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Republicans Brace for Health Care Estimate; White House Under Fire Over Wiretapping Claims; Trump Signs Order to Streamline Executive Branch; Interview with Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 13, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Kellyanne Conway says she is not Inspector Gadget.

This newscast will self-destruct in 60 minutes.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Deadline day for the White House to provide proof that President Trump did not make up that claim that President Obama tapped his phone. Could a microwave oven end up on the Capitol steps before the day is done? We will have more on that in a moment.

Health care reality check. What's the cost for you? What's the cost politically? Republicans bracing for the budget estimate on their plan to replace Obamacare.

Plus, more than two feet of snow, a blizzard heading to the Northeast, millions in the crosshairs.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're minutes away from the deadline for the Trump administration to hand in any evidence of the wiretapping accusations President Trump leveled against President Obama two Saturdays ago. The House Intelligence Committee requested the Justice Department provide them today with any proof at all backing up President Trump's tweets from earlier this month, some of them, as you will recall, terrible.

"Just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism. Is it legal for a sitting president to be wiretapping a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A new low. How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon, Watergate. Bad or sick guy."

Now, to recap, since those tweets nine days ago, this charge by the president has been called false by the director of the FBI, false by the former director of national intelligence, and not one credible, informed source that we can find in Washington has said that the president's accusation is true. And I am including Vice President Pence in that group. To say that members of the House Intelligence Committee are expecting

reams of paper to prove this charge coming their way today, well, that would be doing a disservice to the members of that select committee.

And we, as a nation, we have had to live in this farce for the last nine days, where defenders of the president have twisted themselves into pretzels to try to suggest the possibility that the tweets were not preposterous, like rejiggering the facts of the tweets to try to make this wild and unfounded claim by the president seem to live somewhere in the vicinity of the neighborhood of possible.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think there is no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election. That is a widely reported activity that occurred back then. The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities.


TAPPER: So, to break out White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's Trump-to-English dictionary, by Obama, President Trump meant the Obama administration. By wiretap, he meant any kind of surveillance. And by surveillance of Trump's phones at Trump Tower, he meant apparently surveillance of anyone who may have had any conversation with anyone who was part of the 2016 election.

Sometimes, revisionism is so blatant, it's not revisionism. It's just a complete rewrite. He didn't mean Obama had his wires tapped at Trump Tower. He meant the Obama administration may have conducted surveillance during the election of some people, including some who may have spoken to people on campaigns or having communications with those campaigns.

Those are two completely different things. One is false, and one is true. But other than the word Obama, they have little in common, as with so many of these unfounded charges, three to five million illegal votes, the highest murder rate in half-a-century, and on and on.

The White House is now spending its energy and your tax dollars trying to change demonstrably false assertions into perfectly understandable beliefs tangentially related to the original lie. And while doing so, they're squandering their own credibility and they wasting time defending the indefensible, instead of devoting time to, say, improving your lives.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins me now live from the White House.

Jim, the president is trying to move ahead on governing with a series of important meetings today. But when he makes a charge like that, like what he said about the wiretapping, he makes governance difficult for himself.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Go, go, gadget backpedal, Jake, I think might be the operative term here.

The White House has yet to provide any evidence to back up President Trump's claims that he was wiretapped by former President Obama. But there is plenty of proof around that White House officials still have not figured out how to put this episode behind them.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump had plenty to say about former President Obama at this conversation on health care at the White House.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When he left, people liked him. When he was here, people didn't like him so much. That's the way life goes.


ACOSTA: But ask the president if he has any proof that his predecessor wiretapped the offices at Trump Tower, an allegation he made more than a week ago, and the room goes quiet. The answers don't get much better from top White House advisers.

QUESTION: Do you know whether Trump Tower was wiretapped?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now. There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their -- certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways, and microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.

ACOSTA: On CNN's "NEW DAY," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway insisted she wasn't suggesting that she had evidence that the president was being spied on through his appliances or otherwise.

CONWAY: I was answering a question about surveillance techniques generally.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He didn't ask you about it generally, though. That's just true in the transcript. You may have answered it generally, but you were asked specifically.

CONWAY: Chris, I'm not Inspector Gadget. I don't believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign. However, I'm not in the job of having evidence. That's what investigations are for.

ACOSTA: The president took to his favorite gadget to bristle at the continuing questions, tweeting: "It is amazing how rude much of the media is to my very hardworking representatives. Be nice. You will do much better."

But even fellow Republicans are demanding answers. On CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," Senator John McCain explained the president has two options.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve, because, if his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we have got a serious issue here..

ACOSTA: After meeting with FBI Director James Comey, House Speaker Paul Ryan is still waiting to see the proof.

QUESTION: Have you seen anything to suggest there are wiretaps?


ACOSTA: White House officials sounded as if they're starting to walk back the president's accusation.

SPICER: I think there are two things are important about what he said. I think recognizing that it's -- he doesn't really think President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally.

COSTA: But Democrats contend the president's wiretapping claims are more about what's bugging him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say that this is all an intentional strategy, right? When the news starts to get bad for the Trump administration, they, you know, very intentionally and consistently try to say something outrageous.

ACOSTA: In the meantime, intelligence experts say Americans shouldn't worry about hidden cameras in their kitchens.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Is the CIA listening to me through my microwave oven and through my TV and through my cell phone? Are they doing that, sir?



ACOSTA: We're told the House Intelligence Committee says as of this hour it has not received any information from the Trump administration to back up the president's claims. Administration officials continue to say there were multiple reports about surveillance conducted during the 2016 campaign, but that's just not the case.

Jake, we have asked the White House if they could somehow provide a list of press clippings on the surveillance activity that they are talking about, but as of this hour we have not received that list, Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Any moment now, the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its analysis of the House Republicans' health care bill which has the proposal's authors bracing for the expected news that fewer Americans likely will be covered under this plan.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is live for us on Capitol Hill now. Phil, Republicans are trying to frame this not as a loss of coverage for millions of Americans, but, rather, more millions of Americans getting a choice.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's exactly right, Jake.

Look, they believe there is a flaw in the CBO models and they believe they were elected to repeal the individual mandate, to repeal the expansion of Medicaid, the two kind of primary drivers of the insurance numbers in Obamacare.

But there's no question about it. The number which is expected in the coming minutes, it's expected to drop an anvil on the head of Republican plans, plans that just create another hurdle as they try and make sure they have the votes to move this forward.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): As Republicans nervously await projections very likely to show a major drop in insurance coverage in their Obamacare repeal plan, the president and his supporters trying to maintain a sense of urgency while making the case that the status quo is not working.

TRUMP: The fact is Obamacare is a disaster. And I say this to the Republicans all the time. By repealing it, by getting rid of it, by ending it, everyone is going to say, oh, it used to be so great. But it wasn't great.

MATTINGLY: President Trump today meeting with people who say Obamacare hurt them, acknowledging that the process to repeal and replace won't be clean or easy.

TRUMP: More competition and less regulation will finally bring down the cost of care. And I think it bring it down very significantly. Unfortunately, it takes a while to get there, because you have to let that marketplace kick in.

MATTINGLY: Just 24 hours after his point man made it sound much easier.

TOM PRICE, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially in the process that we are going through, understanding that they will have choices that they can select the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their family, not that the government forces them to buy.


MATTINGLY: This all coming as GOP leaders grapple with what's looming, Congressional Budget Office projections sources tell CNN will show a drop in coverage for millions.

Speaker Paul Ryan preemptively pushing back on the official nonpartisan assessment. RYAN: The one thing I'm certain will happen is, CBO will say, well,

gosh, not as many people get coverage. You know why? Because this isn't a government mandate. This is not the government makes you buy what we say you should buy.

MATTINGLY: But GOP sources tell CNN it's certain to create a problem with the more moderate members of the party. The reason? The provision to repeal Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, which the bill sets at 2020. Conservatives say that's not soon enough.

And a powerful outside group, Heritage Action, continues to push outright opposition to the bill.

MIKE NEEDHAM, HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA: Any conservative member of Congress who stands strong and insists that we use this moment to repeal the architecture of Obamacare, to fully repeal it and then replace it, will never regret the courageous stand they take in the coming weeks.

MATTINGLY: But it's the moderates, both members of Congress and some governors, who may become the bigger problem, sources say. The CBO's coverage drop is expected to be driven in large part by the removal of the Medicaid expansion program, the continued splits driving some to call for House Republicans to slow a train that is on its way to a full floor vote as soon as next week.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: I would say to my friends in the House of Representatives with whom I serve, do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote.


MATTINGLY: Jake, we are just getting the CBO numbers right now. I am reading through them. It just came out.

The top-line numbers that really matter here, 24 million more would be uninsured by 2026. It would also include a $337 billion in budget savings under the deficit -- or under -- over the course of a decade. The latter number is very important going forward.

To be able to move the bill through the Senate under the budget reconciliation rules, the mechanism they are using here, it has to reduce the deficit. That's what it does. It is Byrd rule compliant. It can move forward, but that top line number, 24 million uninsured by 2026, I can tell you, in talking with sources who have been working behind the scenes on this proposal over the course of the last couple of weeks, that is higher than they were estimating.

That is a bad top-line number going forward. As you noted, the speaker, the Trump administration have really been kind of laying the table for this over the course of the last couple of days talking about why they don't believe the number will matter.

But I can tell you where it will matter. There are moderates in the House, there are moderates in the Senate, not the conservatives that have been worried about the bill up to this bill, but moderates who are worried about their reelection, who are worried about the coverage numbers.

That's who this number will have an impact on. That's a very large number. Those will be the individuals to keep a very close eye on going forward. It's tough to wash away 24 million over the course of a 10-year period. That's exactly what Republican leaders are going to have to do in the days ahead, Jake.

TAPPER: Phil, let's just take a second to discuss the numbers.

So, obviously, Speaker Ryan and the people who support this bill, they have been saying, look, we don't have an individual mandate. We don't require Americans to buy insurance, therefore, by definition, fewer Americans will be covered by insurance under our plan.

But 14 million Americans fewer having coverage by 2018, 24 million Americans fewer having coverage by 2020, are these the kinds of numbers, are these the kinds of headlines that can actually make moderate Republicans and Republican governors in the states say, hold on a second, this isn't choice, this is taking away the access that you were talking -- that you were promising people would have access to health insurance?

MATTINGLY: It's the big question.

Look, I have been talking to a lot of moderate Republican members over the last couple of weeks in the House saying, what's your trigger here? What keeps you on board here? And this top-line number was something that they continually referenced, and primarily when it comes to the Medicaid expansion that is in Obamacare, obviously, expanded health insurance coverage for up to 11 million people.

What the House plan is, it puts an end to that. They tried to put a transition period into place. They have it at 2020. You can continue to enroll in the expansion, the matching funds will be there until 2020. They did it to try and mollify these moderate Republicans and mollify these governors in states like Nevada, in Ohio, that took the expansion that don't want the enrollees to just fall off a cliff.

But in large part, when you look at the 10-year number, it is driven by -- no small amount by the fact that this Medicaid expansion program will come to an end. The Medicaid expansion obviously has been a big issue for conservatives who want to trim the number to 2017, 2018.

Now we are going to shift focus over to the moderates, whether or not waiting until 2020, that transition period is long enough. The big question right now is, because of 2020, because of this number over the course of 10 years, does that mean that the Medicaid provision needs to be extended even longer in order to try and get these moderates to stay on board with this?

It's a question Republicans are going to have to grapple with certainly in the House, but probably more importantly in the Senate, where there's no question about it. Very conservative senators who come from these Medicaid expansion states have made very clear, if we feel like those enrollees, the people in our states that have been enrolled over the course of this program, will fall off a cliff at some point, we will not support this bill.

[16:15:11] This number, at least on the top line, seems to show that's exactly what will happen which means, Jake, they have a lot more work to do on this bill going forward.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly with the breaking news from Capitol Hill -- thank you so much.

We're going to have much more on the CBO report breaking in this hour.

And Wednesday night, CNN hosts a special town hall about Obamacare and its replacement with President Trump's director, secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price. Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash will be the moderators. And you can see it only on CNN. That's Wednesday at 9:00 Eastern.

We're going to have much more on the breaking news of the cost estimate of the Republican Obamacare repeal and replacement plan. We're going to have Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey coming up next. Stay with us.


TAPPER: We've got some breaking news now. Welcome back to THE LEAD.

President Trump just finished signing an executive order laying out a plan to reorganize the executive branch. Let's take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- dollars are being wasted on activities that are not delivering (ph) results for hard- working American taxpayers, and not even coming close. This order requires a thorough examination of every executive department and agency to see where money is being wasted, how services can be improved and whether programs are truly serving American citizens.

[16:20:14] The director of office of management and budget will oversee the evaluation, working with experts inside and outside of the federal government, as well as seeking input from the American people themselves. Based on this input, we will develop a detailed plan to make the federal government work better, reorganizing, consolidating and eliminating where necessary. In other words, making the federal government more efficient and very, very cost-productive.

So, we're going to do something I think very, very special. It will never have been done to the extent that we're going to be able to do it. You're already seeing results. We will then work with Congress to implement these recommendations on behalf of the American people.

So, with that, I want to thank everybody very much and I want to wish the cabinet good luck. I think we have some of the finest people ever assembled for a cabinet. We're going to do a great job for the American people. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.


TAPPER: That's President Trump's signing an executive order streamlining the executive branch. We'll find out more about that executive order later.

Let's talk about it and, of course, the breaking news on the president's health care bill with Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Senator, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, just before the break, the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan analysts of all things in Washington and Congress, released their analysis of Speaker Ryan and the House Republican leaders' health care bill. Some of top lines, 14 million more uninsured by 2018 than under current law, 28 million more uninsured by 2026, and $337 billion in deficit savings from 2017 to 2024.

So, a lot of deficit saving there but many, many million more Americans without access or at least without health insurance. Your response?

MENENDEZ: Well, an enormous blow to people getting coverage and having coverage, 24 million Americans losing their health care coverage. And the deficit savings are because, at the end of the day, you're just so contracting Medicaid and the tax credits that you're given. So, that's why the savings exist.

But it comes at the cost of 24 million people not having health care coverage, which is critical to the quality of their lives, critical for them to be productive. And then the consequences to our health care system of people who go uninsured and then use the emergency room as the vehicle for their primary care.

This goes back to the system before the Affordable Care Act that had insurance companies decide what coverage you would get. They were arbitrary and capricious in denying people and at end of the day, had millions without health care coverage.

TAPPER: Well, let me play devil's advocate for a second, because one of the things that Republicans say and President Trump said today is that, without any sort of changes, Obamacare is, quote, "going to implode itself off the map." And there are a lot of criticisms. You know in your home state of New Jersey, in 2015, I think, there were five insurance plans on your state exchange and now, there are only two insurance plans. The plans are pulling off the exchanges.

Doesn't there need to be a major overhaul of Obamacare?

MENENDEZ: Well, Jake, we have always said that the Affordable Care Act wasn't perfect. You don't have any type of sweeping legislation. Dodd/Frank or for that fact, this, that is perfect when you have that type of vast, encompassing legislation. But every time we've sought to improve the legislation, our colleagues sought to slay it. So, the opportunity to try to solve unintended consequences and improve upon it just simply haven't been there.

But the answer to that is not at the end of the day, having people pay more, have less coverage, less people insured, and a body blow to so many of our states that ultimately expanded Medicaid coverage and brought more people into the health insurance market as a result.

TAPPER: One of the reasons why there is such inflation in health care, and one of the reasons so many Americans are seeing their premiums rise in such an astronomical rate because of the pharmaceutical industry and the prices of the pharmaceutical industry, hospital stays and then medical devices. Those three things are the biggest drivers of health inflation.

What did Obamacare do for any of them? I mean, as I understand it, there really weren't a lot of measures to contain costs. They certainly expanded coverage with the Medicaid expansion and with stipends and all the rest to help people get access to health insurance, but Obamacare, they promised to bring down costs, and I didn't see a lot in the bill to do that.

[16:25:05] What would you do right now if you were king, what would you do to help bring down health insurance costs?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, first of all those entities put in a lot of money into the Affordable Care Act in order to make it happen. I think it was appropriate for them to contribute to the health care system. At the end of the day, part of my goal when I was sitting on the Senate Finance Committee and drafting and voting for this was to move away from a disease-based health care system to one that's preventive. At the end of the day when we do that, we save a lot of money.

Now, it takes time to get there, but right now under the system that existed before the Affordable Care Act, you waited largely until you were sick and then you went to your doctor and got treated.

We wanted to move to a preventive-based system, to pay hospitals, for example, on outcomes, where there is less likely that, if you had to go into the hospital, you get re-admitted. To make sure that, if you are using prescription drugs, you are using it in a way that improves the person's health care and doesn't have them having to go back to another physician for another purpose.

So, those are elements that we need to expand upon. We can create greater competition in the system as well. You know, it's ironic that under the Affordable Care Act, you can cross state lines and offer insurance, but insurance companies generally haven't sought that. That is supposedly going to be one of the things that the Trumpcare seeks to do. But the reality is, at the end of the day, that could be done right now under the Affordable Care Act.

So, the question in my mind is not to go ahead and abolish the Affordable Care Act, it's to work to improve upon it. And then we would actually improve the health care of people in this country, we would drive down costs, we would create greater competition and we would end up with a better health care system and better health for people in America.

TAPPER: The reason that 24 million Americans more will be uninsured by 2024 under the repeal and replacement bill, a lot of those millions, I think the majority of it, is because of the end of Medicaid expansion, Medicaid obviously being health insurance for poor people and Obamacare expanded it. New Jersey is one of the states where a Republican governor, in your case, Chris Christie, agreed to go along with the Medicaid expansion. I think 500,000 more New Jerseyans have Medicaid because Governor Christie did that.

What's to stop you, Senator Booker and Governor Christie from getting together and figuring out how to provide for the 500,000 within the state? I mean, there were plenty of states including Indiana that did their own experimentation with Medicaid expansion. Why can't you just do that?

MENENDEZ: Well, first of all, you know, experimentation with Medicaid expansion still implies expansion.

TAPPER: Right.

MENENDEZ: So, if you're going to cut the monies and basically undo Medicaid as we know it -- which is where they are headed, they talk, you know, Secretary Price --

TAPPER: But you can provide health insurance, is what I'm saying. You can increase taxes for whomever in New Jersey and use that to pay for the people who --

MENENDEZ: But then you are putting a burden on a whole other group of New Jerseyans.

Expanding Medicaid isn't just about the poor. We expanded it to those individuals who are working but at very low incomes. So, these are people who get up every day, work hard, play by the rules, but could not afford health insurance. We're also -- nursing homes, if you have a loved one in a nursing home, that's Medicaid at the end of the day.

So, yes, we could tax another group of citizens to afford the opportunity for health care for these people. But at the end of the day, insurance is about spreading risk across a wider universe. The wider we spread, the better off we are.

So, when we had Medicaid expansion, we were doing two things. We were covering more people who were going to an emergency room, ultimately for health care because before, if you qualified for Medicaid before the expansion, you already had health care coverage. The poorest of the poor had health care coverage. Medicaid expansion took in the working group that couldn't afford health care but was working every day and wasn't poor in that context.

And then, secondly, you ultimately created a system that, for example, in New Jersey hospitals that faced millions and millions of dollars of uncompensated care -- care that they were delivering but nobody had insurance to pay for it.

TAPPER: Right. Well --

MENENDEZ: Drove up the price for everybody else.

TAPPER: Everybody else who went to the hospital had to pay for it.


TAPPER: This ended to being a lot more about health care because of the CBO report.

I had two more questions for you. One is about the Russian investigation. The Senate Intelligence Committee is looking into that right now.

You're a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Are you confident that the Senate Intelligence Committee can pull off the inquiry that needs to be done?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, I'm for an independent commission. And I think that we have the master of misdirection in the White House, evident, you know, the suggestion that President Obama wiretapped him, and then takes off the attention on what was happening with Russia and the attorney general and others.

So, I'm for an independent commission. I think that's the only way across the entire spectrum. I respect the Intelligence Committee and our leadership on a bipartisan basis, but that's one element of a much broader set of circumstances. I want to make sure that when President Trump is acting, he is acting in the interests of the American people, not in any interests he might have. And that's broader than the intelligence elements, broader than the whole issue of our elections.