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GOP Senators Unclear on Which Health Bill They're Voting On; Senate Investigators Question Jared Kushner; Mixed Messages from White House Communications Team on Russia Sanctions; Trump Again Rips "Beleaguered" A.G. Jeff Sessions. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired July 24, 2017 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's absolutely right. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there could be a health care vote this week. And that's after a lot of delays and bills efforts on Mitch. McConnell's part. He is insisting there is going to be a motion-to-proceed vote that could come as early as next week.

What's really incredible right now, as you mentioned, a lot of Senate Republicans don't know what it is they are trying to accomplish, what it is they would be voting for. That is because McConnell, remember, who originally wanted to vote on a repeal-and-replace bill, that didn't get enough votes. Then he decided to move to a repeal-only strategy. But then President Trump jumped in and said Republicans have to pursue a repeal-and-replace at-the-same-time strategy. A lot of changes in strategy in the last couple of weeks. So a lot of Senators, even going into this week, not sure exactly how they would vote, even on the motion to proceed, that first procedural vote.

Now, two things to watch on President Trump's front. One, as you mentioned, he is going to speak this afternoon on health care. Let's see if he stays on message or has new ideas on how to move forward.

(CROSSTALK)

LEE: Exactly. What the message is from the president today.

And the second is the fact that he is going to be at an event with Shelly Moore Capito. This is a Senator from West Virginia. She is a key vote. And she has had a lot of concerns about how she would vote on this bill and how the bill process has unfolded, the writing of the bill. Trump, of course, weighing in a lot the last couple of days via Twitter on the health care process. He said this morning, "Republicans have a last chance to do the right thing on repeal and replace after years of talking and campaigning on it." He also tweeted last night, "If Republicans don't repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare, the repercussions will be far greater than any of them understand."

Now, I'm willing to guarantee a lot of Senate Republicans do understand the repercussions of not voting to repeal Obamacare this year. This is a big concern for them heading into next year and next year's elections.

BOLDUAN: I think the repercussions are exactly almost all of what the Senate Republicans are thinking about at this point.

M.J., great to see you. Thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.

Gloria, good to see you.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: This week, as M.J. laid out, it is starting out with weeks like in the past with the Senate.

(LAUGHTER)

They are preparing for a vote on some sort of health care overhaul. Do you see any indication, right now, Gloria, from all of your conversations, this week is likely to go any different than the past?

BORGER: Not, so far. Yogi Berra, deja vu all over again here. I don't think we -- Republicans are scratching their heads. They don't know what they are supposed to be voting on, as M.J. was saying. Is it repeal? Repeal and replace? Some kind of alternative? I think people are looking forward to hearing from the president today at 3:00.

But I think the whole thing behind this, Kate, is that these Republicans don't trust that the president will have their back if push comes to shove. They are being asked to vote for a bill that the polls show has about 17 percent popularity in the country. That's a heavy lift. They understand all the repercussions and the fact they all campaigned on repeal and replace. But, they are worried about this particular bill. And should they vote on it and walk off that ledge behind the president, they don't know where he is going to be. That's a problem they have. Don't forget, this is a president who called the House bill "mean," at one point.

BOLDUAN: Right after he celebrated it.

BORGER: Right. Right after he celebrated it. They are a little nervous about whether they can depend on him.

BOLDUAN: Do the president's statements today -- we will wait to see what he says -- but the tweets leading up to today and the last 24 and 48 hours, "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their president."

That could have to do with health care or it could have to do with something else.

BORGER: Right.

BOLDUAN: But amid a long string of tweets on health care, if makes me wonder -- I mean, does this type of tweet, does this type of pressure, does this change the dynamic --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Well -

BOLDUAN: -- or give them confidence at all?

BORGER: First of all, a lot of them would dispute that. For example --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- they won by larger margins than Donald Trump did in their state. And he is making it personal. You owe me this. This is something you owe me. Donald Trump does tend to personalize his politics and everything else. It's either about loyalty, you owe me this, I did this for you. And they don't see it that way. You know, it's each person for himself right now. You have a president whose popularity is at 36 percent, 37 percent in polls. They are worried about their own hides. They are also worried about their constituents, some of whom are going to be really affected by these Medicaid cutbacks. So they don't see it as all about the president. They see it as about the people who voted for them. And they really do understand the problem they are in. It doesn't take a rocket scientist. Every one of them ran, at some point or another, on repealing and replacing Obamacare. So, they get that. But, they also understand that you have to repeal and replace it with something that will benefit their constituents.

[11:35:30] BOLDUAN: The president says, this is the last chance for Republicans to make good on their promise. That raises the stakes more for what the president --

BORGER: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: -- might say to try to change the calculation. The math is not in his favor at the moment.

Great to see you, Gloria.

BORGER: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: We are going to get back to our breaking news. Any moment now, President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, he could be walking out of this closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with congressional investigators. Will Kushner address reporters? Will he make a statement following his 11-page statement he put out ahead of time about his contacts with Russia?

Plus, the president slams Attorney General Jeff Sessions again, calling him beleaguered in a tweet, and wondering aloud why the Justice Department isn't investigating Hillary Clinton and her Russian connections. Is he trying to force Sessions out? We'll discuss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:37] BOLDUAN: More on our breaking news. The president's son- in-law, right now, being questioned behind closed doors by Senate investigators on his role in the campaign. Jared Kushner, in his statement released ahead of time, revealed a previously undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador, but also insisted throughout that he took no part in any collusion. He said he has nothing to hide.

With me right now, CNN chief national correspondent and anchor of "INSIDE POLITICS," John King.

John, try this on for size. From what we see in the statement from Kushner, he is defending himself, for sure. That is clear. It also seems throughout, he is confirming somewhat in the statement, at least some instances the president called fake news over and over again. What is your read on this?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: A read on this is, number one, think of how you began the conversation: President's son-in-law behind closed doors answering questions.

BOLDUAN: Right.

KING: We're in a new chapter of the Russia investigation. Jared Kushner, today, Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, Donald Trump Jr, before the week is out, we also expect to enter private conversations on Capitol Hill. The staff members and, next, the Senators are beginning to interview pretty big witnesses. Now, if Jared Kushner is telling the truth in the long statement he released, and he did nothing wrong, maybe he was naive and took a couple meetings he shouldn't have taken, maybe he didn't handle things according to State Department protocol, but he's making a case that, yes, here is a full accounting of my contacts with Russians, I did nothing wrong. We discussed either transition business or if Donald Trump is president, when Donald Trump is president, Russia relations and there's nothing nefarious here. That's the case he has to make to the staff members today. And we'll see if he ends up in a public hearing.

But, you are right. Remember, Candidate Trump and then President Trump and his staff said, no contacts, there were no contacts, we didn't meet with the Russians. At least now we are beginning to get an accounting. Jared Kushner saying, on the record, I had these meetings. We will see now how it goes forward. He says his testimony today, he believes, will put it behind him. We'll see.

BOLDUAN: Behind him, and what that means for others, who knows, to be honest. Let's say all of it is innocent on the part of Jared Kushner and maybe others. Have you got a reason, a good explanation at this point from the Trump orbit on why they haven't just gotten all these contacts out there much sooner, as in before they are called before Congress?

KING: It depends who you ask, Kate. You used to work in this town. You used to wonder the halls on Capitol Hill. You know the tradition. If you have a problem, there's what's called the Friday afternoon document. You call everybody into the room, you say we need full disclosure. Everybody, by the end of the day, bring your list of contacts with Russians during the campaign, and you put out a big report. You say, we did nothing wrong, sorry we didn't tell you about this sooner, here it is. The Trump White House refused to do that. The Trump campaign refused to do it. Some, more veteran political people, who say I wish we had done that. There are others who say, we don't have to be fully transparent. And remember, the president has been saying this is a hoax and fake news. So to give a full accounting would be to undermine the president's central argument, which it's all a hoax.

BOLDUAN: That might be the core of the issue on the whole disclosure front.

You also had some great reporting, John, I want to make sure we get to over the fallout over Trump going after Jeff Sessions. A chill among the executive branch, as you wrote it. As we saw this morning, it hasn't stopped. Trump went after Sessions today, calling him beleaguered. What are you hearing?

KING: This is an interesting moment for the Trump presidency. The firing -- the resignation of Sean Spicer - excuse me -- when Anthony Scaramucci was brought in. More importantly, the president publicly undermining, throwing under the bus his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. He's not just a guy in the cabinet. He was the president's first Senate endorsement --

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

KING: -- a Trump loyalist. Imagine that, if your boss gave a public interview to a national newspaper saying you were being unfair to him. He wouldn't have given you the job if he knew you were going to do what you did when you took the job. That was last week. And I'm told, from worker bees across the executive branch, and cabinet secretaries are talking about this, saying they view the president's conduct is unprofessional. At the State Department, this came after Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, was already having another bad week in his war with the White House. Some of Secretary Tillerson's friends think he might try to get out of town earlier than expected. A lot of people say that could be venting. We'll see what happens at Foggy Bottom. We'll see what happens with Secretary Tillerson.

But without a doubt, Kate, across the administration, a new communications director has his first full day today. Sean Spicer is gone. The president gets up today and throws Jeff Sessions under the bus again. Just imagine the workplace environment when your boss does such things to those who are viewed as his most-trusted allies.

BOLDUAN: Getting easier or getting more complicated and harder.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, John. More interesting. There you go. There you go, John.

Thanks so much. Great to see you.

KING: All right. [11:45:10] BOLDUAN: Coming up, in a rare show of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill -- who knew it was possible -- Congress reached a deal to punish Russia for meddling in the U.S. election. But is President Trump on board? Mixed messages from the White House on this not-so- small issue. That's coming up.

Plus, the parents of Charlie Gard make a very big decision on his medical care on his future. Why they say they are giving up the fight to prolong his life. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: The White House has a new communications team but are the same problems already and still getting in the way? Mixed messages rather than on message and, this time, on the not-so-small issue of imposing additional sanctions on Russia. The House and Senate announced an agreement, bipartisan agreement, on sanctions after a long and drawn-out negotiation. Where's the White House on this now? Depends who you talk to within the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[11:50:02] JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, STATE OF THE UNION: Is President Trump going to sign the Russian sanctions bill?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We've got to ask President Trump that. It's my second or third day on the job. My guess is that he's going to make that decision shortly.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting the sanctions in place. And we support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: There you have it.

Let me bring in CNN political commentator, former counsel to President Clinton, Paul Begala. And CNN political commentator and former special assistant to George W. Bush, Scott Jennings.

Great to see you guys.

Let's get to it.

Paul, should they be on the same page on the issue of something like Russian sanctions? Or do you cut Scaramucci some slack because he's just on the job a couple days?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: More the latter. I think you cut the new guy some slack for a day or two or a week or two. Let him get his sea legs. But it's interesting they haven't come out and clarified that.

Where's General McMaster? Where's the president himself? I think it's because they don't know what to do. Trump, understandable, is fixated on his base. By his base, I mean the Kremlin. This upsets his base -- in the Kremlin. If he doesn't sign it, he'll be overridden. That would be an enormous sign of weakness. This is the first time we've seen -- and there have been MRIs -- first time we've seen spying or various other organs on the congressional Republicans. I'm happy to see it.

BOLDUAN: Where do I begin? Why do you do this to me all the time?

(LAUGHTER)

Scott, deal with all the cleanup there. But there are two interesting scenarios, Scott, I will play out for you and you tell me what happens. Either the president vetoes the bill, and opens up, I don't know, Pandora's box, or he signs the bill, and then because this goes directly to Russian interference in the election, then can the president really question if Russia had hacked the election ever again after that?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he has to sign this bill. I think if he vetoes this bill, as Paul pointed out, he's likely to be overridden at the Congress. He needs to take "yes" for an answer here. This is a strong bipartisan achievement. Both parties coming together. He can go in, take credit for signing it, for being tough on the Russians. Even though Scaramucci on the Sunday shows was non-committal on whether he would sign the bill, he later said, I think this president will be tough on Russia. This is a way to make that come true. I think he's got to move forward with this. And it gives them a strong talking point when people are accusing him of being soft on Russia, moving forward here, however these investigations play out.

BOLDUAN: Right. But, again, Scott, if he signs, takes your advice and signs the sanctions bill, at that point, he can no longer question, really, if Russia hacked into the election. As Scaramucci said -- Scaramucci was asked about it again yesterday, and he said, I talked to the president yesterday, he talked to me on Air Force One, he basically said, you know, maybe they did it, maybe they didn't do it. That's the latest from the communications director.

JENNINGS: As Scaramucci said, it's a question of legitimacy. The president feels like people who are alleging these things about Russia are questioning his legitimacy to be president. And I think a lot of Republicans believe he's a legitimate president. A lot of Democrats believe that. Most reporters I know believe he's a legitimate president. Even if we figure out fully, finally, completely, the Russians meddled in the election, that doesn't change the legitimacy of his presidency. So he can lean in to the sanctions bill and sign it. And he can lean into the intelligence committees and lean into the intelligence community, allow them to come forward with their information on meddling and put forward maybe a presidential task force and give the American people confidence this isn't going to happen in the future. Taking those steps in no way undermines his legitimacy as president, but would answer a lot of questions out there that people have about what exactly the Russians are up to.

BOLDUAN: And taking a stance, a good, a big step and good step in the direction that his intelligence community has definitely staked their reputation on. That's for sure.

Paul, let me ask you about what's going on now. Jared Kushner behind closed doors with congressional investigators, answering questions about his role in the campaign. And as he says, in his statement he put out beforehand, says he has nothing to hide and there was no collusion on his part. He is absolutely defending himself in that statement. And of course, you can assume exactly what he's doing behind closed doors with his attorneys. Is he offering cover, though, to anyone else? Not that that his job. But what do you see in that statement?

BEGALA: Exactly, right, Kate. They're all beginning to turn on each other. In his statement alone, he throws his brother-in-law under the bus. Don Jr set up that meeting. I didn't read through his e-mail. I didn't pay attention. I left early. He throws him under the bus. Bad form, Jared. By the way, he uses "impactful" as an adjective and "calendared: at a verb. I don't know how he got into Harvard. But that's an awful, awful piece of writing, in addition to pretty duplicitous.

Here's his problem. If he lies, it's a felony. He's got to tell the truth in that room. And he's being questioned not by politicians, which would happen on the House committee. Congressman would question him. In this meeting, he's being questions by professional staff. And they are likely to know a lot about this. And just, Jared, I know he's not listening, don't lie. And I fear he's going to.

[11:55:13] BOLDUAN: This is what I love. Jared, I know he's not listening, obviously, behind closed doors, you offer advice. That's why I like you, Paul.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm trying to keep the young man out of prison but don't think I'll succeed.

BOLDUAN: You've a giver.

Clearly, Scott, he's just a giver.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm being told by the control room, we just got some video in of the president.

Guys, can we show that video?

I'm being told this is the president rolling his eyes at reporters when he's -- right there. Reporters asking him questions about Jeff Sessions.

You can weigh in on the eye roll. You can roll your eyes at me, whichever you prefer.

But the president's tweet this morning saying that Jeff Sessions is beleaguered, and wondering aloud why this Justice Department is not investigating Hillary Clinton and her contacts with Russia. Why is he continuing with this today?

BEGALA: Yes. I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: That is not for you, Paul. That would be a softball in your world. This is for Scott.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: My apologies.

JENNINGS: If you're going to put it up on a tee, Paul's going to try to hit it out of the park every time.

(LAUGHTER)

Look, I don't -- I don't know why he's doing this today other than to say clearly frustrated. I think if you're Jeff Sessions, at some point, you have to call up the White House and go there and say, to the president personally, we're either going to clear the air or we're not. If we are, great. I'll move forward, push your agenda. If we're not going to clear the air, you need to decide whether you still have confidence in me to execute this job. At some point, I imagine that confrontation had to take place. And I hope it does soon enough for Jeff Sessions. Because he's an honorable man who served his country in various political positions for a very long time. I think he was one of the best possible choices that the president could have made for his cabinet. And I hate to see him being sort of strung out like this on a daily basis. He needs to have that talk with the president pretty soon.

BOLDUAN: He's the definition of loyalty to Trump through the campaign and in this administration. We'll see if they end up having that talk and what comes of it. Until then, great to see them conversing in public.

Scott, Paul, great to have you. Paul, kind of. Scott, always.

(LAUGHTER)

Great to see you.

We have much more of our breaking news coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:02] KING: Welcome to "INSIDE POLITICS." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

And busy news day is a big understatement. We'll told a rare public statement from presidential son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could come any minute.