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Deadly Train Derailment: Amtrak Pledges Cooperation with NTSB; House and Senate to Vote on Tax Bill; Trump Unveils "America First" Security Strategy; Lakers Retire Kobe Bryant's No. 8 and No. 24. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 05:00   ET



[05:00:03] 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.

And interesting when you look at this, zero Democrats will vote for. We've always had tax reform a bipartisan issue in Congress. How will that impact it down the road? We'll see.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, December 19th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East, 2:00 a.m. in Washington state.

Let's begin there because federal crash investigators are on the ground in DuPont, Washington. They're probing the deadly derailment of that Amtrak passenger train. At least three people were killed, about a hundred 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 when it senses they're going too fast. Amtrak CEOs say as it was not yet activated, even though the owner of the tracks has installed positive train control on that stretch.

ROMANS: Amtrak Cascades 501 was making its very first run on a new route between Seattle and Portland when that train derailed and some of its cars tumbled onto the rush-hour traffic, car 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, with 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, thanks.

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

ROMANS: President Trump generating controversy with his response to the deadly train derailment. Here's the 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 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. This is not the first time the president referred to a tragedy making a political point. After the Pulse Nightclub and New York City truck attacks, his first response concerned radical Islam and terrorism and quick to point out not sure if those -- if the policy would have saved those attacks or if infrastructure improvements would have done anything to prevent derailment.

ROMANS: By two votes and the president'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 on what's shaping up to be the only significant legislative achievement of the Trump administration so far. Vice President Mike 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 absent.

Now, the tax bill as we said, the most significant overhaul since the Reagan administration, and while it will -- it'll affect everyone differently. There are clear winners and losers. The biggest winners are companies. The corporate rate is slashed. There's also the tax burden for pass-throughs slashed with no guarantee there's a hope, but no guarantee this will raise wages or add jobs.

Certain industries fare the best like big retailers, like tech companies and the Trump family business commercial, real estate. In fact, a last-minute change expanded real estate tax breaks. That cause some to question why GOP Senator Bob Corker switched his vote to yes.

[05:05:01] Corker has significant real estate holdings. He denies knowing about the provision.

The wealthy also wins. Fresh analysis finds the biggest tax havens go to high-income households. The bill also keeps tax breaks for student loans grad students and teachers there was a lot of concern about that. It doubles the child tax credit.

But it caps the state and local deduction. That could hurt homeowners and high earners and high tax states. Other potential losers, the elderly. Medicare faces a 4 percent cut, people buying health insurance, eliminating Obamacare's mandate could raise premiums.

And those individual tax cuts, remember, they expire by 2025 to keep the cost of the bill below one and a half trillion. And they also, because they expire, it means this is not -- this is reform that is not the end of the discussion on tax reform. It's beginning.

BRIGGS: From for it.

ROMANS: We will have to revisit it, no question.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us to talk about all this, and more, CNN political analyst, Julian Zelizer. He's historian and professor at Princeton University.

Good morning to you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: And as you know, judging by history, we always had bipartisan support for -- and then not unanimous but there was always Democrats supporting tax cuts in the Reagan years. Clinton, you had Republicans supporting that. Bush tax cuts, you had Democrats supporting that.

So, it's built on the hope that corporations will pass on their extra money to the middle class, we don't yet know if that works. But we know this -- this is all or nothing for both parties because there is no bipartisan support. How well does it frame the political debate ahead?

ZELIZER: Well, it means that the debate we'll continue. If you don't have bipartisan buy-in at the beginning, it's likely to be very contentious. These tax provisions can be undone. We've seen that before. Most of the reforms in 1986 are no longer in place.

So, this signals that in the years ahead, particularly after the midterm election, these tax provisions might be up for grabs again.

ROMANS: Where are the deficit hawks in the Republican Party? Where do they go?

ZELIZER: Well, I don't know. Everyone's listening for them, but no one can hear them. This is a deficit-creating tax bill and most of the Republicans who complain about deficits, including Senator Corker, are voting for the bill.

So, this exposes some of the hypocrisy behind fiscal conservatism.

BRIGGS: But it's not just this. The $2 trillion dollar deficit that this will add, it's also the president himself tweeted about a massive infrastructure plan. That will add another trillion or more. He also talked about ramping up dramatically military spending yesterday, which would pile onto this deficit.

So, again to Christine's point, they are endangered species, those.

But let's talk about a meeting at coming up later this week between Bob Mueller's office and the Trump legal team. You wrote about how conservatives are trying to discredit Bob Mueller in the special counsel. What's the impact of that?

ZELIZER: Well, we've seen over the last couple of weeks and ongoing onslaught against the investigators, saying they are biased, saying there is conflict of interest, and that can have an effect. Ultimately, Mueller's investigation depends on the credibility of the product that he produces. So, one affect can be negative for the investigation. More Americans could just not believe whatever comes out of the office.

Of course, he will double down as he is attacked to show that he is credible to expose the kind of information that he has. And so, you see a clash going on.

ROMANS: What -- as a historian, what do you make of this effort by Trump allies to discredit the FBI, to discredit the investigators, to actually you know we've saw you know the banner on Fox, the coup underway. And you've heard some of the talking heads talking about undermining the security services of the United Say. It's almost like it's the KGB or something.

It's pretty remarkable and I think the Trump administration and their allies are depending on two things that other presidents like Nixon didn't have. They have a vast conservative media like some of the shows that you mentioned that are replicating the arguments of President Trump. Nixon didn't have that to depend on.

And the Republican Congress has also been pretty quiet on all of this. So, the president counts on that. He can attack Mueller and thus far, the Republicans really haven't done much. This is a political process and ultimately, those leading the investigation will need political support to withstand this.

BRIGGS: It's interesting, the lack of backbone for Republicans because there's not been a Republican in Bob Mueller, talking about a Republican in Rod Rosenstein, and the president has been very critical of him as well. It should be an interesting end of the week to see how the president reacts to that meeting.

Julian, we'll check in at the about thirty minutes.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Julian.

BRIGGS: All right. 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 dc circuit court. Video of him flailing at softball legal questions from Republican Senator John Kennedy went viral last week, several million YouTube hits.

[05:10:02] ROMANS: In a letter to the president, Peterson said he does not want to be continued 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 Peterson withdrew, Senator Kennedy said this.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: 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.

BRIGGS: Two youths, my friend, the two youths are legendary.

ROMANS: You love that. You love that.

BRIGGS: "My Cousin Vinnie" is a very underrated movie. John Kennedy, that's a great line right there.

Ahead, President Trump taking on foreign powers, laying out as 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're going to go live to Moscow to find out.


[05:15:02] ROMANS: President Trump outlining a national security strategy to put America first. Trump Monday casting his election as a pivot away from policies that left the U.S. cheated and taken advantage of by other countries 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.


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

CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Moscow.

Nic, good to see you.

Is Moscow reacting to the document that it laid out this national security strategy or the words from the president? What are they saying?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, I think it's a little bit of both. Dmitry Peskov, who is President Putin's spokesman, said, referring to the document is long and complicated. We're going to take a look at it.

But the overview is pretty clear. He says, it is imperial. He says this is clearly the United States rejects a multi-parallel world, but he did say, and this seems to be a reference to what President Trump actually said, that there are some small possibilities of positiveness in it, if you will. He said what President Trump said that where President Putin called president Trump over the weekend to help him for the help in stopping a terrorist attack that could have killed thousands of people. He used that example of where the cooperation could be.

But we heard another lawmaker here say, look, hold on a minute, the United States is using unfounded allegations against Russia. It just wants hegemony in the world, in its own view.

China, for example, is also saying similar things. The embassy in Washington said, look, we'd like to see a win-win situation. There can be a situation between the two countries but the United States needs to adjust and adapt to a changing Russia.

And they also hope that the United States drops this sort of old school thinking of zero sum game. So, both countries looking here for areas they could improve relationships and seen as a rejection of their own growing and changing abilities and power around the world -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Nic Robertson live for us in Moscow, thank you.

ROMANS: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen heading to Puerto Rico today. She will be assessing the relief efforts three months of Hurricane Maria survivors are still in urgent need of help, according to a field report from the independent aide organization Refugees International. Food, bottled water and medical services are available on the island, but thousands of people still lack access to drinkable running water, electricity and adequate housing.

BRIGGS: Puerto Rico's governor ordering a recount of the death toll from Maria. The number stands at 64, but a CNN investigation found it to be dramatically higher. House Republicans now proposing an $81 billion disaster aid package for areas hit by hurricanes and wildfires this year. That's almost double the $44 billion figure the Trump administration requested.

ROMANS: A powerful federal judge abruptly retires after a number of former clerks and junior staffers accuse him of sexual misconduct. In a statement released by his attorney, Judge Alex Kozinski apologized for his actions, but defended his, quote, broad sense of humor and, quote, candid way of speaking to both male and female law clerks.

Kozinski sits on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Family and friends urged him to stay on to defend himself, but says he can't be an effective judge while he fights this battle.

So, it's not every day a former pentagon official heading up to a probe to research UFOs says its possible we are not alone. But there he was. A pair of news reports in "The New York Times" and "Politico" say the effort was called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program.

BRIGGS: The report say it was launched under Harry Reid. 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.


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

All right. The Lakers adding another number to the rafters. This one is interesting, though. Kobe Bryant highlights from his epic jersey retirement and why two numbers from one player go to the rafters. Coy Wire has "The Bleacher Report", next.


[05:24:3] BRIGGS: Lakers legend Kobe Bryant had not just one but two jerseys retired last night. He's Kobe.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good morning to you, Christine and Dave.

First player in NBA history to have two different numbers retired by the same team. Kobe arrived via a helicopter with his wife and three daughters and he said this was the first time they've been back to the Staples Center to see the Lakers play.

There they are, eight and 24. Both the jerseys Kobe wore during his 20-year career, all with the Lakers, revealed at a ceremony at half time. He thanked his teammate. He helped them become a five-time NBA champ, all the legends who came before him, and he ended with a special message for his two daughters.


KOBE BRYANT, NBA LEGEND: Those times when you get up early and you work hard, those time when is you stay up late and you work hard, those time when you don't feel like working, you're too tired, you don't want to push yourself, but you do it any way, that is actually the dream. That's the dream.

It's not the destination, it's the journey. If you guys can understand that then I'm doing my job as a father. Thank you guys so much. I love you. Mamba out.


WIRE: One of the greatest competitors the sports world has ever seen.

Another great competitor, that man there, Kevin Durant, in overtime this game would go with Lonzo Ball trying to defend him. Ball was defenseless. KD gets the game-winner right there, 36 points in all for him. Warriors win, 116-114.

"Monday Night Football" was too close for Falcons fans and former fighters like me. But Freeman was slaying people out there, making people look like a strap on ice. He had 190 total yards of offense. A late touchdown put the game out of reach. Atlanta wins 24-21 and now this NFC playoff race is heating up. Falcons have the Saints next and then host the red hot Panthers at home to end the season.

It's playoff time and I'm a little bit excited, guys.

BRIGGS: Yes, absolutely.

ROMANS: It sure is.

BRIGGS: Which Kobe do you prefer? Eight or 24?

WIRE: I like what he said. He said the eight because that one can grow hair, and I could really relate to that.


BRIGGS: The two guys scored the exact same amount of points when you look at his two career tracks. It's fascinating.

WIRE: Phenomenal.

BRIGGS: All right, Coy. Thank you, my friend.

WIRE: You're welcome.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.

The train that jumped the tracks in Washington state was going more than twice the speed limit. The latest on the deadly derailment, next.

BRIGGS: And we could be a little as a day away from the president signing a major tax overhaul. How much would you pay under these new rules?