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THE SITUATION ROOM
Senate to Vote on Tax Bill, House Must Vote Again. Aired 5- 5:30p ET
Aired December 19, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Tax bill snag. We're standing by for the Senate vote in the GOP tax overhaul after the House thought it passed the controversial measure along party lines. But just moments ago, we learned of a snag which will now force the House to vote again tomorrow. This widely criticized bill could give Republicans a much-needed victory, but should they be careful what they wish for?
Wildly unpopular. It comes as CNN's new poll shows both the president and the GOP tax plan are wildly unpopular. Only a third of Americans approve of the tax plan, and the president's approval rating isn't much better.
Gorsuch anger. Sources say President Trump considered lifting the nomination of his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, after Gorsuch privately complained of the president's attacks on the judiciary. Would the president really have pulled the plug on the nominee who went on to join the high court?
And speeding out of control. Investigators now say the passenger train which derailed over an interstate was speedily speeding at 80 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone. Why did a local mayor warn that such a disaster was waiting to happen? We're standing by for an NTSB update on the deadly accident.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. We're awaiting the Senate vote of the final version of the GOP tax overhaul bill, but while President Trump and congressional Republicans are already celebrating a victory, a last- minute snag has now taken some air out of the balloon.
While the House earlier approved the tax bill, it will have to vote again tomorrow due to some technical issues, before the president can sign the measure into law.
Reflecting deep concerns about the tax overhaul, a new CNN poll shows 55 percent of Americans oppose the tax bill with only 33 percent favoring it. Two-thirds feel the bill benefits the wealthy more than the middle class. Only 35 percent approve of the job President Trump is doing and when it comes to taxes, 73 percent say the president should release his own tax returns.
The deputy director of the FBI, meanwhile, testifies behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee, part of the probe into Russia's election interference, but this hearing comes with a twist, as Republicans question Andrew McCabe about alleged FBI bias against President Trump.
And as investigators swarm the scene of that deadly train derailment in Washington state, they say the train was traveling at 80 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone when it flew off the tracks, sending some cars plunging onto a highway and leaving others hanging from an overpass. Survivors are telling harrows stories of the disaster. We're awaiting an update from the National Transportation Safety Board.
And I'll speak with Republican Senator Bob Corker. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they're standing by with full coverage.
But let's get to the breaking news right now. Republicans are already celebrating a major victory as their tax overhaul bill awaits final passage in the Senate. That follows a House vote approving the bill, but the House will now have to vote again.
We begin with our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, so tell us about this sudden snag.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a sudden snag, Wolf, and it will force the House of Representatives to take a second vote, a do-over vote tomorrow morning here on Capitol Hill. There's a technical provision that needs to be stripped from the Senate version of the bill because of how they're trying to pass this through under budget rules. That's to say the Senate tonight will vote on a version. Then they send it back over to the House.
Now, this does not jeopardize at this point the House bill in any way. This is just a technical glitch, but certainly a hiccup, given that earlier today we saw Speaker of the House Paul Ryan so triumphantly gavel down when they were able to pass that bill in the House earlier today.
They did pass that down party lines votes, 227-103 [SIC]. Twelve Republicans opposed it. Zero Democrats supported it. And here's leaders from both sides putting together some sharply differing views of what this means for the economy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We said in 2016 that it would take real tax reform for families and businesses to get the American economy growing, and we were serious. And the American people placed their trust in us to do this work for them, and today we're making good on that promise. On January 1, Americans are going to wake up with a new tax code. In
February, they're going to see withholdings go down so they see bigger paychecks. And April 15 will be the last day they have to comply with the old bad system.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Is there justice in the bill that hands a breathtaking 83 percent of its benefits to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
PELOSI: Eighty-three percent of its benefits to the top 1 percent.
Is there justice in a bill that explodes the national debt to gives the wealthy and the well-connected a break and sticks the debt with our children? Is that justice?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
PELOSI: I don't think you thought so. I wish our Republican colleagues would join us. This GOP tax scam is simply theft.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And, again, the House of Representatives earlier today passing a first version of this bill 227-203.
At this hour, the Senate has moved on to the debate of their bill. Ten hours potential of debate. Then they will move to final passage tonight. We believe that Vice President Mike Pence will be presiding over the Senate. They do not need his vote. They don't need to count on his vote. But certainly him being there is symbolic that this is a major piece of legislation that the Republicans and the Trump White House are moving forward.
As we said again though, Wolf, hitting some last-minute technical glitches, some hiccups that will require the House to vote on a new version tomorrow morning, but they are nearing the finish line.
BLITZER: It's not just tax rates in this 570-page bill, Sunlen. The bill could also have a big impact on Americans' health care. Explain that.
SERFATY: That's right. This is a provision that is a big blow to Obamacare, that eliminates the individual mandate penalty, the provision that requires Americans to pay a penalty or face a fine. Certainly, a key part of Obamacare that Republicans are now taking out. While Republicans can certainly take this into midterm elections next
year and say, "Look, we were able to gut this part of Obamacare," a lot of outside analysis, CBO among them, talking about how this will -- what this would mean for Americans: higher premiums and many more uninsured Americans. So certainly interesting. That included in this final tax bill tonight.
BLITZER: All right. Lots of stuff going on. Sunlen, thank you very much. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, right now.
Jim, a victory in the works. A very significant victory in the works for the president, but it's not necessarily a popular one.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president and Republicans in control of Congress are cheering what they see as a major policy triumph, the biggest rewriting of the nation's tax code in a generation, but Democrats see an opportunity, too, once Americans read the fine print.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It took nearly one year into the Trump administration, but Republicans in Congress are on the verge of giving the president his first big legislative win: passing a tax reform package in the House, mostly along party lines.
RYAN: This is the day I've been looking forward to for a long time.
ACOSTA: House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged the tax cut plan has yet to win over the public, but blamed others for that.
RYAN: Look, when you have a slingfest, a mudfest on TV, when pundits are slamming even other about this tax bill before it passes, that's what's going to happen.
ACOSTA: A new CNN poll finds just one third of Americans favor the tax plan, with two-thirds saying it will benefit the wealthy instead of the middle class. Most believe also believe the president's vast real-estate empire will prosper, too, despite his denials.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me.
ACOSTA (on camera): That was false, right?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No because on the personal side, this actually could impact the president in a large way. And...
ACOSTA: Have you looked at how it would balance out, corporate versus personal, if he's going to come out ahead?
SANDERS: I'm not sure he's done a side by side, but I know that there are a number of provisions that would negatively impact the president personally, and so we contend that those comments are still very consistent.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Part of the problem for the president is that he's breaking promises he made on the campaign trail to make wealthy hedge fund managers pay more.
TRUMP (via phone): The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder. They're making a tremendous amount of money. They have to pay tax.
ACOSTA: But a tax break tailor-made for the hedge fund set, known as carried interest, was saved. GOP leaders don't want to talk about that.
REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: Look, carried interest, we can talk about that for the next hour if you'd like, but for most Americans, they can care less about that.
ACOSTA: Heading into next year's midterm elections, the White House isn't worried about the consequences. The president is betting the tax cuts will add to the gains on Wall Street, touting this year's stock market performance on Twitter. But as a candidate, Mr. Trump sounded the alarm over what he saw as a market bubble.
TRUMP (on camera): Remember the word "bubble"? You heard it here first. I man, I don't want to sound rude, but I hope if it explodes, it's going to be now rather than two months into another administration.
ACOSTA: Democrats complain Republicans wrote the tax bill under the cover of darkness, accusing some in the GOP, like Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, of changing their votes after sweeteners were added to the package. Corker rejected that.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Look, it's, you know, the way this place has become and, you know, obviously it's, you know, sort of assassination, if you will, but it's just not true.
[17:10:11] ACOSTA: As for the president, he's defending another victory he frequently cites: his decision to tap Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Mr. Trump is slamming reports that's he wanted to rescind his selection or Gorsuch after he slammed the president, calling the story fake news, adding he never even wavered.
TRUMP: We, the people.
ACOSTA: But there is one bit of fake news the president may welcome, as in the artificial version of Mr. Trump added to Disney's Hall of Presidents. Though this robot appears to be all talk, no tweets.
ACOSTA: Now, as for the president benefitting from the tax cuts that were just passed in the House, Mr. Trump could settle the issue once and for all and release his tax returns. The press secretary said the president won't do that while he Is under audit. They've used that excuse many times before. But the fact is, Wolf, the president could release those tax returns anyway. There is nothing preventing him from doing that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, all right. Good point. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Joining us now, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. BOB CORKER, R-TENNESSEE: Wolf, good to be with you. Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: All right. So, this latest snag, the revote that now is necessary in the House after the Senate goes along and passes it tonight. Do you think it's going to have any eventual impact on passing of this bill?
CORKER: I don't. There are a couple of what they call veritable issues. They don't pass -- we have some rules over here that are pretty arcane, but my understanding is these are very, very minor issues. So, it will pass the Senate tonight and go back to the House, where they'll pass it then.
BLITZER: I know you were a holdout until recently.
BLITZER: You were considered a likely no. You voted against it the first time around. Have you now read this entire 570-page bill and you like it?
CORKER: I have. I've read every word of it and summaries.
And, look, there's honestly, Wolf, there are things in it I wouldn't have in there, but that's the way a legislative process works. I did everything I could, Wolf, to try to create this -- to make this create smaller deficits or at least the possibility of that. Over a $43 trillion base over 10 years, there is a possibility there would be in the range of $500 billion less in revenue than otherwise would have been created.
On the other hand, with some of the other economic development issues that are underway, there is a possibility we could go over. I would have liked that to be really tidy and known that there was no way for any kind of deficit to be created, but, look, I lost that, and at the end of the day, you have to decide, do you think this is better for our country or worse for our country, worse off having this?
I think it's better. And I'm glad to be supporting it.
BLITZER: What did you -- what did you get -- I know you were pushing hard for what was called a backstop or a trigger option in case the deficit was exploding, as some fear it will, there would be a cut in some of those tax benefits, especially for corporations and for the very wealthy.
In this legislation, did you get anything along those lines? Any of those triggers that would stop it?
CORKER: No. Look, honestly, I did not. Most of the people -- look, I actually don't have a word in this bill, Wolf. My whole effort was around the macro issue of deficits. You know, I lost that battle on the Senate floor. It would have been glad to let it stay on the Senate floor for about another couple of days to try to resolve that, but obviously, I lost that debate, and said at the time I would relook at it and I did so. I've made calls all around the country, all around our state talking to economic development people, chambers, people involved in foreign direct investment in our state.
And, you know, I do think this is something that's going to be good for America. Again, I wish we could have contained it, as I mentioned. But, look, I lost that battle and you've got to move on and then decide, you know, on face value --
BLITZER: I just want to be precise, Mr. Chairman.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise, for all practical purposes, nothing really changed of substance between your no vote a few weeks ago and the yes vote you're going to have tonight?
CORKER: Not really. I mean, there was some reconciliation issues that were certainly nothing that was of substance from my standpoint. I went through, you know, I've gone through the bill in detail. I've also gone through those changes. Do they make it substantially better or worse? No, they don't. They're minor.
So, nothing changed other than the fact that I said, look, I'll relook at it when it comes back around and try to make a decision then. I was -- you've got to remember, Wolf, I was fresh off not being able to make any headway on the deficit issue when I voted no that night. I still felt there was an opportunity to possibly have a bipartisan bill. I was still in discussions with some Democrats that were interested.
But at this point, you know, when it came -- comes time for this vote, I know that that is not going to happen and do I think our country's better off having this tax reform in place versus not? I do.
BLITZER: Because one thing did change between the no vote and the yes vote tonight, and you know your critics are pouncing on this, this provision that includes real estate partnerships as what are called pass-through entities. That was not included the first round. It is included now.
And they're arguing, and there is a #corkerkickback and I wanted to give you a chance to respond. That that has resulted, this is what your critics are suggesting, that has resulted in your decision to go ahead and vote in favor of it because personally, you're likely to make a lot of money as a result of it.
CORKER: Yes. So, first of all, I knew nothing about the provision. I've had no involvement. It actually came out of the House. It was part of their House bill when they did the reconciliation. It was merged in and altered slightly to make it conform.
Senator Hatch has put out a statement saying I had no input in that whatsoever. This is something that again has been traveling with the House bill since as I understand it the beginning of November. It's not just real estate, by the way, it's manufacturers and others.
And just for what it's worth, I've had someone check into it, it has a very nominal impact on anything that would be involving me. Just be assured that is also total nothing. Had no impact.
And when I decided -- when I decided to vote for the bill, I had gone through a two-page summary that noted the changes between the Senate bill and the House bill. It was a summary -- and that wasn't even mentioned. I didn't even know it was a part of the exchange that took place.
So, absolutely false. And, again, this affects not just real estate but manufacturers and many others.
BLITZER: So how nominal will it be based on the estimate that you got from your experts? Because some of your critics are saying it could be very significant, potentially millions of dollars.
CORKER: Absolutely not. I mean, you know, I -- it is very nominal.
BLITZER: Do you know how much you will save as a result of this provision, which the House inserted into this final joint House/Senate conference committee language?
CORKER: Well, let me just put it this way, Wolf, my salary even year goes to charity. And it will take many, many, many years for this little nominal thing to even account for one year's worth of salary.
This has no impact on me that matters. It is absolutely nominal. Based on what -- based on a preliminarily look, and we're not even sure it has that nominal impact. So, for somebody to say this is something that has a big impact on me is a total stretch. And, you know, it just does not.
BLITZER: Here is the other point that your critics are lashing out as you, and I'm going to play the clip. This is at the beginning of October when you spoke about this legislation and its impact on the deficit. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORKER: I'm willing to accept a reasonable score on dynamic growth, a reasonable score on dynamic growth. Joint Tax does those. There are some other groups that do it. But if it looks like to me, Chuck, we're adding one penny to the deficit, I am not going to be for it, OK? I'm sorry. It is the greatest threat to our nation. The greatest threat to our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. As you know, since then, the Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that the legislation which you're about to vote for would add about $1 trillion to the deficit, even after accounting for projected additional economic growth. So, why do you support this? If this is the gravest threat, the national debt, to the country right now, why support something that at a minimum will wind up adding 1 trillion to the debt?
CORKER: First of all, you know, certainly, I care about deficit issues. I focused on that in the 11 years that I've been here and the actual projection from current policy is $500 billion over a $43 trillion 10-year base. So, it's about 1.2 percent off of that projection.
BLITZER: Well, what happens -- what happens, Senator, if they continue the tax cuts for the middle class, the reductions beyond let's say 2025 when they're supposed to sunset or expire? If it's passed again then that deficit is going to continue to explode.
CORKER: Yes, and, you know, if Congress continues to spend money like it's getting ready to do towards the end of the week and next January, it will do the same. So, yes, I cannot control, you know, what future congresses do.
But let me get back to the point. So, there is a -- there is a projection based on modeling that this is going to be about $500 billion off relative to a $43 trillion projected revenue base over the next ten years. And, you know, I care about deficits. I also care about pro-growth reform.
And, look, it's -- critics are welcome to challenge me on this, but at the end of the day, again, as talking to people around the country on both sides of the aisle that I respect, our economic development folks in our state, our chambers, our -- the folks who recruit on behalf of our state and what was going to happen to foreign direct investment, the keeping of companies from creating inversions and leaving our country and leaving the employees behind. When I took all of that into account, I felt like that this was a better policy being in place than not.
BLITZER: But, let me -- with all due respect, Senator, Mr. Chairman --
CORKER: OK, all right.
BLITZER: I want to read to you again what you said. You said if it looks to me, and you were talking to Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," if it looks to me, Chuck, that they're adding one penny to the deficit, I'm not going to be for it, OK? I'm sorry, it is the greatest threat to our nation. The greatest threat to our nation. It's going to add a lot more than one penny, as you know. CORKER: Well, it could. It could also -- there are also projections
that show that's not the case, but I would have rather it have been tidied up and there have been absolutely no chance that was the case.
But, Wolf, I think at the end of the day, certainly that's the way I felt during that interview. As I've looked at this policy and I've looked at the benefits to us relative to growth, this is -- this is a decision I'm making.
And, you know, I -- I've explained it over and over. I said when I voted against it when it came through the Senate I was going to look at it again, which I've done. And as I've mentioned, I feel like in spite of my concerns that I expressed very clearly in that interview, I think that our nation is better off with this policy being in place, especially --
BLITZER: So why did you vote no, Mr. Chairman, why did you vote no the last time it came up and you're voting yes this time? I hate to be, you know, repetitious.
CORKER: Yes, yes.
BLITZER: But the economy is doing just great. The stock market is exploding, as you know, it's gone up a lot, record highs, unemployment, record lows. The economic growth is really impressive.
BLITZER: So, why go ahead and vote for this now at a time of economic strength?
CORKER: Yes. For all the reasons I just mentioned, Wolf. Again, I was the only no vote that Friday night on the floor.
I still felt that there was a possibility to -- with that no vote and maybe some other things that were happening to potentially have some Democrats come on board, but also to create a better situation as it related to the bill, and, look, so I voted no. I said at the time very clearly that I'll look at it when it comes back around. I'm doing that now.
You can criticize me but I don't really know, Wolf, what it is you're getting at. What are you trying to say here?
BLITZER: I'm not criticizing you, I just want to give you an opportunity, Mr. Chairman, to explain, because as you know --
CORKER: I've had to explain it three times. Yes.
BLITZER: You're getting a lot of criticism out there because you flipped the vote from a no to a yes. Let's move on. Go ahead. CORKER: Let's talk about, when you say flipped the vote, you know,
things that -- a bill comes through the Senate, it comes through the House, people have issues and they try to raise. This is now the final vote.
Wolf, I've always had an operating principle that when, you know, when it comes down to the actual deal, this is the final vote, that I always act as if -- that I'm the deciding vote. And, you know, we're now at the end. The process has ended.
I've been unsuccessful in solving some of the deficit issues that I'd hoped to solve, but when I make these final votes, I always make them as if I am the deciding vote. I've tried to explain to you several times here, look, I spent a tremendous amount of time on the phone last week with people from the both sides of the aisle trying to weigh the growth aspects of this versus the deficit issues that I've been concerned about.
I announced it very clearly on Friday as to what I'm going to do. I know that I'm being maligned over totally malicious stuff that's totally been disproven. I know people are having a good time with this, but it's just malicious.
I'm making this decision because I believe that it is best for the country, period. And sometimes things don't exactly line up. Your interests -- I have foreign policy initiatives that I work on and sometimes, you know, there is a tug and a pull between two competing principles that we have to deal with. In this particular case it's solely because I believe this --
BLITZER: All right.
CORKER: -- this country is better off with this being in place.
BLITZER: The reason I --
CORKER: I really --
BLITZER: -- asking these questions, Mr. Chairman, I want to give you a chance to respond to your critics because you're getting some criticism and this is a good opportunity for you to make your case.
Let's get to a couple of the other senators who have been, you know, on the fence. Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, she's a critical vote on this bill. She's going to vote in favor of it. Partly she says because it will restore Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies down the road.
But now, as you probably know, there are a whole bunch of Republicans in the House that are pushing back on that. They say they're not going to go along with that. Here is the question, is she getting played? CORKER: You know, I think that, you know, I just got a memo from the leader, which we do even day, and it appears to me that the Alexander/Murray legislation that she's talking about is going to be a part of wrapping up this year. So, I do not think she's getting played. And so, I think she's been successful in achieving many of the things that she wished to achieve.
Again, what she was looking for was different than what I was looking for, relative to deficits, but I do not think she's getting played. No, I do not.
BLITZER: What about Senator Jeff Flake who said he got a promise that the DREAMers, the DACA legislation would be passed? As you know, there is a whole bunch of opposition for that as well. He's going to vote in favor of the legislation because in part he believes the president promised he would support that.
Is he being played?
CORKER: You know, I don't think so. I know Jeff, like myself, care deeply about getting this issue resolved. I don't know what his private conversations have been, but, look, you know, around here you have to operate in good faith when people tell you things line this. And my sense is he's been successful in achieving what he wants to achieve or he would not be voting for this legislation.
BLITZER: You're the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. I want to go through some national security foreign affairs issues with you. I know this is running a little longer than you anticipated, but these are critically important issues. As you know, Mr. Chairman, the president's relationship with the Russian President Vladimir Putin right now is under great scrutiny, especially following their two very recent phone calls in the past few days.
I want you to listen to what the former director of national intelligence, General James Clapper, told CNN yesterday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset and that's what he's doing with the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's what he told our Jim Sciutto yesterday.
What's your reaction to that when he says Putin, a former KGB agent, is really playing the president of the United States as an asset?
CORKER: You know, I think that, you know, we've had a terrible relationship with Russia because of their actions, both in Syria but also during our election process, and my guess is that Putin would like to improve upon that. We were helpful to them on a case that mattered to them. You know, I guess he did what, you know, most of us who do, which is reach out and thank somebody for that.
Look, I think you know that I've led the efforts to pass a Russia sanctions bill. And I'm no friend of the things that Russia has done to our country nor the involvements that they've had, unfortunately, in both Ukraine and in Syria. But I think it's OK when something good happens between countries for there being an expression of appreciation like that.
BLITZER: You got the legislation on the Russia sanctions because of their interference in the U.S. presidential election passed in the Senate 98-2. That was back in August.
As far as I know, the president didn't want it, he hated that legislation. He reluctantly signed it into law because he knew you would be able to override his veto.
Correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Chairman, the administration hasn't started to implement those sanctions, have they?
CORKER: No, that's not true. They were late. I think they were supposed to implement them if I can remember correctly maybe it was October the 1st. It took until the end of the month for them to do that. They did do it.
My sense is they are doing the things that they're supposed to be doing. We'd like for them to be doing so even more avidly, no question all of us involved in this legislation, but they are move ahead with putting sanctions in place.
BLITZER: You think they'll do it, right?
CORKER: Well, I know this, that, you know, that Congress is going to stay on top of it to ensure that it occurs. We've seen no, you know, I've seen no nefarious activity as it relates to the sanctions. Believe me my counterpart, Ben Cardin and I, are on the Democratic side are paying a lot of attention to this as are people on the House side. So, you know, I think it will be implemented.
BLITZER: I know that the criticism of the president and the administration is they're -- at a minimum, they're slow-walking this. They're saying now, it's going to take until the end of January to come up with all the sanctions. Let's see what they do.
I know you and your ranking Democrat, Senator Cardin, would be very upset, a whole bunch of others in the Senate and the House will be very, very upset if it isn't -- if the sanctions are not implemented. I know you recently spoke to the president.
But let me play a clip. One more clip I want to play for you. This is what you told CNN in October about President Trump. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CORKER: The president has great difficulty with the truth, on many issues. I think that he's proven himself unable to rise to the occasion. I think at the end of the day when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, just the name-calling, I think the debasement of our nation will be what he will be remembered most for.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: I know he recently tweeted you thanking you for changing your votes on tax cuts, but do you still believe what you told Manu Raju in that clip?
CORKER: By the way, didn't see a tweet from the president on my vote, did you see one?
BLITZER: Did he call you, did he thank you?
CORKER: I called him to let him know I was voting against it two Fridays ago. And then I called him on Friday to let him know what I was going to do and why, but I don't remember seeing any tweets.
BLITZER: Maybe there was no tweets. That may have been my mistake.
CORKER: I think we're having a great time with this interview.
BLITZER: I know he thanked you for your support. I'm wondering if what you said in October, if you still believe that?
CORKER: Look, I know you're having a great time with this interview and I'm happy for you in doing so. But, look, Wolf, I've said what I've said. And I'm doing what I'm doing, and for me to sort of rehash all of that gives you an opportunity over the next week just to replay and replay and replay.
I'm a very direct guy. I say what's on my mind and what I think. And, you know, I don't walk away when I do those things. And I'm ready to move on and deal with these issues.
I don't appreciate, you know, the front end of this interview, you and I had a conversation about this yesterday on the phone, and you know that all of these things are totally malicious. They're not true. And you know that. And people in the press that are responsible know that.
I'm disappointed that you chose this opportunity to do what you did. I thank you for letting me respond. I know you had a good time with this interview.
Is there anything else that you would like from me to talk with you about?
BLITZER: You know, Senator, I've got to tell you, and I've known you for a long time and I have great respect, I'm not having fun and I'm not trying to throw out -- the only thing you claimed was malicious was the element of that you're voting in favor of it because you're going to get some financial benefit.
You explained that. You explained it well. I wanted to give you that opportunity. And when we spoke on the phone yesterday, I told you I wanted to give you that opportunity to make your case.
This is not fun. These are critically important issues. You're a United States senator, Mr. Chairman, you have enormous responsibility.
These tax cuts are going to go forward. They may be great, they may not be great, but it's your responsibility as a U.S. senator to answer these kinds of questions.
BLITZER: But it's certainly not something I'm doing because I want to have fun. I'm doing it because I'm a reporter, I'm a journalist.
BLITZER: And I'm asking you questions that are legitimate, fair questions, sir.
CORKER: Yes. Well, listen, thank you for that. I look forward to talking to you again soon. I do. Thank you.
BLITZER: I appreciate your joining us. I wanted to give you an opportunity to answer those questions. That's what I told you yesterday. You're going to have an opportunity.
The interview went lengthy and you've had a full chance to respond. I'm grateful that you came on the program today. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for joining us.
CORKER: Thank you. Thank you so much.
BLITZER: All right. Let's take a quick break.
[17:39:16] BLITZER: The breaking news, the House of Representatives passed a major overhaul of the American tax code, but a handful of technical changes means the chamber will need to hold yet another vote on the bill tomorrow morning.
We're standing by for the vote in the U.S. Senate. That's coming up in the coming hours. If Republicans can successfully unify their razor-thin majority, the bill could be signed into law by President Trump as soon as tomorrow afternoon.
Let's get some more analysis from our experts. And Jeffrey Toobin, let me start with you. First of all, I want to give -- I know you were watching my interview with Senator Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He was angry. He was upset. He thought I was being unfair with him by reminding him of what he said previously, playing some clips. Your reaction?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I thought it was a wonderful illustration of the sense of entitlement that people get on Capitol Hill. All you were pointing out that, you know, two months ago, he said to Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press," "I will not vote for this bill if it adds a penny to the deficit."
The latest estimate is this will add 1.5 trillion. He admitted that it will at least at $500 billion. But his answer, as far as I could tell, was to quote the great statesman Ralph Kramden: "Homina homina." I mean, it was like nothing. I mean, he had no answer for the fact that, "Well, I just want to cut taxes." I mean, it was pathetic, I thought. On his part.
BLITZER: I have great respect for the chairman, for Senator Corker, and I think he's, you know, he's a very, very polished, sophisticated, educated, smart guy, but he's a United States senator, Josh, he's got to answer questions if he wants to be a public servant.
JOSHUA GREEN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Well, he does. But I think the issue here is he's also styled himself as the conscience of his party. Someone who really cares about fiscal issues like the deficit.
And what his flip-flop on the tax bill showed and what his inability to answer your questions showed is that, at the end of the day, he's really no different than the other Republicans who swallowed hard and voted for a tax bill that's very unpopular, that every independent analyst has shown is going to add significantly to the deficit and that may turn out to be a problem for the party later on. In the end, Corker was no different than any other Republican who voted for it.
BLITZER: My opinion, and I'm biased. I think these were fair, substantive, important questions. And as I said to him -- I spoke to him on the phone, Kaitlan, yesterday. I wanted to give you a full opportunity to respond to your critics.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. There are these reports going around the past 48 hours that the only reason he's voting "yes" on this bill is because it benefits him financially. So it's natural to ask a sitting senator who's about to go vote on a bill that's going to change the lives of millions of Americans why he went from being a "no" to being a "yes." And I don't think that's unreasonable. And if you're a senator, those are the questions you're going to have to answer. And I don't know why he was so outraged by that.
TOOBIN: And there is no doubt that it will benefit him to the tune of many millions of dollars. He says that's not why he voted for the bill, and people can take that for what it's worth.
But let's -- I mean, there is no doubt that this bill will help him and a lot of the other senators who vote for them personally put money in their pocket. We don't know that about the president, of course, because we've never seen his tax return.
GREEN: One other point. Corker actually had the freedom to vote his conscience in this case. He's retiring. He doesn't have to face voters again. So he very well could have stood up for principle and cast the vote he said he was going to cast in that clip that you played during the segment but he didn't, and I think he needs to answer why.
BLITZER: You cover the White House for us, Kaitlan. How important is this vote? And it's going to pass the Senate tomorrow morning. It will pass the House. The president will sign it into law.
How big of a victory is this for the Republicans? They've been anxious for some major legislative win this year. How big of a win is it for the president?
COLLINS: Well, it's incredibly significant. This is the first big legislative victory the Republicans have had since they took over Congress and the White House. So it's certainly something that they're going to be celebrating over the next few days.
But now they're faced with the hard reality of they're going to have to sell this bill, because according to that new poll from CNN, 55 percent of people disapprove of this bill. And since the last time those people were surveyed in November, only 2 percent of more people support it.
Now that's striking, because everyone from the White House and Capitol Hill has been going on television trying to sell this bill, why we need it, and only 2 percent or more people support it despite all that talk about it. It's certainly something the White House is going to have to work on now.
BLITZER: It's also going to have an impact on health care in America, because it eliminates the individual mandate which is a key part of Obamacare, meaning that individuals who don't want to have health insurance, they don't have to have health insurance, but they have to pay this mandate or a tax in order to help fund some of the other programs.
TOOBIN: Well, and now this turns into a Crate and Barrel situation for the Republicans. They broke it, they own it. President Trump has said, you know, every time there's a problem with health care now, it's because Obamacare is a disaster. Because the Republicans have now gotten rid of the individual mandate, every time health insurance rates go up, as they always do, it's now going to be on the Republicans to explain it. They can try to keep blaming Barack Obama. It's going to be -- it's going to get even tougher to do that.
BLITZER: Because they couldn't pass repeal and replace of Obamacare, but this legislation, which is about to be signed into law, will have a serious impact on the future of Obamacare.
GREEN: It will. And most analysts have -- have modelled this and said that this is probably going to increase health care costs by about 10 percent, taking out the individual mandate, because you're removing younger, healthier people from the risk pool and what's left are older, sicker people.
But what's striking about this, again, it takes us back to Senator Corker, is Tennessee is one of the states struggling most under Obamacare. They almost had a county that had no insurers. This is going to make it more difficult for people in Tennessee to get affordable health insurance coverage. And it's because of this provision tucked into a bill that it didn't look like he was going to vote for a couple of months ago.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, we don't know how this legislation, this new law, it's about to become a law, is going to have a financial impact on the president or his family or others in his administration, but especially the president because he's never released his tax returns. And ae you seeing any indication at all from the White House he is going to do so?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: No, and they said today that he's still under audit. They repeated that they're not going to release those tax returns while he's under audit, so we aren't going to know specifically how this does benefit the President.
And they said it's going -- today, the Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, told reporters that it's going to negatively affect him. But it will, in the business perspective, benefit him.
And we know that because of several aspects of this bill -- limiting the top tax rate for top earners, that -- the pass-through income that he benefits from that commercial real estate business.
Several aspects are certainly going to help the President here, so it's not true that he's not going to benefit from it because he will.
BLITZER: Is there any reason, at all, to believe -- and I'll ask you, too, Josh -- that the President is worse off financially because this is about to become the law of the land?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No. I mean, there is no reason to believe that because, you know, one thing that's clear about this tax bill is that it favors asset owners, people who own companies, who own products, as opposed to people who get salaries.
And real estate developers, which is what Donald Trump basically is, are not people who make money principally from salary. They are people who make money from assets.
JOSHUA GREEN, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: That's right. And the only place I could think this is hurting Donald Trump is, you know, he may not be able to deduct his -- to deduct as much of his property taxes -- his personal property taxes. We're talking about a couple thousand dollars for a guy who claims to be worth billions.
COLLINS: But this is certainly a bill that's going to benefit more people like the President than the President's supporters in the long run --
COLLINS: -- because those taxes for the middle-class families will expire in 10 years and the corporation taxes are permanent, so.
GREEN: Some of them expire in three years.
BLITZER: Some of them will expire in 2025.
BLITZER: So even earlier than 10 years. All right. Everybody standby. There's more news we're following, including -- we're going to get an update from the federal officials on that deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington State. Why was the train traveling at nearly three times the speed limit?
[17:51:45] BLITZER: One day after a deadly passenger train derailment in Washington State, federal officials are about to update the public on what may have caused the crash and what could have possibly been done to prevent it.
But, first, let's go to the scene of the crash -- you're looking at live pictures right now -- for an update from our senior national correspondent, Kyung Lah.
Kyung, what is the very latest?
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it could be days before they're able to answer some of the nitty-gritty questions.
What we're hearing from rescue crews out here is that the cranes are positioned, the trucks, the flatbed trucks. They are waiting to take parts of this train away, but, again, it could be days.
The NTSB, though, coming out with this early finding, that for this stretch of track, the train was simply moving too fast.
LAH (voice-over): Cranes slowly lift the first of the mangled Amtrak passenger cars off the track and highway.
TRAVIS PHELPS, SPOKESPERSON, WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: This is a very careful, delicate operation. We've got some weather in the area today, wind and rain. That can complicate these big moves.
LAH (voice-over): One by one, moving to nearby Joint Base Lewis- McChord where investigators hope to learn why, on its very first run on a new passenger route, the train sped at 80 miles per hour, much faster than the posted 30-mile-per-hour speed limit for the curved section of track.
Investigators already recovered the train's rear black box. And they also know this. Life-saving technology called positive train control was not activated on this brand-new passenger rail line. PTC forces speeding trains to automatically slow down.
BELLA DINH-ZARR, MEMBER, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: We're going to find out exactly whether PTC or positive train control would have prevented this accident. It's a great disappointment that positive train control has not been implemented in every single railroad across the country because it can prevent these exact types of accidents, which are over speed derailments.
LAH (voice-over): Positive train control won't be the only safety question. MAYOR DON ANDERSON, LAKEWOOD WASHINGTON: I'm an advocate for safety.
I'm not so concerned about the cost. If you can't afford to do it the best way through our community, I'd rather not have it there.
LAH (voice-over): Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson and his city council fought to stop the train line citing safety concerns. $180 million in federal stimulus money spurred Washington State to move the passenger line from the sparsely inhabited coastline directly through towns like Lakewood and over Interstate 5. Anderson warned just two weeks ago that disaster could be coming.
ANDERSON: Come back when there is that accident and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements.
LAH (on camera): Maybe you didn't predict this exact thing, but to have seen it coming.
ANDERSON: You know, there's a certain degree of guilt associated with it. Maybe we gave up too soon.
LAH (on camera): You feel guilty?
ANDERSON: Not intellectually, but, emotionally, you know, we don't like to lose. And maybe if we'd won, things would have been different.
LAH: And what the Mayor is talking about there is a lawsuit. The city of Lakewood did sue to try to stop this train line from going through their town, from going through all of these residential areas. They were unsuccessful.
[17:54:59] The Mayor says he will now return to continuing to be a vocal opponent once all of this is cleared up, Wolf. He points out three people have died in this incident. He wants to prevent any future deaths or injuries.
We are awaiting an NTSB briefing that is scheduled to begin in 10 minutes, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Kyung, thanks very much. Kyung Lah with the breaking news.
We're also standing by for the Senate vote on the GOP tax overhaul. But hours after the House passed the bill along party lines, a sudden technical snag will force the House of Representatives to vote again tomorrow morning. So why are Republicans having trouble getting the ball over the goal line?