Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Meets with Key House Committee Chairs on Obamacare Repeal; Trump Celebrates Positive Jobs Report; Chance Meeting Changed Melania Trump's Future. Aired 11:30a-12n ET

Aired March 10, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:09] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, President Trump is about to sit down with key House committee chairs involved in repealing and replacing Obamacare. This, after a sudden shift from the White House, now privately embracing a faster end to Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, something conservative lawmakers like, and have been calling for, and moderates have promised they will fight against. A difficult spot.

Kathleen Sebelius was secretary of Health and Human Services when Obamacare was passed and implemented.

Secretary, thanks for the time.


BOLDUAN: Thank you.

As you well know, the process is never pretty. But what is your view now, watching this play out from the outside looking in?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think it's important for the public to understand as this very fast process moves ahead, there are really two battles that the Republicans are targeting. One is, as they talk about replacement and repeal of Obamacare, shifting subsidies away from lower income people, folks who have higher cost insurance, to really wealthier and healthier folks, but certainly less for older Americans and allowing insurance companies to charge older Americans five times the rate of a younger American. But in addition to the Medicaid expansion, which you just mentioned, which now about 14 million people have taken advantage of in 31 states across this country, there is actually a fundamental shift in the underlying Medicaid program, which has been in place for 50 years, and may be the most important health safety net under disabled people, older Americans in nursing homes, moms and kids in every state in the country. Governors rely on this federal partnership. And capping that program and, over time, dramatically reducing the federal share of that program is going to impact state budgets well beyond those states that have expanded Medicaid.

BOLDUAN: President Trump, as they're working through this -- and obviously, they're far from the end zone at this point. But President Trump, we're told he's already talking about a fallback plan. The fallback plan would essentially be to let Obamacare fail on its own and blame Democrats. So if this fails, it's on you. What do you say?

SEBELIUS: Republicans at this point own all the real estate. They have the House, the Senate, and the presidency. So I think it's really difficult to say somehow this is the fault of the minority party, which cannot even offer amendments, as we saw in the two committees. I think that there is no evidence of a death spiral or Obamacare failing on its own. There are about 11 million people who signed up again this year.

I was just with Pat Geraghty with the Florida Blues. Florida hasn't been a friendly state. They haven't embraced Medicaid. They haven't fully come into the bill. Pat Geraghty ended open enrollment this year with one million Floridians signing up in the exchange, just that one program in one state. I think it's evidence that people are eager for health insurance. Most consumers are not seeing the great increases, their subsidies actually help cover those.


[11:35:31] BOLDUAN: Well, there are rate increases. On the death- spiral bit, that's clearly up for -- there are very differing opinions. Paul Ryan made clear yesterday, using the quote from one of the top health care insurance companies' CEOs point to the health care system is in in a death spiral right now.

SEBELIUS: Some of the markets are fragile but they're certainly not fragile across the country. The pullback of advertising at the end of open enrollment and the instability, promising that this law is going to change dramatically and not having a clear vision, is adding to the instability, not helping it.

BOLDUAN: I do recall, as this is now playing out, I remember very distinctly when Obamacare was passed, the Affordable Care Act was passed, that the administration was very resistant to the moniker "Obamacare" until the administration decided to embrace it. What do you think this version should be called?

SEBELIUS: Well, I frankly hope this version isn't called anything. I hope by the end of the day we have a different kind of bill, because I think this bill, if it were to pass all the way through the House and the Senate, would make sure that millions and millions of Americans who desperately rely on financial security and health care lose their coverage, and that we shift back to a point where Americans no longer can take care of their families and know where they're going to get their health care. So I don't know what, at the end of the day. I would love to see an opportunity to get a CBO score, to look at who gets insurance, who gets helped, have subsidies that actually look at people's income in addition to the cost of insurance, and where the needs are, and then make sure that we stabilize this. Do additional people need some help paying their premiums? You bet. That would be a great idea. But taking that coverage away from some to give it to others, I'm not sure is the best way to go.

BOLDUAN: In terms of the CBO report, we're told we should see that Monday. We'll see how much the game changes then.

SEBELIUS: You bet.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for coming in, Secretary Sebelius.

SEBELIUS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, former President Clinton raising eyebrows about what's leading the world to, quote, "the edge of destruction." What was he talking about? Does it have anything to do with the man in the White House?

Plus, President Trump and Vice President Pence are discussing the push to repeal and replace Obamacare. It sounds so easy when you control the White House and both chambers of Congress, right?



[13:42:17] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time it comes out, I hear, 5.3 percent unemployment. That is the biggest joke there is.

Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.

The unemployment number as you know is totally fiction. If you look for a job for six months and then you give up, they consider you statistically employed. It's not that way.


BOLDUAN: That was then. This is now. 235,000 jobs added to the economy. The unemployment rate now from the jobs report out this morning, 4.7 percent. Now it's great and to be celebrated.

Joining me now to discuss, Jon Selib, the former chief of staff to Democratic Senator Max Baucus; Rick Santorum, CNN senior political commentator and the former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania; and Kevin Madden, a CNN political commentator and Republican strategist.


Senator, first to you.

It's a tricky thing, isn't it? You've got a very similar report coming out for February 2017 as you had for February 2016. You look at Republican statements from then to now, it looks like a whole different world. There's some politics behind this, huh?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course. If I were the Trump administration I would be saying, that's great but not good enough, we need more growth, we need higher job growth. We need to bring up that number that Trump mentioned repeatedly during the campaign that of those out of the workforce who are alienated, particularly middle-aged men that are in pretty rough shape these days when it comes to finding good employment. That's what Trump should be focused on. We've got to do better We need a tax bill. We need to reform Obamacare. I've got an agenda to get us going and not be satisfied with that number.

BOLDUAN: I feel like I'm not hearing that good advice, Senator, from Republican I've seen.

SANTORUM: That's what I'm talking about.

Jon, you probably were involved in crafting many a jobs report reaction statement for Max Baucus. Whose jobs report is this, who gets the credit? The Trump administration says of course it's the optimism from this new administration that is leading to this jobs number.

JON SELIB, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SEN. MAX BAUCUS: Right. I think as you pointed out, Kate, these numbers are very consistent with the numbers that came out last February and actually the February before that as well. The administration is going to take credit for the job numbers because they --


BOLDUAN: Any president would.

SELIB: Any president would. They are good numbers, so that's good for America. But I agree with Senator Santorum. I would take a more measured tone from the White House. The last couple of weeks have been rough for them so they'll highlight any positive news out there.

[11:45:12] BOLDUAN: Let's talk about, I don't know, Kevin Madden, is this positive news or not positive news, the status of where these health care negotiations are coming from Capitol Hill? The news out this morning, coming from last night, the president is signaling privately they're open to negotiation on one of these key portions of this bill, when you sunset the Medicaid expansion. The fact that the White House is signaling that now, does that help or hurt where this bill goes?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a nod to reality, Kate. I've worked on Capitol Hill long enough to know that no bill gets proposed and then passed in its original form from start to finish, that's just very rare. The market that there will be changes and there need to be changes and there's a long process ahead for finally enacting this health care reform that Republicans have promised as part of repeal and replace, you know, that's just what's going to happen here. I think what's more important is the fact that what's really going to help this process along is the engagement from the White House. So the fact that President Trump and Vice President Pence today are leading a panel to talk about the health care bill and what they do or what they plan to do to support it, that's really important, particularly with the president's salesman abilities with constituents of Congress across the country and particularly with Vice President Pence's relationship with Hill conservatives. Those two components will be crucial in the weeks ahead.

BOLDUAN: And going to be tested in the weeks ahead.

MADDEN: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Jon, are you having any flashbacks? Baucus was one of the architects of the original health care plan, Obamacare. Are you having flashbacks?

SELIB: Flashbacks or nightmares.


Kate, as you know, we had disagreements amongst Democrats in putting this bill together. But I think the big difference is, when we were putting the ACA together, we had weeks and months of discussions amongst our caucus, with Republicans, with key stakeholders. And that made the members in our party and in Congress much more educated on health reform. I think ultimately it made it easier for us to bridge the differences that we had within our caucus over things like the public option, which were real differences, but at the end of the day, I think they understood health care better.

BOLDUAN: You're wearing from conservatives that they don't feel like they were bought in. Jim Jordan said this morning, yeah, we were talking about this for a year but never did we have -- and there's this new tax credit that's going to be involved and this Medicaid expansion sunset that's going to be where it is. Do you think the multiple fronts that Republican leaders have pushed back from right now, do you think they can overcome this?

SANTORUM: Oh, absolutely, they can overcome it. And just the difference between what you were talking about with the conversation with Senators and working through this, that doesn't happen as much on the House. Let's just be honest. The House is a place where it's more of a groupthink, and you try to build your coalitions. You don't work with individual members so much. It tries to get the ball in play, it tries to move things out. You're right, in the Senate everything slows down and you have time to talk about it and you work on things. The House participates in that process too tangentially. But if there's one thing I would say, pass something. You've got to get this thing over to the Senate. And don't worry so much about the next race and running your next race. Worry about running the government. This is an opportunity for Republicans to make good on their promise. It's not going to be a perfect bill. Yes, could you be attacked in your primary? You know so what? You've got to govern. You've got an opportunity to change something which is really bad for this country, the Affordable Care Act, and if you pass up on it because you don't get everything you want, you're adding to the problem. I would hope that whatever the case may be, there's a consensus formed and something is done.

BOLDUAN: I have a feeling I'll be hearing this quite a lot in the coming weeks, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That line will come back to haunt us again.

Good to see you, gentlemen. Thank you.


[11:49:32] BOLDUAN: Coming up next, Melania Trump's approval rating skyrocketing since the inauguration. What's behind the rise? How a chance meeting changed the first lady's life forever. Details ahead.


BOLDUAN: From a childhood in Sylvania to the catwalks of Paris, now the White House, a look at the story of first lady, Melania Trump.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In September, 1998, at 28, two years after the future first lady arrived in New York City, came a chance meeting that would change her life forever.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We met at the fashion party. It was a big fashion party that my friend organized fashion week and he invited me. That's how we met the Donald.

KAYE: Donald as in Donald J. Trump.

She met her future husband and the man who would become the nation's 45th president at a party at the Manhattan's famous Kit Kat Club.

TRUMP: I was actually supposed to meet somebody else. And there was, a great supermodel sitting next to Melania. I was supposed to meet the supermodel. And they said there is so-and-so. I said, forget about her. Who is the one on the left? That was Melania.



[11:55:09] BOLDUAN: "Melania Trump, The Making of a First Lady" airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.


BOLDUAN: Next week, we'll introduce you to the first CNN hero of 2017. First, here's least year's hero.