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Today: House Votes on Health Care Bill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 4, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: They don't have that number, the Republicans this time around and it's not stopping them.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's no shortage of kind of political liabilities to the pathway they've taken to get to this point. They don't have an updated CBO score. There hasn't been a lot of time to review the text of the latest changes to the bill. But the reality is this, they believe they have the votes and they're going to vote on it. And I think that's always been the case.

Leaders have made very clear, whenever they get to that point, whenever they feel like they've reached that requisite number of 216 votes, they're going to put it on the floor because they don't want to give this an opportunity to hang out there too long, members to get nervous and members to start -- moving away as those attacks that are almost certainly going to commence right about the time the vote happens from Democrats and outside interest groups.

Now, I will note, I've been texting back and forth with a couple members who were just inside that closed-door conference meeting. And the point that they tell me is Speaker Ryan was trying to make very clear is, the time is now to do this. The time is now to move this along in the process. Is the bill the House is considering today perfect? Is it fully fleshed out? No.

But getting it over to the Senate, letting the Senate do its work on it and then send it back to the House is an important component of doing what these members promised they would do in campaign after campaign after campaign. That, guys, I'm told was the speaker's message. It received two ovations from the members in the room. I think Sunlen laid it out pretty well. There's clearly a lot of optimism about where things are headed, the direction, they flipped a number of no's. They've made sure a number of undecideds are coming towards their way.

So, the temperature, kind of the atmosphere here is so much better than it was a month and a half ago, when we went through this the first time. But I think, Poppy, you bring up a really good point. There's no question about it, this going to be a politically difficult vote. This is filled with land mines for those who might have tight races in 2018. And Democrats are ready to cease on that moment. The calculations Republicans have made is it's better to do something and try and explain it later than do nothing at all even though you've campaigned on doing just that over the course of the last seven years.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Phil Mattingly, what we're looking at right now. We're looking at the House floor right now. What Democrats are doing is a debate about the rule. This is not the major vote. It's sort of the run-up vote which will happen later in the day.

But Democrats, as you can already see, are talking about people with pre-existing conditions and how they will lose out. They say under the current measure being discussed right now. And Phil, you brought up the fact that 42 days ago, is when -- you know, health care 1.0 failed. It did not come to a vote on the Republican floor. That's 42 days ago. 42 hours ago, Phil, this did not have the votes to pass. So, what's changed in the last 42 hours?

MATTINGLY: Yes. This would run straight into a brick wall. There was no question about it. They tried to - get it to a point where they could do something on it last week, ran into that brick wall. Very clearly, weren't there at this time yesterday. Actually, right around this time is when everything changed.

And what changed was this. There's an additional $8 billion being added to this bill directly, kind of earmarked for those with pre- existing conditions who might lose price protections based on their states opting out as is allowed inside this bill. It's at $8 billion. Republican policy staff says would be plenty to cover what they think will be a rather small universe of people. There's not going to be a ton of states that opt out, at least how Republicans feel right now. Those with current pre-existing condition plans, those plans will be grandfathered in unless they fall off those plans or move to a different state. So, that small universe of people, they believe, $8 billion will cover.

Now, is this the perfect silver bullet? No. But I think, what's more important, at least according to members I've been going back and forth with over the course of the last 24 hours, guys, is that it gave them an opportunity to get to yes. It gave them something. It gave them an issue, an actual dollar figure to try and address what are very real concerns that they're hearing from their constituents.

I will note though, that doesn't change the fact that this is a very politically dangerous vote. Touching pre-existing conditions at all, even in the way that they're doing it, via opt out, via price protections, even as they maintain the ban on discriminating against pre-existing conditions is very dangerous politically. It's something they campaigned against doing. The president himself did as well.

And it's something -- I'll just give you a direct quote. I spoke to a Democratic ad maker last night, a very prominent one who said plainly, "We're licking our chops right now." They really feel like this is a real opportunity. So, Republicans know what they're getting themselves into. But John, I will say, there's no question, this changed the game, this money changed the game, the addressing of the pre-existing conditions with this cash changed the game. And now, it looks like they're there.

HARLOW: It looks like they're there. But as you always note, watch out. Watch the chief deputy whip, right? Watch Congressman McHenry, where he's running, trying to convince people to get him on, on his side. Maybe he can slow walk a little bit right now.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much. Let's go to our national politics reporter MJ Lee on the Hill. I mean, you would think perhaps by the flurry and the excitement in McCarthy's confidence that there was no Senate. That this is done if they get it through the House, this is the beginning if they get it to the House.

[10:05:04] MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: This is just the beginning of the process. That's right, Poppy. But I do think that, you know, having covered this for weeks on end, there is this sense within the House conference that Republican members just want to get this done. It is still very raw for them that this bill had to be pulled from the House floor back in March. And then, they you know tried to do this again before President Trump's 100-day mark. That was not successful. And the fact that they are going to actually have a vote, that is being seen as a big victory.

And I can tell you as members have been coming out of this meeting, for the members who are supportive of this bill, every single person that we've spoken to, saying that they are confident that this bill is going to pass, that they're not afraid that there will be too many defections. But a couple of issues do have these Republican lawmakers a little bit uncomfortable. And I want to walk through them a little bit.

First is the fact that they're going to be taking this vote before there is a CBO score, this is a very big deal. Obviously, this is a big piece of legislation and a complicated piece of legislation. And we have not had the CBO score this bill since the original bill came out. And remember, that was the bill -- that was the score, rather, that said that 24 more million people will be uninsured under this bill than under Obamacare in the years to come. And I think that, you know, politically speaking, the fact that the CBO report would come out after Republicans have already cast this vote is politically damaging and potentially hurtful for the party.

The other thing, of course, is the pre-existing conditions portion which I know that Phil was talking about earlier. This is something that members are having a hard time explaining away. Especially when they're asked about this, a last-minute $8 billion funding that was added in the form of the Upton amendment because so many experts are coming out to say, this is a drop in the bucket. That should not actually make that much of a difference in terms of protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

BERMAN: All right, MJ Lee for us on Capitol Hill. MJ, stand by for one moment. Want to bring in Dana Bash, CNN's chief political correspondent. Dana thanks so much for being with us. Obviously, the White House is watching this very, very carefully. The White House with a little bit of a different attitude, I think perhaps, than they did 42 days ago when they went at this sort of like a bull in a China shop. Now, they're trying to be a little bit more reserved. But you can bet that when this passes today, if that is, in fact, what happens, this White House will take an enormous victory lap, Dana. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. And you're exactly right. To watch the kind of evolution or maybe the better word is education, quick education, of the White House by the White House of how to deal with Capitol Hill, even and especially when you're dealing with your own members who certainly understand the idea of political capital that the president might have. But they don't like to be bullied and don't feel like they really need to be because they have a lot of support back home.

That was the -- ammo of the White House at the beginning. We're going to take this vote, announcing the vote from the White House podium, things like that. That's changed. They're being much more deferential now. And that's the way to handle Republican members of Congress. Just ask John Boehner, anybody else who has tried to lead this kind of ruckus and very diverse crowd of Republicans. You've got to -- handle them that capable of at certain point. So, they have learned that. But to be fair, they've backed off. And the people who do their jobs up here to whip votes, to try to figure out the sweet spots, how to get the votes together, they have been doing their job very well.

Let me give you one example. I've been running around as well talking to members. Congressman Mast from Florida, he's a new member. He is somebody who understands full well the notion of pre-existing conditions. He had both of his legs blown off while serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan. He was undecided. He came out of the Republican meeting this morning, saying that he is now a yes. Why? Because he says he is now convinced that they have done enough changes to the pre-existing condition issue that he feels comfortable.

The changes, of course, being frankly, we know a drop in the bucket, $8 billion extra for these so-called high-risk pools. But he says, no, no, no, it's more than that. It is $8 billion and then $100 billion plus before that. But regardless, after that, that's on the substance, clearly, you know, that's his talking point as he goes -- he's going to take this vote and go home.

He immediately pivoted to something that was clearly coming from the Republican conference. And that s they're getting ready to say, to try to beat back against Democrats who are already going after them big time for hurting people who are the most vulnerable by saying, oh, yes, what are Democrats going to do about it? They practiced that in their meeting this morning. It was part of the rallying cry. And it was clear hearing that from a guy who was undecided and is now a yes. He was practicing with us right out of the room.

[10:10:00] HARLOW: Fascinating, Dana. And also, just your take big picture on, if they can get this done, if Republicans can get this through the House, what this means for them in terms of proving they can really govern and get things done as we look ahead beyond this to tax reform?

BASH: Look, it's huge. It's huge to be able to say, we did something we promised that we would do. The devil obviously is in the details. And you know, down the road it's going to be the Republicans that own it and it's a very big it, as Democrats learned -- look at all of the Democrats who lost their seats because they voted for Obamacare. You know, it's going to be the same kind of pressure on Republicans now. Having said that, the notion of not doing it was far, far worse politically than doing what they could and getting it into the Senate where it's going to be very, very difficult and a completely different ball game, different members, different sets of issues and concerns, a lot about these key substantive issues, Medicaid expansion, all of the money that has been coming from the federal government, all these states, even and especially those with Republican governors to help get people who need it most insured and of course, this pre-existing conditions issue and many others.

So, there are lots of things that are still on the plate, but for the president and for Republicans to bring this back to life, I mean, bring this issue back from the dead and it was dead. Over 40 years ago, they had moved on, is something that they certainly will take credit for and politically deserve.

HARLOW: Dana Bash, thank you for the real-time reporting. What she's hearing from all these members. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: It is all happening right now. You're looking at live pictures from the House floor. They will vote, by all accounts, on a measure to repeal and replace Obamacare. And as we sit here right now, it looks like it will pass. We are due to hear from the House Minority Leader Democrat Nancy Pelosi very soon. What does she think about the way things are headed? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:16:06] HARLOW: Happening right now on Capitol Hill, you are looking at images, pictures of the first debate, rules debate on the GOP health care bill taking place on the floor. A full vote expected to happen very soon.

BERMAN: It's going to be close, but at this point, House Republican leaders say they think it will get passed. And if you count the numbers, as we are doing, it does look as if that is the case. We're joined by MJ Lee, CNN national politics reporter, David Fahrenthold, CNN contributor, reporter for "The Washington Post," Matt Viser, deputy Washington bureau chief for "The Boston Globe" and - CNN Money's, Cristina Alesci.

Matt Viser, you know, first to you. I get the sense from Democrats that I'm talking to, that this all happened sort of much more quickly than they thought it would. I don't think anyone thought that Republicans were going to make this happen this week quite the way that they did. What Democrats will say is, well look, you know, Republicans will own a policy that they think - we think will hurt them at the polls. But is that deep down inside what Democrats really believe right now? What's their play?

MATT VISER, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Yes. I mean, I think that they think that they have a lot of ammunition here. I do think that they're surprised at how quickly this happened. But going forward, both on the procedure of this, given the Republicans had a pledge to America, pledging to post bills for three days beforehand, they're not doing that in this case. They don't have a CBO score.

So, I think, on the procedure they'll attack it and then on the policy with the pre-existing conditions and taking some things away. So, I would be prepared for -- as early as next week, when these Republicans return to their districts and have town halls, there will certainly be a lot of controversy around that.

HARLOW: David, to you, John Berman is old enough to remember when. I am not old enough to remember when, but he is old enough to remember when Paul Ryan then, a teenager, as you said last hour, said this in 2009 about what is so critical to have before you vote. I guess we don't have the sound, so let me read it to you. He said, "About Obamacare, I don't think we should pass bills that haven't -- that we haven't read and we don't know what they cost." Meaning, you can't vote for a bill if it doesn't have a CBO score or price tag, et cetera. This vote, David, doesn't have that. So, what, doesn't matter anymore?

BERMAN: I think David Fahrenthold is having a hard time hearing us. --

HARLOW: David, can you not hear us?

BERMAN: MJ, can you take that one?

All right, we're losing our guests left and right here.

HARLOW: Cristina can address this. This has no price tag, this has no CBO score. We don't know how many people are left covered or uncovered and this is something Paul Ryan and other Republicans insisted on in 2009.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Right. There are a whole host of problems, right? But one of the major sticking points, are these high-risk pools. And these high-risk pools are very expensive. And right now, it seems like every expert we've talked to says there's a shortfall.

The GOP bill calls for $8 billion over five years to fund these high- risk pools. Experts say, you need $25 billion per year. It's want like this is based on funny Math or you know, pulling numbers out of nowhere. We have experience in this country with high-risk pools. Back in 2011 we had them. It covered 226,000 Americans and it cost $2.6 billion a year to do it.

So, that's just a very small part of many different issues that are -- that are at stake here. But the high-risk pools seem to be one of the major sticking points. Also, subsidies for lower income Americans, right? The way that the refundable tax credits will work in the GOP plan, it's more based on age. Well, under Obamacare, it was based more on income. So, there are going to be people who fall from the cracks, clearly to your point about the CBO score not covering as many Americans.

[10:20:02] BERMAN: And these are big changes. I mean, these are big changes that will be felt by certain groups of people. HARLOW: But that's why a CBO score is so important. This is an independent entity, not political - that said, this is our best calculation, so you know what you're voting on.

BERMAN: And Republican Joe Barton, the last hour told us, oh, we'll get a CBO score eventually.

HARLOW: After.

BERMAN: But, David Fahrenthold, not before they take a vote today. This is a case, up, you know, we've seen it in politics from time to time by members of both parties, where, you know, one group of people adhere to a certain line for a long time change it when it's politically expedient.

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND REPORTER "THE WASHINGTON POST": That's right. The Republicans have made a lot of this sort of procedural things that Democrats had done to try to get Obamacare through. Famous to say, Nancy Pelosi talked about passing the bill so you know what's in it. That's official policy of a lot of Republican members. Let's pass the bill to find out exactly how it works weeks from now. It's really a reflection of the fact that they've seem more afraid of other Republicans primary them for not doing this rather than Democrats coming after them in the general election for having done it.

BERMAN: I think that's a great point. And Matt Viser, if you can get to that, you Democrats -- I asked you about Democrats before. They like to say there will be political repercussions for Republicans here. Well, you know the last Democratic wave that we saw was in 2006 and it was over Iraq and it was over improprieties on the House Republican side. We haven't really seen a policy wave from the Democrats the way you've seen it again and again and again with the Republicans. I mean, do we know for sure that Democrats can capitalize on this as much as they thought?

VISER: Yes, it's a good point. And - But I do think that there's a lot of energy right now on the Democratic side. And you have an instance here with health care. Democrats did a terrible job messaging on health care. You know, they couldn't sell it. It was relatively unpopular. And as a result, they lost elections.

But you've seen little bit of a shift here lately, especially with pre-existing conditions. That was one thing that they did a pretty good job of selling. And Republicans are tinkering with that. They can try and sell it, but that's going to be a major debating point, I think, going forward in the next midterms. And so, Democrats are heading into this with a lot more advantages than they have in the past couple of elections. Whether they can capitalize on this, you know, sort of still to be seen.

HARLOW: MJ, to you. If they can get this through -- if House Republicans can get this through today and then we'll see what happens in the Senate. How much credit do you believe the president deserves for sort of keeping the fire going in this and not -you know, his first words and his first thoughts the days after the first one, you know, last minute didn't go to a vote, walking away from it. Then, comes back and pushes on this again and again and again.

LEE: Yes, that's actually a question that we've been asking a lot of the lawmakers coming in and out of this meeting. Who actually gets the credit for clinching this deal in the end? And I can tell you, a lot of members saying it is President Trump. They know that President Trump, at least in the very end, was very involved in actually calling members -- one by one trying to pluck off the ones who have been undecided or who were inclined to vote no.

And of course, there's a little bit of a mixed narrative there, too, right? We know that throughout this process, the pressure really has come from President Trump. He wanted this to be the big landmark accomplishment of his presidency. He wanted to get it done within the first few weeks and then, within the first few months.

And his messaging on this has been tricky for fellow Republicans as well. He has gone out there and said things like this is going to be a bill that is far better for pre-existing condition protections than is Obamacare. A lot of experts would say that's not the case. He has said that he wouldn't let sick people just die on the streets. That was something that he said in the campaign.

And now, Democrats are going to argue that this bill will do precisely that. So, I think there's a little bit of a mixed record here, but at least for the time being because House Republicans are so excited and happy to be getting this done with. That they're actually going to finally have a vote. They're saying that the credit does go to President Trump.

And I was just talking to Virginia Congressman Dave Brat and I asked him, are you going to be relieved when all of this is over and done? And his response was just one word, "Highly."

BERMAN: We've had Dave Brat on a number of times here. And he's gone from a hard no to a pretty hard yes -

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: -- right now. And I think he will be glad to see this in the Senate's hands for some time.

HARLOW: All right, guys, thank you all very much. Matt Viser, David Fahrenthold, Cristina Alesci and MJ Lee, we appreciate it. We have much more of this breaking news ahead as you look at live pictures of the House floor there on the Capitol as they vote on the rules and then the full vote on this health care bill.

We're also moments away from hearing from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, what she has to say about all of this. And a Democratic senator weighs in as well, as this looks like it very well may be headed to the Senate. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:29:15] BERMAN: All right, live pictures now from Capitol Hill. Behind that lectern, very shortly, we'll hear from the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the head Democrat in the House of Representatives. I think Democrats are a little bit surprised that Republicans have been able to put this vote together as quickly as they have. A vote that looks like it will pass in the House, the measure to repeal and replace Obamacare. We'll hear from Nancy Pelosi very, very shortly.

HARLOW: In just moments, it was just 42 days ago that this thing was dead, many thought, including some of the biggest voices at the White House. That this would -- they were not going to tackle this. They were going to move on to tax reform. What a difference 42 days can make. Let's bring in Congressman Tom Reed of New York who was a no and now, we understand is leaning yes. Thank you for being here.

So, you're leaning yes. Is this a hard vote for you?

REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: No, we've had a chance to study the bill. And I'm very comfortable where it's at. And moving this process forward is a good step for the American people. So, I'm a yes on this bill.

HARLOW: OK.