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Trump Home, Faces Tax Battle and Moore Scandal; Senate Bill to Include Repeal of Obamacare Mandate; Moore Refuses To Quit Despite Growing GOP Pressure; McConnell Views Sessions As Viable Alabama Write-In. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CUOMO: -- these other local councils. They then receive training to help strengthen their communities giving them hope for the future.


LANA ABU-HIJLEH, JOHN P. MCNULTY PRIZE AWARDEE: They form democratically elected councils that are about service for the community. So instead of being the problem, they become part of the solution.


CUOMO: Beautiful. Lana Abu-Hijleh is making such an impact she was awarded the prestigious John P. McNulty Prize by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright.

CAMEROTA: What a beautiful story. Thank you very much for the "Good Stuff." Congratulations on your big sexy award.

CUOMO: Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.


He is back home from Asia and promising the fruits of his, quote, "long but successful trip" will have been, quote, "for many years to come." That is the president of course. But he comes home to a tax cut battle that looks a lot different than it did just yesterday. It now has Obamacare wrapped up in it.

BERMAN: Also, what does the president think about Roy Moore this morning? He has five statements on Twitter so far but none of them about the Republican Senate candidate who stands accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and assaulting a 16-year-old girl.

The president still has not said whether he thinks Roy Moore should drop out of the race. But let's start with taxes or is it health care? CNN's Joe Johns at the White House. Joe, the president headed to

Capitol Hill tomorrow to talk about this whole thing.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. The whole hodgepodge of things going on there, John, quite frankly. Look, as a early as today we do expect to hear from the president. We expect him to tout his accomplishments following that marathon trip to Asia, very likely also to talk about North Korea, issuing some type of statement there, perhaps an opportunity for the president to weigh in on the news that China is now sending an envoy to North Korea to restart the talks.

Also expecting, as you said, the president to talk about his accomplishments. And he did tweet this morning that there are friendships and benefits from the Asia trip that will go on for years to come.

Meanwhile the president is expected to go up to Capitol Hill tomorrow to talk to congressional Republicans about their tax plan. That, of course, has been complicated by the news that the Senate tax plan is expected to include that provision that would basically end the Obamacare individual mandate.

The big question on everybody's mind is about Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate race, and what the president is going to do about that. Of course the statement so far from the White House has been if the allegations of misconduct of true against Roy Moore, he ought to get out of the race. However, many of the congressional Republican leaders have dispensed with the qualifiers since that he just needs to get out of the race, period. It's also complicated by the fact that the Republican National Committee has withdrawn its financial support from Roy Moore.

So what will the president do?

As you know, John and Poppy, the Alabama Senate race has been a thorn in the president's side going all the way back to the time when he backed the wrong horse in the Republican primaries. Back to you.

BERMAN: Wrong horse, depending on how you look at it now. Exactly.

All right. Joe Johns at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's go back to taxes or is it health care? Attaching Obamacare to the task that is a big gamble, so what are Senate Republicans doing?

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill, Christine Romans here in New York.

Suzanne, first to you. What's the play here among the Republicans?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Poppy, this really was a bombshell announcement here. Senate Republicans thinking that now they're going to try to go ahead and push forward the legislative agenda, the tax cuts and health care in that same bill by repealing the Obamacare individual mandate. And this really has the party scrambling here. You've got folks on

the House and the Senate side looking at two different plans, one outlining really just two basic differences between the two. Of course on the Senate side, repealing that individual mandate, the House does not include that. You have the four income tax brackets on the House side, more of those tax brackets, seven, on the Senate side.

Then you're dealing with calls for a full repeal of the estate tax on the House side. The Senate side doubling the estate tax exemption. And then finally on the House side immediately reducing those -- the corporate tax rate. On the Senate side that is delayed somewhat, phased in if you will. So those are the two different plans.

What we're going to see today on the Senate side is the Senate Finance Committee, day three of the markup, lots of amendments, lots of activity, we've already been told that there's an over filled room that will be set up for folks because there's such a high interest in what is going to be taking place and who goes along with which kind of plan, how do they actually end up changing it.

On the House side what we're also going to see as well as on the full House floor a full throated debate on their own plan.

[09:05:07] That is the plan that does not include the repeal of the Obamacare mandate. We do expect that vote to happen sometime tomorrow. And then on the Senate side, perhaps their vote after the Thanksgiving break, all of this will be ironed out in conference.

In the meantime, John, Poppy, expect the Democrats, a very big fight. At noon a rally led by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and a whole bunch of progressive groups who are starting this fight. They know how to fight this because of the health care battle and they are going to go full force in the days ahead.

HARLOW: Suzanne, on the hill, thank you very much.

Christine Romans, to you. Let's make this really, really clear for the millions of Americans that this would affect.


HARLOW: The mandate right now makes you buy health insurance or you pay a hefty penalty. If that's goes away, then what does it mean for everyone at home?

ROMANS: And you get a subsidy if you -- to help pay for your health care, too, so you're either fined if you don't get it or you get a subsidy when you do get it for most people.

Look, if it goes away, if the backbone of Obamacare goes away here, premiums will go up about 10 percent year after year after year. In the first year, maybe 4 million more uninsured. Some of these people are going to be young healthy people who are going to decide just to get out. And by the year, 2027 30 million uninsured.

But here's where the math helps the tax bill because it adds $338 billion over 10 years to pay for the tax cuts. What do those tax cuts look like for the middle class? 22 percent tax rate, A 24 percent tax rate, a 32 percent tax rate, all of them down a little bit. These are the proposed middle income tax brackets in the GOP bill.

In the state of the tax cut, this is what politically I think is so interesting, the individual tax cuts would expire by the year 2025, so this is temporary. Temporary middle class tax relief. Passed through, that's really, you know, some of the small and mid-sized companies, right? That expires by 2025. But the corporate tax cut is permanent here.

So you see I think a tactical some would say genius by the Republicans to be able to maybe put their -- get their promises through about Obamacare through the tax code, but then you've got optically this idea that well, middle class tax relief is temporary, but corporate relief is permanent.

HARLOW: Right. And they're also betting that Republicans in the future would have a majority who would be able to sort of repass this.

ROMANS: Right. Exactly.

HARLOW: Which is betting a lot.

ROMANS: Exactly.

HARLOW: I mean, we'll see. Thank you, Christine. We appreciate it.

Let's talk about all of this. CNN political analyst Molly Ball, Karoun Demirjian, Matt Viser are with us.

So, Molly, to you first. Smart move by the Republicans? You know, ingenious or just too risky from folks who can't quit Obamacare repeal and replace hopes?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a surprising move and it does appear risky at this point unless they have something up their sleeves. We saw how difficult, how contentious the health care debate was before, and the Senate was unable to pass that. I'm not sure how they believe that's going to be easier with an even more complicated issue tax reform that also has a lot of things that people disagree on.

So this is going to be tough. It also runs the risk of making the politics of this worse. It was already not a particularly politically popular bill, either with voters or with the GOP conference that felt that they were sort of sucking it up to do something for the party and for the president, but no one was super in love with this bill because it has been the subject of so many compromises and now you're hearing grumblings that, OK, what did we promise we were going to do with tax reform?

We said we were going to simplify the tax code and we said we were going to cut everybody's taxes. Now you're looking at a bill that doesn't really do either of those things. It cuts some peoples' taxes and it doesn't really simplify the tax code. And so they're wondering, why are we going to take all the potential political pain from this for that?

BERMAN: And there's a sale problem here or a challenge, I should say, Matt, which is that Republicans will be asked, you want to cut health care for 13 million people to pay for a corporate tax cut. What they'll say is no, we want to cut taxes for the middle class and that's what we're getting for the new uninsured people. But there's going to be a struggle there.

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the messaging on this was already kind of tough. You know, as Molly pointed out, like it doesn't do some of the things that their goals set out to do. The other thing is that taxes -- reforming the tax code was supposed to be a unifying moment for Republicans. It was something that they could all get behind. And so now they are throwing in another kind of motivator for the conservative base on changing the individual mandate, which complicates the messaging all the more.

One thing to watch here, too, is Susan Collins. Maine last week voted overwhelmingly to expand the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and so she has put in an even dicer situation now with repealing the individual mandate which would impact that expansion.

[09:10:02] So she was already kind of opposed to some of the health care stuff and now this gives her all the more reason to maybe not be onboard with the tax code plan in a situation where they are already sort of very narrow margins in the Senate.

HARLOW: It's a great point. I mean, she said just yesterday about this, I think it complicates tax reform. I mean, clearly not a ringing endorsement of adding this in -- you know, at the final hours.

Karound, to you, Steve Laurel, people may not know his name but he's in the headlines today because he's the regional finance chair of the Republican Party here in New York. And he quit. He quit his job yesterday after this happened, saying about the Republican tax plan, quote, "It's a disgrace. It's going to hurt a lot of middle class Republicans."

This is from a Republican in New York who is, you know, in charge of finance, an important post. You know, Peter King warned, well, you can't have people like him quitting because of things like this. Is this a sign of more to come?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, I mean, it's definitely a sign that there are people in the party who have just lost their patience with the moving around the different parts that are happening right now, as the GOP tries to appeal to its base, and makes these numbers work.

And yet there was always a sales problem, a PR sales problem with the tax bill because tax reform is very hard to kind of, you know, distill down to an essence that you can put into a campaign sound bite and just tell people why this is important for them. Now that you actually have people saying, OK, hold on a second, these are not permanent tax cuts, you may see your overall cost rise if your health care premiums go up and you have that reinforced by actual economists in the party saying no, this is not a situation where this is actually what you're trying -- it's not fulfilling the message of this is better for you, middle class or even GOP middle class.

That is now a sound bite. That is now a message that people who oppose this bill, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, and you can be sure Democrats will pick up on a Republican saying it's bad, can take it to the population, and that's what can kind of drive this opposition -- you know, influence some of these senators that are on the margin who may just say, you know what, it's not worth it to me to actually upset my constituents over this.

Again, the constituents are looking for something to sink their teeth into tax reform that's hard to do and this kind of present something in a silver platter for anybody who's opposed to the bill as it's constructed.

BERMAN: Yes, but, Molly, Matt brought up Susan Collins. She's only Republican who has expressed reservations out loud in the Senate to this whole combo plan yet. John McCain said he's looking at it, you know, and maybe gave some body language that indicated he could vote for this. Bob Corker, you know, this actually helps his concerns with the deficit stuff.


BERMAN: Lisa Murkowski, we're not sure. I don't know. I mean, this doesn't seem like it's in as much trouble as the various Obamacare repeal revisions where in before going into those votes.

BALL: Well, we'll see. I mean, this is still new. And this specific plan we haven't gotten a lot of opinions on. And it is possible that the whole point of adding something to a bill is to get more votes for it. So if this does actually bring in some of those wavering Republicans especially as you pointed out the ones who had concerns about the deficit.

BERMAN: Right.

BALL: Because that was a real sticking point for a lot of conservatives, who felt like OK, we've been talking about fixing the deficits for how many decades, and that's just going to be out the window because we're in power? That felt hypocritical to a lot of people.

I would say to Karoun's point, I don't think this is a PR problem. It's a substance problem. Republicans in New York are against this because it gets rid of the state and local tax deduction that so many of their constituents use. And so, you know, it's the substantive provisions in this bill that are giving Republicans heartburn.

And I would also point out that a large number of contested House seats in the 2018 midterms are in the northeast. So Republican-held seats in the northeast are some of the most vulnerable in 2018 and that's going to be a political problem for the party if they're the ones who are against this bill.

BERMAN: All right, Molly Ball, Karound Demirjian, Matt Viser, stick around. We have a lot more to discuss.

The president's party abandoned Roy Moore, the president's chief cheerleader abandoned Roy Moore, so how come the president has not really weighed in? How long will the silence last?

And you either lied to the Senate or you lied to the House. One of the Democratic congressmen who unleashed on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Did he have his questions answered?

HARLOW: And a deadly shooting rampage in California. A staff at an elementary school acted fast and saved lives.



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, Roy Moore is still in the race despite growing calls from top Republicans for him to drop out, and the RNC pulling all financial support for him. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is floating possible write-in candidates he thinks could beat Moore at the polls.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The name being discussed may not be available, but Alabamian who would, you know, fit that standard would be the attorney general, who is totally well known and extremely popular in Alabama. That, obviously, would be a big move for him and for the president.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Nick Valencia in Gaston, Alabama, Roy Moore's hometown. Roy Moore, Nick, still in this race?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still in the race and he has a lot of support here, growing support even though as conservative leaders have called on him to withdraw from the race or just explain the inconsistencies in his defense. This as the Republican National Committee has withdrawn a joint fundraising agreement that they had with his campaign.

We are also hearing from top GOP leaders like Mitch McConnell, who yesterday drew into question the character of Roy Moore, but it's Moore that struck back on social media, drawing into question the seeming failures -- he seems to have questioned the leadership of Mitch McConnell.

Here's what he said in a tweet saying, quote, "McConnell at the bat, Republican primary, 8/15, strike one, Republican runoff 9/26, strike two, general elections, 12/12, to be determined. Three strikes and you're out, Mitch."

[09:20:10] Roy Moore has been defiant in his defense around these swirling allegations surrounding him. He struck a similar tone yesterday at a campaign rally. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE, ALABAMA REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATE: After 40 something years of fighting this battle, I'm now facing allegations, and that's all the press want to talk about. But I want to talk about the issues, I want to talk about where this country is going and if we don't come back to God, we're not going anywhere.


VALENCIA: Now Moore supporters have done a lot to try and discredit the five women that have come forward alleging that they had some sort of relationship with the candidate, two of them, I should say, claiming that they had been sexually assaulted by Moore when they were in their teens.

Still, I mention, Moore has a lot of support here locally, but that race is tightening against his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. And that says a lot, guys, considering the last time a Democratic senator was elected here was more than 20 years ago -- Poppy, John.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Valencia for us in Gaston, thanks so much.

Our panel back with us. Molly, I want to start with you. The world is shrinking a little bit for Roy Moore here, at least outside Alabama. The RNC cut its ties. I think in what may have been the most remarkable statement came last night from the president's chief cheerleader, Sean Hannity. Listen.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: For me, the judge has 24 hours. He must immediately and full come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies that I just showed. You must remove any doubt and if you can't do this, then judge Moore needs to get out of the race. This country has way too many issues and problems.


BERMAN: What was the tipping point do you think for the likes of Sean Hannity and the RNC?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know for them specifically, but certainly, the Republicans that I've spoken to last week in D.C. and Alabama really felt a turning point, I think, with the press conference on Monday by the fifth accuser, where it could no longer be chalked up to the "Washington Post."

It could no longer be called a somewhat isolated story. This was broadening. There could be even more accusers to come forward and more shoes to drop, no pun intended. So that was when I really started to hear from my Republican sources, OK, we could lose this race.

This is really turning bad. I would say, you know, when you lost Sean Hannity, you've really lost something with the Alabama electorate. He has got a lot more credibility with that electorate than someone like Mitch McConnell, who is Roy Moore said in his tweet, he ran against in the primary. Mitch McConnell is not popular in Alabama, but if you lose the sort of talk radio crowd, that will affect your standing.

HARLOW: Interesting to note, Karoun, that you know, you wonder if Sean Hannity would have said that had the president not been on the same page, but we don't know because there's a deafening silence from the president on this since he landed from his Asia trip. What do you make of that?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, it seems that Trump is trying to keep his name separate from whichever way this end up swinging because you have an absolute free for all right now happening in the congressional GOP.

As more and more members are saying, if it's true, we believe the women, and this is bad, and the judge needs to get out of the race, and they are talking about a write-in. The president is trying -- he kind of screwed up once already in the Senate race and he is trying to keep himself distant because he doesn't want to be a losing strategy.

What if this ends up being a situation where Moore -- there's the question will they try to oust him if he gets to Washington in the first place. He seems to be playing it safe on this one, even though at this point how safe is it to kind of hide from this given so many members of their Republican Party are taking a stand on this.

And when even Sean Hannity does, it's an indication that, OK, if you have the more conservative wing, as Molly just said of the party, saying this is not good anymore, and Steve Bannon may be backing away from his initial support of Roy Moore.

It seems like a fairly safe stance to take, but he's been Asia. We'll see if he joins up for the next few days. This has to be resolved one way or the other or the GOP will be turned on itself for the next few weeks until this election happens.

BERMAN: I think at some point the president can't be silent anymore. I think the Sean Hannity thing is a good sign. I can't believe that Sean Hannity would say it without the president's approval. I don't think they would pull their funding without his approval, but maybe I am wrong.

Maybe the president won't say anything today. I just want to read you a new statement from Roy Moore himself. He said Mitch Connell (inaudible) the will of Alabamians, yet again and this time helping to elect a far-left Democrat.

So, Moore trying to paint this is a McConnell thing, but it's also a Hannity thing and the Republican Party thing and maybe at some point, a President trump thing. The question is, is it in Alabama thing, right?

[09:25:05] I want to show you this video, some of the more remarkable video we've seen of (inaudible) from ABC trying to chase down Mo Brooks, a congressman from Alabama yesterday. Let's roll the video and we can talk over it, please. There we go.


BERMAN: So, the point here is that Mo Brooks doesn't want anything to do with this. He's literally running away, Matt, from the question right now. You know, if Roy Moore has Mo Brooks and Alabamians, what does he care about Mitch McConnell?

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, I think that's where the pressure is right now, and that's where Roy Moore will feel it more is if it comes from Alabama Republicans. Because, as Molly eluded to, he has run against the establishment Republicans and run against Mitch McConnell.

So, the fact that Mitch McConnell is calling on him to leave doesn't do much. If anything, it might embolden Roy Moore supporters in Alabama. So, the thing that would cause him to maybe change his calculus is if Alabama Republicans listen to Sean Hannity and put more pressure on Roy Moore to get out.

But one thing to point out with Roy Moore is that he's made his whole political career on sort of bucking pressure and bucking the establishment, and he lost his job as chief justice of the state Supreme Court by not fulfilling obligations to take down the Ten Commandments and not abiding by gay marriage decisions.

I think the fact that Roy Moore is not sort of quickly going away is not a surprise. He has withstood pressure in the past to, you know, lose his job. I think this is the case where Republicans don't want him, you know, in this case, losing his job means Doug Jones and a Democrat wins that seat.

BERMAN: You guys want to play in the Sessions game at all?

HARLOW: We want you to. Matt, you are right. Twice he lost his job for bucking everyone else and got it back and now he's the Republican candidate. Karoun, Sessions, write-in, no longer attorney general? What do you make of McConnell's idea?

DEMIRJIAN: That would be a very, very interesting domino to play given how many others might fall if he does do that. Sessions was asked about this yesterday when he was in front of the House Judiciary Committee. He said that he has no reason to doubt the accounts of the women.

But if you take Sessions out of AG, that means a new AG comes in who doesn't have to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Then that has implications for what the future of Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be and there will be a lot of people who will be up in arms, and not just Democrats if the administration starts to play fast and loose with that probe.

So, that's -- it might be seeming like it's a politically advantageous thing to the Republicans to solve two of their problems right now, but it would potentially create a whole host of other political problems especially if it looks like the president is trying to do this as a way of undercutting that investigation, which they believe -- they keep saying they don't think will implicate the president.

But a lot of Republicans think they need to let it run its course without interference, this would look a lot like interference if Sessions goes away because it would change the structure under him.

HARLOW: Karoun Demirjian, Molly Ball, Matt Viser, thank you very much.

The Democratic congressman, who one of the many who questioned the attorney general yesterday said he lied. His fiery exchange with Sessions, next, and he will join us.