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Obama, Pence Visit Capitol Hill for Obamacare Showdown. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 4, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The crew is having a great time with them, corralling them. They have been a blast, and it's great to talk to you. Thanks so much. I'm sure you will save another child.

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K. SHOFF: Say bye.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Just in the nick of time. You guys have a great day. NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

This hour on Capitol Hill, a remarkable showdown between President Barack Obama and the Vice President-elect Mike Pence, each man due to arrive at any minute and lead dueling Obamacare strategy sessions. Obama scrambling to salvage the health care reforms that are the cornerstone of his legacy.

Republicans have tried and failed to kill Obamacare a stunning 60 times, but this time it's different. The GOP assumes the White House in just over two weeks, and the first step towards its repeal is now just days away. Pence, a 10-year veteran of Congress, will meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss how to dismantle Obamacare and just as importantly, how to avoid angering the millions of Americans who now rely on it.

We're covering all the angles with these dueling meetings on Capitol Hill. Let's begin, though, with Senior Political Reporter Manu Raju.

Set the scene for us, Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, Carol. Congressional Democrats are entering this room right behind me in anticipation of President Obama's arrival just moments away. We're expecting a pep rally of sorts in this closed-door private meeting in an effort to try to strengthen the Democratic resolve against any efforts to try to dismantle the law.

But Democrats know that they're in a difficult position. Not only are they in the minority in both the House and the Senate, but they don't have the votes to stop a repeal of much of the law because of the procedures in the Senate that allows them to avoid a filibuster in the Senate to gut much of the law sometime early this year. Now, the question is, what do Democrats do to try to pressure Republicans from trying to scrap the law and how to deal with the possibility of replacing the law?

We're already hearing some Democratic leaders including Chuck Schumer of New York saying very clearly that he does not think that there should be any Democratic support to try to replace the law. The question is, will any of his members who are in those tough swing states, moderate members, agree with him? Will they work with Republicans going forward?

Carol, today, we are hearing from Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat up for re-election in 2018 in a state that Donald Trump won overwhelmingly. He's not attending this meeting because he believes it's too partisan. It's time to work with Republicans. So some division in the Democratic ranks, but President Obama is trying to get the party united to have them stand firm against the efforts to dismantle his signature legacy item, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Manu Raju setting the scene for us from Capitol Hill. We'll get back to you, of course. So, as you just heard, the battle over Obamacare is a critical mess.

Our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash is here with insider information. Good morning, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

COSTELLO: You know, I just had a thought and it's a monumental thought. Why doesn't President Obama and Mike Pence join forces and talk with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, like, together in the same room?

BASH: Oh, that's so quaint, such a thought coming from New York and not in the partisan world of Washington. You know, obviously, that is probably -- you know, this is why you're Carol Costello. You're saying what a lot of people at home are thinking that they would do, you know, and that's what people in Washington should do.

Where do I even start breaking down why that's not going to happen? The fundamental is that Republicans, none of them voted for a post reversal here, who were here back in 2009 when it passed.

Note one Republican voted to support Obamacare, and all of them have been voting, at least in the House where they were able to, over and over again to dismantle it, to repeal it. They just don't believe in the whole structure. They believe in some parts of it, but not the structure. So that's a big reason why.

And on the flip side, Democrats voted for it and they want to keep the structure. Many of them, I would say most of them, want to make tweaks to it, want to change some of the things that they realize do not work, but they don't want to change it fundamentally. So that's the actual reason.

The question we are looking at now, Carol --

COSTELLO: (Inaudible) tell our --

BASH: Yes, sure.

COSTELLO: -- our viewers what we're seeing right now, Dana. Of course, these are the lawmakers going into these rooms where these meetings will take place, these separate meetings with President Obama and the Democrats and, of course, Mike Pence and the Republicans.

So, you know, as you said, Dana, Republicans, they don't like the law. They voted, what, 60 times to kill Obamacare? They just want it gone. And by the same token, the Senate Minority Leader, the Democrat Chuck Schumer, told us Democrats will not work with Republicans if they repeal Obamacare. In his words, they broke it, they own it. So could this get ugly?

[09:05:06] BASH: Oh, no question. It's going to be ugly for each side. And, unfortunately, it could be ugly for the American people who rely on Obamacare for a little while. It could get ugly for them for a little while.

But, you know, you mentioned the pictures that we're seeing, Congressmen, Senators walking into this large auditorium in the visitors' center in the United States capitol. Just think about this, what, are we just a little more than two weeks away from President Obama leaving office?

And one of his last big moves on Capitol Hill is not just to come and say good-bye, thanks for working with me. It's bye, please, please, let's find a way to save my signature piece of legislation. Let's find the best way to message it because they don't have the votes to stop the repeal. They just don't.

So let's find a way to make it impossible for Republicans to do this in a way that doesn't make the insurance industry and the insurance markets go haywire, in a way that doesn't make their constituents upset, or even, frankly, Republican governors, many of them who are getting large sums of Medicaid money as part of Obamacare, make them upset, and so on and so forth.

Just the scene that we're watching here of a sitting President who thought he was going to be able to hand over the White House to a fellow Democrat and maybe even a majority in the Senate, now going to visit the minority Democrats in the United States Congress to find a way to try to save at least some parts of his signature legacy issue.

COSTELLO: Yes, it will be fascinating really. Of course, President Obama due to arrive in just about 20 minutes. And, of course, hopefully, we'll have a picture of him arriving to go into that auditorium to sit down with Senate and Democratic lawmakers. Dana Bash, you stick around.

I'm going to move on now, you know, and talk about some of the drama surrounding the passage of Obamacare because remember that it culminated in one man's vote, and that would be Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan. He struck a deal with President Obama and Obamacare was born. The former Congressman Bart Stupak is with me now.

Welcome, sir.

BART STUPAK (D), FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE FOR MICHIGAN: Thank you, good morning.

COSTELLO: You paid a price for your vote. There was abuse, there were death threats, and you chose not to run for re-election. So what do you make of what's happening today?

STUPAK: Well, I think it would be irresponsible to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan. I mean, 20 million people have access, currently around, to Obamacare, so if you repeal it today, what do you replace it with? It's not just the Medicaid people. It's our hospitals, especially rural hospitals like my former district, a very rural district.

If you repeal Obamacare and do not have replacement for at least a year, you're going to put those hospitals out of business because they have to take anyone who comes to their emergency room and provide health care to them. That's uncompensated care. Where does it come from?

We hear the Republicans say that there are certain pieces of Obamacare we should keep, and I agree you should keep them. Those are the popular ones like keeping children on their parents' health policy until age 26, pre-existing injuries, no more discrimination on pre- existing injuries, deal with rescissions of individual policies, patient bill of rights. But those are some of the most expensive provisions of Obamacare, so how do you pay for it?

And this is not going to be easy. I would hope that the Republicans would say, here is what we're going to do, here is the dates we're going to replace it, and gradually work this repeal in to Obamacare.

COSTELLO: But well --

STUPAK: They have a right. They control the House, the Senate, the presidency, the courts. They have a right to repeal it. I don't deny them the right. All I'm saying is, if you're going to do it, then do it in a responsible way so you do not leave people without access to quality, affordable health care.

COSTELLO: And I think it will be difficult for all of what you've just said because of all of what you've just said, but it will also be difficult for Republicans in Congress because of what President-elect Trump has said. This is what Mr. Trump said on "60 Minutes" back in December during the campaign. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody's got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times, they say, no, no, the lower 25 percent, they can't afford private, but --

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Universal health care?

TRUMP: I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now.

PELLEY: The uninsured person?

TRUMP: Right.

PELLEY: Is going to be taken care of? How?

TRUMP: They're going to be taken care of.

PELLEY: How?

TRUMP: I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And you know what, this is probably --

PELLEY: Make a deal? Who pays for it?

TRUMP: The government's going to pay for it, but we're going to save so much money on the other side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: OK. So, Congressman, doesn't that sound a lot like Obamacare?

[09:10:00] STUPAK: It does, but I expect a tweet by noon today which says he didn't mean it. I mean, seriously, I would like to think that what President-elect Trump said would become a reality. And if that was his true sentiment and he was sincere in those arguments, I think you would find Democrats working with him. Look, you can repeal Obamacare all you want, so ever you want. But

for the first time ever, or at least the last six years, people have had access to quality, affordable health care. All Americans. All Americans did. So the fundamental question here -- should all Americans have the right to health care? -- has already been answered by Obamacare.

And the legacy of the President Obama will be that he was the first President to put forth a foundation where every American can have access to quality, affordable health care. So his legacy will live on. Now, I hope we can build off that legacy and make it that affordable quality health care for all Americans.

COSTELLO: Well, let me say this just about the legacy because Mr. Obama is going to go to Capitol Hill. He's going to sit down with Democratic lawmakers, and they're going to figure out a way to maybe save Obamacare or compromise in some way. But we've also just learned that one Senator will not be participating in that meeting, a Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

He's going to skip the meeting today because he says, you know, clearly, if Mike Pence meets with Republicans and President Obama meets with Democrats, there's no room for compromise in that scenario so why even bother? Is Joe Manchin right?

STUPAK: Well, Joe has a valid point. I mean, you know, it's like in the House of Representatives every day. You start off with one-minute messages. Each side, ten, 15 people get up and slam the other side. And after they're done slamming each other for 15 minutes to a half hour, then they say, OK, let's all work together. Well, by then the feelings are bruised and nothing gets done.

This has been ever since Obamacare was passed, it was all Democrats. It's been a very partisan situation. I think what Senator Manchin is doing is trying to dampen down the partisanship.

And let's work together. We have a foundation. We have a law to work with. You just can't pull the rug out of health care for 20 million Americans and plus all the other benefits that went with Obamacare. You just can't simply pull out the rug from all these people and say, we'll let you know and we'll phase something in over the next five years. That doesn't work, that's irresponsible. Joe is being responsible.

COSTELLO: Before I let you go, Congressman, I just want to know -- I mean, I've always been curious about this -- the emotional toll that the passage of Obamacare took on you personally. What was that like, just the emotional toll of that difficult time?

STUPAK: Well, it's very difficult. There's no doubt about that. But, look, I always believed that health care is a right. It's not a privilege for those who can afford it. I think all Americans must have access to quality affordable health care. So I went through a rough time, so be it, but the goal is accomplished.

I was proud of the accomplishment, Obamacare. I wish that after it was passed, the Republicans would have worked with us but, unfortunately, they did not. And now we're here. We are five years later taking away that fundamental right of access to health care that all Americans should enjoy.

COSTELLO: Congressman Bart Stupak, thank you for joining me this morning.

STUPAK: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: So right now, as Bart Stupak just said, 20 million people in the United States are currently enrolled in Obamacare. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the majority of Americans do not want Obamacare to completely go away. Sixty-six percent of Americans either want to keep the law expanded or tweak the law, while 26 percent want it repealed entirely.

With me now is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, and CNN's M.J. Lee who is live on Capitol Hill this morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

COSTELLO: So, Sanjay, 66 percent of Americans either want to keep Obamacare, expand it, or repeal it. So do Republicans really have a mandate to make this law o away?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, it's obviously, you know, from a political standpoint, something that they've campaigned on. The language around this repeal of Obamacare obviously is something that has a lot of traction. But what's interesting, and I think you made this point earlier with Congressman Stupak, is that, you know, saying repeal and what it eventually looks like may be two different things.

Repeal makes it sound like it goes away completely. This idea that it's repealed and there's something in its place that is so similar to what it was is what you're hearing a lot, certainly from President- elect Trump.

Now, I will tell you, you know, it's interesting, the physician community is very hard to paint with one brush and say, here is how physicians feel about the Affordable Care Act. There may be some breakdowns. Preventative care doctors who have really benefitted a lot from the Affordable Care Act, obviously, like all parts of it. Some of the specialists may not like all parts of it.

But what you hear from the major physician groups is that, don't repeal this because there are many popular provisions both inside and outside the medical community.

[09:15:04] So, don't repeal the things that are popular, but you've got to figure out a way to pay for it.

COSTELLO: M.J., I know you've talked to many people who voted for Mr. Trump for president and I know you found there are a good number of people who voted for Mr. Trump knowing that he says he wants to repeal Obamacare. But some of them either, A, don't believe Trump meant what he said or, B, they just didn't realize the consequences if Obamacare was repealed.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Carol. I mean, so often we cover the issue of Obamacare repeal through a political lens. But I think we should never forget the reason this is so politically contentious is because there are so many millions of people whose coverage could be affected if Republicans go ahead with their repeal efforts.

And even though this is a process that's going to take some time -- you know, it could be weeks or months before President-elect Donald Trump, once he's in the White House until he actually sees a bill on his desk for him to sign, already we are hearing a lot of concerns pouring in from a lot of Americans from across the country.

Keep in mind the political context within the presidential election a well. You know, President-elect Donald Trump, he did go around the country saying he wanted to repeal Obamacare, but his populist economic message, this is one that really resonated with lower income Americans, with working class people. A lot of the people who have really reaped the most benefits from the Affordable Care Act, my colleague Miguel Marquez did fantastic reporting going to coal country in Kentucky, recently, talking to people who were attracted to Donald Trump and his message of bringing back coal jobs. But now they're kind of struggling with, well, what will this mean if Obamacare is repealed from our health care coverage.

I want to play a little sound from some of his reporting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN SANDERS, DIRECTOR, APPALACHIAN CITIZENS' LAW CENTER: President-elect Trump promised people he would restore mining jobs. I don't think he thought about what the Affordable Care Act might mean to miners applying for black lung benefits.

NEIL YONTS, FORMER COAL MINER: When they eliminate Obamacare, they may eliminate all the black lung program. It might all be gone. Don't matter how many years you got.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he don't come across like he promised, he's not going to be there next time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Look, this is the kind of concern that has some Republicans saying they should maybe wait until they have a replacement plan to do the repeal. But getting to an agreement on that replacement plan is going to be very, very difficult to do.

COSTELLO: OK. So, we understand that President Obama is now en route from the White House to the capitol to meet with Senate and House lawmakers, the Democratic ones that is, in the congressional auditorium. That's in the Capitol visitors center. We're going to keep our cameras trained on that so we can see President Obama's arrival, at least hopefully we can. Sanjay, I want to go back to you. So, you heard what MJ Lee said. I would suspect from a doctor's point of view, they have spent five years now transitioning from what our health care used to be to what Obamacare requires now.

LEE: Yes.

COSTELLO: And what happens when they have to transition again to something else?

LEE: No, it's a great question. And probably as I talk to not only physicians but people who are running hospitals and people involved with major insurance companies, you do have a certain amount of momentum and there's been a lot of things that have been changed to basically accommodate the changes of Obamacare.

So -- and not to mention, there's also payments still expected based on that new system with hospitals. They expect preventive care will be fully reimbursed, appointments they have scheduled for patients, plans they have in place.

So, you're absolutely right, the physicians look at this, you know, as I indicated earlier, really reflect I think what the community as a whole reflects. Most people want a repeal not to happen and to certainly keep popular provisions of the act. That's what you hear from at least the major physician organizations. But the hospitals and the insurance companies obviously, they have a significant interest in this as well.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. But before I head to break, I want to tell you what you're seeing right now. You're seeing the congressional auditorium at the capitol visitors center.

You're also seeing on the House side, room HC-5, that's where Vice President-elect Mike Pence will meet with Republican lawmakers to talk about repealing Obamacare.

And as we said, President Obama is due to arrive at any moment now to talk with Democratic lawmakers about how to save Obamacare or at least parts of it.

I'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:23:08] COSTELLO: We understand now that Vice President-elect Mike Pence has now arrived at the Capitol to talk with Republican lawmakers about how to repeal Obamacare. After that meeting is concluded, and it should last -- there's Mike Pence -- it should last just about an hour. They will have a press briefing, and that will be public so you can listen to whatever progress they made within the meeting.

President Obama, we understand, has left the White House. He, too, will head to Capitol Hill.

OK, he just arrived. I just got word in my ear. We don't have pictures yet. But President Obama has arrived on Capitol Hill. He'll meet in the congressional auditorium at the capitol visitors center with Democratic lawmakers about how to save Obamacare or at least save parts of it.

Manu Raju is covering this fast-breaking story.

Manu, are you there?

RAJU: I am here, Carol. And President Obama is not here yet at this meeting. We do expect him to arrive right behind us momentarily.

This is a rare visit by the president to meet with congressional Democrats in the Capitol. Something he has really not done a whole lot of in his time in office, and very significant coming in his last 16 days to try to highlight and try to strengthen the Democratic resolve against efforts to try to dismantle his signature legacy item. But as we know, it's going to be very difficult to stop Republicans who do control both chambers, to prevent them from dismantling this law, Carol.

And one of the questions going forward for the Democrats in this room behind me, will they work with Republicans in trying to replace the law? Right now, the Democratic leadership says no. But there are some moderate Democrats who are open to the idea.

COSTELLO: So, Manu, is there a chance that President Obama and Mike Pence could run into each other accidentally on purpose?

[09:25:00] RAJU: I don't think so. You know, we're in two separate parts of the capitol. They're in the capitol building, actually in the basement on the House side of the capitol. We're in the capitol visitors center which is adjacent to where they are. Very unlikely, although that would be quite a moment, of course.

But it also underscores how partisan this fight is, Republicans are devising their strategy on how to not just deal with repealing, but replace, something they don't know quite how to do. There's talk about doing things individually piece by piece, something when Tom Price, health and human secretary, if he's confirmed by the Senate, regulations and the like to try to replace the law but then how to deal with the legislative aspect of it? It's much harder. You need support from Democrats in the Senate. Right now, there's not a lot. It's a polarizing issue, Carol.

COSTELLO: That's an understatement.

OK, I want to bring in Dana Bash.

Dana, not only are their dueling meetings taking place led by President Obama and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, but there would be dueling news conferences held by the Republicans and the Democrats. They will occur at the very same time to talk about what occurred in those meetings.

BASH: Well, let's hope so. We want to hear from them to talk about what occurred inside those meetings. I'm guessing we could probably unfortunately write the scripts now what they will say about -- as Manu was just saying.

There you see the vice president-elect with incoming White House chief of staff, and Kellyanne Conway as well is there. So, they're -- by way of geography, as Manu was saying, they're in the capitol itself, they're going in a room where House Republicans have their regular meetings.

What's going on with the Democrats is in the visitor's center, also underneath the capitol, but a much larger auditorium. In any event -- go ahead.

COSTELLO: No, no. Just realistically, what will President Obama lay out for Democratic lawmakers as far as a plan, an effective plan? Is there a realistic effective plan he can lay out?

BASH: Well, it depends how you define plan. If you're talking about a legislative plan to stop them with raw votes? No. They don't have it. And the writing is on the wall. Democrats know that.

If you're talking about a rhetorical and political plan to try to send messages in a very sharp, to use Chuck Schumer's word in an interview with me yesterday, messaging situation where they made clear to constituents why they think dismantling Obamacare would be a bad thing or even in the short-term repealing without an immediate replace would be a bad thing. For example, they argue it would completely shake up the insurance market which will in the short term, maybe even the long term, make people's premiums go even higher. Things like that, that's what they're going to be discussing.

And also more importantly, you do have, especially in the United States Senate, ten Democrats up for re-election in states where Donald Trump won and won pretty handily. So, you're going to have Barack Obama trying to make the case to those Democrats, those who show up -- Joe Manchin isn't even going to go -- and there's the president.

COSTELLO: OK, the president is now coming into the auditorium there underneath the capitol in the visitors center. This is an historic moment, right? This is something we don't see often, Dana.

BASH: Well, we don't. As we've been talking about, this should be a good-bye lap. A thank you so much for eight years working with you. We did some great things. You know, let's talk about the legacy and --

COSTELLO: Let's listen for just a second. I hit it too late. Sorry, Dana. But continue.

This should be his good-bye but it's not.

BASH: It should -- it should be, you know, kind of going out on top, and, you know, in some ways he is. Mostly what this is, he's scrambling to try to get his fellow Democrats who don't have as much power as he hoped they would, to preserve his legacy.

COSTELLO: I want to go to Manu Raju.

I don't know exactly where you are, Manu. But can you see any of this?

RAJU: Yes, the president just walked right behind me, Carol. He just walked right into the room. I asked him, shouted out a question to him as he walked by and said, so do you think the Democrats should work with the Republicans to try to replace the law? And he paused for a second. It seemed like he wanted to answer the question. And then he said, "Happy New Year."

So, he didn't quite go there about what he thinks the next step should be.