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U.S. Senate Showdown over Supreme Court Nominee; Trump, Rand Paul Seeks Health Care Solutions During Golf Outing. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired April 3, 2017 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, tee time and health care. President Trump and Republican Senator Rand Paul coming out of a golf game with a new stroke of optimism, if you will, on a possible deal to repeal and replace Obamacare. Really? How real is it? We'll discuss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: You're looking at live pictures of the Senate, where the fate of the president's Supreme Court pick hangs in the balance. The Senate, at least right now, seems destined to head towards a nuclear showdown over Neil Gorsuch. We're keeping a very close eye on that.

I want to bring in right now CNN politics reporter and editor-at- large, Chris Cillizza.

Great to see you, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Hey, Kate! Thanks for having me.

[11:34:59]BOLDUAN: On such a consequential day, nonetheless.

(LAUGHTER)

You wrote a fascinating piece for CNN.com about kind of the transformation or not from a chaos candidate to the presidency and what chaos can mean for president. And you point to the Supreme Court rollout as we're watching this play out in the Senate as one of the president's two big wins since taking office. And it made me wonder, as I'm reading your piece, why has the president not been able to replicate that successful rollout in other aspects of his agenda? What do you think?

CILLIZZA: Well, because it takes more discipline than he's at least to this point been able to show, Kate. Look, the Gorsuch rollout happened throughout a day. Gorsuch was unveiled at the end. Now, if Gorsuch had been widely panned as a pick, then it wouldn't have been a good day, but this is a pick that I think even Democrats, many of whom will vote to support a filibuster, people like Pat Leahy, don't think that he was outside the norm of who someone could pick. I actually think if you look back, the best days for Donald Trump candidate and Donald Trump president have been related to the Supreme Court. Remember he put out a list in May of 2016 of the people he might nominate, help rally conservatives behind him.

BOLDUAN: That's right.

CILLIZZA: They said, well, we don't love him for everything, but he picked the right kind of Supreme Court justices. Unfortunately, you can't nominate a Supreme Court justice every day, and some of the other challenges in terms of governing for Trump have been a lot harder for him.

BOLDUAN: Do you think this showdown over the Supreme Court pick with Democrats, do you think this would have happened with another Republican president in this political environment?

CILLIZZA: That's a really good question. I think it probably would, and here's why. 2013, Harry Reid, when he's the Senate majority leader changes the nuclear option, essentially says you don't need 60 votes to end debate on federal appointees. That includes cabinet picks. That includes every -- most justices, with the exception of the Supreme Court. I think from that point onward, Republicans, Mitch McConnell and others, somewhat saw Pandora's box as being already opened. Does Trump exacerbate that somewhat rhetorically? Sure. But a President Rubio or President Jeb Bush, I think we would be in a similar place. I think if Trump is being blamed for the Senate, potentially, and likely I think, triggering the nuclear option on the Supreme Court, I think that's misplaced blame for him.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the Democrats that everyone has been watching surrounding this Supreme Court nomination. These, of course, are the Democrats who are up for re-election in states that Trump won. What is the difference between the "yeses" and "noes?" What is the politics at play? Why did Senator Heitkamp, Donnelly, Manchin, why did they after consideration decide to support Gorsuch, while you have Senator Tester and McCaskill, who are also up for re-election, deciding against it? What are the dynamics here?

CILLIZZA: Well, I don't want to ascribe everything to political sort of calculation, but I do think it's a big part of it. It's not -- I haven't talked to each of them and sort of gotten their core motive, but I would say if you look at what do Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin all have in common? They represent states, not only as you mention that are up in 2018, but also states that Donald Trump cleared by the largest margins out of any of the states that he did share. There are 10 Democrats in states up in 2018 in states where Trump won, but of varying margins. Those three states he won overwhelmingly. I think their calculation is we can't be seen as purely reflexive national Democrats or we will lose. A Jon Tester from a state like Montana, Claire McCaskill from Missouri, their bet -- we'll see if it's right or not -- their bet is that their sort of personal political brand in their states is strong enough to transcend voting to keep the filibuster up. And again, that's a calculation. Some of it's based on how popular Donald Trump will be in their states in 2018, right? What was true in 2016 in November isn't true, you know, today in March of 2017 -- April of 2017 -- and certainly might not be true in November of 2018.

BOLDUAN: I'm looking down at my phone really quick. And, Control Room, telling me Michael Bennett, he was one of the Democratic Senators, we're waiting to hear exactly where he was going to land. Has he announced if he was going to vote for Neil Gorsuch? Control Room?

We don't know exactly where he's going to land on the up or down vote. But I'm being told by the Control Room we are being told he will oppose the filibuster.

CILLIZZA: The filibuster. So, that's four --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Which is a moment.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BOLDUAN: And remember, this is the Senator -- Neil Gorsuch is from Colorado.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BOLDUAN: This is why --

CILLIZZA: That's Reichert.

BOLDUAN: -- there is a lot at play here for Michael Bennett.

CILLIZZA: I will say this, Michael Bennett is in a swing state. He is not up this -- he just got re-elected.

BOLDUAN: Right, right.

CILLIZZA: So, he could very easily support the filibuster and maybe not face that many consequences. But one thing to think about here, you make a good point, Kate, in terms of his affiliation from the same home state. I would also say, we've heard from a lot more senior members who are on the fence over the last few hours on the Democratic side saying they will support a filibuster, so I think it's likely to get to 40, making Bennett in some ways able to now say I'm not going to support it, right? Probably the right political position for him and one that may not carry all that many consequences for Chuck Schumer or whoever is rallying the Democratic filibuster votes, because it looks like they're either close to or are going to have them anyway.

[11:40:24] BOLDUAN: Interesting, yeah.

CILLIZZA: So, keep that in mind, but that's now four. They need eight. I would be very skeptical based on who's left that you're going to get four more people. I think this is going to head to -- it's on Mitch McConnell. Is he going to invoke the nuclear option in everything that we know that he said this week, and in the past, suggests that he will, and that will fundamentally change what the Senate is as it relates to these federal nominations.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. And here's one -- just one lingering thought -- we've got to go, Chris

-- it is huge. This nuclear option is a huge deal in D.C. It does matter. But when you talk about voters and the calculations a few Senators have in their decision, does the nuclear option, if you change the rules of the Senate, does it matter to voters later on? I would venture to guess the answer is no.

CILLIZZA: So, I'll say this, not at all with a small caveat, which is the bases of both parties, particularly the Republican base, cares deeply about it. But no, the average person is not like, I can't believe they invoked the nuclear option on Neil Gorsuch! They have no idea what the nuclear option is.

BOLDUAN: I haven't heard that from anybody.

CILLIZZA: To your point, though, that does not mean it's not important.

BOLDUAN: It doesn't matter, yeah.

CILLIZZA: Because the Senate was created in a different way than the House, and this makes the Senate a lot more like the House than I think our founders imagined it to be. But average person, you are 100 percent right, is not going to stop their day and say, oh, my gosh, I can't believe this happened!

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: I want to meet those people.

CILLIZZA: Those are not average people then.

BOLDUAN: Make sure you use air quotes, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you. Welcome. Thank you so much. Great conversation.

CILLIZZA: Thank you. Take care.

BOLDUAN: Important, historic day playing out in Washington. We're keeping an eye on the Senate floor.

Coming up for us, President Trump and Republican Senator Rand Paul practicing some golf-course diplomacy. Were Republicans just 18 holes away from a solution on health care? Can it all be fixed in a golf game? We'll discuss that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:46:37] BOLDUAN: How is your golf game these days, and what does it mean for the nation's health care? Two questions lawmakers may want to start asking themselves at this very moment after President Trump teed up a round of golf with former presidential rival and Republican Senator Rand Paul. The two talked health care, apparently. And Senator Paul struck an optimistic tone afterwards. Listen opinion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R), KENTUCKY: We had a great day with the president today. We did talk about some health care reform. I think the sides are getting closer and closer together, and I remain very optimistic that we will get an Obamacare repeal. Thanks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Senator.

With me now, Alex Burns is back with me. Amy Kremer is joining me, co-chair of Women Vote Trump. Margaret Hoover is here, CNN political commentator, who worked in the George W. Bush White House. Basil Smikle is here as well, executive director of the New York State Democratic Party.

Margaret, what do you think of this golf course -- I can't say it, you know what I'm going.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Golf course diplomacy?

BOLDUAN: What do you think?

HOOVER: Look, it's going to take more than a round of golf to get health care done, but it is a good start. They should have done it before. The whole thing crashed and burned.

BOLDUAN: He did a lot of meetings beforehand.

HOOVER: He did a lot of meetings. I think what this does say is health care's not dead. The president said he wanted to move on, but this -- health care and the people he's negotiating with, Rand Paul, Mulvaney, the budget director, who's there, too, they are moving conservatives who are ideological and deeply wanted to reform health care for really proposed regions that they truly believe in. So, it's not going to be that easy for Donald Trump and the Republican Party just to move on.

BOLDUAN: I do -- I want to ask you, Amy, if you agree. I mean, the president, he seemed to tweet a little bit of kumbaya after all this as well. I mean, his tweet, it says, "Anybody who thinks that repeal and replace of Obamacare is dead does not know the love and strength in the Republican Party."

(LAUGHTER)

After that effort failed -- we all laugh just a little bit about the love of the Republican Party. But how real do you think this renewed effort is?

AMY KREMER, CO-CHAIR, WOMEN VOTE TRUMP: Well, Kate, I mean, I think it is real, but the problem is Paul Ryan. It's not the president. Paul Ryan did not get a consensus in the caucus. He did exactly what the Democrats did when they crafted Obamacare, and it was crafted behind closed doors. They couldn't bring any amendments or anything to it. And so, I would like to see Paul Ryan meeting with the House Freedom Caucus and with Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and other conservatives, because the issues that are important -- I've got to disagree with Kate on something -- or with Margaret, I'm sorry -- that these are not issues that it's only Republicans care strongly about. This bill that they brought forward did not lower premiums, did not lower deductibles, did not lower the price of prescription drug coverage, it did not allow insurance across state lines, the purchase of insurance across state lines. That's not an ideology theme. Those are very real issues that affect normal people, everyday people. And that's what people hear about, why Republicans didn't do that is beyond me. They really squandered an opportunity here.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Margaret, respond.

HOOVER: Let me just push back on that. Look, first of all, I don't belittle this by saying it's ideologically motivated. I actually believe what the right and conservative movement wants to do, that they want to create a more market-based health care environment, that they want to make it more competitive. But I have to push back on the idea that Paul Ryan wasn't meeting with the Freedom Caucus or the conservatives. He gave everything to them and they could not say yes.

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: This is the president starting to engage in the debate. By the way, the president is the one who didn't get down and dirty on the details. He's the one who's going to have to get up to speed in order to put real pressure on the Freedom Caucus.

[11:50:22] BOLDUAN: But his also comes --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Hold on.

KREMER: He didn't have moderates on board.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: The more we're going to meet with the Freedom Caucus, the more concessions. It's either -- the way it kind of has worked is you choose one path and that path didn't work for him.

Basil, the president has also said in the aftermath of the failed effort that he's open to working with Democrats on this. When you have this tweet, when you have him golfing with Rand Paul, do you think that the effort to work with Democrats ended before it began?

BASIL SMIKLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Absolutely. He's gone golfing 14 times in the last 10 weeks.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: You're not counting.

SMIKLE: I'm not counting. But they haven't been with Democrats. I'm not hole full that the president will be working with Democrats and the truth of the matter is Democrats should stay firm on this. The repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act is not something that Americans -- and I agree there may be some changes that could be made, but right now it doesn't look like the Republicans have had any real strategy to actually get meaningful changes put in place. To be honest, I don't even know if Rand Paul is the person you that want actually martialing this in the Senate. I don't know if he's the one that is going to move the rest of the Senate Republicans or any influence in any other chamber to actually get meaningful changes

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Sort of putting gasoline on the fire.

(CROSSTALK)

SMIKLE: But I don't think he --

(CROSSTALK)

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's what we've seen since the collapse of the health care collapse is the gap between the factions of the Republican Party has actually gotten wider. I've spoken to more traditional conservatives, like Adam Kinzinger in Illinois --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNS: Their take away from that debacle is that they need to not do comprehensive, top to bottom, in one shot, through reconciliation a health care overhaul. They need to smaller, bit-size and bipartisan initiatives. That is not what Rand Paul is proposing.

BOLDUAN: Maybe this shows how everyone is in a different place. I talked to some Freedom Caucus people and they said we're closer than ever. We're two steps away from getting a deal done, which is completely antithetical to what you're saying.

Let's move on. I'm going to shift the conversation. Just as the president seems to be wanting to shift the conversation. Where does the president want to shift the conversation? Look no further than his Twitter feed. It seems he wants to shift it back to Russia and the investigation. The tweets today -- I don't know if we have them. There's at least four of them that I haven't looked in the last couple minutes, but many of them talking about the Russia investigation, talking about the Russia story is a hoax, but also pointing to the most recent one saying, complementing FOX News, multiple sources, saying that this was an electronic surveillance of Trump and people close to Trump. He tagged the FBI, Alex, to inform them of the sources coming from FOX News. Why does the president in your view, when he has -- we talked about at the top of the hour? Huge week. Foreign policy. Huge week, Neil Gorsuch. Why is the president today wanting to shift the conversation back to Russia? BURNS: I don't know that there's any strategy behind it. I think

what we've seen over and over with Donald Trump going back to the very beginning of the campaign is whenever he's attacked on something, whenever he feels vulnerable, his only real response strategy is to escalate. He's wants to let this one go even though any political convention -- and I've spoken to a whole number of Republicans of how they would handle this. They would have the president and his advisers say we're going to let Congress do its job, we're going to get back to doing the people's business. There's just this need that the president seems to have to litigate this and fight this, even if it's not really politically advantageous to him.

BOLDUAN: Amy, what do you think of that?

KREMER: Well, I think that it's kind of the same thing that we saw during the election cycle and everybody said it wouldn't work. Donald Trump is true to himself. He goes out there and he takes it and he lets people know what he's thinking and what's going on. He's tired of being crucified about --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: As a reporter of Donald Trump, do you think that's helpful for him? Different from being a candidate. Do you think that's helpful for him as candidate?

KREMER: I don't know. It depends on the issue. It could go either way. On the Russia issue, he is tired of being crucified about this. Last week, when the unmasking story came out, nobody covered it. FOX News was the only one. No one even mentioned it. I think it's important that the American people should know that. It goes back to his claim about the wiretapping and the surveillance. They did have surveillance on him. The high-level administration officials released the -- did the unmasking. Why isn't anybody talking about that?

[11:55:04] BOLDUAN: Wait, wait. High-level administration officials unmasking? There is a lot that is not known. The House committee and the Senate committee are still looking into this. When you ask any of the statements that you just made, you ask the folks that are in charge of investigating this, they say they are nowhere close to reaching any of the conclusions. That's why I wonder, on a big week like this, when we have been talking about Supreme Court and big meetings, why does he himself want to return to focus on Russia when it doesn't look good for his administration.

KREMER: I think he wants to set the record straight.

BURNS: It's not true the media has not covered the allegations going --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: I was just going to let that go.

Guys, great to see you.

Amy, great to see you as always.

KREMER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Coming up for us right now, we are waiting on the arrival of the Egyptian president at the White House, the first of three huge meetings this week, foreign leaders visiting with the president. We're going to bring you all of that live when it happens.

"Inside Politics" coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:03] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to the White House here. Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King.

I believe we have tape of Egypt's military leader arriving at the White House this hour.

We don't have that tape yet?

Here we go. President Abdel Fattah el Sisi --