THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR ‘THIS WEEK’ on December 17, 2017 and it will be updated.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: Let’s bring that to the number two Republican in the Senate, GOP whip John Cornyn of Texas.
Senator Cornyn, thank you for joining us this morning. You just heard Leader Pelosi right there, lose-lose for the Republicans. Your response?
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: This is good news for the American people. We’re going to get the economy roaring back again, and improve pay, and increase jobs, and make America more competitive in the global economy, as well as simplifying the tax code and giving everybody in every tax bracket a tax cut.
So this is good news any way you cut it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is this a done deal? Do you have the votes even if Senator McCain is not able to vote this week?
CORNYN: Well, I won’t speculate on Senator McCain’s health. We hope he comes back. But I’m confident we’ll pass this bill, probably on Tuesday.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think you have the votes right now. There’s a lot more scrutiny of the bill which was just released on Friday in these final hours, including an article in the International Business Times which just came out yesterday showing that a last-minute tax break which was not included in either the House or the Senate provision could bring millions of dollars to President Trump and other Republicans who get a lot of money from the real estate income through LLCs.
Our next guest, Senator Chris Van Hollen, has responded to that saying that slipping “in a last-minute provision that could give even more of a windfall to people like President Trump and some Republicans in Congress is unconscionable, it’s not too late for my colleagues to do the right thing.”
Will you remove that provision?
CORNYN: Well, our Democratic colleagues simply refused to participate in the process. We probably could have made it better if they had. But we were determined to get this job done, to cut taxes, to reform the tax code for the first time in 30 years. This will benefit hard-working American families, people in the lower income tax brackets, and everybody in every tax bracket will see a tax cut.
So picking out one piece in a 1,000-page bill and saying, well, this is going to benefit somebody, I just think that takes the whole bill out of context.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but except that this provision wasn’t included in either the House or the Senate bill and apparently was added at the last minute. Why was that done? Why was it necessary to include that provision?
CORNYN: Well, we were working very hard. It was a very intense process. As I said, the Democrats refused to participate. And what we’ve tried to do is cobble together the votes we needed to get this bill passed, at the same time, maintaining the integrity of the largest tax cuts we’re going to be seeing since 1986.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So is that how you got Senator Corker with this provision?
CORNYN: Well, the particular provision you’re talking about, honestly, is just one piece of a 1,000-page bill which is going to grow the American economy. And, what we are seeing is that American corporations and businesses are not competitive in the global economy because we have the highest tax rate in the industrialized world.
All we did is adopt ideas that people like Barack Obama and other Democrats have proposed when it comes to the business tax rates and should try to get our businesses more competitive, to increase take-home pay and to grow the number of jobs available for working class families.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I don’t think they proposed that provision. But meanwhile, the Democrats are also warning this is going to trigger a mandatory
cut in many government programs, including a $25 billion cut in Medicare. Leader Pelosi has written a letter to the Senate and House leaders in the Republican Party saying “given the lack of bipartisanship to date in your effort to provide massive tax cuts to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, while adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit, it will be your responsibility to deal with the consequences.”
She’s essentially saying, you won’t get any Democratic votes to waive those cuts, so $25 billion in Medicare cuts are coming. Can you prevent that on your own?
CORNYN: Well, that’s just a false statement. We don’t touch Medicare at all. We don’t touch any of the entitlement programs in this bill. And so for Ms. Pelosi to make that statement, it’s just fabricated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But this proposal, the tax bill, because it increases the deficit, does trigger these pay-go provisions which will mandate a $25 billion cut in Medicare unless you have the votes to waive it. Do you to have the votes to waive it?
CORNYN: We will deal with that later this week. And I believe we will protect Medicare. And if Ms. Pelosi and her party will join us, that will be a done deal.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Democrats say they’re not going to join. And that leads to the question about Senator Susan Collins. This was one of her conditions for passing the bill, along with the the passage of the Alexander-Murray bill to stabilize the health insurance markets. Do you have her vote even if those provisions are not guaranteed?
CORNYN: Well, Senator Collins has been very constructive throughout this process. And she has vastly improved this bill by protecting taxpayers in the states their state and local tax deduction, a $10,000 cap which benefits everybody. And she has been a champion of trying to stabilize the Affordable Care
markets and to bring premiums down. And we will all join her in that effort to bring those premiums down and stabilize the market.
And we will not trigger a cut in Medicare. We will deal with that this week. And, again, I invite our Democratic friends to join us in protecting Medicare.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It looks like the Democrats are not going to be there on the tax bill. And back in 2010, when Republicans did not vote along with Obamacare, you warned the Democrats against passing the Obamacare on a party line vote in reconciliation. Let’s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORNYN: Well, if they try to jam it through, as they have so far, with strictly along partisan lines, then I think November 2010 will be a very good month for us. I think we will gain a lot more seats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you concerned that history might repeat itself in 2018?
CORNYN: Well, we did pick up seven seats, as I recall, in 2010 following the jamming through of Obamacare. But this was done through the regular legislative process, mark-up in the Finance Committee and on the floor of the United States Senate. As I said, our Democratic colleagues had every chance to participate and simply refused.
And it’s not too late for them to join us in passing this massive tax cut and tax reform bill which will help awaken the sleeping giant of the American
economy. They can do that on Tuesday, and I hope some of them will.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It doesn’t appear that any of them will. And they are banking on the fact that they think this is going to help them this 2018. Also looking to those results on Tuesday out of Alabama where Roy Moore, the Republican candidate, lost. Of course, you were not a fan of Roy Moore in that campaign. Do you think the GOP dodged a bullet with that loss?
CORNYN: Well, I think the explanation for Alabama was we had a flawed candidate who won the Republican primary and who couldn’t win the general election. That’s really not a new lesson. That’s an old lesson remembered or demonstrated once again. So, what we need to do is — my party needs to do is make sure we nominate electable candidates, good candidates who can win general elections.
I don’t think the lesson of Alabama is any more complex than that, flawed candidate, couldn’t win the general election.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean that Steve Bannon has to back off?
CORNYN: Mr. Bannon can do whatever he sees fit. It’s a free country. But I don’t think his track record, particularly now in losing Alabama, one of the reddest states in the country, particularly commends him for his expertise.
STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the other X-factors heading into 2018, of course, is the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. You have been active on Twitter over the weekend responding to the former attorney general, Eric Holder. In one of your tweets you said that Mueller needs to clean house of partisans. And then you were asked in another tweet, will you accept the findings in the Mueller probe as legitimate by Greg Sargent of The Washington Post.
You say that “makes sense to me to wait and see what they are first.” That sounds like you’re saying that you’re going to believe that Mueller’s conclusions are legitimate only if you like them.
CORNYN: Well, no, that’s not true. I have a lot of admiration and respect for Director Mueller. But I would think he would want to eliminate challenges to the integrity of his investigation by eliminating agents who have taken positions either in text messages or through their political activity that undermine the integrity of…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, those people have been taken off the investigation.
CORNYN: … the results of the investigation. So I think he should want to do that because not only is an objective investigation and justice needs to be done, the appearance of justice needs to be done. And I think these conflicts of interest jeopardize the integrity of his investigation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI agent who was engaged in those text messages, both of them have been taking off the investigation. They were taken off apparently as soon as special counsel Mueller found out about them.
CORNYN: And I commend him for that. He should. And but there ought to be — there are others who — he needs to make sure he vets that
team. There are plenty of FBI agents and prosecutors who have not been politically involved on behalf of Democrats or overtly critical of the president that
can serve in this important investigation.
So I have confidence in Director Mueller. I would just think he would be concerned about the appearance of conflicts of interest that would undermine the integrity of the investigation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It appears that some of the president’s allies in the Congress are starting to lay the groundwork for him to fire Robert Mueller. What would that mean if the president fired the special counsel?
CORNYN: Well, I read that the president’s own lawyer says that’s not going to happen. I think that would be a mistake myself.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Cornyn, thanks for your time this morning.
CORNYN: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s go now to the man heading up the Democrat’s campaign to take back the Senate next year, Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
Senator Van Hollen, let me pick up right where Senator Cornyn left off right there. He says he still has confidence in Robert Mueller, but that Mr. Mueller should take further steps to erase any perception of partisanship on his team. Do you think that’s advisable?
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND: Well, I think Republicans should end their concerted effort to undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation.
You have got somebody who by all accounts is an independent person, somebody who has got lots of integrity. And you see a concerted effort out of the White House to undermine the investigation. I really hope our Republican colleagues will not join in subverting that process and trying to end this investigation.
The question is, what are they afraid of? What is the White House afraid of? Let’s let them finish the job and get the facts.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But why isn’t it a problem, if several members of Mueller’s team have given contributions solely to Democrat if they seem to have text messages or other information in their past, which suggests that there may be a political bias there?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, because Mueller has already taken actions with respect to those individuals. Beyond that, you will find that — there are many contributions made by folks like
FBI director to President Trump or Republicans. And the reality is that people in these jobs have integrity. They’re under the leadership of Mueller, who is known for being a straight shooter. He’ll do a job. He’ll get to the facts. And I strongly believe that people will have confidence in his judgment.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you take the president’s team at their word where they say that right now that firing Special Counsel Mueller not on the table?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, I certainly hope that is the case.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s move on to the tax bill right now. You heard Senator Cornyn
right there inviting Democrats to come to the table for what he says will be a big boom to the middle class. Your response?
VAN HOLLEN: Look, George, this is a total betrayal of President Trump’s economic populist message on the campaign trail. It’s a huge giveaway to big corporations. Millions of middle class tax
payers will see their taxes go up, even though Republicans promised that would not happen. Millionaires will get an average annual tax break of $35,000 a year. And the big winners are those corporations. And I think many people haven’t focused on the fact that 35 percent of the shareholders of those corporations are actually foreign stock holders, who in the year 2019, are going to get a $31 billion tax break.
So millions of American taxpayers handing over money to foreign stock holders. It doesn’t sound like America first to me. It doesn’t sound like the middle class first.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard the senator’s response to that provision I asked him about which had caught your eye earlier as well, a special carve-out for real estate LLCs, which could mean tens of millions of dollars to President Trump and other Republicans. Do you have any idea how that got in? Any chance it could be taken out?
VAN HOLLEN: I don’t know how it got in. What we do know is they’re behind closed doors. There are a whole army of lobbyists who were surround them, and the longer they’re in there, the
more you see these special interest provisions, George, which as you indicate would be a windfall to Donald Trump based on everything we know. Of course, he hasn’t released his tax returns.
It remind mes of the fact that during the campaign, the one issue Donald Trump used as exhibit “a” for why this tax code was broken was the carried interest loophole for hedge fund managers. He said during the campaign that hedge fund managers are getting away with murder. You just heard Senator Cornyn, they have got a 1,000-page bill. Nowhere in it do they get rid of the one tax giveaway special break that Donald Trump focused on most during the campaign. And that is why this is a total betrayal of that economic populist message and people are catching on. That’s why it’s so unpopular
STEPHANOPOULOS: You also heard Senator Cornyn’s response to the possibility that
Medicare cuts would be triggered by this bill. He certainly invited Democrats to prevent those, expects Democrats to come on board. Will Democrats allow $25 billion in Medicare cuts to take effect? You won’t vote for the waiver?
VAN HOLLEN: No, Democrats are not going the allow those cuts to go in place. And it is fact that when Republicans voted for this tax bill that increases the debt by $1.5 trillion, in doing so they automatically triggered this provision that would cut Medicare by $25 billion. Now that we hope that they will join us in turning it off.
But if you look forward next year, you have got a lot of Republicans who used to care about the debt. I used to be the senior Democrat on the the budget committee. Paul Ryan used to talk always about the dangers of the debt. We actually agreed on that issue. Now they have blown a big hole in the debt. And if you look air their budget, it’s right there, their plan for dealing with that is to cut Medicare by $500 billion and Medicaid by over $1 trillion. It’s right there in the Republican budget. And this is step two of their plan, because they just increased our debt by over $1 trillion.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But House Leader Pelosi in that letter I showed you suggested Democrats will not go along with the waiver. You’re taking a different position?
VAN HOLLEN: When it comes to protecting Medicare, Democrats have always been front and center. Doug Jones talked about that in his Alabama race. There are many other provisions now that Republicans may try to get into these bills the Democrats will not support.
We need to make sure that we’re investing in our kids’ education and infrastructure as well as investing in our military strength. And so there are a whole lot of issues, George, with respect to the
budget bill coming down to the wire here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re heading up the Democrat’s effort to take back the Senate in 2018. Got that unexpected win in Alabama, not a seat you were expecting — counting on for 2018.
But is that really a model for the year ahead, or is Roy Moore just such a flawed candidate that it doesn’t tell you that much about what is going to happen in 2018?
VAN HOLLEN: No, I think it tells you quite a bit, if you take what happened in Alabama combined with what happened last month in Virginia and other races. You find a couple of things.
One, a hugely energized grassroots Democratic base plus, and very importantly, independent voters voting for the Democratic candidate and a lot of moderate Republicans crossing over in Alabama and other races. And I will tell you this tax giveaway to big corporations that’s going to be paid for by millions of Middle Class taxpayers is only going to further inflame those moderate Republicans and b ring more people over to Democratic candidates.
You have got this civil war in these Republican primaries. They flock forward Donald Trump in the primaries. That’s not going to be a winning message for them in the general.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you worried that Al Franken’s resignation has put that Minnesota
seat at risk?
VAN HOLLEN: No, we have a terrific candidate, as you konw, the lieutenant governor is now going to be appointed and going to run for that seat. She’s going to be a terrific member of the Senate and a terrific candidate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Van Hollen, thanks for your time this morning.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you, George.