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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Ryan: Trump "Deeply Involved" & Constructive Force; Interview with Congressman Joseph Kennedy III of Massachusetts; Without Proof, WH Stands By Trump Wiretap Claim. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 16, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:33:07] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're sticking with politics. It couldn't be a better time for a little luck of the Irish and a pint of Guinness for Republicans today as they celebrated St. Patrick's Day on Capitol Hill a day early. House Speaker Paul Ryan came out in front of reporters tried to calm nerves over the GOP health care plan that, of course, could leave millions more Americans uninsured. The speaker also seemed to pass the buck right to where the buck is, of course, supposed to stop, saying that President Trump is the key to getting this deal done.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live for us on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, the speaker not mincing any words about the need for President Trump to take some ownership of this.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

It really did seem that Speaker Ryan, one of his goals today was to really portray that he and the president are in sync as they work to move this House bill through the House. He seemed to play up at many points today really what he sees as the president's goal and role in all of this, someone who is deeply intent, entrenched in the negotiation, calling members himself. At one point, Speaker Ryan said the president is the one that is mediating all of this.

So, really trying to push that ownership, push that responsibility back on the president as someone who is not only fully embracing the House bill, in his opinion, but someone who is actively lobbying for it.

Here's what he said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This president is getting deeply involved. He is helping bridge gaps in our conference. He is a constructive force to help us get to a resolution so that we get consensus on how to repeal and replace Obamacare. It's been very helpful, and so, we're working hand in glove listening to the concerns of our members.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And, of course, that comes at a time where Speaker Ryan is really feeling the pressure right on his back to get his members in line and he's the one arguing that this is the one shot they have -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

I'm joined right now by Congressman Joseph Kennedy III. He's a Democrat from Massachusetts.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

REP. JOSEPH KENNEDY III (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you.

TAPPER: I know you want to talk about health care and I want to get there in a second. But, first, I have to ask you this about --

KENNEDY: Yes?

TAPPER: -- the White House and their continuing war on the press and attacks on people for asking about what, if true, seems to be a huge story, that President Obama ordered the wiretapping of President Trump at Trump Tower, although there is not one intelligence official who says it's true.

[16:35:15] KENNEDY: None. And so, look, this is -- it should be a very easy question for the White House to answer, right? It's just what did you know, when did you know it, and with all of these issues around Russia, there is one person that can put all of these concerns to bed tomorrow if he so chooses. That's the president of the United States.

They won't do that. For some odd reason they just won't.

TAPPER: You're talking about him releasing his tax returns or?

KENNEDY: Tax returns I think are part of that, but everything from staff contacts with Russia, you just read a big piece on former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. We've heard over the course of the past several months, drip after drip after drip. And all these questions keep coming because the White House refuses to actually engage this problem right up front, say, this is what happened. This is what we know. This is the evidence. And there's no connection here.

And until they do, these questions are going to continue to come up. Until the president of the United States stops making baseless, what until now are baseless accusations about his predecessor breaking the law to put in some wiretap that as you say no intelligence official can actually confirm, this could have been ended in one phone call by the Trump administration to the Department of Justice, the DNI, and say, do you have any evidence? And that still hasn't happened yet.

TAPPER: No. He obviously should have, and I've heard Republicans say this, he should have if he thought this was true, call the FBI or call the attorney general or call the DNI, and said, is there any truth to this and found out that there wasn't, given that he was basing it on a Breitbart report.

Obviously, you're in opposition to President Trump. Anyway, you're a Democrat, and -- but I wonder, do you think -- do see evidence that this kind of nonsense that we hear from the White House and then you have a whole bunch of his spokes men having to defend it, do you think it affects his ability to govern?

KENNEDY: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Do you see any evidence that?

KENNEDY: There's no doubt about that. It affects the credibility that the president of the United States and his administration has not only with Congress, but the American people. How can you take the president at his word when you have no idea what he actually means and what his word is?

The word of the president of the United States at this moment is not good. You can't count on it. He makes baseless accusations that are very, very serious without any sort of evidence backing it up. Over the course of the campaign he was on every side of every issue and he calls it a negotiation. Fine.

But what do you stand for and how do you plan to deliver it? How do you engage people in the legislative process that is by definition going to be about compromise if you don't have any trust or any confidence that where your partner is in this? And I think that's been really hard for many Democrats and Republicans.

TAPPER: You've seen Republicans on Capitol Hill upset about this?

KENNEDY: I think there's a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill that struggle to understand where the president actually is on any certain issue, on any certain day.

TAPPER: Let me ask you about health care because you had a video last week, you're a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, there was an all-nighter, ended up 4:00 in the morning. You had this very passionate discussion about -- or monologue rather about the notion of mercy. I guess you were responding to something Speaker Ryan had said about mercy and how the United States needs to show mercy to the most afflicted.

I hear your passion and people at home can just Google Joseph Kennedy III, mercy, and you'll find the video very quickly.

But Republicans are in the majority of the House. They're in the majority of the Senate. They control the White House. Obamacare is going to be repealed and it is going to be replaced.

Do you feel any obligation as somebody who feels very passionately about this notion of mercy to get in there and roll up your sleeves and try to work with them to make the bill even better? KENNEDY: Jake, absolutely. So, look, I look at the 28-hour hearing

we had last week not as a way to say, hey, absolutely hold on, stop, no way can we find ways to make the affordable care act, work better and strengthen our health care system for the country -- absolutely the opposite. That whole exercise for me was about pointing out the strengths and challenges that the Affordable Care Act has and trying to say to our Republican colleagues, let's find a way to actually make this bill stronger because when push comes to shove, this is about the health and health care of our country.

And health care -- look, Jake, I think when you boil it all down, it's about how we as a society treat people in their time of need. That's what health care really is. And, so, I hear the stories of my Republican colleagues. When I say this bill isn't working for me and my constituents in my district -- fine. But they also have to hear that for me and my state and my constituents, this bill actually is working and is working quite well.

And I can point to lives that have been saved because of the passage of this law. So, as you sit there --

TAPPER: And somebody on your staff, I think.

KENNEDY: Somebody on my staff, yes. Young woman now who was diagnosed with cancer twice, once at 19 and once at 21. And because of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, she was able to get care, not have to declare bankruptcy, and she now obviously has a preexisting condition and will need the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for the rest of her life.

So, the idea that they say this law is a failure, it's not working -- that's not true.

[16:40:02] I can point not just to the statistics in my state, 3.4 percent unemployment rate, 2.8 percent uninsured rate, a vibrant economy, we're doing pretty well writ large. I can point to the human toll of this as well.

I also hear those stories. And so, I say to my colleagues, look, you've got challenges in this. Let's work together to make it better.

This bill does exactly the opposite. It's not a health care bill. This is a tax cut balanced on the backs of families that are working paycheck to paycheck that are going to need these services. There is nowhere in health care that says the thing that we should do is cut $880 billion out of Medicaid.

There is no one that thinks that is the way to solve or deliver care more effectively and efficiently. That's what this bill does. And it's -- the idea that this is somehow diagnosing the challenges of the Affordable Care Act I think is false and a misreading of what health care is supposed to be about.

TAPPER: Congressman Jake Kennedy III, thank you so much. Don't be a stranger.

KENNEDY: Appreciate it.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. We appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Turning back to the breaking news of this hour: the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying the president still believes his groundless, evidence-free, baseless, unproven, whatever you want to call it claim, that President Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower. This despite the House speaker and the Senate Intelligence Committee leaders and the House Intelligence Committee leaders saying they see no evidence of it at all.

CNN's Jim Acosta is with me now.

And, Jim, the White House said the statements do not shake their confidence in the veracity of the accusation. Spicer went on to quote a whole bunch of news stories and I use the term news loosely, that don't necessarily even corroborate the president's claim.

Let's play this exchange between you and Sean Spicer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You were just quoting Sean Hannity there. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are quoting --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: I also quote -- I get you're going to cherry pick --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- the FBI director. You're citing Sean Hannity --

SPICER: No, no, no. OK. You also look over -- you also tend to overlook all of the other sources, because I know you want to cherry pick it. But -- no, no --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: -- but -- but you do. But where was your concern about "The New York Times" report? You didn't seem to have a concern with that.

ACOSTA: We have done -- I've done plenty of reporting on all of this --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: No, no, but you want to cherry pick one --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- these connections between the --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: -- one commentary -- one piece of commentary.

ACOSTA: -- associates of the president to the Russians. That has all been looked at and --

SPICER: No, wait, how do you know all this? The -- how do you seem to be such an expert on this?

ACOSTA: I'm saying that this has been looked at, Sean --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: How do you know it's been looked at?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Hold on, hold on. Where is -- I'm sorry -- I'm afraid -- to understand -- where -- can you tell me how you know that all of this has, quote, "been looked at"?

ACOSTA: You're asking me whether or not --

SPICER: You made a statement. You said, quote, "All of this has been looked at."

ACOSTA: Other outlets have reported --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: No, no. So, OK, so we're -- so when your outlet says it's all been looked at --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- to the president and the Russians during the 2016 campaign. It sounds like during the context of that investigation, there might have been some intercepted communications. The House Intelligence Committee chairman did mention that. And we have reported that. Others have reported that, you know, on our air and various publications.

But, Sean, what you are -- what you are refusing to answer -- the question that you are refusing to answer is whether or not the president still believes what he believes --

SPICER: No, I'm not. I just said it to Jonathan. I didn't refuse to answer that.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: You have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels, saying that they don't see any evidence of any wiretapping. So, how can the president go on and continue to -- SPICER: Because that's not -- because you're mischaracterizing what

Chairman Nunes said. He said, quote, "I think it's possible" -- he is following up on this. So to suggest that is actually --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: And you're stating unequivocally that you somehow --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- literally, you said if you --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Right. And I think that we've already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. But the president has already said clearly, when he referred to wiretapping, he was referring to surveillance. So that's --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: So that's --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- sounds like, though, Sean, that you and the president are saying now, well, we don't need wiretapping anymore, because that's not true anymore --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: No, no, that's not --

ACOSTA: So now we're going to expand to other forms of surveillance. What's it going to be next?

SPICER: No, no -- Jim, I think that's cute, but at the end of the day, we've talked about this for three or four days. What the president had to, quote, "wiretapping," in quotes, he was referring to broad surveillance. And now, you're basically going back. We talked about this several days ago.

The bottom line is that the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information. And when it does -- but where was the concern --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: -- hold on. I just --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- not evidence --

(CROSSTALK) SPICER: No, no. What I -- I think the president addressed that last night, said there's more to come. These are merely pointing out that I think there's widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election, there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people. That came up --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- investigation going on as to whether there was contact between the president's campaign and the Russians --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Jim, I find it interesting that you -- you somehow believe that you --

(CROSSTALK)

COSTA: Of course, they're going to be looking at these various --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: OK. OK. I get it. Somehow, you seem to believe that you have all of this information. You've been read-in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.

ACOSTA: I haven't read in by the FBI --

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Well, so, you're coming to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: Well, give me some credit --

SPICER: I'll give you some --

ACOSTA: -- a little intelligence maybe. But no --

SPICER: Clearance. I wasn't done. Clearance.

ACOSTA: Those two -- those two panels --

SPICER: Maybe both.

ACOSTA: Well, come on.

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: Those two panels have spoken with the FBI director and were told --

SPICER: I -- I understand that --

ACOSTA: -- told there's no evidence of this.

SPICER: OK, I -- I think this question's has been asked and answered, Jim.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: -- just have the president say he was wrong.

SPICER: Because It's interesting how you jump to all of these conclusions about what they have, what they don't have and you seem to know all the answers. But at the end of the day, there was clearly a ton of reporting --

ACOSTA: A week from now from now, we're going to be wrong, you're going to be right?

SPICER: - hold on, Jim. Let me answer - I think that there has been a vast amount of reporting, which I just detailed, about activity that was going on in the 2016 election. There's no question that there was surveillance techniques used throughout this I think by a variety of outlets that have reported this activity concluded.

So - and I think when you actually ask those two people whether or not - and as Chairman Nunes said yesterday, when you take it literally and - wiretapping, the President has already been very clear that he didn't mean specifically wiretapping. He had it in quotes. So I think to fall back on that is a false - is a false premise. That's not what he said. He was very clear about that when he talked about it yesterday

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Where to begin? First of all, President Trump did not only put it in quotes. There were several tweets and some of them said that President Obama tapped his phones, tapped his wires at Trump Tower.

ACOSTA: Right.

TAPPER: Second of all, Sean are - seems to be arguing a point that no one disputes. Obviously there was surveillance last year. CNN has reported it, others have reported.

ACOSTA: Right.

TAPPER: And it's possible that some Trump advisors, associates were picked up in that surveillance. No one is questioning that.

ACOSTA: That's right, Jake. You know, I feel like I asked that question every day when I walk into the White House. What's it going to be next? And I think Sean Spicer proved that again today. Basically refusing to answer the question. What is the reaction to the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, Republican who was very friendly to this President during the campaign, the ranking democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, both saying that they have not seen any evidence to indicate that there was wiretapping going on at Trump tower before or after the election. Jake, you and I both know they have broadened the definition of wiretapping in the days since the President put out that baseless tweet to include all forms of surveillance because the original tweet is a false claim. It's a falsehood. And, so, they're trying to - they're trying to tap dance around this and tip toe through the tullips.

But as you know it's very cold in Washington this week, and those answers are just not penetrating. And that's why so much skepticism in the room today, and so many people trying to get an answer to this. It's just a - it is a sort of stupefying thing to watch, Jake. The fact that the President will not come out and withdraw this accusation. He clearly made a false accusation aimed at the former President Barack Obama that he was wiretapped over at Trump tower. And why we're having to pull this out of him like we're pulling teeth is beyond me but we tried once again today at the briefing today, Jake, and I can only imagine if you were in the room you would have jumped in as well. It's just - it sort of defies credulity what they're trying to throw at us. They were quoting news articles ranging from the New York Times and of course that's a publication we all read and respect. But it's the publication the President has called a failing New York Times. So now, they're using the failing New York Times quote unquote with President calls New York Times to support these claims in addition to Sean Hannity and other people at Fox News. It just - it was really almost depressing to watch.

TAPPER: Well, and the New York Times never reported what their - what President Trump charged.

ACOSTA: Right.

TAPPER: Again, the New York Times and CNN have reported that there were wiretaps that were surveillance of individuals, and in that, in those surveillance attempts Trump advisors were picked up. That is not the same -

ACOSTA: That's very different.

TAPPER: - that is not the same thing as Obama ordering a wiretap of Donald Trump at Trump tower. It's incredible that - I mean, it just - it defies any sort of reason or logic. We all know what the President said. They didn't even arrive at this new spin about this until a couple days ago.

ACOSTA: That's right. And why the President just doesn't come out and withdraw the accusation is beyond me. But, Jake, as you and I both know from covering this campaign and the transition and now this Presidency, Donald Trump just does not admit when he's wrong. He just doesn't do it, and I can't imagine he's going to do it here. But he was clearly wrong to accuse the President Barack Obama, of wiretapping him at Trump tower. They try to broaden now to this other excuse. But nobody is buying it up on Capitol Hill. Nobody is buying it here in the press room. So, who believes it? I guess it's just the friendly media that they're willing to talk to from time to time, Jake. TAPPER: Jim Acosta at the White House for us, thank you so much. Support for Meals on Wheels is on the chopping block under the President's budget. But won't that hurt some of the very people that President Trump promised that he would never forget on the campaign trail? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We've gotten our first look at President Trump's proposed federal budget. The White House is calling it a blueprint, a hard power budget focusing on defense, Budget Director Mulvaney earlier today said, quote, "the President very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and to our potential adversaries that this is a strong power administration. The Pentagon Budget would see a 10 percent increase with 7 percent for the Department of Homeland Security. Other agencies, however, are looking at steep cuts. The blueprint would, for example, eliminate from the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Community Development Block Grant Program, CDBG that was started under President Ford to try to help struggling communities. Budget Director Mulvaney said there is no demonstrable evidence that CDBG programs work, that they get results. He was specifically asked about one program that gets a lot of funding from these block grants, perhaps you've heard of it. It's called Meals on Wheels. It brings meals to elderly Americans in need.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET DIRECTOR: CDBGS have been identified as programs since I believe the first - actually the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. That - we can't do that anymore. We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good and great. Meals on Wheels sounds great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:55:21] TAPPER: In his inaugural address, of course President Trump promised that quote "the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer." One might imagine that a low income senior citizen in Ypsilanti, Michigan who depends upon Meals on Wheels to survive might qualify as a forgotten man or woman. The average income for these particular seniors is roughly $10,000 a year. For 95 percent of those served by the Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels Program, the two meals they get a day are all they eat. President Trump visited Ypsilanti yesterday. Michigan of course, being one of the big wins that carried the President to the White House. And that is where Alison Foreman serves as the Executive Director of the local Meals on Wheels Program. Alison, thanks so much for joining me.

ALISON FOREMAN, YPSILANTI MEALS ON WHEELS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Thank you so much for having me and it's a pleasure to be here to talk about this.

TAPPER: So, I know you've already heard concerns about the budget cuts. Can you tell me about your Meals on Wheels branch and about the people you serve?

FOREMAN: Yes. So, Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, we are in Ypsilanti, Michigan. So we are suburb of Detroit and near Ann Arbor, Michigan. We are a very low income community or diverse community and the vast majority of the folks we serve, you know, rely on us for the meals and the social contact. Most Meals on Wheels run very lean so any kind of cut is going to endanger the services that are provided to those folks that are in such big need of those meals. And without us, would go without a meal.

TAPPER: And how would this funding going to affect your branch and your community? I don't believe Meal on Wheels are entirely funded by the Community Development Block Grants.

FOREMAN: That's correct. And Michigan has a different format. We don't fully rely on the CDBG funding to come down the pipe to us, but we are also concerned about the Older Americans Act funding which details has not been released yet from the President's budget yet for that as well. So, roughly it impacts about 18 percent of our potential funding. For each program it's going to be a little bit different. You're going to find smaller programs that 18 percent is going to hit them much more significantly. Four years ago, Meals on Wheels in Ypsilanti was in a much different place. We relied on the federal supported money that we receive from CDBG grants and then also from the Older American Acts funding to cover about 60 percent of our services. We've diversified over the last few years and it's now about 30 percent of our funding. But what that means is we would have to sacrifice either providing from two meals a day, going back down to one meal a day, or instituting a wait list again. And that's a hard decision to make. We don't want to put our seniors in that place.

TAPPER: Have you heard from any of the people you help as news reports came out about the President's budget? Are they concerned, are they worried?

FOREMAN: Yes, my clients are really concerned. I've been hearing it from my staff and volunteers all day today. And I have even taken calls today. Most of the clients when we're coming and knocking on their door to be that voice for them, they don't get out of their home. They're very scared. They're telling me, what will I do without you? If I don't have those meals, I would starve. And then if - my nutrition isn't good, my diabetes is going to get out of hand or my COPD, or what's my mom going to do who has dementia? That meal that comes to her every afternoon reminds her that it's time to eat. Those are people that will end up in hospitals, in the E.R., in nursing homes which cost far more than our services.

TAPPER: So, Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget was asked about both the Community Development Block Program and also specifically about Meals on Wheels. And he said basically there's no provable results, it has not been proven that any of these programs work, that Meals on Wheels sounds great, but how do we know that any of these programs work?

FOREMAN: I mean, there's reports out there that do point to it. Stanford has produced reports that have shown that our meal services, by having that social contact, that daily check, we're helping these seniors to reduce their fall risk. About 85 percent of our clients have reported less falls. And to equate that from a healthcare perspective, that could save the healthcare industry over $31 billion a year.

TAPPER: All right, Alison - go ahead.

FOREMAN: Yes. It's pretty significant. And then additionally, the cost for our service for one year costs less than one day in the hospital. And nutrition is health. You know, the more nutrition you can provide someone, the healthier they're going to be. Or they're going to respond better to their treatment.

TAPPER: Alison Foreman from Michigan. Where there are a lot of those forgotten men and women that President Trump likes to talk about. Thanks so much for your time. And thanks for what you do. That's it for THE LEAD I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He's right in the "SITUATION ROOM" next door.