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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

House Speaker Paul Ryan Denies Contemplating Leaving After 2018 Midterms; Trump Poised for Legislative Win, But Problems Persist; Omarosa Manigault Leaving the White House; Rubio: No on Tax Bill Unless Child Tax Credit Increase; Interview with Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 14, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00] CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- tightens its grip on a forgotten people.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, Lahij Province, Yemen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: No words. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Brooke.

Friends say the House speaker could be suffering from Trump- exhaustion.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Those close to Speaker Paul Ryan say 2018 could be his last year in Congress. Was one year in the Trump era enough for him?

The future of your money. The White House says Republicans are in the final stages of passing their tax plan, but with two ailing senators, a Democrat on the way, and now a surprise Republican no, can they seal the deal?

Plus the congressman accused of turning the House into a frat house admits to a culture of bad behavior and says that he's leaving office, just not yet.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper today. We begin today with "The Politics Lead." And the Republican Party potentially on the cusp of a major legislative victory. Trying to get to a vote on a massive corporate tax cut and a cut Republicans say for everyday Americans as well. But with a slim majority in the Senate, Republican leaders are closely following key votes which could be on shaky ground with two Republicans currently a no, and the health of two others in serious question.

The legislative win would be the first for President Trump, checking off a campaign promise but with a bill that is deeply unpopular with most Americans. Meanwhile, a shake-up on Capitol Hill could be coming in the new year. Sources tell CNN that Speaker Paul Ryan is contemplating an exit from Congress after the 2018 election. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, she is at the White House.

Abby, the White House says the president called Speaker Ryan. Was he trying to push him to stay?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing from the White House that the president called Ryan this afternoon to find out if the story was true or not. A source tells me the call was pretty brief, about five minutes. But here's what Sarah Huckabee Sanders had to say about what the president heard from Paul Ryan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president did speak to the speaker not too long ago and made sure that the speaker knew very clearly and in no uncertain terms that if that news was true, he was very unhappy with it. The speaker assured the president that those were not accurate reports and they looked forward to working together far long time to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIP: So the president losing the House speaker would be something that would be an earthquake of sorts just two years into his administration, if he were to leave, but a source tells me that Paul Ryan and the president actually have a pretty good relationship that has improved over the last year. Especially after the failure in health care, President Trump trusted he can deliver what he wants him to do on the Hill.

SCIUTTO: Abby, the president has taken some flak in the past for his legislative efforts on the Hill, outreach, et cetera. How is the administration pushing to get this one over the line?

PHILLIP: Well, we've been hearing that President Trump has been having a lot of phone calls over the last couple of days. He's been talking to Paul Ryan on this issue multiple times a day and he's been phoning other members of Congress, pushing them to get it done by Christmas. Also imploring them to work toward a bill that he can sign.

We're hearing from the White House that they believe Marco Rubio in the Senate is going to come around eventually. We're not exactly sure how that's going to end up, but the White House is still pretty confident on it today.

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip there at the White House, thanks very much.

I want to bring in my political panel now.

Chris, if I could begin with you, put you on the spot.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Sure.

SCIUTTO: In your view, based on your reporting, is Ryan almost certainly out? CILLIZZA: I don't know almost certainly out, but candidly it's not a

bad thing for him to contemplate. And I would argue for him to do. There's a bunch of reasons. I'll go through them quickly. Number one, there may not be a speakership for him to leave, Jim. I mean, this is a 50-50, 40-60 proposition regarding the House. So, you know, you never want look like you're being run out of town if Democrats did take the majority that you're run on.

Number two, you have to do the best you can with the circumstances you have. Getting tax reform, and I know there's some back and forth on this. Let's assume they get it. That's a big accomplishment for the Republican Party. There's a reason we remember the Reagan tax cut, the Bush tax cut. Having that and being the shepherd of that, I don't know that things are going to get a lot better for Paul Ryan because I don't see entitlement reform happening and getting the deficit under control does not seem to be a priority of this president.

Finally, your relationship with Donald Trump, if you're any Republican, is going to be hard to predict. Let's remember the feud between Paul -- between Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. Do you want to be -- they have good relationship as Abby reported now, but who could possibly say if that will continue?

[16:05:04] SCIUTTO: And Paul Ryan doesn't exactly love answering to Donald Trump's tweets or -- and so on.

CILLIZZA: Right.

SCIUTTO: But, you know, big, big legislative accomplishment, no question. Republicans have been talking about it for some time. The American public, not particularly in love with this tax plan at least as they understand it. A Quinnipiac poll shows that more than half of Americans polled, 55 percent, disapprove versus 26 percent. I mean, that's more than two to one.

I mean, is this tax plan actually good for the Republican Party based on the fact that it's really largely a corporate tax cut?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I think they should message that a little bit more appropriately. But they somehow got married to this idea that we are going to call it a middle class tax cut and we're not really going to talk about the business side of it that much.

I disagree with that messaging, but that's the route they chose, but listen, there is uncertainty -- any time there's uncertainty in what is going to happen to your paycheck, it's never a great thing. And so I'm not too worried that people are anxious about this bill right now. I say just pass it, see what happens --

SCIUTTO: By two to one margin? No, I mean, it's not like it's on the fence.

CARPENTER: No. Not to worry. I think when people see, you know, what it gives you in the next year, people that get to double the standard deduction, businesses that have more money, there's going to be more enthusiasm, so I'm OK with that. I think they just need to get it done, move on.

SCIUTTO: I imagine you have a different point of view.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I actually support tax reform, if it made sense. But I think what you're seeing with this bill is that they are -- you know, the overwhelming benefit going to corporations, that's why people are unhappy. People actually do understand what's in this bill. And I think, you know, Republicans are going to feel a little bit like Democrats felt after health care, which is really good after it passed, but then, you know as soon as --

SCIUTTO: Punished in the midterms.

ROSEN: As soon as the country started dealing with the transition and the issues associated with it became deeply unpopular.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROSEN: And I think that that is going to be the fate here. I think Democrats will have an issue on this for a long time and I think that's another reason why Paul Ryan is saying, you know what, I need to find an escape hatch here. Maybe I need to distance myself from this president, from this thing if I want to run for president. You know, if Donald Trump steps down --

SCIUTTO: See, that's -- that was going to be --

ROSEN: -- Paul Ryan is going to be, you know.

SCIUTTO: That was going to be my next question.

ROSEN: One of those people towards the top of the list.

SCIUTTO: Did you see that, Chris, as well? Is he laying the groundwork for a presidential run?

CILLIZZA: OK. So -- so Paul Ryan has always said -- Amanda will probably disagree in here. Paul Ryan has always said, my dream job was to be the chairman of Ways and Means Committee. That he's in tax- ready committee which he had done prior to being speaker. He didn't care about being speaker and didn't care about being president.

ROSEN: That's not happening again.

CILLIZZA: But here's -- number one, that's not happening again. Number two, to me that's like when I was growing up playing basketball, I was 6'2" when I was 13, so I had real possibilities, saying, you know what, I want to make it to the developmental league of the NBA. And no one says that.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Everybody says they want to make the NBA. If you --

SCIUTTO: There are a lot of quiet presidential ambitions on Capitol Hill. CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, I think these people -- if they're in

politics, if you are ambitious, if you go into leadership, there is a reason you do so, do think -- when he looks at it in his heart of hearts, he's 47 years old.

SCIUTTO: Are we talking 2020 aspirations?

CILLIZZA: I will say later.

SCIUTTO: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: When you see -- when you a president at 30 percent approval rating --

CILLIZZA: Well, that's true.

CARPENTER: That's a possibility.

CILLIZZA: Yes, that's true.

ROSEN: You can't help but wonder --

SCIUTTO: Mouths water. Right.

ROSEN: Where the opportunity is. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Amanda, as you know, one of the president's advisers, Omarosa, she left the White House under -- by some reporting under some interesting circumstances the other night, but she spoke to ABC this morning to tell her side of the story. She denied reports that she was escorted out of the White House after a dramatic conversation with Chief of Staff Kelly.

Take a listen to what she said about her time in the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OMAROSA MANIGAULT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS AIDE: When I have a chance to tell my story, Michael, quite a story to tell. As the only African-American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally. It has affected my community and my people. And when I can tell my story it is a profound story that I know the world would want to hear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Is she telegraphing what could be a potentially damaging story for this president?

CARPENTER: She's shopping a book deal.

SCIUTTO: Yes? CARPENTER: She's absolutely shopping a book deal. And Jeff Zeleny

has a dead-on, right question, why is she allowed to do this while still being -- receiving a taxpayer paycheck?

SCIUTTO: Because she's staying until January 25th.

CARPENTER: But why?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CARPENTER: Who else gets to go on TV shows and trash your former boss and impugn the integrity of everybody around her. I mean, she should be fired on the spot.

SCIUTTO: Well, beyond -- and listen, everybody who comes out of that building wants to or does write a book, but is it possible that there could be a substantively damaging story for the president?

ROSEN: Look, this president on race issues has, you know, brought this upon himself, you know. This is what happens when you hire one senior black person who isn't even in a real job, and there's no other voices --

SCIUTTO: Reality TV isn't a real job?

ROSEN: There are no other voices. I mean, isn't even in a real job in the White House in terms of -- they didn't even give her the assistant, you know, advisor position. They gave her sort of the assistant to the assistant advisor position, like this is a pox at all their houses. This is embarrassing.

[16:10:09] SCIUTTO: There were a lot of folks in the White House --

ROSEN: And embarrassing for her.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: They said they weren't sure what her job --

ROSEN: And shame on any of us --

SCIUTTO: What her job was.

CILLIZZA: And Hilary --

ROSEN: -- to take her credibly on this.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

CILLIZZA: To Hilary's point, I mean, who could have thought that this would end dramatically and badly? I mean, like --

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: Like, of course, that's -- and of course Omarosa who came to national attention as a reality TV star is going to do exactly what many has rightly critical for her. Stay tuned, I've got lots of great stories, everyone. I mean, but that's Donald Trump's world.

SCIUTTO: And we haven't seen any other reality TV in the White House, but hold that thought because we are going to be back. We have the advantage of bringing the panel back.

If Senators Corker and Rubio both vote no on the tax bill this time around, Republicans cannot lose another vote. Should the Trump administration actually be worried? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

[16:15:01] Senator Marco Rubio today threatening to torpedo the Republican tax plan to get what he wants. The Florida Republican tells CNN that he is a no on the current legislation unless his Republican Senate colleagues expand a child tax credit.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is live on Capitol Hill.

Phil, Rubio not the only Republican senator to express unease with the current tax bill. Are any of these Republicans actually going to vote no?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, it's an open question right now. We know for a fact that one Republican voted no the first time around. That's Senator Bob Corker, his concerns while he's not made a final judgment on any deal that's made here that would be voted on, his concerns haven't been addressed. It's the deficit. It's always been the deficit.

And you want to look at Senator Marco Rubio, like Corker, his concerns are not necessarily easily addressed. What Senator Rubio wants is expanded refundability on that child tax credit. Essentially the amount you would be eligible for beyond your income tax liability. That's expensive.

Obviously, he makes the point that lawmakers have made a lot of changes that should have been able to address that and haven't yet. It's one of those things, Jim, that really underscores that while Republican leaders a deal, while they're very much on track to have a vote early next week, they have a lot of work to do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a margin now of two --

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Republican negotiators have a deal. Now, they need the votes.

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), CHAIRMAN, WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: I think there is going to be strong support in the House and Senate on this or we wouldn't be moving forward, and we are.

MATTINGLY: GOP leaders now working behind the scenes, senators including Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Marco Rubio, and Bob Corker as they try and navigate their razor thin two-vote margin in the chamber.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Still looking at it.

REPORTER: What about the conference? Is it going to be closed? What's your feeling there?

FLAKE: Well, it's a small margin, yes, yes. So, I think everybody's still looking at it.

MATTINGLY: Senators John McCain and Thad Cochran both absent this week due to health issues, throwing an already extremely tight timeline into question.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're simply being flexible to honor their concerns about managing their schedule.

MATTINGLY: GOP leaders say both will be back and the votes will be there as members of both chambers digest the scope of a final deal. It includes a 21 percent corporate rate, and a 37 percent top individual rate. A cap, $10,000 on state and local tax deductions, and reduce mortgage interest deductions, and more details which still haven't been released.

Democrats united in their opposition continue to call for the process to slow down, in the wake of the party's stunning upset win in Alabama.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Shouldn't be the people of Alabama have their voice in the Senate present far vote on the tax bill?

MATTINGLY: Even as they appear resigned to what Republicans say will happen by the middle of next week.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I think this is a pyrrhic victory if in fact it does happen, you know, have the votes to take it down unless some of the Republicans see the light.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Jim, Leader Pelosi sharing the reality here. This is a Republican issue. They don't need to worry about Democrats if they can get their members in line. And at this point, it just simply hasn't happened yet.

SCIUTTO: So, Phil, as you know, the president, Republicans, they constantly call this a massive tax cut for the middle class. When you look at the numbers, actually, is this more of a corporate than an individual tax cut?

MATTINGLY: Look, I think there's any question about that, Jim. You put up the numbers right now, you look at the corporate cut. It goes from 45 percent and agreeing on 21 percent. That is a huge cost and there's a rational for it. Republicans believe it will lead to economic growth and that will lead to wage growth. But then you look at the top individual rate as well. That drops from

39.6 percent currently down to 37 percent. That would specifically benefit high earners. Now, there's a policy rational there, particularly when it comes to the state and local tax deduction. But it's left them open on the individual side, they try and mitigate these things, they try and double the child tax credit.

They work to cut rates across the board, on average, people get a tax cut, but if you look at all of the analysis you've seen up to this point, it is clear, people will get a tax increase, the real question is how many, and what the political fallout will be if that occurs, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Phil Mattingly, thanks very much on the Hill.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He's among those calling on Republicans to delay their tax vote until newly elected Alabama senator, Democrat Doug Jones, is seated. That will obviously reduce their majority.

Any chance of that happening, Senator Van Hollen?

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, we're pushing very hard for that, for them to do the right thing. In fact, I just came off the Senate floor where I let people know there's still time to turn back from the brink, this tax plan is going to do grave damage to the country in years to come. And Doug Jones, the newly elected senator from Alabama, should have a chance to weigh in on this. They should respect the people of Alabama.

After all, many years ago when we had a similar situation when Scott Brown had been elected to fill the seat of Ted Kennedy, Mitch McConnell said it would be a travesty if Democrats proceeded on Obamacare on the health care plan and in fact, they waited for Scott Brown to be seated before they proceeded.

[16:20:04] So, Republicans and the Republican leadership and the Senate owe Alabama the same respect. And that's an opportunity to turn back from a tax plan that's just littered with broken promises. This is not about the middle class first. This is big corporations getting a huge tax giveaway.

SCIUTTO: You mentioned Scott Brown in 2010 before the health care vote. I want to play a quick sound from Obama then ask you a question. This is Obama in 2010.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements in the package that people agree on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Now to be clear, the difference between now and then is that Brown's stance on health care, actually factored into his win in 2010. I mean, the tax bill wasn't a big issue in the Alabama race. It's not really apples and apples, is this?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, a couple things, first of all, in the Alabama race Doug Jones did say that while he supported tax reform, he wasn't going to support a tax plan that was a huge giveaway to corporations where actually foreign shareholders get more in the year 2019 than every middle class household and every state that voted for Donald Trump. I mean, that's not America first.

And Doug Jones did talk about that, and again, history will show that in the case of the health care bill, the Democrats did wait until Scott Brown was seated as you remember, that was done in two pieces, one piece passed before he was elected but the second piece was done after he got to the Senate.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, as you mentioned, Doug Jones, but also following Virginia, Democrats have two pretty solid wins in a row there. And I wonder what lessons Democrats are taking from those races as you push towards 2018.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, really two big takeaways from Virginia, Alabama, and some of the other races, one is there is an incredible amount of grassroots energy mobilizing among Democrats, but not just Democrats. Many independents showed up at the polls in Alabama to vote for Doug Jones, to vote for decency, to vote for dignity, to vote for somebody who focused on kitchen table issues, and in the Alabama and Virginia, you also saw moderate Republicans, totally disaffected with the divisive Trump agenda, looking at the rapidly growing record of broken promises to folks in the middle class. Also, voting for Democrats.

So, you've got a lot of energy among people who want to focus on bread and butter issues really deliver for middle class and working Americans and who don't like the ugly, divisive politics coming out of the White House and what we saw from Roy Moore. And I think people are going to remember when Donald Trump went down to the border of Florida and Alabama, and said, Roy Moore reflects Republican values. I can tell you, that doesn't reflect the values of lots of moderate Republicans.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you if I can, just quickly. It seems like a lot of that message is built on we are not Roy Moore and we are not Donald Trump. Who is articulated the positive Democratic messages from 2018 to 2020?

VAN HOLLEN: Actually, Doug Jones did that in Alabama and we've been doing that here in the Senate. Admittedly, it's tough to break through in this era of 24-hour cycle news chasing every tweet.

When it came to health care for Americans, we've been focused on the Children's Health Insurance Program. Doug Jones talked about that on election night. Let's provide health security. We've talked about growing the economy in a way that increases wages, in fact, we should have tax reform in a way that if you give businesses big tax cuts, it benefits actually really do flow through to higher wages. There are ways you can do that, not what's in this Republican plan.

So, we have put those kitchen table issues on the table, and in Alabama, that's all Doug Jones was talking about. While, you know, Roy Moore was talking about all of these divisive social issues, issues that Donald Trump likes to focus on, Democrats and Doug Jones and in the Virginia governor's race, our candidate focused on bread and butter kitchen table issues.

SCIUTTO: All right. Senator Chris Van Hollen, thanks very much for taking the time.

VAN HOLLEN: Thanks. Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: With the tax vote in the balance there, are growing concerns about Senator John McCain being well enough to vote after he was hospitalized? We're going to have an update on that next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Not only Arizona, but the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:56] SCIUTTO: We are back now with the health lead. And it's a tough one.

Senator John McCain is looking increasingly frail according to three Senate sources. Five months ago, you may remember he was diagnosed with glioblastoma. It's an aggressive form of brain cancer. Now, his aides say that he's being treated at Walter Reed Medical Center for the normal side effects of his ongoing cancer therapy.

Let's bring in CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's a practicing neurosurgeon who he actually treats patients with this type of cancer.

So, Dr. Gupta, what kind of symptoms are associated with glioblastoma at this stage of the disease?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what can happen at this stage of the disease, he's had an operation, he's being treated. When someone is having some new symptoms, it could mean either there's some return or re-growth of the tumor. There could be side effects from the medications, which is what his office has said he's currently being treated for, or it could be some combination of both, Jim.

If it's side effects of the medication, the radiation, for example, sometimes that can lead to some brain swelling around where the tumor was. It's because the radiation's killing cancer cells, but also causing some damage in the brain itself which causes the swelling.