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AT THIS HOUR
White House Launches "Full Court Press" To Sell Health Bill; Underway: Committee Members Face Off Over Health Bill; Trump And Cruz, Former Primary Rivals To Dine Tonight; Sources: Obama Irked And Exasperated Over Wiretap Claim; Republicans See "No Evidence" To Back Wiretap Claim. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired March 8, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking at live pictures as members of two House committees begin the formal process of working through the bill. The key factions to keep in mind, Republicans who back it, Republican critics who call it Obamacare Lite, and Democrats who are happy to sit back and watch it play out while they fight any replacement to Obamacare.
Meanwhile, the White House is launching a full court press in support of the replacement bill, the biggest since the campaign, according to administration officials. After all, according to President Trump, failure to repeal and replace will mean a GOP bloodbath, in his words, in the midterm elections.
Let's get started, CNN Congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is tracking all of this. He is live on Capitol Hill, of course. Phil, you have the hardest job on TV right now, trying to track and keep track of where support stands around this replacement bill. What are you hearing right now?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Then also trying to figure out how to get from Rayburn Building to Longworth Building back and forth over the course of these next two markups. The reality as it currently stands is Republican leaders have work to do to get support for this bill.
You noted there are conservative factions that are against right now. There are moderate factions that are wary obviously for two separate reasons, but every single step they take right now is involved in trying to get a majority out of that issue.
But I think one of the primary arguments you're hearing going forward and why Republican leaders are confident that they will eventually get there is because this is exactly what they've campaigned on for the last three cycles. Take a listen to what Speaker Paul Ryan had to say this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I have no doubt will pass this because we are going to keep our promises. Every House Republican, I think every Republican in Congress including the president of the United States made a promise to the American people. And the promise we made to the American people is we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Kate, I think that is kind of the big issue here. Also the expectation, as you noted, the White House is kind of starting their full court press, they're blitz on trying to support this with the White House fully behind it.
Obviously President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, they believe they will be able to persuade those conservatives who are wary of this.
One thing to keep a note of, Kate, I was just inside the hearing room of the Ways and Means Committee, if there is an expectation that any major changes are coming to this bill, they're not coming today.
When you talk to Republican aides on these committees, they have made clear these markups are not markups where the substance of these bills will change. The conservative concerns, the moderate concerns, if those changes are coming, this isn't the venue for them.
It's more the venue for Democrats to raise all of their concerns, objections, and make this as long a process as they possibly can -- Kate.
KEILAR: And it's already going to be a long process regardless what anybody thinks. Great to see you. Thank you so much, Phil. A lot going on. We'll keep close to Capitol Hill throughout the day.
Let's stay there. Speaker Paul Ryan says he can guarantee, his words, that they're going to get a replacement bill passed through the House. Let's talk about those chances.
Joining me now is a member of the Conservative House Freedom Caucus, who opposes this bill, Republican Congressman from the great state of Michigan, Justin Amash. Congressman, thanks so much for the time.
REPRESENTATIVE JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: Thanks for having me on.
KEILAR: So Secretary Price, you've known him for years, Secretary Price was asked what he would have to say to Republicans like yourself critical of his bill. His response yesterday was, "read the bill." I assume you've had a chance to do so. Has 24 hours made a difference for you?
AMASH: No. And it's a bill that has no constituency. Republicans at home don't like it. Democrats at home don't like it. It seems like the only constituency is the political class in Washington and maybe some of the insurance companies.
So I don't see how this bill goes anywhere. It certainly doesn't have 218 votes. I think they are basically taking the Obamacare framework and trying to call it a Republican piece of legislation. That's not what people at home asked for.
KEILAR: What do you say to House Speaker Paul Ryan who says he can guarantee that they're going to get a bill through the House?
AMASH: Well, I don't know if we can get a bill through the House. I think we can get a bill through the House. We can't get this bill through the House.
KEILAR: Right. If there was one change that would get you on board with this bill, what would it be?
AMASH: They have to start over. I think the problem actually is that they're not working with Democrats. The whole objective of our leadership team is to ram this through, then go to Phase II and have the HHS secretary make the changes, and those changes are only in place as long as he's the secretary.
KEILAR: Congressman, do you really think that your Republican leadership want to ram this through? That's exactly what Republicans criticized Democrats of so much back in 2009-2010?
AMASH: I think they do want to ram this through and that's why we're already having committee markups on it. The third phase requires us to work with Democrats. So I think we should be working with them from now to see where we can find common ground. I think that we can convince Democrats that repeal and major reforms to the health care system are needed.
[11:05:09]KEILAR: An S&P analysis says up to 10 million people could lose coverage under this plan. Do you think that's true?
AMASH: I think it's possible. I haven't seen that analysis, actually, but the point is, we need to fix the overall health care system. We need to reduce costs. If we reduce costs, we can ensure that people are covered with proper insurance and get the proper health care they need.
KEILAR: You know, Congressman, administration officials talking about kind of the path forward, they say that the White House is going to putting on a full court press to get this bill through. Part of that, part of their kind of strategy here is engaging members of Congress, like they point to the president did last night in a tweet to Rand Paul, saying that, "My friend, Rand Paul, we hope he can get on board." Would a tweet from the president change your mind?
AMASH: No. And I don't think it's going to change Rand Paul's mind either. The president is the kind of guy who will work this hard, I think he's going to go and use his political capital on this. But at the end of the day, what they're trying to do is a political plan.
They're worried about the politics of this. They're trying to pass essentially Obamacare 2.0, and pretend that it's repeal and replace because they don't want to upset people at home who like some of the features of Obamacare and they want to fulfill their promises to Republicans.
That's the wrong strategy. You should really be looking at the policy, working with Democrats the whole time, looking at the policy and trying to find a way we can all come together. KEILAR: You know, Congressman, Paul Ryan clearly thinks he is confident that he's going to get the votes to pass if not this, he's going to pass something through the House in the end. At the end of the day, the sense that you're getting from Republicans, some top Republicans, especially in the House, one thing that leadership has to be banking on here is, after so many years of fighting this, are you really prepared to stand on the House floor and cast a vote against a Republican repeal and replace?
AMASH: It's not a Republican repeal and replace. It's a repackaging of Obamacare.
KEILAR: You say that, but that's what Paul Ryan will say, we promised this, we put it on the floor, Republicans' names are all over this, and you voted against it.
AMASH: All you have to do is look at the bill. The bill is a reframing of Obamacare. It operates the same way. It doesn't address health care costs and I feel very comfortable voting against that because Republicans and Democrats at home don't support such a bill.
KEILAR: Even if it costs you your seat?
AMASH: It's not going to cost me my seat.
KEILAR: Congressman Justin Amash, just as confident about his seat as Paul Ryan is about getting this bill through the House. Congressman, a long road ahead, please come back on. Appreciate it.
AMASH: Thanks so much.
KEILAR: Thank you.
Joining me now to discuss all of this and much, much more, CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, is here. Alex Burns is here as well, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times."
David Drucker is here, a CNN political analyst and senior Congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," and Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter for "The Daily Beast." Hello, friends.
That was a very interesting and telling and important interview from Justin Amash right there. That's exactly -- what we just sat here and heard together is exactly what Paul Ryan's problem is here. Republicans are accusing Republicans of doing exactly what Republicans accused Democrats of doing.
ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And you heard at the end there, when you were pressing Congressman Amash on this idea, would you really vote against the Republican repeal and replace, not even a rhetorical concession to Paul Ryan, well, I understand the speaker is trying to do the right thing, you know, well, maybe we can meet in the middle somewhere.
This was, absolutely not, I'm done with this. Justin Amash has more freedom because of the nature of his district and because of his personal sort of political inclinations to act like that. But it is really remarkable that we are 24 hours in now, a little over 24 hours in, and you have Justin Amash, as unhappy as the Democrats, for different reasons.
KEILAR: Justin Amash saying we need to work with Democrats here. We need to bring them in.
BURNS: Right. You have the AMA and AARP as unhappy as the Club For Growth and Americans for Prosperity. So if you are going to placate some important constituency with the bill that came out, it's not really clear who that was.
KEILAR: And if the alphabet soup of Washington is against you, you've got a problem, Jamie Gangel, and it's not just on the House side, you're hearing a lot from the Senate side as well.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, the White House says they're surprised at the blowback, but this is going to take place the art of the deal on steroids at this point. And a lot of arm twisting. We've now found eight Republican senators who are, quote, "concerned about it" for different reasons. We know about Rand Paul, he thinks it's Obamacare Lite. We have the four senators who wrote to Mitch McConnell, who are concerned about losing Medicare, and we have Lindsey Graham --
GANGEL: Medicaid, sorry. And Tom Cotton and Mike Lee who are worried, we're making a mistake, we're doing this too fast, slow down, stop.
[11:10:08]As Alex just said, we're just 24 hours out, and they did not have their ducks in a row because politically, they want to get this done, they want to say they did it quickly. Everyone did run against Obamacare, but they're far from ready to go on this.
KEILAR: David, interesting, Phil Mattingly had some great reporting out this morning kind of asking the question which a lot of folks clearly are in Washington and beyond, why take on health care first when tax reform was another promise?
And all things considered, tax reform seems like the easier lift, if you will. What Phil has picked up is there are a few reasons. One, as Jamie was getting to, it's a campaign promise they made, a campaign promise they wanted to keep, and also from Phil's reporting, they thought they were ready for this. Do you think House leadership was caught off-guard?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not necessarily. Look, they can't do tax reform first because Obamacare was the bigger promise. Their base is much more concerned with repealing Obamacare than they are with tax reform. So they were never going to switch that around.
The second problem they had is, it's complicated, and this is something they knew, they spent over a year on health care policy, they have spent several weeks since, in fact a couple of months since the election trying to get their ducks in a row.
But I don't think, when you're reforming health care all over again, and you've got on the one hand a president who promised that everybody would have the same coverage for lower prices, and that everybody would be covered, and then you've got moderates in the House, you've got conservatives in the House.
I don't think there was a way to come up with a bill that was going to satisfy everybody no matter how long they took. Now the test for Republicans is, can they govern? This is the first time they've been with a Republican president in years. There are no more excuses.
And it's also a test of the president, he says he's a deal maker. He says he's the king negotiator. Well, now that he's put to the test because that's what it's going to take to get this done.
KEILAR: And remember, one of his quotes post-election, when he told "The Washington Post," we're going to have insurance for everybody, there's a philosophy in some circles that if you can't pay for it, you don't get it, that's not going to happen with us."
That's setting a pretty impossible bar from where Republicans are right now and what they want to do. Betsy, what do you make of this notion with Justin Amash, because you can see it suggested in a little bit of what Paul Ryan was saying from the lectern.
This is a promise we made, and I can promise you that we're going to stick by our promises. This notion that basically kind of calling Republicans' bluff, put it out there, get it on the floor, and then basically dare Republicans to vote against a Republican replacement.
BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE DAILY BEAST": It's extremely risky. I also think it's a dare that many conservatives in the House will be willing to take. Remember, the coalition on the right that opposes this Trumpcare bill is a powerful coalition. These are the folks that torpedoed the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" immigration reform back in 2013.
And I think it's really telling and important that Trump is taking on these groups, heritage Action, Club For Growth, Freedom Works, so early in his presidency. Remember when George W. Bush was president, he didn't have an intense smackdown with conservatives on capitol hill until 2003 when he pushed for the Medicare Part D project.
We're having Trump go to war with House conservatives less than 100 days into his presidency and this moment is going to set the tone for the rest of Trump's presidency as far as how he's able to work with conservatives.
Of course, it's also a risk for some of these groups, some of these members like Amash, because many of the activists associated with Heritage Action, many of the conservative members like Mo Brooks have constituencies who really like Trump, who worked really hard for him, who are excited about him and who are not going to want to hear this criticism necessarily. But groups like Heritage Action are serious when they go after Republican bills that they don't like. KEILAR: And parts of this campaign, if you will, that the White House is going to be putting in place, guys, is reaching out, doing arm twisting, engaging members of Congress directly, maybe that's on the menu tonight when the president is going to be dining with Ted Cruz and Heidi Cruz. We can't even roll all the examples of that relationship in the past. I'm interested to get both of your takes. Jamie, what do you think is on the menu tonight?
GANGLE: Look, Ted Cruz is keeping a low profile, I think purposely on this, because of tonight. But somehow I am sure that President Trump somewhere along the line is going to tweet about how beautiful Heidi Cruz is after everything. He just can't resist or maybe I've just kept him from resisting.
BURNS: I think Ted Cruz is a perfect example of the kind of person caught between his own very conservative ideological inclinations and a base in Texas that is strongly supportive of Donald Trump. There's been talk about a primary challenge for him when he runs for reelection in 2018.
[11:15:10]He really doesn't want the president against him. For Ted Cruz in some ways, he's one of the few people who has a more uncomfortable balancing act than Donald Trump right now. Left to his own devices, he's gone pretty far in life just saying no to everything that the more mainstream leadership of the Republican Party supports. It's not clear that's a luxury he has now.
KEILAR: The only person I think who has a tougher balancing act tonight would be Heidi Cruz going into that dinner. Great to see you, guys. David, Betsy, thank you as well. Really appreciate it.
OK, irked and exasperated, that's how one president feels following the charge of wiretapping the White House. Here's a hint. It's not President Trump.
Plus, about that border wall, friends, Mexico may not be paying for it but we're talking about border security. Sources say budget cuts will.
And one of the president's biggest supporters on Capitol Hill is now saying, not so fast. He joins me, coming up.
KEILAR: This just in, sources close to former President Obama tell CNN he was irked and exasperated over President Trump's explosive tweets accusing President Obama of tapping the president's phones during the election.
According to this source, President Obama and his aides responded with disbelief when they learned of the Saturday morning tweets. You'll recall a spokesman for the former president issued this statement, saying that, "Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
Still, four days later, President Trump and the White House have not offered evidence to back up his claim. Instead they're asking Congress to investigate.
Joining me to discuss the very latest here is CNN political commentator, John Phillips, a talk radio host and political columnist for the "Orange County Register," and Matt Bennett, a former Clinton White House official, now senior vice president and co-founder of Third Way.
Guys, great to see you. Matt, President Obama is upset and then some about this. Do you think he will do anything about it, other than this statement? Do you think there's more to come?
MATT BENNETT, SENIOR VP AND CO-FOUNDER, THIRD WAY: Well, probably not. I mean, remember, President Obama is not a guy who talks in all caps or writes "sad" or uses exclamation points.
KEILAR: But he did say he would speak out. He wouldn't be quiet if he felt the need.
BENNETT: Right. Well, that was more about kind of protecting the country. This is really about him and slanderous statements against him by his successor, which is almost unprecedented American history. You have to go back to the 18th Century to find this kind of behavior on the part of one president directed at another.
But Obama, for him to leak that he's irked and exasperated, that's about as hot as Barack Obama runs. You can tell he's pretty angry about it. Who could blame him? I mean, Trump has accused him of a felony and called him a "bad or sick guy." That is not behavior that one expects from a president, particularly directed at his predecessor.
KEILAR: Regardless, I do wonder -- regardless of the charge of a felony, I do wonder, John, what happened to this relationship between these two men. They liked each other, that's according to Donald Trump. I can never forget that very memorable line from President Trump when he says, I don't know if he'll admit it, but he likes me and I like him.
And I think it was Bill O'Reilly who asked, how do you know he does, and Trump says because I can feel it. Now the reporting is they haven't talked since the inauguration. What happened?
JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I guess if this were a Facebook relationship, it would be declared "complicated."
KEILAR: The less on social media the better, please.
PHILLIPS: Trump called Meryl Streep an overrated actor. I think the overrated actor is Barack Obama because this guy spent more time playing on the phone than the jerky boys. You go back to that June attempt to get a FISA court approval to spy on Donald Trump, you go back to what happened in James Rosen at Fox News -- KEILAR: That did not come directly from the president.
PHILLIPS: It came from the executive branch, which is ultimately going all the way to the top to the president. And we know that there are private conversations that Trump has had with the president of Mexico, the president of Australia, General Flynn's private conversations that have been leaked, many believed including myself that they were leaked by those loyal to President Obama so --
KEILAR: Again, though, I make a distinction though between President Obama and what was said in these tweets and saying those loyal to the president, Obama holdovers. There have been, yes, a lot of leaks, and they might have something to do with Obama holdovers, but I think we should take the president literally and seriously with regard to this.
PHILLIPS: Well, I think that's an important point, because if you look at Obama's statement, he said "I didn't order it" and he said "no one in the White House ordered it," but he didn't say it didn't happen. He said that he didn't do it.
KEILAR: OK. Let's do this. Still no evidence, though, and if it did happen, why don't -- it is knowable, I've said this now for four days in a row, it is knowable, the president is the one to know it. Still no evidence has been offered to back up the claims of the wiretapping. As for Republicans who are now in charge of looking into this, they haven't seen anything as of yet. Listen to this, guys.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I'm not sure what it is he is talking about. If it's true, obviously we're going to find out very quickly. And if it isn't, then obviously he'll have to explain what I meant by it.
SENATOR TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: I've seen no evidence of the allegations we've seen in the media.
REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I have not seen that evidence. As you know, I think a lot of that was maybe a little bit -- the multiple tweets were perhaps a little bit strung together.
SENATOR RICHAR BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: But we don't have anything today that would send us in that direction. That's not to say we might not find something.
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: If the president has information and he could declassify that without endangering national security, I would encourage him to do that.
[11:25:06]SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: We have had existing committee -- intelligence committees looking at all aspects of what may have been done last year related to the Russians or the campaigns and we'll leave it there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen any evidence of that? MCCONNELL: No, I haven't.
KEILAR: So all of that, they haven't seen any evidence yet. But Matt, doesn't this addition now, when we're talking about investigations in the congressional committees, doesn't this addition into their already big investigations into Russia, doesn't this in some way that assure that the investigations will be wider and go on longer? How does that help President Trump?
BENNETT: I have not the faintest idea how he thinks it might help him. In fact in addition to all of those Republicans sending him on his way yesterday, you had Sean Spicer essentially saying he couldn't answer the question either, his own spokespeople can't do it.
And I think your point is right, this is going to be a metastasizing set of scandals that we see. Right now, there's going to be a big fight over whether in fact we need a special prosecutor to start unraveling all this.
Because as all of those Republicans have pointed out, they can't get the information out of the executive branch that they need. So it's not clear Congress can look into this effectively.
KEILAR: They say they're going to and we will stay on them. John, I do want to play one more bit of sound for you from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, because I do want to ask you about this. This is about the president's tweets on the wiretaps.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NUNES: The president is a neophyte to politics. He's been doing this a little over a year and I think a lot of the things that he says, you guys sometimes take literally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: OK. So he says you take him literally, but the president of the United States, he is the president of the United States, and I would argue this. Shouldn't we all, John, take his words seriously and literally? Isn't it the responsibility of the president to make clear what he means and not anyone's job to interpret his meaning, especially when talking about an issue as serious as this, accusing the former president of a crime?
PHILLIPS: Absolutely. And I think what you saw in that clip was the old adage, where you stand depends on where you sit, and they're irritated that what Trump did over the weekend is distracting them from the health care bill. But if the health care bill, the one they came up with, is what they can do when they're not distracted then I think he should distract them more.
KEILAR: Now we see where John Phillips stands on the health care bill. Matt Bennett, John Phillips, great to see you guys. Thanks so much. BENNETT: Thanks, Kate.
KEILAR: So there is -- they are the first line of defense, a line of defense against drug trafficking and illegal immigration. So why is the Trump administration calling for major cuts to the Coast Guard? One of the president's biggest supporters calls it an appalling mistake that would put our country at risk. He's coming up.
Plus on a day dedicated to celebrating women, some are going on strike. Why? We'll take you live to protests in Washington and in New York. We'll be right back.