Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Senator Al Franken Speaks Out; Interview With Oregon Senator Ron Wyden; Republican Tax Push; Pelosi: Conyers Has Done A Great Deal To Protect Women; WH: Trump Not Planning To Campaign For Roy Moore; Prince Harry Proposed A Few Weeks Ago. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 27, 2017 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Last week, attorneys for Flynn ended communications with attorneys for President Trump. It's a signal that perhaps Flynn is cooperating with the Mueller probe.

Now, that I am sharing these facts with you, facts the president does not care for, might explain why he seeks to discredit CNN and indeed all media organizations who report on him without fear or favor, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times."

The president does not care for us reporting these facts and it seems like he does not want you to believe these facts.

The president said he wanted to give an award based on which network is the most -- quote -- "dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted."

But his problems with journalism seem to be rooted in the exact opposite. He hates that which is honest and ethical and precise.

Ask yourself, why might that be? We're going to take a quick break.

Next, Senator Al Franken, speaking to reporters, saying he's let a lot of people down, but he's not going to step down as sexual harassment claims rock Capitol Hill. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:31]

TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

In an attempt to secure the votes of wavering Senate Republicans to pass the GOP tax bill -- from President Trump's perspective, this bill is -- quote -- "coming along very well" -- the president met with GOP members of the Senate Finance Committee today at the White House.

With Vice President Pence as a tie-breaker, the Senate will need only 50 Republicans to make this bill a reality. They may already be down to one. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has said he's a no and at least six other senators won't commit.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is up on Capitol Hill for us. Sunlen, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report just recently

suggesting Americans who make less than $75,000 a year will be worse off under this tax bill over the next few years. Has that had an impact on any of these wavering Republicans?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not entirely yet, Jake.

Democrats, of course, speaking up about that CBO report. And it hits to some of the concern against some of these skeptical Republicans that have not signed on this bill yet. This is such a crucial week. You have the White House and Republicans really scrambling to find the votes they need to score their first legislative win under Trump's presidency, but the votes are not there yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): President Trump and Senate Republicans pushing towards a pivotal vote on their tax bill this week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to get this done soon, get it to the president's desk and the president is eagerly looking forward to signing it.

SERFATY: Huddling today at the White House as new problems over the bill are emerging. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is out with a new analysis, predicting the bill would increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over 10 years, and removing Obamacare's individual mandate now included in the bill would decrease the number of people without health insurance by four million in 2019 and 13 million over the next decade.

Republican leaders dismissing the report.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I don't think they're right.

SERFATY: As Democrats are pouncing, seizing on the CBO's prediction that the tax plan would give more cuts and benefits to Americans earning more than $100,000 a year than was originally thought.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: The tax breaks for the wealthiest people are permanent. That's just unfair and that's why half the American people are skeptical about this Trump tax plan.

SERFATY: But it's not just Democrats. Many rank-and-file Republicans remain skeptical, too.

A whole handful of Republican senators are still undecided, with concerns over everything from the fast-paced legislative process to repealing the individual mandate and the potential effect on the debt and deficit.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: I want to make sure that we have a built-in process to be able to -- if the numbers don't come in correctly, to make sure that we do actually provide a way to be able to guard us against debt and deficit. That's currently not in there. SERFATY: Republican leaders are now looking at specific changes they

can make to woo individual senators, scrambling behind the scenes to shore up the votes they need, painting it as do or die.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Failure is not an option when it comes to the Republican Party cutting taxes.

For every Republican senator, the fate of the party is in our hands, as well as that of the economy.

SERFATY: One headache alleviated today, Senator Rand Paul announcing he will support the bill, saying, "The bill is not perfect, but I have fought for and received major changes for the better, and I plan to vote for this bill as it stands right now."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And with the fate of the tax bill very much still up in the air up here, lawmakers are also facing increasing pressure from a very long and lengthy to-do list of other action items that they have to complete by the end of the year, not the least of which, Jake, includes passing a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown by December 8 -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

Joining me now, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. He's the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Take a listen to President Trump today selling the bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to mostly benefit people looking for jobs, more than anything else, because we're giving great incentives. And we're going to be bringing back into this country probably in excess of $4 trillion, $4 trillion, that's outside of the country that right now, because of our tax laws, can't come back in.

And we will be bringing back at least -- I think the number will be substantially higher, but at least $4 trillion, which will immediately be put to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What's your response?

WYDEN: My response, first of all, is the Treasury Department promised months ago a report on what this would this bill would mean. And we're talking about $10 trillion worth of changes. We're talking about the biggest tax bill in 31 years. They haven't

delivered the report. It's another broken promise, Jake.

[16:40:00]

And I have written the only two bipartisan federal income tax reform bills. That would give us real certainty and predictability, in at to middle-class fairness. That's what Democrats would like.

TAPPER: One of the parts of the bill the Democrats most object to is the unpopular removal -- is the removal of the unpopular individual mandate for health insurance, requiring Americans to get health insurance, fining them if they don't get it.

What do you say to the argument that if Americans don't want to buy insurance, they shouldn't have to buy it?

WYDEN: Jake, what is clear is that this is designed to collapse the Affordable Care Act.

For example, that coverage requirement is directly linked to fairness for people with preexisting conditions. So this is just not another garden variety attack on the Affordable Care Act. This is full-scale repeal.

I just met with a group of youngsters who depend on Medicaid. They call themselves the Little Lobbyists. It's what keeps them in the community. They told me that, if this repeal goes through, then you have Medicaid collapse, the Affordable Care Act collapses, those kids can't stay in their home.

TAPPER: It looks like that Republicans might have the votes to pass this. At least I have seen no evidence that they don't as of now. I can't help but notice there has not been the same grassroots effort lobbying against the bill that we saw, for instance, during the summer with the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

Have Democrats dropped the ball on rallying grassroots opponents of this bill?

WYDEN: Not at all.

Obviously, there is a lot going on in the world. What we saw in the health care debate is, we mobilized at the key time. You just need a couple of votes. I think that health care, now that Americans see this would in effect repeal the Affordable Care Act, we're going to get more interest.

The American people understand that this is a dramatic set of economic changes. It's tilted in favor of the multinational corporations, and to some extent it's just a con job. It's a con job on the middle class, it's a con job on young people, a con job on seniors because Medicare would take a hit.

What we want is a bipartisan bill. I have written two of them. Democrats are going to making it clear in the next few days that's our preference. We think it's doable and the route we ought to take.

TAPPER: I have to ask you about your fellow Democratic Senator Al Franken. He had a press conference today talking about how he needs to do better, but he's not stepping down.

What do you make of the argument by some liberal columnists that by not demanding that Franken and Congressman John Conyers, who has been accused by at least two staffers of sexual harassment, by not demanding that they step down, Democrats are ceding any high ground on this sexual harassment issue?

WYDEN: Well, with respect to Senator Franken, these are obviously serious allegations. He's called for an ethics inquiry. I think that's appropriate, and I want to see the results.

TAPPER: But you don't think he needs to step down?

WYDEN: As of now, I think it's appropriate that there be an ethics inquiry. He's made it clear again today that he is, to quote him, ashamed. It's appropriate to have the ethics inquiry. And that's how I think he ought to go forward.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Ron Wyden, ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, thank you so much.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow night for a special CNN debate on the current state of the tax bill. The vote is just days away. I'm going to moderate with CNN colleague Dana Bash, as Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Tim Scott face off against independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell. It all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN tomorrow night. Don't miss it.

I want to bring in right now national politics reporter M.J. Lee, who joins me from Capitol Hill. And she's been following the Al Franken story.

You just heard me talk to Senator Wyden about Senator Franken. He said he's not going anywhere. M.J., can he hang on? Have any Democrats at all considered calling for him to resign?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point in time, Jake, it's clear he has no plans to resign. He obviously confronted national media reporters today and made a brief statement and took some questions.

What he said, again, is that he is sorry for these stories that have come to light. He is ashamed and embarrassed. And he said that he knows that there are no magic words that he can say to regain the trust of the people that he has disappointed and that he is committed to moving forward.

And a part of that is actually returning to work in the Senate. Now, he did take a handful of questions, as I mentioned, and the question that I asked Senator Franken is why he has been unable to answer the question of whether there will be more women coming out with these kinds of allegations. Take a listen to what he said in response to that question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: If you had said, you know, asked me two weeks ago would any woman come forward with an allegation like this, I would have said no. And so I cannot speculate.

This has been a shock. And it's been extremely humbling. I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed.

[16:45:00] What I'm going to do is, I'm -- I'm going to start my job. I'm going to go back to work. I'm going to work as hard as I can for the people of Minnesota. And I'm going to start that right now.

Thank you all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, are you --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Now, the interesting answer there from the Senator basically saying that he is shocked that these allegations even came out in the first place. And as you know, Jake, he has said previously that he intends to fully cooperate with the Senate Ethics investigation. And today he said that he's open to making the findings of that investigation public. This, of course, comes amid a growing conversation about the lack of transparency on how Capitol Hill handles these kinds of sexual harassment allegations. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, M.J. Lee live on Capitol Hill for us. Thank you so much. My panel is back with me. And there was an issue on Sunday on Meet The Press, the Democratic Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi was asked about Congressman John Conyers. He's been in Congress for something like 600 years and he has settled at least two -- he's been accused by at least two former staffers of sexual harassment. He paid a settlement out of taxpayer funds in one of them. And Nancy Pelosi was asked about it. She called him an icon and said he -- she was sure he would do the right thing. A few minutes later, he stepped down from being the Ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, but he's still in Congress. Are Democrats botching an opportunity here to have the high ground?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. You know, her answer yesterday, and I'll say this, it was deeply disappointing, largely because I see her as somebody who is an underappreciated leader in Washington who has done a lot to help progressive causes. But she is one of the highest-ranking women in this country. And I understand personal loyalties, but, look, if the media can put aside personal loyalties and Hollywood can put aside personal loyalties when it comes to these accusations then absolutely Members of Congress who the American people elect should be able to do that and then some. And what Democrats are doing right now and Republicans as well is lowering the standard and holding Members of Congress to a lower standard than any other industry is being held. That's incredibly disappointing, and, frankly, I'm surprised there hasn't been more of an outcry from the public about it.

TAPPER: Well, I'm trying to leave one right now. The -- I mean, Jen raises an interesting point because, look, it wasn't easy for HBO, Showtime, NBC to get rid of Mark Halperin. It wasn't easy for CBS, Bloomberg, and PBS to get rid of Charlie Rose. It certainly wasn't easy for Fox to get rid of their CEO Roger Ailes and their star Anchor Bill O'Reilly. These are people that in a lot of cases brought them millions of dollars. And also there were people who liked them on the staff. I mean, that's what's difficult about it. Why so difficult for people -- let's go with the John Conyers incident -- situation because there have been two women who have accused him of sexual harassment and one of them was paid a settlement from taxpayer funds. Why so difficult for one of the trailblazing leaders of women in this country, Nancy Pelosi, to say he should step down?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's so hard for a politician to condemn or apologize without a caveat. And that's because they're so conditioned in many respects to have these sort of caveats and safeguards to both hold the moral ground and never (INAUDIBLE) anything and never even states the common sense reason. And I think here what you had is Nancy Pelosi had a missed opportunity to do the right thing, which is to say, look, in this area, we don't have the moral ground unless we reject hypocrisy. And if we're going to condemn the acts of people on the other side of the aisle because it's very disturbing to society, disturbing to all of our moral conscience, then we also have to have our compass point due north even when it's inconvenient to do so. And so, that's the frustration we have American politics. I think it was played out on Sunday.

TAPPER: And obviously perhaps the most horrific example of this is going on in Alabama right now because that involves allegedly minors, Roy Moore, the Senate Candidate down there. The White House today arguing -- or explaining that President Obama -- President Trump, rather, is not -- has no plans to go down to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore, that special election in a few weeks. But President Trump taking to Twitter, bad-mouthing the Democrat, attacking the Democrat. It wants -- they want Roy Moore to win.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And it's one of the worst displays I think of political tribalism. You've seen so many folks sort of reflexively as Laura pointed out before, reflexively defending member of their own party just because they happen to wear the same jersey. And - but I do think ultimately we're all going to be humbled by the voters. And the voters have a funny way of sending those types of messages. Ordinarily, in Alabama, this would be a 20-point route by a Republican in a run-off like this. And we're seeing a very close race because there are some Republicans who are not willing to just play that partisan tribalism, that they are not willing to register their vote for somebody they believe doesn't -- hasn't earned the respect of the office. So ideally this will be part of a process. These things are never an event. People just don't change immediately. Ultimately I think this is part of a larger process that the party is going to have to go through in sort of asking themselves these questions about who can finally once again seize the high ground and restore some trust with American voters. [16:50:07] TAPPER: Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina was on the "STATE OF THE UNION" yesterday and told my colleague Dana Bash that I might actually be tougher for Republicans if Roy Moore wins. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The moral of the story is don't nominate somebody like Roy Moore who could actually lose the seat that any other Republican could win. What I would tell President Trump if he thinks winning with Roy Moore is going to be easy for the Republican Party, you're mistaken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And I think Jen, that's true because if you -- if Roy Moore wins, and right now if I had to put money on it, I would put money on it. If Roy Moore wins, it is Alabama, that's going to be very uncomfortable for Republicans for a long time, for at least six years.

PSAKI: That's right. And if he loses, they loses a seat. Although it's going to still be very difficult for Democrats to win back the Senate so it doesn't make it that easy -- that easy of a path in 2018, makes it a little more possible. But if he wins then they're stuck with him and that becomes part of the Republican brand. It becomes part of something that members as Kevin made the note earlier, have to defend and talk about or speak to. There'll be an entire ethics investigation. So it drags it out for months and months. That's a gift, unfortunately, to the -- to the Democrats. Fortunately, I guess, but under an unfortunate circumstance.

TAPPER: After Anthony Weiner's first scandal, first of -- I've lost track of what number he's up to now, five or six. But after his first one, Nancy Pelosi basically fired him. I mean, she didn't really have the power to, but it was made very clear you need to resign from Congress. Nobody here is going to stick with you. And one of the reasons, I have to believe, is she didn't want that distraction, she didn't want Democrats tarred with Anthony Weiner for the midterm elections and beyond.

COATES: Well, now you've got this cloud of suspicion that's hanging over members of Congress largely because, one, the momentum of this #METOO movement that's actually happening. And of course, it didn't begin two weeks at the #METOO movement. You also have -- remember Jackie Speier and also Barbara Comstock saying that there were people on both sides of the aisle who had this problem on Capitol Hill. And we haven't heard confirmation that either you know, Al Franken or John Conyers was one of those particular individuals. And so you've got this cloud of suspicion that's hanging. You also have the Roy Moore issue and also have President Trump's issues because he's also been accused of a lot of vile conduct as well. And so if you are to acknowledge that one should go without hesitation and yet you don't for the same people in your party, then your hypocrisy is just too much.

TAPPER: All right, Jen Psaki, Laura Coates, Kevin Madden, thanks one and all for being here. A royal engagement, Prince Harry opens up about what he believes his mother Princess Diana would say about his fiance, American Actress Meghan Markle. That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we're back with the "POP CULTURE LEAD." And despite the American revolution and that war of 1812, many here in the U.S. perhaps inexplicably are still captivated by the latest royal news. This time it's an engagement to an American. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle said today that the prince proposed a few weeks ago at their cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace during a low key night in and the wedding will take place in Spring 2018. CNN's Max Foster is outside Buckingham Palace for us. And Max, a couple spoke about Prince Harry's mother Princess Diana in their first interview. Tell us about that.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting because any woman coming into the royal family inevitability raises memories of Princess Diana. It's just how things work, particularly when you talk about Prince Harry who shares so many of her characteristics. And he brought her up today through the engagement ring, announcing that he designed the engagement ring and included two stones from Princess Diana's collection. Here's what he had to say a bit later on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think your mother would have thought of Meghan or said about Meghan.

PRINCE HARRY OF WALES: They would be thick as thieves, without question, I think she would be over the moon, jumping up and down, you know, so excited for me, but then, as I said, would have probably been best friends -- best friends with Meghan. So no it's, you know, it is days like -- days like today when I really miss having her around and miss being able to share the happy news. But you know with the ring and with everything else that's going on, I'm sure she's --

MEGHAN MARKLE, AMERICAN ACTRESS: She's with us.

PRINCE HARRY: I'm sure she's with us, yes, you know, jumping up and down somewhere else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER: So the main stone in the middle of the ring, Jake, was from Africa. The couple have been there a lot. They talked about how their relationship come together. I have to say, Meghan Markle, a huge amount of pressure today, performed remarkably well. Clearly a chemistry between them. So it went down pretty well today.

TAPPER: YES, they're an adorable couple, no doubt. How are the royals and royal watchers reacting to the engagement? She's an American, which might be a strike against her, and also she's an actress. FOSTER: Well, I have to say, it hasn't struck against her at all from the queen down. There's been nothing but utter delight in terms of the statements coming out. They utterly welcomed her and that she's talked about that as well. I think the idea that he is mixed race, she's American but she's a divorcee actually makes the royal family relevant to today. They're desperate to stay relevant and it plays into the narrative that they've been working towards. So over time, things are modernizing here, very, very slowly, indeed but she's certainly playing a part in that.

TAPPER: All right, some rare good news on THE LEAD today. Max Foster in the U.K. for us, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, betraying his base? President Trump takes to Twitter to push his tax bill, which the Congressional Budget Office now says it would hurt the people in campaign to help. Does the President betraying --