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CNN NEWSROOM

Soon: Trump to Celebrate GOP Tax Plan Victory; Trump Jr. Floats Conspiracy About Investigation. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 20, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: For our international viewers, "Amanpour" is next. For our viewers in North America, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. We will pick it up from here.

Good to be with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN live special of the biggest day in the Trump administration.

We are mere minutes from the president celebrating the most substantial set of tax cuts in 31 years. What you are seeing now here, just a bunch of buses, but it's who is jumping on these buses that's so significant, right? They're going to be taking these Republican lawmakers from the Capitol, down the street to the White House for this symbolic signing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The official version of the law will be ready a little later, a version of the bill for the president to sign into law.

It is President Trump's single major legislative accomplishment since taking office 334 days ago. It's passage nearly as planned. Overnight, the Senate passed the law, had to make some technical changes, which is why the House is actually forced to hold that revote today. Obviously, passed. No Democrats, I should note, voted for the bill.

So, it was pretty sure bet. They won't be the ones boarding these buses at the capital, waiting to take all these Republicans to the White House to celebrate.

Earlier, the president reveled in the success of passing this new legislation. He not only hailed the fact that it cuts most individual tax rates and drastically cuts business taxes, but he also touted that it ends the Obamacare rule that people had to buy health insurance or pay a fine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means Obamacare is being repealed, because they get their money from the individual mandate. So the individual mandate is being repealed. So, in this bill, not only do we have massive tax cuts and tax reform, we have essentially repealed Obamacare. And we'll come up with something that will be much better.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: We have Phil Mattingly who is inside the Capitol for us.

But let's begin, Sunlen Serfaty, with you just outside where all these members of the Congress are boarding these buses. And, Sunlen, as they have been passing you, has there been high-fiving? I mean, what's the sense ahead this big victory lap at the White House?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly, the mood, Brooke, is way up up here on Capitol Hill right now among Republicans. And this is essentially the start of the Republican victory lap, these buses behind me. I'm going to step out of the shot, and show you, there is a long line of idling buses, five buses here, ready and waiting to take Republican members from the House side of Capitol Hill to the White House today where they'll gather on the south lawn of the White House and celebrate this big legislative accomplishment with President Trump.

Moments ago, we saw, of course, the House pass their second version of the tax bill at 224-201. No Democrats supporting it, 12 Republicans voting against it. Certainly, a big day, and certainly, they'll be a lot of pomp and circumstance later today from the south lawn of the White House when President Trump touts this big achievement.

We saw him release the statement immediately after the House vote just in the last hour talking about how this is a big beautiful Christmas present. Expect, Brooke, that sort of rhetoric today at the White House as well.

BALDWIN: So, before we think ahead to the south lawn, Phil Mattingly, as you have been, you know, knee deep in all of this for so long and co-wrote this in-depth piece on Republicans learned from the embarrassing failure of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

What did the party do differently this time to get this win in three months time?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As much as humanly possible, to put it bluntly.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTINGLY: Basically, they wanted to take their failure on Obamacare and do everything differently. That meant that instead of a top-down approach where the bills were kind of crafted by leadership, may be without buy-in from the opposite chamber, or from the White House, they wanted everybody involved from the get-go. That's why the big six existed.

Essentially, Senate leadership, House leadership, key committee chairs and members of the White House. But they also wanted to make sure their rank-and-file were deeply involved. You saw it on the House side of things, taking the members off of Capitol Hill so they couldn't see the initial proposal and then come out and attack it straight to the media. They almost wanted to sequester them out, walk them through, almost tire them out with as many details as they possibly could and try to get them on board. You saw a very similar thing happening in the Senate. Senate Majority

Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch really making sure that their committee members were deeply involved, deeply engaged from the staff level on up from the very beginning of the process and making sure that the rank-and-file members were read- in as well before we all were. Something that tends to frustrate members and we know more than they do.

But, Brooke, I think there's two other really key components here. First, tax cuts are very different than health care policy when it comes to the Republican Party. Republicans like tax cuts. Republicans campaigned on tax cuts.

On health care, they don't agree with the future of how the health care should be.

[14:05:01] You have very polar opposites inside the Republican conference of the both the House and Senate. But you also can't overstate the impact of the failure of Obamacare on this process.

Lawmakers in both chambers have told me they went home for the August recess and got hammered, just stinging rebukes for their inability to get something done. When those lawmakers came back to the Capitol Hill, I've been told by several aides who are deeply involved in this process, their willingness to do something, anything, no matter how difficult, would just overwhelm this entire process. That's how they moved through something that as you noted hasn't done in 31 years, they were able to get it done, Brooke, in three months.

BALDWIN: Willingness to do something, they did a very big something. So, we also expect to hear as we heard from, you know, House and Senate leadership, we'll hear from the president, essentially promises made, promises kept to the American people on taxes.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Let's broaden this out and just talk about this watershed moment for the Trump administration. Obviously, we've got eyes on buses. And these Republican lawmakers, right, heading to the White House.

But with me now, I have CNN senior economic analyst Steven Moore, former adviser to the Trump campaign, Professor Jennifer Taub of Vermont Law School, who wrote the book "Other People's Houses" about the 2008 financial melt down. Also with us, CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfield Davis, who is White House reporter for "The New York Times", and Bob Cusack, editor in chief of "The Hill".

So, welcome to all of you.

And, you know, Julie, just listening to the president earlier today, final cabinet meeting of the year, a glowing self report card, if you will. You know, talk tax reform, repealing the individual mandate, the economy is booming. I imagine that was a warm-up of what we're about to see from the south lawn.

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, absolutely. I mean, President Trump has been waiting for the opportunity to take a victory lap. Of course, we saw him have a similar event outside the White House earlier this year on health care, hoping that they were going to get there in terms of repealing Obamacare. And, of course, they didn't get there.

So, for him to be able to end his first year with the tax cut that he promised is a huge moment for him. I'm sure we're going to hear unrestrained boasting and celebrating, thanking of the congressional leadership which he has not always been complimentary of as we've heard the last few months.

But I think, you know, as Phil Mattingly said earlier, they put all their eggs in one basket and really had to do things differently than they did them on health care in order to have a win at the end of the year. And he pulled it out and he's managed to keep the promise on track and keep himself out of the process enough so that he allowed it to work and they got to the finish line on this one.

BALDWIN: Stephen Moore, congratulations. You know, you have -- it's a big win. And within the win, the president mentioned this earlier, although I think he was sort of saying members of Congress he said don't mention it too much, but eventually, you know, part of this is the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate. You know, also what's happened in terms of achievements, opening of ANWR, that Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, something that Bush 43 tried to do unsuccessfully. You know, he has successfully nominated 12 appeals court judges, and also, of course, you have Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, you know, this despite his distracting tweets all year long, Stephen.

Do you think people, and I mean not just his base, but more broadly, do you think they are starting to notice what this administration has gotten done?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Well, you know, it's been two years now, I was just reflecting on this this morning, when I first met Donald Trump and we first started talking about a big tax cut to really revitalize the economy. And, you know, here we are with the bill coming up in a couple of hours. And it's really -- it is amazing victory to those who believe that a tax cut was necessary.

And, in fact, what's really interesting is this tax plan that was voted on today is really not too different from what Trump originally proposed. I mean, there are some differences, I'd say about 80 percent. It's -- I think Phil Mattingly had it exactly right, Brooke, that --

BALDWIN: As he always does.

MOORE: Well, there was just no room for failure here.

BALDWIN: Yes.

MOORE: And I think Republicans did know that, you know, failure would have led to catastrophic consequences for the Republicans, politically. I'll make one last point, if I may.

BALDWIN: Sure.

MOORE: Now, we don't have to debate the merits of this bill anymore. We have been doing that for weeks and months on this show.

Now, Republicans have to deliver. In other words, the economy has to deliver the promised results. I'm one of those people who do think that we're going to see a big burst of growth and continued strong stock market and continued strong job market. And if that happens, then I think Republicans will feel very vindicated.

BALDWIN: I think the Senate majority leader did allude in an interview with one of our correspondents. You know, you still need to go out and sell it to Americans.

MOORE: That's true.

BALDWIN: People are worried that they'll have less money despite the fact they will start see some more on their paychecks starting in February.

Jennifer, here's my question for you, because obviously this is great news for Republicans. We've talked about these polls, though.

[14:10:01] And the Republicans knew -- you know, it shows the majority of Americans were opposed to this particular plan.

You have the Democratic leader in the Senate saying that this bill is, quote, going to be an anchor around the ankles of every Republican. And I want everyone to watch this moment from the Senate floor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Nearly 145 million middle class families under $200,000 will either get tax hikes -- can we have order, Mr. President?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate will be in order.

SCHUMER: This is serious stuff. We believe you're messing up America. You could pay attention for a couple of minutes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We believe you are messing up America.

Jennifer, what is the liability if the plan doesn't deliver on the promises sold?

JENNIFER TAUB, PROFESSOR, VERMONT LAW SCHOOL: Thanks, Brooke.

It's really doubtful that this plan can deliver on the promises, because based on available evidence, tax cuts for the very wealthy do not actually result in expanding the economy or creating jobs. What the available evidence suggests, however, is that by cutting the taxes on the upper echelon, what we do is concentrate wealth at the top. We increase income inequality. And that's not what we need right now at all.

So, the consequences will be, I believe, when people see that the modest tax cuts that they have now, which will expire soon, they are going to see that the tax cuts are definitely outweighed by the cuts they actually get to other services. So, for example, we've heard that, for example, single mother earning $30,000 a year, would get about a $700 more in her paycheck. But at that income level, she would qualify for her children for CHIP. But the CHIP program, which is the children's health care program, that benefits about 9 million children, is being cut.

So, in addition, because the individual mandate is being cut as a result of this tax bill, her insurance premiums would go up if she now has to purchase them in the private market.

So, people are really smart. There is a reason why the public is skeptical because they understand that the Republicans are giving with one hand but taking a heck of a lot more with the other with this plan.

BALDWIN: You know, it was a Democratic congressman talking about how the Grinch stole the middle class tax cuts. And, Stephen, I do want you to weigh in. Bob, I want to hear from you first, because we heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledging, you know, listen, Republicans need to get out there and need to sell this. Listen.

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE HILL: Yes, they do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Do you believe there is a need for Republicans to go out and sell this bill given kind of how Americans are currently viewing it?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Absolutely. We are looking forward to it. My view of this, if we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Bob, go ahead.

CUSACK: That's interesting. I mean, yes, they're going to have to sell it. It's not popular now. It has a shot to be more popular when people see the effects of it.

But, you know, parties used to agree on sweeping legislation, whether it's the Reagan tax cuts, or welfare reform in the 1990s. Even the Bush tax cuts, a dozen Democratic senators supported the 2001 tax cuts. Now, we are seeing in the last decade, Obamacare gets passed through Democratic majority, rammed through, and now, this. This doesn't get any Democratic votes. So, it's a sign of party unity and strength I think that the

Republicans got this through. Strength they lacked and unity they lacked on health care.

BALDWIN: I mean, Stephen, you can already see, depending on what happens, a lot can happen between now and, you know, next November in the midterms, you can think of the ads for Democrats in the Republican tax bill, making the rich richer. I mean, this could be momentum for them. They could use this as a boon for them.

How would you respond to that?

MOORE: Well, I think one of the important developments of last week was when Donald Trump said that the withholding tables are going to start changing by February. So, by February, tens of millions of Americans will see that their taxes are actually being cut. You played that little clip from Chuck Schumer saying all these Americans are going to have tax increase. That's just false.

BALDWIN: What about after 2025, and the sunset rules and all of that?

MOORE: I'm talking about this year, and next year, and the year -- I mean, 2025, the world could be a very different place. And, by the way, I fully assume that those tax cuts will be fully extended.

But I would make one other quick point. You know, you mention the Obamacare issue, you know, for Republicans, this is almost the two- for-one because not only does it cut taxes --

BALDWIN: It is a two for one.

MOORE: -- but it also -- it also does repeal a key feature of Obamacare, or liberates about 15 million Americans Obamacare who are lower or middle class that have to pay this penalty for insurance that they don't want. I think when people see that, they're going to be pretty happy about that. They can now go in the private market and buy a health care plan that will cost as much as Obamacare does.

BALDWIN: Jennifer, how would you respond?

[14:15:02] TAUB: You know, I'm quite disappointed to hear people considering it a victory when more than 13 million people are going to lose their health insurance.

MOORE: They don't want it. They don't want the health insurance. They don't want it. That's the reason they're going to lose it, they don't want it. They can't afford it.

TAUB: I think children may not, for example, children who have health insurance probably don't understand why it's important to them. But I sure believe parents do.

You know, I also want to say, we are nearing the tenth anniversary of the global financial crisis, and as you all remember, that was the biggest economic downtown since the great depression. And since then, you know, banks are having great profits and bankers are getting their bonuses, and folks who are wealthy and invested in the stock market have definitely recovered.

But, you know, the broad middle class, and that includes people -- you know, there were 5 million people who lost their homes to foreclosure, most of the middle class and poor depend upon wages for income and their investments are in their homes and we still have nearly 3 million homes that are under water.

So, for most of us, we're just finally, you know, feeling the recovery. And this is just outrageous that we would be -- you know, we would do this, that we are going to expand income equality. We have the top 1 percent that now has 40 percent of the nation's wealth. This is the highest wealth inequality since the 1960s. And we are talking about more than 93 million Americans who are going to get a tax hike by 2027.

BALDWIN: So, I'm listening to -- you know, Jennifer and Stephen, obviously, we have you on with different perspectives for a good reason.

Julie, let me just cut through that and just loop back around to you, because it's a perfect argument from both the left and right on why this is great and why it's not great. And I'm just wondering, you know, as we roll into 2018, will this sort of win from the perspective of Republicans, how long will this linger, and will it be enough to help them, you know, come midterms in 2018? And, also, what about the Democrats?

DAVIS: Well, listen, I think what you are hearing is a preview of the kind of debate that we're going to hear all year long next year from Republicans and Democrats about are you better off and why aren't you or why are you. And I think this -- you know, a big risk for the Republicans and President Trump at the end of this year was to not have anything to have shown for the first year of unified Republican control.

But --

BALDWIN: Julie, hold that thought for a second.

We are rocking and rolling with live TV. We're going to go to Capitol Hill. We're going to hear from the Democrats, the Senate minority leader and the House leader here, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

SCHUMER: OK, good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for joining us today.

Now, we know they are popping champagne down Pennsylvania Avenue. There are only two places where America is popping champagne. The White House and the corporate board rooms, including Trump Tower. Otherwise, Americans have a lot to regret.

First, I want to respond to some comments that Senator McConnell made on the Senate floor this morning. His opening comments. First, he said I brought them along, because they are so good to use. This is McConnell's transcript. Now, here's what he said. First, he said the Senate accomplished

something really remarkable. He's right. To pass a bill of tax cuts and have it be so unpopular with the American people is an amazing achievement for the Republicans. It's never been done before.

To have for the first time, according to "Wall Street journal" poll, Americans prefer Democrats to Republicans on taxes. It's truly remarkable. Great accomplishment, Mitch. Great accomplishment, Republicans.

Now, second, he said he championed the open process the tax bill went through. Sure, they went through an open process. Only if you define open by one party negotiating behind closed doors having one markup with only one expert witness while voting down every single amendment proposed by Democrats. If any one believes that this was an open process then, then I have a bridge back in my hometown to sell you.

Then, Senator McConnell told us, this bill was passed to encourage job creation and put more money in the pockets of working men and women. Well, if you believe trickle-down economics, he's right. The trouble is, no one in America, not the American public, no -- not the economists believe that trickle-down works.

Corporations are flushed with cash right now. The stock market is booming. Job creation isn't.

Look at all the companies that have already said they are going to use their tax break for stock buybacks, for dividends that don't affect average Americans.

[14:20:02] And I love the example of AT&T. Over the last ten years, AT&T has paid an average tax rate of 8 percent per year. They have 80,000 fewer employees today than they had then.

Tax breaks don't lead to job creation. They lead to big CEO salaries and money for the very, very wealthy.

And, finally, Senator McConnell --

BALDWIN: OK, we're going to pull away from this. Clearly, you can understand the frustration from the Democrats. Bob Cusack, you've covered the Hill to hear the minority leader talking about poking fun at the Republicans and their alleged open process.

I mean, isn't that the exact same argument, you know, put the parties in reverse from Obamacare however many years ago that was?

CUSACK: Yes, the similarities are endless --

BALDWIN: Yes.

CUSACK: -- between that bill and this bill, without a doubt.

I mean, Nancy Pelosi said this tax cut bill is the worst bill in the history of U.S. Congress. So, that's a bold claim. And this is -- but the thing is, is that Trump now owns the economy. There has been the debate who should get credit, whether that's President Obama or President Trump for the economy that has improved this year.

Now, it's Trump's economy. So if it does well, he owns it. But if it goes south, he owns that too.

BALDWIN: Julie, just close this us out. I don't know if they are popping bubbling in those buses head to go the White House, but certainly we are about to see mega victory lap from south lawn of the White House led by the president.

DAVIS: Absolutely. I mean, this was an improbable push, three months to pass a massive tax bill. And they got it done. I do think, though, Bob is right, and as Steve mentioned earlier, what's going to really matter is what people feel in the economy in the year to come.

And, you know, the president insisted there be a middle class tax cut as part of this bill. But there is a lot of this bill that goes to corporations and to wealthier taxpayers. And if what the middle class is feeling negatively next year is not offset by what they get out of this, Republicans will feel it at the ballot box. Unified Republican support of this means that Republicans have a lot to lose in the elections next year if people don't feel quick benefits from it.

BALDWIN: You are so right. It's how people will feel as a result of this big change for them.

Bob and Julie, thank you so much.

As we have been looking at these live pictures from Capitol Hill, these buses maybe about to be leaving their heading just down the road to the White House ahead of this 3:00 p.m. Eastern event to celebrate tax victory. We'll take that live, there you go, pictures outside of the capitol.

Also, does New Jersey Governor Chris Christie still have an axe to grind with Jared Kushner? Listen, these two certainly have a long history. What Chris Christie is now saying about Kushner's role in the Russian investigation. Don't miss this.

You are watching CNN live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:27:11] BALDWIN: Welcome back. There they go.

And the buses are rolling along headed from Capitol Hill full of Republican lawmakers fresh off of this tax victory headed to the White House for the big celebration with the president of the United States there from the south lawn. We'll take that live momentarily.

Meantime, we will hear from the president, then stand by for that.

Now, as for one of the president's sons, Don Jr., he is suggesting there is a conspiracy at the top levels of government to block his father's agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: You know, my father talked about a rigged agenda, and people are, oh, what are you talking about? But it is, and you're 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)

BALDWIN: Don Jr.'s freewheeling comments at an event for young conservatives in Florida came after he spoke earlier this month before congressional investigators and as he and as others on the right continue to rally against special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation and attack the media's coverage of the Russia coverage.

So, with me now, Shimon Prokupecz, CNN crime and justice reporter, and Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor who worked with Mueller at the DOJ.

Gentlemen, good to see both of you.

And, first on Don Jr., Shimon, I mean, what does it say that Don Junior, the president's son is peddling conspiracy theories.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I mean, that's not surprising, right? Don Jr. has done this before. He's done this on Twitter. He's had this sort of response to this investigation, along the lines with most people on the right. A lot of the same what we are hearing from people on the right, that there is this deep state kind of trying to take down the president.

And the deep state would include certainly members of Congress. But then you also have to think that this would involve people at the FBI, people within the intelligence community, who have been investigating this, who have been investigating Russia's meddling in the election. And then you have the special counsel, which is looking at people close to the president, including his son for that meeting, Don Jr.'s meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 with a Russian lawyer, with -- as we know, they talked about, well, they claimed to have talked about adoption at one point, then it was about dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And he's been, Don Jr. has been on the hill several times now, been asked questions about that. And, also, that meeting is also part of the special counsel investigation. So, there is no surprise here. This just continues on the path kind of continues in the way of folks on the right have been treating this investigation and really what's been going on.

BALDWIN: Well, Don Jr.'s most recent words have certainly been out on the ether, and many people have responded, including, Michael Zeldin, including the former CIA director, General Michael Hayden. Listen to this.