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President Trump Says No Oval Office Taping; Senate Republicans Finally Reveal Health Care Plan. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 22, 2017 - 15:00   ET



SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We need to fix that.

And so throughout the conversations with the working group, with the majority leader, with the president, with the vice president, I have made very clear I want to get to yes, and the way to get to yes is fix the underlying problems.

Lower premiums, and I will happily be part of it. We can get there, and I think there are a lot of other senators who feel very much the same as I do.

QUESTION: What about resolving that in a conference committee and you turn out to be the person that prevents it? You're the 49th or 48th vote, and they're just shy?

CRUZ: Well, I think we can get there. But this current draft doesn't do nearly enough.

This current draft, my concern is, my biggest concern is, under this current draft, premiums would continue to rise. And if premiums continue to rise after we hold a press conference claiming to have repealed Obamacare, that's a disaster. It's a disaster politically, it's a disaster substantively. It would be a failure of the mandate we have been given by the voters.


QUESTION: Would you be willing to make changes on the Medicaid legislation as it currently stands? Because even if you guys turn to yes, there's still a potential that the moderates like Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins could be nos. (OFF-MIKE)

CRUZ: Everyone expects this current draft, for there to be significant changes to it.

And, indeed, the majority leader and the staff in rolling it out, they said this is a discussion draft, this is a first draft, there are going to be significant changes. Of course we're going to continue having a negotiation. Everyone's going to have to give. That's the only way you can get at least 50 out of 52 Republicans.

We have a very narrow majority. The only way to get to yes is if everyone is willing to give some. And I think the keys to it are focusing on issues, on principles that bring us together. And two principles that bring us together that I think are the keys to getting agreement and getting the job accomplished are, number one, lowering premiums.

If premiums go down, that's a win for everyone. It's a win for conservatives, it's a win for moderates, it's a win for the men and women we represent. But, number two, another principle that unifies everyone is state flexibility, letting states have far more flexibility, so, for example, with Medicaid, letting each individual state designed creative and innovative new plans to care for the most vulnerable, letting a more moderate governor, like a John Kasich in Ohio, do what the state of Ohio wants and letting a more conservative governor like a Greg Abbott in Texas do what the state of Texas does.

The beauty of a principle like more state flexibility is that it unifies our conference. It gives a win for everyone, and if we come out of this with premiums going down, with consumers having more choices, more options, lower prices, and states having more flexibility for creative, innovative solutions for caring for the most vulnerable, that is a big win.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, and he's off, Senator Ted Cruz.

That is one of four Republican senators here who are -- he's basically at no for now on this latest Senate -- the Republican Senate health care bill that was finally unveiled this morning.

We heard from Senator Paul a moment ago and now add Senator Cruz to that four, all of this on this bill. Fascinating to see he was at least saying, I think we can get there. His issue with the Senate version is that it doesn't go far enough.

CNN political commentator and host of "SMERCONISH," Michael Smerconish, is with me.

Michael Smerconish, the interesting piece and the backlash of this whole story this morning has been that this bill goes too far, but Senator Cruz is saying, no, no, no, this is Obamacare-lite, essentially. He's saying it's not going far enough.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What it underscores to me, Brooke, is the fact that all of the action with regard to the health care is on the Republican side of the aisle and the Democrats are almost an irrelevancy.

You remember when the House bill was first introduced, they couldn't get it done, not for lack of Democratic support, but because they couldn't keep the Freedom Caucus and the more moderate wing of the party in the same tent.


SMERCONISH: Ultimately, they got it down in the House, but now you see similar issues like that playing themselves out in the Senate.

So whether the GOP can keep its own disparate interests together on this is key.

BALDWIN: To the Trump tape admission today, because everyone had been wondering, really, since for 41 days, since that initial tweet back on May 12, which I think is key here, and I think you agree with me, when he was saying that original tweet, James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press, turns out there are no tapes, there never were any tapes, according to the president's Twitter today.

But you say a lot hinges on that original tweet. Why?

SMERCONISH: Can I give you an interpretation that is from Area 51 on this?

BALDWIN: Whoa, whoa. Hit me.


SMERCONISH: Conventional wisdom -- conventional wisdom is that this was President Trump saying, hey, Comey, you better hope I don't have tape as to our conversation.


And so, for 41 days, we have been wondering, does he have tape, where's the tape, what's on the tape? Is it possible that it's one of these eats, shoots, and leaves conundrums where what he was really saying is, hey, Comey, you better not have taped me?

And for the last 41 days, he's been waiting to see whether any leak would percolate suggestive of there having been audio, not recorded by the White House, but recorded by the FBI director. Think about that.

BALDWIN: So like a trial balloon tweet...


BALDWIN: ... message to Comey.

SMERCONISH: Yes, look at the words of it. Right? Comey better hope there are no tapes. Hey, you better hope you didn't tape me is a different way of looking at it.

BALDWIN: Hadn't thought about that. That's a fresh idea.

SMERCONISH: Maybe for good reason.

BALDWIN: We don't know.

But, you know, the color we're getting, though, out of the White House on, you know -- we heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders. We didn't see her today, but we heard from her, saying the president wasn't trying to play any game, the president had no regrets in that original tweet. But another piece of color was from this Republican associate of the president saying that the president has been amused by the public's obsession over the tapes. Amused, Michael Smerconish.

SMERCONISH: Well, I think he's probably sitting in the Oval Office or in that adjacent room where he's got the 60-inch flat screen...


SMERCONISH: ... playing with the clicker and just laughing his fanny off at the way he can throw a ball of yarn to we kittens and we have chased it for a month-and-a-half. I mean, this is ridiculous.

And there's no other explanation.

BALDWIN: But it matters as far as the investigation is concerned, because now it really is a he said/he said thing with regard to Flynn and am I under investigation and all of that. There are no tapes.

SMERCONISH: Yes, right. I mean, it's he said/he said, but there's a lot of ancillary evidence out there. For example, he asked Comey to -- for a one-on-one in the White House on February 14. We can ask the vice president. We can ask, and they have asked the attorney general, is it true you were excused so that he could have a one-on-one?


SMERCONISH: So, as a trial lawyer, believe me, even though it's a he said/he said, there's a lot of other evidence out there that's either going to support or belie what each of these two is saying.

BALDWIN: OK. Thank you for your hypothesis on the notion of the tweet. That was a new one for me today, Michael Smerconish.

SMERCONISH: That's why I'm here.

BALDWIN: There we go. We watch you on Saturday mornings right here on CNN at 9:00 a.m. and then again at 6:00 p.m. Thank you so much, sir. Let's move on.

All right, hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

In case you are just joining us, let me just reset the big headline of the day, President Trump coming clean that there are no tapes, there never were any tapes, and the president apparently doesn't regret a thing. Here was his tweet from just a little while ago that set all of this off.

"With all the recently reported electronic surveillance intercepts, unmasking, and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are tapes or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make and I do not have any such recordings."

Now, keep in mind, 41 days ago, President Trump was the one who floated this idea of the tapes in the first place. That is what we were just discussing, that May 12 tweet. Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today reacting to the news.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president's statement via Twitter today is extremely clear. I don't have anything to add beyond the statement itself.

QUESTION: I'm curious why it took so long, 41 days, for this to be laid to rest and whether the president is recording any Oval Office conversations.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: You guys asked for an answer. He gave you one. He said he would have it to you by the end of this week, which he did. And beyond timing of that, I can't really speak anything further.

QUESTION: And on the Oval Office recordings?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of anything. I think his statement here is pretty clear.

QUESTION: Did the president intend to threaten James Comey with that tweet?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. I don't think so.


BALDWIN: So within minutes of the president's admission today, one of the president's associates told our White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny -- quote -- "If he doesn't regret this, he should," adding that the president has been amused at all of the obsessing over the tapes.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, who is joining me with more.

Kaitlan, how did this all come about?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president has tweeted this like a game show for the last six weeks. His spokesmen have refused to elaborate on this tweet or give us a straight yes-or-no answer on whether there are tapes or his conversations with James Comey.

But he chose to answer that question today because, by tomorrow, the House Intelligence Committee had requested that the White House produce any evidence of tapes with the former FBI director.

But, like you said, Sara Sanders was saying she was just answering our questions about the tapes, but the only reasons we had those questions was because the president implied that there were recordings of the Oval Office conversation.


BALDWIN: And you're correct. And just more color from this Trump associate in hindsight, this Republican close to the president calling this whole episode one of the worst things the president has done with fallout that led to the hiring of Bob Mueller, the special counsel.

Kaitlan, thank you so much.

Let's broaden this out and have a big old conversation.

I have Shannon Pettypiece with me, a White House reporter at Bloomberg News who broke the news that there are, in fact, no tapes. David Priess is back with us, former CIA officer and author of "The President's Book of Secrets," Jeff Cramer, former federal prosecutor, and Richard Ben-Veniste, CNN legal analyst and former Watergate special prosecutor.

So, welcome, welcome to all of you.

And, Shannon, you know, you broke the news. But what's the explanation behind all of this?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, what one colleague, one White House official told my colleague Jennifer Jacobs is that the idea behind the initial tweet was the president trying to tell Comey that, hey, if you're going to start leaking things, you better be honest, because there may be tapes.

And this strategy of tapes is something that the president has used before to sort of, you know, as a threat, you know, by some people. Another one of my colleagues, Tim O'Brien, was threatened by the president, saying that I have made tapes of our conversation. But when it actually came to a legal case, he wasn't able to produce those.

BALDWIN: He was bluffing.

PETTYPIECE: So, right, a bluff, you know, a posturing. So that's the theory going around right now around the White House and around those -- that it was a bluff and it was a way to either, some might say intimidate, some might say threaten, but to send a message directly to James Comey.

BALDWIN: David, just with your intelligence background, what's your reaction to all of this?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA OFFICER: With today's tweets, he's actually sending a different message, because he did not just tweet out, I did not make and I do not have the tapes. He had that whole first tweet, which was a disclaimer, a caveat, saying, well, there's all this surveillance going on and all this leaking going on and I really don't know if something's out there. I just know that I don't have them now.

That's hard to read as anything other than another ball of yarn thrown out for people to chase, or some kind of an attack on the intelligence community or the Secret Service, who surely would not let any kind of surveillance system be inside the Oval Office and the other rooms of the White House for these meetings.

So he's still trying to be the master puppeteer to pretend like he's controlling everything and perhaps, as you other guests have said, sitting back, watching this and enjoying every second of it.

BALDWIN: So, right. So, on the legal piece of this, let's really drill down on this.

Richard -- and, Alan (ph), throw up that tweet from May 12, please, from the president, just to set my question up. "Now, James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

You know, a lot of people talked about that initially maybe as like a veiled threat. Might that be witness intimidation, anything further than that?



BEN-VENISTE: And I don't think the president could look any more foolish. I don't know what he would be laughing about, because he put this out there, the possibility there might be tapes.

Comey immediately called his bluff, as it now appears to be, and said, bring it on. Bring the tapes on. I have testified under oath as to what happened in those conversations. And let's hear from you.

And so, the president said, maybe there are tapes, be careful. And there are no tapes, according to the president now. Of course, he leaves open the possibility that someone else made tapes, that the Russians have permission to tape in the Oval Office. I mean, this is nutty at this point.

The president gratuitously continues to undermine his own credibility. I heard a guest say, I think I heard him say, just recently, well, no one believed the president anyway. So, this is no big deal.

If that's the standard that we're going to have, God help us.

BALDWIN: Well, there are real -- there's a real credibility issue here, I think, when you drill into all of this.

And if you're saying nutty, but not witness intimidation, Jeff, I'm just curious, do you agree?

JEFF CRAMER, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, certainly, it does seem odd. You can go with nutty.

I don't think it was witness intimidation, however. I think it was really just shooting from the hip. It's things he's done before in his prior life as a real estate developer, and you can do that. When you're building a casino in Atlantic City and you want to try to intimidate the person across from you, you can threaten there might be tapes. The problem is now that he's in the Oval Office, there are

ramifications when he says this. Specifically, as was just mentioned, James Comey then went to his friend who went to the press. The second thing is, as we have seen play out in the last 41 days, is Congress in its responsibility of investigating this is going to ask for those tapes. So there are consequences for what the president said.


BALDWIN: Well, the deadline for him to release the tapes was tomorrow. The deadline was actually tomorrow.

CRAMER: He cut it kind of close.


BALDWIN: Right. Right. Well, or he was coming clean, according to a Trump associate. He was coming clean with the public before he knew he had to hand anything over. Obviously, he has nothing to hand over now to House Intel by tomorrow.

And then just folding this all together, Shannon, back over to you at the White House, the White House responding to all of this today by banning the press briefing from being live, right? So we could hear the audio of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but we could not watch her. Why?

PETTYPIECE: What I have been told by outside strategists working with the White House is it's an attempt to sort of cool the temperature around the press briefings. They turned into this must-see reality TV.

You know, Spicer was performing. He was getting too combative. The reporters were also performing. There was this live reality TV- style...


BALDWIN: Performing by asking tough questions of the White House?

PETTYPIECE: Yes, combat, this live combat, it seemed like every day, going on.

And I guess performing is not -- maybe performing is an exaggeration, but this intense combat going on every day between the press and the White House and they wanted to try and sort of cool that off. It was becoming a distraction. You know, Spicer's profile was getting too high. And it was taking away -- you know, it was sort of taking away from issues.

So that's what I was told the strategy was behind it, is just to lower the temperature in the room around these press briefings a little bit and they were hoping taking them off-camera could do that. But of course, now it's created its own drama about why have you taken these press briefings off-camera and people, rightfully so, asking questions about that.

BALDWIN: Yes, go ahead. Yes.

PRIESS: But, Brooke, let's not lose the bigger political point here, which is that this is what Trump has done has got him to this point and been successful.

We're all talking about how odd it is. This is the man who said in the campaign he could shoot someone on the streets to have New York and still get elected. This is the man who alluded to Ted Cruz's father being involved in the JFK assassination.

And, in his mind, this has worked. This is not the kind of thing we should see as odd. This is the kind of thing we should see as the new norm unless and until someone who has a very different sense of humor about these things, like Bob Mueller, decides that he can take action.


BALDWIN: You bring up Bob Mueller, which brings me to my point.

Jeff, let me throw this at you. A lot of really just smart people have come on the show and said, you can draw this direct line between the Comey firing, two or three days later, that tweet from the president, which is sort of this veiled threat, you better hope there aren't threats, Comey sees that, he thinks, OK, I better get one of my memos out there, leaks the memo to his friend at Columbia, leaks it out to the press, which then ultimately brings about Bob Mueller, the special counsel, which is precisely what this Trump associate is confirming, that this whole episode with the tapes led to Bob Mueller.

CRAMER: I think you can draw that conclusion.

There's certainly a thread that goes through the different data points that you just laid out. But for the president making that tweet, would Comey have leaked it? Maybe, maybe not. That certainly facilitated Bob Mueller being appointed. It may have been done anyways. I think Rosenstein probably would have appointed a special counsel.

But this certainly hastened it, because it brought everything to the forefront, especially when you start talking about tapes being made. And if I can, one prior point a prior guest had as to whether or not, you know, he thought Comey might have taped it himself, I think that's absurd. I don't think the director of the FBI was walking in there, taping this with his iPhone.

I think this was all on the president. He didn't know what the reaction would be. And it came heavy.

BEN-VENISTE: That was that was completely ridiculous as an explanation, that Comey would do such a thing.

But, you know, there's an there's an apology owed to Congress. You know, the president, we hear, is enjoying all of this chaos around his misleading tweet, but what about putting Congress through the business of subpoenaing tapes and so forth? There ought to be something a bit more than this partial explanation

coming from the president, really. This is not a game show. This is not Whac-A-Mole or Goldilocks revisited. This is government, and we're made a laughingstock in the eyes of the world to see these kinds of goings-on.

BALDWIN: David and Jeff and Shannon and Richard, thank you all for all of your voices here on something that is so, so important.

Coming up, more breaking news. It is already short on votes, but would this Republican Senate health care bill bring down costs? We will talk to two economic analysts about what's actually in this new bill and what it means for you, Americans.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

It just went public just a few hours ago. The Senate Republican plan to replace Obamacare appears to be dead on arrival, but we still have time yet. These four Republican senators say they will vote against the plan drafted behind closed doors by their leadership.

Republicans can only afford to lose two votes, and so with four holdouts, that is obviously two more than they can lose.

Here is Kentucky Senator and Republican Rand Paul on why he says he will not support it as of now.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The intention's not to take down the bill. The intention is to make the bill better.

QUESTION: The choice could be this or Obamacare. Are you willing to let the country be under Obamacare and let this bill fail if that's the choice?

PAUL: I don't think there's anybody in America that's more against Obamacare than myself. As a physician, I have seen the ravages of it. I have traveled to 42 states running on repeal of Obamacare. I just didn't run on Obamacare-lite.

I didn't run on replacing it with more government programs.


BALDWIN: Let's go straight to Capitol Hill.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is standing by.

You know, so far, we have four, and again just reminding everyone, the big picture, they can only lose two and have the vice president be the tie-breaker. What's the issue with these four Republicans saying no for now?


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, these four Republicans that we're talking about, Brooke, this is Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson.

These are all conservative, to a certain extent, Tea Party Republicans, so their concern about the bill in its current form is it doesn't allow the free market to do its job, that there's too much government regulation tied up in this bill and, as you heard Rand Paul describe it, it is just Obamacare-lite.

But we also should point out, Brooke, that while these four conservatives feel there's room for negotiation here, we haven't even begun to talk about the moderates and their concern about this bill. That's Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Susan Collins from Maine.

They were not fans of the House bill at all and many of them are expressing reservations with what the Senate has produced. And this right here is the exact problem that Mitch McConnell is dealing with. He's got to satisfy this conservative hard-line wing of his party while at the same time mollifying the concerns of the moderates.

It's the same thing that Paul Ryan was dealing with in the House. The question is, can Mitch McConnell find a way to solve all of these problems and do it before the Fourth of July, which is when he promised this bill would be passed by, Brooke?

BALDWIN: All right, Ryan, thank you.

Let's have a bigger conversation here with two ladies to my right.

I have former Wall Street executive Alexis Glick and CNN global economic analyst Rana Foroohar, who's also a global business columnist and associate editor of "The Financial Times."

So, ladies, let's talk health care. First just now finally seeing this bill, just each of you, your just quick reactions to what we have seen.

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN ANALYST: The bill doesn't do what we need to do, which is really fix health care at a grassroots level.

Now, I will say, Obamacare didn't fully do that either. I come at this from a little bit of a liberal angle. I think that really what we need is what the rest of the rich countries in the world have, which is a single-payer option.

It's funny that Rand Paul was saying that this bill won't let the free market do its job. That's true because health care isn't a market like any other market. When we shop for health care, we don't shop the way we would for cereal or a pair of jeans.


FOROOHAR: It's very, very different.

And I think that that's what people are responding to. We still have a system that's just way too complex.

ALEXIS GLICK, FINANCIAL EXPERT: It's not only the complexity. I think the biggest issue when we look at the House bill from just a month ago was the CBO analysis. Right? And the analysis is not going to come out probably until Monday on this.

BALDWIN: Yes, couple days.

GLICK: But the real question is, how many are going to remain uninsured, are costs going to rise? And, yes, pretty much across the board, with the exception of repealing taxes, which is really favorable to the wealthy, favorable to the insurers, the medical device companies, most Americans are going to get hit, whether it's on subsidies.

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

GLICK: There had been subsidies in place to help them pay for insurance. Those subsidies will remain, but they're going to decrease, whether it's on deductibles and co-pays. Those are going to be phased out over two years.

So, I think, across the board, if you look at the traditional American in this country, particularly those who participated in Medicaid, 14 million have been insured in Medicaid through 2014. Many of them are going to get hurt by this.

BALDWIN: On the Medicaid point, I was trying to ask a Democratic senator about this, because I know that this is a big issue on the left. The Medicaid with this version stays intact until 2021, so that's some years from now, and then it's phased out over the course of three years, so people won't be impacted until post-midterm, post- next presidential election.

So there's that and the bit about preexisting condition remains.

FOROOHAR: There's the headline issue, though, which is that, you know, these folks in Congress have to go home during summer recess and sell the idea that, hey, 23 million people are going to lose their health care. That's what people are going to remember.

And we also should remember that about a third of Americans that cycle in and out of poverty every year do so because of a health care emergency. They do so because they don't have health care. It's a major problem in our country, particularly when that same group of people are the ones that haven't gotten a raise in a number of decades. You know, this is all part of the slow-growth economy that we're in. It all plays into the same problem.

GLICK: And I think the other thing I would factor in, when you think about the phasing out, right, as you said, 2021 through 2024...

BALDWIN: Feels like down the road. GLICK: It feels like so they're addressing the political nature of


BALDWIN: Totally.

GLICK: We know how this works. OK?


GLICK: But let's do a reality check on this. Right? I mean, you know, let's be real about it.

The fact of the matter is, you're going to face this cliff, right, and what are you going to do if you are in fact facing this cliff? And oh, by the way, if you look underneath the underbelly of this, once again, it's slightly -- not slightly -- it's, truthfully, more favorable to a younger audience, a lot less favorable to an elderly person.


GLICK: In fact, it could be up to 16 percent of their income could be connected to how they pay for their health insurance.


GLICK: So, there's a lot of political maneuvering going on around election and election cycle, but, ultimately, the question is, if you completely shut this down by '23, '24, there's 70 million Americans that rely on the services that Medicaid provides.



BALDWIN: Quickly.

FOROOHAR: You know, Medicaid and Medicare are some of the most popular programs. They're programs that work. They're program that voters say that they want.

We should actually be looking for ways to get more people insured.