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Town Halls Across U.S. Seeing Protests against Repealing Obamacare; President Comments on Possibly Rewriting Executive Order on Travel Ban; President Trump Meets with Japanese Prime Minister; Reports Indicate Michael Flynn Spoke with Russian Ambassador to U.S. on Sanctions Before Trump Inauguration. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 11, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:47] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Fredericka Whitfield.

Name calling and frustration at town halls across the country today as Obamacare defenders and opponents take on their representatives, their elected officials. You are looking at live pictures right now. One of the town halls going on right now in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, outside of Milwaukee. The shot a little shaky there, but it is happening. And earlier today in New Port Richey, Florida, people packed a room to share their concerns about the future of the Affordable Care Act, and there were many heated exchanges.


BILL AKINS, SECRETARY, PASCO COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: Here's the problems I have with the Affordable Health Care act. Number one, there is a provision in there that anyone over the age of 74 has to go before what is effectively a death panel.


AKINS: Yes, they do. Yes, they do. It's in there, folks. You're wrong. OK, children, all right, children.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am 77 years old, and I think it's unconscionable for this politician to tell me that at 74 I will be facing death panels. Wrong, wrong, wrong.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm on your side.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I deal with end of life issues on a regular basis. These are heart-rending decisions, and I can tell you, there's no such thing as a death panel.

(APPLAUSE) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone here has had great points. We all want health care. Our goal is all the same, health and affordable care. That's what we want. I don't care whether we call it ACA. I don't care if we call it Obamacare. I don't care if we say repeal, replace, fix, it doesn't matter. Whatever it winds up being is we need it to have all of the provisions we need to give us the coverage we're all talking about.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My request to you is to rip Obamacare bill the way it is now to shreds. OK, rip it to shreds.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't say do the current bill that Representative Ryan has right now. There's a lot of points that I think some of the people said today that make sense, OK? But it needs to be ripped. There's plenty of people here who obviously like Obamacare. There's a massive number who don't, OK? And the cost and other issues have been -- hold up, hold up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So my request to you is to repeal it completely and build a new system that takes care of the needs that everybody wants in an appropriate way and in an affordable way. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every American should have health care coverage. Would you agree?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. That preexisting conditions should be covered. Would you say?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. If you are 26 years old or at least that, you should be able to be covered by your parents' insurance. Would you agree?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Mr. Price, the cabinet member has said he's committed to those three things. Yes. Yes. Yes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you need to find out the facts before you start complaining.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk more about all that's been unfolding. I want to bring back CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali. He is also the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. Good to see you again. So we can't help but notice that there are parallels here with the Tea Party movement. Many people swarm their town halls after Obama got elected opposing the Affordable Care Act and now the constituents are upset about potentially losing Obamacare. So what changed?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: We're seeing a return to a trend in American history which is that when the American people see the social safety net expands, they actually don't want to retract it. They like the new benefits and securities that they get.

The Tea Party developed out of a sense that the government couldn't be trusted and that the promises that were being made were going to make your situation in this country with regard to health care worse than it was before. So it was based on fear.

And what has happened with Obamacare, for all of its problems, it's delivered on providing three things that in the town hall in Florida, the Trump supporter, praised. One, health care for all, or at least the availability of health care. Two, anyone with a preexisting condition can get health care. And three, children up to age of 26 are covered by their parents' health care plans. Those are popular.

And I think that was actually the political bet that the Obama administration made, which was that as Americans realize that the fears generated by the Tea Party about the effects of Obamacare prove to be incorrect, that Americans would embrace the benefits of it. Now the debate is how to keep those benefits.

WHITFIELD: It's interesting, because these are GOP mostly orchestrated town halls. You heard from some of the people there who said they're Republican, and then there are many that we understand who are Democrats who are part of particular initiatives or movements. So do you see Democrats are using this forum to their advantage than to say let's keep what's, you know, being credited by the Obama administration, the Obama White House?

NAFTALI: Fred, the tragedy is that this is a partisan issue when it should be an American issue. If you look at the expansion of our social safety net, it was bipartisan. Social Security, senators voted for Social Security, 81 Republican members of the house voted for Social Security in 35. In 1965, 70 Republican congressmen voted for Medicare, 13 Republican senators voted for Medicare.

When you come to the Affordable Care Act, no Republicans either in the House or the Senate voted for the expansion of the social safety net. Part of that is due to changes in the Republican Party, part of that is a backlash to the great society and the sense among many Americans that government can't deliver on its promises.

But what happened with the Affordable Care Act in a way that did not happen with Social Security or Medicare is that it became a straight down the line party vote. So it's very partisan. And the challenge for the Republican Party now is to deliver on the benefits Americans seem to want, whether Republican or Democrat, while also maintaining some of the story, the narrative that they've been giving the American people for eight about the fact that the Affordable Care Act is just terrible in every respect.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it right there. Tim Naftali, thanks so much, appreciate it.

All right, so the judge who halted the president's travel ban is now giving the State and Justice Department more time to file legal briefs. Attorneys on both sides now have a deadline of 3:00 p.m. eastern on Monday. Judge James Robart has said that he wants more clarification from the parties on the ramifications of the ninth circuit court order.

Meanwhile, President Trump and the first lady are hosting Japan's prime minister and his wife in Florida. This morning, Melania Trump and the prime minister's wife toured a Delray Beach museum and its six Japanese inspired gardens there. This while the president and prime minister hit the links at Mr. Trump's golf club. CNN's Athena Jones joining us now from outside the president's resort. So what's happening there?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. We just got a note from the press pool that the two leaders wrapped up their round of golf at Trump International at Jupiter and are headed to another activity. We know a few details about that four hour round. The two were riding together in the same golf cart. Ernie Els, the South African pro golfer was part of their group.

And the president was making a "Make America Great Again" hat, perhaps not surprising. This all of course is part of establishing a strong personal relationship between the two leaders, President Trump and Prime Minister Abe. That's certainly very important to the Japanese prime minister. That's why he was the first foreign head of state to visit with then president-elect Trump at Trump Tower in November soon after he won the election.

But the president also made news on the trip down here, Fred, on Air Force One when he came back to the press cabin to show his wife, first lady Melania Trump, his digs. It was her first flight on Air Force One.

[14:10:02] We asked him a few questions. I asked about the immigration ban and these new security measures he's promising. He said that he was certain that the administration would ultimately win in any court battle but that could take a while. Here's more of what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The unfortunate part is it takes time statutorily, so it's takes time. We'll win that battle. But we also have a lot of other options including just filing a brand new order. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that your plan?

TRUMP: It could very well be, but I like to surprise you. We need speed for reasons of security. So it could very well be that we do that.


JONES: And so you heard him not really commit to a day but he mentioned it could come Monday or Tuesday, but telling us he wanted to keep it a surprise. We asked what we might change about any executive order. He said very little. And when it comes to those new security measures, all he would say is there will be extreme vetting.

And Fred, I want to mention just a quick thing about this video that's getting so much buzz on social media, that 19 secondhand handshake between the president and the prime minister yesterday in the Oval Office. Some explanation from the foreign press pool, our colleagues at NHK. This is about translation.

The two, the Japanese press asked to shake hands in Japanese, and so the prime minister said to President Trump, let's shake hands, shall we shake hands. And 10 seconds into that handshake, the Japanese press said, hey, guys, in Japanese, can you look this way? President Trump asked Prime Minister Abe what are they saying? The prime minister said, they're saying look at me, a rather literal translation that the president seemed to take literally. So he looked at Prime Minister Abe, smiled at him, patted his hand. The prime minister smiled back and pointed in the direction of the cameras. And then at long last after 19 seconds or so, the handshake finally ended. But I think it's useful for viewers to know, there's some background on that unusual exchange.

WHITFIELD: But it's also that moment right there when the release of the handshake takes place and Prime Minister Abe's expression was kind of like, I don't know what that was.

JONES: A picture is worth a thousand words.

WHITFIELD: All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, President Trump said he plans to look into reports his national security advisor talked sanctions with Russia's ambassador. The potential repercussions for Michael Flynn and U.S. Russian relations, next.


[14:16:12] WHITFIELD: A U.S. official has confirmed to CNN that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn did speak with Russia's U.S. ambassador before the inauguration about the U.S. sanctions against Moscow. What Flynn might have said about the matter is still unclear. CNN's global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LABOTT: The White House says it's troubled by backpedaling by President Trump's national security advisor, General Mike Flynn, who now says he is unsure whether he spoke to Moscow's ambassador to the U.S. about sanctions on Russia before President Trump even took office, including a conversation on the same day they were imposed by President Obama. A serious problem for Vice President Mike Pence, one of several top officials who vouched for Flynn including in this interview with CBS News last month.

MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENT: What I can confirm having spoken to him about it is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

LABOTT: Now the vice president is claiming he was relying on Flynn's assurance that sanctions never came up. A close aide now says Flynn has, quote, "no recollection of discussing sanctions," but, quote, "couldn't be certain that the topic never came up." And a senior White House advisor says Pence believes that's a problem.

TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: You've got different people saying different things, not know who they can trust within their own team. That heads to a very difficult place, too.

LABOTT: U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials told CNN last month investigators were monitoring calls between Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The content of those calls captured during routine eavesdropping on Russian diplomats was concerning, at the same time the U.S. was conducting a broader investigation of Russian activities in the U.S. Officials who spoke to CNN at the time stressed no wrongdoing on Flynn's part had been made.

A U.S. official confirms Flynn's communication with the Russian ambassador included discussions of sanctions during at least one phone call as first reported in "The Washington Post." The kremlin denies reports Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak discussed sanctions, calling the information, quote, "incorrect." A key question, whether Flynn's communication with the ambassador influenced Russian president Vladimir Putin's decision not to retaliate after the new sanctions were imposed. The Obama administration also kicked out some 35 Russian diplomats out of the country in response to Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

BLINKEN: After the Obama administration went ahead with those sanctions, normally you would expect Russia to retaliate in kind. That's been past practice. And of course President Putin said no, I'm not going to do that. And you have to wonder whether in fact he was told hold off, don't do anything, because when we, the Trump administration, get in, we're going to revisit this whole thing.

LABOTT: At the time president-elect Trump cheered Russia's decision on Twitter, writing, quote, "Great move on delay by V. Putin. I always knew he was very smart."

(END VIDEOTAPE) LABOTT: The question is of course whether during those phone calls, Flynn signaled to the ambassador that Trump would lift sanctions against Russia once in office. Unclear. U.S. and European officials say Flynn's been non-committal in his meetings about whether sanctions are still on the table, and President Trump says he's not aware of these reports, but he'll look into them, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Elise Labott, thank you so much in D.C. And we'll be right back.


[14:23:50] WHITFIELD: All right, time for a little laughter. Alec Baldwin is back tonight hosting "SNL" for record 17th time. Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fans are expecting a Trump-athon this weekend. Alec Baldwin returns for a record 17th time hosting "SNL." President Trump can. The teaser alone probably annoys him.

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: This was my home. This was my heartbeat, so I must return. I must find the strength.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alec, you were just here yesterday. It's not that big of a deal.

BALDWIN: Oh, it's a big deal.

MOOS: Lately the big deal has been Melissa McCarthy's portrayal of Press Secretary Sean Spicer. "Politico" reported sources close to President Trump said that what bothered the president most about the portrayal is that the role of Spicer was played by a woman. That made some woman mad and sparked a push to draft Rosie O'Donnell to play Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon. These are their faces morphed together, Rosie using this one as her Twitter profile picture. And on Thursday she tweeted this photo of Bannon as a puppeteer with the president on his lap.

[14:25:13] Since there's such bad blood between Rosie and the president --

TRUMP: Rosie O'Donnell is disgusting. She's a slob.

ROSIE O'DONNELL: Orange slug.

MOOS: Trump critics figure it would drive the president nuts to see her play Bannon. Rosie tweeted "Available. If called I will serve." "The Huffington Post" compiled an entire cast of women, from Ellen Degeneres as Mike Pence to Betty White as Attorney General Sessions.

But sorry, Rosie fans, we have a five-word answer from Rosie's rep. She is not doing "SNL," unless of course the show invites her and she accepts at the last minute. When it comes to Rosie and President Trump, maybe the wall should separate them. Jeanne Moos --

TRUMP: Living with this pig face.


ROSIE O'DONNELL: Snake oil salesman.

MOOS: New York.


WHITFIELD: Oh, stay tuned.

All right, I'm Fredericka Whitfield. Thank you so much for being with me. Next is CNN special report, "Before the Wall, A Journey on the Border." It begins right after this.