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Trump: "Major, Major Conflict With North Korea" Possible; House GOP Again Falls Short On Health Care Vote. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 28, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is carb heavy, but I will say pizza in kindness is worth the carbs. Guys, have a great weekend. I really appreciate it. We got a lot of news, so let's get to it.

All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. "I thought it would be easier," that's from the man who sits in the Oval Office, from the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, from the person often called the leader of the free world. So it turns out this whole being President of the United States thing is more work than Donald Trump thought. He actually said that out loud.

Indeed, developing this morning, they don't have the votes. Not now, not yet. The question is, not ever? The efforts to repeal or replace ObamaCare on hold again.

But the big news this morning, stark provocative language on North Korea, a warning from the President that things could get very, very bad.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.


BERMAN: All right. In just a short while, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will chair a special meeting of the U.N. Security Council on North Korea. We are waiting for his remarks because while the President warned of a major, major conflict, there was some also fairly startling statements overnight from the administration signaling a sharp turn on North Korean policy. If they meant them.

Joe Johns at the White House this morning on this messaging on North Korea. Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Certainly raises the question of which way the administration is headed on all of this. As you said, some very blunt talk from the President of the United States indicating that there could be a major, major conflict with North Korea, perhaps intentional. But also pointing to the possibility that the President and his Secretary of State are not on the same page with the Secretary of State suggesting on television that there could be direct talks with North Korea. And there is also an opportunity to compare and contrast the

statements of the President and the Secretary of State as they size up Kim Jong-un. Some very different statements here. You listen and judge for yourself.


TRUMP: He's 27 years old, his father dies, took over a regime. So say what you want, but that's not easy, especially at that age, you know. And I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit. I'm just saying that is a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE: All indications are that he is not crazy. He may be ruthless. He may be a murder. He may be someone who, in many respects, we would say, by our standards, is irrational, but he is not insane.


JOHNS: Also in the President's interview with Reuters that you saw there, he weighed in the demands of the Oval Office. The take away, Mr. Trump saying being President isn't easy.


TRUMP: I loved my previous life. I loved my previous life. I had so many things, you know. And I actually -- this is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.


JOHNS: Not exactly a new idea that being President is tough. President Obama suggested that he had more problems than many other presidents first coming into office after the first 100 days.

At any rate, the thing we're looking ahead to right now is the appearance of Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State at the United Nations, chairing a high-level meeting to talk about North Korea. We'll be listening and watching. John, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Indeed, we will. Joe Johns at the White House. These new comments on North Korea rattling the fragile situation on the peninsula. We have new reaction this morning from China as well as the North Korean regime itself.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Pyongyang, the only western T.V. journalist in the North Korean capital. Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, here in North Korea, the government will certainly be watching very closely the outcome of that U.N. Security Council meeting chaired by the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. President Trump really amping up the rhetoric, talking of the possibility of a major, major conflict with North Korea, and this country also with its own rhetoric. A new commentary out from the state mouthpiece, KCNA, saying, quote,

"In case a war breaks out on the peninsula, the U.S. will be held wholly accountable for it no matter who made the preemptive attack." That commentary also calling the United States a gangster, trying to pull together the international community against North Korea and its Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

But officials on the ground here are far from backing down or buckling to international pressure. In fact, they say, defiantly, that this will only encourage their country to grow its arsenal even more quickly.

[09:04:54] And it's been a busy week on the ground here. You saw that massive live fire exercise with hundreds of artillery fired simultaneously. Kim Jong-un overseeing that event. And then this chilling new propaganda video showing a simulated missile attack on Washington, the White House, the capital, and what appeared to be the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier.

This is significant, the fact that these tensions are really at the highest level they've been in a number of years because we don't know how the dynamics are going to work between North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump. And you add into the mix China, now saying that they are willing to work with the United States to try to find a solution on the Korean Peninsula.

It appears that the U.S. is trying to find a diplomatic or an economic solution here before moving to the next far more dangerous phase of military confrontation. It has added to the sense of urgency in South Korea to get the THAAD missile defense system up and running. But now, there is word into CNN of a possible confrontation over who is going to pay for this $1 billion system.

South Korea says there was an agreement with the United States that the U.S. would foot the bill. President Trump wants South Korea to pay for all of it. So there is a bit of confusion there about this weapons system that may prove vital if a confrontation were to break out. And the North Koreans do feel that now more than ever the threat of war with the United States is imminent -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Will Ripley for us inside North Korea. Thanks so much.

Joining me now, Kimberly Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst, senior national security correspondent for "The Daily Beast"; Abby Phillip, CNN political analyst; Bob Cusack, editor-in-chief for "The Hill"; and Douglas Brinkley, CNN presidential historian.

Kimberly, let me start with you. I think the headline that everyone saw was the President saying there is a possibility of major, major conflict with North Korea. But the most interesting development may have been, all of a sudden, this somewhat sensitive language on Kim Jong-U.N., saying not many 27-year-olds could do the job he is doing. And then what seems like an outright policy shift from the Secretary of State being open to a possibility of direct negotiations with North Korea.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, John, I think all of this is very carefully calculated. I heard from a senior administration official that all of these public messages to North Korea have President Donald Trump's specific input.

They want to leave a very narrow path for Pyongyang to denuclearizing via talks and also to signal to China that this time we are serious we might take military action. So we know you promised the Obama administration several times in the past that you'd do things like shut down banks or shut down North Korea's access to business to put pressure on them, but you haven't. This time we're serious, so you've got to get serious about this.

BERMAN: You know, Abby Phillip, it's interesting. You know, Kimberly says this is a strategy and it may very well be. We could learn from Rex Tillerson when he speaks to the United Nations very shortly exactly where the United States is this morning on North Korea.

But one thing that has happened with this White House is you hear two very different things from two very different parts of the administration at practically the same time. Look, Mike Pence, just last week in Seoul, said no direct negotiations with North Korea unless they denuclearize right now, which they're not about to do. But you hear other things as well. Is there a messaging problem inside this White House?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You're right. I mean, I think very often that these senior administration officials and even the President are just not using the same language to talk about the situations that they are facing. And oftentimes, it is because the President, especially in interviews, he is responding to his instincts, his assessment of the situation, which may or may not line up with the administration's policy or strategy in a particular case.

So I think we always have to kind of hold out the possibility that, you know, particularly his talk about Kim Jong-un being sort of a little bit of a sympathetic figure. It's not easy to run a regime like this. That's something that seems a little bit more like the President is just giving his sort of gut take on the situation, I mean. And only time will tell where this eventually goes.

There are real experts within this administration working on this issue, so, you know, I think as Kim is saying, they're working diligently toward a strategy. It just may not always be reflected from the words coming out of the President's mouth.

BERMAN: That's an interesting observation right there. I'll let that sink in for a moment.

All right. Douglas Brinkley, this just in, being president is hard. Donald Trump did an interview overnight with Reuters where he said he was surprised that his new job is harder than his old one.

Look, every president who comes in is daunted, I think, by the enormity of the task. But what is different here, to me at least, Doug, is the notion that he thought that somehow, you know, running a real estate business and being on "The Apprentice" would have somehow been harder than being president.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, I was surprised that he made this comment about being surprised how hard the work is. After all, we're on the 100th day of the Trump presidency marker right now, and it doesn't reassure people to know the guy is basically shrugging and saying, wow, this is really rough, I'm terribly surprised.

[09:10:08] He said this about the health care fight when they couldn't repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Trump kind of shrugged and said I didn't know health care was so difficult. The concern is, though, when he's saying things like major, major conflict, there's something a little absurd about it.

You know, there used to be a novel, "Catch 22" by Joseph Heller, there was a character named Major Major, which just showed that kind of an absurdity going on in the military back in the 1960s and '70s.

The statement by Donald Trump leaves everybody kind of perplexed. And he said this threatening about Korea, at the same time he's saying, wow, I'm really exhausted. It was lot easier and kind of talking about how rough he has it now. It sort of was an unusual experience, just talking to these reporters. I don't know why he decided to morph those together like that.

BERMAN: Bob Cusack, you know, Douglas Brinkley brought up health care, and another major development overnight. House Republican leadership basically delayed, backed off, you know, pulled the notion that they would get a vote on this new effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare today.

The votes aren't there this morning. I was just looking at "The Hill," you're publication. You know, you've got a pretty high count for people against it or leaning against it. The votes aren't there now. Will they ever be?

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HILL: I mean, John, that's a great question. We've got 21 no or leaning no. They can only afford 22. And there are dozens of other Republicans who have not said where they stand. So if they pass this through the House, it is going to be by the thinnest of margins, and they're not there.

And also, remember, Democrats have some leverage even though they don't control Congress or the White House. They need Democrats to keep the government open. So I think that what Ryan is doing, Speaker Ryan is saying, OK, let's deal with this first. Let's not have a government shutdown, and then we'll get to health care.

So, you know, I think that health care could drag on for a while. But the Republican Party cannot just put its hands up and say, we're done. They have to keep trying to really do what they said on the campaign trail, is that repeal ObamaCare.

BERMAN: You know, Abby, who is this on? Is this Reince Priebus for continuing to push something that's not pushable? Is it Paul Ryan for not delivering on what his friend, Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff, is asking for? You know, is it on the Freedom Caucus for pushing the moderates away and offering something that most of them can't support?

PHILLIP: That's a really good question. It's one that's going to really heat up in the next week or so. You know, leading into some of the other pushes, there was a lot of pressure placed on senior White House officials like Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, who were tasked with managing the Freedom Caucus and had failed to get those votes on the board.

But now the tables have kind of turned a little bit. The Freedom Caucus seems to be there, and it is the moderates who are holding out. And in some cases, that is a situation that the White House is a little bit more comfortable with because the thing that you would hear from them all along was, the Freedom Caucus, these are our people.

They want to be with the President. They don't want to be against him. And this situation in which the moderates are the ones kind of holding out allows them to sort of place the blame on moderates in Congress as opposed to on the more hard line conservatives.

What that will end up meaning is that Paul Ryan is going to be responsible for twisting the arms of moderate Republicans who the end to vote with leadership. And so we'll see if they're able to do that. It seems like people are feeling much better about the prospects going into next week, even though it will be pretty close.

BERMAN: Guys, I want to play a little more sound, if I can, from the interview that the President did with Reuters. You know, first of all, after saying the first hundred days weren't important, he's doing a whole lot of interviews all of a sudden to talk about the first hundred days. But listen to what he says about China and the President of China, Xi Jinping, and what he's willing to do on North Korea.


TRUMP: My problem is that I have established a very good personal relationship with President Xi. I really feel that he is doing everything in his power to help us with a big situation. So I wouldn't want to be causing difficulty right now for him.


BERMAN: All right. Kimberly, first to you, where is China? As we sit here this morning, where is China on North Korea quickly? And then, Douglas, I'm going to ask you, you know, the President leaning on these personal relationships, how far can he go with them?

Kimberly, first to you.

DOZIER: So China has already cutoff its coal imports from North Korea, and it has threatened to cut off its oil exports to North Korea. And they're one of the only people who supply North Korea with oil. So these are major threats that may have kept North Korea from doing the nuclear test we were all expecting last week.

[09:14:52] But what analysts are saying, who watch this on a regular basis, is they need China also to follow through with cutting off North Korea's access to some of its financial services to really make the regime feel hurt and to put them under an existential pressure.

BERMAN: And Douglas, about this relationship the president feels he has with Xi Jinping, is it similar to the business relationships he's had in the past? Can he expect as much in return?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, I think so. And it's probably a very important and good thing that Donald Trump seems to be getting along well with China. It does seem to me that it is all part of this North Korean strategy.

John F. Kennedy had a very rough 100 days. He had the Bay of Pigs and (inaudible), the cosmonaut women in the space, and Kennedy decided to get out of the slump of a 100 days by going to Congress and saying, we're going to put a man to the moon by the end of the decade.

Donald Trump seems to be on a 100th day ratcheting up the idea of war on the Korean Peninsula, a war that won't serve anybody, a war nobody wants. But I think part of that strategy is this new friendship with China.

And that perhaps U.S./China can be the two big super powers in the Pacific basin and you don't have China reacting to what the United States may do to North Korea. I think he feels it will be a military win and people will see him as a strong commander-in-chief.

BERMAN: All right. Douglas Brinkley, Kimberly Dozier, Abby Phillip, Bob Cusack, thanks so much. We are waiting to hear from the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Will he announce this new willingness to negotiate with North Korea? He speaks to the United Nations very shortly. This is a big important meeting so standby for that.

Where are the votes on health care? An update and headcount about whether the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare may be dead for good.

And the president's obsession with the electoral map. Why he revealed a map of red states during a discussion on China policy?



BERMAN: All right, a new setback for Republicans in their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. For the second time in five weeks, a vote on health care has been delayed and the party once again seems fractured about how to move forward.

Joining me now, Republican Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia. He's a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a key group of conservatives who backed this latest proposal. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

Look, I'm going to jump right in here, the health care amendment that has been proposed as it currently stands would allow insurers to charge higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions. Your league, Dan Donovan of New York had this to say about that with us yesterday.


REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: Even when we have access to health care, I mean, having coverage doesn't necessarily mean access and there is people who have scored this amendment and believe that it's going to cost people with pre-existing conditions even more money to have coverage. So they will have less access to health care than they presently have.


BERMAN: People with pre-existing conditions will have less access than they currently have. Why is he wrong, Congressman?

REP. DAVE BRAT (R-VA), FREEDOM CAUCUS MEMBER: It's not so much about being right and wrong, but there is about five ifs that come before that and so the press always jumps ahead to the worst possible scenario that could happen in western civ.

In the first place, that person would have to have discontinued coverage to be in that spot. In the second place, the amendment offers choice to the states, choice of economics in American thought is usually a good thing, right.

You could choose to do it or not to do it. So it assumes that the state opts out of the regs. If they do opt out they could pick any set of regulations they want.

And if it's in a liberal state or a moderate state, the governor is probably going to go with the liberal formulation, which wouldn't go that route.

And so you could get there, right, if you want to piece together the worst possible scenario. But even in that case there is $120 billion we've put and compromised on, right, in an overarching federal program.

So we've compromised like crazy getting our friends across the conference to yes. There is $120 billion for pre-existing conditions and we just added another piece called the main experience, which enhances coverage and reduces prices for another 15 billion. We've got that one covered coming and going.

BERMAN: No, no, I appreciate you laying out the choices here because that's exactly what this is about. This is about choices that states are making. You were an economics professor for years. So lay out the case. Also a free market conservative here. Why people with pre- existing conditions should be guaranteed the same rates as other folks? BRAT: Well, they're not guaranteed that now, right? That's what I mean. Who's doing the guaranteeing that every single case is going to be fully paid for? Under Obamacare that's clearly not the case.

BERMAN: Well, but the community rating requires that people of a certain age cohort be charged the same amount for health insurance regardless of whether or not they have pre-existing conditions. So those guarantees by that argument they do exist now.

All I'm saying and you laid it out very well here, this is a choice. This is a choice that I think the American people need to be aware of, that some states can choose that people with pre-existing conditions can lose the guarantee of --

BRAT: No, no, no. Let me correct that. That's not accurate. In Obamacare, pre-existing conditions is a regulation in there. We're not getting rid of that regulation. It is still staying.

BERMAN: Absolutely true. But you are removing the requirement that insurance companies charge the same amount for people with pre- existing conditions. So if you hike the price on them, and this is the argument Dan Donovan made with us. If you hike the price so much they can't afford it, is that really access?

BRAT: And that's what I just covered. That's not going to happen because also in the bill it assures that can't happen. The states --

BERMAN: No, no.

BRAT: -- read the bill.

BERMAN: No, I did.

BRAT: The state has to come up with a better plan that assures that won't happen and a liberal government and a liberal state is not going to do that. You can't pass the common sense test on this.

BERMAN: The requirement in the amendment is that the states have to justify it in one of five ways, one of them would be providing access to people with pre-existing conditions, but that's not a requirement. They could also justify it by saying I'm lowering premiums for everybody.

BRAT: What state is Donovan from?

BERMAN: He's from the state of New York, sir.

[09:25:07]BRAT: Good. How do you think New York is going to go down that road, right? That's what I'm saying. You're not in the realm. Last time on the financial crisis, we let the federal government say banks don't have to assess risk anymore, right? Banks can't do banking anymore like you are saying on the insurance here, right, now insurance can't do insurance.

We had a housing collapse ruin the financial markets. Now the federal government in its infinite wisdom is going to weigh in and say insurance can't do insurance and you have to charge the same prices for everybody. It's already in the ditch. Obamacare failed.

And so what we're trying to do is fix the insurance system and still provide for everyone with pre-existing conditions, but 120 billion in risk pool for that purpose. It's like, I mean, come on.

BERMAN: And you laid this out very clearly. That's why I enjoy talking to you here. Dan Donovan is from New York, but there are people from Texas, for instance with pre-existing conditions and again, it's something that I think needs to be laid out, that they could choose a path that would lead to higher rates for them, correct?

BRAT: Politicians very rarely vote for spinach these days. The probably of that happening is about zero, right. So is there a possibility that someone could be worst off? Probably. But that 99 percent probability and I just laid out the entire case, along with the fact that Obamacare, which follows your logic, which everyone gets gold plated insurance coverage but no one can afford it because the deductibles are $10,000, right.

So they have the coverage, so you're right, but we could insure that again. Let's give everybody gold plated insurance products, but they can't afford to use it so you've got an insurance card and you can't go because the average American family only has $400 in savings right now.

So I mean, we're providing a better path which is workable. Free markets have always produced the best outcomes, right. If you have a lot of insurance companies competing against each other, you get lower prices, more output, better quality, product variety and all that.

Central government planning has ruined Social Security and Medicare, it's all insolvent. Ruined the housing market. We are not doing so good. We'd like to give some power to the states. We have to balance their budgets and New York will do the right thing for New Yorkers and I'm confident of that.

BERMAN: Congressman Dave Brat, Professor, it is always a pleasure to talk to you. Again, this wasn't -- all I'm saying helping to lay out the choices that are being made right now in a way that people could understand what the differences are. So thanks. Come back and we'll talk about it again.

BRAT: Any time. Thanks, John. You bet.

BERMAN: All right. President Trump says he misses driving a car. So here is a question. When is the last time he actually drove a car? That and new questions about Russian connections. That's next.