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Gorsuch Meeting with 3 Democratic Lawmakers Today; Rand Paul Talks Obamacare, Elizabeth Warren Rebuke, Opposition to Elliott Abrams at State Department; White House Press Conference. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00] SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, (D), OREGON: This is the first time in our history that the Senate majority has stolen a Senate seat, put it in a time capsule, delivered it to the next president, and to do so in order to bias the Supreme Court. This really is very destructive to the integrity of the court and it's very destructive to our we, the people, vision of government because this was done by Republicans in order to sustain the flow of dark money that has put them in power in the Senate. Dark money that is corrupting our elections, corrupting our Democratic republic.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Once again here, let me point out what the Republicans say, this nomination was introduced in the final year of a presidency, and in a final year a presidency, that was different than the first year of a presidency. As a result, they withheld -- they didn't even want to meet with the Obama Supreme Court nominee, and there certainly was not any voting that was going on.

Let me ask you about this appeals court panel. We could expect this ruling, literally, any time in the course of today, whether or not to reinstate President Trump's travel ban. Do Democrats have a plan in place if the court rules in favor of the president and lifts the travel ban suspension.

MERKLEY: If that happens, we certainly will be working to change the law. We will push that forward and persist and fight for a vision of America that is about religious nondiscrimination, religious freedom. And we'll keep the fight in every manner we can.

BLITZER: Senator Merkley, thank you very much for joining us.

MERKLEY: You're welcome. You're welcome. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, mixed signals coming in right now from Capitol Hill and the White House on how to deal with Obamacare. Will it be repealed? Will it be repaired? How long will that process take? We're going to discuss that and more. Senator Rand Paul is standing by live. We'll talk with him.

And the White House daily press briefing just moments away. Sean Spicer getting ready to answer reporters' questions once again. We'll have live coverage of that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:35:52] BLITZER: Well, once again, we're only moments away from the start of the White House press briefing. Sean Spicer answering reporters' questions. We'll, of course, have live coverage of that. Stand by.

In the meantime, Republicans in Congress are grappling with ways to try to fulfill a key Trump campaign promise in a long-time goal of repealing and replacing Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers are divided, though, right now over how quickly to get rid of the law and what to replace it with.

Let's talk about that and much more. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is joining us.

Senator, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KENTUCKY: Thank you.

BLITZER: I know you have come up with a good plan from your perspective. Other Republicans have come up with what they regard as good plans to replace Obamacare. There are probably a half a dozen or a dozen plans out there. But now, all of a sudden, President Trump is saying, you know what, we might not be able to replace Obamacare until next year. How frustrated are you by talk like that? It could take a lot longer, not only to repeal, but replace Obamacare.

PAUL: I think it would be a big mistake to wait. I think we should vote on replacement the same day we vote on row peel. We've had six years to complain about Obamacare. We've got a lot of good ideas. I've brought it together, a consensus package of things that every Republican agrees with. I've put it in one package in the Obamacare Replacement Act. And we plan on introducing it the same day. We want to vote the same day.

What I would say is that when you vote on reforms, when you vote on replacement, it may be that the effects of the legislation take a while to create new opportunities in the marketplace. It will take a while for the replacement bill to have an effect, but we absolutely should not wait a year to introduce a replacement bill. That is a terrible, terrible idea.

BLITZER: Have you had this conversation directly with the president?

PAUL: Well, yeah. Last time we talked, he said he was in favor of replacing at the same time.

Now, there are certain things we can't guarantee. We can't guarantee when the effects occur. We also can't guarantee that any Democrats will be willing to work with us. We're actually actively looking for Democrats to work with us on making health insurance better for the country, making health care better. We're not having a lot of luck. There's a lot of angry people around here that can't get over the election. So, I am hopeful the Democrats will, you know, calm it down to a lower level and that they will work with us.

But, absolutely, if I talked to the president again and when I talk to my leadership in the Senate and leadership in the House, I tell them it's absolutely imperative we vote the same day on replacement. And the replacement should not be another government program and shouldn't be Obamacare light. It should be market reforms to allow less expensive insurance to more people, help them save for it, and help individuals to join associations so they can get cheaper price and more guarantees in their insurance.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another key issue right now. The Senate votes later today on the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions to become the attorney general. Last night, Senator Elizabeth Warren was rebuked, banned from the debate after criticizing Senator Sessions. Democrats say Republicans miscalculated. Listen to Democratic Congressman Jim Hines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM HINES, (D), CONNECTICUT: As a political matter, if mitch McConnell wanted to further activate an already activated Democratic activist wing, boy, did ever do that last night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you believe, Senator -- and I know you are a strong believer in free speech -- that Senator Warren should have been rebuked and shut down by the majority leader?

PAUL: Well, you know, I think a lot of people on the other side of the aisle are very -- still very unhappy about losing the election, and I think their frustration is boiling over into ad hominem, basically, character assassination. And I don't think it's fair to Jeff Sessions, you know, to say that he is against voting rights. I have seen the pictures of him marching in Selma with John Lewis in favor of voting rights. So, for someone to mischaracterize who he is, to attack his character, to assassinate his character, yeah, I don't think that has a place on the Senate floor.

And if you look back through -- you know, I have talked for 13 hours at a time without condemning anybody. When I talk about President Obama, the previous president, I did it with respect. And so, I think we can have respect the way we treat each other. We can have differences of opinion.

But I think a lot of this is about people on the other side of the aisle are -- they're just not coming to grips with the fact that they lost the election, and they're very unhappy, and so they're lashing out at everyone. And really, it just isn't fair. I mean, Republicans, as much as anyone, we do believe in voting rights. I do believe in voting rights. And it's just not fair to assassinate someone's character and say something that's not true. [13:40:33] BLITZER: But simply reading from a letter from Coretta

Scott King, a letter that was written in the 1980s when he was then himself being considered for a federal judgeship, was that inappropriate from your perspective?

PAUL: You can say anything you want when you are not on the floor. On the floor, we have special rules. It isn't about freedom of speech or First Amendment. It's about decorum, and we ask people to be polite to each other on the floor. Most of the time, you're not supposed to refer to anybody by name on the floor. Now, this is kind of an extraordinary situation because he is running for another office and it's hard not to mention his name. But you're typically not supposed to mention Republican, Democrat, or individuals' name on the floor. It's this way of trying to allow us to reach compromise by not making things so acrimonious that we're at each other's throat all the time. If someone mentions your name on the floor, the rules of the Senate allow you to come back, and you have privilege time to respond to that as well.

So, I don't know. I think there's a way we could debate this. I did hear the letter. I was sitting there this morning and heard the letter read. It is simply someone's opinion from events that is happened a long time ago. And, you know, it's part of the congressional record. I think we can differ about it, but I think when we present things like this, we have to be aware that people take it personally. If you say that you're against people or that you are a racist or that you are against voting rights, that is a character assassination, and I think unfair.

BLITZER: Let's talk about foreign policy for a moment. You remember the Foreign Relations Committee? We're told that Elliott Abrams is now a leading candidate to become deputy secretary of state, the number two position under Rex Tillerson. He has met with the new secretary of state, we're told. You're a member of the committee, but you have come out strongly against Abrams. Why?

PAUL: Well, I think President Trump should pick somebody who agrees with President Trump. One of his loudest critics throughout the campaign was Elliott Abrams. When he talked about -- when President Trump said nation building abroad, we don't have the money to do it, we need to build our nation here at home, I really support that. I support President Trump's vision for nation building at home and not nation building abroad. But when Elliott Abrams was asked about this, he said, absolutely, the president is wrong. Elliott Abrams went on further to say that the chair that Washington and Lincoln sat in, that Trump wasn't fit to sit in it. It was very, very personal with regards. He was a Never Trumper. Even in the end, when Donald Trump was a nominee, Elliott Abrams was still a Never Trumper, and I just don't see a Never Trumper -- maybe they should never be in the State Department.

But I think particularly since they don't agree with President Trump's vision of nation building is a mistake, regime change is a mistake, Iraq war was a mistake. I mean, Elliott Abrams was one of the chief architects of the Iraq war. Also, he was convicted of lying to Congress. We have to have people

that will listen and understand that they work for the people and that they work under the direction of the Congress. No war is to be initiated without the approval of Congress. That's in the Constitution. Yet, Elliott Abrams was involved in covert wars, supplying weapons, taking money from the sultan of Brunei, buying weapons and selling weapons in Iran, and then taking the proceeds of that and giving it to authoritarians in Nicaragua. So, yeah, that's all a little bit scary that people are willing to go against the will of Congress. Congress prohibited this behavior, and they were doing it anyway in secret. I don't think that bodes well for somebody that would have so much power.

BLITZER: Senator, what do you say to those that say he was a senior official under President Reagan. He was implementing President Reagan's policies in Central America. He was a senior official under President Bush. He was implementing President Bush's policies. And he has had a pretty distinguished career in the Council on Foreign Relations and elsewhere. And if the president likes them, even though he was so critical of the president, what's wrong with bringing in a critic?

PAUL: Well, if President Trump was telling us that he didn't like nation building, why would he want somebody to run the State Department who is for nation building? If President Trump said the Iraq War was one of our biggest mistakes in recent decades, why would he want somebody who is an architect of this?

I don't buy really that Elliott Abrams was just listening to Ronald Reagan in Iran/Contra. I sort of believe that maybe they were running their own war, with or without the president's knowledge, to tell you the truth. And I don't want a government within a government. I don't want a secret government that's waging a secret war without the permission of the people. Our founding fathers didn't want this. I don't believe Donald Trump wants that.

All I would caution is that you ought to be very wary about picking someone that has their own agenda, and it's an agenda diametrically opposite and opposed to everything President Trump has said he is for. I don't see how they fit together, and I'm hoping it doesn't happen.

[13:45:28] BLITZER: If he is nominated, you will not vote to confirm him, is that what I'm hearing?

PAUL: No. I can't vote. I mean, he was convicted of deceiving Congress. I can't vote for someone --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He was pardoned by President Bush.

PAUL: Pardoned doesn't always mean you're not guilty. It just means you have friends in high places. So, I would say that lying to Congress is a big offense. When you have to have oversight and you have to have separation of power, one part of government checking another, if the executive branch appoints someone who has a history of lying to Congress, that doesn't bode well for oversight.

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, we are told they are moments away. Let's get another quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, has just started his briefing.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- administration is getting in its pro-jobs agenda. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced that his company is opening a high-tech manufacturing facility in Arizona that will create roughly 10,000 jobs, between the factory itself and its supply chain, which is the latest wave in an economic optimism that's sweeping the country following the president's victory.

In his inaugural address, the president laid out an ambitious vision to create 25 million jobs over the next decade. From the beginning of his campaign to bringing jobs back to our struggling community has been one of the parts of the president's message that most resonated with the American people.

Having hired tens of thousands people himself, the president is keenly aware of what prevents businesses from being successful in creating jobs in the current economy.

President Obama, by contrast, visited the same factory site where this factory will be built during his last reelection visit in 2012, touting the government incentives that were supposed to bring back jobs that had been lost to Asia. President Trump knows that for business, the real government incentive is the government restraining itself.

For too many years, Washington has smothered industry in this country under burdensome regulations. This administration will set out to free businesses from constraints of government bureaucracy and regulation. Under the president's buy American, hire American agenda, the government is going to get out of the way of businesses to allow them to thrive.

Just last week, the president signed what we've been calling the one- in/two-out executive order requiring that new -- every new federal regulation that's adopted, two must be eliminated. This new rule will provide much-needed relief for businesses who have been regulated and saddled with an absolutely staggering amount of additional red tape, as much as $1.9 trillion per year by some estimates.

[13:50:07]

In 2014, the National Association of Manufacturers calculated the companies in every industry paid an average of $9,991 per employee to comply with federal regulations and it's only gotten worse since that study was conducted.

By relieving even a small portion of this burden, we will allow businesses to grow and hire more people. Projects that have been stalled or scuttled are being revived in anticipation of the president's pro-growth policies. Last quarter, confidence among CEO of U.S.-based companies jumped by 4.2 percent points in the YPO Global Pulse survey, one of the single largest quarter gains in history. This is only the beginning of the president's agenda.

Moving on to recap the president's afternoon and evening yesterday, as you saw, we officially announced the 24 people who will be serving the president in his Cabinet on the White House website yesterday. The president looks forward to having all these distinguish qualified men and women in place as heads of departments and agencies so that our government can start fully working for the American people and enacting the agenda that he brought forward during the last campaign.

The president spoke with two foreign leaders yesterday. During his call with President Rajoy of Spain, the two leaders discussed their shared priorities, including efforts to eliminate ISIS. The president additionally reiterated the United States commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and emphasized the importance of NATO allies and sharing the burden of defense spending.

President Trump also spoke with the President Erdogan of Turkey, during which he conveyed U.S. support to Turkey as a strategic partner and NATO ally and welcome Turkey's contributions to the fight against ISIS.

Last night, the president had an incredibly meaningful visit with current officers who enrolled in the Green Berets qualifications course. These young and -- men and women who will be at the tip of the spear serving our country in some of the world's most dangerous places as intelligence officers. The president told these brave young soldiers how proud he was of their commitment (inaudible) to keep us safe and how humbled he was to serve as their commander-in-chief and that they could always count on him to have their back.

Also yesterday, the Department of Justice presented its arguments before the 9th Circuit Court in the case concerning the temporary restraining order on that president's national security executive order. Again, as I did yesterday, I want to emphasize that the issue before the 9th Circuit right now is extremely narrow. The question is simply whether or not the president's executive order, which we maintain is fully lawful under the Constitution and U.S. code, should remain in effect while the courts actually consider it on its merit. We expect the court to issue a decision on this matter soon and we will have a statement once that's done.

Today, the president spoke before the major cities police chiefs and the major county sheriff's winter conference. In his remarks, the president reiterated his commitment to a great national partnership between his administration and law enforcement. While there are many things that the federal government can do to improve safety in our communities, it's truly rests with the police officers, sheriffs and deputies who risk their lives every day in our streets and their mission is critical to the future of this country.

These brave men and women have a true friend in the White House, and as the president said many times, we must protect those who protect us. He will continue to do that throughout his administration.

Later this afternoon, the president will participate in a standing legislative strategy meeting of his team here. The team has been working around the clock to engage lawmakers and get the president's agenda moving through Congress.

Yesterday, the vice president attended the Republican policy lunch where he discussed how the administration will work with the Senate to deliver results to the American people. Of course, the vice president also passed a historic vote for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on the floor of the Senate and then later swore her in in his office across the street.

The larger intergovernmental affairs team is maintaining direct communications to state, local and tribal leaders so that we know what issues are affecting local communities. So far, they've contacted all GOP state speakers of the House, state Senate presidents and attorneys general and all but eight GOP state Senate majority leaders.

Our legislative team is also obviously engaged in Judge Gorsuch's nomination. He had another full day of meetings in the Senate with both Republicans and Democrats. He met this morning with Senators Flake and Heitkamp, and this afternoon, he'll meet with Senators Cotton, Blumenthal, McCaskill and Heller. We are also pleased to see another Democrat, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, come out and say that the eminently qualified Judge Gorsuch deserves an up or down vote. That brings us now to nine total Democrats who have come out and expressed a willingness to treat Judge Gorsuch fairly. We hope more Democrats will continue to join their colleagues in fulfilling their constitutional duty to offer advice and consent on the president's nominee.

SPICER: Also on the Hill, we -- we expect Attorney General- designate Sessions to receive a full vote (ph) on the floor of the Senate tonight. As unfortunately has become commonplace in the Senate, Democrats once again spent hours last night in a counterproductive discussion about one of President Trump's clearly qualified nominees, not to mention one of their peers. Senator Sessions has a long and distinguished legal career, serving as both the U.S. attorney of the southern district of Alabama, and also as Alabama's attorney general.

The president looks forward to Senator Sessions' returned to the Department of Justice where he will continue his service to our nation as our chief law enforcement officer. We also anticipate votes later this week on Secretary-designate Price and Mnuchin. Finally before I open up for questions, the White House has spoken with the governor of Louisiana about the severe weather in the Gulf Coast. We've also be content with the mayors of the affected areas.

FEMA is monitoring the situation around the clock and is in the process of deploying teams to support response and recovery activities. At this time, there have been no additional request for federal assistance, and we'll update you should that change with that, let me go to the first question from Courtis Fuller from WLWT NBC in Cincinnati, Ohio.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Cincinnati, among other cities has recently voted to become a sanctuary city, (inaudible), vowing not to enforce federal immigration laws without a specific request. They also say they want to be open and welcoming to refugees. My question today, how will president Trump respond? Will Cincinnati face economic or other sanctions including, for example, funding of the Brent Spence Bridge which he said he would fund when he was on the campaign trail?

SPICER: Thanks, Courtis. As I have noted before, the end of the day, this order is about two things. One, keeping our cities safe, and two, respecting the hard-earned taxpayers who send their money to the federal government. And the president is going to do everything he can within the scope of the executive order to make sure that the cities you don't comply with it, counties another institutions, that the remains into a cities, they will not get federal government funding in compliance with the executive order. I think more -- more areas like Miami-Dade down in Florida, understand the importance of this order, and we hope cities like Cincinnati and others community around the country follow their lead and comply with that. With that, Anita Kumar. QUESTIONS: I have two questions. First one is, can you tell us who is paying or how it is (ph) happening with the prime minister - and Prime Minister Abadi's (ph) visit to Mar-a- Lago, who will be paying for that? I asked the White House yesterday, they referred me to the state, state referred me to the Japanese government who didn't respond. It seems as if the prime minister was paying, and the money was going to the treasury as previously discussed?

SPICER: When he travels here or to?

QUESTION: To Mar-a-Lago.

SPICER: OK.

QUESTION: And that (ph) it seems the White House would know that and...

SPICER: Yeah, let me get back to you on that. I - I will follow up with you on the exact financing, I'm not sure how flows (ph), but I'd be glad to find out.

QUESTION: Second question was during the hearing yesterday, that you talked about in the ninth circuit, there was some discussion about whether there needed to be a tweak to the executive order that -- to make it clear that legal permanent residents would not be included in that. And there was some back and forth on that. Will there be a tweak? Will there be a...

SPICER: I think there was further - there was further guidance that I spoke about that went out, I think it's been a week ago, correct me if I am wrong. But it talked about we wanted to make it very, very clear that legal permanent residents were not included in that. But again, remember, we're not talking about the merits of the order. Right now, this discussion that happened last night, and that the

court will be ruling on is specific to the temporary restraining order and whether or not it should be maintained until there's a further discussion on the merits. So again, I don't want to get into the legal nuances, but - but right now, the guidance is very clear that was issued several days ago, if not a week ago, that there is not about legal permanent residents, so I just -- they are excluded from this. I don't know why there would be that discussion. That clarification has been made. Jeff (ph)?

QUESTION: You said you're not talking about the merits of the order, but the president this morning talking about the merits of the order, when he called it "disgraceful?" The hearing that he heard last night?

SPICER: He wasn't arguing before the night circuit, Jeff. Last night was a motion before the night circuit on the temporary restraining order. I think the president was very clear that U.S. code and the constitution clearly give the president all of the authority that's needed to make sure that he can regulate who comes into this country and prevent any acts of anyone who is not coming into this country in a peaceful manner.

The code - eight -- U.S. Code 11320 is very, very clear on this. And so I think the president was very -- was pointing out the same issue that we had in Boston, which is, once we had a chance to argue around the merits, we won on it. And so I think that's -- he clearly did not argue in front of the ninth circuit last night.

QUESTION: He called it "disgraceful." He called it "disgraceful," is that the type of language...

SPICER: I think the president -- when you look at the U.S. code and how clear it's written and the authority and power it gives the president to do what's necessary to keep this country safe and regulate who comes into this country, I think it's a very, very clear reading.