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Interview With Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise; Congress Investigating Trump-Russia Ties; Republicans Push Health Care Plan; Interview with Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Commander Who Oversaw Yemen Raid Speaks. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, why wouldn't President Trump want it to be called Trumpcare? I mean, it's not as if he's averse to putting his name on things.

THE LEAD starts right now.

An all-nighter, Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP pushing ahead with their health care plan to replace Obamacare, as groups representing hospitals and doctors and seniors push back, and they are joined this afternoon by the top doctor in the Trump administration Medicaid program.

Breaking right now, brand-new details coming out about the Yemen raid, President Trump's first military action, a commander now taking full responsibility for the mission that killed a Navy SEAL and several Yemeni civilians. But are we any closer to getting any more answers?

Plus, suing the president -- a wine bar in D.C. claiming the power of the president's office is giving one of his businesses an edge over theirs. Do they have a case?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We do have some breaking news now in our politics lead. FBI Director James Comey is on Capitol Hill right now meeting with top lawmakers.

Let's bring in CNN's senior congressional reporter Manu Raju.

And, Manu, with whom is the FBI director meeting and what are they meeting about?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we know that the top eight members in Congress who deal with intelligence matters, that means four Republicans, four Democrats in the House and the Senate, the leadership, they get these roughly quarterly briefings about some of the major investigations that the FBI is currently undertaking.

What we know right now is that one of the investigations, of course, is Russia and exactly the Russia meddling in the elections and whether or not there were any campaign contacts between Trump associates and Russian government officials during the presidential election and whether or not there is any evidence suggesting one way or another, if there was any collusion as well.

We know that's all part of what investigators are looking at right now. Now, this comes as the Senate Intelligence Committee also had a closed-door briefing today, this after a number of senators went out to Langley, Virginia, to get a lot of raw data to go through what they know about what happened in the Russia investigation.

And, Jake, a number of senators on that committee are telling me they want to hear directly from those Trump associates in a private setting, including Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for Trump, hoping that he comes before the committee, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Lawmakers on the hill are mostly zeroing in on health care today. President Trump tweeted some commentary this afternoon -- quote -- "Despite what you hear in the press, health care is coming along great. We are talking to many groups and it will end in a beautiful picture."

The president should tell that to the scores of Republicans on Capitol Hill who say the picture is anything but beautiful, not to mention to the doctor who is the chief medical officer for Medicaid who said this afternoon that he cannot support the legislation.

It's a rare public rebuke from within Mr. Trump's own administration. President Trump is channeling his salesman skills, meeting personally with many skeptical conservatives to change their minds, hoping his personal touch will be more "Art of the Deal" than Trump steaks.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

Jeff, is the White House worried at all? There are Republicans on the record saying this bill will not pass the House or Senate in its present form.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the White House publicly says it is not worried. Privately, they tell me they are not worried yet.

Now, the House committees, a couple of them overnight have passed this health care bill. So, it's moving its way through the system, as all bills due. But the White House talks a lot about the sales pitch. I can tell you it's not a door-to-door campaign. It's a closed-door campaign.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump made another forceful sales pitch on health care, but again today he did it behind closed doors. The White House says he's all in. But for a president who swept into office with big rallies and soaring crowds, he's yet to roll out the bully pulpit on the biggest legislative push of his presidency.

He limited his public comments to this tweet. "Despite what you hear in the press, health care is coming along great. We are talking to many groups and it will end in a beautiful picture."

That's a charitable assessment, considering conservative criticism is raging over the Republican plan to overhaul the American health care system.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good morning, everybody.

ZELENY: Speaker Paul Ryan rolled up his sleeves literally to explain a bill that has sparked a feud inside the GOP.

RYAN: This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment, and this is the closest this will ever happen.

ZELENY: Several prominent Republicans believe the president and GOP leaders are pushing too fast.


Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is among those sounding the alarm. "House health care bill can't pass Senate without major changes," he wrote on Twitter. "To my friends in the House, pause, start over, get it right, don't get it fast."

At the White House, Press Secretary Sean Spicer downplayed the concern.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No matter where you are, especially on the conservative side, you cannot possibly believe that the current health care system is an effective program. It is a monstrosity. It is a government gone wrong.

ZELENY: Yet two key questions loom over the debate. How much will the plan cost, and how many people could lose coverage? The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to give its answer next week.

Before it does, the White House and some supporters of the plan are trying to discredit the accuracy of the Budget Office.

SPICER: If you're looking for the CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place.

ZELENY: But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today lawmakers need to see the estimate of how the bill will affect the federal deficit.

The president is set to hit the road next week to sell the plan with a rally in Nashville organized by Trump's campaign, not the White House. Until then, the president is holding private listening sessions in the West wing. Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio, two of the bill's biggest critics, were on hand. A year after they campaigned for the president...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening, deplorables.

ZELENY: ... they are lining up against the top item on his agenda.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Our goal is real simple, to bring down the cost of insurance for working families and middle-class families across this country. In an effort to do that, we think you have to get rid of Obamacare completely.


ZELENY: Now, the face of this public sales pitch today was not the president, Jake. It was actually the vice president making the rounds on Capitol Hill, as well as interviews across the country. And the vice president is traveling this weekend to sell this plan in Louisville, Kentucky.

The president is not traveling until next Wednesday to Nashville, and again, interestingly, he is going to a Trump campaign event organized by his reelection campaign, not the White House, an interesting distinction, Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Congressman Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, is the number three Republican in the House, the majority whip.

Congressman, you have been up all night. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: Good to be with you. Just about 30 hours straight, but we got the bill out of committee after 27.5 hours of very spirited debate.

TAPPER: Let me ask you. The chief medical officer of the federal government's Medicaid program, Andrey Ostrovsky, announced today that he is siding with medical associations like the AMA and American Hospital Association in opposing your health care bill. He says it's because of evidence, experts and data, not politics.

That is a bold statement from the doctor in charge of Medicaid. How do you respond?

SCALISE: Well, a lot of those people that were supportive of Obamacare, some of those groups you just mentioned, are not surprisingly against us dismantling Obamacare, because they like the government being in charge of those kind of decisions that really should be made by families and doctors.

And so that's really at the heart of this. Who makes decisions for families across America? Should it be a family with their doctor or should it be some unelected bureaucrat in Washington? And you saw over the last 27.5 hours of our committee hearing, there is a big divide. Republicans want families to make those choices where we can lower

costs and let them make their choices. And the liberals wanted to still have Washington running your health care choices.

TAPPER: Well, Congressman, one of the reasons some of these groups like the AMA and others are opposing your bill is they say that it is a simple matter of fewer Americans will have health insurance under your plan than have it now under Obamacare.

You don't dispute just the raw numbers of it, do you?

SCALISE: Well, the first thing you have got to look at is what's happening to families today under Obamacare.

It's failed people all across this country. Premiums are skyrocketing. People, even if they have health insurance, many of them don't have access because a lot of these plans -- and I hear from constituents of mine every day. Their deductibles are over $10,000 in many cases. So, they might have a health care card, but they can't use it because it's unaffordable for them.

So, we're focused on lowering costs, letting families make those decisions, so they can go buy the best plan that's good for their family, not based on what some bureaucrat tells them they have to buy. So, it's a big difference in approach to health care, but basically let people be in charge of their decisions, and that kind of health care freedom is what is going to lower costs.

TAPPER: But you don't dispute the idea that more people will actually have insurance under Obamacare than under your bill, just numerically?

SCALISE: I think once our plan is fully implemented, Americans will have access to affordable health care that don't have it today.

So, you can look at numbers, but there are millions of Americans that have a health insurance card, but don't have the ability to use it for their family.


And I have got example all throughout my district just like so many of my colleagues. So, the card is not what's important. It's, can you actually use it?

If I give you the keys to a car, you have a car, but if there's no engine in the car, it can't take you anywhere.

TAPPER: What do you say to conservatives who are critical of your plan who say that the refundable tax credit is a new entitlement program that's not even means-tested and they call it Republican welfare?

SCALISE: No, actually, refundable tax credits have been a part of conservative orthodoxy for years. You look at Rand Paul's bill. He's got refundable tax credits. So many other bills that are out there have had this. Dr. Tom Price,

who is secretary of HHS under President Trump, he had an Obamacare repeal and replace bill that had tax credits.

The bottom line is, what are we doing to Obamacare? We eviscerate the law in our bill and then we do things like expanding health savings accounts, which give families real flexibility. We reform Medicaid. You want to talk about something that truly changes the game in this country, Medicaid is one of the most failed forms of health care.

There are so many states that want to innovate and can do things much smarter than Washington, yet they don't have that ability. Well, you could save hundreds of billions of dollars and get better health outcomes for family. That's in our bill.

TAPPER: Just a last quick question for you, sir. You're the majority whip. You're in charge of counting the votes. If the bill came up today, would it get 218 votes?

SCALISE: Well, first of all, there are few other steps for this bill. It just got out of committee, so we have achieved step one. We actually passed it. It goes to the Budget Committee next week.

We're talking to members every day that would like to do maybe things a little bit differently. But if you look at the bill today, I would say over 85 percent of this bill has components that everybody in our conference agrees with. We're now looking at a few different pieces where one person might do it a little differently than somebody else.

But at the end of the day, when you look at the vote we had in committee this morning, every Republican voted for this bill because it guts Obamacare. Every Democrat voted against it. On our committee, we have every caucus in our conference, including Freedom Caucus members, and they all voted for this bill today.

So, we started off on a really good foot. We're continuing to meet with our members. President Trump is very engaged in this process, too. And when the bill comes to the floor in two weeks, members will have a real binary choice.

Nancy Pelosi is going to be voting no. She doesn't want to repeal Obamacare. President Trump has asked that we pass this bill and put it on his desk. And members are going to have to pick a side, Nancy Pelosi or President Trump.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Steve Scalise, the majority House whip, thank you, Majority House Whip. Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

SCALISE: Great being with you.

TAPPER: House Speaker Paul Ryan just laid out why the Republican bill is it for replacing Obamacare, but Republican Senator Tom Cotton, he's not on the same page. He joins us next.


Jake Tapper. Let's stick with politics now.

There is growing opposition against the Republican leadership plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Democrats, of course, are critical, but now, several conservative Republicans are pushing the GOP leadership to pump the brakes. Among them, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas who this morning tweeted, quote, "House health care bill can't pass Senate without major changes. To my friends in the House, pause, start over, get it right, don't get it fast."

And joining me now is Republican Senator Cotton of Arkansas.

Senator Cotton, thanks so much for being with us.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Good afternoon, Jake. Good to be on.

TAPPER: So, take a listen to House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier today.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We as Republicans who fought the creation of this law and accurately predicted that it would not work, ran for office in 2010, in 2012, in 2014, and in 2016 on a promise that we would, if given the ability, we would repeal and replace this law. This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment. And this is the closest this will ever happen.


TAPPER: Senator, your response? He's saying, "This is it."

COTTON: Of course, that's not the case, Jake. There's no urgency here. There is no deadline. We need to get health care reform right. We don't have to get it fast.

What we need to deliver on is the promise that we would make health care more affordable for Americans. We would make it accessible. And we would cut down on the stress and the anxiety that health care causes for Americans.

Unfortunately, the House legislation is not going to achieve those results and the break neck speed at which it's moving is designed to actually make those results probably worse. That's why I think we just need to take a pause and to deliberate more carefully and more openly and get to a result that's actually going to make health care more affordable and more hassle free for Americans.

TAPPER: Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, yesterday told his Republican members, many of whom are skeptics like yourself, you're either with Pelosi or with Trump on this. So, are you with Pelosi?

COTTON: I'm with the American people and the promises I made to Arkansans that we're going to reduce the cost of health care and make it accessible, and give them more control over their healthcare choices.

Look, there are a lot of Republicans who are saying these exact same things in private. Frankly, some of them on Steve Scalise's whip team are saying the same thing. I'm simply saying in public what many Republicans are voicing that the legislation as it's written, one, probably cannot pass the Senate, but two, would not solve the problems of our health care system -- problems that Obamacare made worse. I think the American people care much more that we solve those problems than that we meet some kind of arbitrary legislative deadline.

TAPPER: What would you tell a voter who wonders about your party's ability to govern? I mean, repealing and replacing has been the GOP priority for years and years. You won the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, the White House in November. I mean, how is it your party doesn't have a plan that can pass the House and Senate?

COTTON: Well, that voter will look at what happened this week and have questions about the governing process.

[16:20:02] Introducing legislation on Monday night, to vote on it Wednesday morning without any kind of cost estimate, and continuing those votes through the dead of night is exactly what happened during Obamacare.

We need to take a pause. We need to have hearings. We need to develop fact-based body of knowledge which we can address the very thorny questions that health care raises. And so, we can synthesize the many plans we have, because that is ultimately the issue, Jake, not that Republicans don't have a plan, but we have many plans and we need to coalesce around one of those plans -- the various parts of those many plans into a single plan that can get a majority vote in the house and the Senate and that will once and for all solve the problems of our health care system.

I simply do not think the process that we are undertaking is going to achieve those results, nor do I think the house bill as written will achieve those results.

TAPPER: And one of your big substantive issues with the bill as it's written right now is that it does not do enough in your view to control spiraling health care costs. Studies I've seen suggest that the biggest driver of health care inflation right now is pricing increases, particularly of drugs, of medical devices, and of hospital care. What should be done to discourage corporations from jacking up their fees for drugs, devices and hospital care?

COTTON: Well, Jake, there's a couple different issues there. Drug prices, for instance, you mentioned, there are things that can be done outside the context of repealing Obamacare to address, for instance, drug companies' abilities to increase the cost massively for old generic drugs. But putting that aside, Obamacare has contributed to those increases in health insurance rates, in part because of all the regulations it imposed.

Well, this bill does very little to address those regulations. This bill creates a tax credit to help lower income Americans pay for their health insurance, yet it pays that tax credit to insurance companies, not to taxpayers. This bill does not address the one most important idea on which Donald Trump campaigned, which is to eliminate the antitrust exemption that health care companies have and operate on a state-by-state basis and rather have a nationwide market.

On the Medicaid front, there are some changes that could be made to give states even more discretion and flexibility than the draft proposes. But we should also hold more accountability for those governors and legislators if we're going to give them that discretion. Those are just a few of the examples of what I think that we could do if we slowed down, took a pause and considered this matter more carefully.

TAPPER: Senator Tom Cotton from the great state of Arkansas -- thanks so much for your time, sir.

COTTON: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Breaking news now on the Yemen raid in which a Navy SEAL and several civilians were killed, a commander now saying it's on him.

And then imagine battling an incurable form of cancer and then losing your health insurance coverage. Unfortunately, that is the reality for many Americans. A look at the people and the real struggle for health care, next.


[16:27:15] TAPPER: We're back with some breaking news in our world lead.

The commander who oversaw the January raid in Yemen which resulted in the deaths of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and several Yemeni civilians testified on Capitol Hill today. General Joseph Votel said he's ultimately responsible for the mission's outcome and that the U.S. did gain valuable intelligence from the raid. He added that a comprehensive review found no lapses in judgment or decision making.

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what new details are we learning about the raid itself?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, first up, General Votel did say that he felt the military paid a very heavy price for this mission. He said that they did gain valuable intelligence, but he also now for the first time said they completed the review of civilian casualties and that anywhere between four to 12 civilians were killed during the fire fight that ensued. U.S. troops did not stay on the ground so they can't really confirm the specifics. This is based on reports that they have.

They are still looking at the details of how an aircraft went down during all of this, but he says they take responsibility for it, and that he fully supported the SEAL Team commander's decision on the ground to continue with the mission, even when they came under heavy fire, that it was a mission where they did gain valuable intelligence, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Barbara, turning from fighting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen to fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, we learned today that U.S. Marines are now on the ground in northern Syria supporting a combination of rebel forces?

STARR: More U.S. troops arriving in northern Syria, Jake, and it's no mystery. More U.S. troops, more risk.


STARR (voice-over): The American flag flying, 100 Army Rangers in combat vehicles are openly on the ground in dangerous northern Syria near a town called Manbij. Why talk about it when President Trump is worried about signaling military moves? The troops want everyone to know they are there. Their job, be a buffer to keep Kurdish, Syrian, Turkish, Russian, and local forces from fighting each other.

Not visible, as many as 400 Marines are also moving north of Raqqah, the next major battle. Raqqah is ISIS's self-declared capital. The top U.S. commander is ramping up the pressure for an attack against the 4,000 ISIS fighters who still may be inside the city.

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Our intention, of course, is to prevent them from getting out. So, the first part of all of our operations is to isolate the areas where we are -- where attacks are taking place by our partners. We're bringing our enabling capabilities so that we don't let anybody get out or get in.