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Pelosi Repeats Call for Congress to See Mueller Report; Fight Over ObamaCare; 2020 Dem Candidates Hit Healthcare Topic on the Trail; Soon: Trump Heads to Capitol Hill for Lunch with Senate Republicans; Court Hears Arguments in Partisan Gerrymandering Cases. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 26, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is urging Democrats to stay on message today. Sources tell CNN Pelosi spoke with members this morning who are genuinely eager to move on to other parts of their agenda, like healthcare.

Publicly, however, the speaker and her team are also still demanding to see the full report from Robert Mueller, even setting a deadline for next week to receive all the underlying evidence and documents. The speaker says we can't trust the attorney general to tell us what's going on.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: We need an interpretation by the attorney general who is appointed for a particular job to make sure the president is above the law. We need to see the report. So that's my message to our members.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is impeachment off the table at this point?

PELOSI: Impeachment is not on the table until it is on the table, so it's not a question of that. This is not about that. This is about us doing our work.


HENDERSON: Consider that last comment a direct message for a handful of freshman Democrats who keep straying off the party line to call for impeachment.

Meanwhile, at the White House, signs that the administration might also have some Mueller fatigue. Leaked talking points show the White House is ready to move forward and pass other legislation, specifically about trade, infrastructure, and drug prices.

CNN's Manu Raju joins me live on Capitol Hill. Manu, tell us what you're hearing from lawmakers today.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats who left their morning meeting among the House Democratic caucus came out saying that they want to move on from the Mueller report, all the messy fallout from that, and focus on healthcare and other issues. And that's been the message that's been delivered from the Democratic leadership as well. Even Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman told I'm told at this meeting said the biggest news of the day was the Affordable Care Act, the decision by the administration to try to strike down the Affordable Care Act. He said that's far more important than the Mueller report today.

But nevertheless, Democrats are still planning their own investigations. Adam Schiff told me he is still planning to pursue his investigation in the financial ties between the Russians and the Trump campaign and Trump himself. And also they're -- you have to answer questions about whether they still believe that there may be collusion. In the aftermath of what William Barr says, Bob Mueller found which is he could not establish a conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

One senator, Mark Warner, I had a chance to talk to earlier who's been concerned about what he views as circumstantial evidence of collusion. I asked him earlier about that apparent Mueller finding.


RAJU: The letter says that Mueller found no conspiracy. Do you -- cannot establish conspiracy. Do you accept that there is no conspiracy?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I'm glad that Mueller was able to finish his work product. And I think I want to see that work product published. I think the American to see it too.

RAJU: Could you buy that there is no collusion? Can you say there is no collusion?

WARNER: Again, what I'm going to -- I spent a lot of time on this stuff, and what I want to do is see that product before I make any further determination.


RAJU: So he wouldn't say whether or not he still believes there could be collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians because he's staying on the Democratic message with is demand the release of the full report. And that's also what Pelosi said privately at this meeting today. Nia, I'm told she said to her members, be calm, take a breath, don't become like them. We have to handle this professionally, officially, patriotically, and strategically.

So that's the message she's delivering to members. Nia?

HENDERSON: Then we'll see how many of those members heed what Nancy Pelosi said. Thanks, Manu for that report.

Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, we've got Julie Pace with the Associated Press, Toluse Olorunnipa with the Washington Post, Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report, and Jackie Kucinich with the Daily Beast.

Toluse, I'm going to start with you since I butchered your name a little bit there. I apologize. This idea that the White House can move, that Donald Trump can move on seems a little far-fetched given what we know about this president and given how fixated he was with the Russia investigation and the Mueller probe for this last two years.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: That's right. The president doesn't really have much of a legislative agenda so he wants to spend his time sort of using this, what he calls vindication and exoneration by Mueller to take a (INAUDIBLE) to Democrats and even the media and say that, you know, I have been vindicated and all of those people who have been spending the past two years attacking me over Russia, now it's time for payback, now it's time for vengeance.

And he has some support from people like Senator Lindsey Graham who's going to use his perch on the Judiciary Committee to try to look into how this investigation started, look into whether or not there was sort of bad actors at the FBI and at the DOJ and look at people who have investigated the president and target them. So President Trump wants to go on offense and he has allies in the Republican Party and in the Republican side of the Congress to sort of support him in going after the top levels of the Justice Department and going after sort of the origins of this Russia investigation at which the president has called a witch hunt, and they're trying to build the narrative that this actually was a witch hunt.

[12:35:06] I think he's going to have a lot of support from members of Congress to do that.

HENDERSON: And we heard from Donald Trump Jr. of course, he's echoed much of what his father said over these last two years. Here's what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: This was the greatest farce ever perpetrated on our democracy. It's a disgrace and it's a stain on our constitution. We have to fix that. Then what I'd like, I'd like us all to get together. Let's start working. How about we pass some bills for infrastructure?


HENDERSON: That seems like a bit of a pivot, right? I mean --


HENDERSON: Yes, on our constitution and now infrastructure reform.

PACE: I mean, you're going to hear, I think, this set of dual messages from this administration. You know, on the one hand, people like Donald Trump Jr., the president, they are furious that this has lasted for two years and really cast a shadow over Trump's presidency. I do think it is worth noting, of course, that the investigations into Russian interference in the election started before Trump was president. And the reason that Bob Mueller was appointed is because Trump fired the FBI director who was overseeing those investigations.

That aside, there is another way that Trump could go here. He could say, hey, this is behind us now.


PACE: Let's get together on infrastructure and let's do prescription drug costs. There are some issues that we actually could agree on. He has done very little, though, over the last two years to build the kind of relationships with the Democrats, and even within his own party to do anything meaningful on these issues.

AMY WALTER, NATIONAL EDITOR, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: The well has been poisoned now pretty well. And the idea that you can now pivot from all of this, it seems almost impossible to do. And the other piece is that the president has not proven to be a very reliable negotiator, right? If you're on the Democratic side right now, you think, wait a minute, why am I going to even try to walk down this path knowing that at any moment --

HENDERSON: And even some Republicans might feel the same way.

WALTER: Of course, right. We'll go all the way here and then I'll find out in a tweet that you absolutely changed your mind or somebody says something on television and you're upset about that and this all falls apart. So we're going to -- it's just Groundhog Day.


WALTER: It's just we're going to be --

HENDERSON: Yes, we've been hearing --

WALTER: -- both sides are going to be doing this -- oh yes.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, even on prescription drugs, there was some reporting today that on the staff level Trump and Pelosi had been talking about it. This was before the DOJ announced they are going to support the case in Texas that would eliminate ObamaCare. So how -- if you're a Democrat, how do you try to broker a deal with Trump on prescription drugs and they're trying to eliminate, you know, your signature healthcare bill. It just makes it very hard to build relationships and to get things done when you have all of these things going on.

HENDERSON: And it was always been the case that there was never really an agreement on any of these issues whether it's infrastructure, whether it's drug --

PACE: Just on principle that we all can agree.

HENDERSON: -- something needs to happen, and we'll get to the healthcare right now.

Up next, the battle heats up again over the Affordable Care Act which might explain why one Democratic lawmaker was surprised to be asked not about healthcare, not about the Mueller report, and not about a presidential tweet.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chairman Neal, can I ask you about the infrastructure quickly?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much have you --

NEAL: That's all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to ask you about infrastructure.



[12:42:58] HENDERSON: The Trump administration now says it wants the entire Affordable Care Act struck down. The latest court filing is a dramatic reversal from its previous stance and goes against what the president and other Republicans campaigned on in 2018. President Trump repeatedly promised to protect people with pre-existing conditions as did other Republicans. But the Department of Justice now says that the entire law is unconstitutional and can't be defended.

2020 Dems are already trying to capitalize. Here's Senator Kamala Harris this morning.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the Affordable Care Act brought healthcare to the millions, tens of millions of people that otherwise didn't have it. I feel very strongly that supposed leaders should stop playing politics with people's public health. People want to know that pre-existing conditions will not be a barrier to them receiving the healthcare that they need. And I think this is a critical matter and we shouldn't be playing games with it.


HENDERSON: Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar also shared their concerns this morning on Twitter, with Sanders saying, "The Trump administration just made it clear they have no intention to protect the 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. We will fight back."

Klobuchar framed it this way. "The Affordable Care Act means that people can't get kicked off their insurance for pre-existing conditions. With a stroke of a pen, this court filing by the administration would take that away. I will fight this."

And Beto O'Rourke tweeted this just last hour. "We will defend the ACA."

Amy, I can't help but think that the GOP caught by surprise by this as well as being in a tricky spot now. They, of course, campaigned on keeping those pre-existing conditions. This is a whole new ball game for them.

WALTER: Well -- and that they had put the Democrats on defense, they thought, on the issue of Medicare for All. It was very much dividing the Democratic -- at least at the 2020 field, certainly on Capitol Hill, this idea that they were going to move so far to the left on this issue it was going to give Republicans an opening they've already taken to call this socialism. It's going to destroy private health insurance, et cetera, now Democrats get to go back on the offense.

[12:45:03] If you're a Republican and ran in a serious race in 2018, the reality though is, you're not on Capitol Hill anymore because you lost.


WALTER: And the reason you lost is because of healthcare. Now, the president's low approval ratings in your district were also probably the more salient factor, but the reality is the Democrats found an opportunity on these issue of pre-existing conditions that transcended the sort of traditional partisan boxes, and the president himself at one point -- I think what made him so strong in 2016 was what he was telling people is, I'm going to get rid of ObamaCare, I'm going to get rid of all the things you hate, but don't worry, you're going to have awesome healthcare instead. Your Republicans on the Hill now you say, well, would -- we got to come up with a solution.

HENDERSON: With something. Yes, what is the sort or replace --

PACE: This is why this remains so tricky for Republicans and why they eventually backed off the idea of a full repeal because they don't know the solution. They don't have a plan to put in place here. Now they're going to be put on the spot again.

One, to have to state publicly in some cases that they actually don't support this type of full repeal because the pre-existing conditions is just politically unpalatable for almost every single one of them and that they don't have a good plan for moving forward on this if (INAUDIBLE) were to overturning the law.

HENDERSON: Yes, and we see obviously in 2018 this was a big issue the Democrats campaigned on. We already see 2020, they're also campaigning on healthcare.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time for this country to make quality affordable healthcare a right and not a privilege. We must pass Medicare for All! SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Healthcare is a basic human right. We fight for basic human rights.

The Republicans are trying to take that away from millions of Americans.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The community says that everyone has healthcare. In fact, healthcare is a right and child poverty is a wrong.

Healthcare is a right. And right now we see this issue under attack by Republicans.


HENDERSON: Jackie, this is perfect timing for Democrats in so many ways. Pelosi expected to unveil this afternoon legislation around healthcare.

KUCINICH: Right. And I think what the administration just did is freshened up all of those comments. I mean, Democrats campaigning for president could refer back to what had happened in Congress previously. Now, it just happened so he just proved Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, everyone who brought this up right.

And the other thing is, if you're a Democrat and you don't want to talk about the attorney general's four-page letter about the Mueller report, you have a perfect pivot point now, saying, you know what, I'm concerned about healthcare. And it's a legitimate pivot point because it's a huge -- many of these Democrats who are not the most liberal, this is exactly, as Amy said, why they won.

HENDERSON: And Toluse, where does this leave the president? As Amy alluded to, he was pretty bold in 2016 saying essentially they'll give something better, probably it'd be cheaper, and even in 2018 saying that he was for protecting pre-existing conditions.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes. This is the president's strategy. He believes that if you get rid of ObamaCare, then the Democrats will come back to the table and they'll be able to put together a great bipartisan healthcare plan. We haven't seen evidence if that's the case. We've seen the president really struggle to come up with a plan or present something that Congress could vote on, but he believes that getting rid of ObamaCare would allow Democrats and Republicans to join in and put together a plan.

You don't hear a lot of support for that even among Republicans on the Hill that they're looking to see Democrats actually join them on the table. They think that if they were to get rid of the Affordable Care Act that that would really poison the waters and it'd be difficult to come together with a plan. You heard some Republicans say that even if this court case moves forward, that Republicans and Democrats would at least be able to make sure people get covered with pre-existing conditions, and make sure that people can keep their healthcare until age 26.

But beyond that, you haven't been able to put very much meat on the bones of how they would actually come together on a policy call.

HENDERSON: And this law very much entrenched in the healthcare system. At this point, 11.4 million enrolled for 2019, that was down of about 300, 000 from last year. The average federal exchange premium without subsidies is $612 a month. But you see there that 87 percent get federal subsidies. It's much more popular now --

WALTER: Yes. And it is -- I think its approval rating is now over 58 percent since that.

HENDERSON: And certainly among independents and Democrats.

PACE: And certainly these exact provisions that we've been talking about. Pre-existing conditions, keeping, you know, people under the age of 26 on their parents. All of that has become broadly popular, and what we have sort of seen here is that this idea of a full repeal just doesn't really hold much water anymore, even for the president despite what his own administration has just done.

HENDERSON: It's amazing. Deja vu all over again talking about the Affordable Care Act in the way that we did in 2010, 2012 --

KUCINICH: Political purgatory.

HENDERSON: Up next, the Supreme Court tries to untangle not one but two cases of alleged gerrymandering.


[12:54:26] HENDERSON: Any minute now, President Trump will make the short drive from the White House to Capitol Hill for a policy luncheon with Senate Republicans. A little later, he'll hold more meetings with Republican lawmakers at the House. No doubt there's plenty he wants to talk about with the Mueller investigation now finished.

We've got CNN's Phil Mattingly. He joins me now from Capitol Hill. Phil, do Senate Republicans have a message for the president?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) give history as any guide, it won't matter if they do. The president pretty much just uses these events as kind of his own opportunity to rift traditionally from almost an hour. I was talking with a couple of senior Republican aides earlier, walking through some of the past conference luncheons the president has attended, and one of said it's noteworthy because they tend to be epic stemwinders who basically running through whatever the administration is doing, whatever he thinks successes are, and whatever he thinks the Republican party can do to push his agenda forward.

[12:55:16] Now there's a couple of things that I think will be interesting to watch particularly as senators come out or we talk to people who are in the room. First and foremost, it was only two weeks ago when 12 senators spit from the president on his kind of central campaign promise, kind of the central theme of his candidacy related to the national emergency declaration related to the border wall. That seems like two years ago at this point, but that was a pretty significant issue internally inside the Republican conference between that conference in the White House.

We'll see if that's dissipated at all, particularly because in just about an hour, a little more than an hour, the House is likely going to fail to override the veto for that.

The other thing -- and I think this is really important, you guys were talking about at the last block, it's healthcare. And I've talked to a couple Republican senators this morning who were surprised by the Department of Justice filing last night to agree to invalidate the entire law. A couple who are concerned, people like Susan Collins, saying she was very disappointed in that.

There's not usually a ton of time for Q&A after the president is done with this, but traditionally Republican conference lunches with whoever the visitor is, does give their members time for a question and answer period. And my expectation is that somebody is going to bring up healthcare, and the reason why is, you guys were discussing this, everybody supports repeal but everybody also wants something to be on the table for replace.

And at this point in time, there is no clear pathway forward for any type of replacement, no clear pathway forward for any type of new White House plan to address that particularly now that Congress is no longer Republican controlled.

HENDERSON: A lot to discuss at that meeting, Phil. We'll wait for your reporting on that. Thanks.

Turning to two critical arguments before the Supreme Court today, the pair of legal challenges asked the high court to look at the electoral map and decide if ones like this mingled jigsaw or constitutional. This is Maryland's sixth district and what looks like a preschooler struggling to stay within the lines to us. It's really procession cartography with one goal in mind, to help Democrats win.

Voting rights groups say electoral maps like Maryland's and North Carolina's violate the constitution by tilting too heavily towards one political party.

CNN's Joan Biskupic joins the conversation. She's the author of the new book "The Chief: The Life, and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts." Thanks so much, Joan for joining us, and congratulations on your book.


HENDERSON: Everyone should run out and buy it. It's on sale today.

Let's first turn to this gerrymandering case. Two cases, one brought by Republicans, the other bought by -- brought by Democrats. Critics say, listen, judges don't -- shouldn't have a role in this process determining what should be political or is too political given that it's sort of a political process, anyway.

BISKUPIC: That's right. And rather than running out to the bookstore, I ran over to the court this morning and ran right back so I could give you exactly what just happened within the last hour.

They heard the North Carolina case first. There was a lot of spirited debate, but mainly from justices skeptical that they should get into this. New Justice Brett Kavanaugh who replaced Anthony Kennedy asked about, you know, there's a lot of action in the states with commissions trying to take over these kinds of redistricting maps, shouldn't we let states do their business. Why should judges be involved? Neil Gorsuch asked questions along the same lines. Chief Justice John Roberts has already suggested he thinks that the court should not be into this. That it would cast -- it would hurt the image of the court to be something so political.

And North Carolina's lawyer, Paul Clement played to that saying don't get into this, it will tarnish your image, save your image for something more important down the road.

HENDERSON: Quickly, we want to get to your book, tell us what you've learned. Sort of the most surprising thing you learned about John Roberts.

BISKUPIC: Well, it's funny that the Affordable Care Act is back in the news right today because what I discovered behind the scenes is that he switched his vote in that major case of 2012 not once, but twice, and ended up working with two of the liberal justices to craft this compromise that ended upholding the individual insurance mandate but striking down expansion of Medicaid. And --so I was able to get all the behind the scenes maneuvering which seems very salient today when the Trump administration is saying get rid of it all, and the case that's now pending is certainly destined for the Supreme Court.

HENDERSON: And now folks are sort of looking to John Roberts to be the swing justice on the court. Is that something people should actually expect?

BISKUPIC: Not in the mode of Anthony Kennedy who, for a long time, was our key swing justice. And before him, Sandra Day O'Connor. John Roberts is a different kind of justice. He has much more conservative roots that I lay out in the book, but he also is so concerned about the institutional reputation of the Supreme Court.

Remember in November when he rebuked President Trump by saying, there are no such thing as Obama judges or Trump justices. Indeed there actually are, but he's trying to undercut that reputation and that view, and he is a man.