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Interview With Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne; Will Republican Health Care Bill Fail?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 15:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He laid down the reality for President Trump. As of many aides there, they don't have the votes. And the shortfall is emerging, despite the president's ultimatum to the bill's critics, either pass the plan or get stuck with Obamacare.

Anderson, this is a critical moment right now.


Press Secretary Sean Spicer just revealed the House vote is expected for about 3:30 p.m.

I also want to play some new sound from members of the Freedom Caucus, the skeptical Republicans who had in many cases refused to back the bill.

Let's listen.


REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There's a lot of emotion in the room. People feel very strongly about trying to find a way to get to yes. (OFF-MIKE) their convictions and the way they've been looking for ways to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't whipped the bill. I don't know where each of the Freedom Caucus votes are. Mark Meadows is the one that is keeping the head count. I can only speak for myself. And I am not going to vote for this bill, because I believe it's bad for America. It's one of the worst bills I have ever seen.

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: The meeting was probably one of the most inspiring meetings I have attended in my 15 years of Congress.

QUESTION: Why is that?

FRANKS: Because I stood amongst some to have greatest statesmen I have ever had the privilege to be around and to hear their heart and their commitment to America and the cause of human freedom.


COOPER: Let's go to Capitol Hill and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, you have been following this now all day long. Tell us what you know about Speaker Ryan's meeting with President Trump?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know exactly what happened in that meeting in particular, meaning what the president himself said to the House speaker about his view on whether to go forward with this vote, despite the fact that the votes just aren't there yet on paper.

But obviously we heard from the White House spokesman, making an unusual move. Don't usually see at the White House them declaring what time votes are going to be over in Congress, but that did happen today.

Having said that, it is up to the House Republican leadership to decide whether and when they are going to really go forward and hold this vote. And as we speak, down the hall behind me, but I think we have a live picture of the door, the House speaker is back in his office meeting with his top lieutenants, with the House Republican leadership, huddling probably, you know, with a lot of brows to wipe, trying to figure out, are they actually going to do this?

Are they going to go forward? Clearly, the speaker is reporting back what the president said in their meeting that he just returned from. So that's going on as we speak. Assuming that it does go forward, it's a big open question how this is going to go down.

It's a big open question what the vote count will ultimately look like, if it passes, how thin the margin is or not, or probably based on the sources I'm talking to here, if the vote goes forward and it loses again, right now, the most likely scenario, how big is the loss?

And the dynamic right now in the hallway, I think I can sum up with a conversation I just had with a veteran Republican lawmaker, talking about the fact that so many of his fellow Republicans in the House have not been here very long, certainly haven't been here enough, long enough to take a really consequential vote that matters to somebody in -- to them, but also matters to somebody in their own party in the White House.

And what this lawmaker said to me is, well, let's see how they feel when they're standing on the House floor and they have their name up, because they can see their names up, and if they want to put their vote in the no column next to Nancy Pelosi.

So that's the kind of way it's being spun and the way it's being described to me, and clearly that's the way it's being described and then some to members of the Republican Caucus who are holdouts.

But at the end -- the bottom line is, Anderson, that it's not just the Freedom Caucus that you just showed there coming out of a meeting right down the street with the vice president, with Vice President Pence, again, a former member of the House, but more an more, it is the more moderate members of the Republican Caucus who are coming out and saying, no, the changes that the Republican leadership and the White House agreed to make for the conservatives, mainly, effectively allowing for the repeal of essential health benefits in Obamacare right now, many of them said, I'm out, I'm gone, I can't do this.

So that's why they are kind of bleeding votes on both sides of the Republican Caucus right now. And we will see if they actually make the decision to really do what the White House said they wanted, which is take the vote, despite the fact that there are -- there's a very, very good chance it would go down in defeat.

COOPER: Dana, what is the political calculus of deciding to take the vote even if they believe they don't have enough votes? You mentioned the idea of some folks seeing their name next to the same side as Nancy Pelosi.


Is it, A, that they hope people will change their minds as they're standing up there in the last second, or that they just want to know where everybody stands for future reference and/or retribution?

BASH: I think both of those are definitely factors, no question.

But the biggest factor is the promise, is the fact that, since the 2010 election, when Republicans took control of this House of Representatives, they did so with the promise of repealing Obamacare, 2010, in 2012, in 2014, and again in 2016, and with that promise, other things too, but that was sort of the leading edge of the spear.

They took the House, they took the Senate and they took the White House. So, politically speaking, they feel that this is what they crafted, for better or worse. There's a lot of second-guessing about what they crafted, how they crafted it, how fast they crafted it, the way the process worked.

But take that aside for right now. It is what is on the table right now. And, politically speaking, the feeling is that they have to take it, because, as one senior Republican said to me earlier today, if not this, what right now, and, if not now, when? -- Anderson.

COOPER: Dana Bash. Dana, thanks very much.

BLITZER: All right, let's go to the White House right now.

Sara Murray, our White House correspondent, is standing by.

Sara, what are they saying over there?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think we see a White House is very much ready to get on with it.

We saw Sean Spicer in the briefing earlier. And other senior administration officials have been telling me have telling me they do want to see a vote on this today. They have made clear that they feel like the president has done everything he can.

He's met with these members. He's made promises to the House Freedom Caucus to try to bring these more conservative votes along. He has spoken with moderates to try to get them on board. And the president really just now feels like his role in this is done, he's done as much wrangling, wooing, jostling as he can, and he now wants to see whether they have the votes to do this or not.

There's certainly though in this White House a deep sense of frustration, frustration that Republicans have been campaigning on this for so long, that it's Republicans, not including not necessarily Donald Trump, who have been thinking about this for seven years, and are now looking at a plan to actually repeal and replace Obamacare, and can't get on board to do it.

Now, remember, we certainly heard this president campaign about repealing and replacing the health care law nearly every day on the campaign trail. This is something he wanted to do initially in part because it's what Republicans have promised for so long.

But in no way does the president feel like this is the most exciting item on his agenda. It's certainly not the one that he cares about most deeply. He wants to be able to move on to do tax reform. It was sort of explained to him that health care needed to happen first. They signed on to this plan.

But now I think you're seeing a White House that is saying, OK, if we're not going to do health care, let's do it. If not, let's move on to some of these other priorities.

BLITZER: Sara Murray at the White House, thanks very much. We will get back to you.

COOPER: As we heard earlier today, this vote is supposed to be scheduled for 3:30. That is about 22 minutes from now. So, this thing could be changing minute by minute. So, we're following it very closely.

Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, first of all, what are you hearing? First of all, do you believe that this bill will pass today?

REP. BRADLEY BYRNE (R), ALABAMA: Well, first of all, there's going to be a vote. And I think we need to make sure we make that very clear.

And then after the vote, I think we're going to find out where people stand. Now, obviously, during the course of the day today, some of the more moderate members of the Republican Conference have said they're going to vote against it. Those are new developments.

Whether that's enough to pull out the votes we need to pass or not, I don't know. But I'm of the firm belief that we should have this vote today and put everybody on record.

COOPER: And you're for the bill?

BYRNE: Absolutely. I have been for the bill for three weeks. As they have made these

changes, I have remained being for the bill. There's a very large bloc of members of the Republican Conference that aren't in the Freedom Caucus and around in the Tuesday Group, the moderate group.

We want a vote because we want to vote for this bill because we campaigned on it over seven years now. So, I think we need to have the vote. I think the leadership will call that vote and we will see what happens.

COOPER: Do you believe the changes that have been made to the bill, many to appeal to the Freedom Caucus, do you think it's made it a better bill?

BYRNE: Well, I was happy to vote for it.

I think it did make it a better bill, but here's one test of a better bill. Does it get more votes than it loses? And the question we have right now is, did that amendment lose more votes than it got? And so we have got to see how that works on the floor, but, yes, I was happy with the amendment and pleased to vote for it.

BLITZER: If it fails, Congressman, what's next?

BYRNE: Well, that is the big question.

The president said let's move on. And I do think we should move on, at least in a temporary sense. But this problem is not going to go away. Obamacare is failing. We have one carrier left on the exchange in Alabama. That carrier continues to lose money.


And if that carrier pulls out, everybody in the health insurance exchange in Alabama has nothing. Meanwhile, everybody else's premiums have gone way up.

People's deductibles are way up and they are screaming for relief. So I don't think we can just walk away from it forever. We're going to have to do something, whether it's an incremental fix or we go find some other big fix that we can get enough votes for. But we're going to have to keep working on this, at least at some point during the course of this year.

COOPER: Congressman, you criticized the continued negotiations with conservative House Freedom Caucus members.

What is your message to those Freedom Caucus members today who say, look, we don't want to rush this, we want to get this right, it doesn't have to be done today?

BYRNE: There have been hours and hours and hours of conversations with them by the White House, by the leadership with, on some of their parts at least, no movement. At some point, you just have to say, let's have a vote, because you can't talk and talk and talk and talk, when there's really no movement. So let's get everybody on record. I want to vote with President Trump to repeal and replace Obamacare. And they can decide whether they want to vote against President Trump and against repealing and replacing Obamacare. The decision is simple. Let's get everybody on record as to where they stand.

COOPER: Congressman Bradley Byrne, appreciate your time. Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's get back to our panel right now.

We have two more guests. Jim Geraghty is joining us, senior political correspondent for "The National Review."

Jim, where is this heading?


JIM GERAGHTY, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": Probably in the direction of Titanic towards that iceberg, already people heading towards the lifeboats.

What I don't quite get is why the White House is absolutely insisting we have to have this vote, even though Ryan has already reported it's going down, because, as Ryan goes and says it's not looking good, if you're any moderate Republican, if you're anybody who knows this is not a popular bill -- we've all seen the poll numbers that aren't great -- why are you going to stick your neck out for a bill that's not even going to pass?

It's one thing to take the risk and you get it passed and you move the process forward. If the only thing that comes out of this is a presidential retribution list, what, Trump needs more grudges?

He has enough of that. The only thing this is going to do is stir up even more bad blood. And I'm kind of struck by how much we keep people say, well, look, this really is Ryancare. Right, like the president hasn't been out there for the last three weeks pushing for this.

This is going to make every Republican associated with this look bad. Now, a couple of days ago, Senator Mike Lee said, look, I talked to the Senate parliamentarian. We can get some more conservative stuff through this process with only 51 votes than we do with 60 votes. It's going to a little bit better. We can work out the various details there.

Get the most conservative version through there. And then if it ends up getting moderated or some things in it getting held down the road, look, you can say to your base we did the very best we could to not only repeal Obamacare, but give the most conservative option, the most free market option down the road.

And that will defuse, I think, a lot more of this anger than this, well, we're going to vote. We know it's going to go bad. My suspicion is that the vote is not just going to bad, but could get more lopsided as it goes on, because, to quote John Kerry, who wants to be the last man to die for a mistake?

Who wants to be last Republican lawmaker voting for something that is unpopular and isn't going to go through?

BLITZER: Let me bring Ryan Williams as well. Ryan is a former deputy national press secretary for the Romney 2012 campaign, now senior vice president of communication at P1 Strategies.

Where do you think it's headed?

RYAN WILLIAMS, REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT: Doesn't sound very good. None of the spin has been good heading up to it. The blame game started, what, 12 hours ago. That's not a sign of a winner.

I think people are frustrated right now that the bill is being brought forward, as Jim said, without any guarantee it's going to pass. It weakens the hand of leadership on the Hill. I don't think it does anybody any favors.

The changes last night seemed to have cost more votes than they did bring votes on board. And it doesn't seem that the Freedom Caucus wants to really negotiate. I know the president has negotiated in business, but this isn't business. This is politics.

BLITZER: But is it too late to cancel the vote right now, postpone it, in a more diplomatic phrase?

WILLIAMS: I don't think so.

The White House called the vote, which is in itself unique, but the speaker runs the floor, so he can do what he wants.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And everything I'm hearing from says the vote is still going on. And to use Jim's Titanic analogy, it's almost as though, like in the movies, the band continued to play. The music still played even as they were heading toward the iceberg.

WILLIAMS: Full speed ahead. We're going to crack that iceberg.

STEWART: Right. That's kind of the mind-set here.

And it's clear Donald Trump wants these people on record to vote no to this. And he thinks that will be used against them. But those that are no are doing it for the people back in their districts. It's not about Washington. It's about the people back in their district.

And the fact the White House was using some of the leverage this morning about trying to threaten them with, you want to go on record as supporting Obamacare that continues to fund Planned Parenthood and really playing to the pro-life issue, that wasn't their big -- that is not something that was going to sway them.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Also trying to use the ultimatum that there has to be a vote as a tactic to try to bring more votes along.

That tactic, the art of the deal, if you will, does not seem to have not worked at all.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I want to give some sense of why I think putting this to a vote has perils for the Republicans.

If you're a moderate Republican from New Jersey, for example, and you vote against this, that's a gift to the Democrats in your district, because there's a reasonable chance that's going to bring a primary out to run against that person in the Republican primary next time out, someone to the right who would have voted for it, saying you imperiled all of us.


You didn't deliver, et cetera, et cetera, and chop that person up, so that when the Democrats run against them, they have got a good chance of winning a seat. The Democrats have a chance of taking back the House next time if they can knock off enough moderate Republicans. That's where they're going to have to go to get the seats.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think that wasn't part of the original calculation.

The original calculation was, we need the Freedom Caucus. So they do everything on the essential health benefits, get the Freedom Caucus in there, and then they are losing these moderates.

Look, at this point, we obviously can't predict, it either looks like it passes narrowly or it loses by a huge margin, because once it looks like it's going down, everybody is going to vote no. They will do what is easiest for them.

And this narrow margin here, I think the president, as you were saying, the president just wanted to force a vote because he figured that it might just make people say, I don't want to vote with Nancy Pelosi, as Dana Bash was saying earlier.

And I don't know whether that's part of their calculation or not. I don't think Nancy Pelosi even enters into anybody's consideration during this vote.

COOPER: Also, for a president whose brand is all about being a winner and not a loser and being a negotiator, a deal closer...

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: This is...

CHALIAN: It's a big problem.

I know they think they're going to be able to throw all the blame up to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, but if indeed this goes down, this is President Trump's first major legislative attempt on a promise that he made in his launch speech of his campaign, and every day throughout the campaign, never mind for seven years of the party overall.

This is going to be a body blow to this young administration. I'm not saying that they crumble and they can't -- but it is going to complicate getting things done after it. It is a severe loss for them if it goes down.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We are counting down to what the White House says will be a 3:30 p.m. vote on the Republican health care bill. That would be only a few minutes from now. We will see if that actually takes place.

We will always talk to a member of the Freedom Caucus who just held an 11th-hour closed-door meeting. We're taking a closer look at the bill itself, what's in, what's out.

You are watching CNN's special live coverage.



COOPER: Well, just minutes from now, the Republicans' health care bill is supposed to head to a vote on the House floor.

You may be asking, after the back and forth of Washington's deal- making, what is actually in the bill?

CNN politics reporter M.J. Lee is live on Capitol Hill for us.

So, if you can, just lay it out in kind of broad strokes what's in, what is out of the bill at this point.

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this bill is clearly in a lot of trouble.

The leadership has not said yet whether this vote is going to be canceled. And until that moment, until we get the official word, we are proceeding as though this vote were to happen.

So, let's just talk about what is in this bill. This bill would repeal the Obamacare subsidies. And those subsidies would be replaced by refundable tax credits based on age and income. The House has also set aside $85 billion. That was after concerns were raised by lawmakers that many of their older constituents -- we're talking about people in their 50s and 60s -- would be hurt by this law.

So, that money has been set aside. Now the Senate would have actually to write the language that would go into this bill if the bill makes it through the House.

The bill would also repeal the individual and employer mandates. We know this very well, because this has been a very politically sensitive issue. This is the requirement that every single person essentially has health insurance and that countries that have more than 50 people also provide health insurance to their employees.

And, lastly, the bill would also make some big changes to Medicaid. Money would be given to states purely based on the number of enrollees. They're also the option of block-granting Medicaid, so obviously a very big and complicated bill.

And we should also note the last-minute change that was made to this bill, this has been at the center of all of the political discussions around this bill's fate. And that is the repeal of the so-called essential health benefits.

We're talking about things like maternity care, hospitalization, prescription drugs. And this is going to be potentially so important, Anderson, on what we see happen later today, because a lot of the lawmakers are saying this decision by the White House to include this provision ended up not bringing on board the conservatives that the White House hoped to bring on board, and it also ended up isolating a lot of moderate members.

So, if there's a vote tonight, a lot of lawmakers are now openly talking about the possibility of this bill failing by a big margin, because, at the end of the day, it ended up isolating too many factions of the Republican Party -- Anderson.

COOPER: M.J. Lee, I appreciate that rundown.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joins us now.

Sanjay, we are talking about the so-called essential health benefits. One of the most, I guess, controversial parts of this involves maternity coverage.


Well, it's interesting, because you have that whole list of things that M.J. just sort of laid out in terms of the minimum level of coverage that people get with their health care plans right now.

You have choices when you buy your health care, but no matter what, there are certain things that are going to be covered. It's worth looking at that list again. The idea that in-hospital procedures, an operation, for example, wouldn't be covered under some plans, that's a big problem for somebody who obviously gets sick or in an accident.

But, as you point out, one of the most, I guess, controversial parts is this idea that men would also be having plans that covered maternity and pregnancy coverage. And the question that always comes up always is, well, look, men can't get pregnant.

Very true. That can't happen. But men are typically a part of the baby-making process. And that's one of the things that the proponents sort of point out.


Look, you're still investing in having a safe pregnancy, a healthy baby, a healthy newborn. That's part of the coverage that you're buying, but also this idea that, look, if you don't have everyone buying and getting this minimal level of care, women, for example, because they could get pregnant, would always pay more.

It's called gender rating. And women would always pay more because you could get pregnant. And everyone seemed to agree that wasn't a good idea, which is why things like maternity, pregnancy coverage is a part of every health plan, whether you're a man or a woman.

COOPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, appreciate that. We will be following this very closely with you as well.

A lot more ahead.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to be speaking to a member of the Freedom Caucus who has said he planned to vote against this health care bill. Was President Trump able to change his mind?

You are watching our special live coverage.



REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: I will fight every single attempt to turn a deaf ear, a blind eye and a cold shoulder to the sick, to our seniors and to working families.

Mr. Speaker --