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Soon: Senate Budget Committee Takes Up GOP Tax Bill; Who Wins, Loses Under GOP Overhaul; Senate Panel Spat Could Force New Kushner Testimony; Trump Takes "Pocahontas" Jab While Honoring Navajo Heroes. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 28, 2017 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, John Berman. Hello, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. President Trump breaking bread and twisting arms this morning. Next hour, he will be heading back to Capitol Hill for lunch with Senate Republicans behind closed doors.

The big topic, you guessed it or maybe we gave it away, we didn't give it away at the bottom of the screen, tax reform. Is this going to be more pep rally or food fight today? That we will know in a short time from now.

This is a crucial day for Republicans in both the Hill -- on the Hill and in the White House. The big legislative win that they need so much faces another key moment when the Budget Committee takes it up this afternoon where a single Republican defection could sink it.

Right now, there are two Republican senators on that committee voicing concern and a handful of others also on the fence. So where exactly do things stand? What exactly does this all mean for your tax bill?

Let's get over to Capitol Hill first to CNN's congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly there with more. It's like almost like Super Bowl Sunday. We're almost at Super Bowl Sunday, like on Super Bowl Saturday we'll call it. Other than waiting for a food fight, my friend, where do things stand right now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, you kind of -- your tease was spot on right there. There's two senators that everybody is keeping an eye on right now, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Why? Well, they're on the Senate Budget Committee and Kate, I know that you just are desperate for Senate Budget Committee markups, just watching them, with tense hands as they go through, but this one really, really matters and you kind of nailed why.

Republicans have a 12 to 11 advantage on that committee. Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Bob Corker both say they're currently no on the plan unless there are changes before that 2:30 committee meeting.

If they lose one of them, this bill will not be approved by the committee. Now, looking at their issues, I think this is where it's important right now because they represent where other senators are, too, that are still on the fence right now.

For Ron Johnson, it's about pass through income, business entities that pass through their income and taxed at individual rates. We are talking about (inaudible), LLCs, things like that.

Ron Johnson wants the cut that is currently in the Senate bill, kind of through a credit, to go deeper and to be expanded. He wants it to be more kind of parody wise when it comes to the corporate side of things.

Here's the rub on that, that costs money, like a lot of money, potentially more than $100 billion. That's $100 billion not only do Republicans not currently have to work with based on the budget rules that they're working under, but that also runs head long into what Senator Bob Corker wants.

Senator Bob Corker representing people like Senator Jeff Flake, James Langford, very concerned about deficit issues. Doesn't want this $1.5 trillion package to add to the deficit over the long term. So, you're adding money to appease one senator and potentially lose another senator.

This is the balancing act they have going on. Kate, just to take you behind the scenes. There's been a lot of meetings, a lot of phone calls, administration officials had kind been on a full-court press here.

I've been told that a lot of administration officials working specifically on Senator Ron Johnson and worked through the night last night to try to get there. Here's the reality, they're not there yet.

And so, what we have is kind of a standoff right now. Senator Ron Johnson making very clear he is still planning to vote no in committee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other leaders saying they're planning to move forward.

How this ends people don't really have an answer right now, and I think that's why you are going to be glued to your webcast of the Senate Budget Committee markup at 3:30 today -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Grabbing the popcorn, no question about it. Glued. Great to see you, Phil. It's just as easy as that. See, everybody, Phil has it all figured out. If anyone tells you they know what they're talking about and how this will end up, they are lying to you. Great to see you, Phil. Thank you.

That is the state of play as of this second we'll go with. Let's take a closer look at one of the big hang-ups that Phil was talking about right there. What they're fighting over and what it means for you.

Chief business correspondent, Christine Romans is here. There are so many layers of this, let's start with the pass through. Why does this matter so much?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It really matter because this is a sticking point right now that they're trying to -- that they're trying to figure out here. So how do pass through businesses work? Let's start there.

These are company earnings that pass to the owners of a business as Phil said, LLC or an S Corp. The profits are taxed as personal income at the personal income tax rate not at the 35 percent corporate tax rate that is the stated rate that we have right now.

You know, we're expecting that Congress is going to cut that corporate tax rate to about 20 percent. So, where does that leave these pass- through businesses? These companies, small business owners, some mid and big business owners, who are paying their corporate earnings or the corporate profits through their personal taxes.

The House bill lowers that tax rate on the pass-through entities to 25 percent. It's more complicated in the Senate essentially reduces taxable income for a lower rate. But the problem here, their big concerns from people like Senator Ron Johnson it doesn't lower it enough.

It might not lower it exactly to 25 percent, and certainly doesn't lower it to 20 percent, which the big corporations pay and so there's this feeling that some of these small businesses might not be getting the big tax relief the big businesses are.

But here's a really important statistic, Kate, that I think everyone should really keep in mind as we're having this discussion. A University of Chicago economist found that 69 percent of all pass- through income goes to the top 1 percent.

[11:05:08] So, the risk here, the risk here is if you give more relief to those pass-through entities, in fact, it does continue to tilt tax reform here, these tax cuts, to the rich and to the well off at the expense of the middle class and everybody else -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And this is why, I mean, this is just one element that is a hang up, a very important hang up, for a couple senators. This is why breaking this down piece by piece is so important because it can just get lost in the jargon being thrown around right now, and it's very important for everyone to understand it. Christine, thank you so much.

Let's discuss these pass throughs and the other hang ups, and the politics that are going on right now. Former Republican Congressman Jack Kingston is here, a CNN political commentator, and a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Jon Selib, was chief of staff to former Democratic Senator Max Baucus.

Kevin Madden is a CNN political commentator and former senior adviser to Mitt Romney, currently working with outside groups to help push for passage of this tax bill in the Senate.

Let us begin, Kevin, let me start with you, this -- the president -- first and foremost what's happening today, the president is heading over to Capitol Hill for another lunch with -- this -- it was House last time, the Senate this time, what is the president's job today? Pep rally, twist arms, make deals, throw food? No matter what, what can he do? KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's the pep rally part of it. He has to keep driving attention about how important this is to him, amongst his base voters. The president -- you know, I think his actual time on Capitol Hill today, I'd say that my wish list would be to do no harm, you know, don't tick off Bob Corker, don't tick off --

BOLDUAN: That might a big wish ask. That might be a big ask.

MADDEN: He just hasn't shown working over individual senators and growing the vote. What he has shown a deafness for is elevating and animating this as an issue amongst his most core ardent supporters. When those people start picking up the phones or start e-mailing their senators, it can have a very important impact on this debate and possibly in the long run change some minds.

BOLDUAN: I mean, some minds need to be changed. That's the bottom line. They're not there yet.

MADDEN: They are not there, no. We have a conference to go to. If we do pass this, we still have a conference to go to so --

BOLDUAN: Don't get me so excited.

MADDEN: That's why tax reform has taken 30 years since the last one.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's why you also have to have a deal cut though because Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are not running for re-election and they're not going to be swayed by calls back home. They want to know what it's going to be in this bill to safeguard against increasing deficits. So, I think that Kevin is right, but the other part is, you absolutely have to have a deal cut for those guys.

BOLDUAN: Where do you see a deal being cut, Congressman? Because I mean, if you take -- as Phil laid it out, if you -- and you just look and take Budget Committee as the example, you get Ron Johnson, you lose Bob Corker. You get Bob Corker, you might lose Ron Johnson. I mean, this is nearly impossible stuff.

KINGSTON: I think the concept of a trigger that if the deficit is going up because the tax cuts aren't helping the economy, aren't helping the deficit, then what Senator Corker wants is some sort of trigger that says we have to back off these.

And so, you know, I think that if we traditional Republicans are right that tax cuts do increase revenues then we should be confident and say OK, you know what, we'll cut that deal because we believe we're right and never have to use the trigger. I think if you do that, you don't necessarily affect the financial part, which is what Daines and Johnson have to have.

BOLDUAN: Jon, there seems to be genuine optimism, though, still, genuine optimism that at the end of this, they're going to get there, Republicans will get there, and that this is different, fundamentally different, politically maybe than health care because in the end, they want to get there. Your expertise is taxes and also what the heck goes on behind closed doors in the Senate. Where do you see things going right now?

JON SELIB, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SENATOR MAX BAUCUS: Look, I mean, I always thought we'd get health reform done because at the end of the day you're a Democrat because you support health care for Americans.


SELIB: I think the same is kind of true with taxes, right. The Republican brand is tax cuts. So, at the end of the day, my gut is they'll get something. I'm just not sure it's going to look a lot like what they have on the floor now because of the complications that we've been talking about right here where you have some who want a big are tax cut, some worried about the deficit.

BOLDUAN: Do you think it only gets through with only Republicans?


BOLDUAN: There's no grand deal to be cut here.

SELIB: No. Unless the deal changes substantially and look, there's a good reason for that. This is a very unpopular bill and it's very unpopular because as Christine was pointing out it already tilts very heavily towards corporations and wealthy people and actually raises taxes quite significantly on middle and lower income Americans, and that is never a recipe for popularity.

BOLDUAN: I mean, Kevin, that's what some of the estimates are saying, how do you sell it otherwise? How is this -- how do you make this -- how do you change these headlines of what's coming out from the CBO and elsewhere?

MADDEN: I think as, you know, John's reference to some of these polls and popularity, I think partisan tribalism right now, you know, takes over no matter what bill is on the floor. We have to remember that, you know, President Obama when he was in office, he promoted a corporate rate reduction as well as tax reform for individual rates.

So, you know, because this isn't an Obama bill there's a lot of Democrat opposition. But I think ultimately you to make the ultimate growth case that Jack Kingston was making before is, what that reform to the corporate rate does in order to create a more competitive atmosphere for American businesses both big and small as well as the worker benefits when it comes to wages and increased job growth.

So, I think those are the key tenants of Republican vision for tax reform that they have to keep hammering home. Now going back to the partisan part of it, this is a very popular bill amongst Republicans, and Jon is right, this is going to be passed with pretty much strictly down the line party vote.

So, as long as there is that buoy Republican support for this, there is a good chance for this bill to become law. BOLDUAN: But I know I keep hitting on this, Congressman, and I want to get you on this, but what is also quintessentially Republican if it's not talking about tax cuts is also, deficit and tackling the deficit.

I mean, Bob Corker said this morning on Fox that that, obviously, is one of his huge hang ups and here's how he explains his case, listen to this.


SENATOR BOB CORKER (R), BUDGET COMMITTEE: I've been a deficit hawk for 11 years. What I don't want do is lose my integrity and actually help hurt our nation and our children when we have $20 trillion in debt.


BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, if that's the case, how does he get -- how do you see him getting to yes at all?

KINGSTON: Well, you know what, I think that Senator Corker, Senator Flake, and I think all of them, Senator Langford, they are deficit hawks and they are very sincere about their arguments.

And I think that it's incumbent on us as Republicans led by Mitch McConnell and the Senate, in this case, to say look, we agree with you, we've got to do something about this and that's why I'm saying give them the trigger.

Because if we're wrong, we should say let's go back to the table. But both Kennedy and Reagan have proven with substantial tax cuts that you grow the economy and revenues do increase.

If you just look at what's happened with less regulation under President Trump, the stock market has gone up 28 percent. Black Friday broke all records, at least with online sales, and so the economy is coming back strong now --

BOLDUAN: I won't go back to Reagan, but I don't know with Bush if it helped with the deficit -- but keep going --

KINGSTON: Bush had a war, though. I mean, it's a different issue.

BOLDUAN: All of them are different.

SELIB: Congressman, that's an important point about the trigger and it's one of the reasons why the trigger is such a terrible idea because we don't know what's going to happen and if there is an economic downturn that is the sort of event that would make the trigger go into effect and raise taxes at exactly the worst point to do that. Right?

So that totally out of Congress' control at that point. So as an economic matter it's a very bad idea to institute a trigger. The smarter thing to do would be to pass a fiscally responsible tax cut in the first place and find wasteful corporate loopholes to close in order to make sure that this thing balances out in the right way from the get-go.

BOLDUAN: Well, first thing's first, let's find out what's on the menu for lunch and then we'll figure out what happens in the Budget Committee. I will get the popcorn. I'm not sure what you guys are going to bring. I hope it's alcohol because you can drink it because I won't for the next month and a half. All right. Guys, great to see you. Thanks so much.

Coming up for us tonight, a programming note I want to remind you of, live CNN debate, Senators Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, Maria Cantwell. All will be battling it out both sides of the tax reform issue tonight at 9:00 Eastern. You will hear what you just heard at this table, and you will hear much more tonight an important discussion to be had.

Still ahead for us, though, the president coming under fire for calling a senator Pocahontas for the umpteenth time in front of this time, though, Native American war heroes. I will speak with the leader of one prominent American Indian group who says Donald Trump's comments smacks of racism.

And this is also just coming into CNN, two Senate committees in a fight over Jared Kushner's sworn testimony. Could the president's son-in-law because of this fight be headed back to the Hill?



BOLDUAN: Breaking news just coming in, two Senate committees fighting over transcripts of Jared Kushner's testimony in their various Russia investigations. This fight could also now force a president's son-in- law back to the Hill for a return visit, but what does this all mean and what's a fight over?

CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, has all the details for us. Manu, what is going on here?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kate, as you recall, sent a letter to Jared Kushner earlier this month asking him for a number of records that they said they had not received as part of their investigation into Russia meddling and any communications that he had with Russians.

And one of the things that they asked for was a copy of a transcript that -- of an interview that Jared Kushner absolutely agreed to do with the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee back in July.

Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee has not interviewed Jared Kushner yet, but they're saying that they would be willing to forgo this interview if they're able to get a copy of this transcript from either of those two other committees. Now we talked to the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr who said flatly no. They are not going to hand over that transcript over to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

[11:20:04] Now this is significant because this could mean that the president's son-in-law could once again come back to Capitol Hill for further questioning by this committee if their questions are not answered.

I asked the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, if they wanted to bring Kushner back for an interview. He said, they're trying to get documents right now from Jared Kushner on a number of issues about his communications and at that point, they will decide whether or not to bring him in.

Kate, I also had a chance to catch up with Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I asked him, do you want to bring Jared Kushner in for further questions and his response was, Jared Kushner has a lot more questions that he needs to answer before our committee.

So clearly Kushner, Kate, is under a lot of pressure on Capitol Hill, lot more questions as he negotiates behind the scenes to provide some records to the Senate Judiciary Committee as well -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Manu, is this a big surprise that they're not sharing these transcripts?

RAJU: You know, it's been a lingering problem on Capitol Hill because there are three committees as you know and they're stepping all over each other. They're competing for information and witnesses and they can't get one committee can't get a witness and can't get a transcript from another committee. And the result we'll see if it leads to incomplete conclusion that these committees have to reach by the end of the day.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Remember when he was on the Hill, he was there for multiple hours facing questioning in this sworn testimony. We'll see what happens next. Manu, great to see you, thank you.

Still ahead for us, President Trump is reviving an old insult for one of his biggest critics and by doing so stirring up a whole lot of new backlash. What happens now, we'll discuss.

Plus, royal -- easy for me to say -- royal wedding round two. CNN has just learned new details about the upcoming royal nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle including the where and when. And in the couple's first interview since the engagement, Prince Harry talks about his mother, Princess Diana, and what she would be thinking on this big day.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago, they call her Pocahontas, but you know what, I like you because you are special.


BOLDUAN: That was President Trump yesterday standing with American Indian veterans of World War II, the Navaho Code talkers, there to honor these American heroes for the distinguished service to the country and also, of course, seeming to just throw in his favorite insult for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren on a whim.

He's done it many times before, but this time in this setting is drawing a new level of criticism. So, what does the White House say now?

CNN White House correspondent, Abby Philip is following this for us today. Abby, the press secretary defended the president yesterday. What are you hearing today?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. The White House is not saying a whole lot about this. They're insisting that the president wasn't using that term as a racial slur. On the other hand, virtually everybody else disagrees with them.

Native American groups coming out today and yesterday saying that it's inappropriate for the president to use Pocahontas, who was a real person, in the context of a derogatory context as he has done.

And we're also hearing from others weighing in, including Senator John McCain, who just sent out a tweet a few minutes ago saying that "Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Navajo Code Talkers whose decisive bravery, skill and tenacity helped secure our decisive victory over tyranny and oppression during World War II.

Politicizing these genuine American heroes is an insult to their sacrifice." So, McCain not specifically calling out the president, but clearly weighing in on this dispute, which a lot of people thought was not just inappropriate in that setting.

But in general, as you mentioned, Kate, the president has been using this phrase to refer to Elizabeth Warren for a while now and he seems bent on continuing to do that even in a setting like this that was intended to be a reverence to this still surviving code talkers who were at the White House yesterday.

BOLDUAN: Amazing. And in doing so, overshadowing what the intent of the ceremony was to honor these amazing American heroes. Abby, thank you so much. Let's see what the White House says about it today.

But before that joining me right now is John Norwood, a general secretary of the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes, an organization of American Indian nations from the east coast and southeast. Mr. Norwood, thank you for coming in. JOHN NORWOOD, GENERAL SECRETARY, ALLIANCE OF COLONIAL ERA TRIBES: Thank you very much (inaudible).

BOLDUAN: Thank you. So, you heard the comment from the president, we played it there, when you heard the comment from the president you thought what?

NORWOOD: I was distressed. It was a wonderful ceremony honoring individuals that need to be lifted up, they're true American heroes. I had the opportunity to meet code talkers and was thrilled just to be able to shake their hands. To politicize it and turn it into something that included a racial slur, was highly upsetting.

BOLDUAN: And Elizabeth Warren, the senator he was talking about when he made that comment, she called this a racial slur as well. To that, I want you to listen to what the White House said about that yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Racial slur, said it was a racial slur. What is your response to that?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's a ridiculous response.


BOLDUAN: A ridiculous response. Sanders says -- Sarah Sanders saying what's more offensive is that Senator Warren misleading folks about her heritage to advance her career in the past.