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On-Camera White House Press Briefing; CNN Story Controversy Discussed; ; Senate Republicans Forced to Delay Controversial Health Care Vote. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 27, 2017 - 15:00   ET



M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Ron Johnson said that he was grateful to leadership for giving members more time to think about this bill and that he, you know, truly appreciates the fact that we have more time, but he also said, Ana, that this is going to be a difficult, difficult process.

And when I asked him, look, is there a scenario a week-and-a-half from now where you get to a yes, he actually couldn't answer that question. And I think that really goes to show that even though there might be a little sigh of relief right now among a number of the Senate Republicans who really felt like this process was too rushed and that a vote this week would have been too much, there is now the question, right, that members are going to be going home for the July 4 recess.

They're going to be facing their constituents. And the bottom line is that the problems that have haunted these Senate Republicans for a couple of days now, as they have tried to get 50 yes votes, those problems still remain the same.

There are deep ideological divides between the moderates and the conservatives. And what Mitch McConnell needs to do to even get on board a couple of these Senate Republicans who are currently no, that task still remains very, very difficult.

And as my colleague Phil Mattingly has reported, the plan for the time being is to get a plan in place by the end of this week, so that members can think about it over the week, over the next week's recess, and then come back and have a vote.

But I can tell you, while the members go home and they are actually stewing over this, that might not actually be a good thing. Right? A lot of members, as we have been reporting, expect to hear from their constituents and expect to face the backlash of supporting a bill that the CBO projects will lead to 22 million more people being uninsured over 10 years than compared to Obamacare.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, M.J. Lee, stand by.

I want to bring in CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers, as we welcome our viewers who are joining us at the top of the hour as we continue to follow breaking news right now, with the Senate majority leader saying he will delay any vote on the Senate Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare until after the Fourth of July recess.

He had been pushing hard, Kirsten, for a vote this week so that the senators wouldn't have to go home and face, perhaps, some backlash among the constituents, lose any momentum they may have gained prior to the break. What's your reaction?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think what we're seeing play out is very similar to what we saw play out on the House side, where I think they came up with a bill. They came very close to bringing it up and suddenly they couldn't bring it up because they had this backlash from the conservatives.

And, of course, when they came back, the House bill ended up being much more like what the conservatives in the House wanted than what the moderates wanted. And so this bill arrives in the Senate, they say it's dead on arrival, and the understanding is just because, as the president described it, it's too mean.

But what we're seeing again is the conservatives really digging in and saying, no, we're not going to give in. These are the things that we want. We don't think this actually does repeal Obamacare. Club for Growth has put out a statement now saying this is not a repeal of Obamacare, and until we see a repeal of Obamacare, we're not going to support this.

CABRERA: We have some sound from one of those conservatives who's been digging in, Senator Ted Cruz. Let's listen.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We continue to have positive and productive conversations. I believe we can get to yes. I believe we will get to yes. It's going to take more discussions.

And the most critical question is, how do we lower premiums? That's been my central focus from the beginning. You know, for five months, there has been a working group in the Senate working to bring Republicans together and unite behind the best approach to repealing Obamacare.

That was a working group that's been led by Senator Lamar Alexander and myself. And the discussions of the working group have really focused on commonsense reforms that would expand options, expand competition, and give consumers more choices, which would lower premiums and make health insurance more affordable.

If we do that, we will have succeeded. We need to do more to get that to happen, but I believe we can and will get that done.

QUESTION: Do you think that leadership is going to hear you out in the second round?

CRUZ: We continue to have productive conversations with leadership and with members across the ideological spectrum. This is a process of bringing the conference together, uniting Republicans.

I think we're making steady progress in that regard, but we still got a way to go.

QUESTION: What does the president need to do tonight? What does he need to say tonight?

CRUZ: The president has been part of these conversations. I spent about a half-hour on the phone with the president a couple days ago and discussed with him that the central focus needs to be on lowering premiums.

You know, the biggest reason so many millions of Americans are unhappy with Obamacare is that it's caused premiums to skyrocket. The average family's premiums have increased over $5,000 a year under Obamacare. That's a problem caused by the federal government. It's caused by the abject failures of Obamacare. We have got to fix that problem.


The current draft doesn't do nearly enough to fix that problem, but we can get it done if we give consumers more options, more choices, lower prices, and make health care more affordable to families who are struggling.

That will be a victory and that will be honoring the promise we made to the American people.


CABRERA: Senator Ted Cruz reacting to the announcement moments ago on Capitol Hill.

And now live pictures just outside the Capitol, where this bus is there, prepared to take senators of the Republican Caucus to the White House to meet with the president and his team at the top of the hour. At 4:00 is when that meeting is scheduled to happen. Ted Cruz speaking with the president earlier today. They had a meeting around noon.

It lasted about an hour, and coming out of that meeting, he expressed optimism. You heard him say right there that he wasn't supportive, but he wants to get to yes, he believes he can get to yes. He, of course, has been one of the more conservative voices expressing concerns about this not repealing Obamacare enough.

And so that is part of the dance as Mitch McConnell works to get the majority vote or at least 50 votes in order to pass this with just Republicans.

I want to bring in our David Chalian now, who is standing by, and get your take here, David, on what we have witnessed over the last hour, some of the sound that we have been hearing.

And it seems like the conservatives and those conservative holdouts tend to be a little bit more optimistic than some of the more moderate Republicans, who have had concerns like Susan Collins.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right, listening to Ted Cruz there, Ana, you have to ask at the end of what he said there, OK, how do you do that?

How does Mitch McConnell now change the bill to indeed lower premiums even further than the bill suggests they will, to allow people more choice, freeing up regulation? If indeed Mitch McConnell goes in to fix the bill to assuage Ted Cruz's concerns there and get his vote on board, it is very likely that that may harden the positions of Susan Collins, Dean Heller, who are in the no column right now as well, and likely to not be persuaded by those kinds of changes to the bill.

So this is the problem that Mitch McConnell, as he says, the discussion goes on, and we are continuing the discussion. This is the problem he finds himself in. It's a push and pull with very, very little room for error because he can only afford to let two votes go.

CABRERA: But does he have some wiggle room because of the CBO score that says that the Senate version of the bill would reduce the deficit by $321 billion? So he has some money to work with. And we heard Mitch McConnell -- not Mitch McConnell, rather -- Chuck Schumer talk about that money and say that now he has sort of the slush fund that he can offer to some of these individual senators to get on board.

Do you expect that he's going to try to wheel and deal?

CHALIAN: Well, I certainly expect that he's going to try to wheel and deal. He would be out of his mind not to try to do that.

He's trying to get to 50 votes here. And I would imagine he's going to cajole individual senators any which way he can to get them there. The problem is how -- again, back to the substance of this, what is he going to do with that money? Where does he put that money in the bill? That tells us a lot about which senators he's trying to bring on board.

And if indeed he is going to pour that money, let's say, into making Medicaid, perhaps, a little more robust than it is in the current version, I think $700 billion-plus cuts in Medicaid, if he's going to take some of that deficit savings and put that into Medicaid, well, then you can imagine the Ted Cruzes, the Rand Pauls, the Mike Lees of the world having a bigger problem with the bill than they do right now.

So how he decides to appropriate that money within the bill will be key to understanding of where he sees the votes that he needs.

CABRERA: Kirsten Powers, you're with us as well. And if he is appealing to those conservatives, it seemed to work to go that direction with the House bill. Remember, with the House Freedom Caucus, they made some deals.

POWERS: Right.

CABRERA: Could that work in the Senate?

POWERS: I mean, I think it's hard. Look, he's already starting out on a very hard spot if you're only playing with basically two votes, right? It's just not that hard to find people who are going to have a problem, especially in a very diverse caucus where you have some very conservative members and you have some that are very moderate, the Susan Collins types.

And so I think it's already a problem just from the starting gate. And then you add in the fact that the Republican Party writ large is so divided over health care, about what they want to do about it or if they even want to do anything. They probably wouldn't be doing anything if it wasn't for the fact that Obamacare existed.

And so they're not really -- Republicans aren't really the party that reforms big systems. They're more about cutting things, you know, cutting taxes, cutting benefits. They're not the ones who reform the way Democrats do.

And so they didn't come into this with a great plan. And so I think this is going to be very difficult for them to come up with something that everyone agrees on and then that works, because we're not -- we then need to talk about what's going to happen when this plan goes into effect, because there are some real political costs for them if they move ahead with anything that looks like this bill.


CABRERA: David, right now, this is an incredibly unpopular plan.

We know just 30 percent of Americans who were polled more recently by the Kaiser Family Foundation actually approved of this bill.

And we will continue our conversation in a moment, but let's listen in to the White House press briefing, now that Sarah Huckabee Sanders has taken the podium.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Great guy, wrong football team, but that's probably for another day.

On top of energy week and everything that Secretary Perry and other Cabinet members have on the agenda for that, we have got a full schedule of events and actions from the president's Cabinet today on everything from global human trafficking to assistance funding for small communities.

This morning, Ivanka Trump joined Secretary Tillerson at a State Department event releasing the 2017 Trafficking and Persons Report. As Ivanka said this morning, human trafficking is a human rights issue that affects millions and this report is an important tool for the administration to combat this tragic problem.

The full report is available on the State Department Web site. I encourage you guys to take a look.

Also this morning, the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Shulkin hosted a meeting of robotics experts for a robotics and health care roundtable. The VA is embarking on the largest transformation and modernization effort in recent history. And part of that will be developing a robust robotics program within

the department.

Yesterday, the Interior Department announced a record $464.6 million allocation to help small communities, further demonstrating the Trump administration's commitment to all Americans. In states like Utah, which received nearly $40 million, and Nevada, which received $26.2 million, these investments are an important part of the federal government's role as land manager and neighbor to local communities, including many of those that play a big role in feeding and powering our nation.

Many of these small communities in states like Nevada are also being hit particularly hard as health care insurance premiums rise and insurers flee their Obamacare exchanges. It's because of the people who will have no choice for themselves or their families that it's so critical that the Senate votes to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Every day, a new announcement is made that puts health insurance out of reach for thousands of Americans, whether insurance -- insurers are hiking up rates or leaving markets entirely.

Today, the vice president is on the Hill to attend the Senate policy lunch and hold additional meetings and he will be hosting senators at dinner tonight in his residence.

Both the president and the vice president are fully engaged with the Senate and are helping to create a consensus that will push this bill over the finish line.

As Sean said yesterday, the president talked extensively with several Republican members over the weekend, including Senators Cruz, Paul, Capito and Johnson. He spoke to Senator McConnell this morning and he's invited all Republican senators to the White House later this afternoon to continue these discussions.

The president is optimistic that Republicans will live up to the promise that they have been making to the American people for seven years by repealing and replacing Obamacare.

I know you guys are probably a little bit tired since we have been here a while. So you want to skip on the questions?


HUCKABEE SANDERS: I figured it was worth a shot. And with that, I will take your questions.


QUESTION: Recently, Breitbart News challenged the accuracy of the CNN story. And, afterwards, it was retracted, deleted, and the editors responsible were fired, as well as the network apologized for the story.

The target of the -- one of the targets of the story accepted the apology. The president went on Twitter this morning and repeated that CNN was fake news.

Why isn't their response good enough for the president?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know that it's that their response isn't good enough for the president. I think it's the constant barrage of fake news directed at this president, probably, that has garnered a lot of his frustration.

You point to that report. There are multiple other instances where that outlet that you referenced has been repeatedly wrong and had to point that out or be corrected. There's a video circulating now. Whether it's accurate or not, I don't know, but I would encourage everybody in this room and frankly everybody across the country to take a look at it.

I think, if it is accurate, I think it's a disgrace to all of media, to all of journalism. I think that we have gone to a place where, if the media can't be trusted to report the news, then that's a dangerous place for America, and I think if that is the place that certain outlets are going, particularly for the purpose of spiking ratings, and if that's coming directly from the top, I think that's even more scary and certainly more disgraceful.


And I hope that that's not the direction we're headed. I hope that outlets that have continued to use either unnamed sources, sometimes stories with no sources at all, we have been going on this Russia- Trump hoax for the better part of a year now with no evidence of anything.

Things like the success at the VA barely get covered. They may get covered for an hour at a time, but this story gets covered day in, day out, and I think America is frankly looking for something better.

They're looking for something more. And I think they deserve something better from our news media.

QUESTION: Does the president actually expect...


QUESTION: Does the president actually expect us to not report on stories of a foreign country trying to influence the presidential election?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't think it's expected that you're not to report on, again, actual news if there's something there.

But, again, I think that there are a lot of things happening in this world that frankly a lot of people would like to hear about, whether it's job growth, whether it's deregulation, whether it's tax reform, health care. I think a lot of those things deserve a lot more coverage than they get.

And all we're saying is, you know, I think that we should take a really good look at what we are focused on, what we are covering, and making sure that it's actually accurate and it's honest.

If we make the slightest mistake, the slightest word is off, it is just an absolute tirade from a lot of people in this room, but news outlets get to go on, day after day, and cite unnamed sources, use stories without sources, have, you know -- you mentioned the Scaramucci story where they had to have reporters resign.

QUESTION: Come on. You're slamming everybody right here right now with those words. This administration has done that as well.

Why in the name of heavens is -- any one of us, right, are replaceable and any one of us, if we don't get it right, the audience has the opportunity to turn the channel or not read us. You have been elected to serve for four years at least. There's no option other than that.

We're here to ask you questions.


QUESTION: You're here to provide the answers. And what you just did is inflammatory to people all over the country who look at it and say, see, once again, the president's right and everybody else out here is fake media. And everybody in this room is only trying to do their job.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I just -- I disagree completely.

First of all, I think if anything has been inflamed, it's the dishonesty that often takes place by the news media. And I think it is outrageous for you to accuse me of inflaming a story, when I was simply trying to respond to his question.


QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

I just rapid fire, because I know we have had a bit of a long briefing here. Would it be fair -- let me ask it this way. How would you describe the president's mood on health care, concerned, still encouraged?

And what did you make of the CBO score if you have talked to him about that? And then, secondly, I want to ask you about the warning to Syria. What's the message that the administration wants to convey not just to the world community, but also to the American people who see headlines like that and they wonder, are we hurtling headlong into a major situation in that part of the world?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I will start with health care first.

Obviously, we're continuing to be optimistic. The president is committed. And he said and all the members of the administration have said repeatedly to repealing and replacing Obamacare, working with the Senate, working with the House, making sure we get the best bill.

For us, it's never been about the timeline, but about getting the best piece of legislation that helps the most Americans and that's what we're continuing to do, day in, day out. That's the reason the president has asked members of the Senate to come here today, so that we they can talk through that, so they can figure out the best way to move the ball forward.

That's the goal of the meeting this afternoon and that's the goal of the administration.

In terms of the CBO score, as we said yesterday, the CBO is a budget office. And while it does very well at times predicting things on budget, whether it's revenue or spending, I don't think it does a great job. And I think the administration's been clear and consistent that we don't always agree that it does a great job predicting coverage.

I think we saw that, given their history, they projected that Obamacare, there would be 24 million people that were part of that. There were only 11. And that number's dropping every day.

So, I don't have a lot of confidence in that number on that part, but I do think that some of the places where they do a good job, again, are on the budget and the revenue side. And the CBO score that they pointed out was that it would cut deficits by $300 billion and cut taxes by $700 billion.

I think those are good things. And I think when they focus on the budget side, that's probably a good thing. And I think you had a second part. Sorry.


QUESTION: Syria. The warning to Syria, what's your message to the international community, and also to the American people who may be concerned when they read a headline like that, that they're thinking, well, we may be hurdling towards a situation that involves the U.S. in that part of the world?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that the message from the statement yesterday was extremely clear. I don't think it was a gray area. It was pretty black and white.


QUESTION: Can you explain, because you went on the record this morning, what the process was that led to that statement last night? Were members of the team at the State Department or Defense Department taken aback by that statement or were they fully involved? Can you give us an idea of how the process internally worked to deliberate that statement and then create the statement for public release?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I can tell you that leadership from the State Department, DOD, DNI, the CIA, as well as members of the administration within this building, were part of that process from the very beginning, and fully aware.

QUESTION: Can you give us a timeline from the very beginning? Was that yesterday or...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to walk through the detailed process of a timeline on how that was released for intelligence purposes.

QUESTION: And on health care, you just said you accept or find valid the CBO numbers on the budget side. Is that true?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes, they're -- I mean, they're a budget -- they're a budget office.

And I think on the initial numbers that we saw from that, the cutting of the deficit, the cutting of taxes, I think that that's where historically they have been more accurate as well. It is not just my like I have decided that. But, historically, that's where they have been.

QUESTION: For the purposes of the public looking at this, would this administration accept the budget and revenue numbers that were published yesterday as, generally speaking, valid and worth taking seriously?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I would think so for the most part. I think in large, yes.


QUESTION: Two things, one on Google and one on the economic forecast.

So, European officials have slapped Google with this $2.7 (OFF-MIKE) is the White House cool with European regulators hitting a U.S. company with a fine when our own Federal Trade Commission hasn't accused them of anti (OFF-MIKE) behavior?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: At this point, I don't have anything for us to weigh in on the regulations of a private company. But if anything changes, I will let you know.

QUESTION: On the International Monetary Fund, they lowered their forecast for U.S. economic growth down to 2.1 percent, which is lower than what the president has been (OFF-MIKE) can you share some reaction on what you think about this new IMF forecast?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't had a chance to dig into that, but we will certainly circle back with you on it.


QUESTION: You called on me, Sarah.


Jim, let me take Kristen (ph). I did call on her. And I will come back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you. I appreciate it. If Syria is poised to launch another chemical weapons attack, isn't

that an acknowledgment that the airstrikes in April didn't work, Sarah?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think that our goal every day is to do what we can to protect life in all forms, and to take steps to move the ball forward in defeating ISIS, defeating all efforts of terrorism. And I think the statement yesterday helped do that.

QUESTION: Why will a paper statement work, though, when airstrikes didn't dissuade Bashar al-Assad?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know that it didn't, based on what we know at this point.

QUESTION: Just to follow up very quickly, was there a principals meeting, a deputies meeting before that statement was issue by Sean Spicer last night?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I know that there was a routine meeting that took place yesterday. I don't believe that there was anything beyond that yesterday.

QUESTION: Sarah, two questions. Given the news about CNN's...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Be careful letting NBC set your standard.


QUESTION: Given the news about CNN's erroneous story about Anthony Scaramucci, does the White House believe there are other Russia- related stories from major outlets that have not been retracted and are just as false, including the February 14 story in "The New York Times" about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which James Comey called into question, which many believe the CNN story was based upon?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I would have to look back at that specific story. There have been many by "The New York Times" that I would probably disagree quite a bit with.

I think you could take it pretty straightforward that this administration disagrees with all of the stories that claim that the president and his campaign colluded with Russia in any capacity. So, I think he's been extremely clear that he believes that's a hoax, and certainly something that's not true and didn't take place, and any story related to that, you would, I think, find frustration from this team here.


QUESTION: CNN retraction, does the White House now believe the news media have an obligation to review stories on the Russian-Trump issue and retract questionably sourced stories on the topic?

[15:25:03] HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm sorry? I'm not following the...

QUESTION: Do you believe that the media should go back and look at anonymously sourced stories on Russia and Trump and, you know, maybe start a review process and retract where necessary?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that would be a great idea.

I certainly don't think that you would get arguments from us if there were retractions from outlets on fake stories. But I also think that, you know, there's a moment where we can all do better.

And I certainly think that's what we strive to do every day and hopefully that's the goal. I know it is of many and hopefully it will continue to be of not just the news media, but everybody involved in the process to continue to do better, to continue to strive for excellence and to continue to deliver the best we can for the American people.

QUESTION: Two health care questions.

OK, so you accept the budgetary calculations of the CBO, but not the projections on how many people would be insured. What about their projections on what would happen to premiums and deductibles? Is that something you accept or not?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I mean, I think they said yesterday that the premiums would go down roughly 30 percent by 2020. That seems, based on what we have done internally, pretty consistent.

QUESTION: But they also said that for people of certain incomes, they would go way up. Do you only accept them when (OFF-MIKE) down?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, but I think, in general, and largely they predicted that they would go down 30 percent by 2020.

QUESTION: OK, and then another question.

The president promised that his health care plan would not have cuts to Medicaid. Does he believe that a family of four making $60,000 makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid, in other words, that that's just too high an income to be getting Medicaid?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know about a specific, like, level breakdown.

And, again, there's a reason he's bringing senators over here today to talk through. We know there's going to be changes. We know there's going to be adjustments. The thing that the president was committed to is making sure that anybody that currently receives Medicare -- that's not -- Medicaid, sorry -- Medicaid, that's not touched.

And that is consistent with what's in the bill and that will continue to be what he fights for.

QUESTION: Does he believe -- he said the House bill was too mean. Does he believe that the Senate bill is less mean, as mean, more mean? Like, what does he think?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I honestly haven't asked him whether or not he thinks the Senate bill, the mood of it yet, but I will check on that and get back to you.

Thanks, guys, so much. Have a good day.

QUESTION: You talked about CNN, Sarah. Can I ask you a question?

CABRERA: We were listening in there to Sarah Huckabee Sanders as she was briefing the media for the first time on camera from the White House podium.

And I want to bring in Kirsten Powers.

Of course, a lot of the questions today were dominated on the health care issues. Of course, right now, we're learning that there's a bus getting ready to take the Senate majority leader and his caucus over to the White House to meet with the president to discuss how they may be able to move forward in coming up with a plan, a Republican plan that repeals and replaces Obamacare to make good on the president's promise and that of many of these senators when they were elected into their positions.

So, Kirsten, did this press conference move the ball forward as far as what the president is doing to try to win over the support for the GOP bill?

POWERS: Not really.

I mean, I think, you know, the little that she said about it was basically they agree with everything in the CBO that's positive about the bill and don't seem to pay too much attention to the things that are negative about the bill.

The problem is, of course, the senators are paying attention to it. And so they're going to need to address the issues in a more policy- centered way. Instead, what probably will happen here is President Trump is very focused on the political issue here, which is that they have made a promise that they're going to repeal Obamacare.

And I think they're trying to solve this political problem with something that, in the long run, is going to come back to bite them on the policy side, when this is actually implemented and a lot of people are affected by it, including a lot of their voters.

And that's what the CBO talks about. So it will be interesting to see after this meeting if he's able to have some sort of substantive conversation with these senators and address the real issues, the real problems that they have with this.

I think they're seeing the problems with the bill.

CABRERA: Julian Zelizer is also with us, CNN political analyst and also a historian. Julian, when you look at the bill and you look at just the complicated issue of health care in America, we know it was complicated for the Democrats, but that was the word, specifically, that Mitch McConnell used after he made this decision to delay the vote until after the Fourth of July recess.

Is this something that Mitch McConnell can get done? He has been called the master legislator in the Senate.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I'm not sure it's clear he can do it.

He has been a master of obstruction. He's been very effective at that, but now we're seeing a test. Can he actually put a coalition together to pass legislation, not to block it?

And I think it's not simply an issue of being complicated. There are fundamental divisions among Republicans and certainly with Democrats about the effects of this legislation. And, in seven days, those don't go away.

So, he's going to try to find ways to buy votes or to pressure people into voting, but it will be very difficult --