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Senate Budget Panel Takes Up GOP Tax Bill; Trump Cracks About "Pocahontas" at Navajo Event; The Free Press Strikes Back; Pope Francis Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi; Talib, Crabtree Suspended Two Games for Brawl. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 28, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I was too busy. I think there will be sales throughout the holiday season. Retailers are -- some of them are in trouble. I think there will be no sales.


All right. EARLY START continues right now with a pivotal day for the Republican agenda.


ROMANS: Senate Republican brass looking to clear a big hurdle today with their tax plan. Can leadership give certain senators what they want without losing support elsewhere?


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


BRIGGS: Stunning remark from the president of the United States, in front of Native American heroes. Racially insensitive crack once again creating a controversy that distracts from the president's political agenda.

ROMANS: And a real coup by a real news organization, an activist poses as a rape victim to strengthen the case for an accused child molester. But "The Washington Post" refuses to fall for the scam and turns the tables on the activist group.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

Still a head scratcher to me. I just -- I just -- remarkable.

BRIGGS: We are a long way from normal, my friend. I'm Dave Briggs. It is Tuesday, November 28, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We're live in this hour at the pope's trip to Myanmar and in London with more on the royal engagement. Don't you think the world needs a little love right now? ROMANS: Love sweet love.

BRIGGS: It's a story I can't get enough of.

But, first, let's start with what's happening on Capitol Hill. Republican leadership in dealmaking mode as the party tries desperately to pass some tax bill. The Senate Budget Committee meets to consider the measure this afternoon.

Now, they face a problem. Nearly a dozen Republican senators have voiced concern with various degrees with this proposal, and, two, Ron Johnson and Bob Corker among the 12 Republicans on the budget committee. If GOP leaders cannot bring them on board, they may choose to postpone today's vote to avoid a public failure.

ROMANS: To that end, President Trump will join Republican senators for lunch today before that meeting, satisfying all the Republicans concerns with the tax bill, potentially a very difficult task. And they've only $80 billion to work with and still stay below the $1.5 trillion deficit target that would let them pass the bill without a single Democratic vote.

Our coverage this morning begins 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. I'll be looking for his updates minute by minute all day today. Thank you, Phil Mattingly.

BRIGGS: Follow him on Twitter.

ROMANS: Republican leadership facing a similar struggle answers concern about some members without losing support of others. And there are two major concerns: the deficit and the fate of pass-through businesses.

[05:05:04] Now, the latter worries Senators Ron Johnson and Steve Daines. Both want bigger tax cuts for so-called pass-throughs entities. Pass throughs can be small businesses or sometimes large firms with many employees, but all pay taxes through the individual tax rate, not the corporate rate. The Senate bill allows pass- throughs 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.

So, Senator Johnson says this favors corporations over small business. He wants to increase the deduction. But that will cost serious money and runs counter to what the deficit hawk the want. The deficit is the difference between how much the government takes in and what it spends.

The current bill adds $1.4 trillion to the deficit over ten years. GOP says economic growth will eventually pay for this. But Senator Bob Corker, among others, worries that may not be the case. What if that doesn't happen? And then you've got tax cuts that are blowing a hole in the budget.

He wants to include a provision to raise taxes if revenue falls short. So far, independent estimates show the bill on the table right now doesn't hit the GOP's target growth, Dave.

BRIGGS: This is a big day for the Republican agenda.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer to the conversation. He's historian and professor at Princeton University.

Good morning to you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: This -- we're good. This is make-or-break really for the Republican agenda, today, because of that budget committee vote. So, the difficulty is you've got roughly a dozen senators that have concerns. And to Christine's point, they all want to take care of various groups, right?

But on the other hand, each time you take care of one of those, you impact the deficit which concerns people like Bob Corker, and runs afoul of Senate rules. So, given that dynamic, how in the world can they get this through?

ZELIZER: Well, they're going to try to give things away. That's what you do in tax politics.


ZELIZER: At the very end, you try to give benefits. But you're right, they're running into one big problem and it's called the deficit. The deficit matters so that they can use this rule, the reconciliation process that prevents a filibuster and it also matters for the economy.

And the problem is, if they give anything else away right now, for a bill that's already going to blow up the deficit, it's going to get even worse. So, somehow, they have to satisfy many factions. There's one answer. You appeal to partisanship. Meaning, you appeal to the idea that Republicans need legislation at all costs. That's the argument they need to sell.

ROMANS: And what I'm hearing is that a failure is not an option here for Republicans on tax reform. That there will be corporate tax cuts, there will be a tax bill, and now, it's just wrangling over it.

Let's listen to what the president said yesterday because the president is really out there selling this as the biggest best ever.


TRUMP: I think the tax bill is going very well. We had a meeting on it today. It's going to be a tremendous tax cut to the biggest in the history in our country. You'll have to pay a lot less tax.


ROMANS: So, the biggest in the history of the country is very Trumpian. I mean, if you look, depending on how you cut, it's either the fifth or eighth largest tax cut in history. So, it is not the biggest tax cut ever.

It is a very significant tax cut for big companies here. What -- historically, what is this tax cut? Is this corporate tax relief or middle class in your view?

ZELIZER: It's corporate tax relief because, eventually, the middle class are going to feel a tax increase, many parts of the middle class. So, this is even different than some of the bill that is Reagan tried to push in '81 and successfully did or George W. Bush. This really leans on the corporate side. It doesn't even lean as much on wealthier Americans, on the individual tax.

So, it's a tough sell in an economy when many middle class Americans are struggling. It's hard to go to them and say, well, we cut taxes for business. We're not really cutting for you and walk away victorious.

ROMANS: Also the president tweeting about how great the economy is and taking credit for new home sales.

BRIGGS: Which it is, which it is.

ROMANS: It is. I mean to be fair, the economy --

BRIGGS: On his watch.

ROMANS: You could put that upside down if things are going so well and you got corporate profits at record highs and stock market so high, why in the world do you need to give a tax cut to companies and the middle class pays for it?

BRIGGS: Well, let me answer that, because the companies that you talk to say we're all baking in those tax cuts.


BRIGGS: The growth is on the background, the belief that the tax cuts are coming.

But it was something else that the president said in that setting that, of course, made all the news, standing right in front of Native Americans code talkers, trying to honor them beneath the portrait of Andrew Jackson, the president said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.


[05:10:00] BRIGGS: Wow. Just let that sink in.

It was 70-plus years ago that thankfully our enemies could not understand the language of these code talkers. Part of the reason we won the battle at Iwo Jima. Today, I'm not sure anyone can understand the language of this president. Why does he do this? Is it strategy? Or is it just a mistake?

ZELIZER: Well, it's the puzzle of the Trump presidency. It has been costly to him in the past when it comes to legislation. But at some point, you have to see it's not a mistake.

It might not be grand political strategy, but it's certainly on his mind, and remember, this is a president who thinks a lot of how things look and the appearances of events. That is something that matters to him.

So, we have to see him, he had some sense of what he was doing at this moment and where this was stage -- and this is him appealing to some of his most loyal supporters who like this part of Trump, and this is a part of Trump that the president himself is proud of.

BRIGGS: I'm not sure there was any strategy there at all or if he just turned to Native Americans and that was the only thing that came to mind. Not the battle of Iwo Jima. Not the fact that these American heroes. Not the fact that you play up the take a knee culture war in the NFL.

ROMANS: Then he essentially took a knee in front of Native Americans.

ZELIZER: I mean, the issue is there's so much examples now littered throughout that presidency that you reach a point where you say, is this just him making comments off-the-cuff, or at some level, this is the person he wants to present himself as with these comments. And I think more people lean to the latter, just because there's so many of them.

And at this point, it's almost irrelevant. What really matters is that he said it. And that he says it again and again at an event like this.

ROMANS: Taking a knee in front of American veterans. That's just -- that's such interesting -- all right, thank you. Come back in a few minutes. We'll talk more about this. A lot to talk about.

"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 falsely claiming that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore impregnated her in 1992 when she was 15, which then led her to have an abortion.

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.


"WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER: I want you to know that this is being recorded and video recorded. 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: Hawking a fake story to undermine the credibility of other accusers. The woman insisted she was not working with any group that targets journalists, but on Monday morning, "Washington Post" reporter saw here walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas.

Project Veritas, an activist group with a history of using deception to attack mainstream media organizations, including CNN.

BRIGGS: In a tactic that might be familiar to Veritas founder James O'Keefe, "The Washington Post" flipped the script, confronting him on the street, asking him if he knew the woman.


"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'm 15 minutes late to this meeting. So, I got to -- I got to run. But I will -- we'll get in touch with you. OK?


ROMANS: All right. Late Monday, O'Keefe did post some undercover videos purporting to expose "The Washington Post's" quote hidden agenda. Those undercover conversations with a "Post" national security reporter turns out they contained no damaging revelations, just explaining the difference between newsroom activities and an editorial board. CNN has not confirmed the authenticity of those videos.

BRIGGS: This in the context of the president tweeting out fake news trophies, and tweeting out a conspiracy theory Website that spins for a living fake news. Extraordinary times.

ROMANS: Leader of the free world, leader of the free press attacking the free press.

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


[05:19:02] ROMANS: This morning, Pope Francis is meeting with Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He is pushing for an end to the violence against Rohingya Muslims and for more access for humanitarian aid groups. Now, the pope is advised to steer clear of actually using the word Rohingya because it angers people in Myanmar.

CNN's Ivan Watson live in Hong Kong.

Which makes it very difficult to get your message across if you have to be so careful about the language. He is a diplomat and he is someone who has advocated for refugees. What are we expecting?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and he is somebody who has spoken out quite forcefully, criticizing the authorities in Myanmar for the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim community calling them brothers and sisters who are being tortured and killed.

But his own cardinal, the cardinal of Myanmar, said that he had advised the pope not to use the term Rohingya because it gets to the crux of the real conflict there.

[05:20:01] The government refuses to recognize that term, which that community uses to self-identify. A community that has fled en masse more than 600,000 traumatized terrified civilians who fled across the border to neighboring Bangladesh since an army crackdown began in late August.

The fact of the matter is Myanmar was supposed to be a good story. Just last May, Pope Francis was sitting down with Aung San Suu Kyi, the elected leader of the government in the Vatican. The Vatican established full diplomatic ties with Myanmar. He's trying to encourage its democratic transition from decades of military rule, and that's part of why he's having to walk this balancing act and try to avoid offending this majority Buddhist country with a very tiny Catholic minority, just around 700,000 people, Christine.

ROMANS: Interesting.

All right. We know you'll be on it for us. Thank you so much. Ivan Watson for us this morning.

BRIGGS: Being delicate with language should be nice. We all had leaders like that.

All right. Ahead, if you like ugly football, then you love the Monday night battle between the Ravens and Texans.

Coy Wire, excuse me, suffered through it. He's going to break it down, next on the "Bleacher Report".


[05:25:45] BRIGGS: All right. The NFL drops the hammer on two players involved in Sunday's Broncos-Raiders brawl all over a chain.

ROMANS: Wow, oh, yes.

Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

The Raiders and Broncos played most of Sunday's game without the star receiver Michael Crabtree and defensive back Aqib Talib. Now, they are going to have to play the next two games without them. Both players were suspended two games apiece without pay for unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness. This was the fight and this is the reason why.

They'll be missing two game checks, means about a $1.4 million for Talib and only about a $781,000 for Crabtree. Both players will appeal those suspensions according to reports.

Baltimore hosted Houston in Monday night football and Ravens top five defense was savaged. Texans quarterback Tom Savage, they made him give up two interceptions, a fumble. Thirty-five-year-old Terrell Suggs sacked him twice. Two of those turnovers all came in the last five minutes.

After the game, Savage spent about five seconds at the podium.




WIRE: So, that was it, Dave and Christine.

Now, to be fair, when Savage arrived, there were virtually no media members in there. They were all in the locker room where Savage told reporters that he was frustrated by his performance in the Texans 23- 16 loss.

Now, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn't wait until the conference to speak his mind. And it will cost him. Pop got ejected before halftime during last night's game against the Mavericks. He picked up two technical fouls and an ejection for arguing with the referee. He was using no-the-so safe for TV words fines like winter -- fines are coming.

BRIGGS: I'd love to see who got to interview him afterwards. He's always very friendly with the side line reporters, folks. So, that must have been interesting.

All right. Coy, thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

WIRE: You're welcome. You too.

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