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Awaiting full Mueller report, Washington turns to policy on health care, climate change

Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss upcoming high-profile policy debates in Washington, including President Trump’s desire to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and what he thinks should replace it, Republican and Democratic proposals for funding family leave and ideas for addressing climate change.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The White House and Congress are still digesting the attorney general's brief summary of the Mueller report, as they await the report itself.

    But lawmakers also are pushing forward on a range of issues, including health care, family leave and climate change.

    Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor have both been covering this from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. And they join me now.

    Hello to both of you.

    So, Yamiche, I'm going to start with you. And let's start with health care. We know that, yesterday, the Trump administration weighed in on a federal judge's ruling that essentially threw out the entire Affordable Care Act. What is the president's plan for health care?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president has put Republicans in a difficult position when it comes to health care, because he's determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    But he doesn't actually have a plan to replace it. Now, the president said today that, if this lawsuit gets all the way up to the Supreme Court, eventually, some time in the future, there will be a plan put in place. But I have been talking to White House aides all day, and there is no plan right now.

    And that's particularly how Republicans got in this situation in the first place, which is that the Affordable Care Act is still here, because last time they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, John McCain and other Republicans — and some Republicans and all the Democrats said, if you don't have a plan to replace people's health care, you can't just take it away.

    Now, it's also important to note that, as the president takes this stance on this lawsuit and saying that the judge's ruling should stand, there are people inside the White House, Politico and others report, that say, this is not a good idea, including the attorney general and the secretary of health and human services.

    But the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, he was on the Hill before he came to the White House, and he made a career of saying, we should repeal Obamacare.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, this is an issue we have been talking about for years. And a lot of reaction today on the Hill, on Capitol Hill. Is there some kind of a consensus about which way to go forward politically for both parties?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think there is consensus only on the politics today on the Hill, and that is that this is bad for Republicans.

    Democrats I spoke to today felt like this was amazing, incredible timing. They felt overshadowed by the Mueller report conclusions, and sort of trying to figure out what they were going to do on that. Now they feel the president has made a political mistake on health care, trying to end a whole system without, as Yamiche said, having a plan to replace it.

    Republicans, the only difference between them, is how concerned they are about this. Some are very concerned, like Maine's Susan Collins. She's about to write a letter to the attorney general about this.

    Others, like Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said, hey, I think the courts, if they do overrule the Affordable Care Act, will give us time to replace it.

    It's not clear that's true. But I asked, I said, the president wants to make health care a Republican Party issue, the party of health care. Is that possible? He laughed and he said, no, that's as if saying the Democrats would be the party of defense. He said, there is no world in which our party is the health care party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, let's talk about another subject, a lot of conversation today around this family leave.

    We are seeing something new, Lisa — you pointed that out to us — from Republicans. They're coming at this from multiple directions. What are you seeing there? Part of it is talking about paid leave, when a parent has to take time off for the birth of a child or another family member issue.

    What do you see?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Look at this interesting picture from today. This is a news conference I went to earlier today with four Republicans, two of them very recognizable.

    There you have Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, former presidential candidates, both of them unveiling a plan that would give parents a way to ensure they received some kind of salary while they took up to three months off.

    I want to look at what the Republicans are proposing specifically. They would propose to fund this by allowing people to borrow from their Social Security benefits in the future. That would mean that those parents who take that benefit now would have fewer benefits or delay their retirement later. Here's the deal: Democrats think that's a terrible idea. They, instead, would want to fund a kind of child or parental leave by employer and employee payroll taxes.

    So, Judy, what's interesting here is, the two sides agree. The United States is behind the rest of the world in terms of giving parents time off. Very big disagreement over how to pay for that time off.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, what about the White House? How do they see this? Do they possibly support a version of this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president and the president's daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump both say that they back the idea of family paid leave in theory and in concept, but they haven't actually come — they haven't made clear what they actually would want to see happen.

    Ivanka Trump has made this a signature part of her time at the White House. She said the tax credit that was given in the last tax bill to companies that would provide family — paid family leave, that wasn't enough, that Republicans really do need to come out with a plan.

    The president also said during the State of the Union, I want to see a family paid leave policy in a bill passed at some point. However, the president's budget, if you read it closely, it says the states should come up with that policy, and I'm going to leave it to them.

    So what the White House is essentially saying is like, yes, this is a great idea, but we're going to go ahead and slide this off to the states, and you guys will figure it out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's talk about, in the time we have left, climate change.

    There are some…


    We're covering — not a lot of ground we're covering today, but health care, climate change.


    But, Lisa, we reported yesterday the Green New Deal voted down in the Senate.

    But, today, we see both parties out there talking about various other climate change ideas. What do we see in the politics there?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There is something to be said for the conversation is actually starting to happen on Capitol Hill from both sides.

    And I want to point to some video of Nancy Pelosi the day after the defeat of this — one version of the Green New Deal in the Senate. What does she do? She comes out, holds a press conference unveiling Democratic legislation that is much more limited on the climate.

    And let's look at what that legislation would do exactly. This is called HR-9. This bill is very limited. It is their first proposal of the Congress. Pelosi would block withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, basically force the U.S. back into it.

    And this bill, interestingly enough, Judy, would tell President Trump he has to come up with a plan to cut emissions. I asked Democrats why they feel they don't to have to come up with a plan. They said, well, the president would execute this. We think it's his responsibility.

    Obviously, some politics there. But it's interesting, Judy. Republicans have a couple of plans of their own. It varies from the right, Steve Scalise, who just wants to talk about energy, to Senator Lamar Alexander, who is using the word climate change now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Yamiche, how does the White House see the Green New Deal? What do they say politically here?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president sees the Green New Deal as something that he can use politically in the 2020 campaign.

    Yesterday, he went up to the Hill and had lunch with GOP senators. He told them, beat up the Green New Deal, but keep it around, don't beat it up too badly, because I want to use that as part of my campaign.

    The face of the Green New Deal, Representative Ocasio-Cortez, Republicans and conservatives see her as someone that they can demonize and say that they — that she's trying to make America a socialist country.

    So the president's going to be talking about that. And it's also important to note that this president has said that climate change is a hoax. He's also backed a lot of regulations on environment — on the environment being pulled back.

    So he's not just saying this in practice and in rhetoric. He's actually doing it in policy. And he sees that as a promise that was kept, pulling out of the Paris climate accord. He sees that as something that he ran on and that he did.

    So, climate change is not again an issue that the president has actually come out with a plan on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Don't beat it up too badly. We're going to remember that.


    Yamiche, Lisa, thank you.

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