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McCain's Medical Scare Delays GOP Health Care Vote; Is McCain's Recovery Time Longer Than Initially Thought?; Collins: Eight To Ten GOP Senators "Concerned" About Bill; Trump Tries Defending Record Low Approval Rating; Secret Service Rejects Claim It Knew Of Don Jr. Meeting; Trump Today On Don Jr.'s Meeting: "That's Politics" Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired July 17, 2017 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Another big setback in the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. This time, a health care forcing the Senate majority leader to hold off on the controversial bill.

The bill he can't lose one more vote to pass. Mitch McConnell announcing this weekend this week's planned vote is now delayed while Arizona Senator John McCain recovers from surgery for a blood clot.

Two Republican senators, you well know, Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, they say they won't support moving forward with the bill for very different reasons, of course.

And that means, even if every other Senate Republican is on board, the bill, without John McCain is going nowhere. There are several big questions here, both political and more importantly, medical at the moment.

Will the extra time help Mitch McConnell convince the unconvinced? And is Senator McCain's condition more serious than initially thought?

Joining me right now to start off, CNN's congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly is here. So Phil, where do things stand there at the moment today?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very fluid. There's no question about it. They are very fluid. Obviously there's very genuine concern for Senator McCain. All the aides I've spoken to this morning have said that. You've heard that a lot from the members as well.

But when it comes to the health care bill, there's a recognition that even with John McCain, they aren't there yet. They don't have the 50 votes to move forward. There's a lot of work to do.

I was talking to one senior GOP aide earlier this morning who said, look, every day at this point that we don't get another no vote, that crucial third no vote is a small victory.

Now that's a pretty low bar for success here, but underscores the real challenge they have behind the scenes. The dynamics, Kate, you know them well. We've talked about them for a couple months.

You have Medicaid expansion state senators very concerned about the expansion. You have other senators who are very concerned about the overall changes to the Medicaid program, the reductions in spending over the course of the period of time.

And then you have conservatives. Even though Senator Ted Cruz's freedom amendment as he called it, which would have basically allow for stripped down plans in exchanges so long as one Affordable Care Act was also offered, while that is in there and Senator Cruz is supportive, not all conservatives have gotten on board.

As you note, Senator Rand Paul still very much a no and Senator Mike Lee still undecided. The thought was if the Cruz amendment was brought on board, all of these folks would potentially come on board. That hasn't been the case yet.

So what happens now, well, a lot of behind the scenes. I'm told the Senate Majority Leader McConnell has essentially told his members, stay quiet, come to us with your concerns, and we will try to address them.

But publicly, keep your powder dry. Again, Kate, at this point, it's all about keeping that third no from coming out. If they can do that, they feel like there's an opportunity to eventually pass this when Senator McCain comes back. There is no question about it. There is a lot of work left to do.

BOLDUAN: Keep your powder dry. That might have been a good message to the conference like a month or two ago. Now, beyond the point. Real quick, I heard Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price over the weekend say that the current bill is just the beginning.

He was trying to make the case, Phil, that it seems that the administration is going to go through health care regulations and try to make things, try to find ways to make things easier. He says that's part of the overall plan, the broader plan. What was he talking about, do you know?

MATTINGLY: Yes, and this is a really underappreciated element of kind of this entire lobbying effort right now that's going on. It's why you saw Secretary Price out. It's why you've seen CMS Administrator Seema Verma really working behind closed doors with the senators right now.

There are regulatory things that can be offered both by HSS and on the Medicaid side of things by CMS to help ease the transition and target specific senators in specific states how to make the process better or easier to handle if there are major concerns.

Their ability to kind of swage member concerns with those options out there, with those possibilities out there, they think is a key sign. Kate, it helped in the House. Seema Verma was crucial to passing the House bill with some of these moderate members.

That is very much so happening right now. The big question, though, becomes, OK, you are a Republican administration. What happens to any of those regulatory changes you make if the next administration happens to be a Democratic administration?

That's a roadblock they are trying to overcome right now. There's no question about it. What HHS can do and CMS can do administratively is a huge piece of this and one the administration is absolutely pushing behind the scenes right now.

BOLDUAN: It's a huge piece that if they are going to be able to threat this needle, we will see. Great to see you, Phil, thank you.

So that's the political end of it, right? So for more on the surgery of Senator John McCain and why his recovery of the surgery may be more serious than thought. I want to bring to you CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He explains.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: As part of this procedure, Senator McCain actually had that bone removed to gain access to the brain.

[11:05:03]I want to show you on the skull, again right above your eye socket, it's this bone in here, in particular that was removed to try and gain access. So you get a small incision, but it can give you a pretty big opening there, a sizable opening to the brain.

Just to show you, again, here on this brain that once you have opened up that bone, you are gaining access to this part of the brain. What you hear is there was a 5 centimeters, about 2 inches abnormality there. They call it a blood collection.

We are not sure, essentially what it is until it's looked at under the microscope. That's what it was. It's brain surgery. It's a good size operation. It's general anesthesia and it does involve recovery.

He has a history of melanoma. We know Senator McCain does -- right in this area, in the left temple area. So often times they say as part of the follow up, we are going to scan you from time-to-time to make sure there's no evidence of return of the melanoma.


BOLDUAN: The surgery came from Senator McCain's office and came as a surprise to many over the weekend. We wish him the best and a speedy recovery and hope he gets back to work very, very soon. He would be missed on the Hill if he stayed away too long.

Let's go to the politics side of this and his absence and the state of play means for the controversial Senate Republican version of the health care bill is senior political analyst and senior editor of "The Atlantic" is here, Ron Brownstein. So Ron, hello, my dear. At the very least, any vote on health care is delayed. How long, we do not know. Does more time help this bill? Is more time what Mitch McConnell needs right now?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no, I think they understand time is their enemy. They have two fundamental problems. First is that you have essentially every possible interest in the medical community opposed to the bill, groups that don't usually agree.

You have all the patient groups, heart, lung, cancer, march of dimes. You have the provider groups, doctors, pediatricians, hospital. You have the insurance industry saying the Ted Cruz amendment is not workable. You have seniors, all of them, the Medicaid directors, most of them were appointed by Republican governors oppose the bill.

So there's no institutional support. What people are hearing tends to be opposition. The second, to me, bigger problem, we talked about this before, is that the biggest losers in this bill are Republican constituencies. We know 22 million to 23 million people will lose coverage under the bill.

When (inaudible) who they are? What do they find? Eighty percent of them don't have a college degree, 70 percent of there are in a household where someone works full time, and 60 percent of them roughly are white. You could not draw a more perfect bulls-eye over the new Donald Trump coalition.

BOLDUAN: That is absolutely right.

BROWNSTEIN: And by the way, the second point among those lines, Medicaid is especially important in rural communities. Fewer people, it's logical, they have employer provided health care. Medicaid is a bigger share of the overall health care picture.

It is why you have unexpected people like Gerry Moran in Kansas and John Hoven in North Dakota expressing resistance. It's critical in the opioid epidemic. Medicaid pays for one quarter of all substance abuse treatment in the country.

So you have people like Rob Portman and Shelly Moore Capito in Arkansas and Nevada, Dean Heller, where they are dealing with significant opioid challenges. So in a lot of different ways, I mean, this reflects the changing Republican coalition.

I mean, this bill seems to be somewhat of a time lapse. It's a Republican coalition, Republican leadership that believe all of its voters benefit all the time from less government, less regulation, and less spending. In fact, they now have a big constituency of lower income and older whites, who are reliant on government programs including the ACA and Medicare among others.

BOLDUAN: And so what you are saying is that this is challenging. It is a challenge when you lay it out that way.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. BOLDUAN: Part of the central disagreement is over Medicaid at this point. Are they slowing the growth rates of spending in order to save the program or are they cutting funding for the program?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, this is the argument. I lived through this argument in 199 1994-1995, excuse me, '95-'96 when the Republicans and Bill Clinton had the government shutdown. And Newt Gingrich argued they were not cutting Medicare spending, they were just slowing the growth of Medicare spending.

If you slow the growth of spending, government spending at a time when the underlying costs are going up and the population affected is going up, you are, in fact, changing the trajectory of the program.

You are taking $800 billion out of the program. The estimate is that 15 million people would lose coverage under the program. Many of these key states, West Virginia, Nevada, Colorado, Ohio, Arkansas, more than a third -- the estimates are more than a third of the current Medicaid population would lose coverage.

And that's why you saw something remarkable over the weekend. Even after Tom Price and Vice President Pence went to the National Governor's Association, the Republican governors in Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio and Nevada all came out against the bill.

[11:10:13]There are six Republican senators from the states. Will they break with their own governors particularly Dean Heller in Nevada, who maybe the single pivotal vote here and Rob Portman in Ohio.

BOLDUAN: Susan Collins is voicing those very same concerns right now. That's a huge issue for her as well. Great to see you, Ron. Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: So we are approaching the six-month mark of President Trump's presidency and a new measure is out today or how Americans think the president is doing. In short, not well, the lowest presidential approval rating at this point in 70 years.

Take a look at this, 36 percent in a new ABC/"Washington Post" poll say that they approve of the president's performance, a six-point drop since April. That leaves the president with a 58 percent disapproval rating at the moment.

The president for his part, tried to hut his spin on it over the weekend with this in a tweet, "The ABC/"Washington Post" poll, even though, almost 40 percent is not bad at this time. Was just about the most inaccurate poll around election time."

Just about the most inaccurate poll around election time, a quick check on that one, the ABC News/"Washington Post's" final estimate was 47-43 in Clinton's favor for the election.

The final election result was Clinton, 48.5, Trump 46.5 given the poll's 2.5 percent margin of error, it is pretty darn close, pretty darn close to accurate.

Joining me now to talk through the numbers that we are looking at right now, CNN's political director, David Chalian. So David, the top line there, it isn't good news for the president --

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And in fact that's the other fact check on the tweet. He says it's not bad. It's actually the worst in the modern era that we have.

BOLDUAN: A fact check, a double fact check. That's hard to do in 140 characters. But more troubling, maybe, than the top line number is, if you look into the polls and you look at his support now in the counties that flip in his favor this election from Obama to Trump, it's pretty amazing, David?

CHALIAN: Yes, I mean we have seen some of those polls from the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll that went in to look at counties. They did it in two categories, Trump counties but these counties, counties that flip from Obama to Trump, he's at a 44 percent approval rating there.

Obviously, those counties were hugely important component to his winning the election. I think that kind of mirrors what you are seeing, also among independents who have been trending away from the president.

Remember, independents were a part of his winning coalition also last fall. We still see the most fervent core of his base where he did much better than Mitt Romney did. Those counties, he's at 56 percent approval rating.

BOLDUAN: Beyond the numbers, the clear path of how to get him -- how he can get out of this hole before he hits the one-year mark, David?

CHALIAN: It's a good question, Kate. I mean, take a look at what the White House is trying to do this week. The made in America agenda. They are trying a theme week, economically focused because the economy is actually one of his strong suits. It's where he's more positive than negative, even with the overall bad numbers.

The economy is a place that they are trying to try to rehabilitate. We also saw in the ABC News/"Washington Post" poll why so many people are advising him to lay off Twitter because so many Americans think the tweets are problematic for him.

Obviously he hasn't heeded that advice yet. I think one of the key ways that he is going to try to rehabilitate is to get the big legislative agenda items through Congress so that he can show the people that did vote for him that he's delivering on promises.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and the numbers on health care are tough for him, as well, if you look at that. On the issue of Russia, 6-10 in the polls say that the meeting was inappropriate. Almost half of all Republicans, though, called the meeting appropriate in the numbers.

What does the White House take from that? Most people think it's inappropriate, but most Republicans, if you look at it, say it was appropriate in their view.

CHALIAN: I mean, if you look at the way that this White House has responded to the polling of the last six months, this Russia matter included, Kate, it is they have looked at the results of their own folks and making sure their base stays with them as much as possible.

It does not look like they have taken these polls over the last six months that show majority disapproving or a majority disapproving of a particular issue and course correct on that. They are not.

They are clearly -- so they look at those numbers and say, hey, we are a partisan polarized world. Our folks believed our version of events and there were enough of our votes do that we can continue down this path.

It's a tricky proposition. You could set an agenda where you are just trying to govern for 36 percent to 40 percent support. So far, that's what the Trump administration has been doing.

BOLDUAN: Yes, we'll see if changes are made. Great to see you, David.

CHALIAN: You too, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

[11:15:02]The president's attorney says if Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting was nefarious, the Secret Service never would have allowed it. The Secret Service in a rare move is speaking out and pushing back on that.

Plus why the president is the only one who decides whether his son-in- law keeps security clearance despite all the concerns around Jared Kushner right now?

And eight prominent Russians dead in eight months. The story is surrounding a strange string of deaths. We'll bring it to you. We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: The Secret Service is tasked with protecting the president. It was unusual to hear the agency defend itself against one of the president's men.

Attorney Jay Sekulow speaking out yesterday about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting at the height of the election with a Russian attorney promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

A meeting we now know at least eight people attended including a Russian-American lobbyist who once served in the Soviet military. Listen to Jay Sekulow.


JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: Well, I wondered why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point. That raised a question with me.


BOLDUAN: The Secret Service responded with this statement, "Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the U.S. Secret Service in June, 2016. Thus, we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time. There you have it.

[11:20:07]Joining me now, former Secret Service agent, Jonathan Wackrow. He is now a CNN law enforcement analyst. Great to see you, Jonathan. So let's get to this statement that the Secret Service put out in just a second.

I want to get kind of, I don't know, a gut check. What do you make of the fact that the -- how would the lawyer, Jay Sekulow, portrayed the role of the Secret Service here?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it's a misrepresentation. The Secret Service does not do political vetting. They do not invite or disinvite anybody to a meeting for one of our protectees.

Our core responsibility is physical protection, ensuring that there are no weapons or explosives. So especially at that time, they were in a campaign security mode.

So it is not to the level of the president so there's not integration with the intelligence communities. Solely looking at physical threats against the protectee. That was the posture of terms during that meeting.

BOLDUAN: And then, what do you do -- what do you make of then the agencies response, this statement that they ended up?

WACKROW: I applaud the agency's immediate response. They are correcting a narrative that was false. You know, the Secret Service does not vet, at that time, does not vet against, you know, against intelligence community databases. That was just wrong.

BOLDUAN: Do you think folks knew, your friend that is still work there would be entering a very public conversation here?

WACKROW: No. Listen, they don't want to be in the public. The Secret Service has a responsibility to protect the president and the first lady and the first family. They don't want to be a part of any political narrative whatsoever.

BOLDUAN: There was a lot of conversation. I remember we talked about securing Trump Tower. So many people work there, he lives there during the election. The meeting takes place in Trump Tower. That is where then Candidate Trump worked and lived. Would Secret Service have a role in who was allowed up into the tower at all?

WACKROW: They were protecting his residence, primarily. BOLDUAN: Yes.

WACKROW: Co-joined was the campaign headquarters. Anybody coming into that building was screened for physical threats. Again, Trump Tower is a public building with public access. Anybody entering into the building went through the exact same level of screening.

If you go to the campaign headquarters, you were screened, considered clean. Don't conflate physical security screening with intelligence community database checks. Those are two different things.

BOLDUAN: Two very different things especially when we are talking about this. In light of the meeting and the e-mails that came out, it's a growing call from Democrats that Jared Kushner lose his security clearance. Democrats have no say in that. A lot of folks have no say in that. Can you lay out the chain of command that ultimately ends with the president on the type of security clearance like this?

WACKROW: You have to look at, in terms of this meeting itself, you know, there was no classified information being discussed because he wasn't the nominee at the time. Looking at, you are talking disclosures on national security forms, that's beyond what I can actually comment on.

BOLDUAN: Beyond Secret Service, right?

WACKROW: Well beyond the Secret Service.

BOLDUAN: That's goes into FBI and beyond.

WACKROW: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Yes, great to see you, John.

WACKROW: Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

There's always something we have to talk to him about. The president on this very topic, once again, defending his son's actions. A short time ago sending out this statement on Twitter.

"Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent. That is politics." The president also said that he has no knowledge of the son's meeting. He said that many times. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says he's having trouble believing that. Listen.


SENATOR MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think if I had a meeting that involved Russian government efforts to try to help Candidate Trump and hurt Clinton that I would remember that and, frankly, it's unbelievable that neither the son or son-in- law shared that information with their dad, the candidate. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Joining me now, CNN political commentator and political anchor at Spectrum News, Errol Louis, and CNN national security analyst and "New York Times' correspondent, David Sanger. Great to see both of you.

Errol, on this topic, Jay Sekulow speaking out, he is a smart man. He's been in Washington a long time. He's a very smart attorney. What do you think he's doing here?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It sounded like the kind of political discussion that you are not used to hearing from a top level lawyer like him. You know --

BOLDUAN: They are good at being careful.

LOUIS: Yes, well -- I imagine that within the Trump White House, within the Trump bubble, you throw out, answer a question with another question. Gee, it wasn't our fault, you know? Maybe the Obama administration should have screened this Russian lawyer before she was allowed in the country.

[11:25:07]Maybe it was the Secret Service should have screened. If it was so fraud of a meeting, why didn't the Secret Service check him out? It has nothing to do with the law. It has to do with common sense. They have changed the story. They have changed the rational.

They have asked us to migrate from. There was no meeting to it was a meeting about orphans to we told you everything about it. Collusion isn't illegal, now the president, most recently this morning saying anybody would have done it, which is not true.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about that, David. The president tweeting this morning to defend his son, most -- what was it again? Most politicians or every politician -- there you go, most politicians would have gone to this very same meeting.

The fact is, every politician I have talked to every strategist operative I have talked to said they would not have taken the meeting. They would have kicked it to attorneys to talk about and you wouldn't want this type of meeting to be anywhere close to someone of the family or the candidate. But the president thinks this defense is working for them or something.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the president may be conflating two different things. One is opposition research --


SANGER -- everybody does that. That stuff comes in frequently to higher people, sometimes college kids, sometimes professionals to gather public statements an opposition candidate has made.

In Hillary Clinton's case, she lived such a public life, already been secretary of state, already been a candidate once before. It wasn't a lot of new territory to come up in the public statement world. So, what they were being promised here was something that hadn't been revealed before.

If you believe the e-mail, even if it turned out to be false, the e- mail promised two things, one that they would be meeting with a representative of the Russian government. Now, she may not have been that, but that's what the e-mail said.

And secondly, they were going to get information that came from a Russian judiciary court secret source. In other words, the information was government provided. Those were the two thing that is would have set off alarm bells, I think, for almost any experienced politician and those are the reasons people said they should have initially called the FBI. This was about a counter intelligence operation

BOLDUAN: So, you have -- political neophytes in Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, who were at this meeting. One that is not that is Paul Manafort.

LOUIS: That's right.

BOLDUAN: He was also there. A former adviser to the Trump campaign, Michael Caputo, was on this morning and defended Manafort. I thought it was interesting. Listen to this.


MICHAEL CAPUTIO: FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Know at that time, he was getting upwards of 500 e-mail messages a day. He, you know, Paul probably did not read all the way down several inches into the string of the e-mail. He received a request from the president's son. His job was to say yes and to go.


BOLDUAN: Errol, what are congressional committees going to say when Paul Manafort if when he testifies, this is the defense.

LOUIS: Michael Caputo is a fixture in New York politics, a loyal political soldier. He is doing what they do, cover for his guy. The notion that Paul Manafort didn't read the e-mail, let's grant that. Certainly, when he arrived, he would know what was going on there.

And he will have to answer questions under oath, if he does testify before Congress about when in the course of the meeting, in the run up to the meeting, certainly during the meeting or after the meeting, when did he discover?

BOLDUAN: Especially after the meeting.

LOUIS: There were probably e-mails after the meeting, one would think. You don't convene eight people at that level of the campaign with that level of promise of damaging information then forget about it afterwards. Go back after the 500 e-mails and find out what was said and share it with Congress and the public.

BOLDUAN: When I miss e-mails, it's not an excuse to say I missed it. And I miss a lot every day. Jay Sekulow, the attorney for the president had an interesting take on the president's message that this whole investigation is a witch hunt. He went further than anyone in the Trump orbit has in defining, really, whose involved in the witch hunt. Listen to this.


SEKULOW: So the special council that is based on evidence that was illegally leaked. That, to me, erases questions about what is going on here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are saying when the president says witch hunt, he is talking about Robert Mueller's special council investigation. That is part of this so-called witch hunt.