened because it was a passenger train, you know. There were cars on both sides of the bridge falling on to the freeway.

[11:45:14] BOLDUAN: Cars on both sides?


BOLDUAN: It's not just this one angle that we see? There's cars on one side of the bridge falling off and on the other side of the bridge as well?

ORLOB: Yes. And there's vehicles underneath those cars.

BOLDUAN: Can you -- what types of vehicles? There were cars -- are they crushed by them or impacted by them? What did you see?

ORLOB: Crushed. There appeared to be -- it looked like a semi and a passenger truck that was underneath, the whole front end smashed in. I mean it was a brief moment but that's what it looked like to me.

BOLDUAN: Just must be terrifying.

Did you see anyone -- did you see anyone that seemed injured? Did you see any people walking about when you were there?

ORLOB: There were people getting out of their cars that were stuck in traffic. That's all I could see. There were no first responders there when I was there, but just an incredible amount of first responders headed that way as we continued down the freeway. We knew it was bad.

BOLDUAN: When you came upon it, were they already dangling off or did you hear anything?

ORLOB: They were already dangling off. I imagine if we hadn't stopped to get gas we probably would have been there when it happened.

BOLDUAN: The images that are coming in, very limited images right now, are really terrifying, just seeing this kind of overpass bridge and theses cars. We know it's a passenger train. Dangling off. I can only imagine what went through your mind when you saw this, when you came upon this.

ORLOB: Like I said, it's sobering for the casual conversation we had been having previously. We were talking about how it looks like something that you would see on a TV show, not something you see in real life.

BOLDUAN: And we did get in and was just reporting that sheriff's office is tweeting out that there are injuries and casualties reported. Of course, we don't know the extent of this, what exactly that means, because sometimes casualties just mean injured and sometimes it means far worse. We don't want to read into it until we know much more.


BOLDUAN: But from what you saw, would you be surprised if there were some extensive injuries after this?

ORLOB: Not at all. Especially from the vehicles that appeared to be underneath the train cars, underneath. The train cars seemed, I would say, mostly intact from what I could see, but the cars underneath were pretty broken.

BOLDUAN: All right. Danae Orlob, thank you for getting on with us. I really appreciate it.

We'll bring you much more. A lot more is coming in on what is playing out in Pierce County, Washington, up in Washington State. We'll bring you this right after a break.


[11:52:18] BOLDUAN: We are continuing to follow breaking news, to give you an update. There has been a passenger train derailment in Pierce County, Washington State. The sheriff's department in Pierce County is reporting injuries and casualties. You can see what is so troubling about this. It's a partial derailment. If you drop the banner, you can see that part of the train has derailed and is hanging over -- onto Interstate 5 in Pierce County. From the eyewitnesses we have spoken to on the phone this hour, they say there are cars and even a semi that is crushed underneath part of the train. It is a passenger train. Emergency crews are on the scene as we speak. This is ongoing. This is a busy highway, I-5, Washington State. This is continuing to unfold. The sheriff's department saying there are injuries and casualties. Numbers to be reported. A media staging area is being set up as we speak, and they will update everyone on the very latest on this. We will stay close to this, as you can see. It would be very, very dangerous. And a very troubling situation playing out in Washington State. We will bring you an update as soon as we get it from the sheriff's department on those injured and casualties and what it means for everyone right now.

We are also following this. A short time from now, a huge moment for the president and administration. President Trump will be laying out his America First strategy for U.S. national security.

Let's get a preview on what it means, and it will look like. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

Kaitlan, what are we expecting to hear from the president?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we are expecting the president to try to define his national security strategy and how it all fits in with the America First vision he ran on during the campaign. Today, we are not expecting a lot of surprises, but we are going to see him generally outline how America First really works on a global scale.

A few takeaways that administration officials briefed reporters on yesterday during a preview of the speech is that he is going to label China and Russia as the revisionist powers, saying they are trying to change the status quo of the world. But also two countries that can be competitors in some areas and partners in the other.

We know with China, specifically, the administration has tried to strike that balance between hitting them for the trade imbalance and also needing Beijing's help for confronting North Korea and their growing arsenal.

With Russia, there are areas where they say American and Russian interests align and areas where the interests directly conflict. They made reference to the occupation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. But we have also seen Vladimir Putin and Trump enjoy a cozy relationship lately with Putin calling Trump days ago to thank him for some CIA intelligence that helped foil a planned terror plot in Russia. Certainly, the administration officials who briefed up on this speech said there will not be a direct reference to Russian meddling in the presidential election, but more of a vague reference to the resilience of American democracy.

Kate, the third and biggest key take away from the speech is they do not believe that climate change is a national security threat. That's a direct reversal of what the Obama administration said when they said it was a growing and urgent threat to security.

We are expecting the biggest take away that President Trump will say today is economic security is national security -- Kate?

[11:55:43] BOLDUAN: Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thanks so much, Kaitlan.

Let me give more perspective on this from CNN global affairs analyst and former deputy national security adviser under President Obama, Tony Blinken.

Great to see you, Tony. Thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Kaitlan laid out a preview pretty well, but, first and foremost, this is the first time the president will be laying out this congressionally mandated national security strategy. How big of a moment is this for the president and the administration?

BLINKEN: Kate, I worked on a few of these in the past myself, and we used to joke that rarely have so many worked for so long on a document to be read by so few. Typically, these things don't get a lot of attention. This one probably will because I think there is a lot curiosity to see if there is some coherence behind what seems to be an incoherent and ad hoc foreign policy over the last year. So there will be a lot of attention to paid to it.

I think, based on what we already know -- and I haven't seen the full document -- but based on what Kaitlan just reported, there are a couple of contradictions at the heart of this. Talking about China and Russia as our main competitors, there is a lot of truth to that. Yet, the administration in practice has removed some of the most important tools it would have to deal with some of the competitive aspects of the relationship. The president tore up the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. That was our most effective tool in creating a much more balanced playing field with China on trade. And when it comes to Russia, as far as I can tell, there is very little in the strategy about the biggest threat posed to us, and that's cyberattacks on our democracy and our election.

BOLDUAN: Well --

BLINKEN: The president continues to reject the fact that there was even an attack.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan laid that out. She said, from the briefing they had, there will be no direct reference to meddling. I don't know if that's necessarily surprising at all considering the president's -- how he demurred on the question over and over again.


BOLDUAN: But should that be in a document like this?

BLINKEN: It should be front and center. What's so striking and what we have been learning again and again and again is instead of dealing with Russia on this problem, instead of confronting it, the president rejects the reality on the attack on our election and the attack on our democracy. There has not been a single cabinet-level meeting on this threat. And, Kate, this is not about relitigating the 2016 election. It's about protecting 2018 and 2020. The administration is taking no steps to protect our elections going forward. Worse than that, at the same time, every time the president tears down the FBI or Mueller or any of our institutions, he is doing Mr. Putin's bidding. It's exactly what Putin was were trying to do in our elections, and that's sow doubt about the credibility and legitimacy of our institutions. The president's ongoing collusion with Russia's plans is really striking, intentional or not.

BOLDUAN: Let us see what the president lays out today.

Tony, thank you always for coming in. I appreciate it.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

On a personal note, everyone, this will be my last day here before we welcome baby two into the world. I will, of course, be sure to share the big news with you when it happens. But please just hold down the fort while I'm away. I'll be back soon enough.

We'll have much more on the breaking news coming out of Washington with "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King. It starts right after a quick break.