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Florida Congresswoman Criticizes President Trump's Call to Widow of American Soldier Killed in Niger; Bipartisan Bill on Health Care Reform may be Put to Vote in Senate; Interview with Senator Susan Collins. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- and the congresswoman clearly has a long-standing relationship with this family. But we don't actually know how this family feels about the fact that this is all public either. I want to make that point. When I saw her comments last night, I was a little taken aback. It was not initially clear that she had been listening to the phone call. So initially it sounded as if she was repeated something she was told.

I don't know how the family feels about having this being repeated. I can't imagine they're happy with what the president said, but this is all very private and personal. But it is the president who treats, to your point, he doesn't make a distinction between one thing and another thing, between one group of people and another people. These are members of the military, many of whom are making a tremendous sacrifice, and that deserves a different level of respect and attention.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Maggie, thank you. Thanks for all the reporting.

We are following a lot of news this morning so let's get right to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, October 18th, now 8:00 in the east. And we do begin with breaking news. President Trump blasting a Florida congresswoman who accused the president of making insensitive remarks to the widow of one of those soldiers who lost their lives in Niger ambush that the president ignored for days. That congresswoman says the call was on a speaker phone, there were other people were in the call, and the president says what she says he said. He said to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson that he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.

CAMEROTA: Still moments ago on NEW DAY Congresswoman Frederica Wilson stood by her woods. She called the president in her mind a sick man who has no sympathy. She says the widow cried because of the president's call, and that the widow believed that the president didn't know the sergeant's name. All this as questions about the ambush itself, what led to it. President Trump appears to be politicizing the deaths of these four heroes. So we have all of this covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Joe

Johns live at the White House. What is going on there this morning, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Extremely sensitive and painful national conversation we're involved in right now. The president's calls to the families of four fallen special operators in Niger creating a firestorm this morning after the Florida congresswoman says she witnessed the president's words bringing to tears the widow of one of those soldiers. The president pushing back hard this morning on Twitter. I'll just read it for you. He says, quote, "The Democratic congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action. I have proof. Sad." So far, no indication what president's proof may be this morning on NEW DAY. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said she stands by her story. Listen.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON, (D) FLORIDA: This man is a sick man. He's cold-hearted and he feels no pity or sympathy for anyone. This is a grieving widow, a grieving widow who is six months pregnant. This is a young woman. She's only 24 years old. She weighs maybe 110 pounds, and she has two other kids, two years old and six years old. And when she actually hung up the phone, she looked at me and said he didn't even know his name. That's the worst part.


JOHNS: We have reached out to the White House press office for some clarification on all of this, so far haven't heard back from them. We will see the president, we expect to, this morning when he meets with members of the Senate finance committee, perhaps an opportunity to talk to him then.

CUOMO: Obviously Joe, when it comes to this issue of the ambush, the proof that the president should be looking for is what happened and why these lives were lost. But if he has proof he is being mischaracterized or that this is wrong what this congresswoman is saying, he needs to put it out because he has made it an issue. So we'll see what he does. Joe, thank you very much.

Joining us now is Republican senator Susan Collins. I wish I did not have to discuss what is going on between the president, a congresswoman, and the family of a slain soldier right now, senator, but the president made it relevant. What is your take on this ongoing situation about how the president handled this loss of life?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: Well, first of all, I don't know what was said on the conversation. I have to believe that any president, as commander-in-chief, must feel incredible anguish, pain, and compassion when there are deaths of the troops when he has been responsible for making the decision to send them into action. And my heart goes out to the families of the four green berets that were killed in Niger as well as all of those service members whose lives have been lost in combat over the past decade. [08:05:06] CUOMO: And look, obviously a big part of respecting the

loss of these men and their families is to get answers. And let's not forget, that's how this started. The president made the handling of the loss of life an issue in response to questions about why he had ignored this ambush. What do we know, senator? And what do you think has to be discovered, and soon, about why this loss of life occurred?

COLLINS: The Department of Defense has begun an investigation, and that is really needed in this case. The fact that these soldiers were ambushed is -- and that we didn't know it was coming indicates deficiencies or failures in two areas, at least. One is the intelligence that we had, and second is whether or not they were given support enough to make sure that they could respond instead of being caught up in a firefight. So this deserves a thorough investigation, and it's my understanding that is under way at the Pentagon.

CUOMO: And especially where this young man, David Johnson, is involved, if it is true that his body was left behind for over a day, what was it about? Why did it happen? This is the largest loss of life on President Trump's watch involving an aggressive force killing American troops. So we are going to stay on it and we're going to stay on the part of it that matters most because that's how we respect the sacrifice of these men, by getting answers on how they lose their lives.

Let me ask you about another issue of great import to American families, this health care bill. Are you OK with the Alexander-Murray compromise, getting the cost sharing revenues back basically in some form, there are some changes to what President Trump took out is being put back, but this flexibility that is given to states, flexibility is a defining term, senator, and could mean something for states like yours.

COLLINS: I believe that the two senators have negotiated an excellent package. It's bipartisan and will help stabilize the markets. It would prevent premiums from going up by average of 20 percent, which would be extremely harmful. And it would ensure that more insurers don't flee the marketplace, thus providing fewer or even no choices for consumers. So those are very important provisions.

As far as flexibility, the Bill is very careful to maintain protection for people with preexisting conditions, like asthma or arthritis or diabetes or cancer. And I strongly support the package because otherwise we will see chaos in the markets, and we are also going to see low income people having difficulty in affording their out of pocket costs.

CUOMO: Right. I want to separate the two moves on this because they have different motivations. Most what you are saying this bill will protect against, it's protecting against what the president just made possible by cutting the revenues in the first place. Had he not done that, you wouldn't need this bill to fix it. And I get that there's an ancillary argument about whose role it is to put in those kinds of things and it's the subject of litigation that's stall right now. So that's one component. The flexibility and the change in that language, senator, are there

any concerns about what that will mean for states and their ability to carve out types of coverage, to create pools that may be good for the young and healthy but not good for the infirm?

COLLINS: The bill has been carefully drafted to prevent those kinds of adverse consequences. I would contrast that with the proposal that was put forth by Senator Graham and Cassidy that would have allowed states to abandon some of those important consumer protections. But the bill that has been crafted by Senators Alexander and Murray keeps the essential health benefits in place, it gives more flexibility for states on how to meet those benefits, and it also in the design of insurance by allowing there to be a so called copper plan that nowadays is only available to people up to age 29 and would be substantially cheaper. It would still cover the benefits but have a higher deductible. And that would be attractive and help expand the pool, and that's really what insurance is all about. We have to expand the pool if we are going to keep premiums down.

CUOMO: Yes, one of the things that I guess wasn't fully understand by people, that the strong do have to give in order that the weak and the sick can get the coverage that they need. I know that makes people uncomfortable, especially when they're young and health or they don't need that kind of coverage, but that's kind of the deal that insurance has always been. We'll see if that stays the same.

[08:10:06] Now the big question, will you get a vote on this?

COLLINS: Well, that is the big question, indeed. Yesterday I would have told you absolutely. It seemed to me that everything was going very well, that the president, despite in some ways precipitating the crisis, had come onboard with this bipartisan approach. But now the White House is sending conflicting messages --

CUOMO: How so?

COLLINS: They now are saying they are not sure they like it or whether it's necessary. No one should buy into the rhetoric that somehow this is a bailout for the big insurance companies. It is not. This money goes to people to help the out of pocket costs for people who make 100 percent of the poverty level and 250 percent of the poverty level. So it's some of our most vulnerable citizens. And that is -- it's really disturbing to hear it mischaracterized.

So now that opposition seems to be arising, and I'm not sure what's going to happen. But I really think we have a duty to act and to act quickly so that we can have an impact before open season starts, which is going to in just a few weeks.

CUOMO: And if that period remains abbreviated, as the president wants to do, you have even less time. What is your hint of what McConnell wants to do?

COLLINS: I am not sure. Leader McConnell gave ample opportunity for Lamar Alexander to present his plan to the caucus yesterday, but he did not follow-up by a full-throated endorsement of it, so I am not sure what he plan is. I'm certainly encouraging him to bring the bill to the floor. If it comes to the floor I think the votes are there. I can't speak for the House. And the votes I believe will be there in both bodies if the president reiterates his support for this short- term proposal. It does not solve all the problems with the ACA by any means, but it would give us more time to work on a series of bills to correct the flaws in the law.

CUOMO: Very interesting politics going on with McConnell and the president. It will be interesting to see what your party's, what the Senate leader does in this situation. Senator Collins, thank you for allowing us to vet what's in this bill and why you think it's the right move for the American people. We will check back with you when the next step is taken.

COLLINS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Be well. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: President Trump taking issue with a Florida congresswoman over his words versus her words, what he said to the widow of a fallen soldier. Is he politicizing military deaths? We will speak to two gold star family members ahead.


[08:17:01] CAMEROTA: President Trump tweeting this morning about a congresswoman who said that Mr. Trump told the widow of a fallen soldier he knew what he signed up for. President Trump tweeting, the Democratic congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action, and I have proof. Sad.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson responded moments ago on NEW DAY.


REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA: What I said is, I have no reason to lie on the president of the United States with a dead soldier in my community. I have no time. I have no motive. I see him as Ned in the first grade reader trying to find something to do, and he has a lot to do.


CAMEROTA: All right. Let's discuss everything that has to happen today, all of it with CNN political analyst, Maggie Haberman.

So, Maggie, is this now that the congresswoman has responded and the president has tweeted, is this over? Do we hear more about this battle today?

HABERMAN: I mean, I think we will hear more about it because we will all continue talking about it and he will continue to watch television and there's a chance a family member will discuss it. We will see. The family has not been commenting and I am not sure they will now.

But, look, this is going to continue on because we know the president is likely to say something about it again. He will respond to the responses to his response and a way we go. So, no, we have not heard the last of this.

CUOMO: And look, it just bears repeating how we got here.


CUOMO: You know? He ignored this ambush for days. He had plenty of opportunity to talk about it. I know the White House put out their statement saying that they didn't have full information about who had died and how, that's why they didn't reach out to the fallen, fine. But that's not an explanation for why you said nothing about it for all those days before.

And this was his way of dealing with that, Maggie. So, this is a little bit of being hoisted on his own petard. This was something that he set up, and now, he's got to deal with it.

HABERMAN: Look, I mean, he also -- again, he got asked this question about this phone call, and as we know and discussed earlier in the show, my understanding from a White House official is he was frustrated with the coverage, as he often is, about the fact that he had not made a call and he thought that was unfair to him.

The White House by the way, some officials are very angry at the media in the last two days. They are -- even -- while some of them were taken back about what he said about General Kelly and General Kelly's son and the phone calls there, but the president turned it into something else. The question was, why didn't you call? And it came, well, what about Obama and all the other presidents?

And that's why we are where we are, because as we have often seen with this president on whatever the issue, whether it's military families or whatever, he takes a question about himself and it's like a sun deflector shield and he pushes it over this way. So, we're now talking about -- then we ended up talking about how people make phone calls. And that's why there's a focus on what his phone call. That's why.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about policy. You just heard Senator Susan Collins talked to Chris.


CAMEROTA: So, what's going to happen with health care and the tax plan?

HABERMAN: Oh, boy, if I could say what is going to happen, then I would be a wealthy woman in all of our prediction --

CUOMO: But that was unusual to hear Collins say she thinks the White House is backing away from it.

HABERMAN: There's a sense of that last night, especially after what the president said in an address at Heritage Foundation where he talked about this is a nice start but Congress needs to come up with a bigger fix where it does not bail out insurance companies.

[08:20:10] That was his statement. You can read that as the White House backing off or you can read this as the White House negotiating. I'm not sure which one it is.

CUOMO: What are you getting from them about how it is a bailout? I know all of this is very complicated, and costs are a problem in the ACA and there are problems with insurance companies and others, these revenue-sharing are not part of that structure. This was part of the law to help subsidize these poverty families.


CUOMO: You know, 100 to 250 percent of poverty.

HABERMAN: Right, to your point, we're not getting much about how exactly this is a bailout. I think this was something that the president said because that's how he is pitching this forward as to why he's doing it this way. It doesn't happen if the fact pattern matches up with it.

I have heard two different sets of arguments from people close to the White House about this, or people involved in the talks in the White House. And one is that the president is going to continue to push to say Congress needs to do a broader fix and this shouldn't be the end of it. I mean, I think that's part of why you heard him say what he said, and why the senators hearing, there's some movement in the reverse direction from the White House.

On the other hand, the president, as we saw, frankly, I think the closest parallel to this is with DACA, where he wanted to get out of the situation that he had gotten himself into with his own comments, he doesn't want to be the person who's responsible at the end of the day for millions of people either losing insurance or having skyrocketing premiums that as much as he will tweet this is the Democrats' fault, he did this as president, this executive order that made this happened.

He is aware of how deep end he is and he is looking for what the available offerings are.

CAMEROTA: OK. Next topic, Rex Tillerson, secretary of state. There's all sorts of reporting that the president has soured on Rex Tillerson?

HABERMAN: You don't think when he was told he was called a moron, Tillerson didn't discount that?

CAMEROTA: But was the moment or before that, was the president already saying things like he isn't the guy I thought he was, how do we get so mainstream, I don't like that he is using diplomacy with North Korea. What is going on there?

HABERMAN: So, I think a couple things. And again, as always with this White House, we hear conflicting things. So, let me present those to you and people can decide what they want. On the one hand, you hear that the president was briefed about what

Rex Tillerson was doing with North Korea. It's very hard to believe that Tillerson did not tell the president what he was doing here.

On the other, I had an official tell me the president knew nothing about it, or how deep it was, and that he was, quote/unquote, furious when he found out.

It is true that basically since that first two months, they have not had a great relationship. I spoke to the president at one point during transition and he, you know, was enamored with Rex Tillerson. He gotten this person of stature who believed, you know, was worthy of him and being in his cabinet to play this incredibly important role. The relationship has never quite clicked.

I think Tillerson is a very muted, removed, different type of person than this president. I think what gets overlooked in a lot of the discussions about how this president feels about members of his administration and his cabinet is how much of the personal chemistry aspect matters to him. We know this from dealing with him in New York. A lot of time it gets broken into a policy discussion as if there are disagreements there, and sometimes there are. But a lot of times, especially as in the case with, say, the president and H.R. McMaster, it's just that the personalities don't quite mesh.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: And I think that's a lot of what you see here.

CUOMO: And, look, I know you're hearing a lot of different things about what's going in, but we do know this, if the secretary of state stays, it will be the first time we have seen this president tolerate a personal insult.

HABERMAN: Yes, absolutely.

CUOMO: Because if he believes that Tillerson called him an f'ing moron, I don't know that he has the ability to leave him in position. I know that -- you know, people have all kinds of opinions, knock yourself out, my Twitter feed is alive and well, but it will be the first time we have seen it.

HABERMAN: But does two more months really count as a long time? I mean, the expectation is that he's gone around January? And so, I think that -- you know, there's an expectation that by the time there's a next recess for Congress, the holiday recess, around Christmas and New Year's, Rex Tillerson will be on the way out. So, I think that there is a recognition --

CUOMO: You can't boot him at Christmas? Now that we are saying merry Christmas again. Merry Christmas is back, Maggie.

HABERMAN: I think General Kelly and others in the White House are concerned about having that kind of change right now, especially right before the president's trip to Asia, which is going to be an extended and important trip. After that, I think you may see a change. So, I don't expect there will be a long lasting stay of the person who

may or may not have used the moron word.

CAMEROTA: Got it. Maggie, thank you.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for sharing all of your reporting with us.

All right. Stick around for this, because she is one of the first public figures to speak out against sexual harassment by a powerful man. Anita Hill is going to join us next with her take on the Harvey Weinstein scandal and where we find ourselves at this moment.


[08:28:49] CAMEROTA: The Weinstein Company has officially terminated Harvey Weinstein following dozens of women coming forward to make sexual misconduct allegations.

The stories of sexual harassment are familiar to Anita Hill. She spoke up 26 years ago, testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991.


ANITA HILL, FORMER PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: After approximately three months of working there, he asked me to go out socially with him. What happened next and telling the word about it are the two most difficult things -- experiences of my life. It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration and sleepness number -- great number of sleepness nights that I am able to talk of these unpleasant matters.


CAMEROTA: Anita Hill joins us now.

Professor Hill, thank you so much for being here.

HILL: It's a pleasure to be on the show.

CAMEROTA: So, I want to go back to that day in October 1991, because I think that so much of the company was gripped by your testimony. I know that I was. I was a young reporter, three years out of college, and I was at one of my first TV jobs. All of us, when you were testifying, we would go in, crowd into the conference room to watch you.