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GOP wants Deal on New Draft by Friday; Trump Confidant to Testify behind Closed Doors; U.S. Military Watching Syria; UN Ambassador Testifies amid Syria Tensions. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 28, 2017 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. A new deadline this morning for Senate Republicans since the last one worked out so well. They want a new health care deal worked out by Friday before they go home for the 4th of July. This comes amid a new very defensive statement from the president of the United States who seems to be saying, I understand health care, really I do. He wrote, he is totally engaged in health care and he knows the subject well and he just wants victory for the United States.

HARLOW: So, his defensive tweet and comments are apparently a response it seems to "The New York Times" reporting this morning that one Republican senator who backed the health care bill, supports it, left that meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan.

Let's go to Phil Mattingly. He's on Capitol Hill with more. Good morning, Phil.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of behind the scenes, kind of happenings going on right now. There's a lot of public tension going on right now. The big question right now though, is regardless of relationships with the White House, relationships within the Republican Conference.

How do you actually get to 50 votes? That's what they are working on right now. John, as you noted, they are trying to get something done by Friday. And there are some positive senses coming out. Take a listen to somebody who was a no on the motion to precede, the motion to even take up the bill, Ron Johnson, earlier this morning.

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SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: The bottom line is we can do this. But we need the information. The problem in Washington, D.C. is we talk policy absent and void of information. And that was my problem with the process is it started with all these policy arguments, void of any information. We finally have some information. One CBO score. I think this is going to give us an awful lot of latitude to get the votes.

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MATTINGLY: So, that's process. Now, let's talk about policy. Because guys, that's where this really kind of -- the rubber hits the road here. And there are significant stark differences inside the Republican Conference. And that's what Mitch McConnell has been trying to navigate throughout this entire time.

But if you want to kind of walkthrough them a little bit, obviously, that CBO score, they came out earlier in the week, the topline coverage number, 22 million fewer Americans would have insurance by 2026. That is very important. Whether Republicans quibble with the modelling, quibble with how that number was reached, for certain senators like Senator Susan Collins, like Senator Dean Heller. They have pointed specifically to that number.

You also have things like Medicaid cuts, more than $772 billion in less spending or reduced spending on the Medicaid program over the course of 10 years. For senators from states that rely heavily on Medicaid like Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, that's very important.

You also have opioid funding. There's a small sliver of opioid funding in this Senate proposal. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of work from people like Shelley Moore Capito, Senator Rob Portman to bolster that funding. And guys, it's important to note, they have money to work with here. They have a pot of about $180, $190 billion of space to kind of hand out money to senators.

But the big question though is if you give money to moderate senators, the Medicaid expansion senators, what are you going to give to the conservatives? And for them, it's all about Obamacare regulations, cutting them back even further. The reality is, right now, the divide is simply too deep at the moment. The work over the next 48 to 72 hours is trying to figure out a way to narrow that, guys.

HARLOW: Await in there the gap to get to 50. Phil Mattingly, thank you very much. You will be up all hours covering this, I know. And see if they can get there by Friday.

A lot to discuss with Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Nice to have you here, Senator. As a senator who supports this legislation as a physician yourself -- actually, you have been sort of on the fence about whether you support it. So, let me get some clarity from that on you. Do you fully support this at this point this morning? And have you seen progress, movement this morning.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA), PHYSICIAN: You know, we don't know. Put it this way. We have to see what the final product is. I will make a decision as to how I will vote once we see the final product.

John is on, you know, I spoke long ago regarding Jimmy Kimmel test. I do think for lower income Americans and middle income Americans. It does have to help them be able to afford the care for those loved ones in their family who are desperately ill. And that's one of the things I'm looking to see whether or not the next iteration improves upon the first iteration.

BERMAN: But where does it need to improve on the first iteration to get your vote, to secure your vote, to make it a definite yes? Give us some concrete details.

CASSIDY: Yes. So, for example, if somebody -- if we scale back Medicaid -- that's OK. But we need to make it so that if somebody goes off of Medicaid on their private insurance, which is good, that they can still afford it. Under the current plan, somebody making $18,000 a year would have a deductible of $6,000 on their private insurance plan.

Now, Republicans bitterly complained about Obamacare requiring that for folks making a little bit more money.

[10:05:03] I just as bitterly complained about that for someone making less money. And so, we have to make it so that those Trump voters who voted for Donald Trump because he said he's going to help them have coverage truly have coverage.

HARLOW: So, Senator, a lot of the criticism aimed at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell right now, if this was crafted behind closed-door, insensibly in secret by 13 senators. You, a physician, were not someone in the room. Someone who was in the room for that, Senator John Thune on this program yesterday, said this.

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SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: There was a working group that sort of developed organically. But the leader made it open to anyone. And then, of course, we had countless meetings with all 52 Republican senators. Everybody had input into this.

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HARLOW: He is saying everyone had input. This essentially was not done in secret. You could have been in that room. Is that true?

CASSIDY: I ended up joining the room. But let me point out. There's a political article today a "Politico" here in D.C. newspaper. That had a very disturbing article. It was Chuck Schumer, month ago, told all Democratic senators they could not -- collaborate, cooperate. Now, Susan Collins and I put out a bill called the Patient Freedom Act. That was an earnest effort to reach across the aisle to let Democrats and Republicans find a common solution. And Democrat Schumer shut them down.

So, I don't like the process. I wish it had been bipartisan. That article indicates there was no hope for it. I hate to say it but Mitch was right. We're not going to get assistance and that is regrettable. It should not be about party. It should be about patients. It was made about party. That's too bad. BERMAN: And look, we have Democrats on. We're pressing them about where they will cooperate and why they won't in some cases with you. You mentioned Susan Collins, because you did work on a bill with Susan Collins, one that has not really been incorporated all too much into the current Republican bill. But she said this yesterday about tinkering with the current Senate version. She said, basically, it may take more than you can get. Listen.

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SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I would say that 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.

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BERMAN: Senator, she basically says tinkering is not going do it. What's your message to you friend Susan Collins?

CASSIDY: I think she's probably right. Tinkering will not do t. President Trump has said the House bill should have more money added to it. But instead, the Senate bill took $200 billion more away. That's $200 billion less you have for coverage.

Now, I don't consider $200 billion tinkering. But if we do what President Trump suggested, that we put more money back in to try and improve the coverage for those Trump voters who were told on the campaign trail they would have coverage, their pre-existing conditions addressed. If we take care of those Trump voters, which is they say all Americans, but just the representative that voted for Trump, that believed his pledge, then we will do the right thing. And that will be more than tinkering. That will be substantial.

HARLOW: Senator, let me ask you this before you go. You heard Mitch McConnell outside the White House after that meeting yesterday. Basically, say, you know if we can't get this done as a party, we're going to have to work with the Democrats and they're not going to do what we want.

But you are saying to us this morning, we should have been working with the Democrats from the beginning. And I know you are pointing your finger at Chuck Schumer. But is it better for America if your party fails on this this week in the Senate and you do have to work with the Democrats?

CASSIDY: One, I attempted to work with Democrats. Two, I don't point the finger at Chuck Schumer. I quote an article in which Chuck Schumer reveals himself as a person who decided not to cooperate at all even with a good faith effort such as the Patient Freedom Act.

Of course it's better that it's bipartisan. But there's no -- that article this morning from Schumer's own words suggests that that will not occur. And if I have a frustration here, my frustration is that this should not be a Republican plan, it should not be a Democrat plan. It should be an American plan which puts patients first, which puts our national priorities first. And for whatever reason, a political decision was made by Senator Schumer not to do that. And therein lays my frustration.

BERMAN: Look, as we have said before, Senator, you know Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote. So far, the Republican version of health care has been pushed through without a single Democratic vote or Democratic input. This, I agree. We all agree with you, probably not the best way to get the best product for the American people. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, always a good discussion. Thank you, sir.

CASSIDY: Thank you.

President Trump's longtime confident, Roger Stone, now scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee next month. Stone wanted to testify publicly about everything having to do with Russia. But the committee turned down that request. So, what will Stone have to say behind closed-doors? CNN's Joe Johns at the White House. Joe?

[10:10:00] JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He will appear closed session, that's right. And late next month, he apparently is going to say he was not nearly as plugged in as a lot of people thought he was.

Look, this is one of the big, mysterious avenues of the Russia investigation, whether Roger Stone, that ally, the confidant, the associate of President Trump somehow had foreknowledge that damaging information was going to come out about the Hillary Clinton campaign, specifically the e-mails of John Podesta, her campaign chairman.

Now, Stone has put out a statement, this statement, of course, focusing on testimony by Podesta that occurred on Capitol Hill yesterday behind closed-doors. So, it wasn't clear exactly what he said. But here is the statement.

"I'm confident that Podesta most likely repeated his lie that I knew in advance about the hacking of his e-mail and am anxious to rebut this falsehood. I am still unhappy that my testimony will not be in public but believe it is more important to resolve the question of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign which I believe was non- existent."

But now, check out this timeline we put together, give you a little bit of idea of what is the there there. August of last year, Stone said he communicated with "WikiLeaks" founder Assange. And then, just the same month indicated some other things. So - and then, finally in October, of course, "WikiLeaks" came out with all of its information, the e-mails and so forth.

Now, let's talk about John Podesta. He did speak to cameras right after he finished his testimony on Capitol Hill. And one of the things he did was make it clear that he was not blaming the Obama administration for not handling the interference of Russia properly. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: I think the president and the entire administration were dealing with an unprecedented incidents of the weaponization of the fruits of Russian cyber activity. And I think they were trying to make the best judgments they could on behalf of the American people.

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JOHNS: So, there's going to be plenty for the House Intelligence Committee to talk to Roger Stone about when he gets there at the end of July. Back to you, John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Joe Johns at the White House, thank you very much.

The United States has ships and aircraft in place if the Syrian regime under Bashar al-Assad decides to conduct another chemical attack.

BERMAN: And happening now, the ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is testifying on Capitol Hill. What will she have to say about the new U.S. posture? We're all over that.

Plus, three Chicago officers facing charges of a cover-up, accused of lying in connection with the shooting death of a teen.

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[10:16:56] BERMAN: All right. Happening now, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is on Capitol Hill. She's testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. You're looking at live pictures right now. This is going on as the Trump administration is warning Syria against a new chemical attack.

HARLOW: In the Mediterranean, U.S. military ships and aircraft are watching to see if the Assad regime will carry out another chemical attack. Of course, the last chemical attack in April sparked a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base.

Our Barbara Starr joins us now from the Pentagon. And Barbara, it was yesterday on this show that you broke the news about the activity that the administration had been seeing at that air base concerning them about another possible chemical weapons attack. Has anything escalated from there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, according to defense officials, it looks like it may be ratcheting down a little bit now. To be clear, U.S. planes and ships do remain on station and ready to present options to President Trump if the Syrians do move ahead. But a short time ago, Defense Secretary Mattis told reporters traveling with him - and let me insert here, no television journalists were invited on that trip. So, we are quoting "Reuters" here.

Secretary Mattis telling them that it looks like the Syrians, in fact, backed off. Separately, defense officials here, telling me that does appear to be true. It looks right now like perhaps the Syrians are not moving ahead, perhaps like President Trump's warning worked. And last night, national security aide, Sebastian Gorka, talked about his view about this warning. Have a listen.

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SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: The president was sending a very clear message, under this administration of Donald J. Trump, red lines mean red lines. What would you do in his position if the most powerful nation in the world demonstrated to you that we can see what you are doing? Wouldn't you think again about actually executing on that decision? I know I would. I wouldn't test Donald J. Trump.

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STARR: However, remember that President Trump was not a fan of red lines on Syria and any notion of a red line presents every president with a problem because if they don't act on it, then they are seen as backing off. So, still the fundamental national security question on the table is if the Syrians were to move ahead and you saw them begin to take off with chemical weapons on board, what would you do about it? John, Poppy?

HARLOW: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you for the reporting.

For more now, let's get to CNN military analyst, retired Major General James Spider Marks. He joins us from Washington. Let's talk about the calculus that Bashar al-Assad may be making right now. Why would he even consider using more chemical weapons given the response of the Trump administration in April?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you know, Poppy, first of all, thank you for having me on. I would say that the regime change in Syria is not on the table for the United States in terms of a policy option.

[10:20:00] So, Assad is no dummy. He understands that. Were we to move forward and try to remove Assad, we would be in complete contravention. We would have the potential of a real challenge with Russia because Russia backs Assad.

So, the big picture is, Assad understands his flexibility. He could launch chemical weapons, certainly as Barbara indicated, we have sufficient intelligence collection and this is a real intelligence activity right now, a campaign of technical and human intelligence means that would give us some good warning as to when he was going to do that. I don't think we would interrupt that activity, but we'd certainly be able to confirm it.

But Assad can move with a certain degree of impunity because of the backing of Russia. Clearly, Putin, I don't think is any big fan of Assad and routinely take some output woodshed and says, cut this out. However, there's no known replacement for Assad. And until the United States and Russia can have that discussion about what the next step could be with a regime change in Syria. It's not going to happen. And Assad, Assad has the flexibility to do essentially what he wants.

BERMAN: Well, how much more currency though, does the United States have after what it did in April? After the limited missile strike against that Syrian base in April, are these threats from the White House more believable and in any way more threatening?

MARKS: No, I don't think so. Sadly, John, what happened back in April? It was a very proportional response. And I think it was done very, very precisely, very deliberately and it was done, as I said, at a very proportional level simply to send the message, don't do that again.

The United States needs to be out of the business of establishing red lines. Because you hold yourself accountable to what the result is. You must act. You want to preserve your flexibility. So, don't establish red lines. Just say, look, it's unacceptable.

But again, what we could do to punish Assad is not going to push him -- we have to have a very delicate approach. We can't push him to the point where he will collapse. Because again, we've got Russia that we have to deal with.

The discussion in Syria right now is all about our relationship with Russia. That has to be established and we have an opportunity here to agree upon something. And what does the Syrian regime look like after Assad?

BERMAN: General - Ambassador Nikki Haley is on Capitol Hill being asked about this right now. Let's listen to what she says.

MARKS: Sure.

REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS: -- regime take any steps in response to that warning.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR, UNITED NATIONS: Well, I can tell you that due to the president's actions, we did not see an incident. What we did see before was all of the same activity that we had seen prior for the April 4th chemical weapons attack.

And so, I think that by the president calling out Assad, I think by us continuing to remind Iran and Russia that while they choose to back Assad that this was something we were not going to put up with. So I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women and children.

ROYCE: Let me ask you a question on the U.N. Security Council resolutions that were passed with respect to North Korea. We're a few years away from North Korea having an ICBM capability that can reach the U.S. -

BERMAN: Joined again by retired Major General James Spider Marks. Spider, you heard Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to United Nations, saying that the president saved lives, with the statement from the White House the other day. Threatening Bashar al-Assad saying, don't do this chemical attack, we see your vessels and ships moving right now in that direction, don't do it. She says the president saved lives. Do you think that's true? MARKS: I don't think you can casually link what's been said and activities on the ground. I think what has worked to the advantage of the population in Syria, if there is an advantage -- let's speak very honestly here -- is that the actions by the United States a couple of months ago in fact degraded Syria's capabilities, albeit minimally, but it degraded their capabilities. They had to respond to that.

So, I think the only thing that Assad would respond to is any type of immediate pressure that came from Moscow that said, cut this out or I'm going to shoot you in the face. We'll try to find a replacement. Putin is not that impetuous. We can see intellectually and we can act emotionally and we should not.

What we should do is look very agnostically at this and realize there are limits to our powers in the Mideast. And we -- have some type of discussion with Russia that allows us to agree so we can move forward and get Assad off the table.

BERMAN: All right, retired Major General James Spider Marks, always a pleasure to have you with us. Spider, thank you so much.

MARKS: Thanks, John. Thanks, Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. We are watching some action on Capitol Hill this morning, the fight to get to 50 votes for the Senate Republicans, perhaps some movement to bring Republicans together to work out some kind of deal. We will discuss with our panel next.

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[10:29:05] HARLOW: Senate Republican leadership searches for a path to 50 votes on health care. House Speaker Paul Ryan says his party cannot blow it when it comes to trying to move forward their agenda. Listen.

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REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We have this opportunity. And we just cannot blow it. That's why we are so motivated. That's why we are moving so quickly. So many people don't realize all that we're doing because we're doing it so quickly. Because -- we just want to make good on our promises.

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BERMAN: They are doing it so quickly that they just delayed a vote in the Senate on health care. They wanted to have it be today or tomorrow, now, will not happen until after the 4th of July recess.

Joining us now Tara Palmeri, CNN political analyst, political reporter, Chris Kofinis is here, a Democratic Strategist and Scott Jennings, a CNN political commentator, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Scott, let's start with you here. We have had some Republican senators on this morning saying they are trying to work out a new framework by Friday morning. That's like 48 hours from now. This thing that they had just sort of went down in silence. They couldn't get people to agree on it. So is it just a matter of making some small changes, giving maybe the conservatives more choice and more flexibility and giving some of the more centrist more money for Medicaid?