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Corker Reignites Feud; Trump Meting on Hill; Pentagon Revises Niger Timeline; Dunford Vows Transparency. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired October 24, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:01] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.
Breaking news, a Republican U.S. senator basically just said the president is a juvenile liar who lies. That's paraphrasing, but the actual words from Senator Bob Corker are no more gentle. Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president, hash tag alertthedaycarestaff.
So, how did we get here? Well, it's all about lunch. The president is headed to lunch on Capitol Hill to talk tax cuts, but the meal just turned into one of the more uncomfortable Thanksgivings you can imagine. Picture one of the hosts telling a guest, the stuffing you bring stinks and, by the way, no one has figured out how to pay for the turkey yet anyway. That in so many words is what Republican Senator Bob Corker just said on "Good Morning America."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": Well, are you confident he's got the will and the skill and the commitment to get this done?
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: George, I haven't seen that yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: The senator wasn't done either. He basically said on other big parts of the White House job, like national security, Mr. Trump should leave the presidenting to the professionals for a while.
The president responded with his predilection for canine themed insults writing, Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran deal and couldn't get elected dogcatcher in Tennessee, is now fighting tax cuts. He also included something Senator Corker had said is a lie about his reasons for leaving the Senate.
But we digress. The point here is this is shaping up to be a super fun lunch.
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill.
I've got to say, this just keeps gets weirder and weirder, Suzanne. SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, you know, a lot of
people are wondering whether or not on the menu is going to be crow. Are people going to be eating crow during this lunch. I can only imagine, you've got Senator Bob Corker, who's going to be there, with the other Senate Republicans, facing off with the president. A lot of Republicans offering their opinions. Senator John Thune saying, look, you know, this should not necessarily be a kind of rah-rah pep rally, if you will, but clearly a sit down for the president to show that he can earnestly work with these Senate Republicans.
There is a win for both sides here. They desperately want some sort of legislative victory. It does seem that Senate Republicans, as well as House Republicans, willing to give up some things, including looking at a budget here that looks like it will add to the federal deficit. The tax plan is on the table. That is what the president is hoping to push for. That is what Senate Republicans are also hoping to push forward as well.
Already, President Trump slapping down, if you will, taking off the table the notion of a cap on the tax-free income that you can put in your 401(k), for example. So there is a lot of tension and a lot of debate over whether or not they're going to be able to make this tax cut plan work and push it through. There is a lot at stake here. And as we heard early this morning, a lot of tension. Senator Bob Corker being one of those senators in the room who is not afraid of speaking out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: The president undermines our secretary of state, raises tensions in the area by virtue of the tweets that he sends out. And I would just like for him to leave it to the professionals for a while and see if we can do something that's constructive for our country, the region, and the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And, John, it's important to note, of course, Corker is untethered by the possibility of re-election for next year, and many others do not have that luxury, so they are going to try to watch their words carefully so the president does not try to put up some sort of primary challenge to those Republicans who are vulnerable.
BERMAN: All right, Suzanne Malveaux up on Capitol Hill.
Joining me now is Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
I have to start with the words just written by your border colleague, the Republican senator from the state of Tennessee, Bob Corker, who called the president an utterly untruthful president. Is President Trump a liar, senator? SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, you know, I don't think
these comments by Senator Corker are helpful at all. The other thing that he said this morning was that the luncheon meeting was going to be nothing more than a photo-op. I actually expect it to be quite substantive.
We had a good victory last week. We are likely to have a very positive step over in the House this week when they pass the budget that the Senate has already passed. And so I view it as a coming together in terms of our plans to actually fill in the details and get the tax cut actually passed by both houses and sent to the president's desk. So I would -- I would take issue with Senator Corker in that respect also. This should be a lot more than a photo-op today.
BERMAN: Yes, it's an awkward coming together with Senator Corker calling the president untruthful. President Trump saying that Senator Corker couldn't get elected dogcatcher. As I said, if the idea is to come together, that's a tough place to start.
[09:05:04] But on the substance of this, also, Republican Congressman Charlie Dent said of the president that he can shift on a dime on policy matters, and he has many unformed policy positions. We have to worry about him shifting positions.
So I ask you, Senator Wicker, do you know exactly where the president stands on the details of these tax cuts?
WICKER: Oh, on the details of the tax cuts? I think it's important that we not negotiate the details in public through the media. But I think that the -- the bones, the outline of the tax cuts, are there. We want to cut the corporate rate because we want to be competitive internationally. Europe's corporate tax rate is about 18.5. Asia, about 20 percent. So we need to get competitive in terms of our job creators. And then we need to give the American middle class taxpayers a little jingle in their pockets and more take home pay.
BERMAN: But --
WICKER: So the outlines are there and we will start talking about details, I think, with the president today.
BERMAN: For instance, do you know whether or not the president would support keeping a 39 percent tax rate on people making more than a million dollars a year?
WICKER: I don't --
BERMAN: And these are more than just details. This is the actual tax cut. Do you know whether he supports that?
WICKER: I don't know that. And I'll tell you what, I am going to decline to negotiate details of the tax cut through the media. I think that will be done. I think we'll have a big step towards that today --
BERMAN: Understood. WICKER: With the luncheon with the president. I think it's going to be
largely positive, 99.9 percent positive and constructive. And I think it's going to get us closer to the point we all want to have, which is a tax bill on the president's desk by Thanksgiving. That's my goal.
BERMAN: That's ambitious. We wish you the best of luck on that. And we'll talk to you again after perhaps this lunch and get a sense of what was discussed.
If I can ask you one more purely political question, senator, that has to deal with your own re-election race. How do you feel about Steve Bannon?
WICKER: Well, I -- listen, I'm -- I'm going to depend on the people of the state of Mississippi. I've been elected a number of times in the first congressional district and twice statewide. I'm running hard. I expect it to be a competitive race. And my wife and my family and I are prepared to work hard. And right now we think we're in a good position to win.
BERMAN: And it doesn't bug you -- it doesn't bug you --
WICKER: And that's basically all -- all I'm prepared to say.
BERMAN: It doesn't -- it doesn't bug you that Steve Bannon wants you to lose?
WICKER: Well, you know, I don't think I'm ever going to get a unanimous vote, but I'm -- I'm going to run on my accomplishments for the state of Mississippi, which are lengthy, and also happy to be ranked first in the Senate in support of President Trump at this point with 96 percent support of the president's positions in terms of our votes.
BERMAN: Senator --
WICKER: So I'm willing to run on my record and I think we'll be fine.
BERMAN: Senator, if i can ask you to stay with us for just one moment, because you're part of the Armed Services Committee and we want to ask you about Niger.
But first, I want to get our -- give our viewers a bit of an update on some of the developments there. This morning we're getting new details on the deadly attack on the U.S. troops in Niger. The Pentagon revising its timeline, vowing transparency.
Michelle Kosinski is live in Washington with more.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John.
Right, so we had the chairman of the Joint Chiefs obviously feeling like he needed to come out and answer questions. In fact, making a point to take all of the questions and repeatedly saying that the public is owed more information.
Still, though, there was so many questions that he could not answer. And some basic ones, too. Like, were exactly were these troops when they started taking fire? Were they wearing body armor?
We're now three weeks from when this happened.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): America's top general providing some answers, but not many, detailing a resized timeline of the ambush in Niger that killed four American troops.
GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD JR., CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We owe you more information. More importantly, we owe the families of the fallen more information.
KOSINSKI: October 3rd, 12 members of the U.S. special operations task force leave the capital of Niger with 30 Nigerian troops. Their goal, a reconnaissance mission in a village about 53 miles north.
DUNFORD: The assessment by our leaders on the ground at that time was that contact with the enemy was unlikely.
KOSINSKI: But the next day, on their way back to the capital, midmorning, they came under fire, by around 50 local fighters with ties to ISIS, carrying small arms, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
The special forces team engaged in a firefight for about an hour before requesting help. Within minutes, a U.S. drone was overhead, French jets were scrambled, but took another hour to arrive to the remote location.
[09:10:11] DUNFORD: I don't know that they thought they needed support prior to that time. I don't know how this attack unfolded. I don't know what their initial assessment was of what they were confronted with.
KOSINSKI: The French did not drop bombs. U.S. officials said Friday the pilots had the authority, but could not readily identify enemy forces and did not want to risk hitting U.S. or Nigerian allies. It was evening by the time the French could evacuate the injured and bodies of the dead Americans.
But it remains unclear how Sergeant La David Johnson became separated from the group and why it took two days to locate his body about a mile away.
DUNFORD: Did the mission of U.S. forces change during the operation? Did our forces have adequate intelligence, equipment and training? Was there a pre-mission assess of the threat in the area accurate?
KOSINSKI: Now, some of the details to come out were surprising. For example, this was not a 30-minute or so firefight. This was several awful hours starting in midmorning and not ending until the evening.
BERMAN: All right, Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much for that report.
Back with me now, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who serves on the Armed Services Committee.
And, senator, I simply want to ask you, we heard Michelle's report. You're going to get a classified briefing as a member of the Armed Services Committee. As you sit here today, what's the number one question you have on this deadly ambush in Niger?
WICKER: Well, I agree with General Dunford and I think General Dunford is certainly the right man for this position. The American people need more information. The elected representatives of the American people in the Congress need more information. And I think we're going to get that.
Yo know, it does seem at first blush that these troops may have thought they had the situation under control and then only about an hour later realized that it had gotten out of hand. So -- but we'll find out. There's no sense in me speculating.
There will be tough questions, and I think the generals and the offices that were close by monitoring the situation have a duty to be forthcoming. And I think they will be. I think the facts will come out and the American people can judge.
BERMAN: Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, thanks so much for your time, sir.
WICKER: Thank you.
BERMAN: All right, the dustup before the sit down. Hours before the president's big lunch with the Republican senators, Senator Bob Corker really in an unbelievable feud with the president.
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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. A Republican U.S. senator just called the president a liar. The president just said this Republican U.S. senator could not get elected, dogcatcher, and these gentlemen are about to have lunch.
Welcome to Tuesday, everybody. Joining me now, CNN political analysts, Margaret Talev, Nathan Gonzales, and David Gregory. Margaret, you know, this lunch is supposed to be about tax cuts. Now, I think, it's a lot about tension, tension that just went to 11 very quickly here.
MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, John, the tension obviously was already there, but it was everybody's plan or intention to keep it under wraps. I talked to White House officials last night about how they were feeling about today's meeting and looking forward to it and they are going to talk about taxes.
And you know, that's how it was supposed to go. It may still, to some degree but when you have both what Senator Corker said and what President Trump has said this morning, it changes the dynamic.
And it really lays bare the concerns, the real concerns among many of Republican senators that the president himself is going to blow up. This tax deal that's so crucial to many of their re-elections and to the Republican platform for 2018.
BERMAN: Yes. I mean, David, the words from Bob Corker are remarkable, untruths from an utterly untruthful president. This is not an election. This is a sitting president of the United States and a sitting Republican senator now in a back and forth here, and it's hard to digest. It's hard to make sense of.
DAVID GREROGY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it is worth taking a moment to be stunned because it is a Republican senator with a Republican president. This is a fight going on within his own party. It's very 19th Century in its tone if you think about battles between the like of Charles (inaudible) on some issues in reconstruction.
But that is the Trump era, right? I mean, this is the discourse, the political discourse in the Trump era with a president who very much stands outside of the party system as a populist leader, and we are seeing what that looks like.
Substantively what Corker is getting at is a lot of Republicans don't want the president involved in a legislative process that is a priority for them, and it is for him, too, but the mechanics are something they are worried that he will muck up.
And you saw his comments about, you know, how to fund the tax cuts as narrowing options for Republicans, that's the issue here. What happened with health care, Republicans worry will happen on tax reform as well. They have got very few avenues left to achieve something that is going to help them as a party in a midterm race next year.
BERMAN: Nathan, you know, it is your job to chart congressional races around the country right now, for these Republican members of Congress, how important is the tax cut?
[09:20:06] "Politico" writes this morning, the Republican strategist are saying if the party does not deliver on a large-scale tax cut before the election, they will lose their House majority. That dire?
NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's big. I mean, as David was talking about, if it's because they were not able to deliver on health care, this tax was supposed to be the easy one, and this morning's news is an example of how this is not going to be easy.
I think there's a real sense here in Washington among Republicans whether it's the White House or on Capitol Hill that Republicans have to deliver on a major campaign promise, and this is not just a promise that was made in 2016, but promises that have been made over the last eight years about how they were going to undo part of President Obama's legacy.
This is a real challenge. I think the president believes that those types of tweets, that's going to help him, that that's going to coerce senators into acting a certain way, but that's just not how U.S. senators act. When you push them like that, it causes them to react and go the other way.
BERMAN: They don't like to be insulted? I'm shocked.
GREGORY: But I think, John, I think the important point here that Nathan is getting at is, you know, politicians are going to react differently than others might in a business deal, who have some reason to come back.
You know, Bob Corker is not running for re-election. He is going to speak his mind and he has enough backup right now in Tennessee to do that. John McCain is now in a similar position. But this has an impact on how the president actually does business with his own party on major legislation.
And he's in the middle of a fight that's going to royal not just this year but next year and probably through 2020 about what the Republican Party is, especially with him at the helm.
BERMAN: Margaret, I will play you another bite from Bob Corker. He's talking about policy with North Korea, but it's the tone and the words used that I think also apply to this tax debate. He basically says leave things to the professionals. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR BOB CORKER (R-SC), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The president undermines our secretary of state, raises tensions in the area by virtue of the tweets he sends out. I would just like him to leave it to the professionals for a while and see if we can do something constructive for our country, the region, and the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You get the sense he wants to leave it to the professionals, Senator Corker does, on tax cuts as well. The details here matter. I just talked to Senator Wicker from Mississippi who says he doesn't want to negotiate the details in public.
Well, the public needs to know what is going to be part of these tax cuts, how they are going to be paid for. He said he didn't know whether or not the president supports keeping the same tax rates on people making more than $1 million. TALEV: And there are a handful of real sort of policy decisions or turns on the road that Republican lawmakers are grappling with right now, what to do about the state and local deductions. Of course, most Republicans are in favor of the elimination for that.
But there's a couple dozen and a couple dozen matters -- hugely an issue in a debate like this or you know, in terms of how to effect tax breaks for the very wealthy, whether to leave those untouched and do the cuts for the others.
When you look at all these pieces, there's such a slim margin for error on all of these fronts, and all of these kinds of amendments are going to come down to one or two votes. And then how much bang do you get for your buck if you are doing it to stimulate growth quickly, and if that's kind of the explanation for this, how slowly you ease into some of the changes matters.
And so, the concern that some of these Republicans have is that if the president inserts himself publicly into the debate, if he weighs in, as we saw him do on the 401(k) issue, yesterday, that that could scuttle the potential sort of compromise right before the vote.
Now on 401(k)s, you know, maybe most people agree that was good that he laid down a marker there, but on some of these other issues, and we have seen it on Iran and North Korea, and now on health care, and all of those informing Republicans concerns about how the tax debate plays out.
BERMAN: You know, Nathan, it's interesting. Bob Corker has long said that other Republicans share the same feelings that he does. They just won't speak them out loud on the president's confidence. What would force them to say it out loud? I actually think it might be tied to the tax cut here. If they don't have anything that they can deliver to their constituents, then maybe the dam will break?
GONZALES: Right. I mean, these -- I think these Republican elected officials, not many of them personally like the president or agree with his tactics or what he's doing, but many of their constituents do. Their constituents like how the president is shaking things up and sticking it to the establishment and the status quo.
And that's the rub, and that's why Republicans have to deliver on a campaign promise, taxes, specifically middle-class tax cuts because if they don't then they risk an apathetic Republican base, and if you start taking 10 or 20 percent of Republicans who are loyal to the president, who think that there's no difference between Democrats and Republicans in Washington and they don't vote in 2018, that's when Democrats start to have a big election cycle.
[09:25:12] BERMAN: All right. Margaret, Nathan, David, thank you all very, very much. A big morning here. The president says he's saving the 401(k), but who knew it need saving? Joining me now, Christine Romans, CNN's chief business correspondent.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The president saying the tax breaks of the 401(k) will remain, and tax reform is so hard because you have to give something up to reform the tax code. Every single little break, and every little goodie in there has a constituency and the tax writers will have an uphill climb to make sure the puzzle works here.
Let's talk about, medical costs, student loans, and job-related expenses, and state and local tax deductions. That's big in some places. How about your property taxes? Your mortgage interests deduction and charitable giving is safe, but everything should be on the table for true tax reform, or does it turn out to be corporate tax cuts, and that's one possibility here.
I want you to look at the analysis, and in the near term, John, at the very least you will see foreign investors, big beneficiaries, under corporate tax relief, more than middle class families in terms of the value of those tax cuts for corporations.
Look, Wall Street wants tax reform, and they really want the tax cuts and that's one of the reasons why the markets have done so well this year.
BERMAN: Christine, Wall Street wants tax reforms, the president wants to call them tax cuts. He doesn't like tax reform, the phrase.
ROMANS: The president really wants -- I think he really believes he wants the middle class to benefit here, but what his Republican framework is corporate tax relief, and they are trying to explain it that it will mean a $4,000 raise for American workers if companies have to pay less taxes, it's good for workers in the long run.
Wall Street really wants tax cuts badly, and you will see a pop on Wall Street today, by the way, because the Caterpillar earnings and 3M earnings are very, very good. By the way, while companies are saying they need tax reform, they are making a lot of money with the way it is right now.
BERMAN: Imagine that. Christine Romans, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.
ISIS sitting on more than a billion dollars so what is next for the terror group? Stay with us.