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GOP Health Care Vote Delayed; McCain's Recovery Time; Trump Defends Approval Rating; Secret Service Defends Accusation; Kushner's Clearance in Question. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 17, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:20] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Pamela Brown, filling in for Brooke Baldwin. Thanks so much for joining me.

A senator's health scare creating a new setback for the Republican plan to replace Obamacare. A plan that's already in jeopardy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delaying this week's vote on the controversial bill as Senator John McCain recovers from surgery to his skull to remove a blood clot above his left eye. And there are new concerns today about whether McCain's condition is more serious than perhaps previously thought. We're going to have more on that in just a moment.

But first, McConnell scrambling to secure enough votes. He cannot afford to lose one more after Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, both with opposing views, say they will not support the bill moving forward. Several other Republican senators still have not committed to a yes on this bill. And, of course, the big question of the day, will the extra time help or hurt the GOP's chances of passing it? CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is live for us on Capitol Hill.

So, Phil, where do things stand at the moment?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Uncertainly. That's probably the best way to describe where things currently are, Pam. And you kind of hit on the key question, does this delay help the process or hurt them?

Now, to the latter idea, there's been a lot of concern over the last couple of weeks that the longer this bill sits out there, the more the public, and particularly those opposed to the bill, are able to kind of put pressure on senators, that it's going to make it even harder to pass. And that is certainly on the minds of a lot of senators right now today.

But there's also kind of the other side of this, which is, there are a lot of members in the U.S. Senate, on the Republican side of the aisle, who, as you noted, are undecided. And that means, what I'm told is, there are a lot of serious concerns. In fact, take a listen to how Susan Collins, who is a clear no on this bill, described it earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: There are about eight to 10 Republican senators who have serious concerns about this bill. And so, at the end of the day, I don't know whether it will pass.


MATTINGLY: Now, Pam, interesting on it here is we know that there are a handful of senators that have real problem with this. The Dean Heller's of Nevada, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mike Lee of Utah on the conservative side of things. What Susan Collins is says is, it's more than the usual suspects here. And I'm told that that's very accurate right now. There are a lot of senators with serious concerns.

And what this delay provides for Senate leaders is an opportunity to ask those senators, look, don't come out as no and don't be that third no vote that ends up killing this bill. Instead, you have time now to bring us your proposals, bring us what you want changed. At least hold your fire, keep your powder dry for the time being and give us an opportunity to try and address those concerns.

Whether or not that will help, whether or not that will get them to 50, if you talk to Senate GOP aides up here right now, Pam, the reality is this, there's a lot more work to do and nobody's totally sure they can get this job done when Senate McCain returns.

BROWN: And, meantime, Phil, Democrats are demanding Republicans hold hearings on their health care bill. Is there a sign that that will actually happen?

MATTINGLY: It's very unlikely. Look, Senate Republicans have been very clear about their strategy from the beginning. Obviously they were not planning to hold large public hearings. They weren't planning on making this whole process public. They did a lot of this behind the scenes and that was deliberate. That was a strategic effort by Senate leaders to really kind of almost insulate their members, keep the public pressure away from them as long as they could. There is no sense at all up here that they're going to change direction at this point in time, no matter what Democrats say.

But, Pam, as you noted, Senate Democratic leaders sending a letter to Mitch McConnell today asking for an opening hearing, making sure that a full CBO score would be available before any vote. At this point in time, though, this is a Republican only bill and it's really up to Republican leaders in terms of what the path forward is. And at least at this point that path forward doesn't include hearings, Pam.

BROWN: All right, Phil Mattingly, thank you for bringing us the latest there from Capitol Hill.

And Senator McCain's blood clot could be much worse than - and much more serious that initially thought.

I want to bring in Dr. Jason Freeman. He's a neurologist and the medical director of the Stroke Program at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington.

Dr. Freeman, thanks for coming on.

So, Senator McCain had a piece of his skull operated on as a result of this blood clot. As this health care bill hangs in the balances, a lot of people are wondering how long his recovery will be. What can you tell us?

DR. JASON FREEMAN, NEUROLOGIST: Well, I think a lot of questions remain. Following the reports that have come out so far, there's actually very little in terms of specific information we have. Obviously the fact that he's had a surgery means his recovery certainly might be longer than just a couple days. I've heard reports of him possibly returning as soon as next week.

BROWN: And so let me just kind of backtrack a little bit. In your view, how serious is this?

FREEMAN: This is serious. I think the initial reports were that there was a clot that was just sitting behind the eye. And we've gone from reports of a clot, to the fact that he had to have an open surgery and a craniotomy. This means that there was something more significant to be addressed. And I think the fact that they also left open the idea that this pathology that remains pending means that there's really something specific that they're looking for.

[14:05:08] BROWN: And if you look at his health history, he's had cancer, skin cancer, several times. He had malignant melanoma removed from - I think at least three parts of his body. One of them was an invasive form of melanoma. So could this be a sign that perhaps cancer is returning?

FREEMAN: It absolutely could be. You know, the reports are that this was found as a part of a routine physical exam or an annual exam. And the fact that they went ahead and actually did brain imaging and obviously saw something on that imaging means there is a strong possibility that the cancer could have returned. Although I leave open that there are a number of different clots that could have developed in such a location.

BROWN: And I want to read this statement. Surgeons at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix released this statement saying in part, "tissue pathology," as you pointed out, "reports are pending within the next several days. Once the pathology information is available, further care will be discussed between doctors and the family."

And sort of expanding on what you have already said, what will doctors by looking for when this report is returned?

FREEMAN: Well, really, in terms of pathology, you're looking to see if there's evidence of melanoma, which, as we know, can be evasive and certainly can spread to the brain. If there is melanoma, that could actually extend the amount of time he needs for recovery. Then you then have to start thinking about what additional treatments or therapies are needed.

BROWN: The bottom line is, I mean, you said he could be fine as of next week. FREEMAN: Could be.

BROWN: Or it could be much longer depending on what this report says.

FREEMAN: Could be a couple days. Could be a couple weeks.

BROWN: All right, thank you so much, doctor. We do appreciate it.

FREEMAN: You're welcome.

BROWN: And I want to turn now to President Trump, his job performance and his defiant response to his sagging poll numbers approaching six months in office. The president now has the lowest job approval rating since modern polling began 70 years ago. The new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows just 36 percent approve of the way the president is handling his job as president, leaving the president with 58 percent disapproval.

The president responding to the poll with a tweet. "The ABC/"Washington Post" poll, even though almost 40 percent is not bad at this time, was just about the most accurate poll around election time." It turns out that's not completely true. A quick fact check shows the poll was pretty close, actually. The final ABC News/"Washington Post" pre-election poll estimated 47 to 43 in Clinton's favor. Now the final election result was Clinton 48.5, Trump, 46.5. So that's just outside the 2.5-point margin of error for Trump support.

With me now to discuss is CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, thanks for coming on.


BROWN: So, I mean, bottom line, how does this compare to past presidents' approval ratings?

BASH: That is really one of the key questions. And the answer is, it's not good. It is bad comparatively. And going back really 70 years, if you look right now, I think we have a graphic to put up on this screen, Donald Trump, according to this poll, is at 36 percent. That is lower than everybody going back to Harry Truman. The closest that he comes to kind of a low watermark is Gerald Ford, who, remember, came into office - was only president because his predecessor, Richard Nixon, resigned. So it is not good.

And it's not just the overall approval rating that should be giving the president and his - and his aides pause in this poll, which, as you mentioned, does historically, if you look at just 2016, reflect pretty well on how things turn out. Six in 10 think that his campaign tried to influence Russia. Two-thirds don't trust him to negotiate with other world leaders. And maybe, most importantly, what you were talking about with Phil Mattingly on health care, two - by a two to one margin, people prefer Obamacare they say to the Republican plan to replace it. So there is a host of bad news for the president, and, more importantly, aside from his own personal approval rating, for the Republican objectives and policy goals, that they were hoping that they could actually enact into place once they had Republican control of the whole government, which they have now.

BROWN: What about economy, because that's something that the president consistently points toward as something that works in his favor?

BASH: Also the - people think that the economy is - is not going well, particularly when you look at independents.

But there's one other thing that I should talk about. Obviously, as I said, there are Republicans who are in control of the government. The question politically now for Democrats is, can they take advantage of this politically? Can they win in the 2018 elections enough to maybe take over the House or even the Senate? And there's some bad news for Democrats in this poll, too.

Do you think the Democratic Party currently stands for something or just against Trump? Thirty-seven percent - only 37 percent say stands for something, 52 percent says just stands against Trump. And that is not a winning message in and of itself. You actually have to say, this is why I'm going to be for. This is why you should support me if you're a Democrat and not just be against something.

[14:10:15] BROWN: And, of course, these headlines on Russia is not helping him in any way. And also in this poll they were asked about Don Jr.'s meeting with the Russian attorney.

BASH: Yes.

BROWN: What was the result of that?

BASH: The result of that, I have it right here -

BROWN: I think it was 63 percent -

BASH: Yes, exactly. So, you know, almost two-thirds of the respondents say that they thought it was inappropriate. Again, that flies in the face of what the president is trying to make the norm, which is not the norm in this tweets and in his public statements by suggesting that this was something that happens in politics. It isn't something that happens in politics with regard to meetings with foreign adversaries and it looks like almost two-thirds of Americans get that.

BROWN: YO know, what also stood out to me in this poll was how he was doing with independents. I mean there was a clear divide when you looked at Democrats and Republicans.

BASH: Yes.

BROWN: But it shows that he's also struggling with independents. How significant is that?

BASH: It's very significant because historically independents will - will shape whether or not -- -- there you see, only 32 percent of independents support the president. They shape whether or not the party, whatever party it is, can staying in power or can get elected. Now, it's a little bit different in a midterm election, particularly

in the House, where a lot of the - the districts, the - sort of the key districts are gerrymandered and so Republicans have to worry and rely more on Republicans, and Democrats have to rely more on Democrats and getting sort of the fervor out there for the base. But there are still swing districts in the House and definitely swing states in the Senate where independents really matter. And if these independents are souring on the president, and if he is just focusing on base management, that doesn't bode well, never mind for the sort of election prospects in 2018 and maybe 2020, but for governing, for governing.

And I go back to what I mentioned about the health care bill, for example. I mean this is it. This is how they got into power. And if they can't convince people that their alternative is better, then it's probably going to be very difficult to pass the Senate. And that's probably a lot - it's probably a big reason why we're seeing them struggle.

BROWN: And I'm sure - I'm certain that there is some anxious Republicans in states looking for re-election.

BASH: Yes, no question.

BROWN: Thank you so much, Dana Bash, appreciate it.

Well, President Trump's lawyer says if Don Jr.'s meeting was nefarious, the Secret Service never would have allowed it in the first place. But there's a problem with that and the Secret Service is fighting back.

Plus, the president, once again, defending his son. Hear his new response.

Also, Delta pushing back after Ann Coulter goes off over a seat on her flight. More on their Twitter battle.

And Sean Spicer's return to the podium moments away as we get ready to hear the White House briefing.

Stay with us. We'll be back.


[14:15:58] BROWN: Well, the Secret Service is defending itself against claims being made by one of President Trump's lawyers. Attorney Jay Sekulow tried to redirect blame over the weekend from the president's son to the agency at the center of it all. That controversial meeting at Trump Tower that brought top Trump campaign officials together with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Well, here's exactly what the president's lawyer had to say.


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


BROWN: The Secret Service responded with this statement to CNN. Quote, "Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the United States Secret Service in June 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone that he was meeting with at that time."

The president responding to all of this today in a tweet. "Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics."

That's politics? Well, take a listen to this from some career politicians.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you were told that a lawyer wanted to share information with you as part of the Russian government's effort to help you get elected, how would you respond?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, I would respond in the negative. And I think most candidates would.

ANDRE BAUER (R), FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA LT. GOVERNOR: They shouldn't have taken a meeting. I mean maybe a distant campaign worker, but not these high-profile individuals.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Would you have taken the meeting?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: No, absolutely not.

SEN. TIME KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: When he was approached with this idea, he should have turned it over to law enforcement immediately. That's what anybody should have done.

REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: I would go, well, you know what, I might have someone else take that meeting. I might not take that meeting myself.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You've worked on campaigns. I mean is this standard procedure in a campaign?


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Anytime you're in a campaign and you get an offer from a foreign government to help your campaign, the answer is no.


BROWN: All right. So let's discuss this with former Secret Service Agent Jonathan Wackrow, who is now a CNN law enforcement analyst, and CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jonathan, first to you. Given who was in that meeting that we know of, what would the Secret

Service role be, even though we know that he was not a protectee, what would the role be and would Secret Service have cleared them?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think it's important to take note of where this meeting occurred. The meeting occurred at Trump Tower. So at the time, the Secret Service was providing physical protection of Trump Tower, not because it was the campaign headquarters, but specifically because it was the residence of Donald Trump. So anybody entering into Trump Tower, they would go through physical security screening measures, such as walk-through magnetometers for, you know, to see if they had any weapons on them, explosive detection, bag checks. Very similar to what you see at airports, again, protecting from physical threats.

From the intelligence side, you know, the Secret Service was not engaged with any type of intelligence community, name check, database check at that time. It's just something that the Secret Service does not do for any type of candidate. And at this time the Secret Service wasn't doing it for the Hillary Clinton campaign. So it's important to note that as well.

[14:20:10] BROWN: And so just for context, how rare was this response from the Secret Service?

WACKROW: Well, I think it's - first of all, I applaud them for coming out, but it's very important for the Secret Service to correct that narrative. The Secret Service does not engage in that type of, you know, political vetting, intelligence community name check vetting. That's not what the role and responsibility of the Secret Service was at the time, nor is it with the majority of our protectees. The main focus for the Secret Service is protecting again physical threats right now.

BROWN: All right, I want to now listen to what the top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee had to say about whether or not President Trump, then a candidate, knew about this meeting. Take a listen.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There seems to be a convenient pattern where all of the senior officials of the Trump campaign forget about their meetings with Russians, don't put it on their forms, until evidence comes out and then they have to amend. It's a little bit unbelievable that neither the son or the son- in-law ever shared that information with their dad, the candidate.

I'm not sure why we take anybody in this senior level of the Trump administration at their word. That's why it's so important that we've got to get a chance to question these individuals and try to actually nail down the truth.


BROWN: And I know, Jim, you have many sources all over the palace, including Capitol Hill. And you're hearing that echoed by other congressman, other senators on Capitol Hill. What - tell me a little bit more about what you're hearing and, you know, the fact that President Trump continues to deny this (INAUDIBLE).

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know yet if the president knew.


SCIUTTO: But the fact is, even if the president didn't know, where are we already. The president's son was in the room, his son-in-law, who's a major adviser currently working in the White House with a security clearance, and his campaign manager at the time. And they went into the meeting, or at least Don Jr. went into the meeting, knowing exactly what the meeting was about. I mean that is explosive.

We're only a week removed from that being revealed. And it has clearly, in this week, changed, not just the narrative and the direction of this investigation, right, because to this point you had heard from a lot of Republicans and Trump supporters saying, listen, they've been looking at this for weeks and months and have come up with no evidence of collusion.

Now, in fact, you have at least evidence, no conclusion, but you have evidence that they were at least interested in collaborating on this. So that's there. And the other change you're seeing is in the change in the defense from the administration, because you're starting to see folks saying, well, -- or implying rather that even if that took place it would be OK, from the president's own mouth today, that anybody in politics would, in fact, most of the politicians, Republican or Democrat we've spoken with say the opposite. And, in fact, the president's own nominee for the FBI has said, if you get an offer like that, come to the FBI. That's the president's nominee.

BROWN: And it's interesting - right, you know, he said also this week that it's politics, this notion of meeting with - a situation like this, meeting with a Russian - who he thought was a Russian government lawyer for oppo research. Is that politics?

SCIUTTO: Well, let's look at - I mean a lot of dirty stuff happens in politics. But we know if you look at the past, we know that Kennedy was offered help by Russia during that election to help his campaign. He refused, reported it to law enforcement. We know that the Gore campaign was offered help, not by Russia, but they were offered help. They saw it as illicit and so they went to law enforcement, help against George W. Bush.

So the fact is, even in politics, there are limits, right? And the idea that anyone would really accept the offer of a hostile - a hostile foreign government - we're not talking about Canada here - a hostile foreign government, it's just quite a stretch.

BROWN: And, of course, in that meeting was the campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who claims that he didn't real through the e-mail chain.

SCIUTTO: Yes. BROWN: Before the meeting and also, of course, Jared Kushner, who is the only one that is inside the White House right now. He's come under a lot of criticism for retroactively disclosing this meeting on his security clearance application. And many are now calling for his clearance to be revoked.

Jonathan, your thoughts on that?

WACKROW: Well, I think it - you know, it's - you know, as more and more facts are, you know, coming out about this meeting, about who knows what, I mean I think it does warrant a review of his clearance. But again, that is something that is not done by the Secret Service. It doesn't affect the Secret Service on a day-to-day basis. So that will have to be left up to the Department of Justice and other law enforcement entities.

BROWN: And, ultimately, it's really up to the president in terms of whether he gets that security clearance and, Jim, one would think that the president would not impede that from happening.

SCIUTTO: Well, and I suppose it's up to the president unless he gets enormous pressure from law enforcement or the intelligence community saying that this is an intelligence risk, right? And when you've had previous - granted this is his son-in-law. That's a special category. But keep in mind, the president did fire Michael Flynn in light of lying about those meetings, but also after it being communicated to him that he would have been a potential blackmail risk to Russia for having lied about those meetings when Russia knew what he was actually talking about during the transition.

[14:25:10] BROWN: And just for context, I mean he still has an interim security clearance, so Jared Kushner is still attending all the national security meetings and so forth. But we will continue to follow this story.

Jim Sciutto, Jonathan Wackrow, thank you very much for that.

WACKROW: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: And up next, conservative commentator Ann Coulter fires off on Twitter after Delta changed her seat. Was she overreacting or does she have a valid complaint here? I'll talk to a former flight attendant up next.

Plus, this week marks six months in office for President Trump. What are some of the most surprising things so far? We'll discuss.


[14:30:08] BROWN: Well, conservative pundit Ann Coulter is now at war with Delta Airlines. She's been on a three day Twitter rant that just --