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House GOP to Vote on Disaster Aid Package; House to Vote on Tax Overhaul Bill; Sarah Palin's Son Arrested for Attacking Father. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:39] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: New developments in the Puerto Rico disaster relief effort. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Housing Secretary Ben Carson heading to the territory today to assess the recovery from Hurricane Maria as House Republicans look to approve an $81 billion disaster aid package for areas hit by hurricanes and wildfires.

Joining us now, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, of New York, fighting for more help for the island since Hurricane Maria devastated the area three months ago.

As I understand it, Congresswoman, you were there about three weeks ago. What do you want the secretary to see today?

REP. NYDIA VELAZQUEZ, (D), NEW YORK: I would like for the secretary to go to the rural areas where the devastation is evident and go out and get out of the metropolitan area. When President Trump went to Puerto Rico, he remained in San Juan, the metropolitan area. It didn't offer a vision of the devastation the Puerto Ricans were facing after the hurricane.

HILL: As you know, and you have called for yourself in a letter to the GAO, to take a look at hurricane related deaths in Puerto Rico, the official death toll stands at 64, but yesterday, the governor saying he wants a recount here. Our own investigation here at CNN found that number could be far, far higher. Why is it important that there be a reaccounting here? Why is it important that that number be something different?

VELAZQUEZ: Well, the people of Puerto Rico deserve to know the real facts in terms of the number of people that were killed, that died as a result of Hurricane Maria. You have to remember that Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean and far away from the United States. Here is where we take decisions and make decisions that will impact the kind of resources that will be provided. So when President Donald Trump went to Puerto Rico, he bragged about the fact that only 16 people -- that that was the official death toll, and it sends the wrong message in terms of the truly devastation that Puerto Rico is facing as a result of Maria. So it is important for members of Congress and the Trump administration to have the facts, to understand the numbers and it is important for everyone to know that there is a process in place when any natural disaster strikes, not only in Puerto Rico, but even here in the mainland, the same debate took place right after New Orleans and Katrina. So this is why it's important that we have an independent review and analysis by the general accounting office so that we could put procedures in place that will help government and local governments do a count that really reflects what happened.

HILL: Hurricane Maria, of course, one of a number of disasters that struck the United States over these past few months and this past year. This $81 billion aid package that's been proposed, are you happy with it?

VELAZQUEZ: Well, it is not enough. As we all know the governor of Puerto Rico requested $94 billion. Right here we have 81 among the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, California, Texas, Florida, and it doesn't provide a cost-sharing waiver for Puerto Rico. We all know that the government of Puerto Rico is insolvent and then on top of that, it doesn't do anything to address the Medicaid. If we don't address the Medicaid issue that Puerto Ricans are facing, more than 1 million Puerto Ricans will be without health insurance at a time when the hospital system in Puerto Rico is not working properly, when electricity is a problem, more than 40 percent of the island still continues to be without electricity. So I need to hear from the Republican leadership that this is a down payment, that they will come back with another relief package.

HILL: So you want them to come back with more. I want to shift quickly to the tax reform bill. You will be voting today. This is the largest tax reform bill as you know in more than 30 years. We have heard a lot about how Democrats were not part of the process. But this is important to all Americans. Did Democrats really push hard enough to be a part of that process and put aside party lines?

[11:35:23] VELAZQUEZ: Well, when you have a legislative product like this legislation, that basically represents the largest transfer of wealth to the 1 percent, the wealthiest 1 percent in America, and just basically denying an opportunity for 80 million people that will be hit with a tax increase, there's not much to do. And be used to work in a bipartisan way. When you have a product that's partisan like this that's not going to address the issues that all Americans are expecting from the United States Congress, this is a bad bill, it's a tax scam that will raise taxes on most of the working families and the middle class.


VELAZQUEZ: And it's going to take money away from Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare. And it will explode the deficit of our nation. So much for fiscal responsibility.

HILL: Congresswoman, we're going to have to leave it there, as we heard from the speaker earlier, he believes that we will see in the results that the taxpayers will see in the results it is a solid plan for the American people. We will be watching.

Appreciate your time.

VELAZQUEZ: Thank you.

HILL: Well, as we were just talking about, Republicans now, of course, just hours away from casting those first votes on their bill to overhaul the tax code. This comes, though, as the bill faces growing opposition. A majority of Americans see it as solely benefiting the wealthy.


[11:41:22] HILL: Just hours away from House lawmakers first votes on the Republican tax bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan already, though, taking something of a victory lap.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We know this is going to help people, we know this is going to grow our economy and most of all help the people struggling in his country. That's why we're very excited about this historic day.


HILL: The speaker very excited, but a new CNN poll shows most Americans are not and don't believe that. Two-thirds see the bill as doing more to benefit the wealthy than middle class.

Joining me to dive in, two CNN commentators, Margaret Hoover, who worked on George W. Bush's political staff, and Keith Boykin, a former Clinton White House aide.

The president is calling this a big, beautiful Christmas present. Great way for him to tie up 2018, following through on a campaign promise.

Margaret, 66 percent of those polled say this is a gift only for the wealthy. There's a problem there in the messaging, isn't there if.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There is a problem in the messaging. Because if you look at middle-income earners, several independent -- like the tax policy center group look at this and median income holders between, you know, $48,000 a year to $86,000, if that's what you're making next year, 90 percent of people in that tax bracket will get a tax cut. It is a messaging problem not a policy problem.


HILL: A tax cut that won't last. That's the other issue for people.

HOOVER: Precisely. They will get the tax cut that year but in ten years a smaller percentage of that 90 percent will see a tax cut. All of these things are -- the sausage gets made in Washington in an incredibly ugly way and as that tinkering process is going on, the trading, the Corker handout and then the not Corker handout, all of these things that happen, you ultimately often forget the messaging component and how it's being reported to mats. You need two parallel projects of communicating what you want to achieve and building popularity in the public while also hammering out the details of the bill which is the difficult part.

HILL: It is a difficult part as we know, the sausage is never pretty, that we know.

The Democrats are running with it saying we didn't have a hand this, we couldn't do anything. That seems like a cop out. Could Democrats have tried a little harder here?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Tried to do what? To influence the bill? Republicans have decided they don't want the Democrats to influence the bill, they don't want the Democrats' amendments, involvement in the process. They're ramming this through without any sort of legislative regular order. There's no hearings about this. This is a bill that is historically unpopular. This is more unpopular than Obamacare ever was. It's less popular even in Bill Clinton's tax increase. What do you have to do to make a tax cut less popular than a tax increase? Here's what you have to do. Do something that's so corrupt you're giving away tax breaks to people like Bob Corker and the Corker kickback, something helping people like Donald Trump and wealthy real estate developers. You have to do something that is tilt and skewed primarily toward the wealthy. 83 percent of those tax cuts will only help the top 1 percent in ten years. Meanwhile, two-thirds of people who are middle class will see their taxes increase. So the tax cuts that you see for the wealthy don't expire but the tax cuts for the middle class do expire. That's exactly showing what the priorities are for the Republican Party.

HILL: Margaret is chomping at the bit.

HOOVER: Let's not pretend this problem of policy making getting really dirty and doing deals in order to get votes there doesn't happen to both Republicans and Democrats. When you're passing massive and comprehensive legislation it happened in the Affordable Care Act, that's how it got passed.

[11:45:12] BOYKIN: When did they --


HOOVER: Also for Senator --


HOOVER: It was health care. They did that. That's how health care got passed in the Senate in 2009. We can go back and look and that's exactly how they were able to get it.

BOYKIN: And somebody gave their vote because they got a benefit that personally --


HOOVER: And then Democrats lost the seat in Massachusetts because it became a national referendum.

BOYKIN: I don't know that --


HILL: Go ahead.

HOOVER: I mean the point is, it is ugly, we can disagree on the policy, maybe we agree more than disagree because this bill is not that popular with Republicans and that's where the Republicans have dropped the ball on this. They have focused too much on the policy, by the way, not done the things that they promised conservative movement conservatives have promised for 30 years to the base and they're delivering something entirely different which is part of why this what is you see in the numbers as well is that this bill is a different kind of tax reform than the Republican Party has espoused for the last 30 years as well.

HILL: Which brings up a number of other questions, but ones that have been debated and be honest, this is basically a done deal here. We're going to have the vote. The votes are there to pass it. It is here.

But as we move forward, and we look at these numbers in the polling, there's also a question of the appetite of what comes next. The president is pointing to things as a win, big, beautiful Christmas present and following through on a campaign promise. That happened.

That being said, is this momentum moving forward to get other things done because when we look at the list of priorities, infrastructure, for example, which the president is tweeting about yesterday, Democrats could get on board for that and lead a bipartisan effort for that.

BOYKIN: Yes. The problem is, this bill is designed to do two things, reward donors essentially the first thing --


HILL: Takes a major hit on donors. That's inaccurate.


BOYKIN: Well let me finish my point before you attack my point? It's designed to reward donors.


HILL: Go ahead.

BOYKIN: As to awards, Chris Collins of New York admitted as much. Republican donors want this to happen. It's designed to give Trump and the Republicans a win. They have no legislative accomplishments. They need something to call a win. What Trump wants more than anything else. Regardless of whether it's an unpopular bill. They will live to regret this. It won't give them an impetus to help on infrastructure. Democrats could be on board if it's done road and involve them in the process. Democrats have been fighting for that for years. Barack Obama was fighting for that. But Republicans in Congress were opposed to increased infrastructure spending. Interesting to see the hypocritical shifts that take place in 2018. This will be a bad look for Republicans, they will rue the day they supported this bill.


HOOVER: One point you're right --


BOYKIN: One point?

HOOVER: And that I will grant you is that they will regret it because actually where you're wrong and right is that --


BOYKIN: I'm wrong and right.

HOOVER: Republican donors are getting slammed. Republican donors who live on the coast in California, the really deep pocketed ones who fund the presidential campaigns, all the independent expenditures --

HILL: High-tax areas.

HOOVER: The states that have the SALT, in New York and California, getting gutted, and angry at the Republican Party because of all the things they expected even if they did not like Trump they didn't expect their taxes to go up.

BOYKIN: An estate tax deduction, pass-through deduction, deductions --


HOOVER: Most are not eligible for pass-throughs.

BOYKIN: All the other deductions that benefit the wealthy, some cases --


BOYKIN: --they offset the increase in the SALT --


HILL: We have to leave it there.

Here's the good news, we'll get to keep debating for a while --


HILL: -- after it passes because people will continue weighing in.

Keith, Margaret, good to see you both. Thank you.

The son of former Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, facing charges over a violent confrontation with his father. The shocking details just ahead.


[11:53:22] HILL: New details about a disturbing drama within former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's family. Her 28-year-old son, Track -- on the far left, in the dark shirt -- is in custody, accused of beating up his father, Todd Palin, over the weekend. Court documents state Sarah Palin said her son was, quote, "freaking out."

Ryan Nobles is following the story from Washington.

Ryan, what happened here?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, that description that Sarah Palin gave of her son describing him as freaking out after he was arrested for breaking into their family home and attacking his father. According to the court documents, which you mentioned, Track Palin, the oldest son of the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, broke a window to get into the house and assaulted his father, Todd. It happened after Track called Todd asking to use his truck and Todd told him no. The fight left the father bloodied. At one point, Track called the responding officers "peasants." He climbed up on the top of the roof of the family garage. He was arrested on three changes, including assault. His mother said he was on some type of medication and the court documents said that Track told police he drank beer earlier in the day.

Erica, Track had run-ins with the law before. He was arrested in 2016. He was changed with domestic violence involving a female and a weapons charge -- Erica?

HILL: And after that happened in 2016, Sarah Palin referenced time served overseas and references PTSD. Is she speaking now?

[11:54:55] NOBLES: They are not talking about this incident specifically, and whether or not that has anything to do with the post-traumatic stress disorder that Sarah Palin was talking about. He served in Iraq. When Sarah Palin talked about his service in Iraq, it was during a campaign event for-then-Candidate Donald Trump.

At this point, the family is staying quiet about this incident. A statement provided by their attorney to one of the affiliates in Alaska asks for privacy as they deal with this specific family issue. No specific connection between PTSD and this particular incident, Erica. We do know this is something that Track has suffered with in the past.

HILL: Ryan, appreciate it. Thank you.

NOBLES: Thank you.

HILL: We are keeping an eye on Capitol Hill. Republicans calling this a historic day. Just hours away from passing that landmark tax reform bill. What will happen in the Senate? And when will it hit the president's desk? That's next.