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Putin Critic Gunned Down In Broad Daylight; GOP Senator Graham Addresses Voters At Town Hall; Graham: Trump Should Reach Out To Dems On Health Care; Graham Addresses Massive Cuts In Trump Budget; Graham: I Don't Support Trump's Budget; Graham: I Don't Support Proposed Cuts To State Department

Aired March 25, 2017 - 12:00   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: -- down, it would have been very stable. It would have been very strong but that's OK. But we're very, very close, and again, I think what will happen is Obamacare unfortunately will explode. It will have a very bad year.

I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare. They own it, 100 percent own it. This is not a Republican health care. This is nothing but a Democrat health care and they have Obamacare for a little while longer until it ceases to exist, which it will at some point in the near future and just remember, this is not our bill, this is their bill.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Democrats are owning it and considering this a victory. Senator Bernie Sanders says this demonstrates the power of the people.


REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: There was a way for them to advance their legislation in a way that was professional, worthy of the House of Representatives, respectful of the people who are watching because it affects them very personally. So this is no -- nothing gleeful about this for us.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now CNN's Athena Jones is live for us at the White House and CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee is live for us in New York. All right, good to see you Ladies. So Athena, you first, where does the Trump administration go from here?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well, that's the big question when comes to legislative priorities that are next in line. We know the president is very, very interested in tax reform. In fact, he's talked in recent days about how he wished he could do that first, but he needed to do the health care -- the Obamacare repeal first because of some of the tax savings that would then go towards tax cuts in tax reforms.

Bottom line is that's going to be quite complicated as well when you have these divisions just within the Republican Party. Also infrastructure is another area where could have some steps taken. That is an area where we know that some Democrats on Capitol Hill have offered support.

So it looks like it's going to be tax reform. But here is the deal, Fred, something that we should make very, very clear. This is a Republican talking point that Obamacare is imploding or exploding. That is not the case at this point in time.

That's according to a recent analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, which said that the individual insurance markets would probably remain stable under Obamacare going forward.

Standard & Poor's also did an analysis that found that huge price hikes in premium prices for policies this year was likely a one-time pricing correction. So Obamacare is not imploding. There are significant challenges and problems with the law especially in the individual market.

And the hope -- you hear the president almost it seems like pulling for it to fail. But you have folks on Capitol Hill like minority leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, saying look, if Republicans drop this effort to repeal the law, Democrats will work with them to fix the problems with the bill.

Schumer also called on Republicans and on the White House not to continue to undermine the ACA, and that's the real issue here, is the secretary of Health and Human Services is the White House, are they going to take steps that will undermine the law.

Just not enforcing the individual mandate is going to be a problem for insurers especially as they're deciding whether to take part in the marketplace next year.

So the real question here is, will the American public blame Republicans if they continue to undermine the law and wait for it and watch for it explode in the hope that it will somehow bring Democrats over and force Democrats to the table. That's the big question.

WHITFIELD: Athena, those same groups are also saying that enrollment in Obamacare is actually steady. So M.J., you know, following this GOP defeat, House Speaker Paul Ryan called Obamacare the law of the land. Why did it he not sound like going back to the drawing board is in the near future?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: This was certainly a big defeat for House Speaker Paul Ryan and of course, for his party. You know, just keep in mind, that not only was this Paul Ryan's first legislative effort under President Trump. This is also something that Republicans have been frankly talking about for years. There is no other political issue that has been so successful in unifying Republicans, you know, on one issue and for every election cycle since Obamacare was signed into law Republicans have been running on the theme of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

And now that they finally have a Republican President in the White House, they were unable to do so. So big setback for Speaker Ryan and obviously for President Trump as well, as Athena was explaining.

It's interesting, Paul Ryan is talking about this now as though he has put this in the rearview mirror that we are moving on from health care. I think there is something to be said for the political capital that Ryan put into this effort.

He spent months to trying to get members on board. He was working with conservatives, members of the Freedom Caucus, and then trying to get moderates on board. Every time he made sort of one concession, it appeared as though he was angering another faction in the Republican Party.

And yesterday, at this press conference on Capitol Hill, Ryan was open in talking about the so-called growing pains within his own party. Take a listen to what he said.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We were a ten-year opposition party where being against things was easy. We just had to be against it and now in three months' time, we try to go to a governing party where we actually had to get 260 people agree with each other on how do things and we weren't just quite there today.


LEE: So clearly this was a moment of political lesson for Paul Ryan, probably a very hard one for him to swallow. The big question going forward is, will he be able to bring his party together, unify his party when he attempts to tackle other big legislative efforts something like tax reforms, the budget reform. The budget actually is what I meant to say. This is something that he will have to work on in the coming months with his own party.

WHITFIELD: All right, this very big defeat for the GOP especially after more than 60 other failed attempts to repeal Obamacare. Thank you so much, Ladies. Appreciate it.

All right, in the meantime, there are a lot of Americans who are reacting to this stunning collapse of the Republican health care bill and many voters who support Obamacare are rather relieved that efforts to repeal and replace that law failed. Here is what some are saying.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm happy with the existing Obamacare as it stands. I think they need to focus on bigger issues, and you know, keep this plan going. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a defeat for the Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel it's a minor victory, but I feel that we need to continue to press and continue to stay organized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of like karma. You know, they're rushing everything. They are not really thinking it through.


WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk about more about all of this with CNN political commentators, Mike Shields and Ben Ferguson. Good to see both of you.

So Mike, this Quinnipiac poll that was actually out before this bill was yanked show shows that the disapproval rating of that GOP plan was very high, 56 percent.

Is it your feeling that there was so much at stake not just for Paul Ryan, but also for President Trump, you know, in terms of whether they should have allowed people to vote for it or not?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, they pulled it because it wasn't going to pass and I think the math in the House of Representatives is the math and it's going to be the same math, by the way, for tax reform, infrastructure bill, debt ceiling. You're going to have to have a continuing resolution to fund the government which will include payment of the insurance subsidies for Obamacare.

So you're going to see this sort of problem and I think it was very interesting seeing what the president said yesterday, which was maybe he's going to start looking to work with Democrats to isolate the Freedom Caucus and work with Democrats to get legislation passed.

There is about 30 members in the House and if you can't get them on board you can't control the agenda and that's not to criticize them. They're playing the hand that they're dealt. They're given the sort of a position in the House Freedom Caucus to be able to stop things and they're using the power that they have to push their agenda, and you saw what happened.

And so I think this will continue. By the way, I think Obamacare will still keep coming up as an issue in American politics. The House of Representatives and the president will have to keep addressing issues of Obamacare.

I disagree with some of what Athena was saying that Obamacare is fine. Five hundred thousand people just dropped out of Obamacare, one third of all the counties in our country now only have one insurance provider.

And so, you know, the bill is unpopular. Obamacare is unpopular, and it's going to continue to be unpopular and it's going to continue to go down and so we're going to have to continue to deal with it.

WHITFIELD: That's being disputed by, you know, some of the CBO reporting that Athena was sighting and even Standard & Poor's where it may show that while there has been an increase in say, Arizona by 116 percent that is not across the board and you know, there are some real, I guess, conflict with what the president was saying that 40, 50, 70 percent increase, it's not necessarily the case.

It hasn't been substantiated. So there are some problems that is being acknowledged, but I guess the real criticism we're hearing from so many is why not just work on those areas as opposed to trying to overhaul the whole thing and that was the mistake that this plan does.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me say this. You do need an overhaul here. I'm one of those who is on Obamacare. Last year we had two companies and seven plans to choose from. This year we had one company and one single plan to choose from.

[12:10:01]The card that's in my wallet is meaningless because it's a $13,000 out of pocket before I get any benefit for my family. So I do have insurance, but what good does it do me when I go to the doctor unless I have a catastrophic injury or I get cancer, heaven forbid, or something, like, that, my insurance every year it's really hard to get to $13,000. I'm not the only American that's like this --

WHITFIELD: You are saying you can go to the doctor but you're talking about your out-of-pocket expense in terms of your deductible.

FERGUSON: I'm in out-of-pocket until $13,000 comes out of my own pocket until insurance kicks into my plan for my family. So I went to the doctor -- great example --

WHITFIELD: If you didn't have insurance and you had a procedure that was $80,000, $90,000 or $100,000 that would be out of pocket.

FERGUSON: My -- but here is the thing. Up to 13 grand, then I'm still accountable for another 20 percent on top of that. So my insurance that is costing more than $1,000 a month for my family is meaningless insurance until there is something catastrophic. I had shoulder surgery, my shoulder surgery did not cost even with the deductible would cost, for example.

So this is a bipartisan issue. It is a problem whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. The real question now is going to be when we have recess coming up April 7th is when they have it scheduled and all these members of Congress go home including those in the Freedom Caucus, are they going to take a lot of heat? I think the answer is yes.

I don't think we're done on Obamacare repeal and replace from the Republicans. I think there is a lot of Americans that are going to be very upset that this didn't happen and they're going to get in the face of their congressmen. They're going to come back to Washington and do something later this year.

WHITFIELD: So is the issue, Mike, that perhaps enough time was spent on trying to craft this GOP deal? That you didn't see the president out really promoting it in terms of detail. You saw Paul Ryan trying to promote it with pie charts, trying to promote it but you didn't see enough leadership from the president and that is among the lessons that the president just yesterday admitted to learning?

SHIELDS: I actually don't. I think the president lead into this. I think he was really committed to making phone calls and pulling members over and it eventually came down to one thing. He was facing up with the House Freedom Caucus and trying to get them to vote for the bill and they wouldn't do it.

That's going to keep happening. There is a group of members, again, this is their right, they're elected members of Congress and they've carved out a power niche for themselves to kind of control agenda in the House.

WHITFIELD: Did it empower and embolden them even further that it will be difficult for the president to tackle his tax reform --

SHIELD: I don't think so. I think I agree with Ben, how much did they bear responsibility for stopping us from getting rid of Obamacare because they were out there pretty publicly saying they were going to vote no on this and reports have said that's what the final deal came down to between the president and them, and where they are going to vote for it, and they said no --

FERGUSON: Here is the other thing --


FERGUSON: Conservatives are going to look at the Freedom Caucus and they are going to look at them as champions for what they truly wanted which is a total repeal and release. However, if the president comes back to the table with Democrats to try to get a deal down and he realized that the overhaul is going to be much worse that what you had the option of, there is a lot of level headed conservatives that voted for Freedom Caucus members that are going to say you guys need to get in the room with the president and get the Democrats out of room.

Because we'll take a better deal with you guys being involved than having to pull Democrats and what they want on a really Obamacare-Lite or Obamacare 2.0. I do think they rushed this. If there's any advice I would have for the White House, it would be this.


FERGUSON: It would be, look, slow down, talk behind the scenes, don't make enemies, court the Freedom Caucus, and keep the dialogue open. This arbitrary date of this week I think was a bad decision from Paul Ryan. I think the White House went along with what the speaker said. I think they should have taken more time to do this.

WHITFIELD: So we also heard the president, you know, place some blame on the Democrats. We also understand based on a source telling CNN that Trump is also very upset that his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, went on vacation along with his wife.

They're in aspen during this crucial week as opposed to being in Washington, there you see the family photo skiing in Aspen. So Mike, is this reported anxiety that the president was feeling, does this speak to how much the president wants to be able to lean on his advisers particularly in such a crucial or critical time?

SHIELDS: Well, look, I think the entire White House was engaged in this fight. I think the Budget Director Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, they were all up on the capitol working with the members and working out with the speaker's office.

I agree with what Ben said, they're going to have to continue negotiating with the Freedom Caucus. They're in that position on all of the rest of the legislation that they want to get down whether it's tax reform or infrastructure.

[12:15:05]The math is still the same math and they're going to have to keep working on it. But look, I think the president was committed. I think the administration was committed and they ran up to something that we've in politics have known for a while what the math in the House is, which is you have a group of members that have the ability to do this and they'll have to figure it out to move forward.

WHITFIELD: OK, the question is out whether he was upset or feeling really anxiety that Ivana -- Ivanka and Jared were not there. Ben, is that a --

FERGUSON: No. Look, I put a big asterisk about that information that the president was upset with his son-in-law and his daughter over this. If the president of the United States of America couldn't get this done, it's not like Jared Kushner was going to come back into the White House and somehow find the 20 votes needed.

I mean, they were probably 20 votes down here. There's no way that he would have done this. Yes, this is a week where all hands are on deck. But let's also put it in perspective, there was nothing that any single staff member at the White House would have been able to do to flip this vote.

They were not close on the votes they needed and even the president couldn't get you to decide. It's not like a senior adviser calling you where it would flip the vote.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it right there. Gentlemen, thank you so much. Ben Ferguson, Mike Shields, appreciate it.

All right, still to come, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham hosting a town hall event and CNN's Polo Sandoval is there.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, hundreds of people waiting to get inside and you look inside the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, you can see many now have taken their seats ready to ask some of those tough questions to the South Carolina senator, some of the topics they hope to hear about coming up in the CNN NEWSROOM.



WHITFIELD: Obamacare and the GOP's failure to repeal and replace it will likely be a big topic of a town hall expected to get underway at any moment now. This is a live look right now at the event where Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will take questions from his residents there in his home state.

A few weeks ago when Graham held one of these town halls, it turned into quite a raucous meeting. CNN's Polo Sandoval is there for us today. So Polo, what's expected today?

SANDOVAL: Fred, quite a grab bag of topics that officials here and some of the folks who are attending this town hall hope to hear from Senator Graham. A lot of it has to do with country's past, present and future.

For example, they certainly want to hear about yesterday's attempt to repeal Obamacare, what will happen next with respect to the current -- of course, the current investigation into the Russian meddling of the November election is something that many of the attendees here want to hear about as well.

When it comes to the future, for example, tax reform. Columbia, South Carolina, is home to many small businesses. There are a lot of small business owners inside the venue here. So they are hoping to hear what will come next in this next round of legislation in Washington.

And of course, we have seen already several hundred people. I checked the crowd counter, close to 400 folks filled inside the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center as they wait to hear from the South Carolina senator. The process is fairly simple here.

They hope that things will stay relatively civil. So of course, they handed out a green card and a red card if they agree with what the senator is saying, of course, use the green one, and of course, if they don't, the red one.

Many people I've spoken especially in light of yesterday's development in Washington and the shelving of this attempt to repeal Obamacare expect to use that red card a lot more. But again, many of the people I've spoken to, they are very open to hearing from the senator as well.

What they did take some issue with was one of the senator's latest tweets which suggested that the next step for legislators would be for Obamacare to essentially, quote, "collapse and then be repealed."

Many of the people that I've spoken to both Republican and Democrat feel like that this is not the answer. That ultimately if this is not work out, then that certainly will lead to issues for really hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Many people anxious to see what will happen, but as you mentioned, last time we were earlier this month when we heard from Senator Graham, things got very heated very quickly.

WHITFIELD: Right, Senator Graham always very candid so expect the fireworks today. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much in Columbia. We'll check back with you. All right, while the FBI investigates whether the Trump campaign collaborated with Russia to influence the election. Three former Trump campaign aides have volunteered to talk to the House Intelligence Committee. We'll discuss that next.



WHITFIELD: Welcome back. A Russian defector and well-known critic of Vladimir Putin is found dead, murdered in broad daylight. What's more shocking is that he is just one of several kremlin critics to be killed or injured under mysterious circumstances in just the last few years. CNN's senior international correspondent, Fredrick Pleitgen is in Moscow for us -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. Yes, the funeral for Denis Voronenkov actually took place today in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. The Ukrainians say they are absolutely certain that he was killed by an agent of Russia. The Russians are calling those allegations absurd. Here is what we know.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): A day after the murder of kremlin critic, Denis Voronenkov, this chilling surveillance video has surfaced, obtained by a Ukrainian broadcaster, it purports to show the moment Denis Voronenkov was killed, his bodyguard wounded.

And now the diplomatic mudslinging between Moscow and Kiev over this case has kicked into high gear. One senior Ukrainian lawmaker claiming that the assassins who also killed in the shootout may have been Ukrainian but acted on Russia's orders.

"I can say with certainty that Denis Voronenkov has been murdered by the agent of Russian special services, a citizen of Ukraine," said Anton (inaudible).

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko branded the assassination Russian state terrorism and on a visit to Ukrainian security forces on Friday linked it to another mysterious murder of Ukrainian journalist, (inaudible), and to a massive fire in the Ukrainian ammunition depot near the town of Harkev (ph).

It's a matter of honor for our law enforcement, he said, to disclose the murders of (inaudible) and Denis Voronenkov, and the sabotage in the Harkev region. Tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated in a ten kilometer radius around the (inaudible).

Ukraine accuses Russia of setting it on fire. Russian officials call all of these allegations absurd. The speaker of Russia's parliament saying that Ukraine is turning to what he called a terrorist state, unable to protect its citizens. Other Russian lawmakers chiming in.

While the dead bodies are still being inspected and not even in the morgue yet, the head of the state makes such allegations of Russian state terrorism. What does tell us? This is a ready made scenario, this right wing politician said.

Ukrainian authorities say they're looking for the driver who possibly dropped the killer off at the scene of the murder. But even as the investigation to the killing of Denis Voronenkov progresses, the case has already become highly politicized and another lightning rod between the adversaries Russia and Ukraine.

PLEITGEN (on camera): And Fredricka one of the things u -- is being speculated about is the possible motive of the killing. Now the Ukrainian say that Voronenkov may have had information about former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who was very closed to Vladimir Putin that may wanted to testify against the Yanukovych. And that he possibly knew things about what they call Russian financial dealings.

But again, the Russians say all of this is untrue and they say they want to be part of any investigation. Otherwise, it would all be unfair. Fredricka?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right Frederick Pleitgen, thank you so much in Moscow. Appreciate that.

Well, here in the U.S. calls for a new strategy in the investigation into Russia meddling in the U.S. election. And the possible links between the Trump Team and Moscow. Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee, expressed his concerns about the current investigation in Congress during his weekly address.


REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Congress should establish an independent commission that has the staff, resources, and single-minded focus necessary to investigate this matter. Most important as the events of this week demonstrate, an independent commission will be able to conduct its work insulated from any political interference.


WHITFIELD: Congressman Schiff, they are referring to Republican Chairman Devin Nunes's decision this week to brief the President and the media on evidence before going to his own committee. Schiff is also blasting Nunes for delaying a hearing with several top former intelligence officials. In fact, they don't -- let's go now to Columbia, South Carolina. (INAUDIBLE) is the topic of discussion at this town hall being led by Senator Lindsey Graham. Let's listen in.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CALIFORNIA: He's a crook, he's a thug, and he is trying to break the backbone of NATO and European Union. They tried to interfere in our elections. And don't you think we should push back?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Yes. GRAHAM: So, I have legislation that I think would get 80 votes. If we can ever have a vote that would punish the Russians for interfering in our election with sanctions beyond what we have for their in interference with the Crimea, I want to vote on that just as soon as we can. Let me tell you why. The Russians are trying to interfere in the French election which is at the end of April. So I want to vote at least in Committee and the Senate before the French elections to let the Europeans and the Russians know that we care about what Russia did in our own backyard.

The Germans have there election in September. I hope we can pass this bill and put it on President Trump's desk by September to punish Russians so they won't do it again. As to the investigation, we've learned two things. We've learned that the FBI is investigating Trump campaign operatives for potential ties to Russia. Here is my belief.


It goes wherever it goes. No politicians stand in the way. We should let the FBI do their job and what happens, happens. We also learned from the NSA director -- in the FBI Director that President Trumps claim that the Obama administrations reveal (ph) their campaign, they had no evidence of. So, that's where we stand with that.


If there is incidental collections and somebody's name has been compromised I want to know, I want to know who's been leaking all the stuff because it's not good for our country for another president to be able to talk to another leader and have it show up in the paper. We need to get to the bottom of that, too. So, that's Russia, that's Trump, that's the campaign.

Healthcare. Healthcare.

(APPLAUSE) If the House had passed the bill that we were pushing in the House, I'm not so sure it would have made things much better. The process was not what I wanted it to be. Does it sound familiar that people were being threatened to vote yes, some people being bribed to vote yes. It sounds a lot like Obamacare to me, so that's what I like about it.

[12:35:05] So -- and here is what I think about -- here is what I think about health care. Obamacare is a disaster and it's going to collapse (ph). We are down. I tell you what. One thing I've learned. The red cards are louder than the green cards.

So let me tell you about health care. I don't think one party is going to be able to fix this by themselves. So, here is what I think should happen next. I think the President should reach out to Democrats. I should reach out to Democrats. And we should say, let's take a shot at doing this together because it ain't work and it ain't doing by ourselves. How about that? All right. And we'll talk more about that.

The third thing is the Supreme Court. We just finished the hearing this week. Judge Gorsuch was one of the finest people I think President Trump could have chosen. I I'm going to enthusiastically support him, and if the Democrats try to filibuster him, they will be making a huge mistake.

Let me tell you a little bit about the judge. You don't want to listen? Let me tell you why I think he's well-qualified. The American Bar Association gave in the highest qualified rating you could give to somebody. He's been a judge for 10.5 years. He's decided 2,700 cases. He's been reversed once. And I don't think President Trump could have chosen a better conservative judge to replace Judge Scalia.

And I intend to vote for him. So how many of you are glad that I voted for Sotomayor?


GRAHAM: Kagan? Alito? Roberts? Well, whether you like -- here is one thing I can tell everybody in this room. I voted for every Supreme Court justice that came out of committee by Republicans and Democrats.

And let me tell you about Garland. Hang on. Hang on. Here is what Joe Biden said in 1992. In 1992, Joe Biden said -- just listen to me for a second. In 1992, Bush 41 was going to have an opening. They thought in the last year of his term that a Republican -- Purnie (ph) was going to retire from the court. And here is what Joe said. It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway, and it is, action on the Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over. If someone steps down, I would highly recommend the president, not name someone, not send up a name, if Bush did send someone up, I will ask the Senate to seriously like consider not having a hearing for that nominee.

So, in 1992, Joe Biden, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee said, once the campaign season is afoot, let's let the next president pick. I know that make sense there and I believe it makes sense now. Judge Garland is a fine man. He was well-qualified, but the next president, in my view, should replace Scalia because he died in February after three primaries had started, a week before the South California primary.

[12:40:09] Into everybody who holds -- into everybody that boos Judge Gorsuch, you're not persuading me at all. As a matter of fact, if you can't understand, this is a qualified nominee, then you're not listening. If you don't understand that elections matter, then you don't understand America. And if you think that only liberals can get their nominees and a conservative can't, then you don't understand America.

And I don't believe that the constitution was written so that you'd get everything you want and I get nothing. That's not the way the constitution was written. So to all the people who beat on me for voting for Sotomayor and Kagan, here is what I told you. I didn't vote for Obama but he won. And he had the right to pick qualified people. I didn't vote for Trump but he won. And he's got the right to pick qualified people.

And I am asking no more of the Democratic Party than I ask of myself. So I'm going to vote for Neil Gorsuch and if they try to filibuster him, they will turning the country upside down, it will be a sad day. And I will vote if necessary to change the rules. All right. Now let's take some questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Question is from Julia Houston.

GRAHAM: Let's listen to him for a second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This question is from Julia Houston from Columbia, South Carolina. Julia, could you please stand up.

GRAHAM: Julie, what's your -- Julie who?


GRAHAM: Houston? Thank you, Julie. There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is, is there a mechanism in place to limit President Trump spending until a full investigation is conducted concerning issues?

GRAHAM: No. There is an investigation going on of what Russia did to our election. There is nobody yet been found guilty of anything. The FBI is looking into it. I haven't seen any evidence that President Trump himself was involved in collaborating with the Russians. So the answer is no.

But here's what will happen, I think. I think the Senate is doing a pretty good job with Byrd (ph) Warner. I'm doing a pretty good job, I think if I say so myself, with White House. We wrote a letter to the FBI, and want enough if there was criminal investigation, we finally found out there is.

And don't you think Congress should stay out of the FBI's way?


GRAHAM: Yes? So I promise everybody in the room, that when it comes to Russia, we're going to get to the bottom of it. And I will not my Republican friends know -- any Republicans here? Thanks for coming.

Let me tell you why I'm so upset about this. It was the Democrats today, it could be the Republicans tomorrow. Here is what I believe about America. When you attack one party, you attack us all. I really do believe -- I really do believe that no one party should allow another party to be interfered with by a foreign power and set on the sidelines.

So we will get to the bottom of this and to my Republican friends, the Iranians and the Chinese are going to push back against Trump because I think he's taken an appropriately tough approach. I want any foreign power to know, if you interfere in our elections you're going to pay a heavy price no matter who you tried to interfere with. So, all right, that's good.

So there'll be no effort to stop his spending. Was that the question? We're not go take the power of the President away because of this investigation. OK? All right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Question is from Diane Shite (ph).




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Diane, will you please stand up.

GRAHAM: OK, Thank you Diane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the senator doing to ensure an independent investigation of Russian conclusion with Trump?

GRAHAM: OK, I think I've -- OK. Right now I think the House Intel Committee is about to fall apart. And I don't know if they can get it back together. I hope they can.

[12:45:05] I didn't like it when Nunes went down to the White House and started talking about things I'm not familiar with. I didn't like it when Schiff keeps telling everybody he's seen evidence circumstantial in nature that there's collusion. That's really not the appropriate function of either one of these guys.

I hope they can get it back together so far, so good in the Senate. But I'll promise you this, Diane. If it gets to the point that I think we're so broken over this, then it'd be time to have a joint select committee. We're not there yet, but we may get there.

OK. I'm not for an outside committee yet. Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. Thank you. There is ample evidence that Mr. Trump or associates of Mr. Trump have colluded in some way to throw the 2016 presidential election. Substantial evidence we assume can be found in his tax returns.


GRAHAM: That's a good question.


GRAHAM: Good question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me finish. Let me finish.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The American people deserve to know the truth. The Republican Congress has at every turn obstructed our evidence or our efforts has --

GRAHAM: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- obstructed our efforts to see those tax returns.

GRAHAM: OK, I got it your question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Including use (ph).

GRAHAM: Let me tell you, Diane. I think that's a bunch of garbage when it comes to me. I don't think I've obstructed anything. I think I've been more than on the case when it comes to Russia. I think I have stood up for the idea that I'm not going to sit on the sideline once the Russians to try to undermine our democracy.

But I'm not going to -- so, I don't agree with you. As to Trump's tax returns, here's what may happen. If there is a connection between the Trump business world and colluding with Russia, then I'll be the first one to say that the FBI -- well, they have the power now to go get it if they need it, as to tax returns and presidential candidates. I've got legislation, got a Democratic sponsor that if you run for president in 2020 you've got to release your tax returns. All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do it. Do it. Do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This question is from Lucille McKee from Lexington, South Carolina. Lucille, could please stand up.

GRAHAM: Say that again. I can't hear you.


GRAHAM: Lucille. Hi, Lucille.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is do you stress the important of finding out all things Russia now that Senator Nunes has tainted the process, will you call for an independent investigation?

GRAHAM: Yes. If I think the Congress can't do this. And right now you've got to remember Watergate was done by Congress. I've really appreciated what Senator Burr more have done. Senator White House is Democratic (ph). And that committee has been terrific.

I hope Nunes and Schiff can get their act together. But the main thing is I want to get to the bottom of what happen. I'd rather Congress do it then the outside commission. But when it comes to our criminal investigation, Congress should let the FBI do it.

I'm not equipped to be an FBI agent. I don't have the staff. I don't want anybody to think that I can make a decision as to who gets persecuted because I'm a Republican. And I don't want a Democratic to be put in the same -- that same spot. So right now I'm OK with what's going on. I hope the House can get their act together.

But, if I think we need a joint select committee because the committee process is voting -- is broken, I will join with Senator McCain to do that. OK?

WHITFIELD: All right. Listening to Senator Lindsey Graham there at a town hall at Columbia, South Carolina tackled everything from the direction of the investigation that it pertains to Russia ties with the Trump administration. He also tackled health care that failed GOP health care bill and also the U.S. Supreme Court Justice and that he will be supporting Neil Gorsuch.

We're going to continue to listen. We'll take you back to Columbia, South Carolina right after we come back.


[12:53:36] WHITFIELD: Hello everyone and welcome back. I want to take you back to Columbia, South Carolina where Senator Lindsey Graham there is very comfortable in this town hall setting there talking in a lecturing kind of way, expressing his opinion about the failed GOP health care plan, Vladimir Putin, and even the U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee who he very much supports as a member of the judiciary Committee. But he's also talking in great detail about the investigation of Russia ties with the White House. Let's listen in.

GRAHAM: The trap seat, the seating of plan (ph). The difference between me and Al Gore is he made it religion and I think it's a problem that needs to be solved. So, the EPA's budget is set to be cut by 20 something percent, 31 percent? Too much. So, here is what I think we need to understand about the budget.

Do you want to have about two minutes about the budget?


GRAHAM: What's the largest expense to the federal government? Speak up. So, a simple answer is that I will not support that bigger cut to the EPA. I believe Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.

[12:55:06] I think he' ran amuck in the last eight years. And I'm glad we're rolling back some of the regulations.

Now, what you've got to realize is that I'll work across the aisle but at my heart I'm a Conservative Republican and I'm damn proud of it. I want to rebuild the military. I'm proudly pro-life. I want a tax code that's for entrepreneurial. So, I want you to know what you're getting with me.

On occasion, I'm defined by the times I try to reach across the aisle on immigration to solve a hard problem. But at my core, I'm a fiscal and social conservative. But, here's what I believe. I can't run the country by myself. And we have to work together.

And let me tell you about the budget. Sixty-two percent of the federal spending is Medicare, Medicaid, entitlements and interests on the debt. Six point eight percent of the federal budget is interests on the debt. Sixty-two percent is entitlement spending. Fourteen percent is defense. Fifteen percent is non-defense, EPA, Department of Education, Department of Transportation.

So, let me tell you about the President's budget and why I can't support it. Let me tell you, if you eliminated the Department of Defense you wouldn't begin the balance to budget. If you eliminated the EPA, you wouldn't begin the balance to budget. If you eliminated all foreign aid, you wouldn't even begin the balance to budget because it's 1 percent. So, here's what we going to counter griefs with. If you want to save this country from becoming Greece, you need Republicans and Democrats working together to reform entitlements before it's too late.

If you care about Social Security and you care about Medicare, you better vote people like me to sit there with the Democratic to save it. Why? Let me tell you why. Let me tell you why. In 1950, there were 16 workers for every retiree. How many are there today? Three. In 20 years, there'll be two.

All right. If we -- we're all living like Strom Thurmond here. We're all living a very low time which is the good new but we're having smaller families and less workers. So, that's why you need rational immigration.

So, as to the budget, I will not support President Trump's budget because it increases defense spending, which I'm for, but it guts the other parts of the budget that we need as a nation.

Now, let me tell you. We're on track to be spending half of what we normally spend on defense. I am hell bent on changing that but I'm not going to raise defense spending and gut the State Department because you can't win the war just by killing terrorists.

So, to my Republican friends out there, hard power is important. I want the strongest military on the planet. I want to deter war. And if we get in one, I want to win it, but you're not going to win the war against radical Islam just by killing terrorists. And let me tell you, soft power is important as hard power.

So, here is what I'm going to do. I'm going to take the President's budget and I will challenge the Democrat to find a way to help me buyback who slept on sequestration. Sequestration is letting for doing really dumb stuff.

The bottom-line is there's 220 billion coming out of non defense spending. There's 220 billion coming out at the Defense Department that would give us the smallest military we've had since 1940 in the Army and 1950 in the Navy. That's insane. But, let's increase one without destroying the other. Do you want to have less FBI agents in 2017 than we had in 2013? I don't.

That's where we're headed. So, we're all in this together. So, if you want more spending for the EPA, the State Department and Defense, you better start fixing Medicare and Social Security.

And one last topic about Social Security. How many people here own Social Security? How many people here are worried about Social Security being there for your grand kids? You ought to be. Do you remember Ronald Regan and Tip O'Neill?

Do you remember what they did in 1983? They adjusted -- yes. You paid in. The average person pays the dollar in the Medicare and they take out $3.


GRAHAM: I agree. I agree. Let me tell you about this. Medicare is $705 billion this year. We're spending more on Medicare than the Defense Department by a good debt. Let me tell you, the highest amount you pay on Medicare premium is $486.