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President Trump to Sign Tax Bill Passed by Congress; Vice President Mike Pence Praises President Trump after Passage of Tax Bill; Interview with Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, December 21st, 8:00 in the east. Chris is off and Bill Weir joins me. Another big day on Capitol Hill that we'll be talking about.


CAMEROTA: So President Trump and Republican lawmakers are celebrating the passage of the landmark GOP tax will. But every day Americans wake this morning uncertain about how the measure will impact them. Plus it includes a repeal of the individual mandate of Obamacare which the president falsely claimed yesterday is a repeal of Obamacare entirely. But what does this mean for the people who rely on that?

WEIR: All that and the shot across the bow from the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Communication Mark Warner of Virginia warns President Trump not to cross a red line by firing special prosecutor Robert Mueller or pardoning any witnesses. Let's get right to Joe Johns live at the White House. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, the hard task now begins of rolling out the tax overhaul, but one of the things that could pour cold water on the enthusiasm over the tax bill is shutting down the government because the government's leaders can't get a spending bill together. They say they are going to do it. Right now it looks likely that they can, but time is running out.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I look at these people, it's like we are warriors together.

JOHNS: President Trump celebrating the tax bill alongside Congressional Republicans after months of attacking GOP leadership over previous legislative failures.

TRUMP: Paul Ryan and Mitch, it was a little team. We just got together and we would work very hard, didn't we? It seems like -- it was a lot of fun. It's always a lot of fun when you win. JOHNS: The love-fest continuing with Ryan and McConnell gushing over

the president.

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: It's been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the Trump administration.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: Something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership. Mr. President, thank you.

JOHNS: The quick passage of this legislation causing confusion for taxpayers on how they should prepare for the huge overhaul. The Treasury Department and the IRS scrambling to write new regulations. Republicans saying workers will feel the benefits of this tax cut in a matter of weeks.

RYAN: On January 1, Americans are going to wake up with a new tax code. In February, they are going to see withholdings go down so they see bigger paychecks.

JOHNS: The tax bill making a big impact on the Affordable Care Act, eliminating the individual mandate which fines Americans who don't have insurance. The president false claiming he's repealed Obamacare. He did not. Republicans tried to do that through legislation and failed.

TRUMP: So in this Bill, not only do we have massive tax cuts and tax reform, we have essentially repealed Obamacare, and we will come up with something that will be much better.

JOHNS: President Trump selling this tax overhaul as a Christmas present for middle class with some companies already delivering on the promise. Comcast and AT&T promising $1,000 bonuses to their employees and Wells Fargo hiking its minimum wage. Meanwhile companies like Pfizer and Coca-Cola validating Democrats concerns, saying they will turn over most gains to their shareholders.

CHARLES SCHUMER, (D-NY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Is that what you intended? Give them more money so they buy back more stock increasing the wealth of corporate CEOs?

JOHNS: As the tax bill makes its way to the president's desk Republicans now have just two days to pass a spending bill to avoid shutting down the government, a closed door meeting of House Republicans late Wednesday night ending with more questions than answers.


JOHNS: There are still more administrative steps to be taken on Capitol Hill before the president can actually sign the tax bill. We hear he is anxious to do so and might just sign it from Mar-a-Lago if necessary. Nothing on the president's public schedule today. The question of course is whether he will hold a year-end news conference.

CAMEROTA: Joe, let us know when you find that out. Thank you very much.

Joining us to discuss all of it is CNN political analyst David Drucker and associate editor at "Real Clear Politics" A.B. Stoddard. Great to see both of you.

So David, I'll start with you. The president admitted something yesterday that the public suspected. In all the polls, the public felt that this favored corporations over the middle class and that this was designed as a corporate tax cut, that was really its crowning achievement, that was the purpose of it. And the president seemed to reinforce that yesterday. Let me play for you what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our plan also lowers the tax on American business from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent. That's probably the biggest factor in this plan. We become competitive all over the world. Our companies won't be leaving our country any longer because our tax burden is so high because now we are down to the lower end of the spectrum as opposed to being the highest.


[08:05:10] CAMEROTA: That's probably the biggest factor, that is the crowning achievement I think that they would say. But that is a bit off script and message from the way lawmakers were trying to sell it in the past couple of weeks.

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Look, I do think that the reason the Republicans are focusing on this is because there has been for years a bipartisan consensus that our corporate tax rates and tax structure put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. There was always a debate over what the rate should be lowered to and some of other changes that should be made. But Republicans believe very strongly that this is going to make the U.S. competitive and that's going to be good for job growth and wage growth.

Now they have to hope that comes to fruition, and one of the reasons is they were willing to bend more and make sacrifices on the individual side where you have tax cuts not permanent, and then depending on where you live and what your income level is, the gains might be uneven.

As well as the Democrats have done, Alisyn, in pushing as this as a tax cut for the wealthy, and so far that message has taken hold in many quarters and it's a challenge for Republicans, I think the real challenge for the GOP is to win back support for this bill in a lot of the upscale suburbs where the House majority is going to be contested next year. These are districts and states where voters tend to want to vote Republican, tend to support tax cuts, like tax cut bills, and yet they feel that because of changes to state and local tax deductions that are now capped, changes to the mortgage deduction, a lot of these voters now think that this bill is going to hurt them in the wallet. And that's why you saw a dozen House Republicans from these sorts of

districts vote against this. That, to me, is the real danger. These are upscale districts, but that's where Republicans could see real blowback next year, and that could cost them in the House.

WEIR: A.B., as Mr. Trump was running for office one of his typical campaign lines was how he was going to close this loophole for hedge fund managers, this pass-through deal. And I've heard the reporting that he was still committed to that idea as late as Monday. But New York Republicans who have to think about their donors on Wall Street put the kibosh on that. Little things like that, things like the individual mandate for Obamacare, which is more popular if you believe the polls than the tax bill itself, how do you think this will play out politically?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right. Well, there really is a division in the ranks at -- between the administration, the outside influences like Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to the president who wanted a 44 percent rate for anyone earning over $5 million, was pushing for a much more populist, much more middle class and working poor based tax reform.

WEIR: Bannon was pushing for that?

STODDARD: Yes, Bannon was. Then national economic adviser Gary Cohn admitted at an event within the last couple days that they were pushing to close the carried interest loophole and that he tried it 25 times but Congressional Republicans kept slapping it down, and that's why it stayed in place. So blaming that on Congress.

Look, people have been pretty honest about this. Chris Collins, the congressman from New York, a very big early supporter of President Trump said flat out the donors basically said they will never write another check unless we pull this together. I think Lindsay Graham, the senator from South Carolina said something about that, too. They were basically going to be abandoned by the people who support them financially and with whom they need donations to basically defend their majority in the midterms next year. If they didn't accomplish this, the donors were furious they couldn't repeal and replace Obamacare. They had promised tax reform and Republicans have been pretty honest about the fact that they were going to be abandoned by the people who give them financial support if they couldn't get this over the line.

CAMEROTA: So guys, there was this contest, it seems, yesterday, of who could heap the most praise on President Trump in light of the victory. I think the winner might be Mike Pence. So let's watch.


MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am deeply humbled as your vice president to be able to be here. Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of the leadership in the Congress of the United States, you are delivering on that middle class miracle. I want to thank you, Mr. President, I want to thank you for speaking

on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America. Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more, and we are making America great again.


[08:10:08] CAMEROTA: David, look at the president's body language. Even he is like, take it down a notch, right? Even he had had enough with this.

DRUCKER: Or maybe he was saying that's not good enough.

WEIR: Yes. I'm with you.

DRUCKER: I want more.

Look, we know all politicians like adulation and they need to hear it, and that's part of what it takes to be in the arena at this level, but the president -- by the way, you know, Republicans used to complain about President Obama who used to -- they used to count up the number of times he said "I" during a press conference or in a speech or referred to "my team," quote-unquote, and so now we see this sort of in reverse but more so where this president more than other politicians really needs affirmation.

And I think that Republicans understand this and they are trying to give him his affirmation to try and encourage him to play ball with them and to feel good about working in a more traditional political environment, which he bucked over the last 10 months and usually not just to his detriment but to the Republicans' detriment. Over the past couple of months we have not seen him beat up members of his own party too much, little bit, Senators Flake and Corker, but not like he did over the summer. And I think it's one of the reasons they were able to get a tax bill done.

And if President Trump beats up on them less, at least with their own party heading into the midterm elections they are in a better position, and I think that's where they want to be. So I think they will lay it on as thick as they think they have to to keep the president happy.

CAMEROTA: I just want to know the thought bubble that was over Rex Tillerson's head during that moment, A.B., and John Kelly there to the sides of the president. I am sure Twitter will already have tackled that one.

WEIR: I think it also shows that Mike Pence knows that if he is ever going to get the big chair, he's lashing himself to the Trump brand. There's no alternative path for him there.

CAMEROTA: A.B., do you have a final thought in five seconds?

STODDARD: There's no one better at this than Mike Pence. He has proven to be the biggest flatterer of Donald Trump, and I was just relieved he didn't use his favorite expression "broad-shouldered leadership."


CAMEROTA: There you go. A.B. Stoddard, David Drucker, thank you very much.

OK, so lawmakerss are negotiating a bill impacting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. It's referred to as DACA, as you know. Could there be a deal in the works? A Republican senator involved in the talks joins uns.


[08:16:16] CAMEROTA: Republican Party and President Trump scoring a major legislative victory passing the tax overhaul measure. But now the GOP is facing a looming government shutdown. What is going to happen?

Let's talk about this and more with Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Good morning, Senator.

REP. JAMES LANKFORD (R) OKLAHOMA: Good morning to you.

CAMEROTA: Congratulations on the victory of the tax overhaul.


CAMEROTA: I know you expressed some displeasure or dissatisfaction that it would increase the deficit, and the debt. Some estimates, such as Wharton, say it would be $2 trillion added to the debt. So, why did you decide to overlook that?

LANKFORD: So, there, it's not overlooking that. It's looking at all economists out there. About 130 different economists looking at this, all of them doing different forecasting, trying to estimate how much economic growth will happen, all of them said there will be economic growth, it's a matter of how much. Some were saying 0.1 percent, like JCT, saying 0.1 percent. Others saying that there'd be 5 percent growth.

So, we have to look at the spread of all of them. My main focus is, we've got to have the economy growing again. If we don't have the economy growing again, we're never going to deal with deficits long term.

CAMEROTA: So, those forecasts ended up making you more comfortable than the forecasts, you got comfortable with those, over the forecast that $1 trillion, or $1.5 trillion or $2 trillion to the debt.

LANKFORD: Honestly, you got to look at all of them. And that's the hard part is. The hardest thing to get in Washington, D.C. is the real number for anything because everyone has a number. They all latched on to that number. That's their favorite. I get that whole game, all of us do it to be able to look at it. But the point of it is for me is trying to evaluate how are we going to deal with debt and deficit. You're never going to deal with it with a 2 percent growth in the economy right now. We have to have economic growth. We have to be able to limit our spending at the same time. This gives us the opportunity for economic growth and with that economic growth comes increased taxes because people make more money, they pay more money. And we'll see what that number looks like.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I understand. I mean, it's just a gamble. You're gambling that that's going to happen. You're hoping for that. And it's just that, you know, look, the bread and butter of conservatives, as you are, it seemed, was, at one time fiscal responsibility.

LANKFORD: Right, and I think it still is. The main focus that I have still as you sought to have economic growth, you have to have fiscal responsibility and you have to have the opportunity to be able to grow out of this, and I would tell you, every time you do any tax policy it's a guess, and if you tax too much, it slows the economy down, if you tax too little you can't pay the bills of the economy, and of the government. So, you've got to be able to hit that balance and it's always your best guess as you walk through it, what is right balance.

CAMEROTA: OK. I want to talk about a piece of legislation, a very timely piece of legislation that you are putting forward in a bipartisan way.


CAMEROTA: And it is about Russian meddling in our elections.

Let me read to you, just a portion. I mean, you know what you crafted, but for our viewers, what the point of this legislation is. You say, during 2016 election, intelligence reports have factually established that Russia hacked presidential campaign accounts, launched cyber attacks as least 21 state election systems and attacked a U.S. voting systems software company. While there's no evidence that a single vote outcome was tampered with, this dangerous precedent should be a wake-up call as we head into the 2018 election cycle.

Why do you feel so strongly about this?

LANKFORD: I feel strongly about it because it's obvious. If we allowed the Russians to do it the first time and we didn't catch it, that's our problem that we didn't allow, that we didn't catch it the first time. But if they do it again in a future time, that is our problem of what we are not taking advantage of what we know to be factually true.

So, my main focus is states run elections. They should continue to run elections. But where states are not keeping up their equipment, we need to be able to encourage those states and help provide some grants to those states to say go take care of your equipment. We don't want to have at the end of the next election a guess that the election had fraud and they got into an election system.

[08:20:01] Twelve different states right now cannot audit their elections after the fact. I think that's a problem. Every state should be able to audit their system. So, we want to be able to maintain the state control of that, they manage all elections, but where they need help in the process, we need to streamline that process of how we interact with them and how they actually keep things up to speed.

CAMEROTA: You say what happened in the 2016 election should be a wake up call. Does the president need a wake up call?

LANKFORD: Actually, the Department of Homeland Security is very active in this. They've not only been helpful in the bill crafting as we've talked to language back and forth. They have been very engaged --

CAMEROTA: Sure, but I mean President Trump. I mean, you know what President Trump has said. He has called the Russia story a hoax. Do you think the Russia story is a hoax?

LANKFORD: No, I do not think it's a hoax.

And I would say, I think the president's greatest frustration is sometimes there's an impression that comes out that Russia is the reason he won the election. And I think that's his biggest frustration. There's no evidence that any vote was tampered with during the process, that anything was changed in the system, but there's clear evidence that the Russians were trying to probe our system, they were engaging both on social media, trying to affect the messaging and trying to be able to examine different voter systems across 21 different states.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I think you are right, the president does have a hard time distinguishing between Russian meddling and accusations of Russian collusion. So, it ends up he says things like this to "The Wall Street Journal".

It's a total witch hunt, the whole Russia story. It's a hoax. It's a hoax. We had no collusion with Russia. We never dealt with Russia.

So, is the whole Russia story a hoax?

LANKFORD: We're actually walking through multiple investigations to be able to lock down all the issues with the Russia investigation, I would say --

CAMEROTA: But the meddling. I mean, you had legislation about he meddling and he lumps them together.

LANKFORD: Alisyn, there's no question, but you're right. There's two different issues. Did the Russians affect the outcome, as the president is frustrated, and saying I never colluded with anyone. He's been very outspoken about that. But there's no question the Russians were trying to engage in our election, just like they had multiple other elections across Europe.

They like to do this. This is their mode of trying to go in and try to mess with elections, and to be able to demonstrate their power through their means. We need to be able to have enough power to push back.

CAMEROTA: Got it. And have you shared your unequivocal position on this with the president?

LANKFORD: I have, actually. I think he's heard me multiple times say it not only in media settings like this, but he's heard me say it multiple things in private settings like this.

CAMEROTA: And he believes you or he's skeptical?

LANKFORD: Well, he's still very passionate about this one issue. He didn't collude, no one on his campaign colluded --

CAMEROTA: Right, but he meddling? He understands Russia meddled or no?

LANKFORD: You know what, you're going to have to ask him on that one directly.

CAMEROTA: He hasn't given you an answer on that?

LANKFORD: No, we haven't about it that length. Obviously, I'm on the Senate Intelligence Committee, so we would rarely talk about a topic like this at all. We'd be in settings when I hear him say things, but I don't press him on that while I'm on the investigative team for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

CAMEROTA: I understand. But do you think that he believes that Russia meddled?

LANKFORD: You know what? I think he does have a sense that the Russians were trying to do something in this process. What that level is you would have to ask him. He's very passionate about they didn't collude.

CAMEROTA: OK, I want to ask you about the continuing resolutions to try to fund the budget and whether or not we are going to have a government shutdown sometime in the next 24 hours, basically. One of the sticking points is DACA. That's, of course, the program that protects the children who were brought here as minors through no choice of their own.

Do you think that you're going -- I know you are in the middle of negotiating about this and what do you think will happen with this program?

LANKFORD: Yes, we won't have a DACA extension during this time period. I think there has been wide agreement on this as we have tried to work through the issues on it. So, that's not going to happen in December. It will most definitely happen in January or February.

We all understand that the DACA issue, the president put out a March 1st deadline for it. It has to be dealt with legislatively, by the end the president has been very, very outspoken about that. So DACA will be resolved. But we're not there yet. We're trying to be able to work through the Senate.

The House is also trying to work through a process to try to figure out how to deal with this. When you deal with DACA, as we should legislatively, myself and Thom Tillis, in fact, put out a bill called the Succeed Act because three different times the DREAM Act has come up over the past 15 years, and every time it's come up, even when it was a Democrat president, Democrat House and Senate, the DREAM Act did not pass.

So, if we're going to resolve DACA issue, we got to look for where is the bipartisan support to be able to resolve DACA legislatively and permanently for those kids, we believe we have a good solution for that, Thom Tillis and I do, and we've already put that forward.

But when you deal with DACA, there are other things that are affected by that. You got to deal with border security because if you just deal with DACA now, you'll have another group of DACA coming afterwards. You have to deal with chain migration that connects all the families, because if you deal with DACA, you're also dealing with not just the child who at no fault of their own that they made that came to this country, but also the parent that did make the decision to be able to violate the law. How do you handle those two separately? And understand, you need compassion for the kids but also be able to maintain good justice under the law without being unfair to a family.


LANKFORD: So, all those things are in conversation.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely, it's complicated. But just very quickly, a one-word answer.

[08:25:01] Do you think that ultimately, after your negotiations, these kids will be protected and stay or deported and leave?

LANKFORD: I think they will be protected and stay, and I think there are a lot of folks, myself included, that have been very clear on that.

CAMEROTA: OK. Senator James Lankford, thank you very much for your perspective on all of this.

LANKFORD: Glad to be able to do it, Alisyn. Have a merry Christmas.

CAMEROTA: You too. Bill?

WEIR: The top Democrat on Senate Intelligence Committee is making it clear to the president he had better not interfere with Robert Mueller. His counterpart in the House joins us live, next.


CAMEROTA: As special counsel, Robert Mueller, faces growing criticism from Republicans, the top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee, Senator Mark Warner, has issued a warning to the president. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Congress must make clear to the president that firing the special counsel or interfering with his investigation by issuing pardons of essential witnesses is unacceptable and would have immediate and significant consequences.


CAMEROTA: OK. So here to discuss this and more, we have the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.

Good morning, Congressman.


CAMEROTA: I'm well.

So, the president says he's not considering firing Robert Mueller. His attorney, Ty Cobb, says the president is not going to do this.