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Trump Says GOP Will Be "Party of Health Care," Offers No Plan; Key Cabinet Members Not on Board with Trump's Health Care Message; McConnell Blocks Democrat's Attempt to Have Mueller Report Released to Public; Rep. Madeleine Dean (D) of Pennsylvania Discusses Democrats' Attempt to Release Mueller Report, Obamacare; Soon Top Safety Officials Face Grilling over Boeing 737 MAX; Chicago Mayor Wants Explanation on Smollett Charges Dropped, Wants Evidence Released. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: But nothing expected to become law -- Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Lauren Fox, on the Hill, thanks very much.

And thanks to you for joining me today. I'm Jim Sciutto, in New York.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Live from Washington today, President Trump is trying out a new tag line it appears. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me just tell you exactly what my message is. The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care, you watch.



BOLDUAN: You can be sure we will all be watching.

Here is the problem with that. As of this moment, Republicans have not offered a single new alternative to Obamacare at the exact same time the administration is fighting in court now to strike down the entire health care law. And that's despite the promise from President Trump time and again that he would protect the most popular provisions of the law like protecting people with preexisting conditions. Now, clearly not so much.

Adding to the head spinning confusion here, there are new report this morning that even some key cabinet members aren't on board with the president's decision to target health care right now.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House with more on this.

Jeremy, what are you learning about this White House infighting over this decision?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN: Kate, it all began in December when a federal judge in Texas ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down. That ruling is now working its way through the appeals process. But at the time, the administration believed that only parts of that law should be struck down. So this ruling from this federal judge ignited a heated debate within the administration about what the administration should do. That's what one White House official told me. It essentially broke down the battle lines between the Attorney General Bill Barr and the health and Human Services secretary, Alex Azar, and allies of the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney. Azar and Barr were arguing essentially, according to "Politico" that the administration should not support fully striking down this law as long as they did not have an alternative. This administration has not put forward any kind of new alternative to this law. If the law is indeed that ruling striking down the Obamacare health care law is struck down and upheld, 20 million Americans could possibly lose their health care coverage.

The president seems to be relishing the idea of putting health care at the center of the political debate especially heading into 2020. That has some Republicans scratching their heads. We know health care was one of the most galvanizing issues in the 2018 midterms. Republicans have yet to come up with a cohesive viable alternative to Obamacare. If that ruling from the federal judge in December is upheld, that could leave 20 million Americans without health insurance coverage -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: So the focus right now on what they would do if that would happen is required because we know how quickly Congress moves on this front.

Great to see you, Jeremy. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Let's look at this through the eyes of a veteran Republican Congressman. Charlie Dent represented Pennsylvania, retiring last year.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

I feel like we've talked health care many a time in the past couple years.


BOLDUAN: Are you scratching your head right now? What do you make of this move by the president as health care being the next chapter to focus on for Republicans?

DENT: Oh my, this is a real head spinner. Think of it this way. Part of the problem with the president on health care, here was his plan, we're going to cover everybody, it's going to cost less and it's going to be beautiful. He never played out his plans for health care. That's a big reason why the whole thing failed. I can't understand why they would bring this up. There's no viable alternative on the table. I think this is a political gift to Democrats.

BOLDUAN: What you've just said is a really important point. Maybe there's not a full plan out there, but do you have any indication that there has been any work on the Republican side to come up with a new alternative? Remember, when Republicans were in control of Congress, they couldn't get it done with the alternatives they were coming up with. Do you have any indication there's any new idea out there now?

DENT: No. There's none. Candidly if the Medicaid expansion is repealed, I think that is probably the most difficult issue, particularly for members of the Senate. Say the Obamacare is thrown out completely. They have to come up with an alternative and they have to do it fast. I suspect they'd have to reinstate several pieces of Obamacare pretty quickly amid then make whatever changes. Of course, with a Democratic House and a Republican Senate --


[11:05:00] BOLDUAN: Zero chance of that happening with a divided Congress. Maybe I'm cynical, maybe that's realism.

DENT: No. I think that's safe.

BOLDUAN: Do you see Republicans becoming the party of health care? The president can message it. Can he make it so?

DENT: I guess the Republicans could own health care but maybe not in the way they like. We can own it. If the issue is that --

BOLDUAN: You said you owned it last time.

DENT: Yes. Preexisting conditions are gone, protections for people with preexisting conditions are gone, the Medicaid expansion would be gone. Yes, you own that. The question is, how would they deal with that administratively. How would they deal with all these people, tens of millions of people, who would lose coverage? They would have to somehow be taken care of. If you can't do it legislatively, what would the Trump administration do administratively.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about the Mueller report, real quick. Just this morning, Senator McConnell blocked another attempt by Democrats to try through unanimous consent to call for the Mueller report to be released to the public. That resolution, nonbinding, passed the House unanimously, 420-0. What do you think O'Connell is doing here on not letting it come forward?

DENT: I'm not sure. It seems to me that the report is going to be released at some point. There will be redactions. We all know that. I suspect it will be fairly politically damaging. I mean, the summary for the president was very good. This is a win. He's not going to be criminally charged or anything like that.

BOLDUAN: Right. DENT: Good for him and his family. But at the end of the day, he wasn't exonerated. The report doesn't exonerate him, according to Mueller. I suspect Mueller is just going to dump this thing on Congress and let Congress try to figure it out politically. So I don't see any gain by not releasing the report if McConnell is trying to slow this thing down a little bit. It's coming. Might as well accept it and own it.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Congressman.

DENT: Great to see you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

As I mentioned, the expectation is it had will be weeks but not months before the Mueller report is given to Congress. Top Democrats in the House have already set a deadline for next week to get the goods. That's how Nancy Pelosi is putting it at this moment. So what is next for this when it comes to the Mueller report?

Joining me is Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania.

Congresswoman, thank you for coming in again.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN, (D), PENNSYLVANIA: My pleasure. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: You serve on the House Judiciary Committee. The chairman of your committee and others have set this deadline to see the full report by next tuesday. If it's not delivers by then, what happens?

DEAN: I believe the chairman is prepared to call Attorney General Barr into our committee to explain why he's not producing it or if he does produce it, to explain his take on it. We will get our hands on that report. The American people expect it. Remember, the president called for full transparency and the release of the report. So it's time we saw that report, because as you know, the White House is spinning it one way. The truth is we don't know the full take of the Mueller report, a 22-month investigation, which I'm sure is very dense, and in some 48 hours Attorney General Barr gave us a scant summary and a legal conclusion that he exonerates the president. That's not what the report will say.

BOLDUAN: Are you comfortable if you hear from Attorney General Barr, the Justice Department that they need time, they're working with Mueller to scrub this to make sure that what can't be released isn't. Are you comfortable giving him more time?

DEAN: I can imagine giving him reasonable time. Notice how quickly Attorney General Barr apparently completed his review. Over the course of the weekend he completed his review and came to a legal conclusion to exonerate the president of obstruction of justice. We would give him reasonable time. But really there's no other reason than possible grand jury testimony that this report shouldn't come out immediately.

BOLDUAN: Are you going to be OK seeing a report that isn't by definition the full report? You're mentioning grand jury testimony. Because it is going to be scrubbed for information like with ongoing cases, classified information and possibly more. Are you OK not seeing the full, full, full report?

DEAN: I want us to see the full report. Make no doubt about that. If there's classified information, I will trust that will be kept from the public but probably should not be kept from Congress and the committees of oversight.

Really, let's think about what just happened here in the course of the last four or five days. Mueller told us he had completed his investigation of 22 months. That report was delivered to Attorney General Barr. Attorney General Barr came up with a scant, very strange summary of it not ever including even a single complete sentence of Special Counsel Mueller. And then concluded at the end of his four-page letter what he already concluded in a 19-page audition memorandum that there's no obstruction of justice. Then the president makes this attack on the ACA. The events of these last few days is head spinning.

[11:10:07] Let me tell you my outrage, that this administration would pivot from this moment and his call for transparency of the report for all America to know the facts and the evidence about what happened with Russia and the many multiple meetings with Russia and interference in our elections to tearing down ACA. Congressman dent rightly points out that in our own state of Pennsylvania millions have gotten health coverage and coverage for preexisting conditions and coverage for their children under 26 under ACA. The other important piece of this is the Medicaid expansion. In Pennsylvania when governor Wolf opted in for Medicaid expansion, 1 million Pennsylvanians got coverage, including for mental health and substance abuse. That the administration would tear that down is inhumane.

BOLDUAN: On this very issue, but if Obamacare is struck down in the court and Democrats are in control of the House, is it your responsibility to deliver an alternative, a replacement?

DEAN: You know what we've done today, and perhaps you saw some information about that yesterday.


DEAN: Today, we introduced legislation. We are putting in legislation to protect preexisting conditions to build on the Affordable Care Act. That's what people want us to do, to continue to bring down the cost of health care, to continue to work on -- and they asked this of us when I knocked door to door, get control on my prescription drug prices. Democrats are poised in introducing substantive legislation to build on the Affordable Care Act. Strangely, this administration says they want to tear it down and they have no replacement.


DEAN: This president has gone one beyond the 65 attempts or more of the last Congress or two that tried to repeal and replace. There's no replacement.

BOLDUAN: One quick question on the Mueller report. I'm seeing Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, he told the "Washington Post" -- and this is despite the top-line findings that there was not a conspiracy with the Russians. He says, "Undoubtedly there's collusion," and vowing to continue investigating. Do you agree with what Adam Schiff says there?

DEAN: What I would tell you is what's interesting in the Barr letter, the Barr letter at one point says there was no coordination or knowing conspiracy. So actually, I'm wondering what Attorney General Barr saw in the report. Was there unknowing? Was there unwitting conspiracy or coordination? I choose not to use the word collusion. Its legal meaning is quite different from conspiracy. So that's all the more reason why we must see the full report, to see if there was any coordination, any conspiracy knowing or unknowing.

BOLDUAN: They say there's no evidence there was coordination. That's the line from the Mueller report that they quote.

DEAN: That's right. But did you see in the broader letter, he says no knowing coordination, no knowing conspiracy. It's interesting why he chose to put in the word "knowing."

BOLDUAN: Likely, we will see soon enough.

Congresswoman, thank you for coming in.

DEAN: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, in the hot seat. Soon top safety officials are going to face lawmakers who want to know how Boeing 737 MAX jets, one, were cleared to fly and, two, why it took so long to ground them in the wake of those two deadly crashes.

And outrage and confusion still as prosecutors suddenly drop all of the charges against actor, Jussie Smollett. Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel calling it a whitewash and now wants to see the evidence. He wants the evidence released. Can he make that happen?

Be right back.


[11:18:11] BOLDUAN: Also happening today in Washington the crisis of the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is in the spotlight on Capitol Hill. Top aviation officials are testifying before the Senate about the ongoing problem with the Boeing jets, now grounded worldwide. The aircraft has already been involved in two fatal crashes overseas. Less than 24 hours ago, in Orlando, one of Southwest's MAX 8 planes had to make an emergency landing due to an engine problem. Thankfully, no passengers were on board that plane at the time.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is joining me with much more on this.

Jessica, what is expected today when safety officials are facing questions from Senators?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There could be fireworks. There will definitely be criticism. There has been a lot of criticism over this self-certification process where these manufactures are allowed to sign off on their own work in the FAA's name. We are learning the acting FAA administrator is set to talk about potential changes to this system. This is what Boeing used to certify its 737 MAX planes. It looks like changing to this process are happening as soon as this summer, though. We really don't know the details. They haven't been revealed. Perhaps they will at this 3:00 hearing.

We're expecting the FAA to acknowledge that the agency's oversight approach needs to evolve after these two fatal crashes involving the 737 MAX, while at the same time, we expect they will defend that process that Boeing went through for its 737 MAX certification, Kate. They're defending this process saying for certification itself was over the course of five years. They say there were nearly 300 certification flight tests. They're pushing back a little bit, but also acknowledging they have to change this process.

BOLDUAN: One might suggest change very fast.


[11:20:00] BOLDUAN: Boeing is going to be making an announcement of its own today with regard to the software that folks think might be at the center of all this problem.

SCHNEIDER: Right. They've got this big event happening just outside Seattle, at some point today. We're expecting about 200 pilots and industry stakeholders to be at this center. The session itself will center on the 737 MAX, as well as this planned software update, which the company plans to submit to the FAA by the end of this week. Of course, this is a software update set to resolve issues aviation authorities believe led to that crash of the Lion Air flight back in October when investigators have said that a malfunctioning sensor fed incorrect data to the system and, of course, the software system pushed down the nose of the plane while those pilots fought to correct the course of it. So this is a nation we know we fix that we know could be finished by the end of this week, Kate. The FAA will have to look at it, certify it. But this is part of what we expect Boeing to be telling industry stakeholders at this open House and briefing today to maybe quell some of their jitters here.

BOLDUAN: Maybe a step towards making sure these planes are safe to fly.


BOLDUAN: Good to see you. Thank you so much.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it.

Coming up, the prosecutor who dropped the 16 felony charges against Jussie Smollett says he doesn't think the actor is innocent. So many folks asking, why then is he off the hook, why did it happen so suddenly? Why is the whole thing sealed up?

We'll be right back.


[11:26:14] BOLDUAN: It all started unfolding on our show yesterday, another wild twist in the case of actor, Jussie Smollett, and his alleged attack. And 24 hours later, we still don't know why prosecutors seemingly out of the blue dropped all of the charges against him and the police chief and the mayor are outraged over the decision. Watch this.


RAHM EMANUEL, (D), CHICAGO MAYOR: He's saying he's innocent and his words are true. They better get their stories straight because this is actually making fools of all of us. I would love to have everything that the Chicago Police Department collected and gathered to actually come to the conclusion, make all of that available. I would love for that to happen.


BOLDUAN: Add to that, even the prosecutor on this very case says that he believes Smollett is not innocent.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you consider him innocent?

JOE MAGATS, FIRST ASSISTANT TO COOK COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY: No. This was not an exoneration. To say he was exonerated by us or anyone else is not true.

There are plenty of other cases, like I said, over 5700, that have gotten some kind of alternative or deferred type prosecution involving a dismissal at the end of the case.


BOLDUAN: Was justice served? What happens now?

CNN's Ryan Young is joining me now from Chicago.

Ryan, what are you hearing today?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is unbelievable. Chicago is a tough city. Look, it takes a lot of heat sometimes for all the things that happen this. But I can tell you today there are a lot of people still scratching their heads over what exactly happened over the last 24 hours. People want answers. They want to figure out how did we go from a star who came to the city who so many people looked up to and, all of a sudden, there was a shift from this outcry from being attacked to now the police investigating him and facing 16 charges. All of a sudden, we find out that all the charges have been dropped. And apparently, he went to the Rainbow Push Coalition and spent two days there as part of his community service before all the charges were dropped. On top of all this, the case is sealed so we can't even go through it. There's a lot of people on the ground to try to find out the extra details to see how he got to this point.

BOLDUAN: What are Jussie Smollett's attorneys saying now?

YOUNG: They're not staying silent about it. Yesterday, when he stepped to the mic, I was kind of standing there shocked when he said, look, I've always been innocent of this.

Listen to his attorney as she talked last night to Don Lemon about this case.


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Did someone potentially, you know, very important or influential do a favor, make a call on Jussie's behalf?

PATRICIA BROWN HOLMES, ATTORNEY TO JUSSIE SMOLLETT: No, there was no political influence in this case.


YOUNG: Kate, just remember this, the state attorney's office had to pull themselves back from this case after text messages were revealed from a friend of Jussie Smollett to the state attorney. We had people fired at the hospital who looked into his medical files after that was figured out. We had the police department, people were asking questions about whether or not they were fair to Jussie. You have these two brothers, who went to a grand jury and charges were put forth, 16 counts. Now that's disappeared. They've never talked before. You're left with one question, what happened that night? I still can't tell you. I don't know what happened. It wasn't caught on camera. It's just a big whodunit at this point.

BOLDUAN: That's maybe the first question on the top of my list that has now become a laundry list after yesterday.

Thanks for all your help yesterday, Ryan on that. That was wild. All of together watching it play out. Appreciate it.

[11:29:01] Coming up for us, former Vice President Joe Biden regrets his role in the Anita Hill hearing decades ago. Why he says he wishes he could have done more.