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Tax Overhaul Bill Passes Senate; Congress' Next Job: Avoiding a Shutdown; No Positive Train Control at Amtrak Crash Site; World Summit on North Korea. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 20, 2017 - 04:30   ET




[04:30:41] MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The ayes are 51, the nays are 48. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is passed.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking this morning, a major rewrite of the tax code is on the way. The Senate passed the bill early this morning just hours ago. It gives the Republicans their first big win of the year. What does it mean for you and what does it mean in the midterms?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A government shutdown could be days away. What's holding up lawmakers and what's most likely to happen by Friday? The Friday before Christmas.

Don't we love the way government works today, huh?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

Nice to see you all this morning. Thanks for being up with us so early. I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

Let's talk about the big story overnight. Republicans big tax overhaul is all but a done deal. In an early morning vote, so early I've lost my voice, just a few hours ago, the Senate approved the final version of the bill.

BRIGGS: Yes, we don't sleep much. The bill scoring Republicans first significant legislative win since President Trump took office. The measure has proven vastly unpopular in most polls. It passed along straight party lines, 51-48.

ROMANS: The approval came over the objections of Democrats on the Senate floor 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 Terrible individual mandate from Obamacare repealed.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: Eloquent.

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

CNN's Phil Mattingly, he doesn't sleep much either. He has the latest from Capitol Hill.


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. Meaning that Phil Mattingly will be working all morning as well. Thanks, Phil.

Democratic frustration boiling over leading up to that vote. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pausing his closing arguments to scold Republicans 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: Tense times. No shortage of reaction after the vote including this tweet from Virginia's Tim Kaine, former vice presidential candidate. The 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. The White House standing by claims that the tax bill will cost the president a fortune.

[04:35:03] Here's Jim Acosta yesterday.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president did say this tax bill would cost him a fortune. That was false, right?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, because on the personal side, this actually could impact the president in a large way.

ACOSTA: It would balance out corporate versus personal if he's going to come out --

SANDERS: I'm not sure if he's done a side by side, but I know there are a number of provisions that would negatively impact the president personally.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Sure would be nice to know for sure, right, but we don't because the president is keeping his tax returns secret. He says he's under audit. That may or may not true.

Key measures will help the president, no question, his family and his businesses, like doubling the estate tax exemption, repealing the alternative minimum tax. According to Trump's leaked 2005 tax returns, that was the bulk of the taxes he paid that year, lowering the tax burden on pass-throughs. Pass-throughs pay taxes through an owner's tax return and make up the majority of the Trump business empire.

In fact, there are many tax goodies for the family business. Commercial real estate for example, like reducing the tax on income from real estate investments and larger deductions on commercial property.

BRIGGS: And an interesting development emerging from the tax vote. Republican Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona voted yes on the bill, then tweeted early this morning this, bipartisan DACA bill will be on the 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, that's another story. The main battle between House and Senate Republicans over Obamacare subsidy payments. Several Senate sources predicting a stopgap 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 TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: He went on to say they don't want to let America be America and they don't want the little guy to be heard or have a voice.

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, the special counsel removed FBI official Peter Strzok from his team after an investigation turned up anti-Trump texts he sent during the campaign.

BRIGGS: President Trump's approval rating hitting an all-time low. According to CNN polling showing the president approved by 35 percent of Americans less than a year into his first term. That is 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 President Trump'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.

BRIGGS: 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.

ROMANS: A single vote shifting the balance of power in the Virginia legislature.

[04:40:00] A recount, flipping a seat from Republican to Democrat in the state's House of Delegates, leaving the lower chamber evenly split. Democrat Shelly Simonds emerging as the apparent winner of the 94th district. A winner by just one vote, taking the seat from Republican David Yancey. The outcome ending 17 years of 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 today.

BRIGGS: Coming up, the Florida police officer lucky to be alive after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa, whoa, whoa!


BRIGGS: The suspect takes off as the officer hangs on to his car. How this story ends, next.


[04:45:16] BRIGGS: Confusion and contradictions in the wake of that deadly Amtrak crash in Washington state that killed three people. Officials now saying 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.


ROMANS: Two of three people killed in the derailment have now been identified. Jim Hamre, Zack Willhoite were advocates for 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.


BRIGGS: Kyung Lah there for us -- thank you.

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.

Look at this. The police veteran observed a man and a woman asleep inside a parked car along with a clear baggy containing an unknown substance.

ROMANS: After being awakened the driver identified as Thomas Cabrera gunned the engine, sped off with the officer holding on to avoid being run over. He eventually let go, suffering serious road rash injuries to his arms and legs. He was awaiting surgery last night. Cabrera caught by police after a high speed 20-mile chase charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

BRIGGS: The Thomas Fire is now the second largest fire in California history, burning over 272,000 acres. At this hour, it's 55 percent 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 watch is now in effect for Santa Barbara County.

ROMANS: All right. The parents of a baby that grew from a human embryo frozen for nearly 25 years, they 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 ever be born.

BRIGGS: 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: A lot more yawning ahead for dad. Baby Emma, perfectly healthy and checking in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces, 20 inches long. Previously, the oldest known frozen embryo that resulted in a successful birth was 20 years old.

ROMANS: God bless science. Wow.

BRIGGS: Good stuff.

ROMANS: What a gorgeous baby.

All right. McDonald's is launching a new burger unlike any patty before. Oh, my mouth is watering. Details on CNN "Money Stream", next.


[04:54:25] BRIGGS: The U.S. and Canada are preparing to map out next steps combating the growing nuclear threat in North Korea. They'll host of gathering of world leaders in Vancouver to advance diplomatic efforts, while demonstrating international solidarity, condemning Pyongyang's missile testing. This comes as White House officials ramped up warnings about North Korea.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul this morning.

Paula, good morning to you. Interesting to hear from H.R. McMaster and the secretary of state yesterday.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Dave. We are hearing a flurry of comments about North Korea given the fact that North Korea hasn't launched a missile in recent days.

[04:55:03] But we heard from the national security advisor who said when asked in a CBS interview whether or not the U.S. could live with a nuclear North Korea, he said that the U.S. simply couldn't because if you allowed North Korea to have nuclear weapons and how do you say no to another country saying considering just what sort of threats North Korea rallies against the countries in the world.

And you heard from Rex Tillerson as well, the U.S. secretary of state. He was saying that it doesn't appear as though North Korea has any interest in coming to the negotiating table, pulling back from his comments earlier in the week saying that the U.S. could actually talk to North Korea without preconditions.

And all of this is on the back of what we're seeing as well. U.S. and South Korean marines training right now in Pyeongchang, where Winter Olympic will be taking place in less than two months.

So, as you hear these politicians talking about how they will not accept a nuclear North Korea, you do Marines in the snow there, training, skiing, you can see hand to hand combat honing those skills, not sure why they had to have their tops off, but this is what they're doing while the politicians are talking. BRIGGS: All right. Paula Hancocks, live for us in Seoul this morning

-- thank you.

ROMANS: 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 the Parish jobs. The scandal in Boston echoed throughout the church exposing similar accusations worldwide.

The resulting coverage and settlements compromising the church's moral authority. Since his forced resignation, Cardinal Law had searched as arch priest of a papal basilica in Rome. He was 86 years old.

BRIGGS: A devastating tour bus crash killing 12 people including one child and injuring 18 others on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. According to officials, 31 passengers were on board including American tourists. The nationalities of those killed have not been released. The injured were sent to hospitals. Five people have been released.

Among the passengers were 27 cruise guests from two Royal Caribbean ships. Those ships arrived Tuesday in the busy port of Costa Maya, a vacation destination on Mexico's Caribbean coast, near the Belize border.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this morning. Global stock markets mixed. U.S. stock futures, though, are up with the tax bill all but assured.

Wall Street closed lower yesterday. The problem there were tech stocks. The S&P 500 is up 5 percent since the House first passed the bill in November, with bank stocks in particular soaring 9 percent. Banks are expected to be some of the biggest winners of a lower tax rate.

The Senate Banking Committee rejecting President Trump's choice to leave the Export-Import Bank. During his time in Congress, Scott Garrett was a fierce opponent of the institution, calling it a bank that embodies the corruption of the free enterprise system. The agency provides loan guarantees to overseas buyers of American exports. The rejection was the first time the Senate panel voted to block one of the White House's nominees.

McDonald's is going vegan, well, in Europe, that is. McDonald's plans to start selling a vegan burger in hundreds of restaurants across Sweden and Finland, starting on December 28th.

The sandwich contains a soy patty bun and an eggless sandwich sauce.


ROMANS: Norwegian food company Orkla helps develop the meat free burger. According to the research firm, Euro Monitor, global sales of vegan foods increased nearly 8 percent last year. No word yet on when or if the meal will make it stateside. I don't know why but I had a funny burger on that one. BRIGGS: Just visualizing eating that thing.

That sounds awful.

ROMANS: EARLY START continues right now.



PENCE: The ayes are 51. The nays are 48. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is passed.


ROMANS: Breaking this morning a major rewrite of the tax code. The Senate passed the bill early this morning just happened hours ago, folks. It gives the Republicans their first big deal of the year. It will cost them dearly, will it, in the midterms? And what does it mean for you next year?

BRIGGS: And a 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 Dave Briggs.

I'm getting it together any moment now.

ROMANS: I know, gosh, I know.

I'm Christine Romans. It's been a long night, folks. It has been a really long night.

It is Wednesday, December 20th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And let's begin with the Republicans big tax overhaul, all but a done deal. In an early morning vote just a few hours ago, the Senate approved the final version of the bill, scoring Republicans' first significant legislative win since President Trump took office.