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Soon: Senate Grills Nominee over Trump/Russia Probe; House Republicans Unveil Obamacare Replacement; Soon: WH Faces New Questions over Wiretapping Claim; Rep. Chaffetz Sounds off on New Health Bill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 7, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone, I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. Thank you so much for joining us. Take a look at this. Take a look at this room because this is where we could see the biggest battle yet over the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. Foxy now, really, Democrats threatening to block the confirmation of deputy attorney general nominee unless he is willing to guarantee a special prosecutor to investigate Russia's election hack.

BERMAN: Now, this comes as President Trump has endorsed his party's replacement to Obamacare. This is what he wrote this morning. He wrote, "Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill is now out for review and negotiation." Note the words "our and wonderful." He is owning this completely for the first time. He is also saying he's willing to negotiate, at least a little. That may be essential here because he needs to win over members of his own party, skeptical Republicans.

We've already heard from a number of them this morning on key question. How much will the plan cost? One question Democrats are asking, how many people might lose coverage. We're covering both of these really big stories as they unfold before our eyes. We want to begin with these -- what promise to be contentious hearings on Capitol Hill. Manu Raju is there for us. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Hey, John and Poppy. I'm right outside this Rod Rosenstein hearing. He's of course nominated by Donald Trump, the president, to be the number two at the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions.

Now, normally, this would be a type of hearing that does not get a lot of attention but the reason why today it is, is because Sessions last week, of course, recused himself from overseeing any campaign related investigations about any ties between the Trump campaign into Russia. And now that he's recused himself, that means the number two in the department will oversee that investigation.

Now, if Rosenstein gets this position and if he's confirmed, he will be in charge of that investigation. The question is, will he agree to a special prosecutor. That is what Democrats plan to push him on. Dick Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democratic senator, said yesterday that he would do everything in his power to try to delay, stall and frustrate this nomination unless he makes that commitment to back a special prosecutor.

But the Republicans so far are resisting the idea of a special prosecutor, including Senator Orrin Hatch who I just talked to on the way into the hearing saying, he thinks it's a little overboard for Democrats to be pushing this idea right now. Other Republicans, also aligning themselves with him on that key issue.

So the Democrats do not get the support to stall this nomination over the issue of a special prosecutor. Dan Rosenstein is likely to get his job. He's someone who served in both administrations. He's someone who is confirmed for a U.S. attorney job in 2005 by the Senate unanimously. So, typically, he'd have a lot of support but because of the issue of Russia, that affecting this confirmation hearing. That's why there's going to be a lot of contentious -- potentially contentious back and forth between Rosenstein and the senators at this hearing just moments from now.

HARLOW: For sure and Sessions' recusal changed the entire game for this guy. He's getting a lot more air time -- than a week ago.

BERMAN: This was supposed to be a bland, boring confirmation hearing.

HARLOW: Yes, not anymore. Manu on the Hill, keep watching it for us. Thank you so much.

Another question of the hour this morning, does the president have confidence in his own FBI director? Anyone? Anyone know? We can't seem to get a straight answer on that from the White House, despite asking three times. In just hours, they will face that question again from the press because Press Secretary Sean Spicer will face reporters for his first on-camera briefing in more than a week.

BERMAN: Yes, this comes after the revelation that the FBI director James Comey was incredulous as he read the president's wiretapping accusations against former President Obama. CNN's Sara Murray, she has been the one asking these tough questions with evasive answers. Sara joins us now from Washington. Sara, what are you hearing now?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, the president may be completely convinced that former President Obama wiretapped his phone when he was a presidential candidate. But the FBI director doesn't really sound like he's buying it and that is setting the White House and the FBI up potentially for a clash. Now, I asked Sean Spicer yesterday whether the president still has confidence in his FBI director. Listen to what he said, or didn't say.


MURRAY: What's the president's view of James Comey right now? Does he have the president's full faith and confidence to stay on as the FBI director?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I'm not -- I don't think -- we've only heard unsubstantiated anonymous sources make those claims. I don't think Director Comey has actually commented on anything that he's allegedly said. So, I'm not going to comment on what people say he might have said. I think the director is more than capable speaking for himself.


MURRAY: So, you see, he wouldn't say whether the president does have full confidence, and it will be interesting to see today whether the president and the FBI director did speak, whether Sean Spicer is willing to go a little bit further on this. And it's also worth noting that we haven't exactly seen Republicans coming out of the woodwork to defend that the president on this wiretapping claim.

[10:05:05] Now, one person who did spring to his defense was his Homeland Security Secretary yesterday. Listen to what he said about the president's wiretapping allegations.


JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: If the President of the United States said that, he's got his reasons to say it. He's got some convincing evidence that took place.


MURRAY: So, you see, he says that the president must have convincing evidence. And it's worth noting, we did press administration officials on that yesterday as well. What was the evidence for President Trump saying his phone had been tapped? They were not able to supply anything. Back to you guys.

BERMAN: All right, Sara Murray in Washington. This is exactly why this hearing, we're going to get on Capitol Hill any second right now, is so crucial because Democrats are going to press for answers about Russia, about the wiretaps from the man that Donald Trump wants to be the deputy attorney general, the very man who will oversee these investigations. --

Let's talk about this with our panel. We have David Gergen, CNN's senior political analyst, former adviser to four U.S. presidents, Alice Stewart, a CNN political commentator, Republican strategist. She's also a former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. Maria Cardona is a CNN political commentator, a Democratic strategist, also with us CNN legal analyst, Laura Coates, a former federal prosecutor.

David Gergen, Democrats are going to fight today on Capitol Hill. They're going to fight for this hearing of the deputy attorney general nominee, a guy who actually by all accounts they like and he was supposed to, you know, get in with smooth sailing. But now, senators including Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut say, they're not going to let him in unless he agrees to appoint a special prosecutor. What are Democrats after here?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This case right now is being tried in a court of public opinion. Democrats want to be on top. This is really all about gaining public support, putting pressure on the Republicans. There is no -- I think it's inconceivable that the nominee for deputy attorney general will give a guarantee today that he'll appoint a special prosecutor. It's inappropriate.

He doesn't have all the evidence yet. The Justice Department is supposed to make an independent decision about whether to get a special prosecutor or not. They can get requests in from Congress, but it is up to the Justice Department to make that independent decision. He may well be the person who has to make that decision. And to give an answer today, when he hasn't seen the evidence would just be inappropriate. He has to wait until he gets there.

HARLOW: So, here's why Senator Blumenthal believes that's not the case. Listen to him, just this morning.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: When Elliott Richardson was designated as attorney general during the Watergate era, he was required as a condition of his nomination as attorney general to say he would appoint a special prosecutor, and he did.


HARLOW: So, Laura, parse through that for us.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the reason they're talking about the Watergate scandal and Watergate era is a whole different world. I mean, theoretically now about why he asked for special prosecutors. But the main thing now is, a special prosecutor essentially says, we have no faith in the Justice Department to be able to objectively oversee an investigation which sounds very odd if the whole basis for a confirmation hearing is to say that we give you an unfettered trust right now in your ability to do just that.

So, he's in a very unique position. Remember, this isn't a deputy attorney general nominee who was the person that Eric Holder called to investigate Iran cyberattacks. He worked with Kenneth Starr. He handled the Whitewater issues. This is somebody who across, you know, party lines has been known to be objective. So to now require of him to admit that he will no longer be able to be that, once he takes office, puts him in a very, very precarious position.

BERMAN: Speaking of precarious positions, let's talk about James Comey. The FBI director who you know, I suppose coincidentally was a former deputy attorney general himself. You know, Alice Stewart, Kellyanne Conway said something interesting. This gets to the idea that there's this feud between the FBI director and the White House, the FBI director incredulous that President Trump accused President Obama of wiretapping him.

Well now, Kellyanne Conway said if Director Comey has something to say, perhaps he can just issue a statement or be more explicit. "We know he's not shy." You know, Alice, those seem like loaded words from Kellyanne Conway. Do you think that it's time for James Comey to speak up?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think there were a lot of people that were concerned when they saw the tweets come out about accusing President Obama of wiretaps. And I think Comey was right to be concerned about that but whether or not he should be the one to come forward remains to be seen. And look, if I were him, I wouldn't want to know unequivocally that I have the full faith and confidence of the president because General Flynn had that and he was gone a few days later.

So, I think, from his standpoint, I think it's right to sit back and let the information present itself, but I do think it's important that if the president is going to make such a claim, I think it's important to put some more information out there because I think a baseless claim like this without the information to back it up just puts this -- the center of attention when there are actually some good news they could be talking about which is repealing and replacing Obamacare. And unfortunately, this is taking center stage.

HARLOW: On the same week they're going to try to get these mark-ups done and get something even all the Republicans can - it up just puts this -- the center of attention when there are some good news they could be talking about which is repealing and replacing Obamacare. This is taking center stage.

[10:10:01] HARLOW: On the same week that they're going to try to get these mark-ups done and get something that even their own party -- all the Republicans can - most of them at least -- get on board with. Maria Cardona, I can't help but want to get your reaction to Alice's assertion that now Comey should sort of sit back versus maybe hold a press conference, maybe send some letters. What do you think?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, a couple of things. First, I agree with Alice that more information needs to be put out there about these allegations. But guess who needs to put that more information out? President Trump who is the first one who made these allegations based on what we know so far absolutely nothing.

So, if according to Secretary Mattis, if he really believes that Trump has some sort of basis to have made these allegations, then Trump is under the obligation to be the one to share what basis that is with the American people. Because barring that, you know, everybody is turning to him and saying, what is wrong with you? You know, you are lying yet again, and you are putting sort of the full faith of the American government on trial here.

And so, I actually do also agree with others, frankly Kellyanne Conway. And that's going to be very rare. That you know, this is -- Comey, it's rare that he is shy because we saw during the Hillary Clinton investigation, he wasn't shy there. So, what's keeping him from making what he said apparently to those in private to say it publicly, if he is really concerned? If he is incredulous about the allegations that the president made as he should be, then he should come out publicly and say so. BERMAN: David Gergen, we've got something between a chuckle and a guffaw from you during that answer. And I'm curious why. I mean, it can't be easy these days to be James Comey.

GERGEN: Oh, no. And I am not sure whether President Trump has confidence in James Comey. But it's very clear James Comey does not have confidence in President Trump. And their relationship has deteriorated badly. It's hard to see how he stays on indefinitely, but I think one thing Donald Trump cannot afford to do now is to fire James Comey. No matter what he feels about him, it would be extremely controversial to knock the guy out because in effect it looks like you're trying to muscle the investigation. You're trying to control the investigation, putting one of your own people in there and that sort of thing. That is not a good idea.

HARLOW: All right, guys, so the big fight right now outside of this trying to get their deputy AG confirmed for Republicans is within their own party on Obamacare. Jason Chaffetz comes out. He was on CNN this morning talking about trying to push the plan in the House. Let's listen to what he said, the sacrifices that Americans need to make on this. Listen.


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: We're getting rid of the individual mandate. We're getting rid of those things that people said that they don't want. And you know what, Americans have choices. And they've got to make a choice. So maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars, maybe they should invest it in their own health care. They've got to make those decisions themselves.


HARLOW: So, I mean, Alice, this gets to the sort of the classic Republican argument between access and coverage. They may have access, but it is sort of on them. Was that the right analogy to make? Those are the headlines right now. You can have your iPhone or health care.

STEWART: I don't think it's to that extreme. I do think with regard to the plan that we've seen, I think having it more of a marketplace where there's more individual choices I think is important, as well as the pre-existing conditions. Look, we knew this was going to be a difficult fight.

We knew that there were going to be some tough conversations made. But I think the good thing here is that now we do have some -- a plan on the table. We can have conversations and people can see it. They can read it. And they can reach out to their Congressmen and let their feelings be known and work on this out in the open as opposed to what we saw with Obamacare that was shoved down our throats in the darkness at the last minute. I think it's important to get it out there and have conversation amongst everyone and get input from people across the country.

BERMAN: Maria Cardona, you are nodding your head. CARDONA: Yes. You know, first of all, to be clear, when the Affordable Care Act passed, it passed very transparently. There were tons and tons of hearings on this, including Republican input. 200 -- more than 200 amendments were accepted to the Affordable Care Act that came from Republicans. So, let's just put that to rest because it was transparent.

And speaking of transparency, we don't even know how much this new bill is going to cost. They are going to go into the mark-up process without understanding what is this going to cost the American people? CBO has not scored it. They're not going to wait for that. I think the American people at least should understand what is this going to cost them. Because right now, what we know is, according to Jason Chaffetz, this is going to be an issue where Americans are going to have to choose. And, frankly, I'm sorry Congressman it is not between buying an iPhone and getting health care.

[10:15:00] It's going to be between paying your mortgage and getting health care. Those are the differences between, you know, what Republicans are saying and what Democrats understand are what needs to be the priorities. Republicans don't seem to understand what Americans are going through when they actually have to make real choices in terms of paying their bills.

HARLOW: We've got to leave it there. But to be fair, a lot of people face huge premium hikes because of the existing plan as well. So that's a challenge on the Democrat side still -

CARDONA: A small percentage of the 20 million people who have current health care coverage. And yes, we should fix it.

HARLOW: All right. Some of those were very, very big hikes. Thank you very much. We'll have you all back.

Coming up for us -- take a look. You're looking at live pictures of the hearing where lawmakers are grilling the man who just got a whole lot more important. The man who would lead the investigation into Russia's hacking of the election and any potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Lawmakers are going to drill him at any moment. We'll bring you that live.

BERMAN: -- Unless he appoints a special prosecutor. We'll see what Democrats are demanding. Plus, we are getting to see the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. But some Republicans are calling it Obamacare-lite. Is there a battle brewing within the GOP? Then, what a difference five weeks makes, the new travel ban from the White House suggesting now that more countries could be added to the list.


[10:20:45] HARLOW: All right. So this morning, we're getting brand-new reaction to new House Republicans' plans to repeal and replace Obamacare.

BERMAN: That's right. They are facing some resistance from even within their own party. Senator Rand Paul weighed in this morning.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The House bill has been put forward as Obamacare-lite. It won't work.


BERMAN: Senator Rand Paul calling it Obamacare-lite saying it won't work and he's not the only Republican speaking out against it. Want to bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill. Good morning, Sunlen.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Poppy, this is certainly a major milestone for House Republicans finally unveiling this repeal and replace bill for Obamacare. But within the hours, there are some major fault lines within the party that were emerged, some Republicans even dubbing this Obamacare 2.0 or Obamacare-lite.

And so, let's break down the differences, essentially, between what Obamacare did and what this new proposal does. This bill repeals the individual and employer mandate. Out-of-pocket subsidies and changes the Medicaid expansion. But here's what would stay the same. This plan still allows children to stay on their parents' plan until the age of 26. It largely would keep Obamacare's protections of those with pre- existing conditions. It keeps the no annual lifetime limits and it keeps maternity and preventative care in place.

Now, the mechanics and the Math of all of this, very important up here on Capitol Hill, House Republican leaders have essentially mapping out how they want to get this through. This bill proposed importantly is done through the budget reconciliation bill. That's important because that means this bill would only need a simple majority in the House, 218 votes and a simple majority in the Senate of 51 votes.

That's important because they think they can potentially get this through. But certainly, every single vote being counted and going forward. Then they'd institute a piecemeal approach to the replacement parts. Certainly a lot of battle lines ahead, fierce battle up here on Capitol Hill. John and Poppy?

HARLOW: All right, no questions, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

Joining us now to weigh in in all of this is Republican representative Larry Bucshon of Indiana. He's important in all of this because he serves on a committee on Energy and Commerce. It's one of the two committees that drafted this. It is nice to have you here.

Let me just jump off the bat by getting your reaction to some of your own Republican colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus and senators like Senator Rand Paul who just this morning, sir, called this Obamacare-lite. You've got some angry Republicans who say those tax credits just add to entitlement spending. What say you?

REP. LARRY BUCSHON (R), INDIANA AND COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND COMMERCE: Well, over the last year, prior to the election, we worked together in the House, House Republicans with everyone's input, including people from the Freedom Caucus to craft the better way plan that we all ran on and we had a positive election result. So, there's nothing in here that is surprising. And also, you know, Dr. Price, now the head of HHS, his legislation that he has had for literally years that all of us co-sponsored is very similar with tax credits as one of its main components.

So, you know, I don't generally comment on what other senators and House members have to say. All I would say is that you know this has been an open process amongst Republicans and so I'm confident that we'll have the votes to pass this, both in the House and then the Senate.

BERMAN: Let me ask you about what Congressman Jason Chaffetz said this morning. He said that "Americans, rather than getting the new iPhone that they just love, they should go spend a hundred dollars maybe in their own health care." Do you think health care coverage for Americans is a choice between iPhones and coverage?

BUCSHON: Absolutely not. You know, I was a doctor before, and you know, those types of comments, I think, are unwarranted at this time. And so you know, we want to make sure everyone has access to quality, affordable health care. We don't want people to make choices in their life. You know, having to choose health care and leaving out other parts of their life that everyone else enjoys.

So, I don't think that's true. I think that this is not going to do that. I think we're going to get costs down. And the other thing we're going to do here is, remember, we're not pulling the rug out from under anyone. People that currently are covered under the Affordable Care Act are not going to lose coverage. But we're hoping to add more and more people to the rolls.

[10:25:00] You know, 26 to 28 million people still don't have health insurance in our country. And I just -- I don't think that's right. And so, we're going to be pushing ahead with this reform bill. Actually, you know, it's a rescue bill. I mean, the Affordable Care Act is going under. The exchanges are failing and it's just not working for the American people.

HARLOW: And so, Congressman, you say something important. You say there are all these folks without coverage. We want to make sure they get coverage which echoes what the president said on the campaign trail, but it doesn't echo what some of your Republican colleagues are saying. Jason Chaffetz, again this morning, you know, essentially saying they can't guarantee at this point in time if everyone covered under Obamacare will be covered with this new plan. And then listen to what the director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney just said this morning on NBC.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC ANCHOR: How many fewer or more people will be covered under this new health care plan you've unveiled?

MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: You know we are starting to get that question a lot. And the real answer is compared to what?


HARLOW: Compared to the 20 million that are covered under Obamacare. You just wrote an op-ed on this, sir, and in it you say, "We're determined to provide relief to the millions of families facing tough choices here as a result of Obamacare." Can you guarantee that all of those millions of people will get coverage under this plan?

BUCSHON: Well, I think, you know we're taking away the mandates. And so, you know, a lot of people who don't have coverage now, that's by choice. What we want to make sure is that Americans that want health coverage have access to health coverage. And I don't want to continue mandates on the American people, both employers and individuals. So, you know, it will be up to the people to make that decision.


BERMAN: Do you think -

BUCSHON: the thing we're supposed to -

BERMAN: Do you think that by the time -- if this passes, do you think that fewer people will be covered in this country?

BUCSHON: I don't know. It would be by the choice of the American people. They're going to have low-cost coverage options. The other thing is you know, 20 million people covered under the current law, about half those are Medicaid. We're not taking that away. People are going to continue to be covered.

BERMAN: But you are changing how the Medicaid money is given to the states and there are you know, there are for important senators from states that have taken that Medicaid funding, that are very concerned about how it's done.

BUCSHON: Well, let me just say this. I'd encourage you to look at what President Clinton and Congressman Waxman said back in the '90s about these per capita caps. They are the ones that came up with the idea and it's a conservative approach. So this is nothing new. This has been around Washington, D.C., for a long time.

States are clamoring for choice. They are clamoring for opportunity to do things like Healthy Indiana Plan which we did in our state which gives the state the flexibility to cover its citizens. We covered about 300,000 people. So I would argue that you know this is not a plan that has come out, you know, of the blue. This is something that has been around Washington for a long time, including from what former Congressman Waxman said and President Clinton way back in the '90's.

So, I would argue, states are clamoring for choice, clamoring for flexibility, and we intend to provide that for them. And I think that you know states are likely to cover probably more people if they choose to do so. And I would encourage everyone to look at Healthy Indiana Plan and what we've done there. HARLOW: All right, just clearly, to put a button on it. You keep using the words choice and people will -- more people or as many will be covered if they choose to buy. Do you think any American would actually choose not to buy health care for their family if the -- if they truly could afford it and no problem at all, that they are just going to make that choice? A lot of American families, isn't that an impossible choice to make?

BUCSHON: Well, remember, 26 to 28 million people are currently not covered under the Affordable Care Act and last year, about 19 million people either paid the penalty or got an exemption from Obamacare. So they made that choice.

HARLOW: Because that's the argument that Chaffetz is making. That's the argument that he's making.

BUCSHON: So it's not for me to say, you know, what the American people will do. You know, I'm for more individual liberty and freedom and choice in America and what our opportunity is here to offer people low-cost choices that they can afford, options for their families and I think that most people will make -- will choose a low-cost option for their families.

BERMAN: We don't know. We should know. We have to let you go, Senator, I mean, Congressman. We don't know how much -- we don't know how much this plan will cost yet. That's something we're waiting to see from the CBO. Larry Bucshon, thank you so much for coming on. Please come back. We do really appreciate the discussion.

BUCSHON: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: All right. We're keeping your eye across Capitol Hill right now. This is the Senate Judiciary Committee right now. It's Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He's a senator from Maryland right now.

Right now, Democrats are promising to block the nominee for deputy attorney general unless he promises to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. This hearing could get very heated. We'll bring it to you in a second.