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Trump Continues to Push Debunked Theories; Republican Health Bill Faces Crucial Vote Today. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:33:17] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: "It can't be so bad because I'm president and you are not" -- those are the words from President Trump when asked about his credibility in an interview with "Time" magazine focused on truth and falsehood. In that interview, the president didn't back away from anything, including some of his more extreme claims that are either unsubstantiated or been flat-out debunked, from wiretapping by President Obama to the three million illegal votes in the 2016 election, and even the story about Ted Cruz's father. Remember back during the campaign, that he was somehow linked to the JFK assassination?

Joining me now is Zeke Miller, political reporter for "Time"; Keith Boykin, a CNN political commentator and former Clinton White House aide; and Joseph Borelli, Republican New York city councilman and CNN political commentator.

Guys, great to have you here.

Zeke, this was a doozy of an interview with "Time." The point was to talk about truth and falsehoods and what's transpired with President Trump in his young presidency. He didn't back down from anything when posed with some of his unsubstantiated facts. What should the takeaway be here?

ZEKE MILLER, POLITICAL REPORTER, TIME MAGAZINE: I think that's the take away. A lot of what this story try to do is unpack the mechanics of how Donald Trump uses the truth and uses falsehood to service his own political agenda. And what we saw here in that interview yesterday with "Time's" Michael Scherer is he doesn't back away, he tries to leave himself wiggle room, an escape hatch, if things get too hot, to drop in "perhaps this" or "people are saying that." or "I read it in 'The National Inquirer'." It highlights how Donald Trump tries to use fact and fiction to bolster his own political agenda.

[11:35:03] BOLDUAN: When you hear, Joseph, what you hear from the president -- you did in this interview -- when faced with a claim that has been debunked, has been proven wrong, this is one of his quotes, "I'm not saying, I'm quoting." The Ted Cruz's father and JFK assassination link, that came from "The National Inquirer." He said, that was a newspaper, I didn't say that, I was referring to a newspaper. That's like me saying, I'm not asking you a question, I'm saying words. There's a question mark at the end and I'm staring directly at you, the epitome of a difference without a distinction. JOSEPH BORELLI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Even this article concedes

many of the things that Donald Trump has tweeted that he was denounced for were proven accurate. With respect to the Ted Cruz thing, that's the most egregious thing that he should not have tweeted. "The National Inquirer" thing --


BORELLI: -- is shaky grounds to justify your own claim. But when he's quoting "The Washington Post" or BBC, these are respected news organizations, he has somewhat more of a case. The quote you started out seems to be from the Twitter feed that's drawing people the most crazy, that I'm president and maybe I'm right about this stuff.

BOLDUAN: Does it drive you crazy?

BORELLI: It doesn't. A lot of things he was tweeting were used by his opponents during the campaign, saying this is not how a president should act. They were also used by his surrogates to say this is what his communicating will be like. He did win enough electoral votes to become president.

BOLDUAN: That gets to an important point of all this. The interview is fascinating. If you take it in the context of what you know about Donald Trump, this is the same Donald Trump, people voted for him knowing that he says things that aren't true. His supporters don't care. They like the way he speaks. They are OK if the facts out there do not support him. This started his political career with Birther claims. Does this surprise you?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it doesn't surprise me. It's shocking that it doesn't surprise me. He also said during the campaign that a person under FBI investigation cannot be president of the United States. Now we have Donald Trump under FBI investigation as president of the United States. That's an example of not only something that is crazy, but it's also a question of his hypocrisy.

The big issue, though, the larger question --


BOLDUAN: But does this change when you're president versus campaigning?

BOYKIN: Apparently not. He doesn't know he's not still campaigning. He's in Kentucky, he's in Tennessee.


BOLDUAN: When it comes to his base, does it change for them?

BOYKIN: No. That's the sad part. The polls are at their lowest, 37 percent approval rating. That's still 37 percent of people that support him, and that's troubling. There's a character issue here. This is a guy who has spent his entire life with no accountability. His daddy bailed him out when his business failed, he got $14 billion in loans, bankruptcies time after time when his businesses failed as an adult.


BOLDUAN: A lot of people do not think he had the temperament to be president.

BOYKIN: He doesn't. When the Yemen raid failed, he blamed the generals. He didn't accept responsibility.


BOYKIN: This is who he is. He's a dishonest man. Just a few days ago, when you had the press conference, Angela Merkel sitting next to him, he was asked about the GCHQ and the issue about British intelligence, and you know what he did? He blamed FOX News. He wouldn't even take responsibility for spreading a lie.

BOLDUAN: That gets to kind of, is there a tipping point, Zeke? Because after that, you have the "Wall Street Journal" editorial board, very friendly typically to Republican presidents, saying, yes, words matter, and when it comes to your words as president, it can be a national security issue. Do you sense at all, especially in covering the White House, that there is a tipping point on this?

MILLER: From a political standpoint, nobody elected Donald Trump because they thought he was the most trustworthy candidate out there. That didn't factor into their calculus. The way he spoke during the campaign was attractive to them. The question is, for a president, somebody who has to declare war, take military action, announce a security or policy restriction, the fact that we now have to question about the restrictions on personal electronic devices coming in from some Middle Eastern countries announced earlier this week, if that is a political thing or a security question. It's a security question, obviously. That is a sign of the lack of credibility right now that the White House is dealing with.

[11:39:46] BOLDUAN: We'll see if the White House gets the message or cares.

Guys, thank you. Appreciate it.

Breaking news, President Trump is hosting conservative Republicans at the White House in a last-ditch effort to get critics of the current health care bill on board. What will he have to give up and what does that mean for Paul Ryan? Details of the meeting and the state of the bill coming up.


BOLDUAN: Hours from now, history will be made one way or the other. Either House Republicans will vote to pass the Republican health bill, a victory for the president and House Speaker Paul Ryan, or it's back to square one, or something. Because as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer put it, "There is no Plan B."

Joining me, CNN political director, David Chalian; CNN political analyst, national political reporter for "The New York Times," Alex Burns; CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee; former director of the Congressional Budget Office and president of the conservative American Action Forum, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, is here; and Amanda Carpenter, CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz.

David Chalian, the Republicans, the speaker cancels his morning meeting and pushes back his press consciousness until this afternoon. My Spidey sense says that's not a good thing. What do you think?

[11:45:26] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: From Paul Ryan's perspective, it might be a hopeful thing that he's holding a press conference later in the afternoon because he thinks he might have something to say. But it's 11:45 in the morning and we have no idea if this bill is going to get a vote today. When you say we're hours away, we could be hours and hours and hours away if this thing does not get sort of nailed down in the next short little while -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: I should start using "hours" with air quotes.

Alex, Jeff Zeleny has great reporting saying that a Republican close to the process says you've got Trump, Pence, Bannon, Conway making calls. Some aides are saying different things to different people. That's not helpful, when you're trying to lock this thing in. This is the end of the process, not the beginning.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Part of the problem here is that the White House doesn't necessarily have a ton to offer to individual members beyond sort of a pledge of maybe we'll persuade the Senate to take a vote on something you would like or maybe we'll pay you back somehow down the line. Because this is such a rushed process, and because you don't have congressional earmarks anymore, this has been a closed and rapid legislative march. The general natural evolution of a negotiation is just not the way this is unfolding.

BOLDUAN: A live picture from the White House stakeout position. Waiting to see if these conservatives meeting with the president, what they'll come out and say.

M.J., where is the momentum? Last night, Paul Ryan was optimistic, Mar Meadows, of the Freedom Caucus, was optimistic, thinking they were going to get there. Who is driving the ship now?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Honestly, at this point the only person that sounds a little bit optimistic is Mark Meadows, the head of the Freedom Caucus. I can tell you as a reporter on Capitol Hill, you turn every corner and you see a lot of members rolling their eyes at this group. I think they have every right to feel this way, because we are so close to what was supposed to be a vote, that was supposed to be happen today, and now that is up in the air. A meeting that was supposed to happen this morning, that has been postponed. And a lot of members are feeling like, well, do these members in the Freedom Caucus, do they even have an interest in getting to a yes? I think a lot of members are saying they feel like the ask that they're asking for, the requests they're making would simply isolate too many other members, that only hinders the bill's ability to get through the House. And throughout a process that has already been so troubled and leadership has already had so much trouble getting these members on board, they're wondering why at the last minute does leadership feel the pressure, and are they frankly caving to the pressure to give the Freedom Caucus what they want.

BOLDUAN: Hmm. Fascinating. Man, I would love to be in House Speaker Paul Ryan's office right now.

Doug, two things glaringly absent right now, any real final version of this bill. There are changes being promised. We don't know exactly what they are. Maybe Alex, maybe M.J. know. I don't. Also, glaringly absent, an updated cost estimate from your former office, the Congressional Budget Office. This gets into, I'll project, 11:00 p.m. tonight, will they call this vote without a cost estimate?

DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ACTION FORUM & FORMER DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE: I think they'll be OK on the CBO front. This bill isn't that different from what was reported out of Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce. CBO gave them a score on that. What they're talking about in the so-called manager's amendment. To fix it won't change the score very much. They know where they are on that. Where they are on getting to 215, that's a different story. I think in the end, the kinds of things that the Freedom Caucus are asking for are the kinds of things that are very difficult to do in the special procedures known as reconciliation. If they in fact do it in the House, there's a good chance it will come out in the Senate. It will be a pyrrhic victory at best.

BOLDUAN: Don't say reconciliation. I immediately fall asleep.

Amanda -- I know, don't ever use the word.



HOLTZ-EAKIN: Never again.

BOLDUAN: From your former perch, how do you see this playing out?


BOLDUAN: Republicans are at the White House right now. House Speaker Paul Ryan is on the Hill trying to twist some arms. Who is running this?

[11:50:50] CARPENTER: I feel that people are closer than it appears. Here's the good news. Everyone is still talking. Everyone is still working together. I remember times where the Freedom Caucus would not be welcomed in any kind of leadership capacity. And now they're talking to the president about ways to get this done. We're all looking at this as for whether this will be a win for the president. It's important that Republicans get this right. It is health care. A deadline is really meaningless. A vote deadline is meaningless. Whether we move some press conferences around or not means nothing when it comes to people's health insurance. A lot of people are still at the table. We're talking about Paul Ryan can lose 21 votes. A universe of 25 to 30 holdouts. That's not a lot. I think they'll get to an agreement at some point in time and it will be because of the changes the Freedom Caucus sought. I'm heartened because you see people like Mike Lee saying this is how we can get it through the Senate. Everyone is throwing out options and talking. Not to the point I'm going to go protest outside the capitol and say kill the bill. They are aligned to get something done. It's not just about winning and signing a bill on paper. It's about fixing the health care system so that takes time.

BOLDUAN: Good point. They're still talk, that's for sure, but talking past each other is where my concern is.

David, President Obama spoke out today. He released a statement as this is the anniversary of him signing Obamacare into law. Here's what he said in part: "I've always said we should build on this law. If Republicans are serious about lowering costs while expanding coverage to those who need it, and if they are prepared to work with Democrats, that's something we all should welcome."

What is the impact if there is any impact of President Obama kind of hanging over this negotiation?

CHALIAN: I don't think there's much impact here. Democrats aren't really part of this process right now. And that's who listens to President Obama the most where he has the most sway. So because this is going to get done with just Republican votes, obviously, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats have said they want no part of this. I don't think it has much weight except that part you just read there, Kate, where he said expand coverage, it just reminds you what that CBO score came out and said last week. This bill does not expand coverage. Its entire goal is not to do that and getting rid of the mandate. Fewer people will have coverage because of it, 24 million over 10 years. So what Barack Obama wanted to do on this anniversary of him signing the law was to make sure he highlighted some of the most popular things about the law.

BOLDUAN: You've got Republicans at the White House, Alex. Republicans are still talking, which is a glass half full. Republican Bradley Burn of Alabama, who came out to say this, "The bill is collapsing." You -- it seems like you have optimism and then this.

BURNS: It's sort of a juggling knives act here, right, that when you have the Freedom Caucus up in the air, Bradley Burn is coming down, the sharp end down on your hand. The Freedom Caucus has so taken center stage in this whole process. And for many good reasons. They can block the bill single handedly if they want to. They are not the only people that can vote against the bill. As it happens -- and this is what really drives a lot of Republicans a little closer to the political center crazy -- what will happen if the freedom the folks who will end up walking the plank are people who could actually lose re-election, unlike the folks in the Freedom Caucus who could do everything they want because of the nature of their districts. BOLDUAN: While I had a Freedom Caucus member on earlier, M.J., and he

said what I was hearing was wrong, which is no surprise. You get that all the time. I get that all the time, not you, M.J. I'm hearing that conservatives, House caucus members can't get to yes. They've been moving the goal post. It was one issue, then another issue to get them to yes, another issue and now they're at yet another issue again. Are you hearing that?

LEE: Yeah, I think one thing that's so important to keep in mind, you were joking earlier about how when you hear the word reconciliation you fall asleep a little bit. A lot of people may not understand the ins and outs of health care policy. It's very complicated to quote someone very important who said that recently. A lot of people may not understand the details of how this works but I think a lot of people -- and this is the fear among many of the non-Freedom Caucus Republican lawmakers -- is that they hear the word essential health benefit and that strikes a note. They understand this generally refers to maternity coverage, hospitalization, drug prescriptions, and they get that this is in some way a more drastic step than the bill that leadership first introduced. And that is something that Republican lawmakers fear their constituents really will understand.

BOLDUAN: Doug, final word on this. What happens if there is no vote?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: What happens if they go to vote? I think they'll get to 215. I really do. They're learning the reality when you govern, you have to vote for things that contain elements you don't like. And that's a reality of governing. Republicans are going through the process right now. It's important that they are talking. They started with a very good bill. They would like to perfect the bill but that's going to be hard to do. And I think by the time we get to this evening they'll get to the votes and we'll see it off to the Senate and take the next steps.

[11:55:12] BOLDUAN: We'll be able to watch it all play out in spectacular fashion.

Guys, great to see you. Thank you.

A wedding anniversary trip to London takes a tragic horrific turn for one American couple. New details about one of the victims of the terror attack in London, now claimed responsibility by ISIS.


[12:00:03] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

And a very big day it is. The spy novel plot thickens. CNN has been told the FBI has travel records, meeting schedules and other records suggesting associates of then-Candidate --