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GOP Open To Changes In Health Care Bill; Sources: Amendment Would Add $8B To High-Risk Pools; Interview with Rep. Scott Taylor. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 3, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:10] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Poppy is on assignment this morning. We have live pictures from Capitol Hill because we are minutes away from high drama there provided by FBI Director James Comey.

Now, if you listen to what has been said in the last 24 hours, he is the man who either, A, cost Hillary Clinton the election, B, was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton, C, is engaged in an investigation into a phony Trump-Russia story or, D, all of the above. Pick D.

Now, Comey, a walking six-foot-eight bundle of controversy testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee in just a few minutes. He will be pushed for new details of his investigation into alleged connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. And for the first time, he will be pushed to publicly defend his letter on Hillary Clinton's e-mails that she just said lost her the election.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was on the way to winning until the combination of Jim Comey's letter on October 28th and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off. If the election had been on October 27th, I'd be your president.


BERMAN: All right. President Trump, he disagrees, burning the midnight Twitter to write, "FBI Director James Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for her many bad deeds. The phony Trump-Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election." "Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign," in the third person, he says.

This as CNN is learning new details about the investigation surrounding fired national security advisor Michael Flynn. We have a lot of ground to cover this morning. Let's begin with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill where this hearing begins very shortly. Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. And the big question is whether or not James Comey will reveal any new information about this investigation that has been happening since last summer, looking at any campaign coordination that may have occurred between Trump associates and Russian associates during the elections last year.

Now, this will be the first time that members of Congress will be able to question Comey since that March 20th House Intelligence Committee hearing in which Comey announced that an investigation was taking place. But he really didn't go much further than that, other than saying that the investigation was taking place. When he was asked about specifics of the investigation, he continually said he could not discuss this in an open session.

The question is, will he discuss anything beyond what he said before in an open session? What we do know, John, today is that Democrats do plan to push James Comey to explain exactly why he revealed, days before the election, that Hillary Clinton's e-mails were subject to an additional FBI inquiry.

I talked to a number of Democrats on the committee yesterday. This is how they planned to address it. Take a listen.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), MEMBER, SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: He has discussed it in classified settings, but the American people really deserve answers about why he did release his comments and letter. And I think he may want to be more forthcoming and may want to use this forum as an opportunity to tell the American people his side of the story.


RAJU: And, John, this comes as the day -- this is the beginning of several days of highly anticipated hearings. Tomorrow, in a closed session, Comey will talk to the House Intelligence Committee. And then next Monday, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, there will be a hearing in which Sally Yates, the former Acting Attorney General, is planning to testify alongside the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

And Yates' testimony will be something to watch. We are told, from sources familiar with her account, that she plans to contradict the White House's contention that she really did not give much more than a head's up that Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor, could have been susceptible to blackmail from the Russians. So watch for that as well today and also next week, John.

BERMAN: All right, indeed. Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill. Again, we're expecting to hear from James Comey very shortly, so stick around for that.

And as Manu points out, this hearing really kicks off what is a week of intrigue on the Russia front. As Manu just reported, CNN is reporting that the former Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, who testifies next week, is expected to directly contradict the White House on the eventual firing of national security advisor Michael Flynn. CNN's Justice Correspondent Evan Perez, part of the team that broke

that story. Evan, what have you learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we know that Sally Yates has been anticipating this opportunity to tell her story. Essentially, she and other top officials at the Justice Department were deeply concerned that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn could be compromised, could be subject to blackmail, because he had met repeatedly or rather had contacts repeatedly with the Russian ambassador here in Washington, Sergey Kislyak, and basically had lied to not only the Vice President Pence but also to other officials inside the government.

[09:05:07] Here's how Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, described what Yates told the White House. Take a listen.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So just to be clear, the Acting Attorney General informed the White House counsel that they wanted to give, quote, "a head's up" to us on some comments that may have seemed in conflict with what he had sent the Vice President out in particular. The White House counsel informed the President immediately. The President asked them to conduct a review of whether there was a legal situation there. That was immediately determined that there wasn't.


PEREZ: According to Yates, we're going to hear from her on Monday, is that there was more than just a head's up. Back on January 26th, she went to the White House and presented some deep concerns, not only about those contacts with Kislyak but other parts of Michael Flynn's background and his contacts with Russians going back years. And so we know it took about 18 days before the White House took action and fired Michael Flynn, John.

BERMAN: Evan Perez, you are deeply sourced within the Justice Department, and this is really James Comey's first public appearance since he dropped the bombshell news that the FBI was investigating Trump connections with Russian, but it is also his first time to face the heat, to face questions from Democrats who are very upset still about his role in the campaign leading up to the days before Election Day. Do you have any sense of how the FBI Director is approaching this hearing today, what he feels about this?

PEREZ: Well, you know, John, he actually wants to answer those questions, and I think he wants to do it in public. Look, as the Richard Blumenthal, the senator, just described there in Manu's live shot, you know, Comey has talked about this in briefings with members of Congress, but he hasn't really spoken about it in public in great depths.

And I think one of the things he wants to do is explain why he had to do what he feels he had to do in explaining reopening essentially the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation just days before the election, anticipating that she was going to win obviously, and why the investigation into the Donald Trump campaign, which began last July was not disclosed until he appeared before the House hearing just a couple of weeks ago.

So he, I think, wants to explain that. We also expect that the Republicans want to talk to him about this dossier, which is the dossier on Russian allegations. There were allegations of Russian contacts with members of the Trump campaign, which is part of the FBI's investigation. We expect that this is going to be a hearing that is more than just the Russia investigation, however.

BERMAN: No, we all know these little facets will make news. A reason to stick around and watch. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Let's discuss this more. Joining me, Mark Preston, CNN's Senior Political Analyst; Jackie Kucinich, CNN Political Analyst and Washington Bureau Chief for "The Daily Beast"; Mary Katharine Ham, CNN Political Commentator and Senior Writer for "The Federalist"; and Juliette Kayyem, CNN National Security Analyst and former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.

Mark Preston, James Comey, not much to talk about today for him. I mean, you know, he's in the middle of a giant firestorm right now on several fronts but Russia, front and center still. And you know Democrats are going to push and pull for more details about the investigation.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they want answers and rightfully so, in many ways because of some of the decisions that Director Comey made last year. And quite frankly, they want to know where the investigation is right now.

You know, we speculate a lot about where the investigation could be going, but we don't actually know where it is going at this point. And I do think there is a lot of misinformation out there proffered by both sides, quite frankly, and perhaps Director Comey might be able to resolve some of that. But if history is any indicator, what's going to happen is that he probably won't give us what we're all looking forward to.

BERMAN: No, but he almost always gives the public something they did not know before. He moves the ball ever so slightly in some ways that make you look in new directions, which is why you have to watch very, very carefully.

Mary Katharine Ham, I'm not sure you are aware of a television show that was called "Everybody Hates Chris."


BERMAN: It's about Chris Rock.

HAM: Yes.

BERMAN: James Comey, he's going up to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the show could be called "Everybody Hates James" right now.

HAM: Yes, the most famous man in America. But not --

BERMAN: Right, and everyone is pushing him. And Democrats, while they may have loved him in March when he was talking about the Russia investigation, they're going to be tough on him today.

HAM: Yes, I think so. And I think we do run into this problem where it would be nice to have some things clarified about the Russian investigation, but because the investigation is ongoing, that is tricky for him.

And because, actually, if you put the three investigations on the table -- House, Senate, and FBI -- I trust the FBI the most to get to the bottom of this because that is actually their vocation. That is what they're trained to do. I would like that to be preserved. So I think he's in a tricky position, as he always is with many political hot potatoes thrown upon him.

BERMAN: You know, Jackie Kucinich, you heard from Richard Blumenthal there say that he is going to get pressed on the Clinton e-mails. Democrats care a lot about this.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Of course they do. I mean, some of them believe that, including Hillary Clinton herself --

[09:10:02] BERMAN: You said Democrats including Hillary Clinton.

KUCINICH: Yes. This was the reason that, or one of the reasons or the main reasons, that she lost the election. And that decision making process, you have to imagine, they're going to ask him to outline it, from a start to finish, why he put out that letter on October 27th about, you know, the new tranche of e-mails that they said that he found.

But Comey is this really interesting character because both the right and the left have gone back and forth making him their champion.

HAM: Both these sides.

KUCINICH: Yes, exactly. And today, it seems like both sides.

BERMAN: Yes. And again, we get to everybody hates James.


HAM: I think he is a man who has thought about this answer, obviously. When he comes to these gatherings, he has thought through what he's doing. I think he's thought through the original decision. And the original sin remains the server and then the fact that all the e-mails were not disclosed, which is why, I think, he felt like he had to bring it forward.

BERMAN: We'll come back to Hillary Clinton and her explanations for why she lost the election in a second. And again, we're looking at live pictures right now from that hearing room. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from James Comey in a little bit. And we've just been outlining the multitude of areas where he could make news.

Juliette Kayyem, one of the things that Lindsey Graham and others on the Judiciary Committee want to know are about various warrants that might have been issued over the last now more than a year as part of this investigation. You know, we know there was a FISA warrant, for instance, now on Carter Page who was advising the Trump campaign on foreign policy.

But why would this be important? And is there any chance that the FBI Director would sort of come clean with this information?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: He will absolutely not come clean with this information. I suspect that FBI Director Comey will answer questions related to the open investigations with his cursory, as every law enforcement person does, you know, this is a pending investigation.

But I think Comey's weaknesses as an FBI Director are going to be inherent in this session, and that is because we are having this conversation with the FBI Director. He inserted himself into politics well before October, remember, when he decided not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for the server. He had a very public announcement which sort of began this process.

And so for those of us on the national security side, we just can't believe that an FBI Director is in the middle of this in a way that the Democrats will get what they want or not, the Republicans will get what they want or not. And what I hope is that we leave this and let the FBI sort of continue the investigation of what, in fact, the Russians did.

BERMAN: Mark Preston, do you want to jump in here?

PRESTON: Well, in the spirit of Congress, let me just revise and extend my remarks just a tiny bit. I totally agree with you, he will say something today that will catch us and say, wow, we didn't know it. It won't be exactly what we want.

But even if he doesn't, the theater we're going to see today is going to be must-watch television because you are going to see Democrats perhaps go so far, maybe cross the line. Republicans, perhaps, crossing the line. It's going to be really interesting to see how Director Comey reacts to it all.

BERMAN: And just remember, what Evan Perez was reporting --

KAYYEM: I would say that with this witness --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

KAYYEM: Comey is less important, right? We're going to be more interested in the senators today. And then next week when Yates is on, she'll be more important and the senators we will see. This is, I think, for the senators more than we are going to learn anything from Comey. Next week will be the witness we care about.

BERMAN: Sometimes, in politics, the answers are as important -- the questions, rather, are as important as the answers. And remember what Evan Perez was reporting, which is that the FBI Director is coming here, he wants to get some of this off his chest, specifically questions about Hillary Clinton and the election and the why.

And, of course, yesterday, you know, we heard -- we played the sound earlier -- Hillary Clinton saying that, had the election been held on October 27th, she would be "your president right now," is what she said. You know, had the election been held on October 27th and the only candidate's been named John, who knows, Berman, I'd be your president right now.


BERMAN: But it wasn't held that day.

HAM: The Falcons have some complaints about the Super Bowl as well.

PRESTON: Well, but they are founded complaints, right?


BERMAN: Right.

HAM: No, I think -- look, the question for me is, look, I think Democrats need to work this out, work through the emotions of this. And as Comey did question --

KUCINICH: Because this is like a good therapy session, kind of, for everybody involved.

HAM: It kind of is. And I think that's a little bit what Hillary Clinton was doing. I do think they have to wonder politically, this is just politically, how long that conversation can be before they get to dealing with the problem, which was losing this Blue Belt in the Midwest and the Rust Belt and talking to those voters. If you don't get pass this part, you can't learn how to reach those folks, which she didn't.

BERMAN: That's a great point. I have a Democratic congressman later on in the show, Jackie, and that's one of the questions I want to ask. I hope he's not watching right now because I don't want to telegraph it. But basically, would you rather focus on the future instead of focusing on these things that may have cost Hillary Clinton the election? Is this good politics for your party right now?

KUCINICH: That's a really good question. And I think if you're a Democratic donor who is upset about how this election turned out, which you would be, some of Hillary Clinton's answers had to be very frustrating to you because she said, yes, it is ultimately my fault.

That said, she didn't say why. And then she sort of moved on and, you know, went on to talk about Russia. There is another election coming up in very short order for Democrats who they kind of need these lessons learned.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, some people have noted that there has been no Democratic autopsy for them to investigate, publish, and then ignore and then win the next election, which is what the Republicans did this time around.

All right, guys. Mark Preston, Jackie Kucinich, Mary Catherine Ham, Julie Kayyem, thank you so much.

Again, live pictures right now from Capitol Hill. About 45 minutes or so before James Comey sits down before the Senate Judiciary Committee and remember the last time he testified, he dropped that bombshell news that the FBI was investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, what does he have in store this time? We're going to carry this live.

Plus, more this morning of possible new changes to the Republican health care bill, changes that could win key votes. This morning, President Trump has summoned two members who could make all the difference to the White House. We have an update next.



BERMAN: All right. We do have some breaking news on health care. CNN has now learned that Republicans will open the health care bill for changes. New changes or at least they're telling members they are willing to do so.

This is a last-ditch effort to try and save the plan by getting more members on board. The current pulse on Capitol Hill, get it done like now, today, tomorrow or lose the chance. The White House is going into overdrive, inviting two crucial Republicans who oppose the bill to the White House.

Want to bring in a Republican Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia. He is a yes vote on health care right now. Congressman, first let me go to you with the news we're just getting in, message from leadership that they are willing to open up the bill yet again for changes or amendments. What are you hearing on that front this morning, sir?

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR, R-VIRGINIA: Good morning. It is great to be with you as always. I appreciate being here. I haven't heard that yet, but, listen, I've been very open and very plain about being deliberate and methodical and making sure the bill is the best it could be.

So I don't think it's -- you know, to me it is not breaking news if there is a piece of the legislation that can be changed to the better, of course. Obviously, we don't want it to be to the worst, but it is not super surprising to me that they would consider making changes to make the bill better.

BERMAN: The changes that we understand or at least up for discussion have to do with people with pre-existing conditions, providing more support for them as part of this plan. Do you think that the plan as it stands right now without the changes needs to be improved because people know that states can opt out of guaranteeing affordable coverage, shall we say, for people with pre-existing conditions. Would you support changes to how it stands right now?

TAYLOR: Well, there is no doubt about it that many people and everyone out there knows people with pre-existing conditions. So I want to protect people with pre-existing conditions. I believe that the plan now actually is a little bit different than the way you said it.

We have federal protections and the state. Even if the state, if they waiver, not an opt out, there is a waiver process, it is not simply an opt out. They have to have a plan in place to protect people with pre-existing conditions at the state level if they choose to get a waiver that they would use to not force you or other folks to buy insurance that they may not want or need.

But they still have to protect them. So if there is in fact a change that further protects them, then great. I'm all for it because I want to make sure people with pre-existing conditions are protected.

BERMAN: They have to get a waiver and show that they have a plan to as you say protect them. But that waiver does not have to include the guarantee that they will pay the same rate as other folks do. That guarantee currently --

TAYLOR: No. If they have continuous coverage, then, yes, they can't be discriminated against.

BERMAN: But if they don't have continuous coverage, and that could be any number of people, they are not guaranteed the same rate as folks without pre-existing conditions pay. That's just the way it is. Now, the high risk pools may be effective, they may work that, but they do lose the guarantee of the same rate as people without pre-existing conditions.

TAYLOR: Well, listen, Republicans have been very clear. To be clear, so have the American people. I'm not standing here as simply an individual. I'm standing here as someone who is elected by the vast majority of 800,000 people in my district and by and large the American people who put people in Congress to change this law because that's what they campaigned on.

Not just the presidency but congressional members across the country. So the American people are also speaking out. And it would be interesting to have folks on your program as well, not saying that you haven't, but who are working families, who are being crushed by a high premium they can't afford and deductibles that are super high that don't give them -- they get coverage but it is not really coverage because they can't afford it.

My own family member was in the same position. So the vast majority of the American people are being hurt by the ACA. That's why they went to the polls and sent Republicans here to change things. We want to cover people with pre-existing conditions. That's in the law and we want to make sure that that happens. But we also want to help people that are out there that are getting crushed by not only their premiums but also their taxes. Keep in mind, the government is taking in more in the history of the nation in taxes. That's because of this health care bill, the ACA.

BERMAN: There is no question that you might be able to reduce premiums for healthy people is to reduce guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. That would happen. I mean, you know, that's simple math right there.

TAYLOR: But if the state asked -- for example, the speaker of Wisconsin will tell you they like their polls. Their premiums were less than under the ACA. So you have to give states the flexibility to deal with their local populations because health care is consumed locally.

BERMAN: It is a choice. Again, it's a choice between a guarantee of the same rate as healthy people. Let me just ask you because you supported the first version of the ACA, this bill that did not allow for waivers for states on the issue.

TAYLOR: I do want to mention one thing, though. Under the ACA, there are folks out there that they are not -- they refuse to buy the coverage because it is too expensive for them.

[09:25:05]But then when they get sick, they just buy it like one of them is getting an operation, gets an operation and then he's going to not pay for it. So we have to fix those things. We have to encourage people to be responsible, right?

BERMAN: I understand it and again, that's a separate philosophical argument than what the amendment does right now. All we're trying to establish is what it actually specifically does. And my last question to you, you were supportive of the first Republican plan that did not allow for states to get a waiver, shall we say, on pre-existing conditions. Do you think that the MacArthur amendment which allows for this waiver makes the plan better?

TAYLOR: I think again philosophically speaking that we want to make sure that states have more say in their health care and patients. Let's be clear. Republicans want more patient centered and again so do the majority of Americans who put Republicans in office.

Because let's face it, no one is going to care more about your health care than you. So we want, Republicans want you to have more decision. We want states to have more decision and not a one-size fits all Washington thing so yes, I do agree with it.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Scott Taylor from Virginia, thank you so much for being with us. Again, the breaking news now, CNN just getting word that the Republican House leadership willing to open up this health care bill and offer still new changes to the legislation with two key members going to the White House. We'll bring an update on what those changes are and if they win over votes. Stick around for that. Plus, there are new developments this morning in the shooting death of Alton Sterling. The Department of Justice, we just learned, is set to meet with Sterling's family. There will be an announcement today. The very latest including what the family has to say about all of this next.