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Will Republicans Investigate Unsubstantiated Wiretapping Allegations?; Obamacare Replacement Bill. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 7, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:03]

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And they're hoping that these congressional panels can investigate this.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you so much for that.

I want to turn back to wiretapping with my panel here.

And David Chalian is now joining us.

As Sean Spicer was speaking, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, was up on Capitol Hill echoing what we've heard pretty much across the board from Democrats and Republicans alike, which is they don't have any information that what the president accused President Obama of doing, ordering a wiretap of President Obama (sic), is accurate.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And, apparently, that's a real sore point with the president, who wanted Republicans to rush to the microphones and say, let's investigate this, this is terrible, oh, my God, how could President Obama have done this to Donald Trump?

And instead they have been repelled from the microphones. They were uncharacteristically quiet about this, except for Lindsey Graham and John McCain, for example, because they don't want to get involved in something that may not be true.

And, by the way, there is a question of, why would the president want Congress to spend money investigating a question to which he has the answer, by virtue of his tweet, and can make that public any old time he wants?

BASH: And let's just talk turkey here. This is a president on a Twitter storm clearly angry about the way that his staff had handled things, deciding to take things into his own hands, and try to change the subject, who knows, probably divert attention from Russia, all of the above.

And Sean Spicer was asked -- and probably one of my favorite moments of this briefing -- whether or not, given the fact that nobody has been able to back up this declaratory statement that President Trump made, whether he would stop doing such things on Twitter, and Sean Spicer said, I will ask that and get back to you. (LAUGHTER)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I doubt he will get back to us. I think he pretty much sure...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

HENDERSON: Right. And I'm sure he knows that President Trump is watching him, maybe tweeting at this moment.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Watching TV in the Oval Office.

HENDERSON: Yes, indeed.

But I think Gloria is exactly right. This is just -- this is awkward. This is weird to watch Spicer sort of say and not say, not say whether or not he believes this, not talk about evidence.

And this idea that you can't take what the president tweeted at face value, that you need a Congress -- and Spicer actually said you need the credibility of Congress, as if to say that the president himself didn't have credibility on this.

And guess what? He doesn't have any credibility on this because he hasn't shown any evidence. And you imagine that if he had evidence of this event, this action by the former president, it would be the biggest political story in 50 years or so.

And he would want to put it out there. And we will wait to see what he does. I think they are hoping this does become like Groundhog Day and every day they can just refer to Congress and say they will take it up.

But at some point, they're going to have some sort of resolution to this.

BASH: But it is our responsibility -- look, the president tweets stuff all the time, and it is one of the biggest challenges -- one of the biggest challenges, I think, for the media in the Trump era is to try to figure out when to ignore it and know it is just a diversion, and when to take it seriously.

You can't not take seriously accusing a predecessor of wiretapping. This is something that was a no-brainer. Right? Having said that, do you think -- you're a Reuters reporter, but also the president of the White House Press Association.

Do you agree that this is something we have to keep at them on, that you can't just say this and make it go away by pretending that there's going to be a congressional investigation?

JEFF MASON, REUTERS: I think journalists have a responsibility to tell the truth, to report to the truth, and when accurate -- or a statement comes from a person we're covering is found not to be accurate, to follow up on that, just as we have the same responsibility to correct our own mistakes.

Absolutely, that's what the White House press corps should be doing and that's what we should all be doing.

BASH: David Chalian, I want to bring you in, but I want to switch over to health care.

And the whole top of this briefing was the new HHS secretary, Tom Price, who used to be on Capitol Hill writing this legislation, which had no chance of ever becoming law when President Obama was in the White House.

Now he basically put his and the White House's stamp on what the House did. But he said something that was very noteworthy, given the hot water that President Obama got in by promising that everybody can keep their doctor. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Because, as you will recall, the promise from the last administration was, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.

Both of those promises turned out to be not true. We think it's incredibly important for the American people to be able to select the physician just place where they're treated themselves, that the government ought not be involved in that process.

[15:05:05]

And so our goal is absolutely to make certain that individuals have the opportunity to select their physicians.

In terms of premiums, we believe strongly that through this whole process and as it takes effect, that we will see a decrease in not only the premiums that individuals will see, but a decrease in the cost of health care for folks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: David, political director, you obviously have your political antenna up. What did you make of that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I thought there were a few interesting things on Obamacare.

Specifically, there, as you noted, he wanted to separate what was the lie of the year or whatever it was during the Obama years about that, that broken promise.

Of course, what he doesn't say is, yes, you can choose your doctor. He doesn't say whether that person is actually going to have health insurance when they choose that doctor that they go to any more at that point.

But I thought a couple of things were noteworthy. One, it was so interesting to see both Tom Price and Sean Spicer emphasizing this is just impacting the individual market, Medicare not affected here. Vets, you get Tricare. You have veterans care. This doesn't impact employer-provided insurance.

And I thought it seemed like a Robert Gibbs press briefing on Obamacare from 2009. It was the identical talking points that the Obama administration was trying to argue at the time, that it wasn't this radical shift to the whole system, but affecting the individual market. That was noteworthy.

The other thing I thought was really noteworthy on health care, Sean Spicer, I thought -- I don't know what you guys thought -- clearly laying the groundwork, that when this CBO, the Congressional Budget Office that plays referee here on the cost of the bill, when this estimate comes out about the cost of this, he's already laying the groundwork for de-emphasizing the importance of that, because he says, well, the number of people covered and the cost of this entire thing may not be fully realized until phases two and three get implemented, having nothing to do with the bill introduced last night.

CBO can obviously only score pieces of legislation. And there's only one piece of legislation right now. Sean was saying, well, this is just phase one. That's a tricky road there, because now he's trying to muddy the waters and say don't believe that price tag when we first see it.

BASH: Gloria, for people who are listening, CBO, they hear...

CHALIAN: Sorry.

BASH: No, it's OK. It's important to hear Washington alphabet soup.

Why does it matter? It matters because this is the entity in Washington that is relied up generally to explain how much things cost to government and therefore the taxpayer, right?

MASON: And in a bipartisan way.

BASH: And in a nonpartisan way.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And it's not only what things are going to cost.

They try and play it over the years in terms of, how many people will get coverage under this plan? So the big question is, will there be a decline in coverage? They can also say will your co-pays and deductibles increase?

They can talk about that. They can talk about, well, wait a minute, how will this affect the Medicare trust fund going forward? Are they going to rob Peter to pay Paul here? And so Sean is exactly setting it up the way you said, David. But

there are questions that are going to be raised about part one and the cost of part one, because there's no tax increase, as President Obama had to offset the cost of his tax care -- his plan.

BASH: If there's that, you also have Republicans saying yes, but, this entity the CBO was not accurate in terms of the cost ultimately of Obamacare, at least where we are right now, almost 10 years after it was -- eight years after it was passed.

But there's that. Then there's shoe meet other foot, in that Republicans now are -- many conservatives are so upset at the notion that, even though they talked a lot about transparency, and everybody would be able to read the bill, and it's only 66 pages, and it's smaller and so forth, that they haven't been able to look at it, that it's going to be done maybe properly in House, but the Senate has already taken -- they're just saying they're going to take whatever the House passes and shove it right through the Republican-led Senate.

Is that going to fly with conservatives out there who yelled about that happening with Obamacare?

MASON: I think that hits on a central point here, that we already sort of know where the Democrats are going to be on this bill, but the Republicans are divided as well.

And the fact that the Republicans are divided both about some of the content of the bill, as well as how it's going to be handled or pushed through if that is what happens in the Senate will be controversial and will make it harder for it to actually become law.

BASH: Thank you, everyone, for hanging in for that lengthy, lengthy press conference from the White House. Appreciate all your insights.

And just a few moments from now, we're going to hear from some of the Republicans who are criticizing their party's health care plan, including Senator Rand Paul.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:11:50]

BASH: Republicans are the dogs who caught the bus. That's the way Republican Senator Lindsey Graham described his party's dilemma on health care on CNN last week, promising for years to repeal Obamacare, only to suddenly find themselves on Election Day in a position where they could actually do it.

Now, four months after the election, the GOP has unveiled a plan to replace Obamacare. And, not surprisingly, Democrats argue it will hurt Americans by ripping Obamacare apart. Many conservatives say they don't like their party's plan because it's too much like Obamacare, panning it as Obamacare-lite.

And here is how Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price described it moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

T. PRICE: The principles that we have as our guiding star are affordability. We want a system that's affordable for everybody.

Accessibility. We need a system that accessible for everybody, a system that is of the highest quality, a system that incentivizes innovation in the health care system, and a system that empowers patients through both transparency and accountability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Joining me now is Tami Luhby, a senior writer for CNN Money.

Tami, thank you so much for joining me. I should tell our viewers that you definitely are an expert on this, walked us through all of our preparation for our health care debate last month.

But let me get to the specifics on this. Will this deliver on prices promised?

TAMI LUHBY, SENIOR WRITER, CNNMONEY.COM: Well, let's go over some of the basics first.

As they said, it's just for the individual market and the Medicaid market. But the Republican plan keeps some of the most popular provisions in Obamacare. Kids under 26 can stay on their parents' plan. Those with preexisting conditions, they're protected. There are no annual lifetime annual limits on coverage. And it will keep the cap on out-of-pocket costs.

But it does get rid of the individual and employer mandates and it changes the Obamacare subsidies, giving people refundable tax credits based mainly on age, rather than income.

And another key change has to do with Medicaid. Obamacare allowed states to expand Medicaid to low-income adults. And there are now 11 million people covered. But the Republicans want to completely overhaul it the Medicaid program, which covers more than 70 million people. Their changes would reduce federal support for it.

BASH: And the real winners and losers here in terms of Americans who are getting health care through Obamacare?

LUHBY: Right.

Let's first talk about the losers. Low-income people may end up really losing out here. They could be left uninsured. Obamacare provided subsidies that were more generous for low-income Americans, and it expanded Medicaid.

That's all going to change under the Republican plan. Also, the elderly could have to pay more. Obamacare restricted how much insurers can charge older consumers compared to younger ones. This bill will now allow insurers to charge older people more. If we want to look at the winners, they are winners too. Younger

people could get cheaper plans. They no longer have to subsidize the older people under this plan, because, as I said, older people are going to be charged more.

[15:15:00]

Also, higher--income people are going to win. They get to pay fewer taxes. This new plan rolls back the taxes on the rich Americans that help pay for Obamacare. And also people with higher incomes, many middle-class people, but also people with higher incomes, will be able to qualify for the tax credits.

They do put an income cap on it, so not the wealthy, wealthy will be able to. And on top of everything else, insurers will get a big tax break.

BASH: Tami Luhby, thank you so much for breaking all that down. Appreciate it.

LUHBY: OK. Thank you so much.

BASH: Thank you.

And another question right now, a big one, is, what is this going to cost and when will we know the final price tag.

To help at least begin to answer that, Phil Mattingly, our congressional correspondent, is on Capitol Hill following all of the to-ing and fro-ing among Republicans.

Phil, what are you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the interesting element here is we don't have answers to how much it costs, we don't have answers to how many people it will cover, at least according to Congressional Budget Office, which I know you gets went into the weeds on a few minutes ago.

I think that leaves a lot of conservatives very wary. I think, frankly, it also leaves a lot of moderates very wary. On the cost, obviously, that's where you're hitting on conservatives. Moderates are very concerned about this idea that there will be a million multiplied people drop off based on projections for Obamacare itself.

But I think one of the most interesting elements that is going on right now, Dana, is the conservatives basically saying we're not even willing to negotiate on what has been put out right now. This is dead.

In fact, that's exactly what Senator Rand Paul told me just a few minutes ago. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I don't think there are the votes now. I think there's going to be some head-counting going on. And I think the bill as it stands really is dead on arrival.

I don't think it's going to ever arrive in the Senate. I think it's dead on arrival in the House. I think what you're really going to find is that I don't think conservatives are for this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Some ominous words there obviously from Senator Paul.

Obviously, Republicans at least in this chamber over in the Senate can only afford to lose two of their 52 Republicans and still actually move this through.

What are the solutions here for the Trump administration? What is the solution for Speaker Ryan? Dana, you know how this works better than anybody else, from your years up here. And we're seeing it start to take effect right now.

The Trump administration starting their blitz to sell this plan. How are they doing it? Vice President Mike Pence up here meeting with Senate Republicans now in his private office along with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price meeting with some of those wary conservatives, trying to kind of mollify their concerns, trying to bring them along, trying to make sure that, hey, look, we get you have problems with this, but this is the vehicle, this is what's moving forward, and this is what the administration supports.

One key component here, Dana -- again, you know this better than anybody. The closer here is the president. The president is the one that's going to have to get on the phone, sell these conservatives behind the scenes, but also sell the American public publicly.

I'm told multiple senior administration officials saying expect that to happen soon. Expect him to get out and really try to sell this proposal. There's no question this is not a clear path. There are very real roadblocks. Those conservatives really make up the core of that, at least at the moment, Dana.

BASH: Great reporting, Phil. You're absolutely right. I'm sure you have heard this as well. I have heard from senior Republicans over there that they are expecting the president to be the salesman in chief on this.

Phil, thank you so much.

The conservative advocacy group Heritage Action for America has panned the Republicans' health care proposal, releasing a statement which says in part: "In many ways, the House Republicans proposals" -- "proposal," rather, "released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare, but expands upon them."

We heard Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price respond to this criticism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) T. PRICE: I think that this is the beginning of the process. And we look forward to working with them and others to make certain that again we come up with that process that aligns with the principles that we have defined, that they actually adhere or agree with as well.

And that is that we need a system that's affordable for folks, a system that's accessible for individuals, that is of the highest quality, that incentivizes innovation, and that empowers patients.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: With me now is the CEO of Heritage Action for America, Michael Needham.

I want to talk about the substance of the bill and of course just the Republican politics. Let's start with the substance.

In your statement, you said there's no significant difference between this effort and Obamacare. Is that really fair?

MIKE NEEDHAM, HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA: I'm not sure if that is exactly how we said it, but ultimately the way you start a process matters.

And they're starting this process with the basic architecture of Obamacare in place. They keep much of the regulatory regime that Obamacare put into place. They keep the bias in the tax codes towards employer-sponsored health care.

And they replace the Obamacare subsidies with different subsidies, which actually go to many Americans who are even wealthier than were eligible under Obamacare.

And so the problem is the progressive mind-set looks at health care and says the federal government, your insurance company and your boss should be the critical players in health care. That's the kind of architecture this bill keeps in place, while what conservatives want to do and what we need to repeal Obamacare with and replace it down a different path is to make this a free-market-based system, where it's really the individual and his or her doctor who is making health care decisions.

BASH: OK. So on that note, President Trump tweeted, not surprisingly. He said this: "Don't worry. Getting rid of state lines," to which I think part of what you were referring, "which will promote competition, will be in phase two and three of the health care rollout."

[15:20:13]

And you heard that from Secretary Price as well. So does that give you comfort?

NEEDHAM: Right.

It doesn't, because, again, When you're building a house, the foundation matters. And the foundation that they're starting on keeps this kind of progressive mind-set in terms of what some of those regulations are, in terms of how you're subsidizing people getting care, and really not making sure that you're getting at the linking of insurance and your employment.

Ultimately, when you look at phase two, which they're describing, some of the stuff that HHS Secretary Tom Price can do, that's all stuff that can be rolled back by a future administration.

When you look at phase three, why would any Democrat sign on to phase three if it's getting at that progressive architecture of Obamacare? That is what has to be done on reconciliation. That has to be done with 51 Republican votes. Repeal Obamacare. Deliver on that promise you have been making ever since 2010.

And then, once you have done it, let's have a big national debate about how we can make a health care system that serves our fellow citizens better.

BASH: I just to ask sort of a philosophical and political approach question, which is, what you just said made perfect sense when you were trying to set the parameters of the debate for conservatives when they were in the minority and didn't have the White House.

Now you have the White House, you have the majority in the House, you have the majority in the Senate, which means you actually have to govern and legislate. You are limited by the number of seats and votes that you have.

Given that reality, do you understand why they are doing what they are doing to try to cobble together as much of a change as they can to fit the philosophical ideas you just pointed out?

NEEDHAM: I just think they're going about it the wrong way.

We had a successful model in 1977, when one of the great conservative victories, welfare reform, was done on reconciliation. An entire federal welfare program was repealed on reconciliation and replaced.

That's what we need to be doing here. Let's repeal Obamacare. Let's take away that progressive architecture and then let's rebuild it with something that is stronger and serves the American people better.

BASH: One final quick question. I know your organization doesn't engage in Republican primaries. But for Republicans who support this bill, do you think they run the risk of being primaried from the right?

NEEDHAM: I think we're in a moment right now where every Republican wants to get to yes. We want to get to a plan where we can repeal Obamacare and replace it.

In order to get to yes, you're going to have to be able to explain it to your constituents. What we are hearing across the country, and some of the questions that you're seeing, are a lot of voters saying this doesn't really look like it's going to pass muster. BASH: Thank you so much for your time.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Appreciate it.

And moments from now, Senator Rand Paul will speak live to reporters, along with several other Republican lawmakers who are criticizing their party's health care plan, along the lines of what you just heard. Hear Republicans reacting to President Trump's claims also of wiretapping at Trump Tower. All that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:15]

BASH: Another breaking story we're following, we're now learning that the Senate Intelligence Committee will review President Trump's wiretapping claim against his predecessor.

I want to go right away to Manu Raju, our senior congressional reporter.

Manu, you spoke with the number two Republican, John Cornyn, about this, and what did he tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

And of course Senator Cornyn also sits on the Intelligence Committee. They're actually meeting right now in the room right next to me, Dana, actually getting briefed right now on North Korea. But they also of course have the major investigation under way looking into Russia, Russia meddling and any potential contacts between Trump associates and Russian government officials during the presidential election.

I had a chance to talk to Senator Cornyn about the claim, the stunning claim that the president of the United States made over the weekend that he was tapped by President Obama, surveilled during the presidential election.

And Cornyn suggested this is something the committee itself will be looking into. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: What I can tell you is that the bipartisan investigation is well under way and the CIA has produced a massive amount of classified materials for members of the select committee to review.

RAJU: Have you, of part of that, seen the Flynn transcripts with him and the Russian ambassador?

CORNYN: I haven't seen that.

RAJU: You guys been briefed on that as a committee? CORNYN: Manu, I can't really talk about things that are classified,

and so I can't answer that question.

But what I can assure you is that Vice Chairman Warner, a Democrat, and Chairman Burr, a Republican, have committed to a bipartisan investigation, which will be thorough and will follow the facts wherever they may lead. That's all I think anybody can reasonably ask for.

RAJU: Will you also look into this allegation of wiretapping, the president being wiretapped by President Obama?

CORNYN: I think all of that is part of the investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So interesting, Dana, that even the number two Senate Republican could not say whether or not he believes the president of the United States made an accurate claim about President Obama surveilling him during the presidential election.

And I asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell if he's seen any evidence that Donald Trump was wiretapped by the Obama administration. McConnell's words, "No, I have not" -- Dana.

BASH: Manu, great reporting, as always. Appreciate it.

And joining me now, Ned Price, a veteran of the CIA, who recently quit over actions taken by the Trump administration while at the CIA. Ned was a senior director and spokesman for the National Security Council as well. We should also note he has donated to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.

Ned, thanks for coming in.

NED PRICE, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Nice to be here.

BASH: You said that the president's tweets on wiretapping were an outburst that should frighten all Americans. OK, that's what you posit, but knowing what you know about intelligence and about the way it works, do you think that there is any way his accusation could have merit?

N. PRICE: Absolutely not, Dana.

Let's take a step back. Anyone who has any insight into this, including the people who would know directly, including Director Clapper, Director Comey, people like Mike Hayden, all of whom, by the way, were appointed initially by a Republican in office, have said there's absolutely no merit to this.

Personally, I would not know, because, as a cardinal rule, the Obama administration did not interfere in law enforcement investigations. But the people who would know have been uniform in saying there's absolutely no truth, nor could there be any truth to what Donald Trump has alleged. As a post-Watergate reform, the president of the United States does

not have the authority to direct surveillance against any person, be that an American citizen or a foreign national.

BASH: OK. So, that is true. That is the way the law works.

But do you think it is possible that the Obama administration, during the Obama administration, there was a wiretap at Trump Tower --