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John Thune Says Bipartisan Health Care Plan Has "Stalled Out"; Press Secretary Expected to Answer Questions on Trump Call to Fallen Soldier's Family; White House Press Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 18, 2017 - 14:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:33:15] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Everything is shaking here in Washington. We're waiting for the White House briefing.

And we have some breaking news, because that bipartisan health care deal. the one that's not even 24 hours old, has already, quote, "stalled out." That is according to the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune.

I want to bring Nia-Malika Henderson and Gloria Borger back now.

Gloria, wow. This is amazing in a way because we heard that they had this deal yesterday, the president weighs in, seems to approve it. Then he has an evolution to not support it. And now John Thune saying it has stalled out.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It gives you whiplash because it's in the space of 24 hours when the president said that sounds like a good idea after they had reached a bipartisan agreement and then I think what really occurred is that conservatives let it be known that this is not something that they could sign on to, that they think that Lamar Alexander didn't get enough out of the Democrats, that he gave away the store and I think that the White House began to hear this and there are now people saying there is not enough market reform in this for them, et cetera, et cetera. And you heard the president this morning, you know, he's saying he doesn't want to support a big enrichment of the insurance companies. So within the span of 24 hours we have gotten from I was for it and now I'm against it.

KEILAR: But, Nia, it's not as if when this agreement was come to by Democrats and Republicans, which would preserve cost sharing subsidies for a couple of years. It's not as if the president at the time where he said he was on board didn't understand that those are subsidies that would go to insurance companies to help people afford health insurance.

[14:35:12] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: Right. That's what's so puzzling. He had been railing about the subsidies in pulling them away from insurance companies because he has complained it's a bailout that they have gone up as a result. Then he seems to join on with Alexander and Patty Murray to this deal. I mean, the question is, what did he know? When did he know it? You listen to what Alexander has said, the president was party to a lot of the conversations about this deal, but I think it gets to what we know about this president and that is to say he is in a policy wonk. He's studying, chapter and verse. But at the same time, in some ways he wouldn't have to be that read in on this. If you look at the top lines of this, it was restoring of these payment payments. In doing. This is the kind of whiplash you get with a president who really wants to know. You don't necessarily know what has to be in that deal. He doesn't have an ideological grounding in the way that most Republicans do on the Hill. His ideological grounding is he wants to win and he wants to make some sort of a deal and of course Republicans pushing back on this because it is at odds with what they want to do, which is ultimately repeal and replace Obamacare. You have seen that Trump has said over and over again, they have the votes to do that. It's clear that they don't.

KEILAR: Yes, they don't.

Guys, hang on for just a moment.

I need to get a quick break in here as we wait for the White House briefing. It was set to begin quite some time ago, so it really should be starting any moment now. They are on borrowed time at the White House. Big day as they prep for this, which could be responsible for the delay. We'll have something on the president's controversial call to the widow, no doubt, of a soldier killed in Niger. The briefing in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:40:13] KEILAR: This is going to be some kind of White House briefing today because the press secretary is going to respond to what has become a very controversial call the president made to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger.

I want to bring back Nia, and Paul, as well as Ed Martin. He's a former Missouri Republican Party chair. And Evan McMullen with us, a former CIA officer, who has been critical of President Trump for sure to say.

Paul, this -- when you look at this as someone who represents veterans, does it strike you just about how it is that we are talking about this fight?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER, IRAQ AND AFGHANSTAN WARRIORS OF AMERCIA: Yes, it's terrible. It's terrible for America, it's terrible for the military, and most of all it's terrible for this family. The sooner the president can move the spotlight off this issue, the better all those groups will be. I mean, this is really a new level of politicization of Gold Star families and of the military. It's part of a trend if you look at the anthem and other issues. Our veterans and military families, they keep being thrust into the national spotlight. I hope the president can step back. Mrs. Johnson has kids, she's pregnant, dealing with things that are unimaginable. I've been around Gold Star families. This time for them is unimaginable for anyone else. They need support. They should be the focus of the entire country's support. The more the president can do to drive support and get them out of the spotlight, the better they can be.

KEILAR: Nia, you have very much a sort of he said she said she said she said going on because the president is saying, no, I didn't say essentially, well, that's what he signed up for to the widow, and -- to Mayesha. And then you have the mother of the slain soldier backing up the congresswoman who heard the call on speaker phone saying just that.

HENDERSON: Yes. And you have Trump saying, you know, the congresswoman is fabricating this whole story. This is a congresswoman who is close to that family, kind of a mentor to Sergeant La David Johnson, so she knows that family very well. And you also have the president saying he can prove it and that at some point the Congresswoman will come out and sort of revise her initial statement. She has since been on Twitter and says that she stands by her initial assessment and statements in terms of what the president supposedly said on that call. It's really a mess. You know, you see that video of that woman, Mayesha Johnson, laying over the flag draped casket of her husband with her little daughter there who is in sort of a daze, right? She probably doesn't essentially fully understand what is going on, that she'll never see her father again and you just mourn and grieve for that poor family that is dealing with this and now is in the glare of the national media and having this back and forth with the president. The president when he was in that meeting when he's going back and forth there with the Congresswoman should have used that opportunity to quash this and essentially say, again, the nation mourns with you, Johnson family, we are sorry for your loss. We'll be there to support you. Again, he wants to go back and forth with this Congresswoman, Representative Wilson, so, again, we hope I think today in this presser, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, will have the opportunity to move beyond this and we hope that they do this for the good of that family.

KEILAR: Yes.

Ed, you have supported President Trump.

ED MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You bet, yes. Yes.

KEILAR: What do you think about what the president is doing here?

MARTIN: Brianna, I think that there's -- these are sacred moments. Paul referred to this. These are moments that are unlike anything that we've ever seen, god willing maybe someone has when someone loses a spouse, a husband.

If you read the president's comments at heritage foundation last night he referred to a guy who was a 22-year-old cop in Vegas and he said the phrase to Trump, to the president, I signed up for this, to run towards defending the good against the people --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Ed, he's saying that to the president.

MARTIN: No, wait, a second, wait a second. Let me finish. And the despicable conduct of this congresswoman to politicize this

moment, no matter what the president said, imperfectly or not, the fact that now the congresswoman is saying, I heard part of the thing on speakerphone, I tried to get the phone away. She took this and wanted a fight. She's a small-time congresswoman from Florida. Nobody ever heard of her and she wanted a fight with the president.

Do I wish the president had said, go away, this is sacred time. Yes, I kind of do. You know what, we're having this conversation when he tried -- this is not easy to do, to say to someone you lost your husband, and if he didn't do it as well as you or I or someone would like, fine, but I think it's really terrible that we're dragging this out and saying he didn't say sorry well enough. And, frankly, I think he's sick of it because I think he does it over and over in sacred moments, and it's not an easy thing to do and he should be given some space. Why don't we go and talk about some of the policy things?

(CROSSTALK)

[14:45:21] KEILAR: But, Ed, to talk about this point, do you think your point would be easier to take if he hadn't polite sized this very thing himself in the Rose Garden.

MARTIN: He didn't.

KEILAR: In the Rose Garden. Prior to that, in the Rose Garden, he said Obama didn't call troops. The previous presidents didn't and that was not correct.

MARTIN: I think -- well, I think what's hard is when you're the president and those moments are so tough. I think what he was saying was nobody does it on a schedule. Obama didn't call Kelly about his son, we know that now, that's factual. I wish the president hadn't said --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: And Trump hasn't called all of the soldiers' families who died.

MARTIN: I know. That's what he conceded. We're making a political problem --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: No, he said he did.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: He's done it now.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: No, no, I'm talking -- no, no, there are two women who lost their husbands in august who did not get a call or a letter from President Trump and CNN has verified that. Paul, can you respond to what you just heard from Ed?

RIECKHOFF: This whole score keeping piece is just disgusting, like for America.

MARTIN: I agree. I agree.

RIECKHOFF: Everyone is sick of this.

KEILAR: Sure.

RIECKHOFF: Everyone is disgusted by it. The people who need space are the families. The Gold Star families need space, they deserve that space. And the president can set a tone. He is the commander- in-chief. There's an opportunity for him to do it right now in this press conference. On any day he can take us out of this fray, move up, move on from other things. That's what we need right now.

KEILAR: Evan, what do you think?

EVAN MCMULLEN, FORMER CIA OFFICER & FORMER INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think I'm going to surprise Ed and others by giving a little bit of credit to his argument which is it is possible to make a statement about someone's sacrifice in service knowing that they were signing up to do something that was very difficult and may cost them their lives. The problem here is that the president is a transactional person. He brings that from the business world where it makes more sense, but the problem is that in this world, in the world of service to one's country, especially in combat, you don't make those decisions. You don't decide to serve in a transactional way because there's no transaction that makes sense for your life in that way. You have to do it only because you're motivated by an aspirational reason to serve the country for something bigger and higher than yourself.

And I think that's where there's a disconnect between President Trump and the families who have sacrificed and the soldiers themselves. And it's one that is -- is a stylistic difference but one that ends up having an impact because if you're overseas now and you're in battle and you're hearing bullets rip the air past your head and rockets land around you, you want to know that you -- that the president understands that you have made a decision to serve something higher than yourself, to serve the country. It's not just, you know, a transactional arrangement that you have for which no sympathy is deserved when something bad happens.

MARTIN: But, Evan, nobody said there was no sympathy.

Brianna, look, in the military if you went and polled the military. Morale is up. General Mattis is leading well. Again, a congresswoman is saying it wasn't done well enough. She seems pretty fired up about it. I think we need to make a little space.

I like what Paul said, try to pull it back on this and give more space.

KEILAR: But, Ed, it's not --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: If I may -- if I may -- if I may --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Ed --

RIECKHOFF: You mentioned morale.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Sorry. Go on, Paul.

RIECKHOFF: No, you mentioned morale. This is bad for morale. When you're overseas and you see the country ripping itself apart and we don't have leadership that can pull us out it, that's bad for morale. That's why we need leadership to move past this.

KEILAR: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Ed, I don't know if you can just hang this on the congresswoman because the mother of this slain soldier --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: I can. I can.

KEILAR: No, no, if I may.

MARTIN: Sure.

KEILAR: The mother of the slain soldier said that President Trump did disrespect my son.

MARTIN: Right. OK. Do you want to know the answer? The congresswoman led this out into the public and went and sought a major fight.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: So you're saying it's OK

MARTIN: Wait a second. Wait a second.

KEILAR: -- as long as she feels privately that he disrespects her son?

MARTIN: If you're going to ask me a question, let me finish the answer. She said I'm going to make it into a big deal and then the mother backed her up on that. The mother didn't hear the call. We haven't heard from the wife. This is all --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: No, the mother was there. She heard the call.

And we're going to discuss this as we get a reaction from the White House, of course. We expect they're going to get a lot of questions in this briefing. Let's listen.

[14:49:43]

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- as I've missed you.

As many of you will recall, one of President Trump's core campaign promises was to defeat ISIS.

With the stunning fall of Mosul in June, and now, with ISIS nearly eradicated from Raqqa, it is clear that ISIS' so-called caliphate is crumbling across Iraq and Syria.

This imminent victory by the global coalition and our brave servicemembers comes at a high cost, particularly to the Syrian Democratic Forces, who've suffered many casualties as they fought to liberate their own country from the oppression of ISIS.

Instead of caring for the urgent humanitarian needs of Raqqa's residents, ISIS utilized the money it stockpiled to finance terrorist attacks across the world, including against many Muslims. As coalition and our partner forces closed in around them, ISIS used civilians as human shields, and killed those who attempted to flee.

ISIS' barbaric attacks -- barbaric acts have left many scars across the region, and we remain committed to supporting stabilization efforts and local security forces in liberated areas through a political transition in Syria.

Unfortunately, the Syrian regime and its supporters hinder the efforts to liberate Raqqa. Instead of focusing on fighting ISIS, the pro- regime forces attacked our partners, and attempted to block them from liberating the Syrian people from the brutality of ISIS.

While we know ISIS and its destructive ideologil -- ideology will remain a threat, the liberation of Raqqa will mark the beginning of a new phase in the Syrian conflict.

As we and our partners take away the ability of ISIS to plot and carry out attacks from territory they control, we will continue to seek de- escalation of violence in other battlefields across Syria.

Looking ahead to tomorrow, we will be welcoming Governor Rossello of Puerto Rico to the White House to talk about the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts. We will continue working hand-in-hand with local leaders in all areas of our country that have been impacted by several natural disasters in recent months. As President Trump has repeated sand -- said, we stand with our fellow citizens. We're here to help and get them back on their feet.

And with that, I will take your questions.

John?

QUESTION: Sarah, the president said earlier today that he would not allow insurance companies to pad their pockets with money from the federal government. The White House has some concerns about the Alexander-Murray bill. Can you articulate what those concerns are?

SANDERS: Look, we've said all along that we want something that doesn't just bail out the insurance companies but actually provides relief for all Americans. This bill doesn't address that fact. So we want to make sure that that's taken care of.

We think that this is the step -- a good step in the right direction. This president certainly supports Republicans and Democrats coming to work together. But it's not a full approach and we need something to go a little bit further to get on board.

QUESTION: Can you articulate specifically what the White House is concerned about? (inaudible) something about outreach (ph) dollars and making sure Congress (inaudible).

SANDERS: Some of the things that the president has stated before, he wants to lower premiums. He wants to provide greater flexibility. He wants to drive competition. He likes the idea of block grants to states. Those are a lot of the ideas that he'd like to see in a health care.

(inaudible)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. (inaudible) president's tweet this morning, what proof does President Trump have when he says Congresswoman Wilson is not telling the truth? Are their recordings of his phone call with (inaudible) Johnson?

SANDERS: No. But there were several people in the room from the administration that were on the call, including the chief of staff General John Kelly.

QUESTION: The president also said that he has called every family of someone who's died. Is that true? (inaudible)

SANDERS: The president's made contact and -- with all of the families that have been presented to him through the White House Military Office.

QUESTION: There have been families that have since come forward, in the Associated Press, the names are in these reports, who've said they've not actually heard from this White House in any capacity.

SANDERS: All of the individuals that the president has been presented with through the proper protocol have been contacted through that process.

Jeff (ph)? QUESTION: Sarah, just to follow up on the health care question. Is it correct then to say that President Trump does not support this deal in its current (inaudible)?

SANDERS: Correct.

QUESTION: And...

SANDERS: I think he said that pretty clearly today.

QUESTION: And as a follow-up on another issue, he had a conversation today with Governor Reynolds of Iowa. Can you tell us a little bit about what they discussed? And did he make any assurances about a renewable fuel standard in that discussion?

SANDERS: They didn't make any assurances on that specific issue. It was discussed and they're going to continue to look at that process. But no definitive decision was made on RFS -- on today's call, but it was discussed.

Justin?

QUESTION: Today, Secretary Mnuchin was talking about the tax framework and he said it was, quote, "very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy," as part of (inaudible) across the board. Seems like an acknowledgement of the realities, math and, sort of, the independent analysis of the president's tax plan that as recently as a month ago the president was asked if this plan would not benefit the wealthy. SANDERS: That's what the focus of the tax plan is. The focus -- as we've said, time and time again, the focus and the priority of the framework that the White House has laid out is to benefit the middle class and...

QUESTION: So you would agree with Secretary Mnuchin then that...

SANDERS: That there may be some people that receive tax cuts that are also in the wealthy bracket? Yes.

But the fact is the priority, again, remains that middle-class Americans are the ones that are most impacted. And that's where the priority and the focus lies.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Sarah, what is the criteria that the White House Military Office uses for presenting names of families to the president after there've been casualties in combat?

SANDERS: So there's a process that is a standard protocol.

Once a person is killed in action, the first step -- the process begins with a DOD casualty assistance officer making next-of-kin notifications. After that, they create a package that's sent to the White House Military Office. That package is then reconfirmed; all of the details and the contents of the package have to be confirmed by the White House Military Office. Once that process is completed, the president or other members of the administration can engage in contact.

QUESTION: Just to follow-up on that, so are you saying that if the president hasn't contacted the family members of every servicemember who's been a casualty since he came to office, it's because of the protocols of that office?

SANDERS: That's my understanding.

If there's a specific case I'd have to look into it. But as a whole and generally speaking, that's my understanding.

QUESTION: And just to follow-up on this week, why did the president wait 12 days to speak publicly about the casualties in Niger?

SANDERS: As I just said, I walked you through that process.

So, the DOD package that was sent to the White House arrived on Thursday of last week. The White House Military Office confirmed the contents of that package on Monday. And the -- the letters had been drafted over the weekend. They were sent once that confirmation was completed. And calls were scheduled on Monday to be made on Tuesday.

QUESTION: But I wasn't just asking about the families.

SANDERS: Nathan (ph)?

QUESTION: (inaudible) asking about why he didn't make public remarks.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Is the president satisfied he has learned everything he wants to know about the situation itself in Niger?

Pentagon sources have described it as what was interpreted to be initially as a low-risk mission. The ambush was a big surprise. There was no air cover. 30 minutes for French air cover to arrive. Questions about the speed of the evacuation and having perhaps that something to do with whether or not these military personnel survived or not.

Is the president satisfied he knows everything he needs to know about this particular raid, rules of engagement, and everything about it?

SANDERS: I believe they're still looking into the details of that.

But I don't think the president can ever be satisfied when there's loss of life from men and women in the uniform.

QUESTION: Is there anything he wants to know more about this than he's learned so far?

SANDERS: I can't get into those specifics in terms of...

QUESTION: Some of these issues have been raised by him from the families he's contacted.

SANDERS: Right, I can't get into the specifics of the details of the raid at this point.

But again, I don't -- I don't think you can ever use the word "satisfied" with the process when there's a loss of life for someone in the military.

Debra (ph)?

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I'll come back to you if we got time.

Debra (ph)?

QUESTION: I have a Las Vegas question. Is -- is the administration looking at having the ATF ban bump stocks or does the president think that Congress should do it?

SANDERS: We're certainly still looking into and having a review done of that process. And when there's an official policy position, I'll make that announcement.

John?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Two questions.

When the Alexander-Murray bill came up at the scrum in the Rose Garden Monday, there were questions about whether it would contained federal funding for abortions. And these concerns have been raised by several pro-life lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Will the president rule out signing any kind of measure that includes funding for abortion?

SANDERS: The president stated he would like to see a health care bill that does not include funding for abortion.

QUESTION: Will he rule out signing one that does?

SANDERS: I believe that that is probably something that would be a priority for him.

But in terms of negotiating what that health care package would look like, I'm not going to do that from the podium today.

QUESTION: Well, my second question...

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Hold on. I'm going to try to take one question today to get to everybody.

Jon Decker?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

A question about the NFL. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, earlier today said that all players should stand during the playing of the national anthem. Earlier this week there was no change in policy, as it relates to the NFL mandating that all players in the NFL stand for the national anthem.

Does the president believe he's winning this argument, or has won this argument, as it relates to what he said about whether players should stand for the playing of the national anthem?

[15:00:02]

SANDERS: I think it's certainly a step in the -- in the right direction. As we've said many times before, the president supports --