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Republican Plan for Health Care?; Trump Cabinet Nominees on Capitol Hill; Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2017 - 16:00   ET




MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: Dana, that's being crafted right now. We're working with the leadership of the House and the Senate, our team, and -- and we're getting very close.

And, as the president-elect said last week, we expect to have that plan come forward in the early days of the administration, take it to the Congress and take it to the American people.

And I'm very confident that we will have the kind of alternatives to Obamacare that will really unleash the potential of the American economy and the American consumer to take greater control of their own health care, improve their lives, improve their health and lower the cost of health insurance.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, not a plan. He hasn't seen a plan, but he's seen a lot of great ideas.

BASH: Right.

TAPPER: They're writing the plan right now.

BASH: Correct, which is not exactly the same as what Donald Trump said.

He also tried to clarify, as he tends to be sort of the clarifier in chief, that when Donald Trump said everybody should have health care, that it was really access to health care, not necessarily the kind of, oh, my goodness moment that a lot of Republicans thought when they heard him say that, because some people might not have health care. They might not be able to keep this health care.

TAPPER: Well, with all due respect to vice president-elect Pence, that's not a clarification. That's a contradiction. I mean, president-elect Trump has said that there will be basically universal health insurance, and every -- the government will provide it, he said.

BASH: Yes, and just -- and he did say, he, Mike Pence, said that people who really need it, who can't afford it will. But the question is more broadly how are people who currently have it

under Obamacare are going to keep it? The answer is they don't have an answer.


BASH: Yes, exactly.

TAPPER: The TBD health care plan. All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Obama, of course, causing a whole lot of fireworks on Capitol Hill today, as some of president-elect Donald Trump's top Cabinet picks faced some tough questions during confirmation hearings. We heard a strong charge from the Senate's top Democrat, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer today accusing the Trump transition team of trying to rush the confirmation process.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: These past two weeks, we have seen repeated efforts from the Trump transition, aided and abetted by Senate Republicans, to jam through nominees in a way that hides their views from the American people.


TAPPER: Today along, four Trump Cabinet nominees faced questions on Capitol Hill.

Congressman Tom Price, Republican from Georgia, is up for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Lawmakers grilled him about his potential replacement for Obamacare, as well as stocks that he purchased that may have had something to do with the fields in which his committees oversaw.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is Mr. Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, we heard Pruitt push back on the notion that he is a climate change denier.

There's Wilbur Ross, who is president-elect Trump's pick for commerce secretary. The billionaire slammed countries he says don't follow fair trade rules.

And then, of course, there is South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has been nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Early in her questioning, Haley called out Russia for the hackings.

I want to go to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, we heard him just a few seconds ago, saying the Republicans have a specific reason for jamming nominees through the confirmation process. What did he have to say?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. He says Republicans are trying to hide these views of these nominees, and Schumer promising a -- quote -- "extensive debate" on the floor of the Senate. And that could deny Donald Trump from getting the seven nominees he wants confirmed when he is sworn in on Friday.

The Republicans firing back, accusing Democrats of playing politics.


RAJU (voice-over): President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks on the Democratic firing line in contentious hearings today, starting with his choice to lead the Health and Human Services Department. At issue, Congressman Tom Price's stock trades, while pushing legislation that could benefit those companies, including the medical device firm Zimmer Biomet.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Did you buy the stock, and then did you introduce a bill that would be helpful to the companies you just bought stock in?

REP. TOM PRICE (R-GA), HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY NOMINEE: The stock was bought by a -- directed -- by a broker who was making those decisions. I wasn't making those decisions.

WARREN: Do you decide not to tell them, wink, wink, nod, nod, and we're all just supposed to believe that? Did you take additional actions after that date to advance your plan to help the company that you now own stock in?

PRICE: I'm offended by the insinuation, Senator.

RAJU: Price traded roughly $300,000 worth of shares in health care companies over the last four years. And Democrats targeted a stock tip he allegedly received from New York Congressman Chris Collins.

Price defended the investment.

PRICE: By definition, I believe that's the nature of a private placement offering. What I said to you and what I have said to others is that I paid exactly the same price as everybody else.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: It really begs stability, sir, when you say you did not know that you got a discount on this. These sound like sweetheart deals.

RAJU: But Republicans came to his defense, calling the Democrats hypocrites.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: He has abided by the rules. Disclosures were always made in the House of Representatives. And this is a big, phony, stupid issue to try and smear a fellow who is probably one of the best nominees for this position in history.

HATCH: Let me just say this. Can you confirm that you have always followed the law relating to trading in stocks while serving as a member of Congress?

PRICE: Thank you, sir. Everything that we have done has been above- board, transparent, ethical and legal.

RAJU: The battle overshadowed Price's main job if he's confirmed to the post, to repeal and replace Obamacare. Price said that replacing the law would take time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't believe in replacing a failed Washington, D.C., health care plan with our own failed plan. We want to work on it step-by-step, large piece by piece. Is that a -- how do you respond to that?

PRICE: I think that's fair. I think that for individuals to -- the American people need to appreciate that the last thing we want to do is go from a Democrat health care system to a Republican health care system. Our goal is -- would be to go from what we see as a Democrat health care system to an American health care system that recognizes the needs of all.

RAJU: Three other Trump nominees also faced tough questions from senators, including billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.

SCOTT PRUITT (R), ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY SECRETARY NOMINEE: Senator, as I have indicated, the climate is changing.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: But you haven't told me why you think the climate is changing.

PRUITT: Well, Senator, the job of administrator is to carry out the statutes as passed by this body.

SANDERS: I'm asking you a personal opinion.

PRUITT: My personal opinion is immaterial...

SANDERS: Really?

PRUITT: ... to the job, to the job of...


SANDERS: You are going to be the head of the agency to protect the environment, and your personal feelings about whether climate change is caused by human activity and carbon emissions is immaterial?

RAJU: And in South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's hearing to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she took a tougher line than Trump on issues like Russia.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And Russia is trying to show their muscle right now. It is what they do. And I think we always have to be cautious. I don't think that we can trust them.


RAJU: And, Jake, another Trump nominee in hot water today after Mick Mulvaney, the budget director nominee, acknowledged in a questionnaire to the Senate that he did not pay federal and state income taxes, employment taxes on a household employee.

And Democrats saying that this is the same issue that ended the nomination of Tom Daschle, who was initially Barack Obama's pick to be the health and human services secretary in 2009. Chuck Schumer making that case just a few moments ago.


SCHUMER: Senator Tom Daschle did the same thing, and Republicans insisted that that disqualified him from becoming HHS secretary.

We say to our colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If Tom Daschle couldn't become a Cabinet member for not paying taxes for a household employee, then the same standard ought to apply to Mick Mulvaney.


RAJU: And, Jake, Donald Trump's team doesn't seem to be taking that advice, actually issuing a statement saying that they stand by Mick Mulvaney for the job -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, Manu, I broke that Tom Daschle story eight years ago, and I have to say they didn't fight for Tom Daschle, the Obama White House. They're the ones that folded and Democrats controlled the Senate. They could have pushed it through if they wanted to. I don't fully understand why Chuck Schumer is blaming Republicans for this.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. At the time, too, Jake, as you will recall, Democrats revolted and voted -- didn't want to actually take up the Tom Daschle nomination.

It is uncertain how Senate Republicans will deal with Mick Mulvaney, this issue just breaking this afternoon. We will see how he answers questions on this topic during his confirmation hearings. But, as you know, Jake, it will take Republicans to deny him from getting the post because they control the Senate and they have the votes to confirm him if they stay united -- Jake.

TAPPER: Democrats had the House and the Senate last time, too, eight years ago. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Let's bring in chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And let's focus on the Obamacare element of the Tom Price confirmation hearings.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. TAPPER: He obviously wants to repeal it. He obviously wants to

replace it. You were listening closely. What were some of the biggest concerns?


GUPTA: Well, you know, aside from what Manu was just talking about, the biggest concern is, what happens to the people who are all currently beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act?

And depending on how you crunch the numbers, around 18 to 20 million people, either through the exchanges, through this marketplace, or through Medicaid expansion, do have access to health care.

What's going to happen to them? That's the biggest question. It kept coming up over and over again. And he was not providing a lot of specifics. I want to give you a little idea of what he said specifically, though.


PRICE: the last thing we want to do is go from a Democrat health care system to a Republican health care system. Our goal is -- would be to go from what we see as a Democrat health care system to an American health care system.

Nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody. We believe that it's absolutely imperative that individuals that have health coverage be able to keep health coverage and move hopefully to greater choices and opportunities.


GUPTA: And that's what he kept coming back to. We want to provide more choices for people through a wider market.

If there is a theme, Jake, it's that, look, we want less government control, we want more free market sort of principles being applied here. How exactly that works, we don't know.

To be fair, you and I talked about this earlier, he has released a plan, the last one being over 200 pages, every year I think since 2009 about what his plan, empowering patients first, would look like. So, it's out there, but exactly what of that is going to be translated, we don't know.

TAPPER: Yes. It's not as though president-elect Trump has said, I'm going to do the Tom Price plan.

GUPTA: Right.

And there are some big differences already between what president- elect has said in terms of providing health care access/health care insurance to everybody vs. what Congressman Price has put forward. Those are very different. So, where we land, I don't know.

TAPPER: That's fascinating.

There was also an interesting exchange between Congressman Price and Senator Bernie Sanders over the price of prescription drugs.


TAPPER: Let's play some of that.


SANDERS: We are paying by far some of the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. You don't disagree with that, do you? And do you disagree with that?

PRICE: I think that's the case. I would have to look at the statistics.

I think there are a lot of reasons for that. And if we get to the root cause of what this is, then I think we can actually solve in a bipartisan way.


TAPPER: So, Sanjay, why do Americans pay higher prices for prescription drugs than they do in other countries for the same drugs?

GUPTA: Yes. And the answer to that question, by the way, is yes, that we do pay higher prices in this country vs. other countries, developed countries.

There's probably a few big reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that, if you look at the largest, one of the largest purchasers of these drugs, Medicare, providing medications for the elderly 65 and older, they have no authority to be able to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies.

The history of why that is, is probably longer than we have time for right now. But since 2003, when Medicare Part D became part of Medicare, we're going to provide prescription drugs in addition to health care, this has always been a stipulation. We will do that, but the pharmaceutical companies, you don't negotiate with them.

The prices they set are the prices that are paid. Pharmaceutical companies will say, of course, look, it costs a lot of money to develop these drugs. For everyone that works, there are several that don't work. We lose money there as well. There are all sorts of justifications. But no other country in the world has a system like that, where there is just no negotiating whatsoever.

And even within the United States, the VA can negotiate. Medicaid can negotiate a little bit, but, again, Medicare, that huge chunk of the whole pie there, they have no authority to do so.

TAPPER: And president-elect Trump has been critical of that. We will see if he brings that criticism and that frame of mind into the White House. Sanjay, thanks so much. Appreciate it. More on the confirmation hearings, a live look at Capitol Hill, where

lawmakers are in round three right now of questioning Trump's pick to head the EPA. This is the same man who has made a career out of fighting that very Environmental Protection Agency.

More on how he's differing from the president-elect today. Stay with us.


[16:15:18] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

You're looking right now at live pictures from the confirmation hearing for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Mr. Pruitt is President-elect Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. For several hours today, the Oklahoma attorney general has been defending his views on climate change and his plans to revamp the very agency that he sued at least a dozen times as Oklahoma attorney general.

This as today, 2016, was officially named the planet's hottest year on record. According to the World Metrological Association, this is the third consecutive year that global temperatures have climbed higher than in any previous year.

CNN's Rene Marsh joins me now live from Capitol Hill.

And, Rene, Mr. Pruitt was asked about his perspective on climate change whether he views it as a hoax as Donald Trump has suggested and tweeted in the past.



SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINSTRATOR NOMINEE: Science tells us the climate is changing. And human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you agree that global warming is a hoax?

PRUITT: I do not, Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Donald Trump is wrong?

PRUITT: I do not believe that climate change is a hoax.


MARSH: That's right. You just heard there from Scott Pruitt. This has been a hearing that's been going on for more than six hours now.

He did say that he believes that the climate is changing. However, Jake, when pressed on what is causing that change, he was not prepared to say humans, he was not prepared to say oil or gas emissions is causing that climate change.

[16:20:01] He did not go that far.

I will say, it has been quite a contentious hearing. I mean, we had protesters not only on the outside, but on the inside and on the inside a clear split, a hard split between lawmakers. You have Republicans on one side pressing him asking him whether he will make sure there is a good balance between environmental needs and the needs of the energy industry so that they can remain profitable. Meantime, on the other side, you have Democrats who are saying the health of people is extremely important, and in many cases more important than the profitability of the energy industry, Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. Skeptics seem to be conceding the point that climate change is real. Right now, what they are refusing to say is that it is definitively manmade and that it definitively can be tied to events here on planet earth. That seems to be where they're dodging these days.

Rene, Mr. Pruitt today also --

MARSH: That's right, Jake --

TAPPER: He was also accused by Democrats of working on behalf of industry rather than protecting the environment.

MARSH: That's right. I mean, there was this one moment between Scott Pruitt and Senator Cory Booker. We have that moment for you in which he brings up stats from Mr. Pruitt's own state of Oklahoma. Stats as it relates to asthma in children. Take a listen to that exchange.


SEN. BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Do you know how many kids in Oklahoma roughly have asthma?

PRUITT: I do not, Senator.

BOOKER: More than 111,000 children in Oklahoma, which is more than 10 percent, more than one in ten of all the kids in Oklahoma have asthma. Did you ever let any of them write letters on your letterhead to the EPA and did you even file one lawsuit, one lawsuit on behalf of those kids?

PRUITT: Senator, I've actually provided a list of cases to the chairman with respect to enforcement steps we've taken in multiple pieces of environmental litigation.


MARSH: All right. The senator's point there was that he felt that during his time as attorney general in Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt fought more so for the energy industry as opposed to the people of Oklahoma. That is the senator's take on this. I did speak with Senator Carper. We also spoke with Senator Bernie

Sanders, both of them very displeased. They say they will not vote for him.

But, as you know, Jake, Democrats do not have the votes to block him. And when pressed on that, Senator Carper said, even though we he don't have the votes, it will not stop me from trying. He then went on to quote Wayne Gretzky saying, you -- if you only miss 100 percent of the shots that you don't take, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Rene Marsh on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Joining us now, environmentalist and businessman Tom Steyer. He's a fierce critic of Donald Trump especially his position on the environment.

Tom, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

What you -- you heard Attorney General Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt commenting on climate change saying it's not a hoax, allowing the human activity is contributing. But he did say the extent of climate change and how the world should respond to it is up for debate and dialogue. What's your reaction?

TOM STEYER, ENVIRONMENTALIST & PHILANTROPIST: Well, my reaction, Jake, is that this is exactly the same tactic that the cigarette companies used for decades, which is, we're not sure exactly what the truth is. We need to do more work. In the meantime, we should proceed exactly as we are to try to confuse the issue and make everything as uncertain as possible so that, in fact, nothing gets done.

TAPPER: Pruitt said today that the EPA is a vital agency, but under the Obama administration, the administration's made energy development in the United States extremely difficult, Pruitt said that the U.S. can pursue mutual goals of protecting the environment and growing the economy, and the notion that these two are mutually exclusive is wrong. What do you think of that?

STEYER: Well, I think that Mr. Pruitt misses probably the most obvious point, which is that the growth of the American economy at this point is tied to moving to new kinds of energy. So that in fact, if we move to the new technologies that are cheaper than fossil fuels, we will grow much faster. We will have better paid workers and more work, and our costs will go down.

So, I absolutely agree that we can have a much cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future. But the way that I believe it's going to happen is through moving to new technologies and depending on American innovation and American business.

TAPPER: When asked about the role and value of the EPA, Mr. Pruitt today suggested that the agency needs to do a better job of partnering with individual states and giving those states more control. Take a listen.


PRUITT: As I've indicated, Senator, I really believe that it's important and it's a partnership between the EPA and the states. I made reference to the phrase earlier national standards and neighborhood solutions. I think that that shows that the EPA can be involved and should be involved in setting standards, setting objective science-based standards to improve air quality and protecting the health of our citizens.


[16:25:14] TAPPER: Obviously, you know that a lot of local businesses complain about the EPA, about bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. setting rules and not really understanding what's going on in their neighborhoods. How do you respond to that general criticism and Mr. Pruitt's suggested remedy?

STEYER: I think that Mr. Pruitt can say whatever he wants, but he has a very long history of partnering with corporations. He has a very long history of partnering with corporations against the interests of American citizens. So, when he talks about partnering, makes me very nervous because of the fact of the matter is when he was in Oklahoma, there was a part of his agency as attorney general was designed to protect environmental interests and he disbanded that unit completely and started up another unit to sue the American government and the EPA to prevent them from imposing environmental standards.

So, when he talks about partnership, I really think he's talking about partnering with corporations to preserve their interests against the interest of American citizens.

TAPPER: One of the biggest environmental disasters of the last eight years had to do with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Mr. Pruitt was asked about that and the fact that the EPA was criticized for not responding quickly enough. Take a listen to that.


PRUITT: Well, I think with Flint, Michigan, it's an example of not delay in response by the EPA. There should have been more done on corrosion control programs with the Flint, Michigan system. As you know, under the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, if there is an emergency situation, the EPA can enter an emergency order to address those kinds of concerns. I think there should have been a more fast response, a more rapid response to Flint, Michigan.


TAPPER: Your response?

STEYER: It's easy for him to criticize the EPA. It's a complicated job running -- and his history is entirely in opposing environmental protections and opposing the interests of American citizens.

So, why we would have any confidence that after decades of his behavior, he would change when he had -- he's being brought in as the chief opponent of the EPA somehow to become the head of the agency that is protecting our environment. That seems to me to be a complete contradiction and has to be intentional.

TAPPER: Tom Steyer, always good to have you on the show. Thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

STEYER: Jake, thank you very much for having me.

TAPPER: The president-elect putting the finishing touches on an inauguration speech he wrote himself, according to aides. What kind of tone will Mr. Trump take on Friday? That story next.