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Lawmakers Debating 25plus Hours Over Obama Repeal; Trump's Pick For Israeli Ambassador Clears Senate Panel; Any Moment: White House Press Briefing; Marathon Debate On GOP's Health Care Bill Underway;

Aired March 9, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:46] DANA BASH, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: House Republicans cleared the first of many hurdles for their new health care plan. The ways and means committee approved the bill very, very early this morning. 4:17 a.m., to be exact. After 18 hours of debate.

And over at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, they're still at it working through the night and still right now. Democrats are slow walking the GOP attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, so it could take days before that committee will vote.

Now, the White House, President Trump, has been wining and dining trying to win over conservative lawmakers and outside groups. As for the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, he's doing his part as well.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER: I hope in the end, our members actually had a chance to offer their amendments in one thing or another will remember that it repeals a significant number of taxes on the American people. Republican is usually like repealing taxes.


BASH: And then there's the opposition from across the aisle.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: 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.

SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) MAINE: 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 if you were designing a bill to hammer my state, it would be this bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP) Bash: But at this point, Democrats may be the least of the President and GOP leaders' worries. Opposition is fierce from conservatives. Take the series of tweets from Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton. He said, "House health care bill can't pass Senate without major changes. To my friends in House, pause, start over, get it right. Don't get it fast." And then another, "GOP shouldn't act like Dems in O-care, Obamacare. No excuse to release bill Monday night. Start voting Wednesday with no budget estimate." And another, "What matters in the long run is better, more affordable health care for Americans, not House leaders arbitrary legislative calendar."

And again, guys, this is a Republican senator with these tweets. Now, one key unanswered question as we just heard alluded to in that tweet is how much is this going to cost? That has not been even noted yet by the agency that does that. Opponents of the bill increasingly loud conservative voices as well as Democrats are complaining that is going on -- all of this is going on these hearings before the Congressional Budget Office has had a chance to "score" the legislation.

So, let's talk about all of these diving into this substance. Phil, I want to start with you. One of the reasons I'm told why House speaker did this lengthy PowerPoint, aside from the fact that it is actually something that he enjoys. And that's for him I think.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let's be honest, that's the number one reason.

BASH: That's recreation for him. But putting that aside, they are trying to telegraph to conservatives what they are calling this three- pronged approach.

MATTINGLY: So -- and let's say their view is it's a wholistic repeal process that's a step-by-step process. Just because offices long called it buckets. President Trump referred to it as phases (ph). But what they are trying to impress upon people right now is the bill that's moving through the House as we speak, still in the Energy and Commerce Committee is part one of that process.

If it gets you to the House, gets you to the Senate, gets to the President's desk, there's still two major components left to the repeal and replace process. One, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Obviously, very respective for us conservative credentials, lead the health care repeal effort in the House before if he left the House to become a cabinet secretary. On his own, administratively, there are 1400 occurrences inside Obamacare where it says the secretary shall or the secretary may.

When you talk to Obama or to Trump administration officials, they say that gives him the leeway to make all of these changes on his own. So that can help stabilize insurance markets. That can do a lot of things on their own too. So that's part two.

Part three, and this will by probably the hardest part. They will need to move piecemeal bills and talk about state lines, or some of the crucial issues of conservative reform. They will need to meet those bills that don't meet the budget requirements to move right now and move them by 60 votes through the House, through the Senate, also through the House. Big problem there, obviously, they're in 60 votes out of the Republican Congress at all.

[12:35:07] You need eight Democrats at least. And so there's a big chance that that final part might never happen.

BASH: In which conservatives' get.


BASH: They understand how the legislative process works which is why they are so upset. I just want to show our viewers a tweet sent by President Trump during Paul Ryan's press conference. Unclear if he was watching but here's what he said. "Despite what you hear in the press, health care is coming along great. We're talking to many groups and it will end in a beautiful picture."

Well, Mr. President, it's not us. It's us reporting what you are hearing inside the White House walls from these conservative groups. Julie?

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes. He's hearing it here.

BASH: Yes (ph).

PACE: Yesterday from several of these conservative groups. He's hearing it from some of these lawmakers as well. I think what interesting about what Tom Cotton was saying is he was talking about don't rush. Don't go so fast. Time actually is an important part of this. So we are in March, which sounds like it's early, but very quickly these lawmakers on the Hill start running up against their midterm elections where the political pressure gets even greater and that's in the mind of Ryan's office as well.

They don't want to make it look like this is a process that wasn't thorough where they didn't get through the details. But they know the longer this goes, the greater these concerns that already exist are going to be.

BASH: No question. And Julie, I think -- Julie? You're not Julie. You're Julie. Laura. What I also find interesting is that the President is as unconventional as he is, is doing the most conventional of lobbying. I mean things that President Obama, frankly, never did. Having people over and over, wining and dining them.

Next week, he's inviting conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus to go bowling. I mean, this is actually -- he gets this and he's good at it.


BASH: The question is, is it going to work when it's the policy they're upset about?

MECKLER: Right. I mean, it's sort of a mirror image. BASH: Right.

MECKLER: Because President Obama was very engaged in the policy. He understood all the policy won and creates (ph). Go one on one with Paul Ryan any day. For Trump, he understands sort of the art of the negotiation and he enjoys that piece of it. I think the question is what is he going to say to people when they come in to him and say, well, what I really want is this change or that change? And he says, that sounds reasonable. Let's do that

And I think that he has a tendency, at least people who have talked to him say that sort of agree with the last person that he's talked to. And, you know, for instance, we saw an immigration reform. People came in and said to him, hey, you know, let's do some big immigration reform. He says, that sounds like, a great idea without sort of regard for the fact that many in his party would, you know, severely oppose that as well as his own advisers.

So I think that the question is, when you get into this dynamic and health care as he has told us, it's very complicated.

MATTINGLY: Who knew?

MECKLER: It -- who knew. And it is -- when you really get into it and you start figuring out how to change things. So it's going to be a lot of people coming to him with requests. And the question is how does he manage that? Does he defer to Paul Ryan and other managers of the bill or does he try to strike deals that may turn out to be more complicated to deliver on.

BASH: And Olivier before I get to you, I want to play what the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier today, giving us a window into how President Trump is interacting with Republicans on Capitol Hill.


BASH: How often are you in contact with Donald Trump and some of his advisers?

MCCONNELL: A lot. The President is extremely interactive with all of us. And as you've heard, I'm not sure if it's appropriate (ph), that is one hand that he's pretty easy to call. Just call his cell phone and he's there. So he enjoys people, obviously. There's a lot of interaction. So I have no complaint about that. I mean most of my members have had conversations with him since he's been President.


OLIVIER KNOX, YAHOO NEW: Yes, it wasn't that long ago that Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee was telling reporters that actually Donald Trump -- he still had Donald Trump's cellphone number. He's very clear he likes it.

BASH: He still uses. KNOX: Yes which at least he did as of a few weeks ago when Senator Corker told us that. Yes, and he's very clear that he is not the Obama sort of, you know, lecture from the podium thing. It is much more courtship. So much wining and dining, you'll get sick of wining and dining.

BASH: But never sick of the meatloaf, Olivier.

KNOX: But -- Never, but still dining (ph). I thought it was very interesting that he had (inaudible) with Senator Ted Cruz over for dinner last night after an extraordinarily contentious presidential campaign and after Ted Cruz said the bill was basically dead on arrival in its current form, which gets us back to that really interesting question.

Donald Trump can make all the deals he wants but it needs to be true that this bill is a negotiation and not an all or nothing proposition. If he can't offer this folks, assured either assurances, I got assurances about these next two prongs satisfying them or changes to this existing bill. He can wine them and dine them all he wants. It's not clear to me that he can invite them.

BASH: I want to get back to that you referenced Senator Cruz and his wife and turns out his daughters going to the White House to have dinner with the President last night.

[12:40:04] This is a tweet from Senator Cruz. "Our family had a dinner with President and first lady who were warm and gracious. Catherine brought Joe, her kindergarten class stuffed giraffe."

I think it's noteworthy that the girls were in the shot and maybe not Mrs. Cruz who was not treated all that well. I think that's probably an understatement by the President on his twitter feed during the campaign. But it is noteworthy that even the Cruzes are being wined and dined.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And I think you can't overstate how important and how necessary the President is to this process. And this is coming, I know Dana you're talking to house leadership aides, we'll make clear, like look, he's our saving grace here.

BASH: Yes.

MATTINGLY: And the reality is they know they can't close the deal on their own and they are counting wholeheartedly on the idea these House Freedom Caucus members or these conservatives who aren't there yet will never say no to his face. As one aid told me, look, he can call them, he can threaten them on Twitter but tell me when you're standing in the Oval Office and the President of the United States who has an 80 percent approval rating in your district --

BASH: Exactly.

MATTINGLY: -- says I need you to vote for this that these guys are going to say no. The calculation right now is that it will work. It's a dangerous one, though, because for Laura's point, you just -- you're not sure where he's going to go on this. You're not sure how hard his sell is. But this is the deal.

BASH: Yes.

MATTINGLY: He has to sell this. He has to make it happen or it fails.

BASH: And I want to play something that Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, said on that point this morning.


REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: Many of them living in very red states and very red areas that voted for Donald Trump. But people who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act. So ironically, I don't know if ironically is even the word, sadly, the people who will lose care because of the -- if the Republican plan were to prevail, which I doubt it will, are people who voted for Donald Trump. And I don't think the President really knows what he's talking about.


BASH: It's hard to tell what she really thinks.

MATTINGLY: Subtle, right? Very subtle.


BASH: But she's arguing there that Trump voters vote against their interests which is not the first time we've heard at Democrats make that argument. But to what Phil was also saying before about the notion of these Republicans even -- and especially these conservatives who are against this plan come from districts where Donald Trump won so big. And he's a popular guy there.

PACE: He is. And that's the Ryan play right now. That if you are a conservative, you might not agree with the details of this plan but you know it's going to be really hard for you to go back to your home district and say not only did you vote against this, but you voted against the President. You delivered the President a major defeat. Because if we're being honest, if this doesn't work then it is a defeat not just for Paul Ryan, it's a massive defeat for President Trump in his first year in office.

KNOX: Yeah, that's the point.

BASH: Yeah, that's the key point. I want you guys to hold that thought. We're going to go to break. But as we do, I want to show our viewers a brand-new CNN poll and one of the findings that we found most interesting. And the question was, do they prefer the President to pass laws with bipartisan compromise? 72 percent say yes. The context is what makes it fascinating. Same question of then President Obama, 55 percent said yes. So marinade on that. We'll take a quick break. Much more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:46:22] BASH: You are looking at a live picture of the White House briefing room. We expect the Sean Spicer briefing to start at some point in the near future and we're going to be monitoring that and get it to you as soon as it does. But in the meantime, we want to talk Russia.

And if President Trump's attitude and policy towards Russia confuses you, stand by to be a little bit more confused. Sources tell CNN President Trump is expected to nominate former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as his ambassador to Russia. So why is this confusing? Well, first and foremost, Huntsman has no known Russia experience and has been quite critical of Russia's leader Vladimir Putin while President Trump has not. And then there's the fact that Trump and Huntsman's relationship has been, well, complicated.

In 2011, Trump sent this tweet, "Jon Huntsman called to set up a meeting, haven't returned his call." Then let's fast forward to 2012. Trump tweeted this about Huntsman who was President Obama's ambassador to China. "Jon Huntsman called to see me. I said no. He gave away our country to China."

Meantime, the former Utah governor who was one of the first in the GOP establishment to say nice things about Trump was then really outspoken against him when that infamous "Access Hollywood" tape came out. Huntsman told the "Salt Lake Tribune" this back in October, "In a campaign cycle that has been nothing but a race to the bottom at such a critical moment for our nation and with so many who have tried to be respectful of a record primary vote, the time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket."

OK. So with that all as a backdrop, I want to start with you, Julie, because you're over at the White House. Is this a surprise pick to you?

PACE: It is a surprise pick because you've heard through the transition and start of this administration when names have been floated for jobs and the President finds out that that person was critical of him during the campaign, he often just says no. So this is a total shift.

I think it's unclear why Huntsman is right for the Russia job necessarily, even though he was in China. He has some diplomatic experience. It is a pretty confusing position for him to fill and confusing that President Trump would put him in this position knowing that he has this history with him. Of course, we do know that sometimes the President is reminded of his history by shows such as this one. So anything is open for negotiation with Trump until it's a done deal.

BASH: That is so true. What's your take?

MECKLER: Well I just think it's interesting how, yes, on some level he does reject people because they've been critical of him. He also seems to be perfectly willing to move ahead in other cases where, take the dinner last night with Ted Cruz like nothing ever happened. So he does seem to have a no permanent enemies sort of philosophy. I mean, I don't know how we read the Mitt Romney secretary of state piece. You could -- yes, on one level, it was the same thing where he is someone who was also hypercritical of him, was then brought in as a potential candidate of secretary of state. Of course he didn't get the job. So maybe it was the ultimate sort.

BASH: And there was a rebellion among his --


MECKLER: Yes, exactly, and maybe he does in the end, you know, kind of had the last word when it came to that particular feud. But it just seems like he doesn't seem particularly ideological on this pick. I think the actual substantive piece is the more interesting one.

I mean, you know, Russia has such an important point in this -- for this presidency. He's under so much scrutiny for his ties to Russia and he has also talked so much in a positive way about trying to improve relations with Russia. You would think that he would choose somebody, you will had a little more of an intimate knowledge of our relationship.

[12:50:02] BASH: Yes. That's true, although we were talking before the show about the question of whether Huntsman -- yes, he doesn't have Russia experience but he has experience being ambassador to China which is not unlike the experience he will then opposed as well.

PACE: A very complicated post.

BASH: I want to turn to back home and the question about what Congress is doing, vis-a-vis Russia and broader questions that President Trump put out there about whether his predecessor wiretapped him. And I want to play for our viewers and for you all the comments that Lindsey Graham made to our Manu Raju yesterday.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: The whole purpose of this is to find out if a warrant was issued, directed at the Trump campaign. Either they're lying to me or there is no information. And I don't believe they would lie to me about this. I expect them to come forward as to whether or not a warrant was obtained or sought.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And will you subpoena this information if they don't comply?



BASH: OK, it's kind of genius, right, because they want to get the wiretapped warrant. And if the wiretapped warrant doesn't exist, then, guess what, it didn't happen.

MATTINGLY: Yes. You kind of get the sense Senator Graham knows what he's doing in situations like this. And this isn't just his committee. And he's operating on a subcommittee that's doing its own Russia investigation. There's also the Senate Intel Committee. Those senators have been shuttling out to the CIA headquarters in the midst of this investigation.

But the most interesting, I want to talk, just Lindsey Graham obviously who has made his opposition to various Trump issues known in the past. It's kind of up and down the line. You have -- with Manu, who've been up on the Hill for the last week asking people about this. And from Devin Nunes on down, even people who are supporters of Trump say, look, there's no evidence. I haven't seen it. Don't try and be mean about it but they're just saying, this is ridiculous. It doesn't exist.

BASH: That was from (inaudible). You just gave me the perfect segue to run something that the vice president said or maybe didn't say in response to a question about that.


JOHN KOSICH, NEWS 5: 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 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.


BASH: I didn't hear a yes or a no there, Olivier, did you?

KNOX: No, you'll not going to hear a yes or no. I do love the idea that when asked to sort of substantiate this incredible and frankly implausible allegation, they say, they defer to Congress, basically. We're not going to provide it.

They were asked -- Sean Spicer were asked repeatedly this -- over this week. Listen, you must have, if there is something to substantiate this, you must have it. Why not -- you're asking them to confirm something you already have. What's going on?

BASH: Or that you could get very easily as President.

KNOX: Right.

BASH: Or you could do very easily as President.

KNOX: Yes. I mean. I though it would have been so much easier to come out and say, obviously, the President did not mean that Barack Obama wearing a Con Ed uniform broke in to Trump Tower and actually himself tap the phones. We're talking -- we're concerned about broader surveillance --

BASH: Yes.

KNOX: -- under Obama of key aides to the future president. Instead they, you know, they just ramped up the rhetoric and --

BASH: Yes. And look -- I mean, we know as is the days have gone by since this twitter storm that President Trump engaged in, I think, I guess to Saturday morning, about President Obama.

MATTINGLY: We're not allowed on weekends.

BASH: Yes. It's to the weekend.

MATTINGLY: No one is allowed on weekend.

BASH: I know. I know. Really, could they not wait until 8:00, maybe Mr. President (inaudible).

KNOX: Schwarzenegger hardest hit.

BASH: But, you know, it was pretty clear at that time that President Trump was trying to kind of mix things up and kick up dust, vis-a-vis his own -- questions about his ties to Russia. But now it's put him in a box.

MECKLER: I mean, he is completely in a box. And I think the question is, I think by trying to say, let's have Congress investigate it. My suspicion is the hope was that that would kick it down the road and, you know, some day, somewhere, the Congress releases a report, yeah, a months from now and people kind of forget about this allegation. Oh, there was nothing to it.

But -- I mean, I think there are a lot of people who are not -- and I mean that was brilliant the way Senator Graham approached this too. Because he basically is challenging them to put up or shut up.

BASH: I just have to direct before we go, give this news that the president's ambassador to Israel was just reported out of committee 12 to 9. You've been following this. Not exactly a non-controversial pick.

MATTINGLY: No. In fact, that is lawyer, David Freedman is there, will talk a bomb through, we really need a lot of Democrats throughout the course of the campaign with his comments about the Middle East and about Democrats and accusing people of betraying Israel if they didn't share his hard line views.

Interestingly, they got -- the Democrats had hoped to fill up off between one and three Republican senators and committee that didn't happen. This is a big step forward toward confirmation. Democrat Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey voting for Friedman, the Republicans sticking together, it's a big step toward confirmation but I think we'll still see some more fireworks.

BASH: For sure. Olivier, Laura, Julie, Phil, thank you all. Great discussion. It's great to be here with you.

[12:55:04] Thank you for joining us on "Inside Politics." I'm Dana Bash. And we are, as we mention, moments away from the White House press briefing. Wolf Blitzer will bring that to you live. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We begin with breaking news and we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Any minute now, we expect the White House Press Secretary to begin the briefing. Reporters are waiting for Press Secretary Sean Spicer to take questions. CNN will take you there live as soon as that briefing begins. Lots of news happening today.

We're also staked out up on Capitol Hill. Where sleep-deprived members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are still debating key parts of the GOP's health care bill. They've been at this now for more than 24 hours. So far each party's leader is refusing to budge (ph).