— -- THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on July 9, 2017 and it will be updated.
ANNOUNCER: THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST (voice-over): President Trump overseas.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A stark speech in Poland. A skeptical take on Russian meddling in America's election.
TRUMP: Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.
TRUMP: It's an honor to be with you. Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did Trump accept Putin's denials of election interference? Does his America First approach signal a new assertiveness on the world stage or put America's global leadership at risk?
Those questions and more for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a This Week exclusive.
Plus the battle over health care.
CROWD (chanting): Health care is a human right!
STEPHANOPOULOS: The GOP effort to repeal Obamacare on life support after a punishing recess back home.
CROWD (chanting): Ted Cruz has got to go!
STEPHANOPOULOS: Texas Senator Ted Cruz says he can save the bill, but will his colleagues agree? What's the fallback if they don't? And what will it mean for your health care? We ask the senator live.
And the clash over conflicts of interest. After calling out Trump for appearing to profit from the presidency, the nation's top ethics watchdog abruptly resigns. Is he stepping down in protest? We're one-on-one in his first Sunday interview.
Everything you need to know from Washington: we'll break down the politics, smoke out the spin. The facts that matter THIS WEEK.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK. Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning. President Trump is back in Washington this week and back on Twitter, calling the G20 summit a great success while the European leaders he left are openly warning of new divisions in the western alliance.
And in Moscow, Vladimir Putin and his team touting that first meeting with President Trump as a big win. They say it's put the U.S./Russia relationship back on track, and put those questions about Putin's meddling in our election to rest.
One big question THIS WEEK, does President Trump agree? Here's the second tweet he just sent out. "I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion."
And back here at home, new signs this morning this issue is far from over. As he landed, President Trump greeted by this headline in "The New York Times". "Trump team met with lawyer linked to Kremlin during campaign". Back in June, just two weeks after Trump clinched the GOP nomination, his son, Donald, Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign chair Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer with ties to Putin at Trump Tower. This meeting had not been disclosed and it contradicts Trump's earlier denials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Did you or anyone in your campaign have any contact with Russia leading up to or during the campaign? Nothing at all?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: And with that, let me bring in our reporter who asked the question, Cecilia Vega. She's still in Hamburg this morning, where she was with the president.
Cecilia, good morning. So we have that report in "The New York Times". we've confirmed it. There was this meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. Just the latest evidence that the president's previous denials are just not true.
VEGA: Exactly, George. And this story broke, as you said, as the president was in the air on Air Force One, landing back home in Washington.
Essentially this is more of the slow drip of names of people in the president's inner circle who we are now, after the fact, finding out that they had met with people, with Russians, people with ties to Russia, despite what the president told me there right after he -- after the election.
But, look, we've got to say there is absolutely no evidence at this point of collusion. But what we know is that Don Jr. is now among the list of names of people who met with Russians. This is a Russian lawyer who we know has known ties to the Kremlin. It happened in Trump Tower about two weeks after the president clinched the nomination. Sources tell me that the campaign was not discussed. Don Jr. says that essentially they talked about the issue of Russian adoptions, that this meeting was set up for him.
But, again, George, not what the president wanted to be coming home to after this trip that the White House is calling a big win. Here they are once again with questions landing right in their lap about ties to Russia during the campaign.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we also know that Russian lawyer was pushing to ease sanctions on Russia as well.
Meanwhile, a lot of questions about what actually happened in that meeting between the president and President Putin. We saw President Putin yesterday saying that President Trump accepted his denials. The president up on Twitter this morning saying he's already given his opinion.
The problem there is that press conference we showed earlier in the week, where the president said a number of things. He said I think Russia did it. There may have been others also. No one knows for sure.
VEGA: And that press conference was an astounding -- just one day before, hours before basically he sat down with Vladimir Putin in that closed room here at the G20.
Look, we may never know what really happened inside there. It was just a small group of people, diplomatic aides on both sides and translators and the two leaders essentially. But you've got this big question -- did the president essentially agree with Vladimir Putin's repeated denials of election hacking, of election meddling. The president, I'm told, repeatedly pushed inside that meeting, started the meeting with questions about whether there was election meddling on the part of the Russians, Vladimir Putin adamantly denied it.
But the big question seems to be still to this day, where does the president stand?
What he told us when he was asked point blank in that press conference on Thursday it could be the Russians, it could be other countries but, George, he's still not saying who these other countries could be.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Cecilia Vega, thanks very much.
Also just back from Hamburg, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He joins us from Washington. Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us this morning.
Lots of tweets from the president this morning. He also said that the sanctions were not discussed in his meeting with President Putin. It is time to, quote, move forward constructively with Russia. Does that mean that new sanctions for Russian interference are off the table?
STEVE MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Well, George, first of all let me just say I think the trip overall was just an outstanding success. We had over ten bilats. There were three pull-asides. We met with ten leaders, other leaders at the 3Cs conference.
And as it relates to the meeting with Putin, let me be clear, what started out as a 30-minute meeting lasted over two hours. And I think what we should be focused on was that the president handled it brilliantly. Look at what was discussed and what was accomplished. He fully addressed the election situation. He focused on the cease-fire in Syria, which is a major accomplishment. He talked about Ukraine and he talked about North Korea. So this was a very substantive meeting and on very important issues.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me get back to the question though. Are sanctions often the table now?
MNUCHIN: I'm not going -- well, what I would say is, first of all, we have sanctions that are already on the table and we expect to enforce those sanctions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And secondly you said that the issue of Russian meddling was fully discussed. What we don't know is does President Trump agree with President Putin that does he accept President Putin's denials?
MNUCHIN: Well, George, everybody is focused on that. And what they should be focused on is what was discussed in the substance of the meeting. And let me just say, why would President Trump broadcast exactly what he said in the meeting. Strategically, that makes no sense. What he broadcast and what...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's already doing that on Twitter this morning. He's just not answering that question.
MNUCHIN: I got it, which why should he answer that question directly? He's made it very clear how he feels. He's made it very clear that he addressed it straight on. And there was significant substance.
This is a very important, important for us to have discussions on substantive issues. And I think the president handled it brilliantly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You say he's made it very clear how he feels. But we all saw that press conference earlier in the week in Hamburg where the president said about three different things on whether or not Russia meddled. He said I think it was Russia. I think others did it. No one knows for sure.
What is the president's position on whether or not Russia interfered in the election? Does he accept the conclusions of the intelligence community?
MNUCHIN: I think it was very clear what he said. He said those three things and that's what he believes. But, again, what's important here is, what is the president doing? This is a president that's focused on action. And this was a foreign trip where we had very, very significant meetings. This was substance. We had over an hour and a half meeting with President Xi and his team where we focused on trade, economic issues, North Korea, following up with a commence sieve dialogue with them here in D.C. in July. President Trump is focused on action and getting things done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, just to be clear, the president does not accept the very clear conclusion of the intelligence community. I want to read it right here. They said we assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. The president saying no one knows for sure.
MNUCHIN: Again, what I would say is the president is focused on strategically negotiating with Putin. And we have some very serious issues to deal with, which are Syria, a cease-fire that's in both of our interests and having a no-fly zone, dealing with the issues in the Ukraine, which are very important. Dealing with North Korea and the ballistic missile. That's what the president is focused on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The president also said in his tweets this morning that he's setting up a cybersecurity partnership with President Putin. That's already drawn a response from many, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who says partnering with Putin on a cybersecurity unit is akin to partnering with Assad on a chemical weapons unit. Your response?
MNUCHIN: Well, in all due respect, and I think very highly of the senator, but let me just comment on that. I think this is a very important step forward that what we want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia, that we're focused on cybersecurity together, that we make sure that they never interfere in any democratic elections or conduct any cybersecurity.
And this is like any other strategic alliance, whether we're doing military exercises with our allies or anything else. This is about having capabilities to make sure that we both fight cyber together, which I think is a very significant accomplishment for President Trump.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you also believe that the fact that the G20 is now focusing on trade is a win for President Trump as well, including their focus on the trade in steel.
President Trump before this meeting was closing in on a decision whether to impose tariffs and quotas on imported steel. The president of the European Commission vowed retaliation if he does that. Are you worried that kind of decision from President Trump could spark a trade war?
MNUCHIN: No, I'm not worried at all. Quite the contrary. We had substantive conversations on steel, especially with the Chinese delegation. We're making very good progress with them and I think that the threat of different actions in trade sanctions and other things is what's led to very proactive discussions with all of our counterparts. And what we're trying to do is negotiate agreements with them and I think we're making very good progress on that. And if we can't get the agreements that President Trump wants, then we'll take action on trade.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It had been reported that the president was days or weeks away from reaching this decision on steel tariffs or steel quotas. Is he now going to put that off until the G20 have a chance to examine it?
MNUCHIN: Again, I think President Trump's made it very clear. He's not going to broadcast all his strategies, so that when we're negotiating kind of with all of our counterparts we're doing, we're not going to broadcast on TV what our strategy is exactly when we're taking actions.
What I can tell you is we had very substantive discussions and we think we're going to move forward . And let me tell you, you know, we made major progress from my first G20 finance minister's meeting, where we discussed trade and it was 19-1. We had almost a complete consensus on trade at this G20 leaders meeting, where if you look in the communique we have language on -- around reciprocal trade and the importance of reciprocal trade and anti-(INAUDIBLE). And almost every single bilat we were in, the president talked about trade and what we're looking for is free and free trade and we're looking to make sure that we can grow our exports so that we don't have a giant trade imbalance.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about Mexico. You were in the bilateral meeting with the Mexican president that President Trump was in. And right before that meeting, the president was asked if he still thinks Mexico should pay for the wall. Want to show that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Trump, do you still want Mexico to pay for the wall?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: So the president said, "Absolutely" in front of the cameras. Did he raise that issue with the Mexican president in the meeting? There was nothing about it in the joint readout of the meeting.
MNUCHIN: Again, the substantive portion of the meeting was really talking about NAFTA. That's the major issue. We also talked about immigration, where we've made enormous progress with them on combating illegal immigration, which is a very important issue.
I think, you know, we have a 90-day period where we can't negotiate on NAFTA but we can talk about principles. We're moving forward very proactively. We've had discussions with them and the Canadians, and I think we're looking forward to renegotiating NAFTA. And that's the significant accomplishment.
As it relates to the wall, I'm confident we'll figure out the wall. And whether we do a solar wall that we can sell electricity, or whether we do an electronic wall or a traditional wall, we're going to move forward with the wall.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But Mexico is not going to pay for it, are they?
MNUCHIN: I didn't say that. The president has said that he expects that it will be paid for. And we'll deal with that at the right time.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you say that, but the president apparently didn't bring it up with the Mexican president. I spoke with Secretary of State Tillerson about a month back and he said he didn't bring it up in his meeting with the Mexican foreign minister. Isn't it time to concede that Mexico is not going to pay for that wall and you're not going to be able to renegotiate NAFTA if you insist on Mexico paying for the wall?
MNUCHIN: Again, what I would say is that's not the focus for the moment. The focus is NAFTA. I think, again, we have a very good relationship with the Mexican government and with the president. And I think we're moving very proactively to a solution.
And, again, the two priorities at the moment are immigration, where we've already made substantial progress, and NAFTA. And, again, let me tell you, I sat in every single meeting -- other than the Russian meeting. These were substantive meetings, and whether it was Chancellor Merkel, whether it was Prime Minister Theresa May, whether it was the trilat we had with Japan and the Republic of Korea, these were substantive discussions on economics, national security, Korea. President Trump is all about action and this was just -- we had lots and lots of meetings with lots of discussion on important issues.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So bottom line, immigration and NAFTA renegotiation are priorities. Paying for the wall is not.
I want to move on to tax reform now. I know you're in the middle of that as well, and the meetings with Speaker Ryan and others. When will the plan be ready and is it still your goal that the wealthy will not receive a net tax cut?
MNUCHIN: So let me just say, we're absolutely committed to getting tax reform done this year. I think it's critical for economic growth. I think as you've heard us say, we need to get back to 3 percent or better GDP. And our plan is to have a full-blown release of the plan in the beginning of September, with being able to vote and getting this passed before the end of the year.
And we are having meetings multiple times every week with the leadership of the House and the Senate. We're having lots of listening sessions. We probably met with 300 or 400 different business leaders, outsiders, think tasks. We're learning from the health care process and we're going to get tax reform done this week.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The website --
MNUCHIN: This year. Excuse me.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The website Axios reported that Steve Bannon in the White House is advocating a 40 percent top tax rate. He wants a 4 in front of it. Maybe even higher than 40 percent. Is that idea actually on the table?
MNUCHIN: No, it's not. I have never heard Steve mention that. It's another example of a false leak that's being reported. I think it's very clear kind of we have a proposal out there that the administration has put out with a top rate of 35 percent where we reduce and eliminate almost every single deduction. So that means that people who are in the high tax state also have no tax reduction, and it'll be offset by reduced deductions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So --
MNUCHIN: That's the current plan.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That seems to be a slight change in your position. Before, you were saying that no one -- none of the wealthy would get a net tax cut. Now you're only saying the wealthy in the high tax states will not get a net tax cut.
MNUCHIN: Well, again, let me just say, the plan hasn't been finalized and I think, again, for most people, they have lots of deductions. You know, I think we've heard a lot of feedback from New York, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, and I think we want to be sensitive to those states and those economies as we shape the plan.
But, again, the president's focus is a middle income tax cut, reforming the business tax system to make it competitive, and creating a tax simplification that will grow this economy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: No one in the middle class will have a tax increase?
MNUCHIN: That's our objective, absolutely.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And also the big question of whether this is going to be tax reform or a tax cut, is it going to be revenue neutral. Under the current budget rules, any tax reform would have to pay for itself over ten years or be revenue neutral.
Will your plan meet that standard or are considering something that would increase the deficit over that time frame of ten years?
MNUCHIN: Well, let me just be clear. First of all, we're finalizing the details of the plan, so there's certain issues that are still on the table. But I will say this will be tax reform and tax cuts, and we expect that the plan will be fully paid for.
Now, one of --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Over ten years?
MNUCHIN: -- issues that I've talked about -- again, what I've talked about before is there are different projections. And with our projections, you create over $2 trillion of additional revenues. So it will be paid for over ten years. The question is whether we'll get credit for all of that under the -- under the current models of the joint tax commission. And, again, that's one of the things that's under negotiations that we're discussing right now with leadership.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You've got a lot on your plate, including raising the debt limit. The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus are -- and those in the House, conservatives -- are insisting that any debt ceiling has to be paired -- increase has to be spared with spending reforms and cuts that move the budget towards balance. Is that something you're considering?
MNUCHIN: Well, again, let me just say on the debt limit, you know, I've said this before -- I'm all for controlling spending. And I think that Congress has the absolute right to control spending and we should be focused on that, particularly given the size of the national debt.
Having said that, when we've already committed to pay for things, we have to honor those commitments. And the debt limit is about paying for things that we've already committed to. It's different than the budget process.
So one of the things I think over time is we need to change this debt limit process so that we're focused on controlling expenses, but that when we've committed for them it's clear we're going to pay for them. And the dollar is the reserve currency of the world, and the United States is the best credit in the world, and we're going to keep it that way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So it sounds like you want a clean debt limit.
I want to do a final question on health care. You know the Senate is considering their repeal plans; it looks like it's having trouble right now and the president, just before the break, tweeted out that if Republican senators are unable to pass what they're working on now, they should immediately repeal and then replace at a later date. Is that the fallback position?
MNUCHIN: You know, what I would say is that the president's first priority is for the Senate, the House to pass the plan. And I know you have Senator Ted Cruz on right after me, and I'm very hopeful that his plan and his changes will get supported. And I think we'd like to get health care done.
If we don't get this passed then the president as he said will go to the next plan.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Mnuchin, thanks for your time this morning.
MNUCHIN: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we do have Senator Ted Cruz standing by. I want to go to him right now. Senator Cruz, you just heard Secretary Mnuchin right there. He seemed to endorse your plan.
The way I understand it, you're saying, you're advocating, you want to give insurance companies the ability to offer variety of plans in every state as long as they include one that includes the basic benefits package. Some analysts are saying that's going to be a classic death spiral.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Well, good morning, George. Good to be with you.
You know, when it comes to repealing Obamacare, what I think is critical is that Republicans, we've got to honor the promise we made to the voters that millions of Americans are hurting under Obamacare.
I believe we can get this done. I believe Republicans can come together to honor that promise. And I think the way to do it is to focus on lowering premiums. The biggest reason so many are frustrated or angry with Obamacare is that it's made premiums sky rocket.
Now, how do we lower premiums? We do so through two things. Number one, and this is actually already included in the bill, we allow people to pay premiums from health savings accounts so you can pay from pretax dollars, that's a 20 percent to 30 percent decrease for many taxpayers in premiums immediately. That's a proposal I introduced and has been incorporated in the Senate bill. That's a big deal.
But number two, you referenced is the consumer freedom option. And I think really the consumer freedom option is the key to bringing Republicans together and getting this repeal passed, and what that says is you, the consumer, should be able to choose what health care you want to buy. If you want to buy a plan with all the bells and whistles, with all of the mandates under title 1, you can buy that plan, those plans will be on the market. Those plans will have significant federal taxpayer money behind them, but on the other hand if you can't afford a full Cadillac plan, you should be able to buy another plan that meets your needs. And so the consumer freedom option gives you, the consumer, choice whether to go with the full Cadillac or a skinnier plan that's a lot more affordable and for a lot of consumers that may be much better than having no coverage whatsoever, which is what they have now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, this could be an uphill fight with some of your colleagues, including Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. What it is going to mean for coverage of pre-existing conditions. Here's what he said to Iowa public radio about your proposal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: There's a real feeling that that's subterfuge to get around preexisting conditions. And if it is, in fact, subterfuge, and it has the effect of annihilating the preexisting conditions requirement that we have in the existing bill, then obviously I would object to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you say to Senator Grassley.
CRUZ: Well, look, I think we are making steady progress and I think the conversations have been collaborative and in good faith.
You know, I don't think we should be deceived by Chuck Schumer and his attacks and misstatements.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's Chuck Grassley, not Chuck Schumer.
CRUZ: I understand that, but what's being repeat there is what Schumer said this week which is that he called it a hoax. And listen, Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama know a lot about health care hoaxes. They sold Obamacare saying if you like your plan you can keep your plan, that wasn't true. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. That wasn't true.
They promised the average family their premiums would drop $2,500 a year under Obamacare. That wasn't true. In fact, their premiums have sky rocketed.
When it comes to preexisting conditions, the consumer freedom amendment was designed to be a compromise, to bring together both conservatives and moderates to unify the party. How does it do that? Because it maintains preexisting conditions protections. It is predicated on plans being offered that meet every one of the mandates, including preexisting conditions. So it doesn't take away anything that people have right now.
STEPHANOPUOLOS: But let me just stop you there.
CRUZ: All it does is it adds new options.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me stop you, because it requires only one plan in the state have that basic benefit package. And you know what the concern is of many health care analysts. They say that plan that, you know, the healthy and wealthier people are going to take the low cost plans. They're all going to flood in to the low cost plans, leave a high risk pool for those who actually have serious health problems, premiums, deductibles are going to skyrocket in that pool, make it unaffordable.
CRUZ: OK, so let's talk about how that would operate. That's an understandable policy concern. And I think it's right that you would see some market segmentation. You would see some younger and healthier consumers choose to go to freedom plans that have much lower premiums. And the argument that you're laying out is, well, gosh, with that drive up premiums on the Title 1 plan. I don't believe it would for two reasons. Number one, for the people getting the freedom plans you'd see a massive decrease in premiums. That's a lot of people getting benefit. But for the people still on the Title 1 exchanges, we've got two major sources of taxpayer revenue -- the first are the tax credits, the second are over $100 billion of stabilization funds.
And, George, the question really here is how are we going to provide for, how are we going to provide assistance to, people with serious diseases, serious pre-existing conditions? There is widespread agreement in Congress there's going to be significant assistance.
Here's what Obamacare does. It takes tens of millions of young healthy people and it jacks up their premiums, it doubles or triples their premiums, and takes all that extra money not for them but uses it to cross-subsidize people who are sick. I don't think that's fair. I don't think that makes sense. I'd much rather use direct taxpayer funds. Let's use Warren Buffett's taxes and not some 30-year-old who's struggling and just beginning her career. Don't double her premiums to cross-subsidize other people. That's what Obamacare does. It's wildly unfair.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I think one of the issues is that people say you don't have enough money to subsidize middle class people; it'd only be going to low income.
But I do have to move on.
CRUZ: And, George, let me point out that that's not accurate. Because you've got two different sources of federal taxpayer funds on the exchanges. Number one, the tax credits that are keyed directly to premium prices. But number two, the Senate bill has over $100 billion in funds for the stabilization fund that are designed to stabilize those premiums. The objective has to be -- and I think the way we get this done is focus on lowering premiums. If we're lowering premiums, it's a win/win for everybody.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, I think the question is would that be enough?
But what happens -- I know you hope your amendment is going to work. What happens if it doesn't? it seems like we have two different paths being talked about right now. You've got Senator McConnell in Kentucky last week saying, listen, if this fails, you've got to go work with Democrats to shore up the insurance markets. You've got President Trump and Steve Mnuchin just saying, no, we should move to the repeal then replace option.
What's your answer?
CRUZ: I agree with the president, and indeed that's something Mike Lee and I both urged back in January. We pointed out that Congress has voted 40, 50, 60 times to repeal Obamacare. And Mike Lee and I both said, all right, let's start with the language in 2015 that just about every Republican voted for in both houses. Let's pass that, have it go into effect a year or two years from now, and then spend that time debating the replacement.
At the time, that proposal was rejected by leadership and the administration, but if we can't get this done right now, I agree with the president. Then let's honor the promise on repeal and spend more time to get it done.
But let me be clear, George, I believe we can get it done. I think there is an agreement. My objective for the last six months, helping lead the working group on health care, has been to reach consensus, to bring together and unify the Republican conference. And the way we do it is focusing like a laser. How do we lower premiums? The more we're lowering premiums, the better. And if a year from now, two years from now, three years from now, premiums continue to skyrocket, we will have failed. But if they go down, if health insurance is more affordable, that's a big win for everybody.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, before I let you go, do you agree with President Trump that his meeting with President Putin was a big success?
CRUZ: Well, look, I wasn't in the meeting with President Putin. I will say this, I think the president had a very strong trip to Europe, and I think the most notable part of the trip wasn't even the meeting with Putin. I think I'm glad that they're talking. I hope things productive happen.
But I think the most notable part of the trip was President Trump's speech in Poland, which was a powerful speech and it really highlighted the Polish people's resistance -- resistance to the Nazis, resistance to the Soviet Union. He recounted Pope John Paul, one of the great world leaders of history, who stood alongside Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher with a million Poles in the public square.
I've been to that square in Poland where they were chanting, "We want God" in this communist, atheist country under the Iron Curtain, oppressed by the Soviet Union. I got to tell you, I'm certain Putin and the Russians did not like President Trump powerfully telling the power of freedom and the desire of people to live free, to overcome the oppression and tyranny of the Soviet Union. And I would note of modern day Russia as well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Cruz, thanks for your time this morning.
When we come back the roundtable weighs in on Trump, Russia, and all the week's politics. And after calling out President Trump over his business ties, the government's top ethics watchdog is calling the quits. Did Walter Shaub resign in protest? He joins us next.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Government's top ethics official resigned this week. Walter Shaub will tell us why next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER SHAUB, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: The president is now entering a world of public service. He's going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He's going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don't think divestiture is too high a price to pay for the president of the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was the director of the Government Ethics Office Walter Shaub back in January. As you know, President Trump refused to divest and this week Mr. Shaub resigned. This is his first and only Sunday interview.
Mr. Shaub, thanks for joining us this morning.
SHAUB: Thanks for having me. Thanks for having me, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Shortly after you gave that speech, the White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was on this program. I want to show you what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Will the president-elect be taking any further steps to deal with his possible business conflicts? We saw what he announced this week, but the head of the Office of Government Ethics said that he considered this meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective.
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Right, and the head of the Government Ethics ought to be careful because that person is becoming extremely political.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: What went through your head when you saw that? And did White House pressure have anything to do with your decision to resign?
SHAUB: Well, when I saw that, it was really an interesting morning because I was watching live. I think the fairly explicit threat from Reince Priebus during that show is really emblematic of how the interactions with the White House have been since the beginning of this administration. But, no, I wasn't pushed out at all.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And as you know, Norm Eisen, who was President Obama's ethics counsel, called your decision a protest resignation. Is he right?
SHAUB: Well, I've been doing government ethics for a long time. And I really always thought that the ethics rules were strong enough to protect the integrity of the government's operations. My recent experiences have convinced me that they need strengthening. And, frankly, they convinced me that I've achieved all I can possibly achieve in this job.
When the opportunity at the campaign legal center came up, I wanted to seize it before it was gone, because I really think I may be able to have more impact from outside the government than inside at this point, because I'll have a lot more freedom outside the government.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The White House gave us this statement after your resignation. I want to read it to you. Here's what it says, it says, "Mr. Shaub has been outspoken by leaking, tweeting and writing letters to Democrat members of Congress, but since the president was sworn into office he never once raised travel, passive holdings or other ethics issues involving the president in a single discussion with the White House counsel or deputy counsel overseeing ethics and compliance." Your response?
SHAUB: Well, that's just a ridiculous statement. I'm the head of a federal agency and I make decisions about what information we're going to release in an official way on behalf of the agency in order to communicate with the public. And one of the prime functions of the executive branch ethics program is to try to engage the public, bring them, you know, help them understand the ethics rules and how they're being applied and help them to have confidence in the government's operations when the rules are being followed.
And, frankly, I've only got two sources of leverage. One of them is the White House, and that has always worked in the past, because every White House in both Democratic and Republican administrations have been incredibly supportive of the ethics program until now. But lacking that support, the only other avenue OGE has to leverage change is communicating with the public and enlisting them.
But, no, I haven't just been sitting around writing to one party's members of Congress. I've been responding to letters and questions that have been sent to me, and that's the responsibility of the head of an agency. It's only in the past few months that the executive branch has ceased responding to any letters from Congress other than those from committee chairs, but it's always been understood that you're supposed to respond to members of Congress. And they haven't all been Democrats, some of them have been Republicans.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But is the White House, right when they say you never raised these issues directly with the White House counsel?
SHAUB: I've spoken with the White House counsel quite a number of times prior to the election. After the election, he absented himself from the program and had us deal with his deputy who is in charge of ethics. And we've worked closely with him. So I have no idea what they're talking about.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And going forward, what exactly do you hope to do? And what kinds of changes do you think are needed in the laws right now?
SHAUB: Well, I think we had a recent experience where OGE tried to conduct one of its routine oversight functions by collecting ethics records from the executive branch. The White House has responded consistently by challenging OGE's authority to carry out its routine and most basic functions. And fought us on even releasing those waivers. And then when we finally got the waivers it was heartbreaking to see that many of them were unsigned, undated, explicitly and implicitly retroactive and that two of them were issued by the counsel of the president to a class of appointees that he's a member of. That's just incredible.
So what I'd like to see is OGE to have a good deal more authority to compel the release of documents and records. I'd like to see some enforcement capacity. And I'd like to see some rules to address presidential conflicts of interest, because every past president since enactment of the ethics and government act has understood that a president can have conflicts of interest and should address them and the breach of that ethical tradition has been the start of every problem that's flowed from that in the past several months.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Shaub, thanks for your time this morning.
SHAUB: Thank you.
STEPHANPOULOS: Coming up, the roundtable weighs in on the president overseas and the battle over health care at home.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable is here ready to tackle another busy week in politics, and we'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump, Vladimir Putin on Friday, a big meeting of the week. Lots of questions about what happened in that room. Some answers this morning as well.
Let's talk about it on our roundtable with Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation"; "Wall Street Journal" columnist Jason Riley, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, also author of new book, "False Black Power?"; Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma; Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, he serves on the House Intelligence Committee from California.
And, Katrina, let me begin with you right now. So we've heard from the president this morning, his tweets about the meeting. We've heard from Vladimir Putin. We've heard from Steve Mnuchin. If you sort through what everybody is saying, it appears that they basically said let's agree to disagree about what happened to the election and move on.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, "THE NATION": Yes, it sounds like that. I mean, I think -- but to step back, I think perhaps even more important, there was a dialogue established at a time of deteriorating U.S./Russian relations. I think it is in America's national interest to have a working partnership with Russia. And they proposed a cease-fire, we've seen cease-fires fail in Syria but thousands of lives may be saved. And the destabilizing refugee flows in Europe, which were a subject at the G20, may be halted.
I think you need a working partnership to halt nuclear escalation, nuclear proliferation, to combat terrorism So I step back. "The Nation" is at the lead of the resistance--
STEPHANOPOULOS: And a surprisingly soft --
VANDEN HEUVEL: "The Nation" leads the resistance against Trump. I don't see this in the context of the two men; I see it in America's national interest to have this working partnership.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That makes sense but, Eric Swalwell, if the price is soft peddling Russian meddling?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: I think the president missed an opportunity to tell Vladimir Putin we know that you did it. It won't be tolerated. There's a price to pay. And that you can't do it again.
And instead he still can't definitively say that it was solely Russia that attacked us. And as we go into another election, regardless of what happens with the collusion investigation, we have a responsibility to secure the ballot box. And I don't think Americans have that assurance.
JASON RILEY, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I too wish the president had been more forthright in calling Putin out on this, but I also think this is the sum of Trump's dealings with Russia. I think on policy, he's been much stronger here. I mean, against Russia's objections he supported Montenegro's entry into NATO. Over the objections of Russia, we're putting reins on the ground in Bulgaria to defend against Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. We're unleashing oil and gas production. Russia does not like this. They need high energy prices. Putin needs high energy prices.
So policy-wise, I think Trump is moving in the right direction and that's where he is projecting strength.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And the president did call out Russia in that Warsaw speech.
REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Oh, I think that was the highlight of the week. I agree with Senator Cruz on that. I mean, it was a dramatic place to do it, given the history between Poland and Russia. To mention the Ukraine, to reinforce Article V inside a NATO country that's actually meeting its 2 percent and, frankly, has fought with us in multiple fronts. I think that was a very, very powerful thing to do, and to me much more substantive.
I think the Putin meeting was more about the two people understanding one another, staking initial positions, but hopefully developing a working relationship. I agree very much with what Katrina said about that.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I mean, I do think -- of course foreign interference in elections is unacceptable. We have a special counsel with a very able legal team pursuing that. We have congressional investigations.
But I think, you know, you step back, and I have to say as a progressive, you know, I worry about a new Cold War. I mean, former Defense Secretary William Perry says that the nuclear catastrophe is more dangerous than it was during the first Cold War. We live in an era of nuclear amnesia and we've been reminded we cannot.
But I do believe diplomacy, tough diplomacy in our national interest, is effective. And I do believe -- and we may disagree here -- that, as a progressive, Cold Wars empower the worst forces in our society. They fatten military industrial budgets, they close space for the dissent that I think is needed, and we saw in Hamburg, of course. So I am outlier, but I think we need to restore a sense of what is imperative in terms of halting a military -- we're at risk of military conflict and accidental conflict in regions around this world.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And no one wants a Cold War. I think one of the main (ph) questions is, though, are we acquiescing to too much Russian aggression? One of the points I would bring up right there is, you look at the G20 meeting --no statement condemning the North Korean missile tests, likely because China and Russia objected.
RILEY: Sure. Right. These are strong men that understand action, though. And I think policy-wise that is what Trump is showing. Again striking military bases in Syria, Russia's ally in the Assad regime, is not something Russia appreciates and Trump is doing that.
You know, Trump's critique of his predecessor was that America was not projecting strength abroad, and that the bad guys were noticing and trying to take advantage of that. He's trying to stop that from happening.
SWALWELL: For the last decade, though, this summit has been an opportunity for America to demonstrate exceptionalism on the economy, on national security, on the environment.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The G20 summit as a whole.
SWALWELL: Yes, and we didn't see that. The president had an opportunity to work with other leaders to show people at home that he's for their jobs and their health care and also when it comes to securing our democracy, it was really alarming that he struck an agreement on cybersharing with Russia when the French, who were just attacked, were at the summit, and the Germans, who have an upcoming election were at the summit. You would have thought that's who he would have struck the agreement with.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even your fellow Republican Marco Rubio calling him out on that.
COLE: I think we don't know what the substance of the agreement is yet and I think it's a little bit premature. Again, I would prefer a working relationship, one where we understand the dangers, one where we understand who and what Putin is, but one where when we can find common ground we do it. I think that's what the president did. I think he had a really good week.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn released an important letter, June 27, before the G20, he talked not about a partnership with Russia, but he talked about the importance of perhaps reviving a 2015 cybersecurity treaty. We need cyber rules of the road. We talk about hacking elections. The Trump administration is defunding the federal election assistance commission, which should be strengthened. But think about the stories we've heard about possible hacking of nuclear utilities.
STEPHANOPOULOS: This week.
VANDEN HEUVEL: It could move toward hacking of command and control systems, of strategic arsenals. We need rules of the road. And we need an international multilateral agreement. On North Korea there is no viable military option. And I think Bill Clinton, from 1994 to 2000, I think in two and all previous negotiators on the North Korea agreement understand that there is a way forward but it will require diplomacy which I think too many have forgotten.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But no good options right now.
VANDEN HEUVEL: No good options.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I do want to move on to the domestic front and health care. It seemed like a pretty tough recess for a lot of your Republican colleagues.
COLE: It's great to be a member of the House out there and then watch Senators for sweat for awhile.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, is this going to come back to you or is it dead?
COLE: No, I don't think it's dead at all. Frankly, I met with some senators before the break. They were much more optimistic than the public...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Before the break.
COLE: Before the break. But, look, I don't think opinions are going to change that much on that. It really is going to get down to whether or not the ideas, for instance, that Senator Cruz is advancing really can bring people together, whether or not there's enough extra money in there and there appears to be to address a lot of the problems and concerns that individual members have.
So, yeah, look, they got 45, 47 votes. The last three or four really are down to what's the individual concern. Can we get you the fix that gets you there. And if anybody can get that done, Mitch McConnell can.
SWALWELL: There are faces now to what the Affordable Care Act means. And I think over the past few years, as the Republicans have talked about repeal, repeal, repeal, those stories haven't been told. I was at a farmer's market in my district yesterday, a woman came up to me. She said my husband has cancer. Our costs have gone down since the Affordable Care Act. Those people are being heard and I think that's why you're seeing pressure in the senate.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're hearing Senator McConnell say that he's willing to work with Democrats if this fails. Is he going to have a partner?
SWALWELL: I hope so. There's a lot we can do to strengthen the Affordable Care Act to make sure that places where there is not enough competition that you can put the risk corridors back in.
VANDEN HEUVEL: What are the conditions?
COLE: We hear what but we never see what these fixes are. I mean, Democrats have talked about that for a little -- well, we need some fixes. And, OK, tell us what you would propose. But so I think it's more rhetorical than real.
VANDEN HEUVEL: I think it's an opening for Democrats to -- if the history of reform in this country really operated with an obstructionist Republican Party right now, it isn't, history of Social Security. You build on it. You build on it.
I think it's an opening for Democrats to talk about health care as a right and I think it's an opening to begin to fight for Medicare for all, which would include the United States in the western industrialized nations. It is more efficient. 60 percent of Americans, according to a YouGov survey in April, would like to be part of such a thing. It's an opening to begin to fight for that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jason Riley, how badly does President Trump need this? We're heading into the August recess. Almost every modern president has had a major legislative success.
RILEY: I think he needs it very badly. And I think that Republicans are learning that the political cost of trying to roll back an entitlement is going to be too high.
I think the basic infrastructure of Obamacare is here to stay. They're going to tinker with it. They're going to call it...
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, this repeal then replace isn't a decent fallback?
RILEY: I don't understand how you sell that. How do you, in 2018 you're going to go to voters and say we voted to repeal it. And then delay any implementation of a replacement. I think you're giving Democrats this huge talking point. Republicans just took away, voted to take away your health care with no plan to replace it yet. How irresponsible. That's a tough two-step process.
COLE: Well, we don't disagree on that. Actually, that's my position well stated.
But I'll say this, I mean if I were presented with repeal I would still vote for it. But, you know, I think that McConnell is right. And the president took this position. The leadership has taken this position consistently. You don't tear down one system until you got something to replace it with. I think that's the responsible way to go (ph).
VANDEN HEUVEL: But, Representative, it's a measure of a Republican Party which was in the wilderness for seven years. This was the mantra: repeal and replace. And now we see how empty that was.
I think in any functioning democratic system, to go to the voters with what is on the offer now would be political suicide in 2018.
RILEY: The Republicans have been so focused on the failure of the exchanges -- and they're right, the exchanges have not worked. But the real anxiety I think they're learning is coming from the people who gain insurance through Medicaid.
VANDEN HEUVEL: Medicaid.
RILEY: And that's -- the anxiety of those folks in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, states that the president won, his voters are worried of what's going to happen to Medicaid under the Republican plan. And that's the biggest thing.
SWALWELL: (INAUDIBLE) anxiety of uncertainty. The uncertainty that hangs over the dinner table every night for so many families about what health care will look like next month. That's, you know --
COLE: Most people frankly get through their employer. That's not going to change. Or Medicare. That's not going to change. Or regular Medicaid. That's not going to change.
We're really talking about a comparatively small portion of the market here, and I think it's actually very confusing in discussion, that's been as if everybody is going to have mass --
VANDEN HEUVEL: No, but Medicaid --
RILEY: The problem that gets down, though, is that we miss a chance to reform an entitlement program. Medicaid's expenses are growing at unprecedented pace.
COLE: I couldn't agree more.
RILEY: And this is an opportunity to do something about that.
RILEY: And that will be the problem here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll have to end on that point of I think agreement with you two, probably disagreement with you two. 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 we'll see you tomorrow on "GMA".