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INSIDE POLITICS

Procedural Vote on Health Care; McConnell Speaks on Floor; McConnell on Health Care; Schumer Speaks on Floor; Trump's Criticism of Sessions. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 25, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:04] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

It is a day of crackling tension here in the nation's capital. President Trump again publicly mocks his attorney general, hoping, White House aides say, he will take the hint.

A new shot at the acting FBI director, too. Across the Trump cabinet, there is profound frustration and some disgust with the boss' management style.

The president's son-in-law also back before congressional investigators. This a day after a rare public statement in which he denied any contacts with Russia's close to Vladimir Putin were improper.

And a defining day for the Republican Party brand. A seven-year-old promise to repeal Obamacare faces a test vote in the Senate today. How big of a deal? John McCain, days removed from a brain cancer diagnosis, returns to Washington for the GOP's moment of truth.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast, Michael Warren of "The Weekly Standard," "Bloomberg's" Margaret Talev, and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.

The Senate set to gavel in any moment now. The calendar dictating where we start the program today. Leader Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, later today will call for a vote on what the Senate calls a motion to proceed. A motion to proceed to debate on the House GOP health care bill, even though there are no guarantees he has the votes to move forward. No guarantee he has the votes even to begin this debate.

CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly following all of this on Capitol Hill.

A lot of chaos around town today, Phil, including right there in the Capitol. Still questions. Do they have the votes to proceed and exactly what are they proceeding on?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, at least on the first question the answer is, they still don't know. They don't have commitments of 50 yes votes from senators as of yet.

But let me walk through what's going on behind the scenes. And this is very important. In just a few short minutes, Senator Majority Leader McConnell will be on the Senate floor kind of laying out the schedule going forward. But the strategy behind the scenes is this.

Leadership has started to circulate a proposal. It would be a multipart proposal based on if they are able to pass this procedural vote today and move to debate the order of amendments as they would come. They're hoping, and this will be presented at a closed-door lunch here in about 45 minutes, that basically they will be giving every senator at least a shot at what they want.

They would start like this, vote on the 2015 repeal-only bill. That would be likely expected to fail. Then there would be a third iteration of the Senate draft that has failed two times prior, with an addition of $100 billion in money for Medicaid senators like Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito, Lisa Murkowski, and also a fuller inclusion of the so-called Cruz amendment related to regulations that Mike Lee and Senator Ted Cruz have called for. That would also likely to fail and, more importantly, would also be subject to a 60-vote threshold.

Then they would vote, likely, on an already kind of killed version of that kind of Senate draft bill, the 2.0 version. And once that went down, as expected to, because we already know senators are opposed to that, then they would come up with what they're calling a skinny repeal. Essentially a pared back version repealing key components of Obamacare, but not a fuller replace version at all, hoping that that kind of minimal effort will get them across the finish line and into a conference with the House, where they will hammer out the remainder of the details.

John, as I explain that, you recognize kind of how oar convoluted and complicated this process is. And given what senators have been holding out for up to this point, it's very clear that if they go through this process, and the end game is simply to get to conference with the House, nobody's going to be voting on a final product that answers all of their questions or gives them all that they want or basically accedes to all of their concerns.

So, that bringing us back to the reality of, can they get 50 votes? Rand Paul said, based on the strategy that I just laid out, he is willing to vote yes on the motion to proceed. That means we're essentially down to a handful of senators. And these are the individuals to watch when that floor vote opens up in a couple hours. Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Jerry Moran of Kansas, and Rob Portman of Ohio.

KING: And, Phil -- Phil, I need to -- Phil, I'm sorry -- I'm sorry, I need to interrupt you for one second. The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has started speaking and he's talking about the dramatic return today of John McCain.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Remarkable life and public service which is again evidences by his quick return to the Senate this afternoon. I know he's eager to get back to work, and we're all very pleased to have him back with us today.

Now, Mr. President, on the vote that we'll have today.

In just a couple of hours, senators will have an important decision to make. Seven years after Obamacare was imposed on our country, we will vote on the critical first step to finally move beyond its failures. Many of us have made commitments to our constituents to provide relief from this failed left wing experiment. And now we have a real opportunity to keep those commitments by voting to begin debate and ultimately to send smarter health care solutions to the president's desk for his signature.

Just yesterday the president reiterated his intention to sign them. Just yesterday, the administration release a statement urging all senators to vote in favor of the motion to proceed so that we can, quote, "move forward on repealing Obamacare and replacing it with true reforms that expand choice and lower costs."

[12:05:19] So I'd like to express my appreciation to the administration for its continued close work with us on this issue at every step of the way, from the president and the vice president, to Secretary Price and Administrator Verma, as well as so many others, the engagement we've seen has been important to our efforts and its sent an unmistakable signal to the country that this administration not only understands the pain middle-class families have felt under Obamacare, but it actually committed to doing something about it.

By now we've all -- we're all keenly aware of the pain that Obamacare has caused for literally millions of families. Premiums have skyrocketed, doubling on average in the vast majority of states on the federal exchange. Insurance options have declined under Obamacare, leaving many with as few as one or even zero insurers to choose from. Many Americans now face the real possibility of having no options at all and could find themselves trapped, forced by law, to purchase Obamacare insurance, but left by Obamacare without any means to do so. All the while markets continue to collapse under Obamacare in states across the country. It's a troubling indication of what's to come unless we act.

Fortunately, the American people have granted us the opportunity to do so. We finally have an administration that cares about those suffering under Obamacare's failures and a president who will sign a law to actually do something about it.

We have a House that recently passed its own legislation to help address these problems and we have a Senate with a great chance before us to do our part now. If other senators agree and join me in voting yes on the motion to proceed, we can move one step closer to sending legislation to the president for his signature.

I hope everyone will seize the moment. I certainly will. Only then can we open up a robust debate process. Only then will senators have the opportunity to offer additional ideas on health care. Inaction will do nothing to solve Obamacare's problems or bring relief to those who need it. In fact, it will make things worse for our constituents all across the country. I'd like to reiterate what the president said yesterday. Any senator

who votes against starting debate is telling America that you're just fine with the Obamacare nightmare. That's a position that even Democrats have found hard to defend. Remember, President Clinton called Obamacare the craziest thing in the world. And a Democratic governor said it's no longer affordable. You won't hear me say this often, but they're right.

So I hope colleagues will consider Obamacare's history of failures, the unaffordable costs, the scarce choices, burden on middle-class families as they cast their vote this afternoon. I would urge them to remember the families who are hurting under this collapsing law.

Numerous Kentuckians, like so many others across the nation, have conveyed their heartbreaking stories with my office through phone calls, letters, meetings and dozens of health care forums all across Kentucky. These families are suffering under Obamacare. They need relief. I'll be thinking about them as I vote to proceed to the bill today. And I know many other colleagues will do the same.

Our constituents are hurting under Obamacare. They're counting on us to do the right thing right now. That means voting to allow the Senate to finally move beyond Obamacare's failures. That's what I intend to do. That's what I urge every colleague to do. We can do better than Obamacare. We have a responsibility to the American people to do that. Today's vote, to begin debate, is the first step. And we should take it.

Mr. President, I suggest the absence (ph) of a quorum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection, the clerk will call the roll.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Alexander?

KING: The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, calling the Senate to order today with a speech first paying tribute to John McCain, his courage in coming back to Washington for a big health care vote today days after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

Then, Senator McConnell laying the stakes in his view the vote the Senate will take this afternoon, knowing full well he is the majority leader. He has 52 Republicans. He, at this moment, is not sure he has the 50 votes to begin this debate.

[12:10:12] And that in and of itself is stunning. This is a seven-year Republican promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. The majority leader, the Republican leader of the United States Senate, doesn't know if he has the votes to go forward. We'll watch the Senate floor. We'll see if the Democrats come out to respond.

That was a public statement from Mitch McConnell. He called it a failed left-wing experiment. Trying to essentially tell conservatives, you can't buck me on this one. You have to stay with me on this one. That was a call to conservatives.

The biggest test for Mitch McConnell is not those public remarks, where he also embraced the president, with whom he's had an awkward relationship, trying to say, even the president wants you to do this, too. We'll all on board. It's now where he goes into this private lunch with Republican senators who have still the policy differences we've talked about for weeks and weeks and months, still some political issues that we've talked about for months and months. Can Mitch McConnell, on a defining day for him and the Republican Party, get them at least to start this?

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": It's an open question. It really is at this point because --

KING: How can that be? I mean that's stunning (INAUDIBLE).

KUCINICH: No, it is, because Mitch McConnell does have this reputation as being the master of the Senate, to borrow the (INAUDIBLE) title.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: But he's running up against these senators, who are hearing from their constituents, who have states that are in dire need of funding, who are very much tied to this bill and can't get -- not get out from under it, but don't want to cede the benefits and some of the things that they received from Obamacare. So he -- they're between a -- their loyalty for their party and for Mitch McConnell, and what they're hearing from their constituents. It's a really -- it's a tough vote for a lot of people.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.

MICHAEL WARREN, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think if anybody can do it, it's probably Mitch McConnell.

KUCINICH: That's very true.

WARREN: It's probably not President Trump. I think if you talk to Republicans on the fence on Capitol Hill, that speech yesterday that he made probably didn't have much impact.

But there is sort of extraordinary circumstances here that I think a lot of these on the fence Republicans are considering and thinking about, which is, there is no text for an actual bill.

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: Right.

WARREN: There have been no hearings in 2017. There's no CBO score. There's no resolution on this Bird (ph) rule. I mean none of the process is out in the open here and he would probably have a lot more buy-in if that had -- if McConnell had started this open and ended up, really, I think at the end saying, we're going to scrap this Bird rule and just try to get something done with just a bare majority.

KING: but like in the House, the leadership went behind closed doors first --

WARREN: That's right.

KING: To try to come up with a plan. It imploded on them in the House and then with the president's help in that case -- it was a rough process but they finally got a bill through the House.

I -- my apologies again for interrupting Phil Mattingly at the top of the program when the majority leader took the floor. But if you heard Phil, and probably confusing to a lot of people around the country. They're going to vote on one plan that conservatives like, even though they know it's going to -- they're going to vote on another bill that more moderates like that has some more money for Medicaid in it, even though they know it's going to fail.

Why would they do these things if they know it's going to fail? Because Mitch McConnell is trying to satisfy, you want this, you want this. I'm going to give everybody what they want. You're all going to lose. And then -- and then let's try --

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And then let's try to pass a shell. Just pass a shell for process -- to process question America so they can get into a conference with the House. So the Senate can pass something to then have negotiations with the House and then they essentially start this all over again. Can we come up with a final product?

TALEV: So there are now somewhere between three and four procedural hurdles just to get to the point where they have an actual possibility of passing something. But before the moment passes, like, I just think we should consider the emotional sort of majesty of today.

KUCINICH: Right.

TALEV: John McCain, as Leader McConnell began to talk about, comes back in, you know, what can only be described as an incredibly poignant moment. We're going to hear from him later today. He and he alone is going to be able to set the emotional parameters of this debate and the question of reopening the debate. And perhaps some of the policy parameters as well.

And for him this is an incredibly complicated thing because not only is he dealing with health issues himself, which goes to the narrative about what kind of health coverage can you get? Can you get the best doctors?

KING: Right. Forgive me. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, now on the floor rebutting Senator McConnell.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: No one knows the plan that's being cooked up in the Republican leader's office, but it seems to be his intention to do whatever it takes to pass anything, no matter how small, to get the House and Senate Republicans into a conference on health care.

Surprisingly, I've heard that my friend, the junior senator from Kentucky, will vote yes on the motion to proceed. He announced it himself. It's true he'll likely get a vote on the motion to repeal without replace, but surely he knows that will fail.

Why, then, would the junior senator from Kentucky, a man who has preached the repeal of the Affordable Care Act root and branch, a man who has proselytized the Republicans should stop at nothing short of full repeal? Why would the junior senator from Kentucky vote on the motion to proceed knowing he won't get what he wants?

[12:14:57] It's because, I believe, that he and some of the others in this body know that if the Senate manages to pass something to get to conference in the House, the likely compromise in the House, in the conference, is either a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act or something close to it. It will certainly mean drastic cuts in Medicaid, huge tax cuts for the rich, no help for those with pre- existing conditions and millions and millions losing health care, particularly in our poorer and more rural states.

That's the only thing that our Republicans have been able to agree on. The hard right Freedom Caucus in the House would never accept a Republican bill that only repeals a few regulations in the ACA but leaves much of it in place. No, they want full repeal and at minimum deep, deep cuts to Medicaid. Huge, huge tax breaks for the wealthy. And millions, millions, in every state in this nation losing their health care.

To my Republican friends who have repeatedly said that full repeal without replace would be a disaster, to my Republican friends who have opposed the deep and drastic cuts to Medicaid, I say to you -- don't be fooled by this ruse. A vote in favor of the motion to proceed will mean deep cuts to Medicaid, maybe even deeper than in the House bill. It will mean people with pre-existing conditions will be left high and dry. It will mean huge tax breaks for the wealthiest of Americans. It will mean millions will lose their coverage.

So all the complaining, why we're here at this late moment, because even the House bill was too drastic for many of the members here is now being ignored on this motion to proceed. Because we all know, we all know the ruse that's going on. The ruse is, send it back to the House and then we'll see what they send us.

We know what they'll send us. We may not know every detail. It will either be full repeal without replace, or something far too close to that. And all of the work, all of the anguish that so many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have shown in the last several weeks will be wasted because they know darn well what's going to happen and when there's a conference.

There are no Democratic votes in the House. The Freedom Caucus calls the shots. They will either ask for full repeal or something very close to it. So make no mistake about it, a vote in favor of the motion to proceed this afternoon will be permission, a permission slip, to slash Medicaid, hurt millions, and raise taxes on the wealthy. Something the vast majority of Americans in every state -- a large, large percentage of Republicans and Trump voters abhor.

One last plea to my colleagues, do not fall for the ruse that the majority leader is putting together. We know what's going on. We all know. Our constituents won't be fooled. Oh, no. We, on this side, are not fooled. Oh, no. And I hope my colleagues, who out of compassion and care for the people in their states, have made such a fuss up to now, won't be fooled either.

On another matter, Mr. President, in recent days President Trump has gone out of his way to undermine his own attorney general, his first supporter, but was -- has been reported to be his best friend in the Senate. He has tweeted scathing criticism of Attorney General Sessions, chastised himself publicly for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and several other perceived failures in the eyes of the president.

We should all take a moment to think of how shocking these comments are on a human basis. This is the first person who stuck his neck out for Donald Trump, who was with him through thick and thin. And now, even if the president has disagreement with him, which I think are ill-founded and self-centered and wrong, you don't ridicule him in public. Someone who is your close friend? That speaks to character.

[12:20:34] But I would like to speak to the major issue before us, which is related. It's clear that President Trump is trying to bully his own attorney general out of office. How can anyone draw a different conclusion? If President Trump had serious criticisms of his attorney general, why not talk to him in person? Why air his grievances so publicly? He wants him out.

Here's the danger. Many Americans must be wondering if the president is trying to pry open the office of attorney general to appoint someone during the August recess who will fire Special Counsel Mueller and shut down the Russian investigation.

First, let me state for the record now before this scheme gains wings, Democrats will never go along with the recess appointment if that (INAUDIBLE). We have some tools in our toolbox to stymie such action. We're ready to use every single one of them, any time, day or night. It's so vital to the future of the republic.

And, second, I cannot imagine my friends on the Republican side, and particularly in the Republican leadership, my friend, the majority leader, who I have great respect for, and Speaker Tyan. I can't imagine they would be complicit in creating a constitutional crisis. They must work with us and not open the door to a constitutional crisis during the August recess.

One last item, Mr. President.

I know there's a lot going on today, but I just want to mention one item from the House of Representatives. Later the House is going to take up and hopefully pass, with near unanimity, a sanctions bill that includes strong sanctions against Russia, Iran, North Korea. It's critical the Senate act promptly on this legislation.

KING: You're listening to the Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, his last point there, urging once the House passes a Russia sanctions bill -- this could -- vote could come today, urging the Senate to pick it up as quickly as possible. That's one big test for the president, when Congress sends him, likely by overwhelming majority, the bill imposing new sanctions on Russia and North Korea and Iran as well, but principally Russia for its election meddling behavior, one test for the president.

But Senator Schumer there talking about two defining tests playing out in Washington today. He started with health care, challenging Republicans not to proceed to an Obamacare repeal debate. That big vote later today. Senator Schumer essentially saying Republicans want to pass something to get into negotiations with the House. He says those negotiations will end up cutting billions from Medicaid, throwing millions off their health insurance. He's urging Republican senators not to vote. He understands Republicans at this moment don't have the vote.

Then, Senator Schumer moving on to another big challenge in Washington today, the president's constant attacks on his attorney general. Essentially Chuck Schumer, you heard him there, saying the president wants Jeff Sessions to go, that's pretty clear, and saying that the Democrats would block any recess appointment during the summer recess and saying he hoped that the Republican leadership would not be, quote, "complicit" in a constitutional crisis.

Let's come into the room.

It is a dramatic day. You have these big dramas playing out. Literally a defining challenge for the Republican Party. Can they keep the Obamacare debate going? But also the president's attacks on the attorney general and the things being said by people in the Trump inner circle about the attorney general. About how the president wants him to go. It's just one of these days. It's this town is just crackling with tension.

KUCINICH: Well, and "The Daily Beast" has reported that Sessions has no intention of going anywhere. But there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding from this president of what the attorney general does. The attorney general isn't there to protect the president. But that's not -- that's not what they do. They're there to protect the Constitution and --

HENDERSON: Nor is the attorney general there to go after the president's political ends, right?

KUCINICH: No.

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: Which is what he is essentially faulting Jeff Sessions for not doing, saying that he's weak because he didn't go after Hillary Clinton's crimes. Never mind that Donald Trump himself at some -- you know a couple of months ago said that he didn't want to go after -- he didn't think that they should go after Hillary Clinton, even though that was something that he said during -- during the campaign.

What's also interesting here is if you're a Republican, you are seeing how this president treats people who have been loyal to him, right? But yet this is a president, and a party, party leadership asking for loyalty from people, Republicans, in terms of health care. So it's -- I mean it's interesting that Chuck Schumer has linked those two things, right, health care and then talking about Jeff Sessions and the treatment of Sessions and how the president essentially is trashing this person who had been very loyal to him.

[12:25:27] KING: Whether you agree or disagree with Chuck Schumer (ph), as a student of politics, you have to watch there, that was clever messaging. Republicans, for three election cycles, three of the last four election cycle, Obamacare has worked to Republican advantage. The Democrats have been winning the political argument so far this cycle. And the argument about Jeff Sessions I think trying to link the Republican Party saying essentially the president is trying to drag you into a mess, don't let it happen.

TALEV: And, you know, Anthony Scaramucci, who -- the incoming communications director, but he's kind of already started, he's there a lot, has been a pretty good kind of way to tap into Trump's brain and understand what he's thinking so far, and told a group of us outside the White House just earlier this morning that he expects the tension or the situation with General Sessions and the president to be resolved soon. Nobody knows what that means at this point.

But also that the president's feeling is that cabinet member should have his back. And that is a fundamental problem, I mean if that's what the president wants, because that can't be what the attorney general (INAUDIBLE).

KING: It's -- right. That -- that's a perfectly rational argument for the secretary of the interior and the secretary of energy to have the president's back, meaning institute the president's policies and protect the president politically. The attorney general is a special carve out in the cabinet because of this job. He's the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.

TALEV: That's right.

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: All right, we're going to sneak in a quick break and have a reset here. There's a lot going on in town today. The president attacking his attorney general without doubt wants him to quit. Unlikely that he will at the moment. The big health care debate coming up. Senators in both parties now gathering for lunch. Can Republicans come up with the vote.

On top of that, the president's son-in-law back on Capitol Hill facing questions today in the Russia investigation, as well as the president's former campaign chairman. Busy day in Washington. A quick break. We'll be right back.

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