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Interview With Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono; President Trump Blasts His Attorney General; McCain Returns to Senate to Cast Deciding Vote on Obamacare Motion; Senate Begins Debate on Health Care Reform. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 25, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: How much longer will the attorney general be able to take all this trolling?

THE LEAD starts right now.

In a blistering tweetstorm, President Trump cyber-bullies Attorney General Sessions once again. How far is the president willing to go to stop the Russia probe?

Breaking news, tiebreaker, the vice president casting the vote to advance debate on health care legislation in the Senate. The GOP now closer to actually killing Obamacare, closer than ever before.

Plus, look, they can work together. Republican Rand Paul, Democrat Kamala Harris talk to me about the big issue that is bringing them together.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with breaking news in the politics lead.

So much going on in the White House right now. Vice President Pence just cast the tiebreaking vote to advance debate on health care legislation in the Senate. President Trump just reacted to that moments ago in the White House Rose Garden. He is also addressing a firestorm of his own creation, his escalating campaign of public humiliation to push out his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very disappointed in the attorney general, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.


TAPPER: President Trump once again said Sessions should not have recused himself in the Russia investigation.

Since early March, the president has been upset with Sessions, one of his earliest key supporters, after the new attorney general abided by Department of Justice protocols and recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. That is an action he took after it came out that he had not disclosed meetings with Russia's ambassador during his confirmation hearing.

Now, President Trump has made it very clear that Sessions would not be in that job had the president known that Sessions would recuse himself from any supervision of the Russian investigation now led by special counsel Bob Mueller.

The president has also made it clear he would like barriers on what the scope of Mueller's investigation is, barriers that Sessions cannot put up.

The decision by Sessions to put his allegiance to Justice protocols, instead of his loyalty to the president, seems an unforgivable offense for the president.

He took aim again this morning on Twitter -- quote -- "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes. Where are e-mails and DNC server and intel leakers?"

To the president's new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, the president's message seemed pretty clear.


QUESTION: It's clear the president wants him gone, isn't it, Anthony?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but I do know the president pretty well. And if there's this level of tension in the relationship, that that's public, you're probably right. But I don't want to speak for the president on that.


TAPPER: Later, Scaramucci added -- quote -- "The president wants his Cabinet secretaries to have his back."

To have his back.

Having the president's back is not the job of the attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the land. Looking out for the president's personal and political interests and launching investigations into his rivals, such as Hillary Clinton, that's not the attorney general's job.

We should note that Sessions was willing to go along with the president's desire to fire FBI Director James Comey, a decision the president made while thinking of the Russia investigation.

So, it's not as if Sessions has been pure about his refusal, but even that has not been enough for President Trump, who seems to feel as though Sessions' loyalty is lacking.

President Trump even seemed to allude to this last night, speaking to the Boy Scout Jamboree.


TRUMP: As the Scout law says, a Scout is trustworthy, loyal -- we could use some more loyalty. I will tell you that.


TAPPER: Republican loyalty to the president is indeed being tested. The president's allies on Capitol Hill fear that he might fire Bob Mueller.

They worry about his assertion that he has complete power to pardon after "The Washington Post" reported that the president had asked aides about whether he could pardon his family members or even himself.

The temptation might be to look at this Sessions story as a bit of human drama, the president deriding a longtime loyalist. How long will the Sessions suffer these ignominious tweets and eye rolls and comments by the president?

But the story here is that President Trump wants someone at the Justice Department who will exert tighter reins, if not a scythe, when it comes to the Mueller investigation.

And if Sessions won't be that person, loyalty, ability, policies aside, the president wants him gone.

The House and Senate continue their investigations as well, of course. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed former Trump chairman Paul Manafort to appear tomorrow, while presidential adviser and son- in-law Jared Kushner spoke with House Intelligence Committee members this morning.


CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins us now live from the White House.

Jeff, the president taking the opportunity again today to criticize his attorney general on this Russia investigation and the recusal.


Just a few minutes ago in the Rose Garden here at the White House, under a blistering sun, the president again repeated his blistering critique of his attorney general.

But he did not step forward and say exactly what he would do about it. He is indeed shaming him, he's humiliating him, but he's not saying if he intends to fire him.

And there is a bit of mystery here at the White House over how long this will sort of go on. Is that creating a chilling effect to a lot of supporters of the president? But they were all watching very carefully when he said this today about his attorney general.


TRUMP: I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office.

And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have quite simply picked somebody else.

So, I think that's a bad thing, not for the president, but for the presidency. I think it's unfair to the presidency, and that's the way I feel. Thank you.


ZELENY: Now, Jake, it should have come as no surprise to the president or anyone else that the attorney general did recuse himself, because that's exactly what he said he would do in his January confirmation hearing.

He was asked that specifically by Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican, if he would become involved in any type of investigation, and he said, no, he does not think it's appropriate. He was too close to the campaign last year, so he shouldn't be investigating the Clinton campaign.

Now, Jake, the end point of all this is unclear. But what is clear, the president blames the attorney general for setting into motion a series of events that has left this investigation actually where it is here.

But there are Republicans coming to the defense of the attorney general. Senators from all corners are saying, look, the attorney general should stay in his job, they believe he's doing the right thing here.

But, Jake, the unusual thing about this, the president has picked fights with a lot of people. He has seldom picked fights with someone the conservative base actually supports and likes. That's why the outcome of this is incredibly uncertain -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Even Democrats are coming to the attorney general's defense. I will talk to a top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with breaking news on our politics lead.

Moments ago, President Trump declared he is disappointed with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and he said time will tell whether Sessions keeps his job.

Joining me to discuss this and, of course, the crucial health care vote is Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: Good to be here. Aloha.


TAPPER: Aloha to you.

I want to get your reaction to what President Trump just said. Take a listen.


TRUMP: I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like rarely have they ever leaked before.

I'm very disappointed in the attorney general, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.


TAPPER: What do you make of this all, Senator?

HIRONO: I think it's outrageous that the president is now going after the senator who was the first out of the chute to endorse him and who the president called the smartest person in Washington, D.C.

And now because I think he's very afraid of where the Russian investigation is heading that he's going after Jeff Sessions, who had to, by the way, recuse himself. It wasn't as though Sessions had a choice in the matter.


TAPPER: Right. That's what he says, that he had to do it, according to protocols.

HIRONO: Exactly.

TAPPER: Sessions said last week that he would stay on as attorney general for as long as it is appropriate.

How long do you think an attorney general can continue to work in what some might consider to be a hostile work environment?

HIRONO: Well, as the president says, that time will tell, time will tell.

And with this president, you never know where he's coming from, but the bottom line is very clear, that he wants this Russian investigation to go away.

And some would say that he's setting the stage for Jeff Sessions to be fired or to resign, and for the president to make some other kind of appointment, maybe a recess appointment, and that person will fire Mueller. And that would be disastrous for this country.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the Russia investigation.

Your committee today subpoenaed former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to testify publicly tomorrow?


TAPPER: What steps is your committee prepared to take if he does not comply?

HIRONO: Well, so far, he's not complying, and so there's some pretty tense negotiations going on.

I was talking with Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, and she showed me what Manafort's people have countered with. And it is totally unacceptable. They only want us to ask certain kinds of questions only about one meeting, all of that.

So the parameters are so narrow that this is not going to happen in this fashion.

TAPPER: Take a listen to what Senator Feinstein had to say today about whether the Trump administration is trying to cooperate with Russia probes and be transparent in general. Take a listen.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Oh, no. I think, every day, it kind of gets worse and worse.


TAPPER: Is that a fair description? I mean, we do know that White House adviser Jared Kushner cooperated with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees over the last two days.

HIRONO: I know that Jared Kushner said that he did not collude, but that is his conclusion.

And whether Mueller would come to the same conclusion remains to be seen. There is a lot more to happen with the investigation, and that needs to proceed.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about health care, if I could.

Senator John McCain just returned. Obviously, he is battling cancer.

First of all, you also have a health issue. How are you doing?

HIRONO: Well, I'm doing OK. But you know what? Both John McCain and I are really the poster people for the proposition that all of us are only one diagnosis away from major illness, and I just got my diagnosis about three months ago. And truly, I am now in the ranks of all the millions of people in our country who have preexisting conditions.

So, the vote today was very critical. It sets the stage for repealing the Affordable Care Act, and whatever the Republicans come up with to take the place of the Affordable Care Act will toss millions and millions of people off of health care, and it will certainly hurt the poorest, the sickest and the oldest in our communities.

And if this is what the Republicans want to stand for, I am hopeful that the American people will hold them responsible. In fact, I just came from a rally where there are all these highly engaged, motivated people saying, don't take away our health care, because health care is personal. I certainly know that.

TAPPER: And we obviously hope for the best for you.

HIRONO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Senator McCain today calling for bipartisanship in this speech. Are there any compromises that could bring Democrats to the table? Are there any ways for Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to come together to fix Obamacare, to make improvements?

HIRONO: If we can fix the Affordable Care Act, then, you know, I'm on that page because there are certain things we can do, such as put forward a public option so that there is more competition, people have access to a provider, or we can talk about decreasing the prescription drug costs. But it is a non-starter to start with a proposition that we should eliminate the Affordable Care Act that literally has provided health care for 20 million to 30 million people in our country who otherwise wouldn't have health care.

TAPPER: Take a listen to Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on the floor today.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I would plead one last time, with my friends on the other side of the aisle, and I know you sincerely tried to modify and change things. Turn back. We can go through regular order. We want to work with you. We know that ACA is not perfect.


TAPPER: So, Republican Senator Susan Collins who voted against proceeding on debate today as did Senator Murkowski of Alaska, they've said, or at least Susan Collin has said that she wants to work with Democrats to fix Obamacare. Has any Democrat reached out to her?

HIRONO: Oh, well, a lot of us talked to Susan and also to Lisa Murkowski, because I know that these two senators are very sincere and want to come up with an approach to addressing our health care issues, which are large in our country. Nobody takes the position that the Affordable Care Act is perfect.

And so, you know what, a lot of it is the good faith effort to go forward, and so far, Senator McConnell has not shown good faith in wanting to work with us. They continue to argue that when we pass the Affordable Care Act that we shut them off. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I said earlier, you know what, we have a word in Hawaii for people who make up these kinds of stories, and it's called shabai (ph). The short word for shabai (ph) is B.S.

So, we stand ready to work together with people like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to get to where we need to go.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Mazie Hirono, thank you so much and best of luck with your diagnoses.

HIRONO: Thank you.

TAPPER: A live look at the Senate floor where lawmakers just voted to move forward on this effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. So, what's next? And what could it mean for the future of your health insurance? Stick around.


[16:22:36] TAPPER: We're back with more breaking news in the politics lead.

Senate Republicans just voted to pass a motion that begins debate now on the House plan to repeal and replace Obamacare in the Senate. After months of wrangling, the math just never added up on the Senate version to move forward, and that was almost the case today after Vice President Pence cast the tiebreaking vote, allowing it to move forward. Senate Republicans needed every vote possible, except for two.

They needed even that vote of Senator John McCain who there you see him receiving a standing ovation. He was just diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer less than a week ago. His return to Washington is a sign of GOP determination to end Obamacare, a system they say is in a death spiral even though many experts say that's not true.

Let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

Phil, I'm not exactly sure what they're voting on here. They voted on the House bill. What happened to the Senate bill? Is there a CBO score? There are no hearings. What's going on?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a little bit complicated. Look, there's very good reasons that one of the first things Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the vote was, look, we're not coming out of here to spike a football. They understand that it's a very long process ahead. What they voted on was simply to start the debate. And what happens

from here, lots of amendments. Any senator can offer a germane amendment within the budget rules, and that means we have a lengthy, very politically dangerous for Republicans process ahead.

But if you look at what we know will be put, the 2015 repeal only bill that we already know they don't have the support for a bill. Another amendment would be put up. That would try and address them the Medicaid concerns from certain senators, $100 billion would be added in that for regulations for conservative senators. The Cruz Amendment in full would be added as well. That doesn't have the support to move forward.

So, what you're seeing basically, guys -- Jake, is here's why people voted yes, but we don't know where this is going to end up and that's a pretty precarious position for any senator to be in.

TAPPER: After the vote, Senator McCain gave a speech on the floor of the Senate. He called out his colleagues for not yet passing any significant legislation other than confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

MATTINGLY: Yes, it was a lengthy and scathing critique. And, Jake, I think it's worth nothing, it was just more or less an attack on the chamber, saying basically that the moniker of world's greatest deliberative body simply doesn't apply. Take a listen to what he had to say.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Critics on both sides denounce us for timidity, for our failure to triumph.

[16:25:04] I hope we can rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other, to learn how to trust each other again, and by doing so, serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loud mouths on the radio, television and the Internet. To hell with them!



MATTINGLY: And to, Jake, a broad critique directed at the chamber on the whole, but also a very specific criticism in there as well about the health care process specifically, saying essential the path that leadership, the path that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took was the wrong one, it was partisan, it was behind closed doors, it was unnecessary. Making it very clear, Jake, he is not a yes vote when this is all over, making -- kind of underscoring the fact that there's still a long road to go on health care.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us, thank you so much.

Good citizenship, fellowship, serving others. Those are things previous presidents have talked about at the Boy Scout Jamboree over the past 80 years. So, what did President Trump talk about? Parties, a yacht, locking up Hillary Clinton? Stick around.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Be prepared -- the Boy Scouts motto. But despite their best efforts, nothing could have possibly prepared the Boy Scouts for what happened last night.