Return to Transcripts main page


Amtrak Train Derails in Washington State; Republicans in Congress to Vote on Tax Bill; President Trump's Tweets on Train Derailment and Infrastructure Draw Controversy; Interview with Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:00] BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: President Trump has been incredibly supportive of emergency management. At one point we were having day to day conversations with the White House and he is highly involved. He calls me directly. He's very engaged. His message to me is help people, and expedite the processes to do so. People are excited and asking, hey, what about me back here? He picks it up and throws it, and the media captured it and they can spin that story any way they want, but I was in the room. He genuinely cares about the people in Puerto Rico, about the people in California, about the Americans in Texas and Florida as well.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks to Bill Weir and his team for the reporting. People can care, but we only know what they show. And we stay on Puerto Rico and keep updating you on the situation there and the other places that were hit by these storms that we just keep dealing with. There's a lot of news this morning. What do you say? Let's get after it.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We felt a little 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 the victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The votes of Senator Mike Lee and Senator 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 believe clearly the benefits do go to the wealthy.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A nation that does not protect prosperity at home cannot protect its interests abroad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, December 19th, 8:00 in the east. President Trump is close to celebrating his first legislative major win. The House plans to vote on the GOP tax reform bill today and the Senate will follow with the measure possibly reaching the president's desk by tomorrow. But a new CNN poll shows the bill is unpopular with most Americans.

CUOMO: And investigators revealing an Amtrak passenger train that derailed in Washington State was traveling 80 miles per hour in a 30- mile-an-hour zone. That's how fast it was going when it left the tracks. As a result, three people died, more than 100 were injured, and that is getting lucky in this situation. The president of Amtrak admitting that a system that could have slowed the train down was installed on the tracks but wasn't active.

Joining us now is the National Transportation Safety Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr. Bella, thank you very much for joining us. We know that you and your team are working incredible hours to figure out what happened, to take care of people who were hurt. What is the status now of the investigation and the numbers involved of human costs?

BELLA DINH-ZARR, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: Thank you for having me, Chris. We came here as soon as we could. We have been here since yesterday afternoon, and now the full team is here. We have launched a full investigative go team. We are going to look at every aspect of the accident. So we will be looking at the operations, the mechanics, the human performance, survival factors, anything we can do to find out why this happened so we can prevent more families from suffering the same tragedy.

CUOMO: Can't believe the numbers weren't higher just looking at it. And look, any life lost in something that should be a safe operation is too many, no question about it. But are you surprised that that overhang right over a major highway like that and the cars hanging precariously as they are, that it wasn't worse.

DINH-ZARR: Yes, Chris, I feel so badly for the people who are injured and for the families of those who were killed, but in looking at the scene as I did early, early this morning, you can see all -- it was a 12-passenger train car with a locomotive at the front and at the back end, and just to see it piled up, I think it's a miracle in a way that so many people were able to be saved by the brave first responders. CUOMO: So you have a blessing in this situation that it wasn't worse.

You also have a curse here, Bella, and you're going to be stuck with the latest round of stating the obvious to the American people and to our leaders. This didn't have to happen. If that train were on a track that was a function of positive train control, it would not have been able to go that speed on that mile per hours track restriction, but it wasn't active and that's why this has happened once again. I know it's early in the investigation, but isn't that what it looks like?

DINH-ZARR: Yes. We are going to find out exactly whether PTC, or positive train control, would have prevented this accident.

[08:05:01] But you're absolutely right. It's a great disappointment that positive train control has not been implemented in every single railroad across the country, because it can prevent these exact types of accidents which are over-speed derailments, as well as other types of accidents, train to train accidents and work zones. So positive train control is a life-saving tool that should be implemented nationwide.

CUOMO: I know you haven't interviewed the engineer yet, I know that that's critical to talk to the conductor, to talk to the people in charge of the train, rule out personal failures, any intentionality here, I know you have to do all that, but I have been having this conversation, I've reporting on this and investigating it for about 15 years now, and it seems that the answer to why PTC isn't up and running where it needs to be is simply a function of money. Is there anything else at play?

DINH-ZARR: You are right, it is that and it's political will. We recommended PTC for decades, in fact, some form of PTC, and it actually was mandated. But unfortunately the deadline was moved farther into the future. And every year we wait to implement PTC to the fullest extent means that more people are going to be killed and injured.

CUOMO: All right, Bella, I know that you and your team are so busy and I know the conditions out there aren't great for you, either. Thank you for taking the time, especially around the holidays. But I know you are motivated by those people who are injured and the families who won't have their loved ones. And once again, we are staring at a potentially of something that might have been avoidable. Thank you for being with us. Let us know what information we need to get out to people.

DINH-ZARR: Thank you. We will.

CUOMO: Alisyn, we were talking about this, and you said it very well earlier on talking to somebody that used to be the head of the NTSB. This is shameful.

CAMEROTA: Terrible.

CUOMO: It is just money and will and people wanting to put up that money and take the time to do it. That's why they moved the deadline and people died.

CAMEROTA: The technology exists. And after every train derailment, you and I have covered several of them now, several accidents, we say why isn't this happening, why isn't this happening, and it's still not happening. It's just remarkable.

We have other news to get to, and that is this new CNN poll that shows a growing number of Americans oppose the Republican tax reform bill. This as the House is set to vote on it today. The poll also shows President Trump's approval rating is at an all-time low.

So let's discuss it. Let's bring in our CNN political analyst John Avlon, and reporter and editor at large for CNN politics Chris Cillizza. John Avlon, good morning. Let me put up the poll number for everyone because the disapproval, the unpopularity of this bill among Americans has increased just since last month. In November, 45 percent opposed the Republican tax plan. This today, it's just out fresh this morning, 55 percent oppose the tax plan. So I guess the Republicans' thinking is, well, when the Americans live it or see it, it will grow on them.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That is their bet. But the tax plan is underwater. It's less popular than tax hikes, which is hard to do in American politics. And it's partly because the gap, even if Americans don't know the details yet because they are relatively fresh, the way it has been done along party lines, it was sold as a tax cut for the middle class and a tax simplification. It does neither. And it will explode the deficit. Those are all difficult things to swallow. But Republicans own this because they're really not looking at that overall popularity of the bill. They're looking how it plays with their base, and that is actually just a microcosm of all the problems we have with our politics today.

CUOMO: Chris, let me sidetrack you for a second, because I am still upset with the interview with the NTSB lady. So the president after the train crash, before he says anything to the victims, which is by the way the job of moral agency of the president in a time of disaster.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: By the way, we know he does not view moral leadership as a role that he should play. But I agree with you.

CUOMO: Charles Barkley as president, is that what he thinks?

CILLIZZA: It is clearly a break from every past president we've had.

CUOMO: It's about style. And he says this is why we need my infrastructure plan because -- I don't know if PTC money is in his infrastructure plan, by the way, but here's the tweet on your screen. Look at it for yourself. He doesn't do that when it's guns, though. He doesn't do it when it's terrorism done by someone other than a Muslim, though. And I think this is one of those moments where you've got to call it out, because if it's not OK to talk about gun policy after some madman or some dark-hearted individual decides to massacre a group of us because you have to be sensitive, what about their families, what about the people who were just hurt there when 100 percent, I don't care what they find out from this engineer, positive train control, I've been studying this too long to be wrong about it, it makes a difference in these speed crashes. It just does. So you can talk about that here, right, but you can't talk about guns. How is that hypocrisy?

[08:10:00] CILLIZZA: It is. And by the way, this as pattern for Donald Trump. When the Pulse Nightclub shooting happened in Orlando, he tweeted out a lot of people are congratulating me about being right about radical Islamic terror. When the New York City incident, eight people killed, happened, same thing. Guns, well, let's let the politics -- we know for a fact when it reinforces -- two situations. When it reinforces his previously held views, and two, when it proves he believes he was right about something.

One other point here, his budget, proposed budget cut transportation funding by 13 percent, proposed budget. Now, again, they are spending a ton of money on defense, so you are going to have to cut in other places. But it's not only just the playing of the politics before -- the cart before the horse. It's also that it's not clear he was saying we need to heavily invest in these sorts of things.

AVLON: Let's be honest. The problem is bigger than Donald Trump. This is about muscle memory in politics and politicians who say when there's a gun attack we've learned you need to say it's too soon to talk about it, because the NRA has taught us that they will go after us and they will deprive us of money and we will have lobbyists attacking us even after a Newtown. So the problem is bigger than Donald Trump.

The different is he campaigned on the promise to blow up a lot of the old orthodoxies and to get things done. So if we're going to find a silver lining in this presidency, it should be about things like positive train control, it should be about frontloading infrastructure and thinking more comprehensively, but it isn't.

CAMEROTA: But I see it different. It's not just about guns versus everything else. It's about expressing normal human emotion. It's about expressing condolences. He doesn't do that first. First he exploits it for political purposes, so when you see a terrorist attack or when you see a terrible accident, he mentions whatever his policy is, and then he remembers he is supposed to express condolences, and that follows either 10 minutes in this case, or sometimes longer.

And what is curious about all of this, Chris, is isn't somebody in the White House after you have done this a half dozen times, doesn't somebody say you should lead with the human --

CILLIZZA: Yes, but he doesn't listen. Yes, look, this is not a function of Donald Trump getting bad advice, though I think he does get some bad advice. It's that he doesn't listen. He does what he wants.

CUOMO: You know what he will listen to, Chris? When they wave this poll in his face and say you are at the lowest of anybody we've ever measured. CAMEROTA: He's at 35 percent, just so everybody understands right


CILLIZZA: It's 14 points below where Reagan was in 81, who was the previous low, 49 percent. So it's not just below. Look at those numbers. Every president other than Reagan and Donald Trump above 50. He should listen because our poll is not a lone voice in the wilderness either. There's lots of data out there from lots of credible sources that suggests he's in the low to at best mid-30s. Will he believe it? No, almost certainly not. He lives in a world of his own creation. We know that. He has surrounded himself with people who affirm his worst instincts, and he doesn't listen to the people who don't affirm his worst instincts and he pushes them aside. So should he listen? Yes. Will he listen? If past is prologue I feel very confident saying the answer is no.

AVLON: This administration writ large is engaged in a larger game of trying to contain the president's worst impulses, because there are professionals and patriots in this administration who are trying to make sure the government keeps moving in the right direction, but they keep being -- you know, I was going to say derailed, but that's inappropriate. They keep being taken off message, off strategic continuity by the president who is impulsive, who tweets. And that has a way of blowing up any strategic vision, and that's one of the reasons even yesterday we saw a strategic document that was pretty hawkish, pretty far reaching, pretty realist, but disconnected with the president's own rhetoric.

So the question I think is going to be is the president in the second year, if he grows into the office, if he has a team who he can actually listen going to professionalize just a little bit. Is he going to fulfill the promise of his presidency a little bit more, or is he going to be more simply being content being the head of a circus because that doesn't serve the country.

CUOMO: He's a savvy guy. To Alisyn's point, he had an initiative when they first won that was called DJT-100 where they had an operation to make him 100 percent popularity, to appeal to everybody. And there's no question even on this issue, I am sure the base, I'm sure your 30 plus whatever of concentrated support that he has will say don't blame him for the positive train control. He's great. Infrastructure is great. He's trying to do the right thing. He's got his people, but he's not growing, Chris. And if you don't grow, you die in politics.

CILLIZZA: His people were, I would remind people, barely -- now, he won, but this is not, despite what he will tell you, this was not a massive historic landslide. There was one historic part to it, he lost the popular vote by a larger margin than any last winning president, almost three million votes. He won it with 80,000 votes in three states. He won it. That's not to take it away from him, but it is to suggest that if he does not grow, it's problematic.

[08:15:06] And not only has he not grown, Chris, he has shrunk. I think there's an idea that the base is always going to be for him. True, for a certain amount of base, right? Not true for the entire Republican base.

Look, we have seen -- this is the first year of the presidency. Can you imagine if a prominent Democratic senator in the first year of Barack Obama's presidency came out and gave a long speech about how Barack Obama had fundamentally undermined the president? And it's Jeff Flake, right, John McCain, Mitt Romney.

I mean, there are significant cracks in the foundation of people that voted for him. This is not even the governing coalition he won in 2016. It has faded already, and he did not have a lot to lose.

AVLON: Yes, the reality check is this was the honeymoon, and it's been ugly and deeply unpopular. What's next?

CILLIZZA: I mean, this is --

CAMEROTA: Thank you for that analogy.

AVLON: You are welcome, Alisyn. It's the least I could do for you.

CILLIZZA: The first year of the presidency is supposed to be the year, particularly when you control the House and Senate, the revolt we have seen within the Republican Party, I think, again, because it's Trump, it's so different. You have a tendency to gloss over --


CAMEROTA: Yes, I guess my point is that, even if, it's not in your heart, even if it's not your natural instinct to lead with human emotion and condolence, you can learn that, that is learnable.

CILLIZZA: If he wants to learn.

CAMEROTA: And over the course of this year, this -- yesterday, we saw it again, it hasn't been learned, that lesson. And what I hear people say, even diehard Trump people say is we want humanity in the country.

CILLIZZA: So, I remember 15 months ago, a Republican consultant insured me Donald Trump would never win, to your point, because he lacked empathy, and that no politician can win without empathy no matter how much people want change, they want someone when an incident happens like this to unite the country to say we are all one and he was incapable of doing that, he won anyway, even with numbers that suggested people saying, we don't think he understands people like us. Is that catching up with him now? I think the answer --

AVLON: Yes. And can't learn empathy.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon and Chris Cillizza, thank you very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So, with the House taking up the GOP tax overhaul today, we're going to speak with one of those that helped to craft the bill. Is this really fairly sold as a middle class tax cut? Next.


[08:21:08] CAMEROTA: Republicans poised to pass a major tax overhaul. The House is taking up the plan today. If it passes both chambers, it could be on the president's desk by tomorrow.

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois. He was on the Tax Policy Subcommittee that helped cobble all of this together.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. PETER ROSKAM (R), ILLINOIS: Good morning. Good to be with you. Thanks for having me on.

CAMEROTA: Good to have you to talk through all of this.

There are new CNN polls out just this morning two hours ago and it shows the bill's popularity with Americans. Let me pull this up for you.

Those who oppose the GOP tax plan have actually gone up. In other words, the opposition has risen. From just last month, it was 45 percent to now 55 percent. Does it worry you that the majority of Americans don't seem to like this?

ROSKAM: No, in fact, it creates low expectations and I think that this is going to be far more pleasant for people. What they're going to learn is that their tax bills are going down. My home state in Illinois got hit with a high state income tax last year or earlier this year, and my constituents are looking for tax relief, and when it all comes down to it, they're getting tax relief.

So, look, polls are snapshots in time. We'll use them to guide us, but you don't want to be completely tethered to polls. And I think when it all comes down to it, people are going to look at this in totality when all the dust settles and say, that's a good bill.

CAMEROTA: You bring up your home state, not all home states our tax is going to go down. In fact there's a feeling among sort of solidly blue states that this is a poke in the eye to some of them, such as New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, between property taxes, between state and local taxes, people are going to see their taxes rise in some blue states.

ROSKAM: Well, I was one that fought hard to keep the state and local tax deduction at $10,000, to make sure that it include property taxes. It's now been dual eligible. It's been changed in other words the deduction can now include income taxes as well and you if you were only to evaluate that part of the proposal, then the criticism would be valid. It would be something to criticize. But --


CAMEROTA: Just so you're clear, so, for some people particularly in blue states, they are going to see their taxes go up. ROSKAM: No, I don't think that's true. And I think if you look at where this bill ultimately comes out with the changes that were made in the conference committee, what you'll see is changes in the top tax rate, for example, which helps blue states, changes in the other tax rates, we accepted more of the Senate's approach as it relates to individual tax rates throughout.

So, I think we took one good bill that passed out of the House. We took a good bill that passed out of the Senate. We looked for the best of both of those bills and we've come up with a winner.

CAMEROTA: I understand what you're saying about the benefits of low expectations, that makes sense. But the idea that 55 percent of the country opposes it, does that suggest that you and your fellow Republicans and the White House have not done a good job of selling the merits?

ROSKAM: I mean, I can always take critique and admonition for how to communicate better and more clearly, so I'm open to that sort of criticism. I guess my point is, if you are going to make policy based on polls, then well then why in the world would you need policymakers? In other words, what you want to do is make decisions that you know are solid based on the merits, make decisions that are solid based on a good process, and make decisions that are solid based on getting input from a lot of people.

And that's the net effect of the bill that's going to pass out of the House today. I predict it passes in the Senate and it will be signed into law.

And as we look forward next year, my constituents and many other people are going to be getting tax relief that they really, really need. And also, we're going to have a business environment and a business climate that is more expansive and more invitational and more opportunistic for more people. And I think at its foundation, that's why you see so much unanimity on the GOP side in particular about this bill.

CAMEROTA: Does what you're saying sound eerily similar to you as what the argument for Obamacare was from Nancy Pelosi, which is you have to pass it to find out what's in it?

[08:25:08] ROSKAM: Right.

CAMEROTA: That basically you're saying people will come around to like it even though right now when with -- what they've known from the media or from what they've read, they don't like it?

ROSKAM: No, I don't -- I think that there's a very serious distinction and I spoke to this last night when I was presenting to the rules committee. The distinction with Obamacare. It was not an open process. It was written in the speaker's office.

By contrast, the Ways and Means Committee had four days of an open markup, in daylight, not in the middle of the night, with the level of participation that was incredibly significant. CAMEROTA: Yes, that's not -- listen, I just have to tell you,

Congressman, that is not what we've heard from Democrats and what we heard from Joe Manchin, Senator Joe Manchin just yesterday saying that he went to his Republican colleagues with a list -- of his wish list of six to ten items, he said this would be helpful, it would help -- I can get Democrats on board, this is what would make it bipartisan he says that you all did it in the cover of darkness, you didn't want to tell --


CAMEROTA: You didn't have years worth of hearings, you just didn't.

ROSKAM: No, saying no to an idea that you don't like is different than just being obsequious and saying, oh, if you're for this, we're simply going to put it in.

What we've done is we've created things that that -- there's two purposes one is tax relief and one is a positive business environment. And when you net this bill out in a very complicated institution where it's difficult to get things done, this is an incredible accomplishment that is going to yield those two things.

So, I think that when it all comes down to it, we're going to look back and say that was a pivotal time for the good in American public life, because now we've got a tax code that is built for this season that we're in and we're not going to be losing on an international basis, and we're going to be reshoring jobs and money and we will be more prosperous as a result.

CAMEROTA: This adds $1.5 trillion to the deficit, I thought the Republicans didn't like going into debt.

ROSKAM: It's a fair point. So I think what we do is look at this and we say, look, there's two ways that we use debt. One is we use it in our personal lives when we borrow money and we go and buy a house, for example, or we use it in business, we borrow money and we buy something that is increasing in value. Debt is a tool.

So, in this case, where we're taking on debt and we're getting two things for it. Number one, we're getting a tax code that is updated, that that we need desperately. The last time this code was updated as you know was over 30 years ago, and the entire nature of the economy has changed.

The second thing we're getting out of this is a more robust economy and a more dynamic economy. So, is that worth taking debt on? Yes, in my view.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about one of the perks. It's for real estate developers. They'll get a big tax cut. Is that it -- is it a tad unseen we to have people like President Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner being the beneficiaries of something like this giveaway?

ROSKAM: No, this is tracking on a story that was debunked yesterday by "Forbes Magazine" and it was also debunked in a letter that went from a Senator Hatch to Senator Corker. Somehow some language air- dropped, it's completely not true. These are concepts that have been well litigated and well-discussed.

CAMEROTA: So, they do not get -- so real estate developers do not get any --

ROSKAM: No, what I'm saying is there was no special air drop, what I'm -- what I'm speaking to is the news story that you're citing basically, and that has been debunked. I said debunked by "Forbes" --

CAMEROTA: But do real estate developers get any tax cut then?

ROSKAM: Everybody gets -- everybody gets a benefit in terms of how we've tried to approach this bill.

CAMEROTA: Not everybody in the country gets a benefit here.

ROSKAM: What I'm saying is from a business point of view. What you're trying to assert is that there was something that was air- dropped in at the end. What I'm doing is rejecting that --


CAMEROTA: No, I mean, I'm really trying to find out, do real estate developers like President Trump and Jared Kushner get benefits --

ROSKAM: I got a real estate in 6th congressional district of Illinois.

CAMEROTA: So, you'll get a big benefit.

ROSKAM: We worked hard to make sure that real estate and manufacturing and financial services and health care and all these other areas benefit.


Gary Cohn, one of the president's economic advisors, he -- it seemed that he had a sort of rude awakening at a recent CEOs conference, where the CEOs in the room were asked what they would do with these kinds of tax cuts because let's remember, businesses are sitting on a record amount of cash right now. There's been record profits. They are not cash-strapped these biggest businesses, the Apples, the Facebook's of the world. They are flush with cash.

And so, he expected them to say that they would hire more people or increase wages or increase capital expenditures for the good of productivity. They did not say that, and here was the moment where they were asked to raise their hands with what they would do.

Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the tax reform bill goes through do you plan to increase investment of your company's investment, capital investment just a show of hands the tax reform goes through? OK.

GARY COHN, TRUMP SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER: Why aren't the other hands up? Why aren't the other hands up?


CAMEROTA: OK, that's the president senior economic advisor. Why aren't the other hands up? Hold on one second, what they're doing is giving dividends to share or shareholders and stock buybacks.

ROSKAM: So, it's a cute anecdote.