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Christie Speaks Out Against Jared Kushner; Final House Vote on Sweeping Tax Bill; Lawmakers Work to Avoid Government Shutdown Friday; Investigators Looking at Human Error in Amtrak Derailment. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 20, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:33] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaking out against President Trump's son-in-law. In an interview with MSNBC, Christie defended Special Counsel Robert Mueller and then had this to say about Jared Kushner.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: I'm telling you that he deserves scrutiny. You know why? Because he was involved in the transition and involved in meetings that called into question his role, OK. Well, then, if he's innocent of that, then that will come out, as Mueller examines all the facts.


HILL: Joining me now to discuss, Emily Tisch Sussman, democratic strategist and campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign, and Ned Ryun, CEO of grassroots conservative group, American Majority.

As we look at this, Alice, we know there is no love lost here between Chris Christie and Jared Kushner, but what is the end game here for Christie?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's right. He's 100 percent right Jared should be under scrutiny. And he is. There's a couple of reasons. Jared has acknowledged that he did have back- channel meetings and he'd had to revise his financial reports a few times. And it does raise questions. But Christie also made the point that he should be looked at, but don't pre-judge. Let the facts lead where they may. And first of all, he was just answering a question that he was asked. I don't think he was driving the narrative. But his point was that all of these people should be looked at if they were in the transition and there are questions. But let the facts lead to the conclusion. Let Mueller conduct his investigation and let him find the truth and let's not speculate as to the outcome of this of this. And I think he makes a very good point. And that comes from his years of law enforcement. Let the experts do the investigation and let's let the facts lead where they may.

HILL: We'll see where those facts lead.

I want to shift now to tax reform. We know it's here. Look, this is what we've got. Yes, there's going to be a second vote, largely procedural. Well, procedural, obviously. But Democrats have already started making their case as to what their marketing plan is going to be in 2018. Take a listen.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATOR MAJORITY LEADER: This is serious stuff. We believe you're messing up America. You can pay attention for a couple of minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: This tax cut, follow it, simply. This tax cut raises -- it causes a huge budget deficit to give money to the wealthiest people in the country, creates a huge hole in the budget, and who's going to fill the hole in the budget? Not the lobbyists walking in and out of Senator McConnell's office 100 feet down the hall. They're not going to pay for it. They're not going to have to pay for it. It's going to be the nurse in Newark that has to work until she's 70.


So there we have it. This is what we know we're going to hear heading into 2018.

Ned, Paul Ryan has made it very clear that he believes the results are what are going to ultimately sell this to the American people. Will those come in time for Republicans in the midterms?

NED RYUN, FOUNDER & CEO, AMERICAN MAJORITY: I don't know. I think there's still question marks about that. But let's face it. I think Democrats will have a hard time raining against an economy that I think will get to 4 percent GDP. I think you could see the stock market going to 26,000 or 27,000. But I will say this. I have issues with this tax plan, because I do think it cheated towards the corporate side. And I've been very clear about this. I'm upset the corporate guys got a 21 percent permanent rate and the small business guys got a 29.6 temporary rate. Because I think the small business guys could have a much more immediate impact on the middle class, not only in new jobs, but also in wage increases. At the same time, I find it highly ironic that Democrats are talking about deficits right now, when they didn't utter a word, when Obama added $9 trillion to our debt over eight years. I find that ironic and I find it hypocritical.

[11:35:07] HILL: Emily, so that will come at you a little bit. But when we look at what we could be seeing here, an extra $2,000 for a lot of folks is a great chunk of change in their pocket and what they could do with that. And that is obviously what Republicans are saying here. And they're going to push out the fact, not what we just heard from Ned, but also that Democrats stood in the way. Ultimately, how do you run against the tax cuts?

EMILY TISCH SUSSMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST & CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: You can run pretty much every way against this tax bill. The more people are finding out about what's in the bill, which has been very hard for them decipher, considering the 11th hour process that Republicans went through in order to pass this bill, but the more people that are finding out about it, the less they like it. Look, there's basically a couple of things people need to know about this bill. You'll hear this over and over. That the corporate tax rate is permanent, but for the individual, actually it expires. I think the second thing is that there's actually special loopholes in it that are coming in for a number of Senators. They are going to make a lot of money off of this bill. And the fact that the rate for the individuals at the top actually went down in the end, even from the bills that were moving through both Houses, it's gone down for the individuals at the top. Where it's going to go up for a lot of middle class families, and especially those, $2,000, that may end up being the additional premium that many middle-class families end up spending out of pocket, because of the repeal of the individual mandate that's also in this bill. So the more that comes out, the less people are going to like about it. Republicans were up against the wall under the criticism that they could get anything done. They couldn't pass anything when they were in charge of both Houses of Congress and the presidency. So they rushed to get this bill through. Unfortunately, what they actually got through is greatly disliked by most of the American public.

HILL: Listen, although they did get it through. So we'll be hearing about this. We'll be hearing from the president shortly. We can imagine, that will be one of the things we hear about this legislative achievement for Republicans and the president on a campaign promise in 2017.

There's a little bit of momentum there, Alice. But in terms of that momentum, two-fold question for you. Number one, how are they going to use that? And where can they use it? And then, I also want to ask you a quick question about messaging on the backside, but give me that one first.

STEWART: They'll use it by quoting James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid." And I do believe that this will help the economy. Look, Chuck Schumer is making up a bunch of facts that aren't true, just like he made up a bunch of facts that aren't true when it comes to Obamacare. They can obsess about how this helps corporate leaders. This helps average, every day Americans. They will get not only $2,000 extra in their pockets at the end of the year, but look, we created a bigger zero tax bracket. That's important. We've doubled the child tax credit --


HILL: But let me stop you on the details. If there is some momentum, Alice, that is gained for Republicans here in terms of moving the ball forward on other types of legislation, whether it be immigration, whether it be entitlement -- I mean, specifically, entitlements and infrastructure. These are things that the president and Republicans do not see eye to eye on. So is this momentum that Republicans can use for a next battle? STEWART: It is momentum. Because they learned a very important

lesson is that they have to work together to get things done. And this was a perfect example of the House had one version and the Senate had a different, and they worked together to accomplish this. Look, their backs are against the wall. If they don't show more accomplishments like this, leading into the midterm elections, they won't be re-elected. And more Republicans won't be elected. So the momentum comes from them motivating themselves to carbon copy this type of legislative bicameral work on other issues, that are very important. So I think they've learned their lesson. They have to work together. And the messaging for this will come out with the success and the money in the American people's pockets. And that's how they're going to take advantage of this in the midterm election and hold onto the majority we have in the House and the Senate.

HILL: Alice, Emily, Ned, we've got to leave it there. Thank you.


[11:39:06] HILL: Still to come, Republicans poised for that win on tax reform today. There's still that pesky little matter, though, of keeping the government open by the end of the week. Time is running out. So can they make a deal here or are we looming a government shutdown as a Christmas gift? Stay with us.


HILL: The breaking news at this hour, House lawmakers preparing to vote again next hour to pass the GOP's tax overhaul bill.

There's another fight, though, that's looming. This one over federal funding, which could lead to a government shutdown on Friday, this Friday. House and Senate Republicans have a major battle over Obamacare payments with both sides digging in. That's, of course, in addition to the ever-present battle with Democrats. Will Congress pass a stopgap funding bill again, a short-term deal that would push the issues into mid-January? Again, reminder here, the deadline, midnight, Friday.

Republican Congressman Tom Reed, of New York, joins me now. He's a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Sir, good to have you with us.

Are we keeping the lights on past Friday night?

REP. TOM REED, (R), NEW YORK: We are. And how we get that done is still very dynamic, very fluid, obviously. But today is about tax reform. This is an historic moment. We're going to reform the code and deliver relief for people back home. And that's a step in the right direction and we're going to see more jobs as a result of it, too.

HILL: Obviously, a lot of focus on that. I know that you voted for it. You're a yes. Five of your fellow New York representatives are not. Peter King calling this "unfair and wrong." Lee Zeldin says, "It's a geographic redistribution of wealth." Are they wrong?

[11:45:00] REED: I definitely understand their concern. They come from higher-income portion of New York State, down towards the city on our area is an average salary of $42,000. And from my perspective, I can understand the concern. But I looked at this as a whole package. Not only the $1,600 that people in our district are going to be able to keep in their own pocket, but also where this goes for the economy as a whole, about giving opportunity and hope to people because of a job that they'll have an opportunity to apply for.

HILL: Senator McConnell has said, look, we have a serious sales pitch job in front of us, and if we can't do it, we're in the wrong line of work. You said this benefits your constituents, but if you're looking at it overall, how much will you be a part of that sales pitch?

REED: We'll let the policy lead the charge. I'm very comfortable that we'll see growth. That means jobs. We'll see more money in people's pockets. I think people will start to see that there's a lot of political theater going on here in Washington, D.C. And as I've listened to American people across the country, I will say, they're sick and tired of the D.C. politics. And once they start seeing these positive results, this will carry the day.

HILL: I want to pick up on that, being sick and tired of D.C. politics. Another thing people are sick and tired of is kicking the can down the road when it comes to funding the government. Here we are again looking at a stopgap measure. Why can't we just end this once and for all?

REED: I'm hopeful we'll get a deal like what we got with Paul Ryan and Patty Murray before. I know they're working hard. I know the speaker is working hard. I know the leadership in both Houses and across the spectrums are working hard to get a deal done. I'm open to that. I want to do a compromise position and say, you know what, 80 percent of a loaf is a victory, not a defeat. And that is the hard part where we have this extremism control in Washington, D.C.

HILL: Well, you've said to "Politico" recently, there's consternation, in your words, "from your colleagues and House Republican caucus" when talking about Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies, in the funding bill. So where does that stand at this point? How much of the 80 percent could you be getting? How much give do you have?

REED: Well, I'm part of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is a bipartisan Democrat, Republican caucus that comes together. And we took a position on this where we said, we will support the cost- sharing in exchange for the employer mandate relief, from 50 to 500 employees, the medical device repeal, the 40-hour workweek. You do a compromise position like that, that's a victory. And we demonstrated that we could get Democrats to support that. That is the kind of hard work we have to do. It's time to start to negotiate again and do the deals here on the Hill that deliver for the American people.

HILL: Speaker Ryan has made it clear no one is no leave town until this gets fixed. But what we're looking, too, is it would only fund the government, most agencies through January 19th, except for the Pentagon, which would be funded for the year. There's also this $81 billion disaster relief bill that has been tacked on. Is that an effort to make sure that Democrats don't vote against this?

REED: Well, I think, obviously, those are all pieces that they're putting together to see if we can get bipartisan support. That's about negotiating the deal across the aisle in order to support things that need to get done, things like the Children's Health Insurance Program, things like the disaster relief programs that are out there. These people are suffering, and we need to deliver for them. And hopefully, we can just put partisan politics aside, get the extremism out of here, and put the people first. That's what we're trying to do.

HILL: That would be quite the Christmas gift. We'll look for it.

Congressman Tom Reed, appreciate the time. Thank you.

REED: Always a pleasure. Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Coming up, the distraction. Was that the cause of a deadly train derailment in Washington state earlier this week? Video from inside the conductor's cabin and the clues it may give investigators.


[11:52:55] HILL: A live look for you at the White House. President Trump holding a cabinet meeting at the hour. We're standing by to see if he says anything to reporters before lawmakers in the House cast their final vote there on the Republican tax bill that's happening in the next hour.

Meantime, two days after that deadly Amtrak crash in Washington State, federal investigators, we're learning, are focusing on possible human error. Was the train's engineer distracted in the moments before that train plunged onto a busy highway? We know it was going 80 miles per hour. That's 50 miles an hour over the speed limit.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Dupont, Washington, near the crash site.

What more are we learning today, Steph?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, let me paint the picture for you. I'll step out of the way so you can see what it looks like here. They're still busy at work. They were working all night as we were watching them. Overnight, the locomotive of the train, which is extremely heavy, they had to lift that up on a sling, but then they realized the fled bed truck was not going to do it so they put it on this special contraption that had to come up from Oregon in order to get that locomotive out of there. They've been able to do that. But Washington Department of Transportation says that they're going to have to continue doing some work on the roadway because there's a bit of gouging on the side by the shoulder that they're going to have to fix. And they'll have to take out a tree that looks like it may have been compromised by the derailment and they need to fix some guardrails. All of that still keeping the southbound lanes of the I-5 closed here. They said fingers crossed -- that was the exact terminology used -- that they'll be able to open up the roadway at some point today or maybe even just a lane. They said as soon as they're able to open up the roadway, they will. But it's just a matter of how much they are able to do to make sure the roadway is safe. So that's what's happening here. The roadway is still closed and they're asking people to stay away from it.

But we have learned more about the distraction topic that you brought up there. What we learned is that there were two people in the cab at the time of the accident. We know the engineer was in there as well as a conductor, who was getting familiar with the terrain, is what they're saying. The conductor, who was working that train, was in the passenger section of the train. We also know that all of the crew members have been hospitalized after this derailment and that's why it's taking longer for them to interview those crew members. They also said they were able to remove the cameras facing into the cab and also facing forward in front of the train. But they were badly damaged, so they've sent those two cameras back to D.C., the NTSB has, to see if they can get any information from the videos to give them more clues as to why this accident happened -- Erica?

[11:55:30] HILL: Our Stephanie Elam with the latest for us there. Stephanie, thank you.

Still to come, today, one final vote, one big campaign promise fulfilled. In the next hour, Congress set to send the first major tax cuts in decades to the president's desk for his signature. Can Republicans sell this, though, to a skeptical public? We're expecting to hear from President Trump in the next few minutes.