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Top House Intel Democrat: GOP Trying to "Choke Off" Information; Obamacare Repeal Bill Details Still in Flux. Aired 11:30- 12p ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The same is true in this investigation. Some of this should be done, needs to be done in the public eye.

So we strongly object to the cancellation of this hearing. We would still urge the majority to reconsider. The witnesses have made it clear to us they are still available. And we would urge that that hearing be allowed to go forward.

Second, with respect to the documents, again, none of us have seen what the chairman is referring to. The chair and I did request documents of the directors of the NSA and CIA on unmasking procedures. That is a normal part of our oversight and that is perfectly appropriate. Whether what the chairman saw is a subset of that or not, none of us have any idea. If it is a subset of what we have requested and what we expect to be delivered, it begs the question why it was necessary to take a subset of those documents to the White House before the committee has done its own work.

Be that as it may, at this point, we do not have the full response from the NSA. They responded to one of the five questions we asked and told us they are working to respond the others, and we have every confidence that they are.

Finally, with respect to Mr. Manafort, we welcome his testimony before the committee. We also would welcome that that testimony be done in open session so the public may be informed on what he has to say. Similarly, if it's necessary to have any of it in closed session, that can be arranged. But as much as can be done in public, we think we should do.

With that, I'm happy to respond to any questions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The hearing on Tuesday will now be closed on classified. Will you urge him to make that a public hearing?

SCHIFF: You know, we had a public hearing with Directors Comey and Rogers already. So I have no objection to bringing them back in and having closed hearing. If there's additional information we can make public and do additional public hearing with them, that would certainly be welcome also.

I don't think anybody should be -- should have any question about what is really going on here. This is not a desire to have them come back in closed session and somehow that's in conflict with having an open hearing that is already scheduled, witnesses who have already agreed to appear. That is at most a dodge. We welcome them coming back at any time. But what really is involved here is the cancellation of the open hearing. I think the rest is designed to simply distract from that point.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is the reason for that dodge?

SCHIFF: You know, I think that there must have been a very strong pushback from the White House about the nature of Monday's hearing. It's hard for me to come to any other conclusion about why an agreed- upon hearing would be suddenly cancelled. Clearly, it had to do with the events of this week. The chairman himself said the cancellation of the hearing had nothing to do with the documents he saw, so we know that was not the issue. So what other explanation can there be? There really is none when these witnesses are ready and available.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any reason that the dead of night excursion, as you called it, was arranged or orchestrated by the White House in any way?

SCHIFF: I don't know the answer. I am concerned that the chairman is unwilling to rule out that the documents came from the White House or in coordination from the White House.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Mr. Schiff, some of the members of your committee have lost faith in Devin Nunes' ability to lead the committee. Democrat members, Jackie Speier, just said, this could be "quote, "obstruction of justice" by denying this public hearing. Are you there? Do you believe he should still run the committee or should he step aside?

SCHIFF: Ultimately, that's a decision that the speaker needs to make. And I think the speaker has to decide, just as well as our own chairman, whether they want a credible investigation being done here, whether they want an investigation that the public can have confidence in. The events of this week are not encouraging. I think anyone watching them has very legitimate and profound concerns about whether or not this Congress indeed can do a credible investigation.

I think that one of the profound takeaways of the last couple of days is we really do need an independent commission here, because the public, at the end of the day, needs to have confidence that someone has done a thorough investigation, untainted by political considerations. You know, it had been my hope, it's still my hope, it may be hope against hope, that there's some way we can do that. But I have to say I'm deeply discouraged by this week's events. I think the public is deeply discouraged by this week's events. And what would give the public more confidence than anything else is if we didn't stop what we're doing but established a truly independent body, quite separate and apart from the Congress, just as we did after 9/11, that the public can say, OK, at least there we can be confident someone is doing an investigation unhampered by political pressures, un- interfered with by the White House or anyone else. And I think this week's events have made that all the more necessary.

[11:35:09] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Given the allegations that the president has made against the former president, have you had any contact with President Obama or anyone from the former administration or any of his representatives?

SCHIFF: I haven't had any conversations with the president. The president had a huge staff, so I don't want to representative whether I've heard from anyone affiliated with the prior administration.

But I will say that one thing has been abundantly clear from this week, and it began with Director Comey's testimony and director Rogers and what they represented on behalf of the Department of Justice, and that is there is still absolutely no basis for what the president has accused his predecessor of. That was just pure nonsense.

And I think what's happened here, I really think people need to understand what is going on here is the following. The president made a slanderous accusation against his predecessor, one with absolutely no basis, that his predecessor, Barack Obama, engaged in felony crimes and illegally wiretapped him. And one after another, Republican chairs of the House committee and the Senate committee and Senators on other committees and the speaker himself, said we've seen no evidence to support the president's statements.


SCHIFF: And then, and then, we heard testimony from the directors this week saying there is no evidence of this. And then we had this peculiar excursion in which the chairman said, well, it's still no evidence that his predecessor wiretapped him in any way. And, you know, although that midnight run caused some confusion and still does, the bottom line is still the same. And what's happened is that accusation has now damaged our relationship with our British allies. I think the comments the president made with Angela Merkel were, to be charitable, the most tasteless I've seen in a meeting of heads of state and can only be damaging to that relationship.

But now I think in an effort to further justify the unjustifiable, he is now interfering in this investigation. And I think the fact that the chairman's press conference was at the White House is not only symbolically important, it's important in terms of understanding what's really going on here. So that effort to defend the indefensible has led us down this terrible rabbit hole and threatens the integrity of the only investigation that's authorized in the House. That's where we've gotten to today.


SCHIFF: I want to go to someone who hasn't had a question before.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You believe the White House is interfering with the investigation. That would seem to suggest that the dead-of- night excursion was initiated or collaborated by the White House. Can you elaborate on that? And then, is there any level of kind of political tainting that would cause you and the Democrats to walk away from the investigation?

SCHIFF: Well, Democrats feel that if we're not engaged in this investigation, no one will be. And there are some I'm sure in this building who would like nothing more than this investigation to go away. From my point of view, that would be irresponsible for us. So I think we're going to do our best to investigate this regardless of the obstacles we're encountering. We're going to continue to encourage the majority to work with us to the degree they're willing.

But we do feel the need when the majority makes mistakes like today by cancelling an open hearing, to speak out and speak loudly, because, you know, in the minority, the only power we have is the power of public persuasion. I hope people who are watching will contact the members of the House Intelligence Committee and urge them to go forward with this open hearing. And as important as it is to reach out to Democratic members, it may be more important for you to reach out to Republican members and say, you don't want this hearing cancelled, you want to be informed, and you're going to demand that of all the representatives regardless of party.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is your understanding of the nature of how these names were released? Is it your understanding that Trump associates were party to these communications or simply unmasked in the course of other conversations?

[11:39:46] SCHIFF: Let me make this the last question.

This deals with the issue of unmasking. Again, because of the extraordinary way that the chairman has introduced this issue, that is, by viewing something and telling the press and the White House about it without telling his own committee or sharing with his own committee what is really involved, and we don't have it so we can't say, I have to read between the lines. Reading between the lines of what the chair has said, I would assume -- and again, this is just an assumption, that this is a subset of what we have requested from the NSA. And again, a significant question about why this would be done in this matter if we're going to be getting these documents from the NSA. But what we've asked the NSA for is documents that are the result of incidental collection, that is, collection not as the president has suggested that was targeted at the president, because there's no evidence of that, but surveillance that may be targeted at foreign spies. And in the midst of looking at foreign spies, it could be as simple a matter as a foreign spy mentioning the name of an American. Now, you would imagine they might mention the name of an American running for president. That would be considered incidental collection. So I assume, without knowing any better, that what the chairman is talking about is he's looked at communications that were incidentally collected, that is, not targeted, at the president. So no defense for the president, not a full validation or vindication of the president, not a partial validation of the president. A zero validation of the president, even if you accept what the chairman has said. Thank you.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. You're listening right there to the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

A morning of dueling press conferences from the House Intelligence Committee. They used to do press conferences together. That should tell you something.

Let me go to Dana Bash. She has been listening in on Capitol Hill.

Dana, as we watch this, it surely seems when it comes to this very important committee, which has a very important task in front of them with this investigation, it seems like this committee is completely broken down.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Kate, I was thinking the same thing listening. For all the details, which we can talk about in a second, that is the most important takeaway. This morning, with dueling press conferences from Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman, and Mr. Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, they started out determined to do this together in a bipartisan way. That is out the window. It was clear probably by Tuesday or Wednesday, the day that the chairman made his frankly rather bizarre announcement that he had seen things that were worrisome to him, so much that he had to go to the White House to brief the president.

At that time, it was clear, even from Republicans who I talked to privately on the committee, that that's it, it's pretty much lights out for the notion of doing something in a very productive way inside this committee. But when it comes to the specifics of what we just heard, it's a pretty serious allegation that we just heard from the top Democrat, which is that what the Republican chairman did this morning was -- he's basically saying it was a bait and switch, that he cancelled the next scheduled public hearing, which was scheduled for March 28th, where they were supposed to hear from other top officials about what could potentially have gone on with regard to Russian involvement in the U.S. election, and tried to -- this is the accusation from Adam Schiff -- mask that by saying, oh, but guess what, Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, he says he's going to come talk to us. So that was sort of the headline from Adam Schiff when it comes to the detail.

But obviously, the big, important, broad takeaway is that this investigation on the House side at least is in shambles. And down at the other side of the capital, behind me, in the Senate, it looks like at this point that's pretty much the only show in town when it comes to true bipartisan, productive working together to get to the bottom of what happened in this election.

BOLDUAN: And one sign of that is, we do not see Senator Richard Burr and Senator Mark Warner coming out and offering dueling press conferences about information coming out of their committee.

BASH: Exactly, great point. BOLDUAN: Dana, thank you. Great to see you.

Mark, Nia, as we're talking you're listening to this. If we're honest, there seems to be a healthy dose of politics from both sides on this committee.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITIAL REPORTER: I think so. It was very clear obviously earlier in the week, when you had Devin Nunes come out with the press conference and run to the White House and say that he had informed the president of these findings which he has yet to share with the rest of the committee. He might be a little bit more partisan than Schiff. But Schiff seems to be, you know, close behind.


[11:45:06] HENDERSON: These folks need to be behind closed doors doing the work of this committee. Instead they're in front of the cameras all the time. It's not helpful. But, you know, I think Nunes, it's pretty clear, he's not interested necessarily in this investigation. That seems to be kind of clear.

BOLDUAN: And now people outside the committee, Democrats outside the committee are calling for Nunes to step down, and now you have people inside the committee calling for Nunes to step down. He didn't get a glowing endorsement from Schiff.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No doubt. He basically punted and said it's up to the speaker. This puts more pressure on the United States Senate to do their own independent investigation, because, as you said, we haven't seen any partisanship between those members yet, between Richard Burr and the ranking Democrat on the committee.

BOLDUAN: Let's see who pops up next for a press conference.

Guys, thanks for sticking with me. Appreciate it.

Important things going on, on Capitol Hill, hours from now, including this one. Hours to go before the Republicans' health care bill heads to a vote on the House floor, so we're told. A live picture of the House floor. While support for the bill is still in flux, so are some of the bill's key details.

CNN's national politics reporter, M.J. Lee, is live on Capitol Hill. she's been following this from the very beginning.

Also joining us is CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Guys, great to have you. Thanks so much for being here.

M.J., Republicans might not even know the answer to this. Lay it out for us. What's in the bill, what's out of the bill at this moment?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Kate, you've been hearing all week a lot of conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill referring to this bill as Obamacare-Lite or Obamacare 2. That's because they think this bill doesn't go far enough in gutting Obamacare. But if you speak to supporters of Obamacare, people who depend on this law, they would actually argue that this bill gets rid of some of the fundamental pillars of Obamacare.

Let's just talk through what this bill actually has. This bill would repeal Obamacare subsidies, these subsidies would be replaced by refundable tax credits that would be determined by age and income. The House has also decided to set aside some $85 billion for tax credits that would be for older Americans. This came because a lot of lawmakers said they were concerned a lot of their older constituents would be negatively hurt by this. Third, this bill would repeal individual and employer mandates. We know about this very well because this has been a very politicized issue. This is the requirement in Obamacare basically that everyone needs to have coverage and that companies that have 50 or more people, they need to provide their employees coverage. And fourth, this would also make big changes to Medicaid so that funding is given to states based on the number of enrollees.

And in the last-minute negotiations, what the White House and leadership extended to these conservatives, House Freedom Caucus members, are doing away with these essential health benefits. This is everything from maternity coverage, hospitalization, drug prescriptions, all of these things are now going away in this House bill. And all of this, of course, will decide if conservatives, moderates, will actually be able to get on board this bill and support it when the vote happens this afternoon.

BOLDUAN: M.J., thanks so much.

Sanjay, why don't we start with where M.J. left off, these essential health benefits. It's very important to get these conservative members of the House freedom caucus on board. What does this mean for folks at home?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this is probably the biggest issue I think from the patient's perspective, from the people who are actually using the health care system.

What happened, as M.J. talked about, when the Affordable Care Act was being negotiated and subsequently passed, they said we need to have a minimum level of health care benefits for an insurance plan. We don't want insurance plans that are essentially junk plans, if you will. You have it, you say you're insured, but when you need it, it's not really doing anything for you. It's sort of the nature of insurance. A lot of people don't know exactly what their insurance will cover for them if they don't get sick. But if they get sick, it's all they think about. If you don't have enough coverage, you're underinsured, you have to go to a hospital, you have an operation, it may not be covered. If you need an ambulance to get you to the hospital, it may not be covered. Those can be catastrophic expenses. So much so, 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States in 2009 were due to medical expenses. People were going bankrupt, even though many of them had health care insurance. (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Oh, I'm so sorry.

Can I ask you one quick question? We've got the graphic of what these essential health care benefits are. One a lot of folks are talking about, it's been talked about a lot especially around the politics. In here is maternity care.

GUPTA: Right.

BOLDUAN: I'm just going to lay it out. Why do men need in their essential health benefits maternity care?

[11:49:54] GUPTA: This is probably the most controversial one. This is the obvious example.

But let me lay it out as simply as you did ask the question, Kate. One reason is, you know, it takes two to tango, right? Women have the baby, but men are involved in that process. So, there is part of that. You're paying for healthy children, essentially, through those maternity health benefits. Women get the health care they need so you have a healthy baby. Again, men are part of that whole equation. If that doesn't make full sense to you, another part of it is something that was very interesting to people was gender rating. The idea, Kate, that you would just pay more for health coverage because you're a woman. You could have a baby, you need to pay more. I don't think anybody thought that was a good idea. We won't have gender rating. We will have men being part of the payment of maternity health care services, and it makes it so women aren't automatically charged more. It's a little bit of an obscure concept, but worth thinking about. We're helping take care of each other in a way through insurance. It's the nature of insurance.

BOLDUAN: We'll see where that debate goes today and the vote goes today, and how people discuss that one.

Sanjay, thank you so much.

GUPTA: You got it.

BOLDUAN: M.J., thanks so much.

Back to the realm of politics. Let me bring in Dan Holler, the communications director for Heritage Action for America. Of course, this is the advocacy arm linked to the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation.

Thanks for sticking around, dana

You all are a "no" on this and that's what you're telling lawmakers. What are you warning lawmakers right now if they vote yes?

DAN HOLLER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, HERITAGE ACTION FOR AMERICA: The real challenge with this bill, it will not do enough to drive down premiums. If you think what Obamacare was at its core, the regulations that you were just talking about with Sanjay and basically creating a regulatory structure around insurance so all insurance plans had to basically be more or less the same. Consumer-oriented products out of the marketplace and what we're saying if that continues to be the case, which it would be under Paul Ryan's plan, premiums will remain too high and people kept out of the insurance market for that reason.

BOLDUAN: Important part of your name right now is "action," Heritage Action. What are you warning lawmakers, though, if you vote "yes," you will head into their districts and put money against them?

HOLLER: No, I mean the real problem here is that if lawmakers vote "yes" and they go back to their constituents and say, hey, we repealed and replaced Obamacare with something great, their constituents will look at their premiums and say, no, this is still awful. Donald Trump is going to run for re-election in 2020. He'll say, I repealed Obamacare and health care is great now and people will look at their premiums and say, no, you didn't, that's just not true. That's bad policy. People will still be hurting but the politics of that is awful.

# You guys already have a plan to put money to push that message in districts?

HOLLER: Our hope is that this bill as constructed right now will fail on the House floor later this afternoon and we'll be able to go back and work with Republican leadership and the White House to actually have changes that will drive down the cost of health insurance for all Americans.

BOLDUAN: You're not saying no, Dan, not saying no.

Great to see you, Dan Holler. Thanks very much. Appreciate your time.

HOLLER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Let me bring in the panel right now to discuss. With me now, CNN political commentator, Kevin Madden; Democratic strategist, Emily Tisch Sussman, also the campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund; and CNN political commentator, John Phillips.

From one action fund to the other.

Emily, respond to what you just heard from Dan Holler.

EMILY TISCH SUSSMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I never thought I would be aligned with the Heritage Foundation, but it turns out we also want people to vote against this bill. But not because we think that Republicans can go back and come up with a better bill, they can't. If the premise is to repeal Obamacare, which is all Republicans have been saying for the last seven years, you know what you're going to end up with? Higher premiums. Premium loss. You'll end up with every rating of this bill in every form of it has at least 24 million people losing coverage. I don't think people think that is $14 million in the first year. Seven million people are under employer-sponsored coverage. Millions of people will lose insurance coverage. When you go vote by vote, this is why the Republicans are having such a hard time. We are talking about tens of thousands of people in every single district. It's 50,000, 60,000, 70,000 and even 80,000 per district in areas in south Florida, California and Pennsylvania. These are places that are all have Republicans representing them. And now they're going to lose -- tens of thousands of people will lose their insurance in their district. And they have been hearing from them.

BOLDUAN: So, Kevin, we heard from Dan Holler there. Club for Growth, another conservative group, they've already put ads out in swing districts. Do you think lawmakers -- is that in the back of their mind, does it have to be, that money is going up against them if they go against big dollar groups?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, sure, yes. The fact is this was a promise that was made to so many constituents and there were so many of these organizations like Heritage Action that helped these guys get re-elected. So, they're going to take action to, you know, communicate directly to their constituents about what they believe is a failed promise.

BOLDUAN: John Phillips, what do you make of the ultimatum? If we have a dealmaker and he wants to get to yes and get people onboard. No more negotiating. It's this or you're stuck with Obamacare.

[11:55:02] JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's turning up the heat. I once asked former California Governor Pete Wilson if he had to twist Republican arms to get budget through the state legislature. He said, no, I had to break them. That's what we're seeing right now.

I'll say this, yesterday I would have been a firm no vote on this bill had I been in Congress. Some of the changes that happened overnight make it much more palatable to me. Getting rid of those essential health services is a very key point for conservatives who want to bring the free-market principles back to the process.

I had a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer and she went to UCLA Medical Center, which is a research institution. She went through an exploratory surgery that let her treat the cancer without going through chemo or radiation and she's in remission. Obamacare came along and the health care plan that allowed her to do that doesn't exist because it's not in compliance with all the other requirements. This gives people serious, real options for their health care needs, and I think it's something that it's due time that we have back.

BOLDUAN: So, even before votes are happening, even before the votes start, Kevin, you already have the blame game. You have folks unnamed sources that are already pointing the finger at Paul Ryan. And the winds of blame are heading back to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Surprise you at all?

MADDEN: No. Look, there is going to be so much blame and blame mongering and finger pointing if this thing doesn't go the right way. The HFC, the House Freedom Caucus is going to blame the leadership. The White House is going to blame congressional -- congressional Republicans. But the problem for that is it already -- it will put a strain on a relationship that already has a lot of tension and really needs to be a symbiotic one if they're going to enact the very aggressive agenda that they have laid out. Not only with health care reform, but with tax reformer and everything else that's on their agenda. So, that congressional White House relationship has to be much better so the blame mongering and the finger pointing won't help anybody. If there's one guarantee I can offer you outside of whether the vote is going to happen, it will be there will be a lot of blame mongering and finger pointing.

BOLDUAN: That will be the headlines tomorrow and I'll attribute it to you, Kevin.

Emily, Kevin, John, thank you, all, so much for joining us.

Guys, we have a lot more coming up.

Stick with us. We're covering the breaking news and following Capitol Hill. Are Republicans any closer to having the bill at this moment? We're back in 90 seconds.


[12:59:57] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

A consequential day it is. A live look at the House of Representatives counting down to a do-or-die vote today on a White House-backed plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The two biggest stakeholders, President Trump and Speaker Ryan, voicing cautious optimism but --