Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Evan McMullin; Trump Health Care Bill in Danger. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. We start the hour with breaking news here. I'm Brooke Baldwin live in Washington, D.C., major Trump -- major moment, I say, for the Trump presidency.

His health care bill right now, it's hanging in the balance. We're told the White House has given a final offer to Republicans who are, some of whom, very skeptical of this bill, the most far-right bunch of House Republicans who left the White House just a short time ago after meeting with the president again.

Here is what Sean Spicer had to say moments ago in the White House daily briefing.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are some members who in the meeting stood up and told the president I'm with you now. And I think member by member, that's how they're going to vote.

I think we have continued to see that number rise, and the same thing with the Tuesday group. There are members that had not been with us that are expressing their willingness to want to be part of this.

The president went over several commitments and changes that have been made to assuage different folks that have continued to evolve. And I think that we continue to see the number rise, but I think we continue to see the number go up, not down, and that's a very positive sign.


BALDWIN: Yet a key Freedom Caucus member suggests health care negotiations are not over just yet.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We are certainly trying to get to yes, but indeed we have made very reasonable requests. And we're hopeful that those reasonable requests will be listened to and ultimately agreed to.


BALDWIN: All right. Very shortly, we will be seeing the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan,

stepping behind that podium and addressing members of the media here any moment now.

And, of course, a lot of key questions people want to know, including, will the speaker delay a House vote planned for at some point today if they can't quite whip the votes they need? Any delay might signal trouble for Speaker Ryan and President Trump, both of whom are politically hitched to this health care bill.

Let's first talk this over with Phil Mattingly, who is up on the Hill with us, our congressional correspondent. And I have also got Jeff Zeleny there in front of the White House, our CNN senior White House correspondent.

But, first, Phil to you. Where are we? Talk to me about arm-twisting and what could stay, what could go.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're not in a good place right now, Brooke.

And I know Sean Spicer said their vote is going up. Everything we're seeing is that it's going down, that they have actually lost more votes over the course of the last couple hours.

And I think what you have to look at here, you played -- you talked about the House Freedom Caucus. There's a deal that is on the table that hasn't been reached yet. There's a potential offer on the table that hasn't been reached. But that offer comes at the detriment of some of the more moderate members of the conference.

As it currently stands, CNN has a count of 30 members that are either leaning to be opposed or are outright opposed to this bill. They can only afford to lose 21. And, as I noted, that number has been going up.

And despite their willingness to kind of reach out their And to the House Freedom Caucus, they haven't even committed to coming on board yet. So, despite lots of behind-the-scenes meetings, Brooke, I have been standing in hallways where 100 feet away from one meeting, the House leaders are meeting with one group, a room down the hall, they are meeting with another.

They're twisting arms. They're trying. But they're just not there, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Arm-twisting on Capitol Hill, arm-twisting I know at the White House.

Jeff Zeleny, talk to me about what the president has been up to today, who he has met with, what promises he's made.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I think there's no question there is frustration on the minds of folks here at the White House. The president in particular, he's used to getting what he wants. He's used to being able to sell a deal. Now, he had some of his biggest supporters over here at the White House this morning, the members of the House Freedom Caucus that Phil was just talking about.

These come from the reddest of red districts all across the country here. And so far, they are defying him. So far, they are saying, look, we are not with you on this. So now, coming up in the next half-hour or so, moderates will be coming over here to the White House.

This is why this is such a problem right at this hour, because they do not have the support on the right and they're losing support in the middle as well on this. So the White House is trying to get some concessions and make some guarantees here.

But at this point, they do not have the votes. And, Brooke, it is important to point out, if everyone is not following all the ins and outs of this, this is an internal party fight among Republicans, never mind the Democrats who of course are all voting against this, and never mind the Senate.

It takes a bill to pass the House and Senate to be signed into law. And they were hoping for a symbolic victory today on the seventh anniversary of President Obama signing this bill into law. That clearly will not happen. They will not make it by that deadline, of course, to have this repealed and replaced.

But, even at this hour, the House bill, which is just one small part of all this, is still not being worked out yet. So the president once again seeing the limitations of his persuasion ability, but he's still working the phones, he's still trying to get people on board here.

So, we will see if he can do it before the end of the day here, Brooke, but no vote for the next several hours. We will see if there's a vote before midnight tonight. Many people think there may not be -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: On the persuasion piece and the negotiation piece, Phil, just back over to you on the Hill, something I was e-mailing you about before the show to try to understand these essential health care benefits and how this is an important piece that a certain group within the Republican Party want to lose in order for them to flip to a yes.


What is that about?

MATTINGLY: So, this is 10 provisions or basically 10 requirements in Obamacare federally mandated that every insurance plan would have to maintain.

We're talking about things ambulatory coverage, or maternity coverage, things like that, things that some states also require. But this was kind of a federal requirement. It was a big piece of Obamacare. But it's insurance regulations that Republicans have long said could help drive up premiums. And the House Freedom Caucus, those most conservative members, want that and several other pieces of the insurance regulations removed.

That's actually been on the table. This was a major concession last night by not only the White House, House leadership as well, put that on the table. That's the deal that is sitting there waiting for the House Freedom Caucus right now.

And it's not enough. The big problem, not only that, is that that deal, that concession by House leadership is causing major heartburn amongst those moderates. That is very bad headline back home. You strip maternity coverage, You strip ambulance services, you strip any number of those things.

So these moderates who aren't sure what the impact is going to be understand that it's a bad headline. That is part of the reason that they've started to leave. So this was put on the table to bring the conservatives over. The conservatives didn't come over. Then the moderates started to leave. So now you see right now, as they try and thread this needle to bring everybody aboard, it's incredibly complicated.

And so far they're really not breaking through, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Listening to you, and it's just -- we just don't know. We don't know yet.

So much of this is unclear. Phil, thank you so much. Jeff from the White House, thank you.

Of course, this took up a bit of the briefing today over at the White House with Sean Spicer. And here is his response to question, well, who is responsible if there is either no vote or if the vote fails?


QUESTION: Is the president, no matter what happens, prepared to take responsibility for the outcome of this bill?

SPICER: In what way?

QUESTION: Whether it succeeds or fails, his name is on it. A lot of people think so.

SPICER: Well, I think that in the sense that we've been very clear about this is a priority of ours and we've worked with them.

But, again, I go back to at the end of the day, we can't make people vote. We have done everything we can to listen to them, to incorporate their thoughts, to incorporate their thoughts, to incorporate their ideas to make the bill as best we can.

But it's a balancing act, make no mistake about it, that there's a full spectrum of folks in the House that have disparate desires, but I think we can all commit this is the one vehicle that's going to repeal something that almost every single Republican that I'm aware of has pledged to do if they were reelected or elected.

And I think there's a desire that, will we understand that not every member is going to find this perfect? That's what happens when you need to get in this case 216 votes. But it's the best bill that takes into consideration all of the concerns and all the goals and all of the values.


BALDWIN: All right.

So, I have M.J. Lee still sitting with me, who has been in the weed on all things health care for us here at CNN. Mary Katharine Ham is here, CNN political commentator, and Susan Page is with us, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."

Ladies, OK, a lot of unknowns. You just heard Phil Mattingly.

Starting with you, Susan, you heard Phil Mattingly say the votes are down. If you were to take -- you couldn't take the vote now. It wouldn't happen. Consequences of this failing for this young presidency is?


BALDWIN: Enormous?

PAGE: For him to lose -- And, remember, this is a signature promise.

BALDWIN: For years and years and years from Republicans.

PAGE: And for the past four campaigns that Republicans have run, a promise that they would repeal and later they added replace the Affordable Care Act.

And for them to fail on this vote after this buildup, after they've got majorities in the House and the Senate and they hold the White House, I think that would be quite serious. In fact, I think that's the strongest argument the White House has, not the details of whether they keep essential health services.

But think about what's going to happen if you let President Trump lose this critical vote. How are you going to pass tax reform then?


PAGE: This has huge consequences beyond this debate itself, and this debate itself is very important.

BALDWIN: What do you think?


He's the guy who makes the deal, right?


BALDWIN: He being the president?

HAM: Right.

If this is so very obviously a deal-making problem, I think that's even further a brand issue for him. And then Republicans who are not on board -- and I'm just -- I'm not taking a position on the bill at this moment -- the Republicans who are not on board who think maybe he's joking going after them, his favorite thing is to go after Republicans about old grudges. That's what he does. It's what he is most enthusiastic about.

BALDWIN: But what does he do with these House Freedom Caucus members, some of whom are defiant no's? And we are hearing about the frustration, especially even from House leadership, right?



HAM: Right.

First of all, it was interesting to find out this week that he does think this is his fight. I wasn't sure he did, because it really isn't his priority, per se. It was more the Freedom Caucus' priority.

But I also think he can lean on them. I also think, look, Freedom Caucus members, for very good reason, are like, look, we won four national elections on this. And you're giving us this watered-down, work on the margins, fix to some of Obamacare, which is largely what that is, is a better framework. It can make some minor improvements, but they have a little reason to be a little upset about that.

BALDWIN: Adding to that, the conservative Koch brothers were saying to some of these far-right members, hey, if you vote no, we're going to give millions of dollars to you in your primary campaigns to make sure you get reelected.


And the thing about the Freedom Caucus is that many of these members are very conservative and come from very conservative districts. These are members that easily win their primaries, easily win their general elections. They're not so much worried about 2018 and what's going to happen to them.

Other colleagues of theirs can't say the same. Voting against this bill, not supporting this bill, not supporting repealing and replacing Obamacare would have huge consequences for them.


BALDWIN: Like what? LEE: Losing their reelection. And I think this is why there are so

many eyes rolling on Capitol Hill right now.

I think you're absolutely right that the president wanted to make a deal today. But if we're talking about essential health care benefits, I thought it was so fascinating that Sean Spicer at the briefing, he was asked about maternity coverage.

And he said, look, I'm not going to get into a benefit-by-benefit discussion.

Here is the problem. He may not want to have that discussion with reporters, but this is a discussion that every member that supports this bill, if this provision is added to the bill, will have to have and will have to explain to their constituents.

BALDWIN: Because it would lost under...


HAM: Not always would it be lost, because if you get rid of the -- it's a federal mandate.

This is a highly regulated industry that has state regulations as well. In a place as conservative as Texas, there are 62 mandates for what you have to have in an insurance policy. So that would not all be lost on day one. They will have to have that conversation.

They have to have a conversation about why this gives flexibility and allows people to have some less heavy health insurance that therefore cost less money. They have to have that discussion.

But I think also the issue here is, I don't see a mythical point in the future that if you don't get this done in the first priority, closer to an election, you're going to have a tough vote on a tough bill.

This was always going to be tough, threading this needle was always going to be tough. We have a giant Jenga tower, Frankenstein monster of a health care system. It was really hard to deal with when Obama was doing it. It remains very hard to make improvements to it. But they are trying, and I don't see a place where this happens a couple months from now just as a new project.


PAGE: Members of Congress understand that by the time the next election comes around, people will understand what impact this had on their own lives, on their own premiums, on whether their daughter was able to get maternity coverage, on what happened in their own lives.

BALDWIN: That's what you remember when you go to the ballot box.

PAGE: That's what you remember.

And by the time this comes around time for voters, this is not some esoteric debate about freedom or about what the right -- it's something that's real in their lives.

BALDWIN: It's tangible.

PAGE: And you will be unable to persuade them against what happens in their own lives. You can't tell them it worked if it didn't work.

HAM: It's also a system that's not working now for many people, and we lose sight of that. Consistently, it is polled that people think that more people have been hurt than helped by this bill.

And that is a part of the story. And those people who have had these crazy deductibles and these crazy premiums are part of the story. And the death spiral, I'm like the face of it, a young healthy person who pays these exorbitant prices and is being chased out of the market. That is a real story. And it's part of this. And leaving it hanging to break further is not responsible either.


There's all this arm-twisting. We've been talking a lot about the Freedom Caucus members meeting at the White House. And now we're also expecting to hear from Speaker of House Paul Ryan any moment now.

Ladies, thank you very, very much for that discussion.

Waiting to hear from Paul Ryan any moment now, who is currently meeting behind closed doors. He's been talking to moderate Republicans, and he's been trying to whip these votes for this bill ahead of as they're hoping this key vote tonight.

Does he have the votes to bring this home for Republicans and for Americans? We will take that live, of course.

Also ahead, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, apologizing to members of his own committee after going to the press first his report involving surveillance of members of the Trump administration and then going on to the White House. What has Democratic counterpart co-chairman of that committee, Adam Schiff, has just said to CNN -- next.



BALDWIN: All right.

So we have some breaking news now on this health care bill that is maybe supposed to go to a vote at some point today.

I have got M.J. Lee still sitting here with me, because we've been looking at live pictures of this podium on the left side of your screen, where we were anticipating Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to speak. He was supposed to speak this morning, M.J. That was postponed to 3:30 Eastern.

And now what? LEE: Now it's been postponed for a second time.

Just to take stock of what we're seeing today, at 9:00 a.m., members went to what was supposed to be a House Republican Conference meeting. That was postponed. Then Speaker Paul Ryan was supposed to have a press conference at 11:30. And that's been postponed.

And that postponed press conference has been postponed a second time. We have not actually heard from Speaker Paul Ryan today. And what this means is what we already know. They do not have a deal on the health care bill.

And I think in some ways, this is not actually terribly surprising that Speaker Paul Ryan is not going to come to the podium and take questions from reporters, just based on everything that we know from today.


We know that the meeting with the Freedom Caucus at White House did not go well. We know that moderates and non-Freedom Caucus members are furious with leadership, furious with the White House. And so they have nothing to announce right now.

I think very likely right now the question is going to be, is the vote that was supposed to happen -- remember, there was also supposed to be a vote today. Is that also going to be postponed as well?

BALDWIN: Right. So, three postponements today so far from the Republicans.

M.J., thank you so much, excellent, excellent job on all things health care.

But let's move on, though, and talk about the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes facing some pretty intense backlash right now, because Democrats are accusing him of compromising their bipartisan investigation into President Trump's possible ties to Russia.

Let's go to Manu Raju. He's on the Hill for us, our senior congressional reporter.

You just talked to the co-chair on the House Intel Committee there, the Democrat, Adam Schiff. What has he said today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I just talked to him about Mr. Nunes' decision to go forward with this information and also Mr. Nunes' comments to reporters when we asked him specifically, did you get this information from the White House, and Nunes said he could not rule that out.

He actually would not comment about where he got the information showing that some Trump transition officials, their information, communications were picked up by U.S. intelligence. Now, Mr. Schiff says that he is "baffled" by this decision by Mr.

Nunes not rule out the White House from getting this, from leaking this information to Devin Nunes, saying that perhaps, raising the possibility that perhaps the White House was behind this.

That's something that the White House has thrown cold water on, but something Democrats are concerned about. Schiff also making some news, saying Democrats continue, plan to be part of this investigation going forward. They will not boycott this investigation, because, in Mr. Schiff's view, he believes if Democrats do not participate, there will not be an investigation into Russia and those alleged contacts and coordination that occurred between Trump officials and Russian officials during the election.

Another piece of news, he discussed, went a little bit further than comments that he made yesterday talking about potential collusion between Russians and the Trump officials and some new evidence that he says he has seen. Take a listen.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: It's the kind of evidence that you would submit to a grand jury at the beginning of an investigation. It's not the kind of evidence you take to a trial jury when you're trying to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt.

But we are at the beginning of an investigation. And given the gravity of the subject matter, I think that the evidence certain warrants us doing a thorough investigation.

RAJU: Is there some new evidence that you have learned that makes you think that it was more than just circumstantial?

SCHIFF: We have received additional evidence, and materials, new material, have been made available to the committee.


RAJU: Brooke, I just spoke with Devin Nunes too on my way back from my interview with Mr. Schiff.

And he says he has "no idea" what Adam Schiff is talking about when it comes to new evidence about possible collusion between Russian officials and Trump officials. So there seems to be even disagreement on whether or not there is evidence to support a key aspect of the investigation.

Also, Nunes saying he would not reveal who his source is about the information about potential -- about the surveillance picking up the Trump transition officials. He said he wouldn't even tell Mr. Schiff who his source is because they need to protect sources and methods.

So, Brooke, the intrigue continues on this investigation. The questions continue about whether it can move forward in a bipartisan manner -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Manu, thank you so much for having talked to both the chairs of the House Intel Committee and the back and forth.

Evan McMullin is now seated with me here in D.C., former CIA officer who launched the third-party run against Trump.

Good to see you again.


BALDWIN: Not a dull day here in D.C.

MCMULLIN: Never, never.

BALDWIN: Let's first just begin. Before we get to this potential collaboration and the CIA reporting with the FBI and Trump associates, just on what Manu has been reporting on Chairman Nunes briefing the press yesterday and when he was talking about the spy claim on the president is what he initially said, and then maybe even associates, goes on down to the White House.

The president says he's somewhat vindicated, which he's not when you look at what Comey had said on Monday. What do you make of all of that first?

MCMULLIN: I would say, first of all, Chairman Nunes' action are highly out of pattern.

If you come from the intelligence world, you realize that he's made a lot out of mundane, regular issue. If you come from the political world, you realize that what he is doing as the chairman of the Intel Committee is unusual in that role. It doesn't make sense for him to be doing that.


He is heading a committee that is investigating or should be investigating in part the administration or the campaign of the president.

BALDWIN: And because of all this, the Dems on the committee are now saying apparently he apologized and saying that may not be good enough and that he should recuse himself, that because of what he's done, he is no longer impartial in the investigation.

MCMULLIN: I think that's fair.

I think what he did yesterday -- and we can get into why it's so strange, but, look, he has been acting -- Chairman Nunes has been acting in a way that is more consistent with a surrogate of the president than of the member of a committee that has oversight responsibilities that would be consistent with the separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.

He's claiming to have information that he didn't get from his staff. And if he didn't receive it from his staff, then he must have received from sources in the executive branch. The executive branch is, by the way, what the president and his administration runs.

BALDWIN: They're throwing cold water on it, as Manu reported. But, yes, I hear you loud and clear.


MCMULLIN: It just doesn't make sense. He's making a lot out of nothing.

Look, frankly, I think it's a political stunt designed to distract Americans and confuse Americans who really should be focused on the fact that we have an FBI investigation into the president's campaign over its contact with a foreign adversary that was undermining our election. This is a huge deal.


BALDWIN: Let's get to that. It is a big deal.

Here is what CNN has. The FBI has information that indicates that President Trump's associates communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign.

And this is apparently what they got through human intel, travel, business records, and accounts of in-person meetings. And so this is part of what FBI Director Comey was talking about Monday. And now we have peeled it back and understand this is the context.


BALDWIN: Whether this is true or not -- and we know they're still investigating -- just on the law, if it is true, is it treason? What would that...

MCMULLIN: Well, it depends on intent. And so it's really hard to say.

Treason is a certain very high bar because of that. But I would say that there's a lot of focus on collusion. And now you're bringing up treason.

I would say that we need to know these facts even if it doesn't get to that level. I think it very well could get to collusion and could, if you can prove intent, which I think you may be able to do if there is collusion, but even if there was just knowledge or encouragement or incitement, all of these things may not rise to a criminal level, but they are critical for the Americans to know.

And CNN has revealed more information that is consistent with what we heard from Director Comey. But I know more information is coming. I know that there are other reporters out there pursuing lines on this with more details. And I expect more to come out as that develops.

But I just want to stress to you and to the American people that it's important for us to know the facts here, wherever they lead. BALDWIN: Of course.

MCMULLIN: Even if it falls short of collusion or treason, we still need to know exactly what those contacts were, what the nature of those contacts were. And let's get it out in the open.

BALDWIN: No, I agree with you on the truth of the facts on this collusion, because it was the word collaboration, which is what the FBI had used, and just trying to understand the law.

Evan McMullin, thank you so much for swinging by.

Coming up next here on this all-important health care piece today, House Speaker Paul Ryan has now apparently just canceled this news conference that he had initially postponed. It's postponed again, as he is working so tirelessly, I'm sure, behind the scenes to try to win over votes for his Republican health care bill.

A number of lawmakers are now speaking out about their meetings with leadership, like this.


QUESTION: Do you think you're ultimately going to be able to get this done?

REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: We always try to get to yes, but...

QUESTION: Not today?

AMASH: I think it would be a mistake to move forward today.

QUESTION: What are the chances you think it goes to a vote tonight?

AMASH: It would be a mistake to do so.


BALDWIN: All right, let's go.

We've got some breaking news here.

Let's go to Phil Mattingly, who is up on Capitol Hill. What do you have, Phil?

MATTINGLY: Brooke, you just talked about how Speaker Ryan had postponed his press conference. Now we know they're postponing the vote.

BALDWIN: Oh, wow.

MATTINGLY: The scheduled vote that didn't actually have a time on this health care bill, an aide just texted me and said there's no vote tonight.

Instead, they will have an all-conference meeting. Every Republican member of the House Republican Party will be showing up at a conference meeting to talk about what the next steps are.

Obviously, the cancellation of the press conference, the cancellation of the vote let's you know the reality that, Brooke, you and I have been talking about really for the last couple of days. They don't have the votes. They're not there yet.

And they need to figure out a path forward. I can tell you, from talking to people and members who have been in these closed-door meetings, Brooke, at the White House and here on Capitol Hill, there simply is not a clear way to thread this needle right now.

We've talked about it, Brooke. There's a pendulum here. You swing it one way to the conservative side, you lose moderates.


MATTINGLY: You swing it in the other way to the moderate side, you lose conservatives.

That's what they've been trying to do. They've been trying to kind of figure out the best pathway forward on that.