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WSJ: Trump Wants McConnell Gone And Is Recruiting Challengers; San Francisco Mayor Blasted For Flouting Own Mask Rules; Riverdale Children's Theatre Spotlights Diversity On Stage. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 20, 2021 - 07:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: It may be the end of the road for congressional Democrats hoping to find a pathway to legalization for millions of immigrants in their $3.5 trillion budget bill. The Senate parliamentarian ruling overnight that the impact of changing immigration law would be too complex and consequential to pass through the budget reconciliation process, which requires a simple majority.

Democrats want to pay for their agenda by taxing the rich, as punctuated by Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez at the Met Gala. But that's a more complicated proposal than meets the eye.

And John Avlon has a reality check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Tax the rich. That's what it said on AOC's dress at the Met Gala, firing up the outrage industrial complex with accusations of hypocrisy. Was it liberal elitism, high-end performance art, or even a possible ethics violation?


Well, here's what's not debatable. The dress probably got more mainstream attention than the actual policy proposal put forward by House Democrats last week to raise taxes on the rich. Even on some news programs coverage was nearly neck-and-neck.

But don't get distracted by the scandal du jour. Pay attention to the substance because even if it's an opening bid with a lot of obstacles ahead, this is a very big deal.

It would raise $2.1 trillion in new revenue from the wealthiest Americans and corporations over 10 years while making more than $1 trillion in cuts, some of which would benefit lower-income families, like making the child tax credit permanent. The balance gets put forward towards paying for domestic spending that President Biden is betting will help rebuild the middle-class while investing in America's competitiveness.

But don't forget the American Revolution began as a tax protest. And even when it's directed at the top one percent, talk of raising taxes is always going to provoke some serious (INAUDIBLE).

So let's cut through the spin and put this in perspective. Because if you look under the hood, you'll see that this much-hyped tax hike is, in most cases, either a return to or a reduction from where rates were under Obama and Clinton. We saw record stock market growth under their watches, so not exactly benchmarks for socialism.

For example, House Democrats are proposing that the top income tax rate be raised to 39.6 percent for individuals making $400,000 and families making $450,000, which is what it was before the Trump's tax cut and far less than the top rate in decades after the Second World War.

Or how about the corporate tax rate? Well, Democrats are proposing that it be raised from 21 to 26.5 percent, but that is well below the 35 percent rate just a few years ago. And few companies actually pay the full amount -- some pay zero. So closing some loopholes there could create simplification and raise more revenue.

Now, House Democrats are proposing an increase in the cap gains tax rate from 20 to 25 percent for top earners, but that is well below what Biden originally proposed. And they removed some really bad ideas, like making families pay a tax on the increased value of a home they inherit.

And there's going to be a lot more negotiation on the road to reconciliation. Some progressives will complain this doesn't go far enough. Some Republicans will, no doubt, scream socialism. And even if they scrap plans to raise revenue from better enforcement of existing tax law.

But here's the bigger backdrop. The wealth gap between America's richest and poorer families more than doubled between 1989 and 2016, while middle incomes have grown at a slower rate than upper-tier incomes. And get this -- in 2018, after the Trump tax cuts, the 400 wealthiest Americans paid a lower effective tax rate than working- class Americans for the first time in our history.

Pan out and the picture doesn't get much better. In 2019, the bottom 90 percent of workers -- 90 percent made an average of nearly $39,000. The top five percent averaged $320,000. But the top .1 percent averaged nearly $2.9 million.

That same year, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump declared some income of at least $36 million while working in the White House. So, there's a big difference between the working wealthy and the super-rich that stitching "tax the rich" on a Met Gala dress doesn't quite capture.

And that's why House Democrats have also proposed a three percent surtax on people making more than $5 million a year.

What's clear is that over the past few decades we've seen the middle of America's economy hollowed out in ways that help increase our polarization, which can lead to a crisis of confidence in capitalism. And that's why you'll hear Biden talk a lot about the middle-class. But look past the slogans and pay attention to the real policies because that's where rhetoric meets reality.

And that's your reality check.

KEILAR: It's such an important one. I thank you for just really telling us what is under the hood of these talking points, you know? You hear politicians talking about it -- what is it really about.

John Avlon, thank you.

AVLON: Very good. Thanks, Bri.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Former President Trump waging war against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump is said to be looking for a challenger to unseat the powerful senator from his leadership position in the Senate -- a move that could split the party ahead of next year's midterms. This is according to a new report in "The Wall Street Journal."

Joining us now is Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator, and a former adviser to Mitch McConnell. I'm not sure how former, frankly.

So, Scott, Donald Trump wants Mitch McConnell out as minority leader. How nervous is McConnell this morning?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER ADVISER TO MITCH MCCONNELL, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, USA TODAY (via Webex by Cisco): Oh, not very. I mean, honestly, this is a continuation of what Donald Trump's posture has been towards McConnell since McConnell decided that Joe Biden had been elected President of the United States.

And what I thought was telling about "The Wall Street Journal" article that came out about this yesterday is that not a single person would take Donald Trump up on his offer.

I mean, even Mo Brooks, perhaps the Trumpiest candidate out there, wouldn't take him up. Josh Mandel, in Ohio, wouldn't take him up on it. And the sitting members of the Republican Conference that they interviewed all said Mitch McConnell's doing a good job. And John Kennedy, of Louisiana, said it's like trying to teach a donkey how to fly.


So, this is one of those situations where you have to have a plan. The reason McConnell has been successful at getting elected leader and winning his elections in Kentucky is because he always has a plan. Donald Trump never has a plan and thinks he can speak these things into existence.

But I would just say McConnell has never lost an election, ever. He's never been beaten in Kentucky and he's never lost a leadership election. And Donald Trump, of course, has tried twice and has gotten fewer votes than his opponent twice. So in a head-to-head matchup here on a leadership election, I think Mitch McConnell has a track record that tells us he'll be elected leader again if he'd like to be. BERMAN: What does this tell you about Donald Trump's power with Republicans in the Senate?

JENNINGS: It's always been different in the Senate, I think than in the House and in other races. These senators, I think, have their own individual identities. They have their own individual brand. It's a little different kind of chamber than the House and other offices.

And I think if you are one of these people that wants to have your own identity and brand, you have to ask yourself do I want Donald Trump, effectively, in charge of my life every day? Because then it becomes about him. It becomes about his priorities. It becomes about his daily emotions. And it's less about you.

One of the hallmarks of McConnell's leadership in the Senate has been he does more listening than talking, and that would be the opposite if Donald Trump were the de facto head of the Senate Republican Conference. You have to listen to him. You have to get on his line every day. And that, effectively, takes away your own identity and your own brand, and your own wants and needs of any given day for your state.

So I think that is why McConnell has really had the longevity that he has. He doesn't make it about him. He does listening and when he can, drives as much unity in the Conference as he can. Under Trump, you would get, I think, more discord, more disunity, more division.

BERMAN: Can I --

JENNINGS: In a legislative conference, it just doesn't work.

BERMAN: Can I ask very quickly -- McConnell had a chance to do more to diminish the power of Donald Trump even more. He could have voted to convict him in the Senate impeachment trial in February. He could have supported the bipartisan commission looking into January sixth. He could be speaking out.

He doesn't like speaking out publicly about Donald Trump forward- looking. He says, in fact, he would support him if he's the Republican nominee in 2024.

Does Mitch McConnell regret not trying to diminish further Trump's power?

JENNINGS: McConnell's belief about his position is that it's his job to drive as much unity in the Republican Party as possible and to drive forward Republican principles and Republican policy ideas as much as possible, and to stop the Democrats' idea. That's what he views his job is.

And in the Republican Conference, if you look at all the quotes that were given by all the senators, they say Mitch McConnell is doing a good job because he's doing what we want him to do.

It would be a fool's errand, frankly, to run out every day and have a press conference screaming about Donald Trump if you're Mitch McConnell. Other people can do it and other people have done it.

In his position, his job is to drive unity within the Republican Conference. And they believe, by the way, unity leads to winning. Ultimately, this question is who can get the Republicans back the majority in the Senate. That's all McConnell really cares about.

You'll notice he never talks about Donald Trump because he doesn't think it serves his end to get control back for the Republicans in the Senate. That's the kind of discipline, frankly, that's required to be a legislative leader in this environment, and it's the kind of discipline that Trump never had when he was President of the United States.

Trump -- what Trump does works for Trump, but it just wouldn't work for McConnell and it certainly wouldn't work for anybody who seeks to run the Senate Republican Conference when they don't want it to be about you; they want it to be about unity and the team.

BERMAN: Scott Jennings, thank you very much.

JENNINGS: Thanks, John.

KEILAR: San Francisco Mayor London Breed is under fire after video has come to light that shows her maskless, dancing and singing during a live indoor performance by the 90s R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone! That is Breed, there on the left. And her critics are seizing on this, saying that she violated her own health department's masking order, which came out in August and applies to the vaccinated, like the mayor, and the unvaccinated.

Here is what the order says. Quote, "People may remove their well- fitted mask while actively eating or drinking while dining indoors or while taking in live performances." Now, "actively" being the operative word there.

Here's who Mayor Breed is responding to the criticism.


MAYOR LONDON BREED (D), SAN FRANCISCO: I was there. I was eating and I was drinking. And I was sitting with my friends and everyone who came in there was vaccinated.

So the fact that we have turned this into a story about being maskless -- no, I'm not going to sip and put my mask on, sip and put my mask on, sip and put my mask on. Eat and put my mask on. While I'm eating and I'm drinking, I'm going to keep my mask off.

So the fact that this is even a story is sad.



KEILAR: To be clear, that is not what's at issue here -- whether she sips and puts a mask on, takes a bite and puts a mask back on, and so on. The issue is that she was indoors, not eating, drinking, close to people, without a mask on -- yes, vaccinated -- in this minute-long video. There is no active eating or drinking and the order is clear about that, even for vaccinated people -- masks on.

The mayor is supposed to lead by example and she knows this because she caught major flack last year when she didn't.

The "San Francisco Chronicle" reported that Breed attended a birthday party at the three-star Michelin restaurant, The French Laundry, with seven others back in November, just days before San Francisco rolled back the reopening of indoor dining and despite state guidelines that strongly discouraged social gatherings, capping them at three households. It is unclear how many households were present at that party dinner, the paper said.

Now, if The French Laundry sounds familiar that's because it's the same restaurant where California Gov. Gavin Newsom attended a party last year, the day before Breed. And that dinner may have cost him a pricey recall challenge that he successfully fended off last week.

So, Democrats who favor COVID restrictions -- they know the political perils of violating their own guidance, whether in spirit or in letter. But in this latest case involving Mayor Breed, she says focusing on her behavior misses the real story.


BREED: The fact is there was something that was really monumental that occurred and that is Tony! Toni! Tone! -- the original members who have not performed in public for I believe at least over 20 years. They are just really some of the most incredible artists in the history of this country and the Bay Area, in particular. And the fact that is getting lost here is very unfortunate.


KEILAR: Now, yes, Tony! Toni! Tone! is great. The nostalgia factor here, high for their music, for the 90s -- the best decade, by the way -- and for the bygone days of life being awesomely normal when we could dance and sing along to the 1993 hit "If I Had No Loot" without worrying about a virus.


TONY! TONI! TONE!, R&B GROUP: Singing "If I Had No Loot."


KEILAR: The reason, though, that Tony! Toni! Tone! is not the story is because the mayor of a major American city isn't complying with her own health department's health guidance. And if her actions were actually the standard, there are a lot of things that would be in compliance with masking rules for the vaccinated that we know are not.

The guy on Amtrak who has a beer in front of him and talks maskless the entire almost-3-hour train trip from D.C. to New York because maybe he takes the occasional sip. The person on the plane from Los Angeles to Atlanta who never puts on a mask because they have a snack on their seat tray and they eat some of that snack mix every time the flight attendant walks by. The person shopping in a store who could avoid wearing a mask just by holding a soft drink.

Mayor Breed made a personal choice that, quite frankly, a lot of people make, right -- that she won't comply with the rules. But if she thinks that they're too restrictive for vaccinated people, she is the mayor. Instead of arguing that she's in compliance with the masking rules when she isn't, she could advocate for all vaccinated San Franciscans that restrictions should be loosened.

Either change the rules or live them instead of defying them just because as Tony! Toni! Tone! says, it feels good.

BERMAN: I can't believe the actual response was what you're losing here is this great news story about Tony! Toni! Tone! I thought that was a joke.

KEILAR: Yes. No, it's kind of a weak pivot, you know. But I think when it comes to Mayor Breed and other Democrats who are in favor of these COVID restrictions, it's the hypocrisy of it, right? It's that if you put in place these rules that they're in favor of, then you have other people who are actually having to behave in a way that they don't seem willing to. And it makes sense in a way why some people aren't willing to if even the mayor isn't.

BERMAN: Yes, rules for thee and not for me.

KEILAR: That's right.

We do have some more on our breaking news. Pfizer just releasing its first data from vaccine trials in children as young as five. What we know and also, some big questions that still have to be answered.

BERMAN: Plenty of reasons to celebrate this morning for fans of "TED LASSO," which is everybody. Cleaning up at the Emmys last night. We'll have a live report from Los Angeles.

And speaking of awards -- no, not me -- the kids behind me, they're amazing. Give them a Tony. We're going to give you a look at this performing arts company in New York that's helping young kids learn confidence and all kinds of stuff.



BERMAN: So all this week, we're shining the spotlight on folks who may not make headlines but still smash barriers and lift humanity up.

Today we want you to meet Derek and Becky Woods. This husband and wife team started Riverdale Children's Theatre here in New York. The magic behind RCT is the diversity among the performers and also, the confidence it gives to young people to lean on each other and put themselves on the line. [07:55:00]


BERMAN (on camera): What does it feel like for you when you're on stage?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're always nervous at first, but then when you get on stage it's so exhilarating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I found my passion for performing here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know where I would be without RCT.

BERMAN (on camera): What do you want kids to get out of the Riverdale Children's Theatre?

BECKY LILLIE WOODS, CO-FOUNDER, RIVERDALE CHILDREN'S THEATRE: We want them to get a sense of belonging and we want them to have that self- confidence to go into the world and take what they've learned with us -- the kindness, their inclusivity, and take it out into their lives.

BERMAN (voice-over): Ten years ago, Derek Woods and Becky Lillie Woods created the Riverdale Children's Theatre and over time it has become a second home for hundreds of kids in the Bronx.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're a great influence on me for life skills and performing skills, and everything in between.

DEREK WOODS, CO-FOUNDER, RIVERDALE CHILDREN'S THEATRE: I'm born and raised in the Bronx -- lived and worked here my whole life. And so, a program like this was sorely lacking.

BERMAN (on camera): RCT offers everything from college audition prep to full-scale productions, and no child is ever turned away for financial reasons.

But it's not just theater that they're working on, right? They're working on life. They're learning confidence and they're learning courage, and they're learning trust. They're learning how to trust each other. And it's wonderful to see it all come together.

And everything that's happened the last year -- I mean, obviously, we have questions about racial justice all around the country. We've had all kinds of anti-Semitic attacks, right? And you have a huge number of Jewish kids here. There have been anti-Asian attacks.

How has that all played into this here?

D. WOODS: We have kids from every walk of life -- all ethnic groups, all religious groups -- and we find that's really our success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to get away from it all because it's just --it's too dark to talk about. And to be in a place where I can wear my Yarmulke and not have to worry about (INAUDIBLE) being shot at me is amazing. I can just be Yehuda (ph), not the Jewish kid Yehuda (ph). So it means a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You learn so much about other people's cultures and it just makes you so much more aware about yourself.

BERMAN (on camera): I did theater, sort of, my whole life. My first play was in first grade. I played a donkey. And the last show I did was a drag show my senior year of college. Now, I was never good enough to do anything with it but that didn't matter because I just loved it.

D. WOODS: So, I think he needs a little musical theater back into his life, so you think we can get him into one of our numbers today?

KIDS: Yes!

D. WOODS: All right, all right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So use that after you hit your mark --

BERMAN (on camera): OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- to just sing out and have fun with it.

BERMAN (on camera): OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So should we try it?

BERMAN (on camera): Sure.


BERMAN AND KIDS: Dancing and singing.

BERMAN (on camera): When I was on stage with them they don't hold back. I mean, they're all in.

B. WOODS: I know. Aren't they awesome?

BERMAN (on camera): They're all in on this.

D. WOODS: They're amazing.

B. WOODS: They really are. They're so good to each other. They're so supportive of each other. It's really beautiful.

BERMAN (on camera): I mean, I stunk and they made me feel great about it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were amazing. You are an honorary RCT member.

BERMAN (on camera): I could use -- I could use a few more rehearsals.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: So they have a saying at RCT. If you're wrong, be strong, which is to say if you're going to go make a mistake or it's not going to go well on stage, just bring it, right? You might as well make it big no matter whether it's right or wrong there. And it really is such a wonderful lesson to learn.

KEILAR: It's awesome. And you did bring it, I will say. You only semi-stunk and I think you just needed a little bit of practice.


KEILAR: But -- well look -- I mean, they were amazing, right? So how do you -- it's hard to compete.

But I just think it's so wonderful that I got a lot of joy out of watching them, too. It's so wonderful that you highlighted this group and what a difference it is making. I mean, you can really see just with the confidence, even in their mistakes, how they're going to carry that on through the rest of their lives. It's great.

BERMAN: It's something they can take with them forever.


BERMAN: No question about that.

We're going to continue to share these inspirational stories all this week. Be sure to tune in this Saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern for the "CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE" one-hour special.

And NEW DAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. It is Monday, September 20th.

The breaking news this morning comes in the fight against COVID-19. This morning, just a short time ago, Pfizer released its first data on its vaccines for children as young as five. The company says -- now, this is data that is coming from the company. It has not been peer- reviewed. The company says --