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Trump: Can't Imagine GOP Leaving Without Finishing Health Care; McCain: GOP Repeal Bill "Probably Going To Be Dead"; Voters Press Lawmakers To Explain GOP Bill At Town Halls; Intermediary Comes Forward In Trump Jr. Meeting; Congress In Three-Week Sprint To August Recess; Ivanka Trump Photo At G20 Table Stirs Debate. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 10, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- the August Congressional recess, but setting deadlines is dangerous business. Republican senators already missed their first target date for a vote on repealing and replacing ObamaCare. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could not whip enough votes before the July 4th holiday, and then the majority leader may have lost even more while lawmakers were out of town.

Remember, his advisors had said more than once that maybe time was the last thing that they need and perhaps they were right. But if you go a few doors down from the Oval Office, deadlines, well, they don't really seem to be deadlines.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Maybe before, maybe a little bit into it, but I know that this president expects them to get this thing done. Whether it be before August recess or during August recess. The president expects the Senate to fulfill the promises it made to the American people.


BASH: But on Capitol Hill, where the people actually have to vote, some Republicans warned no amount of time would be enough to fix this bill's problems.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think, my view is, it's probably going to be dead, but I am -- I've been wrong.


BASH: Speaking the truth, Amy Walter?

AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Boy, it is hard to see where this thing goes, and how it gets across the finish line. Now, let's take us back in time. We said this about the House bill that passed, right --


WALTER: -- on the Republican side. We said this back in 2009, and in early 2010 about the Democrats being able to get their bill across the finish line. This is especially true after the special election in Massachusetts where Republican Scott Brown had the upset there and there was no longer the 60-seat majority in the Senate.

So, things can happen. That said, the big takeaway I get on this bill is, it is so politically toxic that for anybody who touches it, who's up in 2018 it is going to be -- it can melt your face off, kind of toxicity, right? This is the kind of stuff that you lose midterm elections over. And it is why tackling health care is sort of like the box canyon of issues, right? You get in there, and you think you're going to solve it and get out easily but you're stuck and people are --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like there are lots of Indiana Jones reference --


WALTER: Your fate is meting. I didn't watch it over the weekend. Your fate is melting, you're trapped in there. So here Republicans are trapped not just because of the bill's unpopularity, so they're getting (INAUDIBLE) by Democrats and other but within their own party as well. And then more important, the president himself is not leading on this issue.

He has given multiple contradictory statements about what he wants to see. Maybe we should just repeal it, do the replace later. We got to get it done before August. The bill isn't too mean, right?

There is nothing coming from the White House helping to coordinate that. So you watch the Sunday shows yesterday and you had three or four different Republicans coming out with three or four different solutions without any sort of gelling.

BASH: That's exactly right. Go ahead.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Oh, I was going to say that exactly -- that's the point that I was going to make. Where is the messaging operation to push this bill through? There is virtually nothing on the right. Not just from the White House but outside groups on the right are completely silent.

There's no proactive message about why in this particular bill will be beneficial to the country and to help structure one-sixth of the economy. There is virtually no megaphone on their side. (INAUDIBLE) saying that ObamaCare is imploding and it's a disaster and we need to fix it. But they're not saying what this bill does to fix the problem which is, it gets to the, you know, point that Mitch McConnell made last week that, you know, we can fix this bill with Democrats. That is a more politically popular idea than just repealing the bill without really explaining what's in the replacement.

BASH: And to that point, I want to play what Bill Cassidy, a Republican senator said yesterday about appearing to be, again, this is a smart guy (INAUDIBLE), confused about what's in the bill.


SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: We don't know what the plan is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But wait a minute, it was submitted.

CASSIDY: Well, the draft plan has now been serious rewrite, and so we don't know what the serious rewrite. Now, clearly the draft plan is dead. Is the serious rewrite plan dead? I don't know. I've not seen the serious rewrite plan.


BASH: So, this is not a commentary on a senator, this is a commentary on the process and the fact that it is, look, it's a moving process. But at the same time when you have something that's so confusing and lacking a message to push it, that's not helpful.

DAN BALZ, THE WASHINGTON POST: They're doing two things at once obviously. One is, they're tweaking the bill in response to criticisms from various people. They're sending those over to the CBO to try to get those scored to see whether they have any real impact or a positive impact.

But there's no way to bring all of that together until they put this bill out in a public way, which they did the last time and it, you know, as a result of that, they couldn't even move it to the floor. So, you know, as Amy said -- I mean, they are stuck in a place where they have so many people who have such reservations about it that harmonizing those is going to be the biggest challenge that Mitch McConnell's ever had.

[12:35:08] BASH: And I want to -- as I go to you Margaret, I want to put up an image that I think is very telling, that was captured in Kansas at a town hall. Senator Jerry Moran by our Ashley Killough, but if you look at that, if you kind of look down, this is, you know, he's having a conversation, a good conversation with constituents and a protester is just standing behind him with a sign talking about how bad this bill is. I mean --


BASH: Right. This is not San Francisco or New York City, it's Kansas.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: I think, Dana, I think there are political repercussions for President Trump if this legislation goes down that are separate from health care and separate from whether they can get the votes on tax reform and that sort of thing. And it's a much more basic simple thing which is that up until now, the Republican strategy has been to say, yes, and to work with him.

Not to say no and not to step back. To be very careful about not stepping back, even when it's on Russia-related issues, to just the consensus strategically has been he's the president, we can get conservative judges on the bench, we can, you know, move towards stuff. And when they -- if there is a sort of finality of an act of no, that changes the instincts in the direction and it becomes easier to say no going forward on other things. And that is the strategic problem for the White House.

RAJU: Yes. I was just going to say that if you look at the math, you know, I think you rule out Susan Collins, she's gone most likely. You're going to lose Rand Paul on the right. He's gone. So you really can't lose anybody.

BASH: About the current bill?

RAJU: About the current bill. Even, you know, with changes, it's hard to see how these two get there. And then you have so many other senators who have reservations in different areas. Even if they try to add some language to appease Ted Cruz or a Mike Lee, the conservatives, you have concerns with people like Dean Heller who are up for reelection.

Rob Portman from a state that expanded Medicaid, who have their own significant reservations. Not to mention Jerry Moran, Kansas conservative who says he will not vote for this.

BASH: And before we finish on this topic, one more beat, I want to play a back and forth that Joni Ernst who is not up for reelection but is from a purple state, Iowa, had with a constituent who is asking about the removal of essential benefits in the Senate bill. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- cause that man's costs to skyrocket. And then doesn't matter if you say it is a condition is covered if you don't cover prescriptions, hospital stays, surgery. So how does that cover someone with cancer?

SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: Well, it's allowing flexibility, but again --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Flexibility for insurance companies to not cover these people.


BASH: Very hard (INAUDIBLE) to manage.

WALTER: On the campaign trail in 2016 the thing I heard from voters over and over about health care was, it's just simply too expensive. I can't afford it. And that's not the message that Republicans are putting forward.

This is going to be more affordable for you. They're talking flexibility, they're talking about keeping a promise to voters. But they're not getting to the core issue for many, many, many voters which is, what we disliked about ObamaCare was its expense or about health care in general was its expense. If that messaging doesn't get through, I just think it's going to be very difficult for them to pass.

BASH: Because the smart ones realize, they don't want to promise it because that might not --

WALTER: Because they know --

BASH: -- come to pass in the end.

All right, everybody, stand by. Up next, whatever happened to tax reform and infrastructure repairs? Is all of the haggling over health care that we have been discussing making it hard for Republicans to do other big things and keep campaign promises? That's next.


[12:42:49] BASH: This news just in to CNN. An entertainment company president named Rob Goldstone is confirming the Washington Post report that the (INAUDIBLE) who set up the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer -- Kremlin's connections rather was in fact Goldstone. He says he was the guy who did it.

In a statement, Goldstone says that the lawyer claimed to have information about Hillary Clinton that the Trump campaign might find important. The meeting took place in June of last year at Trump Tower and both Goldstone and Donald Trump Jr. say it was brief and the information was worthless and nothing came out of it. We'll have much more on this rapidly unfolding story throughout the day on CNN.

Meanwhile, Russia isn't the only investigation and the only cloud hanging over the GOP agenda. With three weeks to go, Republicans are in a time crunch to get any of their big items crossed off their list before the August recess. These items have yet to make it even to the president's desk.

Obviously, we've been talking about health care but also tax reform. A budget at all. The debt ceiling, Russia sanctions, and a bill to fix the nation's crumbling infrastructure.

GOP congressman and Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows put it this way to the Washington Post. Quote, there is real anxiety among the people that I serve on why we're not putting more things on the president's desk. They're tired of excuses. Manu?

RAJU: Yes, they are. I agree. It's remarkable. This is, you know, all Republican control of Washington, and I think there's a very good chance but the only thing that they get done before the August recess, or at least before, by the new fiscal year, by October 1st, is keeping the lights on. Keeping the government operating.

If they could do that, unless there's a big fight over the -- another campaign promise which is to build the wall along the border of Mexico and if the White House insists on money for that they could probably have to fight with Democrats, could lead to a shutdown. We're still months away to see if that will actually happen. They have to raise the debt limit which you noted there, that's a perpetually huge fight within the Republican Party and they may have to do that free of restrictions to cut spending.

[12:45:03] If that happens, the conservatives would be very upset that they did not get anything there. (INAUDIBLE) Health care as we're discussing in the last block may not happen because of divisions. Tax reforms, they're nowhere nearer getting a deal on tax reform done. Certainly not in the next two months.

And infrastructure, this plan is -- with the one that's put forward does not have the support of Democrats right now and they need Democrats to pass in the Senate. They are ways and ways away from passing the big ticket items that they campaigned on. They may just have to do a basic functioning of government, keeping the lights on and that may be difficult (INAUDIBLE) of itself.

BASH: And I just want you all to listen to what Mitch McConnell, the majority leader said at the Republican convention a year ago.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Put Donald Trump in the White House, Senate Republicans will build on the work we've done and pass more bills into law than any Senate in years.


BASH: OK. That was the aspirational part of this because then, they didn't actually think Donald Trump would win. But once he won, Republicans who weren't thrilled about Donald Trump being the nominee or never mind the president thought, OK, at least we have a guy in the White House and we can get our stuff done and that ain't happening.

TALEV: And then actually could have happened and is what should be happening when you just look at the numbers. I would put this list into two categories. The debt ceiling and everything else.

BASH: Yes.

TALEV: OK, honestly you cannot --


TALEV: You cannot actually having a conversation about this. So there's the debt ceiling and then there is everything else. But the trouble with everything else is not just momentum in getting everyone on the same page it's the numbers for, right? Because if the whole reason for reordering was supposed to be reconciliation, the idea that the health bill will save money and then you can spend money doing other stuff. It just changes the whole equation of everything else and it changes the kind of conversations you have to have about how to pay for things.

And we saw like as recently as in the last week or two the beginning -- the rumblings of a new debate about whether it makes more sense to go the populist route on taxes, try do to a tax cut. How you're going to pay for that and get back to the real stuff later. When you're even talking about these things, it suggests that these sort of cleaves in the different branches of the Republican Party. The Trump populist base versus, you know, kind of the business or corporate base. If this doesn't get resolved in, like, you know, six or eight weeks, they go into the midterms really disorganized.

BASH: And you know, Amy, as -- it feels like we're always in a campaign cycle but it's really true once the calendar flips to 2018. But is this just the reality that the disrupter president, the guy who comes from outside who says he's going to get all these things is facing the fact that Washington is tough even maybe especially when you have your own party in charge of the -- in the Congress?

WALTER: Well, and Margaret put it very well which is, it's our daily reminder that what Republicans in Congress ran on was a very different agenda than what the president who is a Republican ran on. And this is a party now that is not a unified party. It really hasn't been, in recent years and it continues to be divided.

So, they never had going in this idea of what we're going to do. Once we get here, the Republicans in Congress said, this is what our agenda is going to be. Paul Ryan laid it out we're going to go through this. This is not certainly what President Trump focused on.

The real question in my mind is, what kind of influence not getting stuff done is going to have on 2018 in terms of the enthusiasm for Republicans to come out and vote for other Republicans? In years past what we know is, when your side isn't doing very well you tend to stay back, not go out. The other side tends to turn out because they're angry. Is that going to continue to happen in 2018?

BASH: Great question. Hold that thought. We are going to take a quick break and up next, Ivanka Trump's big moment at the G20 that raised a few eyebrows. And even earned a couple of tweets from her dad, and someone else, Chelsea Clinton. That's coming up.


[12:53:12] BASH: President Trump's two-hour chat with Vladimir Putin may have been the big headline from G20 but the summit gave us other notable moments, including this one on Saturday. That's Ivanka Trump sitting in her father's seat during remarks by the head of the World Bank. There you see her between the Chinese president and the British prime minister.

Now, the photo caused a bit of a stir among Trump's critics on social media who question whether it's appropriate for the president's daughter to take his place at such an important table if only for a few moments. Now Trump rallied to Ivanka's defense on Twitter today saying, quote, if Chelsea Clinton were asked to hold the seat for her mother, as her mother gave the country away, the fake news would say Chelsea for pres.

Chelsea Clinton fired back. She said, "Good morning Mr. President. It would never have occurred to my mother or my father to ask me. Were you giving away our country? Hoping not." So, even though this is, you know, a lot of snark between a lot of important people. Dan, this does kind of raise the questions about whether or not it is appropriate -- I mean, it is true that Ivanka Trump, she has an actual job in her father's administration. Whether or not she would -- was qualified, not just to have the job but to be sitting there even for a few minutes is another, but she has the job. Why not put an adviser there, daughter or not?

BALZ: You know, I think you have to discount some of the internet --

BASH: The noise?

BALZ: -- noise that took place on Saturday. Your point is right. I mean, she is a senior White House person. She happens to be his daughter. And so sometimes it's hard to separate those.

[12:55:17] I was struck, though, that a number of people who have had experience in diplomacy and at meetings like the G20 suggested when that happened, that in any other administration, that seat at the table would have been taken by the secretary of state, the secretary of treasury. Some other, you know, cabinet official, rather than a White House person. So I think that was, that was --

BASH: Daughter or not?

BALZ: Daughter or not.

BASH: Yes. Well, that's interesting. You were there, Margaret?

TALEV: Yes. And it was really interesting in the morning. The context is important. There has been this announcement of a World Bank initiative created for which the U.S. is one of the contributors, Ivanka was up on that panel on stage beforehand. Women's empowerment and such and that's also the reason she was in the back of the room for that closed G20 session that the picture comes from, right?

In that World Bank empowerment event the president can came in himself and talked about his daughter. How proud he is of his daughter and made a joke, I think it was a joke, saying probably the hardest and worst thing she's got going for her is him right now. So that's the preface for all the rest of this.

One more point. One of the reasons that tweet was making its way around of the photo to begin with was Russia's (INAUDIBLE) to the G20 was the one tweeting that picture.

BASH: Ouch. All right. Thank you Margaret, Manu, Amy, Dan. Great discussion. Thank you so much for that. And thank you rather for joining us on the INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf Blitzer is up after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 --