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GOP Establishment in Turmoil; President Trump Focuses on Puerto Rico; Trump Stands By Anthem Remarks. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Moore was supported by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The evangelical Christian was ousted twice as Alabama's chief justice once for refusing to follow the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing gay marriage.

[05:00:05] He has been incredibly critical not just of gay marriage but of homosexuality in the past. Moore campaigned on a platform of placing Christianity at the center of public life.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And Moore says he spoke to President Trump who congratulated him on the victory. The president said nothing about the Race as he returned to the White House late last night, but he was awfully active on Twitter deleting three recent tweets he had posted supporting Luther Strange.

CNN's Alex Marquardt was at Moore's election headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama.



Well, of course, this was a Republican primary election on the surface, but really it was about so much more than that. It was the latest in the battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Tonight's election dealt a huge blow to the Republican establishment in Washington and a significant blow to the president who of course endorsed the opponent of Judge Roy Moore who is the victor.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We can support the president. Don't let anybody in the press think that because he supported my opponent that I do not support him and support his agenda.

MARQUARDT: This was a race about the insiders versus the outsiders, the grassroots versus the establishment and, of course, the president against so many in his base.

Instead, many of the president's top supporters like Sarah Palin and Steve Bannon, the former senior adviser, came out in support of Judge Roy Moore, who's very much the outsider, someone who had never worked in Washington, someone who talked routinely about draining the swamp.

The president made it clear why he was supporting interim Senator Luther Strange at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama on Friday saying it was all about loyalty.

At that same rally and almost the same breath the president wondered allowed with Senator Strange standing not too far away whether he had made a mistake wading into this race, whether he had made a mistake supporting Senator Strange. He said that if Strange lost, he would suffer a major embarrassment. The president presumably now trying to come to terms with that embarrassment.

The president also said that no matter who won this race, that he would support him against the Democrat Doug Jones -- Christine, Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Alex, thank you so much for that.

Let's bring in Zach Wolf, CNN Politics digital director.

You know, quite a show last night in Alabama. Of course, there's still a Democratic challenger to contend with, but this is really interesting about what it says, I think, for the Republican establishment. Already shaken over the past year and change. Now, what message does this send?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL DIRECTOR: Well, you know, when you have both President Trump and Mitch McConnell going -- Donald Trump went down there to campaign in fact, for Senator Luther Strange, now outgoing so he really put his muscle kind of behind him but I think this is actually ultimately a bigger deal for Mitch McConnell, both Moore and Strange had talked about their -- the way they liked the Trump agenda. They'd said nice things about Trump.

So, this is probably a bigger deal for Mitch McConnell who had put a lot of resources, Senate leadership campaign. The super PAC had really tried to get Luther Strange elected here. So, this is a big blow for them and it will ultimately drag the Senate to the right.

So, it will make them even more difficult for people like Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill to get meaningful legislation passed I think.

BRIGGS: Yes, that McConnell-linked super PAC pouring more than $5 million into that runoff alone. Interesting, though, Steve Bannon, Steve Bannon, the chief strategist who's now left the White House was really out there campaigning for Moore, Ray Moore, as I think the president called him at a number of moments but we'll move on from that.

Here's what Steve Bannon said about the environment in terms of raising money moving forward.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: You're going to see in state after state after state, people that follow the model of Judge Moore that do not need to raise money from the elites, from crony capitalists, from the fat cats in Washington, D.C., New York City, Silicon Valley.


BRIGGS: OK. Combine that with Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tennessee senator, very influential, very measured, very much, I guess you could say establishment, deciding not to run again in 2018.

What does this mean though for that 2018 environment, Zach?

WOLF: Well, somebody like Bob Corker who is, I would say, like a senator's senator, you know, a very, you know, statesman sort of a figure who wants to work across party lines, compare that with Roy Moore. Corker is leaving.

Compare that with Roy Moore who you know, if he can win the election in December will be coming in, a fire brand who has twice kicked out of his job in Alabama, you just have this sort of partisan, you know, people who are at the poles of the parties are in control of them it feels like in Washington. Somebody like Steve Bannon who before was a fringe character, went into the White House.

[05:05:03] And now, he's -- he's on the winning side of these races. It's -- it's definitely a switch.

ROMANS: The president yesterday saying he was not preoccupied by the NFL controversy, preoccupied away from dealing with Puerto Rico. But let me ask you, how serious is the Puerto Rico challenge for this presidency? He can go and say that, oh, we're getting great reviews on how we're handling Puerto Rico, but you have 3 million people essentially in the dark and 44 percent of the island doesn't have clean drinking water.

What is the risk for the president here optically with the Puerto Rico mess?

WOLF: You know, I think it depends on how much the public really engages with it. You don't see it dominating headlines in a way that other natural disasters have. Probably unfortunately, you know, Hurricane Katrina was something that was blanketed on TV screens. We haven't quite seen that with Puerto Rico yet for probably a variety of reasons.

But, you know, as the devastation becomes more clear, they will have to find a way to do something there and you know, to pass legislation, to get money down there and they're going to need to do that.

BRIGGS: The representative from Puerto Rico on CNN yesterday said this could become Trump's Katrina if he doesn't act fast. So, hopefully, that relief is going to get there in Puerto Rico.

Zach Wolf, appreciate it. We'll see you in about 30 minutes.

WOLF: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. The president's long awaited tax overhaul is finally here. He will unveil his plan today during a speech in Indiana.

Will we get real details? Well, sources are telling us not many, leaving room for negotiation, of course. There's a lot of constituencies at play here.

Here's what we know, expect tax cuts. The corporate rate slashed to 20 percent. Pass through business income cut to 25 percent. For individuals, the seven tax brackets we have today would collapse to just three tax brackets. That would cut the top rate to 35 percent. Bumps the lowest rate 2 points higher.

The plan though would also double the standard deductions so many low income earners could pay no taxes. Still, details are fluid, especially about that top rate. Trump has said he's open to raising taxes on the rich, something that many of the conservatives in the House don't want to raise taxes on anyone.

According to two Republicans briefed on the latest plan, it instructs the tax writing committee to raise more money from the top end. So, today's proposal will likely lack specifics as they iron this all out. It won't alienate any Republicans as opposed to tax hikes.

No word yet on how the plan would be paid for. The White House has said only three deductions are safe. Charitable contributions, the mortgage interest deduction and retirement savings. Think about all those big blue states with really high state and local taxes that you can now write off your federal tax returns.

BRIGGS: Including this one.

ROMANS: Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, California. Would they -- you could raise a lot of money that way, but that certainly will raise the tax bill.

BRIGGS: A blue state, so he's not overly concerned.

Do you think the specifics come from the House or from the White House?

ROMANS: The White House is laying out its -- they've all been talking to each other this whole way along. Now --

BRIGGS: So, do you think they'll be aligned?

ROMANS: I think there will be a frame work which they will all start horse trading.

BRIGGS: It should be interesting.

All right. President Trump refocusing efforts on Puerto Rico, surprising some on his own team by announcing a trip there next week. Recovery still chugging along after Hurricane Maria. We're live in San Juan, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:12:45] BRIGGS: President Trump intensifying and publicizing his personal involvement in the growing crisis in Puerto Rico. He's been criticized for a lackluster response to the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Maria.

Now, there's an increased urgency in the White House. The president surprising staffers by announcing he does plan to travel to Puerto Rico next week, Christine.

ROMANS: We're told he demanded aides set up that trip after his top homeland security advisor Tom Bossert returned from the island. In a meeting late yesterday with senior officials, the White House says the president made it clear there is no such thing as over-responding, ordering all elements of the government to plan for long-term support for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

BRIGGS: And a much more compassionate tone for the president in this late night tweet: America's hearts and prayers are with the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We will get through this. We will get through this together.

Earlier in the day, the president found himself on the defensive, pushing back against claims that his administration fumbled the response to the hurricane relief effort.


TRUMP: We've gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also in Puerto Rico. But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of the ocean, and it's a big ocean. It's a very big ocean, and we're doing a really good job.

It's out in the ocean. You can't just drive your trucks there from other states.


ROMANS: It's a big ocean.

BRIGGS: It is.

ROMANS: The Pentagon is planning to deploy the hospital ship USNS Comfort to help with the crisis and the U.S. Air Force is sending additional aircraft to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to ramp up daily relief missions.

BRIGGS: The biggest challenge facing Puerto Rico right now is getting emergency supplies in and people out. Only 10 commercial flights a day are landing on the island. One airline source tells CNN planes are departing from San Juan with empty seats because damaged equipment is dramatically slowing TSA screenings.

CNN's Boris Sanchez live at San Juan's international airport this morning with a look at the conditions there.

Good morning to you, Boris. How is it? BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is not a pretty picture, Dave.

Good morning to you as well.

About a week after Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico with category 4 winds, this is what you're seeing -- frustration and people trying to get off the island, but simply unable to. Several people, families that I've spoken to have been here for several days.

[05:15:04] We were here last night and spoke to several people that were in line and they're still here right now.

This line has been forming since 11:00 a.m. yesterday. Some folks already have tickets for flights that have been cancelled before. Some have tickets for flights today that they're hoping to get on, but there's no one at the counter right now to attend to them. We've seen people sleeping on the floor, people with very young children as well.

The difficulty here is in getting people organized. Unfortunately, the storm took out air traffic control for this airport. It is largely inoperative right now and so flights that are coming in have to come in at a certain altitude. It limits the number of flights and also the kind of plane that can come into Puerto Rico.

Apart from that, TSA equipment is badly damaged as well. Something as simple as printing out a boarding pass is proving difficult. So, you have people by the thousands coming to the airport every day trying to get off the island, but it's a gamble. As you said, only 10 commercial flights leaving Puerto Rico every day. Many of these folks in line will likely be here the entire day and perhaps back again tomorrow, Dave.

BRIGGS: Boy, brutal conditions there.

Boris, so much -- thank you so much for the live reporting from San Juan.

It is -- it is not getting better any time soon.

ROMANS: No, it's not. You know, they've been losing population since about 2005. About 400,000 people have left Puerto Rico for jobs in Texas, Houston in particular, the Houston area and in Florida and, you know, Katrina, post-Katrina, New Orleans has fewer people than before Katrina. You just wonder what this all means --

BRIGGS: What this one will mean, several hundred thousand more.

ROMANS: -- for life in Puerto Rico.

All right. Sixteen minutes past the hour.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a plan for this Sunday's national anthem and he's asking the fans to join him.

Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report". That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:21:19] BRIGGS: Green Bay Packers are planning a display of unity during the national anthem for tomorrow night's game against the Bears and they're asking fans, many of those fans who were owners of the Packers to join them.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Coy.


Few Green Bay Packers players sat on the bench during the national anthem last Sunday in Cincinnati, but the majority of them stood linked arm in arm. And quarterback Aaron Rodgers says they're going to do that again this Sunday at Lambeau Field, but as you mentioned, Dave, they want the fans to join them in promoting equality.


AARON RODGERS, GREEN BAY PACKERS QUARTERBACK: We're going to continue to show love and unity and this week, we're going to ask the fans to join in as well and come together and show people that we can be connected and we can grow together.


WIRE: The Packers players released a statement last night saying they represent all individuals with diverse backgrounds who desire equality, tolerance, justice and that is the reason for their display of solidarity.

Kneel or stand? The Pittsburgh Steelers took a vote to decide what they would do during the national anthem last Sunday. The result, stand in the tunnel so the team wouldn't be forced into a precarious situation. That plan caused great controversy when offensive lineman and former Army Ranger, Alejandro Villanueva, got separated from the rest of the time.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday he is tired of the infusion of politics.


MIKE TOMLIN, PITTSBURGH STEELERS HEAD COACH: We're a football group, man. You're asking us about middle ground. You're asking us about right or left, we're a football group. That's what you guys don't understand.

We don't care largely professionally speaking. We have personal opinions, yes. Professionally we're about to kick a ball off.

Do you guys ever wonder what's going through a man's head as he stands there respectfully listening to the anthem? He's probably thinking about a myriad of things that's going to happen when that ball kicks off. If you ask them after the game who did the anthem, they probably couldn't tell you. Did anybody ever think about that? (SINGING)


WIRE: That's Joey Odoms, a member of the National Guard who served in Afghanistan and is now the former national anthem singer for the Baltimore Ravens. He announced yesterday that he resigning after three seasons because of what he calls an ethical decision which resulted from the tone and action from a large number of NFL fans.

He said he feels unwelcome and that he doesn't belong on the field anymore. Odoms had met coach John Harbaugh in Afghanistan where Odoms told the coach he wanted to be the team's anthem singer.

As the people of Puerto Rico deal with the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, several athletes in the United States have stepped up with donations and have started crowd funding sites. Mavericks player J.J. Barea, who's from Puerto Rico, got an awesome gift from team owner Mark Cuban. Cuban offered J.J. the team's plane so he could transport food, water and supplies to his home country.


J.J. BAREA, DALLAS MAVERICKS GUARD: He's been awesome, man. He's my good friend and I texted him one time and he said yes. So, all the Puerto Ricans and all the Latinos in Dallas and Houston, they helped put all this together, so thanks to everybody. But we're just trying to help. It's really, really bad down here.


WIRE: Incredible gesture from the team's owner to help one of his players help others, guys.

BRIGGS: Yes. I mean, that's what made the difference really in Harvey, J.J. Watt. I think he raised more than $37 million at last check.

[05:25:00] So, athletes can make a huge difference here.

Thank you, Coy.

WIRE: You're welcome.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-five minutes past the hour. The Republican establishment is in turmoil this morning and the president's top former strategist is fine with that.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: You're going to see in state after state after state, people that follow the model of Judge Moore that do not need to raise money from the elites, from the crony capitalists, from the fat cats in Washington, D.C., New York city, Silicon Valley.


ROMANS: A big loss in Alabama. Another health care defeat. Bob Corker's decision to leave the Senate. What's the future for the Grand Old Party?


BRIGGS: From bad to worse for the Republican establishment. The Senate runoff in Alabama goes to evangelical Roy Moore, opening the door for other newcomers looking to shake up the party in 2018.

ROMANS: President Trump pivots to Puerto Rico, trying to silence critics saying the disaster response has been slow. He is now deploying resources and planning a trip to Puerto Rico next week.