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Trump Intensifies Pressure Ahead of Health Care Vote; Supreme Court Nominee Stresses Independence from Trump. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 22, 2017 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: They want a tremendous health care plan. That's what we have.

[05:58:41] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thursday will be the day to repeal and replace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am still a no vote. The bill is still bad.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If politics, if you get 85 percent of what you want, that's pretty darn good.

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Nobody is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (R-MI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm asking you a question. Please answer the questions.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: If Judge Gorsuch can't achieve 60 votes in the Senate, could any judge?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have serious questions about Mr. Manafort, his relations.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is nothing there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question of credibility hangs over the White House.

TRUMP: They never correct it. If it's off by 100th of a percent, I end up getting Pinocchios, right?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. Wednesday, March 22, 6 a.m. here in New York. The president returning to a signature threat to sell his vulnerable health care plan to doubting Republicans. You will be fired if you don't vote to repeal and replace the ACA.

But the question is, does the president have the credibility and the respect of his colleagues needed to get his health care or any initiative done?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: At this point, the president does not have the votes for it to pass. CNN's latest whip count has at least 19 Republicans voting no and another seven leaning against it.

So with so much at stake for the president's legislative agenda, there's this blistering "Wall Street Journal" editorial out this morning that assails President Trump's credibility and suggests that most Americans may conclude that he is a fake president.

We are in day 62 of the Trump presidency. So let's begin our coverage with Suzanne Malveaux. She is live on Capitol Hill. Give us the latest, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

Well, the bill goes to the House Rules Committee today before it's expected to go to the full House for a vote tomorrow and, despite the fact that the Republicans in the Senate and the House sides who are calling to delay this vote, the president is pushing this to pass urgently, because he wants a big win.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP (voice-over): There really is a crucial vote for the Republican Party and for the people of our country.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): In the most important political test of his presidency yet, President Trump in full sell mode, twisting the arms of skeptical Republican House members to vote "yes" on the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

TRUMP: The American people gave us clear instructions. It's time to get busy, get to work and to get the job done.

MALVEAUX: The president testing out his own brand of deal making in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. GOP members giving Trump a standing ovation. Party loyalists gushing.

RYAN: The president just came here and knocked the ball out of the park.

MALVEAUX: Alternately using humor, threats and public shaming to sell the American Health Care Act to his own party. The president warning House members they could lose their seats next year if the bill doesn't pass.

SPICER: I think there's going to be a price to be paid, but it's going to be with their own voters.

MALVEAUX: President Trump even calling out the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, for publicly denouncing the bill. The president cautioning Meadows, "I'm coming after you," but Meadows and others are still a hard "no."

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: There still are not enough votes to pass this particular bill.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: The president did a great job, and I appreciate the president. But the bill is still bad.

MALVEAUX: Even after tweaks were made to the bill to appeal to more conservative and moderate Republicans.

REP. TOM GARRET (R), VIRGINIA: What I don't get is the impetus that this must be done right now, and Thursday is some sort of do or die day. It's not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: The House bill needs 216 votes to pass and no more than 21 "no" votes from Republicans. So far, by CNN's count, there are 19 Republicans voting no, seven that are still on the fence. The Senate leadership and the Republican leadership including Senator John Cornyn, who I spoke with yesterday, are expressing confidence. They think they can get through the House, and they are eager to get their hands on it next week -- Alisyn, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Suzanne, thank you very much for all of that.

Let's discuss it with our panel. We want to bring in politics editor for The Root and professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University, Jason Johnson; CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich; and CNN political analyst and "New York Times" deputy cultural editor, Patrick Healy. Great to see all of you.

Patrick, I'll start with you. This is the first real test of President Trump's powers of persuasion. And it sounds like he has won a couple of "no" votes over. Darrell Issa, Tom McClintock have chance their votes. Maybe even his charm or his strong-arm tactics, whatever. It's working.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I think -- I think what he's winning on is the fact that the Republicans did very well for four or six years with repeal and replace Obamacare. That was their message more than anything else.

OK. Now, they have control of the entire government in Washington D.C. Are they really going to let this first moment go away. The reality is President Trump, he can be a charismatic guy. He can go into the room. He can jawbone lawmakers. But he also has the power, and he also has the power to say, "I can go to your districts. I won in Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and Indiana and Mississippi. I can go into your -- to your wobbling districts, and I can make your life good. And I can give you a whole lot of heartburn. And he knows that.

CUOMO: Well, Jackie, though, I mean, the reality is they came out of that meeting. They still don't have the votes. It seems that people were judging him as if it were a performance: "Yes, he did a great job. Bill still stinks." It seems like he was unable to move the needle for two reasons. What's your reporting on this? The one is I don't know that they are respecting him the way they need

to right now to just listen to a command from the commander in chief. And second, I don't know that the people who are no on this believe that Trump understands the bill enough to be compelling.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think while Trump is a very powerful messenger, I think the person that really has been doing the leg work on this is Mike Pence, the vice president. Because they do respect him.

That said, what Trump is not calculating, and what you didn't hear yesterday is how many calls that a lot of these members are getting from their district in support of their no position. This is also a caucus that is used to getting their way.

Let's not forget: it wasn't that long ago that they helped oust Speaker Boehner. So they -- they have -- they have seen through their actions that sometimes when they stone wall, they end up getting their way.

So they really -- if you look at it from the Freedom Caucus's perspective, there really isn't a lot of incentive there in terms of their constituents and recent past to change their vote other than making this president happy. But if they feel like they're going to get backlash the other way going home, why would they do that?

CAMEROTA: Jason, what do you think?

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ROOT: Yes, I agree. This is partially kind of a miscalculation on the part of President Trump and partially, it's the reality on the ground.

On the one hand, you wouldn't have such a slim margin of error if the president hadn't already shot himself in the foot with more votes. Right? He took out Tom Price, Mulvaney, Pompeo. He took members, Republican members who would have been "yes" votes and already threw them in his administration. He could have waited, and he could have had those four votes.

But the second thing is this. The consequences of this bill are going to be felt by members of Congress. President Trump isn't running again for four years. If people get thrown off their health care, he's going to have time to clean this up. These members of Congress aren't. And they're not going to vote for a bill that's not going to be absolutely something that's going to benefit them in 14 months, and they have to run again in 2018.

HEALY: But Chris, to your point about the credibility of President Trump, and these House lawmakers they've got a policy mechanic like Paul Ryan who they know knows the nuances, knows the details. They've never seen Trump as someone who was going to sort of go in and say, "I understand how, you know, if we repealed, replace Obamacare, this funding apparatus is going to kick in. It's going to make it more accessible, you know, in these four states."

This is politics. They are focused on can they vote "no" on this bill and go back this summer to a town hall meeting where they've had, you know, President Trump visit their -- visit their district and go after them and be able to say, you know, well, I haven't finally had my one shot to repeal and replace Obamacare. And I decided not to take it, because I was sort of, you know, holding out for some details. Because a perfect bill will...

CUOMO: I don't know that they are in the same page of motivations. What I keep hearing is from those who are resistant on the bill, is I'm not in a rush. This is an existential question for me. If I get this wrong, Trump is right. Everybody is right. If nobody is saying to me get it done now. That's about Trump wanting a big win, isn't it?

Republicans spent eight years, you know, making hay off of running against Obamacare. It's not like it's a loser for him.

CAMEROTA: Jackie, I mean, what President Trump is also saying is we need to do this so then we can get to the good stuff. The tax reform, the stuff that everybody is waiting for. So let's get this done. And, you know, that's one of the carrots that he's holding out.

Everyone knows that tax reform is such an easy topic to get through that that's why they have done it so many times. No, it's not going to be any -- tax reform is going to be just as messy, just as contentious. There are just as many sacred cows when you're talking about tax reforms. It affects people's lives, just like -- and not just like health care. But it's a complicated issue that has stymied both parties for a number of years. So if he thinks that's the land of milk and honey, he's got a little bit of a rude awakening if and when this does get through.

CUOMO: Literally, a rude awakening this morning, Professor. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial; you know, that's a publication not set up to be anti-Trump. They wrote an editorial where they say, "The president clings to his assertion" -- talking about the wiretapping -- "like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims. If Trump does not show more respect for the truth, most Americans may conclude he is a fake president." Your take?

JOHNSON: He's not a fake president. He's living in the White House at least five days a week or so.

Look, he's the president of the United States. I think that his credibility is already shot with a large number of Americans. He didn't win the majority of the vote.

But at the end of the day, whether or not President Trump wants to continue with these lies about wiretapping or make other sort of promises and things he can't go through with, the calculation when it comes to a member of Congress, a sitting senator, sitting congressperson, is how popular is this president in my district, and do I have to worry about this wrath?

And there are some of them are, like, "You know what? I'm so unpopular in my district, it doesn't matter if Trump has credibility." And there's some who are in some wobbly districts for, like, "Look, I can't afford to take a tweet from this guy."

So I agree with the things "The Wall Street Journal" is saying, but the calculations have to do with all those individual members of Congress. And they're stacking the chips right now to see, "Am I strong, or is Trump stronger?"

CAMEROTA: But Patrick, what about the very idea that it was "The Wall Street Journal" that gives this scathing editorial? I mean...

HEALY: It's devastating. I think it's devastating. My colleague at "The New York Times," David Leonhardt, had a column the other day, basically saying our president a liar. That column was built not on partisanship but on a series of factual misrepresentations and misstatements. And we know that that is a very loaded word. President Trump can dismiss "the failing 'New York Times'" like he sort of likes to.

[06:10:17] CUOMO: Though he's really boosting your bottom line by calling them that.

HEALY: Absolutely. Absolutely.

You know, but "The Wall Street Journal," as we know, has been a house organ for the Republican Party for decades. And a lot of Trump's Republican allies in New York City, around the country, internationally read that page.

CUOMO: All right. Lady, gentlemen, thank you very much. We have other questions for you. There's more news.

President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, somewhat of a bright and shining star amidst a real host of problems, Neil Gorsuch largely unscathed so far, despite a marathon session of questioning in the Senate.

Gorsuch very clear-eyed, very confident, reiterating that he is his own judge, saying he can rule against the president if the law required it. And renewing his criticism of Mr. Trump's attack on federal judges.

Day three of his confirmation hearing is going to get away soon. CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House with more. How is it shaping up so far compared to the typical pageant?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think you hit the nail on the head there, quite frankly, Chris. The confirmation hearing of Judge Neil Gorsuch could be considered relatively uneventful, except for one thing. It's putting an enormous spotlight on the president who nominating him in his continuing feud with the federal judiciary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: There's no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge.

JOHNS (voice-over): Supreme Court nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch promising senators he's not a political puppet.

GORSUCH: I can assure you I am nobody's rubber stamp.

JOHNS: Insisting he will hold anyone accountable, even President Trump.

GORSUCH: No one is above the law in this country, and that includes the president of the United States.

JOHNS: Judge Gorsuch criticizing the president's series of attacks on federal judges.

GORSUCH: When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity, the motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening. I find that demoralizing. Because I know the truth.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Anyone including the president of the United States?

GORSUCH: "Anyone" is anyone.

JOHNS: President Trump seemingly responding to the nominee's statement at a Republican fund-raiser last night.

TRUMP: Somebody said I should not criticize judges. OK. I'll criticize judges. To keep criminals and terrorists the hell out of our country.

JOHNS: Judge Gorsuch emphatically stating he has not revealed to President Trump how he would rule on some of his most controversial actions like his travel ban.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: A Republican congressman recently said the best thing the president could do for his Muslim ban is to make sure that he has Gorsuch on the Supreme Court before the appeals. Get to that point.

GORSUCH: Senator, a lot of people say a lot of silly things. My grandfather...

LEAHY: Let's say he wants -- this congressman wants you on the court so that you can uphold a Muslim ban.

GORSUCH: Senator, he has no idea how I'd rule in that case.

JOHNS: And what about the president's campaign promise to appoint anti-abortion justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: In that interview, did he ever ask you to overrule Roe v. Wade?

GORSUCH: No, Senator.

GRAHAM: What would you have done if he had asked?

GORSUCH: Senator, I'm going to walk out the door. JOHNS: Meantime, Democrats seizing on the judge's decisions they say

favor big business.

GORSUCH: If you want cases where I've ruled for the little guy as well as the big guy, there are plenty of them.

JOHNS: Minnesota Senator Al Franken aggressively questioning Judge Gorsuch for ruling in favor of a trucking company instead of a driver they fired for abandoning his cargo.

FRANKEN: It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death, or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle. That's absurd.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Members of the Judiciary Committee are taking full advantage of their opportunity to try to get the judge on the record on some of the hot-button legal issues with limited success, by the way.

And the questioning went on for more than ten hours yesterday. The judge will be back on Capitol Hill tomorrow, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: He seems unflappable during those ten hours. Joe, thank you very much.

So despite that grilling and despite some of the political theater of it, is Judge Gorsuch's confirmation already a fait accomplit? Our panel takes that on next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORSUCH: When I became a judge, they gave me a gavel, not a rubber stamp. And nobody comes to my court expecting a rubber stamp.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Judge Gorsuch came off a little bit like he was running for president. You know, not just for his appointment to the Supreme Court.

CAMEROTA: He is a sound bite machine.

CUOMO: He is a sound bite machine, very telegenic, very confident. Stressing judicial independence from the man who nominated him.

So how did it hold up to scrutiny and what does it mean for the Democrats? Let's bring back our panel: Jason Johnson, Jackie Kucinich, Patrick Healy.

Professor, you do have Elizabeth Warren making somewhat of a compromised attempt to say, "We should hold off on Gorsuch until we figure out the conclusion of the FBI investigation." Unlikely. The political play obvious. Can the Democrats not vote for Gorsuch?

JOHNSON: Yes, they can not vote for him, but they kind of missed their chance last year, Chris. I mean, this wouldn't have happened if President Obama had actually used the powers at his disposal and put Merrick Garland on the court. Since they didn't do that, it looks very likely that Gorsuch is going to be elected [SIC]. The Democrats can filibuster. They can complain. It will just trigger the sort of nuclear option. There is nothing they can do about this.

[06:20:15] And from a P.R. standpoint, Gorsuch has done a very good job of making himself seem reasonably and pleasant and kind, even if his rulings may be something that's out of the mainstream.

CAMEROTA: And yet, Jackie, there's still so much bitterness, understandably, about how the Merrick Garland thing was handled that Democrats are dug in but, you know, to what end?

KUCINICH: Well, not only bitterness on that -- at that hearing but bitterness among their base. And they're receiving a lot of pressure to make hay of this from those outside of the Capitol and that's sort of where they are. So politically, it isn't necessarily bad for Democrats to be doing this. Now, will this deny Gorsuch the seat? No, I don't think so at all.

CUOMO: You know, it's interesting. This is the best kind of grilling to get if you have to be grilled by anyone in Congress, because there's an understanding that you don't have to speak to the merits of whatever you're being asked about. They're giving that allowance.

And we've seen it play out time and time again as a farce. Right? Men and women get on the bench, and they become exactly what you suspected them as politically. But how did he come off relatively to what we've seen in the past?

HEALY: He not only was sticking to the incredible prep and talking points that every Supreme Court nominee has given, but he has just a natural command and, frankly, kind of stage presence, you know, when he is sitting there. He has actual charisma that he is able to give off but his intelligence shown through, his good humor in moments.

But also he knew when to say, "I'm going to be independent, you know, from President Trump. I'm going to rule against him, you know, if needs be but I'm also not going to answer, you know, questions on precedent. I'm not going to talk about Roe v. Wade."

CUOMO: He said that for a reason. He does have some rulings that Democrats should never be in line with. But they didn't get to the heart of the rulings.

HEALY: Right, and absolutely. And this is what -- this is what nominees are expected to do. I mean, they're expected to essentially say, you know, "I didn't talk to the president about my views. I would never take a litmus test." But these nominees are chosen for a reason. You know, President Trump knew exactly what he was getting.

And to Jason's point earlier, the Democrats had their moment. They had their nuclear option last year. They decided not to go down that road.

CAMEROTA: OK. So Jason let's switch gears now to a new wrinkle in the investigation into whether or not there are any ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

This Ukrainian lawmaker yesterday released what he says are new financial documents that he's found that repeal that Paul Manafort laundered money in Kyrgyzstan through his -- you know, based on his work with Yanukovych. So that got the attention of John McCain and Lindsey Graham and, I suppose, the FBI. What are we to make of this?

JOHNSON: At this point, Alisyn, like there are fewer Russian operatives on "The Americans" than in the Trump administration. This is ridiculous but at the end of the day -- at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. Until Lindsey Graham and John McCain and several other senators start saying there need to be consequences for these kinds of connections, it's all a bunch of screaming, yelling and food stamping.

At this point you've had so many different people with these connections, but we haven't seen a lot of firings. We haven't seen a lot of consequences, so really, I think it's a lot of unnecessary hammering. But until there's consequences, until -- until President Trump himself has to testify and say, "Look, this is what I did or did not know," none of this is really going to matter.

CUOMO: Let's listen to what McCain said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I have serious questions about some of the people around the presidential campaign. There were people with close ties to the Russians and including an individual who was paid large sums of money by Yanukovych, who was the Russian stooge as the president of Ukraine.

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you talking about Paul Manafort?

MCCAIN: I'm talking about Mr. Manafort and his relations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Jackie Kucinich, now obviously, McCain, a Republican. This is a Democratic issue largely. The White House did the Democrats a favor with Flynn. They threw him under the bus. You could argue they didn't need to, but they did. Do you think that this is a potential misfire by the Democrats? Do you think they'll be able to make a real case against Manafort, other than just throwing the name Yanukovych all over the place, which won't mean anything to most Americans anyway?

KUCINICH: I think if they make this a partisan issue, then maybe it doesn't matter as much. But the problem lies, to your point earlier, about Trump's credibility. I think it was Spicer, just a day or two ago, was trying to say that Paul Manafort wasn't a major part of the campaign. He was campaign manager. CUOMO: Chairman.

[06:25:04] KUCINICH: Yes, exactly. Yes, different title but basically the same function. So that's just -- that's not true. So he was closely affiliated with the campaign, and they -- when you're talking about Paul Manafort, it's not a good day for the White House, and it's not a good day for Republicans who have to answer questions about Paul Manafort, because they don't want to any more.

CUOMO: I think it was worse for Spicer than it was for Manafort, to be honest. I have not seen the facts that back up the allegations on Paul Manafort. I get that it doesn't smell good, but I'm saying to take that next step legally, I haven't seen it.

But Spicer, to get the dates wrong, to try to trivialize that guy who was the savior going into the convention, they were sunk going into that convention. Manafort came in, made phone calls, worked his contacts, and totally righted the ship.

HEALY: They couldn't get anybody to speak at that convention. Paul Manafort...

CUOMO: One job that he had...

HEALY: Just delegates and they put together, you know, a decent -- you know, decent convention.

But the reality is, you know, Jackie's right. This was the worst moment for Sean Spicer. Yes, you have, you know, John McCain kind of sticking it to Trump and, you know, keeping that concern out there very much about what Paul Manafort did and closeness to Russia.

But then for, you know, Sean Spicer to come out, you know, onto the podium -- yes, he's carrying President Trump's water every time he's doing it -- you know, and he's saying things that the president wants him to say. But to be going through, like, you know, down the "Alice in Wonderland" rabbit hole with who Paul Manafort was, it's just -- it's a credibility killer.

CUOMO: I talked to Democrats last night who -- it was funny. Just to the point about Spicer, when Spicer said there was nothing there, that was the first time I got calls from Democrats back, saying, "Maybe there's something there."

CAMEROTA: We will talk much more about Sean Spicer in a few minutes. Panel, thank you very much.

CUOMO: Right now to a very legitimate issue: a terror threat triggering tough new airline security measures. Did you hear that passengers are going to be banned from carrying on large electronic devices from flights from certain countries? The reason why is the scary part. We have it for you in a live report next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)