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Backlash Over Senate GOP Bill Gutting Medicaid; Johnny Depp Makes Offensive, Inexcusable Trump Remark; Dems Secretly Meet to Discuss "Toxic" Pelosi's Fate; Trump Signs V.A. Bill Amid Health Care Battle. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired June 23, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman, conservatives who aren't happy, they say it doesn't go far enough. They say it does more to rescue Obamacare than it does to repeal it, which is what they have run on so many times. Should Republicans be happy about this bill?

BOB INGLIS, (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Well, I think what Republicans are trying to do, of course, is balance a budget. They are trying to preserve a private health insurance system. The challenge with doing that is, if you don't have an individual mandate, which we used to be for, as conservatives, then became against it when it was Barack Obama's thing, if you don't have the individual mandate, it's hard to offer guaranteed coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions. That's the dilemma. Yes, try to balance the budget, but if you are going to preserve a private system of health insurance, you have to find a way, to make a way to get everybody covered and keep them covered. That's what's playing out right now is that tension.

BOLDUAN: Senator, what is your advice, though, at this point to your Democratic colleagues right now? They have little power to do anything about this, other than complain, much like Republicans did when Democrats pushed through Obamacare.

MAX BAUCUS, (D), FORMER SENATOR: Right. You know, I think Senator McConnell will get 50 votes. That's the magic number, 50. He'll twist arms on the right and on the left. He'll get to 50. He's going to get this passed, there's no doubt about that in my mind.

Democrats, in the meantime, should say what's happening. That is expose what is in the bill.

The 800-pound gorilla that nobody is addressing is the system that is much more expensive on a per person basis than other countries and, basically, because of a lot of inefficiencies that we do not want to address, it's difficult to address, partly because there's so much money in health care system today. We have to find ways to cut costs that way rather than cutting the cost of health care benefits to low- income people.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about health care benefits and the health insurance program, Medicaid for Americans, Congressman.

The White House was asked to respond to changes to Medicaid, that the bill brings about. Kellyanne Conway we responded and she takes issue to how folks are responding to what is in the Republican plan. Listen to this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADIVSOR: Only in Washington would this be called a cut, where over time, there are protections in place for the disabled, the elderly, the poor, the non-working poor, children, pregnant women. It's going to allow states to decide what they need to help those in need.


BOLDUAN: Congressman, do you agree with Kellyanne Conway? The president campaigned on not cutting Medicaid.

INGLIS: No, I would disagree with Kellyanne Conway. Be careful what you ask for, you may get it. If you cap Medicaid and send it as a block grant to the states, a bunch of part-time legislatures, like in the Senator's state and my state, are forced upon this thought of how do you restructure a health care system? Well, with a cap on what you can spend on it, gee, careful what you ask for, you might get it. In other words, what may be the long-term consequence that I'm concerned about as a conservative is the country realizes, gee, we have this thing called Obamacare that maybe we needed to adjust, but then we ended up with this thing that leaves people without coverage or finding out they have lifetime caps. I can offer you cheap insurance if you let me cap the lifetime coverage for you or exclude cancer or exclude mental health, I can offer real cheap insurance, but when you show up in a hospital in a Judeo/Christian society, we are going to care for you and then we're going to shift the cost to other people. I'm afraid as a conservative, long-term, we are winning a little battle and losing a great big war.

BOLDUAN: A lot more on this plan. A lot of folks reading through it, looking at implications and waiting for the congressional estimate, the CBO, that comes out next week, and then a vote by the end of next week.

Gentlemen, thanks for coming on.


[11:34:25] BOLDUAN: Coming up, the Democrats want Nancy Pelosi gone. She does not care. She says she has support and she loves a fight. Hear about the closed-door meeting about her future as she dismisses criticism from her own party.

Plus, Johnny Depp under fire and the Secret Service taking note after he talks about assassinating the president. That is coming up.


BOLDUAN: Outrage from all sides of the political divide over what Actor Johnny Depp said to a crowd at a film festival. Watch this.


JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: When is the last time an actor assassinated a president?


DEPP: Let me clarify, I'm not an actor.



BOLDUAN: Joining me now, Guy Cecil, the head of the Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA; and Keith Boykin is here, CNN political commentator and former Clinton White House aide.

Guys, great to see you. Thanks so much for being here.

Keith, did Johnny Depp go too far?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. It's not a good idea for anyone to threaten assassination of a president, even as a joke. It's not a good idea when Ted Nugent did it with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama or when Donald Trump did it, when he talked about Second Amendment remedies towards the election if he lost last year. We have far too much advocacy of serious violence again people in this country already after the Steve Scalise shooting and the Gabby Giffords shooting we had. It would be good if the president of the United States would actually tamp down some of the violence.

[11:40:15] BOLDUAN: Yes, coming from the top is one thing. Also, I mean -- Guy, let me bring you in on this.

Democrats went crazy, and rightfully so, if you want to talk Ted Nugent as one example Keith brings up. He said dangerous things about Barack Obama, no doubt. We don't need to return to what he said. Should Democrats go crazy about this, to be honest?

GUY CECIL, DIRECTOR, PRIORITIES USA SUPER PAC: Yes. I don't think there's any Democrat that would support what Johnny Depp said or what Ted Nugent said. I think, both sides -- I'm not looking to get my political guidance and moral judgment from Johnny Depp or Ted Nugent. Both of them and people considering --


CECIL: I think that's a reasonable approach to this.

The other thing is what it does is distracts. Instead of another segment talking about an immoral health care bill, or another segment about the disaster of a verdict on the murder of Philandro Castile, we are talking about an actor, we are talking about ridiculous comments. And so we would be much better --


BOLDUAN: Right, but it should be called out.

CECIL: Of course. Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Right. It should be called out.

Guy is making the point, Keith, you can jump on it. Yes, you can say Johnny Depp stop, Kathy Griffin stop, everybody stop on the left. Does this help Democrats at all?

BOYKIN: No, it doesn't help Democrats or anyone. It's not good to have this kind of divisive rhetoric in the discourse.

I think what Guy is doing is indictment of you and me, indictment of the media, indictment of --


BOYKIN: -- because we keep focusing on these stories.

BOLDUAN: No. But what am I supposed to do?

BOYKIN: I'm not saying you shouldn't do your job or I shouldn't, not be talking about it. I'm saying we, in the media, keep focusing on the stories. It's not that Ted Nugent or Johnny Depp are important people that we have to listen to politically. We know when they say something controversial, everybody in the media is going to talk about it. I don't mean it as a criticism to you or anyone on CNN or any other network. It's just the reality. That's the way the system works.

BOLDUAN: It deserves to be called out.

Let's talk about something else. Nancy Pelosi, Democrats meeting behind closed doors, about a dozen of them, to talk about whether they can push her out from leadership. She's defiant and basically says bring it on, I'm not going anywhere.

Is it time for new leadership in the House? What is your take?

GUY: I think it's natural after an election to take an assessment of where we are as a party. Nancy Pelosi is not the problem. I think some context is important here. In 2009, Democrats won a hard-fought special election in New York. We were excited about it. We bragged about it. A year later, Republicans swept into majority in the House of Representatives. Again, 12 Democrats or a handful of Democrats talking about it. Nancy Pelosi did not run John Ossoff's campaign. She did not write his television ads. We need to look at each campaign individually.

We need to talk about health care. Democrats meeting in private talking about Nancy Pelosi distracts from the fact that 74 million people are going to be affected by Medicaid cuts, that Republicans are trying to raise taxes on seniors, eliminate pre-existing protections. This is what Democrats should be talking about, not process arguments about a special election in a Republican district. BOLDUAN: One defense for Pelosi, Keith, is, always, she is a

fundraising machine. She brings in a lot of money for the party. One of the Democrats calling for change in leadership told John Berman earlier today -- he basically posed the question, what does that fundraising gotten us? Does he have a point?

BOYKIN: Yes and no. First of all, I didn't know I was going to be agreeing with Guy today, because he's been so off message about everything he said, but he's right about the fact we should focus on the other issues, rather that the process issue, we, as a party. Nancy Pelosi is not the head of the DCCC. She's not the one who runs the campaigns. I personally think --


BOLDUAN: Why Republicans and -- the president tweeted, it would be the worst thing for the Republican Party for Nancy Pelosi to go.

BOYKIN: They hate Nancy Pelosi, they hate Kamala Harris, they hate Elizabeth Warren, they hate Hillary Clinton, they hate a lot of prominent women.

BOLDUAN: You think it's sexism?

BOYKIN: I think it is sexism. I don't think it's entirely sexism but sexism is clearly contributing to the animosity of the powerful women. I think it's time for Democrats not to be concerned about that so much. We fall into the trap of buying into the rhetoric of what the right is doing. We did this with the Hillary Clinton campaign. We don't need to do it with Nancy Pelosi.

Let's focus on honing our message. We have a winning message and the winning demographics. That's what we are starting to see. We are losing these midterm and special elections, but we win presidential elections because people turn out. How do we get people to turn out in the midterm elections? How do we get them to turn out in these special elections?


[11:45:11]BOYKIN: That's the next question.

BOLDUAN: -- we did not have the right message, that's why we didn't win.


BOYKIN: It's not the message. Young people and people of color are the face of the Democratic Party. I believe this. That face does not turn out in midterm elections and off-year special elections the way they do in presidential elections. Our challenge is to get them to turn out in those other elections, not just the presidential elections.

BOLDUAN: Keith, it's great to see you.

Guy, great to see you. Thank you so much.

CECIL: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

We are moments away from President Trump signing a bill aimed at taking a big step in fixing the Veterans Affairs Department. This is a big moment.

Drew Griffin is standing by for more, as we're waiting for the president. This moment will be starting any moment at the White House.

Drew, you know the most about what hasn't been done to fix the V.A., what efforts are trying to be made. Lay it out for us, where do things stand right now, as we wait to see this moment happen?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: The V.A. has two problems. One, the federal government is trying to run a top-quality health care institution for veterans. Overall, it's not economically feasible.

As they are announcing the president.

BOLDUAN: Keep going.

GRIFFIN: Politically, you can't get rid of the V.A. So the second problems is they have systemic management problems, top to bottom, that allowed the scandals and whistleblowers being retaliated against and not fixing the problems in health care. That's what this bill is aimed to do, trying to get rid of or give the secretary of the V.A. the power to get rid of bureaucrats that are considered a roadblock to modifications or reforms made to the V.A.

BOLDUAN: If that's what you saw with your reporting, when the scandals are uncovered, there was an effort -- they knew people had -- there had been wrongdoing and people to target, but they had a hard time getting those people out.

GRIFFIN: You can't get rid of somebody who has massive DUI arrests. You can't get rid of a V.A. employee -- it's hard to if they are sitting in front of the computer watching pornography. You can't get rid of really bad, incompetent managers.

In 2014, in reaction to the reporting, they did pass a V.A. reform bill that gave powers to the V.A. secretary, Bob McDonnell, to get rid of the bad managers and bad actors. But, overall, Bob McDonnell decided not to act. So here is another bill coming through, a Whistle Blower Protection Act, an act that will give Secretary Shulkin -- you see there -- more powers to get rid of the dead weight, I would say, but only if he chooses to, only if he takes the time, takes the effort to get rid of these managers.

There's a caveat with that. You can't just get rid of managers without having somebody to fill the position. The V.A. also has a problem with tracking very high-level management because of the problems at the V.A. and also because of the restrictions on how much it can pay if they are trying to attract private practitioners to come in and help with the V.A. program.

BOLDUAN: Excellent point.

Drew, stand by.

We are going to get in a quick break. After this, President Trump speaking live.


[11:50:] SGT. MICHAEL VARARDO (ph), VETERAN: I knew such injuries were a risk. What I was not prepared for was a broken V.A. system. Wasn't prepared to wait 68 days for my prosthetic leg to be repaired. Wasn't prepared to make a three-hour round trip so, just last year, they could check to see if I still had my serious combat injuries. I wasn't prepared to watch my wife beg, plead, and make countless phone calls to receive what was often basic medical care.

But today is a new day, and this administration has fulfilled its promise that the veteran is empowered and the veteran is in charge of his or her own care.

Under the previous administration, I waited over three and a half years for acquired adaptive changes to be made so I could safely reside in my own home. Under President Trump, with the assistance of Secretary Shulkin, these changes were made within weeks.

Today, our president, Donald Trump, will sign this important bill into law that will ensure real accountability for our nation's veterans. Dr. Shulkin will be empowered to ensure that the V.A. adheres to the standards of excellence is promotes and that the employees at the V.A. are the ones that have a servant's heart for those that have worn our nation's uniform.

The most difficult part of my war injuries were coming home to such a broken system.

Thank you, President Trump and Secretary Shulkin, for ensuring we are not forgotten and we will receive the care we need and deserve.

Thank you.


BOLDUAN: We're listening there, the speaker, I believe it is Sergeant Michael Varardo (ph), speaking about the V.A. and difficulties there.

Another quick break and we'll have President Trump right after this.


[11:55:22] BOLDUAN: Any moment now, we're awaiting to hear from President Trump who will come in to speak about Veterans Affairs Administration, and also signing legislation into law, Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistle-Blower Protection Act of 2016, something he promised during the campaign, to take care of the nation's veterans, something he's taking a step toward today by signing this -- this legislation into law.

Let me bring in Drew Griffin one more time.

Drew, we listened to the sergeant telling about his story, his experience, and difficulties with the V.A., stories you've heard time and time again in your reporting about problems with the V.A. Do you get a sense, is it getting better?

GRIFFIN: You know, there are signs it's getting better in some areas, in some pockets, Kate, but I don't know this person's story. It's a story I've heard many, many times.

I sat with a woman in Chicago just in April. She was trying to make an appointment for her husband. On the phone half an hour, and told her husband's eye doctor appointment will take place in September, five months from now.

And why I'm so skeptical about the improvement is it really rests on the shoulders of their, that person there, Secretary Shulkin. And you have to keep in mind, Secretary Shulkin was the undersecretary of health since July of 2015.


GRIFFIN: So for a year and a half, under President Obama, he ran V.A. health care. And I assume he was running V.A. health care when this young man was still waiting for care, and he says he didn't get care until President Trump was sworn in. Why didn't he? That's a question people should have Secretary Shulkin, should they get the chance.

Time and time again, the V.A. promises they're going to reform, make changes. This is yet another reform bill, and it doesn't happen.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It's one thing to sign a bill. It's another thing to see the changes, which clearly are slow and difficult to make in such a problematic system that is intertwined when it comes to government health care run by the V.A.

President Trump speaking now. Let's listen in.


TRUMP: Thank you.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.


TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. That's really greatly appreciated. And thank you to Secretary Shulkin for that introduction and for your

really tireless efforts, David, to protect those who have really been protecting all of us for so long. Great, great people, and you know what I'm talking about? Right? Congratulations.

In just a short time, we've already achieved transformative change at the V.A., and believe me, we're just getting started. We have so many people that have been so helpful right here in the room, and Tom and all my friends. It's been fantastic. The enthusiasm for the Veterans Administration and for making it right for our great veterans has been incredible, and I want to thank all of them.

One of my greatest honors and joys during the presidential campaign was the time I spent going all across the country with our nation's really and truly incredible veterans. In their courage, their dignity and their selfless sacrifice, they represent the very best of us. Our veterans fulfilled their duty to this nation, and now we must fulfill our duty to them.

So to every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


TRUMP: You are the warriors and heroes who have won our freedom, and we will never forget what you have done for all of us, ever.

As you all know, all too well, for many years, the government failed to keep its promises to our veterans. We all remember the nightmare that veterans suffered during the V.A. scandals that were exposed a few years ago. Veterans were put on secret wait lists, given the wrong medication, given the bad treatments, and ignored in moments of crisis for them. Many veterans died waiting for a simple --