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Deadly Amtrak Derailment in Washington State; House And Senate To Vote On Tax Bill; Trump Unveils "American First" Security Strategy. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 05:30   ET



[05:31:32] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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


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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Republican Congress ready to pass an extensive rewrite of the tax code today. The bill, widely unpopular. We'll break down what the final numbers mean for you.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

You know, it was movie night at the White House last night. They watched the "DARKEST HOUR" --

ROMANS: Really?

BRIGGS: -- the Churchill flick which opens --

ROMANS: Interesting.

BRIGGS: -- on Friday.

We start, though, in Washington State where federal crash investigators are on the ground in DuPont, Washington to probe the deadly derailment of an Amtrak passenger train. At least three people were killed and about 100 injured when all but one of the 14 cars jumped the track.

Overnight, the NTSB confirmed speed was a critical factor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DINH-ZARR, VICE CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Preliminary indications are that the train was traveling at 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile per hour track.


ROMANS: There are also questions about positive train control, the technology that automatically slows down trains that senses are going too fast. Now, Amtrak's CEO says it wasn't yet activated even though the owner of the tracks has installed positive train control on that stretch.

BRIGGS: 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 onto the rush-hour traffic on the interstate below, others left dangling over the edge.

CNN's Kyung Lah is near an accident scene in DuPont, Washington. She has more.


KYUNG LAH, CNN 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 5 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.

CONDUCTOR, 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 into Nisqually and we went on the ground.

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

CONDUCTOR: I'm still figuring that out. We've 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.


ROMANS: All right, 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.

BRIGGS: President Trump generating some controversy with his response to the deadly train derailment. Here's this first part.

He says, in part, the train accident shows why his upcoming infrastructure plan must be approved quickly, noting trillions of dollars spent in the Middle East.

ROMANS: No one disputes infrastructure upgrades are needed but maybe that tweet should have come after this one. An hour later, the president expressed sympathy for the victims and offered heartfelt prayers.

This is not the first time the president referred to tragedy to make a political point or a policy point. After the Pulse nightclub and the New York City truck attack, his first response concerned radical Islam and terrorism.

[05:35:09] BRIGGS: Two votes, 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 on what's shaping up to be the only significant legislative achievement of the Trump administration thus far.

Vice President Mike Pence postponing a trip to Egypt and Israel to be close by. He might have to serve as the tiebreaking vote in the Senate, especially with John McCain back in Arizona.

ROMANS: President Trump calls the tax plan a giant tax cut for the middle-class. The tax cut size varies and some Americans could pay more.

So, "CNN MONEY" had the Tax Institute at H&R Block run the numbers. Here's what we found. Here's where some filers will stand in 2018.

Take a family of four that owns a home in San Diego, making $150,000 a year. They save $3,559 next year because of a lower tax rate, a double standard deduction, and an expanded child tax credit. But, California has high state taxes.

How about a single mom in Kansas City with two children, making $45,000. She also saves $1,802. That's because of a bigger standard deduction and again, the child tax credit.

What if you don't have children? A single homeowner in Colorado making $70,000 would pay $1,484 more next year. That's because the standard deduction doesn't make up for all the lost tax breaks.

And a single homeowner in a high-tax state, they may get hit hard. A New Yorker making half a million dollars would pay about $6,500 more next year. That's due both to a higher tax rate for that person and losing the unlimited state and local tax deduction.

BRIGGS: All right.

Joying us to talk about this, CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University. Good to see you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: We'll win on both the historian --


BRIGGS: -- and the political analyst to break down taxes because historically, tax reform has always been done on a bipartisan basis. Thirty-three Senate Democrats voted for the Reagan tax reform in '86.

What are the implications of this being a straight party-line vote?

ZELIZER: Well, it becomes harder to make it stick in the years that follow. Democrats certainly will be eager to undo a lot of this as soon as they have political power. And it also does make Democrats more vulnerable if this becomes popular, which at this point it doesn't seem that it will. Republicans can them claim all of the credit for it.


ZELIZER: So when you have a partisan start it changes the future of this bill.

ROMANS: I think one of the reasons why it's not unpopular in so many of these polls, Julian, is that it's not what the promise was at the beginning for true simplification, for once-in-a-generation reform because some of these -- some of these measures expire, especially the middle-class tax cuts -- they expire.

We will revisit this again. This promises to be a political football again.

ZELIZER: Right. Many individuals -- most individuals, right now, are just looking at temporary tax cuts while they're reading about corporations about to receive a permanent slash. So automatically, the way this is built creates a problem.

And some of the specific provisions like the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes, a lot of it is going to create problems in state government --

ROMANS: Right.

ZELIZER: -- in the years to come. So then that will have to be revisited.

So this is not a slam dunk piece of legislation that will inevitably stick.

ROMANS: It's also supposed to be a middle-class tax cut. The president has been branding it as that. But the Trump family, the Kushner family, and people who invest in real estate ironically, or maybe not ironically, commercial real estate will do very well under this.

ZELIZER: Right. So in addition to the big picture where corporations do better, there's the other picture where the Trump family actually does better. Given how unpopular the president is, I think that compounds some of the unpopularity of this bill.

BRIGGS: It's surprising Democrats didn't say give us your tax returns, we'll give you some votes, but that seems to be the politics of it.

The president, yesterday, laying out his national security strategy is this "America First" speech which was dramatically different than the written document, but here's what the president did say about that yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: All right. Here's what the conservative "Wall Street Journal" said about this policy.

The president wants to do deals and charm his adversaries but the irony is that if he reads his own strategy document he'll learn why those adversaries can't be charmed. A strategy of principled realism requires a realist with firm principles in the Oval Office.

[05:40:04] How does the most impetuous president we've seen in recent history who pops off in a given tweet and isn't really grounded by principles instill this type of policy?

ZELIZER: Well, it won't be easy for him to live up by his own words, so there's a disconnect already between this doctrine and what he says, including in the speech about issues such as Russia.

But, more importantly, his demeanor, his approach to foreign policy contradicts some of what this document is calling for. Principled realism really requires a level-headed, thoughtful approach to president -- the presidency and it's unclear at this point if he has that.

ROMANS: We know the president has had a couple of phone calls with Vladimir Putin.

BRIGGS: Very friendly ones.

ROMANS: Friendly phone calls. Vladimir Putin called him to thank for intelligence sharing. Even though the president has criticized American intelligence, Vladimir Putin is congratulating him and thanking him for help with some intelligence that helped in Russia.

And, James Clapper was on yesterday on CNN with Jim Sciutto, and he talked about this relationship and how maybe Vladimir Putin is playing the president -- listen.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case Officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset, and that's what he's doing with the president.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I just want to be clear here, though. You're saying that Russia is treating the President of the United States as an asset?

CLAPPER: I'm saying this figuratively.


CLAPPER: I think we have to remember Putin's background. He's a KGB officer. That's what they do. They recruit assets.


ZELIZER: Those are tough words from Clapper. Clapper's been a leading critic of the administration on this issue. This is probably the strongest thing we have heard from him.

But it represents a kind of frustration that exists within the Intelligence Community about the kind of relationship that Trump has had with Putin and with the Russians and why he won't be more forceful in separating himself on some of these issues.

So I think Clapper had some extreme words there but he does reflect a level of frustration in those intelligence agencies with what's going on.

BRIGGS: Boy, those were some eye-opening remarks from Mr. Clapper.

Julian Zelizer, thank you for being here, sir. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Nice to see you. Thanks, Julian.

No answers for Congress means no judgeship for a Trump nominee. It ends an embarrassing episode that had one senator saying this.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: But just because you've seen "MY COUSIN VINNY," you're not qualified to be a federal judge.



[05:47:04] ROMANS: The White House says the government now believes North Korea was behind the WannaCry cyberattack earlier this year. Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert says in a "Wall Street Journal" op-ed the U.S. has evidence for the claim and that the U.K. and Microsoft have reached similar conclusions.

BRIGGS: The WannaCry attack brought down computer systems around the world, including critical banking and hospital networks. Bossert says the administration wants the private sector to do more to prevent such attacks.

CNN reported in June British intelligence believed a group connected to Pyongyang was behind WannaCry.

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 Peterson for a lifetime appointment in a D.C. circuit court.

Video of him flailing at softball legal questions from Republican Sen. John Kennedy went viral last week.


KENNEDY: Have you ever tried a jury trial?




KENNEDY: Criminal?





ROMANS: In a letter to the president, Peterson said he does not want to be a 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, Sen. Kennedy said this.


KENNEDY: But just because you've seen "MY COUSIN VINNY," you're not qualified to be a federal judge.


ROMANS: Peterson currently serves as a commissioner on the federal election commission.

BRIGGS: Oh, and Kennedy will be on "NEW DAY" in the 7:00 hour to recap the political line of the year.

Some Democrats are having second thoughts about whether Sen. 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 wished he'd waited until the Senate Ethics Committee investigated.

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


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: The political rancoring 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: Sen. Franken has not set a date for his departure. There is little real momentum, though, for him to reverse course.

An aide telling CNN that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer still thinks Franken should leave and Schumer already met Monday with Franken's replacement, Tina Smith.

BRIGGS: And I think we can all agree due process is needed no matter whom is being accused --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- of these things.

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


[05:54:19] BRIGGS: It's not every day a former Pentagon official heading up a program to research UFOs says it's possible we're not alone but that, indeed, was the case Monday. A pair of new reports in the "The New York Times" and "Politico" say

the effort was called Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program. The reports say it was launched largely at the behest of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

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


LUIS ELIZONDO, FORMER PENTAGON INTELLIGENCE OFFICER, 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.


[05:55:02] ROMANS: Elizondo told the "Times" he resigned from the Defense Department in October to protest what he called excessive secrecy surrounding the program.

BRIGGS: Toronto police treating the death of a billionaire couple as suspicious. Barry and Honey Sherman found strangled in their $7 million home last Friday, dangling from the railing of their basement lap pool.

Authorities say they died of ligature neck compression. That's a form of strangulation.

The Shermans made billions in the pharmaceutical industry and gave away a large portion of their fortune to charity.

ROMANS: All right. The fire that knocked out power at Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson Airport was caused by a switchgear box failure. That's according to fire investigators.

The switchgear box was located in a restricted area where there is video surveillance and key cards are required to gain access. Authorities say there is no evidence of foul play.

BRIGGS: 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, though. A whole lot of lost luggage still plugging up the north terminal baggage claim area, as you can see there.

ROMANS: Charlottesville's police chief retiring unexpectedly. No reason being given for Chief Al Thomas' department.

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 protestors.

Charlottesville city officials expect to appoint an interim chief in the next week.

BRIGGS: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson heading to Puerto Rico today. She'll be assessing the relief effort there three months 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 service all widely available on the island but thousands of people still lack access to drinkable running water, electricity, and adequate housing.

ROMANS: Puerto Rico's governor ordering a recount of the death toll from Maria. The number currently stands -- the official number stands at 64 but a CNN investigation found the true number to be much higher.

House Republicans are now proposing an $81 billion disaster aid package for areas hit by hurricanes and wildfires this year. That is almost double the $44 billion figure the Trump administration requested.

BRIGGS: Bill Weir reports a third of the island is still without power.

The Thomas fire in Southern California now 50 percent contained. Two hundred seventy-one thousand acres have now been burned. That's only 1,000 more than yesterday as firefighters report good progress.

But a fire weather watch is in place for Wednesday evening into Thursday morning with north winds expected to gust up to 50 miles an hour. And there is little to no rain in the forecast for at least the next week.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream," this 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 record high ahead of the tax vote today. That's its 70th record in 2017.

The Nasdaq also at an all-time high with just eight trading days left in the year. The Dow is about 200 points shy of 25,000. The Dow, if you're keeping score, is up 5,000 points this year alone -- wow.

Hershey and Campbell's are betting nearly $7 billion on healthy snacks. Hershey is buying the maker of Skinny Pop popcorn for $1.6 billion. Campbell's will purchase pretzel-maker Snyder's for $4.9 billion to offset slowing soup sales.

Campbell's and Hershey are the latest food companies -- big food companies to cash in on the craving for healthy foods. The healthy snacks market has jumped significantly in the past five years. It's now estimated at a $19 billion market.

Fishing for likes. Facebook is fighting engagement bait. It will now demote posts that use tricks to show up often in your newsfeeds. The posts encourage -- often encourage users to interact with likes, and shares, and comments. Facebook plans to seek out and bury engagement baits to promote more authentic engagements.

Thanks for joining us this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

"NEW DAY" starts right now. They have on one of the Republican conferees that hashed out this tax bill. How did that commercial real estate provision get in? They'll ask.

We'll see you tomorrow.


DINH-ZARR: The train was traveling at 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile per hour track.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We felt a little bit of a jolt and then we were catapulted into the seats in front of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our responders were climbing up and down this hill trying to get to those victims.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The votes of Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Susan Collins essentially get this across the finish line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a closed process done with no hearings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This tax bill is unpopular. The overwhelming majority believes, clearly, the benefits do go to the wealthy.

TRUMP: A nation that does not protect prosperity at home cannot protect its interests abroad.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president did not specifically call out Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It raises the question why he just has this incredible aversion to criticizing Putin publicly.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.