Return to Transcripts main page


House Prepares to Pass Tax Reform Bill Again; How the GOP Tax Bill will Affect your Wallet; Paul Ryan on Trump Sexual Harassment Accusations. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2017 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


A vote so nice, they have to do it twice. This time, it really will be the final vote on this huge tax bill. We are waiting to see this in just a short while. Overnight, the Senate did pass this tax bill, even though the House had already done it, they have to do it again shortly. This will be a huge legislative victory for the president and Republicans in Congress.

HARLOW: It will, but how is it going to sit with the American public? We know that most Americans don't like this thing. And they think that the wealthy benefit a lot more than the middle class. Sunlen Serfaty on the Hill. Paul Ryan, though, doing the happy dance this morning.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. He certainly is. This will, indeed, get wrapped up here on Capitol Hill, today. The House will revote, take that second vote after that technical glitch due to the Senate budget rules. The House will revote today in the noon hour. It will go through. It will pass up here on Capitol Hill.

And then, of course, many Republicans will head to the White House for that ceremonial event today, celebrating this. And certainly, it is a significant moment for them. Republicans in the White House getting this tax bill through. But as this phase shifts now from the corralling of the votes and the politics of up here on Capitol Hill to actually selling this bill and the potential benefits to Americans across the country. This is something that Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, had some interesting words about just yesterday.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: If we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work. I think this is an important accomplishment for the country. That people will value and appreciate. But, obviously, it requires us continuing this discussion with the American people, and we're all going to be doing that, all through the year.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SERFATY: And that definitely is going to be an uphill climb for Republicans. The latest CNN polling shows that this is deeply unpopular, this tax bill. 55 percent of Americans oppose the tax bill, 33 percent favor it and 11 percent unsure. So certainly, some people needing to learn more as Republicans make the case across the country what this tax bill actually will do.

Now, last night on the Senate floor, overnight, there was a lively debate. Of course, Democrats not only seizing on the unpopularity of this bill, but seizing about those logistical technical glitches that happened, which ended up delaying this bill by about 11 hours, seizing on these both saying that it has been rushed through the process. An interesting moment came when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was talking where he really reprimanded his colleagues from speaking over him from the Senate floor. Here's what he had to say.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: This is serious stuff we believe you're messing up America. You can pay attention for a couple of minutes. 83 percent of the middle class will either pay more in taxes or get little but crumbs. Is that what you intended?


SERFATY: So, interesting comments there from Chuck Schumer, pushing forward, again, the House vote at noon today, and over to the White House for that ceremonial event, John and Poppy. Certainly a big win for Republicans and big win for the Trump White House, and they were, of course, able to move this out across the finish line without Democratic support.

HARLOW: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you.

We're also fact checking some of those numbers that Schumer gave, because it's not clear where they come from. We've asked his office. We will let you know.

To the White House now, where the president is planning to celebrate. What is his big, first legislative win? This will come when he signs it in just a few hours, it's expected. Kaitlan Collins is at the White House with more. So the president not going to hold a news conference, not going to take questions, but he will make a statement.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right. It's a big day here at the White House. It looks like this is going to pass and then it will be on the way to the president's desk for him to sign. Frankly, a challenge that a lot of his critics did not think that the president would live up to that promise to get tax reform passed by Christmas, but it certainly looks like that is something the president is going to be able to do.

And we're going to see him here in the next hour at the White House. He's holding a cabinet meeting with the members of his cabinet. And then later on this afternoon, the White House says they will hold an event to celebrate this bill and what they've accomplished. It won't be a formal ceremony where he signs the bill, because it won't be formally prepared yet, but it certainly will be a celebration with lawmakers from Capitol Hill, who helped get this thing over the finish line.

But on another note, John and Poppy, the next challenge the president is going to face is selling this bill to the American people because he prides himself on being this great salesman, but now this is a bill where two-thirds of people believe it's going to benefit the wealthy more than the middle class. But the White House likely won't be focused on that today. They're going to be enjoying this victory here at the White House, John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Kaitlan thanks so much.

We talk about this being a legislative victory for the president, but what does it actually mean? What does it actually mean for you?

[10:05:00] Here to help us understand, CNN chief business correspondent, star of "Early Start" Christine Romans. What's the deal here?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Here's what's in it. And let's start with businesses here because this is a centerpiece of this reform here, slashing the corporate tax rate, really important here from 35 percent to 21 percent. It lowers the tax burden on pass- through businesses. Pass-through businesses, a lot of small business owners use pass-through treatment. They treat their business income on their personal income taxes. It changes how U.S. multi-national corporations are taxed. This is a centerpiece of this. Democrats and Republicans for years have wanted to fix what has been an outdated way that U.S. companies are taxed around the world, so that changes here.

What's in this for individuals? It lowers most individual rates starting next year and nearly doubles the standard deduction to $24,000 for a married couple. So a lot fewer couples -- a lot fewer people will take these deductions, itemized deductions. It eliminates personal exemptions. It caps state and local tax deduction. That's very big in some high-taxed blue states. And it eliminates the health insurance mandate. So for people out there who are buying insurance, you could see premiums rise. So there's a lot in here.

I'm going to tell you, it's going to affect all corners of the economy. And the corporate tax cuts' a centerpiece here. Democrats and Republicans have both wanted that for years. The individual tax cuts expire though, so we will be revisiting the tax landscape again in just a few years.

HARLOW: Romans, thank you very much.

BERMAN: One other question right now, Christine, there are people who are trying to rush to lower their tax bills right now.

ROMANS: Especially people who live in those high-tax states because the state and local tax deduction. So a few things you can do if you live on those high-taxed states. You can pre-pay your property taxes, if you can. The tax bill caps the deduction at 10,000. So if you pre- pay this year, next year's property tax, you can deduct them under the old rules. But remember, real estate taxes are at the local level, so every jurisdiction is different. You have to check if you can pay right now. And again, this is a blue state, high-tax, blue state problem.

HARLOW: And people would have to pay that by the end of this calendar year? Or by the time they file their taxes in April?

ROMANS: We've been calling around -- no. We've been calling around to these offices and they say December 29th by noon. So you have got a few days to figure it out. And you have to figure it out with your mortgage company, your bank, too. You can also defer income for things like commission and bonuses, wait until 2018. A lot of people will have a lower tax rate. So if you can push off some of that income that can save you some money. Pay expenses that will no longer be tax-free, work-related expenses, tax prep fees, you can pay those now.

And then you have the lower rates. Make charitable contributions now. If your tax rate falls next year, this year's deductions will be more valuable. And here's the example. For a married couple making $160, donating $1,000, their current tax rate is 28 percent, so they save $280 on that charitable contribution. By next year, their rate falls, so they only save $220. And it's one of the reasons that charities are concerned. They're hoping that people don't hold back next year on charitable deductions.

BERMAN: We don't know how it will go. And again, if you're one of the people who may lose insurance because premiums go up, there's nothing you can do right now to get ready for that necessarily. Christine Romans thanks so much being with us.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst, Jackie Kucinich, CNN political commentators Bryan Lanza, and Symone Sanders. You know, Jackie. I'm struck by the comments that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made overnight. He said, if we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work. You know Paul Ryan blaming the media for the bad views of this. But isn't it just as possible that people understand exactly what is in this bill and they've chosen to say, hey, look, maybe I will get a tax cut, but most of the tax cuts here are going to the wealthy. That is just a fact. And people have decided they don't like that. And no matter how you sell it, that's just the fact.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's going to be a very uphill climb, and we'll see that in the midterm election, should Republicans have consequences for this. But listen, they faced a choice. They could either disappoint their base or - and disappoint their donors, who basically said, don't even call us if you can't get this done, or, they passed this and take their chances with the American people and a very hefty sales job. And the proof will come. It will also depend on the results here. If companies get this -- take this tax cut and give it to their shareholders instead of hiring people. That is going to be bad news for Republicans, for sure.

HARLOW: Well, that's what, you know, 86 percent of them say they're going to do these CEOs --


HARLOW: So Bryan, to you, you were the former communications director for the Trump campaign. You know a lot about the thinking behind this, the promises that were made leading up to this.

Gary Cohn, the chief economic adviser in the White House right now, this is what he wanted done. It got done. He just did an interview with Axios this morning and he said, quote, "The president cared a lot about the business rate." He went on to say, "It was probably the single biggest topic that the president cared about." I thought the president cared the most about middle class tax cuts and tax cuts for those lower income Americans. What gives?

[10:10:00] BRYAN LANZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I think the president's message has been pretty clear and it's been consistent for a very long time. I can't speak to what Gary was referring to just minutes ago in your guys' reporting, but I can speak to what the president has repeated over and over again for the better part of 2 1/2 years. That the middle class is going to benefit from a tax cut and that this should sort of, you know, further electrify or as Bannon would like to say, you know weaponized the American economy, so that it brings a -- helps raise wages for the American people which is the promise that the president made.

BERMAN: You know Symone, to that point. Look, 80 percent of people will see a tax cut, in this according to Brookings. In the middle class, depending on which quintile, which is the first and only time I will use that word, you could save anywhere between $900 or $1800 on average here. You said that Republicans will pay dearly for this in the midterms. But if the average middle class voter is seeing some money, $900 is not nothing, is this something that could benefit Republicans?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I'm just not sure how $900 over a period of time, an elongated period of time, is going to really make someone, you know, Susie Joe, feel as though they've just had this injection of money into their pocket and makes them feel as though they can now put more food on the table and they have substantially more money in their pockets.

I think it is a hard sale. I think Republicans are going to pay for this, not necessarily because of the $900, $1,800, but more so because 13 million people are going to lose health care. When folks see that, yes, they are getting $900 to $1800, but there are some folks that are getting upwards of $75,000. Tax cuts for wealthy people are just not popular. And I think Democrats like myself, other entities, the Democratic National Committee, they're going to make sure that when the midterms come around and leading up to, that folks know that that is what this tax bill was really all about.

HARLOW: All right, to be clear, the 13 million number you cited, I mean, this is taking away the mandate that makes people buy health care. And yes, that will drive some premiums up. It will push some people out - BERMAN: Premiums going up 10 percent is not insignificant.

HARLOW: Which is a lot. It will push some people out. It's not insignificant. Jackie, to you, Chuck Schumer insists this is an anchor around the ankles of Republicans. They will rue the day. How can he be so sure?

KUCINICH: I think that's a little bit of wishful thinking, at this point because we really don't know. Now, in some of these high-tax states, and when you had a lot of the Republicans in the House, who voted against this, were from places like California. If you have Republicans that did vote for this in those areas, yes, this is going to be an anchor for them. This is going to be a tough thing to get out from under.

BERMAN: You know, Bryan, we've talked about this poll of CEOs and just 14 percent say that they're going to use that money to direct it toward hiring new workers or what not. A lot of people are talking about dividend buybacks, buybacks of shares, increasing dividends, things like that. How can you be sure that this money will go -- these big, corporate cuts will go where everyone says they will, which is ultimately back to the worker because that's not what the businesses are saying.

LANZA: Look, I think we've all witnessed over the past year, what the president's capable with his bully pulpit. Look what he did to immigration along the border. You know, he helped slow it down with the stronger rhetoric. You don't think for one second that the president is going to use his bully pulpit to shame a business that -


HARLOW: I don't think he can force or shame these CEOs.

BERMAN: Yes, I don't know that I buy that. He got carrier to rehire and then they sent them away. I mean, these businesses do what they want to do that's good for their shareholders, full stop.

LANZA: Correct and a significant parts of their customer base are the Trump voters. I mean, the president is going to continue to use the bully pulpit in an effective way for the middle class. And I think to think that he's going to sit back and let this thing happen without him having a voice, without him having an impact. I think it's just foolish to think that. He has stepped in at every fight like this for people for a very long time. Why is he going to stop now?

SANDERS: I guess what I would say is -

HARLOW: Go ahead.

SANDERS: Poppy, what I would say is, look, if the president wants to jump out there on this, please, come on, get into it because his approval rating is low. I think what we will see in the midterms is that Republicans will be running away from Donald Trump. And so if Donald Trump really wants to put his stake in the ground on this and wrap his arms around this tax bill, Democrats like myself, want him to do it, because he's not popular. This bill is not popular, and the more folks can associate this bill with Republicans, with Donald Trump, it only spells trouble for them and good for Democrats in the midterms.

BERMAN: All right. Jackie, Bryan, Symone, stick around. Go nowhere. We have a lot more to discuss.

HARLOW: Not letting America be America. That suggestion, those words from the president's son last night. Donald Trump Jr. is suggesting there is a conspiracy at the top levels of government to block his father's agenda.

Also, House Speaker Paul Ryan this morning weighing in on the sexual misconduct accusations against the president. Why he says Congress really has no bone in this, doesn't need to do anything on this front.

[10:15:00] BERMAN: Hurricane survivors in Texas and Florida slamming FEMA months after the hurricanes hit there. Some still not getting the help they say they desperately need. CNN hears their stories.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got denied by FEMA three times. So -

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How do you feel about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, it pisses me off.



HARLOW: The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., says there's a conspiracy against his father's administration and the people behind it are top government officials. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENT'S SON: My father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign. And people go, oh, what are you talking about? But it is. And you're seeing it. There is, and there are, people, at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America. They don't want to let the little guy have a voice.


[10:20:08] BERMAN: CNN's Jessica Schneider joins us now live from Washington. What else can you tell about what he said, Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John and Poppy, this was a speech to a conservative student group in West Palm Beach, Florida. And in it, you heard there Donald Trump Jr. blasted Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. He attacked the media's coverage of the Russia probe. And then he said that the probe itself was part of that rigged system that his father repeatedly referenced during the campaign.

Now, in addition, Trump Jr. also echoed a popular conservative rallying cry when he questioned the intentions of people working in law enforcement, specifically the FBI. He was alluding there to the revelations earlier this month that Special Counsel Mueller had removed FBI agent Peter Strzok from the Russia team after an investigation turned up anti-Trump messages between Strzok and an FBI lawyer during the campaign, but before the probe actually started.

Now, Republicans have pointed to those texts as evidence of bias. Trump Jr. was echoing that. And then Donald Trump Jr. turned to the fact that he has been questioned at length on Capitol Hill about his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. And he compared his scrutiny to Hillary Clinton's.


DON: I have now spent 23 hours testifying about a 20-minute meeting. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, spent 11 hours testifying about Benghazi!


SCHNEIDER: And then Donald Trump Jr., he went on to defend his meeting with that Russian lawyer, again explaining that it was his mentality as a business guy to take those meetings. He says, it's what you do. He said it might have been a waste of time, but you hear it out. But of course, John and Poppy, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and several Congressional committees. They are closely scrutinizing that Trump Tower meeting in particular. Back to you guys.

BERMAN: All right, Jessica Schneider thanks so much.

Our panel back with us now. Bryan, this idea that there are people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let America be America. I guess I have two questions here. The highest levels of government right now are President Trump and everyone he's appointed since then, so I'm not quite sure who he's saying. And number two, even if there is this conspiracy to get him from these highest levels, you know, to not let America be America. The conspiracy would be against the president. The president isn't America. The president is the president, correct?

LANZA: I would say this about what I think Don meant. I think he says that there's a professional bureaucratic class that is working against this administration, that sort of prides themselves on being part of the resistance from inside. And that is interfering with what the Americans voted for last November. I mean, you know, we have elections, you know, we want to work together with the opposition. We want to come up with viable solutions. But you do have a professional bureaucratic class and a lot of these agencies that are leaking, we now learned, many false information and sort of disrupting the overall message that the president is trying to get. So I think Don is speaking to that frustration. I think he hits a very raw nerve with a lot of people. HARLOW: He certainly did with former CIA Director Michael Hayden. And I should note, who served in that position under both presidents George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Jackie, here's how he put it.


GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR AND FORMER NSA DIRECTOR: We're now seeing a constant attack, not just from the administration, but as the Congressman suggested just a few minutes ago, but from other members of the Republican Party, attacking the institutions of American government. And it's those institutions, Don, the rule of law, the processes that keep us a free people.


HARLOW: Jackie, is there a long-term impact of sort of over and over again running down your own government?

KUCINICH: Right. Well, taking aside the fact that Don Jr., I thought, was supposed to be running the family business and wasn't going to be getting into politics, taking that aside, yes, he's simply echoing what you heard from President Trump, in a lot of ways. I mean, was it just a week ago, or earlier this week, they all blend, as you know, that President Trump was saying that the FBI was a disaster, or something to that effect. And this constant erosion, not only is there going to be people, career government servants who are leaving, this erosion in the trust of these organizations does have an impact, just as Michael Hayden was saying there. And that could be dangerous.

BERMAN: And one other thing about this Symone, and I ask you, again, as someone who was a Bernie Sanders person, by the way, not a Hillary Clinton person, Donald Trump Jr. sort of invoked the names of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, saying, if this had happened to them, could you imagine the outrage? And I sort of shook my head, because, you know if Chelsea Clinton, you know, had met with Russians promising dirt on Donald Trump, part of me thinks that it might be a big deal right now --


SANDERS: Yes, it would absolutely be a big deal.

BERMAN: -- part of me saying Republicans in Congress might be investigating. So is that comparison apt here?

[10:25:00] SANDERS: No, the comparison is not apt. And it's just absolutely ridiculous. Everybody knows that if a foreign entity approaches you, you kind of need to ring the alarm and tell the FBI. And there is reporting out there that says that the FBI told the Trump campaign that they could be susceptible to some type of Russian contact. And if anything were to happen, call us and let us know. And this was after we know that this meeting that Don Jr. had happened.

So this is absolutely ridiculous. And I'm absolutely tired of Donald Trump and his children and whomever else in the administration playing the victim here. A lot of these errors are unforced errors. These are things that they - that the Trump administration, that Donald Trump himself have brought upon themselves. We wouldn't even have a special counsel if Donald Trump had not moved to fire James Comey. So I would just like to remind everyone that it didn't have to be like this. But here, in fact, here we are.

HARLOW: So, switching gears here to the very important topic of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, House Speaker Paul Ryan was on the "Today" show to talk about taxes and tout that. But, of course, Savannah Guthrie rightly asked him about the sexual misconduct allegations throughout Congress and also against the president and she asked if there is a role for Congress to be investigating the women that have come forward against the president, including the three who have asked for a Congressional investigation into these allegations. Here's his exchange with her.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, as you know, the person in charge of that committee, Trey Gowdy, is given a very articulate response, which is, those are criminal matters and Congress doesn't do criminal investigations.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, HOST, "TODAY": The White House position on the president's accusers is that they are all liars. Is that your position as well?

RYAN: Look, I don't even know what all of these accusations are. I'm focused on fixing Congress.


HARLOW: Bryan, "I don't even know what all of these accusations are" This is one of the leaders of the party, the leader of the House. What do you make of that response and him clearly saying there's really no role for Congress here?

LANZA: Well, I think this is a lot of truth to the fact that these are criminal matters and so many days removed, I think the opportunity has been missed by many of these alleged victims to have their day in court. That is our process -

HARLOW: Which would arguably make it more of a matter for Congress, no?

LANZA: No. I mean, I think it sets a unique precedent that we should probably vet more clearly than just have a reactionary response. I mean, these are criminal matters. There is a criminal process to deal with these things. There are statutes of limitations. Like, the system is set up to work a specific way and for all we know, it is working to sort of now have an additional hearing, -- to now have an additional hearing to sort of re-litigate some of these accusations after the American people has voted and heard these things clearly and still voted for President Trump. It just seems like a waste of time. It seems like collusion all over again. Like, if collusion doesn't stick, let's move to another issue. BERMAN: Symone -- got to be quick.

SANDERS: Hold on, Bryan, absolutely not. One, Donald Trump didn't win the popular vote. Let's stop pretending as if -

LANZA: He won the election.

SANDERS: But two, it is -- there are other people in Congress that have literally -- in Congress that have lost their jobs for the same type of allegations that the current president of the United States is now facing. Allegations that happened years ago, but they still currently are not allowed to serve. And so I think there is definitely a place for Congress to have this conversation, and for Paul Ryan to sit on national television this morning and say, I don't even know these allegations. When Nancy Pelosi said something similar a couple of weeks ago, she was lambasted. So let's just have a standard across the board where we need to accurately and thoughtfully address these issues.

BERMAN: All right, Symone, Bryan, Jackie, thank you so much for being with us. Again, Happy Holidays if we don't see you again.

HARLOW: Happy Holidays, guys.

LANZA: Merry Christmas.

HARLOW: OK, in just hours, tax reform, Paul Ryan's dream will actually be happening. Then it heads to the president's desk. And then he speaks. What will he say? Stay with us.