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McCain Returns For Crucial Vote On Health Care; Trump To HHS Secretary: Get Votes Or You're Fired; All Eyes On Nasdaq After Record Close. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:21] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Public shaming, ritualistic humiliation, flat out taunting. That's what friends are for.

An extraordinary morning with the President launching new attacks against his own Attorney General, once the best political friend he had. And it presents a very real question. Will Jeff Sessions last the day?

And it's just one question in what's shaping up to be a historic day. President Trump still seething over Sessions' recusal in the Russia probe, he put out a statement that said: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes. Where are e-mails and DNC server and intel leakers?

HARLOW: Also, Senator John McCain makes a dramatic return to Capitol Hill today to cast his vote on the moving ahead of healthcare reform, just days after being diagnosed with cancer -- brain cancer. McCain's surprising return expected to add emotion and pressure to a vote that is still too close to call.

And Jared Kushner is headed back to Capitol Hill. This time, to tell the House Intelligence Committee what he told Senate investigators yesterday, that he did not collude with the Russians.

We have it all covered this morning. Let's again at the White House. That is where we find our Joe Johns.

And, Joe, the President has had a lot to say, a lot to write, this morning before 9:00 a.m. Let's focus first on the Attorney General.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy, a number of tweets this morning. The President sending signals, loud and clear, about his displeasure with his own Attorney General, someone who was the first sitting United States senator to endorse the President during the campaign.

Now, probably the most eye-opening thing of all is that tweet this morning that you have already referenced, referring to the Attorney General as weak on what the President characterized as Hillary Clinton's crimes. And when you put that together with the President's assertion in that interview with "Then New York Times" last week, that Mr. Sessions should not have recused himself in the Russia investigation, you begin to see a real pattern.

The new White House communications director initially was saying the President and the Attorney General needed to get together and talk about the future. But this morning on "The Hugh Hewitt Show," he suggested perhaps that relationship is not irreparable. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGH HEWITT, SALEM RADIO NETWORK HOST: It's clear the President wants him gone, isn't it, Anthony?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, 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's public, you're probably right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: One thing, I think, really telling, in the last 24 hours, the President appearing at the Boy Scout jamboree in West Virginia yesterday. Not in attendance was the Attorney General who is, himself, an Eagle Scout. On the other hand, another member of the cabinet who's also an Eagle Scout, Rick Perry, the Energy Secretary, was right there in the stage with the President.

Poppy, back to you.

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

For that, let's bring in our panel. Mark Preston, our senior political analyst, is here. Rebecca Berg, CNN political analyst; and Steve Vladek, CNN contributor and law professor at the University of Texas.

What a morning! Not a slow summer morning whatsoever.

Mark Preston, to you. As John Berman puts it, he got up, he had his orange juice, and he went to work. Another attack on his Attorney General and then his chief of communications, Scaramucci, basically saying you're probably right when Hugh Hewitt asked if he wants Sessions gone. What do you make of it?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple of things. One is let us not describe this as the new norm because this is not normal. This is not how the leader of the free world should be acting, and this is not somebody that I want my children necessarily to be looking up to.

Look, if you go back through history, of course, presidents have always been upset with their cabinet members for various reasons. They'd never played it out in such a juvenile way on social media, and I think we have to call a spade a spade when it is.

What Donald Trump doesn't understand about Washington is that there is a little bit of loyalty left in this town, specifically in the United States Senate.

You have 51 Republican senators. Every Republican senator voted to confirm Jeff Sessions. One Democrat did, Joe Manchin.

If Donald Trump thinks that he can bully Jeff Sessions out of his job as the Attorney General and then turn around and force the Senate Republicans to then get his new pick for the Attorney General through, I think he's got another thing coming because I do think what's going to happen is that Donald Trump has now or is going to soon realize that you cannot alienate all of your allies in Washington.

[09:05:07] HARLOW: You know, Rebecca Berg, let's look at this from the other side. How can Jeff Sessions stay at this point? How can he put up with this? Or I suppose, you know, will he do it now just to spite the President, just to prove that he is, you know, big enough to stick it out?

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: You know, it really is just a question of whether Attorney General Sessions can put up with this kind of public abuse from the President perhaps, at least this week, on a daily basis.

The President and Scaramucci has suggested as well that the President would not want to, himself, fire Jeff Sessions, that he just wants to take this passive-aggressive approach to kind of alienate him and then push him out of the office.

But you have to consider that Jeff Sessions gave up a very safe Senate seat -- he could have had that Senate seat for life essentially -- to take this job as Attorney General. It's a job he cares passionately about, so I think there is a going to be a high threshold for just pushing Sessions out of this job. But you have to imagine it's very frustrating for him at this moment.

He is one of the cabinet members cast with a huge share of President Trump's agenda and enacting that agenda. And for him to try to carry out what the President wants to actually get done in his administration in a time when he's butting heads with the President and President is calling him out on Twitter, you have to imagine he's in a very difficult position right now showing up to work every day.

HARLOW: So, Steve Vladeck, to you, as the constitutional legal scholar on this panel and someone who's written a lot about it, including a lot of comments today in "The Washington Post."

If Sessions goes, however he goes if he goes, wouldn't the next Attorney General be subject to the same limitations? Meaning you can't be part of an investigation that has something to do with the campaign if you were part of the campaign or if you testified to something having to do with that, i.e., Russian meetings that then wasn't true. I mean, aren't the same limits still going to apply? They wouldn't have free reign.

STEPHEN VLADECK, PROFESSOR OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: I think that's right, Poppy, if we assume that whoever succeeds Jeff Sessions is going to have to be confirmed by the Senate. I think what's really interesting here is there are a couple of

mechanisms through which the President could theoretically appoint either a short-term or even perhaps a permanent successor without going through the Senate where he might be able to get someone who is much more sympathetic to him, much more skeptical of Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation into Russia, and much more willing to serve as a lever between the White House and the Justice Department.

Indeed, Poppy, it may actually matter legally under a 1998 law whether Sessions resigns or is fired. So this is more than just optics. I think part of what's going on here is, you know, the President trying to maximize his flexibility vis-a-vis who Jeff Sessions' replacement actually might turn out to be.

BERMAN: And, you know, Mark Preston, just to the point here, lest people wonder about what's going on here. This certainly looks as if the President wants to push out the Attorney General so maybe he can get someone that will step into the Special Counsel's investigation. Maybe he can find someone who will fire Bob Mueller.

PRESTON: There's no other reason, right, that he would want Jeff Sessions to leave? Let's just do a quick history lesson.

Jeff Sessions was the first United States senator to endorse Donald Trump at a time when it wasn't in vogue to be behind Donald Trump. Someone who went on the campaign trail on behalf of Donald Trump. Someone who really made a plea to conservatives to say that Donald Trump, you know, had the bona fides to be the Republican nominee.

And now, you have the President who is going on social media, not actually meeting with his beleaguered Attorney General, but going on social media, attacking on social media, attacking him in a "New York Times" interview. There's no other reason that you can say that he would want Jeff Sessions to leave, to try to get somebody else in there to try to fire Bob Mueller and to try to end this investigation.

HARLOW: Rebecca, as Mark brought up at the beginning of this panel, you know, the -- there is some loyalty left in Washington, right? And we heard the President wanting to see more loyalty last night in front of the boy scouts.

But the question really is, what will Republicans do, right? What will Republican in Congress do? They didn't do much after the President fired the FBI Director. Is this different, if he pushes out or fires Jeff Sessions?

BERG: It very well could be, Poppy, and Congress does have the power, if they choose, to authorize an independent counsel who can't be fired by the President or the Attorney General. Now, will Republicans in Congress take that action? We don't know the answer to that until this unfolds, if it unfolds.

However, I can guarantee that this morning, with everything that the President has tweeted over the past 24 or 48 hours and said publicly, that the wheels in Congress among Republicans are starting to turn. They're trying to game out what this would look like if Sessions is fired. And I can guarantee that this would be a sort of a turning point.

[09:10:01] You get the sense that we're inches, potentially, from a redux of the Saturday Massacre in the Nixon administration when he fired his Attorney General, his Deputy Attorney General resigned, and he then fired the Special Prosecutor as well. And so Republicans are considering that chain of events potentially unfolding, and there is action they could take.

BERMAN: And, Steve, that gets to the point that this is really more ultimately of a political crisis than a legal crisis right now.

It would have to be politicians that would step in and get in the way of, you know, the President appointing someone who would then fire Robert Mueller because my understanding, Steve, is that, you know, the Attorney General, new Attorney General, would not be subject to recusal. Would he or she?

VLADECK: Not necessarily, John. Again, it would depend upon whether, like Jeff Sessions, the person President Trump taps to take over is someone who had a prior relationship with the campaign potentially with the Russian government. I think we'd see President Trump try to find someone who is immune from that charge entirely so that they could, perhaps, exert more control.

And this, to me, is the great irony. I mean, here we are in 2017 where Jeff Sessions, who has been vilified and criticized on the left, may very well be the last best hope for independents in the executive branch and for ensuring that the Russia investigation proceeds to whatever its ultimate outcome is and ought to be.

BERMAN: Yes. I'm not sure many people predicted a year ago that both James Comey and Jeff Sessions would be heroes of the left. I mean, it's something that is odd to see this morning.

All right. Steve Vladeck, Mark, Rebecca, thanks so much. Stick around.

That's sort of behind door number one. Behind door number two, the President's son-in-law and most trusted advisor, he will testify within the next hour on his contacts with Russia.

Jared Kushner due to arrive on Capitol Hill any moment now. CNN's Manu Raju joins us live from the Hill.

Manu, you know, day two for Jared Kushner.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. Day two and probably a more contentious day at that.

Yesterday, he met with Senate staff on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This time meeting with members of the House Intelligence Committee, so expect the Democrats on the Committee to kind of go after Jared Kushner.

A lot of them do not believe he's been forthcoming. A lot of them have raised concerns publicly about that 11-page statement he put out yesterday saying there are holes in there, in that statement. Democrats, in fact, right now on the Committee are sitting down for a private strategy session before this classified hearing takes place in just under an hour.

And I -- already, you're hearing, John and Poppy, some Democrats, from the top Democrat on the Committee, Adam Schiff, saying this session will not be enough for Jared Kushner. They say just a couple of hours will not be able to get through all of their questions. They expect him to come back.

But I just had a chance to ask that question to Mike Conaway, the top Republican running this Russia investigation. And he said to me, well, I'm not going to talk about any of our timing and our witnesses, declining to comment about whether or not Jared Kushner would have to come back. We'll see what other Republicans say.

One other person to look at, Devin Nunes, the Republican Chairman of the Committee, who stepped aside from the Russia investigation. I just saw him walk right past here. A lot of questions about whether he participates in today's session as well, guys.

BERMAN: Oh, that's interesting.

HARLOW: Interesting point. Manu, stay there. We'll see if Kushner answers your questions today.

An emotional day is ahead in the Senate. Senator John McCain, doing what only really someone as brave as he can do. He is returning to the Senate for this healthcare vote less than a week after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

BERMAN: What did you do this morning before 9:00 a.m.? The President, he was busy. Wild statements about his Attorney General, about the Acting Director of the FBI, even his own son, Baron. What is going on?

Plus, exclusive video obtained by CNN suggesting that the Russian government might be arming the Taliban. We have a live report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:17:43]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Traumatic moments ahead in the U.S. Senate, a moment that will make history one way or the other in the efforts to repeal Obamacare. John McCain is rushing back for the vote to open debate just days after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The return, which will be emotional, it adds to the building pressure on Republicans.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the president wrote in a statement, "So great that John McCain is coming back to vote. Brave American hero. Thank you, John." We'll get to the hero part of that in a moment because he certainly, certainly is. President did not always say that. M.J. Lee is on Capitol Hill to set the stage. Everyone wants to know more about what they're voting on today, as Senator Lisa Murkowski (inaudible) Republican (inaudible), I'd like to know more as would you. Do you know more?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: I'll try to tell you everything that I do know. Look, this is going to be a very, very big moment for the Republican Party after so many weeks of frustrations and hand wringing.

In a matter of hours, we do expect the senators to go to the Senate floor and take this vote that has felt so elusive for so long now. Now here it what today is going to look like.

It is Tuesday, so that policy lunch is going to happen. This lunch of course is so important today because it is an opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make that final push to get more of his members to get yes on this vote.

After that lunch is when we expect this vote to happen. To be clear and I know we have been very clear about this in the last couple of weeks, this vote that they are going to take this afternoon is a procedural vote.

They are technically voting to bring up the House bill, the House bill that passed earlier this year to repeal Obamacare. If that is successful that is when they will move on to the open amendment process.

Now that big if is obviously the big question today. Mitch McConnell doesn't know right now if he has the 50 yes votes needed to move forward on this procedural vote. We know that someone like Susan Collins has all but said that she is a no.

Rand Paul yesterday told reporters that it would be very, very difficult for him to get to a yes as well. Of course, the big news from last night, John McCain coming back today for this vote is hugely important.

Not only because of his standing within the GOP conference, but because he has indicated that he is going to be a yes on this vote to the proceed vote -- John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. M.J., stick around. Back with us now, Mark Preston, Rebecca Berg. You know, Mark Preston, as we look at this, you know, it's hard for me to imagine that John McCain will be rushing back if Mitch McConnell did not have the votes on the motion to proceed.

[09:20:09] To me it seems like the most likely scenario is they pass that today. But as M.J. points out, you know, that doesn't mean anything going forward. Do you think Republicans, you know the membership of the Senate right now has any sense of what they'll be voting on next week?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Mitch McConnell has a sense of what he'll be voting on today, but he hasn't even informed his own conference. But to your point, I mean, John, you're right.

No matter what happens today doesn't mean that it's going to pass the United States Senate. What we're seeing here is -- and I do agree with President Trump quite frankly on this -- and he was pushing this yesterday -- is that they should have vote to proceed to debate this on the Senate floor. That's where things are hashed out.

That's where people can talk about their differences. That's where they can try to get something done. The fact of the matter is in politics, if you vote for the motion to proceed, which would allow debate on this, and you're a Republican and you eventually vote against the bill, the underlying bill, at the end of this whole process, then you're really caught in a bad political jam.

So, that's why I think it is very tenuous, but to the fact that John McCain is coming back today, can you imagine what John McCain is thinking this morning as he's looking at all these tweets from President Trump, which are all over the place and quite frankly, are demeaning, you know, the office of the presidency.

John McCain has been very critical of President Trump in his behavior in the past. You've got to wonder what John McCain is thinking today.

HARLOW: You do indeed. That's an interesting point.

Rebecca Berg, the president seemed to maybe be joking when he threatened Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price's job last night if he can't the votes in place on this thing. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: By the way, you're going to get the votes? He better get them. He better get them. He better. Otherwise, I'll say, Tom, you're fired. You better get Senator Capito to vote for it. You've got to get the other senators for vote for it. It's time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: So, you see, some folks behind the president laughing about it. But seriously, Rebecca, is it totally off the table? Is anything off the table for this president?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In this administration, I would think not. I mean, we've seen just about every preconceived notion of what the presidency looks like or should look like kind of thrown out the window in these first six months of Trump's presidency.

But look, the president himself is going to bear a lot of responsibility for this. This was one of his campaign promises during the presidential election that he was going to repeal Obamacare as soon as he got into office.

We're six months in and it's still uncertain that that's actually going to happen. The Senate vote is going to be very difficult even if they do get past this threshold today of the motion to proceed, who knows if senators will be able to coalesce behind a piece of legislation that they can pass.

And then there's still the House. President Trump has said he is waiting in the oval office with a pen in hand to sign whatever the Senate sends him. But the fact of the matter is the Senate and the House are going to have to go to conference on this even if the Senate passes that (inaudible).

We're a long way from that, but I think that the president is certainly going to -- there are going to be consequences for someone if this doesn't pass. Certainly, political consequences when you are looking at the Senate and the House, but in terms of the administration, this was a huge promise for him. I would be surprised if nothing did happen in terms of his staff.

BERMAN: Look, there are consequences for six of the economy, not to mention tens of millions of people who will or not have health care. I want to make one more point on John McCain. The president called John McCain a hero this morning.

He's never apologized for saying back in the early days of his campaign that he wasn't a war hero. That he was only a hero because he was captured and he prefers people that were not captured. That's something to my understanding the president has never apologized for saying.

But M.J., to the issue of political pressure, you know, Tom Price right there, he is saying he'll be fired if he can't the Republican votes, do you think Republican senators, any sense that they are feeling pressure from the president himself right now and that their votes are in any way contingent on that.

LEE: Absolutely. I mean, not only are they feeling the pressure from the president but their own constituents. They are just as aware as the president that this is a promise they've been making for seven- plus years.

Just to underscore, you know, what kind of messy and complicated process they're walking into and why so many of them are so undecided is because if there is an open amendment process, I mean, you think about the last couple of weeks and how sort of conflicting this debate has been.

Some of the moderates are going to propose amendments that the conservatives are not going to like and potentially vote down. The conservatives will propose amendments that the moderates are not going to like.

[09:25:05] So, we are going to see potentially more infighting and more of these tensions sort of flare up. A lot of these members just feel like do we even want to take these votes that are politically harmful or die a quick death today so that they don't have to take those harmful votes later in the process. HARLOW: Especially when the polling shows now that more Americans like Obamacare than the Republican plans that have been thrown out there. It's politically very risky for them. Guys, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: So, wild morning in Washington to say the least, but what about Wall Street. We are joined by CNN chief business correspondent, star of "EARLY START," Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's on autopilot really and the path of least resistance is higher for stocks. After three days of just slightly lower closes for the Dow, you've got Dow up about 100 points now.

So, you could see a pop here at the open and again it's that goldilocks economy I told you about. All these great corporate profits we are seeing. We heard from Caterpillar, United Technologies, they had solid earnings reports.

Big companies are making money, that tends to drive stocks higher. This is the Nasdaq. It's up 20 percent this year. Imagine getting 20 percent return on investment in just half a year? That's what's happening for investors.

Now about half of the country, about a little over half the country is invested in the stock market. More people are likely exposed to the housing market. The housing market has been doing well also.

I want to show the home sales in June actually fell, but they fell for an interesting reason because there were so many buyers who couldn't find the house they wanted. That drove prices up.

Prices are a record high for existing homes right now. Interestingly enough, a larger share of Americans are now renters. The highest share of Americans are renting. The highest shares since 1965, you guys.

So, some interesting things happening with the American dream here. We are talking about wages, home ownership, so we are looking at stocks really doing well here.

BERMAN: Actually here at odds too.

HARLOW: Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

HARLOW: Yesterday, it was beleaguered. Today the word choice is weak from the president as he continues his attacks on his long-time supporter, Jeff Sessions, his own attorney general. Reaction next.

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