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Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker Criticize President Trump; Interview with Senator Rob Portman; Interview with Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nonetheless, an important moment on Capitol Hill with these two senators very outspoken and harsh, even personal criticism to the president.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R) ARIZONA: There's time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.

JOHNS: Outgoing Senator Jeff Flake fiercely denouncing President Trump's policies and behavior as dangerous to democracy and calling on his fellow Republicans to do the same.

FLAKE: When the next generation asks us, why didn't you do something, why didn't you speak up, what are we going to say?

JOHNS: Flake railing against the politics of the era of Trump, the undermining of democratic ideals, the personal insults, and what he called the flagrant disregard for truth and decency.

FLAKE: Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.

We were not made great as a country by indulging in or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake.

JOHNS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praising Flake but punting when asked by reporters how the party would respond?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At what point do you have an obligation as the leader of this party to weigh in on these very serious criticism of the president.

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: What I have an obligation to do is to try and achieve the greatest cohesion I can among 52 Republicans to try to achieve for the American people the agenda that we set out to achieve.

JOHNS: Flake's sweeping indictment coming hours after Republican Senator Bob Corker also blasted Mr. Trump. SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: The president has great difficulty

with truth. I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way he does, but he does.

JOHNS: The retiring Senate foreign relations committee chairman expressing concern that the United States' position in the world is suffering under President Trump.

CORKER: World leaders are very aware that much of what he says is untrue. He purposely is breaking down relationships we have around the world that have been useful to our nation.

JOHNS: Their feud reaching a boiling point with the president responding to Corker's in a series of tweets, again calling him little. The White House brushing off the criticism as petty while welcoming the decision of the senators to retire.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think they were not likely to be reelected, and I think that shows that the support is more behind this president than it is those two individuals.

JOHNS: A source familiar with the president's thinking says he is high spirits after Flake's announcement. An ally of Mr. Trump's former chief strategist also celebrating, saying Steve Bannon added another scalp to his collection as another establishment domino falls.


JOHNS: Now, these two senators are not leaving Capitol Hill any time soon. They both are scheduled to leave the capital January of 2019. The White House needs them to get anything important that is partisan passed. Alisyn and Chris?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Joe, thank you very much.

So moments ago we spoke with Senator Jeff Flake live on NEW DAY about the president's new tweet and Senator Flake's reasons for speaking out now.


CAMEROTA: Is the only reason that you dropped out of the race because you had zero chance of being elected?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R) ARIZONA: I can tell you it's very difficult to be re-elected in the Republican Party right now, and in Arizona in particular. It doesn't matter the policies that you adopt or your votes. It's if you are with the president. And I can't be with the president at all times. I am sorry. I just think that when the president is wrong you ought to call him out, and sometimes he's wrong, and that's what I tried to point out in the speech yesterday.

CAMEROTA: Are so you an outlier, senator, in the Republican Party now? What about the second half of what the president just tweeted, the meeting with the Republican senators outside of Flake and Corker was a love-fest with standing ovations and great ideas for the USA. Is that how you see it?

FLAKE: I'm not going to describe a private meeting. I can just say a lot of my colleagues share the concerns that I raised on the floor yesterday and I believe that more of them will speak out in the future. I hope that we've reached a tipping point of some type where we don't continue to normalize by being silent the kind of behavior that we have seen. That's why I felt it was important to give the speech and I hope that we move in a different direction.

CAMEROTA: But those colleagues that you had those conversations with behind the scenes that you believe will speak out, what are they waiting for?

FLAKE: I think they will. I think we have hit the tipping point. There is at some point just the weight of it just causes people to change and to say I can't take this anymore.

[08:05:08] CAMEROTA: But do you feel that by retiring that you are surrendering somehow?

FLAKE: It's tough. I am competitive, I like to fight these battles, but I also knew that I couldn't run the kind of race that I would be proud of and win in a Republican primary at this time. The politics in that way has changed. You can be conservative on policy and it doesn't matter, it seems, as much as being with the president or not criticizing him even if you think he's wrong. We haven't entered politics like that before. This is something new. So I didn't feel I could move ahead and run a campaign I could be proud of, so that's why I am retiring.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so let's see where Republicans are in this state of play. We have Republican Senator, Rob Portman of Ohio, a member of the Finance and Foreign Relations Committee. Thank you for being on the show, as always, senator.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, (R) OHIO: Thanks, Chris, good to be on with you again.

CUOMO: So do you agree with your colleagues, Flake and Corker, that we've reached a tipping point? Do you stand with them and against what the president has said and done?

PORTMAN: First, they are buddies of mine, they're friends, they're good legislators and I respect them. But my focus, Chris, you know I've talked about this before, is how to get things done. And just as I worked with President Obama, as you know I had 50 of my bills signed into law by him, I didn't agree with him on a lot of things but I worked with him. I continue to work with the Trump administration. I also speak out when I disagree with them, and there's no reason you can't do that.

As you know, I spoke out against the travel ban when it came out and I was the first Republican to do so I think. I've also spoken out more recently on the Russia issue, something I've been concerned about for years and the disinformation campaign. I think we're not being tough enough. I opposed them when they opposed sanctions, there's no sanctions on Russia. So you want to pick your fights because you do want to accomplish things. This week, for instance, as you know, I am working with the administration on tax reform, also working with the House. This is something I feel very strongly about. I think we can actually get something done that will help the people I represent. I am also going down tomorrow for the opioid announcement because I have been pushing the president to declare a national emergency.

CUOMO: It has not happened yet. It's supposed to happen this week. Is it going to?

PORTMAN: I hope it will. There's a meeting at the White House tomorrow, I'm told he's going to make announcements, and we need to implement the legislation that you and I have talked about, the comprehensive addiction recovery act much more aggressively. So I think to me you try to get above the Twitter wars and focus on the policy issue so you can get something done.

CUOMO: Let's test that a little bit because what the man says matters. How he leads matters. His sense of moral agency matters. It's not just about getting things done from a legislative capacity, otherwise we would have machines do it. So when you say I'm going to get above the Twitter war, that's what he says, that's what he means. Don't you have to have a position on the kinds of things the president says? Isn't one of the reasons you were put in office is to be a leader on many levels?

PORTMAN: Absolutely. And again, I do think those positions. When Bill Clinton was telling the country that, you know, he did or did not do things with regard to Monica Lewinsky, I still tried to work with the Clinton administration and get things done.

CUOMO: But you also talked about what he has done and your sense of the morality of it. I am asking you about that now with this president. Do you stand with Senators Flake and Corker about it being too much, that it's too negative, it's too destructive?

PORTMAN: Look, I strongly believe our country is polarized right now and too divided, and I think there's blame on the right and on the left, frankly. And I think there are too many people in our country who are getting their information only from sources on the right and left and not realizing that the way you move forward as a people is to find common ground together. And that's where I'll try to focus, and I'll continue to do that, not just with the administration but with my colleagues in the Congress. This is an opportunity, for instance, on the opioid crisis to keep it not just bipartisan but even nonpartisan.

CUOMO: I get you on the issues. We talked about opioids, and you are always welcome to do it on the show. As you know we just did a documentary on the issue as it affects New Hampshire, Ohio is not immune, West Virginia and other states, no question. But, again, I am not going to chase you all day on this, I want to talk about other things as well, but you are not saying that yes, I've heard what the man said, President Trump, here's how I feel about it, how I don't think it's a tipping point, I don't agree to Flake and Corker. Can you give an answer?

PORTMAN: Look, let me give you a specific answer. I saw this morning some tweets saying that somehow Bob Corker maybe wasn't for tax reform or Jeff Flake wasn't --

CUOMO: The president has also said Corker brought us the Iran deal. You know that's not true. You know that saying that is a lie, because a lie is when you know something is false and you say it anyway to deceive. That's the only explanation for saying that about Corker. He was against it. He voted against it.

[08:10:04] PORTMAN: Yes, and he tried very hard to improve it as well. But on the tax reform point, just let me back up to that, they are for tax reform. So these two senators are going to do what they think is best for the people they represent.

CUOMO: But you have no opinion about the president saying those things, senator?

PORTMAN: I think of course we ought to stick to the truth, and of course we ought not to say things that are not accurate about colleagues, and as you may recall regarding Senator Bob Corker, I think I was the first if not the second Republican senator to send something out supporting Bob Corker and his legislative successes, including with regard to fighting terrorism and economic growth issues like tax reform. So bob has been a real leader and I will continue to do those sorts of things.

CUOMO: Senator, the president says this is the biggest tax cut in U.S. history. Is that true?

PORTMAN: Well, it depends where we end up. My hope is that we do have significant tax relief but also very substantial tax reform because it is the tax reform that's going to create the growth in the economy that will result in us not having a negative impact on the deficit but even be able to reduce the deficit. And I think that's the point here.

It's tax relief from a so called static score bases, to use a Washington term, meaning if you don't take into account the growth that's going to happen. But if you do the right kind of tax reform, and Chris, you and I have talked about this, it's a broken tax code now. We have companies in New York and Ohio and elsewhere who are literally leaving our states to go overseas because our tax code is so bad. They are taking jobs and investment with them. So this is a chance to reverse that and actually begin to bring back investment to the United States and create more jobs and higher wages. So if we do that and do it right, you will have some tax relief compared to what it would otherwise be is actually relatively minor compared to the total revenue. But you'll actually have growth that will result in more revenue. That's the idea.

CUOMO: Right. But the economic problem -- politics are one thing, can you get the votes. And it ties in with an economic reality that when you cut taxes it is going to cost you money on the deficit and on the debt side. This plan is scored as doing that in its early stages. We'll have to see how it gets negotiated. But billing something as a middle class tax cut when the cuts are not weighted forward the middle class -- they do get some cuts in the early iteration, but not like the top tier does -- and it adds to the deficit, are those things you are OK with?

PORTMAN: First of all we don't know the final plan because none of us have seen that, but it will have middle class tax relief, there's no question --

CUOMO: But not like it gives to the top.

PORTMAN: Well, we'll see.

CUOMO: It doesn't right now is what I'm saying, what we have seen so far.

PORTMAN: Yes. What we've said from the start is that the wealthy will continue to pay their burden that they pay now at the 10 percent pay something like 70 percent of the taxes, and that shouldn't change. And I feel strongly about that, as do others. But with regard to the growth side, let me just give you a couple quick numbers. If you grow the economy by one percent, so instead of the 1.9 percent projected by the Congressional budget office over the next 10 years, 2.9 percent, that would add $2.7 trillion more in revenue. That's the CBO number, Congressional budget numbers.

CUOMO: How do you know that tax cuts would do that?

PORTMAN: We are talking about substantially less than that, more like 0.4 percent, so instead of 1.9 percent growth, you have something 2.3 percent growth. You and I grew up in a time when we have 3.5 to four percent growth regularly. So if you do the kind of tax reform we're talking about, and it needs to be properly scored by people who look at the growth element of this, we will have growth. There's no question about it. We have the highest business rate in the world right now. They are literally companies leaving our shores as we talked about earlier. You've got $2.5 to $3 trillion locked up overseas.

CUOMO: You definitely have the money locked up overseas. That's something that we're looking for you guys to address. But you know that's a little fuzzy math when it comes to the tax burden on businesses. The nominal rate is one thing, the practical rate that they play with all the loopholes and the way they're able to hide money is something else. When you look at it that way, they're not doing badly by being in the U.S.

PORTMAN: The effective rate is still above the average of the industrialized country. You see the average is 22.5 percent, we're at 35 percent, the effective rate is probably in the mid to high 20s.

CUOMO: But it's not the worst in the world as we keep hearing from your side of the aisle.

PORTMAN: Is it in terms of the statutory rate which is what companies look at initially -- CUOMO: But they don't pay it.

PORTMAN: You have to add the percentage of New York state and Ohio and other states, average is actually about 39 percent. Yes, most companies don't pay it, some do.

CUOMO: But some pay nothing. That's why I am saying --

PORTMAN: And that will change under this proposal, in other words, everybody will pay some taxes with this proposal, which is another important difference. But look, this is something Chuck Schumer and I agreed to two years ago that we needed to fix our international tax system to go to a so called territorial system to lower the rate and bring back this money, bring back the jobs. Chuck Schumer wanted to put some of the money into infrastructure as well, to be honest, but that's fine, too. But my point is this has not been a partisan issue. It was in the Simpson/Bowles proposal that everybody supported. So this is something we should do, and if we do it, there's no question, and economists agree on this, it will increase economic growth which will raise revenue.

[08:15:03] CUOMO: Well, it depends on what you do. I mean, if you repatriate money, obviously, that's a good thing. You have more money in your economy.

The idea of jobs, you know, the president puts it in quotes, in caps, jobs, you have lots of jobs here, and in some places, you have more jobs than they able bodied or competent labor, which goes to training and how we treat our workers from the last generation to this generation. But it's about wages.

PORTMAN: Exactly.

CUOMO: The theory that we are going to give companies more money so they can pay people more, we haven't seen companies holding cash the way they are right now in a long time, if ever, and they ain't paying more. So, the idea of giving them more money, that doesn't communicate to larger wages.

PORTMAN: Well, what the Congressional Budget Office said, again, this is a nonpartisan group, so I look to them on things like this, and they have said when you do lower the business rate, 70 percent of the benefit will go to workers in terms of wages and benefits, why? Because there's more competition for workers. And particularly with the tight labor market we got right now, and you're correct about that, there's no question in my mind you are going to see a bump up in the wages.

We are already seeing it in the last quarter, as you know, finally, after, you know, really a decade and a half of flat wages and higher expenses, and that middle class squeeze, it results is one of the things that we're trying to address here.

CUOMO: They definitely need help.

PORTMAN: Both through the business side but also through the middle class tax relief. So, I think this is identifying the problem properly, which you just did, which is the middle class wages (ph).

CUOMO: Right.

PORTMAN: Identifying the problem properly, which is American companies literally not becoming American companies, would become foreign companies which hurts us because jobs and investment follow that. There's a recent study by this group, Ornstein Young, an accounting firm, saying 4,700 companies would be American companies today rather than foreign companies if we put this kind of tax reform in place 13 years ago. In other words, just in the last decade --


CUOMO: Right, I saw that -- I saw that analysis. We will talk about it when we get more meat on the bones. As you know, the number one reason they are going somewhere else is labor costs, and that's another conversation that needs to be had about how you curtail about a business calculus about what makes sense for them.


PORTMAN: Labor costs as you know, Chris, is a smaller and smaller part of the calculation, as other countries do raise their wages and as there's more machination, more innovation, and more technology --

CUOMO: Right. Right.

PORTMAN: -- but, look, it's crazy that we have a tax code that is not serving the American worker. If you are working in a manufacturing industry working today, and it's international, you are working every day with one hand tied behind your back.

CUOMO: I hear it.

PORTMAN: So, let's at least give them the tax code that let's them be competitive.

CUOMO: I hear it and we'll see how you do that.

Senator, thank you for coming on the show.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Chris. Great to talk to you.

CUOMO: You are always welcome.


PORTMAN: Take care.

CAMEROTA: Well, the Senate Armed Services Committee will receive a classified briefing tomorrow on that deadly ambush in Niger. One lawmaker tells us next, she has big questions.


[08:21:19] CAMEROTA: New details emerging in the investigation into that deadly ambush in Niger three weeks ago today. Military officials tell CNN that the U.S. Special Forces were gathering intelligence on a terrorist leader in the area when they came under fire.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono. She serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and they will get a classified briefing by the Pentagon tomorrow.

Senator, thanks for being here.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: What are your big questions about what happened in Niger?

HIRONO: Well, the briefing is today and we all have questions about what happened. You get to the bottom of it, because we need to prevent these kinds of tragedies and attacks from happening. We'd like to know what kind of intelligence we had, why was this a surprise and what can we do to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

At the same time, we know that we should have a vigorous debate about the authorized use of military force and what we are doing in sending troops all over the world. We need to have a discussion and debate about that.

CAMEROTA: Did you know that there were roughly 800 troops in Niger?

HIRONO: We did not -- I did not know the exact numbers. We know we have troops in Africa, particularly West Africa. But they are there not to engage in combat, but they are there to train, to support. But, of course, our troops anywhere can come under fire, that's why it's really important what kind of intelligence did we have to protect the troops that we do have in Africa.

CAMEROTA: I mean, it's hard to know if this was an intelligence failure. You know, what CNN has learned, military officials learned the attack happened when the team stopped at a village to enable their 30 Nigerien counterparts, these other Nigerien troops --


CAMEROTA: -- to replenish supplies. The U.S. troops then met with local leaders out of a courtesy. This was after they were done trying to gather their intelligence on some terrorist leaders, so they were headed back to their base. They thought they were safe by stopping at this local village.

So, is that an intelligence failure or is that just a tragic -- a tragic mistake?

HIRONO: We don't know, and that's why the briefing that we will receive will be important to ask those kinds of questions. Be that as it may, we know our troops can be subject to these kinds of attacks, and we need to make sure that when they do happen -- well, first of all, we do everything we can to prevent these things from happening, via the intelligence or whatever other avenues for information we have, and should an attack happened we better make sure help comes immediately.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about other political news. "The Washington Post" is reporting that the infamous dossier, the Russian dossier that was designed to gather dirt on Donald Trump, that was in part funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Is that revelation a surprise to you?

HIRONO: We all engage in opposition research and I know this particular dossier was funded by one of the opponents to Donald Trump. I think the focus very much should be on the Russian interference with our elections, which will continue if we don't figure out a way to prevent the interference and whether or not there was any kind of collusion with the Trump team in that interference. That should be the focus of our investigation, and, in fact, that is the focus of Mueller's investigation.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's interesting. I mean, Republicans say that that's not what should be the focus, I mean, some Republicans, and they say that what should really be the focus is this 2010 Uranium One deal when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state because why did a Russian nuclear agency, why were they allowed to get a 51 percent stake in the American uranium company.

[08:25:03] And they want Congress -- and as you know, the Republicans are in the House, and that's what they want to look into. Your thoughts?

HIRONO: There's a constant effort to shift the focus away from the facts, that Russians interfered with out elections, and, in fact, they were in over two dozen states' election processes. We can't continue to have that happen, and I think the American people care about any kind of efforts to thwart our democratic processes.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but they would also care if, obviously, Russians were gathering and stockpiling uranium. That's troubling also.

Are you -- do you feel that issue has been put to bed? Are you comfortable with how the Uranium One deal went down?

HIRONO: Look, there are so many things that the Russians are doing. It's very clear every day there's some kind of another revelation. But, you know, I am personally not distracted from the need for us to make sure that our democratic processes are not interfered with by a foreign country. That impacts all of us. So --

CAMEROTA: Look, you hear somebody on the Republican side, saying time for Mueller to wrap it up, you know? They've been doing this investigation in the halls of Congress for a long time, where's the there there. They haven't proven any collusion. Those investigations should end. What's your thought?

HIRONO: Those are what I would call very premature conclusions, and that is the point of Mueller's investigation. He is conducting a criminal investigation into Russian interference and collusion by the Trump people. So, that investigation must continue and we constantly ask the people from the Department of Justice and indeed the president, whether he intends to fire Mueller. We all know that that investigation must proceed.

At the same time, the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committees have oversight responsibilities and I would want to make sure that the Judiciary Committee is doing what we need to do especially to focus on democratic election processes and make sure those are not being interfered with the Russians or anybody else for that matter.

CAMEROTA: All right. Senator Mazie Hirono, thank you very much for taking the time for NEW DAY.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.

CAMEROTA: All right. So, while Republicans are in revolt, there's a new effort to divert attention to President Trump's former rival. What about the new investigation into Hillary Clinton? Why now? Carl Bernstein has a lot of thoughts. He joins us for the bottom line, next.