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McCain Responds to Trump's Threat to "Fight Back"; Tentative Deal Reach on Obamacare; Pentagon Investigation ISIS Ambush & Aftermath as Trump Walks Back Statements. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there you have Senator John McCain, in part, responding. He didn't respond to the president's threat to him, "Be careful because, at some point, I fight back."

But, Gloria, he's speaking bluntly. He's agreeing that the Obama administration failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Agrees with the president on that. But is making it clear on a whole host of other issues he disagrees with the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it was clear he didn't want to reengage with the president on this issue again. I think he spoke his peace last night and elaborated just a little, just a little bit. He's not going to back down. And the president can threaten him. I'm sure, John McCain has been through a lot worse in his life than threats from Donald Trump. And I thought it was sort of funny, he said he didn't listen to Rand Paul very much either.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I felt it concerning that he didn't blame Trump by name for this, but I think it was pretty clear when you listen to his words last night, that he's describing an environment that Trump created. He just called it a reversion to the 1930s. And went on to say, that's what led to World War II. That's a remarkable thing for a statesman like John McCain, a Republican Senator, to, in effect, accuse the president of a 1930s populism. It's a remarkable charge. And it's sobering to hear that from John McCain.

BLITZER: He said last night, David, he did not want to see "half- baked spurious nationalism" emerge here in the United States. Didn't mention the president by name, but clearly, everyone understood what he was talking about.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. The kind of America First isolationist to abdicate its role as a leader of the post-war period, which is what the international order was built out of World War II, and that is very much John McCain's world view. So I think it is striking to hear that.

And you know, you're going to hear a lot more from John McCain who doesn't want to take President Trump on directly, but it's that line from "Hamilton," talk less, smile more. John McCain is gritting his teeth through the Trump presidency. But his actions on health care and maybe more to come will make it very difficult for this president. BLITZER: Let's go back to Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us.

Phil, walk us through what looks like major breaking news, a tentative deal reached between Democratic leaders and Republican leaders, moving forward, keeping Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, alive, at least the subsidies to the insurance companies for at least two more years.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the subsidies that the president just a few days ago canceled because the executive branch has that ability. The way they wouldn't have the ability anymore is if Congress appropriated the funds. And that has been what the negotiations are between Senator Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, and Senator Patty Murray have been about. These negotiations have been going on a while, Wolf, a couple of months here. And the deal is, essentially this, what I'm told from aides is the deal has been agreed in principle. A two-year funding of the cost-reducing payments, those subsidies to insurance companies, that would allow the insurers to help bring rates down for individuals in the marketplace. That would be what Democrats would get, plus about $100 million in funding for Obamacare outreach for the exchanges. What Republicans would get in exchange would be regulatory flexibility on the state level. So basically --


BLITZER: Hold on one second, Phil.

The Democratic leader and the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, is addressing this issue. I want to listen in.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: OK? Then you can do questions on anything but you'll have to go.

So, first, I want to salute both Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray for working hard on a bipartisan solution. We think it's a good solution. And it got broad support when Patty and I talked about it at the caucus at lunch today.

First, it stabilizes the system. Two years of cautionary provides real stability to the system. And we want to make sure that happens. We want to work in the long-term to reduce premiums and increase coverage. Our Republicans colleagues seem to be in the opposite place on the long-term. But I think there's a growing consensus that in the short-term we need stability in the markets. So we have achieved stability, if this agreement becomes law.

We have also put in some very significant anti-sabotage provisions. The president had been sabotaging this bill, and the agreement would undo much of that sabotage. So overall, we are very pleased with this agreement.

Now, it's just general. There are a few more details that have to be worked out, but we think it's a very good step forward.

And I, speaking for myself, I hope Senator McConnell will put it on the floor, under Senator Lamar and Murray's leadership. I hope the House will take it up and the president will sign it, all as quickly as possible.

Because what it will do, it will protect the people from premium increases, assure the marketplaces, that this has a future, a long- term future, and prevent the sabotage that we have seen thrown at it in the last several months.

Senator Murray?

[14:35:08] SEN. PATTY MURRAY, (D), WASHINGTON: Well, as we all know right now, patients and families across our country are looking at the harmful steps that President Trump has taken to sabotage health care in our country. They are looking at their bank accounts, and they are realizing that if the president is allowed to continue down the path he's headed on, they are the ones that will pay the price. So I'm really glad that Democrats and Republicans agree it's unacceptable and that the uncertainty and dysfunction cannot continue.

And I'm very pleased that in the hearings and discussions with over half the Senate, Chairman Alexander and I were able to find common ground on a number of steps to stabilize the markets and to help protect families from premium spikes as a result of the sabotage we have seen from this administration.

We are ironing out a few of the last details right now. But I'm very optimistic that we'll be able to make an announcement with all the details very soon. And that we'll be able to show patients and families as well as those who are still determined to enable Trumpcare, that, you know what, when Republicans and Democrats in Congress take the time to work together under regular order, rather than retreating to partisan corners, we can truly get things done that help people that we serve.

Thank you.

SCHUMER: Thank you, Patty.

And she was saluted in our caucus today, by one and all, for the fine job that she has done.

OK. Now, segway -- Sheldon will appreciate this being a man of literature. Just --


BLITZER: So there's the news. You heard the news that Democrats in the Senate, they support Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat in the Senate Health Committee, working with the chairman, Lamar Alexander. They've got a deal, at least for two years, keeps the Affordable Care Act going. They were very, very pleased with this deal. They are still working on things to be done.

Phil Mattingly is with us, our congressional correspondent.

Phil, very enthusiastic support for the tentative deal by the Democratic leadership. Earlier, the president, in his news conference, said he would support it as well. Does that automatically mean it's a done deal?

MATTINGLY: It doesn't. And look, what I'm told right now, and you heard from Senator Schumer, obviously, Senator Murray gave a presentation about what the deal would entail during the Democratic lunch that just ended, Republicans also got their own presentation from Lamar Alexander. Wolf, it's always been the Republicans that are the issue with this. What this does for a short-term period, it, quote/unquote, "fixes Obamacare," something Republicans have considered anathema now for seven years in multiple campaigns.

The components of the deal are extremely important, particularly on the Republican side. Obviously, you know what Democrats get out of this deal, the two years of funding for CSRs, the money for Obamacare outreach. Senator Schumer referred to that as well. The regulatory piece of this is crucial for Republican support. And what Senator Alexander was able essentially to get out of the deal, at least as it has been read to me, out to this point, the regulatory waivers allowed under Obamacare, basically, they would be allowed to be sped up. They wouldn't have to be approved by state legislature, just a governor would be able to do them. If another state had gotten a waiver related to exchanges or how they could change the exchange to make it easier for individuals to apply to that exchange or to get coverage, they would be able to simply get waivers approved. The speed to get the waivers approved and the types to get approved are important here. There would also be an expansion of people's ability to get catastrophic plans based on this deal. Those are the components that will make or break this deal. Because this deal because this deal now needs to be sold to Republicans.

I'm told that what they don't have right now is a guarantee from Senate leadership that this will ever find its way to the Senate floor. Essentially, what they have to do now, and Senator Alexander told reporter this is earlier, they need to whip up support on their own. Basically, prove to Senate leaders, Wolf, that if this gets onto the floor, this would move forward. And perhaps, more importantly, that it also has life in the House. The House of Representatives that has kind of even been more deeply held opposition to this type of idea going forward. So this is certainly a break through. This is certainly something that Democrats are latching onto, saying this has to move forward.

There are several Republicans we have talked to that don't believe the CSR should have been canceled altogether. They will be supportive of this as well. But this is far from a break through.

Wolf, I will say, you made an important point. The president, in the last couple of days, has touted the plan of the bipartisan short-term deal. He was talking specifically about this. And I'm told he told Senator Lamar Alexander a couple times behind the scenes over the last week or two he would be supportive of this plan. The president's voice on this and the president's willingness to actually push this forward, particularly in the House, where Republicans are more skeptical, will be extremely important as to whether or not this has a future.

But right now, a deal has been agreed to. The big question now is, will it actually move forward beyond the deal phase and into something that actually passes into law -- Wolf?

[14:40:03] BLITZER: It sounds to me like it is an issue that right now the Democrats are on board, a lot of Republicans are on board. Will the speaker in the House, will Paul Ryan insist on a majority of the majority on board in order to allow it to come up for a vote? Because there's plenty of moderate Republicans who probably are going to go along with Senator Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray.

MATTINGLY: There's no question, there are Republicans in the House, including powerful ones. The House Ways and Means Committee chair, Kevin Brady, said in the past that he doesn't believe CSRs should be canceled. He believes there should be a legislative fix, at least in the short-term. But, Wolf, you make the key point here. The speaker and Republicans in general operate under a rule almost, kind of an informal rule, that they don't want to put anything on the floor that will pass with a majority of Democratic support and a minority of Republican support. They need to figure out if there's a path forward here.

I can tell you, I noted that the negotiations have been going on for a while. They were going on right before kind of the repeal and replace effort known as Graham/Cassidy came back to life a few weeks ago. And it was leadership, particularly, Paul Ryan, that called over to Senate leadership and the White House and said, this is not something we can put on the floor, this is not something our conference will support. So they will need a shift over in the House in terms of how they feel about this before they actually have a green light to move this toward. I can tell you that leadership over in the Senate wants no part of moving something forward that has no future in the House.

I will say, one other kind of logistical component here, procedural component, this is probably not going to be a stand-alone bill. This is going to be something they try to attach to some other piece of moving legislation. So keep an eye on the different vehicles that Senators are looking for, and keep an eye on the support. As you know, keep an eye on the House. They are on recess this month and we won't get a good idea of where they stand for another couple of days, but that will likely make or break whether this moves forward.

BLITZER: I suspect it will move forward in the Senate. Let's see what happens in the House.

Chris Cillizza is with us as well.

Chris, the president said he would support what he called a short-term compromise, Democrats and Republicans working together. You heard the president say it looks like Mitch McConnell is on board. But as Phil Mattingly correctly points out, this is far from being a done deal.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Right. Wolf. Let's talk about Trump first. Remember that Donald Trump essentially, as recently as today, has described those subsidies as big payoffs for the health insurance industry and it was not helping consumers, and that's why he got rid of it. This deal, based on the outlines that we know at the moment, would restore those subsidies for two years. So it's not clear why, all of a sudden, Donald Trump endorses the Alexander/Murray legislation. That is point one. Though he's been a little bit all over the map, so I guess it's consistent in its inconsistency.

On the House side, I feel like with every major piece of legislation -- Phil knows this better and has talked about this better than I have. Every time, we come back to the same thing. Forty-ish members of the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative elements of the House Republican conference. Are they willing to go along with this? This is government subsidies to health insurance companies, so that they will indeed be incentivized to pay for lower-income Americans -- or lower the cost for lower-income Americans to have health insurance. On sort of the philosophical end, that's not something that a lot of quite conservative Republicans of the American Freedom Caucus endorse. With Trump's endorsement, assuming this stays, maybe that matters. Maybe Paul Ryan decides not to do the majority and just bring it up because they are concerned about the impacts of not doing so from a policy and political perspective. But I would say this deal, at the moment, it certainly is one of the only bipartisan things that's gotten done in a very long time. I think we were going back to the Ryan/Murray Budget Act in 2013, that being the last major thing. But not a done deal certainly because, for the same reasons that no major piece of legislation is just immediately sort of blank checked through the House and then the Senate.

[14:44:11] BLITZER: If it were to pass the Senate and eventually pass the House and signed into law by the president, this two-year deal, it would take the deal, the Affordable Care Act, would stay in effect through the midterm elections next year. That's a significant part of all of this as well.

Chris Cillizza, standby.

We'll have a lot more on the breaking news.

President Trump also invoking the death of the White House chief of staff's son to defend his claim that President Obama didn't always call the families of fallen U.S. troops. This, as a new investigation is launch into the Niger ambush that left four American troops dead.

A lot more on all the breaking news right after this.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar. We have breaking news for you. The U.S. military is launching an investigation into the deadly ambush of four U.S. soldiers, including Green Berets, during an operation in the African nation of Niger near the border with Mali. The president is facing backlash after falsely claiming his predecessors never called the families of fallen troops. The president made the remark while responding to a question about why he remained silent for 12 days on the death of these soldiers and hadn't reached out to the families of the four.

I want to bring in Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret and now the CEO and founder of the nonprofit, Mission America. And he's also the author of "Game-Changers, Going Local to Defeat Violent Extremists."

What do you have in terms of questions about what happened to these soldiers? Because there's so little we know at this point.

[14:50:07] LT. COL. SCOTT MANN, RETIRED GREEN BERET & CEO, FOUNDER, MISSION AMERICA & AUTHOR: Hey, Brianna. Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: Of course.

MANN: I think, as far as questions go, the invest is going to barrel a lot of that out. But these guys were Special Forces operating in a very at-risk country, doing what is dangerous work. The Special Forces mission of working with indigenous people to stand up on their own and push back against a group like ISIS in a place like Niger is just dangerous work. It's very austere and very remote. I think we'll find is that these men were doing exactly what they needed to do to keep us safe in an at-risk country.

KEILAR: Why are we not hearing more about it from the government?

MANN: Well, I think the nature of this work, it is a bit different than a lot of the other Special Operations forces that are out there. It is not the direct-action, nighttime strike thing that seems to garner a lot of media attention. What this work is, is more long- term, it's more bottom-up kind of work, working with indigenous forces over a long period of time. And frankly, Brianna, it is usually in a very austere place, far away from any kind of natural support. The country has been doing this for 50 years in places like Colombia, the Philippines. And it is frankly how we get in front of violent extremism in places where we can't afford to set up large footprints. So I think that's why we don't hear a lot about it, because it's the nature of the work. It is quiet work.

KEILAR: And you make a very good point that, especially movies popularize the idea, if you're a commando, you're kicking in doors, but a lot of the special operators are doing this work really at the community level.

That said, do you think one of the reasons we haven't heard, I guess, answers to the questions about what happened, is because there is a push for the government to make clear to Americans just how widespread this quiet work is around the world?

MANN: You know, Brianna, I hope that's not the case. I make this point in my book, "Game Changers," that, we have been at this war for 16 years now. If we think the direction-action raids are the only way to defeat ISIS, we have another thing coming. We have had three presidential administrations now that have gloomed on to that approach. We need it. It's amazing what the operators have done in Syria and Iraq to beat ISIS back. But if we don't build capacity in these at-risk areas like Libya and Niger, where these amazing operators were killed, then we are never going to get in front of the problem to allow locals to stand up on their own. That's what these guys are afraid of. That's what the bad guys are afraid of. Green Berets can punch above from the weight with a few guys. They can build big capacity. And I hope our politicians understand that. That this is absolutely essential for national defense over the long-term in these rough places where we can't set up 100,000 troops in a base.

KEILAR: Colonel Scott Mann, great insight. A retired Green Beret talking with us there. We appreciate it.

Moments Ago, you may have heard Senator John McCain firing back on President Trump's threat to, quote, "Be careful," after McCain called Trump's world view half-baked.

We are back in a moment.


[14:55:02] KEILAR: Senator John McCain was speaking to CNN just moments ago, elaborating on the vailed comments he made, and maybe not too vailed, actually, about President Trump last night. Listen to some.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Were you addressing the president or Bannon or the group in total?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: I think that what is clear is what I was talking about as an environment here of nonproductivity of a reversion to the attitude of the '30s, which was one of the major reasons why we fought World War II.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And then, with regard to -- and I'm reluctant to bring this up -- but with regard to what the president said about General Kelly and his son, and President Obama not addressing him, is this an appropriate place for the president to be making a comment? You have served in the armed forces.

MCCAIN: Frankly, I don't know what to think about that. I think our first objective has to be to honor and serve those young people who have given their lives.


KEILAR: I want to turn to CNN presidential historians, Tim Naftali and Douglas Brinkley, who is a history professor at Rice University.

Doug, you are looking at the escalating war of words between Senator McCain and President Trump. What do you make of it?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORICAN: Well, that John McCain was very brave to give that dinner address under the auspices of liberty, and warn us basically about our country being taken over by half-baked ideas, that the whole sense of promotion of the global ideals is getting corroded, it is under siege. He's an old-time, big, pro-NATO, Atlanticist John McCain, and he sees the foreign policy acting in a very fickle and confused way right now. He thought he had a public service to speak up, he did. He reminded me of Eisenhower's farewell address in a sense that he is warning the country to beware of having your government behave in a reprehensible, right-wing, nationalistic manner. KEILAR: Tim, one of the points he made is don't turn away from the

world you helped organize. He said that in his speech. And here he was asked to talk about, really, this return, the nonproductivity of the version of the attitude of the '30s, that sort of turning into one's self is a country, which he said, precipitated World War II. That's a big warning.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORICAN: Remember that John McCain, not only has an unbelievable beautiful and honorable personal biography, but he comes from a family of service. And in his speech last night, he talked about how he remembered Pearl Harbor and his father --


KEILAR: Leaving that day, he said, for service.

NAFTALI: For him, remember, he has a personal family connection to internationalism, to the fact that America, in the 1930s, let the world fall apart. Didn't participate, didn't add its voice as it could have. That was a lesson his generation and his father's generation learned. Which is, when you leave things alone and America doesn't take its place among the great powers, the world gets into trouble. And he's saying, remember that. Now, it is selfish that a new generation of Americans, of American Firsters, to have forgotten the lessons learned by his father and by his generation. That's what he's speaking about.

KEILAR: So he's saying is he believes this is a rebuke of American excellence as he sees it?

NAFTALI: Well, it's a rebuke. Actually, the whole title. That was the title used by Isolationists in the 1930s through Pearl Harbor. They disappeared after Pearl Harbor for obviously reasons. And it's come back. He's saying, don't forget the reasons why America began to participate internationally. It was not because we were seeking control of the world. It was because the world needed us. And we met the call. That's what it was about.

KEILAR: Doug, what do you think?

BRINKLEY: Well, I think any U.S. president since FDR would have embraced John McCain's words and said, right on, you're saying, you're preaching to the American choir. However, Donald Trump is a different animal. And he took offense to the fact that Donald Trump was intimating that Trumpians are somehow creating a half-baked nationalism, an isolationism, playing ostrich that will be dangerous for future generations to come. He felt, at this point, he's fighting cancer, he's in that stage right now in his life that he could come forward and tell the truth, speak truth to power. Donald Trump didn't like it. And he's already warned Donald Trump, hey, I can fight back, you know. So you may see in the next few weeks or months having a tit-for-tat going on between Trump and McCain. And I give McCain already the Bronze Star for that fight, because I think he will defeat Trump if he gets to being a who's right about what the --