Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Chooses Russian Ambassador; Republicans Investigating Trump-Russia Ties; Republicans Push Health Care Plan. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

The most Republican -- powerful Republican in Congress just rolled up his sleeves today, laid it out all on the line for this new plan to replace Obamacare. Seven years of promises have led to right now, House Speaker Paul Ryan said today, and he made it clear to his fellow Republicans, you are either with us or you are against us.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment and this is the closest this will ever happen. It really comes down to a binary choice.


BALDWIN: As Speaker Ryan puts the pressure on, the president seems to be brushing off the mounting opposition from seniors and doctors and hospitals against the American Health Care Act.

President Trump tweeted this -- quote -- "Despite what you hear in the press, health care is coming along great. We are talking to many groups and it will end in a beautiful picture!"

Let's go to Jeff Zeleny, our senior White House correspondent.

And, Jeff Zeleny, we know Speaker Ryan declared now is the time, this is the plan. Yet, last hour at the White House briefing, which ended, the tone seemed to me more open to phases or changes. How did you interpret that?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Brooke. That is definitely the president's plan here. He is saying, look, he is open to making small changes in this. He is listening to all these concerns from these conservative groups.

But going back to his tweet for one second, I have talked to a lot of people here and Republicans on Capitol Hill. They were struck by, "It will be a beautiful picture." They said, look, legislation is seldom beautiful. How the sausage gets made in Washington is often ugly. They were sort of struck by that.

But, look, I think the president is open to hearing concerns. The challenge here for it is everything is sort of built together. And Speaker Ryan was laying out a plan as he believes should be. He is not really open to that changes in it, because you start changing a couple of things and it falls apart.

But this was Sean Spicer at the briefing earlier explaining the president's view.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president has said before he wants to hear members' ideas. He believes that this bill encompasses the best of ideas and the best way forward. But, again, we're going to let the process work its will through the House and then subsequently through the Senate.

And if members have ideas, we want to hear them. We want them to be part of it. This isn't getting jammed through.


ZELENY: He says this isn't getting jammed through, but some Republicans disagree.

Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas, he was tweeting last evening, saying, House, slow down, you're going too fast here, you're trying to run this through.

So the criticism of it being jammed through is coming from Republicans. So, Brooke, we are in the middle of a Republican feud, if you will, and it's the challenge of this president to bring all sides together. Not saying he can't. This is an open process here, but this rollout is not what they had hoped for or expected, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Republican governor of Arkansas I was just talking to admitted, yes, it's a process. What we're looking at now may not be exactly what gets through, but complicated and the sausage, to your point, ain't always pretty.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much at the White House.

President Trump is launching a major charm offensive to the Republican critics of this plan to replace Obamacare. And according to sources who were present at a meeting in the Oval Office Wednesday, the president then said this. If the effort to pass this plan goes down, then allow Obamacare to fail and let the Democrats take the blame.

Joining me now, someone who was at said meeting with the president of the United States. In fact, this is video of her with the group leaving the White House after it ended.

So with me now, Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund. And also with me, John Hart, the editor in chief of Opportunity Lives and an adviser to the One Nation Health Coalition.

So welcome to both of you. Thank you both for being here.

Jenny Beth, first to you. You were in the room. How did the president do with his pitch? Did he have a good grasp at a fairly complicated issue?

JENNY BETH MARTIN, CO-FOUNDER, TEA PARTY PATRIOTS: Well, he went through and pointed out that there are three different phases. On Monday night, that was not communicated very well from the House Republican leadership.

On Tuesday, that message was more apparent. He went through it again when I met with him yesterday. The first phase is the bill that we see right now, the reconciliation bill. The second phase would be what Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will do with regulations, and the third phase is a bill that is not a reconciliation bill, but would require the 60-vote threshold to be able to come to a final vote in the Senate.


He talked about all three of those items, that that's part of the repeal and replace process that he's going through. And we, the groups who were there with me, we all discussed our serious concerns about the bill.

We're concerned because it does not fully repeal Obamacare. It does not remove the insurance company regulations, which are driving the costs up.

BALDWIN: It doesn't go far enough for you?

MARTIN: Well, what we are concerned about is that it's not just that it doesn't go far enough, that it's going to cause the prices to go up even further.

And that is not what the hardworking men and women of America who voted to give the Republicans the majority in the House and then in the Senate and now in the White House voted for when they voted for repeal and replace of Obamacare.

BALDWIN: John, how do you see this?

JOHN HART, EDITOR IN CHIEF, OPPORTUNITY LIVES: Well, look, I think this bill is an important first step. It's imperfect. But we have to act.

Obamacare is collapsing. And Republicans are doing this because they care about people. This is not about politics or process. We have seen premiums increase by 25 percent, the cost of Obamacare's broken promises about $6,200 per person.

That's the difference between what Obama said costs would be reduced by vs. what they increased by. So that's enough for about a year's worth of mortgage payments for somebody who's making $40,000 or $50,000 a year.

So this plan, again, it's not perfect, but it will move us -- what's most important -- is from a government-centered system to a patient- centered system that will introduce competition, choice, access and lower costs for every American family.

BALDWIN: It seems to me, though, John, just staying with you, neither side -- neither the Republicans in Congress or in the White House are owning it yet. To quote one of our commentators, it's sort of this orphan bill at the moment.

Yet you saw Speaker Ryan today, and I keep painting this picture just because it was great to see, sleeves rolled up, PowerPoint presentation, obviously very familiar with the intricacies of this bill, something that is very complicated.

Watching that today, did you sense that -- was this him sort of unofficially taking ownership of this?

HART: Well, I think it's him showing leadership.

I think a lot of people own it. The story that isn't being told is the Republicans have had alternative bills over a decade. I worked on one when I was an aide for Tom Coburn. Paul Ryan was our sponsor on the House side, called the Patient's Choice Act.

So what is happening now, there's a very spirited family debate happening between competing plans. But what's being missed is that the Democrats have no plan. Partisanship is not a plan, denial is not a plan. And we have an Obamacare plan that former President Clinton...


BALDWIN: What do you mean they didn't have a plan? Just to push back on you, they eventually passed Obamacare. That was their plan.

HART: Right, right, but there's no plan to fix Obamacare. I think even Democrats are saying that this is collapsing, that this is a train wreck, according to Max Baucus, who was the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that helped write Obamacare.

So Democrats know they have to act as well and they should be falling over themselves to work with Republicans to find a solution. But this is an issue that should unite us, it shouldn't divide us. Health care is about people, it's about relationships, and we need to focus on lowering costs, improving access and protecting people who are being hurt by the status quo.

BALDWIN: Jenny Beth, you mentioned off the top that, in listening to President Trump, he outlined the multiple stages. I think Sean Spicer kept calling this like a three-pronged, phased plan.

Are you surprised maybe that the president or the White House was so caught off-guard on this, in the sense that it's not as easy as one would think, getting something like this through Congress? MARTIN: My surprise is not really with the White House.

Like John just said and what we heard from the president, we can all agree Obamacare is a disaster. It's causing prices to go up. It is not doing what it was intended to do. And what I conveyed to the president is that the supporters of Tea Party Patriots, who are the people that helped get him elected and who are his voters, we want to make sure that we can help him keep his promise to repeal Obamacare and to lower costs.

What I'm surprised by is that the House would introduce a bill that benefits the insurance companies so much and leaves the -- if this bill passes as it is right now, we're going to look back at it and say once again, Washington, D.C., forgot about the hardworking men and women of this country.

And we cannot do that. We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us and I'm very hopeful that we can fix what has been introduced, so that we do achieve the goals that we share with President Trump.

BALDWIN: Talking to so many people, I think we can all agree this is a process, it will take a little time, but also we want something that benefits people who need health care so desperately in this country.

We're going to go for now. John Hart, thank you. And Jenny Beth Martin, I appreciate you very much.

Just into CNN, senators are now revealing exactly who they want to talk about this investigation into the Trump campaign ties to Russia, who they want in the hot seat. That's ahead from Capitol Hill.


Also, a dramatic drop in border crossings at the U.S./Mexico border. So we will explore whether or not it's President Trump's hard-line rhetoric that could be behind that.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN.


BALDWIN: And we're back.

We have got some breaking news for you, senators telling CNN they want a number of President Trump's campaign associates to testify over this investigation into their contacts with Russia.

So let's go to Capitol Hill to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

So, they're saying we want answers and we want to talk to X, Y and Z. And if not, we will subpoena them. Am I right?



And, actually, what the Senate Intelligence Committee has under its rules gives significant powers for members to actually subpoena any of those witnesses if they decide not to come. And what I'm told from a number of those senators, that they want to hear directly from those Trump officials who allegedly had some conversations or contacts with Russian government officials during the time of the elections.

Now, this comes as this committee is ramping up its investigation. Actually, a number of senators went to Langley, Virginia, to CIA headquarters today to pore over data. What I'm told from senators is that that data showed how Russia was heavily involved in trying to hack and influence this election, but they want to try to go a step further in this investigation, determine if there were any contacts between Trump officials and Russian officials.

James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma who sits on the committee, talked to me about this issue just moments ago.


RAJU: Do you think it would be helpful to have Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Manafort, people who have had connections, allegedly, contacts with Russians, to come and testify before the committee?

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Yes, we're trying to get all the background and the information that currently all of those agencies have and why some of those names got floated, and that it's entirely reasonable to be able to visit with some of those people and be able to ask specific questions on it.

It's not unreasonable to be able to do that. It's a normal part of our process, though, is to be able to not only to get background information, but also conversation with people in interviews.

RAJU: Have you asked them to appear yet?

LANKFORD: I'm not going to talk about who we have and haven't talked to about it. When we have gone through the interviews at this point, we have had to do no subpoenas. We have been able to ask questions and be able to have the people we want to appear with us to be able to talk with us.


RAJU: Now, Brooke, the question is, where does this go from here?

One issue that some members are pushing on is to try to get Donald Trump's tax returns to look into whether or not there are any Russia ties with the president of the United States. Dianne Feinstein, who sits on the committee, told me just moments ago -- quote -- "The tax returns become a primary lead into a Russia connection and that would be Russia money and his businesses."

They're open to subpoena, to try to use their subpoena power to get those tax returns. And one other piece of news, Brooke, FBI Director James Comey is on the Hill this afternoon briefing some House leaders on this issue of Russia in a closed-door, private classified meeting that is happening at this hour.

So, we will see what more we can learn as this investigation on Capitol Hill ramps up, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Please do let us know. Having the FBI chief on the Hill is always significant. Manu, thank you so much.

Let's begin there. I have got Gloria Borger with me, CNN chief political analyst.

And just on Manu's reporting, interesting that this could be one attempt to try to see those tax records. Maybe pigs will fly before that happens. But, secondly, the Carter Pages, the Paul Manaforts of the world, if they don't say yes willingly, they absolutely could be subpoenaed.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely could be subpoenaed.

Look, the big question here, everybody seems to agree who's looked at a lot of documents that the Russians were trying to -- were doing hacking and were trying to influence the election, period. That's kind of almost a given at this point.


BORGER: And I think the next step and the next big question is collusion.


BORGER: Was there any collusion on the part of people in Donald Trump's orbit, not necessarily people running the campaign?

BALDWIN: Not direct, but...


BORGER: But in the orbit who said, well, who were -- were there any communications? I mean, this is what this is what I think Lankford is talking about. This is what Dianne Feinstein is talking about. This is what Senator Warner was talking about to Manu yesterday.

I think they -- what you do when you do this kind of an investigation is you broaden out the circles and then you narrow them, right? And I think so what they do is they're casting the net right now, and they want to talk to people to see if indeed there were any communications between people who were in the orbit of Donald Trump and Russians who wanted to influence the election on his behalf.

It's a very logical way to proceed.

BALDWIN: Right, it's about collusion.


BALDWIN: What about moving onto the wiretapping, you know, these allegations of -- without evidence, of President Trump's, Trump Tower, with regard to President Obama? And now apparently the Democrats are calling for another investigation. What is that about?

What's that about, strategy-wise?

BORGER: Well, I think they're calling his bluff, basically. I think that, you know, you have Sean Spicer originally coming out after Donald Trump tweeted last Saturday -- was that only last Saturday?

BALDWIN: Only last Saturday morning.


BORGER: Tweeted last Saturday. You had the White House coming out.

And one way for them to deal with this was to try and say we want Congress to investigate it. And it's a way to get it off their plate so they could start talking about health care, which they also have to deal with, and to kind of move it to one side.


And so now Congress is saying, OK, you put it on our plate, we're going to investigate it. Yes, we are.

And so I think they're kind of calling his bluff on that, saying, we want to see records, we want to know more, even though, as we all know, the president could put an end to this by releasing what he knows, because he is the only one who can declassify that information.

BALDWIN: Last hour, Press Secretary Sean Spicer says he is unaware of a former counterintelligence investigation into President Trump, but we do have new sound from the vice president here. He was caught by a local TV affiliate and he was asked about whether or not essentially he believes that there was any wiretapping. Here's the vice president.


QUESTION: Yes or no, do you believe that President Obama did that?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, what I can say is that the president and our administration are very confident that the congressional committees in the House and Senate that are examining issues surrounding the last election, the run-up to the last election, will do that in a thorough and equitable way.


BALDWIN: He's in a sticky place.


BALDWIN: How do you answer that and how does -- does an answer like that even further delegitimize the accusation?

BORGER: He was given a yes-or-no question.

BALDWIN: And that was not a yes-or-no answer.

BORGER: And that was not a yes-or-no answer. He was tap-dancing. And, again, just what we were talking about before, the way he's tap- dancing is saying, OK, it's now in Congress' court and they're going to investigate it and they're going to look into it.

That way, he doesn't have to answer the yes-or-no question. And I don't know whether the vice president knows exactly what the president is referring to. I don't know whether he's asked him and I don't know whether he's gotten an answer.

We all know the stories that the president may have read something in Breitbart or whatever. But I think it's a convenient way for them to get it off their plate right now and talk about what they want, talk about -- which was what the vice president was trying to talk about, which was health care reform, which is what he's trying to sell.

BALDWIN: I got some information in my ear as I was listening to you on Senator Orrin Hatch in Utah, longest-serving senator, apparently, he lobbied for Trump and he will be, correct me, guys, will be running for reelection, correct?

BALDWIN: Eighty-two years...


BALDWIN: How old is he, guys? He's an octogenarian. Let's call him that.

BORGER: Let's call him an octogenarian. Yes.


BORGER: And he's been a Trump supporter. And now that Jon Huntsman is going to be the ambassador to Moscow, he was thinking of a Senate race. Now you have Orrin Hatch saying he's going to run for the Senate. Was it Shermanesque? Did he say definitely, definitely?


BALDWIN: Guys, you have the wire in front of you. I don't know, but he will be running, so there's that.

One other piece that I was handed, in a direct challenge to the White House, this is from the Office of Government Ethics, saying it remains concerned -- quote -- "by the misuse of position" by Kellyanne Conway for endorsing Ivanka Trump's products in that TV interview. This from a couple of weeks ago on FOX.

It was like this, hey, go out and buy Ivanka Trump products at Nordstrom. And so I guess the Office of Government Ethics is rebuking the White House for handling or maybe not fully handling Kellyanne. BALDWIN: Yes. I think there's going to be this tug of war between

the Office of Government Ethics and this White House. And you're going to see it constantly, whether it relates to the Trump Hotel and who's staying there and spending their money there or the divestment, Trump's divestment from his businesses, or Ivanka Trump, should she take a formal role in the administration, or Kellyanne Conway.

And I think that there's going to be a lot of questions that the White House Counsel's Office is going to have to deal with, with the Office of Government Ethics, because they have two different jobs and the counselor to the president is trying to represent the president, and the people in the White House, Kellyanne Conway, they're his clients. And the Office of Government Ethics doesn't have them as his clients.

His clients are the American people and the ethics rules. And so I think you're going to see this back and forth many, many times, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You're so good. Gloria Borger, thank you very much.

BORGER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, President Trump chooses former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to serve as ambassador to Russia, despite a rocky past between these two. Why do a number of the Trump critics actually get the job and others are shunned? We will talk about that coming up.



BALDWIN: According to sources to CNN, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has accepted Trump's off to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to Russia, Huntsman also a former ambassador to China, a Republican.

This new move may come as a surprise to some, given the criticisms Mr. Trump and Mr. Huntsman have hurled at one another.

So, for that, let's bring in Michelle Kosinski, senior diplomatic correspondent at the State Department.

It is nice to see you.

Why don't you remind us of the things that have been said between these two and how this is quite a job to take on?


I mean, you have Russia hacking. You have the situations in Syria and Ukraine. There's a lot there. You look at Jon Huntsman's record as a former governor, former ambassador to China, one of the things, though, that really jumps out about this choice, as you mentioned, is the fact that he has criticized Donald Trump in the past, to the point that he actually urged him to drop out of the presidential race.

So you have to think, for President Trump to be looking past that now, he must have a very good reason for doing so, and the Trump administration does gain a few things from this choice.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Trump's choice for ambassador to Russia, is the latest player in one of the U.S.' most complicated relationships.

But Huntsman, only months ago, after the release of the "Access Hollywood" tape of Donald Trump saying lewd things about women, called for Trump to drop