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Senate Passes Tax Bill; Congress' Next Job: Avoiding a Shutdown; No Positive Train Control at Amtrak Crash Site. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:14] MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The ayes are 51, the nays are 48. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is passed.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: a major rewrite of the tax code is on the way. The Senate passed this bill early this morning. It gives Republicans their first big win of the year. How will it impact the economy and all of you?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And the government shutdown could be days away. What's holding up lawmakers and what's most likely to happen by Friday?

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's been 30 years since the tax code was overhauled. It's Wednesday, December 20th, it's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Historic day as Republicans big tax overhaul is all but a done deal. In this early morning vote, just a few hours ago, the Senate approved the final version of the bill scoring Republicans for significant legislative win since President Trump took office. The measure, yes, has proven unpopular in most polls. It passed along party lines, 51- 48.

ROMANS: The approval came over the objection of Democrats and protesters in the gallery.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sergeant-at-arms will restore order in the gallery.


ROMANS: President Trump celebrating on Twitter moments after the vote. The United States Senate just passed the biggest in history tax cut, and reform bill. Terrible individual mandate from Obamacare repealed.

BRIGGS: The president inviting Republicans to join him at the White House this afternoon to tout passage of this landmark legislation. The only hitch, that will have to wait until the house goes through the motions of passing the bill again.

CNN's Phil Mattingly up all night on Capitol Hill has the latest.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, without any question at all, the biggest hurdle Republicans face as they tried to pass their tax overall, something that hasn't been done in 31 years, getting it through the U.S. Senate. And early on Wednesday morning, that's exactly what they did. By a vote of 51-48, along partisan lines, every Republican that was in attendance voted for their $1.5 trillion tax plan.

Now, Republicans say this is something that will benefit the middle class, that on the corporate side will completely overhaul how the code currently stands. It's something Democrats have attacked, saying that the corporate cuts are skewed heavily in the favor of business. The individual cuts they expire at a certain point aren't nearly robust enough.

Republicans say even though current polling shows that Americans don't trust this bill, aren't sure what it will actually do, they're willing to sell it.

Take a listen to how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to my question after the vote.

Do you believe there's a need for Republicans to go out and sell this bill given kind of how Americans are currently viewing it?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Absolutely. We're looking forward to it. My view of this, if we can't sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.

MATTINGLY: Now, guys, in an interesting wrinkle, this vote wasn't the final vote. The House still has to vote again. That's right, the House voted on Tuesday to pass the bill, 227 to 203. Another big vote. The expectation was the Senate vote would be it. It would be headed to President Trump's desk. Well, not anymore, because of the Senate budget rules, three small provisions technical corrections were pulled out of the Senate bill. That means it has to go back to the House.

Now, this isn't any type of big problem. The bill is in no danger at all. House Republicans will pass it Wednesday, probably shortly afternoon -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. A long night for Phil Mattingly. Thanks, Phil. Democratic frustration boiling over leading up to that vote. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pausing his closing arguments to scold Republicans talking during his remarks.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Nearly 145 million middle class families under $200,000 will either get tax hikes -- can we have order, Mr. President?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate will be in order.

SCHUMER: This is serious stuff. We believe you're messing up America. You could pay attention for a couple of minutes.


BRIGGS: Scolding indeed. No shortage of reaction after the vote, including this tweet from Virginia's Tim Kaine, the former vice presidential candidate. This secret, rushed partisan tax bill in no way truly reforms the system. What we need to reform is Congress and that's what we'll do in the midterms.

ROMANS: All right. So, what's in it? What's in it and what does it mean for you?

OK. The GOP tax bill promises big corporate tax cuts with the hope those tax savings will create more jobs, but if the bill passes just 14 percent of American CEOs plan to boost investment, spending on things like new equipment in factories which can lead to hiring. That's according to a survey of top business leaders.

The bill slashes the corporate rate. It offers incentives to bring foreign cash back home.

The companies have plenty of cash and unemployment is at a 17-year low.

[04:05:00] So, business tax cuts don't guarantee a hiring boom. In fact, a recent survey found fewer than half of CEOs plan to ramp hiring in the next six months overall, with or without the tax bill. Instead investors expect Wall Street not Main Street to help with buybacks.

And one billionaire businessman calls it pure fancy that the tax bill will bring higher wages and growth. Michael Bloomberg calls the bill a trillion dollar blunder, writing in an op-ed that CEOs aren't waiting on a tax cut to jump-start the economy.

Meanwhile, an interesting development emerging from the tax vote. Republican Senator Jeff Flake voted yes on the bill, then tweeted early this morning this. A bipartisan DACA bill will be on the Senate floor in January. He's referring to the so called DREAMer program to protect young immigrants brought to this country illegally as kids.

ROMANS: Flake's vote on taxes has been linked to DREAMer discussions and DREAMers are just one element lawmakers are grappling with as they try to keep the lights on in Washington. A government funding bill is due Friday.

BRIGGS: All sides agree on one thing, they don't want a shutdown, but avoiding one is an entirely different story. The main battle is between House and Senate Republicans over Obama subsidy payments. Several Senate sources predicting a stop gap bill, probably the only way to avoid a shutdown.

ROMANS: But Democrats in the Senate tell our Manu Raju they are unlikely to vote for a stopgap measure that does not have enough aid for Puerto Rico and they say they don't want to vote for Obamacare subsidies they think bail out Republicans who repealed the individual mandate in their tax bill.

BRIGGS: President Trump's eldest son suggesting a high level conspiracy is at work trying to block his father's agenda. Speaking at a conservative student conference in Florida, Don Jr. lashed out at special counsel Robert Mueller's probe and the media's coverage of the Russia investigation and he said government higher ups were backing a scheme to undermine the Trump agenda.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUM: My father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign and people are like 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.


ROMANS: Don Jr.'s comments drew serious concern from former CIA and NSA director, General Michael Hayden.


MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA AND NSA: When I first heard that earlier this evening, that was a little scary. I mean, that is -- that is an appeal to the heart of autocracy and challenging the patriotism of those folks who work in the United States government.


ROMANS: Don Jr.'s remarks come as some on the right, including him are ramping up their attacks on the special counsel's probe, claiming it is politically compromised. Earlier this month, Mueller removed FBI official Peter Strzok from his team after an investigation turned up some anti-Trump texts he sent during the campaign.

BRIGGS: President Trump's approval rating hitting an all-time low. New CNN polling shows the president has the approval of 35 percent of Americans less than a year into his first term. The worst rating of any elected president, in his first year by a wide margin, 59 percent of Americans say they disapprove of how President Trump is handling the job. The numbers not much better for Trump's 2016 opponent, Hillary

Clinton. Only 36 percent of Americans rate her favorably, with 61 percent rating her unfavorably. That unfavorable rating for Clinton sliding five points since June oddly. It's now higher than the president's.

ROMANS: A bipartisan bill making lawmakers personally liable for sexual harassment claims is expected to be filed in the House by tonight. Mississippi Congressman Greg Harper is chairman of the House Administration Committee. He tells "The New York Times" the measure would permit the government to pay claims that require members to then reimburse the Treasury.

We have now learned that Congress paid out $174,000 in settlements for eight sexual harassment claims between 2008 and 2012, money that came from a U.S. treasury fund. The information released by the office of compliance does not include the names of victims and does not identify the Congress members involved.

BRIGGS: A single vote, one vote, shifting the balance of power in the Virginia legislature. A recount, flipping the seat from Republican to Democrats, leaving the lower chamber evenly split, 50-50. Democrat Shelly Simonds emerging from the recount as the apparent winner in the 94th district by just one amazing vote. Take the seat from Republican David Yancey.

The outcome ending Republican control of the house, forcing the GOP into a rare power-sharing scenario with Democrats. A three-judge panel still must certify the election results later tonight.

Fifty-fifty, one vote. Don't ever let people tell you that your vote doesn't matter, that you should just stay home.

ROMANS: Sure does, evidence right there.

BRIGGS: It matters.

ROMANS: All right. Federal investigators now say available safety measures likely would not have prevented this week's deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state.

[04:10:01] We've got a report from the scene, next.


ROMANS: So, confusion and contradictions in the wake of that deadly Amtrak crash in Washington state that killed three people. Officials now say the stretch of track where the train derailed did not have Positive Train Control, a system that automatically slows down and stops a speeding train. The NTSB says a different safety system was in place, one that most likely would not have prevented the derailment.


BELLA DINH-ZARR, NTSB: We have confirmed that PTC was not installed on this line. Sound Transit had Centralized Traffic Control which is CTC, and this is a system that allows for dispatch direction over the train. CTC is not PTC, however. CTC cannot enforce speed restrictions on a train like PTC can.


BRIGGS: Two of the three people killed in the derailment have now been identified.

[04:15:02] Jim Hamre and Zach Willhoite were advocated Passengers Railroad Service and members of Rail Passengers Association. Still no explanation for why the train was going 80 miles an hour in a 30-mile- an-hour zone. The NTSB says it is waiting to interview crew members who are hospitalized.

Kyung Lah has more from DuPont, Washington.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we're learning new information from the NTSB about the moments before this devastating train derailment. Meanwhile, the recovery here at the scene continues. What you're looking at over there is what is left of a passenger car. It just shows the force of -- the deadly force of a train derailment.

The NTSB in their news conference saying the lead conductor at the time of the derailment was not in control of the train. He was in the passenger section, not in the cab, and an engineer and a conductor trainee was instead in the cab. The engineer is still allowed to operate the train. The engineer though, did not hit the emergency brake.

Investigators have recovered both of the black boxes in the front and the rear of the train. They also are very curious about looking at the cameras, especially the one inside the cab to see what the engineer and the conductor trainee were doing right before the derailment -- Dave, Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Kyung Lah. Thank you, Kyung.

Caught on body cam in south Florida, Pembroke Pines police officer John Cusack dragged for half a mile through the Century Village Retirement Community after reaching into a car to stop a suspected drunk driver.

Wow. According to authorities, the 19-year police veteran observed a man and a woman asleep inside a parked car along with a clear baggy containing an unknown substance.

BRIGGS: Gosh, is that incredible? After being awakened, the driver identified as Thomas Cabrera gunned the engine, sped off with Officer Cusack holding on to avoid being run over. He eventually let go suffering serious road rash injuries to his arms and legs. He's awaiting surgery last night.

Cabrera caught by police after a high speed 20-mile chase charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

Astounding, isn't it?


The Thomas Fire now the second largest fire in California history, burning just over 272,000 acres. At this hour, just over half contained but there are concerns about the forecast, starting tonight into Friday, wind gusts up to 60 miles an hour are predicted. Fire officials fear that could lead to rapid spreading again. Fire weather watches now in effect for Santa Barbara County.

BRIGGS: The parents of a baby that grew from a human embryo frozen for nearly 25 years are ecstatic. Emma Wren Gibson delivered last month in Tennessee after originally being frozen in October of 1992. She's the longest known frozen human embryo to ever be born. Her parents Tina and Benjamin Gibson tried for seven years to have a baby.


TINA GIBSON, PARENT OF NEW BABY: I tear up thinking about it because it's just such a blessing. They were like well, Tina, this is a world record and I just looked at them and I was like, what? And they're like, yes, it's been frozen for 24-1/2 years. And I was like, are you kidding? If this embryo had been born when it was supposed to have been, you know, I was like, we could have been best friends. I'm only 25.



BRIGGS: The dad is just yawning there.

ROMANS: He needs some sleep -- he needs some sleep.

BRIGGS: Baby Emma perfectly healthy, checking in at six pounds, eight ounces, and 20 inches long. Previously the oldest known frozen embryo that resulted in a successful birth was 20 years old. Quite a story this morning.

ROMANS: She's incredible.

All right. Top U.S. officials raising new concern with North Korea.


H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: If North Korea has a nuclear weapon, I mean, who are you going to try to prevent getting one? I mean, look at the --


ROMANS: Foreign ministers from around the world scheduled to meet about the matter. We're live in Seoul, next.


[04:23:35] BRIGGS: The U.S. and Canada are preparing to map out next steps combating the growing nuclear threat of North Korea. A host of gathering of world leaders in Vancouver to advance diplomatic efforts, while demonstrating international solidarity, condemning Pyongyang's missile testing. It comes as White House officials ramp up warnings about North Korea.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul, South Korea, this morning.

Paula, good morning.


Well, we've certainly seen a flurry of comments from top advisors and top secretary of state for example within Trump administration. Rex Tillerson saying that it appears to be North Korea who's pulling back from wanting to get to the negotiating table. He's clearly pulling back from comments he made earlier during the week saying the U.S. could talk to North Korea without preconditions.

And we also heard from the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster in a CBS interview and he was talking about whether or not the U.S. could tolerate a nuclear North Korea. He said they could not. And the reason for that is because he said if you give North Korea the ability to have nuclear weapons, who are you going to say no to to having a nuclear weapon, especially when you consider the threats that North Korea and its regime have leveled against many countries around the world.

And you also had comments when talking about WannaCry, this was the cyber attack that happened back in May. The homeland security advisor Tom Bossert saying the U.S. doesn't have many more options short of starving the North Korean people.

[04:25:07] So, we're really seeing a flurry of strong actions, strong words from the Trump administration, particularly when it comes to cyberattacks.

BRIGGS: Yes. So, with containment not an option, the world wonders, what is the red line that the administration won't allow North Korea to cross?

Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Disgraced former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law has died in Rome after a long illness. Law resigned in 2002 during the church sex abuse scandal. He never faced criminal sanctions for his role in allowing abusive priests to remain in parish jobs. The resulting coverage and the multimillion dollar settlements compromising the church's moral authority.

Since his forced resignation, Cardinal Law has served as an arch priest of papal basilica in Rome. He was 86 years old. All right. A major rewrite of the tax code will be finalized today.

Republicans say they're ready to sell this unpopular plan. Democrats are ready to pounce in the midterms.


SCHUMER: Republicans will rue the day they passed this tax bill and the American people will never let them forget it.