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Senate GOP in Deal Making Mode; Trump Cracks About "Pocahontas" at Navajo Event; The Free Press Strikes Back. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 28, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Senate Republican brass looking to clear up big hurdles today with their tax plan. Can leadership give certain senators what they want, though, without losing support elsewhere?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Although we have the representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago, they call her Pocahontas.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, this happened. A stunning remark from the president in front of Native American heroes. The crack once again creates the controversy that distracts some of his political agenda.

BRIGGS: And a real coup by a really news organization. "The Washington Post" refuses to fall for a scam and turns the tables on the head of a conservative activist group. This was a backdrop of the president repeatedly attacking free press in this country.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Good morning, everyone. It is Monday, November 27th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

We are live this hour on the pope's trip to Myanmar. We are in London with more on the royal engagement.

Let's begin, though, with this big tax plan. Republican leadership is in deal-making mode, as the party tried desperately to pass a tax bill. The Senate budget committee meets to consider this measure this afternoon. The problem that they face here, more than nearly a dozen Republican senators have voiced concern about the proposal and two of them, Ron Johnson and Bob Corker, are among the 12 Republicans on the budget committee.

Now, GOP leaders cannot bring them on board, they may choose to postpone today's vote to avoid a public failure.

BRIGGS: To that end, President Trump will join Republican senators for lunch today right before that budget committee meeting, satisfying all the Republicans' concerns that the tax bill a potentially very tight needle to thread. And they have just $80 billion to work with and stay below the $1.5 trillion deficit target that will let them pass a bill without a single Democratic vote.

Our coverage starts this morning with Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, you can stop me if you've heard this before, but Republicans don't have the votes for a major legislative initiative, and a major legislative initiative that they want done as soon as the end of this week. That means Republican leaders right now are scrambling.

Here's kind of the baseline right now that they're working with. There are at least a half dozen of senators who still have major problems with their tax overhaul proposal. Now, if it you talk to GOP leadership aides, they believe that by the end of this week, they'll be able to get the votes they need to move this forward.

Remember, they have 52 Republican senators in the chamber. They can only afford to lose two and still pass a vote. There's one down, what some of the major issues right now are. You have people like Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Steve Daines. Their issue is when it comes to pass-through entities, essentially business entities that pay their taxes through the individual side. Now, both the House and Senate bill tried to address this issue, a major cut in the rate as it currently stands.

Johnson and Daines say it doesn't go far enough. They're looking for changes I'm told are being made.

Then you have what you could commonly refer to as the deficit caucus, people like James Lankford, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, individuals who are concerned about how much this tax proposal will add to the deficit in the long-term.

Now, guys, it goes even further than that. You have Senator Susan Collins of Maine. She's made very clear that the inclusion of the repeal of the individual mandate, from Obamacare, that's problematic. She also wants the state and local tax deduction to at least be somewhat added back in. Currently, it's repealed in the Senate bill.

Take a look at what the House bill has. That's probably where this is going to end up. There's a compromise there for property taxes cap at $10,000. Aides tell me that's where they might end up in the end.

And then, of course, you have Senator John McCain, obviously, the famous thumbs down that killed the health care bill. Well, Senate leaders don't really know where he stands on this, voted against the '01 and '03 Bush tax cuts, clearly a deficit hawk, but as always has concerns about the process.

Here's kind of the bottom line. Republican leaders need to move quickly and the things that they need to do are kind of contradictory. They need to add money for some senators, as other senators raised deficit concerns. How they figure out a way to square those issues right and the next couple of days is going to be crucial as to whether or not this has a future.

Do you want to know where the first thing is going to be? This afternoon. The Senate Budget Committee. They're scheduled to mark up the tax proposal before it goes to the Senate floor.

Who's on that committee? Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Bob Corker. Republicans on that committee hold a one-seat advantage. If either of those senators vote against it, the bill will go down.

So, stay tuned -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Fun, fun, fun for him today.

All right. Republican leadership facing a familiar struggle answering concerns of some members about losing support of others and there are two major concerns, the deficit and the fate of pass-through businesses. But the latter worries Senators Ron Johnson and Steve Daines, both want bigger tax cuts for so-called pass-through entities. Pass-throughs can be small businesses or large firms with many employees but all pay taxes through the individual tax rate not the corporate rate.

[04:05:03] Now, the Senate bill allows pass through to deduct 17.4 percent from their taxable income, but there's the problem. It means the highest earners pay more than the proposed 20 percent corporate rate. Senator Johnson says this favors corporations over small businesses. He wants to decrease the deduction. But that will cost serious money and runs counter to what the deficit hawks want.

The deficit is a difference between how much the government takes in and it spends. The current Senate bill adds $1.4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. GOP says economic growth will eventually pay for the plan but Senator Bob Corker among others worries that may not be the case. He wants to include a provision to raise taxes if revenue falls short. If for some reason you don't get this powerful growth to pay for all this, that you can undo it somehow far. So far, independent estimates show the bill does not hit the GOP's target growth.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, President Trump lashing out at a frequent Democratic foe in a stunning fashion. It came at an Oval Office event Monday honoring elderly Navajo code talkers who used their tribal language during World War II to transmit unbreakable messages. The president choosing in that moment to make a wise crack, referencing his nickname for Senator Elizabeth Warren.


TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: All right. The term Pocahontas is considered by many to be a racial slur. It seemed to catch the Navajo veterans off-guard. There were polite smiles and silence.

Perhaps even worse, the scene played out in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson. He is the president who signed into law the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Of course, that is the infamous that allowed the federal government to remove Native Americans from their land and led to the death of thousands. Trail of Tears, anyone.

Senator Warren blasted the president last night on CNN.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I really couldn't believe it. President Trump couldn't even make it through a ceremony to honor these men without throwing in a racial slur. You know? He thinks that somehow he's going to shut me up with that. And it's just not going to happen. It didn't work in the past. It's not going to work in the future.


BRIGGS: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the use of Pocahontas was not a racial slur and that it certainly was not the president's intent to use one. The president's comment was roundly denounced by Native American groups.

ROMANS: All right. "The Washington Post" says it was the target of a sting operation apparently run by the conservative activist group, Project Veritas. "The Post" reports a woman approached it weeks ago. She falsely claimed that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore impregnated her in 1992 when she was 15.

BRIGGS: In a series of interviews, "The Post" says she repeatedly pressed reporters for their opinions and assurances that revealing her alleged experience with Moore would end his campaign. "Post" reporters confronted the woman with inconsistencies in her story and a printout of an online fund-raising campaign that seemed to tie her to Project Veritas.


"WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER: I want you to know this is being recorded and video reported. So, if there's anything you want to say about why you're here and how you came to be sitting here, I really would like to know that story as well.


"WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER: I mean, we're planning to write a story about this, so this is probably a good opportunity if you want to explain a little bit more, and about all this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, I really don't -- I mean, I told you already that I wasn't even sure about if I wanted to go through with the story at all.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, I mean I think I probably just want to cancel and not go through with it.


ROMANS: All right. So that woman insisted she was not working with any group that targets journalists but on Monday morning, "Washington Post" reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, which has a story of using deception to attack mainstream media organizations, including CNN.

BRIGGS: "The Post" never ran a story based on the woman's claims and in a tactic that should be familiar to Veritas founder James O'Keefe, "The Washington Post" confronted him on the street asking if he knew the woman who claimed to be a victim of Roy Moore.


"WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER: Does Jaime Phillips work for Project Veritas? Did you guys send her to pose as a victim of Roy Moore to "The Washington Post"?

JAMES O'KEEFE, PROJECT VERITAS FOUNDER: I am two minutes late for this. So, I got to -- I got to run. But I will -- we'll get in touch with you. OK?


ROMANS: Late Monday, O'Keefe there did post undercover videos purporting to expose "The Washington Post's", quote, hidden agenda.

[04:10:04] But the undercover conversations with "The Post" national security reporter, they contain no damaging revelations. CNN has not verified the authenticity of the videos.

BRIGGS: This is important, because this is how journalism works. For all the morons that believe this fake news nonsense that we're confronted with every single day on social media, this is how journalism works. We vet these stories. We check these sources repeatedly and run them through all the staff and the smart people here at "The Post" and "The Times" and CNN, and this is how it works.

So, it's good that this happened. It peels back the curtain.

ROMANS: I think it is so amazing that a conservative activist would pose as --

BRIGGS: A rape victim.

ROMANS: Essentially a rape victim, to undermine the allegations of people who say they have been harassed or abused or --

BRIGGS: And stand up for, to strengthen the case for a child molester.

ROMANS: It's remarkable to me the length that they would go.

BRIGGS: It's astounding.

All right. Ahead, a retired marine colonel vetting there's so much animosity toward Roy Moore, his 11th hour write-in campaign can work in Alabama. We'll discuss, next.


[04:15:23] BRIGGS: Four-fifteen Eastern Time.

A surprise 11th hour entry in the Alabama Senate race. Retired Marine Colonel Lee Busby launching a long-shot write-in campaign with just two weeks left to the special election. Busby once served as a top aide to then-General John Kelly who you now know as President Trump's chief of staff. Busby telling "The Washington Post" he thinks the sexual impropriety allegations against Roy Moore have created an opening for a centrist candidate like himself.

ROMANS: Busby says what he lacks in campaign structure, he'll make up by spreading the word on social media and mainstream media. He joins "NEW DAY" this morning during the 8:00 hour.

Meantime, Roy Moore himself remains on the defensive. He vowed Monday to keep fighting in the final weeks of the race.


ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: They're aware of my past. They're aware that I'm difficult to manage, which means I've got my own mind. I don't follow the people.

And they don't want that. They don't want that in Washington, whether it's Democrat or Republican. They want to do what they've been doing for many years and not getting anything done.


BRIGGS: Tempers also starting to boil over in and around the Moore camp. Two people got physical with the news crew outside an event last night. This was no ordinary camera crew. This was FOX News. Not exactly hostile.

FOX identifies the two who got physical as Tony Goolsby, the DeKalb County coordinator for the Moore campaign, and Derwood Reagan (ph) of the DeKalb County GOP. Also of note, the White House now says President Trump will not travel to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore.

ROMANS: All right. The Justice Department is urging a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit that seeks to block President Trump's pick for acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from taking office. Justice officials claim the lawsuit filed by Leandra English grossly misstates the status quo. English is Richard Cordray's handpicked successor at the CFPB. Cordray, an Obama appointee, resigned as director last week.

BRIGGS: White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's pick to also run the financial watchdog agency, and Leandra English both showed up for work on Monday and both sent e-mails to bureau staffers signed acting director. English offering her appreciation to the employees, Mulvaney ordering everyone to disregard her instructions. Mulvaney also declaring an immediate 30-day freeze on hiring and all new rules regulations and guidance.

ROMANS: After defending John Conyers as an icon, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she now believes the story of the congressman's accuser. Pelosi met Monday with Melanie Sloan, a former Conyers staffer who claims the Michigan Democrat verbally abused and harassed her. After that meeting, Pelosi described Conyers conduct as unacceptable and disappointing.

On the Sunday morning talk shows, she called him an icon in our country while at the same time negotiating his exit as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

An icon who is forced out of his leadership job.

BRIGGS: Yes, you just wonder if Democrats are kind of ceding the moral high ground here when it comes to these sex abuse and harassment allegations, if in fact Roy Moore wins in Alabama, it might be a tough card for him to play. But we'll see.

ROMANS: All right. Eighteen minutes past the hour.

Pope Francis is meeting with Myanmar's de facto leader this morning, but they've got a big conflict on one of the world's biggest crises. A live report next.


[04:23:06] BRIGGS: At the top of the hour, Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He's expected to push for an end to the violence against the Rohingya Muslims, more access for humanitarian aide groups.

The pope advised to stir clear of actually using the word Rohingya because it angers people in Myanmar and could overpower his message.

CNN's Ivan Watson tracking the latest developments live from Hong Kong.

Good morning, Ivan.


That's right. This is the first papal visit ever to Myanmar. Pope Francis says he's coming, hoping to deliver a message of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. He's also trying to come to show support for the democratic transition that the country's supposed to be in after more than a half century of military rule. The country had democratic elections two years ago and the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi leads a civilian government with her party for the past two years.

But here's arriving three, four months into this horrific crisis, where there's been a security crackdown that's led to more than 600,000 people from a long persecuted Muslim minority, the Rohingya Muslims, who have all fled en masse across the border to neighboring Bangladesh, telling horrific stories of rape, of their villages being torched, people being murdered by the security forces. The U.S. government last week called it ethnic cleansing.

The pope is under pressure not to refer to the Rohingyas because the government formally does not recognize the Rohingyas as an ethic group, arguing that they're all essentially illegal immigrants. So, he's having to walk that fine line while also trying to bring attention to religious tolerance in that majority Buddhist country, with a large number of diverse ethic groups and a tiny minority of just 700,000 Catholics -- Dave.

[04:25:05] BRIGGS: An awfully difficult line to walk for the pope. Ivan Watson live for us -- thank you.

ROMANS: The Pentagon says a Russian fighter jet made an unsafe intercept of a U.S. Navy aircraft over the Black Sea on Saturday. A Defense Department official telling CNN this incident took place in international airspace, describing it as unprovoked. The officials say a Russian SU-30, a fighter jet, crossed in front of the American plane coming within 50 feet. That according to the Pentagon caused the Navy aircraft to experience violent turbulence. A Navy official telling CNN the intercept lasted about 24 minutes.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, a delicate dance for Republican leadership today. Can they satisfy senators with competing interest as they look to send a tax bill to the Senate floor?