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Soon: Senate Votes On "Repeal Only" Plan For Obamacare; Trump Targets GOP's Lisa Murkowski For "No" Vote; GOP Senators Sound Off On Trump's New Sessions Rebuke; McCain Blasts "Bombastic Loudmouths" In Senate Speech. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired July 26, 2017 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The Senate back in session and heading back to battle over health care in America. Any moment now, the Senate will take another crack at the Republicans' bill to overhaul Obamacare after a repeal and replace effort failed yesterday. A repeal only version is up next.

Joining me now, Republican congressman from Minnesota, Jason Lewis. Congressman, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: So the Senate is going to be voting on the repeal only version of it. Smart money is that they don't have the votes. That is likely to fail. What's then in your view?

LEWIS: Well, look, I think a vote to repeal is probably a step in the right direction, but we need to do more. Frankly, that's what we did in the House. Got to go back to earlier reforms, comprehensive reform of health care addressing the tax code, mandates, letting prices float, and the fastest growing entitlement in the country, the $500 billion Medicaid program.

A repeal only provision just takes us back to 2009 before the ACA, which I think was the last straw in government intervention in health care. We have problems going back to HIPAA, to 1965, the World War II waging price controls, which brought about this job lock and getting health insurance at work.

We have tried to address all of those comprehensive reforms in the House bill. I would like to see the Senate do that.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, don't take me back to World War II because they're trying to deal with today in the Senate right now. They're having a tough enough time with that. The president, though, in response --

LEWIS: But you know what, Kate? That's really an important point, though, I do want to say that the reason people have a job lock is because they can only get insurance at work. So, you lose your job and all of a sudden you are in the individual market with a pre- existing condition and then the crisis.

And that came about because of World War II waging price control. We have to adjust the tax code, which we did in the House to address that so people on their own in the individual market get the same tax benefits as those who get health insurance at work.

BOLDUAN: Here is the problem that you have on your hands with that, the president. The president is the one who called your bill mean and cold hearted after the fact. That is why he wanted to see the Senate do something different.

Hence, we are where we are today. The president has also now taken to calling out publicly individual Republican senators who voted against his wishes yesterday. He said this about Lisa Murkowski.

It says, "Senator Murkowski of the great state of Alaska, she really let Republicans and our country down. Too bad." Do you think Lisa Murkowski let the country down because she wants the bill to go through regular committee process?

LEWIS: Look, I won't comment on any particular individual, but I think the Senate ought to do their job. We took the tough votes in the House. We have been talking about undoing Obamacare for seven years. We have 40 percent of the country under the ACA with one insurer.

Premiums in my home state of Minnesota have gone up 55 percent and 66 percent. The state had to come in and bail out the exchange created by Obamacare. We have an existential crisis where premiums have doubled since 2013.

[11:35:02] So, the idea of doing nothing is just untenable. So, I do think there's criticism warranted towards the other chamber if they don't get some form of reform done.

BOLDUAN: Lisa Murkowski says she's not for doing nothing. She wants it to go through the regular committee process when it's dealing with one-sixth of the economy. She wants it to go through the committee process. That's her point.

Do you think that this kind of public shaming of one of your Republican colleagues is going to help by the president, is going to help get her on board?

LEWIS: Well, I don't know, but you can't have it both ways. You know, there's also criticism of the establishment. They circle the wagons and say nice things about somebody. Then somebody comes along and says, you know, let's hold people's feet to the fire and all of a sudden it's public shaming. Sometimes you can't win for losing.

BOLDUAN: Sometimes you can't win for losing, but it's the president we're talking about, Congressman. He says she let the country down because she stood by -- she stood up for what she believed is right for her state. Would you --

LEWIS: You know what, Kate? I'm not going to get in the drama at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with you. I will tell you this. If the Senate doesn't do healthcare reform, they are not doing their job. That is my observation. You can call that shaming if you want, but I think we did the heavy lifting in the House. That's what we were sent here to do. The Senate ought to follow.

BOLDUAN: I'm glad we can -- you agree with me that the drama is from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We agree on that one, Congressman. Let's talk about something else coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today. The president announcing new military policy today, banning transgender people from serving in any capacity in the military. What's your reaction to the president's announcement?

LEWIS: Well, the purpose of military restrictions, eligibility in the army, you can't serve if you are older than 34, I believe, is to provide an efficient fighting military force. The most efficient you can get but the most effective military force you can get.

And frankly, I would leave that to the generals. I would want to talk to military brass before I came down with a position on that. I think anybody ought to be able to serve in the military.

BOLDUAN: I think a lot of folks would agree with you on that. That's why there's a question over the announcement that the president put out this morning when he said that no transgender people can serve in any capacity -- will be allowed to serve in any capacity. What would you say then to the thousands of transgender people who are serving in the military today?

LEWIS: Well, I wasn't privy to the conversation the president had with the military leaders and whether it was about the cost of surgery or how inefficient it might be or military moral or any of that. I would like to get a little more information on that from the powers that be and the people in the field, the military leaders. If that's what they are saying, I think you have to consider that.

BOLDUAN: I think what I'm hearing is we need more information about exactly what the president is putting out here on this policy. Jeff Sessions, the president publicly mocking him once again this morning. Lindsey Graham, your colleague in the Senate, he said earlier today that attacking Sessions is the president showing weakness. Do you agree?

LEWIS: I think it's the president showing frustration. I think the president wants a complete investigation on all foreign meddling, not just Russia. The unmasking of private individuals for incidental collection, the leaks, all of that is what the president wants to see an investigation. That's what I want to see an investigation and I think he's frustrated. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

BOLDUAN: Do you think that he should be attacking the acting director of the FBI?

LEWIS: Well, I don't know. It's hard to say what tactics are wise and which are not. I'm saying what I would like to see in an investigation. I think it's very, very crucial that we make certain that national security secrets aren't being leaked. That's very dangerous stuff, classified information.

If there's foreign meddling going on, we ought to look at any country who is engaged in that and all of those things. We want a complete investigation. You can't just focus on trying to bring down one particular politician.

BOLDUAN: Do you think Jeff Sessions is doing a good job?

LEWIS: I think he's doing a good job. You bet.

BOLDUAN: OK. Great to have you, Congressman. Come on again.

LEWIS: You bet.

BOLDUAN: There you have it, folks.

We're keeping a close eye on the Senate floor where lawmakers are getting ready to vote on an appeal of Obamacare. Does this stand a better chance than the one did last night of getting through? Live updates straight ahead.



BOLDUAN: Let's get back to Capitol Hill where Republicans are getting set to vote on health care, but also Republican senators coming to the defense of Jeff Sessions in light of another criticism from President Trump today on Twitter. The clear message, basically coming from Republican senators to the president is to cut it out at this point.

CNN's senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is live on Capitol Hill with much more on this. What are you hearing, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, senator after senator on the Republican side are really voicing a unanimous message to the president to back off Jeff Sessions. You are hearing a number of prominent members of the Republican Party say that the president should not fire Jeff Sessions.

In fact, John Cornyn, the number two Republican just told me moments ago that it would be, quote, "disruptive" if the president were to do that and a, quote, "mistake." He said if he were to fire Jeff Sessions, it would hurt the White House's ability to carry out its agenda.

It's something similar concerned by Orrin Hatch and also from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said the president seems to be displaying some weakness in his handling of this Jeff Sessions situation. Here is what he said.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would fire somebody that I did not believe could serve me well. [11:45:04] Rather than trying to humiliate them in public, which is a sign of weakness, I would just go ahead and say, I appreciate your service, you need to be fired. The weakness is that the president is trying to not use his power.

He is trying to get Sessions to quit and I hope Sessions does not quit. If the president wants to fire him, fire him.

RAJU: Do you think the president is demonstrating weakness by his hammering at Sessions?

GRAHAM: Absolutely. I think anybody who is strong would use the power they have and be competent in their decision. So, strong people say, I have decided that this man or woman can't serve me well and I'm going to act accordingly and take the consequences. To me, weakness is when you play around the edges and you don't use the power you have.


RAJU: A lot of speculation, Kate, that perhaps the president will fire Jeff Sessions and try to install a replacement during the recess using his power to make a recess appointment. Pushback on that from Republicans as well, telling the president not to go that route.

Clearly, if he did fire Jeff Sessions, Kate, a lot of concerns from his own party, something that he may not want at this point as he is trying to get his own party in line behind the health care bill -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and a party where it's hard to find a unanimous message or unity on anything, there seems to be unanimity around this point in defending Jeff Sessions today. Thanks, Manu. Thank you so much for bringing it to us.

Any moment now senators are going to be getting ready to take another vote on health care, a repeal only version of their health care bill. Lisa Murkowski is there. She'll be taking a vote as well. She's also has been targeted by President Trump on Twitter for her vote yesterday.

Plus, Senator John McCain giving an emotional powerful speech on the Senate floor about the state of politics in America. Did anyone listen? We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: John McCain is back at work at back with a bang. Returning to the Senate for a standing ovation for the health care vote after announcing he's been diagnosed with brain cancer last week. Senator McCain came back with a message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Stop listening to the bombastic loud mouths on the television, radio and internet, to hell with them. They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, Doug Heye, a CNN political commentator, Republican strategist, and former RNC communications director, and Max Baucus, a former U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama, and former Democratic senator from Montano. Thank you both for being here.

Ambassador, Senator, I'm going to call you both. John McCain said yesterday, we're getting nothing done, he said adamantly, whose fault is that right now.

MAX BAUCUS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Frankly, it's the senators and the House members fault. They have to stand up to the special interests, to the far right and far left and do what senators and House members are supposed to do.

That is work for the public good, work for the people back in their districts and their states. Most people just want their House members, their senators to do what's right, figure out what needs to make some sense, work it all out.

Most are not partisan, they're getting more partisan these days with Facebook and social media, and so forth, but even though they're getting more partisan, the only people that can put this together are those that were elected.

They are the senators and the House members and those with goodwill and most of them have goodwill, they have to look some of the jerks in the eye and say we're not going there anymore. We got to work together.

We have such big issues, look at this, China is growing that's a big country. We got NATO, Russia matters we have to deal with, education, infrastructure, we're wasting our time frankly, trying to question side who's going to win on health care.

Rather we should get together and modify the ACA real a bit. It's not pretty. Make some changes working together and then work on the big questions.

BOLDUAN: A lot of folks might love what they heard from the senator right there. Work together, get something done for the common good, for the country. John McCain, emphatic, emotional strong, as he is, given only in the way John McCain can give a speech. Do you think he changed minds yesterday?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sadly, I don't think so. One thing we saw after the shooting of Senator Scalise at the congressional baseball practice was a lot of talk about how we need to modify it and tone down political rhetoric, which I absolutely agree with.

That lasted about a few days. One of the things that really disappointed me yesterday is, as Senator McCain was speaking and in the hours after the speech, I watched my Twitter feed filled with real hate towards John McCain from media outlets like "Dead Spin" or "The Root."

A lot of Democrats and I have unfortunately the sad confidence if that is a Democrat in that situation, they're getting it from conservatives as well. We all need to pull back on that.

BOLDUAN: The other thing that's grabbing the headlines, and turning attention away from what's good for the country now, the president attacking Jeff Sessions, one of your former colleagues. What do you make of this?

BAUCUS: Well, I'm not surprised to see Republican senators coming to his defense. The Senate is a bit (inaudible). We all work together. We have been through such stuff together back at our home states, attacked this and that, so we're a team kind of in a certain sense.

Even though we fight a lot politically, but I'm not surprised about the ground swell of support for Jeff. He's in a tough spot. If his boss is not showing support, he's undermined, there's not a lot he can do. And I think, frankly, the president has to decide, is he going to keep Jeff Sessions or not?

If he is, he's got to support him, say good things about him. If not, as one of the earlier persons on your show, let him go, quietly, but get on with it. Rip off the band-aid.

[11:50:08] BOLDUAN: Let's see if he takes that advice that what we're hearing from Republican and Democratic senators alike. Lisa Murkowski, the president attacking her on Twitter for not voting his way, if you will, is that going to help get her on board as they continue to fight over healthcare?

HEYE: That will probably confirm her as no. To the John McCain argument about not getting anything done, for the past few years, as a Republican, I would say, Republicans have been the reason nothing's gotten done.

BOLDUAN: Republicans versus Republicans, I mean, that's just the way it is.

HEYE: President versus a senator whether it's House members fighting with each other. I don't think Senator Baucus would disagree that the government shutdown in 2013 was caused by Republican infighting.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, from former senator, ambassador to China to another one, do you think that John Huntsman is a good pick to be the next ambassador to Russia?

BAUCUS: Absolutely, he's a very bright, good man.

BOLDUAN: There's your endorsement. Great to see you. Always diplomatic. You're learned. Great to see you, Senator. Thank you, Doug, as always.

This is just in to us, Senator John McCain blasting the president's decision to ban transgender people from the military. The new backlash coming in. That's straight ahead.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us. A live look right off the top here of the United States Senate. Republicans have moved to their Obamacare repeal and replace debate.

A couple of key votes coming up today including one we expect in just a very few minutes. We'll take you live to the Senate when they get around to that debate as Republicans try to sort their path.