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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with U.S. Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 29, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: There are nearly 2.8 million Pennsylvanians covered by Medicaid.

[16:30:04] SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Right.

TAPPER: Seven hundred thousand are covered under the Medicaid expansion.

TOOMEY: Right.

TAPPER: What do you say to the people who are worried they might lose coverage because of the Republican Senate bill?

TOOMEY: Well, the fact is they won't lose coverage because of the Senate bill. What we do, in fact, is we codify, we make permanent the Medicaid expansion. As you know, Jake, there were four categories of eligible people for Medicaid. Obamacare created a fifth, and that is able-bodied, adult with no dependents.

That category never before was covered. Obamacare made them eligible. We keep them eligible.

TAPPER: Close to the poverty line, we should point out. People close to the poverty line.

TOOMEY: Yes, right. Up to 138 percent of the poverty line.

TAPPER: Right.

TOOMEY: A hundred thirty-eight percent and below.

So, what we do is we say, OK, we're going to keep this category eligible for Medicaid in perpetuity. And new enrollees can enroll, as they become eligible. But we are going to ask the states to pay their fair share of the cost there. And in all of the other categories of Medicaid beneficiaries like the blind, and disabled, and the elderly, poor, the states pay their share.

On average, that works out to 43 percent. And we're going to take seven years to go from the federal government paying 90 percent of this cost and the states paying just 10 percent, to the same matches we have for all other categories. I think that's a reasonable, very reasonable thing to do. It creates an incentive for the states to actually care about what this program costs. And there's no reason that anybody needs to lose their coverage. TAPPER: All right. You've said this before.

TOOMEY: Right.

TAPPER: You've explained this before. And it's true that Medicaid funding keeps going up, although it goes up at a lower rate

TOOMEY: Correct.

TAPPER: -- than it would have under current status.

PolitiFact rated the claim that no one would lose coverage under this bill, they gave it a half true. And let me explain in the same substantive way you just did. They say this class to qualify for Medicaid under Obamacare and previously hadn't, as you just referred to, still continue to have coverage. But the federal government shift from paying 90 percent, as you just referred to --

TOOMEY: Right.

TAPPER: -- to 57 percent by 2024. And PolitiFact wrote, it's possible even likely that individuals enrolled in Medicaid under the Obamacare expansion would lose coverage if states decline to cover the shortfall that they will face after the federal government reduces its share of expanded Medicaid costs.

So, is it not possible, if not likely, that some individuals will lose coverage?

TOOMEY: Oh, it's -- I've always acknowledged, it's possible that a governor or state government could make that decision, but it would be their decision. And think about what that implies, if a governor were to decide to cop this coverage, what that governor is saying is, this program is worth it to me when I can buy it for 10 cents on the dollar, but if I have to pay 43 cents, even with the federal government paying the lion's share, then it's not worth it for me.

If it's not worth it for a governor to be willing to pay 43 or 48 cents on a dollar, then why does it make sense for the federal taxpayer to pay 90 cents on a dollar for it?

Look, I think having a shared responsibility for this cost between the state and the federal government, as we do with all other categories of eligibility, just makes perfect sense. And by the way, anything else is completely unsustainable. This program in its current form is completely unsustainable. Nobody really seriously disputes that, Jake.

The question is only whether we're going to do anything about it, but Medicaid has been growing so rapidly that on the path it's on now, we're going to face fiscal ruin. So, I think this is a very sensible gradual sharing of responsibility that makes a lot of sense.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about a letter that you got from the Pennsylvania state attorney Josh Shapiro, he wrote a letter to you expressing his concern that his bill would eliminate substance abuse treatment for 175,000 Pennsylvanians. He wrote: No level of law enforcement can solve this problem completely. Expanding access to treatment is critical. The health care bill under consideration by the U.S. Senate will prevent us from effectively combating the heroin crisis because it eliminates guaranteed access to treatment for millions of Americans.

He's obviously a Democrat. He calls the opioid crisis the most serious public safety threat facing the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

TOOMEY: Well, I'll say the one thing I agree with him on is that the opioid crisis probably is the most serious public health and safety threat that we face. But he's just wrong about Medicaid coverage. There's nothing about this that disallows that coverage.

In fact, this bill if we can get this done is going to have a significant brand new funding stream precisely for addiction treatment centers. It will be opioid especially but it probably broader than that. So, that's just not the case. I mean, there's a very broad system on Republican senators that we have a crisis and we're going to help deal with it.

TAPPER: Lastly, I do want to ask about President Trump's tweets this morning. Going out to anchors at a rival cable network calling them Crazy Mika and Psycho Joe. Saying that Mika, I'm sorry, Crazy Mika, rather, and Psycho Joe, saying that Mika was bleeding badly from a facelift.

You're not somebody that employs language like this, even in the heat of a political debate. What do you think when President Trump tweets things like this or says things like this?

[16:35:01] TOOMEY: This is maddening. It's maddeningly frustrating, because this is beneath the dignity of the president of the United States or at least it should be. And it's a distraction. And really, ultimately, it starts to undermine the president's ability to get his agenda done.

The president should be focusing on what the people elected him to do, get this economy moving again, repeal Obamacare and replace it with a better health care system, provide security in a dangerous world. Those are the big things and we really need a president to focus on those things.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Pat Toomey from the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania -- thanks so much. Always good to see you, sir.

TOOMEY: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Thanks for being here.

TOOMEY: Yes.

TAPPER: So, let's dive back in with my political panel, Mary Katharine and Jen.

Let's talk about health care. We've talked about the tweets already, significantly.

Mary Katharine, how can Republicans bridge this divide between the Murkowskis and Collins types, the moderate faction, and the Mike Lees and Ted Cruzes, and the more conservative factions? I don't even understand how you get there. It would be easier for Collins to make a health care deal with the Democrats it seems that with Mike Lee?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it remains to be seen, and it seems impossible, but it also seems impossible in the House and McConnell is quite good at doing things. And I think the argument, by the way, that if you don't do what we're hashing out here, you will have to negotiate with Schumer is not a bad argument from McConnell.

Look, Republicans were elected to do something about a problem that does not exist. We do not live in a health care utopia thanks to Obamacare. That is a lie propagated by people who prefer to see it that way.

And the people who sold Obamacare did not do it subtly. The promises were brazen, they were big, and they were wrong when it comes to the main stuff like affordability, to bring premiums down $2500 when it comes to not losing your plan and your doctor. When it comes to choice and competition, one-third of counties in the United States now have one or zero choices to them on the individual market.

People like me said at the time, I'm not sure this is going to work out, guys, I'm not even sure the Web site can launch -- the government can launch this Web site properly. It turned out I was right. I was called a shill at the time.

The people now who were wrong the first time around and who I think misled many people about what this was going to be, are now saying, if you don't get on board with what we want, then you're literally an evil death party who wishes thousands of people would die.

TAPPER: And there --

HAM: So -- but I think this ties the tweet story and the health care story together, because when people look at Trump and they go, my gosh, why do people vote for this guy? That's one of the reasons, because when -- yes, the elites of this country make a giant mistake, it's not a giant mistake for everybody Obamacare, but it was a giant mistake for many people and it was sold on a bunch of exaggerating stuff. And then they come back to you and say, you evil people for not listening to us again, they go, you know what, I'll take the bully over here.

And I think that is part of people's frustration and that's where we are. And these guys are elected to try and solve this problem. They're working on an incremental solution. This is not a repeal, that's why it's making everybody upset.

TAPPER: Right. (INAUDIBLE)

HAM: I don't -- it's a real open question with if they're going to do that with the product at hand, but I would really like it to talk about it in a way that respects the fact that they're here to try and work on that, with -- in good conscience.

TAPPER: So, Jen, what would you recommend to Democrats right now who are seeing that the Republicans are having difficulty, because I had heard there has been a debate within the Republican Party on the Hill, people who want to, you know, come up and say, here are our 10 solutions to improve Obamacare, so people like Mary Katharine Ham and her family are not going through this horror. And yet, we still are providing for the people who now have health care because of Obamacare, here are 10 solutions.

But the Democratic leaders have refused to let them do it, because it's easier to have all the debate focus on Republicans. What would you advise a Democrat?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, one, because the Trump administration hasn't been clear they're going to do cost-sharing reduction payments and because there isn't enough competition in the marketplace, there is something that needs to be done. And I think a lot of Democrats, not all of them, acknowledge that.

I would say the Democrats go to the table if they have an opportunity. A big problem that a lot of people have with what is happening on the hill right now is that it is not addressing the core problems that there are with Obamacare. Even if Hillary Clinton had been elected, this is a bill -- this is a piece of legislation that would have to go back to the hospital and have some fixes done to it.

HAM: Right.

PSAKI: Statically, across the country, though, it is not as dire for everybody as Mary Katharine is saying. The rate of uninsured is lower than it has ever been in history, 20 million people have health care. The premiums are lower than they would have been. People with preexisting conditions are now covered.

So there are a lot of things that have changed for the good. Some changes need to be made. I think we all elect people so that they can protect people in this country, but this bill that they're putting forward is not addressing any of the core issues.

It's taking an agenda that Paul Ryan and others have had for decades and trying to insert that into as a fix for health care.

[16:40:02] It's not fixing the problem that the bill has.

HAM: Well, the Medicaid portion of this, for instance, which Democrats have a huge problem with --

PSAKI: Not just Democrats, a lot of Republicans and governors.

HAM: But listen, it's something that's very serious with people. And I understand, I've dealt with health care issues myself through this process. But when you have like actual studies authored by none other than Jonathan Gruber, the architect of Obamacare, that say Medicaid does not give results that are better than being uninsured, that is a program that is in trouble.

I mean, you dump more people into it into who are able-bodied, and some above the poverty line, thereby reallocating resources from the most disadvantage, who it was meant to serve and it was serving to begin with, then you are not doing those people a service. Just saying they have Medicaid does not actually give them health care. Just saying you're in an individual market and lucky you, you have affordable health care doesn't actually give you affordable health care.

And so, you do have to look at those programs. And I would argue that it's hard to say that Medicaid should not be reformed in some way if it is not serving people better than being literally uninsured.

TAPPER: Jen, I'll give you the last word.

PSAKI: I'm certain that the 22 million people who will be kicked off of health insurance with the Senate bill --

HAM: It's 22 million who would choose not to buy it because they wouldn't be forced to buy it by the government.

PSAKI: Well, a lot of them wouldn't be covered by Medicaid. But they would love to have access to a great plan. That's not the reality. That's not what's being proposed. So, we should stop talking about this in an antiseptic way and start talking about people's lives and whose kids who will not have coverage for those cancer treatments.

HAM: I'm happy to talk about --

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: But this is not about one study. This is about millions of people. Many who have told their stories who will not have access to Affordable Health Care if this goes through. That's why we're talking about this.

HAM: There are many stories that are happening right now. And look, you give people data, they want anecdotes. You give people anecdotes, they want data. The data is important. And if we want an evidence- based situation where we're dealing with the government that actually serves people, that's important.

TAPPER: All right. Jen and Mary Katharine, we could do this all day. And it's a great debate but we do have to take a quick break. It was good. I appreciate it.

Coming up, ISIS losing control. We'll head to the frontlines in the fight against the terrorist group, as coalition forces take back a historic landmark in a key Iraqi city. A rare good news story when it comes to ISIS. Stay with us. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:4500] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with the "WORLD LEAD" now, a pivotal day in the war against ISIS. The terrorist group is losing ground in a key city. Iraq's Prime Minister says with the help of U.S. forces, it recaptured the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul. The terrorist had declared its caliphate in Mosul in this very building in 2014 but now the historic landmark more than 800 years old is rubble blown up by ISIS according to the U.S. and Iraq. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh was in Mosul earlier today, he now joins on safer ground in Irbil. And Nick, Iraqi forces celebrating a victory but the fight in that region far from over?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And frankly, the victory they're celebrating seems to some degree hollow. As of 3:00 this afternoon when we were still with forces leading the charge against the al-Nuri mosque, they were far from having recaptured it, still trying to get their vehicles to encircle it using bulldozer as power through rebel, and incredibly difficult task. Booby traps setting them back, constant sniper fire. But really, the announcement we've heard today is political. I supposed you can pass the statement from the Iraqi command saying really given the fact that no one can get into the mosque because it's been blown up and is laid in with booby traps and ISIS were being pushed back away from it, then perhaps technically it falls into our hands because nobody really controls it. Baghdad have left forward saying, this marks effectively, the symbolic fall of Mosul from ISIS' grip and therefore the defeat of ISIS is more broadly. They're on the great (INAUDIBLE) pressure to find success here. The problem is, frankly, this is a much more complex task than simply declaring victory and moving on to the next thing. There are still thousands of civilians trapped in the part of the old city still held by ISIS and a sudden extraordinary deep rift in Iraqi society between the Shia part of the residency her that that run the government and the Sunni that used to but had now finding their extremist branch allied to ISIS. That hasn't been healed but the fighting is still continuing, Jake.

TAPPER: And Nick, CNN, you have been alongside forces fighting ISIS in Mosul for a few days now. Describe some of the scenes you've witnessed?

WALSH: Extraordinary mass of fire power used from both sides. Unbelievable rubble in what should be possibly one of the most historically beautiful parts of one of Iraq's most key cities. Civilians emerging from that rubble talking about how they have been shelled constantly, survived on what little water they have amongst them. One woman with pins in her leg walked to safety today carrying her children. A child who could basically say that heard nothing apart from the word mortar in the past few days. People utterly shell-shocked, they're leaving behind the rubble, they're walking into the dust of their future. This is Iraq at its worst and it hasn't finished yet, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, amazing reporting from Nick Paton Walsh in Irbil, thank you so much, Sir. Also in the "WORLD LEAD" today, a new scandal rocking the Catholic Church, this time Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's number three official has been charged with "historical sexual assault offenses" in his home country of Australia. The top adviser to Pope Francis has now become the highest-ranking Vatican official facing sexual assault charges leaving a dark mark against the Papacy of Pope Francis who have been beloved around the world for his humility and for his compassion he has shown for sexually abused victims. Let's bring in CNN Vatican Correspondent Delia Gallagher, and Delia, what do we know about these charges Cardinal Pell is facing?

DELIA GALLAGHER, VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Victoria Police have given very little specific details except to say as you mention, they are historical charges. The Vatican called them decades old. So presumably relating to the time before Pell was a cardinal when he was a priest in Australia in the '70s and '80s. The Cardinal this morning at the Vatican vehemently denying any wrongdoing and the Vatican saying that the Pope Francis is giving him a leave of absence from his role as Finance Minister here to go back and face trial in Australia on July 18th, at which time, we will probably know more about the specific nature of the charges. Jake?

[16:50:08] TAPPER: And Delia, as you note, some of the accusations might be decades old yet the Pope handpicked the Cardinal to be his top adviser. This has to be in some ways a blow to Pope Francis' Papacy.

GALLAGHER: Well, absolutely. This cardinal is important not only because he is the Pope's Finance Minister but he is one of the Chief Advisers to Pope Francis. And it has two potential consequences for Pope Francis; one is to put the spotlight back on what Pope Francis is doing about sex abuse at the Vatican. He's very been criticized for lack of progress on sex abuse.one of the prominent members of the sex abuse at the Vatican. He's very popular Pope as you mentioned but he has been criticized for lack of progress on sex abuse. One of the prominent members of his sex abuse commission resigned just a few months ago saying the commission is ineffectual. So certainly this story is bringing the spotlight back on Pope Francis and how much of a priority he's making sex abuse at the Vatican. The other point, of course, is that he's lost his Finance Minister. At least temporarily change in the Vatican's way of doing finances. More accountability, transparency was one of the pillars of Pope Francis' pontificate. He brought Cardinal Pell in to help him with that reform. It is stalling at the moment because that's meeting a lot of resistance from within Vatican offices. Now his Finance Minister is on a leave of absence and we don't know what the future holds for that, so some potential and important consequences for the Pope.

TAPPER: All right, Delia Gallagher in the Vatican for us. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Red flags at the EPA after environmental scientist says a top-level employee at the agency tried to influence her Congressional testimony. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "EARTH MATTER" series. The Environmental Protection Agency has raised some eyebrows with changes it has made under the Trump administration. Back in April, climate information was wiped off the EPA Web site which says it aims to "reflect the approach of new leadership." Then last month, half of the scientists who used to provide scientific guidance on air and water quality were fired from the agency. Now critics say EPA Chief Scott Pruitt past business dealings may have influenced his decision to not ban a harmful pesticide, CNN's Rene Marsh has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: The Environmental Protection Agency with Administrator Scott Pruitt at the helm is under the microscope of ethics hawks who feel the agency and its leader have overstepped their bounds.

DEBORAH SWACKHAMER, EPA BOARD OF SCIENTIFIC COUNSELORS CHAIRWOMAN: The scientific foundation must be independent of politics and must be robust.

MARSH: Last month, environmental scientist and retired professor, Doctor Deborah Swackhamer testified on Capitol Hill. E-mails obtained by CNN show EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's Chief of Staff, Ryan Jackson pushed to influence her testimony.

SWACKHAMER: My perspectives and statements are mine alone.

MARSH: The retired professor is also the Chairwoman of an EPA Science Review Board that plays a crucial role in the work the agency does. EPA dismissed nine of the 18 scientists on the board about two weeks before the Congressional hearing. E-mails show Chief of Staff Jackson push for Swackhamer to downplay the scientist dismissal saying, "attached are talking points which we have used internally to advise what we are simply doing to review applicants."

NORMAN EISEN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE FELLOW: Whenever words are being put in the mouth of somebody by the administration, that's a red flag for me.

MARSH: Swackhammer told CNN, she felt uncomfortable with what the EPA's Chief of Staff was asking of her. An EPA Spokeswoman told CNN it is customary for the Office of General Council and the Chief of Staff to provide guidance to an EPA employee testifying in front of Congress and to clarify if they're speaking as an individual, rather than on behalf of the agency. Witnesses testifying independently and not on behalf of an agency are supposed to share their own opinions, not government talking points. But e-mails show Jackson tried to influence the testimony, even after he was told Swachacker would testify as a private a citizen. And it's not the only EPA action raising concerns, CNN has learned Administrator Scott Pruitt was scheduled to meet with the CEO of DOW Chemical, a company that makes pesticides.

ANDREW N. LIVERIS, DOW CHEMICAL COMPANY CEO: This is probably the most purposed administration since the founding fathers.

MARSH: The meeting was scheduled weeks before Pruitt reversed course on banning a pesticide the company makes. It's been linked in scientist studies in brain defects in children. Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide in-use since1965. Pruitt says the science on its impact remains unresolved. EISEN: When an agency seems to be talking in favor of an industry providing special access and even distorting their decision making to benefit special interest, that's when you start to get into the question, hey, is this ethical or not?

MARSH: An EPA Spokeswoman tells CNN the meeting was canceled at the last minute and the two only spoke briefly and pesticides were not discussed. Dow Chemical did not respond to a request for comment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Ethics talks say there are very serious questions about whether these two incidents at the EPA are part of a larger pattern for disregard of best practices. They believe these two incidents merit a closer look and closer scrutiny to determine if it was only improper or if there was any actual misconduct. Jake?

TAPPER: Rene Marsh with our "EARTH MATTERS" episode today. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn. That is it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jake Tapper, I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.