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Treasury Moves to Block Tax Caps; Two Administration Officials Push for Tariff Exemptions; Democrats Hit Trump and GOP; Crazy Rich Asians Success. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 08:30   ET



[08:30:53] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news out of Georgia, as promised earlier in the program. The Randolph County Board of Elections has voted down that plan that would have closed seven of the nine polling places in rural predominantly African-American counties. The meeting lasted less than a minute. Critics called the plan to consolidate polling places a brazen attempt to suppress the black vote in one of the most closely watched races of the 2018 midterms. The Georgia governor's race, which pits former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacy Abrams, who is black, against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is white. The consultant who recommended the closures was fired ahead of today's decision.

Victor Blackwell had been reporting on this for us. He told us there would be a decision and that is what was just decided.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No change. fascinating.

Victor Blackwell told us all about this just moments ago.

In the meantime, the Trump administration's tax overhaul imposes a $10,000 limit on federal deductions for state and local tax payments. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, they passed laws to try to help lawmakers circumvent that cap, but the Treasury Department just proposed a new rule to block those work arounds.

Christine Romans has more.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right, guys, don't get too excited about creative workarounds to keep your state and local tax deductions. The Treasury Department is cracking down on a loophole that helps taxpayers avoid that new cap on state and local tax deductions. That was one of the most controversial parts, remember, of the new GOP tax law. Once unlimited, the so-called SALT deduction is now capped at $10,000. That disproportionately harms high-tax states which are mostly blue. In fact, several blue states are suing the Trump administration, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey. They claim that tax law unfairly targets Democratic states.

Those same states passed laws to work around the cap, allowing tax payers, for example, to make charitable contributions in lieu of state taxes in exchange for a tax credit. But a new Treasury rule blocks that very scenario. The secretary, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says that limiting a deduction that benefitted high-income earners helped pay for tax cuts for American families. Deductions reduce your overall tax bill, of course. So, in high tax states like New York, the cap could increase resident's taxes by $14 billion this year. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calls the SALT change a political attempt to hurt Democratic state. He promised to fight the new Treasury rule.


CAMEROTA: OK, Christine, thank you very much.

So, President Trump continues to deploy tariffs as weapons in his escalating trade war with China. But behind the scenes, CNN has learned two high-ranking people who work for him have been pushing for a tariff exemption for a company in their home state.

CNN's Martin Savidge has more.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The tariffs have been incredible.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Even as they work for a president who has proclaimed tariffs are the greatest, CNN has learned from two members of the South Carolina congressional delegation, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney have been pushing for a tariff exemption for a company in their home state.

TRUMP: We're winning on trade.

SAVIDGE: President Trump says he wants to level the trade playing field by imposing tariffs on as much as $200 billion more imported Chinese products and parts. Corporate leaders have been telling Washington how much those tariffs will hurt business and the economy. But behind the scenes, Mulvaney and Ambassador Haley are advocating for a small South Carolina company called Element Electronics to get something every impacted company would love to have -- an exemption for their Chinese supplier.

MIKE FANNING, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATOR: We have advocates for South Carolina in this Element plant to include these two individuals that are fighting for the unique case that we have that could -- that makes this policy impossible for us to implement in South Carolina.

SAVIDGE: South Carolina State Senator Mike Fanning welcomes Mulvaney and Haley's help for Element, which is in his district, claiming Element deserves the exemption because it's the only company in America assembling television sets, selling them to Walmart. Last month, Element shocked the tiny town of Winnsboro, population 3,800, announcing it was shutting down and laying off 126 employees, blaming Trump's proposed tariffs, which the company says will make its TVs too expensive.

[08:35:08] CNN has reached out to Element Electronics but they have not responded to multiple requests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, any time jobs are lost, there's a trickledown effect where people don't have money to spend, they can't spend it. And so it affects everyone.

SAVIDGE: Winnsboro and Fairfield County have had what one official calls the year of hell. In July 2017, the construction of two nuclear reactors was abandoned, resulting in the loss of close to 6,000 jobs. Next came the shuttering of a large textile mill that had provided jobs for more than a century. The county hospital is closing. And now Element, Winnsboro's largest remainng private employer, is poised to call it quits.

FANNING: It rocked me to my core.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Mulvaney and Haley both have a connection to Element. In 2013, then Governor Haley lured Element Electronics to the state by offering more than a million dollars of state money, as well as tax incentives. Later she was boasting about the economic benefits of the company in a promotional video for Walmart.

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: $7.5 million invested, 500 jobs in Winnsboro.

SAVIDGE (voice over): Before he was Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney was Congressman Mulvaney, representing that district where Element set up shop.

SAVIDGE (on camera): And you don't see the hypocrisy in his effort to do that for his state?

FANNING: Absolutely not.

SAVIDGE (voice over): Fanning, a Democrat, says Mulvaney and Haley's advocacy is neither hypocritical nor political, pointing out, in 2016, his district voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. He says the pair are helping because it's justified. But the president's tariff pain will be felt nationwide and his corporations warn of cutback and layoffs many communities can only wish they had two high level administration members fighting for them.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Winnsboro, South Carolina.


BERMAN: So how on earth do we make sense of this week? David Axelrod joins us with "The Bottom Line," next.

CAMEROTA: Cant' wait.


[08:41:03] CAMEROTA: Well, it's been an eventful week for the Trump administration, between Michael Cohen's guilty plea, Omarosa's disclosures, now "The National Enquirer" publisher flipping.

BERMAN: I'm sure it's also been infrastructure week. Because every week is infrastructure week.

CAMEROTA: That's right. Yes. And so we can feel free to talk about that as well. But some Democrats think this is their golden opportunity to call for impeachment. But many are also focusing on the Trump administration's culture of corruption.

What should they be focused on?

Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod.

So, Axe, do you cringe when Democrats begin talking about impeachment or do you think that this week is a good time for them to float these ideas?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I've been, from the beginning, reluctant to talk about impeachment as a campaign issue in 2018 because I think that Bob Mueller ought to finish his work and Congress ought to make their judgments once he finishes his work. And I think that in most of these districts people are thinking about those things that are right in front of them, the issues that affect their lives, health care, jobs, the economy and so on. And that should be a primary focus of candidates.

That said, it is impossible to ignore the stench that is emanating from White House -- from the White House and from Washington. And this week was a really, really alarming week. And the president himself has been so revealing this week because of his reaction to all of these stories, calling Paul Manafort, who was convicted of bank fraud and tax evasion, a brave man, suggesting that everyone does what he does, or what he did. All the lobbyists in Washington do what he did. Same thing with Cohen and the motion that everybody does what we do.

Well, you know what, everybody doesn't pay off -- pay hush money to women to stay silent before an election because they think it might impair their chances and then hide the source of the money and lie about it. That's not what people generally do.

But it speaks to the president's philosophy, which is, you do whatever you have to, take whatever you can whenever you can, however you can. Rules don't matter. Laws don't matter. Norms don't matter.

And when you create an environment like that, you do create a culture of corruption. You do send signals that everything is -- that anything is OK. That there are no boundaries. And I think this is inevitably going to be part of the discussion when voters go to the polls in November.

BERMAN: You know, I'm not going to disagree with the premise of your question because I don't like to disagree with you, but I will note that it actually isn't Democrats who, by and large, have been talking about impeachment.

CAMEROTA: Who is it?

AXELROD: Well, you're right, John. You're right. BERMAN: We knew the -- he's agreeing with me.

CAMEROTA: I heard.

BERMAN: I had Elizabeth Warren on earlier in the week and I actually kept on trying to press her, do you think it's time for impeachment? What do you think about this?


BERMAN: She won't go anywhere near it. Democrats don't want to talk about this out loud by and large.

CAMEROTA: But what -- who --

BERMAN: Republicans. Republicans are the ones bringing up impeachment as a strategy --

AXELROD: Listen --

BERMAN: Including the president yesterday in an interview.

AXELROD: That is so right.

BERMAN: So why? Why, David?

AXELROD: Well, because I think they think it stokes their base. They're really worried that their base is going to be laggard in November, which is often what happens in midterm elections to parties who have the White House. And, you know, you hear Steve Bannon and others out there pounding the impeachment drum right now because they want to turn this race into a referendums on -- these races into referendums on impeachment. They believe that will get their voters to the polls. So you're quite right, John, I mean it's Republicans who want to talk about impeachment.

I mean there's no doubt people within the Democratic Party who believe that the president already -- and certainly what happened with Cohen adds to this -- already is subject to impeachment because of his behavior in office and because of matters like this, even before Mueller reports. But the -- by and large you don't hear Democrats out there talking about impeachment. You hear Republicans talking about it as a turnout tool.

[08:45:14] CAMEROTA: John just wants to end the segment right here.

BERMAN: Well, I feel like that's "The Bottom Line," you're right, John, and that's "The Bottom Line."

CAMEROTA: You -- I know, he wants -- I know, you're right, John. He wants to end on a high note. I mean, so --

AXELROD: Yes, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while, you know?

BERMAN: Oh, come on. I mean, it's true. CAMEROTA: Oh, should we wrap or do we have more with David?

BERMAN: We've got a minute left with David.

CAMEROTA: Oh, OK. Should we talk more about your greatness or should we move on to the conspiracy?

BERMAN: Move on.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, David, you know, there's this -- Ronan Farrow, fantastic investigative reporter, has this new "New Yorker" piece about how there was this kind of conspiracy theory being peddled when the Trump administration began that the Obama folks were engaged in trying to undermine the -- President Trump's foreign policy and they had a whole communication strategy to do this and, in fact, there was this memo circulated that even named names.

Do you have any comment on this?

AXELROD: Yes. Bizarre. It's bizarre. Look, you know, they -- yes, they said these -- this is the group that sold the Iran treaty and this is the group that sold health care. Well, yes, there were people -- White Houses tend to promote their programs. And it's also true that some of the people -- I know most of the people who were named in that story, Ben Rhodes and others, they feel deeply about the things that they did when they were in the White House and about where America should be. It's not that unusual for them to comment on this.

But this deep state conspiracy stuff that sort of bubbles up from Breitbart and other places and now has been given sort of featured -- a featured role in this White House is absolutely bizarre. And so, you know, I mean what it really speaks to is the notion that dissent of any kind is treated as something -- as subversion. That's dangerous for the country.

BERMAN: David Axelrod, thank you very much for being with us.

CAMEROTA: You've made his week.

BERMAN: You have made my week. Thanks so much.


BERMAN: All right, after a week like this --

AXELROD: Enjoy it, brother, it's not going to happen often.

BERMAN: Yes, John.

BERMAN: We all need some entertainment after a week like this because Lord knows this hasn't been entertaining. "Crazy Rich Asians," the movie of the summer, one of the movie's stars joins us next.


[08:51:56] CAMEROTA: Audiences around the world falling in love with the summer blockbuster "Crazy Rich Asians." It's a movie about a native New Yorker's trip to Singapore to meet her boyfriend's super wealthy family. The Rom Com (ph) making history as the first Hollywood film with an all-Asian cast in 25 years.

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mom, this is Rachel Chu.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She just thinks you're some like unrefined banana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are for your fingers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I chose to raise a family. For me it was a privilege. But for you, you may think it's old-fashioned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't you want Nick to be happy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know you're not what Nick needs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's like trying to play a game of chicken with me, thinking I'm going to swerve like a chicken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you can't swerve. You're going to roll up and be like bok-bok bitch. OK, maybe like not as aggressive.


BERMAN: Joining us now is Michelle Yeoh. She plays the overbearing matriarch Eleanor Young in this film.

We just saw you in action.

CAMEROTA: Overbearing. I'm scared of her.

BERMAN: Thank you. Thanks so much for being with us.



BERMAN: Congratulations on this.

YEOH: Thank you.

BERMAN: It really is --

YEOH: It's a pleasure to be here, Alisyn and John. I'm really happy to be here.

BERMAN: I bet you're happy about the results of this film, which have been extraordinary. I mean this is a big hit, not just in the United States, but all around the world.

YEOH: Oh, my God, you can't believe how excited. I can get off my knees now because I've been on them praying for this box office. It is empowering. It is so empowering. So I want to take this moment to thank the audience for coming out, you know, and creating such a buzz and giving us such great reviews and embracing this diversity and endorsing the fact that us Asians can be leading actors, leading actresses. And up there with characters that you can laugh at, you can feel for because they're also relatable and we're your next door neighbors, you know.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, that's my question, do you think that it's become this smash hit because it's an all-Asian cast and the time has come for that and people are responding to the diversity, or is that beside the point and it's just a great story?

YEOH: I think it's a combination of both. I think we were given such a beautiful opportunity to with Kevin Kwan's -- to start off with Kevin Kwan's book. And then Warner Brothers starting with Ivanhoe had the vision to think that this is what the audience wants. They want to see, you know, diversity, representation from the Asian community. And then John Chu did such an amazing job of bringing these characters to life, but very relatable characters. If he didn't do such a good job, if we had -- if every cast, which was pitch perfect casting, did not come out and do their 120 percent with the best designs, with the best setting, I don't think this would have been such a success.

BERMAN: You say you waited a long time for this and indeed you have waited a long time for this.

[08:55:03] YEOH: Oh, my God. Oh, my God, yes.

BERMAN: But my question is, why has it taken so long?

YEOH: You know, it's been like -- the last time I felt so much love really was "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I mean it was yes it was an all station cast but it's set in -- it's a period piece. It's an action. People would say, well, because it's an action movie and that's what the Asians are good at doing.

So this one is a romantic comedy and I think in the last -- the recent years there's been so much outcry. So I -- in that way the social media has really helped because we are saying, we're not invisible. We want to be the superheroes. And those roles were written for us. Why is it taken away from us? Don't we matter? Right?

And so I think with that, the rumbling has become very, very loud and I think it's because the studios understand, this is what the audience wants as well. And I think this weekend we proved it. It wasn't just -- I don't think it was just the Asian community that came out. Yes, we did. Good for you. But also all our friends of all nationalities and race or whatever, it transcends that because it's just an incredible story telling.

CAMEROTA: And so that leads us to the big question -- will there be a sequel? Has anyone talked to you about that? YEOH: Kevin wrote three books. It's a trilogy. So with this kind of

results, but, you know what, it's just the opening weekend. We need more. We want to feel more love. The next weekend and the next weekend and take us, you know, beyond the stars. And, yes, -- and also I think it's inspired a lot of Asian -- other storytellers behind the scenes. And it's inspired them and it's told them that your stories want to be heard.

BERMAN: We hope you get what you want there. I think the whole wants to see it. Michelle Yeoh, thank so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to you.

YEOH: Thank you. Thank you.

BERMAN: CNN "NEWSROOM" with poppy Harlow picks up after the break.