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Health Care Fight; GOP Repeal Pledge; Ryan Health Care Push; Ex-Trump Advisers to be Questioned; Nunes Cancels Hearings. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Bad scenarios, two potentially bad scenarios, pulling the bill or having it fail. They believe that pulling the bill is worse. At least if they have it fail, they showed that they tried. People are on record. And then the political chips will fall where they may.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it's extraordinary given that pretty much every Republican member in that House ran on repeal and replacing Obamacare.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, but it's fascinating that as some of the more conservatives members may get in line, some of the more moderate or centrists Republicans, they're bolting, they're leaving. So the president and the speaker, they have a double problem, not just from the conservative Freedom Caucus, but also from those centrists as well.

COOPER: We've talked a lot about the influence of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. There are other Republican votes still hanging in the balance. Ohio Congressman Jim Renacci tweeted out a photo of himself pouring over the American Health Care Act this morning. He has not yet revealed how he will vote. Congressman Renacci joins me now live from Capitol Hill.

Thank you very much for being with us.

That is the million dollars question for you, how will you vote on this bill?

Congressman Renacci, it's Anderson Cooper. You're on the air. How will you vote on this bill, congressman?

Clearly having some problem with the congressman's audio. We'll try to fix that.

Gloria, I mean, it is all coming down to this, what does happen if this doesn't pass?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as you were saying before, Sean Spicer says no plan b. I think the president will take a very close look at the people who voted for this and the people who voted against this and he will remember who did that.

COOPER: But does he then continue to expend political capital trying to -

BORGER: Not on - not on health - I think he - the White House says they're going to move on. This is it and they're going to move on. They're going to try and do something that, in fact, the president has said, sort of mused about, well, maybe we should have done tax reform first. And I think they're just going to - going to move. And if they can at some point come back to this, would they? Yes.

But I think it's a - you cannot over state what an embarrassment and what a problem this is not only for the president of the United States who made the decision to go first on this, because, after all, every Republican, as you point out, campaigned on this, they voted for it, a repealing of it, over 50 times in the House, that they can't now get this through when it's real, when it's real.

COOPER: I believe we have contact with the Congressman Renacci.

Congressman, it's Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer. Thank you so much for joining us.

The big question for you, how will you vote on this?

REP. JIM RENACCI (R), OHIO: Well, look, this bill is not perfect. There's a lot of things in it I don't like. The process has been horrible. The Washington process. But, in the end, seven years ago we were left with a - something that is unsustainable. We were left with something that's hurting Americans back home. It's hurting health care coverage. And it's a binary choice. It's a choice of continuing down a path of an Affordable Care Act that's not working, or repealing it and repairing it and moving forward in the process. I ran on that in 2009, that I was going to repeal and replace Obamacare. I'm going to vote yes so that we can repeal and start the process of repairing and replacing Obamacare.

COOPER: Do you have a sense of other members in the Freedom Caucus if they are moving toward voting for this?

RENACCI: You know, I don't. I've got friends in the Tuesday Group, the Freedom Caucus, The Wednesday Group, the Friday Group, whatever groups there are, I got a lot of friends. I've got friends on both sides of the aisle. What I'm hearing is, everybody's got their opinion. The real problem is, there's two choices here, you're either going to move forward and repeal this bill that everybody wants us to repeal back home, and what we all ran on or you're going to allow it just to continue. Because you heard the president - and I've got to give the president a lot of credit. He has worked with everyone. I spent an hour and a half in the White House with him. He has listened. He has changed things. He has actually helped the process. And I think, at the end, people have to realize, this is part of his moving this thing forward. He wants to get this done so we can move on to tax reform. I'm hoping others will come forward and vote for it as well.

COOPER: If it does not either come to a vote or does not pass, what then? What then happens?

RENACCI: Well, I think like the president said, and I'm a businessman as well, you can't just keep going back and forth and back and forth. He wants to move on to other things. I'd like to see tax reform being done. I hope we can move on to that. But at this point in time, I think this is a binary choice, you're either voting to start the repeal and replacement process, or you're allowing Obamacare to continue and we move on to something else.

BLITZER: You know, congressman, the critics say what's the rush? Why do you have to do this so quickly? Why not go back, fix it, make it better? You yourself said you hate the process the way it was - it was dealt with. Even if you pass it, the chances of it passing as is in the Senate are very, very remote. There's a much smaller Republican majority, 52-48. Why not go back and improve it so you love it and your colleagues love it?

[14:05:14] RENACCI: Well, here's the thing, I hope it does go to the Senate, and I hope they have their chance at it. That is the process. Let the senators do what they think is best, send it back. That's all part of the process. Let's keep it moving. But the American people want to see things getting done. We've got immigration reform we have to start looking at. We have tax reform. These are all things that are on the plate. We can't just continue to say, well, let's go back to the drawing board. It's time to move this process forward. It's time to move on to the next agenda item. It's time to get things done for the American people. I'm all for that. Again, I might not like everything in this bill, but I know it's the opportunity for us to repeal and replace and repair and move this thing forward and get on to the rest of the agenda.

BLITZER: Congressman Renacci, thanks very much for joining us.

RENACCI: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

COOPER: Now let's come back to our panel now. David Chalian, political director, the big picture here?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I keep thinking back to on election night when the results were clear and we saw that Donald Trump had taken the Oval Office and Republicans had the House and the Senate, the first thing that people discovered or started analyzing and talking about was, well, Obamacare is gone. I mean that's clear is that they have the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office, Obamacare is done.

COOPER: And they've been talking about it for seven years.

CHALIAN: And - of course they've been - and I can't believe we're sitting here watching this potentially fall apart. Again, they still have to cast these votes so we don't know exactly where this will land. But if this indeed is falling apart in the way that Sean Spicer's briefing seems to suggest that it is, I mean, at the end of the day, how bizarre is it that Paul Ryan and Donald Trump are going to be the ones that actually saved Obamacare and kept it in place? I mean that's just a bizarre outcome that's going on here.

BORGER: And the Republicans - what's even more bizarre is that the Republicans will be blaming each other. No doubt if it loses, the president will blame the Democrats an whatever else. But you not only have Republicans blaming each other, but you have House Republicans saying the reason we can't do this is because we don't trust the Senate Republicans. And it's just this incredible mess that I don't think Donald Trump had any idea what he was walking into when he became president.

JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: As someone who was sitting in the White House the night of the election when Donald Trump was elected, we fully thought that Obamacare would be dead long before now. So the fact that it is still alive is not something I think the Obama team, most Democrats expected in any way.

The interesting dynamic, which Gloria touched on a bit that's happening now is, there's no doubt that the plan McConnell is working on strips out a lot of the sweeteners that got the Freedom Caucus to the table to begin with. There's no way that he's keeping the cuts in the essential benefits package in the bill. So a lot of these members are going to walk the plank today and vote for this and then it's going to be an entirely different bill.

COOPER: David Hoppe, you were former chief of staff for House Speaker Paul Ryan. Can you just explain for our viewers what is happening now in just some - I mean are they still making calls trying to wrangle votes?

DAVID HOPPE, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF FOR SPEAKER PAUL RYAN: Ys. What's happening now is they're going one by one and you're no longer talking about, gee, what do you want in, what do you want out? That has been done so far as it exists on the House floor, because this is the bill which will be voted on. It's set.

What they're saying to them is the political arguments and they're making process arguments. You've got to start this process. If we don't start it over here, it won't start anywhere. It can't start in the Senate. We've got taxes in this bill. Taxes have to start in the House of Representatives constitutionally. So will you move to process forward? And that's the major argument they're making.

Frankly, it's not unlike in 1986 when the House took up a tax reform bill, it had almost no reform as President Reagan, or Jack Kemp, or Bill Bradley or Dick Gephardt wanted in it. And the House Republicans defeated the rule, along with some Democrats, because they were in the minority then, defeated that rule. And I remember Ronald Reagan came up to The Hill and spoke to the House Republicans and he said, I pledge to you, if this doesn't come out right in the Senate, I'll veto it, but I've got to have this process move forward.

The biggest argument I had with Jack Kemp in all the time I worked for him was whether he would vote for the rule to let the process go forward and I said he couldn't know, it's terrible, he hated everything in the bill. And he turned around and was standing in the stair above me and he said, shut-up, I don't ever want to hear you talk to me about this again. I'm voting for that. We've got to keep the process going. That's, if you will, that's what's happening right now, member by member. COOPER: Well, that's getting to my next question, which is, how - you

know, we've all seen "House of Cards." How - how tough, how bare knuckles does - does this get? You're saying this is one-on-one convincing of the politics of it. You know, you talk about somebody saying shut-up. How - how tough can these (INAUDIBLE).

HOPPE: Well, that was a member to a staff person, so it's easy to do.


HOPPE: As working for Jack as a staff person, he had the right to say anything he wanted to me. And that was one of the rate points.

Having said that, member to member they will say, here, let me just walk you through what I think is going to happen and everybody's going to posit (ph), this will happen next, this will happen next, this will happen next. What do you buy? And that's what members are balancing right here, a bill that they don't like everything about. They like some things. They don't like everything. Is it more of a risk sending it on to the Senate to keep the process going, or is it more of a risk to stop it here in the House and then see what happens after that? And that's a balancing act but it's - these conversations aren't vicious conversations, they're - here's what I think, what do you think, and then trying to counter each other. They're -

[14:10:31] ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One thing we have seen, they have made some concessions for the members of the Freedom Caucus who have been pretty firm on their nos with regard to block grants to say, work requirements for those that receive health care, as well as certain other provisions that they specifically want, doing a sooner end to Medicaid rather than later. (INAUDIBLE) brought some of the Freedom Caucus members from a no to a yes, but not all of them because the Freedom Caucus firmly believes that this doesn't do enough to bring down premiums and expand choices for the American people. That's why they're a no. The problem is, when they made some concessions for some of these conservative members, some of the more liberal members, some of the more moderate Republicans fell off the boat. So today we had Vice President Pence on The Hill working hard, as you indicated, one-on-one with some of these people trying to convince them. But, look -

COOPER: But that's why it's so complex. It's like Whack-a-mole.


COOPER: You solve one problem, but that pops up another problem.

STEWART: Right. And the key is, there's talk of them pulling the bill, but from what I'm hearing more than anything, Donald Trump wants this vote to go to the floor. They - he wants people on the record. He wants them to have a no vote on the record to use against them or for them on the previous - on the next campaign. But those that are no, they're not concerned about what Donald Trump thinks. They're concerned about their constituents back home and that's more motivating.

BLITZER: David Gergen, how do you see this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm surprised that if they lack the votes they would put it to a vote. I understand the instinct on the part of the White House to want to have people stand up and be counted. Let's know who is for, who stuck with us, who was loyal and who didn't for later purposes.

But the fact is, he's in a position right now where he needs to unify the party and everybody he asked to put their name on the line is paying a potential price back home. And from - from the point of view of trying to unify a party, this is not what you do. You surround your people, you hug your people and say, OK, we didn't get this, but we're moving on in a positive way in which we're going to support each other, rather than I think allowing people to be failed, pay a price back home.

BORGER: But Donald Trump is used to walking out of negotiation.

GERGEN: Right.

BORGER: That's what he's done his whole life.

GERGEN: I think -

BORGER: If he didn't like a deal, he walked out of the deal and he moved on.

GERGEN: Right.

BORGER: And, you know, and this is I think what he's saying now, we've got to get this other with and we just have to - we have to move on.

HOPPE: Well, the good -

BORGER: She doesn't --

BLITZER: But in the end - in the end, David Hoppe, and you know the speaker well, you used to work for him, it's his decision. It's not the president's decision. It's Paul Ryan's decision.

HOPPE: It is a decision that Paul Ryan and Leader McCarthy and the leadership will make ultimately, but this is - this is one you want to have as much team support for making this decision. And at least I presume that the stories I saw about the speaker going down to the White House were correct. That was the one place he could get everybody who has an opinion in the White House in the same place at the same time, as opposed to calling the president up on the phone and to address it head on. It is a decision for them to make ultimately. The president has done everything he can do. People have done everything they can do with one exception, time.

And you can take more time if you so desire and move. Is something going to have to happen on health care in the next two years? Yes. And everybody who ran for president knew this, right or left. Senator Sanders wanted single payer. Secretary Clinton wanted to do - raise taxes. Every Republican, in some form or another, wanted the market to shift over to the market and that's what we're going to - we're going to have to have it because ACA does not have a long life expectancy here because the costs are just going to drive people away.


SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": You know, President Trump is fooling himself if he thinks he can lose today and just move on, like tax reform is going to be such a slam dunk. Tax reform is enormously complicated. You talked about the last time we did it, which was a very difficult task that involved President Reagan's leadership.

Also, as you say, he's not going to be through - we're not through with health care. Republicans said they would do something about it. They campaigned on it for the past seven and a half years through four elections and now they're going to have one House vote and then say, well, too bad?

And as you said, there are issues - the Affordable Care Act may not be in a death spiral as Republicans argue, but there are issues with the Affordable Care Act that Congress and the White House probably need to address. If they refuse to do that, who takes the blame for a system that continues to get worse?

BLITZER: Let's listen to Sean Spicer explain, from his perspective, and from the speaker's perspective, why this issue, health care, repealing and replacing Obamacare, comes first.


QUESTION: Would it have been wiser to try to work with the Freedom Caucus, for example, on something like infrastructure reform, to build up something (INAUDIBLE) -

[14:15:06] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I - no, I think, look, Kristen (ph), we talked about this since 2010. Every Republican, with the exception of probably a handful, has campaigned from dog catcher on up that they would do everything they could to repeal and replace Obamacare. And I think to get in and say, hey, you should have done something else wouldn't be fair to the American people who have said, OK, I'll vote for you, but I want - I want you to fulfill this pledge.


BLITZER: Do you feel, David Chalian, that the president was really enthusiastic over these past few months since he took office in making sure this was the first issue on the legislative agenda?

CHALIAN: Yes. I think we've seen what Donald Trump looks like when he puts everything on the field and lays everything on the field. I think we saw that during the campaign in some of his darkest moments where he really had to turn things around. I know Sean wants to - he was out there saying he did everything he absolutely could. I think that there will be a look back at this, if this bill goes down, to see if that's true. I don't know that all the Republican in The Hill - the Republican leadership on The Hill feels that Donald Trump did everything he could possibly do here. So I think that may be revised. And I do think, again, if indeed this vote goes down, this relationship between Ryan and Trump will be forever changed because of this moment. And how they move forward together I think is going to be a really determinative thing for the rest of the legislative agenda.

BORGER: You know, and I also think, when you look at next steps, if this goes down, the question is whether you now need to do things incrementally as opposed to these massive bills where you do play whack-a-mole, as Anderson was saying. And if you try and go back to health care and say, OK, this needs to be fixed and that needs to be fixed, I don't know whether Republicans would play on that and, Dave, you may know more about that than I do. But the question is whether these massive things, given the divisions and the polarization in the Congress can be done anymore this way. It seems almost an impossible task.

BLITZER: The roll call in the House of Representatives may be just a little bit more than an hour away. And as the House debates health care, another fight up on Capitol Hill, this one involving the investigation over the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. You're going to hear what the Republican leader of the House Intelligence Committee did that has now infuriated several members of his committee. This is CNN's special live coverage.


[14:21:54] COOPER: Well, as the debate over the health care bill is underway, another major story is unfolding right now on Capitol Hill. Three major figures, one once close to Donald Trump, now volunteering to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee over their ties to Russia. Long time Donald Trump associate Roger Stone saying treason isn't in his bag of tricks. While the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is also offering himself up to the panel. Manafort's clients include pro-Kremlin political players in Ukraine and a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin. Also, Carter Page, who allegedly advised the Trump campaign on foreign policy, saying he's also willing to talk.

Want to bring in Manu Raju.

Manu, we're also hearing that Tuesday's hearing has been cancelled, is that right?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. And that actually prompted a lot of concern from Democrats on the committee who believe that they should have moved former with - on this hearing. They would have heard from James Clapper, as well as John Brennan, Sally Yates, former national security intelligence officials, to talk about the issue of Russia, Russia meddling and any of those campaign contacts and any alleged coordination that may have occurred between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials during the time of the presidential election.

Now, Devin Nunes came forward earlier today, the chairman of the committee, said he would not move forward on this because they would have a private, classified briefing with James Comey, the FBI director, and Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, to get briefed going forward. But Democrats were furious. They believe that this is going to prevent the public from getting a clear understanding about what is happening on Russia. And Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, is joining calls criticizing Devin Nunes. And I asked him if he agrees with other Democrats on his panel who do not believe Mr. Nunes is fit to serve as chairman.


REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R), CALIFORNIA: As I've said before, we're not going to get into a neo-McCarthyism era here where we just start bringing in Americas because they were mentioned in a press story. And I - and I am highly concerned about that.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: To take evidence that may or may not be related to the investigation to the White House was wholly inappropriate and, of course, cast grave doubts into the ability to run a credible investigation and the integrity of that investigation.

RAJU: Do you believe that he can still run this committee or should he step aside?

SCHIFF: You know, ultimately, that's a decision that the speaker needs to make. And I think the speaker has to decide, just as well as our own chairman, whether they want a credible investigation being done here, whether they want an investigation that the public can have confidence in.


RAJU: Now, Anderson, it is significant that these three Trump - former Trump advisors have agreed to come forward because, as you heard from Mr. Nunes in that first sound bite, she said he did not want to call any of these figures forward because he believes it would look like McCarthyism. He wanted these people to voluntarily agree to come forward. And Carter Page being one of them, announcing that he wants to clear his name, does not believe that he's been treated fairly by Democrats on this committee. And I just got off the phone with him right before coming on air, Anderson, and he told me that, "my preference is that" he - that he would like to testify in public, not in a private setting, because he does not believe that the committee Democrats will treat him fairly. He believes that there would be leaks to the press and he said he's tired of these lies and innuendos. So a bit of news there, Page willing to go public. The question is, will the Republicans agree to have a public testimony that may not look so favorably for the Trump campaign as it tries to distance themselves from Russia, Anderson.

[14:25:28] COOPER: So, Manu, would this classified briefing be on Tuesday and then any - is there any word on when the next public briefing would be?

RAJU: We don't know that yet. Now, Devin Nunes suggested that he's still open to having a public hearing. He did not commit to a day. But Democrats plan to make that a renewed focus going forward to demand a public hearing because, as you know, Anderson, much of what this committee does is in secret.

COOPER: Fascinating developments. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Back now with the panel. I mean, I don't even know where to begin.

BLITZER: Let me ask you, Anderson, because you had that amazing interview with Carter Page. A lot of us remember that. You got to talk to him.


BLITZER: And he was described as an important national security, foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign.

COOPER: Right, which is why I said - right, which is why I said allegedly because the - I mean the timeline of this is very strange. You know, remember, then candidate Trump was under pressure to kind of name significant people who were his national security team. And finally, after some delays, he came out with five names. One of them he said, Carter Page PhD. That seemed to kind of indicate maybe they'd even met or maybe they'd had meetings or maybe in the future they would have meetings. I talked to Carter Page who had - has claimed publically, repeatedly, in Russia and elsewhere, that he attended meetings with candidate Trump. Upon further questioning, what Carter Page meant by meeting, he says he was using the term meetings in the Russian term of the word, which means he attended rallies that Donald Trump did.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Like in Bismarck, North Dakota -

BLITZER: With 25,000 other people.

COOPER: With 25,000 other people. So I mean I said Carter Page, so does that mean anybody who's been to a rally with candidate Trump can say they were in a meeting with Donald Trump? Apparently he likes to stick to the Russian definition.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, you had a chance to speak with Roger Stone -

BORGER: I did.

BLITZER: Another one of these former advisor.

BORGER: Who, by the way, feels the same way that you do about the closeness of Carter Page to Donald Trump.

COOPER: You're absolutely right. Right, and we should point out that the campaign itself, within a very short amount of time, started to distance itself from Carter Page.

BORGER: Yes. Yes.

COOPER: He was not even technically -

BLITZER: And Roger Stone too.

BORGER: And Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

COOPER: Yes. Right.

BORGER: But I spoke with Roger Stone today who wanted to point out to me - don't forget, Paul Manafort announced this morning that he was willing to testify before the committee without a subpoena. And then, in very short order, we also heard from Roger Stone and we also heard from Carter Page. And in speaking to Roger Stone, you know, he made it very clear that he says he has nothing to hide and he wants to clear his name and then this letter from his attorney that he gave me, he said that his lawyer said that Mr. Stone is anxious to address the false and misleading way he has been portrayed by some on the intelligence committee. So now they're all happy to testify, some publicly, and we have to wait and see whether the Intelligence Committee really wants to do this.

COOPER: But it also was fascinating to see the way that the White House now is characterizing President Trump's relationship with Roger Stone, with Paul Manafort's role in the campaign.


COOPER: I mean now it seems like Paul Manafort was a bystander to events when like -

BORGER: A summer intern.

COOPER: Right. Yes. I mean he was a staffer and certainly Carter Page as well, although he, you know, he was the least -

STEWART: One thing I think is interesting, we notice, used to have Congressman Nunes and Schiff do their joint press conferences. I think the optics of the two separate conferences today, I think, are very telling and that there's clearly some rift there and I think we may need to call for special investigator or special counsel to come and look at this because there's clearly some internal strife there and I think to get to the bottom of this I mean we have to remember, this is all about Russian interference in the election and all this other stuff is collateral damage from what we're - the original investigation, and those are serious charges, and I think we need to get to the bottom of those first and foremost.

COOPER: But pretty much every Democrat right now on that committee is saying just that -


COOPER: You don't hear that really from Republicans (INAUDIBLE).

PSAKI: And it's interesting because the Democrats were playing pretty nice, I think, from the beginning. They wanted this to be bipartisan. More so on the Senate side I would say. They - you know, Burr and Warner had a pretty good - still have a pretty good rapport. And it was a matter of time, probably, before the dam was going to break on the House side. A lot of people, as you said, are calling for an independent investigation. What's interesting now I think is with these individuals offering to testify publicly, they may have a different definition of what's problematic than the Trump team.

BLITZER: You know - but, David Gergen, what is also so irritating to the ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, on this committee, is that the chairman has now cancelled an open hearing that was scheduled I think for Monday -

[14:30:01] COOPER: Tuesday.

STEWART: Tuesday.

BLITZER: With James Clapper -

COOPER: Oh, yes, it was Tuesday.

BLITZER: Was it - either Monday or Tuesday, for next week, an open hearing with the former director of national intelligence, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Acting Attorney General Sally --