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GOP Tax Deal; McConnell's Flip Flop; Salma Hayek: Weinstein is a Monster. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:13] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A giant tax cut for Christmas. And when I say giant, I mean giant.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans are closing in on a deal to reshape the tax code. The House and Senate working out differences on the interest rates, of mortgage deduction and more.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: What I think is clear that there will be no further action in the Senate until Scott Brown is sworn in.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That was then, but this is now. Price of hypocrisy as Republicans force through the tax plan knowing they're about to lose a vote in Alabama.

NOBLES: And another Harvey Weinstein accuser with a startling accusation. Salma Hayek says Weinstein demanded a sex scene in her movie after she rejected his advances.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ryan Nobles, in this morning for Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And that piece by Salma Hayek was just really remarkable, so beautifully written and really just kind of lays bear just how difficult this sexual harassment scandal has been for so many women.

I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, December 14th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Welcome, Ryan.

NOBLES: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: Let's begin though with the taxes and the GOP. This is moving at full speed with that tax plan, sprinting to get a bill passed as soon as next week. House and Senate Republicans have now hammered out a deal reconciling the top line differences on their two bills. Smaller details remained to be worked out within the GOP, leading for a hoped-for vote, a vote before the holiday recess.

NOBLES: Democrats are calling on GOP leaders to slow the process until newly elected Alabama Senator Doug Jones can be sworn on. More in a moment.

For the latest though on the emerging shape of the tax plan, let's go to Capitol Hill and Phil Mattingly.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Ryan, you can name them, it's the president, the Senate majority leader, the speaker. Republicans say they are on the verge of passing their overhaul of the U.S. tax system, something that hasn't been done in 31 years. Negotiators struck a deal on all of the top-line elements about how to reconcile the House and Senate plans. So, the details are extremely important, and a lot of them diverge from where the House and Senate were.

Take the top individual rate. That will move to 37 percent. You remember, the House had it at 39.6 percent, the current rate. The Senate, 38.5 percent.

Now, take a look at the corporate rate. That, both the House and Senate Republicans said they wanted to move from 35 percent down to 20 percent. That will end up at 21 percent. Why? Well, one percentage point equals $100 billion in revenue, that helps pay for a lot of the issues in the plan.

They also have something like the mortgage interest deduction. The House dropped the threshold to $500,000 and the Senate left it untouched at $1 million. They'll compromise on that at $750,000. The state and local tax deduction, that will be expanded, still capped at $10,000, but now it won't just include a property tax, it will also include income as well.

Guys, all of these things are hugely important as Republicans in the House try and get to 218 votes to pass this and Republicans in the Senate try and get at least 50 or 51.

Now, what's the timeline? House Republican leaders have made clear they want this done by the end of this week. They want to vote on it as soon as Monday in the Senate, as soon as Tuesday in the House. That means they want it on the president's desk by Wednesday of next week.

Yes, they're moving very fast -- Christine and Ryan.


ROMANS: Phil Mattingly, who knows this so well.

Warp speed is absolutely right. And cutting the top income and corporate rate helps the wealthy and businesses, too. The president calls this, you know, a middle class tax cut, but this is really about business. There are other provisions, too, they compromised on. They doubled

the estate tax exemption, raising the threshold for the individual alternative minimum tax while repealing the corporate AMT and reducing taxable income for pass-through businesses, essentially lowering their tax rate. Now, the GOP argues lower corporate taxes help workers. There is no guarantee it will add jobs or raise wages, which contradicts President Trump's closing argument that the tax bill is a gift for the middle class.


TRUMP: We want to give you, the American people, a giant tax cut for Christmas. And when I say giant, I mean giant.


ROMANS: Well, one problem, that giant middle class tax cut is smaller than advertised. We can't know for sure without seeing the final bill, but in past versions, middle class tax cuts are modest and they could have a short shelf life. In fact, many middle class families pay more by the year 2027 under the Senate plan because the tax break for the middle class expires.

A bright spot here, though, deductions. Some of the most controversial eliminations didn't make it into the final deal, Ryan. So, they're keeping deductions for medical expenses. They're keeping education tax breaks for student loans, grad students and teacher spending. You would see college students walk out of their classes, walk off campus in protest to some of these education cuts that are now have found their way back in.

NOBLES: It seems no matter what, your tax bill's going to look a lot different at the start of next year.

ROMANS: Every corner of the economy will change, yes.

[04:05:01] NOBLES: Yes, no doubt.

Well, fresh off their big win in Alabama, Democrats want to put off the vote on tax reform. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer insisting that Senator-elect Doug Moore should be involved in the process. He and other leading Democrats demanding lawmakers wait until Jones is sworn in.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: This was a referendum. The middle class and suburban middle class people said we want change. And when that happens in Alabama, that's happening everywhere in America. It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam through this tax bill without giving the newly elected senator from Alabama the opportunity to cast his vote.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: What's the rush? What's the hurry? We don't have a crisis on our hands. The market's stronger than ever. We don't have double-digit unemployment. It's lower at 4 percent than ever. What's the hurry? Why can't we do what Ronald Reagan did? He worked it for two years.


ROMANS: That's right, two years. They passed tax reform in I think '81 and then they had to go back and raise taxes in '82 when they lost revenue. And then there were other tweaks.

In 2010, the Senate faced a similar situation on Obamacare after Republican Scott Brown won a special election in Massachusetts. Mitch McConnell was the minority leader at the time. He insisted Brown had to be included in the vote.


REPORTER: The Democrats say that they want to continue to go forward and make sure that his bill passes.

MCCONNELL: Well, I think what's clear is there will be no further action in the Senate until Scott Brown is sworn in.


NOBLES: Of course, a big difference then. Barack Obama supported holding off on that. Not the same with President Trump. And more than a day after the Alabama Senate race was called, Roy Moore is still not conceding his loss. Last night, his campaign release a nearly five-minute video in which Moore protests that he has, quote, not received the final count, including military and provisional ballots.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country is moving on, including President Trump, who had strongly backed Moore.

ROMANS: The president offered relatively gracious words to winner Doug Jones. Now he is absolving himself of any blame and is, in fact, congratulating himself. Trump tweeted that in backing the loser in the Republican primary, Luther Strange, he predicted Moore could not win and he was proven right.

NOBLES: And within the GOP, the finger-pointing is fully under way. One Republican close to the White House telling CNN, quote: This is the worst political operation in my lifetime at a White House, Republican or Democrat, just a rudderless ship with no direction and no captain.

For more, let's bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny.



Doug Jones, that Alabama Senate candidate who won his election, will be coming here to the White House. That invitation from President Trump went out yesterday in a phone call between the two gentlemen here. Doug Jones, of course, will be a Democrat, but, of course, he's representing one of the reddest states in the country. An open question, of course, if he will play ball with this White House.

But at least in the early hours, there is a gracious congratulatory call, at least in the words of Doug Jones, this is how he described it in Alabama.

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: It was a very gracious call. I very much appreciated it. He congratulated me on the race that we won. He congratulated me and my staff on the way and the manner in which we handled this campaign and went forward, and we talked about finding that common ground to work together.

ZELENY: Long before Roy Moore makes a decision if he will drop his recount challenges, threat of that, at least, President Trump moving forward. The question is, will this new Democrat be a player with the White House? Will he be bipartisan?

Back to you guys.


ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you, sir.

Senator John McCain admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center, recovering for another round of treatment for his brain cancer. He was diagnosed with a terminal form of the disease in July. McCain's office says he looks forward to returning to work as soon as possible.

NOBLES: And how about this moment? McCain's daughter, Meghan, and former Vice President Joe Biden sharing an emotional moment on Wednesday. This happened on "The View." Of course, Biden's son, Beau, died in 2015 from the same form of brain cancer.


MEGHAN MCCAIN, SEN. MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: Almost every day. And I was told -- sorry -- that this doesn't get easier, but that you cultivate the tools to work with this and live with this. I know you and your family have been through tragedy that I couldn't conceive of --


MCCAIN: What would you tell people? It's not about me, it's about everyone.

BIDEN: No, it is about everyone. But look, one of the things that gave Beau courage, my word was, John, your dad -- you may remember, when you were a little kid, your dad took care of my Beau. Your dad, when he was a military aide worked with me, became friends with Beau.

And Beau talked about your dad's courage, not about illness, but about his courage. There is hope. And if anybody can make it, your dad -- her dad is one of my best friends.


(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBLES: Wow, the way the vice president just got up and walked over there, not even thinking about it.

[04:10:04] Biden cited the ongoing research and progress on glioblastoma, encouraging McCain to remain hopeful about her father's recovery.

ROMANS: Really emotional. That partisanship.


ROMANS: Good friends there.

All right. A new Harvey Weinstein accuser, and Salma Hayek's story is riveting, escalating rage from him, a death threat. So much distress, she had to take a tranquilizer that made her ill. More of Salma Hayek's story, her incredible words, next.


NOBLES: Verbally abusive, sexually demeaning, just some of how a former senior aide to Congressman Blake Farenthold describes what it was like to work for the Texas lawmaker. Michael Rekola, Farenthold's communications director in 2015, says he was bullied so badly, he had to seek medical treatment and psychological counseling. He says it was so severe, he vomited every day.

[04:15:02] ROMANS: We cannot repeat some of the comments attributed to Farenthold, but another former colleague, Elizabeth Peace, confirms Rekola's account. Farenthold denies making sexually demeaning comments but he does admit using vulgarity in jest.

The House Ethics Committee is already investigating sexual harassment allegations against Farenthold made by a former aide who received a $84,000 settlement from a public fund, taxpayer money. The congressman has denied wrongdoing.

NOBLES: A state representative from Kentucky accused of molesting a teenage girl found dead in what the coroner calls a probable suicide. The body of 57-year-old Dan Johnson found near a bridge with a single gunshot wound to his head. In a since-deleted Facebook post, Johnson denied molesting a female member of his church when she was 17, writing, quote, I cannot handle it any longer, but heaven is my home.

ROMANS: State leaders from both parties had been calling for Johnson's resignation after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published an expose on Monday detailing how Johnson allegedly woke his daughter's friend during a sleepover in 2013 and forced himself on her.

NOBLES: Tavis Smiley's show suspended by PBS amid sexual misconduct allegations against the host. The public broadcaster hiring an outside law firm to investigate the matter. PBS saying in part that an inquiry uncovered multiple credible allegations of conduct that is inconsistent with the values and standards of PBS. Neither smiley nor his production company, which makes the show for PBS, could be reached for comment.

ROMANS: And then there's this. Oscar-nominated actress Salma Hayek coming forward in a "New York Times" op-ed, calling disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein her monster, too. The star opening backup years of alleged sexual harassment and abusive behavior, including a threat to kill her. Hayek writes that on the set of "Frida," Weinstein demanded a sex scene with another woman with full frontal nudity or he would shut down the production.

Hayek writes: It was clear to me, he would never let me finish this movie without him having his fantasy one way or another. There was no room for negotiation. I had to say yes.

By now, so many years of my life had gone into this film. I arrived on the set the day we were to shoot the scene that I believed would save this movie. And for the first time and last time in my career, I had a nervous break down. My body began to shake uncontrollably, my breath was short and I began to cry and cry, unable to stop, as if I were throwing up tears.

Since those around me had no knowledge of my history of Harvey, they were very surprised by my struggle that morning. It was not because I would be naked with another woman, it was because I would be naked with her for Harvey Weinstein, but I could not tell them.

In the end, "Frida" earned a total of six Oscar nominations, including a best actress nod for Hayek. A spokesman for Weinstein responded op- ed, telling other media outlets the allegations as portrayed by Salma Hayek are not accurate. These and other accusations affecting a wide swath of powerful men in film, media, politics and elsewhere. That is just a few, you can see.

That piece by Salma Hayek really interesting, too, because she talks about how many times he asked her for a massage, to watch him shower. I mean, she said no to him over and over and over again, and the way she tells it, that sex scene, which if you've seen the movie, is really unnecessary and gratuitous, it was just for him.

NOBLES: And at that point in her career, already established and a very powerful actress, but still felt that she needed to listen to what Harvey Weinstein had to say.

Well, the deputy attorney general stands by the special counsel.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Recognizing that people have political views but ensuring that those views are not in any way a factor in how they conduct themselves in office.


NOBLES: Rod Rosenstein facing Republican complaints about alleged bias within Robert Mueller's team. The details when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:23:06] ROMANS: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein unfazed after hours of questioning about special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian probe. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee claiming that anti-Trump texts from FBI counterintelligence expert Peter Strzok proved his bias. Strzok was removed from Mueller's team this summer. He also helped lead the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

NOBLES: Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May. He says political opinions like Strzok's are not the same as bias.


ROSENSTEIN: We recognize we have employees with political opinions, and it's our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions. Pardon me. And so, I believe that Director Mueller understands that and that he is running that office appropriately.


NOBLES: Rosenstein told the panel he would not fire Mueller without good cause. And so far, he hasn't seen any. He also said nobody asked him to remove the special counsel.

ROMANS: Right now, Russian President Vladimir Putin is wrapping up the year with what's become something of a holiday tradition, a marathon news conference, briefing reporters on Russian domestic and foreign policy. He is expected to field questions about the election meddling investigation here in the U.S., and Moscow's latest forays into the Middle East, among other topics.

CNN's Phil Black is following along live for us in Moscow.

And if history is a guide, you'll be following along for, I don't know, maybe a few hours. I don't know if you brought a power bar. What are we expecting from Vladimir Putin?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Christine. Yes, a marathon length, certainly. As you say, these things tend to go on, usually not less than three hours. On one occasion, he got close to five hours.

And in theory, there are no rules about the questions that he will face, no time limit, no rules. That's what sets this apart from most head of state-style press conferences. It will be domestic policy and foreign policy. Certainly, we'll be listening for anything that he has to say on Russia's relations with the United States, Putin's specific relationship with President Trump, and of course, anything regarding those ongoing allegations which Putin has denied multiple times that Russia played an interfering role in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

[04:25:10] Other foreign policy includes the Middle East, the conflict in Ukraine, these sorts of things, but also, it all needs to be viewed through a domestic prism, in a way, because in three months, President Putin will be seeking re-election for yet another term, one that would guarantee his leadership of this country through to 2024. It's an election that he is absolutely expected to win, but this today will form part of his campaign against his number one opponent, which is really voter apathy.

What he wants to do is make sure that enough people turn out in three months' time in March and vote for him. We'll be listening for however long this goes and we'll let you know as soon as he says something interesting.

ROMANS: Yes, let us know, especially anything that relates to the United States and that investigation going on in Washington.

Phil Black, thank you so much.

Twenty-five minutes past the hour, almost 26 minutes. Special elections can wreak havoc on legislation in Congress.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. The people in Massachusetts spoke. He's got to be part of that process.


NOBLES: That was President Obama when a Republican won in a blue state eight years ago. Now that a Democrat has won in a red state, will Republicans force through their tax plan before Doug Jones is sworn in in Alabama?

We'll be right back.