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Trump Wants Tax Reform By Year-End; Trump: Feuding Sometimes Helps; Trump Escalates Gold Star Family Feud; Tillerson To Iranian- Backed Militias In Iraq: Go Home"; Debris Removal A Monumental Task In Puerto Rico. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 23, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- it's such a cash business with so few federal protections. No federal protections because it is still prohibited.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Don't look for Jeff Sessions to come to the rescue there. Not a fan (inaudible). EARLY START continues right now.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Tax cuts. It will be the biggest cuts ever in the history of this country.


ROMANS: President Trump urging House Republicans to do something historic. He wants a budget passed this week. He wants tax reform by the end of the year.

BRIGGS: And the controversy over the president's call to a Gold Star widow not letting up. The president goes out to the Democratic congresswoman who publicized the call, and now she says the Niger attack will go down as President Trump's Benghazi.

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday, October 23rd. It is 5 a.m. in the east. President Trump urging House members to pass the Senate budget this week paving the way for tax reform.

He said the move would be historic during his GOP conference call Sunday telling "Fox News," he wants his plan passed soon.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Hopefully, before the end of the year, but maybe much sooner than that. There's a great spirit for it. People want to see it and I call it tax cuts. It is tax reform also, but I call it tax cuts. It will be the biggest cuts ever in the history of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: There's no proof his tax cuts are the biggest in the history of the country, but passing the revised budget last week at least gives that deadline a shot. Still, the president wants to rewrite the tax code in 10 weeks.

It lawmakers in 1980s more than a year. The Trump side of the Reagan tax cuts in an op-ed Sunday, he wrote this, "The era of economic surrender is over." His plan restores our competitive edge, so we can create better jobs and higher wages for American workers.

Lately the White House has been selling tax reform as a middle-class initiative. Ivanka Trump travels to Pennsylvania to pitch an expanded child tax credit. Still, the biggest tax cuts go to the wealthy and many key details disproportionately favor the rich. However, Trump dismissed that critique, Sunday, he called all of that a Democratic talking point.

BRIGGS: Achieving any of the president's legislative goals will require Republican unity on Capitol Hill. Something party leaders say they are confident they can achieve. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell downplaying the sniping between the president and congressional Republicans.

Appearing on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," he emphasized their shared agenda. But after seeing the president waiver on a bipartisan health bill last week, McConnell says Trump needs to be clearer on what he actually will sign regarding health care.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We need a bill the president will actually sign and I'm not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I'll be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it.


ROMANS: McConnell sharply critical of former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and others who are working to defeat what they call establishment Republicans. "Fox News" asked McConnell about Bannon's crusade to back primary opponents for nearly all Senate Republicans running next year.


MCCONNELL: This is not about personalities. This is about achievement and in order to make policy, you have to actually win the election. The kind of people that are supported by the element you've been referring to are specialists in defeating Republican candidates in November.


BRIGGS: Now to McConnell's point, Bannon did back a winning challenger in the Alabama Senate primary, Roy Moore. The recent "Fox News" poll of that deep red state has more ties with the Democrat in the December election.

McConnell also told CNN, he trusts President Trump as a negotiating partner. Asked about Trump's attacks on his, McConnell replied, quote, "I'm not particularly concerned."

Let's discuss all of this with "Washington Post" political reporter, Eugene Scott. Good morning to you, sir.

ROMANS: Happy Monday.

BRIGGS: All right. The president talking more about this with Maria Bartiromo about, you know, his attacks, feuds and tweets, and he actually thinks it helps his agenda. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you worry that this bickering and feuding gets in the way of your agenda?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. Sometimes it helps to be honest with you. So, we'll see what happens in the end, but I think actually sometimes it helps. Sometimes it gets people to do what they're supposed to be doing, and you know, that's the way it is. I just want what's right. I think for the most part, they want what's right too.


BRIGGS: He just wants what is right, Eugene. Does this bickering, do these attacks help his agenda?

EUGENE SCOTT, POLITICAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": It doesn't look like it so far. We still have not seen a significant piece of legislation pass, and what is it? Nine months now. But he does seem to believe that putting pressure on those even within his party who are not moving his agenda forward, attacking them on social media, tends to light a fire under them.

It tends to get his base on against those lawmakers and perhaps put some of those lawmakers in fear of the ability -- their ability to be re-elected. I'm sorry?

ROMANS: No, go ahead.

[05:05:11] SCOTT: Yes. And so, I guess it will be interesting to see if he continues that and if he's able to prove that all of these attacks since getting in the White House actually leads to tax reform. So far, they haven't led to significant health care reform.

ROMANS: You know, the president really bullish on tax reform. I mean, he says, you know, he's going to get it done. It's going to be making history. It's going to be the biggest tax cuts in the history of everything, and done this year.

I mean, that might be hyperbolic, Trumperolic maybe they can call it. But you know, I mean, he always goes right for the biggest (inaudible) for the best. He calls it a Democratic talking point that this is something that would disproportionately affect the rich and not the middle class.

Is it possible that they could coalesce around we've got to really get this tax reform thing done because they did misfire on health care?

SCOTT: Well, that's what they're certainly trying to do. That's what these conference calls and meetings, and aides going up to Capitol Hill trying to persuade lawmakers to get on the same team.

I think it's very important, this $4,000 number that they keep throwing out about what the average family would take home, we've got to remember that's average. And so, whether or not that will actually happen remains to be seen.

BRIGGS: All right. Later today, Myeshia Johnson, the widow of La David Johnson, the sergeant killed in Niger, will give her first interview. It's on ABC. We'll see if she continues to keep this alive or she'll certainly want to focus on La David Johnson where it should be.

But the president is not backing away from the story. He in fact appears to relish in tweeting, "Whacky Congressman Wilson is the gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party. A disaster for Dems. You watch her in action and vote (inaudible)."

Now everyone knows about this congresswoman who has now engage in this feud with the president and clearly with the chief of staff, John Kelly. But to Trump's point, does this work for his base?

SCOTT: Absolutely. I mean, when you look at the tweets and e-mails I get from people on the Trump team, they are directly attacking Wilson despite the fact that it's Kelly who has been proven to be dishonest or less than truthful in presenting what actually happened in 2015 and that to President Trump's point, does this work for his base?

SCOTT: Absolutely. I mean, when you look at the tweets and e-mails I get from people on the Trump team, they're directly attacking Wilson despite the fact that it's Kelly who has been proven to be dishonest or less than truthful in presenting what actually happened in 2015 in that story he told that had absolutely nothing to do with Niger.

It's highly unfortunate for a president who has been so vocal about his support for the military to spend more tweets attacking this congresswoman than he has honoring Johnson or any of the other three men who died in that tragic incident.

I think what's most important to the American people right now is trying to understand why they were in Niger and just getting a better grasp on this global war on terror.

ROMANS: It's just -- I'm frankly surprised that the story keeps moving into the next cycle, the next news cycle, but the president himself moved it into the news cycle with that tweet at 8:00 in the morning yesterday, and then in this interview with Maria Bartiromo, he was asked about John Kelly's response. I want you to listen to what he said about how appalled John Kelly was.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: He was so offended that a woman would be -- that somebody would be listening to that call. He was -- he actually couldn't believe it. Actually, he said to me, sir, this is not acceptable. This is really not acceptable.


ROMANS: So, from the family's perspective, this is someone who was close to the family, has known Sergeant Johnson since he was a child, who was in the call, almost -- in the car almost as a family member, on a conference call, the president is still kind of stewing about this.

SCOTT: Yes. I think the real problem here is that to the president, General Kelly, Representative Wilson's identity is a member of Congress. That's not her identity to this family. They've literally known her for decades. Johnson and two of his brothers went through her mentorship program.

She was principal of their father's school. They've known her long before she went to Capitol Hill. I think Kelly and Trump have just met her on Capitol Hill and she's been a constant critic of them and their administration. So, that's the lens through which they see her.

But they don't get to define family for this family or the American people as a whole. What they do get to define and explain is what actually happened in Niger and that's where the attention should be and a vision to honoring these soldiers who actually gave their life for this country and for the freedoms that Trump says he aims to protect.

BRIGGS: And as to what happened in Niger, Lindsey Graham says there will be hearings this week. Hopefully we get some answers as to what happened to those four brave Americans. Eugene Scott, thanks. We'll see you in about 30 minutes.

SCOTT: Thank you, guys.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with a message to Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home. Allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors.


[06:10:06] BRIGGS: We're live in Iraq with more on Iran's growing influence and what the U.S. is or is not doing about it, next.


TILLERSON: Iranian militias that are in Iraq now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is 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 have been overtaken.


BRIGGS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling on Iranian-backed militias to leave the country. Shiite militias backed by the Iranians were critical in helping the Iraqi army drive ISIS out of Mosul and several other strongholds. With that accomplished, Tillerson insists those militias no longer belong on the battlefield.

Let's go live to Irbil, Iraq and bring in Ben Wedeman. Ben, the secretary seems awfully concerned about Iran's growing influence in the region. Should he be?

[05:15:05] BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think he's more confused than concerned. Definitely, there is massive Iranian influence in the region. Here in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, in Yemen, they have a big footprint throughout the Middle East.

But in a sense, this began certainly here in Iraq back in 2003 when the United States toppled the government, the regime of Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein, of course, was the biggest counterweight to Iran in the region. Since then we've seen very subtle growing Iranian influence here.

And of course -- I have to stress that there are no Iranian militia's in Iraq. There are Iranian advisors. There are many Iraqi forces who have been trained and armed by Iran, but militias, per se, simply don't exist.

Now, I've run into -- in fact, I was embedded with some of these pro- Iranian militias. This is the (inaudible), the so-called Popular Mobilization Units, predominantly Shia, but, as you said before, they played a critical role in the war against ISIS.

And we did hear a statement from the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi expressing his surprise at the statements by Secretary Tillerson because these groups, these paramilitaries played a critical role in the war against ISIS.

And the government in Baghdad, which has a lot of members in it, senior officials, who are closely linked to Iran aren't about to abandon those groups that they're so loyal to -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Some important context there from Ben Wedeman live in Iraq. Thanks, Ben.

ROMANS: In Puerto Rico this morning, modest improvements in the restoration of vital services, officials say access to power, cell service and water all up just a bit compared to Friday. Meantime, the island faces a possible health crisis by this huge amount of debris and garbage piled up since Hurricane Maria.

BRIGGS: These giant trash heaps form a perfect habitat for rodents and mosquitos that could spread serious diseases as our Polo Sandoval shows us from San Juan.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, officials here in Puerto Rico expected to pick up where they left off yesterday when it comes to facing this monumental task of clearing out debris in neighborhoods throughout this island.

Yesterday, we travelled to a neighborhood just west of the city of San Juan where we saw a virtual maze of rotting debris. At one point, what appears to be garbage, used to be people's belongings.

Instead, though, they sit soaked on a sidewalk here waiting for crews to remove them, which is exactly what we noticed here after five weeks of waiting, the residents there, finally seeing some of these actions, this response as contractors cleared out some of this garbage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was one of the first few houses to start piling up over there and since every day it's been getting bigger and bigger, and right now it's time to clean it up.


SANDOVAL: There is a method to this debris removal. A local contractor has been brought on board by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They're essentially surveying these debris piles before they are removed. Their job is to pluck out any of this potentially toxic material like paint, for example, certain electronics.

They'll stay behind so the Environmental Protection Agency can then try -- to make sure that that is disposed of properly. The concern, though, this morning, Christine and Dave, is all of this debris, where is it going to go as there are several reports from the EPA that now suggest that some of the landfills here on the island are already full to capacity.

BRIGGS: Stark reality. It's not getting better anytime soon. All right. On the Super Bowl rematch, the Patriots ruled again, but the fog in Foxboro was the real story. Let's get some answers from Andy Scholes next in the "Bleacher Report." What was that? Andy will tell us.



BRIGGS: Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, says the national anthem protests are hurting the NFL.

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

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. You know, Jerry Jones was the first owner to come out and say that if one of his players were to take a knee or sit during the national anthem then they would be banned. Speaking for the first time since last week's owners meeting, Jones said yesterday there's no question that the league is suffering the negative affect from the protests.

Jones also is saying league sponsors are concerned about the anthem protests and damage to the league. He added that at all times, he wants to do the right thing by his sponsors and their customers.

As for the Cowboys game yesterday, they dominated the 49ers and they did so with no kicker in the second half. Their normal kicker injured in the first half. So, Safety Jeff Peek (ph) took over the kicking duties, he was a high school kicker making two out of three extra points in the game. Those were the longest successful kicks made by a non-kicker in the NFL in more than 30 years.

All right. We had a Super Bowl rematch last night between the Patriots and the Falcons. Check out the fog in New England. It was so humid in the second half, NBC actually had to switch to more on field cameras to broadcast the game. Now Brady (inaudible) Atlanta didn't even score until late in the fourth quarter. New England would win this one by final 23-7.

All right. Finally, the Pittsburg Steelers may now own the best team touchdown celebration. Check out.

[05:25:04] (Inaudible) catching the touchdown and watch, him and Levy and Bell, then play a game of hide and seek. Now, guys, unfortunately for Bell, the only hiding spot on a football field is behind the goal post. He was found pretty quickly.

Guys, I have a 3-year-old. I'm actually getting pretty good at hide and seek because it's one of his favorite things to do.

BRIGGS: Do you continue to focus on this flag controversy or the fact that the NFL is more entertaining than it's ever been. We have no idea who's going to win any given week. The Cowboys are the worst team in football a few weeks ago. They looked like the best yesterday. Broncos were the best, now they look like the worst. I tell you it's entertaining.

SCHOLES: I couldn't pick a favorite to win the Super Bowl right now, Dave.

BRIGGS: That's what the beauty of it. But even for the hide and seek fans --

ROMANS: Thanks.

The president wants the biggest tax cuts ever in history and he want it by the end of the year. Can the Republicans actually get that done? And are the Democrats right, this is really just corporate tax cutting to benefit the rich?