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tv   Washington Week  PBS  December 23, 2017 1:30am-2:01am PST

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robert: done deal. republicans pass the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in a generation. i'm robert costa. how the tax bill could affect your paycheck. plus, tensions over the russia probe, tonight on "washington week." president trump: we are making america great again. you haven't heard that, have you? robert: jubilation at the white house as president trump cheers the passage of the republican party's biggest priority -- overhauling the american tax system. >> this has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the trump administration. robert: the vote, along party lines, marks the president's first major legislative victory of the year. the massive package doesn't just cut taxes. it eliminates the insurance mandate under obamacare, lifts a ban on drilling in alaska, and
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adds more than a trillion dollars to the deficit over a decade. democrats say the bill fails the middle class. >> the g.o.p. tax scam is about bleeding the middle class dry to pad the pockets of corporate america and the wealthiest 1%. robert: plus, is the president on a collision course with robert mueller's russia probe, as more republicans accuse the special counsel of corruption. a top democrat issues a warning to the white house. >> any attempt by this president to remove special counsel mueller from his position or to pardon key witnesses, would be a gross abuse of power. robert: we discuss it all with yamiche alcindor of "the new york times," dan balls of "the washington post," andrea mitchell of nbc news and eli stokeles of the "wall street
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journal." >> celebrating 50 years, this is "washington week." funding is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today and research the technologies of tomorrow. some call them veterans. we call them part of our team. >> additional funding is provided by -- newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed
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to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator, robert costa. robert:good evening. president trump is calling the passage of the republicans' tax bill an early christmas gift to americans and invited republicans to the white house. president trump: ultimately what does it mean? it means jobs, jobs, jobs. it's a really special period of time. robert: the massive package provides deep and permanent tax cuts for corporations, tax breaks for the wealthy and more modest and temporary tax reductions for middle class americans. it also repeals part of the affordable care act, a provision that requires all americans to carry health insurance, and it
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lifts a 40-year-old ban on drilling for oil and gas in alaska's arctic national wildlife refuge. this legislation promises to become a flash point in the 2018 elections and could certainly determine whether the g.o.p. retains its majorities in congress. dan, great to have you back on "washington week." the heart of the legislation is the corporate tax cut. they make it permanent. comes from 35 down to 21%. what does that mean for americans and what's going to be the test for this administration as it's enacted? dan: you just heard the president say this is going to be a bill that will ultimately be about jobs. the promise that they are offering the american people is that by cutting the corporate tax rate, they're going to be able to increase economic growth, they're going to be able to create a significant number of new jobs, and that the added economic activity will bring in more tax revenue to the federal
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government. now, we know that the forecasts about both the economy and what this tax bill would do are pretty modest so what are they going to be able to measure it on? i think we're seeing already some of the indicators that they're going to seize on. there have been a number of corporations who have announced they're going to raise the minimum wage for workers to $15 or they're giving workers bonuses. i suspect for a time the administration will seize on every example like that and try to magnify it to give people a sense that there's a huge amount of activity but in the end, the numbers will tell the story. robert: how do we look at this when you think about corporations announcing bonuses at the end of the year, after the tax bill passed. but it's a more long-term effect we have to evaluate. andrea: absolutely. those announcements remind me of a number of announcements from the midwest and rust belt, that
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they were not moving overseas. it turned out to be ephemeral and didn't materialize. the jobs did move overseas and this, again, will have to be proved. these $1,000 bonuses especially from at&t, which has business in front of the justice department with a merger pending, don't amount to a whole lot. gary cohn was quoted as saying that people can do amazing things and renovate their homes and get new refrigerators with $1,000. i don't think he's been shopping for a carton of milk recently. but the fact is that there are very few independent economists who predict the kind of impact on wages that would really matter to the base of donald trump. robert: what about the healthcare law? republicans, as they were at the white house, they were cheering that, in a sense, they repealed
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the affordable care act, president obama's current healthcare law. but how much of this tax bill does it actually deal with healthcare, does it actually gut current law? yamiche: it doesn't gut current law but if you want to be able to say we were able to do taxes and healthcare in one bill, you can superficially say we got a lot of stuff done the democrats said we wouldn't get done but essentially the individual mandate, the part that said you have to buy health insurance, that was the most unpopular part of the bill. people didn't like the fact that the government was telling them you have to do this but they did that because most of the people buying health insurance after the law was passed were people with pre-existing conditions, old or sick people or young people with heart conditions from birth, they were the people that would have to use up a lot of the healthcare so health insurance agencies said we need healthy people to supplement this. now people will be able to not buy health insurance but go to the e.r. and still get
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healthcare which means premiums could go up so i think long term, as people see whether or not if the cost of healthcare increases for them, they'll resent the fact that it was the republicans who did it. robert: keeping an eye on healthcare throughout the process, but andrea mentioned gary cohn, the white house's national economic director. take us inside the process. republicans are battling the pitch from democrats that this was a pro-rich, pro-wall street bill and there are eliminates, not only the corporate tax cut, but the carried interest loophole, that remain as part of current law on taxes. why was that and what was the white house's view in going after carried interest or not? eli: donald trump said it was a loophole, a giveaway to hedge fund managers, people that have a lot of money, we're getting rid of it because it's not helping the middle class voter, the prototypical trump base voter. that's what he said during the campaign but once they got into
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the nitty-gritty of tackling tax reform, the administration was split. i think gary cohn was more disposed to doing that, steve mnuchin not so much but when it got to the hill and we understand that the president laid down a couple of markers on this. corporate tax cut, cutting the corporate rate, and middle class tax cut but after that he basically said to the members of congress, you guys write this bill, figure it out, that's what i want in it. as it went through the process on the hill, especially on the house said, republicans members, enough of them, came forward and said we don't want that loophole going away. kevin brady, a member of texas, a state with a higher percentage of hedge fund folks using that deduction than any other state so a number of lawmakers came forward and scuttled it and you didn't hear much about it recently. i saw an interview that steve mnuchin did when asked about it
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and he said it was not a lot of money. but it is a lot of money they can fund other things they chose not to touch. robert: dan, when you think about the pressure from the business community to keep or get rid of deductions, we thought there may be more pressure from the right to vote against the bill because it raises the deficit over a decade, over a trillion dollars. why weren't republicans on capitol hill scared away from this bill on the deficit issue? dan: there are a lot of republicans who have been deficit hawks for a long time but i think republicans and democrats have learned over the years that you don't lose elections on deficits. you can do what you want with the deficit. the public doesn't like the idea that we have a huge national debt. they don't like the idea of deficits, but they don't necessarily vote on it so democrats have been tagged as the tax-and-spend party. republicans have been tagged as
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the borrow and spend party, which is to say they're prepared not cut spending significantly to do anything with the deficit, and they're prepared to cut taxes and borrow money to do that so i think in the end the impetus was to get a tax bill through. it wasn't going to be pretty. it was going to be very quickly done and the question of the deficit became secondary to the goal of having a tax bill passed so they had something to go and campaign on. andrea: there were a number of senators who had been such deficit hawks, life-long deficit talks, and they're facing credibility problems because they've embraced this now. i think they've wanted to get something done. otherwise, they had nothing to point to, as unpopular as it is in the polling, they think they can sell it. the president thinks he can sell it. call it a middle class tax cut and people will feel something initially in their pockets but the in fact is will go away and
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the corporate tax cut is permanent, down to 21% -- which is blindingly shocking because the corporate world wasn't even asking for 21%. none of the big corporations were paying 37% and they were expecting maybe 29%, but not expecting 21%. it's a real golden opportunity for big business. yamiche: when i was thinking about this tax cut being passed, i started thinking back to all the trump voters i talked to, some who voted for obama and switched to donald trump. the main mentions they gave to me was i want my life to be better, i want my job to come back, i want my family to feel as though the government understands what we're going through. and i don't know if the tax cut will get the republicans there. i don't know if the people who voted for donald trump thinking their lives would be better, if, in two years, when it's time to start thinking for voting --
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re-electing him, whether or not they'll think what they did helped my family. they might have a few extra dollars but they'll probably not have enough money to put their kids through college. robert: how does the white house see the argument democrats are making that yamiche is talking to on capitol hill, trying to reclaim the populace mantle from donald trump. is the president prepared to be a salesman? eli: at heart, he is a salesman and they have something to sell and argue about rather than going 0-2 on healthcare and taxes, they can say we did this and lumped other stuff and did the dual mandate and look at all we accomplished but if you spin this ahead to next november, andrea said this is sort of like stimulus. the economy is doing well, yet we have a president whose approval rating is below 40%. that's hard to do in an economy this good.
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it's hard to make a tax cut bill unpopular and yet this is incredibly unpopular. maybe that will change, but it is clearly a reflection of the country that seems to have fatigue already with this administration, the constant controversy and chaos and i think it's the president's personal political location -- where he is, what he does every day, that drags down the tax bill and his own numbers down in spite of the economy. voters may vote on whether they get $1,000 back in their pockets next year but many may need more to get past just watching the trump presidency, living the trump presidency every day. robert: where this bill is particularly unpopular, suburban districts in high tax states because they saw deductions for state and local taxes capped at $10,000. these are the most vulnerable republicans and their representatives, many of them, voted against the bill. dan: i think people will have to
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wait and see what it actually does to them and people are not going to know that instantly. so it's going to take a period of time for people to actually evaluate, what does it mean for me, what does this combination of things in the bill actually mean for me. we know a lot of people will get some kind of a tax cut but will they feel it's a big enough tax cut compared to what corporations and the wealthiest are getting? eli's point about the unpopularity of the bill -- the wall street journal/nbc poll has it 60 over those who think it's tilted towards -- the evidence we saw that once a bill is enacted, people will like it better. that didn't happen in 2010, nor
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2014, the democrats took a bath in both those elections and that's the issue the republicans have, to be able to change those numbers significantly. robert: seen at the white house, they're not only tied to the tax bill, they're tied to president trump. andrea: not even tied, i don't know how to describe the embrace, the hugs. paul ryan calling it exquisite leadership. orrin hatch and the vice president extolling the virtues of donald trump. it defies creddulity to see growing men behaving this way towards a political leader whom we all know they've privately and publicly criticized in the past. robert: let's stick with other tensions in washington. there are new twists in the investigations into russian meddling in the 2016 election. "politico" is reporting that a group of house republicans has gathered secretly for weeks in the capitol in after effort to build a case that senior leaders
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of the justice department and f.b.i. have improperly and perhaps criminally mishandled the contents of a dossier that describes alleged ties between president trump and russia. house intelligent committee chairman, devin noones of california, is leading those discussions. on wednesday, democratic senator mark warner pushed back against a growing number of these republicans who questioned the credibility of robert mueller's probe and warned that the president should not shut down the investigation. >> firing mr. mueller or any of the top brass involved in this investigation would not only call into question this administration's commitment to the truth but also to our most basically concept rule of law. it always has the potential to provoke a constitutional crisis. robert: earlier this week, the president's son again told supporters that there are people at the highest levels of government who are trying to
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undermine president trump. >> my father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign and people were like, oh, what are you talking about, but it is. you're seeing it. there is and there are people at the highest levels of government that don't want to let america be america. robert: strong words, yamiche, from the president's son and chairman nunes from the house intelligence committee. what is going on on the right and inside the president awe circle and are house leaders listening to the clamor as they move ahead on how to handle for the russia probe? yamiche: i think you're seeing people gear up for the conversation about whether or not the investigation should be allowed to continue. the president's attorneys have been telling him things would be wrapped up by the end of this year and that doesn't seem to be the case. i think president trump has been restrained on twitter when it comes to attacking the special counsel. i think come january, come
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february, you'll start seeing him probably echoing what his son said but also echoing what fox news and other republicans have been saying, which is that mueller might be influenced by political influences. he's, of course, a republican, that's leading this investigation. i think sometimes that's lost in the conversation. but essentially they're gearing up to make the argument that he's not qualified and of course democrats are really, really frustrated and really scared about whether or not he's going to get fired but i think there's enough there, enough scuttle there, to think that president trump would probably not want to fire robert mueller, thinking of what happened when he fired james comey, i don't understand why he would want to do that. andrea: i think it's already having an impact because in our polling, in the nbc news, "wall street journal" polling, we see that mueller's reputation for credibility and lack of bias has been severely damaged by all of this. the clamor, people on fox news saying that he's planning a coup against the united states. it's just been remarkable
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considering that he is a republican, as yamiche says. he's a war hero, decorated marine and was selected by rosenstein, also a republican, the deputy a.g. there's also a theory that rosenstein will be fired and therefore the justice department will then take charge of the mueller probe, because sessions is recused but they can replace rosenstein and put somebody much more compliant in charge after rosenstein testified he did not see any problem with what mueller was doing, that he actually thought mueller was behaving very appropriately so i think this, plus what you're seeing on the house side and we're now reporting that the f.b.i. has been ordered by sessions to look into how mueller and the f.b.i. handled the hillary clinton, bill clinton, uranium one probe that stemmed from the clinton cash book. there's a lot going on. robert: so many swirling issues. the president has so many people in his ear, his lawyer, ty cobb,
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john dowd. they're telling him he should be patient. then you have devin devin nunez, the chairman, and his own son saying, fight, fight. where is the president tilting? eli: so far he's listening to ty cobb and has been restrained in terms of attacking robert mueller but a lot of people out there carrying water for the administration, republicans, members of congress saying mueller should be fired. several members of congress are saying this, too. one of them, freshman representative matt gates from florida was on air force one with the president when they went to pensacola. they discussed it and gates revealed that the president was encouraging so there are all these questions about, is the president behind the scenes doing this. i think deep down this agitates him. he wants a full exoneration. he wants it to be over.
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and he believes this is a witch hunt and unfair and the things propagated by fox and friends about the f.b.i. agents and corruption and deep state, he's always been prone to accepting various conspiracy theories, things that you see a scintilla of evidence and validates the premise so i don't think we can say just because he hasn't attacked bob mueller yet, that he's not maybe considering doing so or at least getting edgy. robert: what to make of senator warren sounding the alarm? was it a typical partisan shot? or perhaps a growing crisis on the horizon? dan: if the president were to fire mueller, that would be a constitutional crisis. i don't think there's any doubt that would be the upshot of that. there continue to be rumors of a possible firing. nobody knows whether that's going to happen and the white
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house and everybody has said, no, the president himself said, no, i'm not going planning to fire him. but i think that there is so much concern that senator warren warren -- warner wanted to put down a marker, as the ranking democrat on the senate intelligence committee, he wanted to put down a marker to say, if you do this, you will pay a huge price. but i think going back to everything else that's going on, it seems, at this point, unless mueller has some dramatic finding, that all of the work that is being done is going to create a muddled outcome, that this is going to be seen through a partisan lens. there's a battle for public opinion underway from both sides, trying to shape how people will think about what the ultimate outcome is and until we see that and until the public sees it, i don't think we're going to know which side they're
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going to come down on but i think that the friends of donald trump are doing what they can to make it difficult for mueller to come out with a clean finding that the country, as a whole, will accept. andrea: and that could be part of the process of what the strategy is. the other thing about it is that the republican leadership has not permitted republicans and democrats who wanted to pass a bill in the senate that would protect mueller from being fired. that has not reached the floor. robert: those frustrations will continue and we'll keep talking about them moving ahead. thanks for being here. don't go anywhere. "washington week" extra is coming up next on most pbs stations. we'll discuss how the white house has been reshaping the judiciary and rolling back regulations this year and president trump's threat to withhold billions of dollars of aid from united nations countries that do not support
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his decision to recognize jerusalem as capital of israel. you can find the the show online all week long, at pbs.org/washingtonweek. best wishes for the holiday season. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today and research the
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technologies of tomorrow. some call them veterans. we call them part of our team. >> additional funding is provided by -- newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. station from viewers like you. thank you.
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