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Growing Opposition to New Obamacare Repeal Bill; Death Toll Rises In Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 06:30   ET


[06:32:16] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Republican senators face a deadline next week if they want to do an end run around the traditional legislative route. So, they're scrambling for votes in this last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare with the Graham-Cassidy bill.

President Trump just tweeting about the stakes. He wrote, quote, Rand Paul, or whoever votes against H-care bill will forever, future political campaigns, be known as the Republican who saved Obamacare.

Let's bring back Maggie Haberman.

State of play?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, among other things, I think that we can see this bipartisan moment that President Trump had been enjoying for a little bit was on pause this morning.

Look, there's two things going on here. One is Republicans who had been campaigning on this issue, as you know, for three cycles, those who are concerned with this issue are worried this is problematic for Republicans next year. So, that creates added incentive to get this done. But there remain a handful of holdouts.

And the bill is being criticized pretty roundly not just by those Republicans who are concerned about it, but by the health care industry.

CUOMO: Not a single group has come out in favor of this bill.

HABERMAN: Which is in stark contrast to how Obamacare went, which was really bringing in industry players to try to figure out something broader that could go through with minimal pain.

They only have until next weekend to get this done. It does not look great at the moment. White House officials are describing it as less than 50/50 but not zero in terms of passage. The president, as we have seen, he's engaged much more on his North Korea rhetoric on Twitter and in real life, he's engaged repeatedly on Twitter supporting Luther Strange, the candidate who he's going to go campaign for later for the Senate.

But he has laid off on health care personally. Mike Pence, the vice president, has been much more involved in this round. The president, as we know, has had this sort of ambivalent relationship to the health care repeal efforts. And he has gone back and forth between essentially pinballed around, saying, on the one hand, we'll blame Democrats. On the other hand, it's some Republicans' fault.

I don't think that Senate Republicans think it's all that helpful when the president weighs in.

CAMEROTA: We'll just look at a couple of new pieces of polling that CNN has. In terms of handling health care, not high numbers. Only 31 percent approve of the president's handling at the moment of health care, 59 disapprove.

CUOMO: Those wind up squaring about the base, though, 31 percent could be the group that he's so concerned about.

CAMEROTA: That's fair. And then look at this. Approval picked up since last month, a little bit. He's now at 40 percent, 55 percent disapprove. But last month, in August, it was 38 percent. Maybe that is connected to, who knows what? I mean --

CUOMO: That is a really low number. It's got to go up.

HABERMAN: Exactly. And these are not huge shifts.

[06:35:02] And, frankly, if there was a huge shift, we should be worried about that, too, because that would raise questions about the validity of it.

Look, I think that he has consistently have the sort of stable floor of, it's about 35 percent. We're not talking about a floor of 50. If he could consistently tick up his numbers, if Republicans could get something that looks like tax reform, that he can call tax reform, regardless of what the package actually is passed, then I think that you will say him be able to say, look, I got something done.

I don't think that he is not particularly invested in the Obamacare repeal. I just don't. He has felt burned by this for quite some time. As you see his capital tick back up, this is after, again, that bipartisan display that he had what with chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

CAMEROTA: Over the DREAMers.

HABERMAN: He really liked the praise that he received for that. That is sort of typically always what he felt this job was going to be. And so, I think that's going to be a track you're going to see him follow more closely.

CUOMO: Why doesn't that square with Trump on health care. This is the meanest iteration we have seen. Not only does it take away certain funding mechanisms and tax credits, it replaces them with nothing. Yet he said it was a great bill.

HABERMAN: I'm not sure how briefed he is on the specifics of this bill or exactly what it does in terms of who it impacts and people it impacts.

CAMEROTA: One of the thought leaders on this, Jimmy Kimmel, I mean, you know, who has emerged as the person who is kind of winning the charge in opposition to this bill, he, for the third night in a row, has talked about how bad he thinks it is. He goes after Senator Kennedy in this clip. Listen to this.



I'm not pertaining to be an expert. I'm asking why you aren't listening to actual experts like the American Medical Association. But I understand the jest of what he's saying. I should not be the guy you go to for information on health care. If these guys -- like inbred Kennedy -- would tell the truth for a change, I wouldn't have to.



CAMEROTA: Yes. He's getting personal. He's engaging in ad hominem attacks. He's going after people personally with these barbed comments.

But he is again leading the conversation. I mean, part of the reason Americans know about this.

CAMEROTA: And those are some of the most common tactics we are seeing at all levels of government now, anyway. It's all become parody.

HABERMAN: And it is trickle down insults. There is a commonality of language all around.

I do think -- look, he's continuing a tradition that we have seen over many years now of late night talk show hosts being the ones who can basically break through on a news issue, especially in this media environment where that is pretty hard. He has a personal story to tell. The way he is telling it is both by having just now saying I'm not who you should be turning to. I'm not an expert on this, but he did have a son who had congenital heart issues.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: And that has been basically his creation story on his passion on this issue. I don't know how impactful it will be. But it is certainly why a lot of people are able to zero in on what this bill is, because remember, even months of people are hearing various iterations of this bill. And eventually, they tune it out, voters, unfortunately as, you know, what's up and what's down in terms of congressional votes.

CUOMO: All 50 state agencies that run Medicaid are against the bill, including Louisiana, which is where Kennedy comes from.


CUOMO: The governor there has problems with this bill. It is so far the most naked example of we made a promise, we have to keep it no matter what.

CAMEROTA: Chuck Grassley --

HABERMAN: Which Chuck Grassley did say. I mean, he was very blunt that I don't love this bill but we said we would repeal it. And that's where you were seeing a lot of Republicans that look, this is just going to be some kind of an albatross for Republicans in one way or the other going into 2018.

CAMEROTA: Maggie, thank you.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. Be sure to tune to CNN Monday night for a very special live town hall debate. Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, they're going to debate Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy who, of course, are sponsoring this bill, and they will all take questions from the audience. So, that will be interesting.

Our Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will moderate. It's 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Monday night, only on CNN.

CUOMO: We will -- we'd never seen anything like that. It's going to be team debating on something that of such importance to you. That's a must-watch.

All right. Now, another thing that we have to keep our eye on is what's going on after these storms, just scenes of devastation are getting familiar but they demand focus.

In Puerto Rico, everywhere you look, you see a need for complete rebuilds. How do they start? How do they get going? How do they survive in the interim, next.


[06:43:54] CUOMO: Maria is not gone. She is still very much a major storm as she starts to move towards Turks and Caicos. In hard-hit Puerto Rico, the Army Corps of Engineers is assisting FEMA and assessing the structural damage.

Joining us now is deputy commander of the recovery field office in Puerto Rico, Lt. Colonel Robert Solorzano.

It's good to have you on, sir.

LT. COL. ROBERTO SOLORZANO, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Hey, good morning, Chris. How are you?

CUOMO: Thank God we are well here. But it's the people in Puerto Rico who need our attention. What are you seeing on the ground? SOLORZANO: Well, first of all, I would like to say our thoughts and

prayers are with everyone here in Puerto Rico. I know this was very devastating for them. The corps of engineers are here to continue to support FEMA with our mission and the health and safety of the residents of Puerto Rico is our main priority.

We have seen a lot of devastation, a lot of trees, debris, and power lines on the ground, so making our mission a little difficult to reach those in need.

[06:45:01] CUOMO: So in terms of the need, what are you seeing there? What do you think will be required? What kind of timelines are you looking at?

SOLORZANO: Well, we are here to support FEMA initial entry or initial support. The biggest need right now is power. As you know, the whole island is without power. And we are concentrating our efforts on those critical facilities at least to give temporary power so they can continue to execute their mission.

So, power is the biggest need. And we are here to support that mission to the best of our capabilities.

CUOMO: We keep hearing from the governor there, and there is no reason to doubt him, that they could be out of power for a month or more. And it raises the question of why? What is different in Puerto Rico than we saw in Texas, Florida and surrounding states where power got up much more quickly?

SOLORZANO: Well, you know, it's been just 48 hours since Maria has hit. And we have additional rains that we expected for like -- for at least another 48 hours. So, that makes the access of personnel to make the assessments even more difficult for the areas that are really in need.

The power grid in Puerto Rico is so diverse, we will say. So, we need to make assessments to give a better understanding of what needs to be done and how long it will take to get that done.

As I say before, we as the Corps of Engineers, we have been supporting different areas from Houston to Florida to the Virgin Islands. And our team that is coming out of Mobile, Alabama, has some experience in this. And we will provide better assessments to FEMA and the governor in reference to how long it will take to get this done.

CUOMO: Good. That will be much needed information. And just as a last note --

SOLORZANO: Initial assessment, we'll release.

CUOMO: As a last note, we keep hearing about the death toll and the level of destruction and how many people are gone and what structures are gone. With keep being cautioned, we don't know yet. Numbers are preliminary. People shouldn't put false hope in the numbers so far.

Do you believe that as well now that you're on the ground, that we still just don't know the extent of the damage and maybe even a human loss?

SOLORZANO: I will say in reference to the damage, yes. We don't know the total effects from this storm. We hear the same, just like you, in reference to you to that of people around the island. But it's just difficult to say at this time. It is difficult for us to make a real assessment of the infrastructure and what is happening right now.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you so much. Lieutenant Colonel, we know you have more important things to do. Please see as a resource. Let us know what information the people need to understand about the situation there. We'll get it out.

Be well. Be safe.


CAMEROTA: OK. We're covering so many different topics today. So, next to health care. What would the Graham-Cassidy mean for pre- existing conditions? Lindsey Graham says everyone will be protected. Jimmy Kimmel disagrees.

What's the truth? That's next.


[06:50:58] CUOMO: The president says that the Graham-Cassidy bill is a great bill and anyone against it will be punished.

Is the president right about this bill?

Joining us now is CNN contributor and one of the architects of Obamacare, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel.

It's good to see you, Doc.

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Nice to be with you this morning.

CUOMO: So, not a single medical group is in favor of this. In fact, conversely, they have almost unanimously come out against it, as have all 50 agents of Medicaid representation within all 50 states.

I have never heard about anything on of this scale coming out against a bill. Why? What concerns people like you about what's in this bill?

EMANUEL: Well, this bill in some ways is the worst of all bills Republicans have offered. Even Senator Grassley from Iowa just Wednesday said there are 10 reasons on substance to vote against the bill. The president's notion that this is great is just false, even by the Republican Party.

The main problem here is it drastically cuts back the amount of money given to states to support poor people, elderly people who need additional assistance, people in nursing homes, and the disabled. And that cutback is huge. And it actually hits a cliff in 2026 when all the money for the expansion of the ACA and the exchanges would go away and traditional Medicare, which has been in place since 1965, would get another very severe hour cut in terms of cost.

The estimates are 32 million people would lose insurance. One point, which I don't think many people have mentioned, is the fact that by eliminating the subsidies for the affordable care act, premiums are estimated to go up 15 percent to 20 percent in the individual market just from this action alone.

So, it's not like it's going to actually keep costs down. It's going to raise costs for people who have to buy their own insurance.


EMANUEL: So, it's hard to see there is anything good in this bill. It seems that's what is driving the Republicans. We've just got to do something. Anything.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Doc, Lindsey Graham, one of the architects, feels completely different. He's been selling it. Let me just tell you some of the things that he said.

He said that there is a mandate in it that will cover pre-existing conditions. His quote is no one can be denied. He also says that the current system isn't fair because the lion's share of the funding goes to two states, New York and California. And what his goal is to divvy up the pie in a more fairway so that Midwestern states and western states get their share.

EMANUEL: With all due respect to Lindsey Graham, a man I know because he has been close to new family and my brother Ron for a while, he is not a health care expert. He's worked on military issues. He's never really worked on health care on all his time.

CUOMO: So where is he wrong?

EMANUEL: The first place that he's wrong is, he's just not protecting people with pre-existing conditions. He allows states to set up high- risk polls.

Let's say two things. First, states don't have to do that. And second, high risk polls are about the most inefficient way you could provide insurance to people who have pre-existing conditions.


CAMEROTA: I'll stop you right there. When he says there is a mandate in his bill for pre-existing conditions, you're saying that does not exist?

EMANUEL: He gives -- the mandate does not exist. He gives the states the option to eliminate that protection for people with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis. He gives the states the right to eliminate that protection.

CUOMO: Well, but wait, Zeke, you're going to have to give us another step on it, because I know this is in the weeds. But people either care about this or they don't. There's a waiver issue, but they will say, well, wait a minute, Zeke, if the state wants to waiver and waiver means get more money from the federal government in a block grant that they are promising, then you have to do the right thing by people with pre-existing conditions. That's their counter-argument to what you're saying.

Put it together.

EMANUEL: No. They just have to say, here's our plan. And if your plan is to have these high-risk pools, you can be sure -- I mean, we have a lot of experience with those high-risk pools.

They do not cover all people. They do not bring premiums down to an affordable level. They typically bring them down a little bit. But they are still very, very high.

And, again, most experts who've looked at this say they are not going to be affordable insurance premiums.

By the way, we in the Obama administration did try high-risk pools for the period between when we passed the Affordable Care Act and when the exchanges went into place, a four-year period. They were not very successful at all and they're very expense itch.

Just to give you a flavor, to cover about 3 million people, you would need about $25 billion over 10 years. That is a very in efficient way to get coverage to people, $10,000 per person. So, I don't see that as a very good exclusion.

Plus, remember, for everyone who doesn't have a pre-existing condition who is trying to get insurance, premiums are going to go up because healthy people will stop buying insurance because the costs will be too much. And so, no one really wins in this game, except a few states like Texas that get a lot of money out of this. But most of the country, 34 states, actually get a lot less money.

CUOMO: Right. Well, we'll see next week. Not just because of the September 30th deadline, but insurance companies have until the 27th to set their rates for 2018. They have just been told if this is the law, they're not going to get cost-sharing revenues. So, you know, they're going to have to raise their rates. We'll see it next week.

EMANUEL: It is chaos everywhere because of this bill.

CAMEROTA: OK. Great to have you here walking us through it. Thank you very much, Dr. Zeke Emanuel.

EMANUEL: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Back to Puerto Rico. The entire island is without power and will be indefinitely. And the death toll is rising. We have the latest for you on Maria's aftermath.