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Interview With Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy; Secret Putin- Trump Meeting Revealed; President Trump Pushes for Republicans to Continue Health Care Reform Effort; Washington Post: Trump to End Arming of Anti-Assad Rebels. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 19, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: From I alone can fix it to I ain't going to own it.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A day after saying let Obamacare fail, President Trump invites every Republican senator to lunch at the White House to unveil a brand-new health care strategy. That's three strategies in just two days. He also twisted some arms, along with the pepper shaker.

Breaking news. A new "Washington Post" report says that President Trump is ending the program to arm Syrian rebels fighting Assad. That's potentially music to Vladimir Putin's ears. Was that item discussed in that meeting with Putin that the public didn't know about until last night?

Plus, unstable dictator, unstable weapons -- a new warning that North Korean missiles can reach the United States, and where they might land is anyone's guess.

Hello. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with the politics lead today.

Trying to figure out the current White House strategy for health care can induce a state of whiplash, one that I'm not sure would be covered under the plan.

Today, the president summoned Senate Republicans to the White House to push them to return to their original strategy, repeal and replace Obamacare. That's a departure from previous presidential announcements just this week to repeal Obamacare and replace it later.

That's where the president was Monday night. And then, of course, on Tuesday, to just let Obamacare fail and make the Democrats own it. But now the president is back to where to he was Monday afternoon, repeal and replace.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he scheduled a vote for next week, but that vote is just a repeal without replace. That's Monday night's position, not Wednesday's position. If you're confused, you're not alone.

CNN's Ryan Nobles starts us off from Capitol Hill.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump is again changing course on health care reform.


And, frankly, I don't think we should leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we can give our people great health care.

NOBLES: Hosting Republican senators at the White House today, the president applying pressure on members not to give up on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

TRUMP: We're in this room today to deliver on our promise to the American people to repeal Obamacare and to ensure that they have the health care that they need. We can repeal it, but the best is repeal and replace.

NOBLES: The president's remarks coming just one day after suggesting the party should just let Obamacare collapse.

TRUMP: Let Obamacare fail. It will be a lot easier. And I think we're probably in that position, where we will just let Obamacare fail.

NOBLES: And the day before that arguing Republicans should repeal Obamacare now and start from a clean slate.

The turnabout underscoring the importance for Republicans to follow through on the party's longstanding campaign pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

TRUMP: I intend to keep my promise, and I know you will too.

NOBLES: Sitting next to the president at today's meeting, Nevada's Dean Heller, a key swing vote on health care who recently became a target of a political action committee that supports the president.

TRUMP: This was the one we were worried about. You weren't there. But you're going to be. You're going to be.


TRUMP: Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn't he? OK.

NOBLES: All kidding aside, the president's message to the senators was clear. There will be consequences for those who choose to block a bill from getting to the floor.

TRUMP: Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you're fine with Obamacare.

NOBLES: After the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to hold a vote to take up health care next week and expressed confidence that he would have the votes.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We cannot keep the commitment we made to the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare unless we get on the bill. Next week, we will be voting on the motion to proceed. And I have every expectation that we will be able to get on the bill.

NOBLES: And while the afternoon trip to the White House did not appear to resolve all of the intraparty differences, senators of all stripes seemed in agreement that it's back to plan A, a vote to repeal and replace at the same time.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: The president was very explicit that he thinks we should do a repeal and replace. Very explicit on that.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: And I think we're close. There's a lot of common ground. There were discussions about areas still are differences, and I think we're making progress.

NOBLES: And at this point, while it appears the votes still are not there, the negotiations are back on, bringing new life to GOP hopes that health care reform could still happen.


NOBLES: And you can probably hear from behind me some of the added pressure that these senators these are getting all throughout the Senate office buildings here today, a very coordinated protests at all of the different players.


In fact, right now, at Senator Mitch McConnell's office, which is not far from where I'm standing right now, there are protesters, right now some of them being arrested, making their voices heard about their opposition to this health care bill.

And you can see those live pictures of that taking place as we speak. And, Jake, we should point out that it seemed as though the negotiations had stopped, but they are clearly back on. And, in fact, tonight, a group of the senators that are on the fence will meet with Senate leadership and White House officials to discuss a path forward.

That meeting will happen at 7:30 Eastern time here on Capitol Hill. So, as you said before, Jake, we are back to plan A.

TAPPER: Ryan Nobles, thank you so much.

Joining me now for more on this is Senator Bill Cassidy. He's a Republican of Louisiana, also a physician.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

CASSIDY: Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: You attended this lunch meeting with the president today where he urged all of you to go back to the repeal and replace plan, the president saying -- quote -- "We're very close to passing that bill."

Is that true? Are you very close to passing that bill?

CASSIDY: If you look at the whip count, we need 50. And there's about four or five who said they wouldn't. We have a margin of two.

So in that sense, yes, we're very close. More substantially, on the issues themselves, we're not that far apart. But those differences are key. So, part of the lunch and part of what we will do tonight is see if we can go over those issues that are outstanding, see if we can find common ground.

TAPPER: Of the four I know that were opposed to it, two seemed to think that it didn't go far enough in dismantling Obamacare. That's Rand Paul and Mike Lee.

And then there were those that Expressed concern that it would hurt people by cutting Medicaid. That's Susan Collins and Jerry Moran.

Where is it going to give? Is the bill going to get more conservative to win Lee and Paul, or is it going to put back Medicaid money to win Jerry Moran and Susan Collins?

CASSIDY: If we talk about the Medicaid, I have worked this issue hard. I continue to work it.

And when you talk to my colleagues and listen to them, they're concerned that this bill starts to reform traditional Medicaid, not the Medicaid expansion, but traditional Medicaid.

Those reforms have not been aired out. By the way, they're based upon legislation I wrote in the 112th called the beneficiary payment of per cap -- cap.

But you're right. They are right. There should have been a fuller consider of how this is implemented.

My suggestion was, let's just put that to the side. It wasn't part of the Affordable Care Act. It does need to be done, but it can be done with fuller consideration. If we pull out that traditional Medicaid treatment, then I think you may get some folks more comfortable with the bill.

So, that's something which is so close. Maybe we can get to common ground. I think that would make a difference to some of my colleagues.

TAPPER: Well, on this subject, the president said that the Republican bill would provide better coverage for low-income Americans. And we don't have an updated CBO score for the new bill, but the

Congressional Budget Office did project from the last iteration 22 million fewer Americans would have -- insurance under the draft of the bill, including 15 million using Medicaid.


CASSIDY: Can I comment on that, Jake? Two things about that.

Tim Scott's folk -- they are a non-expansion state -- there would be credits offered to those less than 100 percent federal poverty level in non-expansion states who do not qualify for traditional Medicaid.

In South Carolina, Tim spoke. This will provide coverage for those who currently do not have. Secondly, I think we can say about the CBO score they put heavy weight upon the individual mandate.

The Senate bill put up $30 billion in the first two years relative to the House bill, $30 billion. And yet CBO gave almost no credit for that. That's because we eliminate the individual mandate.

So part of what going forward is going to be, the CBO wants an individual mandate, the American people don't, so those coverage numbers will suffer.

TAPPER: All right, I have more questions for you. Stay right there. We're going to take a quick break and we will be right back. And thanks for joining us.

We will be right back.

CASSIDY: Thank you.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

We're talking health care with Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is also a physician.

Senator, thanks for sticking with us.

On Monday, the president said that the plan would be repeal now, replace later. Yesterday, he said just let Obamacare fail, he's not going to own it.

Now he wants to go back to the repeal and replace plan. Are you getting whiplash up there? Isn't this a little confusing?


As a physician, I understand the importance for that family sitting around the kitchen table that they have affordable premiums. And we can say the president recognized that during the campaign. He's right. Right now, Republicans, think about it, have not passed any legislation which has impacted Obamacare.

If it fails, it will be entirely because of Obamacare itself, not because of legislation that Republicans have passed. So there might be that temptation.

But the president during the campaign was quite sympathetic for those families who are struggling to pay their premiums. And I think what we see today is that sympathy being exhibited. We have got to do something to help those families.

TAPPER: You have said that just doing a repeal-only bill without a replacement, that would raise premiums on the middle class.

I believe that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan is to hold a repeal-now procedural vote next week, right? Are you going to vote against it?

CASSIDY: So, I think we have to wait and see what the leader decides.

But what clearly came out of this meeting is that the president of the United States, who recently won promising both to repeal and replace, wants a simultaneous replace. That was clearly the message. And I presume that Senate leadership heard that loud and clear.

TAPPER: But if it's just repeal, you will vote against it, though, because you oppose that? You think it will raise premiums on the middle class?

CASSIDY: I am -- I would like to -- before I answer a hypothetical, I would actually like to have a discussion with Mitch McConnell.

[16:15:00] On the other hand, I'm all about having the lower premiums for the middle class. Working with a bill with Senator Lindsey Graham, the Graham-Cassidy bill, that would do things like giving states the block grant to provide coverage, giving them permission to do automatic enrollment, so that we don't need to have a mandate, rather, people can be enrolled if they're eligible, that will lower premiums in of and itself. I'm all about lowering premiums. Let me answer the hypothetical after it's not a hypothetical.

TAPPER: Do you think that working with Democrats might be a good idea considering how difficult it's been to pass this with just Republicans and how big a chunk of the economy this is? And also how much Republicans criticize Democrats for passing it with only Democratic votes when Obamacare passed.

CASSIDY: I would love to work with Democrats. I've reached out to about 10, met with them publicly, privately, just trying to reach some common accord, offering to take ideas into our plan to meet their needs, too. Really the block grant that Graham-Cassidy Amendment would give the blue states that money for a blue state to do what a blue state wants to do. But our state, like a state like mine, Louisiana, could do our own thing, better for our people.

But so far, there's been nobody willing to help. There was an article, a "Politico" article about two weeks ago, in which Minority Leader Schumer is saying, don't cooperate. Debbie Stabenow was quoted as saying, every time I wanted to do the right thing, help to make things better, I was pulled back.

So, there's I think perceived political advantage on their side. I find that regrettable. I would love to work with Democrats to find a common solution.

TAPPER: Senator and doctor, Bill Cassidy, of the great state of Louisiana, thank you so much, sir. Good to have as always.

CASSIDY: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: A new "Washington Post" report says that President Trump is ending the covert program to arm Syrian rebels fighting Assad. Is Moscow saying thank you?

Then, it looks as though Kim Jong-un is getting ready to defy America and the rest of the world again. New information showing North Korea could be preparing to launch another intercontinental ballistic missile.

Stay with us.


[16:20:57] TAPPER: We're back with some breaking news in our world lead today.

The White House is refusing to comment about a "Washington Post" report breaking this afternoon, that President Trump has decided to end the CIA's covert program arming anti-Assad rebels in Syria. This is a move that likely to prove popular not only in Syria's capital of Damascus but also in Moscow, at the Kremlin.

"The Post" also says this decision came before the president met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20. The big question, of course, did Trump discuss this crucial situation about Syria with Putin? We do not know.

But what we're learning now is that there was a second meeting at the G20 between the two leaders, one that was not disclosed. We're only learning about it now because Ian Grammer, a global risk consultant, was told about it yesterday by attendees of the G20 dinner where the conversation took place. The White House was then forced to acknowledge it took place. The nearly 60-minute powwow happened just hours after Mr. Trump and Putin concluded a formal sit-down.

This comes amid lingering questions about this man, Ike Kaveladze. He's been identified as the eighth person present at that meeting between representatives of the Trump campaign, including his son and son in law, and a Russian lawyer last year.

Here's CNN's Jessica Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ike Kaveladze's attorney insists the businessman's presence inside Trump Tower during that June 2016 meeting was innocent.

SCOTT BALBER, ATTORNEY FOR IKE KAVELADZE: Well, he was intended to be there, his understanding to be actually a translator/interpreter for the Russian lawyer who speaks no English.

SCHNEIDER: But sources tell CNN Kaveladze was there to represent his employer, Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, who is said to have requested the meeting. Now, lawmakers, current and former, are raising alarm bells about Kaveladze's past.

In a Facebook post, former Michigan Senator Carl Levin pointed to a congressional probe in 2000, where according to Levin, the Government Accountability Office looked into numerous corporations and bank accounts established by Irakly Kaveladze on behalf of people in Russia. Levin said Kaveladze set up 2,000 corporations and bank accounts where the owners of those accounts then moved some $1.4 billion through those accounts.

Kaveladze was never criminally charged. He denied any wrongdoing and claimed he knew all of the entities who set up the accounts. But Levin called him a poster child of this practice and Senator Mark Warner said Kaveladze's involvement with that 2000 congressional investigation is part of a colorful past that should raise suspicion about his presence in the meeting.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I doubt if this individual who had a history of setting up thousands of fake accounts in Delaware was really there to talk about Russian adoptions.

BALBER: He has never been implicated in any wrongdoing whatsoever. So, to say he has a colorful past is quite unfair and, quite frankly, dishonest.

SCHNEIDER: Balber stressed Kaveladze has agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his ongoing probe into Russian interference with the U.S. election, notably Mueller's team include several attorneys who specialized in money laundering investigations.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that Bob has thought all along that there is going to be some need to inquire of this money laundering movement and that's what I think is what the beginnings of what we're seeing.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, the Russian lawyer in the room, Natalia Veselnitskaya, tells Kremlin-backed news channel Russia today says she's happy to disclose details about her meeting with Donald Trump Jr. if she gets a guarantee her family will stay safe.

NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, RUSSIAN LAWYER (through translator): Let's put it this way. I'm ready to clarify the situation behind this mass hysteria, but only through lawyers or testifying before the U.S. Senate.

SCHNEIDER: This as the White House continues to downplay President Trump's nearly one-hour previously undisclosed chat with President Vladimir Putin at the G20 dinner on July 7th. The second face to face of the day unfolded with only Putin's translator and wasn't revealed by the White House until Tuesday.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Whether it behooved them to maybe report it, but I don't, perhaps the purposes of not having to answer these questions today. But I don't, from what I've seen, think it's a matter of grave concern.


SCHNEIDER: And White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is also pushing back on this, calling this all just part of Russian fever, saying that the media is drumming this up and asking, why they would disclose this meeting considering it was known that President Trump was at the meeting.

[16:25:15] And, Jake, she said it would be incredibly awkward for the two leaders to sit at that dinner and did not talk. Of course, plenty of pushback on that today.

TAPPER: Interesting. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Some lawmakers raising new questions about another Trump family member's security clearance. We'll talk to a member of the House Intelligence Committee who is calling for a review, next.


TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead.

The White House is downplaying and defending President Trump's undisclosed second meeting with Vladimir Putin, which took place at the G20 Summit earlier this month. They're saying it's no big deal.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

In this second meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin which took place at this G20 dinner, it was about an hour. And we didn't find out about it until Ian Bremmer broke the story.