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AT THIS HOUR

Ailing Senators Could Erase GOP's Majority; Corporations And The Rich Enjoy Biggest Cuts In GOP Plan; U.S. F-22s Intercept Russian Jets Over Syria; WAPO: Trump Has Never Held Cabinet Meeting On Russia; Putin: Russia-U.S. Collusion "All Dreamed Up" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 14, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- I'm John Berman "AT THIS HOUR with Kate Bolduan" starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan. Republicans are inching closer to their first big legislative win in the Trump era, but will the overhaul of the nation's tax code put more money in your pocket or take it out? We will crunch the numbers.

And also, this, minutes from now, House Speaker Paul Ryan will be talking to reporters about this, of course. Are House Republicans happy since the final deal is looking more like the Senate version than the House. And lingering over this whole debate, the timeline or more like the time trial. How fast can Republicans get this passed? And on the president's desk is a major priority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We want to give you, the American people, a giant tax cut for Christmas, and when I say giant, I mean giant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: One possible reason for the push, the Republicans' big Senate defeat in Alabama. Newly elected Democrat Doug Jones will be seated within weeks making the Senate map that much more difficult for an already number crunched slim Republican majority.

Other numbers they need to worry about, poll numbers. A majority of the public is against the Republican plan. Only 26 percent backing it at the moment.

And there's more, two Republican senators battling health problems and if they can't vote that's a whole other level of trouble.

Let's get over to Capitol Hill and see where things stand right now. CNN's congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly is there. Phil, you have the details and the important people speaking to you. What are they telling you right now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, if you look at politics, the timeline, if you look at the votes there's a lot to unpack. Start with the policy, Kate, because obviously this is extraordinarily important. Virtually every American will be impacted by this bill.

That they expect to pass as soon as early next week. What Republicans have changed, we want to start with the corporate rate. That was being set both in the House and Senate at 20 percent, moved up to 21 percent. Why? There's $100 billion approximately of revenue there. They needed that to pay for a lot of other changes.

Mortgage interest rate deductions. Senate left it untouched, the House took it to 500,000. They will meet in the middle, 750,000. The state and local tax deduction, Kate, you know, very well this has been a huge issue for high tax states like New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, that will be expanded to go beyond just property tax and include sales and income tax as well.

That's something they've been looking for and something very, very expensive. That's why they need that extra money. One other thing that caught the eye of Democrats who have been attacking this plan throughout as a sap to the wealthy is they have decided to lower the top rate.

Now the Senate did that, took it down from 39.6 to 38.5 percent. The House left the top rate at 39.6. Where they have agreed on at 37 percent for the highest individual rate. I asked the House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, one of the co-authors of the bill, Sherpas of this entire process, why exactly do that? Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: Those incomes are high in California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois. They need relief because we are -- we're going to allow state and local deductions, property and income and sales, up to $10,000, and so the -- lowering that rate was important for those high tax states which Democrats have complained about as well, and so this really is a solution they've been asking for.

I think just because the rate is going down, they're complaining, but in truth, this helps families. Remember our principle, help everyone regardless of where they live. This is a big part of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Kate, there's the policy rationale. Obviously, the politics, Democrats have seized on this and will continue to attack on it. You mentioned where the votes are right now, that's an open question. The chairman, Brady, said that they felt they were comfortable in the House.

The Senate still a lot of open questions. Keep your eye on Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker. A lot of the people we paid attention to throughout the Senate debate earlier and also keep an eye on those two senator, Tad Cochran and John McCain, who have had health issues. Senator Cochran's spokesman said very clearly he plans to be back next week for any potential vote. Senator McCain is still in Walter Reed Medical Center recovering from his cancer treatment.

So, there are a lot of open questions here, but one question that is completely answered, they are moving quickly, expect to have this done by early next week, and potentially on the president's desk, Kate, by as soon as Wednesday.

BOLDUAN: Yes. One question that is seems to be exactly answered are they going to put this to the floor is absolutely yes at this point. There's no question. Great to see you, Phil. A lot going on there. Really appreciate it.

So, as we've talked about, President Trump has promised, quote, "a giant tax cut for Christmas," but for whom? Phil started laying it out for us, but let's dive deeper into the numbers.

Chief business correspondent, Christine Romans digging into all of this. So, Christine, where do you want to begin? What do you see in this plan?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's talk about where the biggest benefits tilt here, right? The biggest changes help corporations and the wealthy. Let me begin by telling you about the individual rate. This is pretty big here. Top individual rate, slashed to 37 percent.

Lower as Phil said than both of the bills. It is a concession to top earners in high tax states, who are losing that state and local tax break. On mortgage interest, the compromise in the middle, filers can deduct the interest on mortgages up to $750,000.

[11:05:09] Keep in mind that's three times the typical home price in America. And the corporate tax rate is cut 21 percent, so that big, big tax cut the president is talking about goes to the corporate rate.

That's a little higher than was promised at 20 percent but way down from the 35 percent that they are -- the average highest rate. Cutting the rate to 21 percent raises the $100 billion in revenue and that helps pay for these cuts.

The GOP argues that lower corporate rates will help everyday Americans, but Kate, there's no guarantee that will add jobs or raise wages. President Trump's closing argument this bill is a giant middle-class tax cut. It is less than advertised though.

We'll need to see the final bill to be sure but in past versions middle class tax cuts are modest and have a short shelf life. In fact, for Americans, making the median income 81 percent get a tax cut right away in 2019, 81 immediately.

That goes down to 14 percent that have a tax cut by the year 2027, and a fourth will pay more. The largest share helping out the top 1 percent along with a few other provisions like, like look at this, doubling the estate tax exemption, raising the threshold for the individual alternative minimum tax, reducing pass-through businesses lowering their tax rate, all of these things help very rich people and businesses.

Now, a bright spot here, deductions, the final bill does retain some of those really important deductions for regular Americans, medical expenses. This is something that families really have to plan for. Deductions for education, student loans, grad students and teacher spending.

You might recall, Kate, you saw grad students walking out of their labs and classrooms last week, they were so worried about this and the signal that it says. You saw teachers worried about how much money they spend every year in a classroom, the simplification of the tax reform would mean they wouldn't be able to write those off. Those made it into the final version.

BOLDUAN: So, you have that in the final version and still let's see where it all ends up. Great to see you. Thank you so much, Christine.

All right. So, Christine laid out perfectly kind of where the numbers stand and what it could mean for you. Let's talk about the politics of it all right now. Joining me now CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash is here and CNN political director, David Chalian here as well. Great to see you, guys. So, Dana, give me your gut right now. I mean, how close is this looking to be?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Extremely close. Look, it already was close the first time that the Senate passed their original bill right, and part of that reason is because, obviously, to state the obvious, the Senate has a pretty thin majority, 52 seats.

They lost Bob Corker who is still very much on the fence with this compromise, not looking like he's moved very much, if at all, and then you have two senators who are not well, Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona. He is currently at Walter Reed Hospital because of the effects of his cancer treatment.

So, you know, the big question is, when they get to that point, what happens? Now I can tell you that my impression just with Senator McCain, for example, is that he's local, he's at Walter Reed and if they get to a point where they are one vote shy, and if, for whatever reason, the senator is still in the hospital, it would be hard to imagine him not finding a way to come back unless, you know, God forbid, things are dire. It doesn't look like that's the case right now.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, because when it comes down to it, again, let's stay in obvious land because that's where we need to be, David, if Cochran and McCain don't vote -- I live in pretend land but stay in obvious land -- if they can't vote and Corker he said he doesn't see anything that's alleviated his concerns about deficit and debt, what do they do? They can't pass it then?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. That would be too many. You heard Dana describe that it sounds like at all costs they will do their best to be there and I think Senator Cochran's office is indicating that he is planning to be at a Monday vote if that's when it takes place.

Again, we won't know about the health concerns, that's the thing, until the actual time of the voting. But what we do know is that the Senate Republicans clearly want Mike Pence, the vice president, to be on hand and around just in case that he has to cast a tie-breaking vote if let's say one of them is not able to come.

And it would be such a hardship on the other one and they're down to 50 they have to make sure the vice president is right there ready to cast the tie-breaking vote.

BOLDUAN: And then there's the question of vote now or wait for Doug Jones. I mean, I think we know where Republicans in control are going. But it's come with a lot of really -- fun looking at old tape. Democrats calling for the delay, Republicans say no, and then the old tape comes when Republican, of course, Scott Brown, won a special election ahead of the health care vote and then all of this happened. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: What I think is clear there will be no further action in the Senate thanks to Senator Webb until Scott Brown is sworn in.

[11:10:04] FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. People of Massachusetts spoke. He's going to be part of that process.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: He said now we have to give Massachusetts their vote, which was a very smart thing for him to say, but that may kill his health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Trump saying that Obama did the right thing. So, now what, Dana?

BASH: You know, it's funny, because with the president, there's a tweet for everything and with Congress there is tape for everything because --

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

BASH: -- it hasn't been that long that Republicans, you know, in the Congress had a very different view of legislation when it was a Democrat in the White House that was either going to sign or not sign.

And look, I mean you can add this to the list of things that Republicans are doing that they promised they wouldn't do. For example, just the notion of reading the bill. I mean, the House and the Senate, the Senate in particular, you remember, the chicken scratch on the side of the actual formal legislation that they voted to approve. This is not long after many of them made campaign promises that they would not vote on anything before having three days to read it. I mean, this is actually a promise. So yes, this is the very clear example of why there is hypocrisy in politics and that when the shoe is on the other foot, whether it's legislation or nominations, that very different tunes are sung by each side.

CHALIAN: Kate, I have to correct you --

BOLDUAN: I forget about that. Go ahead.

CHALIAN: After that January one, it took a couple months. There was a lot that Senate -- the health care time in 2010 still needed to work through as they were trying to reconcile the two bills and deal with those famous reconciliation rules we talk about. It was not like that created a little more heartache inside the Obama White House before they could get the bill across the finish line.

BASH: That's exactly right, but remember, obviously, it was because they were trying to work out how to get the Democratic votes. It wasn't because oh, we're going to wait to see if a Republican is seated for Massachusetts. It was because of the practical reasons which is the same thing we're seeing now.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: So, we have just a couple more days to relive all of the fun from the health care debate because it seems like a reduction of today. Great to see you, guys. Thanks so much.

So, as Republican leaders are striking a deal on taxes, House Speaker Paul Ryan set to face reporters moments from now. We will bring you his comments live when they begin.

And plus this, are personal insecurities affecting national security? Seriously, a new report by "The Washington Post" with new detail and a deep dive on just how many hoops Trump's security staff seem to jump through to avoid, quote/unquote, "upsetting him" with the "r" word, Russia. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:17]

BOLDUAN: Breaking news, we have two defense officials telling CNN that U.S. F-22 fighter jets have intercepted Russian aircraft over Syria. American war planes firing warning flares in the incident.

Let's get over to the Pentagon. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Ryan Browne is joining me with the deals. Ryan, what are you picking up here?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, defense officials telling me now that yesterday these two Russian attack jets crossed what's called the deconfliction line. Now this is something that's set up in Syria to kind of prevent any accidental encounters between U.S. forces and Russian forces.

Both have aircraft operating there. Both conducting airstrikes. They want to prevent any accidental clashes. But officials have said that the Russians are increasingly crossing that line without warning, flying over the Euphrates River, which kind of separates the two forces multiple times, sometimes as many as eight times a day we're being told.

In this instance, the flights were so concerning that U.S. scrambled F-22 stealth jets to intercept the Russian fighters and fired warning flaring, something very unusual in these kinds of intercepts to get their attention and get them out of that area.

So, again, very high tensions here in the skies over Syria as both the Russian and the U.S.-led coalition militaries are operating in close proximity where the risks and chances of miscalculation are very high and a top concern amongst U.S. military officials -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. All right. Ryan, thanks so much. If you're getting more information, please bring it to us. We're going to follow that.

But we also are following this today, President Trump's daily intelligence briefings rearranged to avoid upsetting him. Presentations adjusted to soften the impact all because of one word, Russia.

That's according to a new report in "The Washington Post" which also lays out that the president has not held a single cabinet-level meeting on the issue of Russian meddling. The new piece is a deep dive into President Trump's angry reaction to any talk of Russia's role in the 2016 election.

Here's bit more, quote, "Trump was told that members of his incoming cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia and Trump shot back, so what? Admitting that the kremlin had hacked Democratic Party e-mails, he said, was a trap."

So, the question now, does the president's sensitivity here impact national security here and abroad? Here's one of the reporters behind the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": It radiates across the government and affects every agency that interacts with Russia or has to do with national security. It affects the CIA, the State Department, FBI, and all of the others as well in two ways really.

One, as you said, they have to tip toe around this. They can't talk to the president about it, so they have to find work-arounds to make things happen. Also the administration largely because of Trump's impulses, have tried to undo some of the punishments that the Obama administration put in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:20:05] BOLDUAN: So, there's that and also this involving Russia this morning. Russian President Vladimir Putin has had a lot to say about the U.S. from Trump's performance as a president to intelligence assessments that Russia meddled in the U.S. election to the current tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Let's get over to Moscow right now, CNN international correspondent, Phil Black, he is live from Moscow. Phil, this all comes in this epic Putin, end of-year press conference that he holds. What's the big take?

PHIL BLACK, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, three hours and 40 minutes this year, Kate, and that's not even a record. He did 4:41 once. That's still a lot of time and he covered a lot of ground. Not surprisingly he took a couple questions on Trump and the United States and he described their relationship as good.

He was asked to give a one-year report card on Trump's performance in the job, and he said that's not my job, that's a job for the American people, but he kind of did it anyway. He talked about Donald Trump securing major achievements.

And he pointed to the performance of America's markets saying that's a vote of confidence in the U.S. economy and it shows that people have confidence in the way that it's being managed by Donald Trump as well.

He was also asked about contacts, seemingly many contacts, between Russian officials and Trump's people, particularly during the campaign. Those contacts, as we know, now the subject of many investigations in the U.S. and this is what he had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is all dreamed up by people who are in opposition to Trump, so as to make sure everybody thinks what he's doing and working at is illegitimate. This is very strange because it's being done by people working against the interests of their own country and against the duly elected president of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: Vladimir Putin said he hopes Donald Trump will still make good on one of his election campaign promises and that is improving relations with Russia because he still thinks that's good for Russia, good for America and the world.

This marathon press conference, though, was largely domestic in focus, as you would expect, because it's a presidential election in this country in just three months, and when Vladimir Putin wins, as he's expected to do, that will see him potentially in power until 2024 -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: There you go. More Putin for everyone to deal with. Thank you so much, phil. I appreciate it. Joining me right now to discuss all of this and a lot of elements with regard to Russia today, Jamie Metzl is here, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, former National Security Council staff for the Clinton administration, and also joining us CNN military analyst, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. Thanks so much for being here guys. I really appreciate it.

Jamie, I want to start with this deep dive in "The Washington Post" about just -- and I keep describing it as the hoops that the NSC staff and his presidential daily briefing folks jump through to try to get him the information but not upset him.

Here's how it's described. Let me read you part, "Russia related intelligence that might draw Trump's ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment, not raised orally, said a form intelligence official familiar with the matter.

In other cases Trump's main briefer a veteran CIA analyst adjusts the order of his presentation and texts, aiming to soften the impact. If you talk about Russia meddling interference that takes the presidential daily briefing off the rails," says the second former U.S. intelligence official. What does this mean to you?

JAMIE METZL, SENIOR FELLOW, "ATLANTIC COUNCIL": It means that we are really in trouble.

BOLDUAN: Why?

METZL: Because the entire intelligence apparatus is based on getting the president of the United States the information that he or she someday needs to make important decisions, protecting our national security.

If with all of that effort that we have, we're not able to communicate the information about one of our greatest adversaries in a time of unbelievable crisis such as this, it makes the entire government unable to function.

And if there are questions which are swirling around everywhere about the propriety of the relationship between Donald Trump and his close associates and the Russians, that makes this even worse and more concerning.

BOLDUAN: Colonel, I want to get your take. I mean, from the military perspective, if you can't give -- if you can't give the commander-in- chief the straight and skinny, what they need, is that troubling?

LT. COLONEL RICK FRANCONA (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely. And, you know, you have to wonder, the senior intelligence officials, this is a dereliction of duty if they're not telling the president what he needs to know, not what he wants to know.

You know, I served in the intelligence community for many, many years and you always have the unenviable job of telling the commander the bad news and if the commander is not willing to listen to the bad news and only the good news, then you're going to get a skewed decision. This is the garbage in/garbage out.

Tell the president only what he wants to hear, he will make decisions based on that. This is very troubling if it's, in fact, true. I'm hoping the director of the CIA Mike Pompeo is actually telling the president what's going on in these off-the-record, not written assessments, because someone has to tell the president what's going on.

[11:25:09] BOLDUAN: I guess in one regard, the reporting is that they have to try to figure out a different way to tell him, maybe just making the jobs harder now that they're not necessarily giving him all the information, but you just don't know.

Part of it also, though, Jamie is that -- that came out of "The Washington Post" is that the president has not held a cabinet-level meeting on Russian meddling in the election. Is that surprising to you? Of course, there have been meetings on a lower level, but a cabinet-level meeting do you think that should be expected?

METZL: This is really surprising because what the -- the reason why the cabinet meets and the National Security Council meets is to set an agenda for the government, to set priorities. If we aren't meeting -- if our top leaders aren't meeting to respond to and understand a fundamental threat against American democracy, our elections are the core foundation of our democracy.

If we believe as all of our intelligence services believe is that our democracy and our elections have been attacked, this is something really serious. Russia has invaded Ukraine. There are all kinds of challenges related to Russia.

If we can't talk about that and can't face that adversary, I mean, it's really shocking. Our parents and grandparents' generations spent their lives holding this wall protecting Europe, protecting the world against the aggression that was coming out of the Soviet Union. Now, with the cold war over, we are doing to ourselves what our adversaries for so many years wanted to do to us.

BOLDUAN: And one of the questions that lingers in "The Washington Post" kind of lets it lingering out there, it remains unanswered, why is Trump never explained why he so frequently seems to side with Putin when a question is raised?

But with regard to the real here and now, not just the national security question, but the immediate potential of conflict or misunderstanding over Syria, Colonel Francona, your reaction to what Ryan Browne was just reporting? I hope you had a chance to hear it that F-22s intercepted Russian jets over Syria and had to fire warning flares.

FRANCONA: Yes. This is not the first time this has happened and we've been talking about this now for years ever since the Russian aircraft showed up in Syria in 2015. This has been a problem. We knew this was going to happen and this is why we set up the deconfliction line to prevent these things from happening. The problem is the deconfliction line is too slow, it's too cumbersome. There's no way for these pilots to communicate with each other. We don't speak each other's language and it's very difficult to communicate once in the air.

So, these incidents are going to continue to happen and it's going to get worse unless there's some resolutions to what's going on in Syria. Now if we can work with the Russians to make that happen, that's a good thing.

And I think that one of the administration's goals is to somehow get closer with the Russians on items like Syria. We also have to talk to them about North Korea. We find out that they're behind a lot of this.

Also, their support for Iran. If you look at what Putin is doing in the Middle East I think he's playing this administration even just as well as he played the previous administration. The Russians are on the ascent in the Middle East just like the Iranians.

So, I think it's important that the administration engage with the Russians but turning a blind eye to what happened during the election is probably not a good idea either. I want to say I don't think we should overplay what happened because meddling in an election goes back a long time and I would not say we're exactly blameless in this.

BOLDUAN: And -- when it comes down to it, I think what Colonel Francona is saying is you can walk and chew gum on these issues. You can hold them accountable and not turn a blind eye to what happened in the election and work together with regard to things with North Korea or over Syria or, you know, Russia's involvement with Iran. Jamie, great to see you --

FRANCONA: It's not a --

BOLDUAN: Colonel, great to see you as well. Thanks, guys. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

We are standing by right now for House Speaker Paul Ryan. We will take you to the Hill very shortly. He's set to speak moments from now as Republican leaders say that they have a deal on tax reform and moving full steam ahead. We'll bring to you that live. We'll be right back.

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