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CNN NEWSROOM

CNN Poll: Trump's Approval Drops To 35 Percent; CNN Poll: 66 Percent Say GOP Bill Benefits Wealthy; CNN: Trump Expects Letter Of Exoneration From Mueller; GOP Hours Away from Passing Tax Reform; Wrecked Train Doing 80 in a 30-Mile-Per-Hour Zone. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: For a special surprise. Michael got the Xbox and a few other gifts even though they gave away all the blankets. Michael remembers his family's hard times when he was the one borrowing a blanket. It's why he's taking the lead and spreading holiday warmth.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: When I get home today, my kids are grounded.

CUOMO: The -- he wanted the family to spend the money on others, that's Christmas, that's the holiday spirit.

CAMEROTA: And that's our show for today. Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. So this isn't what America had on its Christmas list after all.

New this morning signs that Christmas president that the president promised the country, a tax bill, is not what the country actually wants. The House is expected to pass a bill this afternoon but it is a bill that is getting less popular, it seems, by the day.

HARLOW: That's right. A brand-new CNN poll this morning shows 55 percent of you out there oppose it. That is an increase of 10 points of negativity from just last month.

MJ Lee is on Capitol Hill.

And MJ, it's also notable that sort of the opposition to this has grown in every group, Democrats, Republicans and independents from a month ago but this thing is going through, it looks like.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. That's certainly the reality here, but I think the bigger reality at least for today and tomorrow is that this is about to be a major legislative and political victory for Republicans.

I first want to talk about timing here. The House is expected to take up their bill sometime this afternoon and as quickly as possible the Senate will take up its bill and have its vote over on the Senate, and the ultimate goal is to have something on President Trump's desk by tomorrow.

Now this is a big deal for two big reasons, one, of course, is simply the fact that this is going to be a major overhaul of the tax code. This is essentially something that will affect everyone across the board regardless of where you live, regardless of how much income you make, and the second, just politically speaking, Republicans very badly want a political win right now. Remember for the first half of this year they tried and failed to repeal Obamacare. It's not something that they were able to accomplish.

And now as we approach the end of the year, this tax reform bill is something that they really want to put on the scoreboard. Now even the Republicans who are supportive of the tax bill will acknowledge that this is far from perfect. As you alluded to, this is not a popular bill at least according to polls and the perception out there that this helps more corporate America than the middle class.

This is something that Republican lawmakers are aware of and so even though they are expecting a big victory this week, they also know that they have also spent a lot of political capital to get this done.

BERMAN: So, MJ, every Republican who can count as counted that they have the votes to get this through.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: Today in the House, tonight or tomorrow in the Senate. Nevertheless, the Vice President Mike Pence has postponed a trip to the Middle East to stay back just in case. You know, is his vote, does it matter here?

LEE: Look, it's important because Republicans really, really do not want to leave anything to chance. And I think it's a sign and a reminder that in the Senate the Republicans have such a slim majority. Another reminder, when the health care vote was happening back this summer, the Senate health care bill, the repeal Obamacare bill, failed by just one vote.

This is something that a lot of Republicans have thought back on, and even though they say that they are confident right now, that nothing could go wrong in the Senate, I think Vice President Pence being there because he could be the tie breaker vote if it came down it. He is there really as an insurance policy.

A couple of the Senate Republicans that leadership have been watching very closely includes Susan Collins and Mike Lee. They both said yes yesterday on voting for this bill. John McCain obviously will not be here. Thad Cochran has also some health issues. So again this is just a sign that they do not want to take anything to chance as they expect victory sometime tomorrow.

BERMAN: All right, MJ Lee, for us on Capitol Hill. We are not done talking about this, not even close.

Joining us now, CNN's politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza. Chris, 55 percent of Americans say they oppose this tax bill in our

latest polling.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes.

BERMAN: That is greater opposition than it was just a month ago and as Poppy was noting before, that opposition growing across all groups. What does that tell you?

CILLIZZA: It tells you you're making a gigantic gamble if you're the Republican Party. As MJ said, look, they view this -- the mood in Washington is optimistic. They view this as a win. This is '81 Reagan tax cuts, 2001 Bush tax cuts, now we're going to have 2017 Trump tax cuts.

It says that you're going to have a big salesmanship effort with a skeptical public. You know, in skepticism that's grown since the bill has gotten more attention. The thing I keep -- I feel like I'm getting old because everything reminds me of something that's already happened --

[09:05:04] BERMAN: And your back hurts.

CILLIZZA: Yes. Yes, also that. This was the exact argument Democrats made when they passed the Affordable Care Act.

HARLOW: Alone.

CILLIZZA: Because well, it's not -- well, it's not popular right now but wait until people see what's in it, they're going to love it.

HARLOW: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Now people did like it more when Republicans tried to get rid of it but that was 10 years on plus in the House and Senate, and a thousand state legislative seats, Democrats along the way.

HARLOW: And now some of it is gone in this tax bill.

BERMAN: Right.

CILLIZZA: Right.

HARLOW: Yes. So OK, you've 4 in 10 Americans almost, 4 in 10 Americans, who say their family is going to be worse off under this. You have 63 percent of Americans who say the president and his family will benefit from this. Do they not get this bill or do they completely understand this bill?

CILLIZZA: Right, so if you're Republican you say, you know, this is just all spin and cable news focusing on the wrong things, and Democrats -- but again, it's the exact same thing that Democrats said about the Affordable Care Act, where everybody is believing the negative stuff. It's a perception issue at minimum as it relates to the bill because it's -- it's what you said, Poppy, it's not just that people don't think it's going to make them better off, is that by a two-thirds margin think it's going to help Donald Trump.

HARLOW: Yes.

CILLIZZA: And perhaps people like him. You have 66 percent of people saying this helps the wealthy more than the middle class.

HARLOW: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Twenty, 30 percent or so saying it helps the middle class more. So the -- you can sell it, I could sell this as a new cell phone, but it has rips on it, right? Like, you could say it's brand new.

BERMAN: Right.

CILLIZZA: Well, there's -- so the perception issue that they start, they do not start in a great place.

BERMAN: It's also just reality, too. I mean, the analysis shows that more of the benefits go to the wealthy.

HARLOW: Yes.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BERMAN: They pay more than taxes, but more go to the wealthy--

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Correct.

HARLOW: That's right. There's no debating those numbers.

CILLIZZA: No.

BERMAN: No. And it is a major corporate tax cut.

All right, the president's approval rating at an all-time low in the CNN polling and a historic low compared to other presidents at this time.

CILLIZZA: And it's not close. 35 percent for Trump. Look, your graphics, people are on it. Right? In '81, Reagan is at 49 percent. OK, 49 percent is very different in your first year than 35 percent.

BERMAN: Right.

CILLIZZA: Forty-nine percent you say well, half the public like me, half don't. 35 percent, it's a third of the public likes you. And again look at the rest of those numbers. You're talking about everyone else in the post-World War II era has had majority approval in the first year, which is a reminder of how different this presidency has been.

This is supposed to be the easiest part. The first year, particularly when you control the House and Senate, same party. This is the year when you get a ton done. You usually don't run into problems with public opinion until second, third, fourth year.

HARLOW: You also usually don't see public opinion so low and the stock market so high and the economy so good.

CILLIZZA: It's remarkable, I think, that usually the president usually get too much credit for the academy when it's good too much explaining is bad, this president --

HARLOW: It's weird.

CILLIZZA: There's a disconnect between economic confidence and even his handling of the economy is not nearly as close to what the economy is doing right now.

HARLOW: Yes. Cillizza, nice to have you here.

CILLIZZA: Glad to be here.

HARLOW: Thank you so much.

All right. Stay with us. We do want to get to that horrible, horrible train crash. Overnight we learned that Amtrak, that train that jumped the tracks in Washington state yesterday morning, was actually going 80 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone. The question is why, how, what happens now?

BERMAN: Yes, the Maiden Voyage of Amtrak Cascades 501 it derailed south of Tacoma. Thirteen of the 14 cars ended up toppled on to Interstate 5. Three people killed and more than 100 others hurt.

CNN's Stephanie Elam there with the very latest -- Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy. We've been out here overnight watching as they continue to work in the driving rain, removing from this one location that you could see where that train was hanging over the overpass. They did use those cranes to move that train and get it back up on the tracks, and then they've moved it off the track, working tirelessly here to figure it out.

And the NTSB saying that it will take seven to 10 days to figure out exactly what happened here, but as you mentioned speed is one of the concerns. There's also this issue about the positive train control, which we have been hearing about that it could have helped in this sort of accident.

Take a listen to what Bella Dinh-Zarr from the National Protection Safety Board had to say about how this technology could have helped.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BELLA DINH-ZARR, NATIONAL PROTECTION SAFETY BOARD: We have recommended the PTC for decades in fact. Some former of PTC, and it absolutely was mandated, but unfortunately the deadline was moved farther into the future. Every year we wait to implement PTC to the fullest extent it means more people will be killed and injured.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELAM: And Dr. Dinh-Zarr talking about how it's been pushed into the future. Well, the federal deadline is for all railways in the country to have that technology implemented by this month next year.

[09:05:00] As for this particularly location we understand from the company that owns the rail they had implemented that technology on the rails but I had not yet been implemented on the trains and it has to work together. They sort of work as a mesh together to make sure that this system is in place to slow down a train when it gets around to slowing, a place where she moves slower, that was expected to happen in the spring -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Stephanie Elam, thank you for being there all night and for that reporting. Again three people died and more than 100 injured.

Joining us now former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, Peter Goelz.

Thank you very much for being here. Eighty miles an hour in a 30- mile-an-hour turn. Now yes, they could go 79 miles an hour before the turn but there was nothing stopping this. I mean, Americans are waking up, scratching their heads thinking how could that happen?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Yes. It's really inexplicable in this day and age that we don't have positive train control on all of the critical at least passenger lines. I mean, Europe is somewhat different in that the majority of the rail lines are state-owned monopolies, and here in the U.S. we have private entities, the sixth major railroads, there are integration problems, but let's be clear, I mean, this really is inexplicable and the engineer is going to face some really tough scrutiny on this.

BERMAN: Yes, inexplicable and inexcusable. I mean, look, you know, again, you're 80 in s 30-mile-an-hour zone on your main voyage. If there's one thing you want to avoid you would think it would be this.

So, Peter, how will they figure out what happened here, what went wrong, even without positive train control? Are we talking about the data recorder, the front looking camera? What will that tell them?

GOELZ: Well, they will look at the event recorders, they pulled them already from the engines. They've downloaded the information, they'll be looking at it today. They'll clearly interview the engineer. They'll interview all of the conductors. They're going to look -- you know, one of the things they're going to look at very carefully is the survivability. You know, were these railcars -- did they function in the accident to protect the occupants as much as they should have?

You know, a number of years ago the FRA backed away from certain crash worthiness regulations that allowed lighter cars to passenger cars to operate. But, you know, the real issue is, this is the third time, you know, where we've had a major accident that could have been prevented by PTC in the last four or five years.

HARLOW: On that point, Stephanie Elam just reported that the -- you know, the legislation to make PTC or positive train control that would have prevented this mandatory got pushed back to the end of next year, a year from now, so going on trains today, tomorrow, next week, a lot of them won't have this.

Do you know why that happened in Congress or what the push was for that or what on earth the thinking could be to delay something like that?

GOELZ: Well, there were a couple of reasons. One was it was a far more complex task than they first imagined. And it was far more expensive. The rail lines have spent upwards of $6 billion to $7 billion putting PTC in place. But still, you know, it really is inexcusable on passenger lines where sometimes they are shared with freight as well that the passengers aren't being protected.

BERMAN: People are dying because this technology is not in place.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: And it is available and out there.

Peter Goelz, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

GOELZ: My pleasure.

BERMAN: White House lawyers meet with the special counsel's team this week. The president wants to get that letter saying that he's cleared in the Russia probe, but it doesn't look like it's wrapping up anytime soon.

President Trump says he is proud of his pick for the Supreme Court, but did he think about taking back the nomination of Neil Gorsuch?

HARLOW: Also, he saw that derailed Amtrak train and he rushed to help, an Eagle Scout crawling through a broken window, who gave first aid to bleeding victims, he'll join us live ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:18:18]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is Tax Day. Paul Ryan is very excited, saying today it's been a decade in the making. You have House Republicans -- yes?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: (Inaudible) workout, he's so excited he's going to like, you know, give it an extra PX.

HARLOW: I asked if he had emojis in his tweets. That's going too far. Anyway, House Republicans say they have the votes. Senate Republicans say they have the votes on this thing right now. That means faster forum. It could be on the president's desk by tomorrow.

BERMAN: All right. Let's talk about what this all means. Joining us now, Chris Cilizza back again. Matt Lewis is with us. Errol Louis is with us. So, tax thing, it's going to happen. I mean, the House will pass it today. The Senate will pass either tonight or tomorrow, the president will sign it. It will be a law next year.

Matt Lewis, the reality, though, is that the president is getting what he wants and getting it with this historically low approval rating. He's at 35 percent. That's the lowest it has ever been in CNN. You know, it's way lower than any other president at this time in his administration. Is there anything that will budge that number and is this significant for the president?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think it is significant. Donald Trump's polling is low for a lot of reasons. I think the least of which is that he's accomplished anything. So, I think his tweets, his demeanor, his personality, all of those things have a lot more to do with his polling than his policy.

I think this is a good thing for Donald Trump. You know, you want to put points on the board. Obviously, we could talk about the merits of this policy, but from a purely political standpoint, Donald Trump now has a chance to finish the year saying we have passed, you know, this landmark tax reform legislation, we got Judge Gorsuch confirmed in the Supreme Court.

[09:20:06] Obviously, if you are a liberal Democrat you are not going to like those things, but if you are a Republican, you are going to like those things, and it's been a crazy year, but Donald Trump actually may finish the year with some pretty good accomplishments.

HARLOW: They also don't buy that polling inside the White House. I mean, some of their top policy folks say we look at our own internal numbers. They tell us what we think is true, not that, you know, whatever, take that for what you will. Errol Louis, here is the thing, it was the president who made a big promise on this tax bill and his treasury secretary, this was their promise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Tax reform will protect the middle income and low-income households, not the wealthy and well connected.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: There will be no tax -- absolute tax cut for the upper class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That's not true. The rhetoric doesn't match the reality and it never will.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And it never will. The wealthy and well connected will do more than just fine, as a matter of fact. But here's the thing, the short form filers are going to double their deduction.

A lot of people in the middle class actually are going to benefit from this. He told something that was partly true and largely untrue, you put them both together and people believe whatever it is they want. Those who see sort of the real benefits in the middle class, they are going to be pretty happy. The wealthy who can just sort of quietly take their winnings and walk away, they don't particularly care that the president may have lied about this.

So, you know, it's going to be tricky. Chris was right a few minutes ago, it's going to be tricky for the Democrats to figure out how to thread this needle and make the case to people that those folks are making out like bandits.

Yes, you got a bigger deduction, but you will have increases in your health care deductions and pay more taxes ten years from now, very tricky political argument.

BERMAN: Matt Lewis is talking about the scoreboard, Chris Cilizza, you know, the banks, Goldman Sachs put out a study that said basically, what, seven largest banks on average will get a 14 percent increase in earnings. They'll largely reinvest in themselves. They won't necessarily reinvest in people and wages may not go up.

How much of what people feel over the neck year will matter in the overall political calculation here, which is to say if the middle class doesn't feel a tax cut or if they do feel it, how much does that matter?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, I've learned my lesson over my years in politics, the perception of how people thing something is working matter matters way more than the actuality of how it is working?

This is why tax cuts are in theory easier politically than health care. With health care, you are changing something that affects a lot of people daily. With tax cuts, you are saying do you like more money, even if it's a dollar more.

I do it all the time, I think, it's 50 cents off, I might have to buy it. It's 50 cents off of $80, and you think I'm getting a deal. There's a mentality that goes with it.

HARLOW: Totally.

CILIZZA: It is a value to say even if it's not enough that you are going to buy a new house --

HARLOW: Right.

CILIZZA: - it's still more than you had, and Donald Trump can say did you like that extra money? But remember, Poppy, what are we societally? We are -- we are --

HARLOW: We are the now.

CILIZZA: Exactly. Sure, down the line won't be great, but that's down the line. That's not in this current paycheck that I have and remember we are talking about the 2018 election, not the 2026 election. HARLOW: There you go, I mean, that won't matter to this president.

CILIZZA: Right.

HARLOW: Errol Louis, 73 percent of folks in our new polling say the president should release his tax returns, news flash, it's not going to happen. But if you look -- 37 percent, though, of Republicans, only 37 percent of Republicans say he should, and 54 percent of Republicans say he should not release them. So, now transparency is a partisan issue?

LOUIS: Yes. Apparently, it is. Look, this is what I think is in some ways unique about Trump as a polarizing figure. No matter what he says or does, once you've established a certain level of tribalism, people will say, well, if the president is doing it, I guess, I'll have to swallow it, no matter how vulgar or obscene, no matter how false his claims are.

No matter what he does and this is truly outrageous with the tax forms. I mean, we simply don't know whether or not he is going to personally enrich himself although there's abundant evidence that that is exactly what is going to happen as a result of the bill that he signs.

BERMAN: But we know enough to know that he will do just fine with this tax bill. Matt Lewis, I want to shift to the Russia investigation, if I can, because the "Washington Post" has a fast- ending story out overnight suggesting that there are folks within the Mueller team that say this investigation could go on for another year until the end of 2018, which is different than the president apparently believes.

He thinks he is getting a letter sometime in the next week or two clearing him of any wrong doing. How much of a problem is that going to be if that letter doesn't come and this investigation drags on?

[09:25:02] LEWIS: Well, I mean, I think Donald Trump and his spokespeople have been saying the whole time that this investigation is about to wrap up, that's it's wrapping up. It never seemed plausible to me.

Clearly, Robert Mueller is engaging in a long process here where he is putting wires on people, you know, and sort of slowly finding out every couple days, every couple of weeks, new information drops.

If Donald Trump truly believes this is about to wrap up, I think he's thoroughly mistaken and will be in for a rude awakening, and of course, that raises the question of whether or not he may try to fire the special counsel, which I think would ignite a huge firestorm politically.

But, look, if I am advising the president, you know, behind closed doors, I am telling him baton down the hatches and focus on what you can control because this story is not going to go away anytime soon.

HARLOW: That is not, from our reporting, what the White House lawyers are telling him.

CILIZZA: I think they are setting him up to some extent. They are telling him what he wants to hear, which is, hey, boss, this is going to be over soon. Maybe. But, you know, I mean, given especially the Flynn plea deal.

I mean, look, this is the former national security adviser, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI, but they are far less charges than we expected might be against him, and we now know he's cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

Why cut a plea deal with Mike Flynn unless you thought there were other -- there was more information about people above him that you thought you could get. It would certainly be a rapid conclusion against sort of the way in which these investigations typically work.

BERMAN: It will be one interesting meeting between the president's lawyers and the special counsel.

HARLOW: Are you going?

BERMAN: I would love to. I'm free if I am invited, just to be clear.

HARLOW: Chris Cilizza, Errol Louis, and Matt Lewis, thank you all very much.

We are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks once again hit record highs ahead of the vote on the Republican tax plan.

BERMAN: Our chief business correspondent, star of "EARLY START," Christine Romans is here to give us the numbers -- Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. It's good day, a good couple of days and you will have 25,000 in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, driven most recently here by these hopes for corporate tax cuts. That is what has been rocket fuel on the stock market of late.

Look at what we've done. We have eight trading sessions until the end of the year, 5,000 points. That's a remarkable run. Seventy records for the Dow this year. This has been a fantastic year for investors and shareholders.

Heck, it's been a great eight years. I want to put the most recent rally on top of the trend to give you some context. You will see there are allies and advocates of the president who have been giving him the credit for all of this euphoria in the stock market, but in perspective, you have seen stocks rallying since 2008.

In fact, the first year of the Obama administration saw stocks go up, I think 27 percent. We are on track for the first year of the Trump administration to have stocks up 24 percent.

You can see it has been a powerful return for investors here as of late and it is indeed the tax hopes that are fueling things here. I think you will see the stocks open 50 points higher, and you need 200 more points to hit 25,000.

HARLOW: Romans, we're going to see it. I predict we will see 25,000 very, very soon. Thank you so much.

So, President Trump, as we just discussed, thinks he will be cleared fully in the Russia investigation soon, but the reporting this morning far different than that. We will ask a member of the House Intelligence Committee investigating the president on Russia what he thinks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)