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New: Obama "Irked and Exasperated" by Wiretap Claims; House GOP Leaders Comment on Obamacare Repeal; Health Care Showdown: GOP Split over Repeal Plan. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think the former president's reaction -- we're talking about President Obama's reaction to President Trump. You remember that President Trump accused the former president of personally authorizing wiretaps on Trump Tower. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has been working his sources all night, all morning. You've got some new information, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Poppy, no surprise perhaps, we are being told that President Obama was irked and exasperated at this whole assertion that he, personally, was involved in wiretapping the current president. Now, there's no surprise here that President Obama of course has a long history with his successor in office, not always pleasant, to be sure.

But this latest round of reports, I am told, takes it to a new level. He stopped short of being furious at him, I'm told, but he's simply exasperated at the fact that this current president is talking about the fact that he authorized, he personally authorized a wiretap which they simply say, of course, is not the fact. Say it did not happen.

Now, the Presidents normally have this sense of decorum. They do not talk about their successors after leaving office. And so far, the president - the former president, President Obama has largely kept to that. But his aides have not been nearly as quiet. The army of Obama supporters, if you will, have been rallying to his defense.

The former president has been silent. I'm told he has no plans to speak out about this in the future. But John and Poppy, "exasperated" and "irked" are the two words he used to describe his emotions and feelings after hearing that report on Saturday.

BERMAN: And no public statements planned but I think, probably more than happy to let his irked-ness --

HARLOW: Some leaks -

BERMAN: -- leak out, so that the world can know about it. Jeff Zeleny, don't go anywhere because we've a lot more information coming in.

Also, right now, House Republican leaders are getting ready to hold a news conference. This is about their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare plan that could be in trouble because of Republicans. They're losing support within the House Republican membership.

HARLOW: Yes, I mean, in fact just moments from now, two committees, largely Republicans, are going to hold these markup meetings, seeking compromises, concessions, trying to not let this be dead on arrival. They have their work cut out for them. Both conservative and moderate members of their own party are balking at some key parts of this.

President Trump has fully embraced the plans. This brewing GOP revolt rises to the biggest challenge, -- that this young administration, frankly, has faced yet. A short time ago, a senior administration official told us, quote, "The volume of the blowback was a bit of a surprise," blowback within their own party. The White House, we're told, launching this full-court press.

Let's cover all of it. Let's bring back in Manu Raju and our Jeff Zeleny and Sunlen Serfaty. On the Hill, Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, I'm actually standing right now where the House Speaker Paul Ryan will address reporters, this after his meeting with House Republicans just moments ago, talking about the need to pass this bill from members who left the room. They said that the speaker made the case that they need to stay on schedule. This is critical to getting this done this month because if you don't, then it delays and derails other aspects of the agenda including doing big things on reforming the tax code and the like.

Also, people who made the pitch in that private meeting are two other architects of that bill, Greg Walden of Oregon, Kevin Brady of Texas. And also, I'm told that from -- in the room that the speaker also said, told his members that if they raise money in March, they raise -- however much money they raise collectively, he will actually try to match that amount of money for the entire House Republican Conference. So, this was a political meeting as well as one on policy.

But clearly, the challenges remain not just from conservatives but some moderates as well. Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican, told me as he was entering the room that he was concerned about how quickly they're moving on this as well as the provisions that would gut Medicaid could impact his state. So, those are parts of the concerns that the Republican leadership have to iron out both in the center of their conference as well as from the right. Poppy and John?

BERMAN: So, Jeff Zeleny, Manu Raju here is talking about pressure trying to be exerted by the House Speaker. But from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, at the White House, you, just this morning, learning of this full-court press we can expect from the president and the members of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

ZELENY: Indeed, John, this is going to be as big of a campaign rollout since last year. And I am told now, the president is going to be traveling as soon as Saturday to start making his case on his health care bill out in the country. We're told he's likely to go to Kentucky first, then Tennessee, then will be traveling next week as well.

Important to keep in mind, the political geography here, all of these House conservative Republicans who are skeptical and outright opposed to this plan come from Trump districts. So this will be the first test of the Trump movement, its muscle, can it bring voters around, will these conservative Republicans fold.

[10:05:04] But the president will be traveling this weekend. He was originally scheduled to go to Florida to his retreat there. But he's changing his plans and will be out in the country selling this, this weekend and next week. His advisers believe that it's going to be a mix of traveling as well as sort of doing a lot of this work from the White House as well, going directly after senators and members of Congress who are opposed to this.

We started seeing some of that last evening. Rand Paul, for example, he called him out directly on Twitter, saying come over to my side, we can win you over on this. Not coincidentally, the president is traveling to Kentucky on Saturday, we are told this morning here. So the beginning of a test of this Trump organization, can it actually move its movement to pass legislation. It's an open question at this hour.

HARLOW: Look, interesting, as I go to Sunlen, that he's going to Kentucky, a state that went for him solidly, but also a state where, you know, a number of folks do say, have said to me, we've benefitted a lot from Obamacare. So he needs to sell this to them and say that it is going to be better for them.

BERMAN: Rand Paul is also the senator from Kentucky. And I think that has a lot to do -

HARLOW: He wants to get his friend -

BERMAN: -- maybe with a script, right?

HARLOW: -- via the Twitter reach out and now the actual physical reach out in that state. Sunlen, let's talk about the markup as we watch some of the Republicans speaking here. We're listening into this. Let's talk about the markup meetings happening today. Where are you hearing they can find compromise?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the big question going into this, these two dueling House markup committees today. It is a rather painstaking process. And each committee will be focusing on the more - basically the nitty-gritty of all this, the more controversial aspects, things like tax credits, things like Medicaid are really where we heard the outpouring of criticism coming from many Republicans.

And so, the goal today is to figure out areas where they can make tweaks, can make changes to make this bill more amenable to Republicans and garner more support. And as we've been talking about over the last 48 hours essentially since this bill has been released, many Republicans have said very vocally up here on Capitol Hill, look, this bill in its current form is just not something that I can support. Here is a sample of what we're hearing up here from Republicans.


SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: This is not the repeal bill that we've been waiting for, for all these years. This is a huge opportunity that's been missed.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: The first thing Republicans are bringing forward is a piece of legislation that says we repeal it but keeps Medicaid expansion and actually expands it, that keeps some of the tax increases. That is not what we promised the American people we were going to do.


SERFATY: And going into this markup today which will start in a little less than a half hour, Democrats are also lining up, a whole slew of amendments. The goal here is to force Republicans to go on the record, take some tough votes here. This will likely go well into the evening, all the chairmen are saying, John and Poppy, to get ready for a very long night, potentially early morning ahead.

BERMAN: I think it's going to be a long and several days there. All right, guys, stand by. Again, we're watching House leadership now, speak about this plan. And they now have to repeal and replace Obamacare. That's House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. He's speaking right now. We're going to keep our eye on this, I expect when Paul Ryan speaks and if and when he takes questions, we will bring that to you.

But in the meantime, we have some more reporting want to get to. Let's bring in CNN political commentator Kayleigh McEnany, CNN commentator Bakari Sellers and CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel, who joins us especially this morning. And Jamie, I want to go to you first because you've been working the phones, and you are very well sourced on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and particularly in the Senate. This is going to be a very, very steep climb for the president and the House leadership to get this bill through.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL COMMENTATOR: He really is going to need to be the art of the deal guy, the negotiator, because look what we've seen in just 24 hours. How many Republicans are expressing concern? And I fail to speak to every single Republican this morning, but I did do a quick roundup. And there are now eight Republican senators who have gone on the record as being very concerned about it.

So we know about Rand Paul, who's called it Obamacare-lite. We have the four senators who wrote to Mitch McConnell. Portman and Shelley Capito of West Virginia, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, they're all concerned about in their states losing Medicaid funding for people. And then, there is Mike Lee, we just saw in Sunlen's report. And two others, Lindsey Graham has said this is moving too fast. And this morning, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said we should be taking time, we should not be voting in a couple of weeks.

[10:10:00] So, you now have, you know, eight Republican senators who are coming out and saying, wait, stop, slow down, there are problems. You know, can Trump call them up, twist arms? Let's see. But that's a lot of concern on the Republican side.

HARLOW: So, Kayleigh, if you're advising the president on this, you're sitting next to him, and you're reading him the report that Jamie Gangel just brought us about these eight senators. What do you tell them to do?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think President Trump, despite the reporting, has reasons to be very confident. And I think, if you look at his first tweet about this bill, the interesting word he used was negotiation. This is why President Trump was elected by the American people, because he can negotiate. And I think this bill was intentionally put forth as being less conservative than what it will end up being because President Trump plans on giving carrots to various conservative entities.

So for instance, why wasn't the fact that insurance companies can cross state lines, a very conservative proposal, why wasn't that put in there? President Trump has said that repeatedly on the campaign trail. It wasn't put in there because President Trump plans on offering that as a gift to conservatives along with negotiating for prescription drug pricing. All of these conservative proposals, I think, were left out intentionally because these are going to be the carrots given to Republicans in exchange for them accepting tax codes.

HARLOW: It doesn't solve the Medicaid problems.

BERMAN: Well, does he have enough carrots? Because he's also going to have to give carrots to people worried about the Medicaid issue. And that would be like Rob Portman and Lisa Murkowski. - You know, Ryan Lizza puts it. He's got to sail through the Scylla and Charybdis here. He's got to thread this needle politically. And he's getting pressure from both sides. So, Bakari Sellers, what about your side? What do Democrats do? You're just like sitting back, buying popcorn and watching this or do you think Democrats will contribute constructively to this?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think Democrats can contribute substantively. But it's really rare that you find Democrats to Heritage Foundation, Mark Sanford and Mark Meadows and many other conservatives including Ann Coulter on the same side calling this a bad bill. --

BERMAN: And -- but for very different reason, Bakari. It's not like -- look, the Heritage Foundation and you don't think it's a bad bill for the same reason.

SELLERS: Agreed. But however, they're going to need support from at least part of these factions for it to pass. The fact is there are parts of this bill that are good.

HARLOW: All right, guys. Hold on, Bakari, hold that thought. Hold that thought. Let's listen to House Speaker Paul Ryan weighing in on this.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Because this law is rapidly collapsing. Let's not forget that. The premium went up double digits this year in 31 states. Insurers are telling us it will be even worse next year if we stay on this path. Choices have dwindled to the point that one of out of every three counties in America is left with just one insurer to choose from.

The CEO of Aetna has stated that the law is in a death spiral. So we know without a shred of doubt that this law is collapsing. That means this is the choice we face. Are we going to stay with Obamacare and ride out the status quo? Are we going to just let this law collapse and whatever happens, happens? Or are we going to do what we said we would do? Are we going to repeal and replace Obamacare with something better?

This is the covenant that we made with the American people when we ran on a repeal and replace plan in 2016. This is what our bill does. Go online. Read it for yourself. Go to readthebill.GOP. It repeals Obamacare's taxes. It repeals Obamacare's spending. It repeals Obamacare's mandates. It creates a vibrant market where insurance companies compete for your business, where you have lower costs, more choices, and greater control over your health care.

And it returns power. This is most important. This returns power from Washington back to doctors and patients, back to states. This is what good conservative health care reform looks like. It is bold and it is long overdue. And it is us fulfilling our promises. So, I encourage everyone to go online and read our bill at readthebill.GOP. Is there any questions? Christina?


RYAN: Well, as you know, we have this bottom up process that's been over a year long. Last year, we assembled working groups from the committees of jurisdiction and any House Republican that wants to participate in fashioning the repeal and replace plan which we did and ran on in our better way agenda. Then this year, the committees have been leading a process all year long, briefings, listening sessions, conferences, committee hearings. And we've got a lot of feedback from members over that process.

[10:15:00] Our chairs, Walden and Brady, in Ways and Means and Commerce, got feedback from members on two provisions, whether we have a cap on the size of the credit or whether there's a cap on the exclusion. Those two concerns were addressed in the latest draft of the bill, because again, this is a participatory process, this is a bottom-up process. So, those are the concerns that were brought to the committees of jurisdiction by lots of members, not just conservatives, but lots of members. And those concerns were addressed, again, because it's an inclusive process.

I think what you're seeing is, we're going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party. And in being an opposition party, we have divided government. 64 percent of our members - 64 percent of members have never known what it's like to work with a Republican president, to have unified government. So, it's a new feel. It's a new system for people. But it's all the more reason why we have to do what we said we would do and deliver for the American people and govern and use our principles. That's what this is.

QUESTION: You seem to be trusting the White House to help deliver some of the votes you need to get this done. Are you outsourcing this? Are you confident the White House will deliver?

RYAN: -- This is a team sport. And this is something where -- I talked to the president twice yesterday. He had dozens of members down at the White House yesterday. We're working hand in glove with President Trump, Vice President Pence, Secretary Price. This is an all hands on deck. Because you know what, we all ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

We know that if we do nothing, the system collapses. We know that if we just repealed it, the system collapses. This is why we have to pass it with something better. Look, I would just say this. Look at what this does. -- This is a conservative wish list. Look at what this bill does. It repeals Obamacare's taxes. That's a trillion dollars in tax relief for families that will help them with the cost of health care. It repeals Obamacare's spending, Medicaid expansion and the Obamacare subsidies. It repeals the Obamacare mandates on individuals and businesses. It ends the funding for Planned Parenthood and sends that money to community health centers which there are more of.

It has a Medicaid per capita block grant. That's the biggest entitlement reform anyone here seen. It nearly doubles the amount of money people can put in health savings accounts. That's a law I co- authored in 2003, which is what conservatives believe is really critical for creating a free market in health care. It equalizes tax treatment of health care.

Tax credits for health insurance is something that we, as health care conservative reformers, have been working on for years. This has been the crown jewel of conservative health care reform, to equalize the tax treatment of health care so that we can have a vibrant individual market, to have a free market in health care, to bring consumers into the market, to put pressure on providers.

This is what's wrong in health care, among many other things. We don't have true price and quality competition in health care. We want all the providers of health care services, insurers, doctors, hospitals, everyone, competing against each other for our business as patients, as consumers. You do that when you create a vibrant individual market. Lower costs, more competition, more choice and most importantly, get Washington out of the business of being a nanny state, of micromanaging and running health care into the ground.

Get it back to patients. Get it back to doctors. Get it back to states. That's what this does. This is monumental, exciting conservative reform that fixes these problems. This is something -- I've been working on this for 20 years. This is exciting. This is what we've been dreaming about doing, and we know it's going to make a positive difference in people's lives in this country. And it's juxtaposed against the backdrop of a collapsing law that is doing real damage to families every day in America.

QUESTION: Could you give us an update on the CBO score? (INAUDIBLE) RYAN: We do --I don't know the answer to that. I think it's probably -- we know it will come well before the bill gets to the floor. It's very common that you have markups in authorizing committee levels before you have a score. That's common practice. But because we made some changes this weekend to accommodate members' concerns, particularly conservatives, that pushed the date back a little bit. So I expect at the beginning of next week, I think, no later than sometime early next week, we'll get the score, well before we go to the floor. Juan?

QUESTION: You said you have no doubt that you will get the 218 votes necessary to pass this bill. What gives you that certainty? What are you seeing on the ground?

RYAN: I have no doubt we'll pass this because we're going to keep our promises. Every House Republican, -- I think every Republican in Congress, including the President of the United States, made a promise to the American people. And the promise we made to the American people is we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Because we made that promise, I am confident we're going to make good on that promise. Thank you.


HARLOW: All right. There you have House Speaker Paul Ryan saying, "there is no doubt we will get this through," saying, "I've been working on this for 20 years," "calling this an exciting time." Clearly messaging from the party to his Republican colleagues, let's get this done.

[10:20:00] BERMAN: You know it was pretty interesting too. This wasn't in the Capitol building, this was from the RNC headquarters, perhaps sending the message to Republicans who may be on the fence -- this is a party issue, we are asking you to do this and the president will be asking you to do this. Speaker Paul Ryan called it a "team sport."

HARLOW: Absolutely. Jamie Gangel, this to you and then Bakari, we will get back to you. But Jamie, just with your reporting on these eight senators opposing it, if they're listening to Paul Ryan and others in the House and the Freedom Caucus who don't like what they're seeing with this, what's the message they take away from this and how do they act next?

GANGEL: So, you know, so as John just said, it was done from the RNC. And I think what that speaks to, the politics behind this. There is no question what Paul Ryan said is true. They all ran against Obamacare, about repealing it. But they don't have their troops on board.

They wanted to get this done. They do want to get it done. There's pressure from the White House. They want to show that they're accomplishing it in the first 100 days. But it's not a disciplined, organized thing. There are just too many Republicans who are saying that they don't want it. So that's a problem within their House.

BERMAN: And so far as we can tell, no Democrats saying they support it. Just now this brings us back to Bakari Sellers. Bakari, we had to cut you off before. We were asking about what Democrats should do going forward with this.

SELLERS: Well, I think that Democrats appreciate the fact that individuals can stay on their health care until the age of 26. I think they also appreciate the fact that there will be preventive care and maternity care in this piece of legislation. But those are the pieces that they took from Obamacare.

The bad parts about this as we've been talking about -- are the issues about gutting Medicaid. I mean, you have 31 states which have Medicaid expansion, which rely on this fund. You have a state like mine which didn't and people are literally dying. And so, to take away funds from Medicaid is extremely dangerous.

What we also see and what Paul Ryan was so -- he used political-speak and so witty, but I don't see how this soothes the economic anxiety of those rural working class voters. They catapulted them to a majority in the House and Senate and won the presidency, is he's not talking about the fact that this is a tax cut for the wealthy or the fact that they - although they alleviate the tax only by name, if you do not get this insurance, there still is a mandate, because your premiums will go up 30 percent. Your premiums will go up 30 percent if you do not have insurance.

So it may not be a tax that goes to the government, but it's a tax that goes to the insurance company. And lastly, I will just mention the fact that the people who win in this are the insurers. The people who win in this are the CEOs. I find it just despicable that Paul Ryan can stand up there and talk about what's good for the American people when he put the cherry in there that says that health care CEOs can now deduct salaries over $500,000. That's none of us who need the service. That doesn't do any good for the fabric of America. And that doesn't soothe any, quote unquote, "economic anxiety."

HARLOW: Kayleigh, look, Paul Ryan is saying, "Let's get this done." Let's act on it now. Let's tackle, we have momentum. But what about those Republican senators like Tom Cotton and others who are saying -- and members of the House as Jamie reported, "slow down." Do you think there's anything that really helps the administration, helps the president, helps Republicans on this one, if they go too fast?

MCENANY: No, I think, look, they've taken their time. We've had the last 6 1/2 years to hash out an appropriate replacement plan for Obamacare. And, you know, as Speaker Ryan mentioned, these are conservative ideas that have been debated. Tax credits have been floating around for conservative circles for a long time. So I think there's been plenty of time.

But one of the fascinating things that Speaker Ryan just did is at the very end, when he was asked about Republican defection, he said, look, we made a promise to the American people. Every single Republican said Obamacare will be repealed and replaced. That seemed to me almost like a threat to members. Do you want to be the one Republican or dozen Republicans responsible for having to go back to the American people in four years saying, Obamacare wasn't repealed and replaced because these 12 senators or a dozen or so senators held out. So that was an interesting kind of maybe not a carrot but a stick against other Republicans.

BERMAN: Kayleigh bringing the carrots and sticks today. Guys, stand by. We're going to take a quick break here. When we come back, we're going to speak with a Republican member of Congress who just told us he has significant differences with what Speaker Paul Ryan just said. Stick around.


[10:28:30] HARLOW: Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. So glad you're with us. We got a lot going on this morning. Any moment now on Capitol Hill Republicans, they're going to begin their scramble to try to tamp down this revolt within their own party against their ideas, their plan now to repeal and replace Obamacare. The pushback from within their own party was so strong. We're told it was a big surprise to the Trump administration. The president now has wholeheartedly embraced this plan.

HARLOW: Right. He's going to hit the road, try to sell it to more folks this week. Two committees are meeting right now for these so- called markup sessions. All right, what do those mean? That's where the sausage is made, as they say. They're going to try to appease some of the opposition, try to defuse what is the biggest threat yet to the young Trump administration. Let's go straight to Phil Mattingly. He's on Capitol Hill. So, how much jockeying are we going to see unfold?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot. But I think it's important to note what's actually going to happen today. Obviously, you have these two committees. These two committees are controlled by Republicans, and they're controlled by Republican chairmen who work hand in glove on the production of this repeal plus plan that Speaker Paul Ryan has been talking about.

What does that mean? That means guys that despite a lot of Republicans, mostly conservative Republicans being wary about the direction of this bill, don't expect major changes today. If there are any changes at all, I'm told from committee aides that they're not expected to be dealing with a lot of amendments that make major shifts to the bill. One committee might not deal with any amendments at all.

So, what does that mean? Well, that means, this is a forum for Democrats to make their objections very well-known. And that's exactly what they're going to do. I walked over here from the Capitol building with a Democratic lawmaker, who's on the House Ways and Means Committee. When I asked kind of what do we expect for today. He winked and said, "It's going to be fun."