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Republicans Poised to Pass Tax Bill; McCain Head to Arizona; Manchin on Trump Allegations; Looking at Midterm Elections; Car Rams UK Military Checkpoint; Trump Expects Exoneration Letter. Aired 9:30- 10a

Aired December 18, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And then, on the Senate side, that would happen shortly afterwards, potentially getting to the president's desk by Wednesday to sign into law. This happens really amid extraordinary circumstances, a changing of the legislation with negotiators working behind the scenes last week or so. It essentially takes a look at the individual tax rate. It lowers that tax rate. It is temporary, not permanent. Also, has corporate tax rates that have been lowered. It repeals Obamacare individual mandate. Lots of different elements to this.

And this all occurred really late last week. Stunning developments. A reversal from Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who look at this and said, look, there's no way to pay for it. It just basically blows up and the federal deficit is -- you know, becomes huge. Did not believe that economic growth would pay for this. He reversed himself.

And then Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was asking for a greater refundable part of the child tax credit. He got what he was looking for, at least close enough. And so with those two votes being on the Senate side and Senator Thad Cochran also, had a minor health situation, looking like he was able to vote, they are very confident that they're actually going to get what they need in the House and the Senate to make this happen.

John. Poppy.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we know John McCain, we know Senator McCain will not vote.


BERMAN: He's back in Arizona tending to his health.

What's the latest on that, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Well, the notes and certainly the letters and the well wishes, looking very promising for Senator McCain. He is in Arizona. His daughter says that he -- they appreciate and he is doing well. His doctor released a statement saying that, in fact, that he was responding well, that there was a viral infection, but he continues to improve to the treatment at Walter Reed. That he will go ahead and receive further treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. This, of course, was the side effect of the chemotherapy from the

brain tumor treatment that he was getting. And so they feel that he does need time to rest. That he is exhausted. That he'll be there for the holiday. But in all optimistic and hopeful terms, they certainly hope that perhaps he'll be back in January.

BERMAN: All right, Suzanne Malveaux for us on Capitol Hill, Thanks so much, Suzanne.

All right, we also have some big news on Capitol Hill, potentially big news, surprising in a certain way. A Democratic senator, an important one, saying that Al Franken should not resign. He should essentially pull his resignation.

MJ Lee following the story for us.

MJ, what are you hearing?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John and Poppy, Senator Joe Manchin now raising fresh questions about whether Senator Al Franken should resign. Remember, it was a little while ago, earlier this month, that Senator Franken announced that he was going to resign after he faced multiple allegations of inappropriate behavior or touching. He said, quite reluctantly, on the Senate floor, that even though some of the allegations against me are simply not true, that he would resign.

And that came after many, many Democratic colleagues of his called on him to go. That it was time for him to go because of these allegations that were beginning to pile up.

Now, keep in mind that there was no date set yet for exactly when he would leave the Senate, though aides said that they expected it to be sometime in early January. But now, Senator Joe Manchin, a fellow Democrat from West Virginia, saying that he feels sick about the fact that Democrats had called on Franken to resign and that he personally does not believe that he should go. That he was asked in this "NEW DAY" interview earlier this morning whether he believes President Trump should be -- should come under investigation for the various sexual misconduct allegations against him. And here's what he said in addition to everything that he said about Senator Franken.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Do you think that President Trump should be investigated for the accusation of sexual misconduct against him?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: You know, I'm not going to make that determination, because he went through an election process with all this in the open.

CAMEROTA: Right, but that's different than an investigation.

MANCHIN: Well, then -- then that's -- you know, if people feel that to be done, I think we have other things to be done, too. Other things. And I think women ought to have a right to come forward. They feel very strong about this. They should be protected. They can't be retaliated on. And then --

CAMEROTA: So yes to an investigation for the president or, no, you've moved on?

MANCHIN: I've moved on. I really have moved on.


LEE: Now, I can tell you, this is not an answer that is going to sit well with a lot of the Democrats here on Capitol Hill, many of whom have called on President Trump to either resign or that there should be an congressional investigation into President Trump and the various allegations against him.

Now, as to the questions of whether or not Senator Franken will still resign, we checked in with Senator Chuck Schumer's office this morning and a Senate Democratic aide saying that he still believes that Franken should resign and that Schumer and the vast majority of the caucus like Senator Franken and will miss him but did what they felt was best and stand by it.

Poppy and John, back to you.

HARLOW: MJ Lee, thank you for the reporting. We appreciate it.

We have a lot to talk about with our panel coming up next.

[09:35:03] Plus this CNN exclusive report that the president is feeling more at ease when it comes to the Russia investigation and he thinks he will get cleared in writing.

Stay with us.


HARLOW: A lot of news out of Washington this Monday morning. With us, CNN political analysts Molly Ball and Margaret Talev, and also national and political reporter for RealClarPolitics, Caitlin Huey Burns.

Nice to have you all here.

Let's begin with something that is developing moment by moment, and that is some calls from some Democrats for Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, who said he would resign, Molly, not to resign. Senator Joe Manchin said to "Politico," it is the most hypocritical thing I've ever seen done to a human being. And then he came on our air and said it made him sick to see his caucus doing this, et cetera.

[09:40:03] But Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democrat, is saying, nope, he should still resign, as is Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader. What's going on?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I don't know what's going on. This seemed like an issue that the Democrats had closed and put behind them when Al Franken made his speech and said that he was listening to the majority of his colleagues. It was the majority of the Democratic Senate caucus that had publically called for his resignation before he agreed to do so. But he didn't set a firm date for it and he said it would be a few weeks. And so there was always this possibility, I guess, that he would change his mind.

It seems crazy to me to reopen this issue --

BERMAN: Right.

BALL: At least politically for the Democrats --


BALL: Especially considering it increases the impression that this was really just about the Alabama Senate election. And now that that's all done, they can take a different position.

BERMAN: Margaret, do you see any chance, realistic chance at this point, that he un-resigns? I don't, frankly, but given that, is what Molly says true, which is that the Democrats are making a mistake by even raising it.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is a two-fold effort, and neither fold is about convincing Al Franken to stay. On the one hand, this is about trying to help repair his legacy, or at least mitigate the damage to his reputation among his allies as he exits.

And, number two, I think there's a concern among some Democrats in the caucus and Congress, both in the Senate and in the House, that if Al Franken -- that if this could happen to Al Franken, it could happen to a lot of other people and that the -- kind of the bar has been too low for forcing somebody out of office. So an effort to prevent this from happening, perhaps in both parties, just sort of across the board, that the threshold for a caucus deciding that somebody who's been duly elected should go, shouldn't be said at that level.

So I think that's -- that's what we're seeing. I don't think there's this serious effort at this point to convince him to change his mind.

HARLOW: Technically, though, Caitlin, nothing would really have to change. He said he was going to resign, but they would have to put him through the Senate ethics investigation, that he himself asked himself to be subject to. And then, I suppose, push him out.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Right. And the Democratic governor has already selected a replacement for him.


HARLOW: His lieutenant.

HUEY-BURNS: Who plans on running again -- running for re-election in 2018.

I think also you have to consider Joe Manchin's position here. Remember, he is one of the more vulnerable Democrats up for re- election next year in a state where Trump's approval rating is sky high compared to a lot of these other states. He is perhaps trying to make the point more about Trump also --

HARLOW: Really? It didn't sound like that this morning.

BERMAN: It was weird. He was hard to figure out exactly the linear line there.


BERMAN: But I do see what you're saying there.

There's some other interesting political news, Caitlin, while we have you, on the congressional ballot test, right? There's some new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" reporting showing the Democrats with a big, fat edge. Like the type of lead you haven't seen since the last time they gained 40 seats.


BERMAN: Significant and can it last a year?

HUEY-BURNS: It is significant because when we're trying to kind of parse through and predict what will happen in the midterms, you look at first the president's approval rating and then that generic battleground test in terms of the congressional ballot.

And in 2006, it was about 11.5 points heading into that midterms. And, of course, we know how that midterm turned out. Democrats certainly think that they have an intensity advantage in this at this point. And you're seeing that reflected in a lot of these different polls. And you're also seeing in this latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" news poll, a -- they're doing well among independents, among men, among older people. So, Democrats usually face a structural disadvantage heading into midterms in terms of turn out. They certainly have a disadvantage in terms of the way a lot of these congressional districts are drawn. And, of course, the map is certainly not favorable to them in the beginning (ph).

HARLOW: Yes, it's a good point. Older folks who really get out and vote, this isn't just among millennials.


BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: They're not really moving the needle here.

But, Molly, you warn Democrats, do not count your chickens yet.

BALL: Well, it's just a long time until the next election, right? It's 11 months.

BERMAN: Right.

BALL: And the Democratic strategists that I've spoken to are quite confident already because they only see the political climate getting worse for the president and worse for Republicans. They have a hard time imagining Trump or his party turning anything around because that is what would have to happen for Republicans' political fortunes to improve. The Democrats really just think they're going to lose more support with every passing day and the Democrats' base is going to stay fired up.

I just think that, you know, a year in advance, you can't know what's going to happen. There are a lot of bridges to cross. And particularly when you look at the uphill battle that the Democrats face in the Senate.

You know, Caitlin talked about the House landscape, the Senate landscape is possibly even worse for the Democrats. They've got ten states that Trump won that they're trying to hang on to. There's only eight Republicans up for election at all. Most of them in pretty strong red states. So, you know, it's just a little soon to say we know what's going to happen in 11 months.

[09:45:08] BERMAN: Look, I don't know what I'm going to eat for lunch. So, you know, and that's in an hour. So, again, you know, 11 months is a long time.

Which is why it is surprising, though, perhaps, that we're hearing this report from "The Washington Post" that the White House -- that the president, he wants to get out on the campaign trail. He wants to go campaign vigorously in the midterm elections, to which some Democrats, Margaret, are saying, great, bring it, you know, we'll roll out the red carpet for you.

TALEV: I mean, look, President Obama went through this himself, as you'll recall, when his fortunes started to drag the party down, or at least Democrats fell that that was true in some districts, you know, after the midterms. And, so -- but it's a different -- he's a different political personality than President Trump. If there are individual Republicans up for re-election who really don't want President Trump in their districts, he can kind of insist on going anyway or pressure them to go anyway because he wants to remain relevant, or is he going to be sort of strategic and hang back where it would hurt them and play where it would help them?

So I think there are different districts that feel differently about President Trump. In some places, he's still more popular than the Republican lawmaker who holds the congressional seat. In other places, he could be a drag. When you look at the two races that have kind of been seen as the bellwether so far, the one in -- the governor's race in Virginia and the Senate race in Alabama, they're really not standard bellwethers in the sense that Virginia's trending so Democratic and Alabama had that problematic candidate. So a lot of shifting around, but it's the president trying to project confidence that he's still relevant and important. HARLOW: Caitlin, just a year in review. I know we're a ways out from

the new year. But if you look at -- if this tax bill gets through, and it looks like it's going to, and you look at Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court pick, and the lower court picks for this president, and the travel ban sort of 3.0 getting through the court system --

BERMAN: And repeal of mandate as a part of the tax bill.


HARLOW: And repeal of the individual mandate, a key part of Obamacare.


HARLOW: That's a great point, as part of this Republican tax bill, how can you argue this year hasn't been a win for the president, on some big fronts? Yes, he lost the Obamacare battle, but he won a little bit of it in this tax bill.

HUEY-BURNS: Right. And if you look at the way that the White House has been messaging their own achievements, they also point to a lot of, you know, cutting regulations, a lot of things that they've done from the executive standpoint. And also they're pointing to the economy at this point.

Now, that is still a question mark of what that will look like this time -- you know, in November of next year. And what not only the national kind of numbers look like, but also how people are personally feeling about this. And so when you do talk to Republicans, I mean, that's why you do see Republican support for the president still pretty high. It has dropped in some polls. But that could also be a factor here.

I'd also note that there are a lot of -- you know, who knows what will happen kind of scenarios. Remember, in 2014, the Ebola was front and center at the --


HARLOW: That's true.

HUEY-BURNS: In the final weeks of the campaign. So, every time I'm talking to strategists, they're saying, you know, be cautious about what we're seeing now. Who knows what will happen then.


BERMAN: All right, Caitlin, Molly, Margaret, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

HARLOW: We do have some breaking news out of the United Kingdom at Royal Air Force Base in Mildenhall. That's in Suffolk. Just about two hours northeast of London. Some sort of security incident. This is significant for a number of reasons. Also, it's largely used as a U.S. Air Force base. We'll have much more on that ahead.


[09:52:54] BERMAN: All right, we do have some breaking news for you this morning.

There's been an incident reported at Royal Air Force Station Mildenhall. This is in Suffolk, England. And this air base there has a significant U.S. military presence.

CNN's Phil Black watching the situation for us, joining us with the details.

Phil, what have you learned?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, John, it was described by the ministry of defense here as a significant security incident. What we have since learned just recently is that it seems someone in a car has tried to force their way, ram their way on to this particular base by driving or trying to drive through a checkpoint close to the main entrance.

We don't know how far they got onto the base but that one person we now understand is in custody. The base went into full lockdown. But, just moments ago, we are told the all clear was given.

So one person is in custody. The local police are now leading the investigation into just what this person was trying to do, what the motivation was here. It is technically a Royal Air Force base. A British air force base. But you're, right, it is largely used by the United States. And that's where there is a significant contingent of air-to-air refueling aircraft. That's their home, their current home at the moment.

So a significant security incident. One person in custody. This guy tried to, we understand, ram his way on to the base, but didn't make it and the all clear has now been given.


BERMAN: All right, that is good news. Phil Black for us.

Thanks so much, Phil.

HARLOW: So, President Trump predicting he will be exonerated in Bob Mueller's special counsel Russia investigation and that he will get that in writing. It's CNN exclusive reporting. We have it for you, next.


[09:58:53] HARLOW: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

President Trump running to the mailbox this morning. This is a CNN exclusive. Associates of the president say that the president believes he will soon get a letter from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller clearing him in the Russia probe.

HARLOW: Also this week, Special Counsel Mueller is due to meet with the president's private attorneys. Our Sara Murray has the scoop. She's at the White House with more.

So first to this reporting that you have that the president feels better about the Russia investigation and so confident that something is going to come, as Berman says, in the mail for him?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. I mean the president has been less agitated when it comes to the special counsel investigation. He's been telling friends and allies that he expects to get a letter of exoneration from Mueller's team in this Russia probe.

[09:59:39] Now Trump's attorneys have been very optimistic both publicly, as well as privately, that they believe Mueller is wrapping up this investigation, that it could end any time in the coming months. Now, lawyers who have other clients who are involved in this probe and legal experts say there's really no indication that Mueller seems to be slowing down, that he seems to be closer to wrapping this up, and that has some of Trump's allies worried that he could be disappointed, he could be frustrated if these deadline comes and go and he finds out he's not cleared and that may even cause him to take some kind of rash action, for instance, firing Mueller.