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Senate Votes on Whether to Move Health Care Debate Forward; Biggest Questions for Trump at News Conference; McCain Returns to Senate Following Surgery. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 25, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] (CHANTING)


UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: The question is on the motion to proceed.



UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: Is there sufficient second?


The clerk will call the role.


Ms. Baldwin?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So a couple of things. Let me just let you know what's going on. The Senate is voting on -- this is the procedural vote. This opens it up for debate. This is normally the no- brainer vote. This isn't actually sort of up/down on repeal and replace. It's just so they can begin the debate on whether or not they're going to continue on with an actual vote.

You heard some of the noise in the background, the "Kill the bill" and the "Shame" shouts. That was protesters in the Senate visitor gallery. Trying to restore order there as they continue on with this procedural vote.

You heard also from the minority leader and then the majority leader there, speaking on obviously how they feel very differently, both of them, between Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Just wanted to give you the lay of the land as we await this -- the results from the vote.

Also since the last time we spoke a couple minutes ago, additional Republican Senators have gone to "yeses," being Senator -- we mentioned Senator Heller before. Also now Senator Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, who was a "no." She is saying "yes" to this procedural vote, and also Rob Portman, Senator from Ohio. He was a "no" and now he's "yes" on this.

Let me bring in a couple of more voices as we await the results.

Julie Rovner, chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News.

And, Julie, we wanted to talk to you because you've been covering health care since 1986 in Congress and you have never seen anything like this.

JULIE ROVNER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, KAISER HEALTH NEWS: No, this is an amazing vote. This is basically 51, presumably, Republican Senators proceeding to debate on a bill they don't know what the bill is. This is a bill that could, in theory, affect a sixth of the U.S. economy. There doesn't seem to be any consensus for any pieces that have so far been offered. I think the hope of the Senate majority leader is they get on this bill and put it together on the fly as they go.

BALDWIN: What is it -- I was looking at the face of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and he is -- what's he, a masterful tactician is what he's been referred to. He's used to getting these votes together and winning. And in this case, this is obviously -- well, I shouldn't say that. We never know how this thing is going to end up, because to your point, we don't even know what they're going to be voting on.

But what do you think this is like for him, and why are they going through with all of this?

ROVNER: Well, I think they really felt like they were in an impossible situation. They've been promising for seven years that they would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and if they couldn't even get a bill up for debate, that would be a big failure. Now it's entirely possible that they'll get this bill up for debate and then they won't have a bill coming out the other end or they will have, what they're talking about now, a very, very minor bill, and then they would have to go back and negotiate with the House. That's going to hold up the rest else on the agenda that they want to do, like tax reform. There's a lot of spending bills. There are other health bills coming behind this. So it's not a at all clear how this is going to come out. But I think Senator McConnell and certainly President Trump really, really wanted to get this debate started on the Senate floor.

BALDWIN: Do you think that this is really about the Republicans and about the Senate majority leader being able to ultimately say, Mr. President, we have carried this ball as far forward as we possibly can. We have done this for you and also to try to fulfill our promise of seven years of repealing and replacing. Maybe it's not coming to fruition, sir. But we will now move on to tax reform.

ROVNER: Yes, I think that's absolutely one possibility. That was a possibility that Senator McConnell himself had raised, that they would try, and if it failed, they would move on. So now they want to get on the bill and if they can't actually find consensus to pass something, then I believe that Senator McConnell will want to move on to other things. BALDWIN: OK. Stay with me.

And we also have, I should mention, as I also bring in Nia-Malika Henderson.

We know the vice president is presiding over all this as well. He could potentially be a tie breaker in the vote, if need be.

Nia, you've been covering Washington for quite a while as well. What do you make of this.

[14:35:02] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Big, big moment for Republicans. And it's clear that Mitch McConnell was able to move some of those Senators that were "no" votes by essentially saying, this is only debate. This isn't about strictly a repeal, nor is it about repeal or replace strictly either. So he basically laid out a buffet of options there so he could get all of those folks on board.

I talked to someone close to Heller who essentially said just that. You know, that was what prompted him to switch votes, that they will have so many different options to go for. It's not clear what those options are going to be. They're obviously iterations of this health care bill that we've seen out of the House. There's a repeal-only bill. There's a repeal and replace bill. So all sorts of options for everybody there. And you see Mitch McConnell there essentially saying, seize the moment, Republicans, don't let this opportunity pass us by. He's obviously talking to Republicans.

And Schumer there also talking to Republicans. And really, what I thought was telling about Schumer, essentially saying to Republicans that if you vote for this motion to proceed, you know what's going to happen on the other end, right? There are going to be taxes, tax breaks for the rich. There's going to be cuts in Medicaid. Obviously, we don't really know what's going to happen out of this, if they're going to be able to reach some sort of agreement where you can put together a bill that not only somebody like Susan Collins likes, that Lisa Murkowski likes, that Dean Heller likes, but also Rand Paul likes. That is a real big divide, ideological divide, and policy divide. I mean, one of the problems I think you've seen with this bill is that, often, there's been sort of a political argument, sort of a political argument, but to really -- where there's a policy disagreement and so that's where you've seen some of the mismatch here. But then you see, obviously, Mitch McConnell, in the end, basically saying, you know, let's do this. Let's move forward. This is the least that we could do at this point. Open up this for debate and see what happens after that.

BALDWIN: Take us inside. I mean, talking to a panel earlier, they were saying, obviously, this is a -- a lot of this is the work, especially those "no" turned "yes" votes, the Shelley Moore Capito, Rob Portman, that Mitch McConnell is working really hard to flip those votes. But beyond that, do we have any idea, if now that we've had the president involved and really sorted of pressuring these Republican Senators, has he campaigned at all against these no votes? HENDERSON: You know, from what I am hearing from people close to some of these Senators, kind of the pressure from Donald Trump isn't necessarily as much a factor. And it's more so their constituents back home, their own kind of policy considerations are around Medicaid. I mean, we kind of talked about Dean Heller and Donald Trump and sort of the threat there. It's not clear that he necessarily took it as a threat. I mean, he's obviously thinking about his constituents. People like Susan Collins obviously thinking about her constituents. And also what she wants to do more broadly in her state, perhaps run for governor. If you look at a state like Maine, for instance, that's a state where the legislature has said we -- they want Medicaid. And you'll see in November, there's going to be an initiative on the ballot expanding Medicaid. That's not a state, Maine, that has expanded on Medicaid. So there's all of these individual considerations. I mean, I think ultimately, it helps kind of the narrative for the president to be out in the way that he's been out over these last couple days, essentially saying win one for the Republican Party, win one for this president so we can move on to other things. But I think for a lot of these folks, you know, 10 to 12 or so Republicans, really is these individual considerations around policy that they're looking at.

BALDWIN: And then we also actually -- this is -- as I'm talking to you, we're getting more information. As you just mentioned, Senator Collins, of Maine, and also Senator Murkowski, Alaska, we know they just voted "no." So Republicans -- those were the two, right? They could only afford to lose two votes and still hang in there. So, as we wait and they're voting right now, depending on -- obviously, if this thing falls flat, then that's it, case closed. If this does -- the procedural vote, Nia, ends up passing, what's the next move?

HENDERSON: You know, it's -- you know, they're going to have a lot of debate. They're going to bring up a lot of different amendments. They're going bring up parts of all of the bills that we've seen and all the sort of iterations of it. And it's -- this is uncharted territory, right, that we haven't really seen this for this massive rethinking of one-sixth of the American economy. The fact that they're only bringing up, at this point, this motion to proceed. So we'll have a lot of people bringing up different amendments, different sort of parts of this bill, or the bills that we've seen, for instance, stripping out the mandate, expanding Medicaid or not expanding Medicaid, block granting Medicaid. I mean, you're going to really see, I think, the full spectrum of the Republican Party and their approach to health care, and whether or not the federal government should have any role to play in health care. And that's why this has been so difficult. It's not like Democrats, who, you know, by and large, were in agreement in terms of what they should do on health care. I mean, when you have Republicans, it is just a very big span in terms of thinking about the federal government's role in health care. And they're just different states. And so I think you're going to see all of that play out over the next 20 or so hours of debate.

[14:40:41] BALDWIN: They're voting.

Nia, let me let you take a breath. We'll come back to you momentarily.

Let's go back up to Capitol Hill.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: You've got it.

Ryan Nobles is standing by. He's our correspondent up there.

We've been reporting, Ryan, on some of these "nos" turned "yeses" and now we know of the two "nos," so they can't lose anymore. They, being the Republicans.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. At this point, everyone that has cast a ballot has to be "yes." And from what we're understanding from the Senators we've been talking to, it looks like Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is going to get there. It may require Vice President Mike Pence to cast the deciding vote. He is sitting in the chair presiding right now prepared to do that.

But take a look at some of these Senators that, even a week ago, Brooke, we thought there was no chance they would be in the "yes" camp. Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, is going to vote "yes." Jerry Moran, of Kansas, cast a ballot in the affirmative. Dean Heller, of Nevada, an embattled Senators, up for re-election in 2018, perhaps the most vulnerable Republican, he has a "yes" vote here. Rob Portman, of Ohio, who was waffling even as late as last week, I talked to him on Friday and he was unsure if he was prepared to cast this ballot in the affirmative. So this was a lot of work on behalf of Mitch McConnell and his Republican caucus.

And essentially, what he has done here is he's promised all these Republican Senators the opportunity here over the next couple of days to hash this thing out and come up with some sort of a plan that they can then take to conference with the House Republicans and just continue this process along to get to a bill that they can all feel comfortable with, ultimately passing.

But, Brooke, as you've seen over these past few weeks, that is still a tall order. This may be a monumental victory for Mitch McConnell at this point, but we are still pretty far away from them actually getting some sort of bill that can be sent to President Trump's desk to be signed into law.


NOBLES: So this is a big first step, but there's still a long way to go.

BALDWIN: So then, other than what you just mentioned, the notion of opening the debate and getting some of these Senators want, Ryan, really, what is it that's been credited with some of these "no," now "yes," Senators changing their minds.

NOBLES: I think, essentially, what Mitch McConnell told them at this point is that, you know, we cannot leave this House and go to our recess in August, which they have extended the recess for two weeks, but we need to get this done now. We need to show the American people that we have done something. This was a promise that each one of you made, especially the Republican Senators, to their constituents, that they were going to do something on health care. And if they couldn't even get a bill to the floor to begin that process, he essentially made the pitch to them, and this is what he said all morning on Twitter and in statements, he said it on the Senate floor earlier today, that it amounts to malpractice. That you are not doing what you promised your voters that you would do. So, now, they can now have this debate on the House floor. It can be an open process.

But I have to tell you, Brooke, Democrats are screaming mad upset about this. They feel that even most Republicans had no idea what they were doing to be voting on, you know, as late as an hour ago. In fact, one Democratic Senator, who did not want to be named, told our M.J. Lee off camera, he described this as something malpractice, and it's an expletive we can't use on television. Essentially saying that this is a mysterious process that the Republicans have engaged in. And this is something that, you know, the American people should be upset and ashamed with, that this has all been done behind closed doors. And that's true. For the most part, all this negotiation has been done outside the eyes of reporters, outside the eyes of journalists, and been done behind closed doors.

Now, theoretically, that process should become a lot more open here over the next couple of days. But we should stress it's going to be on a very condensed period. They may only have 20 hours of debate in the amendment process to push this through. And Democrats are going to make it difficult here over the next several days, but this is going to be a much different process here going forward.

BALDWIN: Well, you mentioned M.J., so Ryan, let me just bounce over to M.J. who's also on Capitol Hill.

And M.J., Ryan was just talking about some of these Democrats who are pretty perturbed and using -- some of them maybe using colorful language to describe what's happening there on the Hill.

But let's be clear. Republicans as well. I remember reading guidance last week saying a lot of these are Republicans were irked that they would have to linger around for another five to seven days to vote on something that, thus far, hasn't had the votes.

[14:45:05] M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and I just want to be clear. In talking about sort of the mood within the Republican conference right now, this is not a situation where these Republican Senators are joyful to be voting for this bill. Getting to this process and potentially getting to the 50 "yes" votes, it has been extremely painful. Mitch McConnell had to have a lot of conversations, as you know, a lot of setbacks to get to this moment and the fact that this has been mostly a closed-door process, that a lot of members felt like they, you know, were finding out about the plan for any given day, mostly from reporters. That, you know, even their aides or themselves, they didn't know what it is that would be happening in the Senate on any given day. That has created a lot of tension. And I think, Brooke, we're talking about sort of this bizarre situation right now where the lack of a plan from Mitch McConnell has almost worked out better for him than a plan. Remember, he has tried many times to get Senators behind an actual bill, an actual proposal. The repeal and replace bill version one. That didn't have new Senators. A repeal and replace bill, version two, that did not have enough Senators. And so then he moved on to the repeal only bill and that drew a lot of concern as well. And finally, now that he has said, look, then we're going to move on to this process where hopefully every single person, every Senator, every one of my colleagues can offer any kind of amendment that they want, an open amendment process. That is what finally, potentially, got -- and I'm still keeping my eyes on the vote count -- that is potentially what will get them to the finish line, at least for this first process. So it is just really, really striking right now that after all of these efforts, all of the negotiations, it's the lack of a plan that potentially will get Mitch McConnell what he wanted. And again, very, very painful for these Republicans who are going to vote yes on today's motion to vote -- motion to proceed vote, but then they will potentially face dozens if not hundreds of amendments on the floor. And those are going to be tough votes.

I was talking to a Democratic aide earlier, and they were saying that they planned to be extremely aggressive in the amendments that they introduced on the Senate floor because they want Republicans to feel the pain. They want this to be extremely painful for them and to have to cast these votes that will be politically very damaging for them in the future.

So, again, you know, I know Ryan was saying this, nothing is certain right now, even if this motion to proceed vote is successful, the amendments that we are going to see and sort of the infighting and the tensions that we are going to see flare up as moderate Senate Republicans propose what they would like to see in the final bill and conservatives push what they want to see, this is far from over and we are about to have a really long couple of days here in the Senate.

BALDWIN: I am glad you pointed it out in the context because I feel like we need to pump the brakes on just perspective of this whole thing.

M.J., thank you so much.

And Phil Mattingly is also up on Capitol Hill.

And, Phil, just to you, I know you're in the thick of this scrum, maybe where some of these Senators are coming out, or obviously voting now, and we have the two "no" votes. But in terms of pumping the brakes, yes, this is a super significant vote, this opens the floor for debate on this whole thing, but then once debate opens, I mean, who knows where this could go in terms of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the words of Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, yesterday, it's the Wild West. And make no mistake, when Republican leadership was starting this process, they wanted to have this locked up before they got to the amendment process. They are very aware of kind of the danger of wandering into one of these vote-a-ramas or open amendment processes and not having ensured that all of your members are protected, not having a very clear end game set to go. But, frankly, up to this point, that simply hasn't been possible.

Still waiting on Senator McCain to show up. Still waiting on Senator Ron Johnson. If they get those two, they will have the 50 votes need. Mike Pence who's currently in the chair right now would cast the tie- breaking vote and move forward.

But M.J. did a great job of laying out the uncertainty of what happens in this amendment process. And why there are concerns among rank-and- file members.

And I want to lay out the context here.

BALDWIN: Please.

MATTINGLY: A lot of the very Senators who voted to move forward on this have basically -- are said, previously, when they sank previous efforts that they would never vote to move forward unless they had a full replace plan in place. They don't have a full replace plan in place. So if this moves forward, there's a lot of Senators who changed their minds once essentially their bluff was called -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: And the fact that they don't have a replace plan in place, then, thus, leaves the massive question over, well, then, what happens. They may be -- they may have been "nos" turned "yeses" for the procedural vote but who knows how this thing could go down the road.

Phil, thank you so much. We'll come back to you.

Talking to different correspondents on Capitol Hill, watching this vote very closely. We have the two "no" votes so far, Senators Murkowski and Collins. They cannot afford another one. The vice president is there. He could provide the tie-breaking vote, if need be, on this procedural vote to open the debate on repeal and replace.

Let's go over to the White House, because, also significant, in a couple of minutes, we'll be seeing the president himself standing with another world leader, holding a news conference in the Rose Garden.

And that's where we have Jeff Zeleny.

Listen, we're watching for the president and some of the questions he'll be getting, how he's talked about publicly, tweeted about the current attorney general.

But on what we're watching right now, Jeff, is the president tuned in to this vote?

[14:50:48] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Brooke. There's no question the president and his aides certainly at the White House are watching what is happening with this Senate vote. The president himself is actually in a bilateral meeting with the prime minister of Lebanon. His top advisers are as well. I was in there a short time ago as the pool reporter. We asked questions about Jeff Sessions, of course. The president did not answer. But at the end about health care, he had a bit of a smile on his face, Brooke. So the White House is feeling more confident about this than they were a few hours ago.

But, Brooke, I think important to point out, the context of all of this here, this is simply getting to a vote, as Phil Mattingly was saying. This is simply getting on to the bill. To call this a victory, if this vote actually happens, it is in the legislative sense for Senator McConnell. But, boy, in terms of what Republicans have been trying to do, Brooke, for seven years or so, this is hardly, you know, a major victory. This is just the continuation of what really has become a long slog here. So no question the White House is watching specifically what is going on.

The vice president, of course, on Capitol Hill, has been, you know, playing such a key role in all of this. But you know, again, this is the beginning.

The president will be traveling to Ohio tonight, Youngstown, Ohio, for a campaign rally. And I cannot imagine that he will not bring up Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who has been very skeptical of some of the particulars of this bill. He has said he'll vote to proceed on to the debate. But, of course, he is one of those Republican Senators who will be watching here.

But again, for as much as health care is the attention at this hour, it is still what's happening with the attorney general, the White House and the extraordinary feud with the Justice Department that's top billing here this afternoon -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: The public bullying over Twitter --

ZELENY: Right.

BALDWIN: -- referring to Jeff Sessions' weak position, calling him beleaguered, 24 hours ago. What's the end game. We're waiting, hopefully, for the first Washington out of the gate to precisely that when we see you again and the president along with the Lebanese P.M. in the Rose Garden.

So, Jeff Zeleny, stand by for me on that.

ZELENY: Will do.

BALDWIN: I should mention that the vote underway in the Senate, one very significant Senator who will be there. This is his first trip back to Washington since being diagnosed with brain cancer, undergoing surgery. He is back in Washington to cast the significant vote. He is veteran Arizona Senator John McCain, who will not only cast a vote, but they'll open the floor for him to speak for just a couple of minutes.

And so with that, let me go to our chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, who has had sort of unprecedented access into Senator McCain's doctors and his condition. Just on the surface level, Sanjay, when we heard that Senator McCain would be able to get on a plane and come back to Washington, tell us more about his condition and how he's able to do that.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, he had a big operation. You know, it was a brain operation, as you know. It was 11 days ago now. We know that he had a pretty quick recovery after that in terms of being able to get out of the hospital. He was able to go home the next day.

Speaking to his doctors, which Senator McCain gave me permission to do, they sort of recommended that he stay home, not fly for about two weeks, 14 days. Again, it's 11 days now. But I can tell you there's no absolute rules with this sort of thing.

You know, the big concern just if you will, from a mechanical point, is any time you do an operation, for example, if it's on your knee or something, you may have air within the area and when you go on a plane, those air bubbles can expand. That's because of the -- you're going up in altitude. Same thing can happen in the brain. And that's the big concern. But typically, you know, 10 to 14 days or so, the air is pretty much gone and doctors will say, look, we still don't recommend this for two weeks but we're not going to get in your way either. That's my guess is how his doctors probably -- the recommendations to him.

BALDWIN: Do you have any indication also from these doctors just how he's doing? I mean, obviously, well enough to get on the plane and travel to Washington. But -- and also just the future.

[14:55:01] GUPTA: Yes, well, you know, he was discharged from the hospital the next day, which is saying something. He's 80 years old. He had general anesthesia. He just had a brain operation and he goes home the next day. That's quick recovery by any standard, even for a person much, much younger. So, I think that the doctors were really encouraged by that.

And you know, I think, again, they would have preferred, it sounds like, that he stay on the ground for two weeks, but he wanted to go back within a week, he was telling his doctor. So I think it was probably a little give and take there.

But to your question, Brooke, the diagnosis is now known as to what caused the bleeding in his brain and that is a glioblastoma. It's a tumor that starts in the brain as opposed to some tumors that start elsewhere in the body. It starts in the brain. And it's a difficult tumor to treat. It's a tumor that is a malignant cancer, so the concern is that it comes back, even after you operate on it. So there's going to be discussions. They've already decided to pursue additional therapies, which usually come in the form of chemotherapy and radiation. And those things typically start a few weeks after his operation. So he's 11 days out now. Maybe another couple weeks, and he would likely start those treatments, if that's what he's going to pursue. And all indications are that he's going to do that.

BALDWIN: We're talking about Senator McCain, again, because, as you're following along, a procedural vote underway on the Senate side. This is just to open the debate on a potential repeal, a repeal and replace. And Sanjay's had all this access to Senator McCain's doctors because he will be speaking -- as he casts his vote, he will be speaking. And so we'll take that live.

Sanjay, stand by with me.

Nia-Malika henderson, let me bring you back in.

And I'm being told, if you look at the upper right side of the screen there, Senators McConnell -- thank you for the spotlight -- Senators McConnell and Johnson are speaking. Apparently, Senator Johnson hasn't voted yet. So what do you think's going on?

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, this is interesting. Ron Johnson, of course, from Wisconsin, had expressed some displeasure early on with the way this whole thing was going, with sort of side -- his sense that sort of side deals were being cut or that the leadership wasn't being particularly transparent with members of the party, with Republican Senators. So unclear what they're talking about there. You imagine that John McCain will finally cast the final vote, and that would be a "yes" vote. And maybe the idea is that Johnson casts the vote yes before. But who knows? But certainly, some drama as this thing comes down to the wire, with two outstanding votes out. We know John McCain is a "yes" vote. And it's unclear about what Ron Johnson is going to do, what he's talking about there with Mitch McConnell.

But again, I think this is a testament to how difficult this has been. I mean, just this motion to open debate has really proven, I think, how difficult this entire process has been. All of these Senators having to really do some soul-searching, talk to Mitch McConnell, be sort of promised certain things with this, which essentially is that they will be able to bring up all sorts of amendments on amendments that might be counter to other amendments that are brought up from Republicans. But my goodness, what an ending spectacle there.


BALDWIN: As I'm listening to you, Nia, we're looking at this car. I think I spy Arizona plates. Yes, there he is, Senator McCain. Senator McCain walking out of the car and then into Capitol Hill. So I know we have cameras all over. So, we'll watch him and watch for -- that's what you think, Nia, that he'll be that final vote, Senator McCain.

HENDERSON: You would think. That would seem to be a really symbolic thing. I mean, he came all this way. Imagine, I mean, he just had surgery 10 days ago. as Sanjay Gupta was saying, so here he is. And you imagine that that's the kind of symbolism and moment they would want to have here. That's just my guess, as someone who, you know, is thinking about the way they want to put together the optics of this.

And then just kind of add -- it's more drama. I mean, not only do we have Ron Johnson there trying to figure out what he's going to do, but then John McCain making this dramatic entry that, again, echoes in some way Ted Kennedy, also doing the same thing, a pivotal vote many years ago for Obamacare. And here is John McCain, in some way, suffering from the same ailment, doing the same thing here for Republicans with health care.

BALDWIN: Oh, let's listen. Everyone on their feet.