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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I mean, is there going to be increasing pressure on Republicans to take care of their own the way that Democrats took care of Conyers and Franken?

[16:30:06] KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There will and there should be. And I think particularly when you're talking about taxpayer dollars, I think, maybe some of this debate may seem, you know, elusive to a lot of folks, because it doesn't involve them personally and they sort of watching it almost as a spectator sport.

But when you're talking about using taxpayer dollars to settle these awful instances of terrible actions by members of Congress, then it maybe, they -- it will spur the type of constituent outrage that will then be directed at members of Congress and ultimately, that's really what drives leadership to start, to make those decision.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

After passing a tax bill that could heap a trillion more dollars on the national debt, Republicans are now looking to save some money. They're looking to safety net millions of Americans rely on. Bernie Sanders joins me next to talk about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:12] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with politics -- all but one Senate Republican put aside concerns about the $1 trillion plus that the tax cut bill will add to the national debt, but not even one week later, GOP leaders are beginning to talk again about the need for fiscal responsibility to reduce the debt they just voted to enlarge.

With House Speaker Paul Ryan saying that Republicans will attempt to cut spending by reforming Medicare and Medicaid in the New Year.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt. And then wealth reform too, we think it's important to get people from welfare to work. We have a welfare system that's basically trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work. And we've got to work on that. (END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Joining me now is 2016 presidential candidate and independent senator, Bernie Sanders, from Vermont.

Senator, you say this was the Republican plan all along. Create more debt by cutting taxes and then expressing desire to tackle that debt with cuts to social welfare programs.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I mean, this is just extraordinary. What it amounts to is a massive transfer of wealth to the middle class to the working families to the top 1 percent and large corporations. Look, in the Republican plan, 62 percent of the tax benefits go to the 1 percent and large multinational corporations.

And then after running up the deficit by $1.4 trillion, Paul Ryan and the others come back there and say, oh my goodness, isn't it terrible how high the deficit and national debt is? We have got to deal with that and the way we're going to deal with it is by cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education, nutrition programs, and basically everything that the middle class and working families desperately need.

This is just grossly immoral, and it is something that we have got to defeat.

TAPPER: Senator, the congressman and a lot of experts say that a lot of these social welfare programs, Medicare especially are driving debt. I mean, is he wrong?

SANDERS: Then you have to deal with it. And you have to get your priorities right.

Is it more important to make sure that elderly people in this country have health care or whether or not we give massive tax breaks to billionaires by repealing the estate tax? That's the moral issue that we have to deal with.

Now, we can deal with Medicare and we can deal with Social Security to make sure that they are strong and viable for future generations. That's not hard to do. We know how to do it.

But to exacerbate the problems of the debt by giving tax breaks to large corporations who today are enormously profitable and to wealthy individuals, and then come back and say we're going to cut programs that the elderly and working families desperately need is just an absurd, horrific set of priorities.

And, Jake, these are priorities that the American people don't agree with. The American people in poll after poll do not believe we should give tax breaks to billionaires and in poll after poll, whether you're Republican, Democrat, or independent, they don't believe you should cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

All of this is being done by the way to benefit wealthy Republican campaign contributors like the Koch brothers. TAPPER: How much do you care about the issue of national debt? I ask

because when you introduced your policy -- your proposal for a budget, the Tax Policy Center said that it would increase the deficit -- the national debt up to $21 trillion, including paying for single-payer health care. So I guess just philosophically, do you think it matters if the U.S. has a big --

SANDERS: Of course, it matters. I don't agree with what they said. And what they forgot to say in terms of the Medicare-for-all proposals that we brought forth is that people in the middle class would be better off because we could eliminate the private insurance premiums they have to pay. If you had to pay $10,000 a year in private health insurance premiums, and I eliminated that, you have to pay 5,000 more in taxes, you would say, hey, Bernie, that's a great deal for me. Now I have comprehensive health care for my entire family.

TAPPER: Before you go sir, I want to ask about your fellow progressive Al Franken who resigned today. You tweeted in response, quote: We have a president who acknowledged on tape that he assaulted women. I would hope that he pays attention to what's going on and think about resigning.

It's a cheeky tweet, but are you seriously calling on him to resign because of the accusations?

SANDERS: Look, what I am saying -- what I am saying is something that is in fact very serious. And that is Al Franken acknowledged that he acted inappropriately. He acknowledged that, he asked forgiveness, and then he ended up resigning.

You have a president who on tape, a tape that everybody in America has seen, acknowledged basically that he was assaulting women and well over a dozen women have made that complaint. And what happens to him?

[16:40:00] He says, no. It's fine. It's OK.

I think that's an issue we have to deal with.

TAPPER: Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, always a pleasure to have you on, sir. Thank you.

SANDERS: Thank you.

TAPPER: President Trump attacked Congressman John Lewis when he refused to attend the inauguration in January. Now, the civil rights icon is saying that he will not share the stage with the commander in chief coming up. Will the president be able to resist responding on Twitter? We'll discuss that and much more next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: President Trump calls them Chuck and Nancy. They were back at the White House today, in an attempt to avoid a government shutdown which would happen tomorrow at midnight when the lights will go out for nonessential government services unless Congress and the president make a deal. You might recall the last Tuesday, the Democratic Senate Leader Chuck

Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were so insulted by a Trump tweet that attacked them, they didn't show up at the White House for a meeting. Trump showed off their empty place cards.

Today the President met with both of them along with their Republican counterparts. Here's what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're all here as a very friendly, well-unified group.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN Sara Murray. Sara, how did it go? Are they going to solve this problem?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a great question, Jake. They certainly started off on better footing today than the botched meeting last week and the President made a big show of saying everyone is here, everyone is unified, cracking some jokes. They did make it clear they are trying to get together, put their heads together to avert a government shutdown. We will see if they are successful.

TAPPER: Sara on Saturday, President Trump is going to be at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. We're hearing now that the civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia is not going to attend. Just a reminder for viewers, this is the man who was beaten by police officers for protesting Jim Crow Laws in the south. He was one of the 13 original freedom rioters and two years ago, he walked with the Obamas on the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday March. What's going on? Why isn't Lewis is going to be there if Trump is there?

MURRAY: Well, that's quite a move by Lewis that he has made clear that he does not want to be on stage with President Trump. That he still looks back at the President's reaction in the wake of those rallies from white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer. Remember, after those rallies, President Trump said there was violence on both sides. And John Lewis has still said that that is absolutely inappropriate. He doesn't feel like it would be appropriate to share a stage with the President who has said something like that. Now the White House has also weighed in on this drama today. Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary put out a statement saying, we think it's unfortunate that these members of Congress wouldn't join the President in honoring the incredible sacrifice, civil rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history. The President hopes others will join him in recognizing that the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much. My panel is back with me. I want to talk about -- I'll talk about that issue in a second, but first, Congressman Rogers for people who don't know, you're a former FBI Official -- FBI Agent and when you were Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, this was -- this was part of the knowledge on which you've reached. I do want to get your reaction to the attacks that are going on right now from the administration and from Trump-friendly media on the FBI including this from Gregg Jarrett on Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGG JARRETT, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: The Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt and Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America's secret police. It's like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think?

MIKE ROGERS, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: I can't tell you how dangerous this is. The FBI is a very -- excuse me -- important institution across this country. And everyday members of the FBI, men, and women, are engaging investigations to keep America safe from child pornographers, from terrorists, from folks who are spies and trying to commit espionage against the country, organized crime, criminals, violent crime, all of it. And to -- if you have a difference of opinion on a special investigation, then maybe you should express that but to condemn the FBI undermines an institution that plays a very important role in the United States of America. And by the way, it is the shiny city on the hill to every other law enforcement agency in the world. They want to be like the FBI. They want to be able to tackle corruption in their own government in a way that allows them to complete their investigation. Most countries don't have anything close to that. So, when you get into this pattern of agree with the FBI, they're great, oh my gosh, I don't -- they're investigating someone I like, they're bad. And then take it and ramp it up and compare them to the KGB or the Stasi is absolutely offensive. And every agent in the FBI, thank God, they'll get a little miffed, they'll get another cup of coffee and they're going to go back to work. That's what makes them the FBI. I tell you though, we need to stop this now. Republicans, Democrats, everybody, stop dragging this institution that is going to be there when you're gone, protecting your grandkids, stop destroying its ability to do its mission. And I find that stuff not only offensive but dangerous.

TAPPER: Kevin.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree and I think I'd offer another reminder. Not only are they working on a lot of important stuff, they're risking their lives. Right now, somebody in the FBI, an FBI Agent is risking their life for this country. And so to just try and --to undermine it as an institution like that, when what their main focus is -- and I worked at the Department of Justice. I had -- I was fortunate enough to work with the FBI. They're driven by evidence. They are driven by the law and they are driven by protocols. Everything that they do involves a very rigorous process in order to follow the law and make sure that they are upholding the law. So, it is again, I would agree with Chairman Rogers, it is very dangerous to try and undermine the institution like that.

[16:50:06] TAPPER: And Jen Psaki, you were Communications Director at the White House in 2016 when James Comey, the FBI Director gave his press conference basically clearing, but severely criticizing Hillary Clinton. I know a lot of Democrats were very frustrated with that. We did not -- we heard criticism from the Clinton campaign, but we heard nothing like that, and we didn't hear any criticism from President Obama.

JEN PSAKI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE: No, that's right. Because he views the FBI, continues to, did for the eight years he was president as an institution that is important not just in the time he was there, but has been for decades and will be for decades to come. It doesn't mean he agreed with everything. It doesn't mean he agreed with everything the Department of Justice did. But in the quintal days of most presidents before this current President, there's a -- there's a value for law enforcement, there was, there should be in the future, there was a separation with the Department of Justice. That's very dangerous. One other point I'd just like to make is there's a scary irony here, is that what they're doing, what Gregg Jarrett just did is take a page out of the Kremlin's playbook in terms of how they communicate, which is discrediting institutions, discrediting legitimate figures. That's what they do. And that's what he and others, some on the Republican Party are trying to do with Mueller right now.

TAPPER: What are other agents, your friends, your former colleagues, what do they say to you when this stuff happens?

ROGERS: I mean, some of them are of apoplectic that their life's work is being challenged in a way that sets them apart in America that they are somehow working against the Constitution which they took an oath to protect. And I can't tell you -- I've taken that oath in the FBI. It means a lot to those people. It is an emotional day when you get your credentials that say FBI Special Agent. It's a big deal. And it's a big deal because you know the weight of the United States is depending on you, and Americans are depending on you. And when you undermine it, you're doing a disservice to those people who are waiting for an FBI Agent to show up someday somewhere across the country to get their life back in order.

TAPPER: Thanks, Congressman, I appreciate it. He's only four years old, but he's just one of the almost nine million children that might lose their safety net and access to life-saving health care. What is the Congress doing about the CHIP program? That's --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In September, federal funding expired for the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP which covers almost nine million children and families who cannot afford or access insurance but they're not eligible for Medicaid. Congress has not yet renewed this program leaving states scrambling. CNN's Kyung Lah talked to one family in Colorado who may lose the support they rely upon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very little can slow down four-year-old Ari with his older brothers until it's time to test his glucose --

HEATHER RICHTER, MOTHER: It's a little high.

LAH: -- for his type one diabetes.

RICHTER: When we go to the pharmacy and pick up his supplies, this is what we pick up in a month.

LAH: One month?

RICHTER: One month. Yes.

LAH: This would cause up to $2,000 a month. But Ari and his two brothers are covered under the federal government Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP, so his family only pays $30. CHIP covers kids like Ari. His family makes too much for Medicaid, too little to pay for private insurance. A popular bipartisan plan created in 1997 that's always found funding, until this year. Ari's mother got this letter from the state saying Congress failed to extend funding this fall. So her children's health insurance will end unless Congress acts. This four-year-old whose diabetes has meant emergency flights and ambulance runs to save his life, now trapped with his family in an unimaginable choice.

RICHTER: We pay our mortgage or we pay for the life-saving supplies that my son has to have. We have to choose this first or Ari would -- he would die without these, without insulins.

LAH: That's your child's life that we're talking about here.

RICHTER: Yes, yes, it is.

LAH: It's not just Colorado's 90,000 children who lose their coverage once federal funding dries up, every month state by state the money will run out. By July 2018, approximately 9 million children of working families nationwide could see their medical coverage disappear.

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), COLORADO: How can that be the case? How can we let ourselves get in this situation?

LAH: States are left scrambling. Colorado's Governor says his state may be forced to prioritize which CHIP children to help. Here's a mind-boggling thing he says. Congressional Republicans and Democrats support CHIP but can't agree over how to pay for it battling over tax reform, budget, and ObamaCare reform. They'll figure it out pledged Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), CHAIRMAN, SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE: We're going to do CHIP. There's no question about it in my mind.

HICKENLOOPER: They're going to debate it back and forth and they're going to try and get some political benefit. Sometimes they're just got to be doing good, doing the right thing and not worrying about what can I get in exchange, right? These are kids.

CHRISTOPHER STILLE, PEDIATRICIAN, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL COLORADO: How are you feeling today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm good.

LAH: Pediatrician Christopher Stille is optimistic Congress will figure out how to cover his CHIP patients like five-year-old Laniah Madison but he's only cautiously optimistic.

STILLE: I'm just really afraid that other things will get in the way that are completely unrelated to health coverage for kids.

LAH: Politics as of late has been extraordinary unpredictable, is that what you're talking about?

STILLE: That's exactly what I'm talking about.

RICHTER: I just wish they could spend a day in our life so that they can understand why this is so important to us. It's not a choice for us and that we need this.

LAH: Kyung Lah, CNN, Loveland, Colorado.

TAPPER: Our thanks to Kyung Lah. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks so much for watching.