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Trump Backup Plan: Let Obamacare Fail, Blame Democrats; GOP's Health Care Bill Testing Trump's Dealmaker Skills; GOP's Cotton To Republicans: "Start Over" On Health Bill; Trump Hosts "Frenemies" As He Sells GOP Health Bill; Illegal Border Crossings Plunge: Trump Get Credit? Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Breaking right now, a marathon overnight session on Capitol Hill is going into overtime. Key House committees working through the night to push the Republicans' health care bill one step further.

One committee wrapped up early this morning after about 18 hours. The second committee still going strong. Yes, it looks like a marathon and probably feels like a marathon for those in the room.

It's actually seen by many, though, as a full-on sprint by the party's conservative members, saying, in no uncertain terms to leadership, slow down. We're expecting to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan any minute. Will his optimism, I do wonder, endure from yesterday? We'll take you there as soon as that begins.

But over at the White House, President Trump is trying to strike a deal. But if it doesn't work, if that deal does not work, he's got a backup plan. Let Obamacare fail and blame Democrats.

Right now, let's get back to Capitol Hill, though. Let's listen in to House minority leader, the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, speaking about this.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI, MINORITY LEADER: -- the CBO score to show what the impact of the bill would be. Now, it was interesting, because as I said to some of you yesterday, Speaker Ryan then as ranking member of the Committee on the Budget signed a letter to Doug Elmendorf along with the other committees, ranking members of Energy, Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor, asking for -- saying that we shouldn't proceed until we had a CBO report, which we fully intended to wait for.

We had already asked for it and we had our markup scheduled well into the future of receiving that. So in his letter, the speaker says -- references that the House speaker, that would be me, has indicated legislation would be marked up before the committees of jurisdiction and debated on the House floor beginning on the beginning of August. This is a letter in June.

We had already requested the CBO report. But he says, we want to -- before the House Democrats go forward, we want to know the consequences including the number of people who would lose access to their current insurance, the number of jobs lost due to business taxes, the number of uninsured people who would obtain coverage, and the extent of the cannibalization of employer coverage due to Medicaid expansion, and it goes on and on.

You have this letter so you can read the rest of it. But the fact is, he was asking for -- appropriately for things that we had asked for too from the CBO. Now as speaker of the House he's saying, what do we need a CBO report for, we can just go mark it up.

And did I say, when we did ours, we had the -- our bill was out there about 30 days before we ever even voted on it. So this is something that they put out in the dark of night on Monday, going overnight. They don't want the American people to see the facts. They're always afraid of the facts.

It's just a remarkable thing. They're afraid of the facts of the president's tax returns. We will continue to ask for those tax returns because we want to know about the Russian connection. What do the Russians have on Donald Trump, politically, financially, and personally?

What is that connection? What will the tax returns tell us about that? And we need a bipartisan, independent, non-partisan outside investigation to get to the bottom of that.

KEILAR: All right. Listening right there to the top Democrat in the House talking about the Republicans' health care bill and their process, comparing it to what the Democrats went through and also again touching on President Trump and her desire to see the president's tax returns.

Let's get back to the big topic at hand, though, health care and where it stands right now. Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill with the very latest from there.

But let's first get to the White House, senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is at the White House for us. Jim, what more are you learning about this PR push, this strategy from the president and also this backup plan?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate, you just heard from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Of course, President Trump at this point has more trouble on the Republican side than he does on the Democratic side in terms of getting this passed.

And a case in point is what happened last night over here at the White House, the president had a number of Tea Party and conservative groups in the oval office and was basically talking with them and strategizing with them as to what to do to get this over the Hill.

[11:05:07]And at this point, you have a lot of Tea Party and conservative groups who are just resistant to some of the main pillars to this House Republican health care plan that came basically out of the speaker's office. They're very much opposed to those tax credits that would help people who don't have the means to buy health insurance obtain that insurance coverage, and also they want to see this Medicaid fix that was expanded under Obamacare.

They want that Medicaid fix not to happen in 2020 but in January of next year. So the White House will have its hands full trying to satisfy all of these different groups.

Now, according to sources who are in the room with the president last night, the president apparently told these groups that if he cannot get this House Republican plan passed, he is basically going to allow Obamacare, he feels, to fail on its own, that it would fail on its own, and then he would blame Democrats.

But he is confident at this point, according to sources at this meeting, that it will pass the House. But when it gets to the Senate, they understand full well over here at the White House they're probably going to need Democratic senators to get this passed.

And so the president is planning to go to red states where there are vulnerable Democrats facing reelection, and I'm told by sources in the room, hold football stadium rallies to pressure those Democrats to get on board. So they are laying out their battle plans at this point.

But no question about it, Kate, the real problem at this point is convincing those conservatives and Tea Party aligned groups and voters out there to go along with this. They're just not on board at this point.

KEILAR: That's very, very clear. We'll speak to the head of one of those groups in just a second, Jim. A quick question, though. At this hour, Jim, the president could face questions from the press for the first time since accusing President Obama of wiretapping him. What are we expecting?

ACOSTA: Well, reporters are going to be in the room, cameras will be in the room. Yesterday, we did not have that opportunity. The last couple of days we haven't really had this opportunity to question the president on this.

So he's going to get that question here in just a few moments. We'll have to wait and see what he says. We've heard from the White House press secretary over the last 24 to 48 hours say that no, the president, as far as they know, is not under any kind of investigation.

So the question is going to be to the president, where is your proof, where is the evidence that President Obama bugged your offices at Trump Tower, somehow obtained wiretapping at Trump Tower.

This is going to be some must-see TV, I think, to borrow a phrase once used about his reality TV show, to find out exactly what the president has to say about all of this and does he have an explanation for this accusation -- Kate. KEILAR: Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are asking those very same questions as well, they are the ones now tasked with investigating that very question. Jim, thank you very much. We'll be back to the White House as soon as we hear from the president.

So that is the view from the White House. Let's get back over to Capitol Hill, where bleary-eyed members of Congress are still debating Republicans' plan over there. Phil Mattingly is live there with more. Phil, what is the very latest that you're hearing over there?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So at 4:45 a.m., one of the committees finished their work. Another committee is still going, we're now at 24 hours and 36 minutes of that mark up and (inaudible) no doubt it.

Look, the reason these are taking so long is because Democrats are trying to get in the way of every single thing Republicans are doing. But as Jim noted and Kate, as you noted, Democrats are not expected to come along in the House or Senate. It's all about the sell up here.

What you're hearing right now from Republican leaders is really twofold. First and foremost, look, we campaigned on this over the last three election cycles. This was our number one issue and now we have the opportunity.

And guess what, this is the vehicle. Whether you like it or not, if you want to repeal and replace Obamacare, this is that first step that needs to be taken.

There's also another component of this. They are now in control of Washington. Republicans are. That means they have to govern. That's exactly what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a political breakfast this morning. Take a listen.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Now we have an actual chance to change the country. We have somebody who will sign legislation that we pass. We need to get into a governing mode and start thinking about actually achieving something rather than just kind of sparring and having press conferences, which you all love, but don't necessarily lead to an outcome. We're in the outcome business now.


MATTINGLY: And Kate, that was a not so subtle jab. I'm telling you, what he said is also what I'm hearing a lot from House Republican leadership aides. They're saying, look, the conservative groups, outside groups and caucuses that are inside the Republican conference right now just aren't used to actually having to say yes on anything.

They used these opportunities to raise money, to attack leadership, to never really fall in line. But now, if you want to get something done, people have to fall in line. The big question is, will they and if they're going to, how long will that process actually take -- Kate. [11:10:04]KEILAR: Yes, as the House speaker described, it's the growing pains of going from the opposition party to the governing party. These are some growing pains. Great to see you, Phil, thank you.

Again, we're waiting to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. We'll take you there as soon as he begins his remarks. All eyes on him today. So yesterday, as Jim Acosta mentioned, President Trump met with key conservative groups who have come out against this iteration of the bill. The Heritage Foundation is one of those groups.

Joining me right now is the president of the Heritage Foundation, former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint. Senator, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

JIM DEMINT, PRESIDENT, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Thank you, Kate. Good to be with you.

KEILAR: Thank you. Can you take me inside that room, please? What was the message that you heard from President Trump?

DEMINT: It was very clear. We all agreed that Obamacare is a disaster. It's getting worse every day. People are losing their insurance because it's getting more expensive. They have fewer choices. We all agree we need to repeal Obamacare and the president agreed to work with us on some of our concerns.

So it was really a good atmosphere, a discussion of things we were concerned about, but we all agreed that this cancer on our health care system called Obamacare needs to be removed.

KEILAR: But no agreement, though, how to tackle that, right?

DEMINT: Well, we have a strong recommendation that the bill the House and the Senate passed in 2015 should be passed again, so the debate immediately shifts from repeal to how do we improve our health care system. That's how we can get some Democrats to work with us.

But as long as the repeal is tied up with some of the replace ideas, we're not going to get any Democrats to work with us. So then we're very limited on what we can do, because of this reconciliation process that is very limiting.

KEILAR: And you very well know what the reconciliation process entails. But you hear from Mitch McConnell, this is the vehicle, folks, that's the message, you're going to have to get on board and fall in line. I want you to answer, we heard from some of the reporting from inside the room, the message coming from the president is, by opposing this, you're helping the other side. Did you hear that?

DEMINT: I don't believe that at all. In fact, I don't believe that the current bill could pass the House or the Senate. So if we really want to repeal Obamacare and fix our health care system, we need to look at what we know we can do. And we know that this 2015 bill that was passed by the House and the Senate and sent to President Obama could be passed again and immediately reshape the debate to how we can improve our current system.

Kate, we don't need a new health care system. We had the best health care system in the world before Obamacare. But Obamacare has become a cancer on our system, hurt our insurance market and raised the prices of health care and health insurance.

So we do need to act. We need to govern, but we don't need to take a bill here that actually creates another federal entitlement and could make the system worse long term.

KEILAR: Right now all signs point to, and we'll wait to hear what House Speaker Paul Ryan says, but I doubt his view on this has changed in the last 24 hours when we've heard from him. They're moving ahead with this, Senator. Can Republicans in your view stand to see this effort fail? Will there be a bloodbath as the president has suggested in the midterm if this effort fails?

DEMINT: I don't think we'll fail, but I think we're getting different messages from the White House and from the Congress. The president was very interested in working with us, working with our concerns. We're getting a little different message from the Congress right now.

And so I think the leaders in the Congress are going to have to come around to the point of view that we need to make this bill such that it does lower the cost of health insurance, creates more choices for people, and the way it's set up right now, Kate, it does not do that.

KEILAR: So Senator, you have some conservatives like Congressman Amash, he says that this isn't even a GOP bill, in his view. You've got Senator Cotton, he wrote a series of messages this morning on Twitter, one of them saying this, "House health care bill can't pass the Senate without changes," you clearly agree with that.

"To my friends in the House," he says, "pause, start over, get it right, don't get it fast." They clearly think this whole thing needs to be thrown out and start over. Do you think that needs to happen, throw this out and start over?

DEMINT: They don't really have to start over. They just need to take the core of the bill, which they've already passed, we call it the 2015 bill, which essentially repeals the guts of Obamacare. And just get that done and get it to the president, create a little momentum.

But then I'm certain that some of the Democrats would work on some of these ideas of how we could assist the poor in buying plans, how we could do more to create interstate competition, which is not in this bill, how we could have --

KEILAR: If the House speaker and Senate majority leader do not listen to your advice, what then?

[11:15:11]DEMINT: Well, we cannot support the bill in its current form. I do not think they will have the votes in the House or senate to pass it. So it's really up to the leadership. If they want to repeal Obamacare and improve our health care system, they need to do what they know works and that's to pass the bill they passed before.

KEILAR: Senator, do you trust the CBO? I'm sorry, Senator, I hate these delays. Do you trust the CBO? Because what we're hearing from some Republican leaders and even the White House seems to be already calling into question the veracity of a CBO cost estimate.

You heard Steve Scalise calling them "unelected bureaucrats" and the White House saying don't look to the CBO for accuracy if that's what you're looking for. Do you trust the CBO estimate?

DEMINT: No. They've never been right. I was in the House and Senate for 15 years, and really have not been close. It's part of the process. We need to get estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, but we do modelling here as well at Heritage and we can get a better idea of what it might actually cost.

But when it comes to entitlement programs like this or government spending, they always estimate too low. So we've got to be careful not to create another federal boondoggle that might replace the current Obamacare boondoggle. We can get this right.

There's some good people in the Republican Party, in the House and the Senate, working on it. I talked to some good policy people at the White House yesterday who seemed really interested, and the president himself wants to work with us to get this right. So right now I'm cautiously optimistic.

KEILAR: Cautiously optimistic but definitely not there yet. Senator DeMint, great to see you. Thanks so much.

DEMINT: Thanks, Kate.

KEILAR: All right, joining me now to continue the discussion, CNN senior political analyst and editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein is here, and CNN political commentator and former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz, Amanda Carpenter.

Ron Brownstein, Jim DeMint cautiously optimistic, but with a smile and a wink, they are not close. They are not close yet.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think I actually think the crunch point is going to be different than where it looks today. If you go back since the Republicans took over in 1994, whether in the Newt Gingrich era or the Tom Delay area, the history is that the House Republican leadership can almost always find a way to get these bills through the House.

And maybe the closest analogy to this was the 2002 Medicare prescription drug plan, which faced enormous resistance (inaudible) to keep the vote open, but they found a way to bring on enough conservatives to get it through.

And then the issue will be -- I think in the end, the issue is not going to be the right, it's going to be the center of the Republican Party because as we've seen over the last couple of days, essentially every interest on every side of this debate.

The American Medical Associations, the hospitals, the nurses, the AARP representing older Americans, have all come out against this bill on the belief that it will withdraw coverage from too many people who were covered under Obamacare.

I think in the end that is going to be more the crunch point than people like Senator DeMint who are complaining it doesn't undo enough. The initial estimates are that about half the people who obtain coverage under Obamacare may lose it under this bill.

And I think that will be the hard point for some of those Republicans from swing states to accept in the end. Because as you've said, they've already basically squandered the opportunity I think to have any of the Democrats work with them.

Right now, Democrats are pretty confident that none of those ten Senate Democrats in states that President Trump won and that are running in 2018 will feel compelled to support this bill.

KEILAR: I do want to talk about those states and let's talk about that strategy. Let's talk about the White House strategy, Amanda. To sell this thing, first things first, you have your old boss over for dinner, how do you think that went last night with Senator Ted Cruz over there at the White House? Do you think he was won over with a meal?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, here's the thing that Senator Cruz, Senator Jim DeMint, what all these GOP groups have to grapple with, do you engage in the Ryan bill and try to make it better or do you tank it and insist on full straight repeal?

Both versions will have to work within the universe of 51 votes as required by, you know, Senate reconciliation rule -- this is where it comes in, this is where all these conservative groups are dancing around this question about whether or not we work within this universe.

Now, you could get a straight repeal bill done. It could pass the House, but the question is would that abide by Senate reconciliation budget rules. Everyone thinks that perhaps the Senate parliamentarian would rule that non-germane because of the (inaudible).

The ace in the hole and the question that must be answered before they even decide to (inaudible) and the strategy. The vice president can overrule the Senate parliamentarian. The Senate parliamentarian is not the president of the senate. Vice President Mike Pence is.

[11:20:03]And so he could overrule that. So if President Trump says I'm on board with a straight repeal strategy, let it pass the House and send it to the Senate and let Mike Pence overrule the parliamentarian and get it done that way, but no one is asking that question.

BROWNSTEIN: Even it was germane, it's pretty unlikely that they'll get 51 votes to do it.

CARPENTER: Obamacare was passed with 51 votes.

BROWNSTEIN: No, I'm saying I don't think 51 Republicans would vote for repeal without knowing what replaces it.

KEILAR: Pragmatically, guys, you have Republican leaders, who have gone out there and very clearly said how they want -- how this process is going to go. They would all have to eat quite a bit of crow and go back on their strategy, but we've seen that happen before.

CARPENTER: This is the question they have to decide. Are opposition groups going all in on straight repeal or will they ultimately going to engage with the Ryan process, where I do think you could address the mandate questions through Tom Price and HHS. You could strip out the Medicaid provisions and the other --

KEILAR: Right. But at the very same time you've already got the vice president heading into Kentucky to try to sell this thing as they're still fighting about, apparently, which version of the bill we're going to do. Guys, I got to go. Yes, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I was going to say, real quick, in essence the conservative groups are saying it doesn't withdraw coverage from enough people. It doesn't roll back Obamacare enough. Already with the estimates that at least perhaps as much as 10 million of the 20 million would lose coverage, I think in the end that is going to be the harder point for those moderate Republicans especially the bill -- all the working age adults who are now the core of the Republican coalition, the estimates are 30 percent --

KEILAR: They are nowhere close to getting this thing decide. Great to see you, guys. Thanks so much.

All right, in just minutes we will hear from the man that a lot of folks want to hear a lot more from right now, House Speaker Paul Ryan, members of Congress worked through the night on this bill. Does it change anything in terms of its chances? We'll take you there live as soon as his remarks begin.

Plus illegal border crossings into the United States are down, way down. Is President Trump's tough talk working?

And speaking of the border, who's going to pay for that wall? President Trump says Mexico over and over again. But the Senate majority leader has a different idea, it seems.



KEILAR: Big news from the border, major drop in undocumented immigrants trying to cross the U.S./Mexico border, according to Customs and Border Protection. Illegal crossings at the southwest border were down 40 percent last month, a drop that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly calls unprecedented. CNN's Polo Sandoval joins me now. He's been looking into this. So Polo, what are the numbers? Tell us.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, they tell us that this is the first time that we see a decrease in February of apprehensions for the first time in the last 17 years or so according to some of those figures from Customs and Border Protection.

The Trump administration saying that they are crediting this decrease to their new immigration actions. Some of this enforcement increases that we've also seen from the Department of Homeland Security, which means deterrence would be a tremendous factor here, Kate.

Because you have people from Mexico and mainly Central American countries who now may be under the impression that as soon as they set foot on U.S. soil illegally then they will be on that quick track for deportation.

I spoke to Border Patrol in the last hour or so, they told me their enforcement capabilities are playing a factor, which means authorities ability to essentially arrest, detain and remove some of these individuals.

You'll notice that release was not in that equation, that's fueling a concern that many people may be on that quick path to deportation as soon as they set foot on U.S. soil. It's important to point out some context here.

This decrease is followed by what was an extreme increase that we saw last November during one of our many visits to the border, to McCullum, Texas. We saw an increase of 35 percent, according to authorities in the number of undocumented people crossing into the United States.

People were wanting to be in the United States before Trump took office, and now that he's here, obviously that's one factor. Is it the only factor? Many experts would argue that's not the case.

KEILAR: But an important statistic that you can be sure that this administration is happy to put out right now. Great to see you, Polo. Thank you very, very much.

Speaking of the border, just a short time ago, Top Republican in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell weighed in on the proposed border wall and on President Trump's promise that Mexico will pay for it. Listen.


MCCONNELL: There are some places along the border where that's probably not the best way to secure the border, but I think General Kelly knows what he's doing. I think the president picked an outstanding person to be in charge of Homeland Security. And my suspicion is we'll take his advice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that Mexico will pay for it? MCCONNELL: No.


KEILAR: Let me bring in right now, Angela Rye, CNN political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, Joseph Borelli is here, a Republican New York City councilman, Kirsten Powers, a CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist. And Matt Lewis is joining us from (inaudible), CNN political commentator and senior columnist at "The Daily Beast."

Joseph Borelli, wait a second, what? Now Mexico is not paying for the wall? The fact that the Senate majority leader is laughing about it now. What?

JOSEPH BORELLI, COUNCILMAN, 51ST DISTRICT OF NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: I think there's a desire, some of these on the record/off the record panel discussions, to be a little funny and be a little corky --

KEILAR: This wasn't off the record.

BORELLI: But let's not forget that as recently as January, right after the president was sworn in, there were a number of interviews where reporters confronted the president on his plan for paying for the border wall.

He also agreed that the president of Mexico will not sign a check to the president of the United States to pay for the border wall and there will other things. They've been stories in the "Washington Post" talking about border adjustments.

KEILAR: That's not what Mitch McConnell said, and he had full opportunity.

BORELLI: Look, I think he was trying to be funny. He was chuckling at it.