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White House Goes All In; Few Details Emerge From North Korea Briefing. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:09] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A flurry of activity at this White House plows toward the 100-day mark. Major changes on NAFTA, taxes, health care and government funding all coming down to the last few hours. We'll break it all down.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START this Thursday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Dave Briggs. And I have so many questions about this tax reform bill for you. Including, what does this mean to the middle class? Will their taxes go down?

I know we'll get to all this later, but so many questions remain, right?

ROMANS: They couldn't say yesterday -- the White House could not say what it meant for a family of four who makes a few thousand dollars a year or less, unclear.

BRIGGS: And why exactly will this lead to hiring and the increasing of wages. So many things to get to.

It is Thursday, April 27th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Questions answered later. Right now, breaking overnight, President Trump announcing that he will not withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement after all. The president repeatedly slamming NAFTA on the campaign trail as a raw deal for American workers. But in phone calls to Canada's prime minister and Mexico's president, Trump said he wanted to improve NAFTA, instead of scrapping it.

ROMANS: In a statement, the president said, "It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation. I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better."

President Trump has already withdrawn the U.S. from another huge trade pact, President Obama's Trans Pacific Partnership.

BRIGGS: The president's decision to stay with NAFTA came hours after a senior administration official said the White House was considering pulling out of the trade accord. Top Republicans reacted to that news by warning it would be a, quote, "disastrously bad, reckless idea." Trade is now a developing theme in this White House, a key focal point of a war room, the White House, to rack up early accomplishments. The president is expected to make more trade moves this week and well beyond.

ROMANS: All right. The White House unveiling its tax proposal, but it's more of a short list of tax goodies with few details. I'm calling it a white paper. This is not a comprehensive tax reform plan. It's really a one-pager. This is what they released.

Here's what we do know. This is it. Here's what we do know: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says this will be the largest tax reform in the history of the country, which we can't prove yet. The proposal simplifies the tax code. It cuts rates for both individuals and businesses. There are no details on how the cuts will be paid for and there are still a lot of questions.

The White House officials could not answer what this means for a family of four, but they did release -- making $60,000 a year or less -- but they did release tax brackets claiming it will lower individual rates for all Americans, including the wealthiest. The number of tax brackets would go from seven to three.

Now, the White House has not attached any income levels yet, so we can't say what that means in dollars and cents. But the White House also wants to double the standard deduction so couples would not pay taxes on the first $24,000 of income. Also, this outline, this white paper, calls for eliminating most deductions. The exceptions, though, those very popular breaks for mortgage interest, charity and retirement savings. Those don't go anywhere. That would be incredibly unpopular for working families.

For businesses, Trump wants to lower the top rate to just 15 percent and offer a one-time tax on bringing cash back to the U.S. from accounts overseas. No word yet on what that rate will be. And no word yet on what will be the mechanism to make sure that money that comes back doesn't go straight into share buybacks and dividends, instead making sure companies use that money to create jobs and to expand the U.S. What will that mechanism be? Unclear.

The White House also wants to offer families relief for child care, nothing specific yet, but earlier proposed tax breaks, a disproportionately benefitted wealthy families. So, this will be critical, that tax relief, for child care that helps everyone, not just rich families. As with the string of taxes, Trump wants to repeal. He wants to repeal the alternative minimum tax, the estate of the death tax, those two could also help President Trump on his own taxes, at least in theory.

The president still will not release his tax return. Again, this is the president of the United States who won't show you his taxes is trying to reform everyone else's taxes.

BRIGGS: And we're not sure if that's how Democrats will oppose this or if they will line up in opposition to this. Much more on taxes throughout the program. But all eyes are on moderate Republican this morning. What will they

do now that the hard right, House Freedom Caucus, has voted to back a brand new deal on health care reform?

The latest draft to amendment to repeal and replace was hammered out between House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and Tom MacArthur, he's the co-chair of the moderate Tuesday Group. And this amendment would allow states to seek waivers to weaken some Obamacare reforms, including the benefits insurance companies must cover those considered essential, and the ban on insurers charging more based on a person's health history.

[04:05:07] ROMANS: Now, there are this morning big reasons to be skeptical this deal will actually come to a vote or pass, if it does. First, the amendment includes a provision exempting members of Congress and their staffs from the changes that gut Obamacare protections for everyone else. GOP leaders could see the optics are terrible, but they say it had to be done that way to comply with Senate rule and they are already taking steps to eliminate the provision.

The other big problem is that Tuesday Group moderates are not lining up behind their leader, Tom MacArthur. One moderate lawmaker telling CNN, quote, "I spent the whole work people hearing from people pissed about preexisting conditions. This isn't helpful."

BRIGGS: Now, moderates have to decide which is more dangerous for them. Voting in favor of the amendment, getting crushed by campaign ads next election or voting not to do anything at all on health care. That would certainly take on the White House.

Still, this Trump White House is projecting confidence. The Chief of Staff Reince Priebus says they'll get there soon, but couldn't exactly what soon meant.

ROMANS: President Trump earning a new superlative this morning. In a CNN poll released overnight, but it's what he probably prefer not to have. He has set a record low for presidential approval ratings at the 100-day mark. But the new poll also contains a few signs that things are trending in the right direction for this president.

Our White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny takes a look at some of these numbers.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, two more days until the 100th day of the Trump presidency and there's a new poll out that's showing that Donald Trump's approval rating at a record low. Let's take a look at those numbers in this new CNN/ORC poll.

It shows that 44 percent of Americans approve of Trump's handling of the presidency while 54 percent disapprove. That's about the same as in the last two recent polls that we have conducted. But it puts President Trump the last in presidential rankings dating become to Eisenhower, at least at this point in the 100-day mark.

Although some other interesting findings in these polling numbers, including this. Now, 54 percent of Americans say that things in the country are going well. This is up from 46 percent in February. So, that is a key economic indicator there with a slight majority, a little bit more than that of Americans think things are going well in the country.

Now, of course, the president as he nears that 100-day mark on Saturday, he's looking ahead to a big rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. So, a lot on the burner here at the White House. Intentionally so, the president and the White House trying to make him look very busy, full of action in this 100-day period. But accomplishments, particularly legislative ones, are in far shorter supply -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Jeff Zeleny there, thank you.

Breaking overnight, a major development on Capitol Hill that could prevent a government shutdown, at least for now. Republicans offering up a short-term spending plan that keeps the government funded through May 5th. Yes, a week.

The House and Senate still have to vote on the deal before Friday's deadline. It is expected to pass both chambers because of two concessions made by the GOP. No funding for the border wall and continued payment of those subsidies to low income America Americans insured through Obamacare.

ROMANS: Top White House advisers set to huddle today for what's being described as a robust discussion about the Paris climate agreement. Expected at that meeting, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, along with several other White House insiders and cabinet officials. President Trump ordering his team to hash out their differences on the Paris deal and present him with a decision.

The U.S. and 143 other nations signed on to this agreement under the Obama administration 2015 with the goal of limiting global warming. It was an herculean effort to get everyone on board here. During his campaign, Mr. Trump vowed to pull out of that important deal.

BRIGGS: All right. A busy day ahead for this president. President Trump visits the Department of Veterans Affairs to sign an executive order creating a new office devoted to whistleblower protections at the V.A. The president will also announce a task force to identify areas of waste and abuse at the agency with the goal of removing employees who are not performing.

Before signing the order, though, Mr. Trump will meet with President Mauricio Macri of Argentina at the White House. The two leaders expected to focus on trade, expansion, security collaboration and the deteriorating situation now unfolding in Venezuela, which has indeed been a nightmare.

ROMANS: Yes. It has been remarkable.

All right. A briefing on North Korea -- remarkable briefing on North Korea, a road trip, if you will, to the White House leaves lawmakers looking for more. We have that and reaction from the Far East, next.


[04:13:51] ROMANS: Did you see that remarkable, remarkable photo op briefing yesterday. Plenty of tough talk, but not a lot of substance. That's how several senators described that unusual briefing they received about the threat from North Korea.

You know, the entire Senate bussed to the White House to hear about the options for dealing with Kim Jong-un and his nuclear ambitions, a field trip if you will, to hear about ratcheted up worries about what Kim Jong-un is capable of and what the response should be from the U.S. house members were briefed separately.

CNN's Jim Sciutto tells us lawmakers, you know, they were looking for a few more specifics.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, we did hear a lot of skepticism from senators, both Democrat and Republican, before taking this unusual trip down Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill for all 100 senators, to get this briefing from the White House on North Korea. That skepticism seems to have been borne out.

Again, Republican and Democratic senators telling us they didn't hear lot new inside that room, and they did not get a sense the Trump administration is close to ordering military action.

We spoke with Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut. He's on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In actuality, is there a credible military option?

[04:15:03] SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, there's not a credible military option in the sense that right now, we don't have the ability to know where all of the nuclear weapons and equipment research facilities are. But we also know that ultimately that would result in hundreds of thousands of North Koreans and South Koreans being killed very quickly and, you know, that's hard to stomach given our lack of certainty on what the potential for the elimination of the threat would be.

SCIUTTO: One option we're told that the administration is considering is putting North Korea back on state sponsors of terrorism list. They were actually on that list, taken off in 2008 by the Bush administration at a time there were negotiations underway to freeze North Korea's nuclear program.

Of course, those negotiations did not work. The nuclear program proceeded, but it shows the difficulty of finding options that haven't been tried before, this time around to hold back the nuclear program going forward -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Jim, thank you.

In a joint statement after the meeting, top officials said they will increase pressure on North Korea with partners, including South Korea and Japan, but they did not mention China, which the president has been leaning on to help the situation in recent weeks.

Let's go live to Seoul and bring in CNN's Alexandra Field.

Good morning to you, Alex. A lot of talk, a lot of bluster -- is anything changed though in the dynamics here?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, Dave, in short. You're right, the secretary of state and secretary of defense -- they didn't name check China, but certainly, they are looking at China when they say they are leaning on international partners to increase pressure on North Korea, which they hope would lead to de-escalation there and now they are saying that could open the door down the road to a path for talks, for discussions, which to some extent is something you did hear the secretary of state on his visit out here last month, saying that the climate, the conditions are certainly not right to be talking to North Korea.

But for everything that we have heard from the Trump administration over the last 100 days, that the era of strategic patience is over, that 20 years of efforts have failed, you are now hearing from the secretary of state and the secretary of defense this emphasis on economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts in order to control and again deescalate the situation on the peninsula.

What is different to some extent that we can say is that you've certainly seen a build up of the hardware out here. There was the decision to redeploy USS Carl Vinson, that aircraft carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean peninsula. There was also the decision to make a port stop with that very powerful submarine, the USS Michigan, at a southern port here in South Korea. And there has been the decision to move forward with this controversial deployment of THAAD, the U.S. designed missile defense system.

We had heard just within the last day or so that South Korean officials were hoping to have it fully installed by the end of this year. The parts were put on the move just yesterday and now you have the U.S. Pacific Command commander saying that the system will, in fact, be operational in just a matter of days.

So, certainly, building up defenses here but looking for other options, even if those options don't look new -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, and that system trying to continue to oppose. Alex, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump giving the Pentagon the power to set troop levels in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. This delegation of authority allows the defense secretary, James Mattis, to determine if more U.S. troops are needed to back operations to retake Raqqah in Syria and Mosul in Iraq from the Islamic State. Pentagon officials said the decision does not change the current troop deployment number.

BRIGGS: President Trump is considering proposals to split the 9th Circuit Court, a federal appeals panel that ruled against his travel ban. Legislation now before Congress would break up the appellate court that currently covers nine Western states. That has a reputation for leaning to the left.

The president in an interview says the court oversteps its authority and accuses opponents of judge shopping, sending cases through the Ninth Circuit for what he calls semi-automatic rulings. We should note the president is not the first to try these similar legislative efforts. They date back to 1941.

Trump calls to disband the Ninth Circuit ramped up after a judge notably knocked on the N Ninth Circuit block the president's order to withhold funding from sanctuary cities.

District shopping, of course, nothing new, as we point out there. The president has been doing that for as long as we can remember.

ROMANS: Conservatives love to hate the Ninth Circuit as sort of the representative of liberal judges run amuck.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: So it's had its fair share of criticism. Going all the way back to 1941.

BRIGGS: But conservatives have looked for certain districts that are friendly to their legislation.

ROMANS: True, true.

All right. Big changes coming at United after that passenger was dragged off a plane to make room for the flight crew. We're going to tell you what United is going to do differently, next.


[04:24:17] BRIGGS: Venezuela is quitting the Organization of American States. That's the hemisphere's oldest regional alliance. This move comes after member states voted to convene an emergency meeting of their top diplomats to discuss the humanitarian crisis and political violence that's now gripping Venezuela.

Today, President Nicolas Maduro is expected to give formal notice renouncing Venezuela's membership in the OAS. A new round of protests IN Caracas on Wednesday claim three more lives, including a 20-year- old student who was struck in the head by a tear gas canister.

ROMANS: All right. United Airlines announcing big changes in the wake of that disturbing incident where a passenger was dragged off a plane earlier this month.

[04:25:00] The changes include offering up to $10,000 to customers who volunteer to give up their seats on an overbooked flight. Passengers already in their seats cannot be removed and crew members will be booked on to flights at least an hour before departure.

BRIGGS: United hopes these changes will improve customer satisfaction so far. None of the employees involved in the initial incident have been fired. United facing more trouble after a three-foot long giant rabbit was found dead in the cargo hold of one of its planes. The breeder who sold the bunny says he was completely healthy, no explanation has been given for why he died.

In a statement to CNN, United said it is reviewing the matter.

Hollywood and movie fans are paying tribute to the acclaimed Oscar winning director Jonathan Demme who died Wednesday after a battle with cancer. His career in film was defined by its versatility. He made dramas, comedies and concern films but he's likely best remembered for the 1991 horror film that swept the Oscars, "Silence of the Lambs."


ANTHONY HOPKINS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS: A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.


BRIGGS: And who will ever forget that? Demme followed that up with "Philadelphia", the first big Hollywood film to tackle the AIDS crisis.

Jonathan Demme was 73. What a remarkable career.

ROMANS: Yes, he leaves behind an unbelievable body of work.

All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour. The White House locking to help the president round up some wins ahead of day 100. A lot going on in the White House. We're going to sort through it, next.