Return to Transcripts main page


Synthetic Drugs; Republicans Nearing Health Care Vote?; Interview with Sen. Amy Klobuchar.. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 3, 2017 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And after a motoring with President Trump, two key moderate Republican holdouts now say they will vote yes.

CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is tracking the votes on Capitol Hill.

Phil, it's like Groundhog Day a little bit here. Those two members were worried about allowing states to permit insurance companies to deny coverage for those with preexisting conditions. There's a new amendment promising $8 billion over the next five years to finance these high-risk state pools that states can set up if they do, do that with insurance company; $8 billion, though, is that going to be enough money?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, there's no shortage of health policy analysts and even some House Republicans who don't believe that's enough.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, saying it's impossible to know just because of how this bill is set up. A state would have to opt out. Somebody would have to fall off of their insurance.

Republican staff says they believe that will be plenty, but their inability, at least so far, to fully answer that question, that is causing problems even as they have new fresh momentum, Jake.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump notching a potential breakthrough on health care.

REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: I support the bill with this amendment that's going to be included.

REP. BILLY LONG (R), MISSOURI: We're both yeses on the bill.

MATTINGLY: Two key Republicans firmly against the latest GOP repeal and replace plan now firmly on board after changes negotiated with the White House.

LONG: The president said, Billy, we really needy, we need me, man. I said, you don't have me. And I said Fred Upton and I have been working on some language if we could get it there would get us both in the position where we need to be on preexisting conditions to make sure those people are covered, because they need to be covered, period.

MATTINGLY: But House GOP sources saying it's still unclear whether the changes will get the bill to a House floor vote, House Speaker Paul Ryan after weeks of setbacks revealing cautious optimism about where things stand.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: They came up with a good amendment that adds to the bill, improves it, and we think it brings us more votes, so we're making good progress. We have got some momentum and so we feel really good about that.

MATTINGLY: The revisions try to target the heart of Republican unease about removing price protections for individuals with preexisting conditions.

UPTON: What this amendment would do is provide additional funds directly into the high-risk pools to be spent for people that might otherwise lose their coverage because of a waiver that a governor would seek.

MATTINGLY: The deal adds $8 billion to an existing $130 billion fund to finance state risk pools, all designed to push down premiums for individuals with preexisting conditions in states that opt out of Obamacare's pricing regulations.

But critics and unanimous Democratic opposition make clear that the change is far from a silver bullet for leaders looking to carefully navigate the politically popular Obamacare preexisting protections.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: They are not legitimate. They have made it -- put this forth to make it look like, oh, we have improved the bill. No. It doesn't improve the bill. And don't let the -- this is an insult to the intelligence of the American people.

MATTINGLY: The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, saying the latest change in the GOP bill is -- quote -- "like trying to cure stage 4 cancer with cough medicine."

Still, for the first time in days, optimism, no matter how hedged, in an arduous process that so far has only been defined by failure.

UPTON: I think it is likely now to pass in the House. We will see what happens. I'm not on the whip team.


MATTINGLY: And just to give you a sense of what's actually happening right now, Jake, the House is actually voting. They just voted to pass the government spending bill through September.

And while that's obviously important, what's really happening is -- what's more important is the conversations behind the scenes, Speaker Paul Ryan meeting in the Cloak Room with individuals who have already said they are no or undecided, Vice President Pence on Capitol Hill right now also meeting with members.

This is really a full-on blitz. You noted, it's a little bit like Groundhog Day, we have been through this many times. Leaders feel like they can get there possibly by tomorrow, have the vote tomorrow. The reality remains, Jake, they are not there yet.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us, thank you so much.

I'm joined now by my panel to break down all of today's news.

Abby Phillip, let me start with you.

Republican leaders do seem much more optimistic and the momentum does seem to be going their way with these two moderates, Long and Upton, coming forward and saying they are going to be yes votes.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, I think that this is probably one of the few evidence that we have so far that they are moving in the right direction, partly because they are starting to deal with some of these concerns by actually putting more money behind the bill.

I mean, $8 billion may not be enough to deal with all of the issues associated with high-risk pools and whether or not they are actually going to cover people with preexisting conditions, but it's better than nothing.

And I think the other factor here is that a lot of Republicans just want to get this over with. They want to no longer have this sort of elephant on their shoulders, so to speak, and they are moving just to try to get closer to a vote.

And once you get in the five, six range, then it's going to start to be a little bit more like an avalanche. Nobody wants to be that last person holding out or stopping the vote, and so they are kind of in the sweet spot right now.


We will see what happens, especially as some of the moderates take a closer look at the language. We still haven't seen that yet, in reality, and they will help determine whether this moves forward or not.

TAPPER: And, Kristen, once this passes, though, assuming it gets to the Senate and assuming it gets to the president's desk, then Republicans own health care from then on. Then that's like whatever things that happen are good, whatever things that happen are bad, Republicans are accountable for it.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think that, in reality, that should be the case, but I do think that, politically, that's...

TAPPER: That's what I mean, politically, yes. SOLTIS ANDERSON: Politically, I think that that is likely to be what

will happen, which I think is both the risk and reward of passing this.

You know, on the one, right now, of passing -- of not passing this bill, I still believe that you would have a situation where Democrats, if things are going wrong with health care today, you had I believe in the state of Iowa the last insurer there saying they are pulling out of the individual market.


SOLTIS ANDERSON: Even now, as Republicans will point to these things and say, look, this is Obamacare at work, you have a lot of Democrats saying, well, you guys are in charge. Why don't you fix it?

So, even now, even without a bill, I think there are ways that opponents will try to pin any problems with health care on Republicans and say, you should be fixing this. So, frankly, it's it's politically tough for them no matter what they do.

TAPPER: And the question about high-risk pools and people with preexisting conditions, Perry, that's going to be a tough one, because one of the problems, these high-risk pools have existed, and there have been waiting lists for people to get on them. They are underfunded, long before President Trump. They are underfunded.


TAPPER: And, I mean, there are going to be stories, assuming this becomes law, et cetera. States opt out. This person is on the waiting list and, all of a sudden, you have all the local news teams talking about how this person can't get insurance.

BACON: You have just hit a lot, Jake.

I would there are 18 no's right now, according to the last whip count -- 22 members kills the bill. There's like 15 members right now who are in the sort of undecided category. So the House process I think is going to be very hard. The Senate is talking already about changing the bill wholesale in a lot of ways.

We have to have a conference after that. So I want to hold on a little bit on that. That said...

TAPPER: Do you not think it's going to pass the House?

BACON: I'm not sure if it's going to pass the House. And if it does, it's going to really hard after that still.


BACON: So, a lot of...


BACON: .. left.

High-risk pools were tried a lot pre-Obamacare. That's one of the reasons why Obamacare happened. Democrats felt -- they felt like they didn't work. They were never funded enough.

So I guess you fund the high-risk pool, it's $8 billion is not the estimate. The estimate I read, Heritage have done something where they estimated you needed $16 billion at least, just to give you the numbers here.

So, they may not -- my guess is the Senate will look at this and say this money is not enough and have to add even more money. So, once you add in more money to the bill, you are going to raise questions for the Freedom Caucus again as well.

PHILLIP: Well, I think we -- and we should -- to Perry's point, we shouldn't underestimate the effect of the prospect of the Senate changing the bill, with that effect on members in the House.

There -- some of these folks are looking at it and saying, well, if I vote for this, it's not great, but it's probably going to be changed in the Senate anyway. So, if they are getting close, and it seems like they're getting -- there might be 15 undecided publicly, but privately in whip counts, they feel like they are within striking distance, which would be less than 10 members.

And once you get that close, you're going to have some people making calculations that maybe some of the bad things they don't like are probably going to be nixed in the Senate version anyway.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question about James Comey testifying today. He's been attacked in the last day or criticized by both Hillary Clinton, who blamed her election loss on him, and President Trump, who tweeted that he had given Hillary Clinton a free pass.

What struck you from his testimony today? I mean, I thought it was pretty stunning how he just said that he had no confidence in the credibility of the Justice Department investigation into the Hillary Clinton e-mail server and that's why he stepped forward.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Well, and I was struck by when he said that he wouldn't do anything different when it came to his public statements about what had happened with Hillary Clinton's e-mail server, particularly the infamous Comey letter, that he would not, even knowing what he knows now, would not do that any differently, because it's not hard to imagine the alternate universe where Jim Comey doesn't tell Congress that he's reopened the investigation and all of the sudden it comes out after the election that the FBI had not told people this.

So, to me, that is what struck me the most.

TAPPER: And, Perry, a lot of Democrats were saying, well, if you're going to say that about the Hillary Clinton investigation, why not say, and, by the way, we're also looking into the Trump campaign, which was also true, so at least it might not have had so much of a political effect if he divulged both?

BACON: He tried to suggest, I don't want to confirm investigations, it took me a long time to confirm the Hillary one, I didn't want to confirm the Trump one, because we don't try to confirm things like that.

His answers, like, satisfied no one. Grassley criticized him, too. So, he got criticized by everyone. And I don't think -- and what I was struck by how exasperated he was. He's clearly -- he is a man who -- as we all do, I guess, who cares about his reputation a lot.

And he's clearly not enjoying being criticized by both parties very intensively. He seemed very flustered with the idea that he changed the election outcome, even though there's a lot of evidence that maybe he did.


But he seems like he feels like this has scarred his record. And I think it may have.

TAPPER: All right, Abby, Kristen and Perry, thank you so much. Good to have you here.

Two deadly drugs, two deadly amounts, the vile of fentanyl on the right looks like a grains of salt, and it's enough to kill an average sized adult man. Now a Democrat and a Republican in Senate are crossing the aisle to take on this growing epidemic.

They will be here next. Stay with us.


TAPPER: We're back with our health lead now.

As the opioid crisis continues to grip the nation, highly potent synthetic drugs are also becoming more prevalent. The DEA says drugs like fentanyl are up to 50 times more potent than street-level heroin, which is why it is often mixed in with heroin, sometimes without the user's knowledge. A New Hampshire State Police shared this photo of two lethal doses, heroin on the left and on the right, a deadly dose of fentanyl just three milligrams is enough to kill an average-sized adult male. Now, two senators have introduced bipartisan legislation to address this growing crisis by attempting to stop the shipments of this drug from coming into the U.S. Joining me now from Capitol Hill is Minnesota Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar and Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman. Thanks to both of you for being with here, appreciate it.

[16:45:33] ROB PORTMAN, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM OHIO: Thanks for having us on.

TAPPER: So, Senator Portman, let me start with you. The two of you introduced the stop act that's aimed at curbing the shipment of these synthetic drugs into the U.S. How much do you think this will actually stop the problem? PORTMAN: Well, it will help, Jake. And what was not explained earlier is the fact that this is coming through the U.S. mail system. So as opposed to heroin which primarily comes overland from Mexico or other drugs, crystal meth coming from Mexico or produced in America, this is produced for the most part overseas and then shipped to our country via the mail system. What law enforcement tells us is, it's impossible for them to find the packages that are suspicious packages to try to stop some of this poison from coming into our communities. If we would just require the post office to provide some information as other carriers have to provide, UPS, FedEx, other private carriers, it would really help them to be able to identify suspicious packages and stop some of this poison from coming into our communities.

TAPPER: Senator Klobuchar, the drugs are obviously being shipped into the country because of the high level of addiction. It's a true crisis. So, how can we also help combat the addiction where it starts?

AMY KLOBUCHAR, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM MINNESOTA: Exactly. Four out of five heroin users in this country, Jake, got their start on legal prescription drugs. So we not only have to do something about things like fentanyl, that by the way, killed Prince in Minnesota, but we also have to stop people from getting addicted in the first place. That means better standards for when doctors prescribe these things. You don't need 30 pills when you get your wisdom teeth out. It means monitoring these drugs so the doctor know if someone has been doctor shopping, and Rob and I also have a bill on that to make that mandatory so states are -

PORTMAN: (INAUDIBLE) to plug that bill.

KLOBUCHAR: There you go. So states are sharing data across state lines. I had one guy in Minnesota, 108 different prescriptions from 80 different doctors from 50 different cities, true story. So they need to be able to share that information across state lines and then, of course, treatment money. We just got $1 billion at end of this year and just this week, with the bipartisan deal on budget, over 100 million more.

TAPPER: And Senator Portman, let me ask you. The new health care bill in the House will allow states to opt out of a number things including mandating that insurance companies cover substance abuse. Are you concern about that?

PORTMAN: Yes. I'm concerned about it. Actually, I'm concerned about something even more that has to do with the same issue which is treatment and longer-term recovery which is that Medicaid expansion which 31 states have, including our states, is providing a lot of the treatment. In fact, in Ohio, we think it's about half and it's by far the largest provider of treatment for this opioid addiction crisis. So, in Ohio, we're seeing more deaths in overdose issues than ever before. Sadly, that's true nationwide on average. So the problem is getting worse, not better and Medicaid expansion is a major pair here. In fact, it's about 30 percent of the people in Ohio mental health or substance abuse treatment hits 50 percent of the cost, so I'm concerned about the health care bill, partly because it changes Medicaid expansion in a way that I think does not provide the kind of glide path or softer landing for this program to ensure we're not pulling the rug out from under people at a time when we need more treatment.

TAPPER: And Senator Klobuchar, you mentioned all the other different problems that have created this opioid crisis in this country. One of the biggest problems that we've covered a lot on the show is that a lot of the opioids are being pushed by drug companies and yes, they're prescribed by doctors and yes, patients doctor shop, but what could be done about the pharmaceutical companies and their responsibility here?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, some of that is going to come out of what the DEA allows for production, and I've supported caps on that. It's also what we've seen, and that's a drug enforcement administration. Also, what we look at for what gets approved and for what use, I think that's something else, and basically I think we need to be pushing the pharmaceutical companies to be developing other kinds of treatment options that are not addictive. They have pushed these things out there. I think they're going to be held accountable. There's already - some of them backing away. There's lawsuits that have been filed, and I think that we're going to find a lot of them knew how addictive these were, so that is a whole different topic. I'm one that is willing to take on the pharmaceuticals or, Medicare part "B" negotiation, that's my bill, drugs from Canada that are less expensive, that's the bill that I have with Senator McCain. And I think, this has got to be part of it. This is something that we told Governor Christie when we went over to the Executive Office Building in the White House to meet with them about what the administration needs to be doing too.

[16:50:07] TAPPER: All right -

PORTMAN: In the decision, we've already passed the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act which is passed last year. We provided that the NIH had to study this issue and come up with non-addictive pain medication research, really important and second that HHS had to convene an interagency task force on this issue to help encourage these drug companies to provide pain medication for - important pain management that is not addictive. This is one of the big problems right now, is we don't have the alternatives out there that we need. So, this is part of the legislation that's passed. It's been authorized, now it's up to the administration to actually implement it.

TAPPER: Well, it's a huge crisis out there as I know, you both know. Thank you so much and thanks for working in a bipartisan way to get something done. We appreciate it.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Jake.

PORTMAN: Thanks for covering it.

TAPPER: Sheriffs in one state are now pushing back on the Trump administration saying new orders are pushing them too far. What these sheriffs say they are not equipped to do coming up next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with the "NATIONAL LEAD" now. The police officer who shot and killed a 15-year-old honor student and athlete near Dallas last weekend has been fired. And there are now questions as to whether more punishment is heading his way. Jordan Edwards was one of several teens who tried to get away when police showed up at a house party Saturday night in a Dallas suburb Balch Springs. At some point, shots were fired. Edwards jumped in a car with two of his brothers and two other teens when officer Roy Oliver fired several shots at the vehicle. A bullet hit Edwards in the head. The Police Chief on Sunday said the car was coming aggressively towards officers, but now that same Chief has taken it back saying after reviewing body camera video the car was not headed towards the officers. Jordan Edwards was supposed to start spring football practice yesterday. There are now multiple criminal investigations into the shooting, and we will bring you more information as it develops.

Also in national news, massive flooding across several states, a new round of rain is pounding Missouri where streets are already under water. Over the weekend two people were killed because of storms there. Close to 300 roads have been closed, and residents piled up sandbags to protect homes and businesses. Forecasters expect up to four inches of rain will fall in the St. Louis area. In Arkansas, a levee failure has prompted a flash flood emergency and mandatory evacuation. The water gushing into the nearby town of almost 7,000 people.

Law enforcement in several cities are now saying that the Trump administration has gone too far in combating illegal immigration. Several Sheriffs in Florida are banding together. They say the Department of Homeland Security is putting them in a bad position where they will be susceptible to lawsuits by requiring deputies to act as Federal Immigration Agents to interrogate and detain undocumented immigrants. As CNN's Nick Valencia reports for us now, complaints against the request may have gotten DHS to back off a bit, at least for now.


SADIE DARNELL, ALACHUA COUNTY, FLORIDA SHERIFF: And it's directed to any immigration officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which you're not an immigration officer.

DARNELL: No, I'm not. None of us here are -

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sadie Darnell is the Sheriff of Alachua County, Florida. She is not an immigration officer.

DARNELL: OK. This is a Warrant of Removal and Deportation from the Department of Homeland Security.

VALENCIA: But she says, warrants issued by the Department of Homeland Security are telling Deputies across country that they better start acting like immigration agents or else. JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Department of Justice will also take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded.

VALENCIA: At a press conference earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned local law enforcement to comply with Federal Immigration Agencies or risk losing federal grants. The problem, Sheriff Darnell says complying with the feds would mean breaking the law. Let's say, Sheriff that you decided to carry this out. What would happen then?

DARNELL: I would most likely be sued.

VALENCIA: Darnell says it's simple. Without a judge's signature, the warrants are unlawful, something she says the Trump administration does not seem to understand.

DARNELL: It would be an unlawful seizure of me taking you in as a human being, taking away your liberty, taking away your freedom based upon something I have no authority to do.

VALENCIA: It may have been her decision not to follow DHS orders that caused her department to end up on this list. In a controversial practice enacted in a Trump executive order, departments seen as uncooperative with Federal Immigration Authorities were publicly outed.

JERRY DEMINGS, FLORIDA SHERIFFS ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: They have nothing else. It's a - the list was designed, I believe, to embarrass the Sheriffs into cooperation.

VALENCIA: The head of the Florida Sheriff's Association Jerry Demings says, county sheriffs do not have legal authority to act as President Trump's deportation force.

DEMINGS: There have been nine different federal courts across the nation that have ruled that sheriffs do not have the authority to do immigration and customs enforcement.

This is simply unacceptable.

VALENCIA: That's why in early April, Demings was joined by sheriffs across the state, including Sheriff Darnell, to say enough is enough.

DEMINGS: At the very least, it's a public perception of nightmare for sheriffs across the country.

VALENCIA: Days after that press conference, ICE announced it would temporarily suspend publishing its controversial list. Whether or not the pushback from Florida sheriffs had anything to do with it, the DHS would not say. Sheriff Darnell thinks it might have and she believes they're doing the right thing.

DARNELL: We want our country to be safe. We want our individual communities to be safe. But we don't want to do it in the wrong way. We don't want to do it by breaking the law and taking away someone's freedoms. That's not the right way to go about it. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA: It's been nearly a month since the Department of Homeland Security suspended the list intended to call out state and local law enforcement. We checked in with DHS, and they tell us there's no indication on if or when those lists will resume. Jake?

TAPPER: Nick Valencia, thanks so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or tweet the show @theleadcnn. We're also on Facebook. That's it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks so much for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news, catastrophic choice. Blamed by Hillary Clinton for tilting voters against her, the FBI Director stands by his pre-election decision to reveal a renewed probe into the Clinton e-mails.