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Critical Health Care Vote in Senate Today; Trump Intensifies Attacks on Attorney General in New Tweets. Interview with Maine Senator Angus King. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2017 - 07:00   ET

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


REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: He outlined his contact with Russian officials. I think unpacking some of the things in his statement is going to be important, but this is the way investigations go. And you get people in. You ask questions. You cross-examine them. You determine, you try to corroborate information, and so that's what we'll be doing this morning in these hearings.

[07:00:24] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, congressman Will Hurd, thank you very much for taking time to be on NEW DAY.

HURD: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: And thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, President Trump is increasing his attacks this morning on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After seven years of saying repeal and replace Obamacare, we have a chance to now do it. They better do it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The senators who vote on this motion to proceed are going to be tarred with this vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain's office is saying that he is going to be on hand for that critical vote.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: We keep knocking on that door and being told, "You're not welcome."

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: If the president has lost faith in Mr. Sessions, he should tell him that and ask for his resignation.

CUOMO: Growing signs the White House may be laying the groundwork to replace Jeff Sessions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he cannot stop the investigation, he definitely wants to control the investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's realizing that this is serious, and that the Russia investigation is a real problem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. President Trump is up early, and we know exactly what is on his mind. He's calling for Senate Republicans to step up to the plate as they're set to vote to begin debating a repeal of Obamacare.

The president is also calling Senator John McCain an American hero on word that the senator may be heading back to Washington to cast what could be a deciding vote on health care.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, the president is also slamming his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, calling him weak and saying he should be investigating President Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton, something that would be unprecedented.

Let's remember that Mr. Sessions was the first senator to support Donald Trump's bid for the White House, and now it seems that the president is trying to push him out.

So we have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill. Another very busy day there, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Alisyn and extraordinary turnaround for President Trump to call Senator John McCain a hero. You remember, in the campaign he denied him that. Well, now tweeting that he is, in fact, a hero because he will board a plane. He's expected to get here in Washington later today, this after less than a week of diagnosed with brain cancer. He is going to be participating in that extraordinary critical Senate health care vote. Republican leadership hoping that it will be one vote closer to pushing it forward, but it is far from certain whether or not it is going to be enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Senator John McCain's unexpected return to Washington adding last-minute momentum to the Senate Republicans' ongoing push to dismantle Obamacare.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I know many of us have literally waited eight years for this moment to finally arrive, and at long last it has.

MALVEAUX: The Senate will vote today to begin debating the health care bill that narrowly passed the House in May. If McConnell secures the 50 votes needed to proceed, the Senate will then begin considering amendments to that legislation, although it's unclear what changes would be put forth, and how the Republican Party would come to an agreement after being unable to do so thus far.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It's kind of hard to make a determination if you don't know what you're proceeding to.

MALVEAUX: President Trump ratcheting up the pressure, using the bully pulpit to warn fellow Americans to get on board or risk paying a price with voters.

TRUMP: Remember, "Repeal and replace. Repeal and replace." They kept saying it over and over again.

Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare.

MALVEAUX: The Senate majority leader can only afford to lose the support of two Republicans, even with McCain's expected "yes" vote. Senator Susan Collins of Maine has already said she remains a firm "no," and several others remain undecided.

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), WEST VIRGINIA: I can't say right now. I'm still very much a "no."

MALVEAUX: President Trump needling his health secretary about securing the vote at a Boy Scouts event in West Virginia on Monday night.

TRUMP: You're going to get the votes?

TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Hope so.

TRUMP: He better get them. He better get them. Oh, he better, otherwise I'll say, "Tom, you're fired."

MALVEAUX: The president insisting this event wasn't the place for political rhetoric...

TRUMP: Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts, right?

MALVEAUX: ... before launching into one attack after another, blasting his predecessor...

TRUMP: Did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?

MALVEAUX: ... and his former rival Hillary Clinton, again; boasting about his election win...

TRUMP: That map was so red, it was unbelievable, and they didn't know what to say.

[07:00:05] We have a tremendous disadvantage in the Electoral College. Popular vote is much easier.

MALVEAUX: ... and rehashing his favorite campaign lines.

TRUMP: We ought to change it from the word "swamp" to the word "cesspool" or perhaps to the word "sewer."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: So here's how the health care vote is expected to play out this afternoon. Republicans will meet behind closed doors for lunch, for their weekly lunch. That is where we expect rank-and-file members to make their final pitch to move this process forward.

Then later in the afternoon there will be a procedural vote, and the result of that procedural vote will determine whether or not the Republicans' effort to overturn Obamacare will live or die -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Suzanne, thank you very much. And if the president were willing to unleash on the Boy Scouts, you could imagine what he's doing on Twitter this morning. He is intensifying attacks on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Remember, one of the first people to step up and support the president. He talked to those Boy Scouts about loyalty. No loyalty for Jeff Sessions. He called him "beleaguered," and he is accurate, the president, because he's the one beleaguering Jeff Sessions, causing him a lot of trouble.

"The Washington Post" is reporting the president is weighing his options to replace Sessions. CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns live at the White House with more.

I'm sure there would be a long line for that job.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Certainly seems like it, although it could be a challenge once you get it, quite frankly.

Look, the attorney general, we're told, was here at the White House yesterday meeting with the White House counsel, but we're also told he and the president did not meet and have not spoken since the president went after Jeff Sessions in an interview last week with the "New York Times."

The new communications director, for his part, would not answer a question about whether he thinks Sessions ought to resign, according to the president's wishes, but he did say the two men need to sit down and talk about what the future looks like.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should Jeff Sessions resign?

JOHNS (voice-over): Attorney General Jeff Sessions' future at the Justice Department in question today, with "The Washington Post" reporting that President Trump and his advisers are discussing the possibility of replacing him, despite the fact that he has been one of the president's most loyal supporters.

TRUMP: We could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.

JOHNS: The president publicly shamed his top law enforcement officer again Monday, labeling him as "beleaguered" and asking why he's not investigating Hillary Clinton. The dizzying escalation began last week in the president's interview with "The New York Times."

TRUMP: Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he would -- if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.

JOHNS: Despite this public rebuke, Sessions insisted he has no plans to step down.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We love this job. We love this department, and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.

JOHNS: Texas Senator Ted Cruz and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani dismissing reports they are being considered as possible replacements, with Giuliani expressing support for Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: I believe that Sessions made the right decision under the rules of the Justice Department.

JOHNS: President Trump lashing out against his attorney general, who he blames for the Russia investigation.

It comes on the same day his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, met with congressional investigators for the first time, denying any collusion with Russia, and defending the president.

JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW AND SENIOR ADVISOR: Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won. Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: A whole series of tweets from the president of the United States this morning, mentioning the attorney general as well as the acting FBI director, attacking both of them. At least three of those tweets also mentioning Hillary Clinton, the woman the president defeated almost nine months ago in the election.

Back to you.

CUOMO: Joe Johns, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our panel: CNN political analyst, David Gregory; CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza; and CNN political analyst and editor-in-chief of "The Daily Beast," John Avlon.

David Gregory, I think you have whipped the president into a frenzy this morning. We know he likes to watch the show. He has unleashed on everyone. He started with the Boy Scouts last night, where he said, "Who the hell wants to talk about politics?" He did and in very coarse form in front of those formative minds. But this morning the tweets have only gotten worse. What's going on here?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president has a singular obsession. His only area of discipline is taking on this Russia investigation and everything associated with it; who he considers loyal, who he considers tough enough to stand up with him, to fight it. He is not concerned, doesn't care about our institutions of government, or our democratic institutions generally; doesn't care about the independence of the Department of Justice or the rule of law. I mean he's making all of that very clear. Because he made it clear at the outset that he was open for business, because he didn't consider the Russians a real threat, and he would do anything to take down Hillary Clinton; and that continues.

So I think what he's after here is suggesting that Sessions is weak. He wants to humiliate him with the hope that he'll step aside so that he can go ever farther toward controlling the investigation.

I think there's nothing stopping him from firing Mueller. He fired Comey. Nobody thought that he would take that step. I think he'll do that. I think he'd fire Sessions.

And what he's not thinking about is that Republicans may finally revolt over this, and say, "No, no, no. Sessions is one of our guys, conservative, member of the Senate club. This is a step too far." We haven't seen that yet, and I think Trump feels like he could just keep barreling ahead.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon, that's what Will Hurd, Congressman Will Hurd just suggested.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

CAMEROTA: That if he were to fire Jeff Sessions, that the next person, the replacement person, would have a heck of a time getting through any sort of confirmation process. If he were to fire Jeff Sessions, who would be next?

AVLON: Well, I mean, the names that have been bandied about, I mean, Rudy Giuliani had been mentioned. He was more focused on being secretary of state and said he's not -- not in contention. Chris Christie had been in contention but, of course, he has the difficult fact of firing -- sorry imprisoning, prosecuting Jared Kushner's father. So that's a bit of a black mark in that context.

And the other two names that were discussed in the original round were Kris Kobach and Pam Bondi of Florida, Pam Bondi who has her own complicated connections with Trump.

Look, I think the broader point is this. President talks about loyalty, did yesterday. Loyalty is the oath he demands people take, but loyalty being a one-way street. If he does this to his earliest supporter in the Senate, right, publicly hounding him and humiliating him out of the office, what message does that send for anyone who might want to -- want to take the job, let alone the implications for an independent judiciary and the Russia investigation?

So -- but this is clearly the president's latest fixation, when he should be focusing on cheerleading the health care bill. He's trying to kneecap his own attorney general with the larger aim, as David said, of kneecapping this investigation; and it's transparently what it is. It's a power grab.

CUOMO: You know, look, Chris Cillizza, you can look at this a couple of different ways. You can say, "Boy, the president is going off this morning. He's all over the place on his Twitter." But actually, I see a pattern that the president believes -- and this is a very smart guy, especially when it comes to media -- works for him.

"These lawmakers, they're all in the sewer. They're all in there. Not me. I'm not one of them. That's why you elected me. Even Sessions got weak in the knees when it comes to Hillary Clinton. Boy, they don't like going after their own." So he takes that path.

On health care, "Not about me. It's all about them." He even talks about the Republicans as a separate entity...

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes.

CUOMO: ... from him, even though he is the putative head of their party.

This works for him. The question is, why does it work for him, if it does? And does it get him where he wants to be, which is growing his base and getting things done?

CILLIZZA: Let me answer the second question first, no. It does not grow his base, and it does not help him get things done.

On the first question, why does he do it? He does it because he, like most politicians, likes to hear applause. It's why he does these events that he does. He likes to be cheered.

But I think he doesn't understand that his base is not, as currently constituted, big enough to get him reelected president. And his base, if it doesn't turn out for Republicans in 2018, which is a possibility, when you sort of say, "Well, Republicans are over here, and I'm over here," it could cause him to lose the House, and the Senate's harder but still possible.

And if he thinks it's difficult now in Washington, with controlling the White House, the Senate and the House, it will be a lot worse for him in 2019, if Democrats control one of those chambers.

Just one counterargument to you, Chris. I do think there is strategy here to a point, but I also think this is someone who acts, and then sometimes strategy is woven into the action. He says things, and then we say, "Oh, well could he be strategizing here?" No, he might be, but I think if past is prologue, there's at as much evidence to suggest he's just saying this stuff about Sessions because he wants to get rid of Sessions.

GREGORY: Right but there's another point, Chris, too, which is that he knows one speed. He knows what's worked for him.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

[07:15:03] GREGORY: He knows, to Cuomo's point, taking the fight to Washington, to Republicans, to the sewer. That's the one thing that's worked.

And in his mind -- and he may be right -- he can fight this Russia investigation and all comers. Maybe he runs on this for re-election. And maybe people who say, "Yes, we don't like all his bluster and all the stuff he says, but we need change," maybe that -- he keeps that energy.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

GREGORY: What he's not done is conformed to governing, and this was a guy who said,, "No, I can bring all of this outside expertise and be a good president. I can make Washington work." We've heard those kinds of promises before.

And I think the real danger sign in all of this -- there are many, right, because the Russia investigation could proceed in a way where we have a constitutional crisis or something bad could happen. America could be attacked. There could be a foreign policy crisis. And we're not talking about the fact his foreign policy team is not working together either, and that's the test.

All of this bluster in taking on everybody, can they handle it if something bad happens? They can't run the West Wing. So can they handle it if something bad happens? That's the question that all Americans, his supporters and critics alike, are going to ask themselves at some point.

AVLON: I, you know -- I think that point, which is that we've been dealing largely with self-inflicted crises not world -- world-imposed crises is what should -- people be focusing on. But instead, it's the reality show and a president who tries to blur his own impulses or lack of impulse control with a strategy, because it gets him attention; and that's gotten him the presidency, so that's a pretty powerful self-reinforcing mechanism.

But at the end of the day, this is transparently chaos. It's chaos at the heart of the office of the leader of the free world, and his own party, you know, while many of them are focusing on the fact he's popular with his base, certainly not building the base, popular in it, look, you know, most members of Congress did better in their district than Donald Trump did; and that is going to start to sink in.

Because if the president has got two speeds, self-aggrandizement and self-gratification, it has little to do with party and increasingly little to do with any concept of national interests. It's about self- interest. That's not sustainable.

CUOMO: And on the day that it's supposed to be about health care...

CAMEROTA: Right.

CUOMO: ... it's a huge vote today, he's had one tweet this morning where he mentioned it, and he did it in a way where he calls out Republicans that they'd better deliver on their promise. He takes no responsibility for the policy or the process. And everything else has been about Russia or his problems with the people around him.

CAMEROTA: And so...

CILLIZZA: Chris, just -- sorry, just very quickly. The Sessions thing I don't think is maybe as big a deal today as health care, but I do think it is worth putting a pin in. Look, this is a guy publicly bullying a subordinate. This is -- this

is not the kind -- David said he's not comported to the rules of governance, which David's exactly right about. He's not really comporting at this point to the rules of sort of common society. We shouldn't treat people in this way.

If he wants to get rid of him -- you played Adam Kinzinger from Illinois earlier in the open -- fire him. You're the president. Fire him. Don't shame and bully him publicly and not even sit down with him to have a one on one conversation.

CUOMO: Everyone needs a hobby.

CAMEROTA: All right, panel, thank you very much for all of that.

So as Chris said, the Senate vote on health care is just hours away today. But what exactly will they be voting on? Senator Angus King tells us what he knows, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:22:21] CAMEROTA: President Trump attacking his own attorney general, his earliest supporter in the Senate, Jeff Sessions. He's continuing that today.

The president tweeted just this morning, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes. Where he emails and DNC server and intel leakers?" Why is the president doing this, when health care is the news of the day?

Joining us now is Independent Senator Angus King of Maine. Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: What do you make of what President Trump is doing to his own Attorney General? Yesterday, he tweeted a very eyebrow-raising tweet, I'll read it: "So why aren't the committees and investigators and, of course, our beleaguered A.G. looking into Crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations?"

Then this morning, just in the past hour or so he tweeted: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes. Where are emails and DNC server and intel leakers?"

What do you make of this?

KING: Well, I had an old professor in law school years ago, Alisyn, who said when in doubt, read the statute. And Jeff Sessions under Department of Justice regulations had no choice but to recuse himself. I don't know whether the president has ever seen those regulations, whether anybody has ever read them to him; but the regulations basically say no person can participate in an investigation of a campaign if they were involved in the campaign. It could have been written for this situation. Rudolph Giuliani yesterday said he had no choice but to recuse himself. CAMEROTA: Right.

KING: And, you know, as you mentioned in your opening, Jeff Sessions was Donald Trump's principal first supporter in the Senate and one of the loudest voices, campaigned with him. And he mentioned the word "loyalty" yesterday. In my world, loyalty is a two-way street.

CAMEROTA: But what does it tell you about President Trump's mindset or his loyalty to his early supporters or who would take this job next if he were to get rid of Jeff Sessions?

KING: Well, I think that's a legitimate question. And whether the Senator would confirm someone under these circumstances, particularly if there was some implication or understanding that the new attorney general would try to cut off the investigation by Robert Mueller that the FBI is undertaking.

For a guy who keeps saying...

CAMEROTA: Let me ask you about that for a second, Senator. I just want -- I want to ask you about that.

KING: Sure.

CAMEROTA: Because thus far we haven't seen wide-scale Republicans willing to go against something that President Trump wants. So are you feeling as though this Jeff Sessions is a tipping point? And that if the president were to find some sort of other loyalist who would take the job, that Republicans in Congress would vote against that person?

[07:25:06] KING: Well, I think you're going to have to ask some leading members of the Republican Caucus. I think I noticed you're going to have John Cornyn on later this morning; you ought to ask him that question.

But it raises the question of -- of will they go along? And you've got to remember, Jeff Sessions is a member of the Senate. He gave up a safe Senate seat. He'd been here 20-plus years. And he has many friends. I didn't vote for him, but many -- you know, he was confirmed.

So I think the senators are going to be very skeptical about this. Again, particularly if there's an overt or sub-rosa understanding that the Mueller investigation will go away as part of this. I think at that point everybody in the Congress is going to say, "No, we can't tolerate this." My expectation is you'd see a special prosecutor passed by veto-proof majorities in both Houses. And the investigation would continue.

But, you know, who knows? I mean, nothing's predictable around here from one day to the next.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Truer words never spoken.

OK, what plan are you voting on today for health care? KING: Let me give you a quick synopsis of what I know about the bill that we're going to be voting on this afternoon.

(SILENCE)

KING: I'm absolutely serious.

CAMEROTA: I'm taking notes.

KING: There is no one who knows. I talked to two senior Republicans last Thursday afternoon. I said, "What are we going to be voting on, on Tuesday?"

They said, "We have no idea."

I think it's going to be the House bill, but then there may be a substitute amendment. And it's -- I've never seen a process like this. No hearings, no discussion.

This is really, to quote a famous American, "complicated stuff." And to be talking about 1/6 of the U.S. economy and tens of millions of people without any understanding of what the implications are, I just, I really don't understand it.

And I think the dilemmas the Republicans are going to have today, is they're going to say, "OK, well, let's give them the vote to start the debate." But then if it's one of these terrible bills -- and by the way the best of the bills kicks 22 million people off of health insurance. That's the best one of the three. One of them goes up to 30 million.

Then they're going to have to maybe vote against it. And then they're caught in the, "Well, I voted for it and then I voted against it." That's a bad place to be, it seems to me, as this thing unfolds.

CAMEROTA: But why has Mitch McConnell put you in this position? Why aren't you doing it the regular way?

KING: I think that they're just obsessed with this idea of "We talked about repeal and replace for seven years, and now we have to -- we have to deliver on it." But they've not been able to settle on an alternative that will garner a majority even within the -- or over 50 votes. And so they're just going to, it's sort of throwing darts at the wall at this point.

But it's -- we're talking about real people's lives. I'm talking about people in Maine, thousands of people who are going to lose health insurance, who are going to -- the government's going to, the state's going to have to choose between disabled people and seniors because of the dramatic Medicaid cuts. I mean this is -- this is real people...

CAMEROTA: Yes.

KING: We shouldn't be doing this on this kind of, "Oh, well, we've made a promise five years ago." We ought to be talking about how do we fix it, how do we make it work, and how do we protect people's lives?

CAMEROTA: Yes. Senator, I only have a few seconds left, but we had Senator Bill Cassidy on our program on Friday. He said that he felt the Graham-Cassidy bill -- which is his, of course, and gives power back to governors to make health care decisions for their states -- he felt that that had 50 votes. Do you know anything about that plan?

KING: I don't. I don't know exactly how it would work. But I think the big question is how is it funded? If you're giving flexibility to the states, but you're cutting Medicaid by 3/4 of a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, that to me is a false flexibility. That's the flexibility to choose, as I said, between the elderly, disabled and kids. Or raise taxes. It's basically shifting costs from the federal government to the states.

Now, I don't know how Senator Cassidy's bill fits within that category...

CAMEROTA: OK.

KING: ... but if it's still got the major Medicaid cuts, then I think it's going to be very hard to get that -- a majority of votes.

CAMEROTA: Senator Angus King, we are on the edge of our seat to see what happens there with the vote, just as you are. Thanks so much for being on NEW DAY.

KING: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris.

CUOMO: All right, so you had the independent senator from Maine. What about the Republicans? How do they fear -- feel about what's going on with Jeff Sessions and this vote that seems somewhat of a mystery? We're going to ask one of them next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)