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Trump Opts to Stay with NAFTA; White House Goes All In; Few Details Emerge From North Korea Briefing. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:58] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House with a flurry of activity as it approaches the 100-day mark. Some big changes to NAFTA, taxes, health care, government funding all coming down while you were sleeping. We'll attempt to break it all down.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It is a brand new morning of news. A lot going on overnight. I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

And breaking overnight: President Trump announcing he will not withdraw from NAFTA after all. The president slammed NAFTA on the campaign trail as a raw deal for American workers, said he would get out of it day one. But in phone calls to Canada's prime minister and Mexico's president, our president said he wanted to improve NAFTA instead of scrapping it.

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

BRIGGS: President Trump has already withdrawn the U.S. from another huge trade pact, President Obama's Trans Pacific Partnership. Of course, that was already in the works.

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 "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 set up. The president is expected to make more trade moves this week and well beyond.

ROMANS: Yes, that war room we're told has all the promises and the progress on the wall. It's very clear they are keeping track of what's being done in this first 100 days.

OK. The man who won't release his tax returns wants to cut your taxes. But does he have a plan to pay for it? Many economists say, no, and his top economic advisers can't say exactly what it means for a family of four making $60,000 a year.

They do say their plan simplifies the tax code, cuts rates across the board. They offer no details on how to pay for it.

Here's what we know: it could be a boom for the wealthiest of Americans, possibly even President Trump himself. That's because the administration wants to eliminate many taxes that disproportionately hit the wealthy, such as the estate or the death tax, which affects the states over 5.5 million. A repeal they want to repeal a tax on the rich that subsidizes Obamacare costs and they want to eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, or the AMT, a parallel tax that insures high income filers can't use breaks to pay no taxes, but it's a tax that has crept into the upper middle class to hurt those folks.

In fact, Trump himself has paid the AMT. Information from his leaked 2005 return show without it, he would have paid only $5.3 million in taxes that year instead of $37 million. So, the president himself may fair better under these proposals. We don't know for sure since he still will not release his tax returns. So, these folks are saying this will be the biggest tax reform in history, the biggest tax cuts in history.

The question, again, will it be tax reform, real reform that can grow the economy or just tax cuts that are expensive.

BRIGGS: Because it's just about universal agreement. We need lower corporate taxes. We need simplification of the code. But if you're a middle income American, you're wondering what does this mean for me and how does this help get me a job.

ROMANS: I think it's a fair to say this is a starting point. You're going to have to work for Congress. The House has been working on tax proposals for a long time. There are parts of this tax, white paper I would call it, that do not jive with what Paul Ryan is doing. So, there's a lot of work to do here.

BRIGGS: It is indeed a start.

Shifting to health care -- with that battle brewing, all eyes on the moderate House Republicans after the hard right Freedom Caucus voted to back a deal on repeal and replace. Now, the latest was hammered out from leaders. It would allow states to seek waivers to weaken some Obamacare reforms, notably protecting people with preexisting conditions.

ROMANS: There are reasons to be skeptical this deal will come to a vote or pass if it does. Moderates are not exactly lining up behind their leader.

The Tuesday Group co-chairman Tom MacArthur, one moderate lawmaker telling CNN, quote, "I spent the whole work period hearing from people pissed about preexisting conditions.

[04:35:06] This isn't helpful."

BRIGGS: Probably not. Now, moderates have to decide which is worst for them, backlash for voting for the new bill, or backlash for not voting for it. Despite pledging to repeal Obamacare throughout, still the White House projecting confidence here. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus says they will get there soon, but couldn't say exactly when.

ROMANS: We have also learned House leadership is working on eliminating a controversial provision in the new bill. Current text allows members of Congress and their staffs to keep their Obamacare protections even if their states opt out. GOP leaders concede those optics are terrible. They say it had to be done initially to comply with Senate rules, which would only come into play if the bill passes the House.

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump earning a new superlative this morning in a CNN poll released overnight. But it's one he would prefer not to have. He's 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 the president.

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


ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us -- thanks, Jeff.

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.

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 President Trump's border wall and continued payment of subsidies to low income America Americans insured through Obamacare.

BRIGGS: Top White House advisers set to huddle today for what's being described as a robust discussion about the Paris climate agreement. Expected at this meeting, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, 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 in 2015 with the goal of limiting global warming. During his campaign, Mr. Trump vowed to pull out of this deal.

ROMANS: Interesting some of the big energy company CEOs want the country to stay in it. They don't want to get out. Yes.

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 V.A. with the goal of removing employees who aren't 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.

BRIGGS: All right. So, the U.S. considering putting North Korea back on the list of terror sponsors. What did lawmakers learn in closed- door briefings on this threat? Well, not much, reportedly. We'll explain.


BRIGGS: Plenty of tough talk, but not a lot of substance. That's how several members of Congress described that unusual briefing they just received about the threat from North Korea.

The entire Senate bussed to the White House to hear about the range of options for dealing with Kim Jong-un and his nuclear ambitions. House members were briefed separately on the Hill.

CNN's Jim Sciutto tells us lawmakers were looking for a few more specifics. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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?

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.

[04:45:10] 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.


ROMANS: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you.

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

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

And, clearly, behind the scenes, there must be pressure on China to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea. I mean, its economy is only alive because of China. It shares a big border with the country.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, behind the scenes and certainly even quite publicly, Christine. You know, the joint statement from the secretary of state and secretary of defense didn't say China explicitly by name, but when they talk about using international partners to apply pressure, to achieve the U.S.'s goal of denuclearized peninsula, they are, of course, looking directly at China.

You have had a number of conversations now between the Chinese President Xi Jinping and the U.S. President Donald Trump with President Trump saying it is incumbent on China to use the economic leverage they have on North Korea in order to attempt to try and force some cooperation from the regime. What isn't clear is whether or not that kind of economic pressure would actually yield results. It's one of the reasons why you heard the Trump administration say so many times since coming into office it's time for a different approach to North Korea.

The era of strategic patience had ended and that 20 years or that even a generation of efforts to achieve this with North Korea had failed. So, it left the world asking, what would the new policy be? What would be different?

And what we are hearing now from the secretary of state and also the secretary of defense is that it is the president's plan to use partners in the region like China to apply economic pressure and diplomatic pressure. That's their goal in terms of achieving the objective here of getting Kim Jong-un to put a rest to his nuclear and missile programs.

What we are seeing that is different is this build up of U.S. military hardware and that includes the controversial missile defense system which the commander is saying could be operational in a matter of days, Christine. The deterrence is certainly there.

ROMANS: Absolutely, that THAAD missile system.

Thank you so much for that, Alexandra Field, in Seoul for us.

BRIGGS: President Trump giving the Pentagon the power to send troop levels in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The delegation of authority allows 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 say the decision does not change the current troop deployment number just yet.

ROMANS: All right. It is a $2 trillion day on Wall Street. I'll explain why when we get a check on CNN Money Stream, next.


[04:52:31] BRIGGS: United Airlines announcing some big changes in the wake of that disturbing incident where a passenger was dragged off a plane earlier this month. 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. ROMANS: United hopes these changes will improve customer

satisfaction. So far, none of the employees involved in the initial incident have been fired.

Meanwhile there's this -- 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 healthy, has no explanation -- no explanation has been given for why the rabbit died.

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

BRIGGS: Baltimore's mayor calling in the FBI as murder rates in the city soar. During her weekly news briefing, Mayor Catherine Pugh said there are too many guns on the streets. She's asking for FBI agents to team up with local police to fight crime and asking federal authorities to share their newest crime fighting technologies. Baltimore police say the number of homicides at 100 before the end of April, it's the first time it's happened in two decades.

ROMANS: Ann Coulter will not speak at Cal Berkeley today after all. The conservative fire brand vowed to speak even though the university cancelled her originally scheduled speech because what it said was a specific credible threat of violent protests. But Coulter decided not to appear after conservative student groups dropped their backing for her event. In a tweet, Coulter called it a dark day for free speech in America.

BRIGGS: A Pennsylvania jury sentencing Eric Frein to death for the ambush killing of a state trooper, the survivalist who was convicted last week of first-degree murder and terrorism. He fatally shot Corporal Brian Dixon and wounded another trooper in 2014. Frein was captured after a six-week manhunt. Prosecutors say the death sentence was richly deserved and hope it gives the trooper's family some closure.

ROMANS: 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."


[04:55:01] 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.


ROMANS: Demme followed that up with "Philadelphia", the first big Hollywood film to tackle the AIDS crisis. It won Tom Hanks his first Oscar. Hanks remembering his friend former collaborator as the grandest of men. Jonathan Demme was 73. What a body of work.

BRIGGS: Two iconic films never to be forgotten. Meanwhile, some severe weather and the potential for flooding in the

nation's midsection. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam with us this morning. He has the forecast.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

Fortunately, no tornado reports on Wednesday across the country. But there were an excessive amount of hail and wind damage reports. Look at that lining up from Texas all the way to Michigan, believe it or not. This storm system advancing eastward. Not really bringing us severe weather threat for the day today, but as we look into Friday, that's another story. A separate storm system will build up a few thunderstorms across the plains.

Look at this, heat building across the eastern U.S. Wait until you see these temperatures for the nation's capitol. We're already seeing the mercury climb for D.C., 85 today. Compare that to 72 yesterday. More of the same into New York City as well as the Pittsburgh and Albany region. Temperatures on the up and up over the next several days.

Watch out across can the plains. We have heavy rains and flash flooding specifically across Arkansas and into Missouri. That from Friday into Saturday. We're really locking out for the potential of locally higher amounts across that region.

And we do have a possibility of severe weather this Friday, centered across Oklahoma, all the way to Indiana.

Back to you.


BRIGGS: Thank you, Derek.

President Trump's tax plans were fodder for the late night comedy shows, both the plan to cut taxes and the plan not to release his own tax returns.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Big news out of Washington, D.C. just this afternoon as the White House finally released Trump's tax plan. That plan, never release Trump's taxes. It's not really confidence building when your tax reform plan is half as long as the instructions to set up a Vitamix.

SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: President Trump unveiled his new tax plan today. It's pretty much the same as his old plan. He's not going to pay them.

Who could benefit from a massive tax cut? OK, fine, but besides him. OK, fine, but besides him. OK, yes, but fine, besides her. OK, yes, but besides him. Oh, boy, knew what's coming and still. (END VIDEO CLIPS)

ROMANS: Look, they're making fun of it. We want tax reform, right? We want tax reform, but is this real tax reform or just tax cuts?

And, you know, I mean, a lot of people still want to see Donald Trump's tax returns. And we heard -- and I don't know if we have that sound byte, but we heard from Steven Mnuchin yesterday, the treasury secretary, you're not going to get it. The president has no plan to release his tax returns.

BRIGGS: No one was surprised by that. I certainly don't think so.

ROMANS: Listen, this got a lot of attention. This is finally on the record, no way you're going to see his tax returns.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: The president has no intention. The president has released plenty of information and I think has given more financial disclosure than anybody else. I think the American population has plenty of information.


ROMANS: I would disagree. There's not plenty of information. Some of it is only been leaked by other people.

BRIGGS: By other people. So, you suggest there's no transparency.

You wonder if this is how Democrats will oppose this tax reform. Fine, if we see your taxes, if we see how it benefits the president and his family. We'll see.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check of the money stream this morning. Wall Street futures right now pretty much ticking higher. Global markets mixed. U.S. futures slightly higher. Wall Street ticked lower yesterday, lower, Dave Briggs, after two strong days of gains.

Solid earnings were offset by uncertainty over the tax cuts. The one- pager from the White House was not enough to sustain the recent days of rallies. The administration may want to slash rates but gave no specifics on how it would be paid for without increasing the debt. Expectation of corporate tax cuts has helped fuel the rally since the election.

Speaking of earning, it's a $2 trillion day on Wall Street. Some of the most highly valued companies will report on the busiest day of the earnings season. Look at these names, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Comcast, Intel, AbbVie all releasing today.

Together, the six companies are worth more than $2 trillion, just a small taste of the big names reporting. Earnings season has been strong so far. Companies are making money of the 181 S&P 500 companies that have reported, 77 percent, 2/3 have done better than Wall Street expected.

BRIGGS: But they do need tax reform.

ROMANS: They need tax reform. They need real tax reform.

BRIGGS: Right, right. All right. EARLY START continues right.