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Republican Senators Getting Rich Off Tax Bill?; House Passes Historically Unpopular Republican Tax Bill; Train Derailment Investigation. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 16:30   ET



RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Investigators are now focused on the crew controlling the train and whether human error caused the deadly derailment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was like being inside an exploding bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was this body lying there. I mean, it was -- he had -- hardly had any clothes on. The clothes had just been ripped off him. And he was obviously dead.

MARSH: While investigators have not determined the cause, Amtrak's CEO says positive train control was not activated when the derailment happened.

PTC is a technology which automatically slows down and eventually stops a train if it senses it's going too fast. Sound Transit, the company that owns the tracks, says the technology will be fully implemented by next spring.

One of NTSB's board members blamed politics for the delay.

BELLA DINH-ZARR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: We have recommended PTC for decades, in fact, some form of PTC. And it actually was mandated, but, unfortunately, the deadline was moved farther into the future. And every year that we wait to implement PTC to its fullest extent means that more people are going to be killed and injured.

MARSH: The derailment happened during the inaugural ride of Amtrak's new route between Seattle and Portland. Just weeks before, the mayor of Lakewood, Washington, near where the accident happened, warned this high-speed rail service would cause deaths.

DON ANDERSON, MAYOR OF LAKEWOOD, WASHINGTON: Come back when there is an accident and try to justify not putting in these safety enhancements. Or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens.


MARSH: Well, now the focus turns to the crew and their experience. The NTSB hopes to have all their interviews completed within the next day or so.

Of course, Jake, they're going for want to know everything from how much sleep did they get the night before to how just familiar they were with these tracks.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: After the crash yesterday, President Trump's first tweet touted the need for his infrastructure plan. He got some heat for that for not immediately recognizing obviously the victims.

But today we're learning something else, that the tweet may not have been factually on target, that infrastructure might not have actually been an issue here.

MARSH: Right.

So there is so much to unpack there. Number one, the president still has not unveiled what his infrastructure plan is one year in. It's also at this point we don't know if infrastructure played a role at all. At this point, we know that speed was indeed a factor.

Whether we can take it a step further to say infrastructure, we just simply don't know. But even if we say, look, PTC, positive train control, that technology that would slow down a train, that is technically considered infrastructure, if you wanted to make that argument.

Sarah Sanders was asked about this today in the press briefing. She was essentially asked would the president speed up the implementation of this technology? And she deflected, essentially saying let's what and see what caused the crash in the first place, so not quite sure what the president was saying in that tweet. It's just too early to tell.

TAPPER: It's heartbreaking that after the PTC-related crash in Philly that this would happen two years later. More unnecessary victims. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

Republicans keep saying their tax overhaul will benefit every American, but which Republican members of Congress might actually benefit the most themselves personally? We're going to discuss that next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our panel and the breaking news in politics, Republicans on the verge of their first major legislative win of the year.

The Senate is now debating the Republican tax bill, not only fulfilling a Republican promise to overhaul the U.S. tax system, but also making good on a pledge to repeal the mandate part of Obamacare, removing the penalty for those who don't purchase health insurance. Of course, that is, of course, predicted to increase premiums.

Let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

Phil, you're hearing right now about some issues in the Senate bill that might require another House vote. What is happening?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Jake.

The Republican leadership in the House just sending a notice out to their members that they will have to revote on the tax bill tomorrow morning and that's because of Senate budget rules.

This is the reconciliation process, the process that allows them to pass something through the Senate with a simple majority, the only way the Republicans could actually move through this process. But there are several provisions, small provisions, technical corrections, mainly, Senate aides tell me, that will have to be stripped out of that bill because of those budget rules.

That means what the House passed won't be the final bill. The Senate will still vote tonight on the provision. It's not expected to slow up the process anymore in the extent that it's going to sink it, but it does mean despite Speaker Ryan's big gavel down of the tax victory earlier today, the House is going to have to vote again.

Now, in terms of what these actual details are, some of them are related to an amendment related to 529 plans that Ted Cruz got into the bill. A piece of that does not jibe with the reconciliation rules. There a couple of details here.

But, again, two key points here, the House will have to vote again, it will vote on Wednesday morning. The expectation is there will still be a signing ceremony at some point Wednesday afternoon at the White House.

But several technical provisions will have to be stripped out. That means the Senate vote tonight will not be the final vote. The House vote tomorrow morning will be the final vote.

So, it's still on track to pass the tax bill. Just going to have to wait a couple hours longer for Republicans at this point -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us, thank you.

Joining me now is David Sirota. He's a senior investigations editor at "The International Business Times." He looked into Republican senators who might be able to personally benefit from this legislation.

David, thanks for joining us.

You specifically looked at Republican senators who could make money off a provision that could benefit real estate companies, among others. You came up with a pretty extensive list.


DAVID SIROTA, "INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES": Yes, there are about 14 Republican senators -- that's about a quarter of the Senate Republican Conference -- that have investments in LLCs and real estate-related partnership investments in which they stand to make big money off a provision inserted into the bill in the conference committee, a provision that hadn't been passed in the House or the Senate, that delivers a big tax cut for people who have basically LLCs that don't employ a lot of people, but have a lot of real estate in them.

Fourteen of the Republican senators voting tonight will be voting on a provision that could enrich them personally.

TAPPER: Their pushback to your reporting is that a lot of Republican senators, including Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, have been pushing pretty publicly for more benefits for LLCs and pass-throughs, saying it will benefit small businesses and it doesn't have to do with their own personal investments.

SIROTA: Well, but the problem with that argument is that the Senate bill originally had protections in it to direct these tax cuts to LLCs that actually employ people.

What happened at the end of the conference in the negotiations is they added a provision in to specifically help LLCs that have -- that don't employ people to get those tax cuts.

So let's talk about Bob Corker. He made $7 million -- up to $7 million last year on those kinds of real estate LLCs. He voted against the original Senate bill, which restricted tax cuts on LLCs to only those basically that pay good wages.

Then -- so he votes against that bill. Then they add the provision in allowing someone like him to get a tax cut on that income, and what do you know, suddenly, he flips his vote. He says he's going to vote for the bill. That's what happened.

TAPPER: Senator Corker pushed back on your initial reporting suggesting his yes vote was tied to this provision. Take a listen.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I had nothing whatsoever to do with any provision whatsoever in this bill. And, you know, the people who are the tax writers have said that.

So, look, it's -- it's the way this place has become. And, obviously, it's sort of assassination, if you will, but it's not just true.


TAPPER: He's saying he had nothing to do with the provision and the people who were writing the tax provisions have said that he had nothing to do with it, it's just not true. Your response?

SIROTA: Well, I mean, we don't know whether he asked for something or not, he specifically.

Here's what we know. Orrin Hatch put in a provision in the conference that hadn't been voted on in the House or the Senate, a provision that could enrich 14 Republican senators, including Bob Corker. We know that John Cornyn went on ABC News and was asked, why was this provision put in the bill, the Texas senator?

And his direct response was they were trying to cobble together the votes for this bill.

So, did Cornyn change -- excuse me -- Corker change because suddenly a provision appears to enrich him? It's hard to know. All we can say for sure is that a provision was inserted at the last minute in this bill that will -- could potentially seriously enrich the Republican senators who are voting on it.

TAPPER: David Sirota, reading the fine print and following the money.

Thank you so much, sir. Appreciate your time.

SIROTA: Thank you.

TAPPER: Lots more to talk about, including, he was once the Republican Party's nominee for president. But you would be surprised which political party is embracing Senator John McCain these days.

We will discuss with my panel next. Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with politics and my panel. Let's talk about this new reporting on the President's views about Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. The Washington Post first reported, CNN has confirmed, that during the confirmation process, President Trump was upset that that Gorsuch didn't show enough gratitude for his being nominated and also that he distanced himself in private meetings with Democratic Senators from the President's attacks on the Judiciary, and that he almost -- he discussed -- I don't know how close he actually came but he discussed pulling back, rescinding the nomination. Obviously, loyalty is very important to President Trump.


TAPPER: But this is -- this is pretty surprising that he discussed how upset he was with Gorsuch and that he talked about rescinding it.

SANDERS: Is it, though? I mean, look, Donald Trump has shown himself to be a person that if he does not believe you are totally120 percent in for him, he won't be a hundred -- not even five percent in for you. So it's not shocking to me at all that he couldn't necessarily prove Justice Gorsuch's -- now Justice Gorsuch loyalty. That he didn't know necessarily what kind of person he was. Donald Trump has demonstrated he's very much still concerned about people's ties to him and how they will do what he wants them to do. So I'm not shocked at all. Shocker that he has an attitude. JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: it also showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the judicial branch and what he was nominating Gorsuch to do. He wasn't nominating him to be his guy on the Supreme Court. That's not how to works. Then either it wasn't explained to him or he didn't care to hear that. But what Gorsuch was doing was actually pretty common practice, which was separating himself from a President who had said a lot of inflammatory things about the judicial branch. That -- and I think it also mattered who he said it to. He said it to Dick Blumenthal, Senator Blumenthal, who Trump does not have a good relationship with.

TAPPER: Yes, and then he went out and shared the story.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I agree with all of that. I think it was a little bit of it was ego, a little bit was a lack of fundamental understanding. So I think all of that was right. I think the big problem here was that you actually could have had Gorsuch get more Democratic votes, I really believe that in a sense that he showed his independence as part of the judicial branch and also sent a message that this is somebody that has great judicial qualifications and also will be an independent voice. And you may have gotten a Blumenthal or maybe a Heidi Heitkamp or Joe Manchin to support him. And in the end, you had to use the nuclear option. So it was a missed opportunity.

[16:50:16] TAPPER: I want to point out another interesting finding in the CNN Poll. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain is vastly more popular among Democrats than he is among Republicans. 68 percent favorability rating among Democrats, underwater, 46 percent favorable among Republicans. This is a guy who was the Republican Presidential Nominee and pretty much has like 90 percent, 95 percent voting record with President Trump, very conservative, except for that one health care vote.

SANDERS: I mean, people like him personally. It also doesn't necessarily hurt that you've got former Vice President Joe Biden making the rounds on television saying just how much he and John McCain are pals or friends. You know, John McCain was somebody who was attacked by Donald Trump. So it doesn't surprise me that people like John McCain personally, but when you talk about his voting record, yes, I mean, he's lock and step with the Republican Party.

TAPPER: But what's interesting about this is that you hear from -- I talk to Republican Senators who are willing to distance themselves from President Trump on occasion, and this is a problem for them in their home districts. They have this -- Democrats like them, Independents like them, but Republicans are turning against them because they think they're not loyal enough to President Trump.

MADDEN: Well, first of all, absence always makes the heart grow fonder, right? I mean, I can't tell you how many times people said how much respect they have for Mitt Romney. And these are all former Democrats that were out there attacking him in 2012.

TAPPER: Accusing him of murder. MADDEN: Yes, but you're right. We -- now that we have so many of the most active partisans in each party so polarized, that does become a problem, which is where is the incentive to sort of occupy the big middle? The only time -- unfortunately right now we see the leaders that do occupy that is usually when they're not up for reelection or have announced their retirement. And that's problematic right now.

KUCINICH: You've seen -- you've seen a little bit of the backlash. Susan Collins is someone who Democrats have sort of rallied around because of her stand against what the Republicans are trying to do with healthcare, but --

SANDERS: I mean, she left us hanging on the tax bill.

KUCINICH: See, case in point.

TAPPER: But she's not -- but she's a Republican. Why would you expect her to vote your way on the tax bill?

SANDERS: You know, I just expected her to vote for the people. And I think that's what got Democrat so riled up and fired up about Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski around the Healthcare bill because they were willing to do what was in the best interests of their constituents. And when we talk about the tax bill, a bill that those 13 million makes them lose health coverage. 83 percent of the benefits go to the to the top one percent. That's not something that's "for the people of Maine." You know that everyday regular Joes, they're going to lose in this tax bill. So we assumed that Senator Collins would not necessarily be on our side but on the side of the people. And when she wasn't we're kind of like, all right, we got you.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the tax bill for a second. So we're talking about this during the break and I thought that was an opportunity that President Trump could have taken to get the corporate tax rate down significantly, but also what if he had taken away the Democratic talking point that you just -- that you just mentioned. What if the majority of the tax cuts went to people who made under $250,000 a year? What if he had pushed that through? Steve Bannon at one point when he was in the White House was talking about actually increasing the top rate to 44 percent for people who make more than $5 million a year. What if there was a more of a "populist bill," wouldn't that might have been something that might have helped Trump?

MADDEN: Well, there are benefits there for small businesses and middle-income earners. But I think the problem there is where -- would you be able to get the votes inside a Republican Conference to do that? And this became a very partisan process where you ultimately had to rely just on just Republican votes to get it done. I don't think -- I'm actually pretty skeptical that any bill this President would sign into law would get any Democratic votes. So you're not going to be able to do it with a bipartisan majority. You're going to have to do it with a Republican -- straight Republican vote. And I don't know if you would actually have enough Republicans that would be willing to vote for an increase in the top -- in the top rate. KUCINICH: But in fairness, when it comes to Republicans having to go

it alone, the President hasn't really done any outreach to Chuck and Nancy as he calls them that's meaningful, that has actually -- and you know, to some Republicans as well. He's chosen to insult them and kind of demean them rather than try to bring them into the fold. And we'll have to see -- and this could come back to bite him in something that they won't have Republicans behind like infrastructure.

SANDERS: And in they want to save the DREAMers, I'm sure Democrats would be glad to be on board with that.

TAPPER: Everyone thanks so much. Stick around. It's the Disney display that everyone is talking about, even White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. That's next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: And we're back with the "TECH LEAD." Today, Donald Trump finally took his place in the pantheon of American Presidents at Walt Disney World. The park today unveiled its life- size and electronic version of President Trump at the Hall of Presidents exhibits. Disney's robotic replica of the 45th president might not have the same (INAUDIBLE) as the real version but this one might be better at sticking to a script.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Above all, to be American is to be an optimist. To believe that we can always do better and that the best days of our great nation are still ahead of us.


TAPPER: The lifelike figure is already drawing some laughs online. Some wiseacres have pointed out its resemblance to actor Jon Voight in the late era, like the anaconda days. We should mention, Jon Voight is a big supporter of President Trump's, so maybe it's an honor. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, he's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.