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McCain to Vote No; Collins Indicating No Vote; Trump Stumps in Alabama. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 22, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process. We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do.

The issue is too important and too many lives are at risk for us to leave the American people guessing from one election to the next whether and how they will acquire health insurance. A bill of this impact requires a bipartisan approach.

Senators Alexander and Murray have been negotiating in good faith to fix some of the problems with Obamacare, but I fear that the prospect of one last attempt at a strictly Republican bill has left the impression that their efforts cannot succeed. I hope they will resume their work should this last attempt at a bipartisan solution fail.

I cannot, in good conscious, vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won't be available by the end of the month, we won't have reliable answers to any of those questions.

I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it. The bill's authors are my dear friends and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for this country. So am I.

I hope that in the months ahead we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromised solution that is acceptable to most of us and serves the interest of Americans as best we can.

That is the statement from Senator John McCain, who says he will not vote yes for the latest Republican health care bill, the proposal.

I want to go now to CNN political director David Chalian, to get your reaction. David, how significant is this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's the ball game. It's huge. You know the math, Pam, in the Senate. They've got 52 Republican votes. They cannot afford to lose more than two Republicans if they were going to have a shot at passing this.

Well, now we know Rand Paul's a no. We know John McCain is a no. And Susan Collins has clearly been indicating that she is not for this bill. And Lisa Murkowski has not even decided where she is yet.

But John McCain just shifted this into this bill is not going to pass. That's how significant this vote is.

And we should really pause here far moment. Not only is it hugely significant in this micro example of the latest attempt not getting through.

But think back now to where John McCain is in his career and this moment in time. When he came back after his cancer diagnosis to the United States Senate, on the last time that the Senate was passing -- trying to pass a Republican repeal and replace bill, he gave a floor speech. And it is -- if you listen to that floor speech, this should not surprise many people, this development, despite the fact that his best friend, Lindsay Graham, is supportive of this bill, is the sponsor of it, because in that speech he laid out the exact argument you just read in the statement, which is that he is not going to spend his remaining time in the United States Senate just as the president's man or the president of his own party or the party man. That he really was urging the United States Senate to get back into the business of being a co-equal branch that is supposed to be, you know, the saucer that cools the passions, that has a deliberative process, the world's deliberative body, and he is arguing that that is the path forward for the United States Senate for the benefit of the country. And it is that process argument that he's making here that is so critical as he's trying to sort of steer the Senate back to a more compromising or bipartisan kind of institution.

BROWN: It really is a game changer. And as you pointed out, it was his vote that prevented the last Republican attempt to pass a health care bill. It prevented that from moving forward. And, once again, he's coming out and voting, saying that he will vote no because of the issue of process. It is not going through all the hoops, in his view, that it should go through.

I want to bring in Phil Mattingly from Capitol Hill.

So you've been talking to McCain over the last few days. You saw signs this was coming.

[14:04:53] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it.

Look, I think when you look at what senator -- David makes a really good point. If you look back not just to the kind of epic thumbs down at 2:00 in the morning that everybody consistently references, but the speech that he made a few days before that. I think it was July 25th on the Senate floor, on his return after his cancer diagnosis, almost castigating the chamber, castigating Washington, castigating Congress for not doing its job. He made pretty clear where he stood on this type of an issue. When this bill came back to life, when this Graham-Cassidy proposal

became a very real thing -- and I will note, it was very unexpected, that it kind of hit the bubble that it's had over the course of the last couple of days, I saw Senator McCain probably three times a day throughout the course of this week until the Senate left town. And every time I saw him, I would ask him, where are you right now? Is there a way that you're going to get closer?

Because, again, Pam, think of the outside dynamics here. Senator McCain made very clear he wanted to know what the Arizona governor thought of this bill. Well, Doug Ducey, the Republican Arizona governor, put out a statement saying he supported this bill.

Republicans leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch to hold a hearing next week on this bill explicitly to try and address Senator McCain's concerns about process saying, hey, look, we're having a hearing on it. It's going to get a fair airing. Does that check the box, if you will?

And even after the governor's statement in support and the scheduling of the hearing, every time I saw Senator McCain and asked him where he was on this, he made very clear, this is not regular order. I want regular order. Regular order. Regular order. He said it to all of us repeatedly.

Now, what does that mean? It's essentially exactly what he lays out in the statement, a lengthy process, multiple hearings. Then the committees consider the bill in mark-up. Then they go to the Senate floor. Then they go over to the House. You know, the traditional back and forth about how this is supposed to work.

This is Senate McCain sticking to what he said he wanted everyone to do in that floor speech in July, not just with his no vote. So I think, Pam, in some -- to some degree we were all trying to read maybe too much into his relationship with Lindsay Graham, one of the co- sponsors of the bill, or what the Arizona governor had to say. And in the end, it was Senator McCain saying exactly what he's been saying now for more than a month, it's process, it's about regular order, it's about doing things the way he thought Congress should be doing them. And this process doesn't meet those standards. And now he's a no.

BROWN: All right. Phil, stand by.

We just got a tweet in from Jimmy Kimmel, you know, the late night host who's been very outspoken about his criticism over the latest Republican bill on health care. He said -- he tweeted out, thank you, Senator McCain, for being a hero again and again and now again.

I want to go to Manu Raju now because the big question, in the wake of this news that John McCain will vote no is, where do Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski stand because Republicans cannot afford to lose one more vote.

Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right.

And Susan Collins, you can almost certainly say is going to vote against this plan. She has been very negative from the start about this legislation. She's been a -- the Republican leadership really not even negotiating with her at this point because they expect her to be a no. She made some remarks today to reporters in Maine, suggested that she was stronger leaning against voting for. So Susan Collins is almost certainly a no, which is why the McCain announcement is so significant because it essentially ends this Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The question too had been about Lisa Murkowski because the Republicans and the administration, the leadership, have been aggressively trying to court her, trying to put things in the legislation that would be more beneficial to Alaska in order to urge her to vote for this legislation. But she is not there yet either and she's been weighing this, looking at the different numbers that the Health and Human Services Department has been providing her. But she has not made any final decisions yet.

But I can tell you, Pamela, that now that McCain has said no, in a lot of ways it makes it a lot easier. It takes the pressure off of someone like a Lisa Murkowski who probably was leaning towards no but was facing a lot of pressure from her own party to vote for it. Now they're going to almost certainly going to go down. Perhaps easier not to take that difficult vote, voting yes, vote no. Instead, something that's much more politically popular, even in her home state she -- a very Republican state -- even after she voted against that for initial repeal effort back in July. She got a lot of praise back home. And that's something that she probably would get again if she said no on this bill given its unpopularity.

So expect more Republicans potentially to say no because of McCain's decision. But had McCain not said anything, all the pressure would have been Murkowski to try to put things in the bill.

The problem for McCain, though, was just the process, not necessarily the policy. And you really can't change the process this late in the date with that September 30th deadline coming. That changes the whole Republican agenda and calendar going forward and really undercuts the Trump administration's own agenda for the reset of this Congress, Pam.

[14:10:02] BROWN: So on that note, with this news, if Republicans can't get the vote to move this forward, what's next? I mean last time it seemed that all hope was lost and then they were able to sort of revive a new bill to move forward. They were hoping -- Republicans were hoping before September 30th. So if that doesn't happen, what's next?

RAJU: Well, it's going to be very difficult to pass another health care reform effort. And the reason why is this. There's a September 30th deadline to move this because of the budget rules. After September 30th, they're going to have to actually approve a new budget and that requires approval from both the House and the Senate and they have to reach an agreement. And that takes some time. There's also a lot of disagreement internally just to pass the budget.

That's just the first step, Pamela. Then they have to actually draft a new piece of legislation. If they were going to put this Graham- Cassidy bill on there. Then they could try again for this new budget measure that would also -- it's very significant that they're using that because it allows them to avoid a filibuster in the Senate, meaning they could pass it on a party line vote of just Republicans in the Senate.

But the problem is this. The Republicans had wanted to use that budget procedure for tax reform, which is another centerpiece of the president's own domestic agenda. And now that they'll have -- essentially have a choice. Do they want to try again on health care and potentially fail, or do they give up on this repeal effort and instead focus on tax reform. Something that still is going to be very difficult to achieve, oh, even within their own party.

So a lot of questions going forward, not being able to pass health care, it takes away a key thing that they tried to put -- they campaigned on for years. They promised their own voters they would do. And if they give up now, then they have to move on to tax reform, try to do it on their own on a party line basis through the budget process. No guarantees there. They could almost certainly fail on that front too. And I -- Republicans tell me on The Hill, if they can't get tax reform done, they can't get health care done it this Congress, is will be a major failure going into the midterms next year. It could cost them control of Congress, according to the views of some topo Republicans that I've talked to.

Pam.

BROWN: All right, Manu Raju, stand by.

I want to bring in CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod. He is a former senior adviser to President Obama.

You wrote an op-ed saying, David, that you cried when Obamacare was passed. In the wake of this news, what is your reaction now that we're learning that John McCain, Senator John McCain, once again will vote no on the Republicans health care bill?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, my reaction is relief. Relief on behalf of millions of Americans who were on tender hooks waiting to see exactly what the Senate would do.

I did cry the night the Affordable Care Act passed. And I cried not because I thought it was a great political achievement for the president, though it was. I cried because I have a young -- I have a child who was young then, she's not young now, who had a chronic illness, epilepsy. And the out of pocket cost that I had, even though I had insurance -- I was a young newspaper reporter then -- were a thousand dollars a month for her medications that were uncovered. I couldn't move her because she had a preexisting condition.

The Affordable Care Act brought help and assistance to people who were in that position. And there were so many Americans who were literally sleepless because they didn't know what's going to happen next. So I think John McCain just brought some relief to their minds. And that's what I'm thinking about today.

BROWN: And, David, Trump has repeatedly claimed -- President Trump has repeatedly claimed that this bill will cover preexisting conditions. What is your reaction to that? Does he know something that others don't?

AXELROD: Well, what he -- what the bill would say is that it makes coverage available to people with preexisting conditions. Well, Pamela, you could make a Maserati available to me, but that doesn't mean that I could afford it. And that's the problem for people with preexisting conditions under this law had it become the law. Yes, it would be available, but it wouldn't be affordable. And states could -- and states have a lot of leeway as to how that would go.

So this was a -- sort of a cruel, cynical promise that wouldn't be able to be cashed in by many, many people with preexisting conditions. People with preexisting conditions need to know they can get insurance at a price that they can afford. This wouldn't have done that.

BROWN: And let me ask you, in reading your op-ed you said that you believe this Graham-Cassidy bill is more about the health of the party and not the health of Americans.

AXELROD: Without question.

BROWN: Why do you say that?

[14:14:56] AXELROD: Well, listen to the arguments that are being made by the president, by the leaders of the party. We made this promise for seven years, repeal and replace. Repeal and replace. And if we don't keep it, there's going to be hell to pay among our base. We see stories about Republican donors being angry that they haven't gotten it done and so on.

Nowhere do you hear the argument that the health and welfare of Americans would be improved by this bill, millions of whom, by the way, would lose their insurance. And I think that was a fundamental flaw here. They were racing to a deadline with a bill that was opposed by every medical group, every disease group, major insurers. Every involved in the health care process opposed this bill because it just wasn't good policy and there wasn't, as Senator McCain pointed out, enough time to evaluate it on its merits because they were racing for the September 30th deadline.

Why? Because they have a political imperative, not a public policy imperative. So, you know, I think that the fact that he's put the brakes on it is positive.

I think back to my conversations with President Obama and his conversations with legislatures back in 2009 and 2010. And it was never the argument that we need to do this because our base is expecting it. We need to do this because it's politically expedient for us to do that. In fact, he knew that a lot of legislatures might risk their careers

by voting for this because it was quite controversial at the time. But he made the case that we had the opportunity to help millions of Americans and correct some really fundamental flaws in our health care system. And he called on these legislatures to meet their responsibility to their constituents, not to the Democratic Party. That's a fundamental difference from what we've seen today.

BROWN: Let me ask you, David, because in reading your op-ed you say that there are flaws with Obamacare.

AXELROD: Oh, absolutely.

BROWN: That there is room for improvement. So what is the solution to those flaws, as you pointed out in your op-ed?

AXELROD: You know, one of the things, Pam, that John McCain referenced is his statement was the fact that there was a bipartisan process ongoing between Senators Alexander and Murray, a Republican and a Democrat, to try and deal with some of the problems that the health exchanges are having right now that are leading to tremendous increases in premiums. A lot of it has to do with the administration threatening to withhold subsidies that are -- to which they would be entitled, patients and insurance companies, under the Affordable Care Act. So they're addressing that.

There is a bipartisan process going on. That's not the entirety of what needs to be addressed. But they have the opportunity to fix one aspect of this. And, you know, what John McCain has basically said today is, let's get Republicans and Democrats together to come up with a proposal that both sides can -- both sides can embrace. And that would be to -- he's not saying this. I'm saying this. That would be to improve the Affordable Care Act, to deal with the defects that it has and move forward, not to scrap it without a suitable replacement, not to leave millions of Americans suddenly without coverage again.

BROWN: All right, David Axelrod, stand by. Lots to discuss.

AXELROD: OK.

BROWN: We're going to take a quick break. Special coverage continues in just a moment. The Republican health care bill on the brink.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:23:01] BROWN: Welcome back. We have continuing coverage. John McCain -- Senator John McCain, once again, coming out announcing just moments ago that he will vote no on the new Republican health care bill, putting it on the brink. The Republicans cannot afford to lose one more vote.

I want to go straight to CNN's Alex Marquardt. He is live in Huntsville, Alabama, where President Trump is stumping tonight for a Republican senator at risk of losing his seat.

Alex, this news makes the event a little more interesting I'd say. ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does. And it's hard to

imagine that President Trump is going to be able to get through this campaign style rally without mentioning it, without mentioning John McCain. In fact, the last time that he gave one of these rallies was in Phoenix, Arizona, the home state, of course, of John McCain. And there he talked at length about how John McCain a scuttled the last attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Both of the men who are running for this Senate seat that was vacated by Jeff Sessions, Senator Luther Strange, who's the interim senator, and Roy Moore are both strongly in favor of repealing and replacing Obamacare. So you can be sure that this is going to take a main position in the race, in these remaining few days.

This race has essentially boiled down to who can cast themselves as being closer to President Trump. And right now Luther Strange is winning that race. There was a debate last night and there was hardly an answer that went by in which Luther Strange didn't talk about how close he is with the president, how often he talks with the president, how hard he's working to advance the president's agenda and how -- and how much in lock step he is with the president.

In fact, we just spoke with Senator Strange just moments ago. He said he's feeling optimistic. He's excited about tonight's rally. But it's all going to boil down to turnout. And right now the turnout figures do favor Roy Moore. Low turnout is expected because this is a special election. The voters who are expected to turn out are older and more religious. That is also expected to favor Roy Moore.

[14:25:03] In recent polling towards the end of August, Moore was ahead. Strange has pulled closer. It's hard to say at this point who is ahead. It's hard to say if there has been any sort of significant Trump bump. But what is clear is that Senator Strange is excited about this rally tonight. He has put all his eggs in that basket. And that this rally, the support from President Trump, is his last, best hope.

Pam.

BROWN: All right, Alex Marquardt in Huntsville, Alabama, thanks, Alex.

And I want to bring in David Chalian to get your sense, David, on how you expect the president to respond tonight to this news. He has not held back before when it comes to John McCain.

CHALIAN: That is certainly true. There's no doubt about that. In fact, you'll recall when he kicked off his presidential campaign in 2015, the summer of 2015, I don't think he was a candidate for a month yet and he sort of questioned John McCain's hero status and that he had been captured in the Vietnam War and Trump prefers people that aren't captured. And that was sort of the first signal that Donald Trump was going to be an entirely different kind of Republican throughout this process. So, obviously, there's no love lost between John McCain and Donald Trump, Pam. That's clear.

What I am really curious to see, because of how much sort of skin in the game Donald Trump has in that Alabama race, does he take the opportunity of the rally tonight to make this all about sort of venting about John McCain and his announced position to vote against this Cassidy-Graham bill, or does he stay focused on trying to get Luther Strange, his preferred candidate in the race, elected to the Senate. We will see when Trump takes the stage.

Alex was right to note, though, if you go back to that Arizona campaign rally, you know, Donald Trump made no doubt how he felt about John McCain sort of voting against that last attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. This is not somebody that he sees as sort of in his corner. And I think whatever attempts there may have been to sort of woe John McCain, clearly Donald Trump realizes now, I would imagine, that John McCain isn't interested in being a Donald Trump guy. He has a different agenda here as he's building out his legacy of his years of service in the United States Senate, his years of service to the country, former presidential candidate, battling this cancer diagnosis. He now, obviously, is clearly focused on cementing his legacy. And part of that legacy in John McCain's mind is clearly about restoring the right of the United States Senate to hammer out legislation in a bipartisan way, to stick to a process that allows tons of input from all of the senators, from constituents, and he clearly doesn't think that that is what this process has been about. And he's having none of it.

BROWN: All right. I want to bring in David Axelrod.

David, we were just speaking moments ago. You wrote this op-ed basically talking about why you cried when Obamacare was passed. I wanted to get your reaction to Senator Lindsay Graham saying just this week that he predicts at least two Democrats would vote for this bill. He did not name who they were. He didn't give names. Can you imagine a scenario or is that just wishful thinking in your view?

AXELROD: Well, the Democrats held firm against the previous bills. This bill is not more desirable than the other bills. So it would be hard to understand how Democrats would shift their position based on a bill that most of the analysts and disease groups, medical groups and so on say is worse in some ways than the previous bills.

But, look, I -- you know, I'm not there and Lindsay Graham is having conversations. A lot of people also thought that Lindsay Graham who -- would deliver John McCain and that -- that hasn't happened.

So -- but now, obviously, they're going to have to fish in that other pond if they're going -- if they have any hope of beating this September 30th -- this September 30th deadline.

One thing I would say, Manu mentioned that there may be some Republican senators who are breathing sighs of relief, including Senator Murkowski. I think there is an element here of McCain taking some other people off the hook because, you know, as David mentioned, he's got a very tough diagnosis, not likely that he's going to be running for reelection again. He seems very focused as doing, as David said, what he thinks is right, but also by doing what he's doing he's making it easier for other senators to vote the way they want to vote knowing what the outcome is likely to be. BROWN: And, David, of course, you were the former senior adviser to

President Obama. When it comes to President Trump, where does he go from here? Is it tax reform? More deals with Democrats? Where does he go?

AXELROD: Well, if this bill goes down, as it now appears that it will, he would be smart to move on. This is -- this is -- you know, this is --

BROWN: Even though this is a central issue for him in the campaign? That he, you know, get his based galvanized and --

[14:30:04] AXELROD: I don't think we're -- you know, I think he's got a way repeated failure against the prospect of getting a win, a success, and he's very focused, obviously, on wins.