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Interview With California Congressman Kevin McCarthy; Republicans Delay Health Care Vote; GOP Source: No Vote Tonight on Health Care Bill; Interview with Congressman Dan Donovan of New York. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 16:00   ET



REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I think it's important for me to understand where they're coming from.

I would love to see 237 votes on the House side, and certainly would welcome any Democrats that would come across as well. But, in this, we are not there at this particular point.

QUESTION: Is the speaker being unhelpful? It sounds like...


MEADOWS: No, no. No, I'm not -- no, I talked to the speaker this morning.

And so I think the speaker has a very difficult task of trying to assemble 215 or 16 votes. And when you look at that, they are working very hard to try to get this done.

And, so, that being said, there are a number of negotiations that are going on not only at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but on Capitol Hill as we speak. And, so, hopefully we will be able to find some consensus.

QUESTION: I know you're a modest man, but you basically have veto power over this, don't you?

MEADOWS: No, I don't have any veto power. I have one vote. My voting card has a picture on it. But it doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the people of Western North Carolina.

And so, truly, that is what motivates me.


MEADOWS: Again, I'm one vote. I can tell you at this point, we are trying to get another 30 to 40 votes that are currently in the no category to yes. Once we do that, I think we can move forward with passing it on the House floor.

QUESTION: Congressman, do you agree with some of your conservative colleagues that voting for the bill in its current form would be worse than doing nothing about Obamacare? MEADOWS: I think, at this point, some of the provisions in here do

not lower health care costs enough, certainly for my constituents.

And so, as we look at that, I think we have got to make sure that it lowers health care costs. And even with...

QUESTION: Would it be worse than doing nothing?

MEADOWS: Well, even with the CBO -- here's the problem with doing nothing. I don't believe that's an option, because I also have talked to people, businesspeople, that have had the tough opportunity of seeing their health care premiums go up 30, 35 percent, another 30 percent in North Carolina this year.

And when you look at that, Obamacare is not sustainable. And, so, to suggest that it can be around, I don't see that happening.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) speaking in there yesterday (OFF-MIKE) agreed that it would be worse than doing nothing.

MEADOWS: Well, Mike Cannon is certainly a very learned individual when it comes to health care.

QUESTION: Congressman, are you still a no?

MEADOWS: I am still a no at this time. I am desperately trying to get to yes. And I think the president knows that.

I told him that personally. And I can say with all the Freedom Caucus, they are really trying to get to yes. That's why we met for such a long time. It was at times a -- not contentious, but I would say very rigorous debate.

QUESTION: What changed between last night and right now in terms of your support and the Freedom Caucus?

MEADOWS: I think what changed between last night and today was the fact that the president has made some very good-faith and goodwill gestures to try to move the ball along. And it's certainly having an impact. I have got to run.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with some breaking news.

It turns out it's a lot easier for Republican leaders to say repeal and replace than to do it. Seven years ago today, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was signed into law by President Obama. And since that time, Republicans have been planning, hoping, dreaming for this day, the moment where they could finally repeal Obamacare and replace it with their solution to the nation's health care mess.

They have had seven years to prepare for this day. And now weeks of optimistic talk from House leaders, declaration just a few hours ago from White House Secretary Sean Spicer that the bill will pass the House tonight and there is no plan B, well, the bill was in such peril, Republican leaders pulled it and postponed the vote, in what critics are calling an embarrassing and ignominious move, so humiliating, it signifies that the only thing worse would have been to actually bring it to a vote, where Republican leaders were apparently confident it would die.

CNN reporters are fanned out from Capitol Hill to the White House to cover minute by minute every update in this mess.

We are going to begin with CNN's Dana Bash, who is live with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Dana, go ahead.


And thank you very much, Mr. Leader, for talking to us exclusively here.

The bottom line is, you control and you decide what the schedule will be on the House of Representatives on the floor. When will this vote take place?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, there is not enough time to take place tonight because we'd have to go to rules and move forward.

But we will vote tonight on a rule that will allow us to vote tomorrow. We will have conference a little later this evening, bring people together about where we are. We have made progress today. And it's our hope that we'd be voting tomorrow after debate.


BASH: OK. And then the obvious question is, do you feel confident that there are the votes to pass now?

MCCARTHY: I think we need a couple more to get together.

The president had made great progress with individuals. We just need to make sure everybody is there and we'd be able to solve this problem. Now, remember, this is only the first phase in three phases. And, unfortunately, because of the Senate rules, we can't put everything in the bill that we would like to.

And, so, we have to make sure we are able to abide by reconciliation, abide by the Byrd rule in the Senate. So, that takes time with the parliamentarian to make sure we get it right, and that's what we're walking through right now.

BASH: So, the head of the Freedom Caucus, your colleague, Congressman Meadows, was just talking to reporters saying that he is trying very hard to get to yes. What do you say to that?

MCCARTHY: I think that's good progress. As soon as he says yes, we will be able to move this...

BASH: How do you get him to yes? Can you get him to yes?

MCCARTHY: Well, there's been a great movement of what we have been able to -- in modifying the bill to move it forward.

It's part of what the president has been talking about. And it is difficult moving in three phases because of the Senate rules. But one thing we always promise -- and remember what the CBO says about this bill. We're going to lower the premiums. We're going to get people more choice in the process.

And I think that's the number one thing the public was looking for, their ability to decide what health care they want to provide and making sure that the prices are actually lower. And that's what the bill does.

BASH: You have seen this movie before. You have been a star player in this movie before, trying to get the conservatives in your caucus to get to yes. But this is supposed to be different now that you are in control across government, including the White House. Why is this so hard?

MCCARTHY: Well, don't judge on every other certain time when a bill has to be done by, getting it done.

And always during the final part, everybody wants to negotiate as much as possible. We have been listening to all sides. We have a very diverse conference. We want to make sure that everybody has had a voice. We have been studying this for six years, more than 113 hearings on moving new legislation.

And I think we're at the right point right now and just getting the final deadline done. And if we vote tomorrow, it will be a very good...

BASH: So, just getting to a little bit of the substance, I have heard a fair number of people complaining about the Freedom Caucus, because they have been making demands for things like, for example, the benefits, the essential benefits that they want to get rid of. They want to do that now.

OK, so they went to the White House. The president said, we will do that. And then they said, yes, but we also want to lower premiums. And, yes, but we also want to do other things.

Are they moving the goalpost on you? Is that why this is so hard for you to get the votes?

MCCARTHY: In any negotiation, everybody is asking for something.

And I just think what is most important, this bill will lower premiums, give people greater choice, and be able to move forward. And I think the time now is to able to make it happen. So, we will bring all the members together around 7:00 tonight, give everybody an update of where we are and be prepared to move forward tomorrow.

BASH: The president is supposed to be the closer to close this deal. He had members of the Freedom Caucus to the White House today. And the deal wasn't closed. Why?

MCCARTHY: I wasn't in that meeting, but we talked to the White House afterwards. I thought was a very good meeting. They thought it was a good meeting.

We will sit down with the Freedom Caucus as well and see where they are, just as we have been sitting down with all members. This conference is very diverse, as I said. We want to sit down to all members. And that's why we will get together as one, because that's what we are, one conference, to be able to move forward.

BASH: You have been campaigning on repealing Obamacare. You voted, I don't know, what, 60 times to repeal Obamacare when you knew it wasn't going anywhere. Now it's time. What are the political consequence for not doing this, if you put this vote up and it fails?

MCCARTHY: Look, we're going to get this done.

BASH: What if you don't?

MCCARTHY: Well, I know we will get this done.

And the thing you have to remember, this is the same repeal that we put up that all Republicans voted for. But this also has replacement in it. There are some members that just want to have a repeal. But then it takes 60 votes for a new replacement. I think that would be very difficult to get to.

But because of the Senate rules dealing with reconciliation, we can't put in everything that we want. But we have been moving bills for that third phase already this week. And I think you will continue to see that.

At the end of the day, just like the CBO says, premiums will go down and people will have a greater choice. And that is the number one things that people are asking for.

BASH: And as I toss it back to Jake, you are saying right here right now, affirmatively, you feel that you will have the votes by the time it is taken tomorrow?

MCCARTHY: Look, when we bring it to the floor, we will have the votes and we're going to get this done.

BASH: And right now, that is going to be tomorrow morning?

MCCARTHY: Well, we will start the debate tomorrow morning, yes.


Thank you, Mr. Leader.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

BASH: Appreciate it. Thanks for coming out of your office to talk -- Jake, back to you. TAPPER: Thanks, Dana.

Let's go now to congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly.

Phil, eight days ago, I asked House Speaker Paul Ryan, if they had the votes to pass the bill if it was that day. He called my question kind of goofy. In retrospect I don't know, maybe not so goofy.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Maybe we should have been reading the tea leaves as to what he was kind of giving some foresight to right there.

Look, Jake, there's no doubt but it, they were short of the votes, they have been short of the votes, and there is no clear pathway right now to get to the votes. That said, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.


TAPPER: Phil, what is the plan to get them on board?

The House Freedom Caucus, the conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, they have been talking about how they want things from the second bucket, the second phase of the health care bill, getting rid of the requirements for insurance, whatever those requirements might be, maternity care, et cetera, prenatal care, drug treatment care, getting rid of them. They want that in the first bill.

But will that be enough? We heard something about individuals asking for some sort of written guarantee from the White House that health care costs and premiums would go down. If they got this piece of paper, would that be enough to get them on board?

MATTINGLY: It doesn't seem like either of those things will be enough.

And I think this is an important point to make. What was put on the table last night was a major shift from both the White House and House leadership. The idea that they would be willing to repeal the essential health care benefits inside Obamacare, that was something they didn't think they could do procedurally and it was something they were very worried about doing politically.

That was put on the table. It was decided by the House Freedom Caucus. That wasn't enough. They want more of the regulatory infrastructure of Obamacare repealed as well.

I talked to a number of different both leadership officials and lawmakers throughout the course of the day. They have said not only is that on the table from the leadership perspective. That is also not on the table from the White House perspective.

So, that's why the Freedom Caucus has not come aboard yet. But there is another important element here, Jake, when you look at it. Just putting those things on the table has caused moderates to grow even more skittish than what they already were. We have seen their number of no votes start to grow.

I can tell you from a closed-door meeting last night in the speaker's office, when this was presented to them, a number of them were very angry, a number of them were very frustrated. A number of them said flat out, I can't support this going forward.

So, this is the thread that they're -- this is basically what they're trying to thread right now, why this is so complicated. They don't have the votes yet because they haven't figured out kind of the perfect mechanism to get there.

I think one of the big questions right now is, does that mechanism exist, Jake?

TAPPER: And, Phil, we also heard the majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, say that there wouldn't be a vote tomorrow morning. He said debate will start tomorrow morning.

We already heard the spin coming from Republicans that this is just a small setback, no big deal, we're going to have a vote at 9:00 in the morning. Apparently, it's not going to be at 9:00 in the morning. And, in fact, it seemed like there was a reluctance by the majority leader to commit to any sort of time, I'm guessing, I'm surmising, for fear that they will have to pull it again.

MATTINGLY: Yes, look, and you have dealt with many, many majority leaders. You have dealt with a lot of leadership.

Putting on scheduling information before you know where your votes are is pretty dangerous and something they don't want to do. And I think that's what you're seeing from the majority leader right there.

What I have heard from senior GOP aides is this. Best-case scenario, this bill gets on the floor at some point tomorrow. But this is entirely contingent on tonight's Republican House Conference meeting. If there is a breakthrough in this meeting, this meeting of the entire Republican Party in the House coming together, talking about this, trying to figure out a way to move forward, then perhaps there is a pathway forward tomorrow morning.

If there is not, TBD was the text message I got from one Republican official. So, that's where we stand right now. Best-case scenario, they get something done tomorrow. But the reality remains the same. They don't have the votes and they don't have a clear pathway forward right now.

And that's what they're searching for, Jake.

TAPPER: Grim reality for the Republicans.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Let's go now to the White House, where we find CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

So, Jeff, earlier, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, his message was, this is going to pass tonight, there is no plan B, we're going to get this done.

Not so much, I guess.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Not so much at all. There certainly is a plan B, and that means the vote is not going to happen this evening, of course.

Jake, and I was just told a few moments ago by an official involved here at the White House who is involved in all these conversations, this official told me this: "We still don't have the votes." This may force their hand or it may not.

Now, the grim reality here is as much as the White House was trying to say, yes, the vote would begin tomorrow morning, a White House spokeswoman was saying that, trying to project an air of confidence and that all this is playing out on script. The reality is, the White House does not set the voting schedule here.

So, they are still trying to work this. But at the press briefing a short time ago, we did hear Sean Spicer say, look, there is no problem here. This plan will go forward. The math is on their side. Let's watch.


QUESTION: Any sort of plan if the bill does not pass tonight? What is plan B?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. It's going to pass, so that's it. We continue to make progress every day. We walked out with more members in support of the American Health Care Act today than we started the day with, and I continue to see that number climb hour by hour.

And I anticipate that we will get there. I like the direction that this thing is going. I think that we continue to see support go with this. We are not seeing people fall off. We're seeing people come on board. That's a great trajectory to have, and so I like where we're headed.


[16:15:02] ZELENY: Well, the hazards of any whip count there, they're always fluid, but this more fluid than most. And simply, you know, Sean Spicer after saying that about an hour later or so, this vote was put on hold, Jake.

But then we saw the president talking about this. He was doing a meeting that really had nothing to do with health care. He was meeting with some CEOs in the cabinet room and he seemed to sound like everything was still on schedule. This is what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be very close vote. After we repeal and replace Obamacare -- and, by the way, it's close not because Obamacare is good -- it's close for politics. They know it's no good. Everybody knows it's no good. It's only politics, because we have a great bill and I think we have a very good chance.


TAPPER: He says we have a great bill, but that is the open question here that is at the heart of all of this controversy, Jake. The bill still is not completely agreed upon yet. And that is the issue here. They're trying to get moderates on board. He met with conservative this morning. There simply is no agreement.

So, president I am told will get back to the phones, talk to some members, but largely, this is going to be dependent on the House Freedom Caucus who come from districts that Donald Trump won handily here.

So, we'll see if they start to put more pressure on them simply a more persuasive sales pitch perhaps. Up until now, he's been, you know, relatively pleasant in these meetings, I'm told. But we'll see if that continues throughout the night, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, as you know, Jeff, earlier this afternoon, the president met with conservatives of the Freedom Caucus and now, of course, he needs to talk to the moderate Republicans as well. We've heard a lot about the president's deal-making skills from the White House podium and from his -- all the president's men.

I guess the question is, what does he have to offer them if they had to pull the bill? I mean, one would think that they have left it all on the field at this point. Everything that could be offered has been offered other than rewriting the bill.

ZELENY: It would certainly seem that way. I mean, the White House has said, look, we're not going to make any changes at this point. But legislation as you know, Jake, always changes. But the hazard in all of this is you do not want to be the last member to sign onto something like this.

You can talk to senators, House members who voted for the Obamacare bill seven years ago who ended up losing election because they were the last people to sign on here. So, the longer this goes on, the more difficult it is, of course. But there's always more things the White House can offer people, particularly when you control the whole, you know, system of government here.

So, you know, legislation is never done until it's absolutely done. But expect some of those phone calls I would say to get more aggressive here. He is their president, he's their party.

So far, he's not said he'll campaign against anyone. He has said he will support them if they vote with him. We'll see if, you know, some harder edge tactics have to come into play here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us -- thank you so much. One of the congressmen who planned to vote no joins me now, New York

Republican Congressman Dan Donovan.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here. Good to see you, again, sir.

REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: Good to be with you, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: So, all the Republican members are supposed to meet tonight at 7:30. What do you anticipate leadership will say to you?

DONOVAN: I don't know, Jake. We're waiting to hear from them. We've been working hard for months, weeks, and particularly the last couple of days to round up enough votes to get the bill passed. They've made some modifications that were asked for by members of Congress.

I have to tell you, Jake, throughout this whole process, I was at the White House on Tuesday with the president and through Paul Ryan's leadership, and I haven't been here through other administrations.

But I can tell you that it's been an open process. The president the other day did more listening than speaking. He asked each one of us what our concerns were with the current version of the bill. And Paul Ryan has given somebody like myself with 22 months experience the same voice as somebody with 35 years.

So, it's been an open process. Await to see what happens tonight.

TAPPER: Congressman, in as short a time as possible because I have a lot of questions for you, what are your main objections to the bill? Why were you a no vote?

DONOVAN: Well, certainly the amendment that was passed and put into the manager's amendment is going to hurt the people that I represent. You know, the president and the speaker have to look through different lenses when they're looking at this. They represent 330 million people. I represent 740,000 people, excuse me, that live in Brooklyn and Staten Island. So, I have to have their interests at heart.

So, when I looked at the bill to begin with, it's going to hurt our seniors, it's going to allow insurance companies to charge seniors five times as much as they charge a young healthy person. The current law is three times as much. And we're doing this to seniors at a time in their lives where they have limited incomes and probably need the services of our medical field more than they did in the past.

Certainly, the amendment that I'm talking about that's going to alleviate the upstate counties from paying their share of Medicaid. Well, the state only has two ways to make that up. They're either going to raise the state income tax or raise the state sales tax. That's going hurt my constituents and they're not even going to receive a benefit out of this higher tax that they're now going to have to pay.

[16:20:05] TAPPER: Uh-hmm. So -- DONOVAN: Go ahead, I'm sorry, Jake.

TAPPER: So, I'm just going to -- I mean, I guess the question is, the thing about the managers' amendment and helping Upstate New York, that's something that could be taken out of the bill if they wanted to. And, obviously, they did the calculation they'd rather get upstate. And you're the only Republican that represents New York City, unless I'm mistaken.

So, that's the calculus that they did. But your objection to what this is going to do for premiums and health care costs for those between 50 and 64, that's a big substantive issue with the bill. Do you think that it's salvageable? Is there any way that can they take this bill and get you on board?

DONOVAN: I don't know. My list of concerns I think are probably too long than some of the other members that may have one or two concerns. You know, I have people in my district, Jake, that are paying astronomical premiums for their insurance, $20,000 a year for a family of four. They have a $6,000 deductible and they're still paying hundreds of dollars in co-pays. Those people don't go to the doctor any more.

When the CBO report came out, they said in ten years there is going to be a 10 percent decrease in premiums, that means these families ten years from now are going to be paying $18,000 instead of $20,000. That's not the relief that we promised the American people.

So, I have people, hard working people in Brooklyn and Staten Island who want to do the right thing, who want to purchase health care for their families. We just made it unaffordable for them.

TAPPER: It sounds like -- and correct me if I'm putting words in your mouth incorrectly, but it sounds like you agree with your fellow Republican congressman from New Jersey when he said this bill would actually be worse than Obamacare.

DONOVAN: Yes, I'm not sure it's going to be worse, but it certainly doesn't give the relief that we promised. I am not a supporter of the Affordable Care Act, Jake. It's harmed a lot of people 8 like those folks I just told you about who are paying those premiums. But the solution isn't in this bill.

So, my hope would be that we go back to the drawing board and take our time. We don't want to be accused of what the Democrats were accused of when they passed Obamacare, not knowing what's in it until it was passed like Nancy Pelosi said. There's no reason to rush through it. I would rather get it right than get it done fast.

TAPPER: Congressman Dan Donovan, representing parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, Republican of New York, thank you so much, sir. Always appreciate your time.

DONOVAN: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Much more in our breaking news, a White House official telling CNN that the health care vote has been postponed until tomorrow morning. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, saying, we'll start debate tomorrow morning.

Stick around.


[16:26:14] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake tapper.

More now on our politics lead. We have a little more to talk about today. Let's start with the panel.

Do they have the votes, Karen Tumulty? If they call this tomorrow, what will have have to have changed about the bill to get it over the -- into the end zone?

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, if you decide -- if you decide you're going to have to get the votes, it seems like the place to get them is from the Freedom Caucus, which means making the bill more conservative, which means cutting coverage for more people and it would presumably be a play to just get it over the Senate and dump this problem in Mitch McConnell's lap.

TAPPER: You think they can do that?

TUMULTY: Well, I mean, that's obviously what they're working on between now and then. But that seems like their only play at this point.

TAPPER: To try to get the Freedom Caucus.

Bill, is there a play you heard from them? You heard Congressman Donovan who I guess is considered a moderate in today's Congress. His concern were rising health care costs for seniors.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Right. And there are enough concerns in this bill which I think is not really well constructed to appeal to any group for any particular reason that once it starts to crumble, once it becomes to we've got to deliver the 218 or 216 I guess it is votes, this is us, this is Paul Ryan, this is the president, this is our party on the line, first big vote.

Once you lose that, everyone says wait a second, why do I want to be for this bill anyway? The conservatives in my district hate it. The moderates don't like it. The public hates it.

The Quinnipiac poll, 56-17 against. You don't see those numbers that often, because I think if you're a normal Republican, you're heaving a big sigh of relief now or hoping the whole thing goes away. Maybe they can do some tax cuts a month from now.

TAPPER: Democrats say that Obamacare, which was signed into law seven years ago today, that President Obama was able to go to Democrats, people forget. They had to round up votes. There was the Cornhusker kickback and all the rest. And he could go to Democrats and says, this is why we're here in

Washington. This will provide insurance to more people. This is why we're here. Let's do this. I know it's risky, et cetera.

But the argument for Republicans is, we promised we'd repeal Obamacare and that might not be as compelling. Is that fair?

MICHAEL SCHERER, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TIME: I think that's fair. Trump doesn't have an idea logical bond with his members.

One thing we don't know is Trump is a tough negotiator. We haven't seen the tough yet. And it's up to him if he chooses to do it. He hasn't shown a willingness to really put anybody in the spotlight to really put public pressure on somebody.

We haven't heard that he's really directly threatened people. There's been sort of the suggestion that Trump voters may not be pleased if members don't go. So, it's at another time way he could go.

But I don't think he has that idea logical bond. Obama was elected with representing the vision of the Democratic Party and Trump is elected with several different visions of the Republican Party no one could agree on what they are.

TUMULTY: There's also a concrete --


KRISTOL: I think there are two ways you can get votes at the very end. One is, this is why we were sent here, Reagan tax cuts, Obamacare, health care for everyone. You've got to come through with this. We know you're risking your seat, but this is what it means to be a Democrat or Republican.

Or we're up against the wall. The government is about to shut down, we're about to default in our debt. This is the TARP vote, the second TARP vote in October, September, October 2008. We're about to have financial calamity. You've got to step up and do this.

Neither argument is true. There is no urgency. There is March 23rd deadline. This modifies Obamacare, sort of repeals it, doesn't really repeal it thoroughly.

So, if you're conservative, this is why we were sent here. And if you're moderate, it's, why am I taking this tough vote? So, I don't think we have the normal kinds of things that leadership can use at the very end.

TUMULTY: President Obama also went around the country for a year selling the specific provisions of the bill. He would say --

TAPPER: Sometimes misleadingly we should note.

TUMULTY: It's true. But he would say, here's your specific problem. Your adult child is not covered. Your preexisting condition is not covered. Here is the specific solution in this bill to cover your specific

problem. Repeal and replace does not sort of get to people where they live and in their own lives.