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Interview with Senator Chris Van Hollen; Interview with Governor John Hickenlooper; White House to Hold Off-Camera Briefing Again; Separating Conjoined Twins to Save Their Lives; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 23, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Yes. John, I'm not confident that those four are going to stay no. And I think that the real focus here is going to be with respect to the so-called moderate senators including a lot of Republican senators who come from states whose governors came out against this terrible Senate bill in the House version earlier because the Senate bill actually cuts Medicaid more deeply than the House bill. And those are Republican governors who had complained about the House version already being too tough, too mean, as President Trump himself said. So I think that in the end it will primarily be a focus on those senators going forward.

BERMAN: And Susan Collins from Maine is one of them. She said, you know, roughly, I cannot support a bill that is going to result in tens of millions of people losing their health insurance. Well, the House bill, as it was written, you know, 23 million, 24 million people fewer will be on insurance in 10 years if that went into effect. We don't have the CBO score, but look, you know, what's your message to her right now if that number doesn't change?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, even if that number changes, if it doesn't change substantially, and it won't, and in fact, it will actually get worse over the long run because the Medicaid cuts are deeper. You know, the Congressional Budget Office looks at 10 years. If you look even farther, this is going to get out, it gets worse and worse. I think Senator Collins needs to be talking to her constituents.

And one of the things, John, that we'd like to see is Republican senators need to go home over the Fourth of July break and talk to their constituents about it. Look, we did not have a single committee hearing. This has been kept in secret. We don't even have the final, final version here. So it's really important that the American people have a chance to take a look at this and talk to their senators about it.

BERMAN: Right.

VAN HOLLEN: And it's a huge sort of miscarriage of the democratic process to try to ram this thing through next week.

BERMAN: Can I ask you a broad, philosophical question that's gnawing at a lot of people, including me? You know, Obamacare passed, you know, in 2010 without a single Republican vote in the Senate. This is going to pass and it's going to happen without a single Democratic vote in the Senate. Doesn't this strike you as a pretty messed up way to deal with something that affects one sixth of the economy?

VAN HOLLEN: I think we much prefer to have a more bipartisan process. As you know, back when we were working on the Affordable Care Act in the Senate and the House, but especially the Senate, they spent months trying to bring along Republican senators. And made the point repeatedly, that Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act actually had been built upon a model that Republicans had proposed. I mean, that was of course the basis of Romneycare in Massachusetts. That never happened.

Democrats in this round have said, look, we are happy to try to fix the exchanges. Right? We know they are not perfect, there are improvements that can be made. But what we are seeing from Republicans is two things. First the Trump administration has done everything it can to sabotage those exchanges from day one, driving up the cost in premiums.

And number two, John, these deep cuts to Medicaid have nothing to do with the so-called problems with the Affordable Care Act. There are no problems in the expanded Medicaid, which is why you have Republican governors worried about it.

BERMAN: There are people who think it's too expensive. That can be seen as a problem. But I understand what you're saying it doesn't affect the exchanges in premiums on other folks which is a separate issue to people. But I want to get your --


VAN HOLLEN: Yes. That's a little hard to hear them talking about the cost there when they're providing a $900 billion tax cuts in this bill that a majority which goes to very wealthy people.

BERMAN: Again, and that is a question for the Republicans right now is how do the tax cuts lower premiums. Connect those two dots there and that isn't always easy.

I want to ask you one political question, you are in the Senate now. You've spent most of your political career in the House of Representatives. And you know, a woman who was born in your state of Maryland, raised there, Nancy Pelosi, the leader in Congress for much of time. And you were her ally. A lot of people now saying she should step aside as the House minority leader.

Filemon Vela who was on with me just a short time ago says, "I think you'd have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top." What is your reaction to that?

VAN HOLLEN: My reaction is Senator Pelosi has been an incredibly effective leader in the House of Representatives. She's also worked hard to bring in a lot of the newer members into different forms of the leadership. I was in a meeting just this week with many of the newer members where part of that decision-making process.

Look, I think the discussion in the Democratic Party and the caucuses is healthy. And clearly, you know, the Democrats need to focus more on a strong economic message, but I don't lay the blame for that at the feet of Nancy Pelosi. That's something we need to work on as a Democratic Party across the country.

BERMAN: All right, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, thanks so much for being with us. Nice to see you again.

[10:35:01] All right. Coming up, we're going to speak to one of the governors who says he is shutting partisan politics to send a message to Washington.

Colorado's John Hickenlooper joins us right after the break.


BERMAN: All right. Senators going home today to weigh the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. This will have a huge impact on everyone all around the country and on states in particular. Many governors right now saying the Senate is doing this all the wrong way. One of them, governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, a Democrat joining us right now.

Governor, thanks so much for being with us. You wrote an op-ed with Governor John Kasich, a Republican, where you said, "We certainly agree that reforms need to be made to our nation's health care system. But as governors from opposite sides of the political aisle, we feel a true and lasting reforms are best approached by finding common ground in a bipartisan fashion.

[10:40:07] So that didn't happen. You know, the Senate -- the Republicans released their bill yesterday. You know, the Democrats universally oppose it. So what do you do now?

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: Well, I think we have to see how the vote comes down. You know, put as much pressure as we can on the more moderate Republican senators to say, hey, this doesn't serve your constituents. It's not going to serve your political career to -- you know, to support something like this, it's going to be so hated by so many people. And I think it's reasonable to expect that if they can't pass this, that you don't just walk away from health care. Both sides come back together and hopefully the governors have to implement this stuff. And find what other compromises so that we don't take so many people off. And millions, tens of millions of people off the medical coverage.

How do we keep people covered and yet control cost? Because one thing Governor Kasich and I agree on 1,000 percent is we can't continue to have the level of medical inflation we've had over these past few years.

BERMAN: So you were also part of several governors -- with other governors on this issue, where you say the Medicaid provisions, and you were talking about the House bill, the Medicaid provisions are particularly problematic. The Senate version makes what some people are calling, you know, even bigger cuts long term. So what do you tell some of these Republican senators, including, you know, your own Republican senator, Cory Gardner, about this?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think he knows this, as we've have talked about it. Now that the bill has come out, we can see it. Clearly it is very cruel to older, middle class individuals. Some of them 60 years ago could see the percentage of their income that get spent on health care double. I mean, it's a very -- especially for rural Colorado, it's just going to be a very difficult pill to swallow.

BERMAN: And you are much closer to this than most of us right now in that states when you're dealing with some of these exchanges and you're dealing with people and premiums and you're seeing the Medicaid spending. When you are talking about the cuts and the changes to Medicaid, how does that affect the premiums for everyone on the exchanges? Everyone else out there, the stuff that everyone agrees needs to be fixed?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, that's what's so ironic is that Medicaid -- I mean, what we want, what we focused on is how do we provide stability to the exchanges, how do we begin to control cost to these exchanges, get waivers, whatever it takes. Medicaid is really separate from that. And here, you're just talking about a cold, hard -- I mean the reality is you're giving a gargantuan tax cut to the richest 3/4 of a percent of the United States citizens and taking away health care from many, many millions, tens of millions of people.

That's not in the good -- in the best interest of this country. And certainly if any senator, I think when they come home and they hear what people say, they're going to say, we don't want our neighbors to lose their health care.

Look, in Colorado, there's a higher percentage of individuals on Medicaid in the rural parts of state. I mean, this is going to hurt the people that worked hardest to elect Trump. I can't believe they are going to take -- they are not dumb. They are not going to be oblivious to this. They are going to be unhappy and say hey, we deserve a share. We wanted a reform, we didn't want the thing completely eliminated.

BERMAN: No. And look, the tax cuts are separate when you get to the issue of Medicaid. There is a philosophical argument about entitlement reform, about how much should we put in and out of it. I think Republicans would argue that they are not looking to hurt poor people, but we take your side of the argument.

Also, one political question to you if I can right now because there's a "Washington Post" story out about how the Obama administration did or did not respond to the intelligence on Russian hacking during the election. I'm asking you because you're the governor of the state. And one of the things that is dealt with this in this article is how the administration reached out to states, you know, before Election Day and said, hey, we are really worried about the fact this is going on. And they got some pushback from some secretaries of state, in particular, who didn't want the federal government involved.

Do you feel like the administration did enough for Colorado leading up to Election Day?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, you know, we have Northern Command that's down in Colorado Springs, so we're actually in the process of building a national cyber security center. I am -- you know, I was worried about cyber securities and any issues that face the state. And we did have conversations with the federal government. I think again cyber security demands that states and the federal government work as closely together as possible. We've been talking to some of the western governors about, you know, how we can integrate our efforts in our universities with research but also our businesses, all the little cyber security companies that are kind of springing up.

We need everybody because this is -- it's not just in the elections. Our smaller municipalities are going to become targets for international racketeers and we need the federal government working with the state governors to make sure that we can do everything we can to hold them safe.

BERMAN: All right. Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Democrat, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your time.


BERMAN: All right. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer just went on a friendly news network, but he won't go on camera for today's briefing.

[10:45:06] More coming up.


BERMAN: All right. Not happening today, an on-camera White House briefing or not happening again today. The force trending ahead of the White House Correspondents Association to meet with Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders this morning. He sent this note after saying, "We believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials. Face questions from an independent news media. Gaggles are not a substitute for the open back-and-forth between reporters and administration officials that regular televised briefings allowed. Sean and Sarah agreed to consider these positions."

Joining me now, Republican strategist Justin Sayfie and CNN political commentator Alice Stewart.

You know, Alice, to you, what's the White House doing here? What is the game with, you know, dangling some on-camera briefings, some audio briefing, some taped return briefings?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They are doing their best to control the message. Look, I'm the first to say we don't need the full White House press briefings every day. I think Sean and Sarah and the rest of the comms team really go out of their way to make themselves available to answering questions and I think that on-camera briefings should be saved when there's big news.

[10:50:06] That being said yesterday was a big news day. And I feel that should have been on camera. There were a lot of questions that did need to be answered. I think more than anything the American people aren't as concerned with this as journalists. But I do think it's something to push back on.

Their biggest concern and challenge in communications is while they have a good message where they're talking jobs or immigration or health care, they often get off message when President Trump tweets something about Russia and if they can put that Genie in the bottle and stay on message on a day-to-day basis, their comms shop would be much better off.

BERMAN: Justin, how do you see it?

JUSTIN SAYFIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that -- I exactly agree with Alice, that the White House is trying to use -- trying different techniques to control the messaging. And look, I do agree that it's also about the press corps. The press corps itself are used to being able to have that access. But this whole issue of whether it's on television or not on television, again to me, it's important that they have the ability to ask those questions.

I'm less concerned whether it's televised or not televised. And the other important thing to keep in mind here is that we now live in the age of the Internet and social media. President Trump has over 30 million followers on Twitter that he's sharing information with. Again, not the same thing as having reporters ask questions, they still should be able to do that. But it's not like there's a blackout of information coming out of this president or coming out of this White House.

BERMAN: All right. Let me address a couple of these things from a slightly different perspective. You know, you know where I'm sitting here. On the one hand, this White House occasionally says things that need to be tested and challenged. The president will say things on Twitter, for instance, that's a one-way conversation. So unless you can ask that question, you know, you can't get a response. And being able to do that so people can see it, do you think, Justin, that that's important?

SAYFIE: I do think it's important, but I don't think it necessarily -- it shouldn't be the White House communication, any president, whether it's President Obama or President Trump, shouldn't be dictated by the press corps. Each administration is going to decide that for their own and let the voters decide whether they feel the White House is being transparent enough or subjecting themselves to questions.

Being subjected to questions is important and this White House is doing that. They are just not doing it on camera or not doing it on film like they used to do previously in previous administrations.

BERMAN: They may be subjected to questions, but they are not always or not often even, Alice, delivering answers. I mean, we could give you the long list of where Sean Spicer says, I haven't talked to the president about that. I don't know about that. You know, I don't know how he feels about climate change. Again, you know, is that actually honest communication with journalists?

STEWART: I think they are delivering the message exactly the way that President Trump wants them to do. And one thing I do feel strongly that when the president tweets something, that is an official statement from the president.


BERMAN: I agree with that.

STEWART: Something he said on social media. So when a reporter asks a question about a specific tweet, I think it is the responsibility for them to be able to elaborate on that, if asked, and not say the tweet speaks for itself. So I do think it's important not to look at these tweets as one-off on social media. These are official statements. And when reporters need clarification, obviously people want clarification. I think a few more answers should be done with regard to that.

BERMAN: Justin, 10 seconds of advice for the White House from you now.

SAYFIE: Keep using social media effectively. Try to be -- for the president to continue to be authentic and keep experimenting with different ways to find out a way to best get their message through the traditional reporters.

BERMAN: Experimenting with different ways even if it means no way on any given day.

Justin Sayfie, Alice Stewart, I really appreciate the discussion. Thanks so much.

STEWART: Thanks, John.

SAYFIE: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: A remarkable story of survival after a risky operation to separate conjoined twins. We have a look inside a CNN special report.


[10:58:03] BERMAN: Tonight, a CNN Special Report "SEPARATED, SAVING THE TWINS." This is an incredible story about a complicated and risky life-saving operation that separated the McDonald twins who were born conjoined at the head.

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a preview.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: For nearly a year now, we've been following the story of the McDonald family. Nicole knowing that she was going to have conjoined twins, all the decisions they had to make. And also what life was like even before they decided to have the twins separated.


NICOLE MCDONALD, MOTHER: You're going home. You're going home.

GUPTA (voice-over): While every new parent has a steep learning curve, the McDonald's are steeper than most. Just to move the boys takes two, one adult holding each baby in complete unison.

N. MCDONALD: Out of control.

GUPTA: No crib will fit them, so they sleep in a queen-sized bed.

N. MCDONALD: You think you're funny.

GUPTA: Instead of a stroller, the McDonalds use a wagon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got it. I got your belly.

GUPTA: As the days, weeks and months pass, they all settle in. Life is joyful.

N. MCDONALD: Give them love.

GUPTA: But in the back of everyone's mind is the realization that the only chance at a real life is separation.


GUPTA: So they did all their homework, they looked for the best hospital, the best surgeon, to try and give their boys the best chance at life.

BERMAN: What an amazing story. Do not miss this CNN Special Report, "SEPARATED: SAVING THE TWINS," that's tonight at 10:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

Thanks so much for joining us. I'm John Berman. Have a fantastic weekend. In the meantime, "AT THIS HOUR" with (INAUDIBLE) Kate Bolduan starts right about now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much, John Berman. No tape, case closed, right? Not so fast.