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Biden Unveils Health Care Plan, Highlights Divide Among Democrats; Community Activist & African-American History Museum Founder Found Dead Inside Car Trunk Was Victim Of Homicide; Obama Sends Handwritten Letter To Prisoner He Freed After She Makes College Dean's List. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 15, 2019 - 14:30   ET



[14:33:48] PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Well, former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, rolling out his health care plan and, in the same breath, taking a swipe at his 2020 competition.


JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The question was asked whether we support eliminating private health insurance. Some said yes. I said absolutely not.

I believe we have to protect and build on Obamacare. That's why I proposed adding a public option to Obamacare as the best way to lower costs and cover everyone.

I understand the appeal for Medicare-for-All. To folks supporting it, it should be clear. It means getting rid of Obamacare. I'm not for that.


BROWN: Biden's plan is being dubbed Obamacare 2.0. Here's how it breaks down. He's proposing a public option similar to Medicare. It would allow anyone to join that. And anyone whose state did not expand Medicaid, they would go to that public option. It offers massive new federal subsidies to make Obamacare changes cheaper and allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

That raised the question, how much would all this cost. Well, the price tag, $750 billion over 10 years. And he wants to foot the bill by reversing some of the Trump administration's tax cuts.

The bottom line here is that Biden's plan preserves the popular parts of Obamacare and builds on it.

[14:35:08] I want to bring in Julie Rovner, the chief Washington correspondent for "Kaiser Health News."

Now, health care, as we know, is one of the top issues among voters when it comes down to why they're going to vote for a certain candidate. You call Biden's plan ambitious. Why is that and what do you think is going to be the biggest pushback to it?

JULIE ROVNER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, KAISER HEALTH NEWS: Well, it's a lot like the plan Hillary Clinton was pushing in 2016. And it's a lot of things the Democrats and more liberal Democrats in the House wanted to do in 2009 and 2010 but they couldn't get it through Senate. So things like the public option, which has been kicking around. Things like having Medicare negotiate drug prices.

These are not new ideas. He's basically taken all of the old ideas and put them altogether.

It would not be as big as Medicare-for-All, what a lot of the other Democratic candidates for president are talking about, but it would still be large. It would be an expansion of the Affordable Care Act.

It would fill in some of the gaps that the Affordable Care Act left. I think that's the main intent.

BROWN: It would still need congressional approval. That's a big hurdle they have to overcome.

He wants to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Americans. How realistic is that?

ROVNER: Well, that's what the Affordable Care Act did. That's how the Affordable Care Act got paid for. It raised income taxes on the wealthiest Americans. It raised a number of different taxes. So this would roll back to some of the tax cuts that Congress did in 2017 in order to pay for this.

It sounds like an enormous price tag. And it is a lot of money. But when you think about how big health care, it's a fifth of the economy, it's not all that much money compared to some of the other plans.

BROWN: So let's compare this to some of those other plans that you mentioned. We know that Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren support Medicare-for-All, which would push Obamacare to the side and start all over. Senator Kamala Harris supports a single-payor government-run health plan. Which plan has the best chance of winning over voters?

ROVNER: Well, first, remember you have to win over Democratic voters in the primary. That's what they're talking about now. Then you have to come before the rest of the public.

This is an issue whether Democrats are perhaps pushing too far. Medicare-for-All polls well, until you tell voters what the tradeoffs would be. You have to give up your private insurance. You might pay higher taxes, even if you're not wealthy. Then support kind of falls a little bit.

So finding some of the other candidates for president are pushing on more what they consider moderate and perhaps doable paths. We don't really know where the public is. We know that people and candidates have been talking about single payer for 30-some years now. No one has ever gotten close to really saying we should actually do this.

BROWN: All right. Julie, thank you for breaking down what is a very complicated subject. We appreciate it.

ROVNER: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, the president's raids on undocumented immigrants real or a scare tactic? New details on what did and didn't happen.

Plus, breaking news in the death of a civil rights activist whose body was found in a car trunk. We are now learning the cause of death.


[14:42:48] BROWN: We are following breaking news. An autopsy has determined that a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, community activist found dead in the trunk of a car is a victim of homicide. And 75-year-old Sadie Roberts-Joseph was a well-known civil rights and anti-crime activist. Her body was discovered Friday in a car about three miles from her home this weekend.

CNN's Randi Kaye joins us.

Randi, what is this new autopsy report revealing about cause of death?

Randi, can you hear me?

All right. We lost Randi. Unfortunately, we had a technical issue. We will bring her back.

OK, Randi, go ahead.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. Sorry about that, Pam. I'm hearing you now.

I can tell you that this -- we spoke to the coroner. He said that the cause of death was a homicide. And more specifically he said that it was traumatic asphyxia and suffocation. It doesn't mean she was strangled. He is saying her nose and mouth were blocked. He wouldn't say by what. He didn't say if there were any marks on her body. He said the toxicology test will be back in about three weeks.

We also spoke with the police and they told us this all began about 3:45 p.m. on Friday afternoon when they got a report from an anonymous tip saying there was a body in the trunk of a car.

So say that went over there. Apparently, she had been baking cornbread at home and her oven went out. She went over to her sisters. She was supposed to pick up the cornbread when it was done and she never showed up. So they found her body in the trunk of the car.

Police are stumped because she is a 75-year-old woman, a real icon in this community. She worked for peace and worked with at-risk youth. She opened up the African-American History Museum in Baton Rouge. She also had a celebration for Juneteenth to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in the southern U.S. So this was a woman who was beloved in the community.

We spoke to her niece here earlier. She says she can't think of anyone who didn't like her aunt. She doesn't know anyone of any enemy she had. Here's what else she told us.


KAYE: What do you know about her whereabouts that day?

PAT LEDUFF, NIECE OF SADDIE ROBERTS-JOSEPH: She stopped by her sister's house to bake cornbread and said I'll get it when I get back. That was the last time anyone saw her.

[14:45:12] KAYE: This was her car. Do you have any idea how long her car might have been there? Or was it somewhere else?

LEDUFF: Well, we know that she went somewhere within a two-hour span, somewhere she went, and then her car was actually driven over to that Adams Street.

KAYE: That was what a witness told you?

LEDUFF: That's what a witness told me.


KAYE: And it's sadder than that. She is one of the last African- American oral historians in this community.

Police don't know where to turn on this one. There isn't any surveillance video or security cameras working in that area.

Right now, Pam, they have a lot of questions. They don't have any leads or suspects or a motive at this time.

BROWN: This is just so puzzling, so awful.

Randi Kaye, thank you so much.

Well, former President Barack Obama sends a personal letter to a prisoner he freed. Hear the back story when I speak with her, live.


[14:50:37] BROWN: One woman's story of resiliency has a heart- warming twist. It has been almost three years since President Obama granted Danielle Metz clemency. She was arrested in '93 for nonviolent drug offenses. And then, at 26 years old, she was sentenced to three life sentences, plus another 20 years in federal prison.

Laws prevented her from pursuing a college degree in prison. But after Obama granted her release in 2016 under clemency, his clemency initiative, she enrolled in classes the next year. And guess what? She made the dean's list at Southern University in New Orleans, and wrote about how thankful she was to Obama, saying, "You don't know what you did for me."

Well, Obama came across the story and wrote her a personal note. And it reads in part, "I am so proud of you and am confident that your example will have a positive impact for others who are looking for a second chance. Tell your children I say hello and know that I'm rooting for all of you."

So with me now is Danielle Metz.

Danielle, thank you so much for coming on.


BROWN: Take us back. Take us back to that moment when you opened that letter and realized who it was from.

METZ: Well, it was coming from the gym working out and my brother was coming out of the door at the same time I was coming in the door. And he says, someone just brought a letter here for you. You have a package. And I'm like, a package? And he said, yes. And I said, OK. So he gave me the package the FedEx overnight express envelope. And I looked at it, and I was like, I wonder who this is from?

So I tore it open, and when I opened it, I saw the office of Barack Obama. And I'm like, this has got to be a joke. So I tore it open. And when I tore it open, I went in here and I was just nervous and trembling and excited at the same time. And in disbelief, too. And I opened it, and I just opened it and you can see how anxious I was. The way it's ripped, because I didn't take my time. I just wanted to get into it.

So I opened it, and I read the letter and tears just came to my eyes, because it was just like -- a big deal to me. Because I wasn't expecting this. And when I read it, I saw the beautiful penmanship, and I was like -- and his signature at the end. And I'm like, he had to have written this. This is not a joke. And I was just surprised.

BROWN: Understandably. Not everyone gets letters from the former president of the United States, congratulating you, telling you a job well done.

And there's this journal you kept from the time you were incarcerated and inside was a note. To Danielle, there are so many things we can't get in here, but knowledge and education can't be kept out by walls. Walk us through the challenges you faced to become a 50-year-old freshman in college and making it on the dean's list.

METZ: I had many challenges, because when I was incarcerated, because I had three life sentences, plus 20 years, I was unable to pursue my education. They would rather have offered it to someone who had two years or 24 months or 36 months, as opposed to someone who had a life sentence like myself.

But that was something I always wanted to do. And I would pray about it and I would just always ask god that, you know, to give me the opportunity to become free.

And when I did, I would kind of hit the ground running like President Obama always said, he hit the ground running. So when I got the opportunity, that was the first thing I wanted to do, was go to school. There was something on my -- the first of my priorities. First list of priorities.

BROWN: And was it intimidating at all to go back to school after being in prison for so long, being a freshman at 50? What was that like?

METZ: It was a little intimidating, but when I went to the young man that brought me over to the school, he introduced me. I had never been inside a university before. And all of the people -- I began to tell them a little bit about my story. But they weren't too interested in my story. They weren't concerned with where I came from or where I was trying to go.

[14:55:04] And I explained to them, because I didn't want them to think that I was strange, because I didn't know how to work the phone and, you know, I had -- when I left, there were just phone booths. And not everything was about technology. And I didn't know anything about that.

So one of the guys who do recruitment, he told me, don't worry about that. If you're serious about this, take this book home, study it. And we're going to give you a test, a placement test. And that is what I did.

And it's just -- you know, I'm just so thankful to God for giving me this opportunity. Because it had been a journey for me. A journey.

And even now, with this letter and everything, how everyone is looking at this letter, I can't believe that my name is in the same sentence with the president, you know, former President Obama. It's like -- since I've gotten the letter, I haven't slept in two days. Because it's like, my name and his name. Why would he write little old me a letter?


BROWN: Not "little old" you.

METZ: I feel so blessed.

BROWN: Well, Danielle, you have sent an inspiring message to others looking for a second chance like you. Just what you have accomplished truly is inspiring.

Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story.

METZ: You're welcome. Thanks for having me. Thanks for having me.

BROWN: Of course.

And we have a lot more on our breaking news. The president denying his racist tweets were racist and escalating his attacks on four U.S. congresswomen.