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No Charges in Alton Sterling Police Shooting; White House Can't Say If Health Care Bill Will Cover Everyone. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 3, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- the relationship that he's built with them individually and the trust and respect that they have for him.

[15:00:00]

And I think that he, in discussions with them -- in private discussions with them, feels very optimistic about the shared goals that everybody has.

Obviously, there's a lot of issues that have to get covered, but the president understands that they -- they respect his ability to want to get this done; his relationships and respect that has been -- have been developed. And I think this is something that he really wants to have happen.

QUESTION: (inaudible) back to health care, why even monkey around with preexisting conditions? That's the most popular thing in Obamacare. Why -- why are you guys spinning your wheels messing around with preexisting conditions?

SPICER: I wouldn't call it "messing around" or how ever you phrased it. I think the president wants to do everything...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Right now, people with preexisting conditions are covered. They're not discriminated against...

SPICER: Just, hold on -- just...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: You're going to change to a system where who the hell knows what's going to happen. It depends on which state they live in. If they live in this state over here, that governor may seek a waiver. And all of a sudden they're thrown into this system where hopefully that fund is going to cover their preexisting conditions. It is a big change for people who live with those kinds of illnesses, is it not?

SPICER: Well, look, the big change -- I don't -- I guess we have a very different view of this because my view and I think the president's view is that Obamacare -- if you have a preexisting condition and you no longer have a health care provider, or your -- your premiums or deductible are going through the roof, then you don't have coverage. And we just read it out. I mean, I don't -- if you have...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... throwing the baby out with the bath water...

SPICER: No, no, no. What I'm saying to you right now...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... because it's not -- you're saying it's not working, but then why change preexisting conditions?

SPICER: We're not. No, no, we're strengthening. I think -- look, we have done everything to do to not only strengthen, but to guarantee...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... the governor can say, you know, here's my waiver, and no more preexisting conditions...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Sure you can. Jim, I walked through the -- but I think the fundamental point that seems to be getting lost is that if you have Obamacare right now, in case after case, you are losing it. So if you have a preexisting condition and you have a card that says "Obamacare," but no one will see you or you can't afford it, then you don't have coverage.

QUESTION: Why not fix that?

SPICER: We are. We're guaranteeing it. But I don't know how much...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: We -- literally, the...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... participation going to have to be altered? Why not just keep that protection in place?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: The president has made it very clear that preexisting conditions are covered in the bill under every scenario. I don't know how much clearer we can state it.

QUESTION: So anybody who has preexisting condition under Trumpcare, they're going to be fine.

SPICER: Yes.

QUESTION: Without question?

SPICER: There you go. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Thank you, Sean. Thank you, Sean.

I want to follow up on health care. I just want to know why the White House is pushing so hard for a vote on this health care bill at a time when, as you just said a few minutes ago, it's literally impossible to analyze its impact on the health care system. Why not wait for that analysis to come out?

SPICER: The vote is going to happen, as I've said many times now, when the speaker and the majority leader and the majority whip want to. Our job is to work as hard as we can to work with members of Congress who want to see their health care system improved. That's what we're doing. That's what we've done. And so it will be up to the House leadership to decide when to vote.

Zeke?

QUESTION: (inaudible) real quick.

You just made a guarantee to the American people on behalf of the president regarding preexisting conditions, but you told (inaudible) earlier that it's literally impossible to know the impact of this law. So how can you make that guarantee?

SPICER: No, no. I -- he was asking -- they were asking about costs. The president has made it very clear on numerous occasions that he is going to make sure that preexisting conditions are covered.

QUESTION: And so then the White House has the analysis to back that up?

SPICER: It's -- every scenario, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: And then just following up on something that Director Mulvaney said yesterday regarding the president's tweet about saying -- calling for a good shutdown potentially in September. He said the reason the president sent that tweet was he was frustrated by Democrats spiking the football and thereby poisoning the well for future negotiations.

The president when he was campaigning said he was going to win for all Americans. Why did the president's feelings matter at all?

SPICER: I think it's the process that I think he's frustrated with, because he does want to win for every American. I think that's why he's fought so hard for this. But you've seen time and time again Democrats obstruct routine things that they supposedly are for, and do everything they can to obstruct. I think the president is frustrated with the system. He's talked about how archaic it is in the Senate in particular, because he is out there working to try to get, whether it's health care or tax reform or his Cabinet, trough the Senate. There are various things that the president is trying to do that are -- are issues when he's having conversations with members of the Senate or the House who will say, "I'm with you on this great idea, but I just can't vote with you."

He is I think understandably frustrated with how hard he's working to achieve the promises, goals and objectives that he set out with the American people to make the country better, and to deal with multiple layers of obstructionism.

Sarah?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.

So, you've cited this 60-vote threshold as the reason why funding for the wall wasn't pursued in this funding bill. But what's going to be different in September? I mean, presumably the legislative conditions would be the same. So what will change between now and September to give you confidence that will get funding for the border wall then?

SPICER: Well, I think there's multiple things. When you come in, this C.R., there was a lot that was already carried over from last time in terms of the -- because it's not just a continuing resolution. It's a total omnibus package, meaning that there are multiple bills that are a part of the underlying package that already have increases or underlying policy in them from the previous fiscal year, from the previous Congress, from the previous administration.

This bill will reflect in 2018 the president's priorities in working with a Republican House and Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Thank you guys very much. We'll see you tomorrow in New York. Have a good one.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so, Sean Spicer there wrapping up the briefing, a lot of the questions centering around health care.

And so, Phil Mattingly, I want to begin with you. And then we will listen to our other voices, because, to me, it seems like the crux of this is, with Americans with preexisting conditions, can the White House, can the administration guarantee that with this, the $8 billion is the number that they're putting out there, would those folks be covered?

And when I'm looking at the numbers, and let's get into the weeds a bit on this, when you look at the numbers of uninsured folks with preexisting conditions, and I guess that's also predicated upon whether or not a state would opt out, would everyone be covered or not?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, what was interesting is Sean Spicer early on in the briefing made clear it was impossible to know, which I think raises some questions as why would you want to move forward on a vote on policy when you don't actually know the particular ramifications of it? But I think kind of laying out what Sean is trying to say, and what I'm hearing from a lot of House Republicans as well is, you need to unpack what this would actually do. Now, the amendment itself would give states the opportunity to opt out, not of the requirement that those with preexisting conditions get coverage, but of requirement that coverage, the cost of that coverage can't be shifted on an individual basis. Right?

So their prices couldn't be raised because they have a specific issue, a specific preexisting condition. So a state could opt out of that Obamacare regulation.

Now, the concern is that if a state opts out, and you lose your coverage if you have preexisting coverage, that your prices are going to skyrocket. So, there's no way, even though there's a guarantee that you have to be offered coverage, that you would ever be able to actually afford it.

Now, in this bill, there's a provision that if you already have preexisting -- coverage for a preexisting condition, you will be grandfathered in. So, they say, look, there's a protection right there. Your plan will be carried over into the next iteration of health care, Trumpcare, whatever you want to call it.

Here's the problem with that. Those with preexisting conditions tend to churn off health care plans on a fairly regular basis. A large percentage of those individuals churn off and on plans.

If you get off of your plan or if you move to another state, you lose that grandfathered status and, therefore, lose the ability to have your premiums stay at that lower level that it would have been based on a community rating system.

Now, what the amendment that is on the table right now would do would spend $8 billion to address specifically that small slice of individuals, that small population to help drive those premiums down.

The big question here, Brooke, is nobody, whether it's critics of the law, whether it's health policy professionals that I have been speaking to over the last 24 hours believes that $8 billion will be enough to actually address this in an adequate...

BALDWIN: That's what I'm asking, yes.

MATTINGLY: Exactly. I know. It takes a lot to get to it.

BALDWIN: I know.

MATTINGLY: But I think it's worth unpacking specifically what this is doing, why this is their defense, and then the crux of the attacks that they are going to be facing and have been facing up to this point, and why they are having such a difficult time defending it.

If they can't commit to $8 billion being enough to adequately fund this portion, and Sean Spicer couldn't commit to that, said it was impossible to know, then you can't also make the claim that your preexisting coverage is equivalent to what individuals currently have.

And I think that's the problem that I'm hearing from a lot of very skeptical Republican members. That's what lawmakers up here and I think the White House as well is trying to push back against, trying to give people comfort that that money will address it in a manner with -- in combination with the high-risk pool money that is also out there, that they will be adequately addressed.

But the unknown is really kind of the crux of the problem here, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You are good, sir. If I were in D.C., I would be buying you a glass of wine at the end of your workday.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much for that long-winded, but very, very necessary explanation. I appreciate you very much.

Jim Acosta was also in that briefing for us. He's up at the microphone.

So, Jim, let me go to you.

And if I may actually move past health care, and I would like to ask you about...

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: OK.

BALDWIN: ... the moment where all of a sudden the slides appeared behind Sean Spicer of fences or border states or what have you.

ACOSTA: Right.

BALDWIN: And I'm also thinking about the Mick Mulvaney moment yesterday.

ACOSTA: Sure.

BALDWIN: And I know Democrats are essentially saying to this administration, what are you talking about? We're passing the spending bill with zero money for your border wall.

So, what are they trying to do?

ACOSTA: Well, they're trying to put the best face on all this, Brooke.

Obviously, the president did not get money, he did not get money for a new border wall in this fiscal 2017 budget that is going to fund the government through September. They will have another budget fight in the fall for the next fiscal year.

[15:10:10]

But they are trying to put the best face on this. They are trying to say, look, we're not getting a new wall across the U.S.-Mexico border, but in these places where there is broken fencing, they can replace that broken fencing with these 20-foot-tall steel structures, which, by the way, we should point out to our viewers, that kind of fencing has always been available through the Department of Homeland Security budget during the Obama administration, going all the way back to the Bush administration.

The Trump administration is simply tapping into that ability to strengthen parts of the border where that fencing looking pretty shabby, as Sean Spicer was showing in those slides. But obviously this is a question that continues for this administration, Brooke, because we know this was the signature domestic proposal that you heard from Donald Trump out on the campaign trail time and again throughout this election cycle.

And that there was that there was going to be a brand-new wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and that Mexico was going to pay for it. By the way, there's no discussion anymore that is happening that we can detect about how they are going to force Mexico to pay for this wall.

This is going to be a wall, if it is ever passed by the Congress and signed by the president, that U.S. taxpayers will have to pay for. Unless somewhere down the road this White House can figure out a way to extract that money from the Mexican government, it's just not going to happen.

But, in the meantime, until they get that new border wall funding and some kind of budget that they will have to fight for in the coming months, perhaps even years, they are going to have to be satisfied with replacing existing fencing with that stronger, tall steel fencing that you saw in those slides here in the Briefing Room, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jim, thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Let me -- off of what Jim just said, Caitlin Huey-Burns, do you think those who voted for Trump who want that wall, do you think they recognize that this is full-on spin?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, I don't -- those who are supportive of him I think are willing to give him a little more time to get these kinds of things done.

But you have a lot of Republicans who say, yes, we want border security, but we don't want to be focusing on this, this whole time. Right? So, the question about the budget, too, is that it goes that next September you're going to have...

BALDWIN: Fight again.

HUEY-BURNS: ... fights all over again.

And someone asked in the Briefing Room what kind of dynamics are going to be different then than now? And so I think those questions -- and, of course, will be almost a year after the election at that point -- those questions will be more difficult to answer. BALDWIN: Stephen Collinson, you're one of our White House reporters.

Let me just bring you in this conversation here, pivoting from health care, to the spending bill, to now we heard Sean Spicer asked about a couple of questions about, of course, the FBI director's testimony today and the mention of Hillary Clinton.

Of course, she spoke publicly yesterday, really, really condemning and blaming what Comey did in October.

I'm just curious, do you think all of this talk about the blame game and all these questions about Hillary Clinton, do you think in the end that actually helps the president politically, bringing all this up again?

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think so. And you saw in Sean's replies about this that he almost relished getting into this. I think this is probably a fight that the White House would quite like to have with Hillary Clinton in many ways.

At times during his administration, the president has struggled to sort of exert his personality on Washington. It's very much a learning experience for him. And there's lots of centers of power. He seemed to be looking for an enemy or a political foil that he had during the Republican primary race, for example, or during the race against Hillary Clinton.

So, I think the fact that Hillary Clinton came out and was so vocal yesterday talking about the election, it's something that the White House would like to engage.

It was kind of ironic actually that Sean also said that it was kind of sad that people were still talking about how Donald Trump had won the election.

Well, there's only one person that is really talking about how Donald Trump won the election.

BALDWIN: Memo to your boss.

COLLINSON: That was Donald Trump. Rarely a day goes by without him reminding us about his triumphs in Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania. And he's still sticking to that position that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote because of illegal voting, for which there's no evidence.

So, I think, you know, if we're going to have a conversation about the election, Donald Trump is to blame also. But it does seem that, you know, the 2016 election is an election that is never going to end.

BALDWIN: Well, they're both still talking about it. They both are.

Let's play a little bit of that sound, since we're talking about this, Sean Spicer from the briefing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has confidence in the director. But I think clearly his point was after some of the comments that were made yesterday regarding the reason for the outcome of the election, I think he just wanted to make it clear what exactly happened.

You play an election until Election Day. So with all due respect to her, that's not how it works. You don't get to pick the day the election is on. It's set by the Constitution.

The president won 306 electoral votes. And I think there's been plenty of analysis on the election and where people chose to spend their time and their resources and their messaging.

[15:15:08]

And I think it's somewhat sad that we're still debating why the president won in the fashion that he did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: I mean, Stephen, I was just in Washington, what, last Friday and I was sitting next to Jeff Mason, who brought his souvenir from his Trump interview when they were talking about China.

And he pulls out this map, right, showing all the red that went for him in November of last year. But, needless to say, you think that all this talk of Hillary Clinton and being the foe that the president wants is to his benefit?

COLLINSON: Yes, that's for sure.

And you have to, also, I think, question whether Democrats want to get involved in this. They are a party that is trying to look ahead to sort of reinvent themselves to address the questions that Donald Trump's election brought up, the fact that he actually captured a lot of Democratic territory in the Industrial Midwest, that he had a better economic argument, many people believe, than the Democrats.

We talk about the Democrats and their way forward, but the most prominent Democrats in the public discourse now are Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, to a great extent.

So, I think perhaps refighting this issue -- and I'm sure it will come up again in the fall when Hillary Clinton has a book coming out which will talk about the election. She said yesterday she would ask for absolution from her supporters for losing this election and the mistakes she made.

It doesn't really help the Democrats refashion their message and move on looking ahead to the 2018 midterms and the 2020 Trump reelection race.

BALDWIN: Stephen, thank you so much. And Caitlin, thank you.

Just quickly over back to Phil, and then we will let you all go, because, Phil, just back on health care, we had seen the pictures of the vice president there up on the Hill. Your point before, he was a conservative's conservative, not really known for wheeling and dealing and crossing party lines, but they are really banking on his, what, I'm sure tenure and familiarity with Capitol Hill to help this thing get through.

MATTINGLY: Yes, that's exactly right.

And I think the most interesting part is probably the element of the party that he's closest to, that House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative members. They are all on board. Mark Meadows, the chairman of that caucus, said even with the new additional money, that everyone one of his members except for one is there.

They've basically been there over the course of the last week-and-a- half. It's been the moderates that they have had to try and swing. And that's what you have seen Speaker Paul Ryan focused on over the course of the last couple hours.

Brooke, there's just a House floor vote. That's where a lot of the whip operation really does a lot of work. Members can't really run and hide when you have to go vote, so they try and pin them down.

And they're really going member by member by member, everybody that we have identified as a no vote, everybody we have identified as an undecided vote, and they are really trying to get them comfortable, try and get them comfortable with the idea that it's tough to move on to anything else if this is still on their plate, and get them comfortable with the idea, particularly the moderates, Brooke -- you and Caitlin were talking about this -- that is going to go over to the Senate and it's likely going to change.

There's pretty good chance it goes over to the Senate and it gets moderated in some way, shape and form. And that would likely be the bill that comes back. So, at least get the process moving. At least give them a chance to look at it. That's the pitch right now.

We will see in the next couple of hours whether or not that's enough.

BALDWIN: Got it.

Phil Mattingly, thank you very much on Capitol Hill.

Let's move along and talk about this other breaking news today. The Department of Justice has officially closed its investigation into the shooting death of Alton Sterling and will not charge those Baton Rouge police officers who killed him last July. We will hear from his family, speaking out publicly today after this quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:22:43]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. More breaking news, as the Department of Justice has officially closed

its investigation into the shooting death of Alton Sterling and will not charge those two Baton Rouge police officers who killed him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY AMUNDSON, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY: After an exhaustive, almost year-long investigation, all of the prosecutors and agents involved in this case have come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to charge either officer with a federal crime in connection with this incident.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Back last July, two white police officers shot Sterling, an African-American man. This is outside of a convenience store.

And a bystander's video showed the officers pinning him to the ground before ultimately shooting him.

So, we will show this to you, but just to warn you, it is graphic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get on the ground!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: That video led to widespread criticism and protests.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in Baton Rouge for us this afternoon.

And, Nick, we know that Mr. Sterling's family and their attorneys have been finally briefed today. You talked to them a little while ago. What did they say?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They said they were not defeated, Brooke, and actually had a bit of an optimistic tone.

They feel as though that there's a compelling enough case, now that this investigation goes into the hands of the state attorney general, that they will find justice, at least in their eyes, at the state level.

I spoke to Chris Stewart and Justin Bamberg, as well as State Representative Denise C. Marcelle, and they talked to me about their reaction immediately following this Department of Justice announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

L. CHRIS STEWART, ATTORNEY FOR STERLING FAMILY: The most important thing is it shows the mind-set of officer Salamoni. The DOJ told us that he arrived and he walked up after interacting with Mr. Sterling, he put a gun to his head and told you, "I will kill you, bitch."

[15:25:02]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE) the actions of these officers.

STEWART: So, of course, that shows you what type of escalation that this officer was already setting to.

He's the one who did that flying tackle. So we're -- we feel very good that this case is going to be turned over to the attorney general.

JUSTIN BAMBERG, ATTORNEY FOR STERLING FAMILY: The DOJ is looking at one thing in particular, the deprivation of the civil rights. A lot of that stems from specifically the moment of the shooting.

But I think that the government here in the state of Louisiana is going to have a package that they can work with. Quite frankly, you know, one of the big takeaways and the thing that we were looking at, Salamoni needs to be gone from the force.

His actions that day, if his supervisors and the people in the department knew about that, maybe they need to go as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VALENCIA: There is some frustration among the Sterling family as well just to how they found out. They found out much like everyone else did, that "Washington Post" report that was citing unnamed sources.

They are frustrated because they were told by the Department of Justice that they would reach out to them specifically and that the Sterling family would be the first to know. And that's clearly not how it happened.

Many people in this community are not surprised, because they have been waiting for this news over the course of the last 24 hours. We were speaking to some activists. We don't believe there are any planned demonstrations, but we know that there are some rising tensions.

Listening to a conversation earlier, one activist said he was ready to go to war with police, another trying to be tempered, saying they need to be more strategic.

We know of a rally planned this Saturday. But, right now, the focus is on healing for the Sterling family and hope that they will get justice at the state level -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Message from the family, we will not be defeated. Nick Valencia, thank you for sharing that with us from Baton Rouge.

Once the news about the Justice Department's decision began to spread, the Sterling family and local leaders remained, as Nick pointed out, really in the dark. They had heard the rumors, but still had not been directly contacted by the attorney general's office.

Baton Rouge's mayor said that she was, in a word, appalled. The family cried. It had -- quote -- "waited all this time for nothing."

But just moments ago, their reaction after finally hearing from Justice Department officials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDRA STERLING, AUNT OF ALTON STERLING: I want to tell you all something I heard (INAUDIBLE) yesterday.

I was at work. And when I got back to my car, and I seen my phone blowing up, I couldn't believe what I heard on the phone.

And I'm on the interstate and I lost it. I panicked. So, yesterday to me, was the first day that it happened. I went back to July the 5th at 1:30 in the morning. I suffered all day yesterday. I suffered.

And what I heard today, the suffering still continues. So now that I know that, it's not a civil matter anymore. Now it's a human matter, because Alton was human. He's no longer here, but his voice still will be heard through us. So, stay behind us, because we love Alton, and we don't want this to end. Remember his name.

CAMERON STERLING, SON OF ALTON STERLING: I just want to tell everybody, thank you for supporting me and my family. Thank you for supporting my father, who is no longer here with us, but, spiritually, he is still here.

No matter if we don't get justice or not, we still have to depend on God, because, guess what, God is an un -- just God, and he will always be there for us no matter what. He may not be there when we ask for him, but he will always be there exactly when we need him.

So, I just want to let everybody know, no matter what goes on behind those closed doors in that court, it doesn't matter. You still have to depend on God, because I depend on God every day. God wakes me up every day. He puts me to sleep every day. I think of my daddy every night I go to sleep. God is there for me. My mama, my family is there for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The family wants a state criminal investigation. They also want the officers involved to be fired.

One of the lawyers said the state attorney general has a phenomenal case.

With me now, Charles Coleman Jr., civil rights attorney and former prosecutor, James Gagliano, retired FBI chief of staff and supervisory special agent, and attorney Areva Martin, CNN legal analyst and legal affairs commentator.

So, Areva, let me just begin with you on this note about the state.

Would it be appropriate for the state to open up an investigation and potentially file charges there? How likely would that be?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely appropriate and very likely that that will occur.

We have to keep in mind there are two different standards here. There's the federal standard, where the feds are only looking at whether there was willful taking of Mr. Sterling's life, whether his civil rights were violated in that altercation that he had with those police officers.

That's not what the state attorney general will be looking at. He can look at reckless conduct. He can look at whether these officers escalated a situation that could have been de-escalated. He can look at the statement that we're hearing that one officer walked up to Mr. Sterling, put a gun to his head, and said, "Bitch, I will kill you."

All of that evidence can be taken into consideration by the state's attorney general. And I suspect that, when you look at the totality of what the feds found, there will be state charges filed against at least one of these officers, based on the press conference held by the family's attorneys.

BALDWIN: What about, James, the way in which the DOJ handled this?