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Battle Over Obamacare Fate Underway On Hill; Obama: "Don't Rescue" GOP On "Trumpcare" Replacement; Pence: Trump Will Sign Obamacare Orders Day One; Obama Leaves After Obamacare Strategy Meeting; Dems Leaders Comment After Obama Meeting On Health Care. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 4, 2017 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. We do have breaking news from Capitol Hill. High stakes showdowns, Democrats versus Republicans, president versus president-elect, Obamacare versus who really knows what yet care?

You see two live pictures, a couple of sets of microphones. What we're looking at is one lectern where we're going to hear from the Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House shortly. That other picture below it is where we'll see President Obama leaving his meeting with Capitol Hill Democrats.

BOLDUAN: Can you throw that other picture up really quick? I think that's going to give us an indication of what we might be hearing from Democratic leaders. You see that they have placard up and this is the new messaging that we have been hearing the Democrats are going to push.

Instead of it says, "Make America sick again," and that is by all indications obviously a play on Donald Trump's "Make America great again" line. You can expect to hear a lot more about that.

BERMAN: That picture tells you everything about the messaging from the Democrats. OK, just to recap what's been going on here, President Obama and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, they just held meetings with lawmakers of their respective parties.

For the president and Democrats, it was a strategy session on how to protect the president's signature health care law. For the Republicans, it was a discussion over plans to repeal and replace, not if but when. And most importantly, what will go in its place.

BOLDUAN: President-elect Donald Trump weighing in this morning a message to Republicans on Twitter. "Be careful," he wrote, and also this, he wants to make sure Democrats take the blame for, in the president-elect's words, "the mess of Obamacare."

CNN's Manu Raju is tracking half of this breaking story on Capitol Hill. Manu, it's not often as we well-know that the president makes a trip to Capitol Hill. What did he tell lawmakers? What are you hearing went down behind closed doors?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it was a pretty fiery speech that the president just gave to House and Senate Democrats in the room right next to me. But one thing he talked about was tactics, how to protect his signature legacy item.

He said what you should do is replicate the Tea Party of 2009. Remember, back then the Tea Party just coming to age, if you will, they went and stormed town halls during that time of putting together the Obamacare law, the health care law.

And it led to big problems politically for Democrats who ended up losing the House in 2010. Obama wants the Democrats to replicate those tactics. He said go send progressive activists, liberal activists, people who are going to be affected and hurt by the loss of the Obamacare law.

Have them go and let members of Congress know directly and specifically exactly how they're going to be hurt by this law and make them feel the pressure back home.

He said, I am told by sources in the room, that Republicans are going to be punished by repealing the law. He said that we need to make sure that they feel a lot of heat for taking these steps to dismantle the law.

He said don't rescue them, according to a source, quote, don't rescue them, that means do not help them replace the law if they do go in fact to repeal it by passing something worse than the Affordable Care Act.

So this was a president really drawing a very firm line, John and Kate, telling his party to dig in, telling them that they're not going to lose, telling them that they're going to win the political argument.

But saying that they need to be aggressive about it, back in the states and districts of members of Congress and also here on Capitol Hill -- John and Kate.

BERMAN: That is a stark message from a president with just a few days left in office. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Yes, the timing here, of course, an important factor in all of this. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, he huddled with Republicans in a different part of the capital at the very same time this morning and said executive action on Obamacare will take place on day one of Donald Trump's presidency.

BERMAN: So let's get that side of the story now. Our Phil Mattingly standing there. Phil, you know, President Obama said don't rescue the Republicans. I guess, the message from Republican leaders was just blame, blame, blame President Obama and the Democrats.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. John, I think one of the most interesting elements here, not just the dynamic of these two huge high stakes meeting playing out at the same exact time. But it was that each side was anticipating the strategy message that was being laid out behind closed doors of the other.

Look according to sources in the room of the Republican meeting, Mike Pence making very clear that almost reiterating what we saw from Donald Trump's Twitter account earlier today, you can't let people forget why they were opposed to Obamacare in the first place.

Why they were opposed to the Affordable Care Act? Why the Republicans had sweeping victories after the Affordable Care Act was enacted? In other words, you need to figure out a way to win the PR war, not unlike what President Obama was telling Democrats. Take a listen to what Mike Pence had to say after the meeting.


[11:05:01]GOVERNOR MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Obamacare has failed and it has been rejected by the American people, but now is the time for us to keep our promises. Step one will be to repeal Obamacare.

But as the president-elect said today, and I admonished members of the House Republican conference today, it's important that we remind the American people of what they already know about Obamacare, that the promises that were made were all broken.

We're working on a strategy in concert with the leadership of the House and the Senate for both a legislative and executive action agenda to ensure that an orderly and smooth transition to a market- based health care reform system is achieved.


MATTINGLY: Guys, if you listen closely, and I know, John and Kate, you obviously always do, well, Kate, definitely always does. (Inaudible) a little bit of news in there saying that they're not just pursuing a legislative strategy. They're also pursuing an executive action strategy.

And what he said behind closed doors, according to one source in the room, was that the president-elect will sign executive orders related to repealing Obamacare shortly after his inauguration.

Now the details of those still haven't been laid out yet to the members or to us. But something to keep an eye on as kind of the Trump administration makes very clear, this is priority one, a, b, c, and d, and they're going to keep moving forward.

One other issue and I think this is important one to keep an eye on as you watch Democrats position themselves on their messaging on how they try and defend this law. Mike Pence behind closed doors making very clear there can be no major disruptions in coverage.

The individuals that have insurance, individuals who got insurance through the Affordable Care Act. The market can't be sent into chaos. More or less reiterating what we've heard from Speaker Paul Ryan on a regular basis.

Repeal is clearly going to happen first. Replace needs to be transitioned in. You can't send the market into chaos or else this will fail politically as well as through the policy side of things.

So the vice president and the speaker of the House on the same page here. One other quick note, guys, Paul Ryan announcing behind closed doors Mike Pence is going to have an office on the House side of Capitol Hill, obviously Mike Pence a former House member.

But underscores kind of the importance of Mike Pence in the Trump administration throughout the legislative process. Keep a very close eye on him with everything that's going to happen on Capitol Hill -- guys.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Phil. I was listening intently to everything you were saying. Great to see you, Phil. Thank you so much.

We want to draw your attention once more to our live pictures here you see at the top, this is clearly as kind of a flood of Democrats, it appears, as the meeting is over, and they're walking out of the meeting.

So that means we are waiting right now to watch as President Obama will be leaving this meeting. And then Democratic leaders will be taking to the microphones, they'll be speaking to us at that camera in making their case.

We'll take you there live as soon as it happens. As we're watching that, let's go now to Democratic congressman from California, Eric Swalwell.

Congressman, you were in the meeting this morning with President Obama. You just left it. Thank you so much for running to the camera. We really appreciate your time. So please -- good morning. Take us inside the room. What happened? What did President Obama say to you?

REPRESENTATIVE ERIC SWALWELL (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: President Obama told the House and Senate Democrats there is a fight ahead and there are people to protect, and reminding us of the letters we received from breast cancer patients who need insurance that does not punish them for having a preexisting condition, or parents of a student who just graduated college and they don't want to see their son kicked off their health care insurance.

So he really talked about the stories of the people this personally affects and so we're going to do that. We'll make sure if there are genuine offers to make more access to care, make it more affordable and increase the quality, we're open-minded to that. But if you're just going to repeal without a plan, we will fight every day to make sure that doesn't happen.

BERMAN: So one of our reporters heard that what the president said was don't rescue them, in other words, if and when Republicans repeal, don't help them out passing a new plan to replace it if you don't think it's as good, but don't rescue them. That doesn't sound like a message of hope and change from the outgoing president.

SWALWELL: The president said if their plan is to --

BOLDUAN: Congressman, we don't want to cut you off, just give us one second, President Obama is leaving the meeting. Let's listen to see if he says anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what was your message to Democrats?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to miss you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to miss you.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You guys get down on your knees. All right.




PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, guys. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what did you tell the Democrats?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look out for the American people. Happy New Year.

BERMAN: All right. President Obama leaving his meeting with congressional Democrats. He was asked, what was your message, and he responded, "Look out for the American people."

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

BERMAN: That's what the president just told reporters as he walked on past the microphone and very deliberately ignored it. Joining us right now again is Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, who was in the meeting with President Obama.

We were asking about the message he gave you about don't rescue them, don't help the Republicans replace Obamacare after the repeal. The question was, how was that a message of hope and change?

SWALWELL: The president's message was if their plan is to kick people off of insurance and insure fewer people, don't help them, if their plan is to increase the cost of insurance, don't let them do that, and if their plan is to reduce the quality, don't let them do that. But if they have plans to improve any of that, we should be open minded and I and I know my colleagues will be.

BOLDUAN: So Congressman, we heard from the vice president-elect spoke to reporters and said they're going to have an orderly, smooth transition, replace Obamacare with something better. Do you believe him?

SWALWELL: Kate, they don't have a plan. They have a tweet and right now what we need to do is make sure that the people who benefit from the Affordable Care Act, and also Medicare which is under attack as well, that we come out and tell their stories. That's what we'll see in the next hundred days.

BERMAN: So Senator Joe Manchin, you know, Democrat from West Virginia, he skipped the meeting. He said that he thinks these meetings are actually a bad idea. He says they're not helping. He says what you're doing is you're seeing partisans take sides here.

We have seen that, the president's message was don't rescue them, the Republican message today from the vice president-elect was blame, blame, blame the Democrats. How is this going to help get medical care in an affordable way to the American people?

SWALWELL: The most destructive thing we could do for any person that has health care security right now is to create chaos in the system by replacing or repealing the Affordable Care Act and not having a plan to replace it.

So right now we're in the posture as Democrats of saying, let's fix what doesn't work but to just take it away and throw 20 million people off the Affordable Care Act, that will raise prices for everyone, not just people on the Affordable Care Act but for people who have their health care covered by their employer.

So I think let's collaborate on this as Republicans and Democrats. But if you're going to repeal and have no plan to put something forward that's better, that's going to hurt all of us.

BOLDUAN: I think we're struck, Congressman, when you say what the president told you, you all need to do is tell the stories of people that are impacted by Obamacare, that seems to be exactly what Democrats have been doing since Obamacare was even conceived and made into law, Democrats have been defending Obamacare and telling the stories of those affected by health care reform. So what is different this time?

SWALWELL: Right now, we are seeing, and I'll talk personally, so many millennials, 5 million millennials now have health care coverage that did not have it before. In our generation generally we're not seeing our employers providing health care for jobs that are available today.

So you know, we're encouraging young people to talk about why -- when you don't have an employer that provides health care and you need the Affordable Care Act, getting kicked off the Affordable Care Act is going to raise your costs.

And it's going to affect where you live. It's going to affect the decisions you make about starting a family, the decisions you make about what you're going to do with your future.

And so I think more than ever, we need, as representatives, to tell the stories of our constituents. So that effort I think is more constructive than just saying we're going to repeal it with no alternative.

BERMAN: You know, you said at the beginning of this interview, you're OK with some changes. What changes would you like to see?

SWALWELL: Well, certainly right now, there have been instances in some states where the premiums have gone way up. And so right now, we've seen the problem there is, there's not enough competition. So finding what we can do to allow more providers to go into those areas so you have more competition.

Because when you have more competition, the prices are lower. So I think finding ways to make it more competitive in those areas, that's important.

[11:15:04]But just, again, getting rid of it without an alternative leaves all of us in the dark as far as where our health care security is going to come from.

BOLDUAN: Do you think you have a willing participant in negotiating in Vice President Mike Pence?

SWALWELL: I believe that Republicans are going to find that their constituents are going to be very loud about not wanting to be kicked off their health care. So I think Vice President Pence, just as we heard from so many Republican and Democratic --

BERMAN: Congressman, we're going to interrupt you for the second time, and that's because Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is there with your leader, Nancy Pelosi. They're holding their press conference. Thank you for talking with us, Congressman Swalwell.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Good morning, everybody. We had a great meeting with the president. Virtually all of our caucuses attended. He was very inspiring, telling us we're working out our strategy, and we have a great deal of optimism that the good things that have happened in ACA are going to stay.

And that our Republican colleagues don't quite know what to do, they're like the dog who caught the bus. They can repeal, but they have nothing to put in its place and that means so many good things go away. That was basically the summary of the meeting.

Now, I want to thank my colleagues for being here. Leader Pelosi and our leadership team, let me just thank Senators Harris and Sanders and Klobuchar, Murray, Baldwin and Colin for coming.

Again, the president articulated the importance of preserving the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid as only he can. It was an inspiring meeting for all of us.

It is probably the last time the president will address the joint caucuses together. It was valuable to hear, of course, because the first big fight of this new Congress will be over health care.

Republicans are plotting and soon will be executing a full scale assault on the three pillars that support the American health care system, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The Republican plan to cut health care wouldn't make America great again, it would make America sick again and lead to chaos instead of affordable care. Republicans would create chaos in the health care system because they're stuck between a rock and a hard place.

They have no idea what to put in place of the Affordable Care Act. For years they've talked about repeal. But for five years now they have had nothing to put in its place. It all starts with the ACA.

As we all know, the ACA is a delicate balance. President-elect Trump even expressed support for the three most popular parts of the law, preexisting conditions, allowing young people to stay on their parents' policies until age 26, equal treatment for women.

But Republicans will soon learn that you can't keep the good parts of the ACA and remove the rest of the law and still have it work. And that's what they're struggling with and that's why they're not getting anywhere.

What they would do would throw the entire insurance marketplace into chaos. Plain repeal would increase costs for all Americans at all income levels. It would blow a trillion-dollar hole in the deficit.

And now I see the president-elect is tweeting again this morning. He says Republicans shouldn't let the Schumer clowns out of his web. Well, I think Republicans should stop clowning around with the people's Medicare, Medicaid, and health care.

The Republicans are stuck. For years they promised every conservative group in America that they will repeal the ACA, quote, "root and branch." Until today, they could make those extreme promises without suffering any consequences, because they knew Democrats or President Obama would ultimately block any rollbacks in ACA.

But now Republicans in Congress are, again, like the dog who caught the bus. They can't keep all the things that Americans like about the ACA and get rid of the rest without throwing the entire health care system, not just those on ACA but those on private insurance, into chaos.

One of the things they'll hurt the most is rural hospitals. Right in their heartlands. The minute they enact this repeal, they'll suffer dramatically, in 11 state capitols, in red states today rural hospitals are protesting the Republican action.

[11:20:05]So we're here today to warn the American people that the Republican plan to cut Medicare, Medicaid, repeal the ACA, will make America sick again. Instead of working to further ensure affordable care for all Americans, they seek to rip health care away from millions of Americans, creating chaos in our entire economy.

Now, as my colleagues will outline shortly, the Republican plan would kick millions off coverage whether it be Medicare, Medicaid, or the Affordable Care Act. It would cause premiums of many people to skyrocket. The 75 million who are covered by private insurance, their premiums will go up too. It would harm hospitals in rural areas and it would put insurance companies back in charge. We stand here united, united. We are a united caucus.

We are two united caucuses and we're united in our opposition to these Republican attempts to make America sick again. And now I want to turn over the podium to Leader Pelosi.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Thank you very much, Leader Schumer. I associate myself with your remarks. You've covered a lot of territory there. I too want to join you in commending the president for his presentation this morning to us. It was one of confidence. It was one of values.

The Affordable Care Act was about transformative in terms of what it meant in the lives of the American people and that health care in our country is a right, not a privilege. If there had been no other reason for us to pass the Affordable Care Act, one compelling reason was cost.

The cost to the individual, to families, to businesses, small and corporate, and to public sector, was totally unsustainable. So we had three goals. One was to lower costs, another was to improve benefits, and third, to increase access.

And all three of those arenas, the Affordable Care Act has been a big success. When we talk about rolling back the Affordable Care Act, we also are having an impact on Medicare. The Affordable Care Act prolonged the life, extended the solvency of Medicare. It expanded Medicaid.

This is very important to America's families. The former speaker once said all politics is local. In this case, all politics is personal. So when Leader Schumer talks about the 75 percent of the people who get their benefits in the workplace, and that is so, they are affected by the Affordable Care Act in that the cost, increase in premiums is the lowest it has been in the 50-some years that they have been tracking that.

So it has contained costs. It has increased the benefit package, as the leader said, in terms of no discrimination in terms of preexisting conditions, no lifetime limits, no annual limits, extending a parents' premium, being a woman is no longer a preexisting condition. The package is better.

The rate of growth of cost decreased and the fact of many more people being insured, the 20 million people now insured who did not have access before. The most privileged person in America has better health when everybody has health, everyone is in the loop.

Now, the Republicans say repeal and replace. The only thing that has going for it is alliteration. They have no replacement plan. They have no replacement plan because they can't agree. They don't have the votes for a replacement plan. So to repeal and then delay is an act of cowardice. That means we don't really know what we're doing and it recognizes, it recognizes that the consequences to them of just straight-out repeal without some replacement.

So we have a values debate on our hands. It's very personal in the lives of the American people. A friend of mine just told me his grandson was diagnosed with leukemia. That child will have a preexisting condition for the rest of his life.

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act is a problem. Lifetime limits is a problem. If you're a senior, almost half of Medicaid is about long term health care. You want grandma living in the guest room?

[11:25:03]You repeal the Affordable Care Act. You go along with -- this is part of an initiative that is part of the Ryan budget that says we're going to voucherize Medicare. We're going to block grant Medicaid.

So this has a tremendous assault on the health and health security and the financial security that goes with what the Affordable Care Act has done for the American people. And so make America sick again, is that the Republicans want to do?

I certainly hope not. Hopefully, we can work together to find a path to address some of the concerns they may have, but not to undermine this pillar of economic and health security for the American people.

It stands right there with Social Security, which they want to undermine, Medicare and Medicaid, which they want to undermine, Affordable Care Act. The president asked us are you ready, do you have the fight in you.

He didn't need to ask us that question, I don't think. With that, I'm pleased to yield to a leader in the fight, Patty Murray, another fighter.

BERMAN: All right, you just heard from the new Democratic leaders right there, Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, talking about what's been going on in Capitol Hill, these joint meetings about Obamacare.

Joining us now to discuss is CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and CNN political analyst and editor-in-chief for the "Daily Beast," John Avlon, who is also the author of a great new book I'm reading right now called "Washington's Farewell."

Dana, what a lot of theater we have witnessed over the last hour or so on Capitol Hill. Not only was the president talking to Democrats, not only was the vice president-elect talking to Republicans, but man, oh, man, the battle lines drawn.

President Obama saying don't rescue them, Republicans saying continue to blame, blame, blame the president and Democrats for everything you can on Obamacare. This is something. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, you know, "Washington's Farewell," John Avlon, may be looking at Obama's farewell and maybe more important Obama is looking to his farewell, saying this is not the way it was supposed to be, we were supposed to be handing power over to a fellow Democrat in the White House from his perspective, a Democratic-led Congress, so that this would not be a worry but it is.

It is a big worry. Watching all of the drama, the real drama unfold this morning, I was thinking, you know what, 2016 is over, today is the opening day of the 2017 campaign, and it looks a lot like the campaign we covered in 2009, which was the health care campaign.

That's what the president, the outgoing president, made very clear in that closed door session to his fellow Democrats, which is, you have to treat it like a campaign, you've got to get out there and talk to constituents and make clear to them that this is going to be disruptive. You have a benefit.

Maybe it's not perfect but we can fix it, but we don't want to blow it up. At the same time, Republicans, led by the vice president-elect, telling people in his campaign, the rank and file in the House, you know what, we've been promising this, guys, we've got it. We've got to do it. It's going to be slow. It's not going to be pretty, but we've got to do it. It's been so fascinating to watch.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. So Sanjay, while this fight, they're totally in the middle of it, kicking it off today as Dana points out, from the perspective of doctors and patients, what should they be looking for right now?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When you look at the major medical organizations, and what they've been saying about this for some time, and they represent hundreds of thousands of doctors, it pretty well reflects what patients have been saying as well.

I think two-thirds, I saw one poll said, say we don't want this repealed. We want the most popular provisions, again, not discriminating against people based on preexisting conditions, keeping people on their parents' insurance plans until age 26, they want to keep those things in.

I think the physicians' organizations sort of reflect that, although it's difficult to paint all physicians' organizations with one brush. But there are real specifics that they talk about as well. For example, not discriminating based on preexisting conditions, how exactly do you do that?

One proposal that's come up in the past, you know, over the last few decades, frankly, is this notion of high risk pools, creating high risk pools so that people who have preexisting conditions can join a high risk pool. You've seen that be floated around.

We don't know what the new plan is, but that could very well be part of it. The problem is, and this is to your question, what are people looking for? They should look to see do high risk pools work. We have evidence, it's been tried before. We know that they are very difficult to administer. They don't offer particularly good benefits and they are very expensive for the consumer.

So is that really the same sort of patient protection.