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GOP's Orrin Hatch Calls Obamacare Supports "Stupidest, Dumbass People"; Kelly Defends Self in Wake of Porter Scandal; Speculation McMaster Will Leave by End of Month; Trump Administration Considers Military Action Against North Korea; Massive "Bomb Cyclone" Bears Down on Northeast Coast. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 2, 2018 - 14:30   ET



[14:30:00] SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R), UTAH: Now, if you didn't catch on, I was being very sarcastic. That was the stupidest dumbass bill that I've ever seen.


Now some of you may have loved it. If you do, you are one of the stupidest, dumbass people I've ever met.

This is one of the most regressive taxes in the tax code with lower- income families paying most of the freight.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk this over with Dr. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of Obamacare, his former White House health care advisor to President Obama, also a prominent oncologist and bioethicists, and the author of several books, including "Prescription for the Future."

OK. You hear Orrin Hatch saying that. I think of some people that are known for colorful language. You may actually be related to one of them. But I don't always think of Orrin Hatch with that. So, what are you thinking when you hear him say that?

DR. ZEKE EMANUEL, OBAMACARE ARCHITECT & FORMER OBAMA HEALTH CARE ADVISOR & AUTHOR: First of all, it's a sad day in American politics when it's an ad homonym attack on intelligence. Remember what Senator Moynihan said, you can have your own opinion but cannot have your own facts. The facts are, no matter what your view is, the Affordable Care Act has been a pretty good success. Coverage in terms of number of people uninsured dropped from 18 percent to under 11 percent. Health care inflation has come down.

And the number of hospital-acquired conditions like infections has gone down. When the Republicans repeal the individual mandate, the projections are that premiums are going to go up, 18 percent on average, and that the number of Americans who are going to be uninsured is going to increase. I ask you, which policy is dumber, one that increases premiums and gets more people uninsured or one that gets people insured and brings health care costs down? It's pretty clear the Affordable Care Act has been a big success.

KEILAR: It's worth noting, and certainly I wouldn't want to just take your word for it. But when you do look at the Kaiser Family survey you see it's the most popular it's been since 2010, which is when it was really dismal. It was not a good outlook for Obamacare then.

EMANUEL: Right. That shows you the longer the people are in the program, the longer we have experience with the program, and when you look at the alternatives, it's a pretty good deal.


KEILAR: But it's changing because Republicans have made some changes to it. They have attempted to dismantle it.


KEILAR: When you look at that and we're heading towards an election, what do you expect the effects will be?

EMANUEL: I think you're going to see that the American public will rally towards it. Let me give you one anecdote that reinforces your Kaiser Family Foundation poll. As I came here, the driver of my car said, the moment Obamacare came on, I signed up for it. I love the program. It allows me to get free, preventive services that I haven't been able to afford before. That's just one example.

And I think the Republicans have shown they don't have an alternative plan. What they have done is going to make the situation a lot worse. And it's interesting that Senator Hatch said it's a regressive tax.


KEILAR: I was going to ask you about that. He said it's a regressive tax primarily funded by low-income families.

EMANUEL: Totally false. What the plan does, what the Affordable Care Act does, if you're poor, under 133 percent of the poverty line, you get Medicaid, and don't actually have to pay for your services. If you're above 133 percent of the poverty line and up to about $100,000 for a family of four, you get subsidized to buy insurance in the private market if you don't get it through your employer.

That is helping people at the low end. Contrast that with the Republican tax cut, which everyone says gives its biggest benefits to the top 1 percent and undermines poor people and takes away any of the tax cuts they're going to get by 2025. That's clearly a regressive tax. The Affordable Care Act is quite a positive, progressive subsidy of poor people.

KEILAR: Do you worry, though, with the changes that have been made if, people see a negative effect on their health care, they still associate that with Obamacare?

EMANUEL: I agree with you. I am worried that because of the appeal of the individual mandate and a few other changes that the Republicans have made under the radar, that you are going to have this big increase in premiums and the Republicans are going to blame Obamacare when, in fact, it's their actions that have done this. This blame game is one of the problems. And, you know, unlike Senator Hatch, I don't like to insult people. But I do think we need to stick to the facts. The facts are that the Affordable Care Act has been a success and the Republicans have no alternative.

KEILAR: Zeke Emanuel thank you very much. Thanks for being with us.

EMANUEL: Thanks for having me.

[14:34:45] KEILAR: Just ahead, the revolving door at the White House may be spinning again as CNN has learned H.R. McMaster could be the next to go. We'll tell you who tops the list to replace him.

Plus, Russian President Vladimir Putin doubling down on his claims about his country's nuclear capabilities after releasing a chilling animation featuring missiles flying over what appears to be the state of Florida.


KEILAR: The revolving door at the White House could soon include the White House national security adviser. Speculation is running high that General H.R. McMaster could be the next high-profile Trump aide to head for the exit door. One administration official says he could depart by the end of the month even. If McMaster steps down, President Trump will be looking for his third national security adviser in 14 months.

Joining me to discuss this, Rear Admiral John Kirby, a CNN military and diplomatic analyst, also a former spokesman for the State Department and the Pentagon.

John, there are already three names that are floated as possible replacements. Tell us about them.

[14:39:54] REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: That's right. There are three names. We must start by saying that the White House denies vigorously that McMaster is on his way out any time soon, and that there's a search going on.

But there are three names that CNN sources have told us are in consideration. Let's take them one by one.

First is the name by Stephen Biegun, vice president at Ford Motor Company, third generation, but has quite a bit of national security experience, working under the George Bush administration, secretary of the counsel staff and senior staffer to Condoleezza Rice when she held that job. Friend also tell you he is a quiet professional, very calm, very measured, good team player.

He seems to be the lead pick and preferred choice of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who sees in him that perhaps he could work a little bit better with than he did with H.R. McMaster. Ford motor company denies that he's in consultations with the White House over any kind of move upcoming.

Next would be Safra Catz, a co-CEO of a telecom company in Silicon Valley. And last year, in 2017, she was considered for jobs inside the administration. Some sources say one job she was under consideration for was direct of National Intelligence. That went to Dan Coats. But her name is in the mix, somebody well known to the president and to the White House. Not surprising she would be on this list. Born in Israel, emigrated to the United States as an infant to this country. But also a woman business leader, one of those rare elements in Silicon Valley, very vocal Republican, somebody well known to the White House.

Next up is somebody who is probably the most well-known of all the candidates to Americans, and that's John Bolton, age 69, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the Bush administration. Before that, had a long record in the foreign service and diplomatic corps. Well known throughout the world. During the transition he was, as you might recall, considered to be secretary of state. That went to secretary Rex Tillerson.

He has been in the mix and also is somebody that the president continues to reach out to. He is known for having frequent phone calls with the president, he visits the West Wing on a very frequent basis and, of all the candidates we've talked about he is probably the one that is most ideologically aligned with Donald Trump, hawkish on North Korea, prefers strong, bellicose and critical of the deal with Iran. He probably thinks the most like Donald Trump.

National security adviser is a key job. Two sets of relationships you have to manage. First you have to manage relationships inside the cabinet. That's something that McMaster has been criticized for. You have to get along with secretary of state, secretary of defense. You're the integrator and facilitator. Secondly have you to get along with the president. Obviously, there are tensions between H.R. McMaster and Donald Trump. Whoever get this is job will have to make those relationships work in the most trying time that we've seen in recent years -- Brianna?

KEILAR: John Kirby, thank you very much.

KIRBY: Thank you.

KEILAR: Great information.

This comes as the Trump administration is considering military action against North Korea if it succeeds in building a nuclear missile that can hit the United States. Multiple sources telling CNN, national security officials are also worried that North Korea could spread nuclear and missile technology to countries like Iran, Pakistan, maybe even terror groups. John Bolton is one of the names we just talked about there, being considered to take over for General McMaster. He has argued that 25 years of diplomacy with North Korea has failed and says it may be time to take military action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Otherwise, the American people have a choice. Live with a nuclear North Korea and the threats and nuclear bribery that will entail forever or do what the politician said, do not accept the nuclear North Korea. That could involve a military option of some sort.


KEILAR: With me now to discuss this is Elliot Ackerman. He is a CNN national security analyst. He's also a former CIA case officer.

So, Elliot, if the Trump administration, as Donald Trump himself is pretty hawkish when it comes to North Korea, if you were to look at someone like Bolton, also hawkish on North Korea, how does that shape the policy issue?

ELLIOT ACKERMAN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sometimes it's misleading because we're kind of presented with binary options, either we're going to have a nuclear North Korea or we're going to have a large-scale war to prevent it. There are many gradations in between. You could have a strike to take out some of North Korea's capabilities --


[14:45:02] ACKERMAN: A U.S. strike. You could do what we saw in Iran, where you sabotage their nuclear weapons capabilities. So there really is a --


KEILAR: That was a cyberattack?

ACKERMAN: A cyberattack. There's a whole range of options we're looking at. But presented to us in this binary way, that's not a very productive conversation.

KEILAR: Are you going to war with North Korea or are you not going to war.

ACKERMAN: And the scope of that would be so enormous.

KEILAR: But would it be -- I guess if -- this is my question. Yes, but if there's a range of options militarily or not necessarily options for what the strike would be but if you're considering what the what North Korea's response may be, does any range, even on the low end, result in a mass loss of life or do you see a situation where there could be military action against North Korea by the U.S. and you don't see a big loss of life?

ACKERMAN: I think it's very complicated. The second we initiate some type of option that is very aggressive or uses force, even if it was a precision strike, per se, we don't necessarily know what type of response it's going to engender.

KEILAR: That's a wild card, right? ACKERMAN: A total wild card. It becomes extremely, extremely risky.

The one thing that the North Koreans have over us is that they had been gaming out their strategy, vis-a-vis the United States, for decades and decades. We are the single, if not the single, the most dominant national security issue they face. For us, North Korea has been foremost on our minds the last 18 months. And we have the Pentagon thinking about it. As a national security issue, it waxes and wanes. They've game-theoried this out in a way I would wager against we maybe haven't at this point.

KEILAR: Interesting.

Elliot Ackerman, thank you. Appreciate you being with us.

ACKERMAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Next, we are back to our breaking news coming out of the White House. Chief of Staff John Kelly meeting behind closed doors with reporters, defending himself for his role in the Rob Porter scandal. Details ahead on that.

Also, a powerful nor'easter morphing into a bomb cyclone with howling winds and high seas bearing down on the northeast right now. We'll take you into the storm, next.


[14:51:41] KEILAR: Right now, millions are in the path of a massive storm. It's slamming the northeast with winds gust as strong as a category 1 hurricane, along with heavy rain and snow. This is called the bomb cyclone. It's getting stronger by the hour. You're looking at pictures of the coast of Massachusetts. The National Weather Service is warning this really is a life-and-death situation. You have evacuations under way. There are thousands of flights canceled. Many planes are grounded in New York. Conditions are only going to get worse as the day goes on.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is joining us now from Massachusetts, an area where officials have declared a state of emergency.

What are you seeing there, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, it is a life-and- death situation, as you mentioned. That's what officials are calling this. We're seeing this storm happen in stages. Less than an hour ago, we were seeing heavy rain coming down on us. Now it's really the wind, as you mentioned. Some winds are up to category 1 hurricane levels along the South Shore here in Massachusetts.

I want to give you a look at the waves. They may not seem that impressive to you, but this is the next stage we're expecting, another high tide later tonight. I can tell you, Brianna, we went to the coastline before the storm really picked up and we saw waves crashing over two-story homes. We've seen coastal flooding all along this area, power outages. Officials keeping that warning to evacuate, stay in a safe place until the storm is over, which we don't think it will be until sometime on Sunday -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Brynn Gingras, keeping an eye on things there in southern Massachusetts. Thank you.

Coming up, brand new reporting from our own Gloria Borger, the president's allies worried that the turmoil in the West Wing is just the beginning and will send the president on a downward spiral. We'll have new details, next.


[14:57:47] KEILAR: Sunday marks Hollywood's biggest night with the Oscars, but like the films nominated, it comes with some drama. Ryan Seacrest will be co-hosting E! Network's red-carpet coverage amidst allegations of sexual harassment by his former stylist. After launching an investigation into the claim, he found no evidence of Seacrest's wrongdoing. Kelly Ripa came to her co-host's defense, addressing the controversy on their talk show "Live with Kelly and Ryan."


KELLY RIPA, CO-HOST, LIVE WITH KELLY AND RYAN: I just want you to know that you are a privilege to work with and I adore you. And I'm speaking on behalf of all of us here.



RIPA: I know -- I know what an easy, professional, great person you are. I feel very lucky to work with you each and every day. We all do.



KEILAR: The Oscars, of course, are on Sunday night.

It is top of the hour now. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin.

We have some breaking news involving the president's right-hand man. Chief of Staff John Kelly revisiting one of the biggest scandals to plague the White House. In order to defend himself, Kelly is clarifying exactly what he knew about Rob Porter, the former White House aide who was fired when allegations of domestic violence surfaced.

CNN political analyst, Michael Bender, is with us now. He is a White House reporter for the "Wall Street Journal."

Michael, you were in this meeting with John Kelly. Tell us what he revealed.

MICHAEL BENDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a lengthy meeting with John Kelly. He spent quite a bit of time talking about the security clearance process and the handling of Rob Porter's security clearance, in particular. And what he said for the first time today was that it was mishandled here.

I talked to him about a week into this, which was almost a month ago now, where he said they did nothing wrong. Today, he reversed course, wanted to say that things were done wrong. He wishes that sort of the chain of command -- he didn't let people know in time that Rob Porter was resigning. There was a lot of confusion, he said, around Mr. Porter's resignation, and strongly suggested that this should have been handled differently.

KEILAR: And Rob Porter, it's important to note, was central in these internal White House debates over the tariffs that Donald Trump just announced. Is that right?

BENDER: Yes. I mean, this whole Porter saga is just striking for a number of reasons. One is the staying power this has had. Porter resigned in the first of the month of February.