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At Least 3 Killed, 100 Injured in Train Derailment; CNN Poll: 55% Oppose GOP Tax Bill. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emergency. We are on the ground.

[07:00:15] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The derailed Amtrak train was traveling almost three times above the speed limit.

LT. ROBERT MCCOY, I-5 DRIVER: There were people yelling. There were people looking for each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Positive train control is a life saver, and it should be on all of those routes.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The last decade has not been easy, but help is on the way.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I will cast my vote in support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reason it is epically unpopular is because people have seen what's in it.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is coming back. And America is coming back strong.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: What I would have liked to have heard is recognition of the profound threat that Russia poses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We face a growing cyber danger. It's not just about one country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

Investigators looking into the deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington. They say the train was going 80 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone. That crash killed three people, injured more than 100 others. Amtrak's president confirming that a system that could have automatically slowed the train down was not activated.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, we could be just hours away from the president's first major legislative achievement. The Republican tax bill is expected to pass the House today before then heading to the Senate, and the measure could be on the president's desk by tomorrow.

But a new CNN poll reveals the plan is extremely unpopular with most Americans.

CNN has it all covered for you, so let's begin with that train accident. We have Stephanie Elam live from Dupont, Washington, the scene of the derailment. Stephanie, what's the latest?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

Despite the driving rain that has been nonstop here in Washington state, we have just watched over the last hour or so as crews have worked to pull that one train that was -- train car that was dangling over the side. They have just pulled it up and put it back on the tracks. This, as overnight NTSB giving more clues to what may have gone wrong here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BELLA DINH-ZARR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD SPOKESPERSON: Preliminary indications are that the train was traveling at 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour track.

ELAM (voice-over): Investigators announcing that this mangled Amtrak train was traveling almost three times above the speed limit before jumping the tracks and hurdling over an overpass.

ANTHONY RAIMONDI, TRAIN PASSENGER: Things just started to tip over. And as it was going around and then, all of a sudden, just ended up on its side, and everything went dark.

ELAM: The train, which was making its first run from Seattle to Portland after a multi-million-dollar track upgrade, was not yet using safety technology designed to automatically stop a train from speeding when the deadly derailment controlled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amtrak 501. Emergency, emergency, emergency. We are on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is everybody OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still figuring that out. We've got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.

ELAM: Authorities say the target date to have the safety technology, the positive train control system, working is spring of next year. The mayor of a nearby town expressing separate concerns about the safety of the track earlier this month.

DON ANDERSON, LAKEWOOD MAYOR: Come back when there is an accident and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it.

ELAM: The investigation unfolding amid terrifying accounts of the derailment.

SCOTT CLAGGETT, TRAIN PASSENGER: You start to see the roof kind of peel. You're just like, is this ever going to stop?

ELAM: Army Lieutenant Robert McCoy was driving along the busy interstate when the train cars came trashing down.

LT. ROBERT MCCOY, I-5 DRIVER: There were individuals that had been ejected from the train onto the pavement.

I heard people in there asking for help and stuff. There were people yelling. There was people looking for each other, looking for loved ones.

ELAM: McCoy taking these photos from inside the train as he pulled passengers to safety.

President Trump talking politics before sending his condolences to survivors, tweeting shortly after the crash that the derailment, quote, "shows more than ever why our soon-to-be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: Now that positive train control that everyone is talking about and whether or not it would have stopped this accident from happening, what we understand is that the train tracks, the company that owns the train tracks had installed it on the tracks, but they have to be installed inside the trains, as well, for it to create this mesh for them to work together. That wasn't set to happen until the spring of next year. The federal mandate, Alisyn, is that this all has to be on all railways in the country by December of next year.

CAMEROTA: OK. Stephanie, thank you very much for all that information.

Joining us now is Deborah Hersman. She's president of the National Safety Council and former NTSB chairman. Chairman Hersman, thank you very much for being here.

A train traveling at 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone, how does that happen?

DEBORAH HERSMAN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL: Unfortunately, this is something that we've seen before. And whether there's a mechanical issue, an equipment issue or a human factors issue, it's something that doesn't need to happen and something like positive train control could certainly prevent it.

CAMEROTA: And I do want to get to positive train control, because it is such a no-brainer. And the idea that we don't have it on all tracks and we don't have it on all trains is stunning.

But first, what does it tell you, that a train was traveling at 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone, that the conductor was distracted, asleep? I mean, how does that happen?

HERSMAN: So first you want to rule out any mechanical or equipment failure. And once you do that, you turn to the human. And you want to make sure they're familiar with the track, that they're attentive -- they're not fatigued or distracted -- and they're not incapacitated.

And so certainly, the investigators are going to be looking to interview the engineer. And if there was anyone else in that locomotive cab with him on this inaugural run, that's going to be really important to understand what was going on.

CAMEROTA: And I assume they look at his cell phone. They make sure that he wasn't texting. We've seen all these things in the past. Obviously, they check, like, blood alcohol level. I mean, is that one of the first places that they go?

HERSMAN: Yes. Standard protocol is they're going to be looking at drug and alcohol testing. That's a requirement. They will also look back at -- the NTSB typically looks at work/rest history. They're looking at 72 hours at a minimum to address the fatigue issues.

They also will want to make sure he's not distracted. So preservation orders will be placed on any electronic devices to subpoena those records. Very thorough investigations trying to rule things out, as well as identify what did happen.

CAMEROTA: OK. Now let's go to positive train control. Right? This is the invention, I mean, this is the safety mechanism that would allow the train to automate itself so that it could never be going 80 miles an hour in a 30 -- around a 30-mile-per-hour curve. How is it possible that this is not in widespread use in most trains across the country?

HERSMAN: So, this is an incredible disappointment when it comes to safety, because the NTSB has recommended technology like positive train control since the 1970s. And it was on their most wanted list back in 1990. And so, this technology is not new technology. It just hasn't been implemented.

In 2008, Congress required that all passenger routes and high hazardous materials routes have positive train control installed by 2015, and Congress pushed that deadline back. We have got to get this technology on trains to prevent these events from occurring again and again and again.

CAMEROTA: We say this every time there is a train accident and a deadly derailment. So whose fault is this? Whose feet do we need to hold to the fire to say now is the moment and you've been, you know, woefully late in doing this?

HERSMAN: Yes. So unfortunately, the tragic situation is that every railroad will say they don't have the ability to put this on, whether it's resources, money, technology. But I will tell you, every time there's a railroad that experiences a fatality that could have been prevented by PTC, one of the first orders of business is to put that technology on. We've got to start putting it on before the fatal crashes happen, not after.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Deborah Hersman, thank you very much for your expertise in this field.

HERSMAN: Thank you. Have a safe day.

CAMEROTA: You, too.

CUOMO: All right. A new CNN poll shows a growing number of Americans oppose the Republican's tax reform bill as the House is set to vote on the measure today. President Trump's approval numbers also at an all- time low in our poll.

CNN political director David Chalian live in Washington with the numbers. What do you see?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Good morning, Chris. That's right. Only about a third of Americans favor this tax bill that the House of Representatives is poised to pass today.

Take a look at our latest numbers in our CNN poll, a poll conducted by SSRS. At the opposition to the plan, 55 percent of Americans, a majority of those polled here, say they are opposed to the tax plan, and that opposition has grew [SIC] ten points in the last month. That's quite a big jump.

And if you look at it by party, Chris, opposition grew among Republicans, independents and Democrats. You see it there from 7 percent to 13 percent, among Republicans, up 12 points in opposition among indies, up 10 points among Democrats.

I should say, support for the bill among Republicans grew even more than opposition did. So it's not that all Republicans are opposed. But we see opposition growing across all categories.

And then of course, we asked the question, which is does this plan benefit the wealthy or the middle class? You know that it is the argument of the Republicans and the president that it's a middle-class cut. It seems to be an argument that the American people aren't buying. Two-thirds, 66 percent say this bill is going to benefit the wealthy. Only 27 percent say it's going to help the middle class.

[07:10:09] We also asked about the president's family. How will the Trump family fare in this bill? Well, overwhelmingly, Americans think that the Trump family's going to be better off. Sixty-three percent say better off. Only 5 percent say worse off. Twenty-five percent say the same.

You mentioned the president's approval rating, as well. And you are right. We have a new approval rating number for him: 35 percent approval. That's a numerical low in all of CNN's polling throughout the year of Donald Trump's presidency. Fifty-nine percent disapprove. And if you stack that up in history, Chris, you know that Donald Trump is at the bottom, at this point in the presidency, compared to all of his modern-era predecessors.

CUOMO: You know, this is just a starting point. A low number could lead him to some easy success, because he's starting from such a low point. And guys with low numbers got reelected in the past. It's certainly not over, but it is a moment in time worth noting.

David, thank you very much. In fact, you're so good, stick around. And let's bring in Chris Cillizza, reporter and editor at large at CNN Politics.

The wisdom of the people. Where do they have it wrong, Chris Cillizza? This tax plan does over-benefit the rich relative to the middle class. It will benefit the Trump family. I'm surprised the numbers aren't even higher than that.

CILLIZZA: That look, I think that you have a huge perception problem if you're the Republican Party.

What it reminds me of, what these numbers remind me of and what I know we'll hear from the Trump people is exactly what the Obama folks said after the Affordable Care Act passed, which is "Look, people don't know what's in it. Once they start realizing that these scary things that the other side is saying aren't true, it's going to get more popular."

It's hard to see how that happens, because President Trump at the moment is not a good messenger, not nationally. Still an OK messenger in the Republican Party, but 35 percent is not a messenger nationally. The hope here is that when these tax benefits start to go -- when people say, "Oh, I get more money back" -- that that is enough to change perception about this.

Look, they knew this. This is not news to them. They are placing a huge gamble that this tax cut plan will be something that they can take to voters. Not just the Republican base, but the Republican base, and say, "We did this. We accomplished something. We brought real change. This is the -- you know, you've heard Donald Trump say it a thousand times. This is the largest overall tax code in history."

It's a gamble. I think they knew it. They believed it was better than the alternative, which was basically having zero major legislative accomplishments in the first year of a Republican president and total Republican control of Congress.

CAMEROTA: David, are Republicans privately worried about these poll numbers? Are they expressing concern privately that this gambit, that they're, you know, hoping that when people live the tax plan, they learn to love it, but there's no guarantee of that before the midterms?

CHALIAN: Republicans privately are most concerned about the president's poll numbers. Republicans on Capitol Hill, rather than these particular numbers on the bill. As Chris is saying, they do believe that Americans will start to see some benefit and perceptions may change.

More importantly, the numbers that have been concerning them for much of the year, in talking to Republicans, are the ones about how their own fellow Republicans are judging them. And those numbers were going down. Republicans across the country were so angry and disappointed with Republican control of Congress that they weren't following through on full repeal of Obamacare, on the major promises that they had made that Republicans were so fearful of that. That's the political imperative Chris was just talking about that Republicans really felt they had to be able to go back home and say, "We got something we said we were going to get done done, and we want to get some credit from our own team for that."

CUOMO: The problem, though, Chris, is just to set the context. This isn't what the president promised. What the president promised was, "Hey, little guy, hey you, woman who is struggling, single mom who voted for me even though there was some ugly stuff out there about me, working man, coal miner man, struggling family, I'm your guy. I don't need their money. I know their games. I don't need to play them. I'm for you."

This deal is not set up to advantage that group more than other groups.

CILLIZZA: That's right. That's fair.

CUOMO: I'm not saying they don't get tax cuts in those brackets. How much, how long, those are variable. But why didn't he do that?

CILLIZZA: Well, the reality of trying to pass a broad overhaul of the tax code is not easy. That's why. Because...

CUOMO: Why didn't he do a targeted middle-class tax cut? He would have had Democrats on board.

CILLIZZA: He can't -- look, David's point is the right one on this, Chris. You need the Republican base. You need the Republican rank- and-file of Republicans to be the votes for this.

I understand, yes, could they have -- look, I always remind people, ten Democratic senators are up for re-election next year in states that Donald Trump won, five of those in states he won by double digits. In theory, you say we want to do a middle-class tax plan. Can we bring those people in? In theory, they -- you can craft something that brings some of the...

CAMEROTA: Joe Manchin was spelling it out for us yesterday.

CILLIZZA: Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, I mean, there's a lot of people who would be available for that. They did not go that route, believing that ultimately, Democrats would not be for them and they needed something for the Republican base. You could say it's a -- it's a narrow cash stretch, and it is.

But I would remind you, what is the thing that we saw in both the Virginia governor's election and the Alabama Senate election over the last few months? A less than enthusiastic Republican base up against an incredibly enthused Democratic base.

Base -- midterm elections are base elections. It's not a presidential election where your casual person votes. This is your base vote. They believe this is the only means to get that. Why did Donald Trump not do it? Because he wanted to get something

passed, Chris. He wanted to get something passed. He knew he had to do it with primarily Republican support. And that's the route that they take. Again, huge gamble, huge gamble politically speaking.

CAMEROTA: OK.

CILLIZZA: Sorry, Alisyn. I would also add I think there's a philosophical piece to this, too. Which is that philosophically, Republicans believe if you skew this more towards corporations, there will be a trickle-down effect in the economy. So there is a belief in skewing it the way that it is, is going to help everyone.

CAMEROTA: OK. Next topic. Judge Gorsuch. "The Washington Post" has interesting new reporting about what was happening in the White House and in President Trump's brain when Judge Gorsuch went and sat down, as you'll remember with Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, and Judge Gorsuch admitted that he found the attacks on the other -- the other judge of Hispanic origin to be demoralizing. OK. He said it. He was quite honest about his feelings about it.

And President Trump was silent at that time, at least in public, about what Gorsuch was saying. But now if you peel back the curtain we know, David, that in fact, he was seething. So much so that he had told colleagues that he was considering rescinding the nomination.

CHALIAN: This is -- I mean this is classic Donald Trump. Right? I feel like we should take this story and just clip it and put it in some time capsule if you just want to understand Donald Trump's psyche.

Here's his guy that is going to be his biggest win of the year and get conservatives in a really happy place about the Trump presidency early on. And all of a sudden, he's getting personally offended by the fact that Gorsuch is sort of playing his politics and expressing his real opinion to make sure that he doesn't roil the waters of confirmation and Trump, of course, is willing to pull it.

Now, the White House in the story says he was never willing to pull it, of course, but look at Donald Trump's behavior over time. It is all about Donald Trump. So even your Supreme Court nominee, if he is the one that is saying something that you think is against the grain and somehow offends you, it doesn't matter. You're more upset about that than you are necessarily in this one moment about getting them on the board.

CILLIZZA: Yes. It's classic can't see the forest through the trees, right? I mean, to David's point, like the reason Gorsuch was saying and doing those things was because he wanted to make sure that senators didn't think he was just an iron-clad rubber stamp for Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: Saying he was independent.

CILLIZZA: That every -- every judicial nominee, Democrat or Republican, picked does this. Like, well, I'm not going to do what Barack Obama says. I'm not going to do what Donald Trump says. It is in support of the broader strategy, which Donald Trump wanted, which was Neil Gorsuch on the court. It's just the inability to -- the misunderstanding of the fact that, just because you appointed this person does not mean they are required to express total fealty to you at all times.

Even to the wont of strategic positioning, which is what Gorsuch was trying to help Trump's case here. That's what's remarkable. This is like you guys cut off your nose to spite your face. It's -- it's Donald Trump being annoyed at Neil Gorsuch. He eventually got what he wanted but...

CAMEROTA: Don't foul (ph) this with nuance.

CILLIZZA: You look up -- David is right. You look up "Trumpian" in the dictionary, like, this is the anecdote that is -- you get told.

CAMEROTA: Chris, David, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. So we saw a senator act like a NEW DAY anchor when he was interviewing a federal judicial candidate. This Senator Kennedy took on this judicial nominee and really exposed some huge deficiencies under testing. We're going to talk to Senator John Kennedy about why he did that, what the fallout has been and what does he think about this tax bill?

[07:20:05] His state is going to be very sensitive on these issues. And I'll tell you why I used that word when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Republicans in the House are set to vote on the final version of their tax plan today. The Senate is expected to get the bill to the president's desk by tomorrow. Our new CNN poll shows 55 percent of you oppose this bill. What is that going to mean to senators?

Joining us now is a Republican senator, John Kennedy, of Louisiana. Senator, always a pleasure.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: So, you know the poll numbers. I don't have to tell you about that. What does that mean to the people in your state? How do you sell this tax plan to them?

KENNEDY: I tell them the truth. The good part and the bad part. I think the poll numbers are a reflection of a couple of things. I think any reasonable person would look at the media coverage.

Media has done its job. And most of the media has been negative. I'm not fussing about that. It's just a fact.

No. 2, the bill has changed a lot. I think a lot of folks don't really understand yet what's in it. It's not because they're not smart but because it's -- it's just changed. I mean, I probably spent -- I don't know, 300 hours on this legislation, trying to keep up with the changes.

[07:25:14] But I'll tell you this. The conference committee report made this bill better. Senator Rubio, Senator Lee, in my opinion, did the American people a great service by increasing the child tax credit. We cleaned up some of the problems.

For example, we're not going to tax tuition waivers for graduate students. We're not going to remove teachers' deduction for out-of- pocket spending on classroom materials. We're not going to -- we're going to expand parents' ability to use a 529 program. A lot of the stuff that never made sense to me, we cleaned up. And once folks learn that, they'll be appreciative.

CUOMO: Yes. Senator, I think that the fundamental problem here is not one of your making. This was sold as being something that would be designed to advantage the middle class the most.

KENNEDY: Uh-huh.

CUOMO: And it is very difficult to look at this bill's architecture and see it that way. Not just because of what you just pointed out that needed to be fixed, but the theory here seems to be pretty obvious.

We will help the top tier the most, because we believe that they, in turn, will help the middle class. That's the sell on this. It's not that we are advantaging the middle class as the president promised; and we're going to put it on the backs of the rich, let them pay even more. That's not what was done.

KENNEDY: A couple of points. You make a good one. But a couple of points.

I don't think you ought to make tax policy on the basis of class warfare. I think you ought to make tax policy on the basis of sound economic principles.

No. 2, this bill does help ordinary people. Doubling the standard deduction, doubling the child tax credit, lowering the tax rates.

No. 3, what helps American people the most is giving them access to a quality job. I think this bill will do that. It's going to cut taxes on every single business. And there are two impacts of that that haven't been talked about a lot.

No. 1, it's going to -- I think it's going to increase foreign direct investment by 50 percent. A lot of -- a lot of out of this country capital is going to come into America.

No. 2, when we allow small business people to expense their new buildings and equipment and software rather than depreciate them, that's going to help their business grow. What does that mean? That means that they're going to add workers, add jobs.

CUOMO: Maybe.

KENNEDY: That means -- well, I believe it will.

CUOMO: I know. I'm not saying you don't believe it. But they're maybes, Senator. They're maybes.

KENNEDY: OK. I concede that. But as you add jobs, wage pressure's going to go up. And the other impact of buying that new software: people, workers are going to become more productive.

The real problem with wages, Chris, has been that we ought to be -- our productivity, our growth ought to be about 2 percent. For the past eight years, it's been 1 percent.

CUOMO: Right.

KENNEDY: And given our demographics, we're all getting older. We're not adding workers. So we've got to make the current workers more productive before you see a wage increase. And that's a long-winded way of saying that I believe -- I believe -- if I'm wrong I'll come back onto your show and say I was wrong and here's why.

But I believe that a rising tide does lift all boats. This isn't a zero to sum game. You don't make the middle class better by making the upper middle class poorer or vice versa. We all ought to rise together.

CUOMO: No, I hear you. It's just at the end of the day there are a lot of maybes in there.

KENNEDY: I know.

CUOMO: And I'm not going to say that you're wrong about them. Because I don't have any better data about the future than you do. But the corporate tax cuts are permanent. The ones for individuals and families of people who put you in office are temporary.

KENNEDY: You're right.

CUOMO: And that's because there was a preference given to the corporations that the individuals didn't get. I know there are reasons for that.

KENNEDY: Uh-huh.

CUOMO: But that's going to be something they're going to have to swallow.

KENNEDY: Well, two points. No. 1, I would have liked to have made the personal income tax cuts permanent but, as you know, we had the $1.5 trillion guardrail.

No. 2, President Bush's tax cuts were temporary, too.

CUOMO: Right.

KENNEDY: They were renewed. And I feel very confident, no matter who's in power, that these tax cuts for ordinary people will be -- will be removed. I honestly believe that this bill is going to add between a half a point and a full point to gross domestic product, and you're going to see foreign direct involvement go up 50 percent. If I'm wrong, I'll admit you're right. Economic forecasting is more art than science.

CUOMO: No, I don't -- listen, just to be clear about one thing, Senator, I don't want to be right about this.

KENNEDY: I understand.

CUOMO: I'm just saying that...

KENNEDY: I don't want you to be right either.

CUOMO: You have to question the priorities and the choices that are made. That's my only point.

KENNEDY: Fair point.