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What tumult over Russia investigation, health care means for the GOP

March 28, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
For Republicans, last week's collapse of the effort to repeal Obamacare and the ongoing drama over the investigation into Russian connections with the Trump campaign have put the majority party on a rocky road. Judy Woodruff speaks with Lisa Desjardins about how Republicans see their path ahead on health care and tax reform.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to Capitol Hill, where last week’s collapse of the effort to repeal Obamacare and ongoing drama over the investigation into Russian connections with the Trump campaign have dealt a blow to the majority party.

Our Lisa Desjardins reports.

LISA DESJARDINS: In Congress, another tumultuous day, with more questions for Republicans than answers.

REP. DEVIN NUNES, R-Calif.: You guys get so many opportunities to interview me, whenever there is something to report.

LISA DESJARDINS: In particular, for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. His Democratic counterpart on the committee, Adam Schiff, has now publicly called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

Nunes sidestepped the question today, implying he will stay.

QUESTION: Are you considering stepping down?

REP. DEVIN NUNES: Look guys, go ask — I mean, I have no idea what they’re even talking about. So, go ask, go ask the other side.

QUESTION: So, does that say you’re not considering any change, not stepping down?

REP. DEVIN NUNES: What’s the purpose? I mean, I’m — I don’t understand your question.

LISA DESJARDINS: This after Nunes told the White House, before telling others in Congress, that U.S. intelligence agencies inadvertently spied on people close to the president.

Then today, in The Washington Post, allegations that the White House tried to block former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates from talking to Nunes’ committee about Russia. The Post pointed to a Justice Department letter written late last week telling Yates her testimony might be privileged and the White House should decide if she could testify.

The White House insisted it never blocked her.

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: We have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple. The report in The Washington Post is 100 percent false.

LISA DESJARDINS: But Yates has not testified yet because Nunes canceled the hearing, saying he needs more background.

Also, late today, Nunes said he will not tell others on the Intelligence Committee where he got his information.

House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked today if Nunes should step aside and if he knew Nunes’ intelligence source.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: No, and no.

LISA DESJARDINS: Others were less sure.

Senate Republican Lindsey Graham:

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: If he is not willing to tell the Democrats and Republicans on the committee who he met with and what he was told, then I think he lost his ability to lead.

LISA DESJARDINS: Today was also Republicans’ first day back since the dramatic failure to pass their health care bill and their decision to move on to other issues. That was Friday, but, today, a reversal. House Republicans said health care reform is no longer dead.

REP. MO BROOKS, R-Ala.: The message is, we are going to revisit health care.

QUESTION: When?

REP. MO BROOKS: I got the impression that it was fairly immediate.

LISA DESJARDINS: That from those in the conservative Freedom Caucus who blocked the bill.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, R-N.C.: Well, it’s too early to tell. But, I mean, obviously, everybody wants to find a way to get this passed. And we’re going to work real hard to do that.

LISA DESJARDINS: And from other conservatives outside the group.

REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK, R-Ga.: The American people want it done. We want it done. The game didn’t end on Friday. We just took a halftime.

LISA DESJARDINS: An abundance of intention, with an absence of specifics.

Speaker Ryan said Obamacare cannot stay as it is, but, as for exactly how Republicans do that:

REP. PAUL RYAN: I’m not going to put a timeline on it, because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it.

LISA DESJARDINS: Ryan acknowledged timing does matter in one way, that insurers will have to make decisions soon.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Lisa joins us now from the Capitol.

So, Lisa, let’s bore in a little on this change of heart about whether they’re going to go back to health care or not. The president and others were saying Friday no. Now it sounds like, as you reported, they are saying, we are going to move ahead.

Is everybody on board, all the Republicans on board with this?

LISA DESJARDINS: They came out of an extraordinary conference meeting today, Judy, all sounding very unified.

But the issue is, there aren’t specifics, there’s not a plan. And a side issue, Judy, is some Republicans insist that this future health care motion, whatever it becomes, should be Republican-only. Others, the moderates, want to work with Democrats. They want to craft a compromise bill across the aisle.

And we heard President Trump and saw him tweet about reaching out to Democrats over the weekend. They have not figured out what they want to do.

I think, Judy, I can’t stress enough how raw the emotions are for Republicans here on the Hill today. And this is a group that used to be the vote counting group. They used to operate in tangibles. But now they’re talking about intangibles like hope and promises, and they don’t yet have a plan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, so, quickly, Lisa, what does the calendar look like? What does it look like they can realistically do?

LISA DESJARDINS: Well, if they’re going to tackle tax reform, they have got to get right to it, because they want to try and get that done before the August recess.

And that could be very complicated, even more complicated now, given the dynamics after the health care lack of a vote. And, Judy, actually, in just one month, we have got a major deadline. That’s for government funding, April 28.

And talking to Republicans today, they admit they need Democrats’ help on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol, thank you.

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