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McCain to Vote No on Health Care Bill; Rescue Efforts in Mexico for Those Trapped in Rubble; As Barbs Fly North Korea Threatens H-Bomb Over Pacific Ocean. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: As this bill goes down, as it appears it will, he would be smart to move on. This is --


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Even though this is a central issue for him in the campaign, that he --


AXELROD: I don't think -- you know, I think he has a repeated failure against the prospect of getting a win with, a success. He is focused on wins. That's who he is. This is not a winner for him. It will be less so after September 30, when it requires bipartisan votes to act on health care. So tax reform is a big focus on the Hill and at the White House. I would expect there will be a lot of advice and a lot of momentum behind moving forward on tax reform. Finally, leaving this, I'm sure it will have plenty of blame and recriminations. And we may hear some of that in his speech tonight. But at the end of the day, this isn't going anywhere. He needs some major initiative or he will have the least accomplished first year of any president in modern history. I don't think he wants that.

BROWN: I certainly think he does not want that.

David Axelrod, thanks so much.

Standby. We are getting conservative reaction to this news, up next.


[14:35:37] BROWN: More on our breaking news. Senator John McCain saying he will vote no on the new Republican healthcare bill, putting it on the brink. Republicans cannot afford to lose one more vote.

I want to go straight to CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson and Chris Cillizza.

Nia, you're getting conservative reaction?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I have been texting back and forth with a couple of conservatives. One basically said Obamacare is here to stay. He feels like Republicans have lied about this over the last many years and this is where they find themselves. One of the things they liked about it they didn't necessarily like that it wasn't a full repeal. They were able to sort of sell it to other conservatives. It rolled back planned parenthood funding and they saw that as a good first step. I talked to somebody else who has been in the negotiations around this too and he said he felt blindsided by what John McCain ended up doing here. He was upset about regular order, the process for his bill had certainly not been a regular order, certainly not bipartisan. He also felt like it is not over until it is over, which means, at some point, they feel like they have a couple more days. Maybe they can pull a couple of Democrats out of the hat on this. I think it will be key to what comes from the social conservatives. What will be the rhetoric from places like those as to make good on a promise around repeal and replace that we've heard so much about over these last seven years.

BROWN: Chris, you had quite a reaction when they said it's over until it's over.


BROWN: Should Republicans have any hope they can pull a rabbit out of the hat at this point?

CILLIZZA: Well, I learned one big lesson to never say never, what you see in the moment as to what's going to happen. It has been the least predictable these last few years. I'll never say never, but I think David Axelrod made a point, it's the cover McCain gives Susan Collins. If you look at that today, she didn't sound like it would be for it anyway. Republicans had backed themselves into a massive corner here. It felt like where Lucy has the football and she tells Charlie Brown to run at it. That's what this looked like from the start to me because they just -- they always could get 47 votes, maybe 48 votes. They could never get 50. It was always two or three or four that were a problem. There was nothing really that different from July when they failed by one vote and today. I think it is very likely you're going to see Susan Collins be a no. I don't know about Lisa Murkowski. I think it's more likely she's a no now than six hours ago. I don't see it. Nia is right, trying to convince Rand Paul, I'm skeptical of that, took, because he says if it's not complete repeal, I'm not for it.

BROWN: Yes. It is so interesting, after each bill attempt, we think that's it.



BROWN: And once again, they revive something.


BROWN: Go ahead.

CILLIZZA: Very quickly, the reason they do that, and Nia mentioned this, it's super important to their base. They spend eight years, literally, the first line of every campaign speech was, when we take over control of Washington, we will repeal and replace Obamacare. The crowd would go bananas. So they spent eight years doing that. It is not easy to walk away, even when the realities suggest the math is close but just not going get there.


[14:40:11] HENDERSON: And the question is sort of now what do they do? Does Donald Trump make a payment? We'll see what happens with that. So it's -- they have to address this. I think the how will be the ongoing question. This idea that it isn't over until it's over, it's not over. It will begin in terms of how this Congress tries to address health care. I think it's in some ways what seems to be a failure is a message to Republicans. It is a message to Donald Trump that it probably isn't going to work with only Republicans, this kind of repeal and replace. They tried it once and tried it again. Looked like they had momentum with this looming deadline. Again, it didn't work. They have got to figure out something else to do.

BROWN: So on that note, how problematic or damaging is this, Chris, to both the president and to Republicans and Congress, as you look ahead to the next election?

CILLIZZA: OK. So it's a very tough calculation. You have two repeating forces. The Republican base is what turns out. Day will feel lied to but not that he would get this done and he didn't. He is still seen as an outsider. That's one big piece. The other big piece is no one wanted repeal and replace. They are overwhelmingly getting rid of Obamacare. That was not the case. It has been a switch since Obama left the White House. They want something like the Lamar Alexander/Patty Murray bill, which is a bipartisan set of fixes as opposed to we'll get rid of this and put something else new in. That we expected to be the legislative vehicle to fix Obamacare. At the last minute, it became the last, last attempt to repeal and replace. Do they come back to that? I still think it's not going to mitigate the fact that you're going to see angry Republican base voters. I would be surprised if Donald Trump -- and they will be at -- they will be out in full force in that Alabama primary on Tuesday. I don't know who that benefits, but I would be amazed if Donald Trump didn't mention this or John McCain, in his speech tonight.

BROWN: He had before. What's stopping him this time around.


BROWN: Chris Cillizza, Nia-Malika Henderson, thank you so much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: And up next, rescues underway right now in Mexico days after that devastating earthquake. Mexico's president says as many as 10 collapsed buildings could still have people struggling to stay alive. A live report, up next.


[14:42:30] BROWN: In Mexico, it is a race against time and elements as rescuers desperately try to find survivors in the rubble of collapsed buildings following Tuesday's devastating earthquake there. Rain is soaking the wreckage, making it heavier, holding back rescue crews. Mexico's president says a many as 10 collapsed buildings could have people struggling to stay alive underneath. The Mexican government vowing the rescue efforts will continue until, quote, "every stone is upturned." But with each passing hour, the likelihood of finding survivors fades. Despite the long hours, rescuers took a brief moment to sing the national anthem.




BROWN: I want to go to CNN's Miquel Marquez, at one of the buildings in Mexico City where rescuers continue that frantic search for survivors.

Miguel, what is the situation there now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The frantic search here. This is central Mexico City, a beautiful old neighborhood where a multi-use building has collapsed. They believe dozens are in there possibly alive and possibly dead. It is painfully slow.

I want to show you how this is going right now. The building collapsed at three or four stories. The ground floor is OK and they can get in there. They believe there are several dozen people towards the back of the building. That got some heat signatures from some of the devices near the exists of the building. They cannot get to it. There was a stop-work order at this building for several hours today because it was too unstable. The rains over the last couple of days made it heavier. In the last hour or two, we have seen Japanese and Israeli crews, search-and-rescuers, gingerly walking along and getting access to the back, laying lots of ropes, trying to figure out how to cut into the back and, hopefully, cut into the cavities that may be back there and get people out who may be alive.

It is just over 72 hours since that 7.1 magnitude quake hit this area, so time is ticking away. They are very aware of it. But it is painful to watch how difficult it is for searchers to access that building and try to get no those people who might be alive -- Pamela?

[14:50:11] BROWN: Those searchers have been working around the clock. We commend them.

Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

Up next, name calling and nukes. President Trump fires back at the North Korean dictator after Kim Jong-Un calls him, quote, "mentally deranged." Now, new threats of an H-bomb test.


BROWN: Well, juvenile and inflammatory insults hurled between two world leaders. The question, will missiles follow? President Trump calling Kim Jong-Un "a suicidal Rocket Man." And this morning on Twitter, "a mad man." This, after the leader of nuclear-armed North Korea appeared on state TV, calling Mr. Trump a, quote, "Frightened dog" and a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard." Dotard means an old lunatic.

But beyond the verbal barbs is a real threat. North Korea promising to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean. And if North Korea took that provocative step, it would be first above-ground nuclear detonation since 1980.

So much to discuss. I want to bring in Jeffrey Lewis, with the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies. Also CNN national security analyst, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Gayle, first to you.

It seems like these two world leaders, Kim Jong-Un and President Trump, going toe to toe over their rhetoric and kind of ramping it up here. It is getting very personal. What do you make of that? Have we ever seen this before?

[14:55:15] GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I do not think we have seen this before. We had a week that was supposed to be about diplomacy, which was decidedly not personal. It's state versus state. They have got incredibly personal between two leaders who are both allergic to backing down. I do think that you see now North Korea really taking this to the next level, really talking in a way they never have, first person, about the United States, and now threatening to do something it never has, which is to test a nuclear device outside its borders.

BROWN: That is a frightening prospect, Jeffery. It seems the more tensions rise and the more President Trump goes after Kim Jong-Un, the less it will quiet down. What is your take on this about what could be next?

JEFFREY LEWIS, JAMES MARTIN CENTER FOR NON-PROLIFERATION STUDIES, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, MONTEREY: Well, I think what is next is going to be more missile tests. I think there's every possibility that North Korea will either go with the operation where they fire missiles around Guam a where they test a nuclear weapon into the Pacific. The thing that was notable about the statement to me is that it was issued by him and so he put it out in his name and I think of him in this way a little bit like a Spanish conquistador. He is not giving himself any route to back down. I'm worried we are full speed ahead towards a worse crisis.

BROWN: Is there any scenario you see him cracking down?

LEWIS: Yes. If someone takes away the president's cell phone and the president lets him go for a little bit, and they give our diplomats a chance to reestablish contacts, then I do think we could talk to the North Koreans about tension reduction. It doesn't seem to be what either of these men want at the moment.

BROWN: No, it certainly doesn't.

Gayle, explain what a test of this H-bomb in the Pacific Ocean would look like. Would that be the threshold in which the United States should take more aggressive action?

TZEMACH LEMMON: This is what is preoccupying Washington right now. You have the Japanese defense minister talking about the possibility of this test and Americans trying to figure out what it means if this material falls onto Japanese territory. It is a country the United States has pledged to protect.

I do think amid all of this hot talk, we think of one thing which is sanctions went into effect, secondary sanctions targeting North Korea that are effective and widespread, if used correctly. If you remember back to the deal in Iran, the nuclear deal in Iran, it is when the elites felt the pinch that much of that negotiation happened. North Korea is an economy that grew five percent last year. There are elites in that country that are doing very well. If the secondary set of sanctions the U.S. is putting in place, which can target any individual, which is targeting ships with the North Korean flag, which is targeting folks with bank accounts that may not look like they are passing North Korean currently through them, but which may actually be helping North Korea, if that comes to work, you may see something that is non-military actually effective. But stay tuned.

BROWN: But, Jeffrey, North Korea is the most heavily sanctioned country in the world, and yet it continues to escalate its threats and continues its nuclear testing. Do you think this latest round of sanctions could work, as Gayle made out?

LEWIS: The argument Gayle made was quite reasonable. But I think we need to be cautious about what we expect sanctions to do. No, sanctions won't convince North Koreans to give up nuclear weapons. No, I don't think sanctions are going alone to produce the kind of results we want to see. What's notable about the agreement with Iran, is not just we imposed sanctions but we were willing to remove those sanctions and allow Iran to keep a significant fraction of its civil nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. It was a marriage of sanctions and concessions. I think the problem we have with in North Koreans is instead of piling more sanctions on, we are going to sit down at the table and start taking those sanctions off and talking about what it will be like to have a normal relationship. I think eventually we have to get there. It is hard to see what that path looks like right now.

BROWN: All right. Jeffrey and Gayle, thank you very much.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[14:59:58] BROWN: And welcome back to our continuing breaking news coverage. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Brooke Baldwin, on this Friday.

Senator John McCain says he will vote no on the new effort to replace Obamacare.