Return to Transcripts main page


Obamacare Repeal Fails in Senate. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 28, 2017 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... no. He has made his career out of being a maverick. This is a moment that he understands. It's going to help cement that.

[07:00:09] SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Got to have Republicans and Democrats sit down together and come up with a bill that gets a majority in both houses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We really do have to work together. This has been one of the least productive legislative periods in the history of the United States of America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of finger-pointing. Everybody is going to blame somebody else.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We do begin with breaking news for you. There's been a stunning defeat and a high drama in the Senate. Senator John McCain casting the decisive "no" vote that ended the Republican promise and seven years of effort to repeal Obamacare. The maverick senator giving the measure a thumbs down, as you are about to see on your screen, and it just was the most dramatic reaction and moment there on the floor.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He literally did say no and give a thumbs down, John McCain. President Trump blasting those three Republican senators and Democrats for letting Americans down. The president once again vowed to let Obamacare implode as the result. What impact is this going to have on the president's agenda?

Let's begin our coverage. We've got CNN's Phil Mattingly up all night with the senators on the Hill. This was not an acceptable outcome for Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and, in fact, it was a surprise.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. Look, the furious lobbying, the tense moments, the audible gasps when Senator McCain voted "no," all taking place live, in living color, not behind the scenes like we're used to. In the end result, basically Republicans, something they campaigned on year after year after year. At least as of now, there's no path forward.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes are 49; the nays are 51. The motion is not agreed to.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The Republican Party's seven-year effort to repeal Obamacare collapsing after a dramatic Senate floor vote that dragged on into the early morning. In the end, Senator John McCain cast a decisive final "no" vote, siding with fellow Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who voiced their disapproval on every measure voted on this week.

The Republicans' last-ditch effort, the skinny repeal amendment, voted down 49-51.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: This is a disappointment. I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time.

MATTINGLY: McCain rejecting desperate pleas from Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, even taking a phone call from President Trump, according to a source. But none of it swaying the veteran senator, who lived up to his nickname, the Maverick.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Tonight was an unfortunate night. It was a sad night. Again, I don't believe this journey is over.

MCCONNELL: So now, Mr. President, it's time to move on.

MATTINGLY: The vote capping off a day of uncertainty as Republicans shuffled back and forth from meetings on the Senate floor, desperately trying to wrangle the votes for a skeleton repeal bill designed simply to move the process into a conference with the House.

But the seeds of failure were sown early Thursday evening as McCain joined colleagues castigating the bill and the process.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We've got to have Republicans and Democrats sit down together and come up with a bill that gets a majority in both houses.

MATTINGLY: McCain's close friend, Senator Lindsey Graham, making clear the merits of the bill were lacking.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The skinny bill as policy is a disaster. The skinny bill as a replacement for Obamacare is a fraud.

MATTINGLY: Each seeking assurance from House Speaker Paul Ryan that the House would not pass the Senate bill the Senate Republicans were trying to pass themselves. Ryan eventually relenting, saying the House was willing to go to conference, but it wasn't enough for McCain, who said in a statement that the speaker's assurance, quote, "did not ease his concern that this shell of a bill could be taken up and passed at any time."

(END VIDEOTAPE) MATTINGLY: And Alisyn, just to provide some perspective of the gravity of this moment, look, the idea that the Senate majority leader would put any bill on the floor that would fail is a rarity, to say the least, up here on Capitol Hill. The idea that he would put that the bill, the issue that Republicans have campaigned on for seven years, an issue that is a primary reason why they control majorities in the Senate and the House, at least partially the reason why they control the White House, still not able to secure the votes for that, and not just that, have it fail dramatically on the Senate floor.

It was a breathtaking moment and one that caught everybody off guard and one that raises real questions about where things are going legislatively, not just on health care but perhaps on the entire agenda going forward -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Sure, Phil. I mean, it is impossible to overstate the dramatic moment that we all witnessed there last night on the floor. So stick around. We have more questions for you.

[07:05:08] Meanwhile, President Trump reacted to that defeat overnight on Twitter. He vows again to let Obamacare implode, and he pointed the fingers for the legislative failure at others.

CNN's Athena Jones is live at the White House with more. Give us the latest, Athena.


That's right. This is a huge blow to the president and to the White House. He's clearly aware of that. This is a White House that has struggled to show they can get anything big done legislatively. The president took to Twitter in the early morning hours, not long after that bill collapsed.

Here's what he said. He said, "Three Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode, then deal. Watch."

That tweet showing the president has no intention of changing his strategy of publicly blaming and shaming those Republicans who stood in the way of getting this bill through, also showing that -- something that we've heard the president say quite a bit over the last several months, this whole idea of letting Obamacare collapse or implode, to force Democrats to the table, that, of course, would have wide-ranging and negative implications for a whole lot of people.

As we've seen in these past stories, Phil's story right now, it was Arizona Senator John McCain who cast that decisive third "no" vote, despite some serious lobbying including by the president. We know Vice President Mike Pence went up to Capitol Hill hoping to cast that tie-breaking vote. In the end, he was serving as a mini lobbyist trying to get this bill through.

At one point, the president called Vice President Pence, who handed the phone to McCain. That brief conversation ultimately unsuccessful. And of course, the question now, what comes next? The White House signaling they are likely to move on to tax reform.

But the other big question looming over all of this is whether this White House can show that they're good at anything other than infighting -- Alisyn, Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Athena. Thank you very much.

So let's talk about everything that happened last night and what it all means. We want to bring back Phil Mattingly. Also joining us, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Maggie Haberman; and CNN political commentator and Washington correspondent from "The New Yorker," Ryan Lizza.

Maggie, I just want to one more time watch that McCain moment. Because it was so dramatic last night on the Senate floor there, and it was so infused with poignance, where he was brought back to save the Republican plan.

CUOMO: To save the process. Which he did. He got them to this point. But...

CAMEROTA: Sure. But at the very -- at the 11th hour, at the last minute, look at this. He holds and he...

CUOMO: Thumb down.

CAMEROTA: ... gives thumbs down. And you, for a moment, hear the Democrats erupt in surprise, and it sounds like some glee. And then you see Chuck Schumer sort of shush them immediately, because now is not the right time to, you know, spike the ball. And I don't know. There's just a feeling that John McCain just stood on his convictions and kind of had nothing to lose there.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: With John McCain, a couple things are going on. One is sort of the McCain brand and has been for a very long time, which is the maverick. No. 1.

No. 2, I think you did have this weird situation where John McCain, who is -- has a brain tumor, was coming back to deal with this process, and he was hearing a ton of criticism, both from some of his constituents and from people across the country about the idea that you were coming back to D.C. to continue with a plan that was, ultimately, going to end up even with the skinny proposal, denying several millions of people health care down the road.

I think that that all was a factor also. I mean, you can see this is him basically taking a bullet for his colleagues, many of whom were going to face a problem...


HABERMAN: ... if they did vote -- you know, by voting in favor of this, by making it go away, look, we all focus on the process. Voters are not going to focus on the process that much. They're going to focus on the result.

And the result is, this bill goes away right now.

CUOMO: The process tells a little bit of the story here in as much as, sometimes when you force someone to make a difficult choice, the easier answer is no. I know the political optics were, Phil Mattingly, where -- well, if you're a Republican, you've got to vote for this, because we've been repeal and replace all along. That's true on one level.

But there was another level of play here. People's lives were in the balance. And when people are struggling with something like that and you force them to make a decision -- and let's not hide the ball here, that's what this process was. This was forcing it.

To use the 50-vote reconciliation, you know, threshold, instead of 60, make you do it this way, no debate, bogus amendment structure, no real discussion of it. They got their nose out of that.

MATTINGLY: Look, let's put one thing plainly here. There is a lot of blame to go around. And it will come in spades, and a lot of people will take the hint on this.

But I think at the core of what we saw happen last night and what we've seen play out over the last six months, guys, is there is a significant ideological divide inside the Republican Party about health care policy, about the role of government in people's lives as it relates to health care. And that was at the core, I think, of McCain's "no" vote last night.

And guys, I can tell you, behind the scenes, I had several senators and several Republican aides tell me that their bosses didn't want to vote for this either.

[07:10:09] As you know, Chris, they didn't like the process. They were very worried about where this was going. There was real concern about whether or not they could get 50 votes for anything as they proved throughout this week and the weeks leading up to this. Republicans simply couldn't coalesce around a repeal and replace process. The divide between conservatives and Medicaid expansion, with state senators, or more centrist senators was simply too deep.

So the policy in the end really matters here. And I think perhaps most importantly is what was laid bare. But again, whether you want to blame the process, blame the idea of how this went through, blame the White House for their role in this.

At the core of this is the fact that Republicans don't agree, or at least 50 of them don't in the U.S. Senate, on how health care should be run in this country, what mechanism should be used. Until they can reconcile this, if repeal is your only baseline and you can't replace, there's no path forward at all. And until they move off that baseline, there's no path forward on health care for Republicans, at least at this moment, guys.

CAMEROTA: Ryan, obviously, John McCain is getting a lot of attention with the results. But also Lisa Murkowski and Senator Susan Collins, they also have taken a lot of heat for standing on what they say are their convictions and not -- despite all the pressure, not voting for it.

I mean, you could see the different Republican senators walking up to Lisa Murkowski on the floor, and there was sort of a lot of gesticulating and a lot of pointing. And, you know, it seemed as though they were really trying to pressure her.

President Trump also pressuring them. He tweeted last night afterwards, "Three Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode. Then deal. Watch."

What are your thoughts?

LIZZA: You know, look, I think that, you know, one of the -- if you read any of the histories of presidents who actually passed big health care reform bills, the No. 1 lesson is they were deeply involved in the negotiations, and they were deeply knowledgeable at the subject so that they could personally sway a senator by promising them something, by getting involved in the negotiations and giving them something and moving them along in the process.

You didn't have a president who was able to do that here. He's not deep in the weeds on health care policy, of course, and he wasn't wheeling and dealing with the senators and trying to sway them with anything much more than a couple of lunches at the White House and tweets here and there and, you know, some things that may have backfired. And so those personal relationships do actually matter in Washington.

And for one guy, I think they have always mattered, if you look at his history. It's John McCain. And I think it's no secret that McCain and Trump have not exactly been allies, going back a couple years now. Susan Collins of Maine, another, was one of the most severe critics of Trump. So he hasn't repaired relationships.

When you have such a tiny margin in the Senate, every senator matters. And he has not repaired the relationships with the senators he actually needs to pass his agenda.

CUOMO: All right. So let's talk about how this dynamic plays out from here. You referred earlier to when McCain did that, you did hear a little bit of pleasant surprise. Those were the Democrats, but their leader, Schumer, did put a cap on it somewhat uncharacteristically. Why? Because they've got problems with the ACA, and they need to figure out a way forward.

So let's listen to the Democrat response, Chuck Schumer, was last night about what had happened and what it means.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Let's turn the page in another way. All of us were so inspired by the speech and the life of the senator from Arizona. And he asked us to go back to regular order, to bring back the Senate that some of us who were here -- have been here a while remember. Maybe this can be a moment where we start doing that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: So who wants to pick up the ball on that? The last time Chuck Schumer did this, the president came out and mocked his emotion. He hasn't done that so far. In all objectivity, good move. The question is, how does this play, what does this mean?

HABERMAN: I think it's unclear, and I think it's a little too soon to say exactly, because I've been very surprised at the Democrats', candidly, inability to sort of move forward, figure out their own agenda and figure out a way to capitalize on what has been several Republican stumbles.

I agree with you that I think part of the problem is that the bill -- is that Obamacare does have problems. And essentially, the law itself does have fixes. A lot of Democrats will acknowledge that. But the momentum is on the Democrats' side at the moment, going forward in terms of preserving it and possibly coming up with something that could look like a replacement.

I think the biggest thing right now is you're going to see all of this shift back in terms of how the Republican caucus interacts with the White House. And that, I think, is where you're go to see Democrats take their cues. I think they are basically holding their cards close to the vest right now, because the assumption is, you are seeing is a group of Senate Republicans who not only don't really fear the president, but are actively angry at him and have gotten actively angry at him over the course of recent days, in large measure because of the treatment of Jeff Sessions.

That is not the only reason. The attorney general who was once one of their members. But I think that you are seeing Democrats waiting to see how, essentially, this volatile coil goes back and forth.

CUOMO: And also, look, I mean, the White House does have a role in this. Even though the president didn't prescribe this policy, inherited repeal and replace...

CAMEROTA: Leader of the party.

CUOMO: you know, his chief of staff who's liaising with the Senate, all of these communications you're supposed to have to make things happen. Did people around the president, in addition to the president, drop the ball?

CAMEROTA: And that leads us to the next point, Ryan. Which is obviously, you've been reporting on this battle royale that is going on inside the White House between these warring factions. It seems to be mortal combat where somebody will not survive at the end of this feud.

Is there a direct line that can be drawn to the turmoil inside the White House and to the agenda and to things like the health care fix not getting done?

LIZZA: Of course. Look, communications -- what was the big story about the communications director this week. What should the communications director at the White House have been doing this week? Probably should have had a communications strategy to help health care get passed. We didn't really see much of that.

You know, if you talk to allies of Reince Priebus, they will say, look, his agenda this week has not been, you know, to get involved with these internal fights, but to actually help pass health care, but it absolutely matters.

When you have a White House where everyone is getting along relatively well, all swimming in the same or rowing in the same direction to try and advance a legislative goal, that's how legislation gets passed. When you have a White House that -- you know, already factionalized White House and then you add an outside player who, you know, sort of throws in another grenade in an ongoing civil war, it makes it really hard to convince Republicans up on the Hill to support you.

But I think to overstate that, at the end of the day, it's the president and his personal involvement in this and his understanding of the dynamics up on the Hill and not being a great asset, frankly, for McConnell and the other Republicans...

CUOMO: True. And you know, Ryan, we have you to thank for giving us a window into what's going on in that White House, that many people wouldn't believe when we were suggesting it and reporting.

But Anthony Scaramucci made it very clear to you, and you wrote it up quickly and in a way that made it very compelling for us to take. So we thank you for that.

And then Maggie, it becomes a very fundamental question. We all get -- you know, nobody is better sourced than you. We all know what's going on, but this has been months that this has been going on. Reince Priebus -- is the president a neophyte? Absolutely. Does he not know policy that well? Clearly. That's why Priebus was brought in. He's the guy with the contacts. He's the guy with the know-how.

HABERMAN: Correct.

CUOMO: This is the result after months.

HABERMAN: Correct. And Ryan's reporting was fantastic, but dropping several "F" bombs is not why health care failed. Right? I mean, they essentially -- they had not had a plan to sell this bill or their efforts for months. There has not been a strategy. That goes back for a very long time.

The president had been standing by Reince Priebus for a long time. I mean, he basically said to several people privately, had said to reporters privately, "I'm not getting rid of Reince. I'm not getting rid of Reince." Something has changed in the last couple of weeks. I do think that where things were heading with health care was a big part of that.

I think the fact that you had the Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus relationship that had dominated much of the early part of this administration, it made President Trump look at Reince Priebus with a leery eye. You had a lot of White House aides who will say privately that Reince Priebus -- and it's not trying to be unkind, but that it has been essentially like not having a chief of staff at all.

And I think there is a sense of change that is taking place in the White House right now. Whether people agree with it or not, it is how the president likes for things to go. He does like a fight. Enough people have said to him, "You need to get this under control. This cannot play out publicly this way, because it's hurting your administration."

I think the expectation people had had yesterday is, and Anthony Scaramucci will be the one who gets in trouble for what he said, I'm not sure that's how this plays out.

CUOMO: Really?

CAMEROTA: Maggie -- yes. You have a question? I was going to wrap. That was an...

CAMEROTA: An exclamation point?

CUOMO: A dramatic ending.

CAMEROTA: Maggie, Phil, Ryan, thank you so much for sharing all of your reporting with us. Really helpful.

CUOMO: I mean, it may be the best sum-up of most of the things that we learned about what's goings-on in our government recently, you know. Really! So the fight to dismantle Obamacare, we know where that stands right now. What is the Republican mindset now about this and other pressing issues for the president's agenda? Republican Congressman Mo Brooks joins us next.


[07:24:07] CUOMO: For seven years Republicans had a simple and definitive sell: repeal Obamacare. Well, they just failed in the Senate. Leader Mitch McConnell now says it's time to move on. How?

Joining us is Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama. He's running for attorney general, Jeff Sessions' open seat in the Senate. Congressman, good to have you on the show.

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: My pleasure, Chris.

CUOMO: So give us the state of play. What happens now? Do you believe there is a chance for what the American people say they always want most, which is to get the left and the right working together for them?

BROOKS: Well, let's be clear about what's happened over the last 24 hours in the United States Senate. It was an abject failure of the United States Senate to do what America needs doing. It was a failure from the newest member, Luther Strange, at the bottom to the very top with Mitch McConnell as majority leader. And I hope that the Senate will not quit. I hope and urge the Senate to stay in Washington, D.C., until the job gets done.

[07:25:13] You know, there's an old saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Now is not the time to leave the American people in a lurch. Now is not the time to leave American health care at risk. Now is not the time to continue to stress, even worse, the family budgets as parents are trying to take care of their kids. So I hope they won't quit.

And if they're going to quit, well then by golly, maybe they ought to start at the top with Mitch McConnell leaving his position and letting somebody new, somebody bold, somebody conservative take the reins so that they can come up with a plan that can get through the United States Senate and serve the needs of the American people.

CUOMO: Do you think that the problem is leadership? You think it's time for a change for the Republicans in the Senate?

BROOKS: Well, unquestionably, the leadership at the top is responsible. The buck stops there. That's why you take on that kind of responsibility.

And if Mitch McConnell cannot get the job done on this, how is he going to get the job done on the rest of President Trump's agenda over the next 3 1/2 years. As I see it right now, this is a killer.

As you recall from six months ago, if we did not get health care passed, that meant that there would be no tax reform, which in term meant that there would be no infrastructure improvements. And if that ends up being the case, as was represented to us in the House back in the spring when we forced through a health care bill, well, we need new leadership in the Senate if they can't get the job done.

It's not -- it's not necessarily anything bad about Mitch McConnell himself personally, but he's got a job to do, and if he can't do it, then as "The Apprentice" would say, you're fired. Get somebody who can.

CUOMO: Why isn't this a little bit more like the difference between politics and reality? Politics, easy to say, we'll get rid of it. We'll get rid of it. The reality is you've got millions of Americans who depend on it. The idea of just sucking a lot of money out of the system to use for tax cuts, even for Republicans, was too much to swallow if their constituents were going to suffer.

BROOKS: Well, no question. It's a very complex issue, health care for Americans. It's a very critical issue, because it does mean life and death. And it's a hard issue to resolve. But we in the House, we were able to get legislation through. Now, there was great gnashing of teeth. There was a lot of intense emotions as we struggled with this issue and fought hard for the positions we believed in.

But ultimately, we were able to reach a compromise and got a bill out of the House to the Senate. And the Senate needs to stay and do its job. Don't leave Washington, D.C., until the job is done, because that's what the American people need.

CUOMO: All right. So we had a couple of different dynamics at play. You had division within the party. You had tension. You had leadership issues. All of those roads ultimately should lead back to the president.

And one of the things recently that has created consternation, even outrage among members of his own party, treatment of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Now, just when the heat came up, the attorney general all of a sudden was in El Salvador talking about MS-13. But he did finally give a comment about how he felt about those tweets from the president bullying him, shaming him in public. This is what he said.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's kind of hurtful, but the president of the United States is a strong leader. If he wants to make a change, he can certainly do so, and I would be glad to yield in that circumstance, no doubt about it.


CUOMO: A.G. Sessions taking the high road. You have said something that shows how against the treatment of the A.G. you are. You said, if the president removes him, that you would give up your slot in the election for Sessions' Senate seat to allow him to hop back in and become a U.S. senator, potentially. Really? Is that true?

BROOKS: Absolutely. And I signed a document that commits to that position, provided the other people who are running for this Senate seat do the same thing. If we all en masse give up our candidacies, then there's a vacancy in the position, and the outgoing Republican Party could appoint Jeff Sessions to fill that vacancy.

CUOMO: Why would you do that?

BROOKS: Twenty years. I think -- I have the highest regard for Senator Jeff Sessions. I've worked with him for six years in the House. He's in the Senate. He is a very honorable man. He's as good as they come. I put him right up there amongst all the politicians I've ever met, with Ronald Reagan, Jeff Sessions. They're two peas in a pod.

Further, I've got to think about America and Alabama's best interests. If Jeff Sessions returns to the Senate, if in fact, he leaves the attorney general's position under fire from President Trump and returns to the Senate, he brings with him 20 years of seniority. It would take the rest of us 20 years to accumulate that kind seniority that is so critical in the United States Senate for committee assignments and chairmanships.

And as you know, that is a tremendous amount of control over public policy when you're a chairman of a particular committee. So if Jeff Sessions wants that, if I can draft him to return to the United States Senate, I'd be happy as a clam, bearing in mind that when he was considering the attorney general's position, I tried to persuade him, unsuccessfully, to stay in the Senate because of the unique and positive role that he has played in that respect for over two decades.

CUOMO: An unusually selfless move in politics, for you to give up your seat. Obviously, an expression you believe the president is doing the wrong thing. So now let's end on an expression of doing the right thing.

You were at a ceremony the other day where the officers who were at that horrible shooting that you endured were rewarded for it. We're showing video of it right --