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Republicans Finalize Plan, Details to be Released Soon; Trump Visits FBI Academy Minutes After Bashing Agency. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 15, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:09] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN on this Friday. Good to be with you.

This Republican tax plan now entering a brand new phase. Time for negotiation is over, no more changes, no more tweaks. Right now, that bill is locked. The final version to be revealed publicly in just a couple of hours from now.

But behind the scenes, Republicans are scrambling to rally enough yes votes to pass this bill in the Senate, in the Republican-controlled senate. So, we are keeping a close eye on these four senators, Senator Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Bob Corker, and the ailing Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Also, we have updated note here on Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. We just learned he had a procedure to remove skin cancer that ended up being, quote, more extensive than the doctors had planned. So, a lot of Republicans, obviously, want him to be well and healthy enough to vote on this as well.

We also learned Republicans expanded that refundable child tax credit to $1,400 in its final version. But is that good enough for Senator Rubio to go from a no to a yes?

The stakes could not be higher. President Trump looking to score his first major legislative victory since taking office just about a year ago. And Republicans who control the House and the Senate, they want something to show for it.

So, let's go straight to our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly who is live on Capitol Hill here for us.

And so, Senator Rubio, where is he right now? What's he thinking?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think the most important source you can be talking to right now is the senator's office, the senator himself. And as of now, Brooke, they haven't weighed in as to whether that deal, that increase from $1,100 to $1,400 in terms of the refundability portion of the child tax credit is going to be enough to get him a yes. Now, I would tell you, behind the scenes, several aides involved in this process say they believe they will get him there. Several senators who signed on the conference earlier today said they believe this will assuage concerns of Rubio and Senator Mike Lee as it comes to what this child tax credit will actually do. But I think it's important to talk about what this change actually

means. So, the refundable piece of a child tax credit is essentially the amount family would get beyond their income tax liability. So if they don't make enough money to basically qualify for large portions of it, they would still get a check for something right now.

That has become a very important issue for Senator Rubio. He's actually been talking about this for several years now. Senator Lee, too. He decided to draw a red line yesterday. As you noted, that sent Senate Republican leaders scrambling, sent House leaders scrambling. This is the fix they made.

But another key point you made, Brooke, there is nothing else they can do. This is the deal. Either Senator Rubio and Senator Lee are on board with this or they're not. You mentioned the other votes that are out there, people still keeping a close eye on where Susan Collins is going to be on this, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, who is a no first time around, also the health concerns of Senator McCain and Senator Cochran.

So, there's a lot of stuff up in the air right now. But I will note, talking to people like Senator Rob Portman, Kevin Brady, the coauthor of this bill earlier today, they both said they believe they will have the votes. They believe that they will get there. There's no question about it. Still a little bit of a question linger go over things right now, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So here's my quick follow up question on the health, because it's still unsure what the status of both Senators McCain and Cochran, what if it's 98 who show up?

MATTINGLY: So look, it's majority vote, right? It doesn't matter if it's 50 senators or 100 senators that show up. It's a majority vote. And if there is a tie, Vice President Mike Pence who we talked earlier this week --


MATTINGLY: -- delayed his trip to Israel to be here, he is the tie breaking vote if there is a tie. So, if there's only 48 senators, sorry, if there's only 98 senators, they've got a tie, he can come in and break the tie. I just think there's an expectation that both of those senators will be back, but there's also a lot of question as to whether they will.

Right now, I think the main focus is making sure Senator Rubio and Lee are happy and that the other senators get there as well, Brooke, while they hope that everybody else, most importantly their health is better and also that they can return for the vote.

BALDWIN: Of course, of course. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

I'm looking at that from that level. Let's get a little bit more into the weeds with two people. I have Rick Santorum with me, CNN senior political commentator and a former Republican presidential candidate and senator. Welcome back, sir, to you.

And Sally Kohn, host of "State of Resistance" podcast and CNN political commentator.

Sally Kohn, welcome back as well.

So, Senator, let me just begin with you. I think just ending on Phil's point about Senator Rubio and the fact that, you know, this bill is locked. You know the rules. It was locked as of noon today.

What was Senator Rubio's political play here? And do you think it was a savvy move?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it was a great move and congratulate him for doing it. Something I've been advocating for years and years. We need to expand the child tax credit. He pushed for that and got it up to $2,000. And he also wanted to make it more refundable. That is, to affect more lower and lower middle income families that are -- that under the current tax bill don't pay a lot of federal taxes when it comes to income taxes but pay a lot of Medicare and Social Security taxes.

[14:05:09] And what Senator Rubio wanted to do was make that tax credit not just refundable to the point of your federal income tax, but also to the point of your payroll taxes. And he pushed hard for that, he's been pushing hard for a long time. If you look at what -- how the family was treated under this bill, as far as family policy is concerned, it was pretty much a break-even proposition. That's not good.

And Senator Rubio and Senator Lee and others were complaining about this, that this was really focused on growth which is a good thing. But we also have to care about families. And I really give him a lot of credit for standing up and fighting for this.

BALDWIN: So, you know, there has been so much criticism how much this bill, and Sally Kohn would be one of those who has been on this air saying it skews, you know, to the wealthy, not at all happy with this. But this particular provision that Senator Santorum explained, Sally, it is -- it is about low income people. You know, he gives some credit for his stance, but there also has to be politics mixed in here with the policy, no?

SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. I mean, and, look, no one has seen the exact details yet. We haven't had chance for both government agencies and independent bodies to score this bill. Let's be clear, look, yes, you want to make a really, really bad bill that gives disproportionately give handouts to big business and the rich. Under the disproven time and time again theory that instead of pocketing that money, they will out of the goodness of their hearts decide to raise wages that they fought to keep low abysmally low, and maybe create some more jobs.

You want to invest in that theory again and take money away from working folks, raise their tax burden, and use it as an excuse to cut Social Security and Medicaid, you can try that. This is maybe a little tiny crumb thrown at poor families to make this bill look slightly less heartless than it unbelievably is.

BALDWIN: A crumb. Okay. So you say it's a crumb. Senator is shaking his head.

KOHN: I'm sorry, but like, look, according to the Senate bill, independent score of the Senate bill --


KOHN: -- 62 percent, 62 percent of the benefits of this tax scam go to the top 1 percent.

There is no question. And, look, the Republicans are being honest about this. Their theory is that if they take money away from the common good and from middle class and poor families, that the big businesses and the super rich will then return that money through the goodness of their hearts to help the middle class and the poor who have just suffered under this bill.

That is their theory. So they are being fairly transparent. It's just crappy economics. It's never worked. It hasn't worked before. It isn't going to work this time.

BALDWIN: Senator, do you want to respond to that before we move on?

SANTORUM: Yes, this is sort of a false narrative. The reality is the top 1 percent pay over half the taxes in this country right now. And so, if you're going to cut taxes across the board, and let's just say you did flat across the board cut, then they would get 50 percent of the tax rate, why? Because they are paying 50 percent of the taxes now.

So, the idea that, oh, we're waiting it, I mean, that we are going out of our way to give a tax break to people who are high income -- well, those high income people, businesses, small businesses, et cetera, are paying the taxes now. So, of course, when you give a tax break across the board, which this does, this lowers rates for everyone. This increases standard deduction, doubles it, which is important for a lot of families, a lot of lower and middle income people.

There are a lot of benefits for lower and middle income people here. And, yes, there is a reduction of corporate tax, which, by the way, Democrats, including Barack Obama, supported. Why? Because we're tired of our companies moving offshore for lower tax rates. We have the highest corporate taxes in the world. We need to lower them. We need to be competitive so we don't lose jobs and corporate headquarters.

BALDWIN: And by the way --

SANTORUM: So, if you want to say that's a tax break for the rich, fine, but I want the jobs to stay here.

BALDWIN: Let me add on another benefit. This is what Republicans would say. We can't lose sight of the fact that within this bill is disruption of Obamacare, you know, getting rid of that individual mandate.

SANTORUM: That's another one.

BALDWIN: That's another win for Republicans.

SANTORUM: It's a win for the country.

KOHN: And cutting subsidies to families who need it.

You know, look, let me be clear, I benefit under this bill. I do not need a tax cut. I am doing just fine.

And let's be really clear. There is something that Republicans never admit about their belief about taxes and economic policy, which is when the economy is doing really well, Republicans say we need to cut taxes on big business and the rich. And when the economy is struggling, Republicans say we need to cut taxes on Republicans and the super rich.

It's absolutely independent of facts, independent of sound economic policy. It's an ideological agenda to always help the people who they believe need the most help and deserve the most help in our country which are big business and the super rich.

And, look, this bill, at least the earlier incarnation, estimate today raise the deficit by over $1.4 trillion.

[14:10:06] Now, I know Senator Santorum who was my senator, my home state, when he was running for president, he said that the exploding, he called it exploding deficit, huge problem. But, Senator, is the deficit only a problem when we want to give food stamps to poor people or health insurance to sick kids?

BALDWIN: Senator, I want you to respond to that, on the deficit issue? How would you respond?

SANTORUM: It's a legitimate issue. But here's what I would say, number one, as we know under the previous administration, Democrats didn't say a peep about the deficit going up double in eight years, double from what it had been for over 200 years. Almost $10 trillion added to the national debt. I mean -- and we are talking about a trillion, which is a big number, don't get wrong, over the next ten years, but I didn't hear a peep from Democrats as we were spending way more than what we are taking in.

Here's bottom line, families are hurt -- and this is what Republicans are arguing -- families are hurt when the growth rate is under 2 percent. Wages have not gone up in the last 20 years. Slowest wage growth that we have seen in the history of our country for wage earners, that's workers, that's people who don't earn salaries. I'm not talking about salary. I'm talking about wage earners. They're the ones who are hurt.

And this will help increase economic activity for wage earners. And we are starting to see the benefits of that --


SANTORUM: -- with the Trump deregulatory ideas that he's put forward. You are seeing wages for the first time in 20 years actually grow higher than the rate of inflation. So, you can't just point to, oh, you know, we care about the deficit. The deficit is driven by a slower growth economy. The more growth, the lower the deficit will be.

BALDWIN: I want to give Sally the last word. But before I do that, when we talk taxes who do you think of? Ice Cube, obviously. Let's go to the Ice Cube tweet. This is the Ice Cube tweet. Forgive me, I'm going to have to bleep some things.

The B.S. tax cut in a nutshell take the money from the people, give it to corporations so they can produce more stuff that the people now have no money to buy hashtag good luck with that, shhh, hat tip to Phil Mattingly for that.

Sally, final word.

KOHN: Hashtag I'm with Ice Cube.

Listen, the senator can't exactly deflect his longstanding and the Republicans' longstanding critic of deficits by pointing to the fact that Democrats have supported deficit spending. The senator is right. I support deficit spending when the economy is weak and we use it to create infrastructure, support people who are struggling, support who are on unemployment.

This is you violating your own beliefs and values, supposedly, not to help poor people or the working class, but to give money to big business and the super rich. And an according to you, according to your own rhetoric, pass all that debt onto our kids and our grandkids. That's just -- that's just shameful.

BALDWIN: The bill is locked. I know Senator Santorum sees it entirely differently. To both of you, the bill is locked. If it becomes public, we can talk more about some of the substance in a couple of hours. For now, I'm going to thank both of you.

Senator Rick Santorum and Sally Kohn, thanks.

KOHN: Thank you.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Next, President Trump calling out the FBI and Justice Department while on his way to speak, at the FBI National Academy. The president also pushing back on the Russia investigation and what he said when asked if he would consider pardoning Michael Flynn.

Also, in a rare moment at the U.N. Security Council, an ambassador for North Korea is there, addressing the room for the first time in a decade, calling out the United States for escalating tensions. How Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to that.

You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:18:01] BALDWIN: We're back. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump taking two very different stances on law enforcement today. Speaking to police officers over at the FBI National Academy, the president said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want you to deliver a message to your fellow officers. The president of the United States has your back 100 percent.


I'll fight for you. And I'll never ever let you down ever.


BALDWIN: That was at 10:30 this morning, less than an hour before he left the White House, and said this.


TRUMP: It's a shame what's happened with the FBI, but we are going to rebuild the FBI. It will be bigger and better than ever. But it is very sad when you look at those documents and how they've done that is really, really disgraceful. And you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it. It's a very sad thing to watch, I will tell you that.


BALDWIN: Keep in mind, very recently, the president said this, that the FBI was in tatters, and its standing is the, quote, worst in history.

So, let's go to the White House to our correspondent there, Abby Phillip, and Chris Swecker, former FBI assistant director of the criminal investigative division is with us as well.

But, Abby, first to you, we played these two clips, you know, minutes a part, two different messages from the president of the United States.


The president this morning venting really about this FBI investigation into his campaign that he thinks has taken a turn toward bias. He was talking about some documents this morning. And the White House tells us what he's referring to are some anti-Trump text messages that were sent by an FBI agent who was involved in the special counsel probe.

Now, an interesting about that happening today, those messages were given to reporters earlier this week by the Trump Department of Justice.

[14:20:08] And now, the DOJ is admitting that they were not authorized to be released. Democrats on the Hill want more answers about how that came to be. All of this happening as the president and his allies are intensifying their attacks on special counsel Mueller.

Listen to a little bit of what the president had to say about that investigation and his former NSA adviser Michael Flynn this morning.


TRUMP: There is absolutely been no collusion, that has been proven. When you look at the committees, whether it's the Senate, or the House, everybody walks -- my worst enemies, they walk out, they say, there is no collusion but we'll continue to look.

They are spending millions and millions of dollars. There is absolutely no collusion. I didn't make a phone call to Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. Everybody knows it. That was a Democrat hoax. It was an excuse for losing the election.

REPORTER: About Michael Flynn, would you consider a pardon for Michael Flynn?

TRUMP: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens.


PHILLIP: Well, it didn't take very long for the White House lawyers to come out and clarify that statement. Ty Cobb, one of the lawyers said, there is no consideration being given to pardoning Michael Flynn at the White House, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So, Ty Cobb playing a little cleanup there, Chris. But just on that, you know, when you hear the president say yet and we'll see, do you read anything into that or no?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION: Well, he's kind of a ready shoot, aim sort of person. I mean, he doesn't think things through before opening his mouth. I don't think he's thinking about pardoning Flynn for one offense that he's pled guilty to.

However, what he said today was egregiously bad judgment because the special counsel -- I served directly under Mueller. He's a straight shooter. They have the right guy conducting this investigation and he ought to just sit back and let the facts speak for themselves. If there is nothing there, then there is nothing there. But Director Mueller is going to turn over every stone. BALDWIN: These you know, Abby was just reporting on allegations on

political bias within the FBI, you know, from the release of these anti-Trump text messages that were exchanged between these top two, top FBI employees during the campaign, and we learned, you know, the FBI did not authorize this release in the first place. But is the Republican criticism of this investigative team, is it at all hurting the credibility of your former boss's investigation?

SWECKER: Yes, what was displayed was egregiously bad judgment, egregiously bad judgment. And I think it does undermine a future prosecution in this way. Peter Strzok becomes a witness for the defense because of the things that he texted, because of the things that he was discussing, which borderline discussing taking action. That's where the rub is there.

So, he's now a defense witness. He's made it more difficult for Director Mueller. Who knows whether there is another indictment pending of a broader conspiracy? But it certainly hasn't helped.

But I think he'll get past that, Director Mueller if there is a broader conspiracy, which I think has been signaled by the deal that was made with Flynn. So, it has made it a lot more difficult.

BALDWIN: Just one last question on some of those texts that have now been made public between those FBI agents. In this political climate, Chris, how difficult is it to find folks who would be considered 100 percent objective?

SWECKER: Well, I mean I have served in the FBI for 25 years, and I really think that the men and women of the FBI put the blinders on when they are conducting their investigations. They put politics out of mind.

That's not to say that everybody else doesn't. People have been playing politics with the FBI for the last year. And unfortunately, I think Director Comey, it pains me to say this, but I think he created leadership team around him that had a certain mindset, and there are some group think going on, and he was allowing them to conduct, to do leaks. If you felt righteous about it, it was OK to leak.

And I just think he created a bad vibe and a bad dynamic within the FBI leadership team before he left, before he was fired.

BALDWIN: Chris Swecker, thank you. Thank you so much. Enjoy Nashville.

Coming up here, some tense moments today as the North Korea ambassador makes a rare speech before the U.N. Security Council, placing blame for the tensions between Pyongyang and Washington squarely on the U.S. How that man right there, the secretary of state, responded to that, next.


[14:24:19] BALDWIN: All right. We led the show with this Republican tax bill that's been locked. It will be released publicly in just a couple of hours and whether Senator Rubio was on board. He's been a no.

But we have these new breaking developments, these tweets coming in from the Florida senator. So, let me read to you the latest from him. He says: For far too long, Washington has ignored and left behind the American working class, increasing the refundability of the child tax credit from 55 to 70 percent is a solid step toward broader reforms, which are both pro-growth and pro-worker.

He goes on to say: There is still so much more to do in the months and years to come. The progress made on the child tax credit would not have been possible without the support of Senator Mike Lee, Senator Tim Scott and Ivanka Trump.

No firm word from Senator Rubio, but you be the judge as far as whether that still sounds like a no or not.