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The Battle To Repeal And Replace Obamacare; Lawmakers Say No Evidence For Trump's Wiretap Claim; Second Defeat Of Trump Travel Ban In Court; Trump Budget Would Cut EPA Funding By 31%. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired March 16, 2017 - 07:30   ET


[07:32:40] POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: As opposition mounts to the Republican plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare, how Sec. Tom Price forcefully defended it last night in CNN's town hall, promising it will increase choice and bring those costs down. But what is actually going to happen? What will it really mean for consumers if it is implemented the way it stands now?

Joining us now, economics professor at MIT, Jonathan Gruber. He's one of the architects of Obamacare. Also with us in the studio, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Gentlemen, very nice to have you here.And Sanjay, let me begin with you. One of the most poignant moments last night -- I love these town halls --


HARLOW: -- because it's the real people --


HARLOW: -- asking the questions that their life sometimes depends on.


HARLOW: This is case in point. A cancer survivor asking this question to Sec. Price -- listen.


BRIAN KLINE, CANCER SURVIVOR: Medicaid expansion saved my life and saved me from medical bankruptcy. Now, I earn $11.66 an hour at my retail job and, obviously, I cannot afford to pay for my cancer care out-of-pocket. My life really depends on having access to my doctors and medical care. Why do you want to take away my Medicaid expansion?

SEC. TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We have one-third in the physicians in this nation, Brian, who are not seeing Medicaid patients. And so, if we want to be honest with ourselves as a society, it's important that we step back and say why is that? Why are those doctors not seeing Medicaidpatients? And let me just suggest it's because the Medicaid program, itself, has real problems in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Sanjay, is that an accurate portrayal of Medicaid as it stands right now?

GUPTA: I think -- I think the first part is accurate in the sense that I think there are many doctors who do not accept Medicaid patients -- that's true. Probably about one-third do.

The interesting thing is the sort of second point that he makes. We're going to fix it by taking away more money. I mean, look, part -- just simply, part of the problem -- part of the reason many doctors don't take Medicaid patients is because they don't reimburse as much and so, therefore, they think well, I'm going to get more money from a private insurer. Why would I take a Medicaid patient? Now you're going to take more money away from it.

I mean, it doesn't take a lot to sort of figure out that that doesn't make a lot of sense in the -- in the overall scheme of things. So, they want to take away $1 trillion -- $880 billion dollars over the next several years. How that's going to solve that problem, I don't know. He was asked about that. Wolf and Dana asked him several times and he said well, look, it's not just about money, it's about individualizing care. I'm a doctor. I'm not exactly sure what that means.

[07:35:06] HARLOW: So, Jonathan, given that you were one of the architects of Obamacare and you know the problems that exist within Obamacare of becoming increasingly not affordable for a number of Americans, one of the core arguments here is that if you give Americans more choice, right -- the private sector argument -- give Americans more choice -- you definitely get lower costs. Is that a guarantee?

JONATHAN GRUBER, ECONOMICS PROFESSOR, MIT: No, it's not a guarantee. But, more importantly, there's nothing in the proposal that gives Americans more choice. This is simply taking away choice from the poorest, the sickest, and the oldest Americans who would pay five times or more what they're paying today. So I don't understand how charging poor, sick, and old Americans more is adding choice. There's -- choice, as a word, is the centerpiece of Tom Price's argument, but there's nothing in the proposal that actually promotes choice.

HARLOW: So I think they would argue that you get more young people in the risk pool and that gets more insurers back in who've pulled out, like a Humana, like an Aetna. But the argument they also make, Sanjay -- I'm interested in your take on that -- and the argument they say parts two and three will include, they say, buying insurance across state lines. Does that fix the problem?

GUPTA: Well, that's been a -- you've been hearing that for some time and, basically, it feeds into this idea that look, the free market can help solve these problems better than the government can solve these problems. You know, again, you know, allowing an insurance company to set up across state lines sounds pretty good. It's pretty hard to do. You have to develop relationships with the hospitals. It's longstanding, sort of, relationships. But the other point, and I think what Jonathan is saying about this more choice issue, you can get more choices and lower costs, I think, if you offer people plans that are just not that good a plan. I mean, you know, the nature of insurance is you don't really know how good your plan is, oftentimes, until you use it.

HARLOW: Until you're living it.

GUPTA: Many people, you know, they just don't know. They go I'm insured, I've got it. But they actually have kind of what's called a skinny plan, a so-called junk plan. A really low cap so that if you get sick it's not going to cover much. That's not what people really want and, you know, you worry if that's the choice, you know, people aren't going to be really happy with that in the long run.

HARLOW: Jonathan, to you. The president has said -- we know he said in the meeting he had at the White House with some of the folks not on board with this -- you know, if this doesn't make it through we're just going to let Obamacare implode and blame the Democrats. Can you talk to us about what an implosion of Obamacare would actually look like because there are liberal governors, including in my state of Minnesota, who have said this is unaffordable for American people at this point in time? What does an implosion look like? Are there failsafes?

GRUBER: Well, first of all, Obamacare is not imploding and it's not just my opinion. Actually, another aspect of the Congressional Budget Office report that was devastating for the Republican alternative was pointing out that Obamacare is fine. Indeed, the premiums are exactly where CBO projected they'd be. What happened --

HARLOW: But it's not fine -- it's not fine for a number of American families who've told me they can't pay for it.

GRUBER: Absolutely. It is absolutely not fine for everyone but there's no risk of a death spiral. There's no risk that the exchanges are going away. The problem here is not solved by pulling money out of the program. The problem is that underlying health costs are too high for middle-class families, and the answer to that is not to pull away coverage from the poor, the sick, and the old. It's to try to address the fundamental problems for middle-class families by expanding the availability of these subsidies and by taking the next steps towards --

HARLOW: Right.

GRUBER: -- cost control that are so important.

HARLOW: So, Sanjay, I mean, is there a failsafe? What happens, because there are increasing amounts of Americans who cannot pay for their Obamacare plan?

GUPTA: Well, when I think when you decide that you're going to provide more insurance for more Americans across the country, which is what, you know, happened over the last several years, that there was a belief that there was going to be -- that it was going to have a certain price tag to that. I think that that -- so, costs were, I think, always expected to go up. I think it's worth pointing out that the costs were going up for premiums, even before the ACA was implemented. Costs would go up even if the ACA is taken away. So people are looking at this as a -- as a point in time.

Yes, I don't think it's perfect in that sense. I think that you have, as Jonathan points out, certain populations that have really shouldered much more of the burden of these costs. But still, this idea that it was going to cost a little bit more, I don't think that that's a surprise to people.

HARLOW: All right, guys. Thank you very much, Jonathan. Sanjay, nice to see you.

GRUBER: Thank you.

GUPTA: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thank you very much -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Good discussion there, Poppy. President Trump breaking his silence, doubling down on his wiretapping claim, except he says wiretapping now means a lot of things. Lawmakers say there is no proof of anything. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, joins us next.


[07:43:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.


CUOMO: We've heard this before, President Trump finding himself in a situation where there is no proof to back up a claim, and he says in more time, more will come. The top Republican and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say there is no evidence of what he has claimed so far.

California Congressman Adam Schiff joins us now. What do you make of the shift, Congressman, that it's not wiretapping because I put it in quotes once or twice -- although there's plenty of times that the president didn't put wiretapping in quotes -- and we'll see what happens, and there's more that's going to come out in a couple of weeks? Do you agree with that assessment?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA, RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: No, I don't. Unfortunately, I think this is utter nonsense. We do now, I think, know from the president's comments that what he got -- his sources -- he just learned -- meant that he had read newspaper articles or watched T.V. and took what he watched on T.V. and made this completely baseless claim because, of course, this was not what people were reporting anyway. I also thought it was interesting, Chris, that he said he can't discuss about it anymore at this point because it's under investigation by the committee. That sounded a lot like the dodge he's used on his taxes. I can't discuss those or show those because those are under audit. You know, I think it remarkable that the president would have this kind of a flimsy justification for making such a scandalous accusation against his predecessor.

CUOMO: And yet, even if there is no there, there, he did succeed in asking this question in a way that wound up taking away a lot of the energy and time and resources potentially, from you all, to be looking into these Russian allegations.

SCHIFF: Oh, I don't think so. I think the primary problem here has been what the president has done has seriously undermined his own credibility. And while that has, I think, the consequences on everything from whether he could be believed on what his health care plan would do. More substantially, in the area of national security, it discredits our democracy. Plays into the narrative the Russians want to tell about America being a corrupt country where one president wiretaps another.

But it also undermines him when he speaks on the national stage and the American people really need to believe him in a time of crisis because if he'll make up something like this, then people are going to say what else is he making up.

CUOMO: There is -- there is that concern long-term. But in terms of the immediate, working with Devin Nunes, obviously the Republican ranking member on the committee, this has made you guys on the same page, which is not an everyday occurrence. What changed Nunes' mind on this issue because when it first came out he was supportive of the president's allegations? He said we're going to look at it and there's a lot out there, and we'll see what's going to happen. He was defending the proposition. What changed the analysis for him?

SCHIFF: Well, you would have to ask him, but I would say this. You know, we certainly have had a number of briefings. We've had a chance to look into this to the degree that it really merited looking into and there's simply no there, there.

And I think we'll probably be able to put the exclamation point on this on Monday when we have Director Comey come and testify in open session. We'll obviously be asking him whether he is aware of anything to support this claim or whether this claim is completely false. And, of course, if what the president said was true and Obama had wiretapped him, that would have had to be done by the FBI, and I think Director Comey can put this to rest.

CUOMO: Well, it also depends on how you want to define the range of the allegation. I want to ask you about the travel ban and whether or not you think it's going to pass legal muster, but one more beat on this.

Do you have any pause for concern that in response to the Lindsey Graham letter -- and others were on it also from the Senate Judiciary Committee -- that Comey responded and said you're going to get a classified response from me in a letter, I think, sometime next week. If it has to be a classified one do you have any concern that maybe there is something there because why would it have to be a classified response if his response is going to be there's nothing to any of this?

SCHIFF: Well, I think the question that Lindsey Graham is asking is broader than the one that just goes to the president's tweets. But certainly with respect to the president's tweets, I expect that the director will be able to answer that in open session because there's no substance to it, but the director's obviously very careful about what he says and wants to be precise. But nonetheless, I think we're going to hear on Monday that there's simply no merit to this.

And I don't think anyone should play along with this president's idea that he didn't mean what he said or you can interpret wiretap to mean many things. That's nonsense. He made it very clear of what he was accusing President Obama of when he said that Obama had been tapping his phones. That only has one meaning. He wasn't using some scientific term. This was both in lay terms, as well as in the term of our use in law enforcement -- exactly what the president was talking about.

CUOMO: Right, but if you want to put it to bed, whatever you come up with better cover any nature of surveillance that was done to target his administration or his campaign. Otherwise, there's going to be room left for doubt.

Let me ask you about the executive order. What do you think of these judges taking what the president -- Trump said, as president and as a candidate, and using that as proof of legislative intent to say that this executive order should not move forward?

SCHIFF: Well, I think it's appropriate to look at what the intentions were behind the legislation, and if you're giving a discriminatory effect to a policy that would essentially look at someone's faith or their ethnic origin as a predictor of whether they're likely to commit a terrorist act, I think that's appropriate. I certainly do think, Chris, that this will be one of the preeminent issues on appeal, and that is how much can you look at statements that the president has made or others have made as proof of what is really behind the legislation. I think that will be, you know, certainly one of the debates before the Court of Appeals and, ultimately, before the Supreme Court.

CUOMO: You think that the Supreme Court would hold up a ruling that's based on his political statements, even on an issue where the president is giving such latitude of making a judgment about what's in the national security interest of the of the American people on an issue of immigration?

SCHIFF: I think that the court is very likely to apply strict scrutiny to this because it will have the effect of discriminating against people of a certain faith. And if they apply that very strict test, then I think they are going to take a broad look at what was the intent here. Are they only looking at the text then and have to look at a divorce from what it's intended to do. If they give it that kind of strict scrutiny they're very likely, I think, to have a broad field in terms of evidence of intent.

On the other hand, if they don't apply that -- if they look at this in a different way then they may exclude that kind of evidence.

[07:45:00] CUOMO: That is the key point. What level of scrutiny would SCOTUS use in reviewing this? That could make all the difference. We're also far away from that. We have a lot of review. The Supreme Court likes to look at things that are final and we're not there yet.

SCHIFF: And, you know, one other point I would make.

CUOMO: Quickly -- yes, Congressman.

SCHIFF: The president said last night that this made the country look weak. I think the real issue is here that he is upset is, is that it makes him look weak. It makes the administration look less than competent. This is why I think, again, he's lashing out at federal judges that, now, two have issued the same decision. But I think that's at the heart of his upset about this.

CUOMO: Congressman, thank you for the input, as always, on NEW DAY.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Poppy --

HARLOW: All right. Coming up for us, President Trump hopes to make good on his promise to slash funding for several federal agencies. His top target, the EPA. Funding for that, he hopes, will be cut by 31 percent. We'll get reaction, next, from the senator who has called man-made climate change the greatest hoax.


HARLOW: All right. The president's first budget, just unveiled this morning, issues a big blow to the Environmental Protection Agency. That is, likely, welcome news to Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe. He spent years questioning what he calls hysteria over man- made climate change. Remember this moment two years on the Senate floor? We'll show it to you. He held up that snowball when he was talking about climate change. The senator joins us now. Nice to have you on NEW DAY.

[07:55:15] SEN. JAMES INHOFE, (R), OKLAHOMA: Great to be here.

HARLOW: Thank you for joining us, Senator.

INHOFE: Nice to be with you, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. So, this budget -- a 31 percent cut to the EPA -- $2.6 billion cut away from the EPA, that's what the president wants. This is the agency that, as you know, regulates a lot of things in this country including protecting clean water. Protecting against things like what happened in Flint, Michigan. Are you comfortable with this cut? Is this a good cut for the American people?

INHOFE: Oh, yes, it's a good cut for the American people. You've got to keep in mind, now, all these functions that they're supposed to performing in terms of the Clean Air -- the Clear Air Act -- by the way, I have to say this, as I did on the Senate floor yesterday. The Clean Air Act amendments were very successful. All these things have worked. Our air is cleaner. The pollution is down in spite of the fact we drive twice as many miles. But yes, it's the nature, Poppy, of a bureaucracy. If you cut their budget then they're going to try to take the things that are popular back home and cut those.


INHOFE: I would be concerned about that except now we have a different budget -- director of the EPA and he's not going to let that happen.

HARLOW: Well, you know, and he went to the White House, according to "The New York Times," yesterday and asked for less of a cut in the budget than he got.

INHOFE: No, I wasn't aware that he did that. But, no, he'll figure out a way to do it. We want to deliver the services, we want to make things clean, but we want to take the -- all of this stuff that comes out of the EPA that's brainwashing our kids. It's propaganda, things that aren't true, allegations.

HARLOW: Yes. So let's talk about that assessment and that assertion of brainwashing because the guy who is now running the EPA, Scott Pruitt, as you know, he's been called by many a climate change denier. He refused to answer Wolf's question about whether he would allow climate change research just a few weeks ago on this network.

He sued the EPA numerous times when he was attorney general of Oklahoma. He sent letters, as attorney general, to federal agencies that were helped -- written by energy companies themselves. They drafted part of these letters. And he just said a few weeks ago that he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. That puts him at odds with almost all climate scientists. So, what's the brainwashing --

INHOFE: Yes, slow down a little bit here.

HARLOW: -- that you're referring to?

INHOFE: Yes. Well, first of all, I know this guy and I know him well. First of all, he has actually sued oil companies on three occasions -- major lawsuits -- back when was the attorney general for the state of Oklahoma. Yes, he did sue the EPA, but so did more than half of the states -- of all 50 states. Twenty-seven of them had lawsuits against the EPA because of their aggressive overregulation in different areas that was very detrimental to our economy.

And so, I think that he has done a good job. In fact, you can't find -- I don't believe you can find an attorney general that doesn't think very highly of Scott Pruitt and the job that he did as the attorney general for Oklahoma.

HARLOW: Let's talk about your home state of Oklahoma, OK?


HARLOW: These are the folks that you represent. You're dealing in your state with hundreds of earthquakes, a number of them over magnitude 3.0 right now, and these are man-made earthquakes. These are caused by the pumping of wastewater from fracking for oil back into the ground. We know that. I've covered it. I've covered it in a number of states. It's the EPA that regulates that. That's part of their mandate. Are you comfortable with cuts -- big cuts -- $2.6 billion cuts to the EPA? Cuts that may mean -- cuts, sir, that may mean more of these earthquakes in your home state? You comfortable with that?

INHOFE: No, you're assuming that that's what they're going to be doing. Actually,the jurisdiction of that is the Corporation Commissioner -- Commission of the State of Oklahoma, it's not the EPA.

HARLOW: No, it is the EPA.

INHOFE: Now, I know that --

HARLOW: I can show you. I mean, let's just pull up part of their mandate from the website. It says they "regulate the construction, the operation, the permitting, the closure of injection wells used to place these fluids underground for storage or disposal." If any money gets cut from that are you comfortable with that?

INHOFE: Well, first of all, that's not going to cut the activity that they would be doing. In terms of earthquakes, in terms of something -- groundwater that might be causing something, the balls are still in the air on that. They are working on that and they have some good people working on it. That has nothing to do with the cuts of the individuals that are out there spending all of their time --

HARLOW: How do you know? How do you know their jobs won't be cut, Senator?

INHOFE: Well, because I know Scott Pruitt and I know a lot of the people, as was pretty well documented yesterday in the -- in one of the newspapers. And I do know that they're going to have -- they're going to turn it back into an agency that is going to be concerned about the environment. They're going to be concerned about clean water and clean air, and so I have every confidence. And let's keep in mind, the guys who's running that now is no different than the attorneys general of all the other states because all of them were feeling the same aggressive abuse that was coming out of the EPA.