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Senate Heading for Late Night for Critical Votes; Sessions in El Salvador as 700+ Gang Members Arrested. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 27, 2017 - 16:30   ET



[16:32:21] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

Sticking with politics. Let's recall growing up and how we learned how Congress makes a bill.


BILL: I'm just a bill, yes, I'm only a bill and if they vote for me on Capitol Hill, well then I'm off to the White House where I'll wait in a line --


TAPPER: Now, you can cue Agent K and his neuralyzer and forget everything you just saw because this is not what's going on right now.

Senate Republicans are in the middle of a very messy attempt to repeal and maybe replace Obamacare. Soon, they are going to start a late night vote called a vote-a-rama approach to bill-making. Senators will get to offer unlimited health care related amendments.

Republicans hope that this will all end with a so-called skinny repeal, a strip down plan that includes gutting the individual and employer mandates, repealing the employer mandate for at least six years, defunding Planned Parenthood, taking off the table the medical device tax and more.

CNN's Brianna Keilar joins me now live from Capitol Hill.

Brianna, do Republicans hope that the bill will pass as is the so- called skinny repeal or is it just a template on which they want to write a larger piece of legislation?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They want to use it as a vehicle to then get together with House Republicans and hammer out something that would be a bill. This is not ultimately that what they would want to be the law of the land as they settle in here, Jake, for what's going to be a very long night. You said it.

It's the vote-a-rama as Republicans are trying to take a crucial step forward as they try to overhaul Obamacare. We're expecting this to get started this evening. And this could go into the wee hours of the morning. There is increasing confidence, and I will tell you among Republicans

that they're going to get to those 50 votes as they would vote on this skinny repeal. It really is this pared down bill that as you mentioned would take out the individual mandate and the employer mandate. It would defund Planned Parenthood for a year and then move money towards community health centers to make up for women not being able to get care at Planned Parenthood.

But it doesn't tackle some of the other big parts of Obamacare -- the subsidies that are so key to Obamacare, the taxes that pay for Obamacare. And it's just a very unusual situation because these senators are getting ready to be voting on a bill that they haven't seen, that doesn't have a score from the Congressional Budget Office, though that is going to change, and as we just discussed, isn't what they expect to be the law of the land. It really is just a vehicle to try to move this forward and to discuss a further plan with House Republicans.

TAPPER: And, Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska who has voted no throughout this process, she reportedly was threatened by the Trump administration through the Interior Department threatening to withhold funding for things, for items in her state.

[16:35:05] She's striking back, huh?

KEILAR: That's right. This is fascinating, the drama that's going down here. And I have to read a quote about what the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said to Lisa Murkowski, we're told, that because she voted no on moving this bill along on Tuesday, that it, quote, put Alaska's future with the administration in jeopardy.

She's the chairwoman of the Energy Committee in addition to obviously being from Alaska which has so many key issues that the Interior Department has control over, and what she did, Jake, was she had a hearing today that she cancelled, and it was to move along nominations of six Trump administration officials, three of them with the Interior Department.

She was asked if this was payback, she denied that. She said that this was just a bump had come up and would have to be resolved. But make no mistake, this is very much seen as a message and a punch back.

TAPPER: All right. Brianna Keilar on Capitol Hill for us, thank you so much.

Sticking with our politics lead, the Trump administration is cracking down on an international street gang.

Today, the Justice Department announced the arrests of more than 100 members of MS-13 in El Salvador. This makes more than 700 alleged gang members charged in that country over the past two days. Today's announcement came as Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in El Salvador and his Justice Department is conducting its own MS-13 crackdown.

Let's go to CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's at the White House for us.

Caitlin, what else do we know about the attorney general's trip?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: So, Jeff Sessions travelled to El Salvador this morning. He's meeting with law enforcement officials there on efforts to combat this famously brutal gang. He's going to meet with his Salvadorian counterpart to discuss this, and he's also touring a detention facility while he's there.

This gang has a very big foothold in Central America, but it's not just being discussed in Central America. The acting ICE director actually came out of the daily press briefing here at the White House today to discuss administrations efforts to stop this threat of the MS-13 gang here at home and to eliminate its members from the United States.

And as he spoke, he showed these photos of these gang members who have tattoos all over their face. You can see from the images that it's essentially more ink than skin. They're all over and above their eyebrows, cheekbones, and what-not. So, they discussed that with reporters today, and then Donald Trump is also going to Long Island tomorrow on a trip to discuss further how to eliminate the MS-13 gang.

KEILAR: And Kaitlan, this obviously seems to be an area where the administration feels that they are having some successes and want to bring some attention to their efforts to combat this gang.

COLLINS: Yes, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, one thing they definitely agree on is how to be tougher on crime here at home. And this has been a really big priority for them. Trump was even tweeting as the ICE director was speaking to reporters today saying he wants to make America safe again. That was one of his slogans during the campaign last year.

And it's something that they definitely agree on. Jeff Sessions has said that he think lax border enforcement is what allows the MS-13 gang to smuggle more of its members here into the United States. So, that's definitely one thing that's been going right for this White House and something they touted as a victory.

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

Carnival rides across the country are being shut down after a ride, horrifying and fatal incident at the Ohio State Fair. That's next.


[16:42:23] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Lots more to talk about with our panel.

So, let's talk about health care, Josh, because I know you were going to talk about the president's agenda, even if not everybody in this White House is eager to talk about it. So, skinny repeal.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. TAPPER: It's kind of just like a way to keep the process going

because they can't really agree on a bill. That's empirically a little odd. It's kind of a strange way of doing this.

HOLMES: Well, you know, legislating is not exactly a sing along, right? I mean, we saw the "Schoolhouse Rock" version of it, but -- I mean, it's been so long since we've gone through a regular order of process.

What happens is the House passes a version, the Senate passes a version, there is some kind of a conference committee, and a final bill is produced that they both have an opportunity to get a vote on. Yes or no. And I think that's the process that we've got here.

TAPPER: Except they're talking about passing something they may not actually want to be the bill, right? I mean, they're talking about passing something that's just a vehicle to get them to conference.

HOLMES: All the way through, the goal is to try to improve the product, right?

TAPPER: Right.

HOLMES: And I think Republican senators have gotten to a point where they've had some pretty significant wins from a conservative point of view in terms of the individual mandate, the employer mandate, things they can rightly it go home and say look, this is skinny repeal, it's still a repeal of some really important stuff that we've talked about here for the last seven years.

They get that to conference with the House of Representatives. It did pass a broader repeal and replace bill. And I think hope for every Republican is what you ultimately vote on in the end is an improvement of both products and you get something that ultimately is something the American people are really going to like.

TAPPER: Jen, and obviously your point of view is quite different. You were the communications director and worked to the White House for President Obama. You were just saying that Speaker Ryan's office said that they might not even go to Conference Committee to sort out the differences between the House and Senate bill.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. So, Speaker Ryan's spokesperson just said that it's just one option going to conference. So, what does that mean? It's entirely possible through the legislative process for the Senate to pass the skinny repeal for it to go back to the House. Ryan has asked for flexibility for members to be available this weekend, and for Trump to sign it.

Now, that's not the intention, clearly, of Senator McConnell or doesn't seem to be. But Senate Republicans who are on the fence, moderate Republicans who are thinking, wait, the skinny repeal may seem a little bit better. This is a bit of a bait and switch potentially for them. And part of the problem with the skinny repeal, I will just say, is that it's -- it doesn't get rid of dramatic Medicaid cuts, but outside analysis still has it leaving 15 million people uninsured, and still jacking up premiums.

TAPPER: How many are uninsured because they are no longer required to have insurance?

PSAKI: There would be certainly a percentage of them that would be uninsured because they wouldn't choose to buy insurance because -- but those are also people who would be left if they got sick, if they had to pay for health insurance, if they go to the emergency rooms, they're jacking up costs for everybody else. Everybody's costs would go up if people only chose to buy insurance when they get sick. That's part of the problem. That's why we need the safety net and why we need more people in the system.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it's interesting to hear that Jen, you thought that part of the problem was not without the Medicaid cuts. Obviously, they've had a significant improvement from the Medicaid standpoint from the viewpoint of a lot of Senators here and what they're ultimately passing does not have the same coverage problems. And Jake, you actually put your finger on it. Most of the numbers that CBO comes up with is the removal of the individual mandate that forces Americans to buy health insurance, they're not going to buy it.

And so, look, this is a system currently that we have where markets are literally collapsing and we can deal with this now or we can deal with this in October, November after new premiums come out, after markets collapse and we're in like a tarp situation for health insurance. In my view, that is a worst case scenario for Republicans and Democrats frankly because they've built the system we're living with currently.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I want to bring up something that will land on the President's desk whether he likes it or not. And that's not health care legislation, but it's the new Russia sanctions bill. Take listen to Anthony Scaramucci talking about how President Trump might actually veto this bill that passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.


TAPPER: Is there anyone that actually thinks President Trump would negotiate a tougher deal of those sanctions against the Russians than the House or Senate? I mean, it's kind of a -


TAPPER: It staggers the imagination that anybody would claim that.

PSAKI: Also this passed overwhelmingly in Congress with Republican and Democratic support. Also, if you put new sanctions in place, it doesn't preclude you from additional sanctions. So that argument doesn't make any sense. If you think they should be stronger, pass this, get them through, then fight for and argue to have more. It doesn't make any sense.

TAPPER: Talk about the politics, Josh, can President Trump politically actually veto a Russian sanctions bill? I mean, it will be overridden. It's passed so overwhelmingly, people will override it, it'll become law and he'll just be the guy with all of this Russia cloud who vetoed Russian sanctions.

HOLMES: Yes, at this point, I don't think you have to be a very astute political analysis or operative to say that the first big fight that you pick with Republican Congress should probably not be about Russia. I think we've all had enough Russia for the first -

PSAKI: Politics 101.

HOLMES: - seven months, and look, if this is not perfect for them, I still would figure out a way to get to yes, because it's coming either way. And like you said, if there's something more that they want to do, if they want to strengthen it down the line, that option is always open.

TAPPER: Another big story today, Jen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they had no idea that this transgender service member ban was coming at all. It just seems odd because obviously, this was a big decision, you have at least 4,000 or so estimated transgender service members and members of the reserves, and what everyone thinks about the idea of paying for the surgery or whatever, this was a very impulsive move by the President.

PSAKI: Yes and the initial policy announcement was not impulsive. It was - there was a lot of division in the military over this. It was months and months, if not years of consideration, there was economic analysis that was done about the cost, and ultimately, the conclusion was made by the military, not President Obama sitting around tweeting in the Oval Office, that this is something that they could implement and they did have a way to do it because men and women, transgender men and women were serving, and they were courageous, and so it wasn't surprising to see him. I was happy to see Dunford do that yesterday.

TAPPER: Jen Psaki, and Josh Holmes, thanks so much. I appreciate you being here.

A longtime Democratic Congressional Staffer was arrested for trying to flee the country. He's now charged with bank fraud. But this is not the first investigation he's been involved in. So why was he still collecting a paycheck from former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Stay with us.


[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, more on our "NATIONAL LEAD." A tragedy in Ohio, what should have been a fun summer outing at the popular state fair turned tragic after a thrill ride broke apart midair, sending several people flying to the ground. One person was killed, two others critically injured. Moments ago the manufacturer of that thrill ride told amusement parks to stop operating that ride and similar ones across the country until further notice. CNN's Ryan Young is in Columbus, Ohio for us. And Ryan, we've just learned that the 18-year-old who was killed had just enlisted in the marines.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Tyler Jarrell. He just enlisted last week. And he's supposed to go to boot camp next year in Beauford, South Carolina in Parris Island. You can understand how his family is probably feeling a lot of pain right now. There was a lot of people out here who witnessed this who were screaming when this happened and watching that video is quite tough.


MIKE VARTORELLA, CHIEF INSPECTOR: My children, my grandchildren ride these equipment so our guys do not rush through this stuff. We look at it, we take care of it, and we pretend it's our own.


YOUNG: So we know that state inspectors, we just got the paperwork went over this ride four times. There's over 70 rides out here. There's was a lot of questions about maybe because of the weather, they maybe speed things up, we can see it's raining here right now. What we were told that did not have any difference here because they went over this ride four times. This one passed. There were four other rides that did not pass, and state investigators are saying, they're going to do an autopsy on this machine, take it all apart. They're looking for people around the country who were experts in this to make sure they can see exactly what happened. They have parts already separated, but they want to make sure how the stresses happened here and how this fell apart.

TAPPER: Do we know what went wrong? Is there a suspicion as to what went wrong?

[16:55:00] YOUNG: I mean, that's a great question. We kept pounding state investigators about this. What they would tell us is, they would not give us any more information about this until they were actually able to finish their investigation. The Governor said he will stand away from this until this investigation is over. He said it will be a world class investigation. One other thing though, they have shut down the entire midway, no rides are going on behind us right now. The state fair is still open, but if you look behind us, it is just empty where the midway is, so many people will not be able to ride the rides until the next few days, and we even watched investigators going over rides today as they re-inspect them.

TAPPER: The state of Ohio is of course in charge of regulating, inspecting the rides at the fair. And the question you've already addressed. Did the inspectors - did the state do the job to ensure safety before the state fair opened, is this an issue that's come up before?

YOUNG: Well, that is another great question. We went through it and saw the 12 pages of documents they released. They had four different investigators going through it. Right now there's nothing pointing to a red flag. And that's one of the things that stands out right now. In fact, John Kasich said, sometimes, accidents happen and they want to get to the bottom of this one. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan young, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

Also in our "NATIONAL LEAD," he is a former I.T. staffer who's worked for House Democrats including former Democratic National Committee Chair and Current Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, but this week he was nabbed trying to leave the country and fly to Pakistan. Now he's facing a bank fraud charge. Tom Foreman is watching the story and has the latest for us. And Tom, the staffer Imran Awan was previously under another investigation, according to BuzzFeed and Politico, yet he was employed by Wasserman Schultz's Office until this week, why?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's a great question. She's got some answers, we'll get to that, but it is a great question because you got to think this story is filled with things Democrats don't need. Suspected foul play involving computers, money being shifted overseas, and a dramatic arrest at a D.C. airport as this former Congressional Staffer tried to board a plane to Pakistan.


FOREMAN: Start on Capitol Hill where computer services for more than a dozen Congressional Democrats used to be the work of this man Imran Awan used to because earlier this year, Politico and BuzzFeed reported he was under scrutiny over suspected theft of equipment and all of those Congress members ended his employment, except for Former Democratic Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She kept him on and lit into Capitol Police for seizing and holding her laptop as part of the investigation.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: I think you're violating the rules when you - when you conduct your business in that way and should expect that there will be consequences.

FOREMAN: But simultaneously in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, the FBI says Awan and his wife Alvi had applied for a home equity loan from a federal credit union on this property, according to court documents. The problem, the FBI says they lied on the loan forms about rental income. Fraudulently obtaining $165,000, which the feds say they wired to Pakistan. And that takes us to Dallas airport where in March, the FBI says Alvi showed up for a flight to Pakistan, along with their three kids, abruptly taken out of school and with $12,400 in U.S. cash in her bags. She was allowed to leave and is not charged with anything, but when Awan tried to follow this week, he was stopped.

He has pled not guilty and is free under GPS surveillance. His lawyer says I'm very confused as to why he's been arrested, he's been a hill staffer since 2004, his only charge is not reporting rental income. But conservative social media is blowing up with unfounded attempts to link him Awan to the leak of DNC e-mails last year. For those critics, it's also tantalizing, stealing lawmaker's equipment, trying to flee U.S., wiring money to Pakistan, spy novel, no. It's real life and Debbie Wasserman Schultz's office.


FOREMAN: So we've said that she has an explanation for this. Wasserman Schultz says she kept Awan employed because she was worried that he was being unfairly treated for his Pakistani heritage. She did drop him shortly after the arrest. It will likely be much harder, however, to get rid of the conspiracy theories that are erupting around this story because you know, the (INAUDIBLE) have been wanting to prove that Russia wasn't doing it, it was a problem on the Democratic side, so some of it attached to this. Again, there's no proof, he was an I.T. guy, he may have had access to things, but there's no proof he did anything with that on this front. But an intriguing story.

TAPPER: And it's a theft and bank fraud charges.

FOREMAN: Those are the things that are interesting. Bank fraud is the only charge at this point.

TAPPER: OK. Tom Foreman, thank you so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn. That is it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer who's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks so much for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking new, voting for voting's sake.