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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Cabinet Secretary Under Fire Over Possible Links to Russia; Democrats Pushing Medicare for All. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 30, 2019 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Democratic presidential candidates Senator Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have all signed on to Senator Bernie Sanders' Medicare for all bill, legislation that would ultimately get rid of private health insurance companies in the U.S., in favor of a government-run universal health care system.

Harris talked about this in her town hall earlier this week.


TAPPER: So, for people out there who like their insurance, they don't get to keep it?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don't have to go through the process of going through an insurance company.

Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on.


TAPPER: Since that town hall Monday night, Harris' office has said that she is also open to health care reform proposals that have a role for private insurance companies as well.

But, as CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports for us now, support for Medicare for all has become something of a litmus test for the 2020 Democratic candidates.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's become the go-to health care idea for potential 2020 Democratic candidates.

HARRIS: Actually feels very strongly about this, is that we need to have Medicare for all.

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: It could be Medicare for all.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: That's what Medicare for all is all about.

GUPTA: But what exactly is Medicare for all, all about? It depends who you ask.

Medicare, which has been around since 1965, is the government-run health insurance program that primarily provides Americans 65 and older with basic health care coverage, covering hospital stays and doctor's visits.

(on camera): So, put simply, this program would then expand Medicare to everyone?

KENNETH THORPE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: It would provide essentially free care to patients when they go see a physician or go to the hospital.


GUPTA (voice-over): Kenneth Thorpe is not a politician. He's a professor of health policy and management at Emory University.

THORPE: Free sounds wonderful. Who doesn't want to have free care?

But the reality is, in order to finance this, people are going to have to pay more in taxes and payroll taxes and corporate income taxes in order to fund this free care.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Health care in America must be a right, not a privilege.

GUPTA: Bernie Sanders introduced a Medicare for all bill in 2017 that has now been co-sponsored by fellow and current Democratic hopefuls like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker.

In his bill, health care is described as being totally free, covered by taxpayers, with no out-of-pocket costs at the time of service, even for vision and dental, just co-pays for some prescription brand name drugs, all of that while providing the access to everyone and dramatically reducing costs.

But it is worth taking a closer look at the numbers. In the United States in 2017, we spent $3.5 trillion health care, nearly double of what other high-income countries pay per capita. Blame administrative costs, prescription drugs, lots of tests and procedures, and not enough preventative medicine.

Change that, and Sanders believes we could cut health care spending from $3.5 trillion to $1.4 trillion a year.

THORPE: Those numbers dramatically underestimate the increased spending associated with providing everybody free care.

GUPTA: Both the conservative-leaning Mercatus Institute and the left- leaning Urban Institute have analyzed Sanders' recent proposals and estimated that a Medicare for all plan would cost $32 trillion in new federal spending and taxes over the next decade, while saving only $22 trillion in the private sector, meaning Sanders' plan still needs to come up with funding for another trillion dollars a year, and that even though many will pay less in premiums, many will also still pay more overall in taxes. THORPE: In essence, you would have to raise an enormous amount of money to finance this.


GUPTA: A lot of numbers there, Jake.

And the bills and the proposals are likely to change, as you found out during that town hall. What I will say is that across the board, just as of this month, there is broad support for a Medicare for all program, about 56 percent of the population surveyed saying that they support something like this vs., as you see there, 42 percent against -- Jake.

TAPPER: And we should point out, I asked Bernie Sanders about this, Sanjay. And his argument is people will be more willing to pay more in taxes when they realize that they're not going to have to pay insurance premiums.

GUPTA: Right. Right.

But the question again, is, do they offset each other? And what you find from the analysis is that $32 trillion increased in federal spending, $22 trillion decreased in private costs. There's a $10 trillion shortfall there.

So you may pay less in premiums or no premiums, but you will more than pay for in taxes at least according to that analysis.

TAPPER: Right. And it depends on the legislation, of course.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And let's talk about this.

We should point out that Senator Harris just tweeted a few minutes ago: "Access to health care shouldn't be a privilege. It should be a right. When my mother passed away, she had the benefit of having Medicare, but not everybody does. Too many people are dying because they can't afford medical care. That's inhumane and why I support Medicare for all."

She does seem to be perhaps a little bit on the clarifying -- in the clarifying mode after saying that she supported getting rid of insurance companies. Now she's saying she is willing to look at other plans too that maybe preserve a role for insurance companies.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the mistakes she made in the answer she gave you in the town hall was not expanding on the option she's long supported.

I mean, she has been an advocate for Medicare for all for over a year, but she's also been supportive of a number of other proposals, as a number of other senators have been.

I mean, Medicaid buy-ins, there are a lot of different options. Democrats would definitely help themselves if they rebranded this and gave themselves a little bit more room, because Democrats have a better argument to make on what they're going to do on health care.

But Medicare for all, when people get into the details, that may not be their first preference. They may like Medicaid buy-in better. They may like single-payer better. And that's something I think that all the Democrats in the primary could help themselves in the general election.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's what they could do to help themselves in the general election.

Explain where they're going to get a trillion dollars a year, $1 trillion. I don't even know many how many zeros that is. It's a big number, OK?


URBAN: We're going to raise your taxes by a trillion dollars a year.

PSAKI: If Donald Trump is held to that standard, he can explain how he's going to pay for the high income tax cut. I mean, that's not the standard...


URBAN: Jen, it's going to be the standard that people are going to ask in an election.

They're going to say, we're going to give you all this free stuff, but we're not going to make you pay for it. You can't promise that.

TAPPER: Jamal?


JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, so, first of all, Sarah Harris, welcome to the NFL.


SIMMONS: You know, you get -- I think when you're running for president, you learn that the things you say carry weight and you got to be a little bit more precise with your language. I think she learned that this week.

Jen is right here. We have got to find a way for Democrats to have a broader conversation about health care for all, because health care for all is actually something every Democrat can buy into. Medicare for all is something that seems to divide Democrats.

However, for people on the left of the party, the people who are powering a lot of the dynamic of the debate, Medicare for all is almost becoming a litmus test.

TAPPER: Yes, progressives want that. SIMMONS: But you have to be for that particular policy.

That is the thing that I think Democrats have to be careful about, because there are all these questions that come up. And there may be some ways to get to health care for all that aren't as onerous.

URBAN: And Howard Schultz isn't going away, people.


I have just got to say, I think she knew exactly what she was doing in that town hall. She knows what Medicare for all means. And she knows it means the elimination of private insurance.

TAPPER: Bernie Sanders' bill does, yes.

CARPENTER: That's why I was shocked to see how casual she was when she goes, yes, let's eliminate that.


CARPENTER: Let me finish.


CARPENTER: She's sponsored a number of bills because she wants to do the most viable option. And right now, she's chasing that Bernie Sanders vote. She wants to convince progressives she is the candidate they should unite behind.

But she should also realize how this is playing with everyone else that has employer-sponsored insurance. It's half of the market.

TAPPER: Yes, and I want you to take a look, because Medicare for all is actually on its own a popular concept, not just with Democrats, but with the American people.

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this week finds 56 percent of the American people support the plan, as opposed to 42 percent opposing it.

But when Americans are asked about a version of Medicare for all where there is no private insurance, support for that drops to 37 percent opposition, to 58 percent.

URBAN: And that poll when asked if you have to pay more, what would you prefer, right, the number drops precipitously.

TAPPER: When the question is, who has to pay more?

URBAN: Right. Right.

PSAKI: This was exactly my point. But I think my point is that there is broad agreement among not just Democrats, but independents and many Republicans, that more needs to be done on health care. That's the number one issue in every poll still continues to be. Democrats have a better argument on it. It will be some version of expanding Medicaid-Medicare coverage. What that looks like, we should leave ourselves some room to determine.

TAPPER: And we should note Howard Schultz, the potential independent candidate, called the concept of Medicare for all un-American.

He walked that back. Kamala Harris not the only one doing walk-backs today.


TAPPER: He walked that back in an interview with Poppy Harlow earlier today. Take a listen.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why do you think Medicare for all, in your words, is not American?

HOWARD SCHULTZ, CEO, STARBUCKS: It's not that it's not American. It's unaffordable.


TAPPER: All right, well that's a walk-back.


URBAN: Because he knows what a trillion dollars is. That's as much he made at Starbucks.


SIMMONS: Republicans really don't have a lot of leg to stand on to talk about spending money.

We went to war without paying for it.


SIMMONS: ... taxes without paying for it.

And, in fact, in the George W. Bush administration, we went to war and cut taxes.


URBAN: You're going to go to people and say, you're going to have this debate. That's going to be the question. How do you pay for it?


CARPENTER: I would just say, the Democrats should worry more about their candidates ripping away health care from 50 percent in the market than anything Howard Schultz has to say. TAPPER: You mean the insurance, taking away the insurance?

CARPENTER: Oh, sure. But if you don't have insurance, how do you get -- if you get your insurance through your workplace, and all of a sudden that's gone, and you're shoved into some other system, that's not if you like your plan, you can keep. It, it's gone. It's over.

You're getting shoved into the Medicaid and Medicare system.

TAPPER: Right. Yes. I'm just saying it's not like you don't have coverage. It's just it might be coverage you don't like.

CARPENTER: Do you think a lot of doctors are going to accept that brand-new...


URBAN: You will be like Canada and lots of other places where you can go buy additional insurance.


PSAKI: May health care be the deciding factor in 2020, and a Democrat will be in the White House.


TAPPER: You know what? I like the fact that we're talking about 2020. We're talking about issues.


TAPPER: It feels different than 2016.

SIMMONS: And here what else we're talking about, Jake, really quickly.

We're talking about covering people for all health care. We're talking what, how do we tax the wealthy? We were talking about tax cuts and taking things away from people.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

Another Trump Cabinet secretary under fire, as new questions come up about his financial ties and alleged links to Russia.

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The "POLITICS LEAD" now. Democrats say they are following the money and they're now demanding answers from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about his past ties to a major shareholder in a Russian firm that was sanctioned by the U.S. until recently. The question zero in on the Mnuchin's connections to a major

Republican donor who benefited from the Trump administration's decision to lift sanctions on firms with ties to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Should Mnuchin have recused himself from overseeing the lifting of these sanctions? As CNN Sunlen Serfaty reports, Mnuchin did not recuse himself and that is setting off some ethical alarms.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Democrats on Capitol Hill are ratcheting up pressure on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin zeroing in on his own alleged ties to Russia after the Treasury's Department formally ease sanctions on Russian companies this weekend.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: The conflict of interest is there.

Mnuchin hit with four letters in one day from Democrats in the House and Senate raising what they call alarming potential conflicts of interest regarding that decision. At issue whether Mnuchin has a connection to the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska who has close ties to Vladimir Putin. The U.S. had sanctioned Deripaska's companies last year in a move to punish the Kremlin for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

Among those companies with sanctions now lifted by Mnuchin Rusal, an aluminum manufacturer whose shareholders include a deep-pocketed American Republican donor Len Blavatnik who Mnuchin has a personal history with reportedly investing in the Mnuchin's film company and even hosting Mnuchin on his yacht according to the letters.

[16:50:19] SPEIER: This suggests to me that there was never an intention to impose sanctions on these companies or on Deripaska. It was done because the pressure got very high and the administration had taken no action on the legislation passed by Congress.

SERFATY: So you think they're in essence feigning the sanctions.


SERFATY: Democrats writing to Mnuchin demanding an explanation as to how you manage your own potential conflicts of interest arising from your personal and professional relationship with Blavatnik. The Treasury Department firing back calling the Democrats suggestion of conflict of interest baseless saying Mnuchin had no direct business relationship with Mr. Blavatnik.

It's not the first time the multi-millionaire with deep ties to Hollywood has raised eyebrows. Mnuchin was cleared of wrongdoing after taking a military plane to Kentucky during the solar eclipse famously posed with his wife at the mint with dollar bills bearing his signature. All this as Mnuchin is still putting off calls to testify on Capitol Hill. One of three cabinet secretaries to do so lately.

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: It begs the question what are they trying to hide. But they totally do that for so long because Congress has subpoena power and they will be subpoenaed.


SERFATY: And Democrats on Capitol Hill tell me this increased attention on Steve Mnuchin is just another indication on how they intend to hold the administration's feet to the fire so to speak up here on Capitol Hill, Jake, especially of course with our newfound power in the House.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. Tens of millions of Americans are experiencing temperatures colder than Antarctica right now. Yes, you heard me correctly, Antarctica.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: The "NATIONAL LEAD." At least five Americans have died because of this dangerous deep freeze. In one case in Milwaukee where temperatures are nearly 20 degrees below, a man was found frozen in his garage. At least 80 percent of the nation hit temperatures below the freezing mark. Cities are taking precautionary action canceling school, stopping mail delivery.

In Chicago, the city's train line is warming the tracks with fire generated by gas lines that run along the rails. As CNN's Ryan Young reports, this arctic air blast is just setting in.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Arctic temperatures, bitter wind chills, white out conditions. Brutal polar weather breaking records across the U.S. today. 60 million Americans experiencing temperatures below zero and 224 million feeling temperatures below freezing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's unbearable and it's dangerous.

YOUNG: Drivers in parts of North Dakota and Michigan experiencing white-out snow causing dangerous roads conditions and pile ups on highways.

ERIC WESTVEER, SHERIFF, OTTAWA COUNTY: As they did come up on the crash, they weren't able to stop in time due to the slippery snow and icy road conditions.

YOUNG: Officials urging people to stay off the roads with at least five people already killed in weather-related incidents throughout the region.

GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D), ILLINOIS: These conditions are and can be life-threatening. Even short periods of exposure to this type of weather can be dangerous.

YOUNG: More than 3,300 flights canceled Tuesday and Wednesday. Amtrak service stopped in and out of Chicago, even the U.S. postal service which touts working through all sorts of weather conditions stopped deliveries in parts of at least ten states. Temperatures in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota reaching levels colder than parts of Antarctica.

Chicago is forecast to tie or barely beat the record for coldest temperature recorded there 27 below turning even a shower into an icy adventure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just took a shower and the steam froze.

YOUNG: For people trying to get around in the windy city, train tracks pulled apart by the cold were set on fire by gas fed heaters fixing the rails to keep the trains moving, and boats are breaking the ice to clear the Chicago river. In Minnesota, this man biked to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can do it if you prepared.

YOUNG: And a handful of runners crossed the finish line of an ultramarathon. Faces encased in ice thanks to temperatures of 30 below.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You kind of embrace the weather in this state. If you don't, you can't live here.


YOUNG: Jake, you can see the hot water being tossed in the air sort of just dissolves here. You got to think for the next 48 hours we're going to be feeling winter's punch.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan, go inside. In our "HEALTH LEAD," even though Washington State is already in the state of emergency because of a massive outbreak of measles, officials are now warning it's going to get worse. The state has been hit with 37 cases of the highly contagious and potentially fatal disease since the beginning of the year. And there is another outbreak on the East Coast. In New York State alone, officials say there have been 209 cases of measles since October. Tellingly, the disease has mostly infected children who have not been vaccinated.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States nearly two decades ago thanks to a push to immunize Americans. But now despite an incredibly effective vaccine against measles, there has been a rise in parents choosing to not vaccinate their children often because of misinformation and lies peddled by people who do not know what they are talking about. Get your children vaccinated.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.