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Senate GOP Doesn't Have Enough Votes to Pass Bill; Depp Condemned for Trump Assassination Joke. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 23, 2017 - 16:30   ET



RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Under Obamacare, states, if they choose to participate, receive federal funds to expand Medicaid to provide health coverage for low-income Americans.

[16:30:04] The House bill would end Medicaid expansion in three years and give states a block grant to fund Medicaid as they see fit.

The Senate version phases out Medicaid expansion more slowly, starting in 2021, but makes deeper cuts to the overall Medicaid program by sharply reducing federal funding over time. While the Senate proposal does extend Medicaid's expansion life a few years longer than the House bill, the end result is the same. Low-income adults will likely be kicked off the roles.

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: This is going to hurt the people who worked hardest to elect Trump.

NOBLES: Republicans argue that the federal government cannot afford increased costs and that Obamacare is leading to out of control premiums and Americans losing coverage.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I really want some freedom in choice allowing Americans to buy health coverage that they -- that fit their needs and that they can afford.

NOBLES: It is this argument at the core of the decision-making process for undecided GOP senators. For conservatives, the bill doesn't go far enough. But moderates like Dean Heller who faces a reelection bid in purple Nevada in 2019 have concerns the bill could negatively impact too many people.

SEN. DEAN HELLER (R), NEVADA: This bill that's currently in front of the United States Senate is not the answer. It's simply not the answer. And I'm announcing today that in this form, I will not support it.

NOBLES: Both sides of the argument calling for major changes with just a week before Senate leadership has promised the bill will be brought to the floor for a vote. Still, the White House remains confident.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very, very narrow path, but I think we're going to get there.


NOBLES: And, of course, all of this comes before the Congressional Budget Office releases its score on the bill. That's expected to come sometime early next week, and, Jim, that could complicate this debate even more.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Nobles on the Hill, thanks very much.

Here to discuss health care with me, our political roundtable.

We just had Senator Ron Wyden and I asked him about these five Republicans who come out against it and others with concerns. He called that a con job for the ages. He thinks that that just posturing. They'll come around.

Molly Ball, do you agree?

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: That's what I've been hearing. I've been talking to Democrats and Republicans in the Senate last couple days and neither of them really know what Mitch McConnell is up to. There is a school of thought that he actually doesn't want the bill to pass and believes that it's better for his caucus politically if it doesn't, if it is blocked.

On the other hand, a lot of Democrats especially like Wyden really think this is all a sort of kabuki drama for the cameras and that all of these senators get to express their reservations up front, they get some sort of cosmetic changes to the bill and they say they can support it, they'll bring something to their constituents and the bill ends up passing just like McConnell said it would.

SCIUTTO: Bill, do you think Republicans are rushing to a vote on this?

BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: I think they shouldn't and I don't think Mitch McConnell will. And I'm in the first school of thought, Mitch McConnell does not want to make people vote for a bill that right now is about 16 (ph) percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable rating that's become law. This isn't some symbolic vote then you walk away from it.


KRISTOL: Everything bad that happens in health care with premiums and everything else in the next 18 months, voters are going to say, well, you replaced Obamacare, congratulations. They don't want to do that.

So, I think McConnell will let Heller go on the moderate side, let the conservatives go. He'll show up Wednesday or Thursday and say, it's terrible, I'm really sorry, we did our best. He's not going to make them vote on it incidentally. It's a horrible vote for people up in 2020 to cast. Why cast a vote at all?

So, I think he'll pull the bill and say, let's get on to tax reform, infrastructure and some happier topics, and they did their best, they'll revisit it and have study group and they make some fixes later. I think it's -- honestly, it would be amazing if McConnell pushed this to a vote.

SCIUTTO: Margaret, how does the president then react? He staked some -- you know, he said we're going to pass this bill, and he clearly, at least in the public's comments, sees this as being an achievement, fulfilling a promise. How does he accept it if it does turn out to be just kabuki?

MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: The president deals with Mitch McConnell in a different way than he has felt comfortable dealing with Paul Ryan, he deals with senators in a different way, than he feels comfortable dealing with House members.

But there are a couple of things to keep in mind here, and one is that for McConnell, it may just be important to go through the motion, so that if you want to move to tax reform, you can say, look, we gave this our best shot, but we control Congress and the White House, it's more important to get other things done. So, there's that.

Also, if it were to go up for a vote, if it were to pass, there is still the entire matter of reconciling this in the House, which is very much up in the air. For some of the members who want the vote, they just want to be able to vote to say, I voted to repeal Obamacare and now, we can move on --


SCIUTTO: Let it die in reconciliation, is that the idea?

KRISTOL: Not so bad for Trump to say. I told you these Republicans in Congress are kind of useless. I did my best.


KRISTOL: It's not really Trump's natural issue, right? He has other things he wouldn't mind focusing on.

BALL: But he did make a lot of promises on it, and I think --


BALL: -- Republicans are going to own whatever happens in health care whether or not they pass this because if they don't pass anything, then it's their fault that they didn't fix Obamacare like they all said they would on day one. I spoke to a Republican member this week who said, you know, I can't go back to my Republican constituents and say, we couldn't do the thing we've been campaigning on for the last seven years.

[16:35:06] So, they are in a little bit of a box.

KRISTOL: They're in a box. But I think that is an easier -- that's a short-term problem with your own supporters, and after you do other things they like, they forget about it. Another Supreme Court appointment, conservative on the court, OK, thank God we have Republican Congress.

Second, passing the bill means you've actually passed the bill which none of them have thought through the consequences in real world. And that means that some person in the real world in October 2018 or October 2020 for senators who are up then --


SCIUTTO: With no health insurance.

KRISTOL: It's much tougher.

SCIUTTO: I want to turn to Russia for a moment, because this morning in his interview on "Fox & Friends," the president again brought up the possibility of firing Robert Mueller, saying we're going to have to see bringing up his supposed allegiance to the FBI, the fired FBI Director James Comey.

Is this a real threat from the president, Margaret?

TALEV: I think the president wanting to raise what he sees as real doubts about the independence of Mr. Mueller and a distance from Jim Comey. And there's a political incentive to that as well, of course, for him. But also, I think it's his gut instinct. He feels ganged up on by this really important part of the investigation, as well as by the entire rest of it.

And for him to raise these issues, I think he thinks creates some doubt and the ability to counter the questions about his credibility that are being raised.

SCIUTTO: Well, laying the groundwork in effect if he doesn't like the conclusion, because he also brings out the Democratic Party donations of the team that Mueller has brought up. It's about sort of laying the groundwork for that?

BALL: Yes, and it's very much like when he said, you know, Jim Comey better hope there are no tapes. It's very much this sort of veiled threat.


BALL: It's very -- well, why should we believe him when he said there were no tapes when he originally said there were tapes --

TALEV: He said he has no tapes.

BALL: Right. There could be tapes for all we know. Who knows? But, so, you know, it's very much his style to, I think, just as you're saying, lay the groundwork to discredit somebody in advance if it later becomes necessary, if it's the result he doesn't like.

KRISTOL: But it's a little nuts. I mean, there are two results of his, you know, investigation. Mueller decides that Trump did nothing criminally, that he can charge with criminally, or that he would refer to Congress for possible impeachment, he does refer to Congress for possible impeachment. And one of those is going to happen, you know, it doesn't really matter if Trump attacks Mueller today or says Comey and Mueller are good friends.

I don't know why he's -- I think I know why he's obsessed with this. But if you think about it, it's a little crazy. It's not helping his supporters in the longer run, I don't think.

And we're going to find out what happened. Mueller is going to depose everyone. Everyone is going to be asked, if they go contemporaneous records. So, I really think, for me, I think Molly, gets it right about -- Margaret, you're right about how this is a strategy always to discredit his opponents. But this is a different kind of situation and --

SCIUTTO: Right. And frankly one difficult to control going forward as much as the president likes to control the message.

Listen, stay here. There's a lot more to talk about, including details on the health care bill going forward and outrageous comments by a star about killing the president.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


[16:42:09] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In our pop lead now, actor Johnny Depp is now apologizing after what could only be described as outrageous, really inexcusable remarks about violence against the president of the United States. He is just one of several Hollywood stars who have taken their disdain for President Trump and the Republican Party, frankly, too far.

Let's bring in CNN's Stephanie Elam. She is live from L.A.

So, Stephanie, this comes just days after a gunman, shall we remind people, fired on GOP congressional baseball team, seriously wounding, threatening the life of Majority Whip Steve Scalise and several others.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, you know what, Jake, with that shooting still fresh on people's minds, joking about violence seems even more distasteful. Of course, President Trump probably isn't worrying about Johnny Depp. As for their part, though, the Secret Service says it is aware of Depp's comments but won't comment on how it performs its protective responsibilities.


JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: This is going to be in the press, and it will be horrible.

ELAM (voice-over): Actor Johnny Depp knew what he was about to say to a crowd in U.K. would get a rise out of people?

DEPP: When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? I want to clarify, I'm not an actor. I lie for a living.

ELAM: For the record, the answer to his question is April 1865 when actor John Wilkes Booth killed President Abraham Lincoln.

Critics have condemned Depp for what he said, but he's far from the only celebrity to engage in these kinds of comments. Yes, Hollywood has long tended to lean left, but this kind of extremist talk is new.

In January, Madonna said this at the Women's March in Washington.

MADONNA, SINGER: Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that this won't change anything.

ELAM: In Snoop Dogg's video for "Lavender", he shots a clown version of the president with a toy gun.

And graphic images of Kathy Griffin holding a mocked bloodied head of President Trump made her a target of a Secret Service investigation according to her lawyers. And it also costs her a job. CNN called the photos disgusting and offensive and fired her as its New Year's Eve co-host.

At issue is free speech versus security. Threatening the life of a U.S. president is a federal crime that can result in a fine, or up to five years in prison or both.

A lot of Hollywood stars are traditionally very public about their liberal politics, but these incidents crossed a line.

JOE BEL BRUNO, MANAGING EDITOR, VARIETY: Really, there hasn't been anybody saying, you know, enough is enough, and I think that needs to come from Hollywood, from the left wing, from somebody who can say, hey, you know what, I voted for Hillary Clinton but let's not incite violence against the president of the United States. I might not support him, but, you know, there is a fine line that we can't cross over.

ELAM: As for Depp, the White House released this statement, quote -- President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it's sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead. I hope that some of Mr. Depp's colleagues will speak out against this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if his comments were directed to a Democrat elected official.


ELAM: Now, Jim, there is an update to the story. Johnny Depp has released a statement to People Magazine, and he says in it quote, "I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump. It did not come out as intended and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone." Of course, when you look at this, what he said Jim, it's probably not likely that he will be arrested for it, but perhaps people will think about what they're saying and what -- how it can incite other people.

SCUITTO: No question and they should. Stephanie, thanks very much. Back with me now is my political panel. So first, Margaret, let me just ask you. How damaging is this for those who have legitimate grievances against the President? How does this, I suppose, hurt the argument, right? I mean, hurt the opposition?

TALEV: It's just not appropriate. And when President Obama was in office and his critics to the extent that it happened, it did happen sometimes, whether, you know, talked about things along these lines. There was immediate outrage from the other side of the aisle and they should -- everyone should apply the same standards in both cases. It's just completely not appropriate. You know, the White House's response to this is interesting. Of course, they say it's troubling and it is troubling, it's not appropriate, but it also -- they go straight to the partisan argument, which is, you know, it's not fair or there should be more outrage about this sort of thing. I'm not sure if they need to do that. It's just not appropriate, whoever the President is, period.

SCUITTO: Let me play a clip because I want to play what candidate Trump himself said at a rally last summer. Have a listen.


TRUMP: Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the second amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick -- if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know.


SCUITTO: Do you remember that moment, Bill Kristol?

KRISTOL: One of many moments why I was not a fan of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries or even the general election. You know, a week ago in Congress where there's a terrible shooting in Alexandria -- it was only what, a week and a half ago, right, it's amazing. Steve Hayes and I were sort of torn (INAUDIBLE) saying, you know, we were heartened by the response, and I thought there was a decent response by everyone, really, in Congress and politicians, President Trump gave a dignified statement, Bernie Sanders. I guess the killer had or the shooter -- thank God, not killer I guess -- but shooter had -- you know, was some kind of Bernie Sanders supporter, sort of, and Bernie Sanders read a very good statement, I thought, on the Senate floor, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, they went to a baseball game the next night. I really -- you know, we thought, well, this is good, maybe this really will be a bit of a reminder to people about what matters and the limits and guardrails that people should have on their behavior and rhetoric but here we are -- here we are a week later.

SCUITTO: It doesn't take long for people to go back to their corners.

BALL: Well, and the statement that Sanders made, I agree that it was -- it was very important because what he said was non-violent action is how you change the system. And unfortunately, when you have these unacceptable things being said invoking the specter of violence as a way to create change, they're nut jobs out there who take it seriously and you know, our politicians can't say enough, non-violent action is the way political discourse works. That's the -- that's the system that --

TALEV: Including the President's discourse. And I think that's the point your question was getting to, which is, can President Trump himself have a role in, you know, calming the public rhetoric in general, not just about himself butt that of everybody.

SCUITTO: Rather than at times stoking it, right? I mean, writing comments against journalists at times, and that was -- you know, we don't know what he intended about those second amendment comments, but at the time, there were questions about whether he suddenly or not too suddenly was talking about the prospect of violence.

TALEV: The Scalise moment was a moment for him to do that. To talk about peacefulness and unity and inclusion, and those are themes that he can choose to keep hitting on if this is a message he wants to send.

SCUITTO: OK, I want to talk about disagreement or discord, I should say within the Democratic Party and the leadership of Nancy Pelosi particularly after the loss of the Georgia Special Election. You're familiar with her comments saying that, "Well, I'm worth the trouble in effect." But you heard some of the seen critics coming out against her. Is there real potential to -- a real threat, I should say, to her leadership, Molly?

BALL: I don't think so. It appears that her caucus stands behind her as they always have. She has always had a lot of support from the Democratic Party. Although, there were a record number of votes against her in the last House Leadership vote and a lot of candidates running across the country in several recent elections who have declined to say if they support her for leader. And even Jon Ossoff in the Georgia Special Election, which I covered, did not commit one way or the other on that, it was clearly an attack that still works. The Republicans would not keep using it wasn't effective.

The other side of the argument though that I've heard is, even if Nancy Pelosi steps down as leader, and you can't put her in the ads, she's a stand-in for this idea of San Francisco values. She's a stand-in for this culture war between Hollywood Liberals and the Coastal Elite, you know. And the Republican base that is very much motivated by the feeling of being judged by those people. And so, those ads get made whether Nancy Pelosi is the Minority Leader or not.

[16:50:16] SCUITTO: But what about -- the bigger question is, does the Democratic Party have a message, right? Does it have a saleable message whether it's in primaries or as we look forward to 2018? Bill, do you hear it? Do you know what that is? What is -- what is the response other than "We don't like Donald Trump"?

KRISTOL: Yes. And that was Hillary Clinton -- Hillary Clinton decided, her adviser decided at some point we can't really sell much for positive message at this point so we're just going to disqualify Trump and they came close but not quite. And I think they've been trying that now in these special elections and they've coming somewhat close and not quite. And it wouldn't be foolish for the Democrats to say, "You know what, we have a better -- we have a way to fix Obamacare, that takes care of the two or three problems that really people are concern about. And here's the bill, it's going to (INAUDIBLE) nowhere in Congress. But would it be better for Ossoff in Georgia to be able to say, "You know, we're working on a bill. We have at least a study group to produce the bill. And incidentally, here's our tax proposal that will take care of some of the conservative and working class Americans. I think they've given up too much on having a positive --

SCUITTO: And then find a way to put that on a bumper sticker. Bill, Margaret, Molly, thanks as always. President Trump fulfilling one of his campaign promises making it a lot easier for leaders one agency to use that catchphrase "You're fired".


[16:55:00] SCUITTO: We're back now with more in our "POLITICS LEAD." Earlier today President Trump signed a law to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, keeping good on one of his campaign promises. The new law is designed to protect whistleblowers as well as make it easier to fire bad employees at the VA. The bill had previously won overwhelming bipartisan support, a rare thing in Washington. This after years of stories that highlight chaos in the V.A. including CNN zone 2013 and 2014 investigation that found dozens of veterans who died or suffered due to long wait times at V.A. hospitals across the country. And that brings us now to our "BURIED LEAD," shameful treatment of veterans going all the way back to World War II when the U.S. military tested highly toxic and sometimes lethal mustard gas on thousands of American troops. What's more shameful, most of the veterans who were used in those secret experiments have been denied the basic treatment and care they deserve, this for some seven decades. But as our Jake Tapper found out, a new bill could change that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The squad is sent into a gas chamber and gas is released.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: Exposure to toxic chemicals is a shared experience for thousands from America's greatest generation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you haven't checked your mask carefully enough, you'll find out now.

TAPPER: More than seven decades after World War II, hundreds of surviving veterans that participated in secret mustard gas experiments and other toxic training continued to suffer long-term health consequences according to a Congressional report. Like so many others, 90-year-old Army Veteran Arla Harrell cannot definitively prove that it his participation in secret experiments contributed to his health problems. His family says he suffered skin cancer, permanent scarring, and respiratory trouble but without concrete proof, there is little help from the VA. According to that recent Congressional report, the V.A. has denied about 90 percent of benefits claims from veterans like Harrell since 2005. SEN. CLAIR MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: We've got to correct this

injustice, and it's really important that Arla Harrell hears from his government they believe him.

TAPPER: But now Harrell's senator, Democrat Clair McCaskill of Missouri is fighting to get these veterans the help they need.

MCCASKILL: This was a classified top secret operation. How is he in a position to prove it? This was kept a secret from everyone. He doesn't -- aware with all the proof on what day he had the experiment and what location. What this bill says is the burden approves shift to the V.A. to prove it didn't happen.

TAPPER: The Arla Harrell act would also require the V.A. and the Department of Defense to establish a new policy for mustered agents claims and reconsider all previously denied claims as well. McCaskill says, V.A. Secretary David Shulkin initially (INAUDIBLE) at the proposal.

MCCASKILL: He said, wait, you can't open this door, we can't start giving benefits to the veterans who can't prove it in some kind of blanket negativity. And so I got him back on the phone with his staff in the room and I said, really? It doesn't open the door to new veterans coming in. It's just this small group, very elderly men who served their country so bravely.

TAPPER: But now Secretary Shulkin is behind the bill telling reporters this week quote, "I do support Senator McCaskill in this approach. There are cases that you do need to step up and just do the right thing to make exceptions and this is one of those cases. She does need legislative support for this and she knows that we're going to do this together. McCaskill is now working to convince Congress to join them as well. Jake Tapper CNN Washington.


SCUITTO: Arla's wife Betty tells CNN that she's angry about what the V.A. did and adds that her husband just wants some recognition not just for himself but for other veterans who went through this.

Turning now to our "MONEY LEAD," traditional brick-and-mortar stores are being shut down in an epic case across the nation today. In fact, the number of store closing this year alone is triple what it was back in the same period last year. Retail Think Tank, Fung, Global Retail, and Technology says there have been some 5,300 stores closing in announcements so far this year. That number is expected to surpass the number stores closed during 2008 recession. And then after those numbers came out, Sears Holdings confirmed this morning that it is shuttering some 18 more Sears stores and two K-Marts that have been unprofitable bringing the closings this year to 236, and that's only so far. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to the great Wolf Blitzer, he's in "THE SITUATION ROOM."