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President Trump Criticizes Attorney General Jeff Sessions; Senate Republicans to Vote on Health Care Reform Bill. Interview with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Is Mr. Trump just trying to push him out in public? Joining us now, CNN political analyst David Gregory, CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, and Congressional reporter for the "Washington Post" Karoun Demirjian.

Let's set the table here with this why he keeps talking about the election, talks about Hillary. Instead of just making it a statement, let's show the proof of the obsession. Here's a montage.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The question for every senator, Democrat or Republican is whether they will side with Obamacare's -- my opponent didn't work hard there because she was told -- she was told she was going to win Michigan.

There is no path to victory for Hillary Clinton.

People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton gave them 20 percent of our uranium. Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember, with the stupid plastic button.

Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn't report it? That's a horrible thing.

When WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they're not giving classified information. They're giving stuff, what was said at an office about Hillary cheating on debates, which, by the way, nobody mentions. Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates.


CUOMO: So, Karoun, let's talk about why this works for the president and let's once and for all put to rest the idea of who keeps doing this. This isn't about the media that keeps bringing up the election. It's the president. He does it all the time. The question is why.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I mean he is fixated on it, for one. So that's part of what may just be the way he sees the world and the way he's going through things. But also, he prefers to talk about politics and election politics and rehashing than he likes talking about the nitty-gritty of policy. And you seem to hear him talk about it more and more the more there are other things going on.

This is a very busy weak. You have Jared Kushner on the Hill twice. You had the health care bill come to a really critical do or die moment. This is not exactly the week in which you'd expect the president to talking about Hillary Clinton again and yet he is because this is the fallback he goes to to both reorient himself and also to appeal to his base and try to make them, remind them again that they picked him. They love him. He's the guy that's their guy. So, again, you're seeing what has been a pattern that's played itself out in several rounds.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So, David, as Karoun says, this is exhibit A. This is the day that he is supposed to be using his great deal-making skills to get whatever health care bill he wants across the finish line. Today is the high-stakes vote on health care. And yet, his tweets have been dominated by Hillary Clinton.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the only thing that he's disciplined about is what he's obsessed about, which is fighting all comers when it comes to this Russian investigation, demanding loyalty from those around him, and his general litigious nature, right. This is how he's operating as president for years, and this is how he's operating as president because he doesn't really care about other institutions or the independence of the attorney general of the United States or ethics laws that compel the attorney general to recuse himself from the investigation when he was a surrogate for the campaign.

This is the only thing that he has discipline about, and it is sabotaging himself. The health care piece is interesting, because the story of health care, however it turns out, is that in the White House you have a president who is not ideological, who is much more pragmatist on the question of health care, who could really and may yet get Democrats on board to do something to actually fix Obamacare as it now exists. But at the moment he's positioning himself as outside, attacking Republicans, saying you guys said you wanted to do this, I campaigned on it, now you can't get it done. He's not driving the process. He's not really dialed in. He doesn't have a health care reform agenda that he's driving. He's just trying to kind of cheerlead for it, demand for it, and he's making it very clear to Republican that if they don't get it done, he'll attack them and probably campaign against them next year, which would certainly be something that we could expect he'd do.

CUOMO: Chris, any indication that it's working, that GOP senators are more likely to vote on this procedural move today to start debate because of the president's calling them out?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Not that I can tell, although I do think if they wind up getting to 50 on this motion to proceed, basically to start the debate, Chris, that he will claim victory, and somewhat rightly so. He did keep pushing it after McConnell delayed the vote twice after it was clear they didn't have votes. He's continued to say let's not walk away from it.

[08:05:07] But, I see it direct connection between Donald Trump's approach yesterday as he scolded senators, you'd better be for this because if not it means that you think the Obamacare nightmare is good for the country, and the way in which he treats Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions, former member of the U.S. Senate, someone that everyone from Susan Collins to John Cornyn, not exactly ideological allies, like and respect. When you see Trump attacking him, bullying him, it's the same sort of approach. That's his M.O. That seems to be what he thinks gets things done.

I will tell you from my experience watching and covering the Senate, that approach has not typically worked. Could it work for him? Sure. He has gotten to a place I certainly didn't think he was going to get to, which is the White House. So I'm not ready to rule it out, but I'm not sure if they do get the 50 votes he deserves as much credit as he's probably going to take. And I'll go on the record as being skeptical still. Even with McCain coming from Arizona, it's still going to be very heard. They basic already lost -- you've seen what Rand Paul has said, very skeptical about voting for the motion to proceed. They lose two, they're OK. They lose three, that's it. It's just the math is very tough.

CAMEROTA: So Karoun, we have a graphic of the eight senators, GOP senators to watch, as Chris just said, Susan Collins is already a no. So you're on Capitol Hill every day. What should we be looking for today? What are the telltale signs we're looking for?

DEMIRJIAN: I think that the real question is going to be, do people like Shelley Moore Capito and Dean Heller actually take this vote. You can rationalize it by saying it's just a procedural vote. They're trying to keep debate alive, trying to keep something alive so that maybe they can keep working with House members and trying to find something that's better than anything that's on the table right now.

You heard the president specifically calling out Shelley Moore Capito yesterday when he was at a Boy Scouts rally, basically saying that she's got to vote for this. You know he's been putting pressure on Heller. Both of them, especially Heller, anything he does is going to be interpreted by Democrats from across the aisle. He's up for election in 2018. You can't just take these moves and explain them away and have that be the end of the story.

So they're going to be doing a very hard and fast calculation in their head about what is the more risky step to take. But I think it's moderates like that that are going to be making the difference because they're the ones who actually have come out and said I don't like any direction that this is going at all.

The idea that if you actually let something proceed and go ahead in the Senate process, the idea is that when that's done you're going to reconcile it with the House's bill, which is probably going to be more conservative at the end of the day if you're going to be able to get something through the Senate at all with the moderates on board. So you might be able to win back the Mike Lees of this world, but if you're going to be trying to make this happen you need to also win back the people that said this whole thing is not right because it's not addressing Medicaid, because it's not going to in the direction where I can protect my constituents. And that's going to be them trying to explain to their constituents why they can take a procedural step that isn't actually a step that's an endorsement of the bill, and that's a difficult thing to get across to people on Capitol Hill.

CILLIZZA: By the way, to Karoun's point about Dean Heller very quickly, regular folks do not understand the difference between a motion to proceed and voting for some sort of bill. The second he votes for the motion to proceed, you can guarantee a slew of ads, no matter what happens after that, a slew of ads that say Dean Heller supported Donald Trump's unpopular health care law.

CUOMO: It would be nice to have some type of debate, though. Go ahead, David. Sorry.

GREGORY: I think that's the point of John McCain. He's going to be the emotional center of the day, him coming back. And what has Senator McCain been for, not just the Senate doing its job and having a debate but also working with Democrats to get something done. So I think there's a lot of Republicans who want to have a debate even if the bill goes down, to say that they cast a vote and that here are their principles they fought for on healthcare. But the McCain symbolism is also one that says we should debate and we should work with Democrats.

CUOMO: Right. And also it is easy and appropriate to criticize a lot of the tactics the president uses for his adversaries and his friends alike, but where is the proof that it isn't working, David Gregory, because look at how the Republicans respond? They don't criticize what he says. They'll say Jeff Sessions is a good man, but they won't say the president is bullying him. It's wrong. He should lay off. They'll say you have to ask the president. I don't take his he tweets very seriously. I don't really know. I don't want to get into that.

So they're not stepping up and stepping strong. Paul Ryan made his name by being a guy who came out and spoke his conscience. That has disappeared. He can barely bring himself to say I don't think Mueller is a Democratic plant. Really, that's the least you can do? The guy is a registered Republican and a decorated veteran, and that's the best you can do?

[08:10:11] GREGORY: I continue to be surprised by this, but the reality is that Trump has enough support among Republicans, softened a little bit, but he has enough support, and Republicans are afraid. They're both afraid of what Trump will do generally, or -- and/or do to them. And what he's doing now is very much -- you know, we can make fun of what he did in front of the Boy Scouts at the jamboree, but his own retelling, while it lacks humility, his own retelling of what he achieved in the campaign is remarkable, what he did to Democrats and Republicans alike. And that is a reminder of his political potency and how he'll use it against other Republicans. They haven't figured out what to do about that.

And I think a lot of them think, for all we dislike about Trump, we still have a shot here at maybe health care, that looks troubling, but tax reform, which is still something that they could run on and could be important.

DEMIRJIAN: Also -- sorry. They also have not had to get to the point where they have to figure it out. Remember all these things are a ripeness thing. You can continue to excuse what Trump is saying about Jeff Sessions when it's just a series of tweets because you've been excusing a lot of tweets, too. If he actually fires Jeff Sessions, Jeff Sessions has a lot of friends in Congress. They will not take that very well. That's going to be a very, very different thing if that happens than right now with what is basically a tweet storm that maybe is just to pressure Jeff Sessions into toeing the line, which you can pass because it's not at that point where it's been dropped like a bomb at your feet and you have to respond to it.

CAMEROTA: That is interesting, Chris. We do keep hearing that would be sort of reaching the Rubicon about getting rid of Sessions. We've heard it a couple times this morning, that then the confirmation process for whoever the next person would be wouldn't go swimmingly.

CILLIZZA: All true, but I would just remind people, Donald Trump, he hasn't just stepped over the norms of governance, of campaigning, of sort of how we treat one another. He's acted as though they don't exist. So all of those things are true. Firing the attorney general would be a huge problem internally in the Senate but also externally. This would now be firing the attorney general and the FBI director as there's an ongoing investigation into Russia's meddling in the election.

But this is Donald Trump. To David's point, this is someone who has not only gotten rid of those norms or tried to get rid of them, but has run proudly and said these are ridiculous norms and I'm not going to respect them. This is modern day presidential, in his words.

CUOMO: I wonder though, if, by bullying him in public with these tweets, if the eventuality winds up being that Jeff Sessions doesn't want to take it. I have friends and people who know him who say Sessions won't be bullied. He's going to do his job. He's a duty first guy. OK, but if he isn't, and he steps aside, has the president now lost leverage so that even if Session decides to leave, it will be interpreted as his being pushed out and he winds up in the same place with Republicans who like Sessions?

GREGORY: Not only that but look at how difficult it will be then to move forward and get another attorney general. What happens to Rod Rosenstein? You have now just gone through, just barreled over all sense of independence in the Justice Department, and you empower the special council, and I think it just becomes much more difficult for Republicans to stand by and say well, you know, we wish he wouldn't do that.

CILLIZZA: And this public shaming of Sessions makes Trump look far worse than Jeff Sessions. It's not even close.

CAMEROTA: Panel. Thank you very much. Obviously it's a very important day and week on Capitol Hill.

CUOMO: So all this chaos within the Republican Party and the president separating himself from his own party, that has one set of implications for them. It has another one for the Democrats. This could be opportunity. They are in a big period of rebranding which was just called out by them man on your screen. Now, the woman on your screen, Nancy Pelosi, they just put out a new agenda which they call a better deal, and say they are retooling their message to reconnect with Americans who should be looking to their party, not Republicans. Will it work? If so, why? We're going to discuss with the House minority whip Steny Hoyer, next.


[08:18:03] CUOMO: All right. So, very often, politics is a matter ever perspective. You have trouble within the GOP. Trouble between the president and his own party.

That could be opportunity, though, for the Democrats. The question is, are they seizing that opportunity? The president writing them off as just obstructionists.

Joining us now is House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

Good to have you on the show, sir.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MINORITY WHIP: Good morning, Chris. Good to be with you.

CUOMO: So, a familiar criticism. A sitting president saying that the out-party is doing nothing but obstructing. We heard it during President Obama's tenure. We're hearing it again now. Is it fair criticism?

HOYER: I think not. Essentially what he's frustrated about is the inability of his party to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and/or a replacement to the Affordable Care Act.

And he should not be surprised. This is not obstruction. We are defending the Affordable Care Act, which we're very proud of and we think has made a difference in the lives of millions of people giving them access to affordable health care.

Are there problems in the ACA? There are. Do we need to fix them? We do. And we're ready and willing to do so.

But to this point, the Republicans have been simply on a partisan effort without including not only Democrats but the public. No hearings, no amendments have been allowed to be offered. Now, they're trying to move forward. We'll see what happens.

But we ought to be working in a bipartisan way. It's not obstruction. It's defending a piece of legislation we think is critically important for the American people.

CUOMO: Could there be criticism you haven't defended it enough? I mean, the narrative from the Republicans is universally that Obamacare is dying on the vine. It's in a death spiral. The president calls it a nightmare. I don't hear full-throated defense from Democrats on this show on a

regular basis fighting those propositions.

HOYER: Well, I think -- I disagree, Chris. I think we've been fighting it and we've been fighting it pretty effectively.

[08:20:02] The Affordable Care Act is working. It is not working at every instance, and part of the reason it's not working is because the Republicans have undermined it.

It's interesting, in the McConnell bill, they put forward in the McConnell bill way that is can be sustained for the next two years. Well, very frankly it can be sustained and succeed now and then the next two years and the next 10 years, which is really what we ought to do.

The Affordable Care Act is working. We have some 20 million people who have insurance who didn't have it. We have people with preexisting conditions getting insurance. We have many more children covered.

But the fact is, it's working. But there are problems as would be the case in any large piece of legislation that is very complex, as the president observed. Gee, this is complicated. Who knew? He should have known.

But the fact of the matter is I think both Leader Pelosi and myself and others, we've been saying, look, the Affordable Care Act is working. Don't undermine it, which we think the administration did from the first day it was in office. And, of course, Republicans for the last six years have been undermining confidence in its operation.

So, it's working. We ought to make it better and that's what our Republican friends ought to join us in doing.

CUOMO: Polls reflect growing enthusiasm by people because the more they learn about what might replace it, they're getting concerned so they want to hold on to what they have, for better or worse. Cost becomes a big issue.

So, on the one hand, you have the rate of cost increases is lower after the ACA than it was before. That's a good fact.

HOYER: Correct.

CUOMO: The bad fact is that you do have individual markets with big problems of price spiking.

HOYER: That's correct.

CUOMO: You do have big drug pricing problems as well.

Are there opportunities for ideas of the Democrats and potential bipartisan moves to address those specific issues?

HOYER: Chris, I certainly think there are and we need to address them. I think there are problems as I have said, and we need to address them and we've given some suggestions how to deal with small market.

But frankly, had the -- if the Republicans would come together and just use the McConnell language that is the most recent bill that hadn't come to the floor, they want to sustain it just for two years. If you do those, the reinsurance, which was necessary because it was hard to figure out in a large new program like this exactly what the cost should be and what the risks were going to be.

So, the answer to your question is absolutely. And we're prepared to work with our Republican colleague to make the Affordable Care Act work, work well and work in every state in every county and bring prices down.

CUOMO: So, as you may know, the -- Congressman, the president is a frequent watcher of this show and he has tweeted while we've been talking and saying this is going to be a very interesting day for health care. Dems are obstructionists, but the Republicans can have a great victory for the people.

What is your response to the president?

HOYER: My response to the president, Mr. President, you said you were going to offer a bill. You haven't done it. You said you were going to offer a bill that gives everybody insurance at lower cost and better quality.

Mr. President, where is your bill? We haven't seen it yet. All we have seen are bills which the CBO says are going to knock millions of people off their insurance. Put at risk people getting insurance who have preexisting conditions, put an age tax on seniors, and undercut very, very badly Medicaid.

So, Mr. President, where is your bill? Where is your bill that's going to give everybody insurance at a lower cost and better quality? Talk is cheap. Send us your bill.

CUOMO: And if this vote today, if the Republicans get their votes in the Senate, and it moves on to the debate phase, do you know what that means right now? I know you're in the House and this is the Senate. But we're dealing with the same universe of thought and potential policy here.

Do you know what would be on the table, what would be debated?

HOYER: Well, I think what's going to be debated are ways and means on our side to improve the Affordable Care Act, and to oppose those provisions in the McConnell bill that will undermine the insurance for people that I've just discussed.

CUOMO: So, how do you overwhelm the numbers, right? Because, look, repeal and replace was a very useful slogan for a long time and there was never any need to put any meat on the bones.

HOYER: There was never any replace. There was never any replace. CUOMO: Right. Now, they need to put meat on the bones and are

struggling within their own ranks on that side.

On your side, how do you overcome the resistance that the ACA has to die? It has to be changed. Otherwise, they won't deliver on the promise.

You don't have the numbers. How do you deal with that reality and still make fixes to something they want to get rid of?

HOYER: Chris, I think we have the people. It's an amazing turnaround. You know, the ACA was underwater last year. It is now a majority of the public not only support the ACA, but 75 percent of the public says, make it work better, don't undermine it.

[08:25:08] So, I think we have the people on our side which is why, frankly, in the United States Senate, McConnell has not been able to get the 50 votes that he needs because there are so many senators from many states who expanded Medicaid and don't want to see that jettisoned, and who believe that the provisions in the McConnell bill, the so-called replacement bill, will be very hard to millions of people around the country.

So, when you say we don't have the number, clearly, at this point in time, the majority of members of the United States Senate have been unwilling to move forward on the replacement bills offered by Mr. McConnell. So, right now, I think we're in the majority. We'll see on this vote to proceed. It's a tough vote for Republicans, but I think Senator McConnell's not sure tail at all that he has those votes.

And, of course, Senator McCain is coming back. It's ironic. He has very severe health problem, and McConnell bill would perhaps not for Senator McCain, or for me or for others, but would put at risk such people who have such a serious illness. So, we'll see what happens today in the Senate.

CUOMO: You take on one other thing. You've been in there for a while. You're in a whip capacity. You know, you've got your own set of elbows.

What's happening right now with the president and Jeff Sessions, have you ever seen anything like this before, not face-to-face, not man to man, but bullying in public, seemingly pushing him to either resign or to toe the line. His most recent tweet this morning on it: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes, where are emails and DNC server and intel leakers?

What do you make of the tactic and what do you make of the underlying premise about Hillary Clinton?

HOYER: Look, I think it's absurd, frankly. Hillary Clinton.

He ought to focus on his own problems. He ought to focus frankly on the problems that we have here at home. On the Affordable Care Act, on jobs, on infrastructure, all the things he talked about. He continues to do this distraction mode of his because he's under siege.

Jeff Sessions did the right thing in recusing himself. He had been involved with discussions with the Russians. I think he did the right thing. It was the ethical thing to do.

But, of course, President trump only cares about people who do the things that he wants done, loyal to him, irrespective of what they ought to do or what the facts are. I think the American people are seeing that and they're not happy, which is why his numbers are so low, the lowest of any president in my lifetime.

CUOMO: What about depending the proposition that Hillary Clinton got a pass, and that if you want to know what happened with Russia, you need those DNC servers and DNC wouldn't turn them over? What do you know about the reluctance of the DNC and whether or not that was the right move?

HOYER: Look, there's no allegations the Russians were working with the DNC.

CUOMO: Not yet.

HOYER: Well, you know, there's no smoke there, frankly, and this business about the use of the private server. Pence used a private server when he was governor of the Indiana. I just think, frankly, all of that is distractions.

And frankly, he congratulated Comey for the actions he took which I think clearly, if anybody was hurt, and hurt badly, it was Hillary Clinton through those actions. But the fact of the matter is, again, the president continues to want to distract people with irrelevancies.

The election is over. The he won. He got the electoral votes, so he's the president of the United States. He has a responsibility to the American people to focus on what they're concerned about -- jobs, no jobs bill. Infrastructure, no infrastructure bill. Replacement for the Affordable Care Act, none has been offered as I have said.

So many other issues that he just ignores, and continues to distract the American people with irrelevancies which don't affect their lives and, frankly, embarrass our country and the leadership around the world.

CUOMO: Steny Hoyer, thank you for bringing the Democratic perspective on the show this morning. You're always welcome, sir.

HOYER: Thanks Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Be well.


CAMEROTA: Chris, as you've been talking about, the Senate is poised for another vote today. But what exactly are they voting? Democratic Senator Joe Manchin with his thoughts, next.