Comey’s firing ‘perhaps inevitable’ after Clinton email controversy, says Sen. Collins

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we now get reaction from Capitol Hill to President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey.

I'm joined by Republican Susan Collins of Maine. She serves on the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Senator, we had invited you on to talk about health care, and maybe we will get to that, but I have to ask you about the shocking news just moments ago that the president had fired the FBI director.

What do you know about this?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-Maine: Well, Judy, like every other American, I'm just learning about this news.

I wonder in some ways if it were the inevitable conclusion to decisions that were well-intentioned by Mr. Comey that he made last July in which he held a press conference to announce his decision not to pursue an indictment against Hillary Clinton and went on to give his personal opinion in the case.

He did so in a manner that was contrary to the policies of the deep Department of Justice, although I have no doubt that his intentions were good. This seemed to snowball in a way that led to the additional events last fall, and embroiled him in a political controversy that had continued to this day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He said at the time, Senator, that he felt he had to do that because of the huge importance of the national presidential election that was taking place, and he owed it to the American people.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: He did say that, and I have no doubt at all, knowing the FBI director, that he was sincere in his conclusion and in saying that.

But the fact is that the Department of Justice has very specific policies that requires the FBI to go to his superiors at the Department of Justice and get their decision, and it really wasn't his call.

And, in that area, it does appear that his actions were contrary to the general rules followed by the Department of Justice, particularly in dealing with very sensitive criminal cases.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, do you think this was the right decision by President Trump?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Well, it's hard to say, because I'm still learning about it.

But I do think that perhaps it was inevitable, given the fact that Mr. Comey has been unable to put this controversy to rest, and it was contrary to the rules of the Department of Justice.

I do hope that the next FBI director will have the same kinds of integrity, intelligence, and determination that Mr. Comey exhibited, but perhaps better judgment on when it's appropriate to go public with the results of an investigation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does this give you confidence in the Justice Department at this moment, in the administration at a time when we know this investigation is under way into connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian officials?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Well, the president didn't fire the entire FBI. He fired the director of the FBI.

And I have every confidence that the FBI will continue pursuing its investigation into the Russian attempt to influence the elections last fall. In addition, the Senate Intelligence Committee on which I serve is continuing its bipartisan investigation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you're saying you feel that's all going to go forward?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: I do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have confidence that all goes forward as it should?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Yes. It should go forward, and it will go forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Senator Collins, I do have a few minutes left.

And I want to ask you about the health care bill, because that is front and center. It's another issue very much before the country.

All the reporting I have seen says that Republicans in the Senate at this point wouldn't support the health care reform bill that came out of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Do you agree with that, and, if so, why not?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: First of all, I think that it is evident that the Senate is going to draft its own bill.

I have a bill that Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is a physician, and I introduced back in January. And we think we have come up with a better model than what the House passed just this last week.

There are a lot of questions and concerns about the House bill. It is difficult to evaluate it because the House voted prior to having a Congressional Budget Office analysis about the impact of the bill on coverage and on cost, both to the federal government and to families and individuals. So, that is the major problem.

As we know, the earlier House bill would have resulted in 14 million people losing their coverage next year, 24 million over 10 years. That is an issue that concerns me gravely.

I'm also concerned about the substantial changes that the House is proposing in the Medicaid program and whether that would end up shifting a lot of cost to state government, to hospitals, to nursing homes, and to those of us who are insured.

And there is another real flaw in the House bill, and that is that the tax credits that are proposed are not adjusted to reflect the income of the individual who qualifies for the credit. So, it seems to me those tax credits should be weighted toward low-income families and individuals.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, as you know, the House leadership is very much behind that bill, for all the issues you point out, but, Senator, this is a complex piece of legislation that you and Senator Cassidy are proposing.

But tell us in a nutshell, how would it be different?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: It would be very different from the House bill, because our goal is to actually expand coverage, rather than reduce the number of people covered.

And what we would do is give more options to the states. And one of those options would be that if a state finds that the Affordable Care Act is working well for that state, they could keep that model.

For many states, it is not working well, and the individual market is on the verge of collapse and premiums have gone sky-high and deductibles are too burdensome for low-income people.

We have a second plan that is available in our bill, which we call the Better Choice, which would set up health savings accounts for individuals that would be federally funded for low- and middle-income families and individuals. And they would be paired with a high-deductible plan, plus basic pharmaceutical coverage.

Those health savings accounts could be used to buy more generous insurance plans or to pay first-dollar expenses, such as your co-pays or deductibles. And it's important to note that, regardless of what choice a state makes, that we would keep all of the consumer protections that are in the Affordable Care Act, such as protecting people with preexisting conditions, allowing young people to stay on their parents' policies until age 26, no lifetime or annual caps from coverage, and also no discrimination based on gender or race or national origin.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Senator, I'm sure you know that, at this point, you and Senator Cassidy are pretty much alone in supporting this.

There haven't been many others to sign on to this. What makes you confident you can win support for this proposal, when it does preserve a pretty significant chunk of Obamacare, if that's what states want to do?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Well, we do have three great Republican co-sponsors. And I'm pleased about that, so there are five Republicans on the bill.

But our goal is to have a bipartisan bill. One of the problems with Obamacare is that it was totally a partisan effort. And that was one reason that there weren't more Republican ideas incorporated into the bill, and we're seeing the results of that now.

We want a more market-oriented reform, but we also recognize that there are some good provisions in the Affordable Care Act that should be retained.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: And that is why I think, in the end, we will be able to attract some moderate Democrats to our approach. And I have had those discussions that are starting now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Susan Collins of Maine, we thank you very much for talking both about the FBI and about this complicated health care issue. Thank you.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Thank you, Judy.

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