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Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; North Korea Accuses U.S. of Plotting to Kill Kim Jong-un; Senate Starts Working on Trumpcare; General: U.S. Forces Not "Solution For Every Problem"; N. Korea: CIA Tried to Assassinate Kim Jong Un. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 5, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is Cinco de Mayo today, which means, one year ago, this happened. THE LEAD starts right now.

Replacing the plan to repeal and replace, the Senate now taking a crack of its own version of Trumpcare, and maybe this time, we will get to find out what it costs.

It's not as if the North Korean government is known for adhering to facts. In 2012, they claimed that they had discovered a unicorn layer. That's true. Look it up. But how wild is their new claim that the CIA infiltrated the country to kill Kim Jong-un?

Plus, literally trampling free speech, an armored vehicle plowing over a crowd of people, as deadly protests are reaching a new level of horrific.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin today with the politics lead. President Trump today heading to his golf club in Jersey for the weekend, tweeting this morning -- quote -- "Big win in the House. Very exciting, but when everything comes together with the inclusion of phase two, we will have truly great health care."

Now, as the bill moves to the Senate, Republicans there are saying that they will write their own bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, not just use the House version.

Athena Jones is traveling with President Trump. She is live for us in Branchburg, New Jersey.

And, Athena, the optics of President Trump with all those House Republicans in the Rose Garden yesterday, it was as if the bill had become law, but actually we're very far from there.


It was a big win for the White House, but only a partial one. With the bill now in the Senate, White House officials say President Trump will be fully engaged in selling it, just like he was on the House side. But it's noticeable that the president hasn't yet embraced the Trumpcare label or brand for this legislation, even as he promises it will mean fantastic health care.


JONES (voice-over): As the Senate prepares to take its own stab at a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Trump is celebrating on Twitter and sharing his signature optimism.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we will get it through. The Republicans are very united, like seldom before. They are very, very united. You saw that today, and you will see it again. The Senate is looking forward to getting it.

JONES: But the true prognosis for legislation in the upper chamber is uncertain. That's because, despite the president's talk of unity, GOP senators across the ideological spectrum are already voicing concerns about various provisions.

More moderate members like Ohio's Rob Portman and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska don't like the bill's cuts to Medicaid, while some conservatives, like John Thune of South Dakota, worry it doesn't include enough money to help lower-income people and seniors afford coverage.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, meanwhile, has complained the bill directs too much taxpayer money to insurance companies.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": If your baby is going to die...

JONES: And after comedian Jimmy Kimmel's emotional testimony this week about his newborn son who has a heart defect, Louisiana'S Bill Cassidy, a physician, wants to make sure people with preexisting conditions can get affordable care.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: I wanted to pass the Jimmy Kimmel test. If a child is born and has Tetralogy of Fallot -- I think that is what his child has -- that they would receive all the services.

JONES: Concerns are not just being expressed on Capitol Hill. GOP governors are also weighing in issues like Medicaid and subsidies for low-income people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There needs to be more changes in the Senate, but what we have right now from a governor's standpoint in Arkansas is really not manageable over the long term.

JONES: The bottom line, even as the House's congressional campaign arm congratulates members in a new Web video, some acknowledge the Senate will likely make significant changes to the American Health Care Act before a vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to have a whole new debate in the Senate. JONES: The White House signaling today it expects some revisions as

the plans move forward.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I feel like there will be some changes. That's part of the process, the legislative process. We fully anticipate that to play out.

JONES: And any vote is likely weeks away, since, unlike the House, the Senate plans to wait for nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to score the bill's impact on the deficit.


JONES: And the Senate is planning to use special rules known as reconciliation to pass their version of the repeal and replace bill by 51 votes, instead of the usual 60, with Vice President Pence able to serve of as the tiebreaker in Senate. That means they can only afford to lose two of their members and still secure passage.

And, of course, whatever changes the Senate makes are going to have to be approved by the House, setting up a potentially significant challenge ahead -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Athena Jones with President Trump, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss this all is Senator Ben Cardin. He's a Democrat from Maryland.

Senator, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.


SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: It's good to with you. Thanks.

TAPPER: So, the Senate is expected to start over on its own version of the bill.

Is there any version of what the House passed that you could support? Is there anything -- if anything were changed from it, could you support it?

CARDIN: Well, I can't support a proposal that's going to affect tens of millions of people losing their coverage, that puts additional burdens on our state.

The state of Maryland stands to lose about $2 billion in Medicaid funds. That's not acceptable. And, quite frankly, the bill has to improve the health care system, not just to be an excuse to cut taxes for wealthier people.

TAPPER: What are you hearing from your Republican colleagues about the health care bill?

CARDIN: I think most are very concerned that we're reimposing preexisting conditions. They don't want to do that. They are very concerned that the states

are going to be left with the burdens of the Medicaid system, and the federal government is pulling back on that commitment. We're hearing that what we want to do is improve the health care system. We don't want to jeopardize those who have coverage today.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that, because there's an article in "The Washington Post" that notes one of your state, Maryland's biggest Obamacare insurers, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, wants a massive 50 percent rate hike next year.

Obviously, you know there's signs all over that Obamacare is in trouble in various states. Do you feel any obligation to work with the Republican majority in the Senate to try to get something done that will help these individuals in your state?

CARDIN: Well, it's the individual market. And what was done in the House made the situation worse.

By not enforcing the mandate, the risk pool becomes much more difficult, and, therefore, the premiums go up higher because sicker people are the ones who have -- that go into the market. The healthier people stay out.

So, I did talk to our provider in Maryland, and that's exactly what they said, our payer in Maryland. They said that if we had an enforceable mandate, their premium increase would not be anywhere near as large as it is in their request.

But we do need more competition in the individual marketplace, and we need to work for more competition. We're interested in improving the Affordable Care Act. We want to see more competition. We want to see lower costs. But you don't do it by taking away coverage for millions of Marylanders.

TAPPER: But when you talk about enforcing the mandate or making it an enforceable mandate, you mean that you think the fine on individuals who do not purchase health insurance, but can afford it, should be increased?


We think that everyone should be in the system, so that everyone should be encouraged to get into the system. You don't get healthier people in the system when you say you're not going to enforce the law. They are going to stay out until they're -- they feel like they need it.

Also, we're concerned that people who have preexisting conditions aren't going to get adequate coverage. They are going to be in a high-risk pool, and they won't have adequate coverage to cover their needs.

TAPPER: Senator, as you know, health care consumers have seen their premiums go up since Obamacare was passed. They were going up before Obamacare was passed also. CARDIN: There's been increases...

TAPPER: But let me just go on, if I could. Their premiums have gone up. Their deductibles have gone up. And many people liked their doctor and were not able to keep their doctor.

Didn't Democrats make some promises to voters that were broken and set the stage for yesterday's vote?

CARDIN: Well, we do want to see this bill improved. There's been problems with the Affordable Care Act. And we're prepared to deal with those issues. No bill has ever been passed that couldn't be made better, but, quite frankly, many people today, millions, have health coverage that didn't have it before. Millions have affordable coverage that didn't have it before.

More have quality coverage. That is, it's covering mental health, it's covering addiction services. They didn't have that before. We now have maternal coverage for all. If you start to allow states to pick this apart, those who need maternity coverage, those who have preexisting conditions, those who are a little bit older are going to pay a lot more.

TAPPER: Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

CARDIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: The money lead now: The unemployment rate just hit a milestone. It dropped to 4.4 percent for the month of April, its lowest point in a decade and a long way since topping 10 percent in 2009. The last time we have seen a number this low was in May 2007.

New numbers out today from the Labor Department showed the U.S. added 211,000 jobs in April. Many economists credit President Trump's promises for tax cuts or more infrastructure or deregulation for the gains.

For the first time since the "Black Hawk Down" disaster in 1993, an American service member has been killed in Somalia. We're learning more about the operation that cost a Navy SEAL his life and wounded two other troops.

Stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Some breaking news now.

President Trump's nominee to be secretary of the Army, Mark Green, has withdrawn his name from nomination. In a statement, he said -- quote -- "Tragically, my life of public

service and my Christian beliefs have been mischaracterized and attacked by a few on other side of the aisle for political gain" -- unquote.

Also today, we have some new information coming in about the attack in Somalia Thursday that left an American Navy SEAL dead. The Pentagon says the member was on a mission with Somali national army forces just outside the capital of Mogadishu.

Their operation was targeting the al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab when they came under fire. This latest death came as a top U.S. general is sounding the alarm on the strenuous workload for special-ops teams around the globe.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now live from the Pentagon.

Barbara, let's start with the operation in Somalia. What are you learning about it?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we do now know that one Navy SEAL killed, two other service members wounded when they were working on a mission with Somali forces.

They were going to a compound looking for Somali Al-Shabaab members who had been involved in attacks in areas where U.S. troops had been. A lot of Americans may not realize that U.S. special forces have been on the ground very quietly in Somalia for some time now advising and assisting Somali forces to try and push this al Qaeda affiliate out of there, the people of Somalia suffering greatly at the hands of the Al- Shabaab group.

But, as you say, this simply underscores another country where U.S. special operations forces are on the ground in very small numbers doing the heavy lifting here in the most dangerous of circumstances.

[16:15:05] And sadly, of course, this Navy SEAL killed when the al Shabaab group launched a small arms attack at them -- Jake.

TAPPER: Indeed, Barbara. In the last few months, we've reported on the deaths and woundings of Navy SEALs, of Green Berets. Before news of this death, the commander of U.S. Special Operations addressed the strain on special operators around the world. Take a listen.


GEN. RAYMOND THOMAS, COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: We're not a panacea. We are not the ultimate solution for every problem, and you will not hear that coming from us.


TAPPER: Can Special Ops keep up the pace?

STARR: It is going to be very difficult. What General Thomas, and we have reported on him extensively, said

there, it's one of the biggest military challenges right now. Presidents tend to get very enamored of Special Forces. They want to use them all the time around the world, and they are not the panacea.

Special Forces will be the first to tell you that you need diplomacy. That you need economic action, that you need financial action in many of these very troubled spots around the world. They can only do so much.

And under the Trump administration you're seeing more and more reliance on Special Operations Forces against some of the most dangerous terrorists in Somalia, in Libya, in Iraq, in Syria, the list goes on and on. And there is a good deal of concern at the very highest levels of Special Operations Forces that they are simply getting stretched too thin -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about, including something that sounds like the plot from the movie "The Interview" with Seth Rogen.

But North Korea claims it's quite real. The rogue nation is accusing the United States and South Korea of trying to assassinate its leader, Kim Jong-un.

Stay with us.


[16:20:45] TAPPER: More in our world lead now: a stunning and oddly detailed accusation by North Korea. The communist regime is claiming that the United States and South Korea teamed up to try to assassinate Kim Jong-un with a biochemical weapon. In fact, North Korean state media goes as far as to say that the U.S. is putting ISIS to shame.

Let's bring back CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

And, Barbara, normally, I wouldn't put a lot of stock on what the North Koreans are saying. They, obviously, had a story several years ago about how they discovered a unicorn layer. But these claims are quite specific.

Why would they release this propaganda? What is the motive if it's not that it's true?

STARR: Well, you know, the intelligence community in the U.S. will be the first to tell you that you don't know why North Korea is doing what it's doing. One of the theories -- they may be doing it for internal consumption to make the regime appear stronger in the eyes of the North Korean people, but it's doing nothing to ease tensions on the world stage.


STARR (voice-over): North Korea has accused the U.S. and South Korea of plotting to assassinate Kim Jong-un with a biochemical substance. Is it just propaganda or could it possibly be true?

North Korea's state-run news agency made the assassination claim in extraordinary detail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): An atrocious terrorist group that was planted inside North Korea under a covert and meticulous preparation by the CIA and South Korea's National Intelligence Service for the purpose of committing a biochemical terror against our supreme leadership was recently detected.

STARR: A U.S. intelligence official declined to comment. A South Korean official says their government knew nothing about it.

A Pentagon spokesman telling reporters --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm familiar with the media reports, but familiar with no reality that would match them.

STARR: North Korea has had a history of making unfounded claims. CNN was not able to independently corroborate this latest allegation.

SETH ROGEN, ACTOR: You want us to assassinate the leader of North Korea?



STARR: But it all sounds like the move "The Interview" which angered Kim and he accused the U.S. government of being behind the making of the film. It's widely believed he ordered a 2014 cyber attack on Sony Pictures in retaliation.

A former CIA officer says the latest allegation is not credible.

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: First of all, there's no authority. The CIA would need what's called a lethal finding, which has to be approved by Congress and the president, something like that would leak out immediately. And, secondly, it doesn't have the capability to operate in North Korea. It's a police state, complete lockdown. There are no CIA agents running around.

STARR: North Korea, now a priority for U.S. Special Operations Forces. The top commander openly telling Congress he's increasingly getting ready for what he calls contingencies in Korea.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Countering Russian aggression is the number two priority, is that correct, General Thomas?

THOMAS: I'll tell you. It's being challenged by our preparations for Korea.

STARR: Those preparations are making Special Operations Forces able in the event of war to attack North Korean nuclear sites and even secretly conduct sabotage missions, a defense official tells CNN.


STARR: Now, U.S. Special Operations Forces are actually the group of the military now in charge of dealing with weapons of mass destruction. They have the lead on that and that means North Korea is in their eye sights front and center -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

President Trump now doubling down on Australia's government-provided health care system. Now, the president is even saying, everybody has better health care than America. Is he setting the bar a little too high for the Republican bill in the Senate?

Stay with us.


[16:28:59] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's stay with politics and dive right in with my panel. We have no shortage of things to talk about.

Mary Katharine, I want to know, you're an Obamacare user. You are on the individual market in the commonwealth of Virginia, and you have talked about how difficult it has been to see your premiums go up.

What do you make of the Republican health care bill that just passed the House? Are you happy with it?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, first of all, skeptical of all health care change bills so I'm looking at it that way, but I think the issue is this -- in this individual market, you do have people who are really hurting -- middle and working class people who have health care that they almost can't use because the deductibles are hitting $13,000, $12,700 really, and the mortgage- sized premiums just make it impossible.

You do get your free checkup once a year, but it's like at that price, it's a very expensive free checkup.

So, you have to work on that problem and I think my concern was that the incentive was to do nothing, and it was very hard to get something through the House. I'm glad they have gotten something through. I don't think this is the finished product. I think there's a lot of hand-wringing about things that are not even in this bill, including the idea that pre-existing conditions coverage would go away, which is not in there.