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Republicans Still Short on Health Care Votes; Trump Targeting First Amendment?; Trump Praises North Korean Leader; Interview with Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 1, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The world according to Trump, journalists are the enemies of the people, but he would be honored to meet Kim Jong-un.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump tells Congress to get the -- quote -- "damn health care bill" passed. Could this be the week, and does the president even know what's in the bill this time? For that matter, does anyone?

President Trump today saying he would be honored to meet where North Korea's despotic dictator under the right circumstances. And that's not the first maniacal and murderous strongman he's opened up to in the past day.

Plus, breaking news, the sexual harassment scandal at FOX again claims the network's top guy -- fair and balanced details coming up.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The rules of the Senate are designed to make sure that the minority party is able to exert some influence, regardless of which party is in charge. It's called the filibuster. It dates back to the early years of Congress. It's part of the American system of checks and balances.

But frustrated by his inability to pass any major legislation in Congress, President Trump is now starting to talk about changing those rules, as he threatened during the campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But the rules are the Senate and some of the things you have to go through, it's really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They are archaic rules, and maybe at some point we're going to have to take those rules on.


TAPPER: Taking those rules on. The White House is also now acknowledging that it has spent time and your tax dollars trying to figure out a way to change the modern legal interpretation of the First Amendment to the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of the press.

James Madison be damned, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was recently asked if the president would really want to pursue a change in libel laws, as he threatened during the campaign.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it's something that we have looked at. And how that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story.


TAPPER: This desire to change the constitutional systems we have in place to protect the nation from any theoretical would-be dictator comes at a time when President Trump has shown unusual actual outreach to a number of actual dictators, such as, for instance, North Korea's Kim Jong-un.


TRUMP: At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So, obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie.


TAPPER: Kim Jong-un had his uncle murdered. That doesn't make Kim Jong-un a smart cookie. That makes him a murderer.

The president told Bloomberg News today he would be -- quote -- "honored" to meet with Kim.

And Kim Jong-un is not the only brutal dictator the president has reached out to over the weekend. The White House says that President Trump had had -- quote -- "a very friendly conversation" with the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who, according to Amnesty International, has engaged in rampant crimes against humanity, with extrajudicial killings of at least 7,000 Filipino citizens by the police.

Duterte has personally bragged about committing some of these murders himself and has said that some journalists should be assassinated.

President Trump invited Duterte to the White House.

Now, this is all of a piece. The president also recently called Turkish President Erdogan to congratulate him on his recent power grab. He has had kind words for Vladimir Putin, for the Chinese despots who perpetuated the Tiananmen Square massacre, and he called them strong.

He said Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi were bad guys, but that Iraq and Libya were in much better shape during their despotic regimes. Equating brutality and despotism with leadership, that's not an American value.

Ronald Reagan once noted how our Declaration of Independence, especially the notion that each and every individual is endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that's a beacon to the world.

Reagan said -- quote -- "Our creed as Americans is that these rights, these human rights, are the property of every man, woman and child on this planet, and that a violation of human rights anywhere is the business of free people everywhere" -- unquote.

Whatever happened to that?

The president's praise of dictators and their -- quote -- "strength" precedes his presidency, but his recent expressions of desire for more power seem to be rooted in frustrations about his health care bill.

One current item of contention deals with Americans with preexisting medical conditions and whether insurance companies should be forced to cover them or whether they will again be able to deny them coverage.

In an interview Sunday, the president he has told Congress that he is mandating that preexisting conditions be covered in their new reform effort. The only problem is, that does not appear to be in the legislation right now.

CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill.

And, Sunlen, it's unclear right now if the president knows that he was promising something that is not in the bill and he was trying to push them to that, or if he's not sure what's in the bill.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is absolutely right, Jake. That certainly raised a lot of eyebrows about the president's own understanding of what's in the bill or how he's trying to sell this bill, especially as the White House is making a big push for the House to hold a vote on this, this week.


Now, tonight, we have Vice President Pence making an impromptu stop up here on Capitol Hill, meeting with some members. And it comes on a day where we have seen just a slew of House Republicans coming out publicly against this bill. And they are faced with this new stark reality that they still don't have the votes yet.


SERFATY (voice-over): The pressure is on for Republicans to deliver on health care.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know that, when the vote gets called, we will feel confident that it is going to be able to pass. SERFATY: With the White House ratcheting up their push towards a vote

this week.

GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Do we have the votes for health care? I think we do. This is going to be a great week. We're going to get health care down into the floor of the House. We're convinced we have got the votes, and we're going to keep moving on with our agenda.

SERFATY: In pressing for that vote, President Trump insisting people with preexisting conditions will not be worse off.

TRUMP: Preexisting conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said has to be. We actually have a clause that guarantees.

SERFATY: That claim seemingly at odds with what's actually in the House Republican bill. An amendment unveiled last week to help attract conservative lawmakers would allow states to opt out of Obamacare's community ratings provision, which prohibits insurers from charging people more based on their medical history and age, that change alarming some House moderates, whose support is essential to get the bill through.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The amendment that has been offered does weaken protections for people with preexisting conditions, because states will be able to opt out or waive out of it. So I think that is a very big concern for many of the center-right members with whom I'm affiliated with.

SERFATY: Republican leaders in the House are still wrangling for votes, aides saying they are closer to having the votes they need to bring the bill to a vote on the House floor, but not close enough yet. And they have little room for error. The latest CNN vote count shows a razor-close margin, with 20 House Republicans saying they will vote against the bill, meaning the GOP can only afford to lose two more Republican votes, or else the bill will fail.

The latest maneuverings over health care only coming on Capitol Hill after lawmakers reached their first bipartisan agreement under the Trump administration, lawmakers agreeing on a spending bill Sunday to keep the government funded until September.

But the bill, which increases defense spending and border security, includes some major concessions from the White House, including leaving Planned Parenthood funding in place and gives no money for the proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.


SERFATY: And despite that confidence coming from the White House on health care today, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan simply will not schedule a vote until he knows he has the 216 votes needed to pass this bill.

And as of now, there's been no vote scheduled. So, Jake, that certainly tells us an awful lot on where this process is -- Jake. TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

So, what is the White House saying today about the president opening up the possibility of direct talks to Kim Jong-un and inviting a leader to the White House who has bragged about murdering people? That's ahead.



TAPPER: We're back with the world lead now.

And the Trump administration putting several options for intervention on the table to counter the escalating tensions with North Korea. Today, President Trump told Bloomberg News he would be -- quote -- "honored" to meet with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances. He is also acknowledging the tension with North Korea, telling FOX News that no one is safe.


TRUMP: You have 28,000 troops on the line. And they are right there, and so nobody is safe. We're probably not safe over here. If he gets the long-range missiles, we're not safe either.


TAPPER: Under that looming threat, today, a defense official said the U.S. anti-defense system is now operational. It's capable of theoretically shooting down a North Korean weapon aimed at the South or others in that region.

There's also another eye-raising intervention on the table. Critics are pouncing on President Trump's invitation to the polarizing Philippines leader. He wants to host President Rodrigo Duterte at the White House. Duterte is a man with a stained human rights record who encouraged, if not ordered, thousands of extrajudicial killings, a man who went Hannibal Lecter just last week, saying he would eat the liver of a terrorist.

A lot to chew on here with CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, let's start at the top.

Does the White House anticipate President Trump meeting with Kim Jong- un in actuality, and would that be soon, theoretically?


There's no diplomatic relations between the two countries, the U.S. and North Korea, at all, let alone talks between these two leaders here. So, that would be something aspirational, at the very least here, but it certainly raised a lot of eyebrows, the president saying that, particularly his use of the word "honored." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): With a nuclear threat looming and tensions rising, President Trump declaring today that he would be honored to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him," the president telling Bloomberg News, "I would, absolutely. I would be honored to do it" -- that comment raising eyebrows after the president offered curious words of praise about Kim Jong-un.

TRUMP: At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So, obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie.

ZELENY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer sought to temper those kind words, saying the conditions do not exist right now for the president to hold talks with North Korea.

SPICER: We have got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down immediately. That -- those -- there's a lot of conditions that I think would have to happen with respect to its behavior and its -- and to show signs of good faith.

ZELENY: The president also stirring controversy after extending his to the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. He invited him to the White House, despite a brutal human rights record.

The authoritarian leader is accused of killing thousands of his own people. He also once called President Obama an expletive. Some advisers at the White House and State Department were taken aback by the invitation, CNN has learned. It came during a weekend phone call between Trump and Duterte, which the White House described in a statement as a "very friendly conversation."

[16:15:02] A senior administration official says the White House invitation was neither expected nor planned.

Democrats seized on the call saying an invitation to the White House amounted to an endorsement of the Philippine leader. Senator Chris Coons saying, "Trump risks giving Duterte's actions and his human rights violations an American stamp of approval."

The president defended his decision, saying in an interview with "Bloomberg News", "You know, he's very popular in the Philippines. He has a very high approval rating in the Philippines."

Spicer said improved relations with the Philippines were needed because of U.S. interests in the region.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is an opportunity for us to work with countries in that region that can help play a role in diplomatically and economically isolating North Korea.

ZELENY: Yet it's also the latest sign of the president's affinity of strong men.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will tell you, President al Sisi has been someone that's been very close to me from the first time I met him.

ZELENY: From inviting Egyptian President al Sisi to the White House, to praising the leaders of Russia and Turkey. Mr. Trump's words for authoritarian leaders drawing fire.


ZELENY: Jake, the White House did not apologize at all for any of these comments, explaining the word honored though, Sean said that this president, you know, simply was trying to show respect there, but that word still drawing attention and questions here today -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thank you so much.

With the White House insisting the conditions are not right for a meeting with Kim Jong-un right now, are there any circumstances that would be right? We'll talk to a Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee coming up next.

Stay with us.


[16:20:30] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's stick with politics. We have a lot to talk about.

So, let's bring in Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama. He's a member of the Freedom Caucus and also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: My pleasure, Jake.

TAPPER: So, the president today told Bloomberg News that he would meet with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances. What do you think? Would there ever be the right circumstances?

BROOKS: Well, there's an old saying that you want to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Regardless of whether they're talking about the Philippines or North Korea, it's always a good things to improve relationships with your allies and to create relationships with your foes.

In this case, I don't see any harm in trying to improve America's relationship with a dictator in North Korea. We may strongly disagree with a lot of things that he does to his people, but nonetheless, if it's going to help preserve peace over the long haul both in South Korea and the Korean peninsula generally and with respect to the United States, it's worth a shot. TAPPER: Well, I can certainly understand the argument that there's

this big nuclear threat and anything the president can do to de- escalate tensions and maybe even eliminate that nuclear threat would be a good thing. But a lot of human rights activists and Democrats and Republicans are concerned about the Duterte invitation because, you know, the Philippine strong man has ordered the extra judicial killing of thousands of his own people and obviously his behavior is reprehensible. Does he really deserve a White House invitation?

BROOKS: Well, I'm not going to get into whether it's deserved or not. Bear in mind that the Philippines has been a longtime ally since the 1940s, and I would like for us to improve that relationship. And if in meeting with the government of the Philippines, we are better able to improve our relationship with the Philippines on the one hand and perhaps upgrade the way they treat their citizens on the other hand, that's a positive for both the Philippines and the United States of America.

Now, granted with this individual and for that matter Kim Jong-un in North Korea, it may be quite the challenge, but it's a challenge worth taking if there's a chance of improvement.

TAPPER: Let's turn to domestic issues because CNN is now reporting that Congressman Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, has decided he's a no vote on the new health care legislation. That means according to our vote count, Republicans are on the verge, about two votes away from losing the vote again. You are a yes vote. You're a no vote last time. But you're a yes vote now.

Will there be a vote this week and is it possible that the bill might not pass again?

BROOKS: Well, there were substantial changes to the bill to Granite State rights that caused me to switch from a no to a yes. I don't know if it's going to come up this week or not. What we are discovering is that the more liberal wing of the Republican Party is fine with repealing Obamacare so long as you keep all of its principal parts, and that just doesn't work.

And we have to do what we can to lower the cost of premiums of all Americans, and I think more weight needs to be given to that aspect of changes to Obamacare, how it's denying people insurance coverage that they previously had because they can no longer afford. All these mandates increase the price, and I hope that some of my colleagues will start focusing not just on the public policy aspect of this, but also if you're going to talk pure politics and electability, there are far more people right now who are struggling because of the increased cost of health care --


BROOKS: -- than there are previously who had no health care at all.

TAPPER: I want to ask about one of the provisions. In an interview, President Trump said that people with pre-existing conditions will be protected. Insurance companies will not be allowed to deny them coverage.

But my understanding is, as you just mentioned, this new legislation would allow states to opt out and allow insurance companies to refuse to sell insurance to people with pre-existing conditions as long as there's some setup for them, pools of some sort.

Is the president sending a message to Congress to change that provision, or did he not understand what was in the bill?

BROOKS: Well, that's not my understanding of the way the bill has been reframed. My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they are healthy, you know, they have done the things to keep their bold health. And right now, those are the people who have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.

Now in fairness, a lot of these people with pre-existing conditions, they have those conditions through no fault of their own, and I think our society under those circumstances needs to help.

[16:25:04] The challenge though is that it's a tough balancing act between the higher cost of these mandates which denies people coverage because they can't afford the health insurance policies anymore on the one hand, and having enough coverage to help those people who are truly in need, and it's a very complicated question, and I'm sure over the years, it there will be different permutations of it both in the past as we go forward.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Mo Brooks -- thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.

BROOKS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: He says he's not running but former Vice President Joe Biden's comments in New Hampshire, of all places, don't have a lot of people convinced. Who else could the Democrats be turning to for the 2020 campaign? That story next.


TAPPER: We're back with more in our politics lead. Just when you thought it was safe to watch TV again, President Trump's re-election campaign is underway with a new political ad on television and online.