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Train Derailment Investigation; House Passes Republican Tax Bill. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 3:00   ET

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


[15:00:04]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I have got Mark Preston and Maeve Reston and Sunlen Serfaty over on Capitol Hill.

But, Mark Preston, to you. We were talking about the messaging. And as we listen to both Sarah Sanders and then even popped over to Capitol Hill for a hot minute and listened to the House speaker, I heard the same thing, which was -- I jotted it down -- promises made, promises kept, this is about follow-through.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, so a couple of things.

Clearly, Paul Ryan is a much better person to sell the benefits of this tax cut bill than Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Now, I should note that Paul Ryan has been doing this literally since he was...

BALDWIN: A little longer.

PRESTON: A little longer, since he was a staffer on Capitol Hill, but just the effusiveness that he sells it.

What's interesting what came out of this news briefing -- and you don't often get news out of this news briefing -- is a couple of things. One is, this bill might not be signed tomorrow. And they don't have an exact date when it's going to be signed. I thought that was very interesting.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Were you surprised by that?

PRESTON: No question.

BALDWIN: What was that about?

PRESTON: I honestly have no idea.

But you would think that you would want to have a big signing ceremony, you would want to do it tomorrow, and then you would get out of town, basically. He would get on an airplane. He would go down to Mar-a-Lago.

But also in addition to that, this is a day about tax cuts, a big accomplishment, but, Brooke, she began that briefing talking about everything the president has done this year.

BALDWIN: The list.

PRESTON: A list, which just -- the more times you have to talk about all the good things that you have done just goes to show you that it's not necessarily sinking in to the American people. And that's why his approval rating is at 35 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: We were talking about that list, Maeve, a second ago, because it was as though they saw that tweet from that Bloomberg reporter talking about repealing the ACA, right, the individual mandate, cutting taxes by $1.5 trillion, opening up ANWR -- that's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- to oil drilling, put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, confirming 12 appellate judges, killed a lot of regulations.

She went on. She talked about ISIS' territory being -- the fact they are losing territory, so all of that piled on the top to say to the American people, see, we said we would bring it and we are bringing it.

I don't know if the American people are buying it, but that's another story.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They aren't buying it. Maybe after today, that will change a little bit.

But you have seen the White House just constantly on the defensive. The stories over the past year have been about chaos and infighting and firings.

And I think that being in the position that Sarah is in, trying to drill it through to people that things are actually getting done in Washington. The other interesting part of that is that, you know, she does have some accomplishments to talk about now.

But we did see earlier in the year a lot of times voters were blaming members of Congress for inaction in Washington, more than they were blaming the president. And it was just such -- Paul Ryan was just glowing when he came out there today.

And I thought that was such an interesting moment for him. We have thought about him as a potential future presidential candidate for sure. And the spotlight was certainly on him today. So that was interesting too.

BALDWIN: I think -- do we still have Sunlen? Because, speaking of, I would love to go over to Capitol Hill. We do.

Let's go to Sunlen. She has been covering this vote for us on Capitol Hill.

And, Sunlen, talk to me just a little bit about how well the House speaker did do in presenting this to obviously the press, but really to the American people, and that specific question which I thought was a great question that someone asked about the tax cut for individuals. What will they see after the decade, right, because of the sunset rules?

And he was saying we will promise we will make this permanent. And the follow-up question was follow-through and Congress not necessarily hand in hand. Talk to me about that exchange.

(CROSSTALK)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely true, and that is something I think in the days and weeks and probably likely next year we will continue to go back to that statement by Paul Ryan, but certainly a big day for him today.

And I think that split-screen that we in essence went to from Sarah Huckabee Sanders over at the White House to Paul Ryan over here really shines a light on these two different messaging priorities.

We have Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Kevin Brady out there talking about the benefits the middle-class Americans and everyday working Americans would see. And then over to the White House, you had Sarah Sanders really peppered with questions on how specifically President Trump would or would not benefit from this tax plan.

This is such a significant day for Republicans up here on Capitol Hill. And you really saw Speaker Ryan come out and want to make sure the focus remains on that, remains on their win.

Of course, they are one step closer. They still have to go to the Senate. And we will see some Senate action on that soon, setting up the 10 hours of debate, potentially sending this to President Trump's desk before midnight tonight.

But to Mark Preston's point there, too, also fascinating what the nuts and bolts of the presidential signing around this will look like. Sarah Sanders was very noncommittal. She just said, we are working out the details of what the signing will look like.

[15:05:06]

Keep in mind President Trump did promise that this would be a Christmas gift for Americans. So it will be interesting to see when indeed that signing does happen.

BALDWIN: All right, Sunlen, thank you so much, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.

Of course, we know the next move, all eyes on the Senate. Of course, the vice president, the president of the Senate, we know he's on Capitol Hill. We saw him just a little while ago before the end of that vote.

Shelby Holliday has just been seated next to me, politics and business reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."

Good to see you.

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Great to be here. What a day.

BALDWIN: just juggling all these different people and conversations and just fascinating all the difference in opinions, right, and how everyone translate what the House and the House speaker is throwing down on such a momentous day for Republicans.

What do you make of what has just happened?

HOLLIDAY: We are seeing this big victory lap, but I would note it's not over until it's over.

I think there is a little bit of breath-holding, but generally Republicans feel very confident. It's reminding me a little bit of Christmas shopping. As you do Christmas shopping, sometimes you get a little something for yourself.

And for Donald Trump, this is certainly what this is. He is delivering on tax cuts for the American people for Christmas. He is also benefiting greatly from this bill. He's also getting a big win because he can prove that he can pass major legislation.

We haven't seen him do that this year. And he's accomplishing repealing the individual mandate and a bunch other things you noted at the top of the show. It is more than just one win. It is many wins for Republicans.

BALDWIN: We have a lot of new numbers, and I won't throw them all at you from once, from CNN polling, but it is pretty fascinating and to look at the president's really lower approval numbers, according to our CNN polling, at 35 percent, which just doesn't totally jibe with how normally presidents do when the economy is so strong.

How do you square that?

HOLLIDAY: You probably square it on Twitter. The president has...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Sarah Sanders -- sorry, let me just jump in, because she was asked about that in the briefing, and she was saying, it's on you, the media. You're covering X, Y and Z negative story about our president, and therefore people don't have a favorable approval rating.

HOLLIDAY: Great talking point.

But generally the media covers what the president says. That shouldn't surprise anybody in the world who has ever listened or read the news. The president has been a very controversial president. And while he's passing tax reform and while he's focused on the economy, and he's really also a big cheerleader on Twitter.

I have to say that. If you read his tweets, all of them, he talks a lot about the economy, and tells people great job for getting things done. But it's those controversial tweets that have driven a wedge in the American society, whether it's the NFL, the anthem issues, or the basketball players over in China.

He really has left a bad taste in people's mouths on social issues and on these divisive issues in America. But when the economy is strong, and I think that is what Paul Ryan particularly is banking on, is Americans will feel the benefits. They will see the benefits. They might not like the president, but they could like what the president is helping pass.

BALDWIN: Stay with me.

HOLLIDAY: TBD, though.

BALDWIN: TBD.

Let's go back over to Mark Preston, because here's the next question. This is obviously great, great news for Republicans. And we will see if and when it passes in the Senate side, and then of course the president can sign it as early as tomorrow, although as we established, they're not committing to the when and the where for the president's autograph.

Is this, though, enough of a win, enough of we told you we would have this promise and we would follow through, is that enough to help Republicans in the midterms in 2018? Because Paul Ryan is saying to fellow Republicans, listen, help is on the way.

PRESTON: Well, a couple things.

Timing is everything. Timing for this is they were able to get it done in 2017, or they're just hours. So they can say they got a major legislative win. We have been talking for the last 11.5 months they haven't been able to. So that's good.

Heading into 2018, though, this big success is going to be -- it's not going to be as impactful come January because it's not going to be on people's minds. People are going to go home. They're going to enjoy the holidays.

This town will empty out right now. And then people will come back for a reset in January. Having said that, though, there is still some momentum that they can use to try to get some other things done.

They would be smart, Brooke, to try to use this tax reform momentum to try to get an infrastructure bill through and really try to force Democrats against the wall to support it, because an infrastructure bill can be bipartisan. It is certainly supported by the Chamber of Commerce and other groups here.

But it's also supported by the unions and it's also supported by the Democratic constituencies. So, you would think that that would be the go-to bill for them to go to next.

Having said that, who knows what President Trump is going to do? And we're already hearing from Congress that they're going to do entitlement reform, which there's no way they are going to do entitlement reform.

So there's a lot Republicans have to sort through over the next couple weeks heading into 2018, but they would be smart to try to do something bipartisan now.

BALDWIN: Yes.

We heard from a couple prominent Republicans in the wake of the big win on the House side, including from the chair of the House Ways and Means, Kevin Brady. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: New Year's Day, America will have a new tax code for new era of American prosperity.

[15:10:05]

In February -- on February 1, look at your paychecks, because you will see the tax relief we delivered today. And on April 15, you will for the last time file your taxes under this horrible, terrible tax code that we are putting behind us for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go to M.J. Lee. She's another voice joining us. She's been covering this tax bill from her perch on Capitol Hill.

And so, M.J., just listening to Chairman Brady and, of course, the House speaker and others, talk to me about the message you heard today from them and also these three key dates.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, being here on Capitol Hill today, as this vote happened, you can really feel sort of the celebration and the mood of jubilation among Republican lawmakers.

You heard it when the House bill passed on the House floor, a lot of members starting to cheer and sort of erupting. And then after the press conference that House leadership had, actually, that was in the hallway right next to where I'm standing right now, and House Whip Steve Scalise walked by me and actually paused for a second to look up at people standing above him in the balcony to sort of wave his arm and sort of cheer.

So, certainly there is definitely good mood. And this kind of good mood has been hard to come by for Republicans this year. Remember, they have spent the majority of the year trying to repeal Obamacare.

They were not able to get this done. And actually the last time that I most clearly remember there being this kind of mood of celebration was when the House passed its Obamacare repeal bill, and obviously we know how that ended. It ended up dying in the Senate. And that was a very difficult moment for the party. And, Brooke, it is not a coincidence that in his press conference,

House Speaker Paul Ryan used the word promise more than once. He really drilled down on the fact this was the Republican Party delivering on a promise, a political promise, a legislative promise, that it has been making for a while, because he wants to make sure he is broadcasting to the people, to voters that for once they have kept something, kept a promise they have been making and accomplished something.

And I think the victory lap is going to continue, both when this bill passes in the Senate. This is expected to be at sometime later today. Could be later this evening. And then as Mark Preston was talking about earlier, there is probably going to be a big signing ceremony, right?

The president has not had opportunities to celebrate something like this, this entire year. So you can imagine that the White House and Republicans on the Hill, they are really going to want to savor this moment and play it out for as long as they can, because, again, this has been a moment, kind of moment that has been missing for them the entirety of this year.

BALDWIN: Yes.

No, I'm listening to you and of course we all remember the visual after the House passed the Obamacare appeal and the victory lap in the Rose Garden, and then where that didn't go after that fact. And I wonder if that is playing into the White House's maybe not being as public with the rest of us with as far as any plans they may have.

Certainly, they have them for the signing of this piece of legislation as soon as it reaches his desk, but, of course, it has to go through the Senate first.

M.J. Lee, thank you so much, M.J. with talk of promises made, promises kept, not just from Republicans on Capitol Hill, but over at the White House as well.

Stay with me. More breaking news here, as we continue to cover this historic moment, as the House has passed the Republican tax plan. They needed 217. They got 227 yeas. Huge day for Republicans and the White House on the cusp of its first major legislative victory.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. CNN's special coverage continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:10]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking news, the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed the massive Republican tax overhaul. Next up, the U.S. Senate.

President Trump now on the brink of his first major legislative victory since moving into the White House 11 months ago. And your taxes may never look the same again. Will you save or lose money under the biggest tax overhaul since the Reagan era? Well, that depends of course on several factors.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans breaks it down -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke.

President Trump calls the tax plan giant tax cut for the American people. But the tax cut size actually varies. And some Americans could end up paying more.

So CNN Money had the Tax Institute at H&R Block run the numbers. Here's where some filers will land in 2018.

Taking a family of our that owns a home in San Diego making $150,000 a year. They save $3,500 next year. Why? A lower tax rate, a doubled standard deduction, and an expanded child tax credit.

But California has high state taxes, so how about a single mom in Kansas City with two children making $45,000? She also saves $1,800 thanks again to a bigger standard deduction and child tax credit.

But what if you don't have children? A single homeowner in Colorado making 70 grand would pay $1,400 more next year. That's because that's the standard deduction doesn't make up for all the lost tax breaks. And a single homeowner in a high-tax state, they may get hit hard, Brooke.

A New Yorker making half-a-million dollars would pay $6,400 more in 2018. That's due both to a higher tax rate and losing the unlimited state and local tax deduction -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Christine, thank you.

Let's talk more about this landmark tax legislation.

[15:20:00]

Shelby Holliday is still with me from "The Wall Street Journal." Joining me now, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, former special assistant to President George W. Bush, and Democratic strategist Dave Jacobsen.

So, welcome to you two gentlemen. And thank you, Shelby, for sticking around me.

Scott, just to you. This is obviously a huge win for your party, for the House, presumably, if all goes well in the Senate. The president could sign this thing pretty soon. How do you feel about all that?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I feel really great about it.

And I'm seeing a lot of people expressing surprise and shock the Republicans are doing this. The reality is Republicans want to cut taxes. It's one of the last issues that really unites all wings of the Republican Party. They got that done today.

And Republicans and all wings of the party frankly have been annoyed by the high tax rates in this country, both personal and corporate, for a long time. They think they crush growth. And what Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have done today said is, bye, Felicia. Goodbye, high tax rates. They have cut taxes on everybody and all the businesses and corporations.

The economy is already growing again. It's going to keep growing, thanks to this bill. So what you are going to hear out of people like me and other Republicans is thank you, leadership of the Republican Party in Washington. You kept your promise.

BALDWIN: You just bye, Felicia, live on CNN, Scott Jennings.

JENNINGS: Yes.

BALDWIN: I'm moving past that. I'm moving past that.

Here's the but, because Republicans did that, despite the fact this plan didn't have high marks, and from the new CNN polls, that's indicative today -- 33 percent of Americans say they actually favor this whole tax proposal.

Also, let me add this. And I want your response. "The L.A. Times" editorial board just put out this whole piece. And here's one of the lines that grabbed me: "As with the GOP's heedless race to repeal and replace Obamacare, the party's rushed, haphazard approach to tax reform feels like a long weekend of binge drinking. It may be fun for them while it lasts, but it's sure to be followed by a head-splitting fiscal hangover."

And, Scott, you and I know hangovers are never fun.

JENNINGS: Yes, look, I think that the polling on this is not indicative of where the American people are ultimately going to be.

I think if the Democrats ever went to the tax truth party, if they were ever there, they ghosted a long time ago. They have lied more about this tax bill than the average online dating profile. And it's taken a toll.

I didn't do a panel on CNN for the last two months on taxes when I didn't hear some Democrat operative lying about the tax bill, calling it a tax cut for corporate jet owners, et cetera, et cetera.

Most of this stuff has been debunked. The reality is, as you have heard the Republicans lay out today, people's taxes are going down. And they're going to feel the effects next year. When they feel the effects, polling will go up on it. People will feel good about it.

Combine that with the fact that the economy is already humming along, I think this is a net winner for the midterms. I wouldn't -- I'm not worried about the polling at all today.

BALDWIN: Dave, you got to react to that. DAVE JACOBSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely.

And it's not just the CNN poll. Quinnipiac put out a poll just days ago showing that only 29 percent of Americans supported this bill.

I think, at the end of the day, Republicans, though, were faced with a lose-lose scenario. They haven't passed any major legislative accomplishments in Donald Trump's first year in office. And so this was a last-ditch effort to get something done before Christmas and the new year.

But, at the same time, on the flip side, this is an incredibly unpopular bill. Why? Yes, the economy is booming, but the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. At a time with unprecedented income inequality in America, this is a tax cut and a handout to big fat cats on Wall Street and big corporations.

And it raises taxes on millions of hardworking Americans.

I'm in California. It's going to raise taxes because of our state and local taxes that can't be written off anymore. Similarly, in states like New Jersey and New York, folks are going to see their tax bills go up.

And so I think Republicans have, at the end of the day, lost the battle when it comes to the message. It's clear that the American people believe that this is handout to the wealthiest Americans out there and it raises taxes on millions of hardworking Americans.

That and, moreover, at the end of the day, this actually creates a sunset for working people. It raises taxes in 10 years. But it gives these tax cuts to corporations permanently.

BALDWIN: It's the sunset that the House speaker -- that's precisely what he was asked about. And he said, no, no, we will make it permanent.

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: And they just did. Brooke, they just did make tax cuts permanent. The Bush tax cuts were just made permanent a couple of years ago by divided government. And so actually Congress has kept its word on keeping the tax cuts permanent.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Maybe they will on this particular set of tax changes.

JENNINGS: They will.

BALDWIN: But here -- let me go back to you, Scott.

And, Shelby, I'm coming back to you, I promise. But, listen, I think we can all agree, and it's awesome news that the economy is doing so well. And you said the economy is humming. But why do you think that the president's approval ratings don't reflect that? JENNINGS: Yes, it is unprecedented for a presidential approval rating

to be so disconnected from good economic numbers.

[15:25:03]

This is the challenge at the White House. A little bit of message discipline for the next year I think could reconnect the president's job approval with how people feel about the economy. It's absolutely critical that they do that. Otherwise, it's going to be a very difficult midterm when the president is so low.

I lived through one in 2006 cycle, when I was at the White House Office of Political Affairs under President Bush. A presidential approval so low can really drag the party down.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: But look at even his ratings.

Bush 43, your boss, you know, it's just so different from what we are looking at now with President Trump.

Shelby, let me pop over to you, because you brought up a great point when we were talking before about here we finally have this win. I shouldn't say we. The Republicans have this win, which is great for the White House. And the real question you will be watching with regards to the president going into the new year is, what?

HOLLIDAY: Politically, I'm just curious to see he gets this taste of victory and likes it and decides this is worth working with Republicans in Congress and maybe even Democrats in Congress to continue passing major legislation.

But the president has been very serious about the promises he made on the campaign trail. He could also take a different route say now we are onto building the wall. Now we got to keep refugees out. He could move on to more divisive issues, because those were also his promises.

And that would sort of throw a wrench in Congress' plans with respect to DACA and all kinds of other things that they hope to get done. So it will be interesting to see how the president reacts, how he celebrates.

We are not so sure when that will happen. But if this all passes and goes as planned, I do think the president will greatly benefit. Messaging, though, that's a really interesting point as well. If he can be disciplined in messaging, if the economy can continue humming, does his approval rating change? That's the big question.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: That a lot of people will be wondering about, especially in 2018.

HOLLIDAY: Yes, of course. That also dictates what you can get done as a president, how powerful

you are, so we will see.

BALDWIN: Shelby Holliday, thank you so much. Scott and Dave, thank you, gentlemen, very much as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Still ahead here on CNN, just harrowing accounts on what it was like to be inside that train that crashed and derailed over that Washington state highway. We will talk live to a couple who arrived moments later and actually jumped out of their own cars just to try to help some people get out of those train cars. So you will hear from them.

And new details today released about the secret Pentagon program that investigated potential UFO sightings -- why one men who was on the inside of the program says he is convinced we are not alone.