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House to Vote on Health Care Reform Bill; Speculation over Vote Count on House Health Care Reform Bill Continues; Interview with HHS Secretary. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's about to happen right here. Let's get after it.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go with our plan. It's going to be terrific.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Donald Trump issues an ultimatum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are being threatened, being bribed to vote yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am still a no. I am desperately trying to get to yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the only train leaving the station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill keeps getting worse and worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tomorrow we're proceeding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have the votes? Do you have the votes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a judgment call on my part.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congress must create an independent bipartisan commission to expose the Trump-Russia connection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We continue to get new information that makes a more complete picture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You haven't seen any new evidence of collusion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not that I'm familiar with, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president feels very confident that he will be vindicated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota. CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. The battle to

overhaul Obamacare is going to end maybe in just a matter of hours. President Trump delivering an ultimatum to House Republicans, vote today or keep Obamacare. The high-stakes showdown is going to take place in the house chamber. Again, it will happen in just hours. But remember, if it does make it through the House, you've still got the big battle to come in the Senate.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Now at this hour the numbers do not add up for the White House. And 27 house Republicans say they are voting no, four others say they are leaning against voting yes. So with the president's deal-making reputation on the line, the political stakes are high. On this day 64 of the Trump presidency, we have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He is live at the White House. What's the latest, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, good morning. President Trump did deliver that ultimatum last night saying he is done negotiating. It is time to vote. And there's already a sense here at the White House he is ready to turn the page and move on to other things.

The White House just announced a few moments ago that at 10:15 he'll be assigning legislation to move the Keystone pipeline forward, clearly trying to change the conversation and subject from health care. But on Capitol Hill right now the beginning of this process is under way. The rules committee is meeting. That's the process to begin the way for a vote. So they're still expecting a vote on Obamacare to repeal and replace it to start at some point this afternoon. That is still all up for potential change if the votes are not there.

Now, the White House spent hours last night on Capitol Hill, top advisers here, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, working these Republicans still unwilling to vote for this bill. But a senior administration official said overnight this is why the White House believes at the end of the day they will get the votes. This is the thinking here at the White House. This official said this, he said "Which Republican wants to explain to their constituents why they voted to keep Obamacare?" So they are hoping that not the details get them over the finish line, but just the sense that Republicans have been wanting this for so long here.

But I can tell you the blame game already starting this morning. The president, I am told, is unhappy with some members of his own staff. He does not believe House Republican leaders have done enough on this. But at the end of the day the blame will also rest with the president here for not being able to get this legislative bill across. But too early to declare this dead by any stretch. Republicans, particularly in the House, there's a lot of maneuvering that can be done. So officials here are still somewhat optimistic. But Chris, as you well know, this is just the beginning of the process here at the House, has to go on to the Senate and be reconciled here. So this is not how they wanted to start their legislative agenda, no question about it.

CUOMO: Success has many fathers, failure usually has one. We'll see what happens here. Jeff Zeleny thank you very much.

No question the pressure is on the Republican controlled Congress following the president's ultimatum. There's pressure on the president as well. So the House vote is set to take place in just hours if it does happen, and it looks like it will. So this comes down to the whipped vote count. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with more. And you have two different types of Republicans who are on this fence or not voting yes category. Some of them are upset about coverage. Some of them are upset about costs.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And there's high stakes drama here on the Hill because obviously over the last 24 hours you have seen the secret negotiations, the public shaming, and now this finger-pointing if you will. But there are very few Republicans who are happy with this bill. The lawmakers who I spoke with say that this president's approach and also the three-step process is something that is not really convincing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have the votes? Do you have the votes?

MALVEAUX: After seven years of talking about it, Republicans are facing a major test today on whether they have the votes to dismantle Obamacare.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it's collapsing and it's failing families. We're proceeding.

[08:05:00] MALVEAUX: Republicans remain deeply divided, duking it out into the night behind closed doors. A GOP source saying some 30 members spoke out in favor of the bill, trying to unite the party and rally support before today's vote.

REP. JEFF FORTENBERRY, (R) NEBRASKA: This was a very intense family discussion, and it was principled, it was emotional, it was robust.

MALVEAUX: Only one Republican in that meeting speaking out against the bill, but many have previously indicated their no votes.

REP. CHARLIE DENT, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: We have to get it done right, not get it done fast. And I thought the bill misses the mark.

REP. LEONARD LANCE, (R) NEW JERSEY: I am a no vote. And I'm concerned that this legislation does not lower premiums.

MALVEAUX: Sources say the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, who has been staunchly against the bill despite receiving multiple concessions from the White House, is telling his members to vote their conscience.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: We are trying to get another 30 to 40 votes that are currently in the no category to yes. Once we do that, I think we can move forward with passing it on the House floor.

MALVEAUX: Those concessions announced earlier this week mainly focus on repealing essential health benefits from Obamacare, a move they say will lower premiums. A week's worth of wrangling providing more bad news for the bill. The Congressional Budget's Office most updated estimates of the GOP plan will cut deficit savings in half to $150 billion in 10 year and result 24 million more uninsured Americans in 2026. That estimate does not include the most recent changes to the bill, changes that would give more power to states to determine what they consider to be essential benefits and provide $15 billion to states to use for mental health, substance abuse, and infant and maternity care.


MALVEAUX: Former House speaker John Boehner said just last month that Republicans would never successfully repeal Obamacare, maybe fix it or tinker around the edges, because they cannot agree on what would go into such a bill. Lawmakers who I spoke with said they believe Speaker Ryan is about to see whether or not that prophesy is true.

CAMEROTA: That is a fact, Suzanne, thank you very much. As you point out, the House rules committee is meeting right now on the health care bill. Democrats already blasting backroom deal-making. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live outside the room with more. You have your glass pressed up to the door. What have you heard?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, this is a very rare early morning meeting for the rules committee which importantly indicates that the wheels are in motion pushing towards a House vote today because this is the last legislative step that needs to happen before it's brought to the full floor.

I can just tell you I was inside the hearing room a few minutes ago, already a lot of fireworks, really Democrats blasting this bill. We heard from Congressman Jim McGovern, he calls this is a backroom deal, he calls it reckless legislation. He said "We haven't had time to review the changes, but the changes that we know of we believe make this bill even worse."

And as we're outside getting ready to talk to you, the volume in the room got so loud we could hear Democrats yelling from inside this room -- from outside the room. We heard from Congressman Hastings who we heard him say "I'm not going to be nice to you when this is not being nice to poor people." So clearly a lot of airing of grievances today. But no doubt about it, this will eventually pass through at some point. And that's important, Chris and Alisyn, because that sets off the wheels in motion to bring this House bill to a full floor vote.

CAMEROTA: OK, thank you very much, Sunlen.

Let's discuss with our panel. We have Jack Kingston, CNN political commentator and former Georgia congressman and former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Steve Israel, CNN political commentator and former New York Congressman, and Chris Cillizza, "Washington Post" reporter and new to our CNN family. Welcome again, Chris. You're in good company. OK, let me start with you, Jack. So what's going to happen today?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that they're going to just hammer it out. I think they're going to go to the floor. They probably won't even have the votes when they decide to set the vote, but I think through arm-twisting, Steve Scalise, the whip, is going to get there.

CUOMO: So they get through. Steve Israel, now they have a bill and they go into the Senate, and the concerns they see with this group of doubters within the House GOP right now is even magnified in the Senate. So what happens there and what's the chance that they come away with anything that they can pass that looks like this bill in the House?

STEVE ISRAEL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's the inherent problem here, Chris. I agree with Jack. I think they're going to muscle this thing through. First law of gravity in Washington, D.C. is party discipline.

But here is the problem. Every time you give the far right in the house a card in this house of cards, you're taking a card away from senators. So people are saying this was an ultimatum that President Trump established. No, this is the opening salvo. This goes to the Senate. The Senate is going to modify this bill. They are not going to accept eliminating essential benefits. It's going to come back to the House.

[08:10:04] And so this is going to be an ongoing drama, although I do believe that the House Republicans will muscle this through today. I think this goes on for weeks, if not months.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, that's quite a prediction. Chris, President Trump's deal-making obviously is being spotlighted this week. He has said, I think as of yesterday, that he's willing to walk away and he is walking away. If it doesn't pass, it's on them, he's basically said. Do we believe that or is he doing some last-minute deal-making today?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, "WASHINGTON POST" NATIONAL REPORTER: Look, I always think everything is part of a negotiation for him. That's in some ways his best trait if you like him and his worst trait if you don't like him.

He does have a tendency to not deal well with setback. I would remind people the 2016 campaign when he lost Iowa to Ted Cruz, he said it's because Ted Cruz cheated. When he won the general election, won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, he said it's because 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast. So this is someone who does not deal well with adversity, necessarily, and does tend to, if past is prologue, put the blame somewhere else.

I do think he's setting Paul Ryan up to be a potential fall guy. I always trust members of Congress more than I trust myself. So Congressman Kingston and Congressman Israel in a rare moment of bipartisan comity can say that it's going to pass. I do, too.

The one nugget I'll put in there about the challenges, typically in years past, and both members were there when this was the case. Prior to 2010, earmarks were still legal. They banned earmarks when the Republicans took over the House in that 2010 election. What's hard about that is the way they would cajole members, arm-twist members, in the past was to say, hey, here is a little thing for your district, here's something that will help you. Here's something with your name on it. That was for years the grease that made the wheels spin. They don't have that anymore. So now it's a lot more, well, we put this piece of policy in or, hey, we're buddies and I need this. That's less persuasive often than back in the day when you can earmark. It just makes narrow votes harder to flip one way or the other.

CUOMO: But also saying, if you don't vote for this, we will crush you. That could be powerful for Democrats and Republicans as well. We heard from Lindsey Graham and others that some of that's going on. Not unusual. But to Cillizza's point, when it came to losing Cruz or what happened with the popular vote, the president was making bogus claims. He has a real person to point to this time. If they doesn't happen the way he wants it to, he can point right at Paul Ryan and say you did this. You wanted it done at this pace. You wanted it done at this pace. Let's be honest, President Trump is not putting his arms around this the way we've seen him put his arms around things in the past that he wants to get done.

KINGSTON: And I think it's not just Paul Ryan, but it's all Republicans. Every single one of us, whether we ran for school board or county coroner, promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. So if this implodes, it really is the Republican legislative branch that has let down the people. It's dicey because if you vote for it, there's going to be a downside. If you vote against it, there's going to be a downside. So people know this is politically perilous land. But that's why it's so tough to do. It is one-sixth of the economy. Any time you push to change one thing, there's a big ramification on the other side and you got just so many political players in there. And I can promise you no matter what you do, you can talk about it square, you can talk about it round, but there will be a downside.

CAMEROTA: You spell it out just so well for us, and Congressman Israel, how does it make sense? Since Congressman Kingston explains how dicey it is and how politically dangerous it is, how do they today in these waning hours reign in the House Freedom Caucus and what they want, which seems to be mutually exclusive, from what the moderates want?

ISRAEL: Here is exactly what will happen if the past is any indication of what will happen today. They need 215 votes. Your whip I think count is accurate. It reflects what I have heard. There are about 30 house Republicans who said that they're going to vote against it or leaning know. They can only force to lose 22. So the real margin is eight. Eight Republicans will be the difference between this bill passing or not.

Jack Kingston knows the conventional wisdom is if you go to the floor out your necessary votes but you're within single digits, you should be able to pass it. And so what's going to happen is, we're going to be on a roller coaster all day long. This vote will probably be held at about 5:00, maybe a little earlier. It's a 15-minute vote. House Democrats will put their no votes up very quickly. House Republicans who want this bill passed will put their votes up very quickly. You'll get to about 180, 190 votes within the first 10 minutes. And then this thing will just trickle. You will not see a lot of votes come in. That's where the whipping really counts. It's going to be the last few minutes that will produce 201 votes, 202, and I believe that party discipline will get them to 215.

But it's going to be the last two minutes not what we see in the proceeding several hours. It's just like a coach basketball game that gets interesting in the last two minutes.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And if that I may add, if you're serious, you vote no and leave the floor. If you're not serious, you vote no and sit around because if you sit around, you're inviting the speaker and other people to come talk to you and negotiate. And that's, you know, if that's what -- you're not sticking around to see the outcome. You're sticking around to negotiate.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, this is good behind-the-curtain stuff from you guys who've been there. Thank you very much panel.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So, the president's point man for repealing and replacing Obamacare is Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. He is with us live to make the case to you next.



REP. PAUL RYAN (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it's collapsing and it's failing families. And tomorrow we're proceeding.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you have the vote? Do you have the vote? Do you have the vote?


CAMEROTA: All right. That was Speaker Paul Ryan emerging from a late night meeting with House Republicans and avoiding Dana Bash's question there about whether he's certainly that he has the votes to pass this health care bill.

Moments ago, President Trump twitted this. He says, "After seven horrible years of Obamacare, skyrocketing premiums and deductibles, bad health care, this is finally your chance for a great plan!"

[08:20:08] Let's talk about the high stake votes with Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Tom Price. Good morning Dr. Price.

DR. TOM PRICE, SECRETARY OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: Good morning, Alisyn. How are you?

CAMEROTA: I'm doing well. Is this going to pass today?

PRICE: I think it is. I think what the American people understand and appreciate is that the -- there -- in many individuals in our society right now, if they've gotten coverage through the exchange, through Obamacare. That is not working for them.

Premiums are up, deductibles are up. And they're not able to access the kind of care that they want. And it's only getting worse. We've got a third of the counties in our nation that only have one insurer. Five states only have one insurer.

So, what the American people appreciate who are accessing their care through the exchange is that this is a plan that doesn't work. And that's why this is the first step -- the first phase of the process to bring about patient-centered health care where patients and families and doctors are making medical decisions and not Washington, D.C.

CAMEROTA: Well, at the latest counts, CNN's latest whip count is that there are still 31 no or leaning no votes. So, how will it pass?

PRICE: Well, what -- again, that's policy intrigue and it's important you got to have the votes to pass these things. But, it's extremely important that we continue to keep focus on the people of this land, the patients across this land.

The mom who's got to two kids who took her son to the doctor, he had a problem a significant problem required some tests. But the deductible plan that they had was $6,000. And she wasn't able to afford that. And so, she had a health insurance card. But she doesn't have any care for her child because the plan doesn't work for people.

And that's what I encourage folks to concentrate on, to focus on.


PRICE: The legislators up on Capitol Hill, those are the stories that they need to hear. And remember --


PRICE: -- because they've all heard them. They've all heard in their Town Halls. And what they need to recognize is that this is part of the plan to move forward and make certain that we bring about that patient-centered health care.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, what we've also heard in Town Halls if there is -- that there are a lot of Americans for whom Obamacare is working. People do like the pre-existing condition coverage provision. People do like their adult children staying on their plan. Obamacare has actually become more popular in the past few weeks or months than it had been. So, it's not as easy as you're making it --

PRICE: And I've got good news for you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: -- to pull out the rope from our people.

PRICE: I got good news for you Alyson. The two provisions that you've mentioned 26-year-olds on your parents' insurance and pre- existing illnesses and injuries being covered are included in the overall plan.

What they understand and appreciate though is that the kinds of things that have decreased choices made it so that they only have one choice. They are actually counties in Tennessee and Mississippi that will have no choice, whatsoever.

What are we going to do for those folks? This is a plan that has failed. If you're on the exchange, this is a plan that's failing you day in and day out. And it's only getting worse. That's what the president has described.


PRICE: He said these challenges came about in 2017 where the thing was going to come tumbling down. And it's now on our plate. And what we're trying to do is put in place a system that actually works for patients, not for Washington, for patients.

CAMEROTA: If it doesn't pass today, who do you blame?

PRICE: Well, I'm internal optimist. I think we're going to get it done. I know that the president has done everything he could do, any individual could do to make sure the people appreciate the consequence of this vote yes, but also the overall plan.

It's not just this piece of legislation, it's the kind of things we're able to do at the department to bring appropriate changes, to bring down premium costs, increase the ability of doctors to be able to care for patients. And it's a third phase that is actually happening contemporaneously to put in place other pieces of legislation so that you can purchase insurance across state lines.

Bring about medical malpractice lawsuit abuse reform, do the kinds of things that will drive down premium costs for folks. So, they're actually able to afford a coverage plan that works for them.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Price, look, your goals obviously sound lofty and good. But, in some ways, is all of this an exercise in futility? All of this hand ringing today, because even if it does pass, even if you are able to cajole the recalcitrant Republicans who are currently on the fence, that's just the House. It's still goes to the Senate whereby all measure, if this bill will fail.

PRICE: Yes. And that's the legislative process. But, what I will tell you is that an exercise in futility, a true exercise in futility is keeping the current system. The current system is failing patients. That's what we always need to remember.

You've got states across this land that aren't able to put in place insurance companies that are going to able to provide coverage for their vulnerable population. CAMEROTA: Sure. But, then how you get this trough the Senate?

PRICE: This is a plan that's not --

CAMEROTA: I understand. I mean look, hear you, there are goals and there's practicality. How do you get this plan through the Senate? I mean let me just play for you what the OMB Director, Mick Mulvaney said in terms of whether he's optimistic that it could ever get through the Senate. Listen to this.


[08:25:07] MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: There's no way to fully repeal this, George. This bill today repeals as much of Obamacare as is legally possible given the fact we only have 52 votes in the Senate.


CAMEROTA: OK. So, what he's saying, if that repeal was out of the question. But you only have 52 votes in the Senate and that's not enough.

PRICE: And that's focusing on. He's answering the question I presume it's focusing just on this piece of legislation.

Alisyn, remember it's the entire plan. It's this piece of legislation. Yes. That only requires 51 votes, a majority vote in the United States Senate. It's the kind of regulatory and reform changes that we're able to put in place at the department. And it's the other pieces of legislation. One of which on the floor of the house this week that actually passed.

I think it was 416 to 2 or something like that. That was the magnitude of the bipartisan support for the other kinds of changes that need to be put in place. So, this is just one part of it. And that second phase is so incredibly important that we're able to do at the department, because that's how the previous administration was able to put in place all sorts of rules and regulations that made the system more difficult for patients and for those providing the care.


PRICE: And that's where we're going to focus our efforts, is on patients and those providing the care.

CAMEROTA: But let's just zero in. So that people can understand how it would get through the Senate. Because the essential health benefits that has obviously been some of the carrot that's been offered to the house freedom caucus, the Conservatives, OK. So, that would now be I guess optional. Or that there would be -- they wouldn't have to -- you get to do it more ala cart. But that's a deal breaker in the Senate. So, where does that leave you?

PRICE: Well, it leaves you with the opportunity from the Senate to modify it and change it as they see fit. And then, if there are significant changes, then it goes to a conference committee. This is just the legislative process. And -- then that's why I keep asking folks to please, you and your colleagues and folks up on the hill. It's important to concentrate on the folks that are actually are being affected by this. That's the patients and moms and dads across this land who aren't able to gain the kind of care that they need with the current system on the exchange, that's what we need to get focusing on.

You've got governors across this nation, who tells us that they aren't able to care for their Medicaid population, for their vulnerable population in the way they see fit, because of all the rules and regulations. That's where we're going to concentrate our efforts, on positive solutions to make certain that we move in the direction of patient-centered health care, not Washington centered health care.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Price, as I said, that the popularity of Obamacare has ticked up recently. Here is the latest Fox News poll. And it shows that more people like it than dislike it. This is just from this month. Fifty percent give it a favorable opinion. Forty-seven percent give it an unfavorable opinion.

So, given that the CBO has said, that millions of people will lose their coverage with this latest plan, what do you tell people who are worried about that? And who say, "You know, what? I think I -- the devil we know is better and I'd like to stick with what we have.

PRICE: Well, I would tell people that what the CBO looked at was not the plan. What the CBO looked at was this one piece of legislation that is going to change through the legislative process. And they made an estimate, understanding that their estimates in the past have been off by wild, wild significant numbers.

The plan as I mentioned is this piece of legislation. And then, the kinds of rules and regulatory modifications that we are able to put in place at the Department of Health and Human Services to make certain that we improve the ability for doctors to care for patients. And that we drive down premium costs. So, that they're able to afford the coverage that they want. And then, the kind of legislative proposals that actually has significant bipartisan support.

Things like lawsuit abuse reform and purchase across state lines and association health plans. All those kinds of things that everybody understands or most people understand on the hill.


PRICE: That these are the things that actually need to change to, again make it so that patients are in charge and not Washington, D.C. This is where we need to drive down the decision making to individuals. And that's how they know the care is going to actually be right for them.

CAMEROTA: I mean it sounds a little bit like what you're saying, is you have to pass it today to know what's in it.

PRICE: No, you can see what's in it. In fact we've been very, very transparent about it. We have this --

CAMEROTA: Meaning there it's a change. You're saying it's a morph so much, this is the first step. So, you have to pass it today for the first step. And then, it's going to morph into all the other things you're talking about.

PRICE: Alisyn, that's the legislative process. And the fact to the matter is that when people look at the entire plan in its entirety that the phase one, phase two that we're on going right now at the department and will continue to do so in the phase three that has already been put in place.

If you look at the entire plan, those are the kinds of things that virtually every single individual across this land who has understood and appreciates that Obamacare is failing. The people who are gaining their coverage through the exchange, that's what needs to change. And again, that's -- in order to do that, you've got to keep your focus on patients, not on Washington, D.C.

CAMEROTA: Secretary Tom Price, thank you very much. We look forward to seeing what happens today.

PRICE: Thank you so mush Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being here.

[08:30:01] PRICE: Take care. Have a great day.

CAMEROTA: You too. Chris.

CUOMO: All right, up next, the Democrat tells us why everything you just heard is untrue. Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz is going to say what the reality will be for people under Trump Care. Next.