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House Prepares Health Care Vote; Trump Makes Phone Calls; Trump Bashed Obamacare and Politicians; Manafort Volunteers to be Questioned; Trump Meets with Ryan on Vote. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And a consequential day it is. A live look here at the House of Representatives, counting down to a do or die vote today on a White House backed plan to replace and repeal Obamacare. The two biggest stakeholders, President Trump and Speaker Ryan, voicing cautious optimism, but there are not enough declared "yes" votes at this hour to guarantee passage.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it's collapsing and it's failing families. And tomorrow we're proceeding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have the votes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, if we -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have the votes? Do you have the votes?


KING: No answer there, if you noticed.

This vote is happening because after days of negotiations and concessions, team Trump, last night, said enough. It had no more to give and that House Republicans needed to choose between repealing Obamacare or going home and explaining they had failed.


MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: But folks will still have to be accountable. Lawmakers will have to be accountable as to why they didn't vote to get rid of Obamacare when they had the chance, and the chance is today.


KING: One certainty on this day full of questions, the Democrats will vote "no" and hope one result of today's drama is that voter anger over health care switches parties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY (D), CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Dammed if you do, dammed if you don't. They may feel damned if they don't. We believe they'll be even more dammed if they do.


KING: I think I tracked that.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Abby Philip of "The Washington Post, Julie Pace of the Associated Press, Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist," and NPR's Steve Inskeep.

We'll start the conversation in just a moment. But, we want to get to Capitol Hill. And before we do that, just a short time ago at the White House, President Trump yesterday said I'm done negotiating. The White House already trying to say, this is the House's problem now. That's what they're saying privately. But the president has enormous stakes in this. One reason you know tensions are high, listen to how short the answers are here.


REPORTER: Mr. President, what will you do if your health care bill fails? What will you do if your health care bill fails?


REPORTER: Do you think it's going to pass?

TRUMP: We'll see what happens.


REPORTER: Did you rush it, do you think?

TRUMP: We'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

REPORTER: Do you regret putting it first?



REPORTER: Should Paul Ryan stay as speaker if it fails, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jenna (ph), thank you. Thank you.

REPORTER: Should he stay as speaker if it fails?



KING: You see the camera getting jostled at the end there, should Speaker Ryan stay on if this vote fails, the president said yes, a one-word answer.

Let's go to Capitol Hill, where the drama is unfolding.

Dana Bash is there for us.

And, Dana, you have been through many of these. Any with the stakes so high for a speaker of the House and a very new president of the United States?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, no, because so many of these votes, first of all, they haven't happened with regard to pressure on the Republicans in eight years because you had a Democrat in the White House. The last kind of vote like this that we have seen, that I saw, was the Obamacare vote itself back seven years ago because the pressure was on the relatively new Democratic president and the Democratic-led Congress.

What is happening right now is that this is 100 percent up in the air, John. I mean they - they just have absolutely no idea if they, meaning the White House, and the Republican leadership, are going to get the votes. And what they are focused on right now and have been, obviously, as we've been reporting day in and day out all week is the conservative House Freedom Caucus. And although after last night's meeting when the White House gave an ultimatum to all of the House Republicans saying do this or it's going to be on you if Obamacare remains the law of the land, the Freedom Caucus leader said OK to his members, which is about 35, 36 members. OK, you're on your own. There isn't - there's a feeling from sources I talked to inside the vote counting mechanism of the leadership and the White House that they didn't really necessarily mean that. And the pressure is still on a lot of these Freedom Caucus members to vote "no" to stick with the quote/unquote more conservative ideal here, which is that this doesn't go far enough in really repealing Obamacare and bringing down costs.

Having said that, the development that we've seen this morning is - you saw a little bit of a hint of it with the president's tweet this morning at the Freedom Caucus, specifically talking about Planned Parenthood. What the Republican leadership and the White House are trying to do is enlist the conservative groups that are for this bill. Conservative groups who are reminding these House Republicans that if they vote "no," they're voting "no" against defunding Planned Parenthood and they're voting "no" on something where it will hurt their pro-life rating with these key, key groups, like the National Right to Life, Susan B. Anthony and other groups that they really rely on for credibility and help back home in their really conservative districts.

So that is happening right now as they are working the votes, trying to figure out how to get to yes. But I can tell you point blank, they are absolutely not there yet. I'm not even sure how close they are right now.

KING: Right. The kitchen sink strategy, throw everything you can to try to get your last-minute votes. There are moderates out there, Dana, there are conservatives out there.

[12:05:05] BASH: Exactly.

KING: The president's making calls. The speaker is making calls. Everybody up there who has a stake is wrangling some. I want to put this before you. Yes, there are legitimate policy concerns over, does this leave too much Obamacare in place? Conservatives say yes. Does this strip away protections for guaranteed maternity coverage, guaranteed mental health coverage? Moderates say yes.

But I want to ask how much this factors in. As these House members - and we'll watch this play out, you've seen it before - dozens of them will be in the back of the chamber hoping the speaker doesn't come and grab them and say, I need your vote. They're hoping there are enough votes to get this through and if they need to vote no for the district, they can do that safely. How much will this factor in? Democrats thought - most of them - that they were casting a safe vote when they voted for Obamacare. In the 2010 midterms, the first election after Obamacare, the Democrats lost 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate. In the 2014 midterms, the Democrats lost 13 House seats and 8 Senate seats. Over the course of those two, first the House majority fell in 2010, then the Senate majority fell in 2014. It's not fair to say it was just Obamacare, especially in 2010, we were still in recession. Unemployment was up close to 10 percent. But Obamacare was central to the Republican argument in both of those elections. How worried are these Republicans that they will cast their vote today that will come back to hurt them in a big way?

BASH: It's a great question because it is counter to the argument that they are being bombarded with by the president himself and the House speaker and the other leaders, which is, you can't vote no because you are going to be responsible for not killing Obamacare because that's the here and the now.

They - a lot of these members, like, for example, you talked about the moderates. Charlie Dent on the sort of left side of the Republican spectrum, Congressman from Pennsylvania, he's no because he feels confident that at the end of the day he will be able to tell his constituents that he voted no because this wouldn't help them with - let's talk about beyond the votes what this is. This is about as personal as it gets when it comes to legislation that affects real people, their health care, their health insurance. And so he is an example of somebody who's taking that long view, he thinks, looking at maybe what happened to the Democrats who thought they were taking a good vote in favor of health care for everybody effectively, at least insurance, and then it came back to bite them because a lot of people ended up losing their doctor and a lot of the promises the president made didn't come to pass.

We heard the president himself, this current president, making some promises, some pretty intense promises about premiums going down, about people being able to afford health care. If that doesn't come to pass, the people who end up voting no will end up looking pretty smart and the people who ended up voting yes could get hurt by the very constituents who are saying right now repeal Obamacare.

KING: Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash on Capitol Hill. Enjoy this the next few hours. We'll check in as developments warrant. Obviously, a big debate.

Let's come into the room here.

This is uncertain, which is a big deal. We're 63, 64 days into a new presidency, which is a big deal. You hear this is so important for President Trump. If he loses this vote, it undermines him when it comes to tax reform, when it comes to trade, when it comes to infrastructure. It will open the flood gates of Republican opposition and undermine the presidency. You hear that this will undermine Speaker Ryan, maybe - if it doesn't cost him his job, it will certainly weaken him dramatically. Essentially that this is - civilization is at stake today in Washington. How much of that is true and how much of that is hyperbole?

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think both of the points that you're making there are true to some extent. I think that this is damaging to Ryan if this bill goes down and it's damaging to Trump if this bill goes down. Trump made the choice to embrace the Ryan legislation, which he didn't have to do, but the White House decided that that's what they were going to - that's what they were going to do moving forward.

For Trump, he has made such a show of being the dealmaker, of being the guy who would come to Washington and get things done that other presidents could not. And this would be a sign that that is much harder to accomplish.

But I think you have to put this for Trump in a larger context. I mean he is essentially asking some of these House Republicans to walk the plank for a president who is not that popular. That was a hard vote for Democrats to make back then and Obama was more popular certainly within his own party and within - among independents than Trump is.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And the law that they were considering at the time was a lot a lot more popular than this - than this bill than Republicans are considering now.

But I would argue that Trump, you know, probably has less to lose than Ryan in this scenario because if you listen to the conservative groups who do oppose HCA, Tea Party patriots, people like Heritage Foundation, they are not going after Trump intentionally, because I think they are predicting - and maybe accurately - that come mid-term elections, the electorate is probably more likely to side with Trump, the personality, the president, than with congressional leaders. So they're - you know, even though they oppose this legislation, they don't like their arms being twisted in this way, they're not taking that and going after Trump himself.

KING: But is that just because they don't want him to tweet at them or to attack them personally?


PACE: Right.

KING: But you still have Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers funded Tea Party group, Heritage Action, as Abby mentioned, Resurgent, Erick Erickson, who used to run RedState, the conservative. There are all these conservative groups out there saying vote no, which is, yes, they don't mention him, but which is, vote against the president. That's what they're telling them to do.

[12:10:15] STEVE INSKEEP, NPR: Although it also emphasizes that a lot of Republicans are being asked to do something here that they fundamentally, ideologically don't agree with doing. This is still providing health care with government subsidies and messing around in the insurance markets and doing things that Republicans, on a really basic level, would rather not be doing at all if they could choose to do.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, and I just don't buy that there was any way that this was going to look easy and clean.

KING: Right.

HAM: Like this idea that there was some mythical strategy where you were going to do this. And, by the way, I also think it's a myth that they'll address it later, closer to an election.

PACE: Right.

KING: Yes, trust us, vote for this now and we're going to (INAUDIBLE).

HAM: We have this Jenga tower Frankenstein monster of a hybrid system that was distorted in the '30s by wage and price controls and giving favors to employers to subsidize health care. We have not severed that. No one is going to sever that because it means a lot of people would be disrupted. Obamacare, many of the reasons that, I think, that people - people are unsatisfied with it. I'm one of the personal stories that actually was affected by Obamacare in a bad way. There are winners and losers. The problem is, the president said there would be all winners.

KING: Right.

HAM: I applaud the Republican Party for not making that argument vociferously, because it's not true when you make any change to something that's complicated.

KING: Right. And so his team is already mumbling under their breath, even though he and the speaker had a 45-minute call last night. Officially everybody says it was a good call. The Trump team is already mumbling under its breath, if this goes down, it's Ryan's fault. That Ryan tactically messed it up from the beginning. Ryan didn't reach out to the conservatives. It was Ryan's responsibility as speaker to put the votes together. Essentially the Pontius Pilot routine, this is not our problem, let's move on to tax reform.

But, how does Donald Trump, if that's what happens today, and we don't know that, but if that's what happens today, if they pull this vote or this vote fails, how does that Donald Trump say, this is not my problem, answer to this Donald Trump?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to repeal Obamacare and it can be replaced and - and it can be replaced with something

much better for everybody. Let it be for everybody but much better and much less expensive, for people and for the government. And we can do it.

So, I've watched the politicians. I've dealt with them all my life. If you can't make a good deal with a politician, then there's something wrong with you. You're certainly not very good.


KING: That was his announcement speech. That was day one of Trump for president. If he can't make a deal with politicians on this issue he was talking about when he just made that point, is there something wrong with him? Is he not very good?

PACE: Think about this. He is essentially saying - this is what the message that was sent at the House last night. If you can't pass this bill, we're basically done with health care. We're just going to walk away and move on to other issues. He's two months into his presidency. To put health care basically aside and say, we're not going to deal with this again, is a pretty extraordinary thing. And if Republicans and this president believe that the Obamacare law is so detrimental to the economy and to Americans health care, then that would be a real problem for him.

And I don't know how you message that and I don't know how you practically deal with that because there's a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace that's going to come up next year and they're essentially making a bet that Democrats will bear the blame for that. I'm not sure that's going to be the case.

HAM: Or that they'll be in power at the time that that happens, which, I think, is another gamble, right?

And, look, I don't think that health care is Trump's passion, despite the fact that he was speaking about it.

KING: Right.

HAM: I think this is certainly more something that the House is interested in than Trump is. But he has gone to The Hill and he's fought for it, which I was a little bit surprised by. And there is this - there's part - I hate to namecheck art of the deal, but there is a part about knowing when to walk away. And he said, look, guys, this is it. This is what you get. Vote yes or no and we'll talk, right?

KING: I just - an interesting question, though, if this fails, can he walk away? You're essentially taking the engine out of the car that has fueled Republican energy for the last several election cycles, repeal and replace Obamacare. When you take that out and say, forget about it, we tried, now we're going to move on to other things and still have that base behind you? Big question. Big question. One of many for the hours ahead.

Ahead, more on the last-minute health care wrangling and what it tells us about the president's negotiating style and negotiating skills. But next, though, deepening partisan distrust threatens one of the congressional investigations into Russia's election meddling.


[12:17:17: KING: Welcome back.

Live pictures here of the debate on the House floor as we count down to today's dramatic vote. At least we believe there will be a vote on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

And as we keep an eye on that, new developments in another big drama on Capitol Hill. President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has now agreed to be interviewed as part of the congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Remember, before joining the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort's clients included pro-Kremlin political players in Ukraine, and a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. He's one of several Trump associates whose Russian contacts have raised suspicions about possible collusion as the Kremlin released hacked Democratic e-mails last year.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yesterday, the counsel for Paul Manafort contacted the committee yesterday to offer the committee the opportunity to interview his client. We thank Mr. Manafort for volunteering and encourage others with knowledge of these issues to voluntarily interview with the committee.


KING: You were hearing there the voice of the House Intelligence Committee, Chairman Devin Nunes, making that announcement a short time ago. Mr. Manafort has also agreed, we are told, to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee - or be interviewed by, I should say, the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, for more on this.

Manu, this big announcement that he is coming in as a witness comes at a time of deepening and open distrust between the Republican chairman and the Democratic ranking member.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, John. This, of course, coming after Mr. Nunes, the chairman of the committee, went to the White House this week to brief President Trump on information that he received suggesting that some Trump communications may have been picked up as part of foreign surveillance.

Now this, of course, blindsided Democrats on the committee. They don't understand why he went to the White House to brief President Trump. They don't know who his sources, something that Mr. Nunez has not revealed. And they're questioning whether or not this investigation can go forward.

Now, today, John, after Mr. Schiff - Mr. Nunes announced that Paul Manafort would come before the committee, he also canceled a Tuesday public hearing where several former intelligence officials, including John Brennen, John Clapper, and Sally Yates were planning to come forward and testify in a public hearing. This infuriated Democrats who believe that he was trying to squelch public and open debate about the issue of Russia and any of those possible coordination and contacts that occurred between Trump officials and Russian officials.

So after Mr. Nunes made this announcement, Adam Schiff, the top Democratic on the committee, came and briefed reporters and said he was displeased. And I asked him specifically, do you believe Devin Nunes should step down as the chairman of the committee. Take a listen.

[12:20:01] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Are you there, do you believe that he can still run this committee or should he step aside?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You know, 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 and -


RAJU: So that's the question going forward, John, how does this move forward? Right now Democrats do plan to participate on this committee. They do want to interview these Trump associates. And watch for Paul Manafort, that date it be announced sometime soon. And I'm told also the Senate Intelligence Committee also interviewing Paul Manafort. So it's moving forward on that - in that area. But the question is, will Manafort testify in a public session? We don't know that yet, John.

KING: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Some progress getting witnesses in, but also a lot of partisanship.

Let's bring this in the room. This one to me is stunning because if you're a Republican and you're hopeful that this turn out to be nothing, that maybe some Trump people had a bunch of meetings during the campaign that they should have admitted earlier to, but noting nefarious happened. You should be worried a little bit now that your chairman has become viewed as a partisan, running down to the White House the other day before he briefed even Republicans on the committee or the ranking Democrat. If you're a Democrat, and there might be something here in the end, you have a ranking member who's out every day having a debate with the chairman and suggesting there's circumstantial evidence of collusion, you know, we should bring this to - there's enough to go to a grand jury, maybe not to a trial. How do we get both of them, forgive me people at home, to shut up and do their job?

HAM: Yes, they're still politicians, so I don't know that that's going to happen.

PACE: I don't know if that's possible.

HAM: That's - that's what, from the beginning of this, I - like when we heard that there was an actual FBI investigation, I thought, great, because that's their actual job to investigate these things and they know how to do it and there will be an end in sight. And I think that's what's probably healthy for everyone. Whatever the conclusion is, it's better to know exactly what's going on instead of have the leak fight or the open fight that are both political.

PHILLIP: I just think this whole thing is so far gone. There's no coming back from this cliff. And it started just from the - the moment. I mean Devin Nunes is a former transition official of President Trump's. I mean just the - and the premise that that can be the foundation for a nonpartisan investigation -

KING: Well, even if he's perfect, Democrats are going to say ah-ha.

PHILLIP: Exactly. I mean this was always bound for this partisan infighting because of the fact of who Devin Nunes was and how he behaved in the early stages of this - of this administration. And so we're going to be moving forward like this. And this is the ball game. This is literally what Democrats and Republicans want. Democrats want to be out there every single day talking about how a real investigation isn't happening. If they can push this into a special, you know, a special investigator, that would be a victory for them. But even having the conversation, I think they're viewing that as a political (INAUDIBLE).

HAM: It's a real banner week for democracy.


INSKEEP: A lot of people have been baffled as to why Nunes has behaved as he has the last two days. He gave an interview to the journalist Eli Lake and part of the explanation, not the whole explanation, which is a little hard to follow, part of the explanation is, this is all partisan. Everything here is partisan. The Democrats are partisan. And so why are you blaming Devin Nunes for appearing to be partisan.

But there is an answer to your original question, John, an example of a different way to do this. There's a different committee investigating this. There's a Senate Intelligence Committee. I'm told they've begun interviewing witnesses from the various intelligence agencies and they're going to go on from there and they are very happy, from what I've heard, to have no part in the news this week and to not be making any headlines. They're going to have a hearing in a few days and it's supposed to be very low profile. They're trying to have a very low profile investigation.

PACE: And, notably, we have not been hearing from Mark Warner and Richard Burr, who are the chair and vice chair of that committee. They are, I think - I think from the beginning, before we even saw Nunes and Schiff getting in these public back and forths, it was expected that the Senate - if there's going to be a legitimate congressional hearing, it was going to be in the Senate.

KING: Right.

PACE: This has basically played out, I think, in the way that we all expected.

HAM: Well, in fairness to Nunes, it is part of his job to oversee wrongdoing in the intelligence community.

INSKEEP Correct. And he's alleged (ph) that, sure.

HAM: But he's put his - but I think there's a - and I, as a libertarian especially on spying on American citizens, I think it's worth bringing that information out and the allegations and looking into them, there was a better way to do that so he did not get himself in a explicitly conflicted situation.

KING: Let's assume - he says he came across information that Trump transition officials, whom he won't name, and he says even he doesn't have the complete picture, not related to Russia, were picked up in some conversations with somebody. Somebody under a legal court order wiretap. So they're talking to somebody overseas or some foreign entity that is being listened to by intelligence services. And their names were then unmasked. Their names were made public in some of these reports, or at least it was clear who they - these reports and these reports were circulated and he's mad about that. He might have every right and reason to be mad about that. But couldn't he have picked up the phone to his friend Mike Pompeo, the former congressman and CIA director -

HAM: That's - yes.

KING: And said, hey, Mike, I can't talk about this publicly because I'm the chairman of this investigation, but you might want to take a look at this yourself and tell the president. We wouldn't know about it. We wouldn't have to know about it. And if he did it quietly and politely, it wouldn't necessarily - if this is nefarious, it would be necessarily improper.

PACE: And there are so many things that are - that have been happening in this that are just a little too coincidental for my taste. White House officials on Monday, when this investigation or the hearing on the House started were pushing this idea of improper unmasking to journalists. So to hear that coming out behind the scenes and then suddenly Devin Nunes has information land in his lap on that exact point is, again, a little too coincidental for my taste.

[12:25:13] KING: Gambling in the casino, I suspect.

Everybody sit tight. Back to health care in a second, including the president's role in this, as we wait for a vote with an uncertain outcome. The big House vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, is where? Not lobbying votes on Capitol Hill. No, he's plotting strategy at the White House with the president right now.


KING: It is a defining day for the young Trump presidency and a defining day for the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. And, guess what, at this hour, they are together at the White House. The House is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The president of the United States has backed that plan and is urging members to vote for it. But, the vote, supposed to be this afternoon, we don't have a firm time because they don't have enough votes as yet to pass it. So, what is the speaker's urgent mission to the White House about? Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, just a point of order, I don't think there are any votes to be had inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So do we know why the speaker is there? Is he there to give the president just a mathematical update? Does he have a list of saying, sir, I need your help with these guys?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, you're right, there are no votes here at the White House, but there are several people here at the White House who are, you know, have Republican members of Congress on speed dial today. But I am told by aides by both sides as Speaker Ryan arrived here just a few moments ago and he was called here by the White House to come give an update, a face-to- face update to the president.

Now, there's been a lot of talk this morning across Washington, which is very common, it happens in these kind of things about blame, who's to blame for how this is going down. But the president and the speaker, I am told by aides to both sides, had a very positive, friendly call last night, about 45 minutes long or so, but they've not yet had a chance to speak this morning. So he is coming over here to give an update.

But the president is scheduled to have lunch with someone else, another member of his cabinet, Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to talk about tax reforms, the next steps here. So that could also be part of this discussion. But urgently, of course, is the health care reform bill. And I asked aides to both sides, what is the update, what is the speaker going to brief the president on, and I have not gotten an answer to that question yet.

[12:30:11] But the bottom line is, John, there is not a lot of good news to share in terms of