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Republicans Continue Crafting Secret Health Care Bill; Interview With Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 21, 2017 - 16:30   ET




The politics lead now. The president is taking a victory lap today with a campaign event of sorts in Iowa after a big Republican win last night in Georgia's congressional race.

But while the White House is riding high, it's not quite high enough to get his head above that Russia cloud.

CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray is live for us on the North Lawn.

And, Sara, it's like that election never ended for President Trump. He's on the road once again tonight.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and we know from the president's aides that he likes the opportunity to get out of Washington to escape questions about Russia and speak directly to his fans.

And tonight he will get an opportunity to do just that with the political wind at his back.


MURRAY (voice-over): Today, President Trump is hitting the road for a rally in Iowa, a chance for this embattled president to do one of the things he likes best, savor the sweet taste of victory.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said, I think I'm going to win this state, and I won the state easily, right?

Breaking news. Donald Trump has won North Carolina. That was unbelievable.


TRUMP: We remember Ohio. Oh, boy. It was supposed to be close. It wasn't close.

MURRAY: It wasn't actually Trump who notched a win Tuesday evening. That would be Republican Karen Handel, who picked up a House seat in Georgia's special election.

But Trump and his aides are still rejoicing, noting a race that was billed by some as a referendum on Trump's presidency broke for the GOP.

Trump tweeting: "Well, the special elections are over and those that want to make America great again are 5-0. All the fake news, all the money spent equals zero."

The president also chastising the Democrats, saying: "Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on health care, tax cuts, security. Obstruction doesn't work."

As Trump allies relish the win...

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: They want to make this all about Donald Trump. Great. It's about Donald Trump and he's winning.

MURRAY: ... Democrats are zero for four on special elections, but they're still insisting hope is alive and arguing the midterm election map could still work in their favor.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: There are lots of congressional districts that are currently held by Republicans that aren't nearly as ruby red as either of these two districts last night. And so cutting down that margin should actually give comfort to lots of Democrats and should actually scare a lot of Republicans.

MURRAY: But the GOP victory this week could relieve some pressure on Republicans readying for tough votes, in particular an expected Senate vote on the Republican health care plan, the White House making clear the ball is firmly in the Senate's court.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, the Senate is where the action is right now.

MURRAY: So much so that a senior administration official admitted the White House hasn't even seen the Senate health care bill in its entirety.

That's exactly how senators and their top aides on Capitol Hill want it. They have made it clear to the White House the more hands-off Trump is during the process, the better for the bill's prospects.


MURRAY: Now, the president has said relatively little about this Senate health care process, except in a private meeting to say the bill that was passed by the House was mean and the Senate should have more heart.

We will see if the president weighs in on this again tomorrow, when senators are expected to see more details on this health care bill -- back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Last night's loss for Democrats in the suburbs of Atlanta means that Democrats have gone zero for four in special elections to replace the president's Cabinet appointments, even after spending tens of millions of dollars.

Already demoralized and out of power in the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, governorships and state legislatures, the Democratic Party is not in a good place.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.

Congressman, good to see you, as always.


TAPPER: As results rolled in last night, you tweeted -- quote -- "Ossoff race better be a wakeup call for Democrats. Business as usual isn't working. Time to stop rehashing 2016 and talk about the future. We need a genuinely new message, a serious jobs plan that reaches all Americans and a bigger tent, not a smaller one. Focus on the future."

So why do you think Democratic leaders are missing the mark here?

REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I'm not sure, but we have got to come to terms with the fact that we lost. We have got to look at ourselves in the mirror. And we have got to accept responsibility.

When I was a Marine platoon commander, my job description was very simple. You are responsible for everything your platoon does or fails to do.

Our leadership needs to explain what happened, needs to explain why these resources essentially have gone to waste, and really develop a serious plan for the future.

That's what I'm doing right now is, I'm focusing on recruiting veterans to run for office. And this afternoon, I'm announcing my endorsement for eight challengers of Republicans across the country who are veterans, people have served their country, earned the distinction of being able to put the country before party politics or before their own personal interests before, and I think they will do that in office.

So, that is why I'm trying to do, to focus on the future.

TAPPER: Well, that's great. We need more veterans in Congress from both parties.


Let me ask you. In response to the losses last night, today, your colleague Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice told CNN -- quote -- "It's time for Nancy Pelosi to go."

She also said your party needs a leadership change. Do you agree with Congresswoman Rice that Pelosi is a liability for races in 2018?

MOULTON: Well, whether she's the leader or not is up to the caucus to decide.

But this is something that we certainly have to discuss, because it's clear that I think across the board in the Democratic Party, we need new leadership. It's time for a new generation of leadership in the party.

Most of the veterans that I'm working with are very young. And that's the kind of generational change that I think our party needs. Everyone talks about how old and distinguished our party leadership is. These are very accomplished politicians. They're good at what they do.

But I think it's time for change, and these election results frankly show that.

TAPPER: Well, who would you like to be lead of the Democratic Party? Is there a specific person? I know that you got behind the challenge to Pelosi, but there's no one -- you're shaking your head. There's no one you want to name right now?

MOULTON: No, there is no one who has announced that he or she is running at this point.

So, we don't even -- I don't know that it's possible at this point to change our party leadership. Someone has got to step up and run.

I supported Tim Ryan when he challenged Nancy Pelosi in the fall, but even he has not said that he's running. But these are the kinds of discussions that we have to be willing to have as a party if we're going to be able to move forward and earn back the trust of working families across America.

TAPPER: President Trump tweeted after the results in Georgia, saying -- quote -- "Democrats would do much better as a party if they got together with Republicans on health care, tax cuts, security. Obstruction doesn't work."

Is he possibly right there? Is it possible that Democrats...

MOULTON: We have been trying to.


MOULTON: We have been trying to. And he refuses to meet with us.

Republicans are doing this health care bill completely behind closed doors. They're not even bringing in everybody from their own party to discuss it. What a contrast with how Obamacare was debated through committees for over a year before it was passed by the House.

So that might sound like a nice idea, but the Republicans are the ones who are not letting that happen. TAPPER: More -- in terms of a larger message for the Democratic

Party, there is obviously this debate. Some say the Democrats needs to run to the middle more. Others, a la Bernie Sanders, say the Democratic Party needs be more of the left, a more progressive party.

What do you think? Where do you come down?

MOULTON: Well, in many ways, they're both right. We need both voices in the party.

And that's why what I'm saying is we need a bigger tent. We need a Democratic Party tent that includes moderates in the middle and also folks represented by Bernie Sanders on the left. That's what will make us a bigger party. That's what will enable us to take back the House and the Senate.

TAPPER: Congressman Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, as always, great to see you, sir. Thanks for coming on.

MOULTON: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Let's talk about this more with David Urban, former Trump campaign strategist, and Jen Psaki, former White House communications director under President Obama.

So, Jen, Atlanta last night, what went wrong?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, no one should have a meltdown here. No Democrats in the country or in Washington should have a meltdown.

We didn't lose a seat here. We lost a race. There are a couple things that I think the party should take a look at. One is the Republicans had a -- more than expected successes in field organizing and turning out their voters.

How did that happen? Why did that happen? How do we not let that replicate in other races? The second is, what is our message? Health care was the most important issue in this race. According to the "AJC" polls, 81 percent of people in this district cared about it.

The majority didn't like the Republican health care bill. Maybe he should have run some ads on that. Maybe they should have led with that even more. But those are some of the lessons learned I think they should look at.

TAPPER: I know you're not going to, David, tell the Democrats how to win. But you won a reliably blue state for President Trump, Pennsylvania. You ran that state.

What is the disconnect? What are Democrats -- how are they not able to reach the voters that traditionally they had been able to reach?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Jake, I think you see the congressman on here, Marine Corps veteran, kind of solidly what would be considered at one point in time a Blue Dog Democrat. Blue Dogs don't exist anymore because they were cannibalized by their own party. There is no space in the Democratic Party left for moderates. And that's the problem. You see last night there is a big argument now that Democrats need to run further to the left, run and embrace Sanders, right, where you see Congressman Moulton saying we need to have a big tent.

I would say the Democrats need to have a big tent, because if they don't, they are going to have a lot more losses coming up in the midterms. And I think they once had a reliably Blue Dog caucus that were in places like Pennsylvania and other blue to red states that are now gone.

TAPPER: And just showing President Trump getting on Air Force One on the way to fly to Iowa for his victory lap, campaign rally, whatever it is exactly.

Jen, you see this play out on Twitter. Obama veterans like yourself, Dan Pfeiffer and others, talking about what the party needs to do to reach to the kind of voters who voted for Obama twice and then voted for Trump.


And then they're pushed back, some by Hillary veterans, some by the Keith Ellison-Bernie Sanders wing, saying, no, we need to give our party -- we need to reach out to our base. What do you make of this? Sometimes it gets even starker than that.

What do you make of this debate?

PSAKI: I agree with a lot of what David said.

The fact is we need candidates who match their districts. Now, in some races, that's going to be candidates who may be military veterans. Some races, it may be more conservative. Some races, they may be more progressive.

And we can't be a party that runs totally to the left. I consider myself a progressive, but I have also been a part of two presidential campaigns that won. I was at the DCCC when we won back the House.

And there are a lot of lessons that people are learning from this that are wrong, and that is to run to the left in every district. We will not win. We will lose. We will continue to be in the minority. And that's not the lesson we should take away from last nigh.

URBAN: But I would encourage you to keep doing it, Jen. I would encourage you to keep going.


TAPPER: It's interesting.

A Republican consultant friend of mine, I asked him. People are criticizing Jon Ossoff for -- basically, he won the primary by being -- attracting the resistance crowd from California, New York and getting all that money coming in, and then he basically just ran as kind of a bland moderate.

And I said, well, what do you think of the argument that he needed to be more fiery, needed to be attacking Trump more, needed to run to the left? He said, oh, no, he wouldn't have won one more vote doing that.

URBAN: Don't forget also primaries aren't general elections. Primaries are speaking to a very narrow slice of the electorate.

When you run in a general election, you have to recruit a lot of different voters and it becomes much more difficult to be super progressive in a state like Georgia.

TAPPER: Yes. He won -- he stayed basically the same percent, 48 percent from the primary, in the open primary.

URBAN: Well, 47, yes.



And what do you make of this criticism of Nancy Pelosi? Pelosi defenders, Jen, say she -- that Paul Ryan is just as unpopular as her, but no one is going after him.

PSAKI: I think a lot of people are going after Paul Ryan, actually.

Look, health care wouldn't be law without Nancy Pelosi and so Democrats who are running around -- running away from her need to remember that. But I think there is a strong argument that is percolating on the Hill with a lot of young Democrats about the need for new leadership.

Does that mean it's right now as an outcome of Georgia 6? No. But at some point in the next couple of years, there needs to be a new for the party, new faces for the party. I don't think that's something that she would fight. I think that is something she probably recognizes.

But it's, who are those people? Who is going to emerge? Who is going to step up? We don't know the answer to that.


TAPPER: Very quick.

URBAN: I would say, to be successful for the midterms, Democrats need a new leader.

TAPPER: David Urban -- from the mouth of David Urban. Jen Psaki here.


TAPPER: Thank you so much.

Senate Republicans just wrapped up a meeting about their version of the health care bill. Do we know any of the new details? Do they know any of the new details? Or is it all still a big secret?

Stick around.



[16:45:00] SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I'm looking for the health care bill. I know it's here somewhere, I haven't able to find it. I've been looking all morning but I suspect maybe we'll find in the next couple of days.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: That was Maine's Independent Senator Angus King being a little cheeky there taking a jab at the secrecy surrounding the Senate Republican's Health Care Bill. He's not alone in asking for details about the bill. Republican Senators just wrapped a meeting where they supposedly finally heard of what's in the bill. Republican leader still planning to unveil a draft tomorrow and vote on it as early as next week. CNN's Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly is live for us from Capitol Hill, and Phil, we're hearing that Senate aides have made it clear to the White House the less that President Trump is involved, the better. Why?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's strategic. And I think when you look at it from the top line, it's who knows the Republican conference better, who knows the Senate better than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? Let him handle things. And I think up to this point, that's exactly how it's going. But that doesn't mean the Rank and File are necessarily happy, Jake. When you talk to them and we spoke to them after they left that meeting today, there still a lot of people in the dark, a lot of people viewing this as a somewhat complicated process, potentially a problematic one. Take a listen to some of the flavors of the day.


SEN. LINSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We'll know if it's a boy of a girl tomorrow about 9:30?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are some of the outstanding issues that you were refining in this meeting today?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R) LOUISIANA: Nice try. Nice try. I gave my word I wouldn't talk about the details.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: You can only talk about things so long, and we've been debating this subject for about seven years.

I think all the concerns people have had about the process will evaporate because I think there'll be unlimited opportunity for people to read it and understand what's in it and then debate it.


MATTINGLY: Now, Jake, some important things to keep in mind here. There will be a draft bill released tomorrow morning, Senators will be briefed, then all senators, GOP Senator's briefing tomorrow morning. They'll get the first sight of that then we'll see it later in the day. And we do know some details that would be in the bill. Some that are very similar to the House version. There is a dramatic reform of the Medicaid program, a shift in how that works. There'll be a repeal of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act. A repeal, at some point, we're not sure exactly when, of the taxes that form the basis of the funding for ObamaCare as well. But the details that we do not know right now are extremely important. Not just because obviously this is a huge deal policy wise one-sixth of the economy, millions of people that this matters to right now but also if Mitch McConnell can actually get the votes to do this. When does the Medicaid expansion phase out? How is the growth rate of Medicaid actually pegged going forward? The structure of the tax credits, how many people that will it applies to. All these things, we still don't have answers to. We expect to get those answers tomorrow. And Jake, it's very important to know, they don't have the 50 votes they need to move forward yet. Heck, they don't have a proposal yet. But to get those 50 votes, they are really going to have to thread a needle between the conservatives, between the moderates and those details and how they try and finesse them are extraordinarily important. Not just for the politics but also for the policy as well as this moves forward.

TAPPER: All right, our man in the Hill, Phil Mattingly, thank you so much. Turning to our "HEALTH LEAD" today, shocking new statistics in the opioid epidemic crippling so many parts of this nation. Hospitals coast to coast treated close to 1.3 million patients with opioid- related issues in 2014 and nothing is telling us that those numbers have dropped since then. This as the Missouri Attorney General filed suit today against three major drug companies specifically targeting the makers of oxycodone, Purdue, Endo and Janssen Pharmaceutical were named in the suit. Janssen was owned by Johnson and Johnson. Attorney General Josh Hawley of Missouri said the opioid death rate in his state is 160 percent of the national average. The state is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in both damages and civil penalties, saying the money will go towards drug rehabilitation and services for families affected. Missouri joins several other states that have already filed suit against companies they say are fueling the addiction epidemic.

[16:50:42] American weapons sold to Saudi Arabia and being dropped and used in Yemen contributing to starvation and disease, a CNN exclusive look at the conflict being hidden from the cameras. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with the "WORLD LEAD" in pulling the curtain back on a weapons deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia worth nearly $110 billion. President Trump signed the deal during his trip to the Gulf Kingdom last month. Then the White House touted it as support for the Saudi's long-term security in the face of Iranian threats. When you follow the money and the weapons, some of them will inevitably end up in what some are calling a silent war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is trying to block journalists from showing you what's going on in Yemen. It's horrible, a manmade hunger crisis killing thousands, including children, according to the World Health Organization not to mention of course the war itself. CNN's Clarissa Ward worked with journalist in Yemen to get images and she joins me now. Clarissa, the U.S. has been aiding the Saudis in Yemen and proxy war with Iran long before President Trump took office but this new arms deal really takes it to a new level.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And I do want to warn our viewers in advance that some of these pictures really are very difficult to look at. Just last week, a group of U.S. Senators tried to block this weapon deal precisely because of concerns over the number of civilians dying in Yemen. And they're not just dying in airstrikes, as you said, but as a result of the Saudi-led blockade which has brought the country to the brink of famine and which has also facilitated a vicious cholera outbreak. Take a look.


WARD: These are the images that Saudi Arabia does not want you to see. The youngest victims of the near famine that threatens the lives of almost 7 million people. Baby Achmed is just 10 months old. The nurse says he would be dead in two days if he hadn't come for treatment. But many Yemenis can't afford to get to a hospital. In a dusty camp for those displaced by more than two years of grinding civil war, our team met husband Hanza. His 10-month-old son Akram has been malnourished for months.

I can't take him to the city because there's no money, he says. We're hoping any aid group will come see us and help us but no one has come. We await god's fate.

Access to the victims of this man-made famine has been drastically restricted. In recent months, CNN has found that the Saudi Arabia led coalition is deliberately blocking journalist and human rights workers from visiting the hardest hit areas. The air land and sea blockade imposed by Riyadh and its partners has brought blocked basic services to a grinding halt. Deteriorating conditions are being blamed for a vicious cholera outbreak, with more than 1,100 deaths in a matter of months, according to the World Health Organization. For 25-year old medic (INAUDIBLE), the days have become a blur. Like so many hospitals, hers is short staffed and under equipped. How old is she? She's asked. Is she throwing up? The little girl Isra has been brought in by her parents. She is the third of their children to fall ill. I'm scared, of course, her father Ali says. Your children are your world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wish we could finish this epidemic, this disaster. We want to finish this disaster. Patients are dying one by one. They will die at any time, we couldn't do anything for them.

WARD: Pleas for help appear to have fallen on deaf ears. President Trump's recent trip to Riyadh and the announcement of a massive weapons deal was seen by many to embolden the kingdom leaving Yemen's conflict, for now, a silent war. CNN has reached out of course to the Saudi government for comments, specifically on the issue of suspending access for all journalist and human rights workers. The Saudi Ambassador to the U.N. said, quote, "Saudi Arabia does not exercise any kind of censorship. Many news reporters and U.N. personnel have been granted access to Yemen. The Yemeni government and not the Saudi-led coalition usually process Visa approvals." But I have to tell you, Jake, based on two months of trying to get into the country and multiple conversations with journalist, with U.N. officials, with people working in embassies in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, I am pretty confident that that is absolutely not true. The ban is in place. Saudi Arabia does not want people, and particularly Americans, to see the truth of what is happening on the ground in Yemen, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for that important report. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn, we actually read them if you tweet them. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, he's next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.