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Obamacare Mandate Linked to Tax Reform; Roy Moore Goes All In; Australia Votes For Same Sex Marriage. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:12] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Yes, we're optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A major move by Republicans linking Obamacare's insurance mandate to tax reform. Does the move help or hurt the tax bill? And why could it mean higher insurance costs for you?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Roy Moore says he is not abandoning his Senate bid despite years old accusations of sexual abuse. Now, the RNC is pulling its funding. Will Moore's backers in Alabama stand by him?

BRIGGS: And voters in Australia overwhelmingly approve same sex marriage. Now, the prime minister wants lawmakers to get it done by Christmas.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to have you back.

BRIGGS: Good to be back, my friend.

ROMANS: Couple days off. Nothing happened while you're gone.

BRIGGS: Well-rested. Nothing. Nothing ever does here.

ROMANS: It's Wednesday, November 15th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East. It's 11:00 a.m. in Zimbabwe, where the president there is under house arrest. More on that in a moment.

Let's start here, after weeks of saying they didn't want to revisit the healthcare debate, Senate Republicans have decided to do it anyway. The revised GOP tax bill released Tuesday features a repeal of Obamacare's requirement that all Americans carry health insurance or pay a fine, the individual mandate. Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to scrap that individual mandate.

BRIGGS: Now, conservatives in the House are lobbying their leaders to add individual mandate repeal to the House Republican tax bill. The House begins debate on that bill today with vote on the sweeping overhaul the tax code scheduled for tomorrow.

Here is CNN's Phil Mattingly with more.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Christine and Dave, for weeks, it's been on the table, and for weeks, Republican leaders made it clear they don't want to actually put it in the tax reform bill and yet, it's there, at least in the Senate version. That's the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate, something that the Congressional Budget Office says that over the course of 10 years would reduce those with health insurance by 13 million. It also introduces what's been a politically toxic health care debate back into play for Senate Republicans, one that led to so many legislative failures over the course of the last nine months.

So, the big question is, why are they actually doing this? Here is the simple answer: money, revenue, they need it. The Congressional Budget Office score also shows repealing the individual mandate creates $338 billion in deficit savings. That is money that Republicans in the U.S. Senate, if they want to pass this bill without simple majority vote, will need for their proposal.

They made very clear, they searched high and low, this is the best way for them to get such a large chunk of money, for several wary Republican members in the Senate, providing more options on things like boosting up child tax credit, perhaps lowering some of the individual rates for middle class, those are now options that are on the table because of that $338 billion.

But make no mistake about it, Democrats have already seized on this issue. They're trying to rally the grassroots like they did throughout the health care debate.

The Republican play is this -- they know this is politically toxic. They know that this is divisive. But their hope, based on what they've seen in the last couple weeks in the tax reform process, is that the political imperative of doing something, of doing anything at this point will win out when it comes to the debate over whether or not repealing the individual mandate is good politics -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: Wow. Fascinating turn there.

So, as Phil just mentioned, repealing the individual mandate frees up $338 billion and Republicans plan to direct that money toward middle class tax relief. The revised Senate bill boosts the child tax credit to $2,000 and cuts several middle income tax brackets. The Senate version keeps seven brackets, unlike the House.

Now, eliminating the mandate ejects much needed cash into tax plan, but it will also increase premiums and still isn't enough to pay for across the board tax cuts. That is if Congress only adds $1.5 trillion to the deficit. That's the limit they can hit and still pass the bill with a simple majority.

So, individual tax cuts will expire by 2025, but the lower corporate rate, that's immediate and is permanent. Opening the GOP up to criticism they favor businesses over everyday Americans.

Remember, the corporate tax relief, permanent and immediate. But the tax relief expires for regular Americans. Now, the administration says corporate tax cuts will boost worker pay. There's no guarantee on that.

In fact, here is what a CEO said at a "Wall Street Journal" event with economic adviser Gary Cohn. They were asked if they would invest in their companies.


JOHN BUSSEY, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL: If the tax reform bill goes through, do you plan to increase investment, your company's capital investment. Just a show of hands, the tax reform goes through. OK.

GARY COHN, ECONOMIC ADVISER: Why aren't the other hands up?


ROMANS: Awkward moment there. As Gary Cohn noted, where are the other hands? Very few raised their hands.

I'll tell you after listening to some of these conference calls for the earnings for these big companies, and when asked by analysts, what will you do with your tax cut?

[04:05:03] What will you do with your money you bring back from overseas? Will you spend it on factories and workers? They all almost all of them say paybacks, buybacks and dividends.

BRIGGS: It's funny to see that. I asked my business leaders in my days off that very question. I said, will you hire more? No. Will you pay more? No. Will you build anything new? No, only if the market requires that I do that. That was the answer ever time.

All right. President Trump back at the White House this morning after 12 days traveling around Asia, talking with foreign leaders about trade and the North Korea threat. The president had said Monday he would make an announcement on trade when he got back to Washington. But as of now there are no public events on his schedule, probably a bit tired after that journey.

ROMANS: Yes, that 21-hour flight. Whatever his final form, the president previewed his trade message on Air Force One flying home from Manila.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think one of the things we really accomplished is relationship, and also letting people know from now on things are going to be reciprocal. We can't have trade deficits of $30 billion, $40 billion, $50 billion, $300 billion in the case of China, we can't do that. We have to have reciprocal trade. What's good for them is good for us.


ROMANS: White House officials tell us that president wants to make a major televised address on trade, stitching together highlights of his talks with leaders in five Asian capitals. They say he also wants to tout military deals announced at various points during his trip.

BRIGGS: On the heels of President Trump's visit, China sending a high level special envoy to North Korea. Chinese official news agency protecting the director of the Communist Party's international liaison department will travel to Pyongyang on Friday. A report in the party's national Congress held last month which gave Chinese President Xi Jinping broad new powers. It could be seen as a big win for Mr. Trump who asked President Xi to use China's influence with Kim Jong-un to resolve the North Korean crisis.

ROMANS: All right. To Roy Moore now defiantly rejecting calls to drop out of the Alabama Senate race. Last night, he made his first major public appearance since a second allegation of sexually abusing a minor was leveled against him. The establishment Republicans turning on Moore now and the Republican National Committee pulling out of a fundraising agreement with him. He is now counting on his loyal supporters to stand firm.

We get more from CNN's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, with national pressure mounting, it was classic Roy Moore who made a campaign stop at this rural church in Jackson, Alabama. He was utterly silent as he made his way in and out of the church, refusing to answer reporter question. But once inside, he was created to a standing ovation from the congregation and spoke about 20 minutes.

And he kept saying that it was the establishment who was trying to stop him from going to Washington, and he described it as a spiritual battle.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA CANDIDATE FOR SENATE: What do you think I'm going to do? Why do you think they're giving me this trouble? Why do you think I'm being harassed from media and by people pushing forward allegations of the last 28 days of this election?

But I want to talk about the issue. I want to talk about where this country is going. And if we don't come back to God, we're not going anywhere.

LAH: This was his base and talking to some of the people after the event, they say that this is a nothing but energize them to try to elect Roy Moore -- Christine, Dave.


BRIGGS: Kyung Lah, thanks.

While most lawmakers are running away from Roy Moore, one Republican Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks is sticking with him. On Tuesday, though, Brooks is running from an ABC news reporter trying to ask about allegations against Moore.


REPORTER: Do you believe Roy Moore over the women?

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: I believe that the Democrats will do great damage to our country.

REPORTER: So, you still believe Roy Moore?

BROOKS: I believe that the Democrats will do great damage to our country on a myriad of issues.


ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: Nice hustle.

ROMANS: There we go.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he spoke with President Trump during the Asia trip about the Roy Moore situation and they plan to talk more now that the president is back home. McConnell says he believes the women accusing Moore and thinks Moore is not fit to serve in the United States senate.

BRIGGS: Meantime, Moore's Democratic opponent in the Alabama Senate race, Doug Jones, releasing an ad with this simple message, even Alabama Republicans have had enough. They cannot vote for Moore.

And in a new Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday, 51 percent say they believe the accusations against Moore, not a big number really, and 63 percent believe he should drop out of the race including 42 percent of the Republicans.

Only 51 percent believe women? What do they have to gain?

ROMANS: It's so interesting to me how the Alabama voter base is really chasing at Washington telling them what to do and that's part of this story here.

[04:10:01] BRIGGS: Yes, "ditch Mitch" was the call from Roy Moore on Twitter.

All right. Ahead, one of the longest serving strong men losing his grip on power. Turmoil escalating overnight in Zimbabwe, we are live in Africa next.



PHIL JOHNSTON, TEHAMA COUNTY ASSISTANT SHERIFF: This incident as tragic and as bad as it is could have been so much worse if it wasn't for the quick thinking and staff that our elementary school.


BRIGGS: Police in Rancho Tehama, California, say staff members at a local elementary school averted a major tragedy when they quickly went into lockdown before a gunman tried to storm the building. They immediately locked the doors and students and teachers took cover when gunfire rang out near the Rancho Tehama Elementary School just before the start of classes Tuesday morning. The shooter rammed a stolen pickup through the school's locked gate then began firing through windows and walls.


[04:15:09] JOHNSTON: It appears that because he couldn't make access to any of the rooms that they were locked that he gave it up and reentered the vehicle and then went on his killing spree and took it to the streets of Rancho Tehama.


ROMANS: Now, one student was shot, wounded by gunfire, is in stable condition. The gunman, as you heard him say, drove off and was shot and killed by police at another location.

His motive is not clear, but a dispute with the neighbor who was found dead may have sparked the rampage. There were seven shooting scenes, four people killed, at least ten wounded or hurt.

BRIGGS: The killer apparently chose most of his victims at random, firing at passing motorists and homes who wore tactical vests with extra magazines for his guns. Police say he had prior contacts with law enforcement but did not elaborate.

ROMANS: This is what the schools drilled for. You know, we used to drill for tornadoes when I was a kid, now you drill for mass shootings and shootings situations. That's what they drilled for and thank goodness it sounds like those -- that practice, that lockdown drill worked here, paid off here.

BRIGGS: Yes, it could have been worse, still awfully bad for the folks of Rancho Tehama.


BRIGGS: All right. Meanwhile, political turmoil escalating in Zimbabwe overnight, raising the question, is 93-year-old president Robert Mugabe still in control of the country he's ruled for nearly five decades? In a speech on live TV, a uniformed military spokesman denied there

has been a coup, but the situation on the ground suggests the opposite could, in fact, be true.

ROMANS: A senior U.S. official tells CNN President Mugabe is now under house arrest, all this in the wake of Mugabe's abrupt firing of his vice president who had been considered his most likely successor.

CNN's Farai Sevenzo is following developments for us from Nairobi, Kenya, and joins us live with the latest.

Good morning. I mean, this is a man who has been in power, a strong man in power for four decades, to see, you know, the military official taking to the air waves, what's happening there?

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very good point indeed, Christine. I mean, look, it's everything. Looks like an apparent coup.

The military is at pains to tell us that it isn't, that they're taking over the country to coach them. This is a military takeover of government. It is not a military takeover of government. I beg your pardon, Christine. What the Zimbabwe defense forces is doing to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country which not addressed may result in violent conflict. So, they are trying to preempt some kind of disaster.

But we know, of course, that this is all about power struggles to succeed Mr. Mugabe, who is 93 and 94 in February. He's supposed to be running for election in 2018 and he wanted to pass over the baton of leadership to his wife Grace. And the army said, no, hang on a second. There are people far better qualified to do that.

And, of course, we know that they fired the vice president just a few days ago in order to pave the way for his wife to take over. And there's been a serious reaction by the security forces who will not abide by that kind of decision. And think that they are going to arrest criminals and looters. So after 37 years in power, it looks like Robert Mugabe's grip on Zimbabwe is finally coming to some kind of conclusion.

ROMANS: A grip that has been an iron grip on that nation.

All right, thank you so much for that. We'll check in with you again in another half hour or so. Thanks.

BRIGGS: Rainbow celebrations breaking out across Australia after a national postal survey showed overwhelming support for legalizing same sex marriage. Sixty-one percent voted in favor of same sex marriage, nearly 80 percent of the population took part in the historic two- month referendum with every state and territory returning a majority yes vote.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling for gay marriage to be legalized before Christmas. Australia's parliament expected to begin discussing the specifics of a same sex marriage bill as early as this week.

ROMANS: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

The attorney general trying to clarify the record.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: And I didn't have -- did not have communications with the Russians. I had a meeting with the Russian ambassador, yes.


ROMANS: How Jeff Sessions explains that discrepancy and what else he now remembers and what he doesn't. Plenty of "I don't recalls".



[04:24:00] SESSIONS: I do not recall such a conversation. I don't recall it. I don't recall. I don't recall it. I don't recall it.

I don't recall it. I don't recall that. I don't recall how that exactly occurred. I do not recall. But I did not recall this event. I don't recall -- I don't recall at this moment sitting here any such discussions.


BRIGGS: Jeff Sessions suffering from what you might call recall issues on all things Russia-related, the attorney general on the House Judiciary hot seat and short on answers. Sessions questioned about inconsistencies in his earlier statements and whether he did or did not meet with Russians on behalf of the Trump campaign.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just yes or no.

SESSIONS: I had a meeting with the Russian ambassador, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As exactly the opposite answer you gave under oath to U.S. Senate. So, either you're lying to U.S. Senate or you're lying to U.S. House of Representatives.

[04:25:00] SESSIONS: Well, my answer to I did not meet with the Russians was explicitly responding to the shocking suggestion that I, as a surrogate, was meeting on a continuing basis with Russian officials and the implication was to impact the campaign in some sort of nefarious way.


ROMANS: The attorney general is also challenged about reports the Department of Justice is considering appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Clinton Foundation. The possible probe stems from the sale of the uranium company to Russia while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Sessions assuring lawmakers his decision will be made without regard to politics, ideology or bias.


SESSIONS: The Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents, and that would be wrong.


BRIGGS: Critics claim Sessions ordered his prosecutors to consider a special counsel after President Trump expressed frustration that he could not order the FBI to take action against the Clintons.

That has long been the allegation that the president is weaponizing the DOJ, and it certainly looks that way. But Jeff Sessions seems hesitant, though.

ROMANS: He's saying, no, it's not a political tool.

All right. Twenty-six minutes after the hour.

Senate Republicans, OK, they're trying to solve two problems at once. They're linking --

BRIGGS: Multitasking.

ROMANS: Yes. Or it's either crazy or brilliant. It's linking repeal of the Obamacare, the Obamacare individual coverage mandate with tax reform. The newest plan released late last night. Will it work? What it means for your family, next.