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CNN NEWSROOM

House Prepares to Pass Tax Reform Bill; President Plans to Celebrate Tax Win Before Bill Arrives; Trump Jr: There Are People At The Highest Level Of Government That Don't Want To Let America Be America; Former CIA Chief: Trump Jr. Is Promoting Autocracy; Today: Trump To Speak On Tax Overhaul. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


House Prepares to Pass Tax Reform Bill; President Plans to Celebrate Tax Win Before Bill Arrives`; Aired 9-9:30a ET>

[09:00:02] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: OK. So what was in there? They pulled together a $1,000 tip. Leslie plans on using the cash to pay bills and buy some gifts for her family. That's the best tip ever.

WEIR: Over tip your breakfast waitresses. They get up really early to serve you eggs and coffee.

CAMEROTA: Yes. That's a great. Great to see you, Bill. Thank you. See you tomorrow.

WEIR: Nice to be here. See you in the morning.

CAMEROTA: OK. Fantastic.

WEIR: Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM." Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. This morning the president promises a news conference on the heels of his first legislative victory. His tax reform close to reaching his desk but will it bring with it the political dividends the president and Republican lawmakers are banking on considering that most of you at home, most Americans, don't really like the bill?

BERMAN: So the Senate passed it in the wee hours of the morning. Very shortly the House will have to vote on it all over again because thanks to a procedural glitch, all that stuff that happened yesterday effectively doesn't count. So Paul Ryan can break another gavel today.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill with what we can expect shortly -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, John and Poppy. Republicans on the White House on the verge of what they are calling a Christmas miracle. Democrats are calling it a tax scam. And as you noted it was early in the morning that the Senate passed the bill and the Senate parliamentarian discovered that there was some provisions that violated a budget rule so they took those out and now it goes back to the House.

They are expected to vote on it afternoon or so before it goes to the president's desk for potentially a signing ceremony this afternoon. The House Rules Committee, and those -- the House Rules Committee this morning joking, saying that the bill is so nice, got to vote for it twice. But Republicans, make no mistake about it here, they know they have to sell the plan. This is very similar to what we saw in 2010 with the Democrats and Obamacare. It was highly unpopular and it was along partisan lines.

Many people, Nancy Pelosi included, saying they haven't read the bill in its entirety. Well, now Republicans, they too are looking at this very unpopular legislation and making the case that the more Americans learn about it, and see or feel the effects of it, the more that they will actually approve and like it and it won't cost them votes for the midterm election.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling my colleague Phil Mattingly who was up at 1:00 in the morning here that this is how they're going to do it. This is how they're going to make the pitch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: If we can't sell this to the American people we ought to go into another line of work. I think this is an important accomplishment for the country that people will value and appreciate, but it obviously requires us to continue this discussion with the American people and we're all going to be doing that all through the year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Minority Leader Chuck Schumer making the case here that he believes that this is going to be an anchor around the ankles of Republicans, particularly when it comes to the midterm elections. Many Democrats making the case here that this is bad for working people, for working families and the middle class, largely a gift to corporations and the wealthiest among us, and Schumer saying that late last night in a close argument making that case, but also chastising some of his Republican colleagues for talking during his closing remarks, really revealing the emotions behind this. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: This is serious stuff. We believe you're messing up America. You can pay attention for a couple of minutes. 145 million middle class families earning under $200,000 will get either tax hikes or a tax cut of less than $100. 83 percent of the middle class will get -- will either pay more in taxes or get little but crumbs.

Is that what you intended?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: The next big battle facing Congress is going to be coming up with the spending bill, meeting that deadline, Friday deadline for funding the government, very likely that they will kick the can forward and have a short term continuing resolution into next year -- John, Poppy.

HARLOW: Suzanne, thank you very much.

President Trump planning to celebrate his first major legislative victory with a news conference.

BERMAN: Yes. But I don't know if it means what he thinks it means. We don't know if that actually means he will take questions at this news conference.

HARLOW: That would be a Christmas gift to reporters.

BERMAN: Yes.

HARLOW: And the American public if he does. We'll see. Our Kaitlan Collins is in the White House this morning.

Good morning, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Yes, we're expecting a big day here at the White House. Certainly everyone is in a celebratory mood, that this is going to be their first major legislative accomplishment since President Trump first took office nearly a year ago, and on another note, if this does pass and the president does it, he's going to face another challenge of selling this bill to the American people.

He often prides himself as this -- this big salesman but we know that according to that new CNN poll, only 33 percent of people are in favor of this bill and nearly two-thirds of people think it does more to benefit the wealthy than the middle class.

[09:05:12] But the White House likely won't be focused on that today. They'll be focused on having a victory, some sort of celebration here later on at the White House after the president first holds that Cabinet meeting with Cabinet members today.

And the president tweeted there will be a news conference but, John and Poppy, we'll be waiting to see if he is going to take questions from reporters.

BERMAN: It would be nice. Kaitlan, one of the things the president was saying while trying to sell this tax bill is that he would be a big loser. He would suffer from it. But that's not really what's go to happen here, is it? COLLINS: No, it's certainly doesn't seem to be the case. The

president said multiple times that if this bill passes and he signs it, that he's going to take a pretty big hit. But even the Press Secretary Sara Sanders acknowledged yesterday that the president could benefit from this legislation in a business perspective. There are several provisions in this bill that could help someone in a position like the president, that estate tax, the lower tax rate for those top earners, those pass-through incomes, so certain aspects.

But we won't fully know, John and Poppy, because the president has still not released his tax returns.

BERMAN: They didn't announce if he was going to release it those morning, apparently. I've been waiting to hear if they would do it by 9:00 a.m. Apparently it didn't happen.

Kaitlan Collins, at the White House, thanks so much.

Joining us to discuss, CNN political analyst Michael Bender and Matt Viser, and CNN contributor Salena Zito.

Matt, I want to start with you. This is a big deal. This a big piece of legislation that will have a big impact for millions of Americans. Talk about the significance. Is this enough to sort of reset the presidency and maybe boost that 35 percent approval rating?

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, I mean, it is a big deal. It's a big legislative accomplishment and one that, frankly, a lot of people didn't think we would get to this point, that Republicans could get everything together and get onboard and united around this. And -- but at the same time it is a gamble, it's a political gamble given the unpopularity of what they are doing, and it sets up the stakes for next year where they do have something to run on. There was a concern that Republicans would not have anything to run on heading into the midterms, now they do.

But it's a big open question whether they can sell this to the public, you know, starting today, really, and starting to get that push. And the other question is whether this provides any legislative momentum. Can this -- does winning for Republicans on this make them, you know, turn to other issues early next year and get some other accomplishments under their belt?

HARLOW: Right, right, like infrastructure, et cetera.

Salena, Mitch McConnell's words, you know, if we can't sell it to the American public we should go and into another line of work. Well, they haven't so far. I mean, 33 percent of Americans is all that like this thing. You've got a majority who don't. A majority who thinks that it favors the wealthy over the middle class.

Paul Ryan pointing his finger at the media, blaming the media for bad mouthing this bill, et cetera, et cetera. He can say that. We put the facts out there as they are. Is Mitch McConnell's job going to be really hard in selling this thing? SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, hopefully not. You know, if

you're a Republican and you want to hold your majority, the important thing is to sell it better than you have during the process. So it showed in your poll that only 17 percent of people believed that they are going to get a tax cut, when in reality, according to Brookings, 80 percent of the people are going to get a tax cut at least in the first 10 years.

So it's the onus and the responsibility is on Congress, it's on leadership, to explain and show Americans where they are -- where these tax cuts -- when they are coming, how it impacts their lives, how it impacts their communities, and how it impacts their pocketbooks.

You know, at the end of the day Americans end up voting on pocket book issues for the most part.

BERMAN: Yes.

ZITO: They have eight months to do a better job of showing Americans that this actually does make your life better.

BERMAN: Yes. The curious thing for politicians as always been, Salena, though, is that you can't tell people how they feel, right?

ZITO: Right. Exactly.

BERMAN: You can't tell people how they should feel, but you can't tell people how they actually feel.

ZITO: Yes.

BERMAN: Right now a majority say that they believe the benefits, the majority, are going to the wealthy.

ZITO: Right.

BERMAN: Not the middle class. Will they feel differently in a year? We just don't know.

You know, Michael Bender, to you, you know, look, Republicans, they do like this, and this is the kind of thing they should pass. Tom Cole, he has a great line, God made Republicans to cut taxes. You know, Chuck Schumer, as Poppy was saying, says that they will rue the day, though. Does this fire up the Democratic base or in what way will this fire up the Democratic base heading into the midterms, Michael?

MICHAEL BENDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's a good question. We definitely have seen the Democratic base fired up at this point already, and I think the real impact from this tax bill, the political impact from this tax bill is going to be -- as you mentioned, we are months away from knowing for sure here, the American people rightfully feel this is a giveaway to the rich because in a lot of ways it is.

[09:10:08] When you look at the total cuts for individuals, less than one-fourth of it goes to the middle class. The Republican bet here is that that will -- the middle class will eventually feel that trickle down to them. And, you know, as Trump consistently reminds us, the economy is humming along here pretty well. A lot of historic gains in the stock market, unemployment rates are down, as long as that holds steady, I don't think they need to see a big gain in those numbers as long as consumer confidence stays relatively steady, as long as the -- you know, the stocks keep climbing, and unemployment holds steady, I think this is a win for Republicans. At the very least it takes away the argument that they are incapable of passing anything as a governing majority.

HARLOW: So, Matt, there's a new study out from Yale today and they talked to a bunch of Fortune 500 CEOs, and only 14 percent of them said that because this tax bill, you know, is passing that they will actually make those large capital expenditures at their this country, and translate that, that means, you know, hiring and jobs. Only 14 percent. Should we be sitting here saying yikes, oh my god, how could that happen, or should we look at history and say, yes, duh?

VISER: Yes, I mean, history has sort of proven in past iterations of big tax cuts that it doesn't necessarily trickle down. Repatriation does not necessarily mean, you know, bringing money back from overseas, does not necessarily mean that businesses are going to pour that into their businesses. Usually it means dividends for investors and Republicans may argue that that's a good thing, you know, to have more money in the hands of investors.

But that is -- you know, as Michael was alluding to, gives Democrats potentially the upper hand in the messaging that this is a giveaway to the large corporations and the wealthiest of Americans and their tax cuts are permanent, whereas individual tax cuts, you know, for the middle class will go away in 10 years without more action from Congress. So I think that battle will play out, and, you know, taxes are complicated in the same way that health care was complicated.

So the selling of this, I think, gets a little bit harder for Republicans to make, and maybe they'll be better at it than Democrats were on health care, but that's their challenge right now.

BERMAN: It's a low bar. It's a low bar.

(LAUGHTER)

HARLOW: All right. Everyone, stay with us, we have a lot more to talk about. You'll be with us on the other side of the break.

The president's son, Donald Trump, Jr., floating a conspiracy theory last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, JUNIOR, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: There are people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Huh? Who? What's he saying about a rigged system also? And if you've ever needed validation that every vote counts, look no further than Virginia. A Democrat wins a race for state delegate there by just one vote. She will join us live.

BERMAN: Plus, was the engineer distracted? New details this morning on the deadly Amtrak crash and where the crew actually was when it happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:17:39]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., says top government officials are conspiring against America. Here he was last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign, and people were like, what are you talking about? But it is, and you are seeing it. There is and there are people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America. They don't want to let the little guy have a voice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns live at the White House. Joe what is going on here?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Donald Trump Jr., another voice working to discredit the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Donald Trump, Jr., made these remarks in West Palm Beach, Florida, to a group of conservative students.

He started out talking about the controversy over anti-Trump text messages written by an FBI agent on the Mueller team, who since has been removed, and then Trump Jr. asked what would have happened in 2008 if the FBI director had written a conspiracy in the event Barack Obama was elected, and then Trump Jr. said, quote, "There would be a revolution in the streets." Let's listen to a little bit more.

Apparently, we don't have another sound bite there. But the essential point, of course, with Donald Trump Jr. is some critics are questioning whether in fact he was questioning the patriotism of people in the government, who are critics of this president.

And, of course, if he was talking about Robert Mueller, certainly a problem there because this is a man who won a Bronze Star in Vietnam as well as was a platoon leader in the Marine Corps for quite a while, so very difficult to question the patriotic credentials, if you will, of Robert Mueller. Back to you.

HARLOW: Joe Johns at the White House, thank you. Our panel is back with us. Salena, let me start with you. There are people at the highest levels of government that do not want America to be America, the words of Donald Trump, Jr., to students last night. Why does he think this is a good message and who do you think he's talking about?

[09:20:08] SALENA ZITO, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I suspect he's talking about the FBI agent where that information was revealed in the Mueller investigation. I don't understand what it means to not let America be America. We are always America.

But, you know -- I mean, people tend to fall prey when they are under pressure, they tend to fall in believing there's a conspiracy or there is an alignment that is preventing them to go forward or to be able to accomplishment the things that they are doing.

And I think that because of all these investigations that probably Donald Trump, Jr., and the Trump family do feel like they are backed in the corner a lot and not able to do the things they wanted to do or have had the year they expected because everything sort of has been clouded over by this.

I think that's what he's speaking from. Honestly, I think a better message is to talk about what -- you know, how to make things better in government and to reform things in government rather than constantly complain about things that happened in the past. I don't think that's a really healthy message.

BERMAN: General Michael Hayden was on with us overnight, and he said there's an impact, if you keep running down the highest levels of government it leaves a mark. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN (RETIRED): FORMER CIA DIRECTOR AND FORMER NSA DIRECTOR: We are now seeing a constant attack not just from the administration, but as the congressman suggested a few minutes ago from other members of Republican Party attacking the institutions of American government, and it's those institutions, the rule of law and the processes that keep us a free people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Michael, the long-term impact of these repeated statements?

MICHAEL BENDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think there's any question that repeated attacks on institutions will eventually have an effect, but this is also -- this was the M.O. of the Trump campaign from the beginning and taking advantage and exploiting the voters who were dissatisfied with -- who just watched and who had institution after institution fail them their entire lives.

There's definitely a political calculous there. We do have to remember that Don Jr. is sort of preaching to the choir. It's a conservative group. He brought his kids onstage and he is a beloved figure with this group. And maybe nobody more than Don Jr. inside the Trump Tower symbolized the delegate more than Don Jr. He is a true believer from the very start, and I remember at the convention he was interviewed at a "Wall Street Journal" panel and asked when was the first time you thought that your dad could actually win this election, and he said the moment he came down that golden escalator.

He has been onboard from the very beginning and last night was a lot of applause lines. He mentioned he has been interviewed for 23 hours over a 20-minute meeting that he's had. I think that's a bit of hyperbole there.

But he's the one that brought Russians, brought people with connections to the Russian government into Trump tower, so there's a lot of pressure on him. These are legitimate questions that he has to answer for.

HARLOW: Matt, the president says there will be a news conference today and not totally clear -- I don't know what your over under is on that if he will take questions or not, but let's say he does --

BERMAN: In this imaginary world where he takes questions. He does sometimes.

HARLOW: He does sometimes. So, let's see if he does. A lot of things to get to here, but just on Russia, what does he say?

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He -- he seems to relish the moments of press conference. To my memory he had one true press conference as president where he has taken questions for an extended period. He seemed to revel almost in that, the give and take between him and reporters.

He seems to like those moments. His advisers may not like him as much because he goes off script quite a bit, and that's the damage potential on the Russia stuff is that I think that Don Jr. is channeling a lot of what his father would like to say publicly.

And so, if he's up there behind a podium trying to talk about taxes and some of the early questions are about Bob Mueller and, you know, does Donald Trump, the president, go in that direction of harsh criticism in a way that we have seen him tweet in the past, but is different from behind a podium at the White House.

BERMAN: Salena, I also think there's a real risk of the president too if sexual harassment comes up because he has not faced direct questions about this over the last month.

[09:25:01] ZITO: Yes, absolutely. And Matt is right, he does love that back and forth with the press. I am sure he personally probably would love to go out and do that, but as Matt said, I am sure his advisers are like, no way.

There's all kinds of risks and tangents that he could go off on that could completely destroy the message of the big moment for the Republican Party and for his first big accomplishment, and could also get him into all kinds of other trouble. That's what tends to happen for him in those types of vulnerable moments, when he's engaging with the press.

BERMAN: Michael Bender, Matt Viser and Salena Zito, thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it. Michael, congratulations.

HARLOW: Why are you keeping me out of the loop?

BERMAN: I will tell you later today.

Once it passed today, most of the tax bill takes effects in just 12 days, but there are steps you can take right now to lower your future taxes. We may or may not have been doing this over the last hour.

HARLOW: That's all we were doing all morning, right, chief business correspondent, Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Everybody is calling their local tax office to see if they can prepay their property taxes, and it's a blue state thing, and prepay the property taxes by December 29th at noon. The tax bill caps the state and local tax deduction at 10 grand.

So, if you prepay your property tax this year, you can deduct them under the old rules for 2017. And remember, real estate taxes are local. Each jurisdiction is different. Call now. I can tell you right now that the offices in New Jersey are all very, very busy picking up the phones as folks are trying to figure this out.

BERMAN: For instance?

ROMANS: I happen to know they are very busy. You can also defer income for things like commission and bonuses wait until 2018 for lower tax rates and pay expenses that will no longer be tax free like work-related expenses and pay tax fees now, call your accountant, pay your tax fees now.

Make charitable contributions now, if your tax rate falls in 2018, your 2017 deductions will be more valuable. Say you are a married couple making 160 grand and you want to make a $1,000 donation.

They currently have 28 percent tax rate so they save $280, but next year their rate falls so they only save $220. It's one of the reasons charities are concerned fewer people will itemize deductions.

BERMAN: Do you think we will go over 25,000 today?

ROMANS: We might. We're really close to Dow 25,000. We have seen 20,000, 21,000, 23,000, 25,000 is in the realm of possibilities. We are just shooting distance from it. You can see how quickly it has been this year. This has been a remarkable year of milestones.

It has been a remarkable eight years since the depths of the recession, but this is fueled by tax reform and the hopes it adds to profits. S&P 500 profits expected to jump maybe 9 percent just because of the lower tax rates. You have been putting up the banks. Goldman Sachs has a report saying that they will make a lot more money because of their lower taxes and that's what drive stock prices.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Just hours away from the final tax vote, and this time the really final tax vote.

HARLOW: Well, maybe.

BERMAN: Why some Republicans have decided to fight the president on this and the party. Stay with us.