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Senate Republicans Continue Push for Tax Bill; New Report Indicates President Trump Contacted Republican Senators Requesting an End to Russia Investigation. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 1, 2017 - 08:15   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Corker making very clear he needs a solution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody has seen the bill. It's not the way the Senate is supposed to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump phoned several top Republicans in the Senate to wrap up the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the president gets frustrated because he doesn't think he did anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president aggravated that he is not getting credit for his accomplishments and still annoyed with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The White House is considering a plan to replace Tillerson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's clear that he's not getting the support from the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill here once again helping us through the Friday with a lot of news. Thanks for being here.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Happy to be with you.

CUOMO: The Senate Republican tax bill hit a $1 trillion snag. Republicans are scrambling to make big chances to their plan to win over deficit hawks. What is now clear to several Republicans is that this plan is not what was promised. It's not going to pay for itself and it doesn't look like in its current configuration it will reduce the deficit. Those were the big problems from the Trump administration.

HILL: The president's frustration with senators may be about more than just taxes. "The New York Times" reporting President Trump may have pressured the head of the Senate committee this summer to end its Russia investigation. We have it all covered. Let's begin first with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux who is live on Capitol Hill with our top story. Suzanne, good morning.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. President Trump tweeting about this really make or break moment for his administration and Republicans trying to get some sort of legislative achievement here. They have a $1 trillion problem, and that is how to pay for the tax cut plan. Senate Republicans jockeying essentially what to keep in, what to take out, and whether or not they have got those votes.


MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We are on the cusp of a great victory for the country.

MALVEAUX: The battle over the Senate Republican tax bill hitting a snag in the 11th hour. Retiring Senator Bob Corker withholding his vote Thursday after a new report by the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the bill would increase the deficit by $1 trillion over 10 years and would not produce enough revenue to offset the cost of the plan. Corker demanding a trigger to automatically raise taxes if the bill fails to generate as much economic growth as promised.

But the Senate rule keeper declaring such a proposal would not be allowed as written. A showdown unfolding on the Senate floor as a group of Republican senators huddled around holdouts, Corker, Jeff Flake, and Ron Johnson.

SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) MAINE: I submitted a very simple amendment that simply said send the bill back to the Finance Committee and have them report back a deficit neutral bill, a bill that doesn't blow a hole in the deficit. To call this a circus would be an insult to circuses.

MALVEAUX: Republicans now scrambling to appease deficit hawks. Senator Lindsay Graham acknowledging Corker's concerns are real but adding failure is not an option, as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes. This as Senator Elizabeth Warren demanding to see the Treasury Department's economic analysis after Steve Mnuchin promised the American people this.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We think there will be $2 trillion of growth, so we think this tax plan will cut down the deficits by $1 trillion. That's a large number.

MALVEAUX: The treasury's inspector general launching a probe after receiving this letter from Warren questioning whether Mnuchin misled the public or refuses to release the report because those analyses would contradict the treasury secretary's claims. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: It's almost criminal.

It's a lethal attack on the middle class.

MALVEAUX: Democrats continue to hammer the GOP tax plan, asserting the bill will hurt lower-income Americans while benefiting the wealthy. The Congressional Budget Office predicts those earning less than $30,000 will be worse off by 2019, and those making less than $75,000 worse off by 2027. Removing the Obama individual mandate would also result in 13 million fewer Americans having health coverage over the next decade.


MALVEAUX: And a significant development this morning just within the hour. Senator Steve Daines of Montana releasing a statement he was one of the holdouts, now saying that he is a yes vote on the tax plan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that the vote will resume at 11:00 this morning. Some of the changes, possible changes they're considering is reinstating the alternative minimum tax for some corporations and wealthy individuals, also raising the corporate tax rate above the 20 percent after several years. It's far from certain whether or not that is going to satisfy enough lawmakers to push this through, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Suzanne, thank you very much.

Once again, we are seeing the president getting in his way a little bit here with his own goal. He desperately wants a win with taxes, so does the GOP, but what he has promised is getting in the way. Is this really set up to help the middle class? We don't know.

[08:05:03] And there's another story he's got to deal with. "The New York Times" is reporting that the president pressed top Senate Republicans to end their Russia investigation last summer. Joining us now on the phone is CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman, co-author of the "New York Times" report. Maggie, always good to hear your voice.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: What do we now know?

HABERMAN: We know over that over the summer -- we already were aware that the president had a very contentious phone call with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell where he started railing that McConnell had not done enough to protect him from the Senate probe. My colleagues wrote that story at the time.

What we've learned since is the president called the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and suggested that this ought to be brought to a close quickly. He had a similar conversation with Roy Blunt aboard Air Force One, and according to our sources he has made other calls to senators where he has suggested the same thing, other Republicans. These calls were met with alarm even as Republicans who received them

or knew of them downplayed them, saying essentially he called on something else, and I did not quite feel pressured, but he did bring it up. His aides will say this no different than what he says publicly, but, Chris, as you know, the sense of pressure and the sense of propriety as somebody who could end up being, if not a focus himself, have his relatives at stake in this is very questionable. This is a norm for him not to reach out to people on the Senate side who are involved in this, not a law that prohibits him from doing it, but it's not a norm we have ever seen somebody break like this before.

CUOMO: Maggie, you and I both know that the president deserves more credit than to be seen as politically naive, that the idea that he doesn't know what you are supposed to do and not do as president really belies a lifetime of him dealing with politics and politicians at the highest levels. So where do you see this story in terms of moving the bar between style and moving it towards substance of what could actually be a factor in this investigation?

HABERMAN: I think it's too soon to say, and I think we are going to possibly know more on that later, and I think a lot of it will depend again on what the senators either tell each other or tell investigators about how they felt receiving these calls. I agree with you I think it's very hard for the president certainly at this stage of the presidency let alone his life of 71 years to suggest that he was unaware of the fact that you can't do that.

I don't think that he's unaware of it. I think he doesn't care. I think he's impervious of the strictures that generally apply in these kinds of situations. But the impact of it remains to be seen. However, it is, again, it could be read as trying to impact an investigation and trying to impact the people who are conducting it. Whether they will say that I think is another question.

CUOMO: Maggie Haberman, thank you very much. I wish you a good weekend.

HABERMAN: Thank you, sir. You, too.

HILL: Let's discuss now with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin reporter and editor at large for CNN politics Chris Cillizza. As we look at all that, Maggie made a prefect point that you brought up as well. It's not that the president is unaware. It's that he doesn't care, he does things his way. We know that.

But as we are seeing him do things his way, too, we also heard him say in that reporting in that piece from Maggie and her colleagues how the president is speaking out on things, telling people reportedly in his golf courses in New Jersey over the summer I'm totally innocent and there's nothing to see here. You get to a point, and I sometimes feel like a broken record, but Chris Cillizza, we get to a point where, yes, he knows what he's doing, but it's still a distraction, and it's distracting from what he, himself, wants to accomplish.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Well, yes, and I think it's important, Erica, to remember that he's often blundering into these things when it has to do with Russia. Let's keep -- he does a fair amount of that anyway, but it often has to do with Russia. The examples you mentioned, obviously the example Maggie just reported on, the asking Jim Comey repeatedly whether he was under investigation or not. These are things that are not -- well, I defer to Jeff as to whether they are technically legal or illegal, but these are things that I would guess are in the very gray area that Donald Trump likes to operate in.

But they all seem to have to do with the Russia investigation, and at that point I don't think that Donald Trump gets the benefit of the doubt here. I don't think the explanation of well, he just doesn't know what he's doing really kind of flies. He's the president of the United States. If he didn't know what he was doing when he was elected in terms of this stuff, it is up to him and the people around him to say you can't call these people and ask them to do these things you are doing. It's inappropriate even if it's not illegal. Maybe they have done it and he doesn't listen, but the result is the same. He continues to do this stuff specifically around the issue of Russia.

[08:10:00] CUOMO: Now we can actually provide some value on this because ordinarily this is the point where people will you say you have to get inside his head to understand why he's saying what he's saying, and you can't do that so be quiet, Mr. Reporter. But not here because half of my life I have watched Donald Trump be very effective in different ways at different points in his life with people in my family, let alone people. He knows what he's doing. Set up that as a proposition and then knock down that this is about his ignorance. It's not about his ignorance. It's about his inclinations.

But that's OK, too, Jeffrey, because for all of this going on with the Democrats, so what that he calls members of Congress and says, I hate this, there's nothing there, you are in my party, don't let them kill me this way. At the end of the day, that is not a crime.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Let's draw some distinctions here. Certainly when he goes up to people at his golf course and says this is a bunch of nonsense --

CUOMO: First Amendment right. Knock yourself out.

TOOBIN: Not even close to any sort of criminal activity. If you are the boss of the FBI, as the president is, and you fire the head of the FBI for the sole and exclusive reason to stop an investigation of you, that is potentially a crime.

CUOMO: Maybe, maybe not.

TOOBIN: Well, maybe, maybe not. Richard Nixon was -- the articles of impeachment dealt with the abuse of the FBI.

CUOMO: That's a political action and not a legal action. Impeachment is about votes. They do high crimes and misdemeanors, which is everything and nothing. I am talking about Mueller.

TOOBIN: It's legally questionable that that whole chapter of that. Now, what about talking to senators of your party about the political

problems? Certainly expressing general indignation about the investigation, there's certainly nothing wrong with that. However, the president has leverage over his members of the Senate. I won't appoint your judge in your state --

CUOMO: We have not indication of this.

TOOBIN: Exactly, that's what I am saying.

CUOMO: Jeffrey, you have to remember, he's very smart. The idea of leverage winds up having to be communicated though into one of these exceptions on obstruction of justice like bribery, that there's a quid pro quo, you are going to do this for me and cancel this investigation or -- and then you have to act on that. We don't have that.

TOOBIN: You don't have that. But that's why facts matter. And that's why you can't say I think categorically that these connections with the senators about the Russia investigation are clearly appropriate or clearly inappropriate or illegal because you have to dig into the facts and see what was really said.

HILL: In terms of facts matter, I actually want to pick up on that for a second. We believe facts come first.

CUOMO: I don't like when he uses the hash-tag against me.


HILL: You mean the last time he used the hash-tag against you. But I digress. As we are looking to at just where we stand in this week and the distractions and the things we are learning about the president, there's of course this re-tweet of these horrific anti-Muslim videos that we know about. What was striking this morning, the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page, taking the president to task, and I'm quoting here, "Mr. Trump's battle with the press over, quote, "fake news," is driven by his justifiable belief that he isn't getting sufficient credit for his achievements, such as his tax bill. One can't on one day demand straight coverage of his presidency and on another promote his own favorite fake news like Britain First. We'd advise Mr. Trump to rein himself in for the sake of his own presidency but by now we know that's hopeless." Strong words there, but Chris Cillizza, in terms of reining himself in goes back to the first point, the president probably doesn't think he needs to be reigns in.

CILLIZZA: There's a zero percent chance he will rein himself in. I feel strongly about that one, and it's to Chris Cuomo's point, which is anyone who has followed Donald Trump's life in New York City and then nationally knows that this is him. What you are seeing is him, the unpredictability, the erraticness, the wildness, the willing to thumb your nose at conventional wisdom, the desire always to stick it to the political establishment. He operates that way always. He always has.

The idea during the campaign that Donald Trump, by the way, pushed that he would be so presidential once he won the nomination or once he became president that we would all be bored, that has been proven to not be true. I think we can safely say that what you see is what you get as it relates to Donald Trump, and that's true of the Russia investigation, his continuing to bring up Hillary Clinton's e-mails, the Electoral College mentions, the inauguration crowd size, the tax bill, his boasting that there's going to health care, we have the votes for the health care bill, we're just not taking the votes yet. It's across everything, things large and things small. Diplomacy, this is the best thing that China has ever done, this state dinner with me. It's everywhere. It's pervasive and it's who he is.

TOOBIN: I want to offer an alternative hypothesis to the "Wall Street Journal" here, which is that by tweeting about fake news, by tweeting about terrorism and Islamic terrorism, the president does get us to talk about --


[08:15:00] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Pervasive at who he is.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Can I just offer an alternative hypothesis for the "Wall Street Journal" here.


TOOBIN: Which is that, you know, by tweeting about fake news, by tweeting about terrorism and the Islamic terrorism, the president does get us to talk about that and so we're not talking about this massive income, wealth transfer from the middle class to the wealthy. I mean, this tax bill is not popular. And I know the president thinks --

CUOMO: Which is very unusual, by the way.

TOOBIN: It's very unusual. And I know the president thinks it's going to be a big accomplishment, so maybe there is more method to his madness than we are giving him credit for that by talking about these incendiary topics like the Steinle -- terrible Steinle case, like talking about, you know, Islamic terrorism. That is actually better for him and his administration than it is for talking about this tax bill.

HILL: Fair point.

CUOMO: Well, and it winds up being a layered effect. And it's certainly created a new disciplines within our own craft, which is how do you discuss what the presid3ent does. Sometimes you're right, it's just a good misdirection. He knows how to play the media. He's arguably one of the best at it.

But on the other side, when you distract us you distract your own people as well and they are not set up to deal with these kinds of situations, and you get Sanders who has developed, you know, these stone-faced version of what we saw with her predecessor, which is where she says things that no one can believe that she believes. So it creates problems as well as some different advantage.

TOOBIN: And it's created problems for us as journalist.


TOOBIN: Because, you know, do we cover the tweet of the day? Is that really the most important news?

HILL: That's right.

TOOBIN: But when the president says something historically it has been news.

HILL: True.

CUOMO: And more often than not he is talking about what matters. Sometimes he isn't. And you know what, my Twitter thread reads as the fabric of truth on this. It's about 65/35, 35 percent all about what the president said, you are wrong to question it, all you do -- and 65 percent are either why you're being distracted by this or I can't believe what he said.

TOOBIN: Every poll comes out 65/35. Presidential approval. All these issues --

CUOMO: And his challenge has always been -- that's what he was supposed to do with his tax plan, deliver for the middle class. These are his people. Will he get it done? We'll see.

HILL: We're going to have to leave that there.

President Trump claiming the Senate GOP's tax plan, as we've been talking about, will actually cost him a fortune. We are going to put that to the test, next.


[08:20:54] CUOMO: Time for CNN Facts First. President Trump claims the Republican tax plan is going to cost him a fortune. That is not true.

The president suggested that by ending some deductions and closing some loopholes, rich people like him are going to suffer, but it is much more likely that the Republican plan is going to benefit President Trump and his family and do so in several ways.

Proof? Well, here you go. Ending the AMT, the alternative minimum tax, while the removal of state and local tax deductions will hurt a New Yorker like the president, his real gift is going to be the AMT. The AMT is designed to kick in whenever somebody is paying too little in taxes under the regular tax code.

The only tax return we have from the president is 2005 and that year he got hit with $31 million in AMT because he had claimed a huge operating loss and carried it forward over year to year. It's all completely legal but it's why he himself has criticized the tax code of having too many loopholes. Ending the AMT would benefit President Trump big time.

Next, lowered taxes on Trump's businesses. Much of Trump's pay comes through what are called corporate shells like pass-throughs, LLCs, limited liability companies. You know what these are. The plan cuts the tax rate on those types of entities so Trump will stand to gain.

Next, weakening the estate taxes. This is a big one for the rich, folks. The Senate bill calls for doubling the amount of money automatically exempt from estate taxes to $11 million for individuals to $22 million for married couples. The House version matches that but then calls for an all-out repeal of the estate tax by 2024. So both bills also keep the so-called step-up rule allowing people to step up the cost basis of an assess at the death of a family member that winds -- meaning they have less gain, less to pay taxes on. So regardless of how much it may have appreciated they'll be OK.

Another tough fact to end on here, OK. This plan is what it is. You look at the numbers. It's really not about spin. But we really can't be sure how the president is going to be affected. Why? Because unlike every other president since Nixon he has not released any tax returns and right now it appears that that decision, as we suspect, you know, is to hide from unfavorable facts.

So that's what we know. That's what we know about the plan.

Let's discuss. Joining us now is Republican Congressman Ron DeSantos of Florida.

Congressman, thank you for joining us. Always appreciate it.

REP. RON DESANTOS (R), FLORIDA: Good morning, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. So you heard what we were laying out there about the president. Do we have it right or do we have it wrong?

DESANTOS: Why it's hard for me to know. He's got a very complicated financial arrangements. But here's what I would say. If it's good for the president but also good for our economy, then to me the fact that it's good for him is not a reason to vote against it. If it were to be good for him or bad for him, but bad for the country, then just the fact that people may want to see Trump get socked with more taxes that wouldn't be a reason to vote against it.

So what I am trying to focus on is what are we doing to make sure that we keep and retain capital here in the United States. We have a global economy. Our business structure is not competitive. We have trillions of dollars we'd like to see come back, reinvested in the United States. If by doing that allows us to grow more, if by doing that allows wages to increase and more jobs to be created, the fact that Trump may get a tax cut to me that's not a reason to oppose the plan.

CUOMO: Right. That just goes to the truth of what his suggestion was. And a repatriation of money, I don't here that being a stumbling block in what's going on with this heated conversations in the Senate right now. It's about the fact that based on the projections that they have -- and again, this is -- you know, this is an under analyzed bill, right, because it's being rushed through this reconciliation window.

They're fighting over the fact that it adds to the deficit and debt in a way that is unacceptable to members of your party, and that it does not appear, by all analyses that we have to be set up to advantage the middle class more than the upper class, and that was the promise of the plan. Those are the problems, not repatriation.

[08:25:06] DESANTOS: Well, so let's take the debt. So it's been scored at the 1.5, was kind of the number. Even the more static analysis say you probably are going to get more economic growth, so it's probably going to be about $500 billion. That's on the conservative side, some conservatives think you may get more from an increased economic pie.

Everyone agrees that there's about $500 billion of that, of things that are currently in the tax code that end up getting extended anyway. They know it's scored that way because they're not permanent right now but most people think they should be made permanent. So if you look at that extra $500 billion, I would suggest members of my party who crow about government wasting money and big government, why don't we get together and figure out a way to slow down the growth of spending?

I think you could easily do it. Some of the members on the Republican side who were criticizing it for the deficit, I mean, I have a concern about that, too, but some of those folks vote for big spending increases, big omnibus bills, that's part of the issue, too, Chris. It's not just the tax side. You can't just project uninterrupted spending increases as a Republican and say we are fine with that. We're supposed to be the party that wants to streamline government.

CUOMO: But it's not an either-or, it could be both. I mean, to your own point, fine. Argue about spending. That's -- you know, those are political choices, no question about it. But on this one, instead of helping people like me, you know, statement against interest, why didn't you design this tax cut to actually benefit the middle class and put the burden on people like me who are in the top tier.

DESANTOS: I actually think it will, Chris. If you look at people between $50,000 and $100,000 in my district, they are going to see a tax cut on the individual side. They're going to have a tax --

CUOMO: Maybe. And only early on based on all the projections we have.

DESANTOS: Well, the House bill, the individual stuff was permanent. The Senate is not in terms of 10 years. I think those will get extended. A lot of that is playing with the CBO. So you do have reductions in that heart of the middle class, but here's the thing, too. You have a much simpler tax code now so it does save people time and money and effort if they can fill out their taxes on a postcard instead of having to keep records and hire accountants and do all that.

And then I think the businesses reorganization which is really a far- reaching reform, it is no doubt much more far-reaching on the business side than it is on the individual side. I believe that that will provide incentives for companies to stay here, for companies to bring jobs back to the United States.

CUOMO: Right.

DESANTOS: And most economists say if our corporate tax rate is more competitive in that 20 percent, yes, some of that will go to more corporate profit, shareholders, but some of it will go to wages and benefits for employees. And I think that's a good thing as well.

CUOMO: Right. But the ratio is not great, so if you want to benefit businesses and hope that they pass it along, you can. But to say that that's a one for one in terms of helping the middle class just doesn't bear out in economics or on our own political history.

DESANTOS: Let me ask you this, Chris. If a business reincorporates and inverts overseas, how is that helping the middle class?

CUOMO: I get. But -- I get that argument. I've heard it. It's a fair argument. But that's not the proposition. The companies, yes, if they leave other than pay taxes here, OK, fine. But that's not the situation. The situation is about how do you tax these companies in a way that will create more wealth for the middle class and we don't see a one-to-one on that economically or in our political history.

DESANTOS: Well, we are in a situation where we're competing against other countries that have dramatically lower business taxes. We are -- the president and the Congress are working to streamline the regulation costs which could also contribute to some of this.

CUOMO: Right.

DESANTOS: But that's just the reality, Chris. I mean, you can -- we can sit here and say one-to-one or not. The fact is we are at a competitive environment. It's a global economy and I just want to be on the cutting edge of that.

CUOMO: Right. But you are --

DESANTOS: Rather than having disincentivizing people to expand their businesses in America.

BERMAN: Fine, but then I think one of the mistakes here early on was just you should have just said that. Instead of saying that you are doing this, it's not you, I'm saying the president, but, you know, obviously the head of your party, that this was about the middle class. And that was a mistake because you get rid of the individual mandate, it's not about the middle class. You start taxing tuition -- DESANTOS: The individual mandate --

CUOMO: -- for people doing research --

DESANTOS: -- is a tax on blue-collar workers.

CUOMO: That's a tax.

DESANTOS: Chris, the individual mandate taxes blue-collar workers. If they do not have the money to afford some of these plans which are not good for them.

CUOMO: Right.

DESANTOS: Then the government taxes them. So they're relieving that burden on them.

CUOMO: It's deceptive reasoning, though.

DESANTOS: And if they want the Obama stuff --

CUOMO: It's deceptive reasoning and here's why.

DESANTOS: -- they can still get the Obamacare -- Obamacare is still there. So it's their choice.

CUOMO: Right, but here's what happens.

DESANTOS: So you're relieving them from a tax.

CUOMO: You get rid of the mandate you're going to get rid of the subsidy money for people who need it, all right? That's where you get your 13 million people losing it.

DESANTOS: That is not in the tax bill, though. It's just not.

CUOMO: But that is what the practical effect to the proposition that's in the Senate side of the people is. And --

DESANTOS: People are going to choose if they don't want subsidized plans because those aren't good for them.

CUOMO: But the --

DESANTOS: That's not taking anything away from anybody. That is their choice.


CUOMO: If the mandate isn't there people will not have to deal with paying that or having a plan, so they will probably withdraw from plans, they'll probably be the young, healthy people. That will raise the premiums on the exact part of the population that the president said he was going to look out for.