'This Week' Transcript 3-12-17: Mick Mulvaney, Sen. Tom Cotton, Rep. Adam Schiff, and Rep. Elijah Cummings
A rush transcript for "This Week" on March 12, 2017.
— -- THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on March 12, 2017 and it will be updated.
ANNOUNCER: Starting right now on This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the time we're going to get it done.
ANNOUNCER: The art of the deal: President Trump facing a House divided over healthcare.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is the chance and the best and only chance we're going to get.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It looks to me like Obamacare light.
ANNOUNCER: A critical test just one day away. What will the new plan cost? Who will it cover?
And more than a week after claiming President Obama tapped Trump Tower, where's the proof?
JON KARL, ABC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If there is no evidence that any wiretapping took place, will the president apologize?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
ANNOUNCER: Still no evidence of the explosive allegations. And both sides of the aisle demanding answers. Tough questions ahead for the White Houses' point man on healthcare. The Republican senator speaking out against the bill. And, the top House Democrats challenging Trump.
From ABC News, it's This Week here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: Good morning. Is this week President Trump's moment of truth? 50 days in, he has smashed convention, shocked official Washington, and created a chaotic new normal in the White House.
This week, official Washington poised to strike back. It has been eight days now since the president leveled that explosive charge against President Obama, accusing him of ordering illegal wiretaps against the Trump campaign, a claim that President Obama and numerous government officials call flat out untrue.
In those eight days, Trump has offered zero evidence and refused to answer questions like these from our White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Mr. President, any proof on the wiretapping?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, press. Thank you, thank you, press.
KARL: Mr. President, any proof at all on the wire-tapping?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you very much, press.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Please head out behind you.
KARL: Are you going to provide any proof?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please head out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: And now, top members of Congress have asked Trump's Justice Department to either put up the evidence or shoot it down. The deadline, tomorrow.
Also tomorrow, a key moment for President Trump's promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something far better. Here he is exactly one year ago in St. Louis.
TRUMP: Obamacare is a disaster. We're doing to repeal it and replace it. We're going repeal it and replace it with something great, less expensive and far better. We're going have great healthcare.
And you know, the amazing thing, it's going to cost, very amazing, it's going to cost the country less and it's going to cost the people less. I mean, how good is that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Better care, lower costs, everyone covered. That is Trump's promise. Tomorrow, the independent Congressional Budget Office expected to go public with its assessment of whether the legislation President Trump is backing now will meet the promises he made during the campaign.
We'll cover it all today. And we begin with a top Trump lieutenant on healthcare, the director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney. Director Mulvaney, thank you for joining us this morning.
I want to get a sense of how the president is going to deal with these competing promises. He's promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. He also said he wants a plan that provides insurance coverage to everyone. That's in the Washington Post on January 15. We're showing it right there. We're going to have insurance for everybody. Much less expensive and much better.
And during the campaign, he promised no cuts in Medicaid, tweet from May 7, 2015, "I was the first and only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid."
But as you know, so far, the independent analysis of your bill show that 6 to 15 million Americans are going to lose their coverage they now have under Obamacare, and there will be about $370 billion less in federal funding for Medicaid over the next ten years. So, how do you square that impact with the president's promises?
MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: George, there's a lot of moving pieces at one time. Let me see if I can break it down into smaller pieces and parts, maybe talk about a bunch of different ones.
Talk about the coverage levels, the number of people covered. We continue to think, and have for a long time, that the CBO was scoring the wrong thing. They're scoring Obamacare as it exists today, not tomorrow. Obamacare is this close from completely collapsing.
For example, I live in South Carolina. We are down to one provider in that state. There's are four or five states that I think are down to one provider. And the CBO is failing to take into consideration what happens to folks in South Carolina when there are no providers, which there may be as soon as next year.
So, we don't think the CBO is counting correctly that way.
But at the same time, we also think they're not counting the right thing. Go back to the original idea of Obamacare was supposed to be that people could afford to go to the doctor. They can't. They can afford to have coverage. They can afford to have a little plastic piece of paper that says they have an insurance policy, but they can't afford to go to the doctor.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the president said insurance for everybody.
MULVANEY: I was on Obamacare when I was in the House. My family's deductibles were over $15,000 a year. Other folks who don't make as much money as I did were on the exact same plan. Do you think they could afford to go to the doctor? That's what we're trying to fix. Not coverage for people, not coverage they can afford, but care they can afford. When they get sick, they can go to the doctor. That's what the Donald Trump plan is working on, and that's where we think it is going to be wildly successful.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they -- but it -- but they will have fewer -- less money to pay for that coverage right now, less money to pay for that care. But, also, on the point of Medicaid, the president said during the campaign he would not cut Medicaid, this bill is going to reduce federal Medicaid funding by about $370 billion over 10 years.
MULVANEY: And still give better care, because we're actually giving the governors what they want. We were here -- I was here with dinner with, I think, 46 of the state governors about two weeks ago. And one of the things they kept asking for was more control over their own Medicaid.
Again, I was in the state legislature. We would have begged for more control over how our Medicaid dollars got spent, because it’s -- it’s essentially a one-size-fits-all...
STEPHANOPOULOS: They’re not begging for fewer dollars, Mr. Director.
MULVANEY: But they’re begging for better control so they get more efficiency and more ability to serve their people. The Medicaid system as it exists today is a one-size-fits-all system. We fixed that. You can provide better services for less if you get the federal government out of the way. That’s another thing this bill does.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So are you simply saying that if the Congressional Budget Office comes out tomorrow or the day after and says fewer people will be covered, many millions fewer people will be covered, the costs will be going up, that you’re simply rejecting that analysis?
MULVANEY: Actually I don’t think the costs will go up at all. In order for this bill to be reconcilable in the House, as you know -- and we’re getting deep down into the rules of the Senate now, I apologize for doing that -- but in order for this bill to pass on budget reconciliation, it has to reduce the debt and thus save money.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But how -- on the coverage, though, if it says that fewer people are going to be covered, do you simply reject that?
MULVANEY: The CBO said -- if the CBO was right about Obamacare to begin with, there would be eight million more people on Obamacare today than there actually are. So I love the folks at the CBO. They work really hard. They do, but sometimes we ask them to do stuff they’re not capable of doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn’t the -- isn’t the best use of their time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So it sounds like you’re going to reject it.
Let’s move on now. Senator Tom Cotton coming up on the program next. And he said it’s time to slow this down and start over. He told your -- our Jon Karl that your bill is going to make the system worse than it is now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: I’m afraid that it could make it worse in some ways, that insurance rates would continue to go up and that Americans would have even less control and less choice over their healthcare systems. That’s why I say that it’s time to take a pause, take stock of how we got to where we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you say to Senator Cotton?
MULVANEY: Tom is a good friend -- Senator Cotton’s a good friend and here’s what I’d tell him. He knows how the House and the Senate work. Things move through the House relatively quickly. This is still going, by the way, much slower through the House than Obamacare did. We already had two committee hearings, which I believe is two more than Obamacare had in the House. We’ll have another committee hearing this week and then another committee hearing next week before the vote goes to a vote -- the bill goes to a vote on the floor.
Then things will, as they always will, and as the Founding Fathers intended them to do, slow down in the Senate. And I’m sure Tom will get -- excuse me -- Senator Cotton will have a chance to review the bill, to amend the bill.
But let’s not get lost on that, George. This is the framework. And this is the bill the president has looked at and said, yes, this is work -- this is what will work.
If the House thinks they can make it a little better, if the Senate thinks they can make it a little better, we are welcome -- we are open to talking about those types of things. There’s no reason to rush it, but it’s not being rushed as things stand now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He says this is going to increase premiums.
MULVANEY: I happen to disagree with Senator Cotton. One of the things -- many of my friends on the right -- I used to be a member of the right-wing caucus in the House -- they make the same complaints. And my point to them is I think they’re discounting the value of competition. Again, go back to the example where I live in South Carolina, one provider. Under the plan that we’re talking about now, we already know that more providers will come into South Carolina, and that competition -- the competition that Republicans so often want in so many parts of our economy -- that competition will tend to drive down premiums.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your former colleagues in the House, conservatives in the House, who met with President Trump, and they say he’s open to moving up the date where you phase out the Medicaid expansion, perhaps as early as 2018.
You’re willing to negotiate that in the House?
MULVANEY: I was in the those meetings and we had some great discussions. And I’ll tell you what we told them at the meetings. The bill here is the framework. It’s a really nice framework. We like it. It’s a good repeal and replacement bill.
If there are ideas in the House, I think Congressman Barton from Texas had some ideas. I think Congressman Morgan Griffith from Virginia had some really good ideas regarding things like changing the expansion date or perhaps putting work requirements in on Medicaid -- those are great ideas that would improve the bill. If the House sees fit to make the bill better, they’d certainly have the support of the White House.
STEPHANOPOULOS: All right, so you’re behind that right now.
How about the opposition of the AARP?
They’ve put out an ad where they’re saying this is going to be -- this bill is going to be an age tax on middle income Americans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This allows insurance companies to charge an age tax on older Americans. Combined with fewer tax credits, this could mean an $8,000 a year premium hike on those who can least afford it. Unacceptable.
Second, the bill gives big drug companies a sweetheart tax break while doing nothing to help lower drug costs for everyday Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, "The New York Times" is reporting that the Joint Tax Committee concludes that your bill will provide about $157 billion in tax cuts to people of incomes over $1 million in the next 10 years, yet older Americans, middle income Americans, are going to be paying more for their insurance.
How is that fair?
MULVANEY: I -- I think that’s the same group, AARP, that did the television ads of -- of a guy that looks a lot like Paul Ryan pushing Granny off the edge of a cliff back when we first started talking about budgetary reforms back in 2010. And my guess is that the millions of e-mails that that group and other groups are sending out today have a little "click here to donate" button at the bottom. They’re not in the news business; they’re not in the business of fixing things; they’re in the business of trying to protect their own self-interests and to raise money, and that’s unfortunate that that’s where a lot of folks will get their information.
Look, we promise to repeal the taxes for Obamacare. That’s what the bill does. I think we should focus more on the benefits that folks are going to get, from the improved healthcare, the affordable healthcare -- not just affordable health coverage -- that this new level of protection, this new bill, would provide.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But they’re pointing out that older Americans, especially those from ages of 55 to 64, are going to be paying more because insurance companies will be able to charge them more.
MULVANEY: And I seriously doubt that any of those analysis take into consideration the fact the use of HSAs, health saves accounts, the lower premiums that come from competition. These are a group of a self -- listen, everybody’s got in the skin in this game, right? Everybody has a -- has an interested party, and they’re trying to protect their own. What we’re trying to do is make things better for as many people as we possibly can, and right now the bill’s doing exactly that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the burden may be falling hardest on older, middle-income Americans. And your critics -- critics are saying this massive transfer of wealth from lower-income Americans to upper-income Americans, when you combine the tax cuts with the loss in subsidies for middle-income Americans.
MULVANEY: I’m not sure where they’re getting a massive of transfer wealth. George, what we’re doing is making sure that the truly indigent still have care. Medicaid is still there. In fact, we think it’s going to be even better. The people who are just above Medicaid but still have difficulty buying their own premiums will not only have the refundable tax credit, but they’ll have the ability to use HSAs to pay for their -- to pay for their healthcare on a tax-advantaged basis just like you and I get. So I don’t understand the criticisms lobbed in that fashion.
The bill actually helps a great many people and helps them get something they need, which is healthcare, not health coverage.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Millions are going to be paying more and the wealthy are going to be getting a tax cut. But let me move on now to the state of the union.
MULVANEY: George, George, I’m sorry -- I won’t let you move on from that. I mean, you’re taking that as if it’s gospel truth. That’s the argument of a group of people who don’t like the bill. So we repeal the taxes in Obamacare. It’s what the Republicans have done from the very beginning. The fact that certain groups will pay less tax is not a -- is not central to the issue. We’ve done this in a fashion that allows the people who cannot afford healthcare now to get it. I don’t know why some people are so dead set other people benefiting at the same time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But those who are getting -- those who are getting subsidies right now, they’re going to be getting fewer. The tax credit is going to be worth less than the subsidies and insurance companies are going to be free, under your bill, to charge older Americans more.
MULVANEY: And you’re falling into the exact same trap I talked about at the opening of this segment. You’re worried about getting people covered. And it’s almost as if as long as --
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president said he wanted everyone covered, sir. The president said that.
MULVANEY: He wants everybody to get care. And that’s what we are doing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s not what he said. The president said he wants to everyone covered.
MULVANEY: What people want is to get care. People want -- when they get sick, they want to be able to afford to go to the doctor, and that’s where Obamacare has failed them several times over. That is the problem that we are fixing. So if you’re watching this program, when you get sick, you can afford to go to the doctor. Because right now on Obamacare you can’t.
I had it, George! I know. I’ve lived through this firsthand. You didn’t have Obamacare; I did! $12,000-$15,000 of deductible for my family. Luckily, we could afford it. The people making much less than I did had that exact same plan. Yes, they got a subsidy in order to buy that plan, but they didn’t get a subsidy on their -- on their deductible. They were -- they could not afford to go to the doctor. That was a broken system. That was one of the many, many reasons that Obamacare was failing and people are begging us to replace it. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, Congressman Cummings is also coming up on the program. He met with the president this week about giving Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices. Here’s what he said after the meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: He was enthusiastic and he was clearly aware of the problem and clearly made -- and he made it clear to us that he wanted to do something about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: So is the administration going to get fully behind this idea to have Medicare negotiate drug prices directly?
MULVANEY: What I'm more familiar with, George, is how we're looking at trying to figure out a way to drive down drug prices through changing the regulatory requirement. Mr. Cummings, Congressman Cummings and I used to serve on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee together. We participated together in a hearing on the high price of the Epi-Pen, I think the one that costs $600 for two here and a couple of dollars each in Europe. And one of the things that he and I both learned together was that it's government regulation, the inability for drug companies and medical device manufacturers to get things approved, government intervention that is driving up the cost.
And I do know for a fact the administration is going to be looking directly at trying to figure out a way to fix that. And I know and hope that we can count on Congressman Cummings' assistance in doing that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So he was wrong, the president is not committed to giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices?
MULVANEY: I wasn't in that meeting. I'm telling you it's consistent with what the president is doing, which, again back to the discussion about the new healthcare plan, trying to drive down the cost of actual healthcare that men and women in this country have to pay.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Director Mulvaney, thanks for your time this morning.
MULVANEY: Thanks, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are joined now by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas. Senator Cotton, thank you for joining us this morning.
I know you were listening to Director Mulvaney right there. He say this is just a framework. This is the framework for repeal and replace. You're going to have the chance to fix it in the Senate. Can this bill be fixed?
COTTON: George, the bill probably can be fixed, but it's going to take a lot of carpentry on that framework. As it's written today, this bill in the House of Representatives cannot pass the Senate. And I believe it would have adverse consequences for millions of Americans and it wouldn't deliver on our promises to reduce the cost of health insurance for Americans.
So, I would say to my friends in the House of Representatives with whom I serve, do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote.
George, you were in White House in 1993. You remember when House Democrats voted for a BTU energy tax, not only did that not become law, it didn't even get a vote in the Senate. And those Democrats lost their next election because they voted on that tax, getting BTU'd.
I just do not think that this bill can pass the Senate. And therefore, I think the House should take a pause and try to get as close as we can to a good result before they send to it the Senate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying House Republicans if they vote for this bill are going to pay the price without getting any benefit?
COTTON: I'm afraid that if they vote for this bill, they're going to put the House majority at risk next year. And we have majorities in the House and the Senate and the White House, not only to repeal Obamacare and get healthcare reform right, but to reform our taxes and our regulations and build up our military and to accomplish many other things.
And I don't want to see the House majority put at risk on a bill that is not going to pass the Senate. That's why I think we should take a pause, try to solve as many as the problems on both Medicaid and the individual insurance market in this bill in the House and then allow the Senate to take its work up.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ou heard your Director Mulvaney, he disputed your view, your analysis of this bill as going to increase premiums for Americans.
He says you're discounting the value of competition.
COTTON: Well, unfortunately, I just don't think this bill, as written, is going create the new conditions necessary for the kind of competition that Director Mulvaney and I and virtually every other Republican wants.
For instance, this bill leaves most of the Obamacare insurance regulations in place. And it's those regulations that have caused most of the premiums to increase, not just in the Obamacare exchanges, but in the job-based insurance market as well.
We share the same goals of wanting to repeal Obamacare and getting health insurance rates down so people can get access to care. But as this bill is written, as a practical matter, I just don't see that competition occurring as it needs to.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You also heard Director Mulvaney on the CBO. He's questioning the CBO's analysis even before it comes out. Do you believe the Congressional Budget Office is going to make the passage of this bill easier or more difficult?
COTTON: Well, George, I don't think the House should have proceeded without a CBO estimate. At the same time, the director of the CBO is not Moses. He doesn't come down from the mountaintops with stone tablets. They're human like the rest of us. They can make mistakes. But they do provide an important amount of information and analysis that allows senators and Congressmen to make informed choices.
So, whenever that estimate comes out, we need to take it seriously. We don't have to accept everything and every conclusion at face value. But that's one reason why I think we should take a pause and examine all the consequences from every perspective of what is sweeping legislation.
As we said in Obamacare, it's going to remake one-sixth of the American economy. It is going to affect every American in a personal and intimate way. This is not just the latest spending bill that Congress passes right before the Christmas break and goes home and can forget about it nine months later. This is permanent legislation trying to remake our healthcare system. We need to get it right, not get it fast.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You are also a member of the Senate intelligence committee. I want to switch gears right now. Have you seen any evidence that President Obama ordered a wiretap on President Trump during the campaign?
COTTON: George, I have not seen that evidence. But I want to go back to something that Barack Obama's Director of National Intelligence said last weekend. He said he had not seen evidence of that either, but more importantly he said he had seen no evidence of cooperation between any Trump associates and Russian officials. I don't think that got the attention it deserved.
The Director of National Intelligence under Barack Obama would be in a much better position than any senator or Congressman to know such things. And while our review on the Intelligence Committee will proceed in an orderly and deliberate fashion, I think we should pay heed to a man who said he saw no evidence of such cooperation, rather than do what some Democrats have done, which is spin wild-eyed, hair on fire conspiracy theories.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And I am going to ask Congressman Schiff about that coming up. But if the Justice Department or President -- or President Trump don't provide any evidence of this wiretap, does President Trump owe President Obama an apology?
COTTON: President Trump said last weekend that he wanted the Intelligence Committees in the Senate and the House to take up this matter as part of our broader inquiry into Russia's activities in our political system last year. We're going to do exactly that. I hope that we get to the bottom of all these matters and that we make all those conclusions public to the American people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But can't the president get this information himself? And I know the Intelligence Committees have asked the Justice Department to come forward by tomorrow and say is there any evidence?
COTTON: George, there are reasons why the intelligence community, in particular the FBI, which often operates in front of the FISA court in conjunction with the Department of Justice, is reluctant to make such public statements. Because it could reveal what we do and what don't know and how we know those things. And that's not something that we want our adversaries to understand. Through a deliberate and careful process of examining all the intelligence at issue here, and then determining with the executive branch what we can declassify, I think the Intelligence Committees are in the best position to make those decisions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your Republican colleague Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she would be prepared to support a subpoena of President Trump's tax returns if necessary. Are you?
COTTON: George, I think that's getting ahead of ourselves at this point. We've been given extraordinary access to the intelligence underlying the intelligence community's assessment about Russia's activities in our political system last year. That wasn't done by the Obama administration before now. That was done by the Trump administration. So, so far, the level of cooperation with our review is something deeper and richer than I have seen in my time in Congress. I think we should proceed with the materials we have at hand before we make the decision whether we need to go on to additional materials.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Cotton, thanks for your time this morning.
COTTON: Thanks, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We have heard from the White House and the GOP. Coming up, how will the opposition respond? I talk to two top Democrats from the House.
Plus, halfway through his first 100 days, is this a make or break moment for the president? Our powerhouse roundtable weighs in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY FOR SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: The president-elect asked, presumably because he's a New Yorker and is aware of the great work that 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 as the United States Attorney We had a good meeting. I said I would absolutely consider staying on. I agreed to stay on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara back in November. But yesterday, this tweet: I did not resign. Moments ago, I was fired.
Bharara refusing the Attorney General's request for the resignation of all remaining U.S. attorneys appointed by President Obama. We're back to discuss that and more in just two minutes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are back with two of the top House Democrats challenging the Trump White House. We're joined by Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democratic on the House Oversight Committee; Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
And, Congressman Schiff, let me begin with you. You just heard Senator Cotton right there. It sounds like he doesn't expect the Justice Department to come forward with the evidence of whether or not President Obama ordered a wiretap on President Trump tomorrow. You've set the deadline for tomorrow, you and your colleagues. Do you expect the Justice Department to meet it?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I don't expect we're going to see any evidence of this either. I agree with Tom Cotton. You know, there are one of two possibilities here. Either the president quite deliberately, for some reason, made up this charge. Or perhaps, more disturbing, the president really believes this.
And here's where I think it's consequential, George. If six months from now the president should say that Iran is cheating on the nuclear agreement, if he's making that up, it's a real problem. If he's not making it up and it's true, it's an even bigger problem. Because the question is, would people believe him? Would American people believe him? Would people around the world believe him? And that has real world consequences.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So are there any consequences for the Justice Department if they don't come forward with this information?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all, is there information to be produced is one question. But, more than that, we're going to have an open hearing on March 20th. We're going to be able to ask the director of the FBI among others is there any truth of this? Have they seen any evidence of this? They would be in a position to have to know. And I think on March 20th, if not before, we'll be able to put this to rest.
But I don't think anyone really has any question about this, George. The only question is why the president would make up such a thing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you believe that FBI Director James Comey, who's coming before your committee on the 20th, will answer this in public on that day?
SCHIFF: I do. And, you know, if the press reports are accurate that he asked the Department of Justice to knock this down and they refused for whatever reason, he may welcome the opportunity. But he'll certainly have that on March 20th.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You also heard Senator Cotton say -- he was citing what the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said last week. Not only had he not seen evidence of this wiretapping, but he also said he's seen no evidence of any kind of collusion or cooperation between Trump associates and Russians. Have you seen any kind of evidence like that?
SCHIFF: I was surprised to see the director state that categorically. And I think -- you know, here's where we are in the investigation, George, and obviously I can't talk about particular evidence, but it's not unlike the 9/11 investigation where you had a joint inquiry in that case and an independent commission.
They were looking at who was responsible, and obviously it was al Qaeda responsible. But they were also looking at whether the Saudi government, you know to use parallel terms colluded or had some kind of coordination or involvement in the attack on 9/11.
Now, at the end of the investigation they found some circumstantial evidence that indicated that may be true, but they couldn't corroborate it. I wouldn't want to reach a conclusion at the outset of our investigation as to whether we're going to be able to demonstrate collusion. Maybe we will, and maybe we won't. Maybe it existed, and maybe it didn't.
But I do think it's our obligation to do everything possible in as nonpartisan a basis as possible to answer those very important questions. And I wouldn't start out by concluding one way or the other.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You also heard Senator Cotton say it may not be necessary to see President Trump's tax returns to complete this investigation. Do you agree?
SCHIFF: I think if the evidence develops that one of the Russian tactics, and this was suggested, of course, in that dossier, is to financially entangle people as a way of exerting influence. If the evidence leads in that direction, then his tax returns will be pertinent to our investigation.
But again I think we try to develop the evidence. We follow that evidence where it leads, and not leap to any conclusions on the front end.
STEPHANPOULOS: Are you convinced that this investigation is going to go forward in a complete way? I've seen that some of your colleagues on the House intelligence committee say that they're afraid that it is going to be a partisan exercise. And they're going to walk away if that's what they see.
SCHIFF: You know, to be honest, George, I don't know whether we'll be able to conduct this to its completion, whether we'll have the kind of bipartisan cooperation that we need.
I do know this, it would be in the national interests for us to do so. If at the end of the day we produce two conclusions, a majority conclusion and a minority conclusion, that won't add any value at all.
So, I think it's clear it's in the national interests to try. And if we get to the point where we can't, I think it's our obligation in the opposition to speak out and say this is not legitimate. We are being walled off from certain areas of investigation. But I think we owe it to the country to try, that's certainly my intention. You know, one of the - you know - significant obstacles we'll have is whether we'll have the resources devoted to do this in the way we should. And for that reason I think we should have an independent commission.
But I do want to give you one other update, George. I have been very critical of the FBI and their willingness to cooperate in the investigation. I can say that that's substantially changed. And I'm now very pleased at the level of cooperation we're getting from the FBI. I hope that continues. There's still more to be ironed out along those lines, but I think that's moved in a very positive direction.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Congressman Schiff, thanks very much.
Let's bring in Congressman Elijah Cummings right now, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
And Congressman Cummings, I want to begin with you on this news yesterday that the U.S. attorney here in New York here Preet Bharara was fired.
Is there -- in your view as a member of the House Oversight Committee, is there anything to look into here, or is this just the routine removal of U.S. attorneys that we have seen by presidents before?
CUMMINGS: Certainly, the president has the opportunity and the right to fire U.S. attorneys. But, we -- I wonder, George, you know, just not very long ago, the president was saying that he was going to keep the U.S. attorney there in New York. And then, suddenly, he's, I guess, changed his mind.
I'm just curious as to why that is. And certainly, there's a lot of questions coming up as to whether Mr. Trump is -- President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future.
When you look at everything, George, surrounding the investigations, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked. But again, the president does have that prerogative.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you referring there to the fact that on Wednesday, several independent groups asked the U.S. attorney, asked Preet Bharara to investigate whether the Trump organization and President Trump were in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution that there were conflicts of interest?
CUMMINGS: Yeah, I think that, again, what has been happening is that there is an air of distrust that has been brought on by President Trump himself and so many others. We have over and over again heard things that have been just proven to be untrue. And, so, I think that, in part, the president has created this situation for himself. But yes, sure. No doubt about it. When they asked about Emoluments clause and possible violations of it and the U.S. Attorney's relationship to that, I think perhaps that had perhaps something to do with it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think there might be a connection?
CUMMINGS: There very well may -- very well may be. But again, George, when you come out and you make allegations as the president has, which cannot be proven, and then, you find out the things are not true, you have now created a new sense of normalcy. And that normalcy is one where, as Adam Schiff just said, you question almost anything that comes out of the president's mouth.
And so, I just think that the president has to be -- I've told him this, by the way -- that he needs to be careful with what he tweets and what he says. And do less tweeting and do more leading.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You did meet with the president this week on that issue also of Medicare, whether Medicare is going to negotiate drug prices. You said coming out that the president supports that. But you just heard the director of the Office of Management and Budget, he didn't seem to endorse it when I asked him about it.
CUMMINGS: Yes, I heard that. But I can tell you that the president was enthusiastic about not only the proposal that Congressman Welch and I had with regard to Medicare being able to negotiate drug prices, but he was also enthusiastic about another proposal, George. And that is the importation of drugs from places like Canada and other foreign countries.
And so he made it clear to me that he was going to do something about it. But not only did he do that, he followed it up. I met with him on Wednesday. He followed it up on Friday morning, surprisingly, to me, with a lengthy call reiterating he was going to do something about it. And then another call on Friday evening, around 7 o'clock. So we will see.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you talked to the president about this three times this week, yet his office -- yet his director of the Office of Management and Budget doesn't come forward on Sunday morning and endorse it?
CUMMINGS: I'm just telling you what happened. The president -- I was surprised, on Friday evening when he called me Friday evening. He called me Friday morning. And we -- so we have had now three discussions with regard to this issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, and I want to move on to a different subject. You know, we also learned this week that the president's former National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn, had registered as a foreign agent, or had received $500,000 from a group connected to Turkey during the campaign.
You actually sent a letter to the vice president on November 18th, in his role as the head of the transition, asking him about this. Yet this week he said he didn't know anything about General Flynn's activities. Is this something that needs to be investigated since your questions went unanswered?
CUMMINGS: I think -- I think that clearly there's some problems with the vetting process. That letter was sent November 18th, as you said. We got actually got a response from somebody in his administration saying they acknowledged the receipt of the letter shortly after we sent it. And there were all kinds of red lights and yellow lights to tell the vice president and the administration that there was major problem with General Flynn.
We -- I think that we need to look into this to figure out why it is that we cannot properly vet people. George, this is bigger than us. This is bigger than President Trump. This is about our national security. And so I'm looking forward to trying to work with others in the Congress to try to figure out how that happened. We're better than that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressmen Cummings, thanks for your time this morning. Congressman Schiff, thank you as well. We'll be right back with the Powerhouse Roundtable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Our Roundtable standing by.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have a phony jobs number. They say it's down the 5 percent. The real number is 25 percent. Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The 5 percent number is a total phony number. It was made up by politicians to try to make them look good.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I spoke 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: What a difference a good jobs report makes. Sean Spicer right there. Let's talk about everything that happened this week on our roundtable. Joined by the editor of the "National Review", Rich Lowry, editor and publisher of "The Nation", Katrina Vanden Heuvel; Republican strategist and pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson; and Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.
And let's begin with health. So basically this administration, when an independent gives you information they like, they're all good. CBO, according to Mick Mulvaney, not so good on healthcare.
But Kristen, when you look at everything that's happening on healthcare right now -- you heard Senator Cotton, you heard Mick Mulvaney -- how much trouble is this bill in?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: There are a lot of divides in Washington these days -- between House and Senate, between conservatives and establishment Republicans. And what's going to make this healthcare debate so interesting is can Trump pull it over the finish line? There are a lot of these folks in the House Freedom Caucus who, they would love nothing more than to go back to their districts to say they stuck to it the man, they stuck it to the establishment, they stuck it to leadership --
STEPHANOPOULOS: That means sticking to it President Trump?
SOLTIS ANDERSON: But if it means sticking it to President Trump I think that changes the calculation. These folks in House Freedom Caucus districts wound up having Trump win by an average margin of 25 points. These are places were Donald Trump is very popular. And so if he gets behind this fully, if this is Trumpcare, it's going to be a lot harder for them to vote against it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you agree with that?
RICH LOWRY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes, he could end up being LBJ with a Twitter feed. It's going to be very uncomfortable in you're a last handful of holdouts. And he gives you a nickname and he goes after you, you will experience a ferocious internal party pressure like you've --
STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you think he's willing to do that? That doesn't seem to be what he's doing right now. He seems trying to cajole right now.
LOWRY: It remains to be seen. But the House guys, they are very dependent on the idea that Trump is going to stick with this thing and help it get it through. And if this thing passed and goes through the House and the Senate Before Easter the way they plan, it will be one of the most significant just sheer exercises of political muscle we have ever seen.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVAL, "THE NATION": So stepping back apart from the transactional, this is a betrayal of Trump's own voters. I mean this -- if this goes through as it is, eviscerating Medicaid, cutting healthcare for the rural people who voted for him, for low-income people, for older people. So I think that's something the Democrats need to expose.
And I think, you know, we're sitting here 52 days from Trump's presidency. He's tested the values of our country, the stamina of our country. A passel of broken promises. Lots of lies. But one thing that I take heart from is that millions of people are engaged now. We talk about the resistance. We need to go from resistance to rebuilding, to recommitting, people running for office. I think healthcare becomes the issue for 2018 if we can expose the broken promises. Trump -- you showed pictures of Trump saying people are going to get better healthcare at low cost, I'm not going to cut Medicaid. Well, he's doing that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Katrina mentioned 2018. You heard Tom Cotton right there say that -- telling his colleagues in the House, if you vote for this, you're going to be in trouble.
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I totally believe they're going to be in trouble. This is the most irresponsible act by people -- two of these freedom caucus members voted for the bill in some of these committees. How do you vote for a bill when you're not completely sure of how much it costs when you were elected to have open and accountable government? They need to get the CBO numbers out. And if there is something wrong with the CBO -- the CBO is run by a Republican who used be in the Bush White House. Tell the Republicans to fix it. That's the kind of thing I think people want to see.
And now you're seeing the Defense Department cuts that are now -- the Defense Department aid that the president's budget -- pumping (ph) $54 billion into the Defense Department, and then cut $54 billion out of domestic spending, which takes things away from places like the Great Lakes Restoration Fund, which goes from $100 million down to $10. Or from the Chesapeake Bay Fund, which goes down to $5 million from $75. Clean water is at stake here. I think that these are the kind of things that people in America are very concerned about. It's irresponsible.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me pick up the point about what this all means for Trump voters that Katrina made. "The New York Times" did an analysis this week. It's the first one I have seen. I want to put it up right now.
It says -- that looked at who's going to lose in the repeal bill. And they believe that the subsidy losses are falling heaviest, Kristen, on those groups that voted, most overwhelmingly, for President Trump. So where -- how do members deal with that? On the one hand, they promised to repeal and replace Obamacare. On the other hand, the impact is on those who are most supportive of the president.
SOLTIS ANDERSON: Well, I think this is going to put a lot of folks in a pretty tough position. And to the point we were discussing earlier, I think there's a chance that Donald Trump does not stick with this all the way through until the end, that Donald Trump does begin to see the writing on the wall, that Donald Trump -- if this does not get through the House quickly, does begin to change his posture.
Donald Trump never likes to be on the losing side of anything, likes to position himself as having put himself into the winning side. And so it would not surprise me if Trump's voters begin to be very vocally pushing back against this.
If Trump's voters actually wind up saying that they want this less than -- and Trump isnot able to sell them on it in some way, I can see him beginning to back pedal and say, well this is just one part...
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does that mean?
LOWRY: This CBO score, I think it will be fine on the cost, but it is going to be devastating on the coverage. And they need to pay attention to that. And I think the CBO.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They're trying to say that wasn't the president's promise.
LOWRY: Well, look, he -- it's unachievable that everyone is going to be covered, but they do need to pay attention to the coverage numbers. And this is one reason this whole process right now is built on speed, rather than getting it right. Because Ryan thinks every day that passes, he loses momentum.
VANDEN HUEVEL: He does.
LOWRY: They should take a breath and try to get it right.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But they're ramming it through. They're worried about the CBO estimate. But they're also worried about numbers.
Listen, 20 million people were not covered prior to the passage of Obamacare. People -- and I'm not being -- this is not unrealistic, people will die because of loss of coverage.
Now, the main thing to me is, just on the broken promises, President Trump promised to drain the swamp. He has filled wit billionaires and bankers. It is a government of the 1 percent. This -- healthcare, Trumpcare, is essentially a massive redistribution of wealth through tax cuts to the rich through this bill. And we're seeing in a way that Trump is normalized, he speaks to voters who disruption, and you can't blame a lot of his voters, because there is anger in this country.
SIMMONS: The bipartisan Committee for Responsible Budget had said that the 0.9 percent surcharge cut could lead to Medicare being insolvent. This is the kind of thing that people ought to be worried about for an accountable and open government. This is not what we're getting.
SOLTIS ANDERSON: So, when it comes to things like that changes in the taxes. I mean, the reason why conservatives are excited about certain pieces of this bill is that Obamacare was funded by a ton of little taxes here and there, and this simplifies that. It gets rid of a lot of them.
They're excited about it, because it changes the way that the federal government engages withMedicaid, hoping to make it a little more fiscally responsible.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Oh no.
STEPHANOPOULOS; Hold on a second. Let me just say this to Rich. I mean, I take your point on the repeal. But when you look at the specifics of these tax cuts, and you heard Director Mulvaney on that, he just dismissed it. But, you know, the overwhelming going to people who earn over $1 million a year. They're giving this tax break to insurance companies that is basically going to subsidize million-dollar salaries. Isn't that going to be difficult to defend?
LOWRY: I don't think they should play that game. Obama increased taxes on the rich. And they're just rolling them back. They're not going further and saying let's cut taxes for the rich more. And let's also not mistake -- it's not just a partisan talking point that Obamacare is unraveling, it's a fact. You have premiums skyrocketing. You have insurers dropping out. You had a major executive saying a couple of weeks ago that literally the Obamacare exchanges are in a death spiral.
VANDEN HEUVEL: But the buy-ins stayed stable in the last go around of sign-ups.
You know, one thing that's lost in all of this: Medicare. And Medicare and Medicaid are the two great success stories of this country. We should be building on Medicare and Medicaid, which are more efficient than private insurance, building on the cost-saving advances of Obamacare, and not rolling back, taking us back, as the Republican Party is doing. It is taking -- not making America great again.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We have a couple of minutes left. I want to move on to this issue of the wiretaps and President Trump's charge. You've heard. the members of congress say that they don't expect the Justice Department to come forward. How much longer can the president go without addressing this? You saw him, you know, basically go underground this week and refuse to answer any questions.
SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think concerns about Donald Trump's engagement with countries like Russia is one of the things that's holding him back from getting higher approval ratings right now. You ask voters how they think Trump is doing on the economy, he's doing great, 55 percent approval. Those are pretty good numbers, considering where his normal approval is.
But when you ask about foreign affairs, that's his worst numbers, it's 55 percent disapproval. And a lot of it is because we, as Americans, are viewing Russia as a greater threat than ever before. And I think as long as these questions stay out there, as long as this continues to be a headline, it is going to an anchor on Trump's numbers.
LOWRY: He tweeted this because he was angry. And it's really based on no facts, as far as we can tell. You can tell from their body language at the White House, they really want to memory-hole this thing. If they wanted to get to the bottom of it, they would just ask for any so-called FISA warrants from the Justice Department and know immediately what the facts were.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But is that OK?
LOWRY: No. I mean, obviously, he shouldn't tweet things that are untrue.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I think we need an independent investigation into the allegations of Russia's interference in the election. However, I think the Democrats make a mistake of fixating on it at the expense of a real alternative, bold jobs program, a trade program, an infrastructure program. Donald Trump is prancing around like a circus barker talking about jobs. The Democrats need to lay out, as Sherrod Brown did in Ohio last week, a real bold program.
SIMMONS: I'll quote my dad on this in Detroit who said something is stinky with the Trump administration when it comes to Russia.
SIMMONS: We don't know what it is. It's like you open the refrigerator, you know something is bad, but you can't figure out where it is. And that's why we need an independent investigation to go and take a look at this. And I think until we have an independent -- some sort of independent investigation, there are going to be a lot of questions a lot of Americans will have. This will haunt all the Trump and Ryan Republicans who are helping him on this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Will the administration going to be able to hold the line against that independent investigation?
SOLTIS ANDERSON: Well, I think Trump's focused mostly on his own voters. When you look at the polls, there are these huge partisan divides over concern about Russia, belief about whether there should be an independent investigation.
When you frame it as do we need an independent prosecutor or is this something Congress can handle? When you frame it that way, then suddenly people's aversion to Congress kicks in and they say, no, no, no, we need something independent. But when you simply just ask should there be some kind of a special prosecutor, you find that Republicans and people who voted for Trump think this is much ado about nothing. And so I don't know that Trump feels pressure from his constituencies to really do anything.
SIMMONS: Trump only get 46 percent of the vote.
LOWRY: I've yet to hear a plausible theory why the Russians would have to coordinate with the Trump campaign. They hacked and stole the information, they walked metaphorically across the street, and they gave to it WikiLeaks to distribute.
SIMMONS: If they're not guilty, they should stop acting like it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is the last word for today. Thank you all very much. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT". And I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA".
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