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GOP Health Care Bill Heads for Showdown Vote; Rules Debate Underway On GOP Health Care Bill; GOP Health Care Bill Heads For Showdown Vote. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:06] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. We want you to take a look at live pictures of the capitol this morning. It is the dome of the great unknown at this hour.

No one inside that building really knows what is going to happen today. No one knows if a fractured Republican Party will pass a health care bill by showdown. And no one knows if a somewhat embattled President will taste his first legislative victory -- he likes it well done, we hear -- or if he will taste defeat. That would be pretty raw, don't you think?

We do know that the President is said to be, quote, "at the end of his rope," and we do know there is already a lot of finger pointing.

BERMAN: Yes. The House Rules Committee just wrapped up its discussion. At last count, this bill faces an uphill climb. Twenty- seven lawmakers say they are voting no, four more say they are likely no's. This is around 10 more votes than Speaker Ryan can afford to lose, around 10 more votes than the President could afford to lose.

And today is the day when we find out if the self-proclaimed master of the art of the deal has been working with a full array of brushes or maybe just finger paint. Our reporters, covering all of these fast- moving developments. We're going to begin on Capitol Hill.

Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly is here. Phil, what's the latest?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just saw Speaker Ryan walk by. He ignored our questions as to if he knew he had the votes. And with good reason, John.

According to GOP sources I've been talking to all through last night and this morning, they still have no idea. When that ultimatum was delivered by Mick Mulvaney, the Budget Director for President Trump, at that closed-door meeting last night, they didn't have the votes. When they walked out of that meeting, they still didn't have the votes. The big question is, can they get them together?

Now, here is what's going on behind the scenes. I'm told Ryan's top allies have been texting back and forth with a lot of the on the fence or lean no's members trying to make sure that they understand what's in manager's amendments, trying to make sure they understand what's been added to the bill over the course of the 24 hours, trying to see if there's anything they could do at all.

But there's also the President who is available and he's tweeting. Take a look at this. He just tweeted, "The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows Planned Parenthood to continue if they stop this plan."

Now, an interesting element here, guys, is up to this point, the private meetings between the Freedom Caucus, the very conservative group that hasn't been willing to come on board with this bill, and the President, I'm told they've been very cordial. They've been very positive. There hasn't been any arm-twisting at all.

Apparently, that has come to the end via Twitter. And what the President is talking about specifically is, in this bill, there is a one-year effective defunding of Planned Parenthood. This has been a long-time goal for Republicans. It is included in this bill.

Pro-life groups have come out in support of this bill. And a number of them are scoring this bill, something that House leadership expected would get more conservatives to come aboard. Now, it appears that the President is attacking on that as well.

I guess the big question is, is it a little too late for the President to be using these tactics and why did he wait until just a few hours before that scheduled vote, guys?

HARLOW: Indeed, right now to the White House. Phil Mattingly, thank you, at the White House where senior administration officials tell CNN, the annoyance is growing by the minute with everyone from Paul Ryan to President Trump's own staff in the wake of this health care turmoil.

Jeff Zeleny is there. Good morning, Jeff. What are you hearing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy. There, of course, is preemptive blame placing, finger pointing, which happens in Washington all of the time. And certainly, it is profound in this first big legislative test for the President.

But before there's any blame to be assigned, it will also start here. Whether the buck normally stops with this President or not, the blame will be placed on him, at least partially, if this bill doesn't go through. But it is still early here in Washington and far too early, as Phil was saying, to really know exactly how this vote will come out. And that is also unusual.

We expect the vote to happen later this afternoon, this evening, perhaps in the dinnertime hour. But it is altogether possible, three Republicans I have talked to from here at the White House all the way on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill, are saying, do not rule out the possibility the vote could, again, be delayed if the support is not there yet. So keep an eye on that. Now, there's no question, at all, the President is still engaged in

this. He's tweeting this morning. But I am told he is also prepared to make more phone calls, to do more things behind the scenes, to get some of those House Freedom Caucus members over.

I'm told his agitation and frustration is also at outside groups -- Club for Growth, Heritage Action, other groups that were supportive of him initially but are locked against this. So the White House still wants to get this done. And if it gets done today, even though it's just the first step, John and Poppy, you can be sure that he will accept credit for it if that vote happens later this afternoon.

BERMAN: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Jeff Zeleny just reporting he's hearing from three republicans that maybe, just maybe, the vote won't be today. The possibility of a delay, an interesting development from Jeff reporting there.

[09:04:59] Let's go to Capitol Hill. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is up there. Again, the Rules Committee, Sunlen, just finished its discussion. It set the parameters for how this will go today. What are you learning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I was just inside the room. They gaveled out after a very rare early morning session meeting, just after 7:00 a.m. And there was some debate, and then they did vote to move forward by a vote of nine to three.

And they, importantly, set the parameters for what the House vote will look like later today, what the debate time will be. They have set one hour of rule debate and then four hours of general debate. That means about five hours, total.

And importantly, this is going to be a closed rule, which means nobody can offer any amendments on the floor. That was a big sticking point. Democrats, not surprisingly, aired their grievances afterwards, arguing for an open rule, but that closed rule goes forward.

And it was fascinating to watch the rules committee. Normally, a typically dry legislative process, but there were a mount of fireworks this morning. In fact, we were inside, we heard from many Democrats really airing their grievances about the process.

We heard from Democrat Jim McGovern. He said this is a back room deal, a reckless piece of legislation. And he said, look, none of us have even had the time to go through the changes that are being made to this bill, but from what I can see, the changes are only getting worse here. So a lot of fireworks.

In fact, we were outside the room at one point, John and Poppy, we heard from Congressman Hastings through the door. He was so loud yelling at the other members of his committee through the door that we could hear outside. So, certainly indicative of the moment, but that all boils down to that this is the last legislative step before it gets to the House floor. Of course, unknown when that will be, but we now know the parameters for the House floor debate, John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill. We have action on the Hill. We have action at the White House with Jeff Zeleny.

Joining us now to talk about all this, Mark Preston, CNN's senior political analyst; Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's senior political reporter; Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun- Times"; and Jackie Kucinich, a CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast."

We got a lot of political power because we have a lot of political action today, Mark Preston, and I want to start with you. You know, we're hearing a lot of growing frustration in the White House over how the Freedom Caucus has handled the negotiations. The President, we just saw on Twitter, actually, you know, needling the Freedom Caucus a little bit.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: You know, is that a way to get them to where he wants them to be today, or is that him playing the blame game? Is there a way, still, to get this bill passed?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes and yes, because what he's going to try to do is to try to shame them into giving him the requisite 216 votes that he needs to get this bill done.

Regarding the frustration, there's a belief in the White House that the Freedom Caucus continues to move the goal post. They try to meet their demand, they move their goal post again. What I was told from a source very close to the President last night, late last night, was the President has grown so frustrated with them that he may not want to work with them in the future. And that's important because he has a lot of legislative items on the agenda. We're only a couple of months into his presidency.

And quite frankly, the Freedom Caucus is going to want something out of the White House because this is the first time, now, the Republicans have had the White House, the House, and the Senate in a very long time. And as much as Donald Trump has ran as a conservative, remember, we all know he doesn't really have a really strong rooted conservative ideology.

HARLOW: So he has a card to play, Nia, with the House members in terms of, you know, holding 2018, dangling that in front of their face, right, and saying, you know, this is at risk. Now, Manu Raju is reporting this morning that there is fear from some in the Senate. A senior Republican official saying there is more fear that they could lose control of the Senate if they don't get this done, and that's a whole another ball game.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's a whole another ballgame and, you imagine, a pretty good talking point for folks who are trying to convince people in the House Freedom Caucus to get on board with this, this idea that everything they dreamed of, having the control of both Houses of Congress and then the White House, could be in jeopardy if they don't vote for this bill.

But you do have other dynamics at play, one of which is the Koch brothers and a lot of these conservative groups, have come out and said that they will have these folks back if they vote no on this. They're going to put millions of dollars into these districts for members who vote no. So there are a lot of dynamics at play.

And it's also true that there's just not a lot of appetite on the Hill for this bill. I mean, these folks really do, at some level, have to walk the plank, and they're trying to figure out what's better. Is it better if they vote for this bill, or is it better if they don't vote for this bill? Because if they vote for this bill, they're going to own everything that happens with health care from now until.

HARLOW: They got to own it.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: You know, Bill Clinton used to say, don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. The problem right now is there aren't a lot of Republicans, even those supporting this bill, who say it's even good. They're stopping short of that, Lynn Sweet.

[09:09:59] Now, I want to tell you right now, we're looking at live action on the House floor. Business is getting under way today.

There's Alcee Hastings right now. We just heard from him. He, apparently, was shouting behind closed doors during the Rules Committee meeting. Not shouting right now but, again, this is just getting started. This would be going on all day.

Lynn Sweet, I want to go to you. If this does fail today, if this does go down, who does get the blame? Is it as easy as saying it's the Freedom Caucus's fault, because, you know, they weren't invented today? I mean, it's like they've been around for a little while. Paul Ryan and President Trump should have known that they were there and might have been an obstacle.

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, I agree with you. This was part of the art of legislating, you know, which is part of the art of the deal.

The Freedom Caucus is policy oriented. Trump has promised everything to everybody, very similar to how President Obama did, that you will have health insurance that will be better and cheaper. It's very hard to make that promise a reality. It was hard for President Obama. It's going to be hard under Trump.

Because, John, if I could look ahead, if this was to pass, if for some reason you thought the Senate would go along with it in the form it is now, which is doubtful, do you really think that the 50 states are going to be able to keep that pledge in the form that people may think, whatever it is they think? So there's many, many chapters of this ahead.

But for the blame game right now, actually, there's another card to play that we may hear later in the day, and I want to build on what Jeff Zeleny said. And that is, give us a break now, vote for us now, we don't know what's going to happen in the Senate. They probably will want their own bill. They're not going to just vote on the House bill.

And then this process called reconciliation -- and for our listeners, that just means you have to have the House and Senate versions agree, they have to have the same language -- that's a big deal. So the House will have a second swing at this. Then, you could be told, we'll try and incorporate your concerns then. So that's one of the argument points that has been made successfully in past sticky legislative fights. We may hear, as the hours go by, that this is the carrot that comes out.

HARLOW: Look, it's a great point. And, Jackie, John brought up the fact that this isn't all that popular even among Republicans.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Right.

HARLOW: I mean, look at the latest polling and what it shows us. When you dig into the numbers, beyond the top line number, it shows that among Republicans -- take a look at this -- the GOP health care plan only has 41 percent approval, 24 percent disapprove, 35 percent are undecided.

So you've got that and then you have the fascinating moment on the Hill last night, as Dana Bash was reporting live, that you have Steve Bannon coming up to the Hill, the guy whose Web site, you know, that he ran egged on these sort of, quote/unquote, hell-no conservatives, now saying please, please.

KUCINICH: Please, please get in line. Well, right. And you have to imagine another version of Bannon would be rallying to their side, but that's not his role right now.

So what you have from these members, Freedom Caucus in particular, who are no's, they're saying that this bill does not keep their promises. It does not repeal ObamaCare. And they can point at these numbers. Them and the moderates, for that matter, can say, look how unpopular this is, our people don't like this. So they're weighing that versus the potential wrath of the President and what could happen in their districts.

The other things is, when these guys vote for this bill, they don't just get to buy it and put it in a closet and close the door. They have to go sell this to their constituents. And if they're getting calls to their office from people in their district that are overwhelmingly against this bill, what you're hearing when you're on the Hill -- that's what some of these guys are saying to you -- that's going to be a very tough thing to do, saying, you know, I just wanted to back the President. Well, you voted for this will. It could open up political problems for them either way really.

BERMAN: And, again, you know, you have President pressuring the Freedom Caucus but, honestly, Mark, you know, and Nia, what kind of pressure does the Freedom Caucus feel? I mean, these are people who get elected either unopposed or with 90 percent of the vote. I mean, what can you do with them?

PRESTON: Well, look, the Freedom Caucus are members that come from areas where Donald Trump did very well, right? So what Donald Trump could do, he could get on that really big airplane and he could fly down to their district. And he could go out and he could pull a rally together of 10, 15, 20,000 people, and he can go directly at these people. And that could be problematic.

HENDERSON: Yes. And we saw him do that already, right?

PRESTON: Right.

HENDERSON: When he took the big plane into Kentucky, called out Rand Paul, called out some folks in Kentucky who are representatives there. And in some ways, people in the House Freedom Caucus resented that, right?

HARLOW: Right.

HENDERSON: Instead of going to them on the front end and trying to make a deal with them, he was already, essentially, threatening them with that trip and saying, you know, I do this again and look at my big crowds, I'm the big man on campus.

PRESTON: You know, on the flip side, he could use that really big plane, and he could put them on that plane, as somebody said to us last night, you know, when we were talking about this. Like, literally, he could give them perks --

HENDERSON: Right.

[09:15:00] PRESTON: -- say, come with me and I'll take care of you. I'll campaign in your district. I'll do a fund-raiser for you. I mean, you can either do the stick or you can do the carrot.

[09:15:06] BERMAN: He can't do it today. I mean, time is running out today, so that --

HARLOW: Yes.

HENDERSON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESTON: There's still time, John.

BERMAN: You know, I mean you have this already happening.

HARLOW: The floor vote.

BERMAN: Let me just tell you what we're looking at. Live pictures from the House floor. The Rules Committee has passed the parameters of how this debate will go today. The full House votes on it. This is pro forma. This will pass, but the action is happening. It's all happening right now on Capitol Hill. HARLOW: It is and the stakes could not be higher for one of the president's key campaign promises. Republicans on both sides of this health care bill digging in. We have just hours to go before this crucial vote is supposed to get under way. Despite the president's warning, our next guest is still a no.

BERMAN: In a just minutes, it could get even more complicated. Who knows what the president will say on Twitter in the next 10 minutes about the Freedom Caucus or maybe others. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:20:03]

HARLOW: Are you awake yet because it is on. You're looking at live pictures of the House floor. The House debating the rule on the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Pretty procedural now, this is all happening live right before (inaudible) full vote expected a little bit later today.

Joining us is New Jersey Republican Congressman Leonard Lance. We're so glad you're with us because you are one who has been, Congressman, opposed to the majority of your Republican colleagues on this one. Are you still a solid no on this?

REPRESENTATIVE LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I am a no, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, so what does it take to get you to a yes?

LANCE: I believe the amendments have been offered and there will be no further amendments on the bill that we'll be debating today and voting on today, I am a no.

BERMAN: You are a no now and will be a no if and when this vote happens later today. Congressman, the bill has been changed. You've actually been a no for a while. But over the last day there's been something else added to it, which is the removal of a promise to cover essential health benefits, things like maternity care, mental health care, substance abuse care. That was taken out. Did that make this bill even worse in your mind?

LANCE: I do not think that that is a good amendment. I suppose that was added to move in the direction of the Freedom Caucus. I'm in what is known as the Tuesday Group. I do not think that is a good amendment.

HARLOW: Did it make it worse?

LANCE: I would have preferred that that amendment not be put in the bill. I was a no because I don't think this will lower insurance premiums and was greatly concerned about the CBO score. Having said that, Poppy and John, I do think the Democrats should come to the table on this issue and they have not done so, so far. I think it's a responsibility for us to work together in a bipartisan capacity.

BERMAN: Yes, again, I think a bipartisan discussion on health care where everyone comes together would be wonderful. I think Democrats would say the Republicans did not do that in a constructive way over the last seven years, but you guys maybe we'll work that out going forward.

I think what Poppy and I were asking, what we're pressing on, on the idea of essential benefits is all this negotiation and back and forth, it seems this bill is getting further away from you rather than getting closer to where you are.

LANCE: That is correct.

HARLOW: So on that point, one thing that you've said and you just said it last night, that you wish that part three of what the American people have been promised from Republicans, part three of all of this, were rolled into part one. The issue is -- and it would be more palatable to you then. The issue is you need Democrats on board to help with part three. Is that just wishful thinking here?

LANCE: That's my point, Poppy. I think we should suggest to our Democratic colleagues they should come to the table. I'm fully aware that what I call part three would require Democratic support. I think on major issues confronting the nation, both parties should sit at the table.

I urge our Democratic colleagues to do so. I think President Trump and Speaker Ryan are trying to do that, but it's virtually impossible. And I hope after today that the Democrats will come to the table.

BERMAN: We'll speak to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and we'll ask him what it will take to get him to the table. Rest assured, Congressman, we're on that. Let me ask you about the House Freedom Caucus. This is a group that I think feels very differently than you do, and the Tuesday group feels about this bill. Are they helping in your mind the legislative process? What do you think their role is? How do you feel about them in this Congress?

LANCE: I believe each of us represents his or her district. I'm not going to criticize colleagues. Quite a few of my colleagues are in the Freedom Caucus are friends of mine. They are representing their district I believe, and I try to represent my district to the best of my ability. In my district this bill is overwhelmingly unpopular in the telephone calls we have received, the e-mails we've received. Of course, New Jersey was one of the states that expanded Medicaid.

HARLOW: We have this ad running in your district right now. Here is a little bit of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Lance promised, don't fall for fake repeal. Vote no on Ryancare and get rid of Obamacare for good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: I mean, you know, 2018 not a shoo-in for you. But what will you say, Congressman, if this fails and you go back to your constituents, many of whom voted for the president and ran largely on this, on a promise on day one to repeal and replace Obamacare. What do you say to them?

LANCE: I have campaigned consistently on replacing Obamacare, and I believe my views represent the views of my constituents. Donald Trump, President Trump whom I respect, came close in our district. I think he was shy by about 3,500 votes, but I believe my views are the views of the overwhelming majority of the residents of our district.

[09:25:12]And I expect President Trump will try to continue to work on this issue. And then there are other major issues that confront us including tax reform, for example and perhaps an infrastructure bill. And we should be involved in those issues as soon as possible.

BERMAN: Congressman, do you think it's -- would you rather this bill not come to the floor today for a vote? Do you sort of hope that over the next few hours the speaker and the majority leader in your party, they pull this bill?

LANCE: That is their decision. I'm not in leadership. I will vote my conscience if it comes to the floor. If it doesn't come to the floor, of course, we move forward in other areas, but that is a decision that will be made by our leadership. I want to indicate I'm a strong supporter of Speaker Ryan. He's in a very difficult situation. I was pleased to vote for him for speaker and I think he's doing a fine job.

HARLOW: I get that you don't want to criticize your colleagues, but at the same time you've been very vocal in your willingness to vote against the majority of them on this one. Are you saying more of the blame if this fails goes to the president and the White House?

LANCE: No, absolutely not. I think this is a work in progress and I would hope our Democratic colleagues would come to the table because, after all it is they who enacted this legislation. Poppy, the exchanges are in great difficulty and one-third of the counties in this country, rural counties, there is only one insurer. Think the Democrats have a responsibility to come to the table to work with President Trump, to work with Speaker Ryan and work with the majority here on Capitol Hill.

BERMAN: Congressman, last question. Is this bill going to pass today?

LANCE: I do not know, John. I'm not on the whip team and not counting heads. I've indicated where I stand on this issue.

HARLOW: Our latest whip count shows 27 nos, four leaning no, that would be 31 opposed if it goes that way.

BERMAN: Congressman Leonard Lance, thanks so much for being with us. You have a long day ahead of you. Appreciate it.

LANCE: Thank you both. BERMAN: All right. Threat? What threat? The president's warning to Republicans not shaking Congressman Lance, but can debate on the House floor change minds? We're keeping a very close eye on it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)