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GOP Senate Leaders Delay Health Care Vote; GOP Senators Meet with Trump as Health Bill Stalls; U.S. Warns Syrian Regime Against Another Chemical Attack; Interview with Sen. Chris Coons; GOP Senators Push Back Against Dean Heller Attack. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 27, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Delaying the vote. Senate Republican leaders delay a vote on their health care bill, because they don't have enough support from their own party to pass it. After a non-partisan congressional report found it would leave 22 million more people uninsured than under Obamacare.
[17:00:25] White House invite. All Republican senators are invited to the White House for a crucial meeting with the president about the health care bill. But one GOP senator says the president still hasn't learned how to work with Congress. Can the president and his party move beyond this stunning setback?
Chemical attack warning. The White House says Syria may be preparing for another chemical weapons attack and warns the regime -- warns the regime it will pay a heavy price. Will President Trump enforce his new red line by launching another strike against the Syrian regime?
And inside the ISIS capital. CNN now has an exclusive look from inside the self-proclaimed ISIS capital of Raqqah in Syria, where the terror group appears to be losing its terror grip on the city.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
Breaking news tonight. Senate Republican leaders delay a vote on their health care bill until after the July Fourth recess. The majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, tells senators he wants to make changes to the bill and get a new cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. That comes after the nonpartisan CBO estimated that the current draft bill would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than under Obamacare.
And a growing number of Republican senators have now openly opposed moving forward with a current bill, despite lobbying by the president and the vice president. Senate Republicans have been invited to the White House to air their concerns about the health care bill. The White House says the president is fully engaged, but GOP Senator Susan Collins says the president has been hampered by his lack of political experience and says it's difficult to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy her concerns with the bill.
And Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, gets a firsthand look at a Russian war plane based in his country even as he gets a White House warning that he will pay a very heavy price if the Syrian regime goes ahead with what the U.S. says are preparations for another chemical weapons attack.
The Pentagon reports fresh activity at a Syrian air base where a deadly chemical attack was launched back in April. That base was later hit by a U.S. missile strike. I'll talk to Senator Chris Coons on the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondent, specialists and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with a stunning setback with the Senate Republican leadership and the White House, both of which have pushed hard for an Obamacare replacement bill, now stalled amid a revolt by Republican senators.
Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's up on Capitol Hill. So Ryan, where do things stand now?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, where it stands right now, Wolf, is that these senators are at the White House now for a high- level meeting on the future of this health care bill. We're standing by for their return to find out exactly what happened in that meeting.
This as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided it was time to take a second look at this health care bill.
NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight Senate GOP leaders are going back to the drawing board, hoping time will fix the problems in their divided caucus.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We will not be on the bill this week, but we're still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place.
NOBLES: Faced with the reality of a bill that was losing support by the day, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chose not to push forward, delaying a quick vote on the legislation to give his members time to iron out their differences.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: 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?
NOBLES: But there is no guarantee time will make the situation any better. The conservative and moderate factions of the party seem to have hardened their positions, and satisfying one side will likely alienate the other, making consensus a difficult proposition.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I have so many fundamental problems with the bill that have been confirmed by the CBO report that it's difficult for me to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental and deep concerns about the impact of the bill. NOBLES: McConnell is hopeful that more time affords him the chance to
cut more deals. And a revamped bill could bring with it a new and perhaps friendlier score from the Congressional Budget Office.
MCCONNELL: Legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope, but we're going to press on.
[17:05:03] NOBLES: Democrats are urging Republicans to abandon their repeal efforts and work with them to improve the current law.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The Republicans cannot excise the rotten core at the center of their health care bill. No matter what tweaks they may add in the next week and a half. No matter how the bill changes around the edges, it is fundamentally flawed at the center.
NOBLES: And another important dynamic to keep in mind now, Wolf, that after this week ends, these senators are heading back to their home states and are expected to get an earful from their constituents about this health care bill. That, too, could change the dynamic in the conversation when they return here to Washington to take this bill back up -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very dramatic developments up on Capitol Hill. Ryan Nobles, thanks very much.
As their health care bill stalls, Republican senators have been brought to the White House to meet directly with the president.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. So Jeff, what are you learning about this meeting? What's the mood there? Is the meeting still going on?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm told the meeting is still going on, but someone inside the room, the East Room of the White House told me it is going to be wrapping up shortly.
But the mood is one of concern, trying to find a way forward for this Republican priority, really, for most of the last decade, for at least the last seven years or so.
But so interesting the seating chart of this meeting. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Two of the most vocal critics of this bill were sitting on either side of the president.
ZELENY (voice-over): Republican senators arriving by bus at the White House tonight, struggling to find a way forward on their biggest promise.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll discuss health care. We have really no choice but to solve this situation. ZELENY: Overhauling the nation's health care system.
TRUMP: This will be great if we get it done, and if we don't get it done, it's just going to be something that we're not going to like.
ZELENY: President Trump trying to unite fractured Republicans, holding what aides described as a listening session on the bill that was pulled from a vote this week to avoid a stunning GOP defeat.
TRUMP: I think we have the chance to do something very, very important for the public.
ZELENY: Republican Senator Susan Collins, whose opposition helped delay the vote, said it's high time the president hears directly from senators.
COLLINS: Personal relationships do matter, and I think that the president is smart to bring the members of the caucus. I think it would have been more effective to have done so earlier in the process.
ZELENY: But supporters of the Senate's health care measure also say the president hasn't always been helpful, starting with branding the House version of the bill as mean.
TRUMP: Mean, that was my term, because I want to see -- I want to see, and I speak from the heart. That's what I want to see. I want to see a bill with heart.
ZELENY: That characterization stung many House Republicans who voted for the bill and worried senators who were facing a similar measure. That word came up again at the White House press briefing held today on camera.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said that 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?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I honestly haven't asked him whether or not he thinks the Senate bill, the mood of it, yet, but I'll check on that and get back to you.
ZELENY: After building his campaign around a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, the president conceded earlier this year how difficult it would be.
TRUMP: It's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.
ZELENY: He cheered on the House version of the bill at a Rose Garden ceremony in May.
TRUMP: Congratulations on a job well done.
ZELENY: But since then, all but receded to the background. At a rally last week in Iowa, the president acknowledge an uphill climb.
TRUMP: We have a very slim 52-48. That means we basically can't lose anybody.
ZELENY: Though he didn't realize it would be this uphill.
TRUMP: You know, I've been talking about a plan with heart. I said, add some money to it. A plan with heart, but Obamacare is dead.
ZELENY: Yet, Republicans controlling the House, Senate and White House, for the first time in ten years now own the solution.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the president would have to help bring it over the finish line.
MCCONNELL: We always anticipated the president would be very important in getting us to a conclusion. After all, under our system, he's the man with the signature.
ZELENY: He is the man with the signature, and the president, of course, hopes eventually to sign some type of a bill into law, but that is a long way off at this point.
The Senate still trying to work on some type of a consensus. Then, of course, they have to reconcile all of this with the House. But by coming here to the White House, the president and his team here are trying to unify Republicans, remind them of their obligation here now going forward.
But Wolf, it is uncertain if they'll come together before leaving for that July Fourth recess -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff Zeleny over at the White House, thank you.
Joining us, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's on both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. Senator, thanks for joining us.
[17:10:04] SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's begin with the Senate health care bill. As you know, the Republican leaders had wanted to move this bill along as quickly as possible. They wanted a final vote on the Senate floor by Thursday. They're not going to get that.
It looks like they won't be voting until well after the July Fourth recess. Now, they didn't have the votes.
Do you think this delay is largely the response of their report or the score released by the Congressional Budget Office yesterday, which estimated that 22 million more Americans would -- would not have health insurance under the next -- during the next decade and under the current Obamacare law?
Well, Wolf, I think same -- the same thing was happening in Republican Senate offices that was happening in my office this week. I got thousands of phone calls from Delawareans concerned that the proposed deep cuts to Medicaid over a long period of time would leave them or their loved ones behind.
And concern that the protections they'd come to rely on from the Affordable Care Act, in terms of the quality and the affordability of health care, would be taken away by this bill.
So my hunch is that, as more and more Americans finally got a look at this secret bill that was crafted without public hearings, and after they got to learn from the CBO score about just how much of a cut was in store for them for Medicaid over the coming decade that their offices were also flooded with calls and concern. And I think that's why this vote is being delayed today.
As Republicans go home for the Fourth of July recess, it's my hope that they'll hear further from their constituents and then think about returning to Washington after the recess and sitting down with Democrats, finding a way forward that we can, in fact, deliver what President Trump was calling a plan with a heart, and that would be the Obamacare fixed and improved through bipartisan work.
BLITZER: But the Republicans have insisted for seven years they don't want Obamacare. They want to repeal Obamacare. The Democrats, like you, you say don't repeal it, let's fix it. Is there any middle ground there?
COONS: Well, an important short term middle ground, Wolf, would be to stop the sabotage of the Affordable Care Act. I sat down with the CEO of the one company that's left providing health insurance in the Delaware exchange just this past week, and he said the reason that they have raised their rates this year is because of instability and uncertainty about the path forward.
We need to work in a bipartisan way to stabilize the marketplace while we work together over the next couple of months to address some of the issues that haven't yet been solved in the Affordable Care Act.
Many of us in the Democratic Caucus are perfectly willing to work across the aisle to address the challenges with the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans first need to abandon a path that includes big tax cuts and long-term reductions in Medicaid as the vehicle for this conversation.
BLITZER: So what do you think the -- and be specific. Where can the Democrats and the Republicans agree? Because you know there's a lot of problems with Obamacare. You just mentioned it. We just learned what, in the last week or two that Aetna, one of the major insurers, is leaving your state of Delaware next year. They don't want to be part of this Obamacare exchange anymore.
COONS: That's right, and part of the reason they were leaving was the lack of reliable reinsurance. There's a bill that my senior senator, Tom Carper, and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia have introduced that would provide for the sort of reinsurance guarantee for insurance companies that was adopted years ago that stabilized Medicare, Part D.
The fact that there is an unreliability to whether or not the Trump administration is going to continue to provide cost sharing and a guaranteed issue of the individual mandate, which ensures a certain marketplace, the absence of that certainty combined with some of the challenges the Affordable Care Act faced last year, made Aetna decide that they should pull out. We can address this, but we have to do it in bipartisan way, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president tweeted this yesterday about health care. Let me put it up on the screen. "Republican senators are working very hard to get there with no help from the Democrats. Not easy! Perhaps just let Obamacare crash and burn."
A lot of Democrats worry that the president -- and you just suggested it -- that his policies, his executive orders will deliberately sabotage what's left of Obamacare right now, unless Congress is able to pass a significant replacement bill. I assume you share that concern?
COONS: Wolf, you know, my concern is that we're getting lost in the partisan game of who's up, who's down, which party is helped, which party is hurt, and we're forgetting about the very real people whose lives are at stake, whose health is at stake as we're fighting over this health care law.
Earlier today, the Democratic senators came to the steps of the Capitol to show pictures of actual individuals from their home states. I talked about Carrie Orr from Delaware. I'm going to talk about her again later tonight on the floor of the Senate. Her life was literally saved by the Affordable Care Act.
I recognize Republicans have legitimate concerns about the cost and the affordability and the rollout of the Affordable Care Act that we have to address. But we also have to recognize that I have real stories of actual Delawareans whose lives have been saved by the Affordable Care Act, and there are thousands more behind them.
[17:15:12] So meeting in the middle, finding a path that allows us to actually address the needs of Americans, that's what we ought to be focused on, not which party is up today or down tomorrow.
BLITZER: Senator, I want you to stand by. We're waiting to hear from Republicans senators. All 52 Republican senators were invited to the White House. They've been meeting with the president at least for an hour already. We're going to have our special coverage resume right after a quick break.
BLITZER: Our breaking news, a stunning setback for the Senate Republican leadership forced to delay a vote on their health -- stalled healthcare bill until after the July Fourth recess.
[17:20:08] We're standing by to hear from Republican senators when they wrap up their meeting with the president at the White House, trying to find a way to move forward.
Looking at live pictures outside the -- the White House driveway there. We're going to be talking with Senator Chris Coons. He's standing by.
But first, another very important story we're following right now as the White House issues a sharp warning to Syria's regime against a new chemical weapons attack.
CNN's Diane Gallagher is with us. Diane, what are you learning?
DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it appears that President Trump has found his red line, chemical weapons. White House officials telling us the administration is basically putting the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia all on notice.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): President Bashar al-Assad checking out the cockpit of a Russian fighter jet during an air base tour in Syria, alongside the Russian military chief of staff Tuesday, all as the White House issues a sudden and ominous warning. In an unusual late- night statement, saying the United States has identified Syria's potential preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime, and that, if it happens, there will be a, quote, "heavy price" to pay.
SANDERS: The message from the statement yesterday was extremely clear. I don't think it was a gray area. It was pretty black and white.
GALLAGHER: In testimony before Congress today, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley going a step further.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I believe that the goal is at this point not just to send Assad a message but to send Russia and Iran a message, that if this happens again, we are putting you on notice.
GALLAGHER: New intelligence prompted the White House threat, according to the Pentagon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The activity we have seen at Shayrat in the last couple days is associated with chemical weapons handling at a known spot on that base.
GALLAGHER: That base, al-Shayrat, is where the U.S. says Assad launched the April Fourth saran nerve gas attack that changed President Trump's view on Syria.
TRUMP: It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies -- babies, little babies -- with a chemical gas that is so lethal that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.
GALLAGHER: The U.S. responded to that attack by firing 59 Tomahawk missiles.
Today the Trump administration isn't talking specific military options, only warning the Assad regime not to cross Trump's red line.
SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The bottom line is when the president draws a red line, he means it. He took action with those 59 cruise missiles. Now he sent a very clear message. We know what you are doing and you should not do it. Otherwise there will be consequences.
GALLAGHER: The Pentagon is preparing options for the president if he chooses to order military action.
HALEY: My hope is that the president's warning will certainly get Russia and Iran to take a second look, and I hope that it will caution Assad.
GALLAGHER: Now, as far as the Russian response goes, they still won't even say that Assad was behind that April attack, that more investigation is needed to determine it. The Kremlin says that threats to the legitimate leadership of Syria are unacceptable. And Wolf, Iran's foreign minister tweeted today, calling all of this just another dangerous U.S. escalation in Syria.
BLITZER: All right, Diane, thanks very much. Diane Gallagher reporting.
We're back with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.
Senator, the president appears to be drawing a new red line in Syria right now. Do you believe that's a good idea or a mistake?
COONS: Well, Wolf, I supported the strike that President Trump initiated back in April to punish Bashar al-Assad for his chemical weapons attack against his own civilian population.
Assad is a brutal murderer who's killed nearly half a million of his own people. And I'm encouraged by the engagement that President Trump has shown.
And I was reassured this afternoon by a senior administration official that this announcement late last night was, indeed, vetted through all the relevant channels in the administration.
But I'm concerned that we still lack a clear strategy. On the Foreign Relations Committee, we haven't yet been briefed on the administration strategy with regards to Syria. We're actively engaged in combat against ISIS. We have American troops both flying in the air and serving on the ground, and it's a very conflicted battle space.
As you showed in your clip, it's the Russian military that really is the guarantor of Assad. The combination of Russian, and Iranian and Syrian forces arrayed in defense of Bashar al-Assad makes this a very tricky moment.
And I think it's vital and important that the Trump administration deliver a clear strategy to Congress so that we can hopefully come together and support the red line that he's drawing and have some understanding of how he intends to handle this very difficult and conflicted space.
[17:25:05] BLITZER: Is Congress prepared, are you prepared to enforce that new red line in Syria by formally authorizing legislation, authorizing the use of military force in Syria?
COONS: Well, Wolf, we have had constructive conversations. We recently had a hearing on the Foreign Relations Committee about how to move ahead with an authorization of the use of military force. We're in combat. Americans are in combat in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Syria, and we are way beyond the scope of the 2001 and 2002 authorizations. Many members of the current Senate weren't even serving when those were adopted. And our ongoing war on terror around the world has taken on new challenges and in new geographies.
Unfortunately, there was no witness from the administration at that hearing in front of the Foreign Relations committee, so I'll just renew my call for the administration to come forward with a strategy that would justify our adopting an authorization for the use of force.
Congress has that critical constitutional role. We should step up and do our job, even though it's difficult, but that requires a partner in the administration and a commander in chief who takes the responsibility of articulating our strategy, particularly with regards to Bashar al-Assad.
BLITZER: Well, what happens if he does launch a strike against Bashar al-Assad's regime, assuming there's another chemical weapons attack, and there's no formal legislation approved by Congress for the use of military force in Syria? Would it be OK with you if he did that?
COONS: No. We're operating in a very gray space, Wolf, where the previous administration used the 2001 AUMF to authorize a wide range of strikes. And in every case there was some connection to al Qaeda or to the perpetrators of 9/11 or to allied forces in some way.
But a strike against the government of Bashar al-Assad is a new thing. President Obama came to the Foreign Relations committee and sought an AUMF to attack Bashar al-Assad and received that vote from the committee. It was never brought to the full floor of the Senate, because President Obama chose not to carry forward an attack against Syria.
Trump has -- President Trump has already attacked Syria, and I think he's gotten support from many members of the Congress. But this is a very conflicted and difficult space, given the role that Russia plays, given the recent threats we've received from Russia, that they would attack American aircraft operating west of the Euphrates. I think it's vital that we have both an authorization from Congress so that our troops and their families know they enjoy our support and a strategy that justifies that authorization.
BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks for joining us.
COONS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, more on the breaking news as Republican senators are wrapping up their meeting with the president right now after a vote on the Senate health care bill has been delayed.
Later, exclusive new video coming into CNN, secretly recorded inside a one-time ISIS stronghold that soon may be liberated.
BLITZER: This hour's breaking news, we're waiting to see if Republican senators will come to the cameras, the microphones you're seeing there to describe their just-finished meeting with President Trump inside the White House. We'll have live coverage if they show up. They're looking for a way forward through serious divisions through conservatives and moderates forced Republican leaders to delay a vote on the Senate health care bill.
[17:31:47] Let's get the insight of our political and legal specialists.
And Dana, you just came back from the Hill. I assume a lot of the Republican senators are breathing a sigh of relief that the vote, which had been scheduled for Thursday, has now been put off?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, because the senators who simply hadn't gotten to "yes" yet would have voted "no," and it would have failed. And those who were on the fence and felt that maybe they would have had to sort of take one for the Republican team don't have to do that anymore.
And the fact is that we have now seen, since the decision to pull the bill or delay the bill, several other Republicans coming out and publicly that we didn't even know were sort of formally against the bill in its current form, saying that they're against it: Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. But those are the kind of senators that the leadership thinks that they can get with time, to craft new ideas and new amendments that will use, for example, the savings that the CBO says that they are getting, which is ironic, since a lot of Republicans are saying the CBO doesn't matter except for the part where it's good news for them, which is there's deficit savings.
BLITZER: They could potentially have as much as $200 billion...
BASH: Use that.
BLITZER: ... to pay off some senators...
BLITZER: ... with -- with issues, with funding for various causes that they want.
BASH: Bingo. That's exactly what they're working on. You know, it's a payoff, but it's also to help with really big crises
in their states. The opioid crisis, a big crisis in Ohio. That's something that Rob Portman wants more money for.
BLITZER: But they do spend some more money on opioid relief, that could potentially swing some voters.
BASH: Absolutely. It's just one example.
BLITZER: All right. Take a look. It's looks like the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and the No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn, are walking up to the microphone.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We just finished a meeting with the whole Republican conference with the president and vice president discussing, obviously, health care. As you already know, we're continuing to work on reaching an agreement that will involve a continued discussion to the end of the week; and we'll not be turning to the bill on the floor of the Senate until a couple of weeks after this week.
But we made good progress. The president got an opportunity to hear from the various members who have concerns about market reforms and the Medicaid, the future of Medicaid and Medicaid expansion.
[17:35:11] So I think the meeting was very helpful. The one thing I would say is that I think everybody around the table is interested in getting to yes, interested in getting an outcome. Because we know the status quo is simply unacceptable, unsustainable; and no action is just not an option.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator McConnell, is there any sense -- critics say the longer this takes, the harder it's going to be to pass some kind of a health care bill. Do you think that?
MCCONNELL: I don't think so. Well, certainly we spent of time on this over the last seven years, and our members are increasingly familiar with the various moving parts. It's a very complicated subject. I had hoped, as you know, that we could have gotten to the floor this week, but we're not quite there. But I think we've got a really good chance of getting there. It will just take us a little bit longer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leader McConnell...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) over town halls over recess? Your fellow Republicans?
MCCONNELL: Some members have town halls, and some don't. We'll see what happens.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator -- Senator, is the president getting involved in the details of negotiating? Is he -- is he getting into the details of the bill that might, you know, bring some of those wavering senators on board? And what is his message overall to the Republicans? MCCONNELL: Well, I think the main thing is, as I've said, the status
quo is simply unsustainable. It will be dealt with in one of two ways. Either Republicans will agree and change the status quo, or the markets will continue to collapse, and we'll have to sit down with Senator Schumer. And my suspicion is that any negotiation with the Democrats would include none of the reforms that we would like to make, both on the market side and the Medicaid side.
So for all of those reasons, we need to come up with a solution. The American people elected us to do that, and we're working hard to get there. Thanks a lot.
BLITZER: All right. So there is the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. There's a headline there. He really doesn't want to work with the Democrats if the Republican legislation were to fail. He specifically said that none of the reforms that the Republicans want as far as market reform, Medicaid reform, would be acceptable to the Democrats.
Dana Bash, a significant statement from the majority lea, if it were to fail, basically saying the Republican version, whatever tinkering they do now, has to pass.
BASH: Absolutely. And look, he is speaking the truth in a lot of ways. Philosophically, the two parties are and have been for some time, very, very different on their sort of global approach to health care.
I think that people, though, out there looking at this saying, why can't these -- these parties work together on something that is such a huge part of the economy, that is something that is so vital to everybody's lives, all of their constituents' lives, is mind boggling.
But you know what? It happened when the Democrats passed Obamacare. They will tell you from the Obama team that they tried very hard to get Republicans, and they weren't playing ball. But it's happening now that Republicans are in charge, too. And it's too bad.
BLITZER: Yes, seven years ago, the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, passed without any Republican support.
What did you think, Mark?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The irony behind all this is that it's -- it's unfortunate that health care, our nation's health care, has become a political football between both political parties going back to Obamacare and to the point we are right now.
Mitch McConnell basically laid down a marker for his own Republicans, saying, if we don't get all our Republicans on board, then that's it. So it's interesting when you hear the Republican criticism of saying Democrats are not working with us. What Mitch McConnell just said right there absolves Democrats, quite frankly, of having to work with them to try to get this bill passed.
What else is striking, too, is when Mitch McConnell talked about how President Trump heard the concerns of these senators, because everything we're hearing is that President Trump doesn't really get involved in the policy aspects of this at all. He talks in really broad terms. And quite frankly, the senators who are against this bill have very specific policy concerns...
PRESTON: ... whether it's opioid addiction, Medicaid funding, rural hospital funding, whatever it may be. So you know, I wonder what President Trump is thinking.
BASH: Which is why the vice president stepped it up big-time over the past couple of days, but especially today. He was in the Senate. He was talking to McConnell. He was having one-on-one meetings with individual senators, talking about, you know, getting into the policy, because he knows how to legislate. He was before he was a governor, but getting into the policy to try to figure it out.
By the way, this is a live picture of that bus that brought the senators from Capitol Hill over to the White House, now beginning the route back up Pennsylvania Avenue, back to Capitol Hill.
[17:40:06] You know, it's interesting, Jeffrey Toobin. I keep coming back to this statement that the president made yesterday, a tweet at 9:14 a.m. when he said this: "Republican senators are working very hard to get there with no help from the Democrats. Not easy. Perhaps just let Obamacare crash and burn."
We've heard that from the president before. If there's no deal, well, you know what? Just let the Affordable Care Act crash and burn. Then they'll presumably, he believes, come running back to the Republicans for a fix.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That may be. It may also be that there's a crisis that they blame the incumbent for. And it seems like the Republicans have an arithmetic problem. It's -- remember, this is mostly, or in significant part, a tax cut bill. They want to cut taxes. Obamacare raised taxes, and they want to cut taxes. But that means there's less money there. There's less money for Medicaid, which is money for people who are of lower income. That's a big part of the Republican plans, to cut Medicaid.
Obamacare means everybody has to buy health care; everybody has to get health insurance. And if you can afford it, there will be subsidies for you. They want to cut those subsidies. Fewer people are going to get health insurance if they don't have subsidies. That's just arithmetic. And that's the problem that they're facing that I don't understand how you can compromise around. If you want a tax cut, if you want to cut Medicaid, if you want to get rid of the individual mandate, that's what repealing Obamacare is.
TOOBIN: People are unhappy about that.
BASH: They're definitely different. Even Democrats will tell you, to a person, that Obamacare needs some serious help. The concepts behind it, even forcing people -- the mandate, forcing people to get insurance. It didn't work, because the penalty isn't that high. And so a lot of people are opting out, young healthy people. And that has made premiums go high, and it's one of the reasons why a lot of these health insurance companies have left major markets, and more importantly, smaller markets.
I think the shame in that statement that really struck you, Wolf, in what Mitch McConnell said, "We're not going to work with the Democrats," is that if they all kind of said, "It is what it is. Obamacare is the law of the land. Let's come together and try to fix what we have now" in a bipartisan way, it is possible -- it's hard, but it's possible to get it done. But because they're so sort of steeped in their philosophical difference, they just won't even address it.
BLITZER: Were you surprised, Mark, that Mitch -- Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, basically said, "We really can't negotiate a compromise with the Democrats, because what we really want, market reform, Medicaid reform, is simply unacceptable to them, so why even bother to work with the Democrats?"
PRESTON: Well, he's being honest. I mean, to Dana's point, he is being honest right now. And I know Democrats out there will say, "Oh, you know, Preston is just parroting the Republican talking points, you know. But that's -- but that's the bottom line. Democrats don't want to work with Republicans on this, because this is a great issue for them going into 2018, where they only need to pick up 24 seats in the House of Representatives, could take the House back.
And guess what? When they take the House back, then Donald Trump's entire administration goes under a cloud of subpoenas nonstop that go down to the White House.
So Democrats don't necessarily want this fixed. They want Obamacare to kind of continue on to 2018. And quite frankly, Republicans taste blood right now. They have the -- they have the White House. They have the House. They have the Senate. They have a lot of governorships. They can actually get things done. What they're finding, though, is that they can't get out of their own way.
TOOBIN: Mark, I actually think there's also a substantive reason why Democrats are fighting this. It's not just that this is a good issue for them, which is appears to be. But they don't want to see Medicaid cut. Medicaid is money for people in nursing homes. They don't want people thrown out of nursing homes. I mean, that -- that actually has a substantive effect on people's lives, and I think that's a difference between the parties. And, you know, I'm not sure that there is a compromise to be had. Not just for political reasons, but because they have different approaches to government.
PRESTON: Well, but I do think, Jeffrey, that if Democrats think that, come 2018 and, you know, by the luck of God, they were to win the House and for -- I mean, imagine if they could ever take back the Senate; the numbers are stacked against them. But if they were, they would have the answers to fix Obamacare, to Dana's point. Because Democrats do acknowledge it does need to be fixed.
And yes, Jeffrey, I agree with you, they don't want to cut Medicaid. But the fact of the matter is, they're also not running to work with Republicans on this. Nor are Republicans running to them.
BLITZER: Don't forget: the president during the campaign repeatedly said he doesn't want to cut Medicaid either. No -- no cuts in Social Security, no cuts in Medicare; no cuts in Medicaid. He said that often, to the irritation of a bunch of Republicans out there, as well, who do think there should be some...
BASH: That's why the administration talking point is that this bill doesn't cut Medicaid, which is just -- it's actually not true.
[17:45:00] BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. We're waiting to hear from more of those Republican senators who were inside the White House with the president. Their bus is getting back to Capitol Hill. We'll hear from them, presumably, when we come back.
BLITZER: We're back with our political and legal specialists. Just moments ago, members of the Senate, they arrived back on Capitol Hill.
[17:49:58] They got off that United States Capitol Hill Police bus, and, presumably, they're going back to their offices or some place up on Capitol Hill. There you see Senator John McCain walking out, himself.
You know, Dana, it's very interesting that a lot of these Republican senators were deeply irritated that this pro-Trump political group was going to devote hundreds of thousands of dollars against one Republican senator who's very vulnerable in his re-election next year, Nevada's Dean Heller. And that and that irritated a lot of these Republicans.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I just got from a source that confirmed a report from "The New York Times" that Mitch McConnell, himself, called Reince Priebus over the weekend to express his displeasure with the fact that it was the President's and is the President's super PAC that made this ad and put this ad up against one of their own, against Dean Heller.
No. I should say that the White House doesn't control the super PAC. You know, it is independent.
And the people who are working the super PAC, still to this minute, defend the decision to do it. They say that it was intentional, a shot across the bow to not just Heller, but other Republican senators to stay at the table.
And that they were very upset about the fact that Heller had this big press conference, with the Republican governor of Nevada, and really was very negative, saying that he was basically a no, period, end of story, so early. So, look, this is tough. It's a very tough call for groups like this
because they feel that they have to be incredibly aggressive on reminding Republicans that Donald Trump still has a lot of sway with the base voters in their parties.
And, you know, they decided to go in an aggressive way. Clearly, Mitch McConnell and other Republicans, who like a more traditional route, were not very happy about it.
BLITZER: Yes, a lot of Republican senators. You're shaking your head.
Remember, I mean, he is very vulnerable. Nevada went for Hillary Clinton in the election. He is up for re-election. And all of a sudden, fellow Republicans are slamming him for raising serious questions about the Republican health care bill.
PRESTON: Yes. I mean, you just paint the picture here. What a strategic misplay by the super PAC.
Well, first of all, they did get a lot of earned media, meaning they didn't have to spend money. We talked about it on T.V., being big news out in Nevada.
But the fact is, and to your point, Wolf, he is the most vulnerable Republican who is up in 2018. He is standing next to the Republican governor in his home state, saying that they can't vote for the bill basically as it is.
And if you look at all the other senators who have concerns with this -- Susan Collins in Maine, Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, Rob Portman in Ohio, and then, of course, Dean Heller in Nevada -- what do they all have in common? They represent, like, large rural areas that are going to get hit very hard by this Senate bill.
So the idea that they would come out and do that just shows you that they have no political compass or understanding about how to get people, because all you do is get people with their backs against the wall and then they start to get allies.
BASH: But I think --
BLITZER: Yes. I was going to say, Jeffrey Toobin, when Mitch McConnell emerged from the White House -- we saw him at the microphone there in the driveway -- saying we made good progress, that the President had the opportunity to hear our concerns. Everybody in that room wants to get to a yes vote. I think we have a really good chance. Do you believe him?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, they've had a chance for seven years to come up with a proposal that they could all get behind and, you know, they've been intensely focused on this since Donald Trump was elected in November. And here it is, you know, the end of June.
You know, I think the math is very difficult for them. I mean, you know, many of these states -- Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Nevada, the ones we're talking about -- they want health care.
Health care is expensive. If you want to cut taxes and use money for health care, there are not enough dollars to go around. There is no magical solution that will keep everyone happy.
When you have a large portion of the Republican Party which does want to cut benefits, which does want to cut taxes and make the whole government smaller, and you have people in these states -- like West Virginia, Ohio, Maine -- where they want these services, the numbers just don't add up if you want to keep everybody happy.
BLITZER: Yes. And we'll see what happens. A similar procedure unfolded in the House of Representatives, but the Republicans have a bigger majority there than they do in the Senate. We'll see what happens after the July 4th recess.
Everybody stick around. There's more breaking news. Once again, that stunning setback with the Senate Republican leadership forced to delay a vote on their stalled health care bill until after, after, the July 4th recess.
[17:54:55] President Trump just met with Republican senators over at the White House. They've been trying to find a way to move forward.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news.
Lacking votes. Republican senators are summoned to the White House to meet with the President as the GOP suffers an embarrassing new setback on health care. A vote on the Senate bill now delayed because of opposition within the President's own party.
Trump's red line. The White House says Syria's Bashar al-Assad may be preparing to launch another chemical attack, warning him to stand down or pay a heavy price. How far is Mr. Trump willing to go to make good on his threat?
[17:59:58] Podesta testifies. Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager facing new questions about his hacked e-mails and the broader Russia investigation. Did House Intelligence Committee leaders seek new information or a distraction?