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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump: Health Care Bill "Coming Together Beautifully"; Trump on Wiretapping: Talk to FOX; Trump Repeats Unproven Claim Obama Wiretapped Him; GOP Rep.: Give Wiretap Proof Or Apologize To Obama; Trump: Many Republicans Leaning "No" On Bill "Now Yes"; Authorities Seize Pill Presses To Stop Trafficking. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired March 17, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:30:42] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Back to politics now. Moments ago, President Trump said that the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare will pass with substantial support. Of course, right now, there are 25 Republican House members who are still against or leaning against the plan, according to CNN's latest whip count. That would mean it would sink in the House. It would not pass.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty joins me now from Capitol Hill.
And, Sunlen, a House vote on this bill could come as early as next week. Is there any indication that any of these 25 members who are either leaning against or are against might change their minds?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know one member, Jake, Congressman Palmer, he was firmly in the no column, but then after going to the White House today and hearing some of these potential changes that could be coming to the bill, he has shifted his vote to a yes. But it's unclear at this point how many others will follow suit, and, frankly, you have a big and significant bloc of conservatives up here on Capitol Hill, members of the House Freedom Caucus have already come out and said that they cannot support these changes to the bill. So, it's unclear if they will, at this point, be able to get the numbers.
That said, the Republican leadership is pushing for it here and expressing some sort of confidence, including stressing the urgency of this political moment.
Here's Speaker of the House Paul Ryan earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[16:35:01] REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This moment is a moment that may not come back around again -- the moment of a Republican president, a Republican Senate and a Republican House. Yes, it's a razor thin Republican majority. I get that. But if we do not see this moment in history for what it is, shame on us. (END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And again, they are feeling confident enough to push this forward in the House floor for a full vote potentially on Thursday. That said, Steve Scalise, who's the House majority whip here, he tells us that he does believe these changes definitely strengthened their numbers but importantly, Jake, he stopped short of that, he would not say if he thinks they have that magic number, 260.
TAPPER: And, Sunlen, what do we know about any of these changes that might be made to the bill?
SERFATY: Well, we're starting to hear a few tidbits of what changes potentially could be put into the bill, this is according to White House and congressional sources up here. They tell us that possible changes could include giving states the option to impose work requirements for able bodied adults who are on Medicaid, receive block grant funding rather than per capita funding.
And those are important to conservatives up here. They both -- they wanted both of those items in there. And a potential tax credits, making tax credits for older Americans more generous, that would win over potentially many moderates in the House. So, a lot of moving parts, a lot of things still to be written, Jake, a lot of details yet to be revealed.
But as it stands right now, these are the details and changes they are potentially inching towards.
TAPPER: All right. Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill -- thanks so much.
From health care, let's turn now to immigration. A new CNN poll finding that many Americans disagree with the Trump administration's more hard line positions on the issue.
Six in ten Americans say they would prefer to see a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, compared to 39 percent who favor a plan to stop illegal entry or support deportation. Ninety percent of those polled said they would support offering citizenship to immigrants here illegally who currently hold a job, speak English and are willing to pay back taxes. Fifty-eight percent of those polled say they are concerned the deportation efforts might go too far, causing undocumented immigrants who have not committed any other serious crimes to be forcibly removed from the United States.
Coming up, flooding the market with counterfeit medication. The growing danger of these fake and potentially deadly pills. You'll want to see this report coming up next.
[16:41:25] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
Let's stick with politics. We got lots to talk about with our panel. Let's start by playing a little of what President Trump had to say earlier today during his news conference with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, asked about the White House citing a bizarre story from a conservative pundit to try to back up this false wiretapping claim. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX. And so, you shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to FOX.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Bill Kristol, I guess we have the motto for the Trump administration. Harry Truman had "the buck stops here". President Trump has "talk to FOX".
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The buck stops at FOX, right. Talk to that talented legal mind.
And people haven't -- in a way, it's so ridiculous, one doesn't take it seriously. But think about what is being alleged. The president -- preceding president of the United States, President Obama, went around normal channels, the CIA, the Justice Department, the FBI, normal counterintelligence relations, somehow got British intelligence to tap to bug the Republican presidential candidate in the U.S.
Think how many levels of illegality and conspiracy we're talking about here if this were true. I mean, it would be the scandals that dwarf, honestly, I mean, Watergate I think even, using a foreign intelligence agency, going around all these procedures that are in place.
That's why the British are so appalled. I mean, if you listen -- look at their statements, they're very unusual. Our closest ally making the -- they just can't believe the president has let the White House spokesman say this from the podium and he sort of half backs it up by making a joke about Angela Merkel.
So, it is really appalling I've got to say and has really implications for our foreign policy. We have a very close intelligence relationship with Britain. What are they going to think now?
TAPPER: And, Abby, I have to say I'm a Churchill-phile so I was not a big fan of President Obama removing the Churchill bust from the Oval Office. This seems like a somewhat bigger slight against our British friends though.
ABBY PHILLIP, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. And to Bill's point, one of the other things that this allegation would really imply is that the British intelligence agency also broke the law. So, in addition to implying that President Obama broke the law, this allegation repeated from the podium by the White House press secretary who also, by the way, is the official spokesman for the U.S. government, implies that our closest allies' intelligence agency has broken the law in order to spy on him. It's a really remarkable thing to have happened.
And, you know, the White House's response that they were just repeating something that was being talked about in the news is not sufficient when you consider that this is the official word of this government, when the words come out of Sean Spicer's mouth, they matter. And there's -- it seems to be there has been no acknowledgment of that from this White House thus far.
TAPPER: And it's also unusual because German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her and her government were actually spied upon by the United States, by the National Security Agency as we learned from WikiLeaks and President Trump trying to associate himself with the fact that she actually was a legitimate target of American surveillance. One can only imagine what the German chancellor thinks when she hears her very legitimate gripe with the U.S. intelligence community compared to the president's.
KURTIS LEE, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Absolutely. This is one of those things where the president kind of threw this joke out there speaking before reporters, and he just laid it out there but it's one of those things where -- that this did happen to her and the wiretapping claim that Trump is alluding to, I mean, has been widely debunked in the U.S. by the Senate panel this week, and it's one of those things that he keeps kind of going on with and it's been widely debunked.
[16:45:10] TAPPER: And Bill Kristol, I want to play for you what a Republican Congressman, Tom Cole, republican from Oklahoma, told our Capitol Hill reporter Manu Raju. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TOM COLE, R-OKLAHOMA: Frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, and I think the President -- you know, President Obama is owed an apology in that regard. Because, you know, if he didn't do it, we shouldn't be, you know, reckless in accusations that he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I don't know what day we're on, 57, 58, but we're not even 100 days in and there you have a conservative republican congressman from Oklahoma saying that President Trump was reckless and needs to apologize to President Obama. It's pretty stunning.
BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD EDITOR AT LARGE: It is stunning. I mean, I know Tom Cole. He's an Institutionalist. He cares about the presidency and he doesn't think, I think, that the current President should imply that the preceding President sort of cavalierly broke the law for some - it's unclear even what political purpose, I suppose, is supposed to help the Hillary Clinton re-election campaign. And as Abby pointed out very correctly, imply that - not imply, really, almost assert that a friendly intelligence agency, which you work extremely closely also broke its British laws and American laws in doing this. So I think Tom Cole is sort of reflecting a kind of common sense, gee,
you said something foolish, you tweeted something foolish, you kind of dug in deeper. Would you get out of it already and apologize. You're President of the United States. You're probably going to be the President of the United States for 3 years and 10 more months. Yes, that's the right math, I think. And it's bad to just let that sit there.
TAPPER: Abby, I think that President Trump potentially could be an effective President. I think he has republican officeholders very scared of him. I think he could do deals. I think he could be very consequential. Is there anyone around him in the White House who can say, "Cut it out, focus on what's important, stop with the conspiracy theories, stop with the nonsense?"
ABBY PHILLIP, WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL REPORTER: That's a really great point. I mean, I think the President is in a moment now where he could be really pushing through one of the most important legislative priorities that he has on his plate this year, healthcare, but instead we're sitting here talking about wiretaps. And this is a situation and a, you know, a -- this is a case of his own making. He did not - he was not forced into talking about wiretapping. The problem is, though, that now that it's out there, now that the President has said it, there is really no opportunity for White House aides to pull it back.
As you - as everyone has seen, Sean Spicer is not ever going to say, "We made a mistake. The President made a mistake", even when he brought up the British intelligence agency yesterday. He told reporters - he told me and other reporters in the east room this afternoon that he has no regrets for what happened. So this is not a White House that pulls things back. They cannot pull their own President back, even when he's doing things that kind of get -- step on his own message and his own agenda.
TAPPER: And one interesting thing, as I'm turning to healthcare for a second, today President Trump said that changes that were being made to the healthcare bill flipped every no among the Republican Caucus to a yes. That is not what we're hearing, our reporters on Capitol Hill. We have 22 no votes or lean no votes. There's no indication this is any different. That's a small lie compared to this grandiose one that we - that we've heard. But it does really show how words and truth seems to matter very little.
LEE: This is one of those things that we've seen continuously throughout the campaign and now into the President's early term. I mean, with this - with this healthcare claim, you know, this is one of those things where this report is really - this - earlier this week the CBO report really put this bill in trouble showing that 24 million could be uninsured by 2026 with this plan. And I mean, this is something that a lot of republicans are stepping away from, but it seems like the administration is saying, "Hey, we can fix this and make it work." And this comes at a time where, you know, polls are showing that the Affordable Care Act is popular among voters.
TAPPER: Bill, do you sense that President Trump has taken ownership of the healthcare bill the way that he probably needs to? And I guess the better question might even be, is this the bill that he would write if it had been up to him instead of Paul Ryan?
KRISTOL: Well, probably not but the Speaker of the House has some say on the bill. And I do think Trump allies think he kind of walked into a trap on this but he is where he is and I think he's decided it's better to get it through the House if he can. I think what he was saying today was he had flipped the 12 members of the house republicans who visited this morning. I think 11 were not against it, they were on the fence or (INAUDIBLE) before. He did probably move one member. We'll see what happens next week. They're going to do a manager's amendment, I guess. We were discussing this earlier.
On Tuesday on Wells Committee (ph), I don't know if that will get scored again by the CBO. I don't - the republicans spent a lot of time complaining about Nancy Pelosi jamming things through at the last minute with thousand-page amendments in effect replacing the bill with another bill and having a vote in 36 hours. That looks to be Paul Ryan's strategy. It might - he might pull it off, but it is - he - they are - do not have the votes in the Senate. They have three hard no's already and plenty of other senators expressing skepticism. So I'm convince that this bill ends up becoming law or anything like it ends up becoming law.
[16:50:17] TAPPER: All right. Bill Kristol, Abby Phillip, Kurtis Lee, thanks one and all. Appreciate it. Have a great weekend.
Two pain pills that look almost exactly the same but one is fake and potentially fatal. We're going to take an investigative look at how counterfeit medicine is flooding the streets. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Turning to our "HEALTH LEAD" now, traffickers behind counterfeit prescription drugs are becoming more advanced and sadly more daring. CNN has learned that they're importing industrial presses to pump out dangerous fake pills that are almost impossible to tell from the real ones, like these Xanax pills. They may look alike, but the counterfeit pill on the right contain dangerous substances causing opioid overdoses in San Francisco. Let's bring in CNN Correspondent Sara Ganim. Sara, you have been investigating this issue. You went to a secret warehouse with those huge pill presses.
[16:55:18] SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, these machines which are coming into the country at record highs allowed drug dealers to make pills that look legitimate but actually contained dangerous and powerful drugs, fatal drugs, just as we've seen a spike in death from drugs like Fentanyl. In the last six years, Customs and Border Protection has also seen a rise in the smuggling of these pill press machines.
GANIM: It's happening all over the country, in New Mexico, in Florida, in California. People are dying from counterfeit pills made with a dangerous synthetic drug called Fentanyl, a drug that's 25 to 50 times stronger than heroin, up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
JOHN MARTIN, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION SPECIAL AGENT: People have died from ingesting what they think is a legitimate pain killer and it's a counterfeit pill that contains fentanyl.
GANIM: The death of pop icon prince could turn out to be the most famous case of counterfeit pills. Police reportedly found mislabeled pills laced with fentanyl in his home. The drug was found in his system. This is the tool drug dealers are using to make those pills, turning synthetic powder into something that looks just like prescription meds.
MARTIN: If you have counterfeit pills, you can't make them without pill presses.
GANIM: As the DEA's John Martin showed CNN, pill presses are simply bought off the internet. Most come from China.
MARTIN: Here's a large industrial one for almost $5,000.
GANIM: The machines make pills so deceivingly accurate, even veteran agents have trouble telling the difference. The machines themselves are not illegal but buying them without proper registration is. The number of illegal imports has spiked 19 fold since 2011.
So you just put the product in here and then you turn it and then it shoots out.
This was seized?
CHERYL DAVIES, CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION ASSISTANT PORT DIRECTOR: This was seized, yes, and this machine came from China.
GANIM: Cheryl Davies leads the anti-terrorism contraband team at America's largest seaport in Long Beach, California. Finding pill presses among millions of tons of goods is no small challenge. One container here is processed every 7.8 seconds. Customs and border protection opened up its secret warehouse for CNN, showing us the seized pill press machines with investigations under way to see whether they were legally imported.
DAVIES: We see a variety of machines. They range from manual little machines that you can make one or two at a time all the way up to machines that can generate 170,000 per minute. Huge industrial size machines. With all the overdoses that we're seeing, the increase in overdoses over the last couple of years, I think, these types of interceptions are extremely important, have a lot of impact in our community.
GANIM: The ones they don't catch end up in places like this, Lubbock, Texas. Police raid and find a table top pill press and nearly 7,000 pounds of synthetic Fentanyl.
It's so dangerous even to touch that agents have to get into full hazmat gear. The DEA's John Martin says pill presses have made it easier for drug dealers to make millions of dollars out of their homes.
MARTIN: They're going to get on the dark net. They will order Fentanyl or some type of fentanyl-related compound. It usually comes from China. The setup is relatively cheap.
GANIM: For $5,000 to $6,000, Martin says, someone could potentially sell $10 million of fake pills; pills that can be deadly.
MARTIN: It's almost like playing Russian roulette. It's extremely dangerous.
GANIM: Jake, you can imagine some of these drug dealers, they're making these counterfeit pills in their homes and just the slightest mistake, the tiniest bit too much Fentanyl goes into a pill, and that makes it deadly. The acting DEA administrator, Chuck Rosenberg, actually went to China earlier this year to meet with officials about synthetic Fentanyl, and they discussed keeping these machines from coming to the U.S. Jake?
TAPPER: All right. Sarah Ganim, thank you so much for that report. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn.
Tune in this Sunday to "STATE OF THE UNION." My guests will be Health and Human Services Department Secretary Dr. Tom Price. Also with us, Republican Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. Our panel will be Bakari Sellers, Jen Psaki, Marsha Blackburn and Jim DeMint. That's all at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern.
That is it for THE LEAD, I am Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news, wire cage. President Trump boxes himself in again suggesting he was wiretapped by President Obama. The Justice Department gives Congress what it knows -