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Amtrak Pledges Cooperation with NTSB; House and Senate to Vote on Tax Bill; Trump Unveils "America First" Security Strategy. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 04:30   ET




[04:30:29] BELLA DINH-ZARR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: The train was traveling at 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour track.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: An Amtrak train going nearly three times the speed limit when it jumped the tracks in a deadly derailment. New questions this morning about a safety system installed on the track but not yet activated by the railroad.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And the Republican Congress poised to pass an extensive rewrite the entire tax code today. The bill that's so popular. We'll break down the final numbers, and what they mean for you.

Massive tax reform, corporate tax cuts really, what it boils down to.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you all this morning, Tuesday morning, 31 minutes past the hour.

Federal crash investigators on the ground in DuPont, Washington, morning to probe that deadly derailment of an Amtrak passenger train. We know now at least three people were killed, about a hundred people injured, when all but one of the 14 cars jumped the track. Overnight, the NTSB confirmed speed was a critical factor.


DINH-ZARR: Preliminary indications are that the train was traveling at 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour track.


BRIGGS: There are also questions about positive train control. That's the technology that automatically slows down trains that senses are going too fast. Amtrak CEO says it wasn't yet activated even though the owner of the tracks is installed positive train control on that very stretch. ROMANS: Amtrak Cascades 501 was making its first run on a new route

between Seattle and Portland when the train derailed and some of its cars tumbled on to the rush-hour traffic on the interstate below. Others were left dangling over the edge. CNN's Kyung Lah is near the accident scene. She is in DuPont, Washington, and has more.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, on its very first day, on its very first run this Amtrak train derailed, nearly every single passenger car came off the track onto interstate five below. Passengers described the chaos. Suddenly, they were flying through the air. You can hear the panic in the conductor as the first emergency call went out.

AMTRAK 501: Amtrak 501, emergency, emergency, emergency. We are on the ground.

We were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right north in Nisqually and we went on the ground.

DISPATCHER: OK, are you -- is everybody OK?

AMTRAK 501: I'm still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere, and down onto the highway.

LAH: And what you're seeing here are warning signs, warning signs for drivers that this new train line was starting. Fourteen new trains that would be running through this community, this was an idea that was fought by at least one local mayor who said doing this was simply too dangerous -- Dave, Christine.


BRIGGS: Kyung Lah, thank you.

Overnight, Amtrak pledged its full cooperation with the NTSB investigation. The government subsidized rail carrier has opened a family assistance center in Tacoma to work with affected passengers and their families.

ROMANS: President Trump generating controversy with his initial response to the deadly train derailment. Here's his first tweet after the incident: The train accident that just occurred in DuPont, Washington, shows more than ever why are soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly. Seven trillion dollars spent to the Middle East while our roads, bridges, tunnels, railways and more crumble not for long.

BRIGGS: No mention of lives lost. No one disputes infrastructure upgrades are needed but maybe that tweet should have come after this one. An hour later, the president expressed sympathies for the victims and offered heartfelt prayers. That is not the first time the president referred to tragedy making a political point after the Pulse Nightclub and New York City truck attacks. His first response concerned radical Islam and terrorism. ROMANS: Two votes and President Trump's signature, the only hurdles left to clear before the first major overhaul of the U.S. tax code in decades becomes reality. The House set to vote first today and what's shaping up to be the only significant legislative achievement of the Trump administration so far.

BRIGGS: Vice President Mike Pence postponing a trip to Egypt and Israel to be close by. He might have to serve as the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, especially with John McCain back in Arizona. We get more from CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Christine, today is the day Republicans say they have the votes, they have the votes in the House, they have the votes in the Senate, and now, they are actually going to take that vote. Now, caveat here, nothing's ever done until it's actually done.

[04:35:02] But the House is expected to vote Tuesday afternoon, the Senate is expected to follow suit a short time later, as soon as they're possible once they get the bill once they get their debate, and with the goal of bringing the tax reform bill to President Trump's desk by Wednesday, for a signing ceremony.

Look, Senate leaders aren't hedging their words right now, they feel very confident. Take a listen to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to say.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The historic accomplishments and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will bring immediate relief to struggling families and set America on a trajectory towards greater strength and prosperity. I look forward to voting for its passage and I would urge all of our colleagues to join me and voting and give the Americans families the relief they need and richly deserve.

MATTINGLY: Now, guys, top Senate advisors that I've been speaking to over the course of the last couple days made clear they were confident about where things were but that confidence grew about tenfold with two yes votes that came out on Monday night, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Mike Lee. That leaves only one vote that's left unaccounted for, Senator Jeff Flake. He still has not made his final decision yet. However, at this point, based on the numbers, even with Senator John McCain flying back to Arizona, not going to be in attendance for the Senate vote, Republicans barring some major change, some major votes switch, have the votes they need to move this plan forward.

The president said he wanted it on his desk by Christmas. By all accounts, at this point in time, they're certainly on that track -- Dave, Christine.


ROMANS: All right. President Trump calls the tax plan a giant tax cut for the middle class. The tax cut though sort of varies in size here and some Americans could end up even paying more seen and money had that Tax Institute and H&R Block run the numbers.

Here's where some filers were land in 2017. Take a family of four that owns a home in San Diego, making $150,000 a year. They save $3,559 next year. That's good. Why? A lower tax rate, a double standard deduction and an expanded child tax credit. The California has high state taxes.

How about a single mom in Kansas City with two children making 45 grand? She also saves $1,802, thanks again to a bigger standard deduction and that bigger child tax credit.

What if you don't have children a single homeowner in Colorado would pay one thousand four hundred eighty four dollars more next year? This is somebody assuming seventy thousand dollars income, that's because the standard deduction doesn't make up for all of the lost tax breaks.

How about a single homeowner in a high tax state? They may get hit hard. A New Yorker making half a million dollars -- see that there -- pays six thousand four hundred seventy dollars more next year, that's because of both of a higher tax rate and losing the unlimited state and local tax deduction.

BRIGGS: The Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian election meddling is not just putting the Trump campaign under its microscope. Chairman Richard Burr says his committee is now beginning to investigate potential Russian influence on Jill Stein's Green Party campaign. When asked what his panel wanted to learn Monday, Burr said whether there was collusion with the Russians. This committee has already spoken to numerous officials in the Trump and Clinton campaigns over possible interference by Moscow.

ROMANS: The Trump administration is appealing to both the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court after losing an abortion case. A federal court judge ruled the administration may not prevent two undocumented teens who are in federal custody from ending their pregnancies. One of the unnamed teens is weeks pregnant the other weeks pregnant. The judge ruled they would suffer irreparable injury without her order. The judge stayed her ruling for 24 hours to give the government a chance to appeal which now it did.

BRIGGS: A nominee for the federal bench has withdrawn after struggling to answer basic legal questions at his confirmation hearing last week. President Trump nominated Matthew Petersen for a lifetime appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court. Video of him flailing at softball legal questions from Republican Senator John Kennedy went viral last week been viewed more than five million times on YouTube.

In a letter to the president, Peterson said he does not want to be a distraction adding, I had hoped that my nearly two decades of public service would carry more weight than my worst two minutes on television. Before Petersen withdrew, Senator Kennedy said this.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIAN: But just because you've seen my cousin Vinnie, you're now qualified to be a federal judge.


ROMANS: Peterson currently serves as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission and the my cousin Vinnie references always get David --

BRIGGS: The two youths, two of my favorites.

Some Democrats having second thoughts about whether Senator Al Franken should resign. Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Joe Manchin of West Virginia both expressing regret over Franken's impending departure. Leahy urged Franken to step down in the wake of inappropriate sexual conduct allegations. Now, he says he wishes he had waited until the Senate Ethics Committee investigated.

For his part, Manchin who never called for Franken's resignation now says this.


[04:40:00] SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: The political rancor in here is just -- it's just unbelievable to me how you can destroy a human being's life and his family and everything that they stand for without giving them a chance. He should not resign. I think he should submit himself, which he has willingly done and offered to do and go through this complete process of an extensive ethics review.


ROMANS: Senator Franken has not set a date for his departure, but there's little real momentum for him to reverse course. An aide telling CNN, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer still thinks Franken should leave. Schumer already met Monday with Franken's replacement, Tina Smith.

BRIGGS: Coming up, President Trump taking on foreign powers as he laid down his "America First" national security strategy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also face rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values and wealth.


BRIGGS: What's the reaction overseas? We'll go live to Moscow.


[04:45:24] BRIGGS: President Trump outlining a national security strategy he says will put America first. Trump Monday casting his election as a pivot away from policies that have left the U.S. cheated and taken advantage of by other countries. All while leaving Americans ill-served at home. The president took direct aim at his predecessors in both parties.


TRUMP: A nation that does not protect prosperity at home cannot protect its interests abroad. A nation that is not prepared to win a war is a nation not capable of preventing a war. A nation that is not proud of its history cannot be confident in its future. And a nation that is not certain of its values cannot summon the will to defend them.


ROMANS: Trump called Russia and China rivaled China rival powers who seek to challenge American influence values and wealth but he stopped short of calling out Moscow for its election meddling.

CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Moscow.

What are we hearing from these rival powers China and Russia this morning, Nic?


Well, Russia's position is just sort of becoming a little clearer. A President Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has just given his assessment of the document and he says, you know, at a first glance, it is imperial. That's his description if it. He says, but, look, we need this is a you know a long document and we need to send it to all the relevant departments for them to make an assessment.

The bottom line, he says, is, look, this shows that the United States isn't ready yet to accept a multi-polar world. We've heard from other Russian lawmakers here, who have said this is American hegemony, that they just want to -- they just want a unipolar world that the United States is using unproven allegations, the issues about interfering in the affairs of other nations that particular point I think that's where that lawmaker was referring to.

And another lawmaker pushback also saying look the position the United States is in is not because of Russia. It's because of United States decisions around the world to go to war in Iraq and, you know, to -- for example, he said to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. That's why the United States is in the position in the world it finds itself in right now.

On China, the Chinese embassy in Washington has said, look, we view this, the relationship should be a win-win relationship. But the United States needs to adjust and adapt to China's developments. There's certain undertones really and that in Russia's view here both of these countries see themselves as players on the world stage and they think that this document on what President Trump had to say denies them that opportunity -- Christine.

ROMANS: Fascinating.

All right. Nic Robertson for us in Moscow this morning, thanks, Nic. BRIGGS: All right. Talk-show host Tavis Smiley firing back at PBS, a week after the public broadcaster suspended his show over allegations of misconduct. Smiley defending his behavior and saying PBS made huge mistake.

On CNN last night, Smiley suggested some of the allegations against him might be from people exploiting this me-too movement.


TAVIS SMILEY, HOST, THE TAVIS SMILEY SHOW: I've had a lot of folk and we fight a lot of folk and there are some folk who have some access to grind. And I don't think this moment is a moment that should be used, this important moment in this country talking about how to create a healthy workplace. This should not be used, Don, to exploit wanting to grind -- should not be using an exploitative way to grind an axe or to seek revenge on someone.


ROMANS: PBS is standing by its decision. After Smiley appeared on ABC Monday, PBS said, quote, Tavis Smiley needs to get his story straight. The network pointed to perceived inconsistencies in his explanations, such as saying on ABC he'd had multiple relationships with subordinates while saying earlier on Facebook there had been just one such relationship.

BRIGGS: A powerful federal judge abruptly retires after a number of former clerks and junior staffers accused him of sexual misconduct. In a statement released by his attorney, Judge Alex Kozinski apologized for his actions but defended his broad sense of humor and candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks. Kozinski sits on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals covering the West Coast. He said family and friends had urged him to stay on to defend himself but says he cannot be an effective judge while he fights this battle.

ROMANS: All right. A change coming to your Facebook feed might make brand posts a little less annoying. Details on CNN "Money Stream" next.


[04:54:22] ROMANS: Welcome back.

Track Palin, the 28-year-old son of Sarah Palin, arrested for a domestic violence incident involving his parents. He was arraigned Sunday night, charged with burglary, fourth degree assault and criminal mischief. According to a police affidavit, Sarah Palin called police saying her son was quote freaking out and on some type of medication. Track later told police there was a disagreement over a vehicle and that his father pointed a gun at him.

Back in 2016, Track Palin was arrested in an earlier domestic violence assault on a woman. At the time, his mother suggested he might be suffering from PTSD from his time serving in Iraq. BRIGGS: It's everyday a former Pentagon official heading up a program to research UFOs says it's possible we're not alone, but that indeed happened.

[04:55:06] A pair of news reports "The New York Times" and "Politico" say the effort was called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program. Reports say it was launched largely at the behest of then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

ROMANS: Luis Elizondo led that program and on CNN's "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", he strongly implied there is evidence alien aircraft have visited earth.


LUIS ELIZONDO, FORMER PENTAGON INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL RAN UFO UNIT: I can't speak on behalf of the government. Obviously, I'm not in the U.S. government anymore. My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone.


ROMANS: Elizondo told "The Times" he resigned from the Defense Department in October to protest what he called excessive secrecy surrounding the program.

BRIGGS: The fire that knocked out power to Atlanta's Hartsfield- Jackson airport was caused by a switch gearbox failure. That's according to fire investigators. The switch gearbox is located in a restricted area where there's video surveillance and key cards required to gain access. Authority say there's no evidence of foul play.

ROMANS: Delta Airlines announcing operations have stabilized at the airport and the majority of its customers have now been rebooked. Not all the issues have been cleared up. A whole lot of lost luggage still clogging the north terminal baggage claim area.

BRIGGS: Charlottesville police chief retiring unexpectedly. No reason being given for Chief Al Thomas' departure. Thomas was in charge of the department's response to last summer's deadly white nationalist rally. He has been criticized for reacting too slowly to the violence. A woman was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of protesters, killing one woman. Charlottesville City officials expect to anoint an interim chief in the next week.

ROMANS: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen heads to Puerto Rico today. She'll be addressing the relief efforts three months now after Hurricane Maria. Survivors are still in urgent need of help, according to a field report from the independent aid organization Refugees International. Food, bottled water, medical services are widely available on the island but thousands of people still lack access to drinkable running water to electricity to adequate housing.

BRIGGS: Puerto Rico's governor ordering a recount of the death toll from Maria. The number currently stands at 64, but a CNN investigation found it to be dramatically higher. House Republicans now proposing an billion dollar disaster aid package for areas hit by hurricanes and wildfires this year, and that's almost double the billion dollar figure the Trump administration requested.

ROMANS: All right. To California now, the Thomas Fire in southern California now 50 percent contained, half contained, after scorching some 271,000 acres. Now, firefighters report good progress, keeping this from spreading. But a fire weather watch is in place for Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, with north winds expected to gust up to 50 miles per hour and the winds here have really been the enemy.

There is a little -- little to no rain in the forecast for at least the next week.

BRIGGS: President Trump with a big debut today, sort of.


TRUMP: From the beginning, America has been a nation defined by its people. At our founding, it was the American people rose up --


BRIGGS: Donald Trump is now in the Hall of Presidents at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Plenty of similarities, he nods, he talks with his hands, no tweeting, though. The character talks about the spirit of the American people and the U.S. Constitution. The attraction official opens this morning.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty-eight minutes past the hour.

It's that time. Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this Tuesday morning. Global stock markets mostly higher today as Wall Street waits on an early Christmas gift, big corporate tax cuts.

The Dow rose 140 points to a fresh record high ahead of the tax vote today. That is the seventieth the record in 2017 for those of you keeping count in your 401k. Hope for tax cuts has sent stocks to multiple records this year. The Nasdaq also closed at an all-time high.

Hershey and Campbell's are betting nearly $7 billion dollars on healthy snacks. Hershey's is buying the maker of Skinny Pop Popcorn for $1.6 billion, while Campbell's will purchase Pretzel makers Snyder's for $4.9 billion to offset slowing soup sales. Campbell's and Hershey are the latest big food companies to collect cash in on customers craving for healthy. The healthy snacks market has jumped significantly in the past five years. It's now estimated at $19 billion dollars.

Fishing for likes, Facebook is fighting engagement bait. The company will start demoting posts that use tricks to show up often in your newsfeed. The posts often encourage users to interact with likes and shares and comments and is most commonly used among brands. Facebook plans to seek out and bury engagement bait to promote more authentic engagement.

I thought it was all authentic. Are you telling me?

BRIGGS: Right, right. You certainly did not.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest on that deadly train crash.