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Lawmakers Debating 23+ House over Obamacare Repeal; Lawmakers Ask Intel Agencies for Proof of Wiretap; Cotton: Health Care Bill "Can't Pass Senate"; Now: Schumer, Dems Blast GOP's Obamacare Repeal. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

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JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But Melania is climbing in the polls, her way. Jeanne moos, CNN, New York.

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POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And you can see a lot more about the first lady. CNN's Special Report, "Melania Trump: The Making of a First Lady." That is tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only right here. The next hour of NEWSROOM is now.

Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman, great to see you this morning. Any minute now, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, he holds a news conference to issue fresh attacks against the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. But you know, maybe he should just cancel this appearance. Go to the ball game or something -

HARLOW: Get some popcorn.

BERMAN: Right, because Republicans are doing his work for him. This morning, Republican Senator Tom Cotton pleaded with his House colleagues to pause, start over.

HARLOW: In the meantime, 23 hours and counting, going, going, going, two House committees discussing this plan, debating it through the night. One of them is actually still going, making it almost a full 24-hour meeting, even as this House plan passes its first legislative test. The road ahead appears filled with speed bumps to say the least.

Let's begin this hour on Capitol Hill with Sunlen Serfaty. What is the sense that you're getting there in terms of just how hard this is going to be for the White House?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, to give you an indication of how long a haul it's been up here on Capitol Hill, Poppy, over the last 24 hours, as you noted, those two House committees are working on marking up the bill. There was a small victory in the House Ways and Means Committee. They approved their portion of the repeal shortly after 4:30 a.m. this morning. But the Energy and Commerce Committee, they are still going strong. There have been pizza deliveries, snack deliveries. And again, it's an indication of how a haul this really has been.

That meeting started yesterday morning, still going right now. And our reporter Lauren Fox just caught up with one Congressman who's running around in his socks. He said he simply had no chance to put back on his shoes after he took a shower for the first time in 24 hours, zipping away from that committee hearing just for a few minutes.

But certainly as that painstaking process inches forward bit by bit, a major warning sign coming from a Republican Senator, Senator Tom Cotton who says in a tweet storm, essentially "slow this down."

Cotton tweets, "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."

"GOP shouldn't act like Dems did in Obamacare. No excuse to release bill Monday night, start voting Wednesday with no budget estimate."

"What matters in long run is better, more affordable health care for Americans, not House leaders' arbitrary legislative calendar."

Now, meantime, the Republican leadership in the House is essentially arguing this process, the way they're bringing this forward through budget reconciliation, is actually the best chance that they have to pass this. And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, really defending that it's been a rocky rollout.

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REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: So, we are going through what I would call the sort of typical growing pains from being an opposition party fighting Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, to a governing party. What I think is happening is people are getting a little confused about what you can and cannot put in in what we call a reconciliation bill.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: These are members of Congress, so they know. They know what a reconciliation bill is.

RYAN: Well, we are finding that some don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And in just a few minutes, we'll hear from Senator Schumer and other Senate Democrats who are continuing their push against this bill, including importantly the branding of all of it. They're trying to push the White House to take ownership of this bill. They have taken to call it - calling it Trumpcare. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: All right, Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill. Again, we're watching for Senate lead Democrat Chuck Schumer who'll be speaking any minute. We'll bring that to you when it happens. In the meantime, we have some new answers or I guess non-answers from the administration on President Trump's claim that President Obama ordered wiretaps on him. CNN's Sara Murray joins us live from the White House. Good morning, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, if the president was hoping for some backup on these wiretapping claims, it doesn't look like Vice President Mike Pence is quite ready to give it to him. He was asked whether he agrees with President Trump that President Barack Obama spied on Trump when he was then a candidate for president. He did some interesting dodging here. Take a listen to how he answered it.

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JOHN KOSICH, NEWS 5 CLEVELAND: Yes or no. Do you believe that President Obama did that?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, what I can say is that the president and our administration are very confident that the Congressional committees in the House and Senate that are examining issues surrounding the last election, the run-up to the last election, will do that in a thorough and equitable way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: So, an interesting response from the vice president there.

[10:05:01] Now, yesterday White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, they have no reason to believe that the president is the subject of any investigation. And the White House still isn't offering up any proof to support the president's wiretapping claim. Instead, they've taken it to Congress, asking them to investigate.

And now, at least two senators in a bipartisan fashion say they're willing to take up that mantle. Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse put out a letter to the FBI and the Department of Justice. Basically, asking them to come forward with any documents, any court order supporting the notion that there were wiretaps to try to get to the bottom of whether this actually happened. Back to you guys.

HARLOW: All right, Sara Murray at the White House. Sara, thank you very much. And let's go straight to Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, a ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. It's nice to have you with us, Senator. Let's jump in on this wiretapping discussion and investigation that is to come. Let's listen to what Sean Spicer, the White House Spokesman said just yesterday. Let's play it.

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SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is no reason that we should - that we have to think that the president is the target of any investigation whatsoever. The one question dealt with whether or not the tweet dealt with wiretaps during the thing. The other is an investigation. They are two separate issues. And there is it no reason to believe that there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: OK. So, the first part of that, Senator, let's get to that, because the context here is that in your position as the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, you requested before the inauguration from the State Department and received from the State Department these classified documents having to do with Russia's hacking of the U.S. election. So, what's your response to what Sean Spicer said? Do you have any reason to believe that he is wrong saying that the president is not a target of any investigation?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), RANKING MEMBER FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, this starts with the president's tweet in regards to being wiretapped. Wiretaps are not imposed unless there is cause. So there had to be some reason, if in fact it was a wiretap. There is no evidence that there was a wiretap. And the president's reputation here of using tweets without information raises major questions as to whether there's anything to this.

Having said that, what the Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee bipartisan members are asking -- bring us the information, give us what you have. What I've called for is an independent commission to look at all aspects of Russia's incursions into the United States, including these allegations of Americans being involved. We should have an independent commission as we did after we were attacked on 9/11.

In regards to information that I received as Senate Foreign Relations ranking Democrat, that was in the normal oversight function, that information was made available to both the Democrats and Republicans on our committee. It was marked classified so therefore, I can't tell you the specifics. But most of the information we're talking about has been released publicly. The Intelligence Community has determined that Russia indeed did cyberattack us, they did try to influence our elections, and they tried to influence it in one direction.

BERMAN: OK. So, based on what you know, without revealing classified information, just a couple of yes and no answers to some of the questions, including Poppy's. Do you have any evidence, any reason to believe that there is an investigation, or was an investigation into the president where he was the target, yes or no?

CARDIN: I would not have that information. So, I have no information in regards to that one way or the other.

BERMAN: OK. And then the issue of collusion, which is in some cases, in some people's minds, the very number one issue in dealing with this, have you seen any evidence at all of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

CARDIN: Well, we do know what has -- we do know the statements made by the Trump campaign during the campaign itself, encouraging Russia to release more information. We do know the timing of a lot of the meetings are somewhat of concern. We need an investigation. I don't have that information. But the American people deserve an independent investigation as to what Russia was doing in the United States attacking us. And what contacts they had with Americans, whether it was collusion or innocence. We need to know what they were doing.

HARLOW: All right. Before we let you go, we do want to get your take on health care and what's going on right behind you now at the Capitol. The president met with a number of conservative groups last night, many of them was not happy with what your fellow Democrats are labeling Trumpcare. And what the president said to them, we've learned through our Jim Acosta's reporting, is if we can't get this one through, we're just going to let Obamacare fail and then blame the Democrats for that. What's your reaction to the president's apparent strategy here?

CARDIN: Well, I'm perfectly fine if the Republicans decide not to proceed the way they're preceding. I think that would be in the best interest of health care for Americans. I hope Democrats and Republicans can work together to improve our health care system. But the fundamentals are sound.

[10:10:00] The bill that was released by Republicans would cause major damage to our seniors both in the medicare solvency of the trust fund and in regards to long term care under Medicaid. It would cause cost shifting, uninsured, lots of problems. So, I'm very happy if they decide to go back and just scrap it.

HARLOW: All right. I will note, the premiums have gone up for a lot of folks. -And they're not happy about that. Stay with us, we're going to dip in and listen to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on this health care plan. Let's listen.

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SEN. CHUCK SHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Are you a senior? Trumpcare means higher costs and less coverage. Trumpcare means higher costs and less coverage. Are you a woman? Trumpcare means higher costs and less coverage. Are you someone - are you or someone in your family living with a disability? Trumpcare means higher costs and less coverage.

In fact, Trumpcare is really a tax break for the rich, not a health care program. That's the real motivation of so many of our Republican colleagues, to take people whose income is above $250,000 and give them an average tax break, to take the top .01 percent and give them an average tax break of $200,000 while making these people pay more. It's horrible.

President Trump has talked about helping working America. But the plan he has embraced, Trumpcare, helps the rich and hurts the average American. And that's not surprising given all the other things his administration is doing.

This administration has developed a pattern. Health care is part of that. They talk like populists but act like those helping wealthy special interests time after time after time. Look, no one likes this bill, hospitals, doctors, governors, conservatives, liberals, nonpartisan groups, and most of all, the people who will no longer have affordable health care.

So we, Democrats, are here today to tell our Republican friends, turn back, drop this irresponsible plan, stop this effort to repeal, and we'll work with you to improve the Affordable Care Act. But Trumpcare is a loser for just about all of America unless you're in the top 1 percent. Now I'm going to turn it over to Senator Stabenow -- or Senator King, because he has to go to a hearing.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I thought a lot about how to characterize this. By the way, it's not only Democrats. It is independents too, Chuck.

SCHUMER: Thank you, Angus!

KING: A way to characterize this bill, because we've heard it being discussed so much in the last few days. I think, probably, the easiest way to characterize it is "repeal and wreck." "repeal and wreck." It basically undermines the premise of the Affordable Care Act which is to provide health insurance access, meaningful access. And you got to be careful when you hear that word "access" because lots of times, my colleagues, when they use that word, they mean, you can buy it. But they don't talk about whether it's affordable and whether you can afford to buy it.

And that's what the problem with this bill is. If you were to designing a bill to hammer my state, it would be this bill. A citizen in the northern part of my state, called Aroostook County up near the Canadian border, a 60-year-old would see their support for their health care coverage diminish 70 percent. The average cut across my entire state for a 60-year-old is 48 percent, almost 50 percent in terms of the support for their ability to purchase health insurance.

What this really is -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We're listening to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Angus King the Independent also - some of Ben Cardin's Democratic colleagues, speaking out against the new repeal and replace plan from Republicans to replace Obamacare.

Again, we are joined by Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland, who is with us now. And Senator Cardin, we've been listening to your colleagues criticizing Trumpcare -

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: -- as they call it. The plan to repeal and replace, they say, it will wreck the health care system. They have a lot of problems with that. The flip side of it though, is how do you address some of the problems with Obamacare as it now stands? Because you do know that premiums are rising, in some cases by a lot in some parts of the country. You do know that insurers are pulling out of exchanges in some parts of the country, leaving few options. Do you have any ability at this point, as a Democrat, to stop that? CARDIN: Well, as you point out, let me first point out, as President Trump said, there is a lot of people who have coverage today who didn't have coverage before the Affordable Care Act, people in the exchanges, people in the Medicaid system. We've reduced in Maryland our uninsured rates by half, from about 12 percent to 6 percent. That's critically important so we don't get cost shifting.

[10:15:06] So, the first thing we want to make sure is that we don't damage the quality coverage that we've been able to expand under the Affordable Care Act. The challenge with the Republican plan is that it very much affects Medicaid and it's very unlikely that the states will be able to continue the coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

And then secondly, they jeopardize the individual marketplace, where healthy individuals are less likely to come into the insurance marketplace, raising the cost for higher risk pool. So, the fundamental fault that the Republicans have done is to jeopardize the progress we've made in getting people into the health care system, not using emergency rooms and not costing other people their extra coverage costs.

HARLOW: But Senator, before we let you go to John's point. Yes or no, do you think Obamacare needs fixing?

CARDIN: I think we need to improve the health care system in this country. We can make it better. There are areas that Democrats and Republicans should work together on, absolutely.

BERMAN: Senator Ben Cardin, we're looking to you to get to work. Thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

Coming up, we just saw some of it right there, Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, attacking the new plan for Republican leadership to repeal and replace Obamacare. One of the big questions is how much will this cost?

HARLOW: Indeed. Also, ahead for us, several hundred U.S. Marines in Syria right now, on the ground to support local forces in that fight against ISIS, trying to retake ISIS's self-proclaimed Capital of Raqqa. The latest on this offensive is ahead.

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[10:21:05] HARLOW: So, this morning, new jabs from Republicans to Republicans in this GOP showdown over health care. Just how much is this bill already on life-support?

BERMAN: All right, joining us now, Jennifer Psaki, former White House communications director, David Drucker, CNN political analyst and former Senator Rick Santorum, now a CNN senior political commentator.

Senator, I want to start with you here. Because all of a sudden, Tom Cotton, rising star, Republican from Arkansas. He has opened up sort of a new argument against the current bill as it stands. He's basically saying, "Hold on, slow down." He's directed this plea at his House colleagues, said "pause, start over." "Get it right, don't get it fast." This seems to me like a pretty dangerous argument if you're Paul Ryan right now, who wants to get this through quickly.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I mean, this is typically how these things go. I mean, if you look at any kind of major piece of legislation, the House tries to move these things quickly and then it gets bogged down in the Senate and we talk about it forever. That's sort of the process.

Someone has to get the ball in play. And that's what the House is trying to do. I can't say that I'm overly thrilled with the Ryan bill. I think there's a better way to do this. But the fact that they're moving fast is absolutely typical for this type of legislation. Get the ball in play. The Senate will then, you know, do a lot of machinating on it and a lot of changes will happen.

HARLOW: So, David Drucker, to you. I mean, it's not just some fellow Republicans -- who are haters on this one. It is the American Medical Association, it is AARP, it is a number of hospitals, big hospital chains across the country, the White House is pushing back and saying, we don't want their support anyway, that special interests, et cetera. But it's hard to say that about the American Medical Association. Who botched this rollout and would you call it botched?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it depends how you look at it. Don't forget, the American Medical Association supported the Affordable Care Act. So, it's not necessarily surprising that they would not support the unwinding and repeal of Obamacare.

I think that House Republicans and the Trump administration and Senate Republicans, for that matter, could have done a better job of preselling this and developing a coordinated communications strategy based around the rollout. I think that they were more focused on process. This typically happens with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. They forget about the outside game. They're totally consumed by the inside game.

And this is where I think we're going to see whether or not Trump as a negotiator in the political arena is everything that he says he's cracked up to be, because really, this is going to rely on him and his political leverage with members of Congress that are opposed to the bill, because their voters are some of those strongest supporters of President Trump. And so, if he has juice with them, and if he knows how to do political negotiating, this is where he's going to be tested and where he needs to come through.

BERMAN: You know, Jen Psaki, people are wondering, you know, the White House told us they were surprised by the level of pushback they were getting from conservatives, and people were asking, how could they be surprised? How could the White House not know? You've been inside a White House.

I think sometimes, you know, those of us in the media and the public, we overestimate the sort of on omnipotence -- of one White House and another. Sometimes, you guys simply don't know everything that's going out there. You had some problems in the Obama administration and you know, with the Obamacare rollout, for instance. How could you not know that the software wouldn't work? What do you say to that? JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, look, I think if we go back to how we rolled out Obamacare in 2009, there were some mistakes made. We sold it as cost savings and we really should have sold it as a moral imperative. That people should have health care. The change in that has helped a bill to support for Obamacare over the course of time.

But what you want to do when you roll something out and announce a big policy, is have a band of people and a team of people with you. And even at the darkest days of selling Obamacare in the early days, Democrats were pretty united and supporting it.

[10:25:05] You're also seeing a united front from Democrats now in opposing this replacement. So, you want those people who are your friends to be out there vocalizing their support. And that's one of the challenges that the Trump White House is having right now.

HARLOW: So, Senator, to Jen's point in terms of having a united front or not having one, talk to us about what it's like to be a senator in your past life and be stuck between the wishes of a lot of the leaders in your party and then the wishes of sort of the special interests and the different groups in your party like the Heritage Foundation, like Americans for Prosperity who don't like this one bit.

SANTORUM: Well, I was both a congressman and a senator and they are very different things. As I mentioned before, but really what is missing here is really true conservative leadership. I think you see conservatives broken all over the place, opposing this bill for a variety of different reasons and really not offering in my opinion any kind of cogent alternative. And you know, I would like to do that for them right here.

I mean, the most successful thing Republicans ever did in Congress, and it was during the Clinton administration, but since we controlled the Congress, was the passage of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. And the reason we did it is because we didn't try to make every decision in Washington.

The problem they're in right now and the reason you're seeing all these people fighting is because we're making - they're trying to make all these decisions in Washington and not doing what we did successfully, which is to give this back to the states, let the states develop their own individual health care plans. If California's plan is not as good as Texas, people will move from California to Texas or Nevada or somewhere else and that's OK. We have that in a variety of different areas. It should be no different health care.

The fact that Republicans are trying to replicate Obamacare, by trying to fix it here at the federal level is the problem and they need to get away from that problem and give this issue back to where it belongs and that's the states.

BERMAN: It sounds like Rick Santorum needs to be convinced, I think, by the House leadership here. David Drucker, if I can shift here. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina yesterday, said he and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a Democrat, they are going to ask -- you know, the administrative branch of government, they're going to subpoena the records for the court orders and the warrants if they exists for the wiretaps. If they exist, on President Trump or his associates, I think what's interesting there, is that Lindsey Graham is asking for it. What message does that send? Is he trying to sort of smoke out the truth, and if so, is he trying to smoke out the truth from the President of the United States? That's a rather extraordinary thing from a Republican.

DRUCKER: Well, look, Lindsey Graham has never hesitated to be critical of President Trump when he thought it was warranted. I think that some members of Congress do want to smoke out some of these allegations and try and figure out what the president was talking about, either to find out if there's something there, because there is a concern among some of them that something could be there and is something there. Or to in a sense say, stop making unfounded allegations, stop diminishing the faith that the American people have in law enforcement and institutions.

The interesting thing here, John, is that the president didn't have to make these unfounded allegations in order for Congress to investigate this. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees had already said they were going to look into these matters as a part of their broad overall investigations into Russia's meddling in the U.S., in our 2016 elections.

So, it's not something he had to do to push this issue. But I think what the president wanted to do was to get everybody talking about malfeasance on the part of President Obama, whether or not it existed, and that's what we've been doing all week.

HARLOW: Right.

DRUCKER: And so, in that regard, the president achieved his goal. Long term, it could be problematic, because it suggests that if somebody was granted -- if FISA warrants were granted to look into the president or his associates, that there might be something there, and that's something that they haven't yet dealt with.

HARLOW: And you also - quickly Jen Psaki, it need to - really see the president achieve his goal because it takes the talk and the focus of of somewhat off of Obamacare but it also puts himself, whenever he does another interview, his vice president, and every single day the White House spokesman Sean Spicer, in a pretty tough place to answer questions that are not going to stop on this. You saw how the vice president answered or did not answer that question when he was asked, completely tap danced around it yesterday.

PSAKI: Yes. That's right. And, you know, I don't envy the staff or even the vice president at this point trying to explain and defend what was tweeted by President Trump on Saturday. I think you've seen people move away from the accusation that President Obama ordered this, because that's ludicrous and slightly insane.

So now, we're having a debate about whether or not the FBI and DOJ sought a FISA warrant and used wiretapping. That's something that they have every authority to do. But DNI Clapper also said that didn't happen. So it's unclear why we're talking about this still. But this is a tactic, to your point, that they've used, calling for internal and external investigations to distract from the issue at hand. Whether that's Obamacare or ties to Russia.

HARLOW: All right Jen Psaki, David Drucker, Senator Santorum, stick around for us.