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CNN TONIGHT

Anger Mounting Over The Handling Of The Sudden Firing Of Dozens U.S. Attorneys By The Trump Administration; White House Acknowledges That Team Trump New Fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn; President Trump And His Voters Care About More Than Any Other It Just Might Be Jobs. Aired 11:00p-12:00mn ET

Aired March 10, 2017 - 23:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:00:30] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news. Anger mounting over the handling of the sudden firing of dozens U.S. attorneys by the Trump administration.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

Dozens of prosecutors told to clean up their desks by midnight and a move that one source says quote "could have been handles any worse." What's behind this purge?

Plus, the White House acknowledges that team Trump new fired national security advisor Michael Flynn lobbied on behalf of a foreign power, Turkey, during the campaign, but says the President did not know.

Let's get right to our breaking news now. The surprise firings of dozens of U.S. attorneys tonight. Here with me is Jessica Schneider and legal analyst Laura Coates.

Good evening to both of you.

Jessica, you first. You have new reporting tonight, I understand, about the U.S. attorneys fired tonight. The issue here is how this request was handled, so what are your sources telling you?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Don, the people I have spoken with, they are really flabbergasted that this happened so suddenly and so abruptly.

So what we are learning is a little bit startling into how this all went down. We understand that during the day today it was acting deputy attorney general Dana Bente. He was working the phones trying to get the word out to some of these U.S. attorneys. Well, then suddenly, the media reports got out, also a press release from the department of justice itself, and that's how some of the U.S. attorneys found out they would be asked for their resignation. This was very abrupt. And really, they were given just a few hours to clean out their desks and get out.

But what is also interesting about this, Don, is that we understand many U.S. attorneys had actually asked the administration where they stood, would they be fired at some point, would they be asked to stay on. And we understand that throughout the past few weeks since the administration took effect, January 20th, there was really radio silence. So they asked for it. They asked for some indication. But as we saw today they got none.

LEMON: Interesting.

Laura, as Jessica is reporting, this isn't all -- it's not that unusual, but the way it went down, is that unusual? What's your reaction?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, my reaction is kind of visceral for the reasons Jessica has already talked about. The idea that it's not unheard of that a new Presidential administration would try to appoint people that are going to further their legal enforcement objectives and goals.

Jeff Sessions has been very about how he would like to break away from the Obama era, way that enforcing, you know, drug policy, et cetera. That's not odd. Clinton has done it. He has, you know, every administration has done it.

What is odd, however, is that they are normally are allowed for the sake of transition and uniformity to have their seats filled before they actually leave. When you do it in this abrupt manner and a U.S. attorney is supposed to be confirmed by the Senate, you leave a vacancy in each of these 93 essentially districts, and you leave them wondering who is going to be their leader and how are we going to uniformly apply some things? And so, (INAUDIBLE), it was a very kind of knee jerk reaction that was unnecessary.

LEMON: Yes. And no doubt, Laura, all these attorneys who are in the middle of working on cases, right?

COATES: Yes. And not to mention, it is not, you know, most Presidents don't have these kind of lingering lawsuits across the country, travel ban excluded. There's actually some Trump specific litigation going on. So you have the impression however that people are thinking, well, the people who are resigning or they are asked to resign, are they going to be in the same administration that oversees Trump litigation? If that's the fact case, we have to look very closely and figure out, well, if there's a connection here. Is it benign or is there actually a connection here?

And either way, this is why it is so important to keep in mind that the people that he has said do not have to resign are the people who are acting deputy attorney general and the person who is the incoming deputy attorney general. Both people are already U.S. attorneys and are not being asked to step down because the administration presumably understands the importance of the continuity.

LEMON: Jessica, aren't we hearing from lawmakers from Capitol Hill on this? What are they saying?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. One notable lawmaker that we are hearing from, Don, is of course, ranking member of the senate judiciary committee, Dianne Feinstein. She says she is extremely concerned by this full scale firing that happened today. She is especially concerned because she said that she actually had a meeting back in January with vice President Pence and also the White House counsel Donald McDan. She said she asked them would there be a case like this where there would be a full-scale firing and that happened all of a sudden. She said that she was assured by the White House council that anything that would be done would be done in a very orderly fashion. But of course, Dianne Feinstein releasing a statement today saying that she is concerned by this and, of course, stating her opinion that this was not done in an orderly fashion at all.

[23:05:14] LEMON: I want to play this because back in November, we heard from a U.S. attorney Preet Bharara after he met with then President-elect Donald Trump. And he says he was asked to stay on. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY FOR NEW YORK: President-elect asked presumably because he is a New Yorker and is aware of the great work our office has done over the past seven years asked to meet with me to discuss whether or not I would be prepared to stay on the United States attorney to do the work as we have done it independently for the last seven years. We had a good meeting. I said I would absolutely consider staying on. I agreed to stay on. I have already spoken to senator Sessions. As you know, he is the nominee to be the attorney general. He also asked that I stay on, so I expect I'll be continuing to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So Laura, but he ended up on the chopping block. And I heard one person on earlier saying, you know, it's because the attorney general decided, maybe, we don't want him. What do you think?

COATES: Well, surprise, first of all, for all the people who are the Obama era, you know, holdovers in this particular case. And the timing of this is so important. It should not escape people that within 24 hours of comments by Sean Hannity asking for a purge and Sean Spicer talking about this kind of deep state theory that people are holding on to their positions with the intent to somehow undermine and fatally undermine this particular administration, so there is an insinuation being made right now that there is almost an epiphany that the President has had or Jeff Sessions has had that this deep state theory has somehow infected the U.S. attorneys' offices across the country. And if they remain in place, they will somehow not be able to, one, carry out their objectives or will do the opposite of their objectives.

So what you are seeing here is the timing issue that I think is surprising to everyone who in place, not because the administration can't replace people, that's their prerogative. But because it seems to be in response to this fear that the people who we elect or appoint as U.S. attorneys who are supposed to be objective enforcers of the law somehow are incapable of doing just that.

LEMON: And I do have to say the White House is denying the whole Sean Hannity thing, but that's what they are saying this evening.

But thank you all. Thank you. Have a good weekend. I appreciate it.

I want to turn to another piece of breaking news tonight. The White House acknowledging the Trump transition team knew about Michael Flynn's pro-Turkey lobbying during the campaign. Campaign worth that would likely require him to register his firm as a foreign agent.

Press secretary Sean Spicer facing tough questions on all of this at his press briefing today. Let's listen to this exchange with CNN's Athena Jones.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Are you saying the President was not aware that the attorney general Michael Flynn was acting as a foreign agent when he appointed him to be national security adviser?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Correct. Well, and just remember, you wouldn't know that until he filed -- he didn't file until two days ago, so therefore nobody would have known that because he didn't file as a foreign agent until two days ago.

JONES: He filed a lobbying disclosure with Congress in November.

SPICER: Again, that is different in filling a fire request with the DOJ.

JONES: (INAUDIBLE)

SPICER: All right.

JONES: The other question is did Flynn disclose he was acting as a foreign agent in the security clearance review?

SPICER: I don't know the answer to that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Let's bring in NOW Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush and CNN political commentator Matt Lewis.

Gentlemen, good evening to both of you.

I want to ask you, Mr. Painter. The White House is saying now the President didn't know Flynn was being paid to represent Turkey during the campaign. And you heard what Sean Spicer said. What did you make of this?

RICHARD PAINTER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, first, this is a complete chaos. The foreign agent's registration act has since the 1930s required foreign agents to register, and he should have been registered under the act and he wasn't. And I can't believe that the transition team couldn't figure out that he was a foreign agent and inform the President. What kind of a country is it where we have foreign agents who are able to infiltrate the government without the President even knowing it and take the top posts in the National Security Council?

LEMON: Did you understand Sean Spicer's response, Richard?

PAINTER: Yes. It made no sense though. It made no sense that the President wouldn't know that they wouldn't figure this out.

LEMON: Matt, what did you think of Spicer's response? Did you understand what he was saying?

[23:10:02] MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, but that's pretty usual. I usually don't know what Trump Spicer means. But I would say this -- my former colleague Chuck Ross at "the Daily Caller" broke the story on November 11th that this was going on, that Mike Flynn was working for this, you know, Erdogan ally who is some Dutch company or whatever. But lobbying, essentially lobbying on behalf of "Turkey. So the fact that - and the "Politico" wrote about it too. The fact that Donald Trump, his team, like it didn't require a lot of really intricate vetting to find this out. You could have read the news stories that happened on November 11th and find out that this was going on.

LEMON: Well, man, I have to say that it's interesting because I guess they read certain news accounts. And maybe they want to believe they are fake or not, but even the stuff about Alpha Bank was reported as early as October or November, and it's coming around. People are confirming it again. I'm just wondering, Matt, what is going on that they are not even listening to news accounts there. This has all been in the news before, as you said.

LEWIS: Right. And you know, and Mike Flynn also wrote a piece for "the Hill" where he did not disclose that he was being paid to lobby, to say good things about Erdogan and Turkey and to attack their enemies. And "the Hill" just today posted, you know, like by the way, you know, a sort of like update to that piece.

But obviously, look. Donald Trump's team either -- I think it's not either or, probably wasn't terribly good at vetting and probably didn't care that much. One of his campaign managers was Paul Manafort. We know about his past ties to foreign government. So I think that this wasn't treated as a big deal. But there's a difference between a guy who is a campaign manager and a guy who is your national security adviser.

LEMON: Exactly.

LEWIS: Who 15 minutes ago was working for Turkey.

LEMON: Neither is good. But it is worse when you're the national security adviser and you are in charge of the national security of the entire country and you don't disclose that or his team, either didn't disclose it to the President. I mean, that just seems like incompetence on so many levels. And considering the hypocrisy of it all, Richard, when, you know, when

you talk about, hey, listen. Lobbyists, President Trump or even President-elect Donald Trump and now as President has said, you know, all this lobbying going on between people who work for the government and not for the government, we are going to crack down on that. And here's a guy who is closes to him in-charge of national security is a lobbyist.

PAINTER: It makes no sense to run a government this way, to allow foreign agents into the government and have the President not even know. Say you are draining the swamp. And yet you are bringing in people who have close ties to the Russians and other countries as well. And on the payroll of the Turkish government and then the President doesn't know about it or says he doesn't know about it.

This is a complete chaotic situation. And then general Flynn lied about his contacts with the Russians, lied to the vice President. And we have had the attorney general in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee say that he did not contact with the Russians when he had contacts with the Russians.

People are not being honest about their foreign contacts. And talk about this deep state theory as if there are somehow Obama moles in the government under the Trump administration. It's ridiculous. I'm more worried about KGB agents running around the west wing or the National Security Council.

LEMON: Wow. Wow! That is a pretty strong -- that's pretty strong, Richard.

PAINTER: I have worked in the White House. We vetted people. We would not have someone come in anywhere close to the White House, much less a national security council who was a foreign agent and that was not fully disclosed, vetted and disclose to the President.

LEMON: Well, perhaps they would have had some clue if they had taken a look at this article. I mean, not to mention article from "the Hill." But this is one in November that says our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support. And then, you know, "the Hill" says Flynn never told them he was being paid to represent Turkey.

I mean, Matt, what is going on here?

LEWIS: You know, I mean, there's a lot of really important national security and lobbying and ethical things, but also just from a journalistic standpoint this is super bad, right, too. And you know, and he goes one of his pieces in "the Hill" he goes after this guy (INAUDIBLE) who is he calls it a radical extremist who is an enemy of Turkey's Erdogan and doesn't disclose that, hey, by the way, while I'm pressuring America to basically extradite this guy back to Turkey where God knows what might happen to him, I'm getting paid something like half a million dollars for a couple months work while he is advising the Republican nominee for President. But here's the ultimate -- I think it is interesting.

[23:15:13] LEMON: And getting top secrets security briefings along with the President.

LEWIS: Right.

LEMON: And let's not forget General Flynn is the one who led -- I think he may have started the lock her up chants during the campaign because he wanted Hillary Clinton to face legal trouble.

LEWIS: But there is -- I would say this. The funny thing is he can never -- he was in the administration for 15 minutes, but he can never get paid to do this again. Now he is prohibited from ever -- from foreign lobbying.

LEMON: Because of his former boss for 15 minutes.

LEWIS: Yes.

LEMON: So Richard, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was quick to tweet about the job numbers out today. Great news for American workers. Economist added 235,000 new jobs. Unemployment rate drops to 4.7 percent in first report for Potus Trump.

Well, that tweet just 22 minutes after the numbers came out apparently violates a federal rule barring executive branch employees for commenting for at least one hour. What's your reaction?

PAINTER: Well, it's just one more rule they want to ignore, I guess. This notion the job numbers reflect who is in the White House after only less than two months, I mean the whole thing is a farce. As we have had an economy that's growing somewhat sluggishly, but growing for a number of years now.

But the White House needs to get their act together. Learn to play by the rules, and cut out, you know, the business with the press secretary. He is just shooting his mouth off and saying one thing. And then it turns out there is something else going on. And the President doesn't even know who he is hiring.

This is a very chaotic situation. And I don't think the fact that we have a growing economy and have for quite some time, that's not going to salvage this situation if they can't get their act together politically and in terms of ethics and policy and follow the rules. We have had the White House ethics lawyer say the rules don't apply to the White House staff.

This is just one crisis after another. And I don't think that a growing economy is going to salvage this situation for the President if they don't straighten it out.

LEMON: Yes. In February 2016 it was 242,000 jobs. And any economist even the economist who advised President Trump said it is too early on to claim that they are responsible for these jobs numbers, but he is going to claim it anyway. And you know, he is the President.

Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.

LEWIS: Thank you. LEMON: When we come right back, what Americans are saying about

President Trump. Two talk radio hosts tell me what their listeners really think. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:21:32] LEMON: If there is one issue President Trump and his voters care about more than any other it just might be jobs. So it is no surprise that the White House is doing a victory lap on today's jobs numbers even though the President hasn't always believed in those numbers.

I want to discuss this now with two men who know what Americans are really thinking. They hear from them every day on radio shows. (INAUDIBLE).

Joining me now is John Fredericks, syndicated talk radio host, and Bill Press, host of the "Bill Press show."

I think I whisper that every time because I really do lied. And I'm so glad that you guys are here because you are really talking to people every single day.

So Bill, those job numbers came out today. The labor department announced the economy added 235,000 jobs, the unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in February. However for years the President has called these numbers fake, phony. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, right now we have a false 5.4, 5.3, 5.6 -- every month it's different. It's such a phony number. I hear 5.3 percent unemployment. That is a biggest joke there is in this country. That number is so false.

The five percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: But there's this. Press Secretary Sean Spicer just today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I talked to the President prior to this and he said to quote him very clearly. They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So how do we believe him, Bill? Like what's really, what's not?

BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First, you can't believe anything he says. And I think it's very funny that Sean Spicer had to laugh at that because he knows how totally absurd it is. I mean, it's the old rule, right, where you stand depends on where you sit.

Look. We should all rejoice in the fact 235,000 that's a good number for February. But there's no way Donald Trump can take credit for this. This is month number 77 of positive job growth, 76 of them under Barack Obama. So I think we can conclude that, yes, the Obama economy did very well and is still doing very well and Donald Trump -- and all Americans are benefitting from it.

LEMON: You put that graphic back up please for those of you at home saying, oh, my gosh that's not -- there it is. The numbers speak for themselves. But they're fake. They're phony unless they favor you.

So John, I mean, these numbers are very important indicators of the economy. How can the President just turn on a dime and now say all of the sudden the exact same numbers are OK once they are great for him?

JOHN FREDERICKS, SYNDICATED RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, Don, it's pretty simple. And Bill, we can dispute what the real unemployment number is. What we cannot dispute today is that the economy added 235,000 jobs. So for 235,000 people who didn't have a job in February that now have one, they are pretty excited about it. And let me just say --

PRESS: Good. Good. I just said that. I agree. Yes.

FREDERICKS: So we are in agreement. If you don't have a job, if you don't have a job, you are not a Republican and you're not a Democrat.

LEMON: How is it real for him and not real when it doesn't favor him?

FREDERICKS: What Trump said during the campaign is that he didn't think the actual unemployment number five percent or 4.5 percent or six, whatever it was, he didn't think that was accurate because so many people had dropped out of the workplace. So he didn't think that that number was accurate. But what is accurate is the amount of jobs that were in --

[23:25:19] LEMON: John, with all due respect. I love you but it is not what he said. He said this is the biggest hoax in all of America. These numbers were fake and phony. He was talking about the unemployment rate and the jobs numbers.

FREDERICKS: Well, the jobs numbers are the jobs numbers and that number is 235. That's how many people have a job today. That's what the department of labor says. He was focused on the unemployment rate and the number of people that had dropped out of the workplace.

LEMON: John, John, John. So the unemployment rate under President Trump is higher than 4.7 percent now?

FREDERICKS: If you go back to the campaign, it's absolutely clear --

LEMON: I love you, John. I love you, John.

FREDERICKS: Well, because I speak the truth.

LEMON: Let him finish, Bill. Go ahead, John.

FREDERICKS: Candidate Trump said that they are not counting the number of Americans who got frustrated, couldn't find a job, and dropped out of that workplace. They are coming back now. They are going to start to be reflected in, but the key number here is 235,000 additional people got jobs.

LEMON: OK. We agree. I mean, we agree. It's great for 235,000 people. It was great for 242,000 people last February as well, which is more than this one by the way. Just so you know, so it's not the hugest February or the biggest.

FREDERICKS: Well, it's a good month.

LEMON: It's a great month.

FREDERICKS: We are celebrating a good month. Let's hope we all have good months. Because at the end of the day, we can fight about politics, but we are all in this together in job.

LEMON: We are not fighting about politics. We are fighting about something the President said, why it is fake with someone else and real with him.

You go ahead, Bill.

PRESS: John, the only point I want to make is you ought to do what Sean Spicer did. Just laugh at it because it's ridiculous. That's all. Just laugh it because Donald Trump is caught in another great big phony moment. And so, laugh at it like Sean Spicer did and move on, dude. Don't try to defend it.

FREDERICKS: We are going to keep adding jobs to the economy. This is the jobs President. And so, that's why things are going to continue to get better.

LEMON: That's going to be great if that happens.

FREDERICKS: If his re-elected in 2020.

LEMON: It would be great if he added more jobs. I'm talking about the other part. I hope it work. I don't really care about that. But if he starts adding other jobs, more jobs. I think that would be great for the entire country for everyone involved. I'm sure Bill can agree with that as well.

Thank you, gentlemen. Our time is short. Have a great weekend.

When we come back, not exactly smooth sailing for the GOP's health care plan. Nobody even wants their name on the thing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:31:46] LEMON: Seven years since President Obama signed the affordable care act into law and the GOP still can't get behind a plan to repeal and replace it. Things are so bad it seems that they don't even want their names on the new bill.

Listen to this from Jimmy Kimmel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: Trump has made it known that he doesn't want the new health care bill called Trumpcare for a very good reason actually. The President is a humble man. He doesn't like to put his name on things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So let's discuss this all. Betsy McCaughey is the former lieutenant governor of New York and Steve Israel is a CNN political commentator and a former New York congressman.

So I'm going to ask both of you. But first Betsy, why -- off the bat, why won't they put their name on it? Should it be called Trumpcare? Should it be called maybe Ryancare, Obamacare-lite?

BETSY MCCAUGHEY, FORMER LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, NEW YORK: I like what they are calling it, the American healthcare plan. But the fact is the President is throwing the entire prestige of the White House behind this. And he is bringing in Republican lawmakers and even some Democrats in groups and one at a time to make sure he woos them into supporting this legislation.

LEMON: So before we move on, we will move and talk more about it. But what do you think the name should be, Congressman?

STEVE ISRAEL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's Ryancare. At the end of the day, if it is passed, it is passed under Paul Ryan. So when you lose your insurance, you can blame Ryancare. When your premiums go up, you can blame Ryancare. When you are out of pocket costs go up, you can blame Ryancare.

MCCAUGHEY: Actually, this bill is going to be several very important things for the nation. More than anything it's a jobs bill. Let me tell you that under Obamacare 170 million people have been clobbered by the employer mandate. You've got eight million who lost their coverage on the job entirely. You have got 156 million who are paying deductibles 50 percent higher than before the employer mandate.

LEMON: Why is it such a hard sell then, Betsy?

MCCAUGHEY: It's not a hard sell. The fact is it is (INAUDIBLE).

LEMON: OK. And I don't disagree with you. I think it will probably get through both houses of Congress. But at this point, it is a hard sell. And he is coming up with resistance from Republicans. And today the President met with lawmakers to try to sell this. Let's listen and we will discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: We must act now to save Americans from the imploding Obamacare disaster. Premiums have skyrocketed by double digits and triple digits in some cases, 17 would be a disaster for Obamacare. That was the year it was meant to explode because Obama won't be here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So he is saying and he is saying similarly what you're saying, but still why is he getting such resistance from Republicans right now?

MCCAUGHEY: He is getting resistance from conservative Republicans who believe this bill is too generous. What they say is America cannot afford another new entitlement. So they are pushing back on the refundable tax credits, cash payments to low-income people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but we help paying for health insurance.

LEMON: So congressman, you voted for Obama back in 2010. That was a hard fought battle. So, I mean, you would know better than anyone. Was this the year that Obamacare was meant to explode?

[23:35:02] ISRAEL: No, absolutely not. In fact, majority of Americans right now and every single poll support Obamacare. The Republicans have done what we Democrats couldn't do. They have actually made the affordable care act more popular.

But Don, look. Here's the challenge that Donald Trump has and you're right. I sat on the floor of the house for 16 years. Been there, done that. This guy is the consummate real estate deal maker. That is true, but he doesn't understand how to make a deal with Congress. And the only real estate that a member of Congress cares about is his or her district, what they hear.

And so, if you are the conservative freedom caucus, what you're hearing at home is this bill goes too far too fast. And if you are one of 23 Republicans in districts that actually elect - supported Hillary Clinton, you are hearing that this bill goes too far too fast.

Now, at the end of the day, they are going to need 216 votes to pass this in the house. There will be some vacancies. So it will be by 216, which means that Trump and the Republican leadership have a very small margin. They can't lose more than 20 Republicans. You put the conservatives who don't like this together with the moderate Republicans that don't like this and this thing is very, very wobbly.

LEMON: Let me ask you, before, Betsy, Johnson because Betsy is saying Betsy is very sure she is saying it is going to pass both houses of Congress.

So from everything that you are hearing congressman from the President to speaker Ryan and your former colleagues, does the GOP plan have a shot? Do you think it's going to be passed?

ISRAEL: Well, you know, it's like a baseball game. It isn't over until it's over. And I have seen legislation that didn't look like it had a shot pass, but right now it is very wobbly.

LEMON: Go ahead, Betsy.

MCCAUGHEY: Let me point out that there are many, many people who are so eager to see this pass. Eight million Americans who are currently paying a penalty averaging almost $1,000 per person for not having insurance because they can't afford Obamacare. In addition --.

ISRAEL: And when their premiums go up --

MCCAUGHEY: Excuse me, congressman. I didn't interrupt you. I would like to finish.

In addition Medicaid spending is exploding. It's threatening to drown the nation in red ink. We need Medicaid reform. Right now Medicaid dollars are consuming 57 percent, Don, of all federal dollars going to the states. Not just health care dollars. It's crowding out school aid. It's crowding out highway funds. Medicate per capita spending --

LEMON: Betsy, and even with that, CNN is reporting that the President is open to moving up the end of Medicaid expansion from 2020 to the end of this year.

MCCAUGHEY: He is negotiating with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But right now I have the bill right here.

LEMON: It's not as big as the Democrats' by the way.

MCCAUGHEY: Right. Right now it grandfathers everyone who is enrolled in Medicaid through 2019. No one is losing their Medicaid coverage because of this bill.

LEMON: I have short time left. Congressman, go ahead.

ISRAEL: Can I make this point? Betsy calls this Medicaid reform. No it is a $300 billion cut to Medicaid including a massive hit to New York State. Betsy served as lieutenant governor. I support Medicaid reform. This is a major hit to Medicaid that cannot possibly include the number of people who need health care and that's one of the fundamental problems. At the end of the day, the Medicaid hit means people thrown off of their insurance.

MCCAUGHEY: No, they will not be thrown off. It's right here in black and white. They are not going to lose their coverage, but they will get better care.

LEMON: Thank you both,

ISRAEL: Did you read the bill, Betsy?

MCCAUGHEY: Yes, I did. I have it right here.

LEMON: Thank you both very much. Have a great weekend.

And coming up, you may think there's nothing funny about politics these days, but when we come back, the comics who may change your mind.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:42:31] LEMON: A lot of people will tell you the state of our union is no laughing matter, but it is a great time to be a comedian.

Here to discuss now, John Fugelsang, a comedian for Sirius XM radio and the Sirius XM radio host and Dean Obedallah, the host of the "Dean Obedallah" show on Sirus XM.

Are you guys comedians?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We, allegedly.

LEMON: So President Trump has been a gold mine for late night comedians. Let's take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're waking up from a coma, bad timing, first of all. Donald Trump has been sworn in as President of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Talk about his election victory as an event for black history month. In fact, did you know Frederick Douglass voted for me? Great guy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are we going to have to eliminate another civil liberty every time the President is cranky and won't go down for his nap? Don't cry little, Johnny. Here look. It's the keys to the private prisons where we are going to lock up the undocumented immigrants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First of all, you're all fake news. I hate you all very much. Thank you all for being here. First yes, no. Next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Mr. President, nobody has asked a question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know why he decided to have an unscheduled press conference day. My question he did the press conference because he was mad and he just wanted to blow off some steam. The tone of the press conference is like if your dad found a pack of cigarettes under your mattress. It was real mad. He talked for an hour and 17 minutes, which is more than he has spoken to Melania all these years, the whole year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I love that Kimmel guy. Dean --

DEAN OBEDALLAH, HOST, THE DEAN OBEDALLAH SHOW: Yes.

LEMON: Do you think late night is edgier and harder now or is it funnier? Is it easy? I spoke to Kamau Bell and he said it's kind of easy being a comedian now because all you have to do is make fun of Donald Trump.

OBEDALLAH: (INAUDIBLE) and the appetite of the American always to see political humor. Look at Colbert as now the last five weeks beating Jimmy Fallon in the ratings. That was un-thought off before this election because Colbert is going after Trump. People want to laugh. They want (INAUDIBLE). And Trump gives us material. Yes, I mean, the guys said He says Obama bugs his office. Next he'll say Obama shot Tupac.

LEMON: Biggie's anniversary.

OBEDALLAH: But the point is, yes. He gives him a chill. But there is a fear factor in communities of color, Muslim community, LGBT community of Trump. So we worry both them. We are using humor to be cathartic and empowering.

LEMON: Yes.

JOHN FUGELSANG, COMEDIAN/HOST, SIRIUS XM RADIO: Yes. I mean, the audience is there for it, right. If the audience wasn't watching it, they were Donald Trump is very good for comedy. I'm raising a 4-year- old in Manhattan and Donald Trump help pay for my kid's preschool. I owe that man a lot.

You know, who voted against their self-interest more last year? Non- millionaires who voted for Trump were comedians who voted against Trump. I mean, I really care about my country because this guy is great. And it's the whole cabinet as well. Sean Spicer is good for comedy. Nixon was sinister, but not ignorant. And George W. Bush was kind of ignorant, but not hateful. This guy is the entire package.

[23:45:32] OBEDALLAH: What's interesting is if you look at Fallon and Colbert, when Fallon did Trump, people thought he was humanized because of his hair.

And then it's a different type of comedy. People are hungry for it. If you're concerned about Trump, laughing is great. It's empowering. It's cathartic. I worked with Jimmy at "Saturday night live." I think they'll find the right footing. Trump wins. I think some people held that against Jimmy. I think they have.

FUGELSANG I think there's a danger between the air waves and the comedy clubs being saturated with Donald Trump material. Donald Trump has become airport jokes now. I like airport jokes if a comedian has something from original to bring to the table. If you've got a point of view and you're making something happen with your jokes, then we'll lean in.

LEMON: The first rule of comedy is it has to be funny.

FUGELSANG: And get paid in advance as the other listeners.

OBEDALLAH: And political comedy has to attack up.

LEMON: Let's talk about - I mean, Melissa McCarthy, I mean, she's been brilliant playing Sean Spicer on "SNL." And Sean Spicer even joked about it in the press conference today in his press briefing today. Let's watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: What I understand is that rule was instituted to deal with market fluctuations. I could be wrong, but I believe that's why it was instituted. I think tweeting out great way to start a Friday. Here are the actual numbers you all have reported is a bit -- I mean, don't make me make the podium move.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Yes. It was -- is she in his head? You're going no.

FUGELSANG: Well, this is Sean humanizing himself. I mean, Sean Spicer, it's strange. I feel bad for him. Yet I don't. He sort of the four like the before picture in a Xanax ad. He is the (INAUDIBLE). And you now, he is actually gotten better at his job. He's wearing fitted suits. He's smiling more. He's clearly been coached. And he is relaxing into his job of lying all the time. So he is doing better.

OBEDALLAH: When I look at him, all I can think of is Melissa McCarthy. That's the problem right now. I mean, there's a whole reel on you tube of his mistakes, the things he cannot say properly. It's very funny, but I have no sympathy for him either.

LEMON: Let's watch more of this press conference and we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: For all the people who have concerns about this, especially on the right, look at the size. This is the Democrats'. This is us. I mean, you can't get any clearer in terms of this is government. This is not.

Well, I answered this question yesterday on camera on your air. So just so we are clear, I know this will be twice.

I'm not aware. I don't believe -- I don't know that there's a distinction there.

Well, I think there is contribution. I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made. And I think through a lot of the actions and statements he is going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I would ask you why this is such great fodder for comedy, but it is obvious.

FUGELSANG: He is giving Melissa McCarthy material by holding up props. Don't help her, Don. When he has the Skype interviews. He is the first press secretary that were to ever try phone a friend. I mean, he is giving them material all the time. And it is hurting him. I think for Halloween I'm going as the "screaming guy" from the Edward launch painting and tell people I'm going to Sean Spicer's conscience.

OBEDALLAH: It is a lot material for a lot of comedian when you accept press conference there with the bill, one bigger in the other. You're probably going to see that on "SNL" this week.

FUGELSANG: This week, he gave it to her. IT is flat material. And it's a hard job. I mean, don't forget Stephanopoulos' first year grew a bird because he was breaking out in hives. I mean, Spicer is getting at his job but he is still making it very easy for the satirist.

LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. I do appreciate it.

Here is a program note for you. Don't miss the all new CNN original series "Believer." Reza Aslan takes a look at old and new religions. In this Sunday's episode he tours a Sinder land, Hawaiian compound where followers of the so-called Prophet Jesus with a Z. That's Jezus with the Z. Our propping for doomsday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REZA ASLAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many different kinds of people in debts in their land. For the most part, they are fairly young, progressive. There are more men and women. Did he talk to you about his beliefs and prophesies?

Ocean told me that normally there are a lot more people living on the compound. But right now it is harvest season in California. And a lot on the Sinder landers are on the main land making money on marijuana forms, money that they will back to the tribe for food and materials.

Some folks here are just passing through. They have no interest in Jesus' prophesy. But others are hardcore believers.

When did you get here?

[23:50:30] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got here 11 years ago.

ASLAN: Where you from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from California originally.

ASLAN: Yes. What were you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I do? I'm technician, yes. Automotive technician went to top of my field. After a while, watching people lived on TV and going (INAUDIBLE), what am I living is for, all this stuff? And I want to say that one thing, I want to say the word Jesus without people freaking out.

ASLAN: Did he talked to you about like his belief and his prophecies?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

ASLAN: What did you think when he said that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe.

ASLAN: Believed it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe in Jesus' prophecies. A storm as it coming, we must prepare.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Don't miss the next episode of the CNN original series, "Believer." That's next Sunday at 10:00.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:55:00] LEMON: Next week they introduce the first CNN hero of 2017. But before we do, our 2016 hero was Jason Aristizabal. He dedicated his life to helping young people with disabilities in Columbia. While Jason was in New York, he made a special visit to Jorge Nunez, a fellow Columbian and 2009 top CNN hero who brings free meals to people every single night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through text): I'm very inspired by how Jorge fights his manner, his tenacity, the enthusiasm. It inspired to do something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: To find out what else happened when they met, go to CNNheroes.com. And while nominate you are there, nominate someone you think should be a CNN hero. And next week, meet the first CNN hero of 2017.

That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)