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White House Frenzy of Activity; Few Details Emerge From North Korea Briefing; Celtics Take Series Lead Over Bulls. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:01] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. EARLY START continues right now.


BRIGGS: A flurry of activity as the White House plows toward the 100- day mark. Major changes on NAFTA, taxes, health care, government funding, all coming down last couple of hours. We'll try and break it down for you.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A lot going on while you're sleeping.


ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, April 27th. It is 5:00 a.m. now in the East. Good evening, everyone.

And breaking overnight, President Trump announcing that he will not withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement after all. The president repeatedly slammed 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, Mr. Trump said he wanted to improve NAFTA, not scrap it. 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."

BRIGGS: President Trump has already withdrawn the U.S. from another huge trade pact. That's President Obama's Trans Pacific Partnership. Of course, many feel 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 keep focal point of a war room has been set up. The president expected to make more trade moves this week and well beyond.

ROMANS: Yes, a group of reporters taken into that room and shown the progress and where they still need to do more work. The White House unveiling its tax proposal -- well, it's not really called a proposal. Let's call it a short list of tax goodies with few details, a white paper if you will. It's just one short page here, not really a comprehensive tax reform plan yet. But the president's top money men say that is that it will become and it will not explode the debt.


GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: This isn't going to be easy. Doing big things never is. We will be attacked from the left and we will be attacked from the right. But one thing is certain: I would never ever bet against this president. He will get this done for the American people.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: This will pay for itself with growth and with reduced -- reduction of different deductions and closing loopholes.


ROMANS: All right. There are some hard numbers including cuts to both individual and business tax rates. White House officials could not answer what it means for a family of four making $60,000, but they did release tax brackets saying it would lower individual rates for all Americans, the number of brackets would shrink from seven to just three. No income levels yet for those, so we can't say exactly what that means in dollar and cents.

The White House wants to double the standard deduction, that means couples would not pay taxes on the first 24 grand in income. Also this white paper, this outline calls for eliminating most deductions with some exceptions. The very popular breaks for your mortgage interest, charitable donations and retirement savings.

For businesses, a boon here, the top rate drops to 15 percent, there is a one time tax on bringing cash back to the U.S. from overseas accounts. No word yet on what that rate will be or if there will be a mechanism to make sure those companies spend the cash on job creation and don't just give it back to the shareholders in buybacks and dividends.

We have seen those tax holidays before. They created zero jobs. There must be a mechanism to make sure that the money goes into the economy and not the stock market. The White House also wants to offer families relief for child care. Nothing specific yet, but earlier proposed tax breaks disproportionately benefited wealthy families.

And, Dave, a lot of talk about the AMT, getting rid of the AMT. And questions quite frankly about what this all would mean for Donald Trump's personal financial situation. A lot of these things would benefit him, too.

BRIGGS: That's the politics of it, but you wonder about the optics, simply being if I'm in middle class America, what does it mean for me and why might this get me a job?

But let's hope our good friend Tal Kopan can help us break it all down. She joins us this morning in Washington. Tal, our current tax code is more than 74,000 pages. This baby as

Romans pointed out is one page. We're not going to comb through all the questions we have, but what are the politics of this as we approach a bill coming through?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, the reaction from the Hill has sort of been, to be quite frank, thanks but no thanks. You know, it is very much a rough architecture as Christine aptly laid out. It's one page, it is not reform. It is a number of cuts.

And the reaction from the Hill where keep in mind, this is from Republicans and Democrats. They have been trying to pass tax reform a long time on the Hill. And they have gone through several iterations of this.

And there are some things that Paul Ryan, the speaker of the house, who tax reform and economic policies are sort of his baby.

[05:05:02] There are things in there that he -- there are things not in there that he has wanted for some time. So, you know, after the spectacular Obamacare sort of flameout before recess, the White House said they wanted to take a more active role in leading the policy- making process, but Congress is seeing this as an interfering as opposed to actually being substantively helpful in terms of what they want to draft. And then ultimately vote on.

ROMANS: I've been waiting my whole career for real tax reform. I mean, the last time we did it was 1986 and it's hard because there are tradeoffs. It's hard because when you cut a corporate tax rate, that means you have to get rid of loopholes or pay-fors, and that means some companies would pay more. One in five big profitable U.S. companies pays no taxes today at all.

So, a 15 percent tax rate --

BRIGGS: Is actually an increase --

ROMANS: -- would actually increase for some about that a. And that is why there is so much lobbying around it.

I want to read something that in the Washington Post" editorial from Doug Holtz-Eakin. He's the former director of the CBO, a Republican. He's advised Republican presidents.

BRIGGS: John McCain, he's advised him.

ROMANS: He's worked for Republican presidents.

"Proposing trillions of dollars in cash cuts and casually inserting that it would pay for itself with growth, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, is detached from empirical reality. A real tax reform plan would include specifics on how to broaden the tax base, not leave that hard work to Congress. A responsible tax plan would not ignore the threat of increasing a national debt that is already on an unsustainable course." That is review from a Republican budget wonk. Democrats will spin

this as a magical math tour that just benefits the rich. I mean, if you read top of "The New York Times" tax overhaul would help the wealthiest. Everyone would get a tax cut, we're told from Secretary Mnuchin, but I think the Democrats and the left are really going to focus on the rich here.

KOPAN: Oh, yes, absolutely. And as we were discussing before, and Dave mentioned, you know, without Donald Trump's tax returns, that's going to be a huge liability for Republicans. You know, even without them, we know that Donald Trump is a wealthy man and we've seen glimpses of his tax returns in the past. And if you have a tax cut package that looks like it benefits the wealthy, they are going to portray it as Donald Trump as we saw in the late night clips, it would be portrayed as Trump trying to be benefit himself and people like him.

And so, you know, Republicans are going to come out with that against them. There's a big of gamesmanship that always comes to play in this time of politicking. But it's certainly a liability and so, Republicans would be wise to sort of preemptively shore up that line of attack because you're right, Democrats are always going to come out swinging going and say this is some sort of corporate cronyism that doesn't actually help middle class America.

BRIGGS: And when you get into the weeds of this, with no Democratic support, that means they need budget reconciliation, which means this bill can have no impact on the deficit, which is also an impossible needle to thread, but we'll see how they attempt to do that as we move on.

They also continue to move on health care. Looks like there's some agreement, though, Tal. What are you hearing?

KOPAN: Well, you know, it's interesting. It has always been this sort of really delicate balancing act where like you have conservatives over here and moderates over here and if the pendulum goes too far this way, then you lose the other side.

And so, you know, we have agreement in principle with many of the conservatives, you know, we talked a lot about the freedom caucus, this group of a couple dozen or so Republican members of Congress, they actually now agree to this amendment negotiated over recess with a member of the moderate group. But the rest of the moderate group -- this member that negotiated it was always a yes on the deal. The rest of the group is saying it's now getting farther for them and it's more difficult and over recess they faced the angry town halls of folks upset about the idea of losing pre-existing conditions.

So, while you have some movement, it's not clear that this is a breakthrough that is actually going to get to the magic number of passing.

BRIGGS: But to be clear, they wouldn't lose coverage, they could be charged more if they have pre-existing conditions if their state applies for and gets a waiver. ROMANS: Right. A waiver that would not be allowed for members of

Congress who would be exempted from it, which is -- the optics are terrible.

Let's look at the 100-day approval ratings here as we go forward here. We've got Donald Trump the president now at 44 percent approval righting. You can see how that stacks unit of all the other presidents at their 100 days. And we're told we got a little tour, behind the scenes tour from someone close to the commander in chief of this war room about the first 100 day activity where they are trying to really stack up some priorities and some wins here, aren't they?

KOPAN: Yes, it's kind of funny. You know, I'm sure this is played every first 100 days, but from one side of the mouth they are saying 100 days false marker, doesn't really matter, but on the other side, they're putting out press release saying, look how much we've accomplished in the first 100 days, you know?

[05:10:06] You know, I think to a certain extent, the sort of grade you're going to give the president kind of depends on your view. I think if you sort of oppose him, you're going to look at it and say, look, no major legislative accomplishments, that's very much unlike some of his predecessors who managed to pulled off sort of their signature issue in those first 100 days.

At the same time, if you're part of his base, you may look at some of these executive orders, you know, on immigration especially that sort of made an impact right away. You know, he's not pulling out of NAFTA which does renege a bit on some of his promises that he made on the trail, but he does say that he's going to renegotiate it.

So, you know, you see action in the areas that he talked about acting. So, it's a bit of a choose your own news kind of situation, you know? But the White House certainly has bullet points they can use to fill a list of claimed accomplishments.

ROMANS: On the tax thing, their "choose your news" is tax cuts lead to big growth, tax cuts are a job creator, jobs bill. But we know that the effect of tax cuts can be uneven. It always leads to big debt.


ROMANS: It doesn't always lead to big GDP growth.

BRIGGS: The president we hear he would also like to break up the Ninth Circuit. We'll ask you about that in about 30 minutes.

Tal Kopan with us from Washington this morning, thank you.

KOPAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. A briefing on North Korea leaves lawmakers looking for more. We have that reaction and we go to the parties, next.


[05:15:37] ROMANS: All right. Plenty of tough talk, but not substance, that's how several members of Congress, several senators described an unusual briefing they just received about the threat from North Korea. The entire Senate went to the White House to hear about a range ever options for dealing with Kim Jong-un and his nuclear ambitions. Lawmakers left wishing for more specifics, many saying little new information emerged.

One thing we did learn, the U.S. is considering putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. That's according to a senior White House official.

How's that going over in Pyongyang?

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

Good morning.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Christine. Good morning.

Yes, that is one of the options that White House officials have talked about, something that the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has talked about before. It seems to back up the fact that the administration is looking for any approach that it could take to dealing with North Korea and reining in the regime when it comes to their nuclear and missile intentions. You have heard top Trump administration officials saying repeatedly that this era of strategic patience is over, that a generation of policies have failed, that it's time for a new and different approach.

But it continues to beg the question, what kind of approach is actually new or different? You have seen the tensions rise here on the peninsula in recent weeks. The U.S. has upped its ante in terms of bringing in more of its military hardware, with the redeployment of U.S. warships to the waters off the peninsula, the docking of a very powerful submarine, and now, the decision to move forward with this controversial missile defense system that will likely be operational within a matter of days according to the commander of U.S. Pacific Command.

But what we learned from that meeting that the senators were called to came from the secretary of state and secretary of defense who spoke afterwards saying that the goal of the U.S. remains the denuclearization of the peninsula and that the U.S. is working closely with its partners in the region to apply pressure in terms of economic pressure and diplomatic sanctions. Of course, we know U.S. is looking at China for leverage when it comes to reining in North Korea.

It is China, of course, that has the most important economic relationship with North Korea. Again, the secretary of state and secretary of defense also reaffirming the fact that they are working with allies like South Korea and Japan. That is not a new or different approach, but it is in line with what we've been hearing from the top officials as they have visited the region over the last few months, Christine.

ROMANS: China is North Korea's neighbor. China is North Korea's banker. China is North Korea's purse. So, obviously, there is a lot of pressure to be had there.

OK, thank you so much for that, Alexandra Field.

BRIGGS: President Trump meanwhile giving the Pentagon the power to set 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 up 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 numbers just yet.

All right. Let's do some sports next.

ROMANS: We have to?

BRIGGS: Yes, we do, we do. We always have to.

Think of a Super Bowl where every time gets to play. That, folks, is the NFL draft. That big event kicks off tonight in prime time. Andy Scholes with the details in this morning's "Bleacher Report".


[05:23:12] BRIGGS: All right. Time for some sports.

After falling behind 0-2 to the Bulls, the Celtics have now won three in a row, are one away from advancing to the conference semifinals.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Good morning.

BRIGGS: Hey, man.


You know, what a difference a week makes. They were in a panic after losing two straight to the eighth-seeded Bulls, but all is well after their third straight win.

All star guard Isaiah Thomas arriving to the arena with his son. Check it out. His son looked like he was ready to play. I'm sure he was proud of dad after this one, the 5'9" Thomas with huge buckets down the stretch to lead the Celtics to the 108-97 win.

And Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg understandably not very happy after this game.


REPORTER: Did you see Isaiah carry the ball at all in about this game?



SCHOLES: All right. Well, tonight is the first round of the NFL draft. This year it's taking place in Philly right on the iconic Rocky Balboa steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Arts. Cleveland Browns have the first overall pick. The draft will start at 8:00 Eastern. Each time getting ten minutes to make their pick in round one.

And one prospect to look out for is Michigan tight end Jake Butt. When your last name is butt, what would be a perfect endorsement deal for you? Toilet paper of course. Charmin signing Butt to an endorsement deal and they sent him, check this out, a dump truck of toilet paper. That's what I call a signing bonus.

All right. Butt's former teammates the Wolverines, they're currently in Italy on a week long trip includes holding a practice, the team visiting the Vatican yesterday taking in Pope Francis' weekly address. Coach Harbaugh met the pope and gave him a Wolverines helmet and brand new pair of custom Michigan Jordan shoes.

[05:25:04] Harbaugh telling, quote, "This has been the experience of my life time."

And my question is, do you think Pope Francis is going to wear those Jordans?

BRIGGS: Oh, yes, man, I think he's balling in those size 11s. That's the photo we all need.

ROMANS: Do you think he gets a little help when he tries a three- pointer, the pope. Do you think he's just like, pow, they just go in.


SCHOLES: What else would be?

ROMANS: Divine intervention.

All right. Thanks, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

BRIGGS: All right. The White House looking to help the president round up some wins ahead of his 100-day in office. A flurry of new activity. We'll have the details, next.


BRIGGS: While you were sleeping, big changes to NAFTA, taxes, health care, government funding, coming down as the administration approaches the 100-day mark.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs.