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House Speaker Arrives At White House; GOP Source: Ryan Telling Trump They Don't Have The Votes; GOP Source On Health Care Bill's Fate: "Not Good". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: ... not a lot of good news to share 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. But the bottom line is, John, there is not a lot of good news to share in terms of, hey, we have 11 people who switched this morning. This is a one by one process I'm told.

But the vice president decided to stay here in Washington. He was traveled -- or he was scheduled to travel to Arkansas and Tennessee. He's staying here, so it's all hands on deck. But this meeting that's happening right now, John, definitely is going to give us a sense of where this goes.

And you're right, the bill is not scheduled for a vote. There's no specific time. People still think it will happen around 5:00 or 6:00. But it could not happen as we saw what happened yesterday, John.

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Normally catching those Friday afternoon flights out of town motivate big decisions here in Washington. Jeff, a quick one here in the sense that we have had privately a number of White House officials say, we'll have this go south if this vote fails. It's the speaker's fault.

If the speaker didn't handle this right from the beginning, he didn't get the conservatives on board which is the tradition in the House. His math was messed up. The President tried his best. You know, if it failed, he just couldn't get it to the finish line.

I understand that's what they're saying privately. But do they understand what a blow this would be to the momentum of a young Trump presidency and the signal it would send to Republicans for a free for all? They don't agree with this President on trade. They don't agree with this President on infrastructure spending. Do they understand that the White House the stakes here for Donald J. Trump?

ZELENY: I think they do understand it but I think there is so much sort of preemptive blame placing and finger pointing here this morning because they do want to sort of isolate the President from this. But if you ask a lot of Republicans on the other side of Capitol Hill, on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, this President owns it, as well. This is his HHS secretary, his budget director. People who he brought onboard to do this. And he didn't sell this as aggressively as, you know, as it's been reported. He's made a lot of phone calls but he was going to go around the country selling it in people's districts. John, I was on both of those trips with him to Louisville, Kentucky this week and in Nashville, Tennessee last week. He barely talked about health care.

So he doesn't love this bill, but he does own this bill. They understand that. That's why the victory to the President I think is more important than actually what the substance of the bill is. But as we know, of course, those things are connected and linked.

KING: A giant countdown under way here in D.C. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks. We'll check back at development mark. Keep us posted if you learn what's going on inside those walls.

So let's go back into the room. I mean, you covered the White House every day. Sean Spicer from the podium yesterday guaranteed there would be a vote yesterday and the President would win that vote, OK? Set that aside. It happens. We have these dramatic votes. This is not new. This is not new. We have seen this during the Obama administration. When the Democrats control Congress, we've seen this when they're trying to get -- when the Republicans have been trying to get things through the Congress. This is not new, but new for this President.

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It's new for this President and I think that there was a great point made there. If this doesn't get through, he loses any sense of momentum that he may have had. And he already was struggling to build a sense of momentum. This would essentially halt anything that existed.

You have to imagine that the discussion that's happening right now at the White House is a choice between putting a bill on the floor that may not have the votes to pass and not having a vote at all. The White House officials have been pushing this idea of put it out there, let's see who is with the President and let's see who is not with the President. I think that would be his preferred strategy. Ryan would like to avoid that embarrassment.

But I think to understand here what's happening behind the scenes at the White House, I think that it's important for people to know that for Trump the blame game is as much a part of his strategy as his tweets. He is not the kind of President that has a, you know, the buck stops with me approach. He is going to look to point the finger at, if not Paul Ryan, someone on his staff. The Freedom Caucus. Someone else will take the blame for this.

KING: Tweeting this morning in a way in your face with the Freedom Caucus. The guys, so there's 29 of them. They're from conservative districts. I think came here is opposition Republicans during the Obama administration. They had never served under a Republican president. I think most of them, if not all of them.

He tweeted this morning, "The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life against Planned Parenthood, allows Planned Parenthood to stop this plan. Meaning if Obamacare stays in place, Planned Parenthood does. Number one, that doesn't factor in what might happen when we get to the Senate. But, number two, why on the morning of a key vote are you poking the people you need in the eye?

ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, this is the thing. I mean, let's all remember this is Donald Trump's first time at this. He's never passed anything that looks like a bill before. And he-- and I think there is a miscalculation here about whether or not he's going to need Republicans to be on his side in the future fights. Yes, he could move on from health care to something else.

KING: And he gets zero Democratic votes today. I bet that's it in (ph).

PHILLIP: Exactly. You're going to need Republicans. And this is what, you know, someone watching this debate tells me that the bad thing about moving on would be that you sort of empower the dissidents on the Hill. You empower the Freedom Caucus to say no. To sort of stand up to the president.

And then when we get down to tax reform, who knows what's going to happen. The whole thing starts to chip away and that chips away not just at momentum, but actual votes.

[12:35:02] KING: You name dropped out of the deal earlier. Let me do it again. Let me do it again, because it's sort of what we all looked to for Donald Trump signature book, signature moment. In the book, he talks about most deals you end up walking away from. They look great at the beginning. And you'll see you got 10 on the table. This fun works out. Those (INAUDIBLE) you walk away from.

Can you do that in governing, again, on an issue that is central to the Republican Party for six years now repeal the replace part came in later. But repealing Obamacare has been --

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Well, partly because he promised it.

KING: Right.

HAM: Look, I think he's all sticks and no carrot right now and that's part of why he is speaking (ph) to them. He's such an unpredictable actor that he may care very much about having been snubbed about this. And I always joke like people think he might be joking about going after fellow Republicans. He loves to go after fellow Republicans.

KING: Paging Ted Cruz.

HAM: So I think there's an element of that where like, no, seriously, I could mess with you in real ways. The other thing is, on the issue of blame, look, I think he probably is more passionate about tax reform or NAFTA re-negotiation or infrastructure. He didn't pick those as his first thing.


HAM: He picked health care. STEVE INSKEEP, NPR: Another point. Jeff pointed out that he thinks that often victory is more important than the substance for this President. But there is substance. There are millions of people who'll be affected by this and this is a bill, that according to the Congressional Budget Office, doesn't do what the President said he would do with health care during the campaign. He said he wouldn't cut Medicaid. He's cutting Medicaid. He said it can't cover everybody, it's not going to cover everybody, said it's going to be cheaper.

Maybe some time but nobody knows how precisely and it might be the kind of thing where if you're a president who's already running for re-election you have to give at least a little bit of thought to whether you're going to keep the promises that you actually made.

HAM: If you like your plan, you can keep it.

KING: All right. On that point, the perfect -- the art of the segue as we stay here. Ahead, we're keeping a close eye on the House floor as the vote nears. We think, they could pull it over the GOP health care plan. Much more next, including as Steve was just noting, what's in the bill and what's not.


KING: Welcome back on this big day. We were just telling you the House Speaker Paul Ryan has gone to the White House for a meeting with the President. There supposed to be a vote later this afternoon on the signature Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

CNN's Phil Mattingly live for us on Capitol Hill with details. Phil, this emission to deliver good news or the other?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's definitely the latter, John. I think a lot of alarm bells went off when we heard that the speaker was heading to the White House. He is heading to the White House escorting the GOP leadership aides to brief the President on what they wouldn't say.

I'm now being told sources are saying that the vote count right now in the news that the speaker is bringing to the President right now was "not good, not good at all." And I think there's a recognition right now as we have been kind of watching this day play out despite the optimism last night after that closed door meeting, after that ultimatum laid down by Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as the votes just aren't coming.

[12:40:02] The concessions they made to the Conservatives, to the Freedom Caucuses and while they thought it softened their votes, it hasn't brought anybody to yes. And the bigger issue right now and I've seen this first hand in talking to lawmakers throughout the course in the last couple hours, moderates just are leaving. They're not sticking around, even those that they assumed they would be with them.

John, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rodney Frelinghuysen, is saying that he's right now leaning hard no. That's majorly problematic when this bill going forward and that's exactly what the speaker is heading to the White House to say right now.

I think one of the big concerns is if you put this bill on the floor without the votes which is what the President said explicitly, he wanted last night, you're not going to lose this by 15, 16, or 17 votes. If this is clearly going down, Republicans likely will vote against it in mass and it would go from a bad defeat to a very, very bad defeat. So, basically, decisions need to be made now as they try to figure out what they want to do next with this vote, John.

KING: In a word, wow. Phil Mattingly live for us on Capitol Hill.

Let's come back into the room. Just imagine sitting in the Oval Office, the speaker of the House tells you, sir, we go forward. We could lose not by two, not by 10, but by 15 or 20 votes or more. That would be humiliating to the speaker and I would argue again despite his efforts to wash his hands of this, embarrassing at a minimum if not a lot worst to the President of United States. So, what do you do?

PACE: Well, I mean, the word from the White House last night was let me see who is with me and let me see who is against me. And I think that that is Trump's instinct on this. He wants these people to lay down a marker here. I think that Ryan, again, for his own sake but also for members of his caucus is going to advice against that. Because to Phil, really smart point there.

If this bill is going down and you're going to have people cast a no vote who would have been yes under other circumstances. And then they risk giving the rath of the Trump tweet or a primary challenge, but they don't want to be attached to a bill if they know that it's a losing effort.

PHILLIP: And if they do decide to continue forward with health care, a sort of avalanche of no votes on this bill would really force them to start over and that's not what Paul Ryan wants to do. He's will -- you know, there's a certain willingness to kind of keep tweaking around the edges until they get to the right number. But going down on mass really kind of torches the whole thing and it creates more problems.

HAM: Well, if it's 12:42 right now that this news is coming out that doesn't seem real good. There's a chance that those votes start falling the wrong way for the House and for the President. Yes, this doesn't look great at this moment and Conservatives want to start over, right. But I'm highly skeptical of the idea, again, that you bring something else new, you take the time to do that and it gets you closer to an election. It makes this vote scarier and this vote was always going to be scary and hard.

KING: Especially at a moment with the President somewhere around 37 percent approval rating. In the House districts, he's mostly say from his Republican House districts and then you get over to the Senate, which we haven't talked about, even if they passed this bill in the House today, that's one step. There's no guarantee that, again, through the Senate, or if the Senate may changes, they could --


KING: We haven't gotten there. This is chapter one of this. Here's one of the reasons the moderates are running. And to Phil's very smart point, when you're losing a committee chairman, Paul -- there are members of Ryan's leadership team. So he's losing one of his brothers. He's losing one of his brothers on this vote, you're in trouble.

One of the reasons the more moderate members are fleeing is because they have given to the conservative members taking away the mandate that a health insurance policy must cover what they call essential health benefits. Things like you must have maternity coverage in there. You must have mental health coverage in there. You must have prescription drug coverage in there. You see up on the screen, hospitalization, emergency services.

Now, what the Conservatives are saying is that states can do this, if you want. If you live in Massachusetts and that's what the voters want, great. The governor can have this. Now, but what these moderates are saying is, you can't take this away from people. I can't run if you take this away.

I want you to listen to this morning in the rules committee. This is not just politics. This is a philosophical difference. Among Democrats and Republicans, between Democrats and Republicans, but also within the Republican family. Listen to this morning.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM MCGOVERN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: But pregnant women and newborns need health insurance that covers maternity care and not a slush fund that may or may not be used for health care services.

REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY (R), WYOMING: As the only member of this panel who actually has ever needed and used maternity care, I would like to point out how crucially important it is for women and for mothers to be able to see their own providers. And when the state mandates that those who are not in need of care actually have to purchase care, the result of that is in many instances women not able to see the doctors they would like to see for their own care.


KING: To my friend from "The Federalist," that's the argument Republicans are trying to make. That these should be state decisions. That's the way the founders wanted it. Their problem is, number one, the employee-based system creates a structure that makes it hard to do that. And, number two, Obamacare passed.

HAM: Yes. One, there are already mandates on a state basis. So, that part I think we need to make clear. Conservative states like Texas, for instance, has 60 plus mandates on what you can have it. This was another layer that is a federal mandate and the argument from the right of center is that federal mandates are not the only way to get people care. And in fact, mandating a really heavy set of benefits that has to go in every single plan allows for no flexibility on a state level. Allows for no flexibility for people who want to buy a more low- maintenance plan, not a bare bones plan because there is not a world in which I was on those bare bones junk plans. Turns out they were OK.

[12:45:07] KING: But if you're a moderate from a district, a Republican care -- from a district carried by Hillary Clinton, you may even agree with that intellectual argument but you are afraid politically. You can't make in the short term.

HAM: And this is why fighting Obamacare the first time around was so very important to Conservatives and to Republicans because once something is in place, the idea of taking it away even if in theory it's going to create a better and cheaper situation is not pleasant.

INSKEEP: Let's remember, also, you said cheaper. This is one of the few really clear ways that have been explained how this would make health care cheaper for people is that you would be getting less. It would cover less. And so, is that really even cheaper? If it can't allows your coverage in many people's cases (ph).

HAM: People in the middle class, especially in the individual market who have sky high premiums and sky high deductibles who basically have unusable insurance, they would like to able to buy something with fewer benefits. They would like to buy something that's more catastrophic and it just doesn't exist any more.

KING: All right. Quite break. When we come back more on this fascinating high stakes debate here in Washington. Including some of the language in this town that may make no sense to you out in America.


KING: More details now on a dramatic breaking news story unfolding this hour. The speaker of the House Paul Ryan is at the White House, House briefing the President on trouble with getting the votes necessary to pass to Republican and White House back plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Phil Mattingly told us moments ago, the speaker was delivering not good news and we have more now exclusively from our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, fill us in on the details. What is the president hearing from the speaker right now?

BASH: Well, what I'm hearing is that what the speaker specifically is going to do is show the President where the votes are right now. Meaning, the votes are not there. And to get the President to say what he wants to do based on the fact that the votes simply are not there to pass this Obamacare repeal and replace bill. Trying to figure out how to deal with it but also maybe trying to put the ball in the President's court since it was he via his budget director who announced to the House Republican Caucus last night that he was done negotiating, it was up to them to decide whether or not they were going to go forward with this or effectively break a campaign promise for several cycles now, election cycles to repeal Obamacare.

It's simply not looking good for Republicans right now but in terms of where these votes are. I mean, that's just the bottom line. And so, the question, I know you mentioned that Phil Mattingly just came on before the break with his excellent reporting, the question is whether or not the President is going to look at this as a deal maker and as he has been so successful in business for so long to say, you know what, let's just do it. Let's just roll the dice and see what happens. And if they're going to vote against it, they're going to pay for it.

[12:50:07] Or the way, you know, we have seen this movie before legislatively that if this looks like --if they take the vote and if it looks like it's going down, it might just not go down by 20, 30 votes. People on the Republican side aren't going to want to take a tough vote for no reason and it could be defeated overwhelmingly if they roll that dice, John.

KING: Dana Bash for us live on Capitol Hill.

Back in the room, and again, I just want to say wow. I mean, this is not the zoning commission saying Mr. President -- or Mr. Trump, you can't build a hotel there. The speaker is asking him do we pull this vote or do we lose. Do you want to lose? Do you think losing is in your interests?

Now, number of questions to this and then please all jump in. Number one, to Dana's point, speaker doesn't want this to be just his decision. We've heard all week along about they're working hand in glove to pass this, are they going to jump on the sinking boat together or they going to have a split?

PHILLIP: And is T rump really committed to walking away completely from this. I mean, this isn't really important question for Paul Ryan because he has to shepherd his members in to a midterm election potentially not having done anything on health care. That is something that is a really big decision and I think Paul Ryan probably is trying to find out.

OK, so is the President really there? Is he really trying to just get over to tax reform and get to infrastructure and get to all this other stuff because that could be a big problem for --

KING: If Donald Trump walks away from repealing Obamacare, isn't he walking away from the Republican Party he just took over last year?

INSKEEP: This is an opportunity though.

HAM: How much was he really walking with them?

PACE: He made this promise. And this is the thing about Trump on health care. He is not in the weeds on the details. He did not run for office or take office with a firm ideological vision for what he wanted. But he still campaigned on repealing and replacing the law.

KING: And he still can't get anything else done without their votes. They are the majority party in Washington.

INSKEEP: One thing you can conceivably if you're Paul Ryan say to the President though this afternoon is would you mind that ultimatum? Can you just pretend you never said that? Can we just go away from that? Because you've done that with many things before, pre-tended you never said it.

Let's do that one more time and let it go off until --

KING: Is this is something you can say give me until Monday or Tuesday, sir?

INSKEEP: I do not know that, but it's one possibility on that.

HAM: And again, he's an unpredictable actor. Does he make them take to the floor and push them to do that because he wants to know who's on his side or not which should be certainly unconventional but he's Trump. Or does he do as Trump has done throughout his life when things have not gone his way which is to move on to the next thing and just pretend there's a clean slate.

KING: What's his political standing if he tries to do that? One of the many questions as this continues throughout the day. If you want to stay right here with CNN all day. That's it for "Inside Politics". Thanks for sharing your day. I hope to see you Sunday morning. Who knows what the news will be then.

And then back here on Monday. But stay right where you are on CNN's breaking news coverage. Speaker of the House delivering very bad new to the President ever the United States. Our coverage with that continues in just a moment with Wolf. And you see the briefing room for a reason.

Sean Spicer said to begin the briefing any minute. Oh, he might be a little late, I think, but stay right here. Enjoy your weekend.


[12:57:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Up first, high stakes and high drama. The House speaker delivering bad news to President Trump on this health care bill, despite to the ultimatum from the White House.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee postpones a key hearing on the Russian investigation despite serious objections from the senior democrat on that committee. We'll have much more on that in a few moments.

But first, the fast moving developments on health care. You're looking at live pictures from Capitol Hill right now. The debate is under way on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare with a vote expected later this afternoon. You're also looking at live pictures coming in from the White House briefing room. Today's briefing with the Press Secretary Sean Spicer scheduled to begin any moment now. We'll going to bring it to you live.

The health care bill certain to be a major topic. Sources say President Trump is frustrated over how the vote is playing out. But earlier today he sounded resigned to whatever the outcome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what will you do if the health care bill fails?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think it's going to pass?

TRUMP: We'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you rush it, do you think?

TRUMP: Let's see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should Paul Ryan stay as speaker if it fails, sir? Should he stay as speaker?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you.


BLITZER: The House Speaker Paul Ryan arrived at the White House just minutes ago to update the President of the health care bill. In a Republican source says he's not there delivering good news.

Our correspondents are covering each new development as it unfolds. The White House has warned House Republicans pass the health care bill today or you will be stuck with Obamacare. Our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash is joining us live from Capitol Hill. Dana, the speaker is with the President right now. What are you hearing about their discussion?

BASH: Well, that -- I'm not sure what happened in the discussion, but I can tell you that what I am told from a source and what our colleague Phil Mattingly was told is that not only is the President going to -- excuse me, is the speaker going to deliver some bad news to the President, that bad news is that at this hour just hours before this vote is supposed to take place, they don't have enough Republicans to pass their Obamacare repeal and replace bill.

But that I'm told from one source that the goal going into this scramble of a meeting -- last minute meeting that the speaker just took off in his car and went down to the White House for an unscheduled meeting with the President, that he was going to say to President Trump, what do you want do. We don't have the votes right now. How do you want to handle this? Meaning do you want to take this to the floor, roll the dice, hope that at the end of the day the votes somehow magically appear because of the fact that the ultimatum came from White House last night. You got to pass this. You got to vote for this or it's going to be on you if Obamacare remains the law of the land or whether --