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Trump, House GOP Celebrate Health Care Win; House Passes Bill To Replace Obamacare; Interview with Rep. Chris Collins; Interview with Rep. Elijah Cummings; U.S. Intercepts Russian Bombers, Fighters Near Alaska. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 4, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:2] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Not a done deal. Now the health care debate moves to the U.S. Senate where one Republican lawmaker says the House bill has zero chance of passing. Taking a victory lap. President Trump scrambles his schedule to declare a victory in a hastily arranged Rose Garden ceremony. Flanked by House Republicans the president declares Obamacare, "essentially dead."
And politics versus policy. Despite House passage there are still major questions tonight about the Republican health care bill. What is its real cost and impact?
We want to welcome our viewers and in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. A major political milestone and a much need legislative victory for President Trump. Tonight he and Republican leaders they are celebrating passage of the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. The vote was 217 to 213 with 20 Republicans and all House Democrats voting against the measure whose real world impact is yet to be determined by the Congressional Budget Office. It's analysis of the previous GOP bill estimated it would have resulted in 24 million fewer Americans having health care coverage than under Obamacare.
And now the battle moves to the U.S. Senate in a very uncertain future. President Trump says he's confident of another win, but some Republican senators are already expressing scepticism and the bill will face the same ideological fault lines between GOP moderates and conservatives in the senate as it did in the House.
We're covering all of that. Much more this hour with our guests including Democratic Elijah Cummings and Republican Congressman Chris Collins and our correspondent and expert analyst are also standing by. Let's begin on Capitol Hill. Our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty has the latest for us. Sunlen, the bill is out of the House and on its way to the Senate.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It's now on to the Senate and while certainly members of the House can claim significant legislative victory with this win in getting it through on their side, it's a short-term win for Republicans here just the first step in a long process.
SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight after seven years of campaigning and promising.
UNINDENTIFIED MALE: The bill has passed.
SERFATY: Republicans are taking the first step to deliver on their pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Today was a big day but it is just one step in this process. Thank you for your leadership.
SERFATY: House Speaker Paul Ryan taking a short-term victory lap.
RYAN: We've got a lot of work to do. But one thing is now clear, Republicans are committed to keeping our promise to lift the burden of Obamacare from the American people and put in place a better, more patient centered system.
SERFATY: After a flurry of negotiating and last minute changes to win over enough members to save the bill.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Welcome to the beginning of the end of Obamacare.
SERFATY: Republicans moving forward without an answer on how many people would be covered by the bill and at what price.
REP. STENY HOYER (D), MINORITY WHIP: They're rushing to judgment because they think the facts are going to be against them, the facts are going to undermine their ability to pass this bill. We don't have a CBO score.
SERFATY: The original bill as analyzed by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated it would leave 24 million fewer people ensured in the next decade than other Obamacare but the new version with the 11th hour modifications to the bill has not been scored by the CBO. Even some Republicans who support the proposals say it's being rushed.
REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's been a truncated process. I think it's not a lot what we would've like to seen from the standpoint of a more robust debate but we are where we are.
SERFATY: The bill passed by the House today would provide refundable tax credits, revamp Medicaid funding and reducing federal support by capping funding and would repeal Obamacare subsidies for lower income Americans, eliminate individual and employer mandates and Medicaid expansion money starting in 2020, eliminate Obamacare taxes on the wealthy and insurers, and weaken guaranteed protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
The bill passed without a single vote from Democrats. REP. NANCY PELOSI (R), MINORITY LEADER: As bad as Trumpcare was the
first time around, we know it was dead, it died, it died right here on the floor, now it's come back to life. Like a zombie, even more scary than before and it is even worse.
SERFATY: Who are already putting Republicans on notice, readying to use this vote as ammunition to win back the house in 2018.
PELOSI: Some of you have said well they'll fix it in the Senate, but you have every provision of this bill tattooed on your forehead. You will glow in the dark on this one.
[18:05:13] SERFATY: The bill now moves to the Senate where it faces another daunting path ahead with Republicans holding a slim majority.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: It'll b a real big challenge on the Senate side as well.
SERFATY: Senate Republicans opening questioning the process per sued by their House colleagues. Senator Lindsey Graham tweeting that the bill has not been scored, amendments not allowed, and three hours of final debate should be viewed with caution. While other Republicans say the House version will undergo significant changes in the Senate.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: People are going to want to improve it. I don't see any way that it goes back in the form that it comes --
SERFATY: And as the Senate gets started all of this, there's the big question that now remains is how much of the House bill the Senate will actually end up keeping in there. Senators today reacting to the house bill calling it just a starter piece, a skeleton. It is very clear, Wolf, that they're going to make significant changes sending up another battle ahead.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen. Thank you, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.
After the vote House Republicans took a victory lap with President Trump in the White House Rose Garden. Our White House correspondent Athena Jones has that part of the story for us. Athena, the president says he's confident this bill will pass the Senate.
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it was quite a scene here earlier today. I can't recall another time when there was such a big Rose Garden celebration for a bill that had only passed one chamber of Congress, but it's clear that folks here were eager to celebrate a win even if it is a first step and what's about to be a long process and you know it's a good day for the White House when the president closes his remarks by saying, "and I even to thank the media".
JONES (voice-over): A long awaited moment of celebration for the White House.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This really is the group. What a great group of people.
JONES: President Trump and House Republicans taking a victory lap in the Rose Garden. GOP members bust down Pennsylvania Avenue for the occasion after the chamber voted to repeal and replace Obamacare
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes are 217 and neys are 213.
JONES: The win a vindication for White House officials and House members who kept working behind closed doors on the American Health Care Act. Even after the embarrassing high profile collapse of a similar bill in march.
RYAN: I don't know what else to say, other than Obamacare's the law of the land.
JONES: The president himself speaking with 15 to 20 House members often in squeezing conversations between other events and working late into the night urging them to get on board in part by stressing the importance of keeping the promises they made to supporters.
TRUMP: A lot of people said how come you kept pushing health care knowing how tough it is. Don't forget, Obamacare took 17 months. Hillary Clinton tried so hard really valuedly in all fairness to get health care through. It didn't happen. We've been doing this for eight weekends if you think about it and this is a real plan. This is a great plan. And we had no support from the other party.
JONES: Trump slamming Obamacare and vowing to finish it off.
TRUMP I said it's failing and now it's obvious that it's failing. It's dead. It's essentially dead. We're going to finish it off and go on to a lot of other things and we are going to have a tremendous four years and maybe even more importantly, we're going to have a tremendous eight years but we're going to start off with just a great first year.
JONES: The bill faces a tough road ahead in the Senate where some moderate Republicans are worried too many people could lose access to affordable care. The upper chamber is almost certain to make changes that could irk House Republicans. Still the president expressed confidence his party would prevail.
TRUMP: We're going to get this passed through the Senate. I feel so confident.
JONES: And when it comes to that Congressional Budget Office score that's still coming that would let members know the impact of this bill on the deficit end, on the American people, there are a lot of senators including Republicans who care very much about that CBO score, but asked about it here today a White House official down played its importance arguing it'll be impossible to properly score this bill because it's impossible to know how many governors will take advantage of waivers in the bill that allow insurers to do things like charge people with pre-existing conditions more for a plan under certain circumstances. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Athena, thank you. Athena Jones over at the White House. Let's get some more on all of this. Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York is joining us. He's a member of the Commerce Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), COMMERECE COMMITTEE: Good to be with your Wolf. Great day.
BLITZER: Why did it make sense to vote on this legislation before the Congressional Budget Office could score it to determine precisely best as their efforts could show how many people would be effected, how much it would cost?
[18:10:04] COLLINS: Well, Wolf, we did have a score on the base bill saving over $100 billion. We have a score that says we're going to reduce health care premiums by 10 percent and so the few very minor changes we made they'll be scored within the next two weeks as it moves into the Senate but the numbers are not going to change significantly. There was certainly no reason to lay for two weeks with us knowing with high level of confidence the numbers we have now will pretty much stand up when the final scores comes in.
BLITZER: Well, so it sounds congressman like you're accepting the original score of the original version which didn't come up for a vote, that original version also estimated that 24 million Americans who now have -- over the next decade who have health insurance under Obamacare would not have it in 10 years from now, 24 million Americans, that's a lot.
COLLINS: Well, I accept the CBOs dollar and cents score. I don't except that at all.
COLLINS: I'll just look at what they said for next year.
BLITZER: Congressman let me blend.
BLITZER: You only accept the results you like, you don't accept the results you don't like?
COLLINS: No. The CBO does a good job on dollars and cents. They proved with Obamacare. They don't really know how to estimate things like numbers of folks covered. They missed it by a wide margin on Obamacare and let's just look at the one thing they're saying. 2018, there are no changes whatsoever to Obamacare and yet they're saying 14 million Americans will lose their coverage next year without a single change and let's also admit there's only 10 million people in all of America in the individual exchange. Right then and there, Wolf, it shows you how ludicrous their numbers are. BLITZER: So for going forward you're not going to really rely on the
CBO, other legislation, is that what I'm hearing from you congressman?
COLLINS: I'm saying it will play out and they will be proven wrong certainly by the end of next year when we see that very few people may have dropped out of insurance and if any one did it has nothing to do with the American Health Care Act which doesn't go into place until 2020 so the fact that they're saying 14 million Americans lose coverage next year under Obamacare without a single change doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
BLITZER: All right. The actual legislation, the language in this bill including the two amendments that were added to it, we only saw that, that language in the past 24 hours. Did you actually sit down and read the entire bill, plus all of the amendments?
COLLINS: I will fully admit, Wolf, I did not but i can assure you my staff did. We have to rely on our staff. I had many meetings with energy and commerce with the chairman of energy and commerce as we discussed how this plan will effect Americans. I'm very comfortable that we've got a solution to the disaster called Obamacare. We're just today we heard 94 out of 99 counties in Iowa will not have any insurance next year and we heard today that Aetna pulled out of the individual market in Virginia.
BLITZER: All right. Congressman, this legislation affects a fifth of the U.S. economy and millions and millions of Americans. Don't you think it was important to actually sit down and read -- read the language of this bill?
COLLINS: You know, I have to rely on my staff and I can probably tell you that I read every word and I wouldn't be telling you the truth nor would any other member. We rely on our staff and we rely on our committees and I'm comfortable that I understand this bill in its entirety, Wolf, without pouring through every word and I'm just being quite honest. That's the way it is.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about some aspects of this legislation and I assume you've been briefed by your staff. The bill estimates -- the bill eliminates I should say, the bill eliminates the cap on what's called flexible spending accounts. Do you know what the new cap is in the legislation or has that flexible spending account opportunity being completely eliminated?
COLLINS: No, there's still going to be a cap but it's going to be double where it is now and, you know, that's going to depend on some nuances, but today it's somewheres around $2,500.
BLITZER: So are you saying the bill doubled the flexible cap account from 2,500 to $5,000?
COLLINS: Yes, that's my understanding.
BLITZER: All right, I'm going to double check that just to make sure. What do you say to people in your district and it's a western New York district, my hometown in Buffalo that if you didn't read the bill, they might not necessarily be able to go forward and accept afford the coverage. How are you going to explain that to them, let's say it becomes the law of the land and so many of your constituents have serious health care related problems?
COLLINS: First of all, Wolf, I represent a district in New York. They'll be no changes in New York because we are relying on going back to the health commissioners of every state and you and I both know there won't be a single change in New York state related to the American Health Care Act other than certainly the elimination of the individual mandate, the employer mandate, the elimination of $800 billion of taxes, fees and penalties and most importantly, the Collins-Faso Amendment that will prevent Albany from passing back downtown to the counties.
[18:15:22] It saves my district $407 million a year in property taxes. That I know for sure and I also know that in New York state some of these Draconians red herrings that you hear the Democrats they don't even apply to New York State.
BLITZER: What about in some of the other Republican leaning states? Are the folks there going to be nervous about having the health care they really need?
COLLINS: No. They're going to finally get health care that they can choose with refundable tax credits if they're in the individual exchange. I think it's important to note, Wolf, that 95 percent of Americans are getting their health insurance from their employer, Medicare or Medicaid or Tricare. We're talking about less than 5 percent of Americans in the individual exchange and we're seeing the individual exchange under Obamacare implode, undo itself even worse this week in Iowa and Virginia and Arizona there's one carrier within the entire state deductibles are up to $12,000. Obamacare has failed in the individual exchange and that's what we're fixing in the American Health Care Act and those are the facts.
BLITZER: The bill does not completely a 100 percent guarantee coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Why do you support that?
COLLINS: First of all, it guarantees coverage for anyone who was in the pre-existing condition category who now has continuous coverage. The fear mongers are trying to suggest their premiums are going up because they currently have cancer, they have heart disease or something like that. As long as they've had coverage, there is nothing that impacts them.
What we're talking about, Wolf, here is the potential, the hypothetical that a state would ask for a waiver for an individual today on the individual exchange who does not currently have insurance, whose subsequently is diagnosed with cancer in which case I will agree the insurance companies could charge more but only up to 12 months and in the interim the long amendment provides federal funding to back stop that so that an individual can, in fact, afford the insurance. That's the way that works.
BLITZER: Because on the very sensitive issue of pre-existing conditions, congressman, there are these what they call these high risk pools and one of the amendments that was attached, the Republican proposal would put aside an additional $8 billion over five years to help out individuals who have pre-existing conditions but as you know a lot of experts have pointed out that that's way -- way short. It's not enough. They really need at least $25 billion per year, not for five years, per year if all the folks out there who have pre-existing conditions whether cancer or other pre-existing conditions are really going to be covered. What do you say to that?
COLLINS: They just don't understand the way that our American health care plan is going to work. And as I said before, any one who has insurance today is going to continue to be covered. We're talking about in that category an individual who does not currently, who has chosen to not carry insurance who subsequently is diagnosed with some catastrophic disease and we have money to back stop those individuals they will have affordable insurance so I can't tell you where these experts, supposed experts are coming up with the money because it makes no sense in the hypothetical as I understand it. So I would just have to say I think they're dead wrong.
BLITZER: These are estimates from the Kaiser Family Foundation and that's what they specialize in coming up with these kinds of estimates. Congressman, as you know as a candidate, Donald Trump pledged not to cut Medicaid. He wasn't going to cut social security, wasn't going to cut Medicare, wasn't going to cut Medicaid but this bill would see a Medicaid funding overhaul ending the expansion in the year 2020 so isn't that a failed campaign promise?
COLLINS: No. In fact, Wolf, it does not end the expansion in 2020. That was part of the problem the Freedom Caucus had. They wanted to end the expansion in 2020. Those of us from states like New York insisted that we continue the expansion at the option of the states beyond January 1 of 2020, the changes we will be reimbursing the states at the same rate for able-bodied adults that we reimburse for the blind and disabled so the case of New York that's 50 percent. And I would ask any one to justify how the federal government should be paying 90 percent for able-bodied working adults and 50 percent for the blind and disabled. It never made any sense and so that's all we've done.
[18:20:02] We're going to reimburse on Medicaid expansion, which is going to continue indefinitely but at the same reimbursement for rate for able-bodied adults that we currently reimburse for the blind and disabled.
BLITZER: Yes. Certainly, we'll continue. In states like New York not necessarily at other states there could be a problem there.
COLLINS: I don't think so.
BLITZER: All right. We'll check and we'll see. Hopefully you're right. Let's see what happens in the U.S. Senate. Congressman Chris Collins of New York as usual thanks very much for joining us.
COLLINS: Always good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Up next we'll get Democratic reaction of the passage of the health care bill. Congressman Elijah Cummings, he's standing by live. We'll discuss with him right after this.
[18:25:00] BLITZER: President Trump just arrived at JFK in New York City. Be meeting with Australia's prime minister and attending a gala celebrating the allied victory in the World War II battle of the Coral Sea. There you see the president getting off Air Force One. Let's get back to the breaking news tonight.
Passage of the House Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. We just got reaction from Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York. Now we're joined by Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. He's the ranking member of the Oversight Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), RANKING MEMBER, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Wolf, it's good to be with you.
BLITZER: You just heard Congressman Chris Collins tell me he actually didn't read the bill, the language of the bill. Doesn't really care what the Congressional Budget Office score is. Your reaction?
CUMMINGS: I think that's a very sad commentary. The Republicans have constantly said that we ought to know how much money we're spending and know the impact of bills and when they came to this bill, which affects a large percentage of our economy, they decided that they wanted to rush this through of course with the urging of President Trump and I think it's very, very sad because not only do we not know the cost of the bill, that's one thing, but we are not sure exactly on what the pain and the suffering and how many deaths will result from this bill. And wolf I am convinced that while this is a second version of Trumpcare, I think in many ways it's probably worse and I think that they are probably more people when the CBO comes out with its ratings within the next week or two, the CBO will say that we are more people will not have insurance more than the 24 million that we estimate over the next many years and then they will also say as a result of that, that the cost will be higher, deductibles will be hire and the care will be less.
BLITZER: You're confident that Democrats will be able to take back the majority of the House of Representatives because of this bill. Congressman, what makes you so confident?
CUMMINGS: Wolf, there are moments in your life where there are moral questions that are presented and this is one. I had a lady that come into town hall meeting not very long ago in Baltimore a week ago and she said, I'm 28 years old, I just passed the bar. I just got married. My husband and I were about to try to have a baby and I found out a little while ago that I had colon cancer, stage 4. And she said so far the Affordable Care Act has saved my life. And the last thing she said to me, look, you got to go out there congressman and fight with everything you got because I don't have that much time. There are a lot of people who are watching us right now, Wolf, who are trying to figure out how are they going to take care of themselves. And I'm just telling you, I believe that the moral issue is significant and I think that when people begin to realize and many of these people, by the way, in districts that were won by President Trump, when they begin to realize that they are sick and cannot get the medicine to get well or get the treatment to get well, when they realize that that farmers not going to be able to go down that aisle with that daughter, because he won't it'll bee too sick or he had die, I believe people will come back and say, you know, whose fault is this and the Democrats have been fighting, trying to improve the Affordable Care Act while the Republicans have done everything in their power by any means necessary to undermine it.
BLITZER: But you acknowledge there are plenty of problems with Affordable Care Act, Obamacare as its called. Just this week, Aetna pulled out of Virginia's individual market citing big Obamacare losses, the only remaining carrier in every Iowa county said it was considering its involvement in the marketplace, so choices are narrowing for consumers. Isn't that a reality?
CUMMINGS: It is a reality but it's a reality that the Republicans have helped make a reality. You heard the president. Remember, when the president got finished with his parade on inauguration day, the first thing he did, the very first thing was rushed to the Oval Office and sign documents basically undermining the Affordable Care Act. He went on to say that he wanted to see the Affordable Care Act go down by its own weight.
And so they have done a number of things trying to make sure that certain parts were not properly funded, trying to make sure that provisions were not adhered to, sending mixed messages. And so all of that goes against certainty. The insurers that I've talked to recently have said some of the same things and they say one of the biggest things that is causing them to leave the various areas is the uncertainty that the Trump Administration presents to them and Wolf, by the way, this legislation today only makes that worse.
[18:30:00] So you know, you can't say in one moment, oh, the insurance companies are leaving, but at the same time you're not -- you're giving them uncertain answers to questions. You just don't do that. And we know, all of us know, that for any business to do well there must be certainty. And the Republicans know again, by any means necessary, they are trying to kill this Affordable Care Act drop by drop, and today they made a major effort.
But I'm going to tell you something. There are those of us on the Democratic side who will fight. and I'm hoping that many on the Republicans side will join us when their constituents begin to voice their concerns.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Congressman, before I let you go, I'll ask you the same question I asked Chris Collins just a little while ago. The language of the actual bill only came out in the past 24 hours or so. Did you sit down and read the language of the bill before you voted today? CUMMINGS: No. I had -- of course I had to have staff do that. And
that's another part, again, they rushed the bill through.
And, by the way, you just reminded me. This whole thing about the risk pools. They drop $8 billion to take care of people who may be high risk with cancer and other diseases and autism, and their premiums are going to go up very, very high. There are a lot of provisions of this bill that basically take away from people as rights to have health care as opposed to expanding them. And I didn't come here to take away peoples rights and I'm not going to.
BLITZER: Congressman Chris -- Elijah Cummings, I should say. Congressman Cummings, thanks very much for joining us.
CUMMINGS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Still to come, the long road ahead for the House health care bill. Is President Trump celebrating prematurely?
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news up on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans, they're huddling right now, trying to come up with enough votes to pass the revised health care bill before members leave on recess.
[18:32:54] Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us with the very latest.
Phil, pressure right now enormous on the speaker, Paul Ryan.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question at all, Wolf. This is really a make or break moment for House Republicans and the White House. As one senior GOP aide told me earlier today, there is no going back to the drawing board. This is the moment.
I'll tell you, they had a spark of momentum this morning in the shape of an amendment, changes to the bill that they had been considering that would add $8 billion to this legislation to try and calm concerns about what it would actually do to those with preexisting conditions. Now how did this actually all happen?
Well, let Fred Upton, congressman from Michigan, lay it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: The president was seeking our opinion, probably a lot of my colleagues over the last number of weeks. Again, when he called me yesterday, I told him I was a "no." And I told him that I was a "no" because of the provision on preexisting illnesses. And he said that he wanted it covered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And the result of that was this deal. Fred Upton now a firm "yes" on this bill. Also Billy Long, a Missouri congressman who helped work on that amendment is a yes, as well.
And I'm told from aides that are very familiar with this process, as the full-on blitz has gone on behind the scenes --Vice President Mike Pence on the Hill; President Trump making phone calls; House Republican leaders working every individual member they can to try and get them on board -- that they are cautiously optimistic that they could get there.
Now, what does "get there" mean? It would mean, Wolf, a vote as soon as tomorrow, before they leave for that recess. But the question remains, is the amendment, is the addition of that $8 billion enough to get members comfortable with essentially the idea they will be touching a third rail?
This idea of pre-existing conditions, changing the price protections, or at least giving the states the opportunity to opt out of the price protections that were included in Obamacare. This is something they campaigned against doing repeatedly over the course of the last couple of years. That is now on the table in order to bring conservatives in line.
The question remains, can they keep those moderates, those centrists who are very worried about their electoral future, very worried about what they've been hearing from constituents over the course of the last couple of days, on board as they move forward? We don't have an answer yet.
[18:35:08] But Wolf, as you noted, House Republican leaders are meeting now. If things go well, they expect to kick off this process tonight, potentially go to Rules Committee as soon as this evening to set up that vote for tomorrow. But as they've made clear throughout, they will do nothing until they know they have the votes and, at least until this moment, they haven't announced that they have those votes, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We'll stay in close touch with you, Phil. Thank you. Phil Mattingly reporting.
President Trump is personally lobbying House Republicans to back the bill. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta is joining us.
Jim, it's the issue of coverage for preexisting conditions that will make or break this effort.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. The White House is feeling a bit more optimistic about the GOP's chances in the House to repeal and replace Obamacare. Aides to the president are confident that Republicans have solved what Phil Mattingly was just talking about, a big problem in the bill originally. And that is, specifically, how to handle consumers with pre-existing conditions. Those consumers have those protections under Obamacare.
But it's more complicated under Trumpcare, which allow states, as Phil was saying, to opt out of those provisions. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer assured reporters earlier today that there will be no fallout for those consumers under Trumpcare. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Why change preexisting conditions?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not. No, no. We're strengthening. I think, look, we have done everything to do to not only strengthen but to guarantee...
ACOSTA: Strengthening it?
ACOSTA: A governor can say, you know, "Here's my waiver" and no more pre-existing conditions.
SPICER: Sure you can. Jim, I walked through this. But I think the fundamental point that seems to be getting lost is that, if you have Obamacare right now, in case after case, you're losing it.
So if you have a pre-existing condition, and you have a card that says Obamacare, but no one will see you or you can't afford it, then you don't have coverage.
ACOSTA: Why not fix that?
SPICER: We are. We're guaranteeing it. But I don't know how much -- we -- literally, the president...
ACOSTA: Why does it have to be altered? Why not just keep that protection in place.
SPICER: The president has made it very clear that preexisting conditions are covered in the bill under every scenario. I don't know how much clearer we can state it.
ACOSTA: So anybody who has a pre-existing condition, under Trumpcare, they're going to be fine?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: So mark that piece of tape or video, Wolf. Sean Spicer saying that those Americans with preexisting conditions will be, quote, "fine" under Trumpcare. Of course, if it doesn't turn out that way, that video could come back to haunt this White House.
President Trump, as you said, has spent the last 24 hours meeting with and calling roughly a dozen lawmakers; but the White House is not offering any assurances to those lawmakers at this point, Wolf, that this bill won't be changed in the Senate. Spicer earlier today at the briefing said that's just simply part of the legislative process.
So a lot of uncertainty for these lawmakers as they take the plunge and vote for this bill, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes. Even if it does get to 216 votes in the House of Representatives, there's a huge, huge battle in the U.S. Senate.
Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
So Dana, what do you think? The $8 billion they've included in this new amendment to pay for the pre-existing conditions over five years, Nancy Pelosi says that's certainly not enough.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No. Look, I mean, at the end of the day, it's $8 billion over 100-something billion that was already in there for these high-risk pools.
One of the main reasons why the proponents of Obamacare wanted to have this complete ban on pre-existing conditions is because the high-risk pools that existed before Obamacare were kind of a joke. Because they were never funded properly, and people got insurance, but they couldn't pay for it.
So that's why people like Fred Upton and Billy Long, who come from districts where that's really necessary, got it. The question is, why others who are in the Freedom Caucus and elsewhere aren't more insistent on more money, because a lot of those districts are rural districts where people have trouble getting access to health care and health insurance and will potentially need it.
So whether it's enough is a question. In terms of the policy, the big question is whether it's enough to get the votes, and they seem to be right on the -- on the edge of the razor right now.
BLITZER: Because it seems like the momentum, Gloria, over the past past 24 hours has shifted a bit in favor of getting those...
BORGER: Sure, sure. Because, you know, Upton, who said that this bill had been torpedoed, suddenly changed his mind.
But the question that I have is what makes think that $8 billion is going to cover the risk, the high-risk pools? I mean, and by the way, this is money that goes to the insurance companies.
I would also add that, you know, conservative think tanks have done estimates about this, Wolf. And they say that it's more like 15 to $20 billion or something like that over -- over a year. So how much money will be committed to these high-risk pools if it turns out that it is not actually working and it's not covering these people?
And if I were in a district where my, you know, my constituents were concerned about paying more for their insurance and pre-existing conditions or losing their insurance, I would be -- I would be questioning whether this is enough money. And if you're a conservative, you're like, "Well, we don't want to put any more money into it."
[18:40:10] BLITZER: You know, Bianna, the -- if there was a vote tomorrow -- we don't know if there will be; there might be a vote tomorrow -- the members are not going to have the advantage of a Congressional Budget Office report fully showing how these revisions are going to play out.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Yes, it has not been scored yet. One big hindrance right there, one big missing component.
And yet, they're pushing for a vote; and Sean Spicer himself said today, quote, "It's impossible to determine the impact of the health care bill." So I think there's a lot of question as to why push this right now? You've got some crucial votes coming up in 2018. You're going to have congressmen put themselves on the line right now, voting for something that they don't know the consequences of. It's like buying a new car without testing the brakes first.
BLITZER: What happens if it does pass, Bianna, and gets through the Senate? Then who knows what's going to happen there?
GOLODRYGA: Well, of course we're going to be talking about an entirely different bill when it gets to the Senate, if it does pass. But obviously, this administration and this president is looking for any sort of win, any sort of positive momentum that he can get; and it does look like, as of today, he got some good news.
BASH: But you know, I just...
BLITZER: Go ahead.
BASH: ... just quickly, add that Bianna is totally right. It is like buying a car without testing the brakes, but all these House members know that that car is going to be in the garage for a really long time. Because they -- they're passing something, potentially, and then they're going to wait to see what the Senate does. The Senate is no way going to do anything that looks much like the House...
BLITZER: But if it does pass, Gloria, if it does pass, the president of the United States, he will be out there claiming a huge victory.
BASH: Of course. They all are.
BORGER: But he will also own it. And that's important. Because if people start feeling this, he's going to own it. And don't forget -- the minute it passes, the Democrats are going to be up on the air in lots of districts with ads about how this is going to take away the most -- one of the most important things that people wanted and liked in Obamacare.
GOLODRYGA: And think about how much time and momentum this is taking away from his other project, and that's tax reform, as well. So the longer he spends on health care right now and pushing for a bill, the more it takes away from something else he really campaigned on doing.
BLITZER: Yes, he says he's not going to do tax reform or infrastructure until he gets health care passed...
BORGER: Well, he needs the money, yes.
BLITZER: ... through the House and the Senate. All right, guys, stand by. Just ahead, two white police officers escaping federal charges in the fatal shooting of an African-American man. So what does it say about race and justice in the era right now of President Trump?
[18:48:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: More now in the breaking news: President Trump and House Republicans celebrating passage of their health care bill in the House of Representatives.
You know, Brianna, 14 of the 23 House Republicans in districts Hillary Clinton won last November, they voted in favor of this legislation today, including all seven of these Republican members of Congress in California, but sort of midterm races potentially could they be facing.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: They could have a tough one. And even, as we mentioned, the Republicans who did not vote for this could have a tough time if they aren't vociferous about why they didn't and they show that they are very independent from their party.
I mean, look, this is one of those subjects where it's going to hurt politically, I think for some of these folks. We watched this after Obamacare passed in 2010. This is a career ender for some people and that's something they've certainly had to confront as they do this. How is this going to play out? Is Donald Trump going to be popular enough? Who is the candidate -- or pardon me, who are they going to be facing as a challenger? These are all things that are important but this is something that could sink some of them.
BLITZER: A lot of nervous, Jackie, Republicans right now.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. You saw that on the House floor today. You're going to see it increasingly.
One of the telling things -- there really aren't a lot of town halls going into this recess that they're going into next week. But they're going to be home. They're going to have to face these folks and explain their votes. Even if they don't have the town halls, they still live there.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, looking at the scene in the Rose Garden in the White House today, you would have thought this legislation was the law of the land. The president was signing this bill into law, but they still have a long way to go.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this was halftime and you don't usually declare victory at halftime, but they did. And I think it was because the president needed to show momentum.
[18:50:03] He had a win finally that he could talk about and he wanted, you know, to give it some momentum going into the -- going into the Senate. But I think that's going to happen over the break whether there are a
lot of town halls or not, people are going to start asking questions. This is one-sixth of the American economy. There wasn't any CBO score. There wasn't any text. There weren't hearings aside from the rules committee.
And voters are going to want to know, how is my life going to change? If there's no employer mandate and I work for a small company under 50 people, does this mean my employer no longer has to provide me health care benefits? I'm going to have to pay for my own health care.
What about Medicaid? If I'm covered under Medicaid and my governor decides that he wants to waive it and the block grants go into effect, well, how is this going to affect my Medicaid benefits? Or if I'm in the state that stops essential health benefits, what about, you know, if I'm trying to get over a drug addiction or if I'm a woman who needs maternity benefits?
These are really personal questions that everybody needs to ask their member of Congress and get some answers to.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. I mean, all those substantive questions they need to give answers to, but won't be able to, not just because its unclear from their bill because the future is very, you know, long right now with the Senate.
But just going back to the video I think we were playing of the Rose Garden. I was watching it I think we all were going what's happening?
BASH: I mean, it was -- it was really -- I mean, it was like the political equivalent of Donald Trump in gold on his buildings, you know?
BASH: It's what he does.
And I texted somebody who was involved in this. I said, is this a little too much? Are you worried about it?
The answer was, right now, the fervor is on the Democratic side and they're worried that the political momentum is on the Democratic side, and this was done in order to get the conservative base engaged, for them to see that they did this and to not just sneak out of town and look, we're proud of this.
KEILAR: And we talk about, there's no CBO score and they haven't read the bill and, you know, what's in there, and here are the provisions, that doesn't stick with a lot of people. What will stick with a lot of people specifically those who support Donald Trump is that image, that triumphant image, the Rose Garden ceremony, and, you know, that might -- that might be a good play that they're doing that. There is some risk that, but at the same time, there is a feeling that something has been done. KUCINICH: I do think we're not going to forget that image because I
think Democrats are going to use it, too. Democrats are going to use that image of all of them standing with Trump to beat Republicans over the head with this, that they're taking -- look, they partied after they took away your health care.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens in the next weeks and months in the U.S. Senate. It could take a long time.
The breaking news continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll have more on President Trump's first legislative victory, a passage of the Republican health care bill in the House.
Plus, Russian warplanes intercepted off the coast of Alaska, again. We're learning new details.
[18:57:32] BLITZER: More on the breaking news coming up. But, first, we're learning details right now about a new incident involving Russian warplanes off the coast of Alaska.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.
So, Barbara, another interception. What happened?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The fifth one, at least the fifth in the last several weeks, Wolf, nobody really sure why the Russians keep doing this. But last night, two Russian Bear bombers, two fighter jets flying off the coast of Alaska, staying in international airspace, but still coming within 50 miles of Alaska.
Two Air Force -- U.S. Air Force jets that were in the air at the time escorted them back on their way to Russia. And the U.S. keeping a watch to see when and if this happens again.
BLITZER: Potentially dangerous situation.
Barbara, you're also getting some information about a controversial airstrike in Syria. What are you learning?
STARR: Wolf, you remember, back in March, the U.S. struck an area in northern Syria and the question was whether they actually struck a mosque or a building full of al Qaeda operatives, as they said. The destruction the video showed what appeared to be possibly civilians coming out of that, being taken out of that building dead.
Now, tonight, CNN has learned that the U.S. military investigation has concluded that this building they struck was actually part of a religious complex, parts of a mosque complex. It should not have been struck, as it was a religious facility.
Now, the question is, did the military know or was there some other indication that this building was, in fact, being used by al Qaeda and they simply didn't know it was a religious facility at the time they struck it? You see the destruction there. There was a small mosque building
about 40 feet away, but that is not what they hit. They hit this building that they now after the investigation say indeed was part of a religious facility. The full investigation expected to be unveiled in the next several days, but we tonight have an early look at it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Barbara, if there were al Qaeda terrorists hiding out or plotting in that mosque, is it U.S. policy to still go ahead and attack it?
STARR: This is the key question, Wolf. It should not have been attacked unless they've gone through a vetting procedure to have it taken off the no strike list as a religious site. We don't know the full answer to the status of that building when they hit it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara, at the Pentagon, thanks for joining us.
That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.