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Congresswoman: Niger ambush is Trump's Benghazi; Chaffetz calls for Benghazi like investigation into Niger; Four U.S. soldiers killed in firefight in Niger; Female fighters helped run ISIS out of Raqqa; President criticized over handling of condolence calls; McConnell waiting for Trump guidance on health care; America's oldest BMX racer still competing. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired October 22, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ACNHOR: Top of the hour now, Pamela Brown I'm in New York this week for Ana Cabrera. And it is the start of a brand new week in Washington and you would think that perhaps the White House would be eager to move on from its controversy involving gold- star families.
But today, President Trump is only fuelling his feud with a Florida congresswoman who accused the president of disrespecting the family and one of the soldiers killed in the Niger ambush.
The president tweeting this morning, whacky Congresswoman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party, a disaster for them, you watch her in action and those are. The congresswoman, meanwhile, firing back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONG. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: This is going to be this administration's Benghazi. This is going to be Trump's Benghazi, Trump's Niger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Well, the back and forth feuding the possibility of an investigations into Niger comes as Republicans prepare to take on the budget, tax reform and maybe even healthcare, all before the end of the year.
I want to go straight to CNN's Boris Sanchez, live right outside the White House. And Boris, Republicans have more than enough on their plates. What reason does the president have to keep this feud going?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Pamela. Well, for the president, I mean, this is part of his style. We have never known Donald Trump to back down from a fight whether with Democrats, other Republicans or another gold star family.
You will remember his feud last year with the Khan family following their appearance at the DNC where they went after President Trump. So after hearing these comments from Representative Wilson comparing the situation in Niger to Benghazi, it is likely that this is not a fight that will end anytime soon.
The White House has not commented on this latest exchange between the president and the congresswoman from South Florida but the president did talk earlier today on Fox News about his combative style. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS HOST: Even your supporters say, you know, he's got fantastic policies. We want to see this through but the bickering and the feuding actually gets in the way. So obviously the feuding with Senator Corker, I think there is a personal thing going on between you and Senator McCain. Do you worry that this bickering and feuding gets in the way of your agenda?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. Sometimes it helps, to be honest with you. And so we'll see what happens in the end. But I think actually sometimes it helps. Sometimes it gets people to do what they are supposed to be doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: One last note, Pamela. Congresswoman Wilson is now demanding an apology from Chief of Staff John Kelly who earlier this week, compared her to an empty barrel and then mischaracterized some of the remarks that she gave at a speech before law enforcement a few years ago.
Just a short while ago, the Congressional Black Caucus came out in support of Representative Wilson saying that they were appalled by the chief of staff's comments. You know, he took this controversy very personally being a gold star parent himself, but the chief of staff has yet to comment on that statement. Pamela.
BROWN: And I understand, Boris, that the president had to call Republican members of the House about tax reform. What can you tell us about that phone call?
SANCHEZ: Well, this week is a full-court press from the White House on tax reform -- as you said, a congressional source telling CNN that the president will be having a call this afternoon with House Republicans to discuss how to move forward on that.
The president also had an op-ed in the USA today saying that it was time to reignite the middle class miracle in pushing for tax cuts and tax reform.
One last note, on Tuesday he is supposed to meet with Senate Republicans and talk about that combative style of the president, it is going to be interesting to watch because at that lunch on Tuesday.
There are going to be some senators -- Republican senators that he is openly feuding with including Bob Corker, John McCain as well as others, Pamela. So every interaction between them you can expect will be closely analyzed.
BROWN: Yes, has the potential to be a little awkward or little tense, I would say. Boris Sanchez, thanks so much. And I want to turn back to the ambush in Niger. You heard Congresswoman Wilson say that she thinks the ambush will be President Trump's Benghazi.
And today one of the central figures to the Benghazi investigation says there needs to be a probe. Former lawmaker Jason Chaffetz wrote, quote, Congress investigated Benghazi and Extortion 17.
Congress should also investigate the deadly attack in Niger hashtag truth. Joining us now is Republican Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida. He serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you for coming on.
CONG. FRANCIS ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: Pamela, thanks for having me on.
BROWN: First off, do you agree with your former colleague, Jason CHAFFETZ? Does Congress need to launch an investigation into Niger?
[17:05:00] ROONEY: Perhaps some type of inquiry, not the kind of thing that he did in the OGR Committee, but perhaps in the Foreign Affairs Committee or the Intel Committee because there are some real questions that need to be answered as to what Boko Haram is now doing in Niger, despite they have been doing camera room (ph) she had in Nigeria. We need to know a lot more about what Boko Haram can do over there.
BROWN: And what about protecting further service members to prevent future deaths like what we saw in Niger with four service members being killed?
ROONEY: Well, yes, this just shows how brutal and totally asymmetrical this guerilla fighting by these Islamic inspired terrorist is. And so we are going to have to make sure that we understand the level of the threat that we are confronting.
And then maybe we have to beef up the kind of patrols. Remember that this Green Beret unit had done many patrols without any kind of problem. So this was basically an ambush. It's a call to wake up and maybe look at if we have to do things a little differently there to fight Boko Haram.
BROWN: All right, let me ask you about Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. She mentored Sergeant La David Johnson who was -- she was close to the family. Of course, he is pictured right here. He is one of the four that was killed.
As you very well know the White House attacked her for listening in on the president's condolence call. General John Kelly told a story about Wilson that video later proved was untrue and mischaracterized and President Trump is continuing to attack her on Twitter. You represent along with Wilson, do you think the White House has been treating your colleague fairly?
ROONEY: Well, I think that certainly -- this attack is not President Trump's Benghazi. This attack has nothing to do with Benghazi which was an overreach, outran their security, shouldn't have been there in the first place and put a lot of people in danger. This was a trained elite military unit doing what they have been doing for months.
BROWN: OK. But you didn't answer my question about the attacks on Congresswoman Wilson and whether you think that is appropriate for the White House to be doing that.
ROONEY: Well, you know, President Trump has his own unique and sometimes confrontational communication style. It looks like Ms. Wilson is fully able to speak up, as well. But I just worry that it is all distractive.
BROWN: Right, so on that note, let me just -- I mean, it just seems so unimportant when you look at all that is going on, when you look at not just Niger and the importance of finding out why these four service members were killed, when you look at tax reform, health care, he hasn't tweeted about Niger, the four service members, the funeral yesterday. Why do you think he continues to do this? Does it bother you?
ROONEY: Well, it's distractive but I think he is pretty irritated that what he thought was a perfectly innocent call using language that General Kelly had repeated to him about his own son.
You know, General Kelly told me that kind of think giving his impeccable reputation, I would probably think that's pretty good verbiage to use. And I think the president was pretty irritated that it was kind of taken out of context or misconstrued.
BROWN: I want to talk to you about tax reform. As you mentioned, there's a lot going on, were you on the call with President Trump this afternoon? And if so, do you feel like he is fully engaged in the process?
ROONEY: I was not on the call. I was coming up here to see you.
BROWN: Thank you.
ROONEY: But I know he is fully engaged in the process. I have -- I have talked to him about it. He has very strong belief that we need to lower these rates and simplify the way average every day Americans pay their taxes. He has been committed to it from day one. I am pretty excited about the idea of paying taxes on a three by five card.
BROWN: All right, so we have learned that Republicans want to reduce the amount of pre-taxable income, Americans can put into 401(k). The New York Times is reporting that number can be at $2,400. How would that help middle class Americans who are already struggling to save?
ROONEY: Well, there are a lot of proposals that are being bounced around. And I don't know where that will actually -- ultimately reside.
But there is no doubt in my mind as a business person that if we can lower -- lower the rates and simplify the personal taxes, there is going to be more investment and more opportunity which should help people's savings, as well. BROWN: So it's proposed that it will add a little over a trillion to
the deficit. Do you believe that the -- with the tax reform, there will be enough economic growth to make up for that?
ROONEY: Well, there will definitely be economic growth when you combine the reduction in corporate taxes for those pass troughs and corporations. But I hope that they will keep state and local tax eliminations, and local tax deduction and which is in fact 1.5 trillion will help pay for that.
BROWN: Let me just ask you as we wrap this up, you heard President Trump say in that interview with Fox Business News that he believes the bickering and feuding actually helps move things along.
That it sort of keeps people on their toes, yet the Republicans haven't had a major legislative victory this year since he has been in office. So do you agree with him -- with his statement?
ROONEY: Well, I can only speak for the House of Representatives. We have passed health care reform and 274 other bills that represent the principles that the better way in the Republican conference is dedicated to.
[17:10:00] They are sitting there waiting on the Senate to do something about it.
BROWN: Do you agree that feuding and bickering helps the process?
ROONEY: Well, I think we want a healthy interchange of ideas. You know, you take like the state and local tax deduction. There are people from New York and start saying, oh no, we can't do that.
Well, the fact of the matter is if only four percent of people will itemize their taxes under a new regime like this one being proposed, then any of these deductions are just going to be for rich people anyway. We don't feel sorry -- we feel sorry for the middle class folks.
BROWN: All right, Congressman Francis Rooney. Thank you for coming on. We do appreciate it.
ROONEY: Thanks for having me on.
BROWN: And ahead just this hour looking for answers as some call for an independent investigation on Niger. What would that inquiry look like? We'll discuss.
Plus speaking out, the famous gold star father who has been critical of Trump is weighing in now on the latest controversy, why he says this man John Kelly should have kept quiet. You're live in the CNN Newsroom.
[17:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BROWN: Well, four American soldiers died this month in the West African country of Niger. They were ambushed by ISIS fighters. They are ISIS affiliate fighters and beyond that and a few other small details, the Pentagon really hasn't released very much about what happened that day.
Now some key figures in Washington, senators say they weren't even aware that U.S. troops were operating in Niger and learned about the deadly ambush on the news. The FBI has now joined this investigation.
I want to bring in Jack Murphy, an 8-year veteran at the U.S. Army Special Forces with combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. And he also co-wrote this book, Benghazi: The Definitive Report, also with me Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer who ran for president last year as an independent. Thank you both for coming on gentlemen on this Sunday.
EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER OFFICER, CIA: Thank you.
JACK MURPHY, VETERAN, U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES: Thank you.
BROWN: So, Jack, I want to start with you. It actually surprised a lot of people that we had service members in Niger including some of the armed services committee. What is your take on that? Are there more places in this world where U.S. service members are deployed and we don't know about?
MURPHY: My take is I think it is shocking how ignorant the average American including our own politicians are about. How many different countries we have soldiers in. On any given year we might have Special Forces teams in 150 or more countries.
So are there more countries out there? Sure. Did you know that we have Special Forces guys in Belize. We have them in the Philippines. We have them in Colombia.
They are all over the world and these are not classified operations. They are called joint combined exercise training. They are done through coordination with the host country and U.S. State Department and they happen every day.
BROWN: All right, that's good to know and important for the American people to know. I think in ways, this has been eye opening to see what happened in Niger.
And, Evan, you were an under cover CIA operative for 10 years. Tell us what is probably happening Niger right now in the investigation. How would Pentagon and the FBI be working together to get answers? What kind of cooperation are they likely getting from the government there?
MCMULLIN: I would expect them to get pretty good cooperation. I mean we are there under friendly terms as we are in these other places. Jack, mentioned this is something very normal and important that the U.S. military does.
Our Green Berets are around the world helping to increase capacity in these places where we face serious challenges that are better solved be locals if we can help them do it. So I think the locals probably are cooperating. I would expect them to. I think that there are a lot of questions about how the decision
making worked out in this case and then there will be questions about the resources that our Green Berets had at their disposal in this situation. I think all of that will be looked at.
But I want to stress that as, Jack, did. These operations are normal in general. We have people in these places. They are doing important work and I want to make sure that Americans understand that that this is more normal than abnormal as tragic as the loss of these soldiers' lives is.
BROWN: Right. I mean, you know, the Pentagon has said this is routine -- routine patrol, they have done this so many other times but these service members they were in unarmored vehicles, there was no overhead cover, no rapid response from the U.S. side. Does any of that concern you?
MURPHY: It doesn't necessarily concern me. It's not really unexpected. Niger is not a mature battlefield the way Afghanistan or Iraq is. We sent small Special Forces teams in there to conduct unconventional war fare in various obscure environments.
The infrastructure in Africa isn't built up the way we have it built up in the Middle East. There aren't enough resources to go around. As tragic as this event is, troops in contact are always going to demand more resources. The distances -- the theory of distance is a real thing. Africa is a huge continent.
And how we could possibly have air cover for every Special Forces team in Africa is difficult to imagine. There are just aren't enough assets to go around. As far as armored vehicles, riding around in armored vehicles would raise the profile of the team.
It would make everyone in that area of operations aware that the Americans are in town and driving heavy armored vehicles through sandy desert off road is extremely difficult. So I don't think that was really something that was -- could have been done at that environment.
BROWN: Got you. And, Evan, I want to go to you now just on the heels of what Senator Lindsey Graham said this weekend that America's war on terror is moving to Africa. Why is that area Niger and beyond, and native continents, so important to that effort?
MCMULLIN: Simply because of the expansion of terrorist organizations in that region especially as we defeat them in Raqqa and elsewhere in Syria and in Iraq.
They will shift to other places and that's the way these terrorist organizations operate. We need to be prepare defeat them wherever they are in the world.
[17:20:00] And it is much better to do that when they are small, when they are off balance than to have to deploy thousands and thousands of troops into a country that they have taken over.
So that's why we are there as Lindsey Graham warned this week. There will be more such incidents. There will be more contact with the enemy in Africa.
I'm sorry that it took an incident like this for Americans to be made aware more of what we have going on there. But it is important that we have people there increasing the capacity of local forces so that we don't have to send more at large numbers -- more of our men and women into these hostile environments.
BROWN: I want to ask you, Jack, this comparison that some have made to Benghazi, that some have said we heard Congresswoman Wilson on saying that this is Trump's Benghazi. Do you agree? Is that a fair comparison or is it just simply way too mature to make that?
MURPHY: No, I think that is more of a political aspiration by certain agendas rather than something that is a realistic comparison. It's like apples and oranges. Benghazi happened and Libya, there was a lot of foreshadowing.
There's a lot pf events leading up to Benghazi that should have warned us that something bad was going to happen there. The British pulled out. The Italians pulled out. There were other attacks going on.
There is just a real break down in what happened in Libya that night. In Niger, it was a different -- different sort of environment. It was a Special Forces operation. They were conducting foreign internal defense missions through their host nation allies.
And they got into this ambush. It was unexpected but we sent these guys into harm's way and they are trained to deal with it. And you know I'm sorry that four men -- four good men lost their lives but they are very different scenarios.
BROWN: Evan, you had mentioned how important the local forces are to defeat ISIS affiliates, Boko Haram. As you well know, Chad, which is that right next to Niger was added to the travel ban. Are you concerned that perhaps they won't be as cooperative now in this fight against ISIS given that were put on the travel ban?
MCMULLIN: I don't know about that. I think that it could be a stumbling block, yes, but -- but I would hope that that is something that we can work through. We have worked through much greater in other countries, much greater differences in other countries than that will likely be.
But of course we do have to take these things into consideration. We have had issues with Iraq for example when they were originally going to be on the travel ban, one of the iterations in Iraqis really had an issue with that. So it can become a sensitive issue.
BROWN: They were taken off.
MCMULLIN: They were taken off, exactly. But I -- you know, there are just always these issues with Pakistan, for example. There were always, you know, points of tension, but you know, that's a troubled relationship. But I think we will be able to work through this. But it certainly is something that we need to be careful about. BROWN: All right, Evan McMullin and Jack Murphy, thank you for coming
on and sharing your very important perspective from your own personal experience. Thanks so much.
MCMULLIN: Thank you.
MURPHY: Thank you.
BROWN: And still ahead on this Sunday, you will meet the female fighters who helped drive ISIS out of Raqqa. Stay with us. You are live in the CNN Newsroom.
[17:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BROWN: Well, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Saudi Arabia today praised fighters who drove ISIS out of its stronghold in Syria and Ira. His praise comes just days after U.S.-backed militia say they completely liberated the city of Raqqa from ISIS militants. Tillerson also had this warning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Certainly Iranian militias that are in Iraq now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS coming to a close, those militias need to go home.
Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control of areas that had been overtaken by ISIS and Daesh that are now have been liberated. Allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: CNN's Arwa Damon takes us to Raqqa, Syria and shows us what is left.
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is hard to even find traces of the life that was or imagine what these streets looked like when they were full of people with children laughing and playing. Rojda Falat is one of the battle commanders here.
ROJDA FALAT, BATTLE COMMANDER: (Speaking Foreign Language)
DAMON: It was a 15-day battle just to try to retake this particular square and every roof top she was saying was lined with snipers.
This was one of the main squares where ISIS would carry out their public beheadings and executions, and they would place the heads of their victims on these spikes as a gruesome reminder to others of what their fate might be should they decide to defy ISIS rule.
It is also where ISIS sold its Yazidi captives into sexual slavery. For the female fighting force of the coalition backed-Syrian Democratic Forces, the battle for Raqqa was deeply personal. They vowed that Raqqa would be liberated at the hands of women. As we
walked past some of Rojda's fighters, she says seeing them makes her happy, proud. Women established their bravery here, she says.
It taught them their value beyond their value within the household. She tells us that she herself joined the fight against ISIS around three years ago. The final battles she was just saying were taking place in this entire area between the stadium, that's right there.
[17:30:00] And then the square that is behind us and the hospital, and she was saying that ISIS fighters have actually underground dug tunnel systems between those three locations. Now, we can't go and see them because they still might have left explosive devices inside them.
Against the back drop of the city's ruins, the female fighting force within the SDF celebrated. Moments of victory, reunions but rebuilding, it may be even tougher than the battle itself. Commanders tell us there are still small pockets of ISIS fighters and clearing the city of explosives will take at least three months.
And for those who called Raqqa home, there is not much left to return to. But Rojda held up the SDF flag at this very square the day the SDF took control of it. She says she did it in memory of those who died and the battle whose cost is not yet fully known. Arwa Damon, CNN, Raqqa, Syria.
BROWN: Thanks to Arwa Damon. Meantime, the father of a U.S. serviceman killed in Iraq weighs in on the White House's treatment of gold star families. Khizr Khan says the president's chief of staff, a retired four star General Mike Kelly went too far when he stepped into the controversy. That is ahead in CNN Newsroom.
[17:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BROWN: Well, the gold star father who gained national attention when he criticized then candidate Donald Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention has been speaking out about the latest gold star controversy involving the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KHIZR KHAN, SON DIED IN IRAQ: In two words, dignity and restraint. First, I offer my deepest condolence to the families of my four sons -- brave hero sons that died protecting us. Without their sacrifice, this nation would be vulnerable. They were serving this nation. They will always be remembered.
Their families will always be remembered as best of America. I stand with them. I support them. They deserve utmost dignity and respect, and privacy at this moment, that should have been equivalent when this matter came to public, but that had not been done. It had been made political football again, I request and I ask utmost dignity, respect and privacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Republican Congressman of Jack Bergman of Michigan joins me now from Washington. And, congressman, you are a retired United States Marine Corps three-star general.
In the last week you have seen this back and forth between the White House and this congresswoman from the president tweeting about her even today, the day after one of the four people killed -- four service members killed was laid to rest.
I mean, what goes through your mind when you see this as someone who served in the military? Doesn't -- don't both sides just need to stop? Four service members were killed -- were killed here.
CONG. JACK BERGMAN (R), MICHIGAN: Thanks, Pamela. And you know your question is very well thought. As commander in Marine Corps reserve for four years, my marines and sailors were charged with making those tough calls, those casually call at the homes of the fallen marines.
And we trained them in New Orleans and around the country to handle those tough situations. There is no cookie cutter approach here. The dignity, the respect, the empathy and caring where each one of those calls emits or emotes from those aren't receiving the terrible news is different and there is no good news in this.
It's just that caring by the individual. There are no right words. Anybody who has to make that call or send that letter, they are going to try a little different but make it as good as possible for that family to respect their fallen sons or daughters or husbands or wives service.
BROWN: But let's look at the White House. This has really been a test for the White House because more service members were killed in an operation like this than any other under President Trump. How do you think the White House has handled this test?
BERGMAN: Well, you know, every president has the opportunity to design how they want to handle that call. And I -- I commend President Trump for making that effort to find the words to convey to that wife, that mother, that father, that whom ever it is to try to express you know, his sympathy.
And if the president chooses not to, that's the president's call. Someone else is going to make the call anyway, but there is nothing perfect here and we have to remember that families will take the news differently and we always have to make sure that we are caring in our message.
BROWN: There is no doubt about that but what about the president incorrectly stating that he had called all the families of service members who had been killed since he took office?
BERGMAN: Well, you know, the challenge that we have in any type of communication is trying to figure out who said what, who did what. This is one of the challenges that any leader has. And when you step into the shoes of leadership whether be at the
military or civilian level, there is a lot going through your mind to try to get it right. So do we sometimes, you know, not say the words perfectly? Yes. But the intent in the heart is there.
BROWN: All right, so defense Secretary James Mattis is reported as being dismayed.
[17:40:00] With the lack of detailed information he has gotten so far. Senator John McCain said the White House has not been forth coming. He even threatened to subpoena -- to subpoena information. Would you support a Congressional investigation into what happened in Niger?
BERGMAN: I tell you what, I served with General Mattis and if Jim Mattis -- General Mattis, the secretary of defense says that he is going to investigate it, I know that he is going to get to the bottom of it.
And I would not jump the gun with a congressional investigation, let the secretary of defense through the -- if you will, the procedures, the normal procedures for debriefing a mission, look at what went right and what went wrong.
Let that happen before Congress jumps in. We've got a lot of things going right now as Congress that I believe when the time is right, if Secretary Mattis says the time is right then we look at it. Right now we have a lot of things on our plate in the Congress.
BROWN: Well that is true and on that note of course you have tax reform. You were on the Budget Committee. CNN had learned that Republicans are considering reducing the amount of pre-taxable income workers can put into 401(k).
The New York Times is reporting that may be as low as $2,400. How would this impact families in you state who are already struggling to save as it is?
BERGMAN: Well, you know, in the state of Michigan especially in my district in the first district, you know, our folks came out very strongly for President Trump because they want jobs.
They want a better economy and they really don't care how the president and Congress create that better economy as long as they have jobs, and some more money in their pocket.
So you know, right now we -- this coming week, we are going to be starting to look at not only can we pass the budget but also looking at putting the meat on the bone in the tax worth frame to the tax were finally not to destroyed it.
But the tax cuts and the tax reform details that I guess I will just wait to see as we look at all things here in comparison to all the other elements.
BROWN: So you don't want to comment directly on 401(k)? BERGMAN: Well, you know, it's -- anybody who comments on something
they haven't seen the details of I think is probably unwise. So the reality is you know, we need to create an environment where the working Americans have more money that they can choose to save. However they save that, we have to provide those opportunities where they feel that they've got opportunities to save.
BROWN: All right, look forward to hearing your thoughts. I want you to look at the details. Congressman Jack Bergman, thank you very much.
BERGMAN: Thanks, Pamela.
BROWN: And tonight Anthony Bourdain takes us to a dining scene at the cross roads in Pittsburgh. Here is a preview of what's in store.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN host: Since the decline of big steel and post war years leading up to the '60s and beyond, Pittsburgh fell on hard times.
But they say things are turning around, high tech, medical research, a lot of really good chefs opening really cool restaurants, microbrewers. They say things are turning around.
[17:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BROWN: Health care, taxes, your 401(k) retirement plan, it's all on the bulls eye right now of Republican lawmakers on the bipartisan health care bill being sloughed right now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell making news today on CNN telling us he is waiting on a sign from President Trump.
Ben Stein is a respected economy -- economist. He is widely known as TV and movie personality. He has written about finance for several publications including Fortune and the New York Times, and he is also the author of a new book, The Capitalist Code. Quite the resume there, Ben Stein.
BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST: Well, I have been a busy boy.
BROWN: You have been a busy boy. And I'm sure you are busy now as all of this is happening, healthcare, tax reform, now we are learning McConnell loves to wait for the president to indicate what he wants. Is this the right move for the Senate leader or is it sort of adding to inaction in Washington?
STEIN: I don't think it is right move or the wrong move. I think the right move and I'm not that concerned about what the government move is right now.
I'm concerned about the move of each individual in terms of his or her movements to stay solvent as he or she gets older, gets ready for retirement, gets ready to send his or her kids to school, get ready for medical emergencies.
I'm not that worried about something mentioned in the prior segment which was very interesting but that's not really my concern which is how much you are allowed to contribute to 401(k).
I'm interested in what is the optimal way for each American to invest his or her savings so that he or she will have most money left as life goes on.
[17:50:00] And that is what I am writing about and that is what has become my obsession in my latter years.
BROWN: Ben, let's talk about tax cuts because the Republicans say, look, this is about making life better essentially for the middle class.
President Trump today making his case for tax reform in this op-ed piece in USA Today, it's tilted with tax reform, we can make it morning in America again.
In it the president wrote, revising our tax code is not just a policy discussion, it is a moral one because we are not talking about the government's money.
We are talking about your money, your hard work. So the president says that he wants tax reform achieved by Christmas. A new CNN poll shows more than 50 percent oppose the plan. What do you think? Can it get done in two months?
STEIN: I wouldn't bet a lot that it can get done in two months or three months, or four months, or five months, or six months, or 12 months. Look, we have an awful lot of vested interests here. A lot are at war with each other.
There's one crucial thing that can be done and that is to greatly reduce or eliminate the corporate income tax. That money does not belong to the corporation. It belongs to the owners of the corporation.
The income of the corporation should be taxed directly to the owners of the corporation. It should not be taxed at some intermediate level. That's just a pure waste of time and bureaucratic maneuvering.
It does not need to be done. As to other parts of the plan, whether or not they can reduce taxes substantially, I sincerely doubt, and I hope and pray that Mr. Trump does not really seriously plan to reduce taxes on the very rich.
There is no reason for the very rich to have their taxes reduced. The very rich are called, the very rich for a reason. It's because they have enough money.
If we're going to reduce taxes at all, I think we should reduce taxes on corporations taxed directly to the wealthy individuals or to pension plans or whoever else owns it. If they're going to reduce taxes on the poor, they hardly pay any
taxes anyway, let them go ahead and do that. But please let's not have a thought of reducing taxes on the rich.
BROWN: But you're OK with reducing taxes on corporations, right, because I think that count some like 39 percent.
STEIN: I think they should eliminate that altogether. If a corporation earns $100 billion, I mean just a hypothetical. Obviously nobody really earns that much. Then the money should be taxed directly to the stockholders, not to the corporations.
That just is an additional layer of bureaucracy, makes life more complicated more difficult for the corporate planners. Let's just tax the people who own it. And let's -- by the way, let's all be owners. That's the main thing I want to say.
Let's all you and me, and everybody watching this, let's be owners of America's corporate system -- the corporate system whereby we can all buy stock in companies with very, very little commission, very little aggravation, and be owners of a part of this enormous wealth creation regime called capitalism is a brilliant system, and if we don't take advantage of it, we're making a serious mistake.
BROWN: Let me just ask you this before we let you go, I mean obviously you're very passionate about this.
STEIN: Oh, don't let me go.
BROWN: I know, we don't want to let you go. But I do just want to ask you, you know, obviously you are invested in this. You're passionate. Given this is the time you're working with, have you been in touch at all with Congress, with the White House trying to kind of get your points across?
STEIN: I don't know Mr. Trump from Adam (ph). I wrote a very critical piece about him many, many years ago and (Inaudible), he called me up and threatened to sue me. That's the only contact I've ever had with him.
And the only contact with people on his staff with one of his high officials who I keep writing to and say don't bother cutting taxes on the rich. Just everybody out there, buy stock in the indexes, don't try to pick stocks.
Buy the indexes. Buy the whole market and keep adding to it whether it goes up or goes down. By the time you're an old guy like me, you'll be comfortable.
BROWN: Ben Stein, always great to have you on. Thank you so much.
STEIN: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.
BROWN: And we're back in just a moment. [17:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KITTIE WESTON-KNAUER, OLDEST BMX RACER IN U.S.: Folks to me, you've got to be kidding. You're going to get out there and ride with those guys? I love a challenge.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORESPONDENT: Kittie Weston-Knauer has been riding BMX bikes for nearly 30 years.
WESTON-KNAUER: At 69, I'm the oldest female BMX racer in the world. You talk about fun, hitting a turn at 20 miles an hour, can you imagine that? You know, that's where the exhilaration comes.
GUPTA: In the world of BMX biking, Kittie has done more than break down age barriers.
WESTON-KNAUER: When I started racing, there were no women. Not that they didn't want to race. They were not encouraged. I said, hey, ladies, we can make an impact on this sport.
GUPTA: Kittie worked with BMX sanctioning bodies to give adult women their own racing class.
WESTON-KNAUER: We went from two women. Now there are over 1,000 adult women who are out there racing.
GUPTA: Still, racing at 69 doesn't come without its challenges. Kittie has had had both hips and knees replaced. She also has severe arthritis in her hands.
WESTON-KNAUER: Age? Age is nothing but a number to me. And as long as I can keep the two wheels where they belong, which is on the ground, I will be riding that bike.
GUPTA: Here next race is the Gold Cup Regional Championships in the Southern Texas. It's her first race back since breaking her ankle in June.
WESTON-KNAUER: I'm just excited that I am back on the track. You know, I'm too old to be nervous
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kattie is like seven.
GUPTA: Kittie usually races in the 56 and older division. But since no one in her class is here, she raced against women nearly two decades younger than her.
WESTON-KNAUER: Am I competitive? You better believe I am. I'm going to give it my all.
GUPTA: Kittie finished the race in third place. Still, she won her age group.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ms. Kittie Weston-Knauer. Put your hands together.
WESTON-KNAUER: It's not about coming in first, second or third. It's always about finishing.