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White House Briefing as Senate Takes on House GOP Health Plan; GOP Sen: "We will be Writing our Own Bill"; House GOP: Our Bill Covers Pre-Existing Conditions. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 5, 2017 - 14:00   ET



QUESTION: The other question, there was a report today that said that there is an effort at the White House to start limiting the number of people in senior staff meetings -- down from 15 to eight. And I was wondering first if there's any truth to that and who are in these senior staff meetings these days? The 15 people or the eight for that matter that are being left out?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Sometimes you have big groups, sometimes you have small groups. Look, meetings vary from day to day around here. I'm not going to comment on the hundreds of meetings that take place in the White House every day.

QUESTION: There's no specific effort, though, to keep them down into a smaller group, or to keep certain people out of those meetings at this point?

SANDERS: I think it's ridiculous to think we are trying to keep certain people out of these meetings. I think one of the greatest assets of the president is his accessibility and he talks with a number of people on his staff day in, day out. That's not changing. John Gizzi?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Two-question, Friday again, but first, congratulations on your first on-camera appearance.

SANDERS: Thanks. We'll see how it goes.


SANDERS: Let's hold the champagne for a little while.


QUESTION: Now, I know you stated earlier that president is neutral in the race for the president of France. President Obama had a very gracious habit of calling the winner and the loser in internationally watched elections, in Israel and in France, Egypt in its first election and in Japan. Will the president do the same with the two candidates running in France?

SANDERS: I would imagine that would be the case. He's made a practice of reaching out to foreign leaders across the globe and I would imagine that he would do that once this election concludes. But I don't know that for certain. But I would imagine that takes place. Two questions, guys.

QUESTION: Yes. And the other -- going back to the president's executive order on the Johnson Amendment, nearly 20 years ago, Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina introduced the first legislation to repeal the Johnson Amendment and said at the time that it would take an act of Congress and while the president's executive order tells the IRS agents not to enforce it. The law is still on the books. Does the president support a repeal measure for the Johnson Amendment?

SANDERS: He's committed, I think, to religious liberty and protecting it, whatever that requires. I think this is the first step in a process and I don't think we are taking anything off the table when it comes to protecting the rights of all the citizens of this country.

QUESTION: What happened to the White House chief usher?

SANDERS: So, I know that question has come up. She is no longer employed here at the White House. But we left on very good terms and wish her the very best and certainly hope for great things for her in the future. However, it's not uncommon that you might have a transition of staff when a new administration comes in. And it's simply nothing more than that. And we certainly wish her again the very best.

QUESTION: New chief usher?

SANDERS: I believe that the deputy usher will be serving as the acting usher for right now.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. The White House announced that the Colombian president was going to come on here to mention Venezuela being a major topic. Venezuela has been a big topic with the visit by president -- (INAUDIBLE) Argentina. What is - or what are the president's administration major concerns about Venezuela and what does he hope out of Colombia in regard to assistance with this situation?

SANDERS: You know, I think the situation in Venezuela, some of the acts there have been deplorable and certainly something that we are monitoring very closely in terms of specific movement or engagement that we have at this point. I can't comment any further on that right now. But something we are certainly aware of, monitoring and keeping a very close eye on.

QUESTION: Thank you. The president said that it is quote, "Not good that Susan Rice has declined an invitation to testify on the unmasking of U.S. citizens." Does the president think that Congress should subpoena her?

SANDERS: I think that's a question for Congress but I do think that it's sad that she has chosen not to be transparent in this process and frankly, not to cooperate in this process. We feel very confident that as all of this plays out, it will land on the right side of where we are, but I think it's unfortunate for her and has really no bearing for us.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) -- and also, is he cutting to take that opportunity to deliver formal speech by House (INAUDIBLE) potential peace process?

[14:05:01] SANDERS: I don't know of any plans for that have been made but we will certainly keep you guys posted. I will take one last question.

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Let me just wrap it up then with health care. Yesterday, you had said that it was the House wasn't waiting on the CBO. You gave the reasons why. You said today that you would like to see the Senate to move in short order. However, they are waiting for the CBO to score to this and just trying to figure out the timing of this. Is the White House OK with the Senate waiting for the CBO even though it was just (INAUDIBLE)?

SANDERS: I think that's something for the Senate to decide if they want to wait for that. Look, that's not something that's held us back. I think I know the gospel pretty well. I would say the CBO is not the gospel. They have been wrong before. They can certainly be wrong again.

And you know, I think, again, we will let the Senate make a decision on whether or not they want to wait for that. But we feel very confident where the plan is and moving it forward.

Thanks, guys, so much. See you on Monday.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's take it. You're watching CNN on a Friday afternoon. Been watching maybe familiar to some of you, maybe not for others, that was not Sean Spicer, obviously. He's on Navy reservist duty over the Pentagon, as she explained. That was the deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee in the hot seat fielding questions from reporters there on this Friday afternoon.

Talking about everything from the victory lap of we will call it Trumpcare. Essentially, she says it doesn't matter if it's Trumpcare, whatever you want to call it. It's about, you know, reform, not about what the name is or labeling. All the way through what happened to the chief usher and the president's comments when he was sitting with the Australian PM last night, saying essentially that Australia's universal health care is better than ours. She said he meant that as being complimentary.

Let's go through all of this with my panel. David Chalian, first to you. Let me just play some sound before we chat on questions about the timeline, getting it through the Senate and how hands-on the president plans to be. Listen to Sarah Huckabee Sanders.


QUESTION: Is it fair to say that this should be called Trumpcare at this point?

SANDERS: Again, I said this yesterday. But look, we are not focused on labels. What this president wants to be remembered for is not the name that's put on it but the person that got rid of Obamacare and put a system in place that actually worked for the American people. That's the type of legacy he would like to be focused on is being the president that actually reformed health care to benefit Americans instead of to bankrupt them. And so, call it what you want but we are calling it reform and we are calling it a system that works.

I think that the one thing that you can be sure of is to never underestimate this president. I think he's shown time and time again when he's committed to something it's going to get done. He's made no secret he's committed to reforming the health care system. You are going to see that process take place. We are not going to get ahead of the legislative process. We expect there to be some changes. But we expect the principles and the main pillars of the health care bill as it exists now to remain the same.

The fact that Obamacare is simply unsustainable, Democrats know that. Republicans know that. The American people know that. We have to have change. That's what we are going to get. And we fully anticipate that to take place.


BALDWIN: So, David Chalian, with the change, this could take months. Who knows how long this takes to get through the U.S. Senate. You know, someone in there quoted Senator Cornyn as saying, "We are not under any deadline."


BALDWIN: Do we have any idea, a, how much this could take and b, how hands-on the president plans to be?

CHALIAN: I mean we don't have a real sense of the timeline yet, if the House process is any indication. We expect the president will be hands-on when it comes to crunch time and vote counting and trying to close a deal. We saw him do that with some House members at the end of the process there. I would imagine depending on who the members are of the Senate. If it comes down to a couple votes that he needs. He's probably going to be involved there, too, Brooke.

I think it's important to note how careful Sarah Huckabee Sanders was not to put a timeline on this. You saw the White House had gotten a little tripped up at times throughout the House process really wanting to hit that 100-day mark and that didn't happen. And you know, I think they benefited once they saw -- let Congress deal with the timeline.

We will keep the pressure on for them to work on it but we don't need to be out there in front saying publicly we want it done by x date because Congress doesn't usually work that way. They don't stick to a definite schedule that way. And I think that the White House found it better if they let the legislative leaders deal with the timeline.

BALDWIN: And I think. a piece of this, MJ, as you covered so thoroughly, you know, with the House, there were factions. You've had the House Freedom Caucus and Tuesday Group and similarly, there are very different groups of senators that could, you know, slow this thing down.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. I mean, we are already seeing the kind of divisions that we saw in the House appearing over on the Senate side, right? There are the conservatives in the Senate like the Rand Paul's of the world who really have said from the very beginning, look, I don't want to accept anything that's less than wholesale repeal of Obamacare.

[14:10:05] And then, we have had others like Susan Collins, Rob Portman, they have their various issues, too, right? And those issues are actually pretty long, that list, whether it's about Medicaid expansion or pre-existing conditions.

So, the fact that there's now a working group of Senate Republicans does not mean that we are suddenly going to see a bill next week. In fact, I think Senate Republicans have been making it clear over the last 24 hours, don't expect this to be rushed through, we are going to take our time. And by the way, the bill that we get through the Senate that we produce, it's probably not going to look like the bill that came out of the House.

BALDWIN: You mentioned a group of senators working on this iteration and who knows what it will look like down the road. But David Catanese, let me pose this question to you because we were sitting here just about 24 hours yesterday, critics pointing out, lot of white guys in ties celebrating, you know, at the Rose Garden ceremony. And then, when you look at this list of senators that MJ is alluding to, you know, tasked with you know working on this health care bill. I don't know if we have the picture of all the faces but I will tell you one thing. What's missing is women.

DAVID CATANESE, SENIOR POLITICS WRITER "US NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Yes. That's bad optics that I think that they will attempt to remedy in the coming days. But just the simple audacity of the White House performance on this to me is astounding. To have sort of a Rose Garden ceremony based off a House vote. Remember, when the original Obamacare was passed, the original House vote was taken in November. It wasn't until four months later until the Senate passed Obamacare. And then, Obama signed it into law shortly thereafter.

So, I think this process will take months, especially since you saw senators coming out and telling reporters, right after this vote saying, OK, that was nice that the House did this, but we are going to go on our own path and basically chart our own bill. So, for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to say that we think - that it will keep the main pillars, you already have Republican senators saying no, there are probably going to be major tweaks to this.

And that means it has to go back for another House vote eventually to conference this. This process is long from over. And if you want to do tax reform and infrastructure on top of it within this first year, that's a pretty tough timeline to meet those three big goals in 2017.

BALDWIN: Joe Johns, you were in that briefing. What do you think?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first thing I think is Sarah Huckabee Sanders did quite a good job here. This was her first time briefing here in the briefing room on-camera while Sean Spicer, of course, is off doing reservist duty.

I think among the things that happened in this room today, the administration once again weighing in on the idea of health care and giving us that public point of view that they have changed to over the last several days, probably the last week and that is we are not going to put a calendar on this thing. We are not going to say when this thing is supposed to come through. We just want to get it right. And that's something they want to send to the Senate because it is likely to take a very long time.

One of the other things I think was very interesting is the question of the president in New Jersey. This is his first trip up to the New York area since he became president. He's been to Mar-a-Lago in Florida, his golf course there, multiple times but now back in New York. The president tweeted about that, saying he was saving taxpayer's money and I would like you to just listen to what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about that.



QUESTION: The president tweeted this morning that he's saving taxpayer's money by working from Bedminster over the weekend instead of New York City. But wouldn't he save more money by simply working out of the White House? Why is he making that sort of comparison?

SANDERS: Look, this is the president's first time to be back in the New York metro area. And he's staying at his private residence in New Jersey versus staying in Manhattan. Had he stayed in Manhattan, the disruption would have been far greater than being in New Jersey. The bottom line is the president is the president no matter where he goes and he doesn't get to control the level of costs and security that may come along with that.

QUESTION: He does control where he works. Why doesn't he work more from -


JOHNS: To put a finer point on it, there was a lot of concern about demonstrations had the president gone to Trump Tower in New York, could have been a big problem there. And obviously, a lot of people in New York concerned about the traffic and such, the president opting to go to his golf course at Bedminster. Big questions always about how much that costs and it's not cheap to protect the president, wherever he goes, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Right. Joe, thank you.

[14:15:00] And David Chalian, what about the point just on -- now that we have members of Congress heading home on recess, they will be -- listen, we saw how lively the town halls could get. And this was, right, pre-passage within at least one chamber of Congress. They will be hearing from their constituents, the good, the bad and the in between. How do you think that sort of feedback might affect the process of this bill through the Senate?

CHALIAN: Well, certainly, Democrats are sort of energized and will play the role of agitator at a lot of Republican town halls as best they can to try to make their points. But I think it will be really interesting to hear how many Republican members over this recess sort of adopt what we're hearing -- what we heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders which was less talk about repeal and getting rid of Obamacare and more she was using words like reform and fix and be -- he wants to be the president that got health care right.

It was less about the dismantling of something related to President Obama and more now about trying to own the reform piece of this. And it will be interesting to see if some Republican members of Congress now that they have actually voted and delivered on the promise to their voters, start talking about it more as a reform.

BALDWIN: I remember before President Obama left office, MJ, that he essentially, his message to Democrats on the Hill was let - you know, let the Republicans' effort implode. Some people have said why didn't the Democrats say more through these different iterations of the bill. What do you think Democrats will do as this next move to the Senate?

LEE: Well, I think that they probably don't have to do much other than to just continue talking about this bill that the House passed yesterday and we have seen them do that and the most, you know, demonstrative way in which they did that yesterday was to sing that song on the House floor. Basically, waving at their Republican colleagues and saying here you go, this is your moment of losing. --

BALDWIN: Some people thought that was Republicans. The "Nah, Nah, Nah, Hey, Hey, Hey, goodbye."


LEE: I thought so, too. I was sitting in the gallery and thought that that was the Republicans saying goodbye to Obamacare. And turns out it was the Democrats breaking out into that song.

Yes, I think that a lot of the parts of the bill that have been so problematic for Republicans, the issue around pre-existing conditions being probably the biggest example. They are going to be haunted by that. And keep in mind that for some of these very vulnerable House Republicans, even up until the last minute, we didn't know how they were going to vote. And they were hesitant to say how they were going to vote which goes to show this was a very tough decision for them.

You know, someone like Carlos Curbelo down in Florida, he actually came out yesterday morning and put out a statement saying I have informed House leadership that I'm very uncomfortable with this bill. And then in the end, he decided voting for it. So, I can imagine that if he were to have any town halls over next week, the recess, he's probably going to hear some harsh words from his constituents.

BALDWIN: Darrell Issa's response, right? Didn't he say, "None of your business" when one of the reporters were asking him. But the real question, David Catanese, is can the House and the Senate get on the same page? What do you think?

CATANESE: I mean, look, we are a long way from that question because the Senate is just starting to construct their plan. And I think if it looks radically different and they try to shore up some of these subsidies that the House Freedom Caucus didn't want because they saw them as basically identical to Obamacare, that's a real problem. I think it could end up being that the House conservatives could end up not liking what the Senate produces. You are more likely going to get a moderating product out of the Senate just because of the nature of the Senate.

But I would say, watch a couple of those red state Democrats where Obamacare was unpopular, still is a bit unpopular, like a Joe Manchin or Heidi Heitkamp, who have to run in 2018, watch Donald Trump. He really wants legislation. Aides have told me that he really wants -- Democratic votes on something. He thinks that is important.

So, watch him put in those personal calls or potential pressure to a Senate Democrat if they can craft something that looks more moderate. I wouldn't rule it out. I think most likely scenario is that Democrats stay unified like they did against Neil Gorsuch. But I think there is some potential because there are a lot of moderate Republicans who are going to be vulnerable on this. But in the same way there are some moderate Democrats in red states who could be vulnerable.

BALDWIN: You could be very right. And we will play this clip back when that happens in a matter of months. David Catanese, thank you. David Chalian, thank you. MJ Lee, appreciate you as well.

Coming up here on CNN, how will Trumpcare change health care? You know, some lawmakers admit they didn't even read the bill. We will breakdown how it could change your insurance.

And the president, hitting the road for a weekend away from the White House, saying he will save the country some money by working from another home in New Jersey. That's ahead.

With the curious itinerary for his first trip abroad and the president hasn't wanted to release his tax returns. We all know that. But Democratic lawmakers in one state have a plan to force him to make them public now.

[14:20:02] We will talk to one state lawmaker who is pushing for that to happen.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:24:00] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The health care bill that passed the House that is now facing a battle through the Senate, where senators are already warning that this will have to change if it will ever pass. As it stands right now, here's what we know about the bill in its current form. You know, the individual mandate, that's out. Employer mandate is out. Essential health benefits like prescription drug coverage and maternity care are changing or out. And the big one, despite assurances from the House Republican members, coverage for pre-existing conditions is changing.

Let's go to our doctor here at CNN, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And Sunjay, just first, the easiest question is what are doctors saying about this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, the medical community is hard to paint with one brush, probably, like any other community, Brooke. -


GUPTA: But I will tell you, you know, most of the major medical organizations have had something to say about the AHCA and most of them were concerned primarily because of the estimates that some 20, 25 million people would lose their health care insurance.

[14:25:03] That's the big concern from just about every major medical organization. I will say, Brooke, and you and I have talked about this. It's not to say that they were thrilled with the existing system -- that they are thrilled with the existing system. Only about 3 percent or 4 percent of the medical community gave, for example, the Affordable Care Act, the Obamacare, an A grade.

So, there was very much this feeling that there's something that needed to change with this but this wasn't necessarily the direction that they wanted to go. So, that's sort of a broad assessment in the medical community.

BALDWIN: Sure. - This, you know, latest iteration on the bill that passed the House, who does it affect the most and what do people need to know about pre-existing conditions?

GUPTA: I would say if I had to really break it down, people that it affects the most are going to be people who are poorer, people who are older and people who are sicker. You think about the opposite of that, people who are young and healthy and have enough money, they are not as worried about this particular issue. And they are also not ones who are accessing the health care system as much. But there are some 117 million people in this country who have chronic disease, chronic illness and they are the ones who are probably paying the closest attention to what's happening right now.

With regard to pre-existing conditions, basically, what has happened here is that they have said states can now decide whether or not insurance companies would be allowed to discriminate against someone based on a pre-existing condition, that they could charge someone more based on a pre-existing condition. So, the states can apply for these waivers and that's why there's not an absolute guarantee of protection anymore.

I will say, and I think this is an important point, Brooke. That if you maintain your health care coverage, if you never let it lapse for more than 63 days in a row, you should technically have protection. But you know, look, that's hard to do if you are sick, if you lose your job, if it becomes too expensive to buy your insurance and you don't have it, then all of a sudden you could be charged a lot more money for the same exact health care insurance.

BALDWIN: What about -- last question, what about people with employer- based insurance? How will this affect them?

GUPTA: This could affect them. And it's a really important point, because I think people think, well, this is not me, this is not my issue. If you have employer-based coverage, two important things to remember. First of all, insurance companies may cap how much they will pay for your health care bills. So, if you develop an illness or get in an accident, you could run into a cap where the insurance company says we are done paying for the year or we're even done paying for the life of your entire plan.

The second thing, Brooke, and this affects even people like us who work at the same company, employers don't necessarily have a mandate anymore to provide health care insurance. They could technically say, you know what we are not going to do it anymore. We're going to let our employees go and get their own insurance on the individual market. They are not going to provide that anymore. I'm not saying that's necessarily going to happen but there's no mandate that they have to provide it.

BALDWIN: We talked -- so many people talked around it. We need to get to the meat of what's in it to have people understand. Dr. Gupta, thank you so much. Good to see you.

GUPTA: You too.

BALDWIN: Coming up here on CNN, President Trump tweeting this morning that he's saving, you know, you, the taxpayer, your pennies, nickels and dimes, by actually spending his weekend at his golf club in New Jersey. This is just to address the White House briefing, the administration also announcing his first international trips, where the president will be headed. We'll talk about that.

And later, President Trump has, up until now, refused to release his tax returns. But there is a new proposal in the state of New York that might require him to divulge his state returns. Stay with us. We'll talk about that.