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Shields and Gerson on GOP health care bill conflict, Trump’s wiretap tweet

March 10, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the political disagreement over the House Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower and how it ties into potential investigations of Trump ties to Russia.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.

And welcome to both of you.

So, a lot going on this week, Mark and Michael.

Let’s start, Mark, though, with we got a really good sense or a better sense this week of what it is that Republicans in the House and the White House want to do in terms of replacing the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

What do we make of this? Is this something that has the elements of a piece of legislation that can survive?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I don’t think so, Judy.

And I guess the one point I would disagree with you is, agreement between the White House and the Republicans in Congress. To listen to Speaker Paul Ryan, this is the last stage out of Dodge. This is the best and only chance the Republicans are going to have to repeal, fulfill that pledge that they have made now for seven years to repeal Obamacare and come up with their own plan, whereas the White House, in the words of the president, is, I’m for it, but we can deal, we can negotiate.

So I’m not sure that they’re on the same page or have basically the same commitment to this legislation. That’s why I just — I think it’s in precarious position right now.

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even though it’s moved through these two committees? And we just spoke to the chairman of the Budget Committee. And she says she expects it to go flying through.

MARK SHIELDS: She does. But the question was, how many hundred thousand Tennesseans will lose health care?

The estimates, Judy, quite frankly, range from 10 million to 15 million now. All the promises of transparency the Republicans made about going to have open hearings, open votes, they will not vote, that Budget Committee headed by Congresswoman Black, until — they will not release the Congressional Budget Office scoring to tell you how many people are going to lose it and what it’s going to cost until that happens.

It’s all being sort of railroaded through the Republican House. But I don’t see it surviving.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it on the substance, Michael?

MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: Well, on the substance, there is a set of conservative reform ideas that have been developing, but this isn’t it.

This is a jerry-rigged system to try to achieve some of the goals of Obamacare by slightly modifying this, by changing that. And the result is incoherent. It has alienated the left because of the number of people that will be off the system. It’s alienated the right because there are some people that wanted a true repeal. This isn’t that type of approach.

So, I think it’s — right now, you know, it has the virtue or the drawback of pleasing no one, actually, in this system on left to right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why did it come to this? Why after all the talk throughout the campaign? Before anything else, you knew that this president was going to be — he said, we’re going to deal with Obamacare, we’re going to get rid of it.

Why has it come to this, then?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that President Trump said it when he acted shocked that health care is complex. You remember him saying that?

This is difficult. I mean, Obamacare has many faults and many problems, but it has succeed in creating a set of expectations about preexisting conditions and coverage that Republicans now have to respond to.

And their response, I think, is kind of a makeshift response right now. But I think Obamacare, in that way, has triumphed. It has created a set of expectations Republicans have to meet. And it’s very difficult to do, to structure a system to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you still have Republicans, Mark, who are arguing the whole thing needs to be completely thrown out. The Freedom Caucus group came out this week and said throw the whole thing out and start from scratch.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, in fairness, the Freedom Caucus, that’s how they won a majority in 2010, on the pledge to do that, to repeal completely Obamacare.

And I agree with Michael. I would say this. Two other things I would add, Joe Manchin, Democratic senator from West Virginia, who is in a difficult, now red-leaning state now, made an observation, I think, that is so fundamentally true.

He said people, American voters, may not remember who gave you something, but they will remember who took it away.

MICHAEL GERSON: Yes.

MARK SHIELDS: And I think this is the problem the Republicans are facing.

The second point is, Judy, what’s holding this together right now is that it’s not really a health care plan. And it’s not really a repeal. What it is, is a tax cut. The top nine-tenths of 1 percent of Americans will receive $267 billion in tax cuts over the next 10 years.

And, quite bluntly put, when this is scored, when the numbers come out from the Congressional Budget Office, all you have to do is go to the testimony at the hearings of Betsy DeVos and Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross and Gary Cohn and all of the wealthy and exactly what this tax cut will mean for them individually, as single moms with two kids lose their Medicaid coverage under it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But it sounds like, Michael, the White House is prepared to dismiss the CBO numbers, or at least to discount them.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, this is actually a difference in strategy.

There has been a conflict between the House leadership and the administration on whether to attack CBO or not as an authority in this. This is a tendency of this administration, to attack institutions, to undermine the credibility of institutions that are independent sources of truth and analysis.

I think that would be a terrible mistake in this case. CBO is a fairly respected approach, not perfect. But I think going after it would indicate a kind of disturbing tendency to try to undermine other institutions in our system, for their own benefit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, where do we see this headed, Mark, politically?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it’s going to founder. I really do.

We’re already getting the signals from the Republicans in the Senate, both for the reasons that Michael cited on the loss of coverage. A state like Alaska is going to take an enormous hit. But even from Tom Cotton, the conservative, young conservative rising star from Arkansas, saying, slow down, it couldn’t pass the Senate

So, I think there are problems. I think you don’t get Mitch McConnell, the sense that he’s waiting for it and just impatient to get it over there to pass it, because I don’t think he thinks he can.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you see as the prospects?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think it had a very rocky start and it’s going to get rockier, particularly because of the CBO estimates that Mark is exactly right, could show upwards of 12 million people losing coverage.

And that will dominate discussion of this bill in the next stage, and as it gets very unfavorable to the administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You don’t think the administration will be able to, again, discount, dismiss and say, well, you know, they were wrong before? We heard that from the White House press secretary.

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, they could try to conduct a campaign, go to the districts of members, pressure them, call out their Internet legions.

They could try to press on this. But, if it happens that way, it will only happen through pressure, and not through enthusiasm. That’s not what we’re — we’re not seeing much enthusiasm.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, let’s turn to the other big story of the week. And it’s Russia in all its different forms.

Mark, you had the president tweeting last Saturday morning that President Obama was behind a wiretap as, evidently part of the Russia investigation. You have stories. We know that, just yesterday, the FBI director met with Republican leaders on the Hill to brief them on the latest. We don’t know what was said.

And there’s a story in The New York Times today that the FBI doesn’t see a clear connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, and yet all these bits and pieces keep coming. Do we have any more clarity on Russia and the Trump campaign and transition today than we did a month ago?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t see it, Judy.

I mean, I think there’s circumstantial evidence of contacts or relationships certainly with those within the Trump world throughout the campaign we have. But there isn’t a gun, let alone a smoking gun.

But we do have — as a consequence of what the president did last Saturday, we have got pressure for greater, more intense and more public hearings and investigations.

And I will just say on this the tweet last Saturday was so grave. I mean, this is the 45th president of the United States accusing the 44th president of the United States of criminal activity, and with no basis, no evidence, no context, no witnesses, nothing.

And, 30 minutes later, he tweets again about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on “Celebrity Apprentice.” He has just jeopardized the relationship between the president who preceded him.

Every president needs other presidents. They need the relationship. But he’s just done something so grave and inflicted such a major wound on the body politic. It won’t heal.

MICHAEL GERSON: I think there are billows of smoke here. I mean, I think…

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean?

MICHAEL GERSON: I think there are lots of ties that are being discovered between the Trump inner circle and Russia.

And, in fact, the attorney general had to recuse himself because of unreported contact. And we have learned that Flynn, the former national security adviser, was doing work on behalf of individuals associated with the Turkish government.

So, you’re creating the impression of a foreign policy bought and sold by dictators. This is quite serious. This is an unfolding, ongoing ethics disaster at the highest levels, I think we’re seeing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, again — Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing I want to point out, Judy.

At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world stood at the brink, Soviets and America, over the Cuban missiles in Cuba, President Kennedy sent Dean Acheson, a former secretary of state, to see General Charles de Gaulle to tell him exactly, brief him personally, as the president’s emissary, on what was going on.

At the end of that talk, he said to General de Gaulle, I have been authorized by the president to show you the photographic evidence we have, and for your eyes only. And General de Gaulle said, no, no, no, that’s not necessary. All I need is the word of the president of the United States.

There comes a time in every administration when you need the president to be credible, the president to have the trust and confidence of leaders around the world in a time of crisis.

And I can see no reason that anybody would ever say this about Donald Trump: All I need is the word of the president of the United States.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael, how does this administration get beyond this? Are we looking now at something that is just going to go on for months and months, if not years?

MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think we’re seeing that self-investigation through the attorney general is not going to be useful in this case.

Someone is going to have to have a real inquiry here. You could do a select committee. You could do a special prosecutor. You do some other voice of authority here. The FBI doesn’t have a huge amount of credibility, particularly given what Comey did in the election, which may have helped Trump more than the Russians did.

I think the administration, whenever you hear the phrase “Sean Spicer says,” it makes the statement more incredible, not more credible.

And I think that we have a Congress that’s quite politicized on this set of issues. We’re going to need some type of independent voice to determine what’s happening in this case.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, on that note, we shake our heads.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael Gerson, Mark Shields, thank you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

MICHAEL GERSON: Thank you.

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