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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
President Trump Awards Medal of Honor; Trump Pushes to End All of Obamacare. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired March 27, 2019 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TREVOR OLIVER, SON OF TRAVIS ATKINS: Everything you have said to me over the last few days has meant the world to me, and it changes my life every, every day.
It -- that's -- the medal is something that I take very -- a lot of pride in, but it's the words that are the real prize and what really means the most to me.
And when it comes to my dad, he always had the funniest stories about you guys. And seeing you guys throughout, I was a young kid, but he let me know.
OLIVER: And, no, I just -- I feel so close with you and to him every -- every story I get to hear.
And I'm just -- I'm glad that you got to enjoy his love and his -- his energy.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Beautiful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States has awarded, in the name of Congress, the Medal of Honor posthumously to Staff Sergeant Travis W. Atkins, United States Army.
Staff Sergeant Atkins distinguished himself by conspicuous acts of gallantry and intrepidity, at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, on 1 June, 2007, while serving as a squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
While manning a static observation post in the town of Abu Samak, Iraq, Staff Sergeant Atkins was notified that four suspicious individuals walking in two pairs were crossing an intersection not far from his position. Staff Sergeant Atkins immediately moved his squad to interdict them.
One of the individuals began behaving erratically, prompting Staff Sergeant Atkins to disembark from his patrol vehicle and approach to conduct a search.
Both individuals responded belligerently towards Staff Sergeant Atkins, who then engaged the individual he had intended to search in hand-to-hand combat. When he noticed the insurgent was reaching for something under his clothes, Staff Sergeant Atkins immediately wrapped him in a bear hug and threw him to the ground away, from his fellow soldiers.
Maintaining his hold on the insurgent, he pinned him to the ground, further sheltering his patrol. The insurgent then detonated a bomb strapped to his body, killing Staff Sergeant Atkins.
In this critical and selfless act of valor, Staff Sergeant Atkins acted with complete disregard for his own safety, saving the lives of the three soldiers who were with him and gallantly giving his life for his country.
Staff Sergeant Atkins' undaunted courage, warrior spirit and steadfast devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and the United States Army.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A very emotional moment there in the White House, as you see President Trump, who has just awarded the Medal of Honor to the family or Army Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins.
And we will be right back.
KEILAR: In our politics lead, the president making a lofty promise before -- that he's made before today: He's going to replace Obamacare with something better if the Supreme Court throws it out.
Republicans have been campaigning for years to repeal and replace Obama's signature legislation, but they have never come up with an alternative plan.
Inside Trump world, we're learning brand-new details about the heated debate over the decision to back a Justice Department move to try and invalidate the health care law, with a source telling CNN two Cabinet members fought it.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the Russia investigation in the rear-view mirror, the White House is turning the fight to health care.
TRUMP: Obamacare is a disaster.
COLLINS: But part of that battle is happening inside the West Wing. The Justice Department arguing in a new court filing that the Affordable Care Act should be thrown out entirely.
TRUMP: Phase one of the lawsuit terminates Obamacare.
COLLINS: A move that sources tell CNN Attorney General Bill Barr and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar are fully against, and got in a heated dispute with Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and policy officials pushing the Obamacare elimination plan.
The president making clear who he sides with today.
TRUMP: We think it'll be upheld, and we think it will do very well in the Supreme Court.
COLLINS: This part of Trump's plan to put health care front and center in the 2020 election, claiming for the second day in a row:
TRUMP: We are going to be, the Republicans, the party of great health care.
COLLINS: The issue dominated the midterm elections and led to a bruising defeat for his party.
Neither the White House, nor Republican lawmakers have offered a new plan to replace Obamacare, which provides health care to 20 million Americans. Without offering details, Trump says he has a plan.
TRUMP: And if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that's far better than Obamacare.
COLLINS: Eager to change the subject from the Mueller investigation, Democrats say they have been handed a political gift.
REP. TOM SUOZZI (D), NEW YORK: They just want to repeal, and not really replace.
COLLINS: Whether it will unite them is another question.
Democrats are divided over what to do in a post-Mueller world, with some urging the party to move on, while others push ahead with plans for impeachment.
REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: It's so important that I make sure that I check this president.
COLLINS: Democratic leadership swatting that down.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You can ask her how she's doing on hers. That's not an initiative of our House caucus. (END VIDEOTAPE)
COLLINS: Now, Brianna, it wasn't just Bill Barr who disagreed with Mick Mulvaney on this. I'm also told by sources that White House counsel Pat Cipollone voiced concern to the chief of staff about whether or not the administration had the legal ground to stand on in this court filing.
Mick Mulvaney pushed back, saying, this is how they should move forward. And, in the end, President Trump sided with his chief of staff, as evident by a letter and statement put out by the Justice Department on Monday night.
Now, I'm told by these same sources that Pat Cipollone and Bill Barr still have the reservations about whether or not -- how this is going to succeed. But, essentially, at this point, they're just getting in line with the boss' orders -- Brianna.
KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.
What, Jeff, is the president thinking? Because he doesn't have the House. The number -- this is a very basic math problem. This will not work unless he's going to not replace getting rid of Obamacare with nothing, should the courts rule in the favor...
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And now it's taking something away from people, taking something away from people that Republicans and Democrats and independents enjoy.
So, I mean, even if Republicans controlled the House, the Senate would still be in question here. But there is -- there was some legal advice given to the president, as Kaitlan was reporting there. But I think it was also probably political advice. Don't do this. Why are you going to do this, particularly on the day after he declared that he was exonerated in the Mueller probe?
So I find it very confounding. If -- if past is prologue, it did not work for Republicans in the midterms last year. It is a gift for Democrats. Now, of course, how they handle it is an open question.
KEILAR: The Republicans don't want to have this fight. You just look at what Axios is reporting about Kevin McCarthy, right, the Republican leader in the House.
He called the president, according to Axios, and said, this doesn't make any sense. And there have been, according to our Hill team, multiple opportunities for McCarthy to bat this down, and he has not.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Certainly, Republicans on Capitol Hill who I have spoken with have expressed frustration, because they did not see this move coming from the president. And they don't have a replacement plan in order.
Forget the fact that they no longer control the House. For the first two years of Trump's presidency, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, and they failed to pass the replacement plan that they did come up with in the summer of 2017.
In fact, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, two of those no votes, have openly said that they don't know what the president is proposing as an alternative. And, at this point, they stand to lose a great deal, because, if you look at the -- and the public opinion, you have statistics showing that 52 million Americans, adults under the age of 65, would stand to protections for preexisting conditions.
That was a big part of the closing argument for Democrats of the 2018 midterms. The president is now giving them something else to run on in 2020.
KEILAR: It's hard to imagine, even with what is at stake here of all these people losing health care, if this is successful, if this court cases successful, it's hard to imagine Democrats and Republicans coming together, even with people losing health care to work out a strategy, is it not?
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is a little hard, because we're already in campaign season. We're certainly in presidential campaign season.
There are a number of obviously members of Congress who are newly elected who are going to be in vulnerable seats. We don't know. I mean, maybe. We will see. I think, ultimately, though, this announcement by President Trump also unifies Democrats, and at a time when they were -- there were some divisions about health care.
There were some divisions about Medicare for all vs. fixes. We have seen that on the presidential campaign trail, but nothing is more unifying than, as Jeff said, when someone's trying to take something away.
And I expect -- you're seeing Democrats get in the foxhole to fight this fight. Whether it will work with Republicans, if this is -- if this is completely eliminated, I guess we will see. I'm a little skeptical.
KEILAR: Let's listen to what the president has said in the past about health care.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You're going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost. And it's going to be so easy.
We will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. We're going to take care of them.
The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Amanda, when you listen to those quotes, what kind of problem does that create for Republicans in terms of what they could actually deliver should they need to come up with some sort of plan if they even could. What is -- what's the problem there for Republicans?
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Politically the only thing that matters is that the cost of health care comes down. And whoever can win that fight will win with voters. But I just want to revisit this court fight because there are a lot of Republicans that care about the constitutionality of ObamaCare.
And the only reason it was upheld at the Supreme Court is because the court ruled that it could stand as constitutional because of the tax is imposed to the individual mandate. Guess what, individual mandate is gone. Trump issued an executive order and Congress got rid of the tax that the penalty was imposed to uphold that it is constitutional.
So yes, I am interested in having the court justify how this law remains constitutional without that individual mandate. Politically, do a lot of litters care about that? I don't know but I would guess that those lawyers that are in President Trump's ear right now are saying we deserve an answer.
KEILAR: Do they care -- do voters care and is it problematic that people would lose health care?
CARPENTER: Yes. If that's what it becomes about but I think it is a farce that people go on with the notion that the only way pre-existing conditions can be protected is through ObamaCare. It is all about the cost. I think people who can think much more creatively about this.
For instance, I've seen a lot of coverage about the rising cost of insulin. Let's have an insulin for all program. We actually explore the cost drivers of these medications --
KEILAR: Well, that was discussed --
CARPENTER: -- and bring it down for everybody.
KEILAR: I mean, I covered -- I've covered the passage of ObamaCare and that was discussed in there.
CARPENTER: Sure. But not much was done about it.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think if we just focus on the pre-existing conditions issue which is I think an important one. The problem is people don't know what they're going to get.
PSAKI: They don't know that they're going to get cancer. They don't know that they're going to have a child with asthma. So you can't just do an insulin for all and call it that. The benefit of how this was made in the law is that it allowed people to have a safety net without knowing what they were going to get.
CARPENTER: And there's a lot of options. We don't have to be locked into ObamaCare and that's why Republican --
PSAKI: But Republicans have not proposed any good ones. That's where -- why we are where we are.
KEILAR: So there has been some speculation that she could be Joe Biden's running mate right out of the gate but Stacey Abrams just shook things up with her take on that idea.
[16:50:00] KEILAR: In our "2020 LEAD," "you don't run for second place." That today from the Democratic rising star rumored to be Joe Biden's top choice for running mate. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams also insisting she's just as capable of winning the White House as anyone else who is running. And Jeff Zeleny, you've been following Abrams, and what have you learned about her next steps here?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, one thing we've learned that she is keeping her options open in every way if that means Senate, governor, or even president.
STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, GEORGIA: I think you don't run for a second place. I think my responsibility is --
ZELENY: With those words --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow!
ZELENY: -- and with that smile, Stacey Abrams closing the door to all that talk of an early partnership with Joe Biden.
ABRAMS: If I'm going to enter a primary, then I'm going to enter a primary. And if I don't enter the primary, my job is to make certain that the best Democrat becomes the nominee.
ZELENY: For now, Abrams is leaving unanswered big questions about her future as a leading voice in the Democratic Party.
ABRAMS: I do not know if I'm running. I am thinking about everything. And it's Senate race it's --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you running for governor again.
ABRAMS: -- possibly running for president. And my responsibility is to take seriously the opportunity to give credibility to those who are asking me, but to make sure I'm the right person, this is the right time and it's the right job.
ZELENY: Yet one thing is clear, Abrams is everywhere. After narrowly losing the Georgia governor's race last year, she introduced herself to the nation.
ABRAMS: I'm Stacey Abrams and I'm honored to join the conversation about the state of our union.
ZELENY: And now is playing a central role in the 2020 presidential race.
AMERICAN CROWD: Run, Stacey, run! Run, Stacey, run!
ZELENY: Call it the Stacey Abrams primary. A recent lunch with Biden touched off a wave of speculation and headlines like this. If Joe Biden wants to win, he needs Stacey Abrams now. But Abrams has also met recently with Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren, as well as former governors John Hickenlooper and Terry McAuliffe, and spoke by phone with Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Her aides say Beto O'Rourke has not called, and Abrams says the attention showered on his presidential campaign after losing to Ted Cruz last year in Texas hasn't gone unnoticed.
ABRAMS: I think race plays a part. I think region plays a part. I also think phenotype plays a part. I want people to understand that I may not look like the typical candidate, but that does not diminish my capacity to possibly run for this job.
ZELENY: Now, some interesting words there that Stacey Abrams said herself that others have been talking about. Why has she not been getting as much attention as Beto O'Rourke has been? So voicing it there, saying, she's not trying to take anything away from Beto O'Rourke's candidacy but interesting to hear her talk about that.
KEILAR: It is. And so she is saying as well that she thinks a woman or a minority candidate will win the primary. What is her strategy? She also doesn't rule out being Biden's running mate should he enter and win.
[16:55:11] ZELENY: Exactly. I'm told by a number of people who were close to her who do believe that she will likely run for the Senate. That Senate seat in Georgia is something that she says I've not thought about for a long time, but now that is something that presents itself.
So most people right now believe she will do that over running for the president, but who knows what she thinks of all the bright lights now. She's on a you know, a bit of a publicity tour, a primary tour if you will, so we'll see. But as of now, most people think likely the Senate.
KEILAR: I want to talk now a little more about the former vice president because of comments that Joe Biden has made as he prepares to enter the 2020 race. He's talking about how he handled Anita Hill's testimony when he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A lot less about the extent of harassment back then over 30 years ago, but she paid a terrible price. She was abused for the hearing. She's taking advantage of, her reputation was attacked. I wish I could have done something. This day I regret I couldn't come up with a way to get her a kind of hearing she deserved, giving the courage she showed by reaching out to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: I wish I could have done something. What did you guys think about this attempt at addressing this and how much of a liability is this for him?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN U.S.: I think the challenge here is that the vice-president is framing this as though he wishes he could have done more as if he wasn't in a position as a Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to actually do more. He did not call forward some other accusers who had alleged similar misconduct on the part of Clarence Thomas at the time, as well as other witnesses who could have corroborated Anita Hill's testimony. He also didn't let experts on sexual-harassment submit affidavits.
So look, the Vice President has in a fairly good record on women's rights. He's the original author of the violence against women's act. As the vice president, he led the Obama administration's efforts to combat campus sexual assault. I think he would be well-served to actually just be more explicit about what he actually would have done differently if he were in the -- in that position now and acknowledged more directly his role in the mistreatment of Anita Hill.
PSAKI: And he was later in the interview. Look, the answer he gave was not perfect and I wouldn't expect he's going to give that exact same answer again. There are some unfortunate turns of phrases in there, but I do think he was acknowledging that this was poorly handled. That's not up for debate and his role in it in poorly handling it.
He was quite specific and talking about how they handled it as a courtroom and held her at like she was on trial as well, and that's not how to handle it. There's no question he and his aides know this is an issue he's going to have to grapple with and have to explain and talk about. I do think we should have a moment of a not applauding but giving a little bit of a credit of how his view of this has evolved.
He's not perfect. I think it's -- we're seeing him kind of play out and try out how he's going to answer this question.
KEILAR: And to me the question is on the apology. It's almost like when you give an apology well, I'm sorry you felt that way. I wonder he's creating distance. I wish I could have done. He could have but he didn't. So he's creating distance with his language in terms of his responsibilities for the moment.
CARPENTER: I think Joe Biden is having a problem that a lot of Democratic candidates are having that have anything that resembles a record. Anyone that's been in public life say maybe more than ten years is going to have a very hard time living up to the standard of wokenes demanded by the progressive left.
So he's going to have to do a much better job explaining but he's not going to be able to do it. You can see he's having difficulties here. This is why I think they were floating out the thing about Stacey Abrams. I think Joe Biden wants somewhat of a coronation before he gets into the race.
These problems aren't going away. He knew that he was going to have them. But this more largely speaks to the difficulty of people who are establishment type figures getting into a presidential election. The records are hard to defend. This is why I think we've seen a trend towards types more like Donald Trump, Barack Obama who is a new senator, because explaining all these things get so tiresome and they just can't get out of that cycle.
KEILAR: What do you think?
PSAKI: That's -- you know, the longer you have been in public office, the harder it is to run for president. And so that's actually something Stacey Abrams should take note of because waiting for your time that he never worked in the past just ask Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, even Donald Trump. So if she's going to run, she should probably run now because otherwise she's going to have to explain her record as senator or governor or whatever it may be.
ZELENY: And it's not like this is it. There is a long list of things that the vice president is going to have to explain in today's context including some of the Obama administration's record. It has also looked at it a different way like deportations --
CARPENTER: Obama won't survive this.
ZELENY: -- and others. So it is a different moment for him and there are years of things to go through but we'll see.
KEILAR: All right, you guys, be sure to tune in to CNN tonight for a town-hall with Democratic Presidential Candidate Senator Cory Booker. CNN's Don Lemon will be moderating this live event from Orangeburg, South Carolina. That is at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.
And you can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter @BRIKEILARCNN or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.