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Senate GOP Health Bill On Brink Of Defeat; Soon: McConnell, Pence Talk Health Care With GOP Senators; FBI Questions Ex-Trump Campaign Adviser "Extensively"; Source: Podesta To Meet With House Intel Committee Today; U.S. Warns Syria Against Another Chemical Attack. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 27, 2017 - 11:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- could come next hour when all Republican senators are set to sit down for their weekly lunch with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and special guest today, Vice President Mike Pence. Is it kumbaya coming out or is it something more of a revolt? We will soon find out.

What's not helping the panel's effort, though, to get to yes, the Congressional Budget Office report, of course. That the plan would leave 22 million more Americans without health insurance in the next 10 years. That's slightly better than the House bill, emphasis, though, on slightly.

So let's get to Capitol Hill for the very, very latest on this. Ryan Nobles is there. So Ryan, this morning, we heard something of optimism coming from House Speaker Paul Ryan on where the Senate is headed. But what are you hearing?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Kate. You know, what's interesting about that Congressional Budget Office report is that on one hand Republicans are criticizing it saying that the CBO is often not a good indicator as to how legislation will make its way through the American public.

But at the same time, they are pointing to some positive aspects of it, including an additional $200 billion in deficit savings. That could be a carrot that Mitch McConnell with some skeptical members of his conference to have perhaps to put some money back into this bill that may satisfy them.

So that is what we are looking for in this 1:00 meeting today. What exactly can Mitch McConnell do to bring these warring factions together to come up with some sort of a solution to this health care problem and get it done by Friday?

You mentioned House Speaker Paul Ryan, he too is skeptical of the CBO, but one person he is not skeptical of is the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. Listen to what he said this morning.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: I would not bet against Mitch McConnell. He is very, very good at getting things done through the Senate, even with this razor thin majority. I have every expectation that the Senate, I don't know what day, but every expectation the Senate will move this bill. So I believe that they will get this done because they said they would get it done.


NOBLES: Now one thing we didn't hear from Paul Ryan is any kind of assessment of the substance of this Senate bill. He is staying far away from making any kind of comment on that. We know that in that private meeting of House Republicans today, he is telling his members to do the same thing, stay away from any kind of comment.

Let the senators do their work and, if and when they finish a bill, then we will take it up. Of course, Kate, we could end up with another big debate on the House side things if this bill ever makes it out of the Senate. But as you know, right now, making it out of the Senate is still a very big if -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, first things first, but what does that mean for travel plans, recess plans for House members if it makes it does make it through the Senate. Let's just get through the lunch first, Ryan, how about that? Great to see you. Thanks so much.

Let's go to Pennsylvania Avenue right now where the president is getting in on the game, getting in on the action and picking up the phone to try to win over no votes, try to get them to yes.

CNN senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is live at the White House with much more on this. Joe, what are you hearing there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, a bunch of things. I think the first thing that we are hearing is, number one, this realization that in many ways, this is majority leader, Mitch McConnell's rodeo, but that the White House can assist in some critical areas.

And, I think, the second thing we are hearing is that the president of the United States and people in the administration are certainly reaching out to senators on Capitol Hill, who will listen, but, as one aide put it, the president is certainly not calling anybody who hates him.

Nonetheless, we do know from one of our colleagues reporting on Capitol Hill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's same-state colleague, Senator Rand Paul, is expected to meet with the president sometime today. Senator Paul, of course, is one of those no votes in the event the bill is not changed.

So, the administration is doing a variety of things right now. The president does have extra time on the schedule. No public events so he can make telephone calls and talk to other senators, though it's not clear who he might be speaking with.

And there is also the issue of the policy luncheon, the Tuesday luncheon on Capitol Hill, going to be attended by, among others, the vice president making his case for the bill as well and another event this evening with the vice president and a small group of senators to sit down and talk to.

Among them, three senators who have not suggested that they are jumping ship, but it's also clear that this administration needs to hold on to all of the support it's got in the Senate and persuade a few others to get to that magic number.

So we are watching here to see who comes to the White House to talk to the president. Also, certainly, asking the press office and others to tell us who the president is talking to at this time -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: But a little different from the kind of the house negotiation and how that played out. We haven't seen yet, at least, a large group of senators that were nos kind of brought over to the White House to sit down with the president. We are hearing Rand Paul, the definite no vote right now, may be brought over. So maybe a different approach at this time.

JOHNS: It's very sensitive because the realization here is that among the people the president really needs to reach out to are those senators who come from states that gave President Trump strong support in the election.


JOHNS: So that's where he's most useful in reaching out to people, but the other idea is to let Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell work his magic.

BOLDUAN: Management to magic, if you will. Great to see you, Joe. Thank you so much. I'll keep an eye on the White House and the comings and goings there.

But also developing this morning, there is a new report that is confirmed by CNN that President Trump's former campaign adviser, Carter Page has now been interviewed by the FBI as part of their investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election. A series of five meetings with the FBI and also involving extensive questioning.

CNN's crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz joins me now with much more on this. Shimon, what are you picking up here?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes, so Kate, no surprise here, really. We know that for quite some time, Carter Page has been sort of under the eyes of the FBI. They have been monitoring him. He's been under surveillance.

And you know, just months ago, we had reported that there was concern with the FBI certainly back during the campaign that the Russians were somehow trying to use Carter Page to infiltrate the Donald Trump campaign at the time.

You know, they have spent time going over conversations that Carter Page had with the Russians and also monitoring other parts of his movement and his travel to Russia. So it's not surprising that he would be interviewed here. The key here, really, Kate, is that we have not been given any indication that Carter Page is a target of any investigation. Certainly, his conversations and his behavior is being scrutinized by the FBI and continues to be scrutinized by the FBI.

But as Carter Page himself have said, he doesn't believe he is part of any investigation. He did tell us he talked to them willingly. He issued a statement yesterday confirming that and said he spent a lot of time with them.

And it gave them confidence. You know, because he's been critical a lot about how the FBI and other folks have behaved in this investigation. But interestingly enough, in his statement to us, he said he has more confidence in the FBI and some of the questions that they asked him.

BOLDUAN: That, obviously, the FBI continues their investigation and Capitol Hill conducting their investigations as well. Carter Page will see if he will be a witness over on Capitol Hill as well. Shimon, great to see you. Thank you.

PROKUPECZ: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Joining me now from Capitol Hill, Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Spear of California. She sits on one of those committees investigating the Russia probe, House Intelligence Committee. I gave you a promotion, Congresswoman. It's great to see you. Thank you so much.

On the FBI interview with Carter Page, does House Intel still want to speak with Carter Page as part of your investigation? That has not happened yet, has it?

REPRESENTATIVE JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: No. Certainly someone that I want to hear from. He is a significant person in the probe, I believe, because he was on Donald Trump's campaign as a foreign adviser. He also has a firm that has only one other member, an investment firm and it is a former executive of the state owned company in Russia.

There is speculation as to why he made that trip back in July, 2016, when he gave the address to the new economic school for the graduation class. Russia is very good at luring Americans and others to come to the country, to receive honorary like Michael Flynn did. I wouldn't be surprised if he is an unwitting agent or witting agency. That's all something we have to explore in the months ahead.

BOLDUAN: But, to this day, still, you have not sat down, he has not been a witness to the committee. So a lot of those questions still do need to ask. Another potential witness, our Manu Raju is reporting that John Podesta, the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton's campaign that he will be interviewed by your committee as early as today. What can you tell me about that?

SPEIER: Well, I can tell you that he is on the list and will be one of the witnesses. I'm not at liberty to tell who we will be interviewing today.

BOLDUAN: But it would not be incorrect to say that he will be interviewed by the committee in the coming days?

SPEIER: Yes, it would not be incorrect.

BOLDUAN: What questions do you have for John Podesta?

SPEIER: Well, I don't really have a lot of questions for John Podesta. I think that this is, yet again, an effort by my Republican colleagues to divert the investigation into areas that are not going to be probative or necessarily helpful in determining whether or not the Russians infiltrated into our election and whether or not Trump campaign operatives were wittingly or unwittingly involved with Russia in that infiltration.

BOLDUAN: But you don't think it's important to find out exactly how the hack happened and to what extent the Clinton campaign did or did not cooperate with efforts to try to -- that the FBI had to try to get in and help them out as DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said that they had trouble doing?

SPEIER: Well, actually, Jeh Johnson said that he was really not privy early on to the hacking going on. It was much later in the process. I would say that that has some value, but it is not critical to the investigation, in my view.

BOLDUAN: Let's move to something else that is very critical on Capitol Hill right now and far beyond, the health care bill. Republicans are trying to work through their version of the health care bill in the Senate right now.

If they would, it's a big if right now, if they get something through, are you prepared to stay in town over the weekend or through the recess to work through whatever they send over to the House side?

SPEIER: Well, I'm prepared to stay in town to vote against it. I am not going to be part of an effort to unwind 22 million Americans who presently have health insurance. The tens of thousands of children with disabilities that have access to health care resources because of Medicaid.

The 15 million Americans who are cancer survivors that, you know, rely on health insurance that is affordable in order to pursue their care. I'm here to make sure that they are protected.

This is more than a mean bill, this is a destructive bill. This is a bill without being hyperbolic that will guarantee that people will die. What are you going to do, kick these people out --

BOLDUAN: That's not hyperbolic, Congresswoman?

SPEIER: No. I think --

BOLDUAN: How can you say it could guarantee people are going to die? SPEIER: Because they will not be able to access health care. If you cannot access health care and you are in an emergency situation, you will not get that health care and you will likely die.

BOLDUAN: But, guaranteeing someone will die under the Republican Senate health care plan that is not going over the line?

SPEIER: No, I think there's no question that that will happen.

BOLDUAN: We'll make sure that we get a Republican response on that. You are about to head home unless you are asked to stay in town by the House speaker. Let's just say that a constituent comes up to you, Congresswoman, and says no matter what Republicans are doing, what bill they are putting together, I have real problems with Obamacare.

Obamacare is hurting me, this constituent says to you and they asked you, why aren't you working to fix this rather than just say no? What do you say to that?

SPEIER: So what I would say to them is they are absolutely right. There are a lot of amendments we have to make to Obamacare, just like there were a lot of amendments that were made to Medicare after it was first became law in this country. We need to fix the cost elements in The Affordable Care Act.

We need to create more cost containment. I am with them in wanting to do that. We have to have a willing participant in doing that and the Republicans, 65 times have been interested in nothing more than putting a bill on the floor to repeal it. That is not constructive.

BOLDUAN: Well, and here is the thing about repeal and the word and the actual policy of repeal. Senator Schumer said something similar, the Democrats were ready to work with the Republicans when they take repeal off the table. But if you ask any conservative, Congresswoman, they will say this isn't repeal at all, what you are looking at in the Senate. How is it not an opportunity for you guys to get this right?

SPEIER: If you take 22 million people out of health care, it's being repealed for 22 million Americans. So, if the interest is making sure those 22 million Americans get health care and get health insurance, but find ways to reduce the cost, then I'm in.

But if you are saying that it's not repeal and 22 million people are going to lose their health insurance, many more are going to have their costs skyrocket because they have a pre-existing condition, in this case, cancer and they will be able to get health insurance, but the cost is going to skyrocket.

You cannot have a tax cut for millions of Americans. Anyone making over $300,000, that's what this bill does, let's be clear. This is a huge tax cut for anyone making over $300,000 a year. You can't have that go into effect and also still provide health care for Americans.

BOLDUAN: The tax now on the table for Republicans to figure out. Can I ask one real quick? I want to ask you a final question on a very different topic because it is happening today and you do sit on Armed Services as well.

We have a statement from the White House warning of, here is the wording, potential preparations of another chemical attack by the Assad regime in Syria. It warned Assad will pay a heavy price if he would go through with another chemical attack.

As a member of both Intel and Armed Services, do you know what the White House is talking about here? Do you guys have any information that another attack will be coming?

SPEIER: We don't have any information, Kate. Here is the problem. If, in fact, this information was given out by the president and is exposing now a source of intelligence that is very dangerous because we'll lose that source of intelligence.

It is not coupled with any strategy or plan, which is another problem and we need to authorize military force and you can't use a 2001 law that gave the president the authority to use force in Iraq and Afghanistan against al Qaeda against Assad in Syria. We need a new AUMF.

And so I really am very concerned that this has been done without consultation with the Department of Defense, without consultation with the intelligence community.

Again, he is operating without the benefit of all the resources in this country that are there, precisely, to give him the kind of information so he can make sound judgments.

BOLDUAN: We are going get a report from the Pentagon, exactly what the Pentagon knew and when in terms of the statement that comes out from the White House. But I appreciate your perspective, Congresswoman. Thanks so much.

SPEIER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a pro-Trump group now threatening to target lawmakers who are not getting on board with the Senate health care bill, not targeting Democrats but fellow Republicans. What will that do?

Plus while the Senate battles, a plea for cooperation from two governors that sit on very different sides of the aisle. Why they say it's time to come together, what a novel idea to fix the health care system. We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: A warning from the White House to Syrian leader, Bashar Al- Assad, stop any plans for another chemical attack or else essentially. Here is a statement that came from the White House yesterday.

"The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children." The warning, last night, came as a surprise to many. Today, the Pentagon, though, is explaining what prompted the White House's blunt statement.

CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr is joining me now with much more on this. So Barbara, what is the Pentagon saying today?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we now know, Kate, is they have been watching the intelligence at this airbase in Syria for some days. It's the same airbase in April that the Syrians used to launch their chemical attack then that killed so many.

Now, they are seeing more activity and intelligence in the last 24 hours. A lot of concern was growing. They saw an aircraft near a shelter and chemical weapons capability ammunitions at this airbase.

They really began to put the pieces together believing that it was all leading up to the real possibility of Syria launching another chemical attack. So the warning comes out last night just as that, a warning, a warning to the Syrians. We see what you are doing, don't do it.

And a warning to Moscow to use its influence essentially to try and persuade Assad to back off and not to do it. You know, the Russians were said by the U.S. to have known about the last attack back in April, so this time, the Trump administration really trying to send that message to Moscow, use your influence, don't let Assad do this at all -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: We'll have to see -- you have a read, yet, if they have seen activity stop since this warning came out?

STARR: Well, that's what we are looking for. Right now, we don't have that read because it's a really good point. If you put out this warning, you know, then what do you do if Assad's planes start taking off? Do you launch a preemptive strike?

Do you take them out of the sky? Do you wait for them to attack? President Trump may have set himself up in his own sort of mini-red line, don't do it. But then he has to be ready to do something about if Assad calls his bluff and moves ahead with an attack.

That is what everybody is watching now and right now, there's no answers about what Assad's next move may be.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely not. Great to see you, Barbara. Thank you so much.

Joining me right now to discuss further, CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a former commanding general, of course, who served in Iraq. It's great to see you, General.


BOLDUAN: So as Barbara perfectly said, do you see this statement, I have a lot of questions for you. The statement coming from the White House that ended with, if Mr. Assad conducts another attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price. Is that a red line?

HERTLING: It certainly is a red line. It's an unclassified red line put out through a press release, as opposed to diplomatic channels. Now Mr. Tillerson had talked to Mr. Lavrov the day before and I'm sure this issue was discussed if there was intelligence showing that there was the potential for use of chemical weapons again.

Kate, remember, you know, in 2013, the U.N. came together and told Assad not to use chemical weapons. He promised to destroy and he did not do that. But again, this kind of an open communication on a press release, released by Mr. Spicer seems a little bit odd.

This is not quite the way normal diplomatic procedures in collaboration and coordination with the military normally transpires.

BOLDUAN: Well, just -- if you take the impact of it, I mean, if Assad was OK brazenly conducting a chemical attack on his people back in April, yes, he did pay a price. President Trump did send Tomahawk missiles over. What does a public warning now do you think do? Do you think this could -- albeit not normal as you say, do you think it could it stop Assad from what he may be looking to do?

HERTLING: I don't know. I mean, that's up to the intent of Mr. Assad. But what it also has the implication of doing is telling the rest of the world, this is what we are thinking about doing. When I say the rest of the world, I'm talking also specifically about Iran and Russia.

Remember, this press release went out in the late hours last night, between 10:00 and 11:00. That means it was early morning in Syria and Russia. So they had all day to think about their response, prepare for any kind of response, if it did come, while most of Washington was sleeping.

So yes, it's not quite the right way, in my view, in my humble opinion of doing these kinds of warnings. It should be done through the diplomatic channels. It might be a good thing, but you have to realize the repercussions of this because it allows your enemy to know what you are thinking about.

It allows your enemy to turn on air defense systems in preparation and it kind of telegraphs your moves, which is something Mr. Trump used to say he didn't want to do when he is on the campaign trail.

BOLDUAN: It was one of the things that was very successful about his campaign and what people who supported him loved very much about his message was that he would not telegraph his moves to adversaries. Is the administration laying the ground work for a U.S. military operation in Syria with this?

HERTLING: Well, you know, it's interesting because the secretary of defense has said some things in Munich over the last few days that seem to indicate that he understands that as the weeks go by, the situation in Syria is getting more complicated, not less so as forces come together and as Raqqah is put on the verge of defeat from an ISIS perspective.

So what you are seeing is the Turks, the Syrians, the Kurds, the rebel forces, the U.S. and Russia, all becoming more amassed in kind of a conflict stew, if you will. It's more important now than ever before to watch the coordination and the collaboration.

These kinds of announcements, which run somewhat contrary to what the secretary of defense said in Germany, are not helpful in terms of the forces on the ground, trying to get that coordination and collaboration.

You also take into account the things that happened over the last few weeks in terms of shoot downs and attacks and the increase between Russia and the United States, increased tensions.

BOLDUAN: It all needs to be said in the same -- it is all within that same context. There is much more. There is a definite increase in tension all around in that region now, country right now. Great to see you, General. Thank you very much. We'll see what the White House has more to say about today --

HERTLING: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: -- when they speak to reporters. Appreciate it.

So President Trump has called it a watered down version and politically correct. But that's not stopping him right now from celebrating the Supreme Court's decision, he calls it a victory. We will tell you what's next for the president's travel ban.

Plus, Democratic lawmaker, Jackie Speire, we just spoke with her. She just told us that the Republican health care bill being negotiated in the Senate would make people die. What do Republicans say about that? We are going to ask one. That's ahead.