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McConnell: Aim now is to just Repeal Obamacare; House GOP Leaders Speak amid Health Bill Collapse; Investigators Seek Information from 8th Person in Trump Jr. Meeting. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 18, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And on the right side of your screen or maybe on the left - on one side of your screen, we also are waiting to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Is that him?

Yes.

Paul Ryan just walked into that room. What will he say about this now collapsed effort? He forced House Republicans to take a vote on this. They passed their own version of the repeal and replace. It was a tough vote. How do they feel now that the effort at least for now seems to have failed?

What we do know this morning from our White House reporters, that the president feels annoyed. He was blindsided by this overnight developments. And in a statement just moments ago, he wrote, "With only a very small majority, the Republicans in the House and Senate need more victories next year since Dems totally obstruct, no votes!"

Again, remember, it was two Republican votes that he lost that doomed this to failure overnight. Again, we have a lot of developments. We are following all of them. Let's begin with MJ Lee for us on Capitol Hill. MJ, what are you learning?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning, John. Well, there's no question that this is a painful moment for Republican leaders. As you know, for most of this year, the Republican Party has been consumed by their efforts to try to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Now, those efforts obviously imploding last night when senators Jerry Moran and Mike Lee coming out to say that they are a no on the motion to proceed. And Mitch McConnell having to concede painfully that the efforts, to repeal and replace Obamacare at least for the time being, are dead.

Now, the Plan B for Mitch McConnell and he announced this quickly last night is to try to do a repeal and delay plan. Now, what this means is this. He still wants to move forward on the motion to proceed on the House bill that was passed earlier this year. Now, if that is successful, then he wants to bring up an amendment that would be a 2015 repeal bill that would repeal major parts of Obamacare, but delay those repeal efforts from going into effect for about two years.

Now, if this all sounds familiar, it is because Republicans considered and talked about pursuing this tactic earlier this year. But Republican leaders determined there is no appetite within the Republican conference to do a repeal without a replacement plan being in place.

Now, where is President Trump on all of this? Well, he is certainly frustrated, as you mentioned and he's also sending some conflicting messages on what he wants to see now happen. This morning, he sent out a tweet saying, "As I have always said, let Obamacare fail and then come together to do a great health care plan. Stay tuned!"

Now that is not exactly the message that he sent last night on Twitter when he said, "Republicans should just repeal failing Obamacare now and work on a new health care plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in."

Now, John, what we are watching the next couple hours is the Senate lunch when a lot of Republican senators may be offering some pushback to Senator Mitch McConnell for offering this repeal now and replace later plan. We also might get a better time line of when this vote is expected to happen. There is a lot of uncertainty right now on exactly how the next few days will unfold. John?

BERMAN: Learning a little bit about that right now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Everyone knows about Obamacare's skyrocketing costs and its plummeting choices.

Too often, however, this discussion seems to veer into the abstract. These are not just numbers on a page. These are the lives of real people. These are the men and women we represent Americans who are hurting, middle-class families who deserve better than Obamacare's failures.

We worked hard to provide them with a better way. We did so in the knowledge that this task would not be easy. We understood it would not come quickly. But we knew it was the right thing to do, so we pushed forward, anyway. I believe we must continue to push forward now.

I regret that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failures of Obamacare will not be successful. That doesn't mean we should give up. We will now try a different way to bring the American people relief from Obamacare. I think we owe them at least that much.

In the coming days, the Senate will take up and vote on a repeal of Obamacare combined with a stable two-year transition period as we work toward patient-centered health care. A majority of the Senate voted to pass the same repeal legislation back in 2015. President Obama vetoed it then. President Trump, President Trump will sign it now.

I imagine many Democrats were celebrating last night. I hope they consider what they are celebrating. The American people are hurting. They need relief. And it's regretful that our Democratic colleagues decided early on that they did not want to engage with us, seriously, in the process to deliver that relief. But this doesn't have to be the end of the story.

[10:05:00] Passing a repeal legislation will allow us to accomplish what we need to do on behalf of our people. Our Democratic friends have spoken a lot recently about wanting bipartisan solutions. Passing this legislation will provide the opportunity for senators of all parties to engage with a fresh start and a new beginning for the American people.

BERMAN: OK.

All right, that was Senator Mitch McConnell right now, the morning after the night when his effort to repeal and replace Obamacare collapsed completely. Let me just remind you what he said.

He said it is time to push forward now, he said, instead of repeal and replace. Senator McConnell says, he wants to try a different way, repeal now and then what he called a stable two-year transition. That is essentially a repeal and a delay, something that Republicans have supported in the past. But, this year, many Republicans said that they were against it.

Let's go to House Speaker Paul Ryan now, taking questions on this situation. Let's listen in.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: As we pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, to replace with a better system, but as you well know, the legislative process for it to work, House has to pass the bill. We have done that. The Senate's got to pass a bill for us to even move the process forward. That's the next step. So, we are hoping that they can achieve that next step so that we can bring real relief.

Here is the problem. Obamacare is in the middle of a tail spin. This law is collapsing. So, we've got a promise to keep. And also, we need to step ahead of the problem that this law is collapsing. More and more people don't even have any choices left or even one choice.

41 percent of the counties in America have no competition in health insurance. They have one health insurer left. Premiums have doubled. Options are disappearing. Many counties in America now have no health insurers left.

So, that is just the stark reality of the moment. And so, we are hopeful that the Senate can take the pause that they need to take and move forward on this issue so we can get something done.

Well, I'm worried that this law -- I'm worried that Obamacare will stand and the law will continue to collapse and people will get hurt in the process.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

RYAN: Did you air quote that like this when you said that? OK.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) RYAN: Look, this is a legislative process. It's a hard process. We, in the House, are proud of the bill that we did. We passed a bill that we think is sufficient to addressing the real problem, to keeping our promise.

The Senate has a razor-thin majority. It's a 52-seat majority. And in reconciliation, you need 50 votes. So, they are working through their process. I'm not going to get ahead of the next steps because frankly, we just have to see what they can do and find out where it is we can go because we have a serious problem on our hands.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) -- The president campaigned on simultaneous repeal and replace. You stood up there a mother ago. You said it will be a simultaneous repeal and replace. (INAUDIBLE) How many people will be losing their health care? How can you restore or even give them faith in the party at this point?

RYAN: Yes. I mean, we have done this in the House. We passed our simultaneous repeal and replace bill. We think that's the solution. We think that's the best way to go. And so, we're just going to have to wait and hope that our friends in the Senate can figure out how they can get a bill passed, get in the conference or whatever and get something passed.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

RYAN: Not going to foreclose any options. The challenge I see though is the Democrats have not been interested in working on this. They don't want to get us off of the Obamacare train. They want to double down on a failed system that is in the middle of a collapse.

And ultimately, it's very clear that they are more interested in a single payer system which means government run health care. Government run health care is not in our nation's interest. And so, if they want to get away from government on health care, if they don't want to double down on the failure of Obamacare, then I think we have something to work with. The problem is, we just haven't seen any evidence of that, yet.

Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. The House Speaker Paul Ryan noting in the House, he says, we have passed our version of repeal and replace. He is now waiting on the Senate to act now that the Senate version has collapsed overnight.

Senator Mitch McConnell moments before said, he was going to offer a repeal and delay plan. Repeal only for now and then come up with some idea of how to replace Obamacare later.

We are waiting to hear from Vice President Mike Pence. He will weigh on in this very shortly. While we are waiting for the vice president, joining me now, another important figure in these discussions, Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York.

Congressman thanks so much for being with us. Let me just get your reaction to the news overnight that the Senate version of repeal and replace failed.

[10:10:02] LEE ZELDIN (R-NY), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, this particular plan obviously doesn't have the votes based on the development since last night. There are many different options of how to improve health care in this country, how to improve coverage for people with health care needs in this country.

So, Senator McConnell is going to move on to the next option and see if he can get to what is nearly a unanimous vote of his Senate Republican colleagues, which is required. He only has 52 and he has to get to 51 votes in order to pass it. So he'll move on to next option and try to get that done.

BERMAN: That option is repeal only, for now, and delay, and hope maybe you can come up with something in the next two years. That's the plan when it was discussed in 2015. The CBO -- said could cost, you know, 18 million people their insurance in one year, more than 20 million people years out. Is that something you could support, a repeal only measure?

ZELDIN: Well, first off, when this similar proposal came in 2015, I did vote for it. It went through the House and Senate, was vetoed by President Obama. And it's also important to note that when CBO scores -- these individual proposals, they don't take into account -- this isn't an attack on the CBO. It's just the CBO does not take into account anything that the secretary of Health and Human Services has the power to do administratively and doesn't include anything that is done legislatively that requires 60 votes like medical malpractice reform - several proposals.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Absolutely. But, Congressman, do you not think that some insurers, for instance, some people in the industry, if a repeal only bill would pass, that they would get the jitters and perhaps start altering or removing their plans? Just intuitively, don't you think that at least in the short term people would lose insurance over that?

ZELDIN: Well, actually, in the individual market -- many of the requirements in the ACA, -- you know, some parts of the country, it has collapsed. In other parts, it is collapsing. So we just listened to Speaker Ryan talk about what is very true, where you have these counties with one option left and other counties with a zero.

It's a relatively simple business model for insurance companies if I overgeneralize it. You try to bring in more from premiums and deductibles then you payout. And when you require this gold standard of policies, then you start paying out more than you are taking in. You then start raising premiums, raising deductibles. Because the minimum insurance policy that has to be provided right now, the insurance companies in certain parts of this country can't afford to bring in more than they are paying out.

BERMAN: Just a pure process question, then I'll move on to another subject. If repeal and delay, you know, were to be passed, you know, don't you think that some people would be within their rights to be concerned if, you know, if Republicans couldn't get something through now, why should it be any different over the next year or two? Wouldn't there be a real possibility there never would be a replace?

ZELDIN: Well, the repeal portion is the one that - I mean, partisanship aside, ideologically, there's a deep divide between parties and between members of Congress. It's the repeal portion of this more so than the replace debate. Hopefully, between Republicans and Democrats, you won't see as much of a divide in that conversation of how do we insure more Americans, have access to affordable patient- centered health care.

But the more difficult portion for sure of this debate is the repeal. And there, you are just not going to get Democratic votes. And you can't sit here just blame the Democrats or just blame Republicans. It shouldn't be on partisanship. There's a deep ideological difference.

BERMAN: OK. The president, by the way, on his Twitter feed if you were reading it and maybe you had better things to do this morning with blaming Republicans for their obstruction. But I certainly see what you are saying that both sides need to come together on this.

One question on Russia if I can, "The Wall Street Journal," which is not a liberal paper, this morning said that essentially, it is sick and tired of how the White House is handling the Russia investigation. The Journal said, "Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. That means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or e-mail. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years. This should include every relevant part of Mr. Trump's tax returns, which the president will resist but Mr. Mueller is sure to seek anyways."

Interesting that they include the tax returns there but overall, do you need to think that the White House needs to be more transparent now?

ZELDIN: A lot has come out. I don't know what else there is to come out. There are investigations that are going on. All indications are that there is cooperation between the Trump administration, people involved in the Trump campaign and the Special Counsel and the House and Senate. I'm just not aware of anything beyond what's come out to be concerned about.

[10:15:09] Now, as far as the investigation goes, you know, that investigation continues. The cooperation between all parties is important. And anything that Bob Mueller says is important -

BERMAN: Congressman?

ZELDIN: Go ahead.

BERMAN: I mean, I think one of the things they are referring to is this meeting that Don Trump Jr. had with the Russian lawyer that we didn't know about for a year. Then, when we did know about it, they gave a misleading story about it. Then, when they gave the right story about it, you know, it turned out that more people were in the meeting than they initially told us. That's not transparency, is it? ZELDIN: Well, you know, it's important that as -- you have these different questions come up, like with regards to that meeting, that you want to get the information out. It's best to put it out yourself rather than get reported in, say, "The New York Times." So from that standpoint, I certainly wouldn't disagree. That if there is anything that needs to come out that hasn't come out that is relevant, that's important that they put it out now. That part, I can't disagree with.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Lee Zeldin, I know it puts you in a tough spot to answer all these questions about the administration. But I do appreciate your time. Thank you so much, Congressman.

ZELDIN: Take care, John.

BERMAN: A lot going on in Washington, this after the collapse of the Republican Senate effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. We are waiting for the vice president of the United States to speak on this. This will be the first time we hear out loud from a member of the administration. His words will be crucial to what happens next. We'll bring that to you live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:20:48] BERMAN: All right, still more breaking news this morning, this time on the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and that Russian lawyer and a number of other folks. This new news just in to CNN involves the unidentified eighth man.

White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond joins us now with the very latest. The eighth man, Jeremy, what are you learning?

JEREMY DIAMON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Special Counsel Investigators are now seeking information from that still publicly unidentified eighth man in that room who attended that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That's according to Agalarov, a family attorney, Scott Balber, who is also representing that eighth person who attended that meeting.

Balber says that prosecutors have not yet interviewed his client. He is declining to publicly identify him to, quote "preserve the integrity of the investigation." But what we are learning is, of course, that this person is going to be -- is of interest clearly to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We have learned very few insights into how Robert Mueller is approaching this investigation. And this is just another window into that investigation.

We know that this eighth person is a representative of the Agalarov family and Scott Balber, his attorney, says that he is a long-time U.S. citizen. The Special Counsel's Office has declined to comment. John?

BERMAN: All right. Jeremy Diamond, with that, thank you very, very much.

Joining me now, Betsy Woodruff, politics reporter for "The Daily Beast," Tara Palmeri, CNN political analyst, White House correspondent at "Politico" and Salena Zito, CNN contributor and "Washington Examiner" reporter.

Betsy, let's just start with the breaking news here. You know, the Special Counsel very interested in this June 2016 meeting that Donald Trump Jr. went to after being promised incriminating information from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton. The Special Counsel now wants to speak to that eighth man. That shows you the course and sort of the wide scope of this investigation right now.

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICS REPORTER, "THE DAILY BEAST": Right, exactly. The fact that this eighth man appears to be a U.S. citizen is also really important. Because that means he could be subpoenaed in U.S. court. The Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was also in that meeting isn't a U.S. citizen. Of course, Rinat Akhmetshin, another person in that meeting is a dual Russian and U.S. citizen.

So, as Mueller is putting together his investigation, gathering information, he's a career prosecutor. One of the things he certainly thinking in term of is how much of the information that I gather will be admissible in court. In the case of this eighth man, the fact he is a U.S. citizen, means that anything he can tell Mueller and his team is extraordinarily valuable not just in terms of them doing research but also potentially putting together a court case.

BERMAN: Fascinating. And you know, Tara, this is happening as the White House continues its sort of strange argument. The president of the United States says, yes, anyone and everyone would have taken that meeting that Don Jr. took which we know from talking to every member of Congress that we speak to says no. They would not have taken that meeting.

And then, yesterday, at the White House briefing - I'm not sure you were at that particular White House briefing but Sean Spicer said, you know, there's nothing that we've heard that indicates that that meeting was about anything other than adoption, which is actually different than what is in black and white on the e-mail exchange, between Donald Trump Jr. and his friend who had allegedly information from the Russian government.

TARA PALMERI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I don't understand why the press secretary was trying to dispute a fact that pretty much in clear, like you've said, black and white e-mail. But, it's obviously something that they need to be distancing themselves from at this point.

But, you know, Trump is saying it is opposition. And it just shows you what political neophytes they are. Some of their allies have told me and they say this privately that really, Donald Trump Jr. just isn't that bright. It's a line they are using right now. They are saying he really doesn't know the political electoral system that well. He didn't think he was going anything wrong and that he really just doesn't think things through.

Now, the fact that Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were in the meeting, you have to think for a second that they might think this through unless you are saying the entire campaign team behind Donald Trump knew nothing about federal election law. [10:25:00] BERMAN: All right. Salena Zito, there's another big development overnight, distracting a little bit from "Made in America" week, I might say, which is the health care bill in the Senate. The plan to repeal and replace Obamacare collapsed. It completely imploded. It's over and done with.

Now, all that's being discussed is repeal only and delay. And there's a little bit of finger pointing, right? The president of the United States suggested that he is blaming Democrats, but also some Republicans. And our Jeff Zeleny hearing from some senior Republicans overnight saying critical of the White House, saying that the president, he was playing with a fire truck and trying on a cowboy hat as the bill was collapsing and he had no clue. So, clearly some Republicans disappointed that the president maybe didn't make a bigger effort to get something passed.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. I mean, I think there's a lot of frustration in Washington, period. Among Republicans, you know, whether they are in the House or in the Senate. This is something that, you know, they have been running on since 2009. It's a difficult thing to run against, right? Because once you get an entitlement, it's very difficult to take things away from people.

The one of the things that I have found fascinating in my reporting outside of Washington is that people believe and want to see members on both sides of the aisle contribute and work on this. This comes from Democrats and Republicans. They would like to see everyone sort of have responsibility in making this right. There are some good things about Obamacare and there are some bad things. I mean, I have been in counties in Tennessee, Kentucky, Iowa, that they have no providers or one. They have no competition. And that's really hurting their bottom line because it's become incredibly expensive.

BERMAN: Salena, it's interesting because in some of those counties that you visit a lot, you get a mixed message. On the one hand, these are voters who I think would be very disappointed if the administration, the Republicans in Congress did not manage to do something, anything on Obamacare repeal, which they have been promising for a long time. On the other hand, these are people who you get. You know through reporting, might be in some cases disproportionately affected and not always in a positive way from some of the changes there. There's a real push/pull among some of these voters.

ZITO: Absolutely. I mean, this is part of the struggle for the Republicans, right? They have this new coalition with Trump and this new coalition voted for Trump and they voted for them. A lot of these House districts and a lot of these competitive U.S. Senate races. They are not, you know, fiscally conservative free market voters, right? A lot of them have dependencies on the government to provide or supplement their health care. And that's sort of what they are facing.

So, Lee and Moran, -- when they decided to you know, not sign on to this bill. They come from ruby red states and they come from people who, you know, think the way that they do. But, in some blue states and purple states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, you have a real interesting mix of new Republican coalition.

BERMAN: I'm going to read off my computer right now. Because the breaking news is coming so fast that I have to look down here, Betsy. But to Salena's point there, one of the senators from one of these purple states, maybe a reddish purple.

But Ohio, Senator Rob Portman, our Manu Raju reports, says that Senator Portman is concerned with the idea of repeal only. He would not say how he would vote, but serious concerns about the way forward. Serious concerns about repeal only from Rob Portman could mean that this new effort is in serious peril even before it kicks off, Betsy.

WOODRUFF: That's not a huge surprise. The reality is that getting to 51 votes for repeal only bill was almost going to be an insurmountable task for McConnell. Behind the scenes, Republicans seem to recognize that passing a repeal only bill even though they pulled it off in 2015 when they know it will be vetoed is going to be extraordinarily difficult this time around.

The consensus that seems to be emerging among Hill aides is McConnell wants to check all the boxes, wants to say he did his best and then when this repeal only process falls apart, which isn't guaranteed, which is possible, McConnell can say, I did everything that I could. Let's move on to tax reform.

Another important concern for senators like Portman is what happens to the more than $40 billion that was appropriated for opioid -- response under the Senate bill? We don't know and that when we all care about.

BERMAN: That's a great point. We hope the Congressman can address that independently maybe if they have a chance.

Tara, what does the administration now do? We are waiting. There's a picture on our screen right now. We are waiting to hear from Vice President Mike Pence very shortly. What do you think the administration will do? How will approach this more than just the tweets that we've seen from the president of the United States, saying on the one hand repeal only, now on the other hand, let Obamacare fail.

PALMERI: Well, this is another example of Trump thinking that hard sales tactics work in Washington. He really wants to put these senators on the line and say, hey, in 2015, like Betsy said, you voted for repeal. Now it's your time again. He wants to put them on the floor and get them to vote.