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Senate Dems Renew Fight Over Secret Health Care Bill; Spicer Looking for How Replacement as White House Becomes Less Transparent; Trump Approval Hits New Low Amid Russia Investigation; Georgia's Sixth District Election Today a Big Test on Trump; Interview with Sen. Maria Cantwell. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:19] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Senate Democrats have launched a renewed fight against the GOP for pulling together their health care bill in the Senate behind closed doors. That fight on display on the Senate floor last night for a late-night protest amongst Democratic Senators.

Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell was one of those lawmakers. Listen to this.


SEN. MARIA CANTWELL, (D), WASHINGTON: I come to the floor tonight to join my colleagues to raise concern about a proposed Senate health care bill that might move through the United States Senate, as my colleagues are pointing out, without a hearing, without attention to details, actually, almost in secret. I guess it would be secret -- if we didn't know what was in the House bill, it would be even more secret. People said it will be 80 percent of what's in the House bill. I agree with President Trump, that was a mean bill.


BOLDUAN: Senator Cantwell is joining me now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thank you for your time.

CANTWELL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Many Democrats stayed up late last night speaking on the Senate floor. It was part protest, it was also to stall Senate business, was one of the points in protest over the Republican health care plan. It didn't stall anything. What did it accomplish?

CANTWELL: Well, the Republicans are having a war on Medicaid. Medicaid is a key part of our health care delivery system. It serves veterans and it helps the public health hospitals and it helps dealing with the opioid population and it takes people out of poverty and stabilizes them by giving them access to health care to they can work. All these things our colleagues are trying to cut and devastate Medicaid. They're trying to do it behind closed door. We ask they come to the floor. If these are the concepts they support, regardless of the bill, come to the floor and debate us on these concepts. The American public has a right to know if their health care costs are going to go up because of the actions of my colleagues.

BOLDUAN: Of course, we don't know what the Republican bill will do to Medicaid because it hasn't been put out there, yet.


BOLDUAN: That's one of the things.


BOLDUAN: I was just saying, we don't know the details because you don't know the details.

CANTWELL: We know what the House is proposing. As I said, you played a little clip, we believe it's going to be 80 percent of what the House is proposing. No one is backing away from this concept of a cap on Medicaid. In fact, they are talking about what length of time. That is a devastating idea to the health care delivery system. You can talk to doctors, you can talk to hospitals, you can talk to law enforcement, talk to housing people, you can talk to Chambers of Commerce, none of them will be supportive of this idea of capping Medicaid.


CANTWELL: Now, there's lots of ways to innovate and deliver health care and make it more cost effective, but those aren't the ideas that our colleagues are talking about right now. They are talking about capping and cutting Medicaid, including veterans.

[11:35:10] BOLDUAN: Senator, on what Democrats, what you can do about this, that's kind of one of my questions. Not only the protest on the Senate floor, other maneuvers being considered by other Democrats, like blocking hearings from taking place to slow things down. Do you support that?

CANTWELL: I support every effort that gets our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to tell us why they want to cut Medicaid.


BOLDUAN: Are you concerned you look like you are obstructionists?

CANTWELL: No. No, no, no. First of all, this is one-seventh of our economy. It's a critical aspect of how we move forward economically. We want our colleagues, who may not be paying attention to this because it is behind closed doors, to understand how dangerous a precedent like this would be to cut Medicaid. If they listen to people in their communities, I guarantee there will be businesses, law enforcement, doctors that all tell them it is not the way to do it. They fact that we've expanded Medicaid and covered people under Medicaid has solved cost problems for us in the health care system.


CANTWELL: We want every attention to give to our colleagues so they've come and debate that very point.

BOLDUAN: On the point of the talks being in secret, there are example after example of Republicans saying the exact same thing about Democrats that the Democrats are saying about them today. Governor Mike Pence, Senator John Cornyn, Senator Mitch McConnell, we don't need to play the soundbites. It goes on and on and on. It's not like you aren't going to see the bill before you vote on it. I mean, that's --


CANTWELL: I have been doing events around my state with various health care individuals. Just last Saturday, did one with veterans to bring attention to this issue. So, you are right, people can argue about process. Certainly, the process is not illuminating the choices for the American people. That's a problem. Certainly, the process that the Affordable Care Act went through, as a member of finance, I can tell you, it was an open process. So the issue really is to put front and center, so we have a lively debate about whether it's a good idea to cut and cap Medicaid. To me, that's the key focus.

BOLDUAN: Senator Maria Cantwell, appreciate you coming on.


CANTWELL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We appreciate it.

CANTWELL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Senator.

Is this the least transparent White House in decades? Dropping on- camera briefings, not releasing visitor logs, and now, the president is reportedly looking to replace his press secretary. Details on that, ahead.


[11:42:08] BOLDUAN: A White House official tells CNN that press secretary, Sean Spicer, could be getting a new role that would move him away from the podium. It's been rumored for weeks that the Trump administration is considering making some kind of a staff shakeup. Is it more real this time? We have been seeing less and less of the press secretary. Yesterday's briefing was off camera, no audio recordings allowed. Very unusual. But just the morning, the White House did add back in an on-camera briefing to today's schedule. So, let us see.

Joining me now, Alex Burns, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" senior political reporter. Alex, I feel like there's been talk since this White House became this

White House that things are going to be shaken up. People are on the outs, on the ins. Are these trial balloons or something more this time?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you could say even before President Trump was in the White House, his transition, his campaign, before that, his businesses, his sort of "Apprentice" cast, was always in a constant state of flux and turmoil. This is the environment he creates around himself. That's not to say this isn't the real deal. It does feel like the administration is hitting a critical point, politically, where, if you are the president, and you are looking at the way your agenda is being transmitted, received and explained around the country, he does not have a message at this point. I don't know that you can blame that on Sean Spicer, but is the kind of situation that typically would lead an administration to say let's make some changes.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to whomever would come in to be a fresh voice in the administration, especially on the com side, does it matter? Doesn't the message singularly come from the president and sometimes he goes around the communications staff to push that message?

BURNS: Sure. That's why I think it would be difficult for them to recruit certain kind of talent for that job because, you know, a communications professional doesn't want to be constantly undermined by their client. Right? At the end of the day, the president likes to be his own spokesman. That's probably not going to change no matter who the press secretary is.

BOLDUAN: Despite the on-camera briefing today, there has been a clear trend of less and less, or kind of, by design, disappearing from public view what is going on in the White House. I wonder, who does that benefit? It seems to definitely not benefit the public because there's less access to the White House. It seems to not benefit the White House. That is a great opportunity to try to push the message and the agenda you want to push.

BURNS: Right. If they looked at how the briefings were going and decided they're not serving our interests, we're not doing a good job, OK. Right now, the only message coming out of the White House is basically what the president tweets. There's no way to argue that has advanced their political interests.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this. New approval rating numbers out this morning. CBS had them. The approval rating for the president is 36 percent, 57 percent disapproving, the lowest approval numbers in the CBS news poll since the president took office. An important part of this poll, as CBS explains, it shows falling support amongst Republicans, an 11-point drop since April, in terms of supporting the president. The White House sees this and says and thinks what, at this point, do you think?

[11:45:21] BURNS: I think that Republican number moving is a big deal, not just for the White House, but Republicans across Washington. There's been a sense that, because of the way congressional districts are drawn, because of the states that are up with Senate elections in 2018, the most important thing for Republicans is to maintain and satisfy their political base. When you see the president's approval rating among Republicans dropping into the 70s, you are no longer maintaining your base.

BOLDUAN: He is looking at the approval numbers because he tweets the ones he likes. But that has been true since the campaign.

Great to see you, Alex.

So, coming up for us, will it be a blow to Republicans or another blown opportunity for Democrats? Right now, voters in Georgia are hitting the polls in a record-breaking House race. Why it could be a huge test of the president's popularity, as Alex and I were just discussing.


[11:50:07] BOLDUAN: It's not just the biggest election since all the way back to 2016, it's the priciest House race ever, which is fitting because it's to feel Tom Price's seat in the House. Get it?

OK. Moving on. Voting underway right now in Georgia's sixth district, Republican Karen Handel versus Democrat Jon Ossoff. Democrats see a rare chance here to flip a Republican stronghold and would like to see this special election as a big test of President Trump's popularity. High stakes all around for sure, hence, why everyone's throwing so much money at it.

With me now to discuss, Tharon Johnson is here, former regional director for President Obama's 2012 campaign; and Ruth Guerra is here, communications director for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican PAC that supports House candidates.

Great to have you both. Let's fight it out now.


BOLDUAN: Ruth, you have Romney who won -- who won there by 20-plus points, Price won there by 20-plus points, often. If Handel wins only by a point, how much of a win is that?

RUTH GUERRA, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP FUND: I think a win is a win. You take a look at what we've seen in the other special elections that Democrat have tried to win and they come out with their moral victories. And a win is a win at the end of the day. You saw President Trump win this district by one point, and there's a lot of talk about that and how, you know, it's potentially, a referendum on him. But you don't see the candidate talking about Trump. You don't see Trump in any of the advertisements that have been run, and plenty of advertisements have been run in this district. So if you don't see the candidate talking about Donald Trump, that means that it's more Washington Democrats trying to make it about Trump than really what Georgia voters want to hear, because it's not what you hear at all from the candidate. He, in fact, didn't want to talk about Trump.

BOLDUAN: But, Ruth, President Trump has definitely wanted to talk about it, that's for sure. He's been tweeting about it, he fundraised for it. President Trump wants to be part of it.

GUERRA: Absolutely. He wants to strengthen the Republican majority in the House to move forward his agenda. That's absolutely what he wants to do. He wants a victory there.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

All right, Tharon, here's a quote four. This was in the "Wall Street Journal." "if Mr. Ossoff, with all his millions, with all his volunteers, with all the free media, still manages to lose, will all those telling us the race is a harbinger of things to come ask what that means then for the Democratic Party?"

So what does it mean if he losers?

JOHNSON: Well, first and foremost I think he's going to win today. I'm here in Atlanta, I'm on the ground, I see the momentum and enthusiasm. But this was not supposed to be a competitive race. This is a Republican stronghold district. The very fact that Jon Ossoff has a chance of winning is because of Donald Trump, because he ran a very, very specific message about going to Washington to hold Donald Trump accountable.


BOLDUAN: Right. But, Tharon, would you not agree with what Ruth said, that at some point, moral victories, they don't get you to the House of Representatives?

JOHNSON: No. Again, I think that, listen, he has a shot at winning. He's leading in all the polls that you guys have talked about on this show and in this broadcast and also locally.

The key for his victory today is this, is to not get into this whole Washington Democrat kind of thing that a lot of Republicans are trying to bring him into. He's got to focus on the issues. He's talked about small tech jobs. He's talking about going to Washington to hold people accountable, including Donald Trump. But more importantly, he wants to cut wasteful spending.

I believe this will not a moral victory if he loses today, because Democrats all across the country are fired up going into the midterms. But this race is going to be close, and I predict he'll win today.

BOLDUAN: Ruth, I gave Tharon a quote. Here's a quote for you from a Republican official in Georgia, named Brad Carver. "I think the shooting is going to win this election for us." He's talking right there about the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and others that happened last week outside of D.C. Do you agree with that language?

GUERRA: No. I think that this election is about the issues. I think that these two candidates are putting forward an agenda about -- Karen Handel had a strong record of fighting for Georgia families and --


BOLDUAN: Right, but this isn't just a nobody in Georgia. This is a Republican official in Georgia.

GUERRA: Well, and I would say it's about the issues. Voters care about issues and the agenda and what House Republicans are trying to move forward. And I think that that is what's going to ultimately make an affect and make an impact.


BOLDUAN: So do you agree with him or not, that quote?

GUERRA: I think that -- that, you know -- I think that it's more about the issues. I don't think that it's about an event that happened -- that a tragedy that happened, you know, a few days ago. I think it's about the issues that voters are going to -- that's going to take voters to the polls.

BOLDUAN: So you don't agree with the sentiment. Do you agree with him floating it and saying that a shooting could win us guys an election? You think that's appropriate?

GUERRA: I think it's about the issues again, Kate. I think it's plain and simple. It's not about a tragedy that happened. It's about issues that people are going -- and that's why Karen Handel has been, you know -- she beat out 11 other candidates and I think that that's important, and it's because she talked about the issues. And I think it's not about an event.

[11:55:03] BOLDUAN: I got it. So Ruth is sticking with the "on the issues" message.

I totally understand, Ruth. Thank you so much.

Tharon, really quick, if Jon Ossoff loses -- I mean, as close as it is, you have to believe the possibility is open -- who's fault is it? Is it the candidate or the party's?

JOHNSON: I think Jon Ossoff has run a spectacular campaign, has run a specific campaign that's focusing on Democrats and Independents and Republicans in the district. I don't want to talk about him losing because I think he's going to win. But if he was to lose, I do think we pick up on this momentum. I think no one would be to blame. I think the people that we could blame for his loss would be the Republicans in this district that don't want to see change in Washington.

BOLDUAN: Tharon and Ruth, thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: After spending $30 million.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it.

Thanks so much, Ruth.


BOLDUAN: Just stick with the issues. We'll have you back.

Running into sniper fire to save a little girl. This stunning rescue is caught on camera. We're going to bring you the incredible details. That's coming up next.


[12:00:13] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King.