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Trump Calls Russia Investigation a Hoax; Latest Republican Obamacare Repeal Effort Nearing Collapse; Alabama Senate Race Tests Trump's Influence with Voters; Trump: "Madman" Kim Will Be "Tested Like Never Before". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is the ball game in the effort to defeat Obamacare?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: If it was a matter of friendship with Lindsey Graham vs. his legacy, the Arizona maverick went with the latter consideration. Senator John McCain this afternoon coming to a decision on the latest GOP health care bill. Could be the final, final death blow?

Nuclear name-calling. Kim Jong-un firing back at Donald Trump with a threat to blow up a hydrogen bomb. Could this tough talk risk any sort of miscalculation of nuclear proportions?

Plus, Uber making a Brexit -- why are 40,000 drivers in one of the world's largest cities being told, cheerio?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We're going to begin with breaking news in our politics lead today, a major blow to the GOP's last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, announcing this afternoon he cannot -- quote -- "in good conscience vote" for the Graham-Cassidy proposal.

Now, you might remember McCain's dramatic thumbs down in the wee hours of the morning on the Senate floor in July, which killed the last Republican attempt.

Earlier this morning, President Trump had offered some, shall we call it, encouragement on Twitter to wavering Republicans, writing -- quote -- "Rand Paul or whoever votes against health care bill forever, future political campaigns, be known as the Republican who saved Obamacare."

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Phil, Republicans can afford to lose two votes in the Senate and still pass Graham-Cassidy. Where does the vote count stand right now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as it currently stands, at least publicly, Jake, John McCain is out as no, Rand Paul is out as a no. And Susan Collins today telling her home newspaper she's leaning no.

And I can tell you, behind the scenes, Republican leaders have considered Susan Collins a hard no throughout this entire process. And three means things die.

Just to quote a GOP aide who sent me an earlier said, "I'm not breaking news here when I tell you this isn't good," talking about Senator McCain coming out as no vote.

I want to read, get a little bit deeper into what he actually said, because, Jake, as you remember quite well, in July, the senator came to the Senate floor after his cancer diagnosis, and gave a very lengthy speech in front of all of his colleagues kind of castigating the Senate for the direction things had gone.

He stayed very true to that with this statement, saying -- quote -- "I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried, nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums and how many people will be hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won't be available by the end of the month, we won't have reliable answers to questions."

Jake, every time I spoke to Senator McCain over the course of the last four or five days, he said repeatedly, process, regular order. Those were primary issues. They are still his primary issues, even though Senate Republicans tried to put hearing on the schedule next week.

This clearly did not address what he was concerned about.

TAPPER: So McCain was a no for process reasons. We know Rand Paul said this is basically -- it doesn't do enough to repeal Obamacare.

You have also been reporting about this provision that allows states to apply for a waiver to get rid of any regulation if they want, including the mandate for price protections for those with preexisting conditions.

They can do that as long as what they are proposing is adequate and affordable, although that term is not defined. What's the latest on how the content, the actual policy is being received by Senate Republicans?

MATTINGLY: Look, you just need directly to Susan Collins.

Again, as I said, she had a local news interview today. And she was talking specifically about the preexisting conditions protections, specifically about this issue that Jimmy Kimmel, a late-night TV host, Senator Bill Cassidy, the co-sponsor of this bill, have been going back and forth. And her quote was: "I'm reading the fine print on Graham-Cassidy. The

premiums would be so high, they would be unaffordable."

And she's referring directly to states' ability to opt out of the so- called community rating, and without a clear definition, kind of an ambiguous definition of what states would have to prove to the federal government in order to opt out of that protection.

I will also note, Lisa Murkowski, who we've been all focused on for the last couple of days, she's the one who I think a lot of people thought would come out as a no, maybe even before Senator John McCain, who is still gathering information.

Throughout this process, throughout the last couple of months, she has repeatedly talked about the preexisting conditions issue, talked about how the House bill, which did something similar, did not meet her standards on this issue.

So this is having a clear effect. And it's not just that. There are several policy issues here. When you talk to senators, when you talk to their staff, they are recognizing that they are moving so fast, very compressed timetable, when you start to dig in here, there are a lot of problems they would have wished would have been addressed earlier, maybe in hearings, like what Senator John McCain was asking for -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us, thank you so much.

My political panel joins me now for more.

So, a senior White House official tells us that the president is not ready to give up yet on this bill. He's going to keep reaching out to Congress over the weekend. But for all intents and purposes, do you think it's dead or is there still a chance this might pass?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's likely dead for the moment.

I suppose there is a chance that Collins might come on board. There has been some talk by those people who worked on this version of the bill to say, look, the flexibility of the states gives states different regimen whereby they could actually bring more money in and have different remedies for their states. Maine is one of those, Alaska one as well.


So that might give them some flexibility that might make this passable to them. But I think there is a status quo bias in health care. And you saw it in the Obamacare debate and you're seeing it now.

That was why the promise with Obamacare was, we're going to change it for the better, but also nothing will change that you like. That was a lie. And you can't make that argument again successfully, and they shouldn't. But there is a status quo bias, where I think they are incentivized

not to do things, instead of to do things.

TAPPER: Always count on inertia.

Robby, one of the things that is interesting about this, Senator John McCain says Republicans and Democrats should be working together. There is an effort. Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a Democrat, and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a Republican, they have been working together.

But the whole point of this, and the reason there is this deadline, the end of the month, is, it has to do with Senate rules. But basically it's whether they can pass something with 51 votes, in which the Republicans don't need any Democrats, or they need 60 votes, in which case they need at least eight Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.

So McCain wants it to be bipartisan. But the whole point of doing it now is avoid it being bipartisan.


Look, the problem with the whole debate is it's based on a bunch of things that either don't make sense or aren't true. First of all, the Republicans campaigned against Obamacare saying, if we repeal it and cut the amount of money that our country is spending on health care, suddenly your health care will get cheaper.

That doesn't work out. And this is exactly why this plan again is now failing is because it's going to raise premium prices for people.

HAM: And Obamacare didn't do that, as we all know.

MOOK: It slowed it. It's slowed the price increase.


HAM: One hundred and five percent less in the last four years on the federal exchange

MOOK: But the second problem here is, the Republicans are being driven by a strategy of just passing something.

They are not being driven by a strategy of passing something good. Now, what Senators Alexander and Murray are talking about is fixing a real problem, which is we need to stabilize the market.

I think something will get done because both they are being realistic about we need to see it done. And second they have an end state in mind that is actually good for people. Just passing a bill for passing a bill, passing a repeal just to repeal something, that's not good policy. And that's why this keeps falling apart at the last minute, is because a couple of people are holding their ground.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, as we have discussed many times, you are somebody who has not benefited from Obamacare. You are on Obamacare. Your premiums have skyrocketed.

HAM: Yes.

And there are plenty of people who have benefited. That is not an argument I ever make that there aren't people. The fact is, the debate offer ignores the people who were hurt and pretends the status quo is totally fine or that premiums did not go up in huge numbers, or that these high-deductible plans are not manageable.


MOOK: They would have gone up.

HAM: And, by the way, I also do not appreciate the argument that somehow there is not an endgame of helping people just because you happen to disagree with the policy.

I think that's part of what's broken with this health care debate.


TAPPER: We have to take a very quick break.

Mary Katharine, Robby, stick around. Lots more to discuss.

Be sure to tune in to CNN Monday night for a special live town hall debate. Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, Republicans, will be debating independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar on the future of health care legislation. I'm going to moderate the debate with my CNN colleague Dana Bash.

It all starts Monday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, as the GOP's effort to repeal Obamacare appears to be unraveling, President Trump is going campaigning in a place where his popularity is still his trump card. Should the White House even bother packing a teleprompter?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

The politics lead now. Today, President Trump again labeled the investigation into Putin-directed Russian interference in the 2016 election he won a hoax.

This morning, he tweeted -- quote -- "The Russia hoax continues. Now it's ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest media coverage in favor of crooked Hillary?"

This tweet comes a day after Facebook said it would over to Congress thousands of ads that Russian troll farms allegedly purchased during the 20016 election.

The extent to the which the Russians meddled, the impact of their meddling and whether they had any American help, those matters remain unclear. And they're being investigated by the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller, and three congressional committees in a Congress controlled by Republicans.

But the idea that all of this is a hoax, that's not true.

Don't take my word for it. Here's President Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Russia, former Governor Jon Huntsman, earlier this week.


JON HUNTSMAN JR. (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: There is no question, underline, no question, that the Russian government interfered in the U.S. election last year. And Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies.


TAPPER: Not good enough?

OK, here's our State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert today.


HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: This administration and the entire government has been clear that Russia meddled in the campaigns, in the election. That is inappropriate, OK, absolutely inappropriate.

No one takes issue with that whatsoever.

QUESTION: The president does.

NAUERT: No one takes issue with that whatsoever.


TAPPER: Still not good enough.

OK, here are the men President Trump appointed to head the CIA, the director of national intelligence, and the NSA.


MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I am confident that the Russians meddled in this election, as is the entire intelligence community.

LESTER HOLT, NBC: Is there any dissent within the intelligence community that you oversee on the question of whether the Russians interfered with the American election?

DANIEL COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There is no dissent. I have stated that publicly and I have stated it to the president. MIKE ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: No doubt at all, and

I stand behind the intelligence, intelligence community assessment that we produced in January.


TAPPER: The list goes on and all, the secretary of state, the FBI director whom the president fired with resentments about the Russia investigation on his mind, generals, secretaries, ambassadors.

There is, in fact, only one major figure in the entire U.S. national security apparatus who does not accept that Russian election interference happened. And that happens to be the person who would have most directly benefited from it.

[16:15:09] There has never been before a president who is more candid about his opinions, even when they are contrary to facts and evidence, normally that direct line to the president's id is accessible via Twitter.

But this evening, the president hits the campaign trail in Alabama to rally support for incumbent Republican Senator Luther Strange. Poll suggests many Trump supporters may be routing for the other Republican in the race, Judge Roy Moore.

CNN's senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt is live for us in Huntsville, Alabama.

Alex, in some ways, Judge Moore seems like a more natural pick for President Trump.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jake. In many ways, Judge Moore is very much the outsider. He routinely talks about draining the swamp, of course. Two things we have heard the president talk about on numerous occasions.

The core Trump supporters are much more in line with Roy Moore than with Trump's pick Luther Strange. Now, Trump is going along very much so with the Washington pick on this one. Strange has been the recipient of millions of dollars in funds from a super PAC that is aligned with Mitch McConnell. We have also seen President Trump tweeting about the loyalty that Strange has shown him. And we know that President Trump is very much a fan of loyalty.

For his part, Strange is very keen to show that he is friends with the president. That he works with the president. That he does as much as he can to advance the president's agenda. That he is the president's man, in Alabama, where the president still enjoys massive support.

But Moore is trying to make clear his problem is not with the president's agenda but with Washington.

Here are both men in debate last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LUTHER STRANGE (R), ALABAMA: We developed a close personal friendship. I've supported him 100 percent of the time. That's why the president endorsed me. He knows I have a record of defending the constitution.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The problem is President Trump is being cut off in his office. He's being redirected by people like McConnell who do not support his agenda.


MARQUARDT: But it is strange who got the endorsement. The polls are now very tight. So remains to be seen how much that endorsement and that rally here tonight will affect this very tight race -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt in Alabama, thank you so much.

A war of insults is getting increasingly personal and nasty as the rogue nation is threatening to detonate an H bomb. Stick around.


[16:21:52] TAPPER: We're back to my political panel as we look ahead to President Trump's rally this evening supporting Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange, he's the incumbent Republican. Let's go ahead and talk with my panel about this.

In many ways, Roy Moore is more Trumpian, not in terms of his religious fervor, but just in terms of not carrying about what is politically correct. Luther Strange is a former lobbyist, was appointed to the seat under kind of iffy conditions.


TAPPER: Nice, very nice.

HAM: Yes, I think the question is, is the Trumpian force of Moore more powerful than Trump himself? And I think he's picked a good place to have this rally. There are plenty of votes in the northern part of the state near Huntsville for Strange. But Roy Moore hits the pleasure centers that people in the Trumpian vein like.

So, it remains to be seen whether he can bring those people over to Luther Strange who is a different kind of choice.

TAPPER: Although it has to be said that, Luther Strange, I think, you can't deny it, would be a more reliable Trump vote for stuff he tries to get passed.



MOOK: I mean, a team player, so to speak.

Yes, this is very interesting to me. I mean, it has been closing in a way that's helpful for strange and momentum matters late in these specials.

I'm fascinated that Trump decided to show up there tonight. I thought he would be like I don't want anything to do with it. I might lose. I might look bad. This might reflect on me.

So, I'm fascinated that he went and I'm fascinated to see what he says and weighs in on this.

TAPPER: It's going to be interesting. I can't imagine the poor John Kellys of the world who are wondering about what he's going to say.

HAM: It's a state a fair. Brief speech, endorsement, moving right along.

MOOK: Well, but what if protesters in the crowd? What if he's getting resistance? That's a sort of stuff he doesn't deal well.

TAPPER: Also, John McCain coming out against the Graham-Cassidy health care bill today. He has been insulting John McCain for two years. McCain has returned the favor as well in a kind of different way.

HAM: But the interesting thing if he does go off script, those folks who are pro-Moore, who like to see that, what does that do to the dynamic of this race? It's not Luther Strange but it's their guy up there on his behalf doing the things they like to see.

TAPPER: I'm told we have to go. I could talk politics with you both for the whole rest of the show. Mary Katharine and Robby, thanks so much.

North Korea making one of its most serious threats yet, detonating an H bomb over the Pacific Ocean. Is President Trump's war of words with Kim Jong-un fueling the fire or might it deter the rogue's nation leader? That story, next.


[16:28:32] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Turning to our world lead now, the escalating crisis on the Korean peninsula. Before sunrise this morning, President Trump tweeted, quote, Kim Jong-un of North Korea who is obviously a mad man who doesn't mind starving or killing his people will be tested like never before!

That warning in direct response to Kim calling President Trump, quote, mentally deranged and as North Korea's foreign minister threatened the regime could conduct the, quote, strongest ever hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live for us at the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, just yesterday, the president was potentially open to dialogue with North Korea. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question now,

today, Jake, appears to be, could North Korea really, really launch a hydrogen bomb attack against the U.S.? And what could the U.S. do about it?


STARR (voice-over): North Korea is already getting ready for next launch according to officials, possibly a missile that could hit the U.S.

Kim Jong-un now threatening the highest level of hard line countermeasure in history, following President Trump's speech at the U.N.

North Korea's foreign minister suggesting the regime may launch potential devastation.

RI YONG-HO, NORTH KOREAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I think this could probably mean the strongest every ever hydrogen bomb test on or above the Pacific Ocean.

STARR: Detonating a hydrogen bomb above ground could change everything.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What you are looking at from a radioactive standpoint is large areas of East Asia, the Western Pacific, all the way potentially to the West Coast of the United States being blanketed by radiation.