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Trump Taps John Kelly As New Chief Of Staff; GOP Suffers Devastating Defeat On Obamacare Repeal; Demonstrators Defy Venezuela Protest Ban. Aired 11-12p ET

Aired July 29, 2017 - 11:00   ET



[11:00:20] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. It's 11:00 on the East Coast. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right. The president replaces his right-hand man, the second major staff shakeup in two weeks. White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, announced he is stepping down just 24 hours after a new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, called him a paranoid schizophrenic. Scaramucci also accused Priebus of being the source of major media leaks but Priebus tells CNN this is not a sign of a rift in the West Wing. It is rather a reset.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president has a right to hit the reset button. I think it's a good time to hit the reset button. I think he was right to hit the reset button and I think that it was something that I think the White House needs. I think it's healthy.


WHITFIELD: Priebus will be replaced by Homeland Security secretary and retired general, John Kelly. And he will certainly have his hands full. Aside from the investigations involving the White House this week was punctuated by Senate Republicans' failure to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Today the president is tweeting major criticisms against GOP lawmakers, a seeming misunderstanding about how the vote failed, perhaps? More on that in a moment. But first, let's talk more about this major staffing change within the executive branch.

Reince Priebus is the sixth member of the Trump administration to resign or be fired since February.

I'm joined now by CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins who is live for us on the North Lawn.

Good to see you, Kaitlan. So we know that Priebus has also been accused of being the source of leaks from inside the White House. Are you hearing that that had anything to do with his resignation? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, there there's a

chance. The White House is saying no that these talks of Reince Priebus transitioning out predated when Anthony Scaramucci even was hired by the White House to be the new communications director, which happened only a week ago, if you can believe it. And this week, Anthony Scaramucci made those serious allegations against Reince Priebus in that phone call with the "New Yorker" reporter saying that he thought that Reince Priebus had leaked these details of a dinner that Scaramucci was having with the president and some FOX News hosts.

But when Reince Priebus was on Wolf Blitzer yesterday in his first interview since he resigned he was asked about this. Let's take a listen to what Reince Priebus had to say about leaks.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you the leaker in the White House?

PRIEBUS: That's ridiculous. Wolf, come on, give me a break. I'm not going to get into his accusations.

BLITZER: Why not? Why not respond to him?

PRIEBUS: Because I'm not going to. Because it doesn't honor the president. I'm going to honor the president every day. I'm going to honor his agenda and I'm going to honor our country and I'm not going to get into all of this personal stuff. So --

BLITZER: Is there a leaking problem in the White House based on what you've seen?

PRIEBUS: Yes. I think that General Kelly should see if he can get to the bottom of it and figure it out.


COLLINS: So as you can see, Fred, it's been a big topic. But also in that interview with the "New Yorker," Scaramucci warned the reporter that Priebus would soon resign in the next few days and as we saw yesterday he did. He said he formally offered his resignation on Thursday.

What's safe to say it's been a very stormy week for this White House. So when John Kelly comes to work on Monday he's certainly going to have his hands full.

WHITFIELD: Indeed. All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much from the White House.

So important to put into context here. The role Priebus played during Trump's campaign. And Republican Party as a whole. Many saw him as an intermediary between the White House and moderate Republicans. Valued for his connections in the Washington establishment.

CNN correspondent Boris Sanchez joining me now for more on how Washington overall is reacting. So, Boris, we know Priebus is friends with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan saying glowing things about him prior to his resignation. What is being said now?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Fred. The news certainly is a shock. At least the way that we got the news. But the news itself isn't really a surprise with so many rumors flying about that there was a bad relationship between the chief of staff and the president and of course the ouster of another prominent RNC face, Sean Spicer, just last week.

The response from Republicans, though, has been heartfelt. I want to read you that statement now from House Speaker Paul Ryan. He writes, quote, "Reince Priebus has left it all out on the field for our party and our country. Here's a guy from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who revitalized the Republican National Committee and became White House chief of staff. He has served the president and the American people capably and passionately. He has achieved so much and he has done it all with class. I could not be more proud to call Reince a dear friend."

Ryan then went on to congratulate Secretary John Kelly on his appointment, saying that he looks forward to working with him to advance our agenda.

[11:05:06] Others, though, Fred, as you have pointed out have been quick to say that Reince Priebus was instrumental in recent Republican success, including even in electing President Trump.

Here's a tweet from former House speaker Newt Gingrich. He writes, quote, "Reince Priebus worked nonstop for over six years to elect a GOP president, House and Senate. Trump would have lost without the RNC grounding."

And as you can imagine, Fred, right now Democrats are pouncing on these recent changes at the White House, saying that this is a signal that the White House is in chaos and dishonest.

Here's a tweet from California Representative Ted Liu. He writes, quote, "Firing of Reince Priebus shows that February statement by realDonaldTrump that his administration was a finely-tuned machine was a lie then and is a lie now." Liu then going on to tweet at Secretary John Kelly, saying, "Dear White House chief of staff, John Kelly, good luck," -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much for that, from Washington.

Here to discuss all of this now with our panel, joining me right now Adam Entous, a staff writer for the "Washington Post," Patrick Healy, a CNN political analyst and the "New York Times" deputy culture editor, and Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.

Good to see all of you.

All right. Chris, you first, you wrote an article for making the point that Priebus' departure completes the purge of Washington insiders from the president's inner circle and could even signal an even harder turn into Trump's outsider rhetoric and approach. Explain what you think we're about to embark on.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Sure, Fred. I think it speeds up that purge. It doesn't totally mean there's no one who has ties to Washington or the Washington establishment. Kellyanne Conway is a Republican pollster prior to her time with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence before. John Kelly is someone who, as anyone in the military will remind you, spent a long time in and around Washington.

WHITFIELD: Forty-five years.

CILLIZZA: Right. But he's not a Washington establishment political figure. That is REINCE Priebus. He was the olive branch. He was the person cast by folks very nervous about the idea of Donald Trump being president, Republicans very nervous about of idea of Donald Trump being president, as, well, he's got Reince in enter and then Reince brings in Sean Spicer, he brings in Katie Walsh, a couple of long-time Republican operatives, and the thought was, well, what he's going to do is mix insider and outsider.

He's going to have the Steve Bannons, he's going to have his family, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump. But he's also going to have some of these folks who are known commodities in Washington. Well, six months in, I think Donald Trump decided that he didn't want to do that anymore. He viewed Reince Priebus as ineffective. Most recently because of the inability to get that 50th vote on the Senate health care bill. And he jettisoned them.

So now you have Priebus out, Katie Walsh out, Sean Spicer out, Mike Dubke, who was one time the communications director, another Washington insider out, and you have people like Anthony Scaramucci in. A New Yorker, very much a Donald Trump friend and family member. And so I think you're going to see more Trump being Trump.

Candidly, I'm not sure how different that will be than the first six months.

WHITFIELD: I think everybody thought we're already seeing Trump being Trump.

CILLIZZA: Right. But I think even more so. I mean, since this past week, you've seen Donald Trump tweeting more, being as if not more aggressive on Twitter. Giving a speech that was overtly political to the Boy Scouts. Giving a speech in which he advocated roughing up folks to the police on Long Island on Friday. So I think you'll see more of that rather than less.

WHITFIELD: Right. And so -- and of course Suffolk County police coming out and saying that's not what we're all about.

So, Adam, you know, is the thinking that General Kelly will be able to do, you know, what White House -- you know, Priebus couldn't do, bringing order in the White House? Even that reference that Chris just made about, better wrangling leadership on Capitol Hill?

ADAM ENTOUS, STAFF WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, there's no question that Kelly expects discipline. He is going to insist on that. The question is, whether people are going to follow his orders. And I don't know if -- I don't know at this point if that, if he's going to get the discipline that he's expecting. Also, you know, he's got to manage not only people who are fighting below him but he's also got to manage the boss, who's proven himself to be incredibly, you know, unpredictable.

One thing that, you know, to keep in mind here is even though we had the shakeup maybe come to head this week, that doesn't mean the shakeup is over. There's the outstanding question of the attorney general who is, you know, long-time supporter of Trump. Is that -- you know, are those issues between the attorney general and the president going to resurface again? Or is Kelly going to be able to tamp that down? I don't think we know the answers to that yet.

WHITFIELD: And you know, we'll get to the issue of attorney general and Jeff Sessions and what potentially is next.

[11:10:03] But, you know, Patrick, why do you suppose General Kelly did say yes to this job?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think when the president has a problem, and I think General Kelly, you know, the president had been talking to, over last weeks, since it's been reported, even going back into the spring, about some roles in the administration and the reality is, President Trump was basically saying, look, I campaigned on the sense that we were going to have all these victories.

He used to talk about we're going to have so many victories, we're going to have so many wins, once I'm president. You look back over this record the last six months and you've seen -- you know, he's come up short sort of again and again and again. It's only been through the use of, you know, executive orders that feels like he's been able to sort of accomplish some pieces of his agenda.

So he's looking for discipline. He's looking for someone, you know, apparently can help him get results. He's not necessarily looking at it seems for someone who is going to be a chief of staff, legislative master and tactician with the Hill because they haven't gotten that. He's sort of, outsourced it a little bit to, you know, the Vice President Mike Pence.

So he's basically looking for someone who, you know, was going to restore some kind of order that he feels like is going to help him get these victories, get these wins. But let's be honest, Fred, I mean, he's looking for someone who also has a high comfort level with, is going to let him do what he wants to do. You know, I don't think he sort of saw that he was getting anything with, you know, Reince Priebus in that role.

So it's not like we can say, oh, it's John Kelly and he's going to accomplish these five things because we know he has that track record and Trump is going to empower him in that way. CILLIZZA: And just to --

WHITFIELD: Right. His comfort level is largely determining who stays and who goes.

So, Chris, you know, while there is an acting Homeland Security secretary, you know, back to the issue of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, what overall this may mean for him. There is some speculation that potentially Jeff Sessions could be tapped for the Homeland secretary job -- security secretary job that would serve the purpose of other rumors that the president wanted him removed as the AG because of his recusal. Is that a realistic possibility?

CILLIZZA: So if you said that -- Fred, if you said Mike Pence is going to resign tomorrow and Jeff Sessions is VP, will be named VP, I would say I think it's unlikely. But in this Trump White House, you know, I mean, I really do think -- I say that by means of exaggeration. But I do think it is worth remembering this has been the least predictable candidate and now president we've ever seen.

So when you ask me, is anything possible, I usually, my pat answer is going to be yes. In this case in particular, it's a somewhat elegant solution theoretically to a problem that Donald Trump has. He has now made clear he is not happy at all with Jeff Sessions and his recusal, as attorney general on the Russian investigation.

Jeff Sessions has made clear he doesn't want to leave. So we're at a little bit of a stand-off, a game of chicken here. It is possible that Trump moves him to Homeland Security which does make some sense. Remember Jeff Sessions' key issue, immigration. Right? The border security. That's what -- that's the reason he was attracted to Trump and Trump was attracted to him. Now you get --

WHITFIELD: Right. You've also heard from his Republican friends in the Senate who has said, you know, Jeff Sessions needs to stay exactly where he is.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

WHITFIELD: So that might ruffle feathers, too, if shifted. Not, you know, forced to resign or fired, but even shifted.

CILLIZZA: It might, but I think Jeff Sessions would tell his colleagues, look, I'm happy with this job. That would then allow Trump to put someone else in the attorney general job. Maybe that person doesn't recuse themselves. I mean, it's a "Game of Thrones" here. Big-time with Donald Trump.

And I do think he more than any modern president does see all these people as sort of pawns that he moves over a bigger board. So yes.


CILLIZZA: I would say that that is a possibility. But I think right now what you have is a stand-off between Sessions and Trump. Trump doesn't seem to want to fire Sessions, whether it's a Republican resistance or conservative resistance, and Sessions isn't planning to go judging by his comments. So they need to find some sort of way forward.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So, Adam, another constant, at least thus far, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, she actually discussed Priebus' departure and said this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: I think General Secretary Kelly will bring some strength and discipline and put out without even saying so the dictum that loose lips sink ships, and I think people will think thrice before they try to hurt each other, hurt their colleagues by using the press to do so or even to think that they're helping the president by conveying information that perhaps is not yet ripe for public disclosure, or is in negotiation or conversation.


WHITFIELD: So, Adam, Priebus himself told our Wolf Blitzer last night, that's ridiculous, you know, about him being the source of the leaks. But it sounds like Kellyanne Conway and perhaps even the president really do feel like it was Priebus who was leaking.

[11:15:07] Does this mean there will be no more leaks coming from the White House, potentially?

ENTOUS: Yes, I mean, I think there obviously have been a lot of leaks that have come out of the White House and there have been a lot of leaks that have come out of other places. And so for them to think that the solution is in the West Wing, maybe that's part way to address what they see as a problem. But it's inevitable that there will continue to be information that will dribble out. Not only from the White House, but from other agencies which is where, you know, I think if you look at what Trump has alleged, he's pointed the finger at the intelligence agencies.

That's not going to be the purview of Kelly when he presumably will take over this effort that was underway to try to crack down on those leaks.

WHITFIELD: Patrick, you know, Priebus is being a good soldier. You know, so to speak. He says you know, out of respect for the White House, he has nothing but good things to say. But is your feeling this is kind of the last time we might be hearing from Priebus? Or do you see that his next role will be one of helping to advocate this White House? Or returning to his allegiance to, you know, the moderate base of the Republicans?

HEALY: Well, let's have a reality check, Fred. I mean, Reince Priebus has been thrown under the bus. You know, where -- you know, the notion that he's, you know, is being, you know, sort of like the good soldier, who is leaving, you know, that's absolutely true. But yes, and he said very nice things to Wolf Blitzer and on FOX last night. You know we'll see. I mean, Sean Spicer left of the White House, he's

been sort of keeping kind of a low profile. But at some point these guys are going to emerge and I imagine we're going to be hearing more from them. But it depends, I guess.

A day-to-day, Fred, are they going to keep being thrown under the bus over and over again? I mean, administrations always have problems with leaks. But the degree to which Kellyanne Conway and Anthony Scaramucci and the others are focusing so much on leaks, and as if General Kelly is going to be able to come in and somehow get rid of all of these leaks, is kind of a fantasy in Washington, Fred.


HEALY: But it's also -- the reality is it's a bit of a smokescreen. If an administration has successes and wins on the board and legislative accomplishments, and an agenda that is moving forward and getting results.


HEALY: They don't sit around talking about leaks all the time. They're talking about their successes.

WHITFIELD: Right. And leaks when there's nothing to talk about. Right.

HEALY: Right.

WHITFIELD: All right. We're going to see you all back. Thank you so much for now. Appreciate it. So much more straight ahead.

Coming up, John Kelly has been called an excellent choice for chief of staff by many in Washington. More on the man tasked with bringing stability to a White House in turmoil, next.


[11:22:04] WHITFIELD: All right. President Trump's new chief of staff John Kelly is already earning high praise from many in Washington. The retired Marine general brings experience that includes nearly five decades of military service. And while he's known as an accomplished, competent leader, he faces enormous challenges.

Among them, trying to bring order to a White House plagued by infighting.

Let's bring in CNN's Dianne Gallagher.

So, Dianne, what else do we know about John Kelly?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, he is the consummate Marine. He is loyal to his mission and to his troops. And for a long time said he wanted nothing to do with politics. Simply too toxic. But, you know, when it came to the Homeland Security spot, he said when he was approached, that it was a duty to his country. That desire to serve that made him accept it. In his new opposition, he's being tasked with what many consider could

be the impossible. Bringing order to chaos in the White House.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): It was another major announcement made over Twitter.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump just announcing a new White House chief of staff.

GALLAGHER: The president tapping Homeland Security secretary, General John Kelly, to replace Reince Priebus as his new chief of staff.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job.

GALLAGHER: Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, with nearly five decades of military service, has served many roles, the latest, Homeland Security chief, where he's earned high marks from the president for defending and enforcing the White House immigration policy. Now earlier in his career, Kelly served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His son, Robert Michael Kelly, was killed during combat in Afghanistan in 2010. President Trump and General Kelly visited his son's grave on Memorial Day earlier this year.

Starting Monday, General Kelly enters a new arena, White House politics.

JOHN KELLY, NEWLY-APPOINTED WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: What I never saw on the military side was the level of toxic kind of politics that are associated with what I do now.

GALLAGHER: The question now is, can General Kelly unite the West Wing, where sharp elbow, staff infighting, and loose lips have distracted from the president's agenda.


GALLAGHER: And, you know, Fred, I mentioned earlier about Kelly being fiercely loyal to his troops. In his statement yesterday where he talked about being named the new chief of staff, there was just one line actually saying that he was honored for that position. The rest of that statement simply praised the people who worked at the Department of Homeland Security for how hard they work and how well they do their jobs.

And that is something that is important to him. And so he's going into a White House where members of the Cabinet routinely blast one another, the president of the United States also uses disparaging remarks about members of his Cabinet. So that's going to be a bit of a culture shock, Fred, for Kelly. Many hoping that he may be able to solve that aspect of the White House.

[11:25:03] WHITFIELD: All right. Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much from Washington.

All right. Coming up after months of turmoil and infighting, is Kelly's appointment the hard reset the White House needs? What a new chief of staff could mean for the president's stalled agenda, next.


WHITFIELD: President Trump hits the reset button in tapping new chief of staff. His pick, retired Marine general and Homeland Security secretary, John Kelly. A source close to Kelly tells CNN, quote, "Kelly is an accomplished, competent leader. He leads, that's what he will do at the White House, bring order to the building and help the president lead," end quote.

So it's a dramatic moment, considering the White House has had a difficult advancing its agenda. So will Kelly be able to usher in any change?

Let's bring back our panel, Adam Entous, Patrick Healy and Chris Cillizza.

Good to have you back.

So, Adam, you first. You know, this White House is sending the message that everyone but the president is the messenger. So how will it be the mission of this new chief of staff to bring order?

ADAM ENTOUS, STAFF WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. It's going to be very challenging. You have these competing power centers within this White House. You have McMaster at the NSC, Jared Kushner, Tillerson at the State Department, each of them is sort of operating in their own channels of communication with foreign leaders.

And so, is Kelly going to be able to bring order to that? I think it's unclear. You know, how is he going to get along with McMaster? We have two military officers in the White House in these key positions.

And we've heard of course, of tension between Trump and McCaster in recent weeks. So, it's definitely going to be a challenging environment for Kelly. Much more challenging than anything I think he's ever encountered in the political sphere.

When I used to travel with him, when he was at Pentagon, he would travel with Gates and it was relatively easy to control what was going on within the Pentagon compared to what would be going on in this White House. Everybody is sort of vying to be the dominant voice to the president.

WHITFIELD: It's so interesting. On that issue of gelling, I mean, Kelly didn't always gel with the Obama administration, right, Patrick. So, how will General Kelly, Anthony Scaramucci, Ivanka, Jared Kushner, and Kellyanne all gel because don't they have to? Don't they need to, to make this work?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would have to imagine before Kelly took this job he had some kind of serious conversation with President Trump in which he said, you know, I have to be fully empowered over staff. That's what the White House is telling us.

And then it sounds like from everything that has been reported, that General Kelly wants to run the White House like a grown-up operation where kind of the fiefdoms and the competing power centers, you know, they're going to exist.

We know just in the real world they are going to exist, but where the knife fighting and kind of the open or you know, online Twitter hostilities are receding or coming to a close.

So, the degree to which the real question is, has President Trump sort of fully empowered General Kelly to kind of ride herd on folks? And then is President Trump himself going to, you know, sort of basically let him do that? And not undermine him.

Not interfere, not be sending out tweets in the morning, that General Kelly doesn't know about, which was the situation with Reince Priebus, and Sean Spicer, and others, where oftentimes their whole day, sort of what they had thought, you know, was going to be their game plan was thrown off by a president who is calling his own shots.

WHITFIELD: So, Chris, another power center, Steve Bannon. I want to you listen to something Reince Priebus said yesterday to our Wolf Blitzer.


REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I will say that Steve is doing a great job. He is a brilliant guy, who only cares about the president's agenda. He thinks about it 24 hours a day. Never quits. He's a great asset to this president and so, and a dear friend. So, my hat's off to Steve Bannon.


WHITFIELD: So, Chris, what does this shifting the sands mean potentially for Bannon?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE: It's amazing because I never thought I would describe Steve Bannon as not the most outsider of the group. This is a guy who ran Breitbart news, this is a man who made his business name on being someone willing to throw grenades at the Washington establishment.

And yet he's sort of the gray beard of the group that's still there. I think Reince's comments reflect the fact that he and Bannon did have an alliance in many ways against Jared Kushner and very recently, Anthony Scaramucci.

In Wolf's interview with -- with Reince, you saw Reince sort of tense up when it came to Scaramucci. He wasn't willing to say negative things about him. But he was willing to strongly dismiss some of the things that Scaramucci had alleged like leaking. So, you know, I think Bannon is in a tough place now. Reince was his most obvious ally within that core group. You now have as you mentioned, Fred, Ivanka, Jared, Scaramucci, John Kelly -- John Kelly's loyalties are harder to figure out because he hasn't been in that group as long.

But in a way Bannon is sort of, you know, I think he is someone who you have to keep an eye on. Adam in the last segment mentioned don't assume that just because we've had some changes there will be no more changes.

I think change is a constant with this president and I would keep an eye on Bannon solely because of where all the loyalties have shaken out and he's lost a few allies.

WHITFIELD: And speaking of loyalty, it would seem that Kelly demonstrating a loyalty because he was willing to take the job, right, with all this firestorm. All right, Adam Entous, Chris Cilizza, Patrick Healy, thanks so much, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

[11:35:04] All right, coming up, after a stunning defeat, Republicans are now wondering where the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare goes from here as President Trump reiterates his call to let the entire system implode.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Insurance companies have just two weeks before they have to finalize their premium increase just for 2018. The preset deadline comes as Republicans suffer yet another crushing blow to their seven-year promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The stunning no votes from these three Republican senators killed the best chance the GOP had at a repeal. The most shocking no of all coming from the Arizona maverick himself, here's what the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, had to say about the vote.


SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The credit goes to a lot of people, but at the top of the list are the three who showed amazing courage to resist the pressure and do what's good for the country. John McCain is at the top of the list.

[11:40:07] He and I have been friends for a very long time. Ever since the gang of eight, which we put together, and I have not seen a senator who speaks truth to power as strongly as well and as frequently as John McCain.


WHITFIELD: All right, now House Republicans say it's time to reach across the aisle for support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPRESENTATIVE LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think that we have to work in a bipartisan capacity and I'm a member of the problem solvers group. And I hope that we take the lead along with others and I certainly would encourage our Democratic colleagues to come to the table.

REPRESENTATIVE CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Right now, I think there's a great opportunity to enter into the bipartisan discussion on health care reform. That's where I think we go from here.


WHITFIELD: All right, joining me now architect of Obamacare and economics professor at MIT, Jonathan Gruber, and CNN economics analyst and former senior economics adviser for the Trump campaign, Stephen Moore. Good to see both of you.

All right, so Jonathan, you first, do you believe Obamacare is at risk of completely imploding as the GOP claims it will or can it be resuscitated by cost-sharing reductions, CFR payments, to help offset those costs to insurers?

JONATHAN GRUBER, ARCHITECT OF OBAMACARE: It's a great question. Let's break it down into three parts. First of all, for most Americans, this debate is largely irrelevant. For 80 percent of Americans, this debate is happening in the way of employer-sponsored insurance or insurance from the government, by and large the debate is happening independent of you.

Second of all, if you're under Obamacare, you have the Medicaid expansion or tax credits in the exchanges, this debate is also largely irrelevant to you because your costs are protected by Medicaid or the tax credits.

Where the debate matters is the several million American who are buying insurance in the exchange and are paying the full price, and that's who the debate matters for.

And look, the bottom line is last year was a one-time price increase. All the insurers esthetic, have said it was a one-time correction to make up for the fact that the they underpriced it for two years.

They're on pace to have regular price increases, not zero, but 5 percent to 7 percent and the president's health payment has created uncertainty in the market, refused to pay cost sharing reductions, which cover out of pocket cost or loans of individuals. And as a result, premiums can go up a lot more this year.

WHITFIELD: So Stephen, some Republicans have blasted the way their own party handled the repeal. Why is it that something that makes up nearly 18 percent of the economy, you know, was managed in this way without the kind of transparency that so many Americans have said they're deserving of?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST: Well, certainly the process was pretty ugly process, you'll get no argument from me. The problem is that you know in terms of the fantasy that going to be some kind of a bipartisan solution. I mean here's the problem.

I mean, there's not a single Democrat in the House and Senate that wants to repeal anything in Obamacare. They don't want to get rid of the tax increases. They don't want to get rid of the individual mandate. They don't want to get rid of the employer mandate.

They don't want to change the way Medicaid works so that we can save cost by turning over to the states. So, what the Democrats want to do essentially, Fredricka, is enshrine Obamacare into the law so that we can never get rid of it. So, I just don't see any possibility, I wish there were, where Democrats say OK --

WHITFIELD: Even after hearing McCain, who made that impassioned plea that said there ought to be a bipartisan solution --


WHITFIELD: Then hearing from Chuck Schumer, hearing from Charlie Dent, the list goes on where there does seem to be a consensus. That there can be some bipartisan -- a bipartisan effort to promote a fixing of the existing plan.

You still feel even after hearing this in the course of the past 24, to 48 hours, that -- you don't think there will be a consensus? Now an impetus for bipartisanship?

MOORE: Yes. How could there be? I mean, look, John McCain is a friend of mine. I would say senator point to me one Democrat who wants to get rid of anything in Obamacare? They want to actually expand it. I mean, the Democrats plan to fix it.

Look, Obamacare is falling apart. There's no question about it, Jonathan is wrong. It wasn't just a one-year increase in premiums. The premiums have doubled for people over the last three years.

And by the way, they're going up by another 20 to 25 percent in 2018. Next year, we're going to have 40 percent of Americans that don't either have one or no insurance plan in their county. So, the system is completely falling apart.

WHITFIELD: If there's no change now, but if we're hearing from all of these lawmakers who just -- we just played some of their sound, who did agree that something can be done to fix. It does sound like there's still an avenue in which to resuscitate some of the failures of this plan. You don't see that message?

MOORE: Let me say one quick thing about this. One quick thing about this. What the Democrats want is to bail out the insurance companies. I guarantee you there's not a single Republican who wants to bail out the insurance companies. That would make Obamacare even more expensive.

[11:45:11] WHITFIELD: So Jonathan, is it hopeless?

GRUBER: No. Not at all. Two things, first of all, once again, let's stick with the facts. Overall over the three years Obamacare exchange, over three years, premiums provide 22 percent, that's 7 percent a year. They didn't double. They went up a lot less --

MOORE: That was what the CBO said. That's what the CBO said. Premiums doubled for people in the exchanges. I mean, this is a fact.

GRUBER: That's wrong. By the admission of the insurers, last year was a one-time increase, but let's talk about your question, which is if your bipartisan path forward. Stephen is just wrong. There are many elements of the law that Democrats have spoken out against.

There is another Democrat that wants to repeal the medical device act. That's one thing (inaudible). I have not seen Democrats rush to the defense of the employer mandate. They've rushed to the defense of the individual mandate, but that's up to the law.

But they've not rushed to the defense of the employer mandate and it was Republicans, not Democrats who proposed the stabilization fund the so-called bailout of insurers. So, I don't see why you can connect a bipartisan agreement on a stabilization fund, on a repeal of the employer mandate and a repeal of the medical device tax. I think you can get a bipartisan agreement around those three things.


MOORE: We have a little agreement here.

WHITFIELD: Restart has been used in the White House now that there's a new chief of staff, do you see this as a potential restart for the Affordable Care Act? Both of you quickly, Stephen?

GRUBER: I think -- I think basically I think I could take the optimistic case about why there could be bipartisan agreement. But I think ultimately it comes down to whether Republicans are willing to do something which allows the law to succeed and I'm not confident about that.

WHITFIELD: All right, Stephen, real quick?

MOORE: Look, I like Jonathan's idea of maybe an agreement being about getting rid of the employer mandate and the medical device tax. The one thing I would add to that is you've got to get rid of the individual mandate which is just un-American, you shouldn't require people to buy a product they don't want.

GRUBER: The employer mandate is not subject to the law. The individual mandate is. That's the core of the law.

WHITFIELD: All right, Stephen Moore, Jonathan Gruber, thanks so much, Gentlemen. Appreciate it and we'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back to the NEWSROOM. Venezuela is at the breaking point. Less than 24 hours before a controversial vote that could rewrite the country's constitution and give President Nicolas Maduro sweeping new powers.

The government banned protests and deployed more than 370,000 troops, but that didn't stop some demonstrators who defiantly blocked streets in Caracas. As of Friday, at least 113 people have died in the unrest that engulfed Venezuela ahead of tomorrow's elections.

CNN international correspondent, Paula Newton, is live for us from Caracas. So, Paula, are more protesters defying that ban today?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. That's the buzzword today, defiance. Just outside our hotel room, we've already had the streets barricaded in the last few hours. We have heard some tear gas going off as well.

What happens here, Fred, is that these pitch battles continue block by block. I've been out to some of those protests, and you're talking about in many cases everyday people like you and me going out on the street and using improvised explosives, anything they can get their hands on from home to make the makeshift bombs, these homemade bombs which they'll fill with anything they can.

They pitch them at the National Guard. The National Guard then tries to confront them. This is more than just what you see there, though, in terms of what that National Guard is trying to do is keep the roads open.

The blockade is about the opposition using any lever of power they can to stop this vote, Fred, and that's the key thing that they're trying to get through to the government.

WHITFIELD: All right, volatile situation. Paula Newton, thank you so much. Keep us posted from Caracas.

All right, the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM continues after a quick break. But first meet this weekend's "CNN Hero," a biologist in Malaysia who's dedicated his life to saving the sun bear.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I heard of Stuckets, 20 years ago, nobody has ever studied sun bears. The more I learn about them, the more I care. The more I care, the more I worry. I have to help them and this is why I want to be the voice for the sun bear, to fight for the sun bear, to ensure the survival of the sun bear.


[11:55:04] WHITFIELD: If you want so to see more of those adorable sun bears and find out how Wong is helping them, go to While you're there, you can nominate someone you think should be a CNN Hero.



PRIEBUS: The president wanted to go a different direction. I support him in that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers with fight with each other and get along.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Why not respond?

PRIEBUS: Because I'm not going to because it doesn't honor the president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will not put up with some of the B.S. that's been going on in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our president is impulsive. He's deceitful. He's autocratic. He's narcissistic. General Kelly can't fix that with a better organizational chart.