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Senators Debating Tax Bill; GOP Moves toward Historic Victory; Trump Courts Controversy; British Officials Condemn Retweets; Theresa May Speaks; Trump Questions Obama's Birth Certificate. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 30, 2017 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Conyers hospitalized for stress as House Leader Nancy Pelosi finally calls for his resignation. The ball in Conyers's court.

But we begin with plans for a possible shake-up in the Trump administration, specifically over at the State Department. Multiple government officials now telling CNN that the White House is considering replacing secretary of state Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo. The move could happen in the next few months or maybe earlier.

Moments ago, President Trump was asked about Tillerson's fate by reporters in the Oval Office.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should Rex -- do you have Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he going to stay on his job?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. What more can you tell us about this possible shake-up and the timing?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, obviously, this has been something that's been speculated about for some time now, ever since it was revealed that the secretary of state referred to the president as a moron and then president fired back and essentially challenged Rex Tillerson to an I.Q. test.

You know, there has been bad blood -- blood in the water for several weeks now. And just this morning, yes, we were able to confirm some of these conversations that are occurring inside the White House that the president is giving serious consideration to replacing Rex Tillerson with the CIA director, Mike Pompeo, who is very in line with the president's thinking on a whole slew of issues. So, that is something that is afoot.

And, of course, the question is, who would replace Mike Pompeo over at the CIA? The leading candidate, at this point, appears to be Tom Cotton, the senator from Arkansas who, again, also appears to be very much in line with the president's thinking on foreign policy and national security issues.

So, both of those things have come up.

I will tell you that the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was asked about this earlier this morning. You saw the president was asked about it in that pool spray with the crown prince of Bahrain. The president saying, Rex is here. Rex is here.

Well, Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, she echoed that saying, as the president just said, Rex is here. There are no personnel announcements at this time.

Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department and the entire cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump's administration.

Wolf, you know this from watching this for some time. That is not a ringing endorsement from the White House for Secretary Tillerson.

BLITZER: It certainly isn't. And the president had an opportunity, during that little photo op, to say something nice about Secretary Tillerson. The only thing he said he is, he's here, right? He didn't go on. He didn't go out of his way.

Although, so many news organizations, right now, not only CNN, are reporting about this possible job replacement.

ACOSTA: That's right.

And as we know, the president and Secretary Tillerson have been butting heads for some time. You will recall when Tillerson was over in Asia this year, the president was essentially saying, publicly on Twitter, that diplomacy was not working when it comes to North Korea. Basically cutting off the secretary of state at the knees.

And this has been going on for some time. It appears to be coming to a head. At this point, the White House is not ready to say that Rex Tillerson is out. But when you talk to a number of officials and sources close to the White House, they are saying that this is all but a done deal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, multiple news organizations reporting it now -- right now.

All right, thanks very much. Jim Acosta over at the White House. This potential shake-up comes amid global backlash over President Trump's retweeting anti-Muslim videos from a British hate group. A number of U.K. officials are now condemning the president's actions, including the prime minister, the mayor of London, the head of the church of England, and several members of parliament.

One lawmaker says the group the president retweeted is the equivalent of the KKK, the Ku Klux Klan, here in the United States. And that President Trump's seeming endorsement of the group could cost him his upcoming state visit.


STEPHEN DOUGHTY, LABOUR PARTY: It's very clear that British lawmakers, from all parties, all parts of the House and members of the cabinets, are deeply unhappy at what the president has done. We would not welcome him here for a state visit.


BLITZER: Another member of parliament, Paul Flynn, goes even further, tweeting that the president of the United States should be arrested if he even steps foot in the U.K.

Let's go to our Correspondent Diana Magnay. She's in London outside Number 10 Downing Street. Diana, is this kind of condemnation of the U.S. president, from high-ranking British officials, normal? Clearly, it's not.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is not normal but it's also not normal to have a U.S. president engage in this kind of direct Twitter attack on a major U.S. ally.

There has, of course, been a good deal of criticism of Donald Trump in this country in his presidency so far. And there have been calls before for his state visits to be rescinded.

[13:05:06] But this is the first time that the government has been as unequivocal in calling out behavior that's considered deeply inappropriate and damaging to the special relationship.

The government line has been very clear, though, that the special relationship is more important and will outlast individual presidents. But this is what Theresa May had to say to Donald Trump.


THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: The fact that we work together does not mean that we are afraid to say or when we think the United States have got it wrong and to be very clear with them. And I'm very clear. The retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do.


MAGNAY: What the British prime minister refused to do was to rescind that state visit. She is under considerable pressure to do so, Wolf. She has been in the past. And she said the invitation has been extended. It has been accepted. No date has been fixed. But that was all she was prepared to say.

But what I think is important to mention there is that it would be highly unusual, if not unprecedented, to actually revoke a state visit. It might worsen diplomatic relations yet further which is something she really wants to avoid, especially as she depends so much on the U.S. in her post Brexit future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. All right, Diana, thank you very much. Diana Magnay reporting from London.

Let's bring in our panel to talk about both of these major stories. With us, former State Department spokesman, John Kirby, senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, Margaret Talev. And Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich.

John, less than a year into the presidency, the signals coming of a possible shake-up and the signals not just one news organization or two but multiple news organizations, being told by sources in the White House or close to the White House that this shake-up is in the works over the next few weeks or months.

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, I don't know that it's all that surprising. I mean, we all heard that Tillerson was, sort of, on the short time there. That even he was not planning to stay much longer than the end of the year.

Obviously, the tensions between him and President Trump have been pretty self-evident, whether it's the Trump tweeting that he's wasting his time on diplomacy or whether the reports that Tillerson called him a moron. Obviously, that didn't set the stage for a very healthy White House State Department relations.

Plus, there's a lot of turmoil at state and a lot of morale problems. His reorganization is not going well, certainly not being communicated well. And last but not least, our foreign policy agenda around the world is, at best, unclear and, at worst, chaotic to many of our allies and partners around the world.

BLITZER: It wasn't, Margaret, exactly a ringing endorsement of Tillerson from the president today or from the White House press secretary, very cautious statements.

But you understand Washington. We all understand Washington. When multiple news organizations are hearing from sources that a shake-up like this is in the works, that is designed, at least in part, to send a message to the secretary of state, you know what? It's time to leave.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's certainly true. And the president couldn't make this end right now if he wanted to. That statement from Sarah Sanders certainly suggests that this is a weeks or months process, not days or by the end-of-the-week process. So, I think, we had heard over the summer -- you know, beginning over the summer, these rumblings, the idea that Tillerson might want to leave. Then, the situation heightened in North Korea. All of a sudden, that talk stopped and he moved to, kind of, tamp down on those. Oh, this is petty, yada, yada.

I think what you're looking at is, at the one-year mark of the Trump administration, the real -- very real possibility that there will be a -- kind of, a wholesale change from the team. Much of the team that he started out with.

And the question is, does Tillerson get to set the terms of his departure or does Trump? This way, it really doesn't matter because he's, sort of, politically, a dead man walking for as long as he sticks around.

KUCINICH: But one thing we haven't seen, I mean, Trump was very aggressive toward Jeff Sessions when he wanted to push him out. You haven't seen that as much with Rex Tillerson. Sure, he's undermined him in several tweets and otherwise, policy-wise.

But you haven't seen the, sort of, you can't sit with us. We're mad at you, maybe you should leave, that we saw with Jeff Sessions. So, that's a ray of sunshine for Rex Tillerson.

KIRBY: Honestly, if I was advising Mr. Tillerson, and obviously I'm not, I would tell him to start writing his letter of resignation now. I mean, clearly, these are strong signals, from the White House, that he's no longer welcome.

And he probably lost the trust and confidence of the president of the United States. That's when you know it's time to go. At least you can save your dignity, in that regard.

BLITZER: And it's not just the sources that were saying that Tillerson should go. But they got more details, Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, former member of Congress, that he would be in line to become the next secretary of state.

Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas, he would be in line to replace Pompeo over at the CIA. So, they've got specific details, multiple sources all providing this information to multiple news organizations.

TALEV: Yes, and it makes sense to have a plan. I mean, if you know that Tillerson probably wants to go anyway, and that the president wants Tillerson to go, it really makes sense for the chief of staff to have a good plan of succession. Who's the top candidate? If he moved, what would you replace him with?

[13:10:08] It's entirely another matter to leak it out so they're going to publish it and totally humiliate the sitting secretary of state. So, that's in a different trench.

KUCINICH: Right. Right. And these are also two people that could pass a Senate confirmation. Pompeo has already been through it. Tom Cotton is a sitting senator. He knows everyone. They're his colleagues. So, this wouldn't be necessarily a confirmation fight that they've seen on the front end of a lot of these nominees.

KIRBY: No. But in Cotton's case, it does open up now a Senate seat, --


KIRBY: -- which I think -- I would hope this is figuring into their calculations.

BLITZER: How serious is this dispute right now between the U.S., the Trump administration, and the U.K.? The dispute over these retweets that the president did yesterday?

KIRBY: It's serious, Wolf. I mean, the United Kingdom is our oldest and closest ally. And for them, for the prime minister to come out publicly like that and censure the president of the United States over something like a tweet, that's significant because of the content of those tweets.

But, look, it not only reinforces the ISIS narrative that this is a culture, a religious war. It not only connotes racist overtones by our president, it tells the world that we're not all that interested in being a leader anymore.

I spoke to a colleague, a former colleague of mine, who's serving overseas in a Muslim nation about what the reaction was. And it surprised me. Her reaction was that there wasn't a lot of surprise there. That -- and that was the saddest part that they've, sort of, come to expect that the United States is retrenching from the world and that we don't really stand for anything anymore.

BLITZER: Is there anyone in the White House who really is telling the president, you know, Mr. President, you're not a private citizen anymore. You're the president of the United States. You have to be careful what you tweet and what you retweet.

And if you're retweeting videos that are questionable, maybe have the government, the national security council, the intelligence community check to see if those videos even are authentic?

TALEV: Yes, of course. And they are the, kind of, what we all have come to think of the establishment guard rails of the Trump administration on foreign and security policy. Mattis, Tillerson and H.R. McMaster, none of them would recommend retweeting something like this.

The implications are not only profound for American foreign policy, but for relationships with other countries because when you retweet controversial video from another country, you're now involving yourself in another country's politics, not just American politics.

BLITZER: There's been very angry, as we saw in Diana Magnay's report from Number 10 Downing Street in London, very angry reaction coming in from the British Parliament as well as from the prime minister herself.

Jim Acosta, our White House Correspondent, as you know, Jackie, is reporting President Trump has privately said he would have done better, even better, in the election if he would have kept raising doubts about former President Obama's place of birth.

It's raising all sorts of additional questions about the president. Why is he also raising the possibility that maybe the audio on that "Access Hollywood" video is not really authentic, is not really him?

KUCUNICH: He doesn't want to admit that he was wrong and these are two very high-profile incidents that he did. And it -- during -- he felt like he listened to someone else tell him to do this. And (INAUDIBLE) because it was during the campaign.

Well, now, he's done all these things and there really hasn't been any lasting consequences from a lot of these tweets and in terms of the ballot box. So, as a result, he is looking back and saying, well, why did I do that? There's no repercussions for me doing these sort of things. So, it -- what do you say about it?

BLITZER: Margaret, remember when he finally said, yes, President Obama was born in the United States, it was very -- it was hard for him to say it. They didn't dwell on it very long.

And when he apologized for the "Access Hollywood" video and acknowledged that was him, that was very painful for him to do and out of character on both of those issues but he doesn't like to apologize.

TALEV: And, actually, in both incidences, it doesn't matter what he says because it matters what's true. And we know that President Obama is an American-born U.S. citizen and the tape speaks for itself.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly does.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, a votarama. The Republican push to get a sweeping tax plan through the Senate are hurtles toward a dramatic conclusion. Can they get it done?

Plus, the embattled Congressman John Conyers, he's hospitalized in Detroit right now, amid a sexual harassment scandal that has the top leaders in the House, the Democrats, calling on him to resign.

And a story you saw first here on CNN. A major player talking in the Russia investigation. The president's own son in law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, sitting down with the special counsel's team. We have information. Stand by.



[13:19:04] BLITZER: Positive or negative, one way or another, the Republican tax bill will affect every American. But even right now the final version of the bill is being debated in the Senate. You're looking at live pictures right now as they move ever closer to this historic vote.

CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly's up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, it's a numbers game. First of all, according to the Congressional Budget Office, more than a trillion dollars added to the deficit over the next 10 years. Hundreds of millions of people affected by all of this.

But it comes down to one smaller number, 50. Have Republicans, according to all the estimates you've seen and heard, reached that magic number? If they get 50, it's a tie in the Senate. The vice president, who's the president of the Senate, he breaks the tie and the legislation passes.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, Republican aides say they're not quite there yet. But if there's a line, and 50 is that line, they're walked right up to that line. Republican leaders getting a major boost when Senator John McCain, earlier this morning, put out a statement saying he was going to support the bill.

[13:20:02] And, Wolf, he was a wildcard from the beginning. I've talked to several senior Republican aides over the course of the last couple of weeks, one of whom referred McCain -- to McCain's position as a, quote, black box. They didn't know where he was going to end up.

Wolf, I'm sure you remember, he opposed the 2001, 2003 Bush tax cuts. He's obviously had a lot of process problems. That what helped him sink health care during that process. So his willingness is support this bill is a major boost for Republican leaders.

But the fact remains, they're not there yet. There's still some pretty complicated issues for them to figure out. But it looks like they are going to get there at some point and they might vote on it as soon as tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, look -- take a look at the Dow Jones number, Phil. You see it, another record high, above 24,000. It's up already 342 points on this day.

Clearly, Phil, it looks like investors, at least according to the Dow Jones, they like this tax bill. They assume it's going to pass.

MATTINGLY: Yes, there's no question about it. I think the optimism extends to Wall Street, extends inside kind of investment banking, what they're looking at right now, what their analysts are looking at right now, what their economists are looking at right now.

I think the big question right now, Wolf, is, if this is going to pass, and it looks like it's on that way right now, what exactly does it mean? You noted at the top, this obviously has major implications on deficits. It has major implications for everybody and every company.

I think one of the interesting elements here is how this plan is structured right now. It is certainly more heavily weighted towards the corporate side and the individual side. Now, that's a feature. That's not a bug. They did that deliberately, Republicans did, because of the belief that if you -- particularly on the corporate rate side, drop that from 35 to 20 percent, allowing immediate expensing for a five-year period. That will help boost growth in the United States and that will lead to wage growth.

The question right now is, will that actually come to fruition, particularly when you look at what Republicans are doing on the individual side of the tax code. Wolf, if you look in the near term in 2019, the joint committee on taxation, yesterday releasing an analysis, more than 60 percent of individuals will get a tax cut. But, 8 percent will get a tax increase. That's in the first year of this. That's millions of people right there.

If you go even further, and this is where the differentiation between the corporate side and the individual side comes in, Republicans unset the individual tax cuts in -- at the end of 2025. When you look at the numbers, by 2027, the number of individual who would get a tax increase, because of that sunset, goes up dramatically. And that could be problematic going forward.

That said, Wolf, I can't stress this enough, they are on the path right now to get this done. And, as I noted, it could be done as soon as tonight.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. But clearly the Dow Jones, record high right now. First time over 24,000.

Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Let's welcome Senator Mike Rounds. He's a Republican, South Dakota. He's a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Appreciate the opportunity, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get to the tax bill in a moment, but let's go through a few of the questions of the day right now and talk about the president's week.

He's been courting (ph) some serious controversy, as you know. On Monday it was what was seen as a racist comment during a ceremony honoring World War II heroes. Tuesday he was attacking African- American athletes for not standing for the national anthem at football games. He renewed his false claims about where former President Obama was born. Yesterday he retweeted those anti-Muslim videos. The White House admitted they may not even have been real.

Are you troubled, like so many of your colleagues, Democrats and Republicans are, about these actions which seem to take away from the big issue on his agenda right now, getting this tax bill passed?

ROUNDS: You know, he met with us on Tuesday and he was an absolute gentlemen. He was deferential to members in the United States Senate. He listened. He was looking to make a deal for what he considers to be one of the most important things that we're going to do this year, which is the tax bill. And I know we're going to get to talking about it.

I've told folks, they've asked me, you know, have you been following the tweets? I don't follow the tweets. We've got lots of things to do up here. There's always -- as Betsy DeVos says, you should always think about what happens when you say something about another person. And so, for me, my perspective, I'm going to focus on what we're getting done. I'm going to focus on his actions.

In this particular case, his nominations have been great. And the fact that he's actually been working with us to get a tax bill crafted, that's very important to us. I think that's what most of the American public in my part of the country anyway is focused on.

BLITZER: But, senator, you've got to admit, his actions include official White House statements. And the White House itself says that these tweets are official White House statements on behalf of the president.

And the latest resulted in an unusual extraordinary criticism of the president from one of our closest allies, the British prime minister, Theresa May. She's very upset about these anti-Muslim retweets. Let me just get your thoughts on that, then we'll move on.

ROUNDS: Well, I'm not the president, but if I was the president, I wouldn't be doing it. Fair enough?

BLITZER: I -- that's what I've been hearing from a lot of your Republican colleagues, maybe he should cool it with all the tweets.

Let's talk about the tax bill. I know you're a big supporter of the Republican tax bill. There's still a little bit of a question, although it seems to be moving forward. How optimistic are you right now that it's going to pass the Senate?

[13:25:10] ROUNDS: The vast majority of our members, in fact all of our members, have said very clearly that they want to be at yes. So rather than sometimes we are looking for a reason not to vote for it, what you're finding right now is in our conference there is 100 percent participation and there's been 100 percent of the members who have said, look, I want to be a yes, I want to be a part of winning this. We recognize how critical it is. Failure is not an option.

But there's also the side of it which says, we can make it better. And there's folks that are really trying hard to make it better. And, in their opinion, they think there's recommendations out there that should be adopted. That's a part of the process. In fact, it's a healthy part of the process.

So it is, as we've talked before, it's making sausage. Some people like different spices and so forth. The end result, I think we're going to be at yes and I think we're going to get it across the goal line and then we'll start working with the House and a conference committee, one more opportunity to fine tune it. BLITZER: Supporters of the bill, including yourself, say it will

clearly boost the U.S. economy. But so many economists say that it's not going to boost the economy all that much. We've heard about triggers that will click in if the economic benefits that you expect aren't reached. Have those triggers, those so-called triggers, meaning there could be a cutback in tax cuts if the economy doesn't boom, as you expect it will. Have those triggers been agreed on?

ROUNDS: No, they have not. And, in fact, part of the discussion has been with member who have concerns and they don't want to have the debt increase. They want to make sure this works. And they'd like to, if it's possible, to have some assurances they're not going to increase the debt more than it might otherwise be increased.

And, for many of us, we don't think this is going to increase the debt. We think this is actually the first opportunity to grow the economy, actually bring in revenues greater than what we're going to be releasing for tax rate reductions.

Here's the deal. If we didn't think that this was going to actually generate more revenue than what it costs, we wouldn't be doing it. Our goal is, is to actually have enough revenue to pay the bills long term. We can't bill -- we can't fight our way out of the deficit we've got right now unless we have a stronger economy.

And right now, look, there are a lot of people that said that the 1.8 percent economy growth that was here for the last couple of years, that that was about as good as we could do. We disagreed with that. Clearly the business community disagrees with it. Look what's happened since the president was elected. The fourth quarter last year and through the first three quarters of this year, you're seeing growth that's coming in, in that 3 percent growth range. And that's before the tax rates even take effect.

BLITZER: But you've also -- senator, you've also seen the Congressional Budget Office say that this tax bill, in the Senate, as it currently stands, will increase the nation's debt by $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. That's a -- that's -- we already have a $20 trillion debt and another $1.4 trillion, that's a lot of money.

ROUNDS: I am really glad you bring it up because what the CBO is required to look at is static scoring only. They can't look at any improvement in the economy based upon having more money to invest. They can't look at the fact that businesses would actually come back from overseas.

There were 4,700 businesses that left the United States and moved overseas over the last 10 years. You have to stop that hemorrhage. And when you start bringing them back in, they bring their jobs with them. They bring that investment capital back into the United States. It's invested here rather than overseas. That adds to the economy.

We know that it's between $2.7 and $3.5 trillion minimum that could be returned to the United States through our repatriation efforts. When that comes back into the United States, it's invested here. That adds to the capital necessary for improvements in salary policy, it adds to the value for plant growth, it adds for intellectual property purchases and so forth. The only way you grow the economy is literally by getting business back to business again. And when that happens, the American people will benefit from it.

BLITZER: One final question. I know you've got to run. If, in fact, your upbeat assessment of the economy, the growth of the economy, doesn't hold in two or three years, are you ready to support a trigger that would increase taxes for individuals, maybe for businesses as well?

ROUNDS: Well, what we've actually talked about is -- and that's the discussion point right now is, what can we include in this for those people that do believe that that's a possibility? What can we do to assure them that something like that would be in effect? My position has been, we're legislators. We're here now. We should make decisions now based upon our best belief. We should trust future legislative bodies to be able to make good decisions as well and not tie them into an automatic rate increase that they would have to address at that point. Allow them to make some good decisions as well.

[13:29:50] It's kind of like saying, the folks that were here 10 years ago, the way that they put in a budget control act and so forth, suddenly now we're all talking about the fact that it failed and yet we're stuck with that. And if you take a look at the 1974 budget act, we're living with that right now even though our deficit has continued to rise through that entire time period. If they wouldn't have done that to us, we would have been in a better position to respond to the needs today.