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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Sen. Joe Manchin (D) West Virginia; Trump to Offer No Plan to Replace Obamacare Until After Election. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 2, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says the doctor will see you -- in 2021.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump retreating from the battle he started over health care, and he now says, if you want to see his health care plan, you're going to have to reelect him.

Money talks. Senator Bernie Sanders cementing his position as the 2020 Democratic front-runner, with a major fund-raising haul, as a different guy many didn't even know two months ago turns a lot of heads.

Outburst. President Trump unloads on Puerto Rico with some inaccurate tweets over hurricane disaster aid, and he seems to paint the American commonwealth as not as American as the rest of us.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead and a major retreat from President Trump, after Republicans on Capitol Hill objected to his push to make health care and the repeal of Obamacare a major issue for the 2020 presidential election. President Trump had been claiming that the Republicans were developing a health care plan to replace Obamacare and the Trump administration just joined a lawsuit to try to end Obamacare immediately, though they had no plan in place for the 20 million Americans who would immediately lose access to their health insurance.

But, after hearing from allies in Congress, the president is now backing off, announcing that Republicans will not hold a vote on any new health care plan until after the 2020 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we get back the House, and on the assumption we keep the Senate and we keep the presidency, which I hope are two good assumptions, we're going to have a phenomenal health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Notwithstanding the president's attempted punt of the issue, of course, his raising it to begin with guarantees that Democrats are going to attempt to make health care the issue of the 2020 campaign, a fight that many Republicans in Congress do not want, after they suffered huge losses in the 2018 midterms, which focused in large part on health care.

And as CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports, multiple White House officials are not even promising that President Trump is actually going to release any sort of proposal before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump on the retreat.

TRUMP: No, I wanted to delay it myself. I want to put it after the election.

COLLINS: After promising for days that Republicans would replace the Affordable Care Act with something better...

TRUMP: So, we're going to get rid of Obamacare.

COLLINS: ... the president put that promise in fine print, tweeting that Republicans will now wait until after next year's presidential election, 19 months away, when Trump claims that Republicans hold the Senate and win back the House.

TRUMP: Obamacare has been such a catastrophe.

COLLINS: Trump seemed to be heeding warnings from Republican lawmakers, who were sent scrambling last week after the Justice Department threw its weight behind a lawsuit that would invalidate Obamacare, despite having no GOP backup.

TRUMP: We will vote in the best health care package we have ever had.

COLLINS: Sources tell CNN Republicans spent the last several days talking Trump down. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called him directly to say this was not a fight the GOP wanted.

A source adding McConnell advised Trump to focus on attacking Democrats for their Medicare for all idea and wait for the election before attempting any legislative efforts, a strategy laid bare on the president's Twitter feed. White House aides attempted to explain the president's deferral today.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Was there actually a plan, or was the president exaggerating?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We have been working on a plan.

QUESTION: But does he have a plan to replace it?

(CROSSTALK)

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We have to have better coverage. He is working on pieces with members of Congress. They want to have something in place. But, again, he was talking on a vote on it, and that most likely would not come until after.

COLLINS: Trump's latest move guarantees that health care will dominate the upcoming presidential election. And Democrats, who won back the House last fall in part because of the issue, say they're more than happy to have this fight.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And now what is he saying today? It's like Nixon's secret plan. Nixon had a secret plan in the war in Vietnam. This is his secret plan. They're not going to pass it until after the 2020 election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, when the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, was asked this afternoon if he and President Trump are still in a different place on health care, he responded with a chuckle and said -- quote -- "Not any longer" -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia who was recently reelected in that Trump-friendly state, in a race focused in large part on health care.

Senator, good to see you. Congratulations on your reelection a few months ago now.

You have said that around 800,000 West Virginians with preexisting conditions are at risk of losing their health coverage. The president tweeted -- quote -- "Republicans will always support preexisting conditions."

But have you seen any plans from the president or your Republican colleagues that not only would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to those 800,000 West Virginians with preexisting condition, but also would prohibit them from charging them higher premiums?

[16:05:11]

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Jake, not at all.

And, first of all, it's good to be with you. And I'm glad the election is over. They're all brutal anymore. And I'm sure 2020 cycle will be just as ferocious as our 2018 cycle.

Speaking about health care, yes, my race was predominantly about preexisting conditions, taking health care away from people or making it so unaffordable that they could not make a decision to buy it. In West Virginia, you would have people say, you know, I don't want to

be a burden to my family. They used to say that, Jake. And when they say, I don't want to be a burden to my family, I know they can't afford -- if I get sick again, because I can't afford to buy the insurance, or they will not insure me, then I will let my hands -- my life is in the good -- the hands of the good lord. And whatever will be will be.

What they're saying is that the family can't be afforded to put into bankruptcy. We're not going back to that. And I think the president knows that people don't want to go back. My Republican friends and colleagues can't come up with a plan better than what we have.

Why can't they just work with this and let's fix it? And the only thing I have said about health care, I said, Mr. President, why don't you deem this repair-care? We will call it Trump repair-care.

But the bottom line, Jake, we have two bills have been sitting on Mitch's desk for over a year, a year-and-a-half. When John McCain voted it down, not to repeal it, he knew that we could fix it if we worked together. And that's what John wanted done.

Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray started meetings immediately the next day. Every morning at 8:00, we would meet. We brought people all over the country in, looked at every type of health care plan. We came up with a fix. We looked at the re-insurance. We looked at basically holding people accountable and responsible for the newfound wealth.

TAPPER: Right.

MANCHIN: We can fix what we have if we will just work together.

But it just doesn't -- just throwing it out and trying to start over, it's going to be absolutely horrific for people.

TAPPER: And especially when Democrats control the House also.

The president and Republicans don't seem to have any plan right now, at least ready in the hopper. What happens if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare? What happens to those 800,000 West Virginians with preexisting conditions?

MANCHIN: Well, they like -- hundreds and thousands and millions of people around the country that have preexisting conditions become basically at the mercy of the insurance companies, where we were before.

And we thought that was inhumane. I think most of America thinks it's inhumane. Democrats and Republicans think it's inhumane to throw it back and say, OK, I'm sorry, this is your cap and your limit. You get any sicker than this, if it costs more than this, we cut you off. I'm sorry, you have had a preexisting condition, I will cover you for everything except the preexisting condition. I will cover that, but it's going to be a much higher price. That's where we came from, Jake. And I don't know why we just can't

sit down. If we had the backing of the president and Lamar Alexander and some of our Republican friends sat down with some Democrats that are pragmatic about fixing this, and we could do it.

But, now, if the president is sincere about not getting rid of it now, not trying to repeal it now...

TAPPER: Right.

MANCHIN: ... then, please, Mr. President, have your Department of Justice support the law, the Affordable Care Act law, that basically 20 million people getting insurance.

TAPPER: So while the president is trying to get rid of Obamacare, through his Justice Department and other means, many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are embracing Medicare for all.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the president that he thinks that Medicare for all is a -- quote -- "ripe target," and that should be the focus for Republicans. Does that worry you?

MANCHIN: Well, here's the thing.

I'm hearing people talking about Medicare for all or all -- type of single-payer system. I'm trying to fix the system we have in front of us. I have got people depending on getting what they're getting now. I have people getting opioid addiction treatment for the first time.

Right now, Jake, if we do nothing, Medicare will become insolvent by 2026. Don't you think that ought to concern us? We can't even pay for the Medicare for some at 65 years of age and older that have it right now and guarantee they're going to have it.

I just -- I look at what's in front of me. Can I fix it? Yes, I can. I need to work together with my friends on both sides of the aisle. I don't know why we can't put America first. Health care is extremely the most important all of us have. Jake, we gave 20 million people health care coverage.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, these people never had anything before. I was a governor. You know what they were using before? Emergency room, highest cost of delivery, no preventative care, no way to maintain yourself, no way to monitor what was happening and fix it.

TAPPER: Right.

MANCHIN: So, basically, they want to go back to that? That didn't work. And now you're saying, to the 20 million people, we gave you the greatest wealth card you could ever have, which is a health card.

Jake, we never gave them one sentence of instructions. You can buy a box of Cracker Jacks, get the prize inside, it will tell you how to use it. We gave you health care and never told you how to use it.

[16:10:03] And there's so much savings to be had. There's so much more as far as increasing the quality of health to all individuals, starting with children all the way up. We should be working on that, and we're not.

TAPPER: I do want to ask you one presidential question, if I can, sir.

MANCHIN: OK.

TAPPER: Two Democratic women have come forward on the record and said that the former Vice President Biden touched them in ways they found demeaning, not sexually, not violently, but, in their view, inappropriately.

Do you believe these women? And could this hurt the former Vice President Biden as a presidential candidate?

MANCHIN: Well, first of all, I believe anybody that thinks that their space has been violated, their whole demeanor, they felt comfortable, then they must have.

I can tell you, I have been around Joe Biden for many, many years. I have been in many political events with Joe Biden. I have never seen Joe Biden intentionally make anybody uncomfortable. If anything, he goes out of his way trying to make people comfortable he thinks that might be in a difficult situation, that might have had some concerns, and has a lot on them.

I have seen that compassion in Joe. Now, what Joe has said -- and I accept that, the same as I hope everybody does -- if he's made anybody uncomfortable, he's extremely sorry for that. I would hope they would accept that.

There's been no type of charges, except I felt very uncomfortable or uneasy. And I'm concerned and I'm sorry about women and anybody that feels that way. I can tell you that was not Joe Biden's intent. I do not believe he would ever do anything that would make someone feel uneasy or uncomfortable.

So he's made an apology. I think we should accept that. And by no way should that exclude him or prevent him from making a decision to run for president.

TAPPER: I think, technically, he hasn't apologized, although he said he thinks it's important that people listen, and he's listening.

Do you think this is disqualifying? Do you think, if he -- if he's the nominee, do you think he could win West Virginia?

MANCHIN: Well, I think Joe Biden makes a terrific appearance everywhere he goes.

He understands working people, coming from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He understands miners. He understands factory workers. He understands people that have all different types of jobs. Joe can talk to the average person with understanding. He represents. He has empathy for everybody I have ever been around him.

He's had a lot of tragedy in his life. He understands the hardship people go through. And I think he would be an absolutely formidable candidate that should be given, based on his commitment, his service, public service, his knowledge of government, should be given that type of consideration if he runs.

TAPPER: All right, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, good to see you again, sir. Thank you so much.

MANCHIN: You too, Jake. Keep in touch. Bye-bye.

TAPPER: A mad scramble inside the West Wing, as the push continues to stop President Trump from doing something that could bring the U.S. auto industry to a screeching halt, we're told.

Plus, a U.S. fighter jet, a Russian missile system that could shoot it down, and the American ally that could soon have both of them?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:17:11] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm ready to close it if I have to close it. If we don't make a deal with Congress, the border is going to be closed, 100 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump warning just a few minutes ago that he is prepared to shut down the border with Mexico. And today, a leading automobile industry expert issued a dire warning that the entire industry will collapse within a week if the president shuts down the border, because nearly every carmaker in the U.S. depends upon Mexican companies for parts, seat belts, engine components, wiring.

Will the president carry out this threat?

It's a dynamic we've become used to. The president proposes a stark extreme action and in reality TV style, he leaves the world in suspense as to whether he will carry it out.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is back with us from the White House.

And, Kaitlan, sources are now telling you that there's a mad scramble inside the West Wing to figure out if and when the president follows through on this threat.

COLLINS: Yes, there was a sense of panic that started to set in the west wing yesterday, when people realized that the president might be serious about closing the border.

And I'm told by sources that aides essentially spent the day huddling, figuring out two things. One, how to convince the president not to close the southern border. And two, if he did, what the logistics of what that were going to be.

Now, President Trump is being told by multiple advisers that closing the border is just not a good idea. It's not sustainable, it's going to disrupt the economy, and it's going to anger those local officials down there on the border.

But the president has pushed back on this, telling them though he thinks the U.S. can actually save money by doing this. And even people like Mick Mulvaney, his chief of staff, are telling him that the base will support him if he does this move as they did with the national emergency declaration.

Now, one of the strategies that we've seen the White House start to take, even the president today in the Oval Office is to shift the blame to Congress. Aides yesterday were coming up with ways that they could present essentially new immigration laws to Congress, including potentially tightening restrictions on asylum seekers, and they want to shift that blame to Congress, so then there's not as much blame on the White House and the Trump administration when there are those record-breaking immigration numbers.

Now, Jake, as far as closing the border, I'm told the president has not made a final decision, but they do expect him to do so by the time he goes to the border on Friday.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much for that update.

Let's chew over this with our experts.

David Urban, take a listen to President Trump when he was asked if he was worried about the economic impact of shutting down the border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Sure, it's going to have a negative impact on the economy. To me, trading is very important, the borders are very important, but security is what is most important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The security imperative here, is it actually worth more than damaging the American economy?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I think that's what will carry the day.

TAPPER: You said no?

URBAN: No, I think that's what ultimately will carry the day. I was watching Chris Cuomo's show last night, he was interviewing some of the focus down there, some of the patrol agents and saying, look, there's a humanitarian crisis caused by a policy crisis, now we have a security crisis here.

[16:20:10] But at the end of the day, you're doing close to $2 trillion worth of commerce across the border. You're not going to have it closed down because of that. The economy has been humming along. The president likes to point to all of these positive numbers with the economy which will quickly go south if the southern border is closed.

I think there's a likelihood of shifting and reallocating resources along the border in places where they need -- you know, there may be some border crossings that aren't having as many people going through to some places there's a shortage, but I don't think you'll see the border closed completely.

TAPPER: Yes?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But here again, this is the same kind of short-sighted thinking I think we saw with the shutdown, right? As you pointed out in your opening, it's this rash idea that nobody really knew about, scrambling in the White House to try to figure out, you know, what are the implications of that.

And the implications are, you know, not just around people at the border, but throughout our country, there will be, you know, sort of ramifications in many communities that will have sort of ripping effects.

TAPPER: The auto industry is shutting down. That's pretty stark.

FINNEY: Yes.

TAPPER: $1.7 billion worth of goods flow between the U.S. and Mexico daily. Take a listen to what -President Trump said about your party, the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Congress has to meet quickly. And make a deal. I could do it in 45 minutes.

The Democrats could change it with one meeting, everybody would agree. But they don't want to change it, because they don't want to give the Republicans a victory. I think the Democrats -- today I spoke to a couple of them, and all of a sudden, they're changing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I don't know who these Democrats are, but is it -- is it true at all that Democrats could be doing more -- that there is a humanitarian crisis at the border. I mean, according to people down there, it has to do with all of these migrant families coming and declaring asylum, asylum seekers, and there just isn't the room for them in the American system.

JEN PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's true. But I think when we've talked about a crisis, there has been kind of different definitions of that. Democrats have always defined that as the humanitarian crisis, as you've said, and many Republicans, not all, I should say, Trump defenders, have kind of twisted the words and made it sound like, you know, there's a crisis, like a national security crisis at the border. So there is a lot more that can be done for these migrants, including,

of course, not putting them in cages, including making sure we're fully funding these countries where the root causes and the root problems. That's something I certainly lived through in the Obama administration.

And, you know, it wasn't perfect then, either. But one of the things we knew and people knew who had long served in the State Department and Department of Defense and other national security agencies, if we could address the root causes, we could address it. That's been working. That's why there's such opposition to cutting the funding. So certainly, Democrats support keeping the funding, that's one clear thing that could be done.

TAPPER: Funding for the -- for foreign aid to the Northern Triangle countries.

PSAKI: Foreign aid, yes, exactly.

TAPPER: It is odd, because there are so many experts in the Trump administration, who say that that aid to El Salvador and Honduras, et cetera, is actually helping. It's actually making the countries, it's bringing down the homicide rate in El Salvador, which means that there are fewer people fleeing, but the president is talking about cutting it.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And that goes to David's point earlier. I think what he's doing right now is he's balancing the security and the need to be clear to his base or offer some sort of, you know, posture of strength to his base that I'm going to shut the border down. And he's balancing that against a potential economic and political crisis.

I mean, the advisers inside the White House, they have to be on like DEFCON 1 now, trying to get as much information before the president about what the ramifications of this closure would be, for him politically, not only economically. And when they close the border down late last year in San Diego, just one outpost, it cost about $5 million worth of economic activity, in just a few hours. Can you imagine what would happen if it went on for longer?

And not only that, the political instability that would come because of the supply chains in North America, in the auto industry shutting down. So, this would not only have an impact on the border, this would have an impact all the way to suburban shopping malls --

TAPPER: Sure.

MADDEN: -- around the country. They've got to get that information to the president. And reframe his -- reframe his options on this.

PSAKI: And there's an interesting theme that keeps recurring in this reporting about Mick Mulvaney's role in giving political advice, which obviously, you know, I'm not inside the White House, but he is a Tea Party former member of Congress, who advised the president to go all the way on health care, to dismantle Obamacare, obviously, the bad political choice.

He advised him this was the right choice to shut down the border. I mean, that's kind of fascinating.

TAPPER: Well, he's a member of the president's base. He's a --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: So, real quickly, also, just the president is keeping this in the public narrative, you know, this is something they obviously have deemed that's going to be really important to talk about immigration and the border, and every day, it's still dominating the media.

TAPPER: And we're still talking about it.

We're going to take a quick break. Eighteen million, 12 million, 7 million, how the Democratic presidential candidates are already spinning their campaign cash hauls.

[16:25:00] Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: You hear that? CNN election music. Very exciting.

There's a new front-runner in the very crowded 2020 Democratic race, at least when it comes to money. So far, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont leads the pack, announcing today he raised $18.2 million in the first quarter. That tops the $12 million that California Senator Kamala Harris pulled in for her campaign and the $7 million of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.