Return to Transcripts main page


Critics Rip GOP's All Male Health Care Working Group; Yates Won't Answer Question on "Collusion" Evidence; Yates: I Went to White House Counsel So They Could Take Action; Obama: "You Get the Politicians You Deserve". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 9, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- and for what? Because the Senate is sure to change it which is going to put him in even more of a box. I think first and foremost we have to give him some applause for having a town hall meeting because a lot do not and his is in a district there that is very, very split. In Eastern Iowa a lot of working class folks, blue collar workers there. But I'm not sure it worked out so well for him because there aren't good answers to all of these.

So, what Democrats have to do and they know is get recruiting right now. Strong candidates. And, you know but a problem that hangs over them for this party is the gerrymandering issue. Democrats we can say it again and again, we need to, because at the local level they're simply are not in a strong position to take this over. This is not 2008. It just is not 2008.

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Right. The way these lines are drawn and we had so many Republican governors involved after 2010.


KING: The last time they drew the lines, but the lines are favorable to Republicans, much more so that you go back to 2006 when George W. Bush had the Democratic wave. 2008, that's when the Republicans had their wave. The lines are different, so if it's going to be a wave, you're going to get what I get and no -- I mean, no offense. Accidental conversation (ph) where you have candidates who aren't so good and the wave is just so strong they get swept in anyway.

ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: And I think one of the other issues with Republicans with this bill in particular is that it hurts the people who tend to show up in midterm elections, but particularly older Americans who are looking at this bill, and it doesn't matter what way you look at it. They are probably going to end up with higher premiums and deductibles, some of them are going to end up in very tough situations in terms of there health care.

And that is really bad when you're going into a midterm election because those are the people who are much more likely to show up but -- and they also happen to not necessarily be the Democrats best, most reliable voters, but if they're angry enough at Republicans about the real policy implications of this vote, it could be quite bad for them. KING: Like Donald Trump's best constituency, older Americans and more and more in the last 15 years, the Republican constituency. But you see I agree with you where the congressman -- yes, he's prescreening saying only people from his district can come to his town halls. He's walked out in interview and he was asked will you take money only from your district.

PHILLIP: Great follow-up question.

KING: But you do that, it was great follow-up question and I think he was ready for that. But at least he is out there touching his constituents. But the question now is this goes to the Senate. You know, you've seen all these senators saying we're starting over again. We're not blocked (ph) using your ability to tamper (ph). We're starting over again.

And I want to show up there's been some controversy about this. There's a Democrat -- I mean, there's a Republican working group in the Senate that is all men, if you look at it right now. There's a meeting under way right now as we said early in the program. Mike Pence is up there. And Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican Senator of West Virginia just walked into the meeting and she said she was invited to come and talk about the Medicaid issues which are huge in this conversation, huge in her state of West Virginia.

But should the Republican Party, should Leader McConnell who we know is going to consult these in the House and Shelley Moore Capito and he is going to consult Susan Collins from Maine. We know he knows he can't get a deal without the Republican women of the senate. But should he for optics purposes have tinkered with the working group that is done by -- it's done by leadership, it's done by the ranking members of the committee.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: For real purposes, right? I mean, you sort of want Susan Collins at the table. You want Lisa Murkowski at the table. They have pushed back on this and said well I do have ideological diversity there, Portman's probably more in line with Collins or Murkowski. But my goodness, you need those people to buy into this bill, so why not make them a part of that original process so they can get by on the front end. Because they could be deciding a vote in terms of whether or not --

KING: And the process answer is that these are the chairmen or the right -- the big leaders of the relevant committee.

ZELENY: Well, that's another problem.


ZELENEY: (INAUDIBLE) the problems with the Republican Party. And there are plenty of women senators, conservative women senators, Deb Fischer from Nebraska, a lot of others, it is just -- it's optically terrible. It feeds directly into what happens last week in the Rose Garden. I bet that group suddenly looks different.

HENDERSON: Right. I think so. MATT VISER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: If you look at how the House bill went down -- I mean, it didn't go down because of committee chairman sort of fighting back. It went down because the Freedom Caucus and sort of members who were able to get a coalition together, which ironically in the Senate when you have you know people like Ted Cruz in this meetings and people like Susan Collins not in them it could be the more moderate senators that the devil of Mitch McConnell.

KING: And if you look at the issues that come over with the House bill and, again, the Senate is going to look at it and do its own bill. But the issues that come over pre-existing conditions -- and the current problems with Obamacare. Let's not -- let's -- the Republicans are right, there are structure (ph) problems with Obamacare that exist. The questions, is this the plan to fix it? These five women senators actually, you know, Susan Collins of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, some of these rural areas where you have some of the bigger problems, but you also have the older populations. Part of this conversation has become -- can somebody help me, is this good or bad when pop culture becomes part of the conversation.

Jimmy's credit, Jimmy Kimmel shared a very personal story about his young child on his program and now it's become the Jimmy Kimmel Test. It's been part of the political conversation. Here is an update as he has, one of the Republican senators involved on the program.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST OF "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": The Jimmy Kimmel Test I think should be no family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can't afford it. Can that be the Jimmy Kimmel test -- as simple as that? Is that oversimplifying it?

[12:35:13] SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISSIANA: Man, you're on the right track and that as close as we can get that works great in government. Now we've got to be able to pay for it and that's the challenge.

KIMMEL: Well, I can think of --

DASSIDY: It's just a --

KIMMEL: I can think of a way to pay for it, is don't give a huge tax cut to millionaires like me and instead leave it how it is.


KING: It's, you know, it's an entertainment show, but it was a very personal story shared by Jimmy Kimmel and in that conversation he gets at several of the big policy questions here.

Now that Obamacare is in place and that President Trump, a nontraditional Republican campaigns on keeping a lot of its most popular provisions, how do the Republicans pay for it?

PHILLIP: Right. I mean, look, whenever -- KING: And what do they keep? How much government (ph) do they keep?

PHILLIP: Whenever these issues penetrate into pop culture, into people's living rooms, people's homes, that's a real -- that's like a wakeup call. It means that they need to get it right at this moment. I remember, you know, in the Obama health care debate, when the website went down and it was spoofed on SNL -- I mean, it becomes the prevailing narrative about the bill. And yes -- so yes, they need to deal with that but yes, he -- Bill Cassidy is right. The pay for is important too, but the bill right now is structured to get Republicans some -- a tax baseline that they can use for other priorities going down the road.

And I bet that the Senate is going to probably have something to say about that. Because ultimately it is bad politics that the repeal of the tax increase that they are putting in this bill is bad politics. And it also may end up being bad policy as well.

KING: Now we have to disrupt your health care to pay for tax reform --


KING: -- is not a good (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: Right, right, right, right.

VISER: They're arguing that -- I mean, there's about a trillion dollar system (ph) and with the health care bill and they are arguing that you're going to still be OK like not much will change. And that trillion dollars going to somewhere. And so, people will feel that (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: Yes. And for weeks -- yes, and for weeks and weeks and weeks, possibly months, possibly into next year, this is going to be the debate, right? I mean, it's sort of the template is still this House bill. The Senate can say all they want to, we're going to work on something differently. But in the minds of a lot of Americans, it's this House bill what people are talking about.

KING: The fair point is the policy that matter most to the people out there but the interesting for the watching (ph) conversation, as I said, Mike Pence and his working group are up there on Capitol Hill today but it brought in Shelley Moore Capito (INAUDIBLE). When they come out, do they have any sense of a timeline?


KING: Because most of the indications for leadership up in the Senate has been this is the Senate.

HENDERSON: It can't be slow.

KING: The Senate gives us chill.

When we come back, a heads up. No, it's just a little more than that. No collusion? It's not so clear cut. Mike Flynn did nothing wrong? That's not accurate. The White House narrative collides with reality.


[12:41:57] KING: Welcome back. When you're faced with conflicting information, which source do you trust often becomes the question. Yesterday's testimony from the former acting attorney general and the former director of national intelligence put that question front and center here in Washington, repeatedly.

President Trump paid attention to the hearing and twitted this reaction. "Director Clapper reiterated what everybody including the fake media already knows. There is no evidence of collusion with Russia and Trump." But the testimony on the collusion question, sorry Mr. President was hardly so clear cut.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: My answer to that question would require me to reveal classified information and so I can't answer that.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I don't get that because he just said he issued the report. And he said he doesn't know of any. So how would you know that's not in the report?


GRAHAM: No, her.

YATES: Well, I think that Director Clapper also said that he was unaware of the FBI counterintelligence investigation.

GRAHAM: Would it be fair to say that the counterintelligence investigation was not mature enough to come to his -- to get in the report? Is that fair Mr. Clapper?

CLAPPER: That's a possibility.


KING: That's one important point. And listen here, the president back in February describing his take on the Sally Yates warning.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as the general's concerned, when I first heard about it, I said, huh, that doesn't sound wrong. My counsel came, Don McGahn, White House Counsel and he told me, and I asked him. And he can speak very well for himself. He said, he doesn't think anything is wrong. He really didn't think --


KING: Doesn't sound wrong, the president said. But McGahn listened yesterday. Yates repeatedly said, her message to the White House was it was beyond wrong.


YATES: The Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done. And the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others. Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.


KING: You can't square these circles. What -- the testimony is very different from what the president and his team have repeatedly tried to say. They say this is clear cut. Those two public servants say no, it isn't.

PHILIP: Yes. I mean, to Jeff's point earlier it's important for us to find out in some way what was the president actually told about what Sally Yates told Don McGahn. That seems to be an increasingly important question because Trump has ever since that day that Easter press conference defended Michael Flynn and repeatedly suggested that he did nothing wrong even in the face of all of this talk about the risks of blackmail.

[12:45:02] So, there's that problem and I think in general on the collusion question, the folks who are looking at this situation fairly need to be more comfortable with the idea that we don't know what the answer to the collusion question is.

It is not as the president says that there was no collusion. The answer is unsatisfying we don't know. And I think that's what James Clapper and Sally Yates put out there was that there is no definitive yes or no answer to that right at this moment. And even folks on the left I think need to be a little bit more comfortable with that.

KING: I think the Democrats have gone beyond at least the public information some of the things they say. But when you have it -- look, I understand people work for the president and the president himself is a politician. But he's also the commander-in-chief, he's a politician. I understand the idea that they want to shape things in a favorable lights. But there's a difference between shaping things in a favorable light and saying things that are factually untrue.

VISER: And Sean Spicer yesterday too said, you know, President Trump did the right thing. He believes he did the right thing at that time and he stands by that decision to stick with Flynn, you know, for those things he did.

KING: Eighteen days after being told he could be blackmailed by the Russians and an hour long call with the Russian president.

VISER: So, I think no you have -- I mean, put aside for a minute the Russian collusion question. But you have a sort of a mismanagement standpoint of the president keeping somebody despite repeated warnings from top officials that this guy's compromised. KING: And part of his brand was he hires the best people. Before you jump in I just want to put in one more example here. When this first came up, the Washington Post story that Sally Yates had warned the White House that General Flynn possibly could be subject to blackmail by the Russians, here is how the press secretary described it.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The acting attorney general informed the White House counsel that they wanted to give, quote, a heads up to us on some comments that may have seemed in conflict with what the -- he had sent the vice president out in particular. The White House counsel informed the president immediately --


KING: Now, the immediately there is important to the question you raised early. We don't know what Don McGahn told the president. But the immediately if it's true matters there. But again, gave us a heads up, sounds pretty casual. Listen to Sally Yates.


YATES: I had two in-person meetings and one phone call with the White House counsel about Mr. Flynn. We told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action. The action that they deemed appropriate. I remember that Mr. McGahn asked me whether or not General Flynn should be fired. And I told him that that really wasn't our call, that was up to them. But that we were giving them this information so that they could take action.


KING: That's not a heads up. A, it's a big deal when the attorney general actually turns up goes to meet with the White House counsel about somebody on the White House staff who's under FBI investigation. That is a big deal in its own right. I mean, if you say nothing, just to even -- but the idea that -- and again, Sean Spicer is a political appointee, works for the president, but like it's not a heads up. It wasn't a heads up, it was a warning.

HENDERSON: Yes, this was sounding the alar.

KINGS: In triplicate.

HENDERSON: Yes, in a major way. Her saying that some sort of action needed to be taken. They obviously didn't fire him for 18 days or accept his resignation, unclear of whether or not they did anything, right. Did they bar him from meetings or did they bar him from briefings or anything?

And, you know, everyone talks sort of about loyalty and Donald Trump being loyal to people around him. He's sort of also loyal to whatever set of information he has. He's not very curious in terms of finding, you know, other information and processing that information. So this seems to be another of those instances when President Obama said listen, Flynn, this might be a problem. He seem to sort of --

ZELENY: I can see how he wouldn't sort of accept that advice. So all he did say we had great meetings with President Obama at that moment. He was saying, you know -- he was locking arms with him. But why did they invite her back to the White House?

The point you made earlier today that they invited her back to the White House but then by that evening she was fired because she refused to enforce the travel ban. To me, why did they invite her back? You know, there are more questions here. And it's OK right now to not have the answers. These things take a long time to develop.

KING: We don't have the investigative answers. But I do think you might -- you're right there are fundamental questions about judgment and management style and who did what? We want the answer to -- so we don't have the answer to get to right conclusion probably about those. But those are additional questions now put on the table as the investigations continue. Everybody sit tight. We'll be right back.


[12:53:30] KING: Welcome back. You probably remember from the last campaign, President Obama's favorite refrain, don't boo, vote he would say it and say often. Well, the retired President Obama has a new catch line and when it comes to the voters, it's a whole lot harsher.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: People have a tendency to blame politicians when things don't work. But as I always tell people, you get the politicians you deserve. And if you don't vote and you don't participate and you don't pay attention, then you'll get policies that don't reflect your interests.


KING: He certainly is correct to a degree as my dad used to say, if you don't vote don't -- I won't say the word at noontime here in the east. But from a former president, does that sound a little whiney blaming the voters?

PHILIP: He's not over it clearly. He's clearly -- I mean, just rewind a little bit. I mean, I remember the weeks before the election hearing Obama talk to his supporters in some of the most frank and harsh terms that I think he'd ever used in his presidency. He was really putting everything out on the line. It was not enough and I think he's clearly still pretty upset about it.

ZELENY: And by saying things like that, he can, you know, continues the narrative that he was not to blame at all for any of this or the Trump presidency was not a reaction in any way to the Obama presidency. It was to some degree, of course it was. History will fell that it was.

So by him saying that, he's accurate actually in some respects, but again, in a lot of sense not to taking any responsibility. But he's unbuttoned, you know, he's feeling good as a retiree there. But history will show his presidency, you know, was linked to the Trump presidency for a reason.

[12:55:10] VISER: It's also remarkable how much Obama is out there. You know, I mean, we saw him over the weekend getting the Profile in Courage Award, giving a speech. He gave speeches in the previous week, now he's doing this. I mean, he's out there quite a bit commenting on news of the day and on politics.

HENDERSON: Yes. And Tom Perriello who's running for governor in Virginia is basically running on the Obama platform. He's got ads with Obama complimenting him and basically sort of the Obama doctrine. So, will that be the test to see if sort of the Obama way and kind of running alongside Obama actually works in a state like Virginia. It didn't work last time.

KING: And when you've been a two-term president and you're not going to be on the ballot again, that's when you can blame the voters.


KING: Thanks for joining us in the "Inside Politics." We'll see you back here same time tomorrow. Just moments away from the White House press briefing. Wolf Blitzer keeping an eye on that. We'll bring it to you when it happens.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8 p.m. in Jerusalem. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Happening this hour, the White House press briefing, Sean Spicer will brief reporters, take questions. Among the likely topics --