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GOP Health Care Bill Heads for Showdown Vote; Trump Ultimatum: Vote "Yes" Today or Obamacare Stays; House Dem Leadership Hold Press Conference on Health Care Vote. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 10:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. This is go time. Take a look at live pictures of the U.S. Capitol where this morning, anything could happen. No one inside that building right now actually knows what is going to happen. And no one over at the White House knows either.

Can a Republican Party that is divided pass a health care bill by sundown? If they can't, who is to blame? The president this morning already tweeting, already pointing fingers, saying, "The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P.," Planned Parenthood, "to continue if they stop this plan!"

BERMAN: Yes. Senior administration official tells CNN, the president is making calls right now this morning. This senior administration official tells CNN, the president is determined to get the bill passed. Now, a different official says that they have seen some movement this morning toward the bill. The question they say, "Is it enough?" I say that's a pretty big question. "Is it enough?" In fact, it's the only question. --

HARLOW: It's the essential question.

BERMAN: It's the essential question. I do think if it was enough, we would know already. Our reporters are covering all the facts and moving developments. We want to begin with congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly on the Hill. Phil, what are you hearing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to a number of aides I'm talking to right now, John, they're kind of hearing a little bit of what the White House is. What I'm told is they've noticed some softening amongst those conservatives in the wake of that ultimatum laid out by the president last night. But as you noted, they're not sure if it's enough and it's not yet clear that that softening will eventually lead to "yes."

But one aide texted me, "Trump said he would close. Trump needs to close." That's how they're viewing this right now. When it comes to the conservatives, when it comes to those House Freedom Caucus members, it is up to the president now, over the course of the next couple of hours to try and get them on board.

Now, another key component here guys is, where are the moderates here? If you think about the deal that was put out to try and bring those conservative members on board, it's problematic to a lot of moderates, stripping those essential health benefits from Obamacare. I asked about that and two aides made very clear, there were concessions added last night to try and bring some of those wary members back on board including an addition of $15 billion to the bill to address some of the issues that would have been stripped down on essential health care benefits, drug rehabilitation, maternity care, things like that. The hope is that was a direct request, guys, from one of those members. And that could actually bring them back aboard.

But to your broader point, we don't know yet. And I think that's an open question. When will we first start to get an idea? There is a House vote on the rule that's moving through right now. Expect that to be when leaders start to get a hard count, a hard idea of where they actually are numbers-wise and if they're on a good path forward. But until then, guys, anyone's guess, basically.

HARLOW: Yes, I mean, they're going to take this to a vote without the White House knowing what's going to happen and the White House is going to find out as we find out, as we watch the vote live right here. Phil Mattingly, thank you.

Let's go to the White House, that's where our Jeff Zeleny is. And we know Jeff, the president is making these calls this morning, this is all in for him.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is all in. But it's unclear how much he loves this bill. And I can tell you, John and Poppy, stepping back from this, eight years ago when the Affordable Care Act was being passed by and signed by President Obama. He had spent time writing the bill, was into the bill was fully invested in the bill.

That is not the sense I'm getting from President Trump or his administration. We're already seeing some blame going on. You know, was this the right idea to put the bill forward. Who is responsible for this? Administration officials are talking on background to a lot of reporters in this town, blaming Speaker Ryan for this. But the reality is President Trump decided to bring on as his Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who's a long time author of this.

So, this is not only a test of the president's ability to bring something over the finish line. This is also a test of whether he can escape blame for something if it doesn't pass. Now, it is too early to say it's not going to pass by any stretch. As Phil was saying, they are definitely still working to get people on board here.

But let's talk about the substance of this bill for one second. One of the reasons that House Freedom Caucus members, the most conservative members, some of them may be changing their mind, are because of changes made to the bill. But it is also a big problem for moderates. And we're talking about some key provisions that have been taken out of this.

Now, that really strike at the heart of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. And that is to require insurers to provide maternity coverage, to provide birth control coverage and mental health coverage. So, these are these essential health benefits we talked so much about. But that's what it means.

[10:05:07] They basically say the states can decide this. That's why this is so controversial. So as we do the politics of this, I think the substance also so important to all of this, but at this hour, the president now starting to change the subject. He'll be talking shortly about the Keystone Pipeline. He'll be having lunch today with the Treasury secretary talking about tax reform. But guys, all of this is incumbent, hinges on what happens today here with this health care bill. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Again, you're looking at live pictures from the House floor where they're debating the rule about this bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. That's obviously a Democrat right now, arguing against what he is calling, Trumpcare - is it Trumpcare or is it Ryancare? I think that's still an open question. We will see.

HARLOW: It depends if they get it passed. --

BERMAN: Exactly. All right, I want to bring in New Jersey Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. Now, you were a "no" vote on this. You switched to "yes" on Wednesday after getting some assurances on Medicaid issues and some concerns you had about the elderly. But there were new changes added last night, stripping out the so-called essential benefits guarantees from the coverage there. So are you still a "yes" vote?

REP. TOM MACARTHUR (R), NEW JERSEY AND SUPPORTING GOP OBAMACARE REPEAL BILL: Good morning, John and Poppy. I moved over the weekend, like with any negotiation, there is a sort of a life cycle to it. I learned that in business. I'm only in my second term here, and I had the privilege of running a company. I started just as a trainee in business with $13,000 a year and became a CEO.

So I had a lot of experience negotiating deals. And I don't think that's -- what you're seeing now is nothing more than people wanting to work through what matters to them. And I got to "yes" over the weekend for a few reasons.

One, I was concerned about the elderly and the disabled and Medicaid. And we got a $65 billion investment in that group of people. I was also concerned about the people from 50 to 64 years old in the tax credits. And we were able to get a very significant 50 percent increase, $90 billion for that group.

And I think with anything, you have to negotiate in good faith and you have to realize when something is at a point where it's worth supporting. We cannot continue the way it is. We have 23 million Americans today that get zero benefit from the Affordable Care Act. They either pay a penalty or they get a waiver -

HARLOW: But Congressman?


HARLOW: Congressman, just on that point. It's Poppy here. You talk about these 23 million Americans. The new CBO score that came out maintains that 24 million Americans more would not have coverage under this bill at all by 2026. And you said in a recent interview with "The New Jersey Star-Ledger," quote, "No American should be without insurance. And I'm not talking about access. I'm talking about insurance." How do you square the two, sir?

MACARTHUR: What we've done with this bill, and let me say, as I've said before, no bill is perfect, no bill. The current system is far from perfect. We have to fix it. But when I look at all of the different groups, those in Medicaid, those even before Medicaid, the 23 million I mentioned that are getting no benefit, the people in the tax credit groups, I believe every single one of them will have the ability to buy insurance. --

HARLOW: That's antithetical, sir, just for a point of fact, it's antithetical to what you said in this interview. You said "I'm not talking about access. I'm talking about insurance." The fact is this would mean more people uninsured. How do you square those two things?

MACARTHUR: Poppy, I do square them because of this. When I say "access," I'm not talking about access to health care. I'm talking about insurance, access to insurance. I do believe that. As I've shared before, I went through what it's like to struggle with health care bills. My oldest daughter had over $1 million of medical bills in her 11 years of life. And I fought with insurance companies and health care providers. I have lived this.

There is a lot of noise about this bill and I know there's a lot of fear. I know that. But when you really look at the bill and you look at the CBO score, and I've read it, they are assuming that when there's no mandate, millions of people won't buy insurance. That's not what I see in the bill. I see that every single American, every single American will have an advanceable tax credit. They don't have to wait for it when they file their tax returns. -

BERMAN: Congressman?

MACARTHUR: They will be able to get it upfront and by insurance.

BERMAN: Congressman, I want to give you some news we just got in, your Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, just told our reporter Sunlen Serfaty that he's feeling very good about this today.

[10:10:01] And he thinks, he just said to our Sunlen Serfaty that it will get through today. So that is from your Majority Leader. I'm not sure if that's posturing or if it's a genuine, you know, optimistic feeling that they're now getting.

But you know, I want to push it a little bit more on the essential benefits that have been included in Obamacare, that's guarantees of maternity care, mental health care, substance abuse coverage, those guarantees are out, right? And are you comfortable with that? Do you think it's a better bill? Do you think it provides better care to your constituents without those guarantees?

MACARTHUR: Well, first, I support essential health benefits. I'm very fortunate to be in a state, New Jersey that takes really good care of our people, especially for opioid addiction. I'm the chairman of the Heroin Task Force here in Congress, and our governor and our legislature passed really groundbreaking legislation that gives people six months of coverage for dealing with opioid issues. -


BERMAN: But that's out. - That's out of the federal. That's out now at the federal level. That's out of the federal level. It's out at the guarantee, from the federal bill. And I know that states can choose to do differently. But again, is it a better bill in your mind without that in there now?

MACARTHUR: I think you have to step back and look at the bigger picture. The essential health benefit doesn't apply to the vast majority of plans today. You're talking about less than 10 percent in the individual market that this essential health benefit is dictated by the federal government. It doesn't include any employer sponsored group plans or self-insured plans, doesn't affect Medicare or Medicaid or VA care or Military TRICARE.

The federal government is only dictating health benefits for a very small band. And all this does is says, you know what, the states do this everywhere else, you can do it for the individual health plans too. So I don't believe this is going to hurt people in the way that all this noise is suggesting.

HARLOW: Before we go, you did meet with the president yesterday. What did he tell you?

MACARTHUR: I've been really thrilled with the president's response. He's obviously very engaged. But he's treating the legislature as a co-equal branch of government, which I haven't seen in quite some time. He's engaging with us, but he's not trying to dictate this legislation. He's trying to help bring people together. And so, I think he's been helpful to the process.

And my part, I'm one of the co-chairs of the Tuesday group, the moderate group. And we are in discussions with our leadership, with the White House, with our friends and colleagues in the other caucuses here in the Republican Congress, and we're working it out. And this is like any negotiation. Everyone has to be heard and you have to find ways to get to "yes." We need 216 votes. That's what we're working on.

HARLOW: Congressman, you are hearing and painting a much more Kumbaya picture, I think, than we're hearing from others. Thank you very much for being with us, Congressman.

MACARTHUR: I'm a realist and an optimist. HARLOW: Clearly an optimist. We appreciate it. We'll be watching, thank you. I mean, the president though is attacking the Freedom Caucus this morning.

BERMAN: He is. Again, our breaking news, Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, now saying -

HARLOW: We're going to get it done.

BERMAN: That he's feeling optimistic and we're getting it done today. We're watching the rule debate on the House floor. It is all going on right now. We're going to hear from a key Democrat in all this coming up.


[10:17:35] BERMAN: All right, a flurry of action on Capitol Hill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the lead Democrat in the House of Representatives, speaking out now against the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that may be voted on later today. No surprise that Democrats are against it. 100 percent of House Democrats are against it, which complicates matters for the House Republicans. They cannot lose more than 21 or 22 votes.

And right now, we do not know if that will happen or not. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, just moments ago, told our Sunlen Serfaty that he is feeling great. The number two Republican in the House when asked if he had the votes to get this, he said "yes, we're going to get it done today." Does he mean it?

Joining us now, Mark Preston, CNN senior political analyst, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator, political anchor at "Spectrum News," Van Jones, CNN political commentator and Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator, a Republican strategist who worked for Ted Cruz during the election for a little bit.

Mark Preston, Kevin McCarthy telling Sunlen Serfaty that he's feeling great. Does he mean it or does he want us to think he means it?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if he's feeling great right now, could you imagine if this was going to be easy vote for him, he would be feeling excellent at this point. You know, that's his job. That's his job right now. He said the same thing last night to Dana Bash that he felt good about it.

You know, this is very problematic right now for Republicans. We talk about the inexperience of the White House and their inability to try to get votes on Capitol Hill. This is a very young Congress right now. And they came here on ideological terms. They don't feel invested. They haven't been through you know, really, really big fights.

And if you're a Republican, a lot of these folks didn't have the House, the Senate, and the White House. They don't know how to win right now. In many ways, this vote today should have been cast by the White House in the Republican leadership as the first of many votes. Don't deal the president a losing hand on his first major legislative accomplishment, because you're going to have an opportunity to vote against it anyway if you don't like it.

HARLOW: Alice Stewart to you, an interesting tweet from Congressman Thomas Massie, part of the Freedom Caucus, who the president took a swipe at on Twitter just an hour or so ago. Here is what he tweets. "If the Executive Branch tells Legislative Branch when to vote and how to vote and what it will be allowed to work on if vote fails, is that a Republic?" Your take?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER TED CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, look, clearly the House Freedom Caucus is not going to go down easily on this. And they're standing firm on this.

[10:20:00] Look, while they're getting a lot of these last minute calls and conversations and meetings with those in the White House, they're also getting messages and calls and e-mails from their constituents that are saying, please stand firm, please don't give in. Look, they promised their constituents throughout this campaign, and won their campaigns on lower premiums, greater access to health care, and that's what they want. They don't see that in this current bill. And they're going to continue to stand firm on that regardless of the pushback they're getting from the White House.

But here's the rub. Here's what's happening right now. We saw the tweet earlier where President Trump reminded those in the House Freedom Caucus who are very strong conservatives that are, many of them, certainly pro-life, pro-faith, pro-family, he reminded them that Obamacare doesn't defund the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.

Kellyanne Conway is going to reach out to them personally this morning and remind them of that. And do they want to go back to their constituents and say I didn't take action to defund Planned Parenthood. So that is the sticking point today and that is the wedge they're going to use to try and drive some of these noes to yeses today on the issues.

HARLOW: Even though as you know and most voters know, the Hyde Amendment blocks any federal money from actually going to abortion services. But I hear your argument, big picture.

BERMAN: Van Jones, you're sort of the Democratic prophet of don't underestimate this guy when it comes to President Trump. You know, so it is 10:21 a.m. right now on the East Coast, this vote may happen at 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon. Do you think that he can get the votes he need? Does he have what it takes, this art of the deal stuff, will he be able to put it together and get it over the finish line by this afternoon?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I think as a -- somebody who was able to defy convention on the campaign trail, I saw Donald Trump as a major, major threat. I tried to warn Democrats, they wouldn't listen. When it's time for him to communicate, I think liberals don't understand his appeal. But I have been shocked and appalled by the complete inability this guy has shown to be an executive leader. First of all, you see a betrayal of his core voters with a lot of this stuff. The opioid crisis is a major, major crisis. I've been in West Virginia. I've been in Ohio. I've been in Pennsylvania. To have a bill that actually goes in reverse, essential benefits in reverse on substance abuse is a major betrayal. To punish, with this age tax, the older voters who came out for him, is a betrayal.

So, I don't know if he's going to be able to prove us all wrong again. But I have to say, talking to Trump voters, I'm one of the few Democrats, I was talking to them during the campaign, after the election, still doing it. I think there's a little bit of a bewilderment now. They're starting to feel like they took a big leap of faith that this guy was going to repeal and replace with something better and by the way they were going to get a bunch of jobs so they could get their own health care.

And they don't see the jobs. They don't see a jobs bill. They don't see a tax cuts. They don't see infrastructure. All they see is a gun aimed at them. And I think he may be in real trouble. Never count him out, but I'm having a hard time seeing how he squares the circle with that.

HARLOW: You know, it's interesting Errol, I mean, talking about the you know, the ultimate deal maker, this is a guy who in his last two big rallies which he know he just being so much from he thrives on these, he spent like five minutes talking about health care. Was that a miss for him?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND POLITICAL ANCHOR "SPECTRUM NEWS": Well, it was an opportunity to rile up his base and sort of make some arguments. But we're at a point now where you have to sort of pick and choose. And it's not enough to simply throw out slogans. We've heard seven years of slogans from the Republicans.

And now this is the time where you have to decide, will there or won't there be coverage of mental health services, will there or won't there be coverage of maternity services and so on. And that's really what the fight is about right now.

I mean, they have got a complicated calculus that they have to work each member. And one thing we want to make sure we take into account is that they don't know if this bill is going to go anywhere in the Senate. And so, they may have to sort of fly blind but hope that these services are not removed from their constituents and walk sort of a fine line. --

HARLOW: They may think the Senate may bring it back more at the center.

BERMAN: We have a little touch of breaking news right now on a different subject. House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes, we're just learning - or Nunes, I should say. We're just learning that he's going to hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m., which is what, like six minutes from now. We don't know what he's going to talk about.

But suffice it to say that -- Chairman Nunes, Mark Preston, he's been in the news a little bit this last week with claims he has made about Trump team members being picked up in incidental collection and whatnot. I guess, let's tie this all together right now, if we can. We have this House bill that's hanging in the balance. You have a president the FBI is investigating whether or not there are connections between Trump associates and the Russians during the election. You have Democrats now saying they're going to filibuster his Supreme Court nominee.


BERMAN: You know does this paint a picture of a president who is weakened or bargaining from a position of strength in all of this, including health care?

PRESTON: Well, a couple of things. One, I think no matter who is in the White House you would have this chaos, given all of these big issues that are coming up.

[10:25:02] If it was Democrats that were in charge of the White House and they were putting up a Supreme Court nominee, you would hear Republicans saying, you know, we're going to filibuster. I mean, much like they did with Merrick Garland anyway, they didn't even give the guy a vote, right?

So, there is that. But I do think that Donald Trump thrives on chaos. And in some ways, he probably thinks this is normal. And this is how you operate. But this isn't private business, this is government. This is slower. This is clunkier.

You know, when we talk about the art of the deal and him able to cut deals, well, he would probably cut a deal with me to you or me to you or me to you. Now he's got to try to cut deals with 535 elected members of Congress who all believe, by the way, that they probably can be president themselves.

So, it's a lot more complicated. If he loses this vote today, he's absolutely weakened. And that's why I would say, as we said earlier, he's probably got about a 51 percent chance now of getting it through.

HARLOW: So, Van, what's the best play for Democrats in all of this? We've heard a lot of them saying and Steny Hoyer said last night basically, we're just sitting back and -- watching this play out. -- Should they sit back, eat popcorn, watch their Twitter feeds? Or should there be more here that Democrats are doing to - I mean, leverage their advantage as much as they can?

JONES: Well, right now the Democrats, when you're talking about the House, I mean, there's no more of a powerless position in Washington, D.C. than to be in the minority in the House. At least if you're in the minority in the Senate, you can filibuster. You don't even have that. So there's really not that much that the Democrats can do in the House except to continue to point out basic facts.

Here is a basic fact. Planned Parenthood remains one of the most popular organizations, one of the most beloved organizations in the United States, despite this relentless media offensive against them by conservatives. The majority of Republicans actually, when you poll them, have good feelings about Planned Parenthood. So you need to stick up for Planned Parenthood.

You need to stick up for the fact that you know we have -- some of the things that the Republicans are now afraid to touch are things that Obama put in place. Listen, when Obama came on the scene, Republicans were perfectly happy having young people thrown off their plans. They were perfectly happy having preexisting conditions not covered for your whole life.

Obama has permanently moved the goalpost. And everybody is now playing on Obama's playing field whether they like it or not. Democrats have a lot to be proud of and to preserve. I think Republicans can get in their own little, you know, bubble there, and wind up causing problems in the mid-terms.

HARLOW: Hold on one second.

BERMAN: One second, guys. You say House Chair Devin Nunes has started? Has this news conference started now? OK. I didn't mean to interrupt. Alice, I know you want to jump in and disagree with what Van said.

But what we're going to do right now is we're going to take a quick break because we are waiting to hear from the House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes who is going to hold a news conference. We don't know on what, which this week, you know, is pretty interesting. We'll be right back.