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Chuck Schumer Speaks Out; Do Republicans Have Plan to Replace Obamacare?; Congress Backs Off Gutting Ethics Panel. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 3, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All the kids playing the segment back in loop for mom and dad.


BALDWIN: Andy Scholes, have fun in Vegas.


BALDWIN: Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: All right, getting to the big news here today. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with us.

We are following breaking news on Capitol Hill, as Republicans have now officially taken control of Congress.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?


RYAN: Congratulations. You are now all members of the 115th Congress.


BALDWIN: And there the gavel goes, Leader Nancy Pelosi handing the gavel over to House Speaker Paul Ryan, of course Republican majority here in the House and the Senate.

Speaking of votes to come, one vote that will not happen, this plan to gut the ethics agency that officially policies them. So, on the eve of this new 115th Congress, in this closed-door session, no heads up, the House Republicans had voted privately to kill the ethics panel that serves as their independent watchdog.

But then, surprise, the backlash, because today two tweets from the president-elect Donald Trump slamming the move, and then hours later, in an about-face that really no one saw coming, the Republicans decided to scrap that bid and the independent watchdog remains for now.

So, Manu Raju has the busiest day of any of us on Capitol Hill.

I'm sure your head has been spinning, but you're cool as a cucumber, covering all of what we thought would be and then no longer. Walk me through it all.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was really a surprise, Brooke, from start to finish.

Last night, the Republican House did not see this coming. This was a proposal offered from Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, speaking to concerns that actually frankly Democrats have along with the Republicans, that this independent ethics agency sometimes acts -- sometimes overreaches, in their opinion, sometimes does things in their view in the pursuit of headlines.

And they wanted to rein it in. They wanted to put more oversight and essentially gut this independent agency. And not surprisingly, people were very concerned. It prompted outraged from across the political spectrum because of the way they tried to do it behind closed doors.

Early this morning, the House Republican leadership said its hands were tied. They said they were going to move forward with this package and approve it in the full House this afternoon.

But then Donald Trump tweeted. And when he tweeted and he criticized what the Republican House Republicans were doing, it prompted a lot of members to have second thoughts about what to do going forward.

Now, I'm told in this afternoon meeting that House Republicans had this emergency meeting to discuss what to do going forward. There was discussion about Donald Trump tweeting and there was discussion that they may not have the votes to pass the package after the president- elect made his position known.

So, what did they do? They took that provision out. They said they were going to let this ethics watchdog stay intact. And now they're about to approve this rules package going forward without any changes to this agency.

So a real about-face from Republicans, but also recognition that this was not the optics they want to have on day one of the new Congress, when they have such an ambitious agenda and, Brooke, as Donald Trump has said time and again, it is time to drain the swamp. This created the opposite message on day one, which is why the Republican leadership and a lot of members changed their minds going forward.

BALDWIN: On the mind-changing, Manu, here's my follow to you. Do you know if there was any sort of back channel between Trump and any of these Republicans on Capitol Hill, or of course Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, and his old buddies on the Hill? Was there any of that? Or was it really because of the succession of two tweets?

RAJU: It seems to be because of the succession of two tweets.

We're not getting really any indication that there was any sort of significant lobbying effort by the Trump team. There was really not much discussion. It was a decision of Trump to move forward to issue those tweets.

And it just showed in how difficult of a position they would be going forward and how this would create bad headlines. Just imagine two years from now in these members' reelection races. Democrats were not going to let them forget this, saying that even the president-elect disagreed with their decision to weakened this key agency.


So the tweet added to the growing pressure and then ultimately they just decided behind closed doors to unanimously drop it and move forward from there.

BALDWIN: Manu Raju, I want you to stay with me.

And I want to bring in other voices here.

Jackie Kucinich is the Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast and a CNN political analyst. Doug Heye is here, former RNC communications director and CNN political commentator. And Bill Press, Democratic strategist and host of "The Bill Press Show."

Great to have all of you on. Happy new year.


BALDWIN: Doug Heye, how many years do you have on the Hill?


BALDWIN: Ten years? What was that? And what do you make of that -- Manu said it -- two tweets and it all got scrapped?

HEYE: Well, in short, it was a mistake.

If you go back two years ago this day and four years ago this day, House Republicans were very nervous, very tense. Was John Boehner going to get enough votes? How many Republicans were going to defect from John Boehner?

I was working for Eric Cantor this day four years ago. And we were very nervous about how many votes Eric Cantor was going to get. And we wanted zero. Jackie was covering it in the gallery that night.

This day was supposed to be a great, smart, good moving forward day for House Republicans to start the legislative agenda under the Trump administration, which they will be able to do from after this. But the first day was a stumble. And what Republicans need to do now is to go and focus back on the bold ticketed agenda items, Obamacare, tax reform, and things like that, get out of their own way and move that agenda forward.

BALDWIN: What did you think, Jackie?


BALDWIN: Was it a thanks Trump moment?

KUCINICH: Kind of.

But from a P.R. perspective, Trump understands good press and bad press. This was a really bad press moment for the House GOP. And he had to see this and realize how much flak they were getting for this.

But it also shows were the balance of power is. Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy didn't want this to happen. And their membership cast them aside. And then Donald Trump says something and the whole thing gets scrapped. It shows who's running the show essentially.

HEYE: And one significant thing about this is Donald Trump has been under fire for a lot of ethics accusations and business dealings over the past few weeks. And now he's able to claim credit or at least partial credit on winning something on ethics.


I think that's a great point. Whose voice was that that wanted to jump -- Bill Press, go ahead

PRESS: Well, I was just going to say, I think the House Republicans did almost the impossible today. They made Donald Trump look like the grownup in the room.

This was so stunningly stupid to do this. As Doug pointed out, this was supposed to be new day, new team, new direction, new America, and instead they laid a giant goose egg.

But I think what it shows us -- and I think there's a warning here -- is, number one, that some of the crazies are still in charge, that Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy are pretty weak leaders that they couldn't stop this the first time around, and, secondly, there's going to be a tendency to overplay and overreach. And we saw it yesterday in this secret meeting.

And I think that should be a warning for Republicans going forward.

BALDWIN: Doug, let me follow up on his point. Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan, they didn't want this. They vehemently opposed this. And you saw Bob Goodlatte and how far he took this. And this would have gone to vote had Trump not tweeted. What does that say about House leadership?

HEYE: Well, it says there's a lot of work for Republicans to do in unifying.

And just because we have the presidency and the Senate and the White House doesn't mean that we're not going to be united on everything. Barack Obama's first two years, when he had Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, they weren't united on everything.

But with the OCE office, I worked with it a lot when I was in the House of Representatives, even now in the private sector. It's not universally popular in Congress. There are a lot of Democrats, especially the Congressional Black Caucus, that feels that it's targeted their members unfairly. It's not popular, and not because Congress wants less ethics or things like that. But they want to do this job well.


I want to play some sound. This is from the ranking Democrat in the Senate here, Chuck Schumer. Here is what he had to say today.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: America doesn't conduct foreign police by tweet, least of all by flattering Putin, after our intelligence agencies have confirmed that Russia interfered in our election.

Conducting foreign policy by tweet, while spurning vital intelligence briefings that lay out the real emerging threats around the world, that should alarm Democrats and Republicans alike.

It is utterly amazing that our Republican colleagues, who have spent years lambasting President Obama for not being tough enough on Putin, are now, with a few rare exceptions, utterly silent.


BALDWIN: Jackie, here's my question to you, because we know Senator Schumer and Donald Trump, they know each other, New Yorkers. Apparently, they have a pretty good relationship, but that was pretty brutal. That was pretty brutal on Trump.

Do you think though he was talking to Trump or was he talking to -- was he waving the flag for Dems?


KUCINICH: It sounds like he was waving the flag for Dems, because Trump's pain is Schumer's gain right now, as he's really the head of the Democratic Party right now, once President Obama leaves.

Listen, Republicans and Trump are going to have a reckoning on this. Right now, they're just talking past each other, but with Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing coming up and with John McCain's hearing that he's going to have on Thursday about Russia, Trump is going to have to come to terms with this, or he's going to face a big fight with his own party and Democrats for that matter. BALDWIN: Bill, do you agree?

PRESS: I was just going to say this whole -- I think the point that Chuck Schumer started out, you cannot conduct foreign police by tweet.

BALDWIN: Poking North Korea?

PRESS: Exactly.

That's what I was saying to you now, that where Kim Jong-un says we're going to launch our first intercontinental ballistic missile, and Donald Trump just says it's not going to happen. But what is the policy behind that? What is the plan behind that? Does he even know?


PRESS: Has he had a briefing on North Korea? Apparently not.

And so I also find it appalling that, as of now -- maybe it's going to be tomorrow -- he still has not met with the intelligence agencies to find out what they did discover about Russian hacking of our election, and yet he just says it never happened, without that briefing.

What's more important than that briefing?

BALDWIN: Last question, and then I want to keep you guys around.

Doug Heye, what did you think of just also listening to -- I thought Leader Pelosi, this is day one of the 115th Congress, when everyone is hunky-dory and family members are around and everything is so positive and wonderful in Washington. But what did you think of Speaker Ryan's comments?

HEYE: Well, I say in full disclosure I joked that Nancy Pelosi's speeches on these days tend to go longer than jam band songs.


HEYE: I respect Minority Leader Pelosi.

But I think Paul Ryan tried to do two things, tried to unify his own party, but also unify the whole House as much as possible on some of these things that Republicans and Democrats can work on together. That's obviously a tough item, but that's the job of the speaker on day one to present that message.


I want to keep all of you all around.

Coming up next, this has been a promise seven years the making, Republicans vowing to repeal, replace Obamacare. The moment has just about arrived, but do Republicans have a true plan to replace it?

We know vice president-elect Pence and President Obama converging on Capitol Hill tomorrow. We will discuss what comes next there. Also ahead, just in, a major announcement involving president-elect Trump's inauguration in 17 days and specifically the first families who will be in attendance. We have just learned that former President Bill Clinton and the nominee for the Democratic Party who lost to Trump, Hillary Clinton, will be there. Back in a moment.



BALDWIN: The fight over Obamacare is on.

After years of threats and promises to repeal it, Republicans now control Congress and the fate of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans just filed a budget resolution today that would put some of those items in motion.

Let's go to CNN's national politics reporter, M.J. Lee, who is with me.

What does this move accomplish, the budget?

M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this is essentially the Republican Party taking its first official step to begin the process of repealing Obamacare.

As you said, Senate Republicans filed a budget resolution which they're calling the Obamacare Repeal Resolution. Essentially, this is something that will be debated on for several days. This is according to sources. And then the second part comes.

And the second part of this two-part process is committees will be crafting language for a budget reconciliation bill that goes through a fast-track process through Congress so that they can avoid a Senate filibuster. This is the bill that is going to hold the language to actually repeal Obamacare, major parts of Obamacare.

Again, this is a process that sources on Capitol Hill say will take some weeks. However, you know, Brooke, that Capitol Hill and lawmakers have this reputation for taking their time on most things. So the fact that Republicans moved this fast, that as soon as Congress came back for this new session of Congress, they moved this fast to get the ball rolling on repealing Obamacare just goes to show how sort of adamant they are to make this a first priority under president- elect Trump.

BALDWIN: Then what can President Obama in his trip to Capitol Hill, what would he hope to accomplish and, conversely, vice president-elect Pence also heading to the Hill tomorrow to strategize over the repealing and replacing, tell me about those meetings.

LEE: Yes. This is going to be an interesting split-screen Obamacare moment that we see on Capitol Hill tomorrow, President Obama huddling with Democrats and Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, meeting with Republicans. Just to walk you through what we're going to see from the two camps, on the Democratic side, it's going to be all about messaging. Democrats, including President Obama, they understand right now there's not actually a lot they can do to stop Republicans from repealing Obamacare.

And speaking to some Democratic lawmakers here on Capitol Hill today, they told me that they expect to really go around telling the American people and sort of warning them about the consequences of repealing Obamacare and what Republicans are trying to do, that premiums could go up, that there could be really severe instability in the insurance market.

So this is the sort of political strategy they're going for, to put the pressure on the Republicans. And, meanwhile, on the Republican side, I think the big question is going to be what is going to come after the party has repealed Obamacare?

Just keep in mind that the repeal process is actually pretty simple, in that they have actually done dry runs of this before. But at this moment in time, the party doesn't have a concrete plan on exactly how they're going to go through with replacing Obamacare.

So we can expect this is going to be a big point of discussion tomorrow.

BALDWIN: Tom Price could be handy if in fact he's confirmed. We will get to him as HHS secretary here coming up as far as plans to replace.

M.J., for now, thank you much.

Let me bring my panel back in.

And, Bill Press, let me just begin with you on the Obamacare note, and M.J. set it up perfectly tomorrow, the split-screen, the president going in for one reason, Mike Pence going to the Hill for quite another.

Other than trying to -- for your -- for Democrats to ramp up support and not chipping every bit of it away, this legacy, what really can the president do or say?

PRESS: Not much, I would be honest with you.

He will try to boost the Democrats and encourage them to be as strong as they can in their opposition and in getting the message out clear of the advantages of Obamacare.


But it's going to happen. And I will just say this, Brooke. I think Republicans have to do this. If they don't repeal Obamacare immediately, they will lose any credibility as a party. They have promised it for seven years. They have to do it.

At the time, I think it's like the dog that catches the car. Once they repeal it, they're going to be stuck with this.

BALDWIN: Then what?

PRESS: They're stuck with this baby. And then what?

As M.J. pointed out, they don't have a plan. How do you tell 21 million American families that we're going take your insurance away and your kid gets sick or your spouse gets sick and you go to hospital, we may not -- the coverage that you have been able to afford for the first time in your life is going to be taken away from you and replaced with what? Nobody knows.

BALDWIN: On the what, though, Jackie, we know that Republicans have been singing the chorus of repeal and replace for seven years. But Donald Trump has made news -- it was election week when he said it would be potentially piecemeal.

So, is there a fight looming even between the president and Republicans over how to handle this?

KUCINICH: I don't know -- I don't want to say president-elect Trump doesn't understand. I don't want to be condescending, but you can't -- this isn't a la carte situation, because if you -- the preexisting conditions, that's paid for by other things in the law.

So, you can't just take certain parts that are the good parts and leave the parts you don't like. This is all intertwined. And trying to -- it's going to be very hard, to Bill's point, to unring this bell at this point, because it is so complicated. And it's more like a ball of twine than it is something you can just pick up and take little pieces of it.

BALDWIN: But doesn't Tom Price, who Trump wants to be his health and human services secretary -- everything I have head about him, he's said, hey, come to me, I have plans, not only to repeal, but how we should replace.

HEYE: Yes. This is the struggle that Republicans dealt with in 2014, when we announced our plan to put a bill to vote on for replacement.

Jackie covered it pretty closely. It was really annoying, by the way, because she asked a lot of questions, as did M.J.


HEYE: They were pretty tough on us.

And the result was we weren't able to get any package together for that vote because we weren't able to put all of our ducks in a row. That's one of the challenges that House Republicans face is, what is that going to be ultimately?

They're farther ahead than we were certainly in 2014. And there are all good portions they want to keep, such as preexisting conditions, but it also speaks to kind of the conservatives. Conservatives don't like massive bills like this because when you create an entitlement, it's impossible to take it away. The difficulty that House Republicans and Senate Republicans have to take Obamacare away demonstrates that point.


BALDWIN: I hear you, I hear you, I hear you, but I do want to make this point, because this is Rand Paul in his op-ed.

And I want you to respond to this, because he's saying essentially, hey, if you repeal, you have to replace simultaneously or it will be this just massive mess.

Let me just read what he said.

PRESS: Sure.

BALDWIN: "If Congress fails to vote on a replacement at the same time as repeal, the repealers risk assuming the blame for the continued unraveling of Obamacare. Don't misunderstand me. We should repeal Obamacare, but partial repeal will only accelerate the current chaos and may eventually read to calls for a taxpayer bailout of insurance companies."

Bill, go ahead.

PRESS: I think Senator Paul has a point.

But point I wanted to make it -- and it kind of relates to what Senator Paul said is -- look, they have had seven years. Obamacare has been there for seven years. Before that, they were debating it for two years. Republicans still don't have a plan.


BALDWIN: Well, they have had President Obama sitting over at the White House.


PRESS: But even Doug pointed out, Brooke, that they had a chance. They did not come up with their own plan, other than Tom Price talking about health savings accounts.

So, maybe the fact that nine years later they don't have a plan means there's not a better plan. And this is going to be a real problem for them. As Jackie said, you can't do it piecemeal and say I like this one, I don't -- it's all part of a whole. And they're going to have a real challenge.

BALDWIN: No, it's a great point.

And, Jackie, just ending with you, no one can have a crystal ball and look ahead and see how long this may take, but to Bill's point, even though that may be number one on the agenda, there may not be a change in that lane for some time.

KUCINICH: Absolutely, because Republicans actually have to come together, to Doug's point.

They didn't agree on all the -- on the replacement options. So until they kind of get their acts together, yes, you're right, it could be quite a while.

PRESS: Two or three years.

BALDWIN: Two or three years.

But, quickly, I think, before I let you go, the fact -- that I don't know if I have more time or not, so I'm just going to keep asking questions until somebody wraps me.

OK, one more.

Bill Press, what do you think of the fact that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, they will be there January 20 in Washington?

PRESS: I think it's great that they're going to be there. I think that is very good for the American people. I hope Hillary takes a lot of Xanax before she gets there. She may need it to get through the ceremony.

BALDWIN: We're all grownups. We're all grownups here.

Bill Press, Jackie Kucinich, Doug Heye, thank you all so much. I appreciate you.

PRESS: Thank you.

HEYE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Next, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer prepares for a showdown with Republicans' majority, of course, in the Senate and the House.


Wait until you hear the compliment, though, he says he received from the president-elect himself.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer vowing to hold Donald Trump and Republicans accountable in his very first speech today as the Senate's new minority leader. But the powerful New York senator also says Democrats will be willing to work with President Trump if he moves more in their direction.

So, Dana Bash, our CNN chief political correspondent, actually sat down with an interview with Senator Schumer before he spoke earlier today on the Senate floor.

Hello, Dana Bash. What did he say? DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is clearly trying to walk a very fine line, Brooke, trying to make clear that he understands that, as the opposition leader, which he is now, certainly was hoping when he started today as the new Democratic leader, he would be the majority leader working with Hillary Clinton in the White House.

Neither of those things happened. Now he is the opposition leader. So that fine line is making clear to fellow Democrats, especially progressives, who think that even talking about working with Donald Trump normalizes him, vs. the idea that he also is a legislator, and he does want to get some things done.

But the other fascinating dynamic, Brooke, between the two of them is that they're both New Yorkers. Donald Trump, when he was a Democrat, was one of Chuck Schumer's early donors.

And the two of them had a phone call recently, which Schumer confirmed to me was noteworthy, in that Trump told him that he actually likes him better than fellow Republicans who run Congress.